Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hard To Be A God

"History of the Arkanar Massacre" (2013) by Alekseyi German

"That's the worst thing - to lose yourself in the role. Inside each one of us, the noble bastard struggles with the communard. And everything around us helps the bastard, while the communard is all alone - the Earth is thousands and thousands of parsecs away." Don Condor paused, stroking his knees. "That's how it is, Anton," he said in a firmer voice. "We must remain communards."
-From Hard to be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Next Weekend: Cosmic Patrol!

Next weekend, SF&F author and historian Carolyn Ives Gilman will be guest of honor at Diversicon. This is the most intimate and literary con in the Twin Cities scene. There has never been too much gaming at the con, but a few years ago I started running a late Saturday afternoon game that ties in to some of the themes of the convention. With one of the foremost scholars on the Lewis and Clark expedition as our guest of honor, I decided to run some deep space exploration themed Cosmic Patrol.

If you're coming to this con stop by and play! Cosmic Patrol is easy to learn and play. I'll be using a modified version of Cosmic Patrol's rotating Lead Narrator model at the con. We'll rotate scene narration so that everybody has a chance to direct part of the story, but I'll handle the combat. Should be fun to see where people take the story! 

Here are the adventure details:

Cosmic Patrol: Rescue the Lewis and Clark! Saturday afternoon, 4-6 PM on August 2, in the RailRoad Lobby at Diversicon. A easy to learn, pulpy SF roleplaying game inspired by the works of our living & posthumous Guests. John Everett Till, gamemaster. Rules will be taught, and the game uses a rotating storyteller model. We'll take turns moving the story forward!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawning Star Playtest

Eric Gilbertson's Wolf -species character "Spot"

Last week our Thursday Night Group did a playtest of the chargen rules for the Fate Core reboot of Dawning Star RPG. We participated in the Kickstarter campaign for this game back in the fall, based on having liked the d20 edition of the game. While I never had an opportunity to play or run the d20 version, the game had great art and a very interesting multi-species space opera setting with all the action happening in one solar system.

For the reboot of the game, there are even more species in-system as recent arrivals onboard the evacuation ship Uyti. The playtest chargen package includes a number of those species, which range from the fairly humanoid to the really weird. (Remember the Horta from Star Trek? Here we have a rock eating species that defecates precious minerals.)

It's no accident that many species have been drawn to the Helios system, where Dawning Star is set. An ancient star gate network brings ships here from many different systems. In fact, the system is riddled with alien artifacts, and there is a lively trade in the relics of the Ancients.

Our players decided to tie the Ancients' relics - and in particular, the competitive archaeological and relic hunting ventures resulting from the widespread knowledge that such relics exist - into their two Campaign Issues. The current and impending campaign issues they selected were:
  • We must destroy the secrets of the Ancients for everyone's good.
  • Ancient artifacts coming to life.
The players decided to create a group of radical demilitarizers/armed disarmers or anarcho-luddites who seek out and destroy the Ancients' relics before the PCs contemporaries can use them as weapons. So they hunt for relics in order to destroy them, as well as ambushing others' relic hunting and smuggling operations.

This is a group bound for trouble. A party of space asshole archaeologists including:
  • A Wolf, a Vargyr-like alien species. Eric's character, as depicted above, is also the cook for the group. In one hand, Spot holds a chainsaw; in his other hand, a chocolate chip cookie tray. Eric is a dog guy, what can I say?
  • An Elgie, a lemur-like race that are better with tech than most of the other races. Rachel made a really cute sketch of her character. If she gives me permission, I'll include it in a subsequent post.
  • A Velin named "Fabian", the most pretentious name possible for a member of the humanoid indigenous race on Eos. Bob created Fabian as the "Velin Indiana Jones". He uses his psychic Red Truth affinity to find artifacts and destroy them.
  • Speaker to Anarchists, a Kzinti. Speaker is the muscle of the group, but he also has a great Edge: a working stasis box. I created him to test the new species creation rules in Dawning Star. Since first edition D&D people have been creating Kzinti for their own RPGs. Why stop now?
All-in-all, we had fun creating our characters, who would be very fun to play in a campaign. We would get into a lot of trouble.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dawning Star Playtest

My gaming group is scheduled to do a playtest of the chargen rules for Dawning Star tonight.  They have added a ton of new aliens for the Fate edition of the setting. We'll have an update on how things went after the playtest.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Guillotine Ray


The Guillotine Ray is designed for revolutionary self-defense. A fifth generation, artificially intelligent, Year Zero-class juridical weapon, the manta-ray shaped device is about the size of a frisbee. It gently hums and hovers, following its assigned companion: usually a Procurator, Red Guard, or another individual tasked with rooting out reactionaries and revisionists.

Because each Guillotine Ray is artificially intelligent, it is designed to respond to subtle cues from its comrade handler. At the proper signal, a Guillotine Ray's twin effector beams strike out, decapitating its counterrevolutionary target. Collateral damage is common, but most Guillotine Rays aren't particularly fastidious about this kind of excess. It inspires the masses and encourages revolutionary vigor.

Originally, the  Guillotine Rays were mass-produced with dark grey exteriors. However in these times, Guillotine Rays sport quite colorful designs, rather like the jeepneys of pre-Diasporic Earth. Many have also adopted a colorful nom de guerre, such as Enrage, Facilitator, Vehicle for Change, Razoress, Horse Eater, Danton, Gonzalo, Sparrow, or Sword of Justice.

A few Guillotine Rays have also gone wild type, pursuing their own radical political agendas.  These are often collectively known as The Steel Generals. They are always spoiling for a good fight.


Guillotine Ray
Banksian juridical drone (neutral)

  • High Concept: Year Zero-class juridical weapon 
  • Trouble: There's collateral damage in my wake 
  • Aspect: Root out reactionaries and revisionists
  • Aspect: "You're going to come out of this a head shorter"
  • Aspect: Liberty, equality, fraternity
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +2
  • Flashy: +3
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: 0
  • AG Mobile - Guillotine Rays are small and thin, and use AG to hover. When they need to squeeze through a tight space, they can turn sideways, and hover on through. 
  • Decapitation Strike - Take +2 to make a Flashy Attack using twin effector beams.
  • Telekinesis - Guillotine Rays can use their Flashy Approach to Overcome an Obstacle by using a single effector beam to move a physical object.

Thanks to Rachel Kronick for inspiring the name and idea, and to the late Iain M. Banks for providing the hardware and software. The final execution is entirely my own responsibility.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Overkilled

The Overkilled. No one likes that term, but it has stuck as a general descriptor for those unfortunates cursed with unlife after being struck by an Annihilator beam. They are a constant danger for those exploring space hulks, abandoned bases, and ruined cities recently devastated by war. Wherever there is one of the Overkilled, there are undoubtedly many, many more.

Fury and relentlessness personified, the Overkilled thirst for the flesh of the living.  Some have speculated that the Annihilator animates the Overkilled by activating latent infections by nanites or prions. Their bodies undergo a number of changes including a general weakening of the integrity of their integument, and a diamond-sharp hardening of teeth and nails.

The Overkilled bite, gobble, claw, and tear at the flesh of their victims, as if consumed with hunger. But very little flesh and blood makes it down their gullets. Indeed, it often seems like more matter is leaving their bodies than getting in: foul black and green ichors pour from their mouth and nostrils, and from suppurating pustules on their chest, face, and extremities. This ichor contaminates their garments and the spaces around them - it is the surest sign that the Overkilled may be nearby.

The Overkilled are almost impossible to detect using sensors. Indeed, without the presence of living flesh to prey upon they are almost entirely quiescent. Are they conscious? Do they have memories or will? Who knows. The Nexialists claim that the Overkilled are a product of "supercivilization" - which says everything and explains nothing.

The R.U.R. contend that the Overkilled are an infinitesimal of the great Anti-Consciousness lurking in the galactic core. They say they have seen this contagion before, many times. It's a sign of things to come.


In Cosmic Patrol, treat the Overkilled as mooks: Cbt D8, Special: Ichor Splash D10, EvElse D6; Armor 1, Health 1; Bite/Claw 2; Equipment: Tattered garments, green or black ichor.


The Overkilled
Undead humans (inimical)

  • High Concept: Furious and relentless undead
  • Trouble: Attack without strategy
  • Aspect: Unreasoning hatred of life
  • Aspect: Undetectable except in the presence of life
  • Aspect: Disgusting ichor and suppurating pustules
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: 0 
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +3
  • Sneaky: +2
  • Green/Black Ichor - See future posts for the affects of these contaminants.
  • Sharp Teeth and Claws - Because the Overkilled have diamond sharp teeth and claws, they take +2 to their Attack when an opponent is not wearing armor. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Annihilators For Cosmic Patrol

Annihilators are one of the most feared weapons in the galaxy. Equipping a ship with one is practically a declaration of war, which is why very few Cosmic Patrol vessels carry this weapon. In contrast, many pirates take a fierce pride in the use of Annihilators, which have often been seized from the most ruthless and unspeakable of alien menaces.

First and foremost, they are a terror weapon. A species of Death Beam, Annihilators are so effective because they completely bypass armor, concentrating their lethal effect on living matter. This is of course very convenient for pirates (at least in theory) because Annihilators are a weapon which eliminates people while leaving plunder intact.

Of course, the truth is a bit more complicated yet.

Annihilators often inflict a condition known as Overkill. When absorbing annihilation radiance, the flesh has two responses. For most victims, contact with an Annihilator spells death. However a small but certain number of those targeted by this lethal radiance experience a weird transformation, leaving behind a ravenous, living corpse hell-bent on revenge. Many a pirate boarding party has learned to rue the day their Captain trained an Annihilator on another ship.

This terrible weapon also comes in hand-held portable versions:
  • Annihilator Pistol: D6 damage that bypasses armor*;  Ranges: OK, OK, -3
  • Annihilator Rifle: D10 damage that bypasses armor*; Ranges: -3**, OK, OK
*Energy screens may provide protection against this weapon.
**Because it is a very bulky weapon

It is unusual for a combat team to be equipped with more than one of these weapons, as the beam's penetrance combined with crossfire quickly poses lethal problems for all sides.

Special: Any time a target's health is reduced to Knocked Out by Annihilator damage, someone may spend 1 Plot Point to declare that the target has succumbed to Overkill. (Players can negate this for their own character by spending a Plot Point.) The target rises, and the person who spent the Plot Point determines who the Overkilled attacks next. It's future actions are determined by the LN, subject to narrative challenges by players.