Friday, May 31, 2013

Queers Dig Time Lords

Mad Norwegian Press' Queers Dig Time Lords came out last week. I picked up a copy after work last Friday over at Uncle Hugo's. (They are a fantastic local SF bookstore. And they do mail order. Check them out.)

We think this book is a winner. I am just in the flip-through-the-book stage of reading it, but what sold me in the bookstore was seeing that Hal Duncan, the author of Vellum, had an essay. (Vellum, in case you haven't read it, combines Tolkien's Hobbits, Moorcock's multiverse, the Red Clydeside socialist revolution, Matthew Shepard, and the Epic of Gilgamesh together into a dense multilayered narrative. Best book I have ever read. And if you haven't viewed his "It Gets Better" video for queer youth, you haven't started living yet.

But anyway.

Great essays by both fans and authors you will recognize, including Tanya Huff, Melissa Scott, Gary Russell, Amal El-Mohtar, Rachel Swirsky, and the Twin Cities Gaylaxian Jason Tucker.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Babylon 5 Starship Table

We created this table for the Alwyn Campaign. The PCs visited the remains of the John M. Ford Minneapolis-St. Paul Interstellar Starport, and I needed a table to make random determinations about the long-abandoned starship relics littering the starport.

This is the Babylon 5 Starport Table, which doubles as a Babylon 5 Crashed Ship Table:

Roll 1D6-1D6.

  • +5 Ranger vessel
  • +4 Minbari Federation
  • +3 Narn Regime
  • +2 Mars republic
  • +1 Earthforce 
  •   0 Earth (commercial/private)
  • -1 Former Earth Colony
  • -2 Centauri Republic
  • -3 Drazi
  • -4 Other Interstellar Alliance, League of Nonaligned Worlds (e.g., Brakiri, Gaim, Vree, Pak'ma'ra, Llort)
  • -5 Special (e.g., Drakh/other Shadow ally, Technomage, Soul Hunter, First One)
In the case of a -4/-5 result, the GM may determine the specific race or affiliation of the ship, or a player may pay 1 FP and make a declaration.

Crash/Burial Specifics: After the Great Burn, many of the ships at the starport became buried within drumlin-like mounds. Some were completely buried, others were partially buried with the exception of a few fins or antenna-like projections, while a few were almost completely exposed.

The degree of post-crash/burial exposure of a ship is determined by rolling 1DF:
  • Rolling a -1 indicates the ship is completely buried;
  • Rolling a blank face indicates the starship is partially buried (i.e., there are some exposed structures and/or tunnels that have been dug to key structures such as an airlock or other access point);
  • Rolling a +1 indicates that the ship is almost completely exposed. 
Players may pay 1 FP to make a declaration, such that a ship has an open hatch.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eloic Maltruskans

The Maltruskans are a race divided. And nearly extinct. The story of their tragic first encounter with humanity has been told elsewhere, and we have already described in detail the rare-but-still-extant subterranean Maltruskans. Today we detail the terrestrial (Eloic) variety.

Small tribal populations of Eloic Maltruskans exist on the Imperial Throneworld of Altair III, as well as on several Maltruskan core worlds which were subject to protective Excommunication in the early days of the Empire.

Eloic Maltruskans are mildly empathic. Their starfaring society was peaceful and abundant. The Maltruskans were good traders, establishing long-term mutually beneficial trade arrangements with many worlds and species. While not shapeshifters per se, the Maltruskans also had the ability to make modest and intutive Lamarkian-level adjustments to their anatomy and physiology, enhancing their ability to adapt to alien environments and interact with other species. Tragically their biology, and in particular their pheremonal communication systems, also made them very vulnerable to human enslavement.

A few of their kind remain at large within the Empire, wandering the stars in small ships. Often their only companions on lonely journeys in the depths of space are one or two shipboard Trelebs. The can communicate with Trelebs without the need for the plasmid injections which humans require to do so.

When it is necessary to mix with humans, Eloic Maltruskans remain within hermetically sealed and psychically-shielded encounter suits.  These suits are designed to completely obscure the occupant, and intentionally distort the occupant's height, weight, and proportions. They are redundantly armored are always equipped with nasty deadman-switch surprises in case of breach. They also have the downside of making the Maltruskan suit-occupant a tad unempathetic, and even callous, when interacting with others.


Thoroughly-Suited Hominids (neutral)
  • High Concept: Lonely starfarer
  • Trouble: Dead soul*
  • Aspect: Possibly the last of my kind
  • Aspect: Well-armored encounter suit
  • Aspect: Deadly failsafes
  • Careful: +3
  • Clever: +2
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +1
  • Quick: +1
  • Sneaky: +2
  • Psychic Shield: Take a +2 to Careful Approach for psychic defense when wearing encounter suit 
  • Armor: Take a +2 to Forceful Approach for any physical defense when wearing encounter suit
  • Deadman Defenses: Take a +2 to Sneaky Approach to release deadly nanospores or other environmental toxins. These are broad, multispectrum toxins and affect most species. On a Succeed with Style, a toxic Aspect is placed in the immediate environment outside the suit; this has no effect on Maltruskans, but effects most non-Maltruskan organisms in the scene.
  • Lamarkian Adaptation: Spend 1 FP to make minor, durable alterations in anatomy and physiology. These last until another FP is spent to undo or further modify them. The cannot alter the Maltruskan's empathic or pheremonal perceptual systems.

*Vulnerable to psychic and pheremonal intrusion from humans (when unsuited)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sky Dogs

Dachs und Dachshund by Carl Friedrich Deike

Sky Dogs, Dachskreigers, Dachsblitzen, Lightning Dogs, Vorlhunds. After the Great Burn, some breeds of dogs survived by adapting themselves to life in tunnels, warrens, and ruins. Dachshunds were uniquely suited to making this transition, and exposure to radiation and other mutagens accelerated their evolution into a unique canine sub-species.

Sky Dogs are of similar size to standard Dachshunds and Corgis. Like those dogs, they have long bodies and short legs. They also retain their ancestors' stubbornness and territoriality. They are fearless and often overconfident in facing challengers, and like their ancestors, have insatiable appetites.

Sky Dogs also have a few key differences from their ancestors: their front paws are somewhat enlarged for better digging. And their loose skin has a rather unique adaptation: when they shake their skin, they not only fill the air with dander; their muscles accumulate electrical charge, which can be discharged to shock and temporarily paralyze prey.

In the North American Great Plains area where the Alwyn Campaign is set, the Sky Dogs live in the wild. They hunt rabbits, birds, rats, mice, voles, badgers, prairie dogs and a variety of other small critters during the spring, summer, and fall; they take long naps most for of the winter from the safety of their home tunnels. Experienced hunters, trackers, and delvers soon learn to recognize and avoid tunnels with the tell-tale musk of ozone that the Sky Dogs give off when stirred.

In the decadent and populous towns and cities of the Deep South, Vorlhunds are often domesticated as temple guardians for the Vorlonic Sect. If you see one in their temples, stay clear of it and don't make eye contact; even the domesticated ones such as these are highly territorial and notorious for making precipitous strikes. The Sky Dogs' electrical powers call to mind the legendary Lightning Guns of those ancient sky-gods. Some witnesses even report that the temple dogs seem to understand the temple's liturgical rites, which are conducted in the ancient Vorlon and Minbari languages.


Sky Dogs

  • High Concept: Lightning Dachshunds
  • Trouble: Fearless to a fault
  • Aspect: At home in tunnels and burrows
  • Aspect: Whip smart
  • Aspect: Insatiable appetites
  • Careful: 0
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: +2
  • Forceful: +1
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: +1
  • Lightning Dog: Shaking their loose skin generates an electrical charge, which can be directed at prey in a +2 Flashy attack.
  • Escape Artist: Take +2 when using a Quick Approach to escape a foe
  • Earth Mover: Take +2 when using a Forceful Approach to Overcome an Obstacle by digging

Sunday, May 26, 2013


There's a reason that Vernor Vinge, in his classic SF novel A Fire Upon the Deep, dubbed the galactic internet the "Net of a Million Lies." His novel is a great example of an ancient singularity awakened and once again gone awry, with far reaching consequences for many. I thought of the novel, and of Vinge's name for the internet (and let's face it, back in 1992 he nailed an emergent property of the real world 'net with this name)in the context of a recent controversy at the margins of SF gaming .

People have pointed out similarities in the settings and themes of two recent SF RPGs: Eclipse Phase and Nova Praxis. I see them myself: the themes of singlarity, transhumanism, and a resulting planetary disaster. These are fairly common themes in contemporary SF.

I'd be surprised if game designers weren't playing around with them.

And I see enough differences between the two games to think each one is quite original.

But time for a reality check. There are apparently some people out there who believe that Eclipse Phase invented the themes of singularity, transhumanism, and planetary disaster. This kind of colossal ignorance really needs to be challenged.

First of all, within our  little planetary gaming community, Phil Goetz and Anders Sandberg invented the first game dealing with the themes of the singularity and transhumanism. It was called Men Like Gods (an H.G. Wells reference) and you can download it here for free. The downloadable version in the link is dated 2004, but I know the game was first published online in the mid-to-late '90s.

There is also the shared world-building project Orion's Arm which goes back to 2000. Orion's Arm also deals with transhumanism and the singularity, and has been a favorite site for SF gamers for a long time.

Finally, of course, there is GURPS Transhuman Space.This was the first professionally published RPG dealing with the singularity and transhumanism. It won the Grog d'Or in 2003 for Best Role-playing Game, Game Line, or Game Setting. It was a more optimistic future than Eclipse Phase or Nova Praxis, but one I dare say where the solar system is on the brink of terrorists and/or corporations unleashing a thousand different catastrophes.

Sarah Newton's Mindjammer originally came out in 2009 as an original setting and transhumanist SF toolkit for Starblazer Adventures. It will be rereleased in a much expanded edition for FATE Core in 2013. Newton's setting combines positive, optimistic transhuman themes with the sweep of space opera. Her setting is influenced by the fiction of Cordwainer Smith and Olaf Stapledon, but it is a very unique and original positive take on our transhuman future.

Of course, Eclipse Phase, which won the 2010 Annual Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game, combined themes of singularity and transhumanism with planetary disaster. That was its key innovation, and it led to a wonderfully dystopian setting with a clear role for PCs. They are members of the Firewall, a protective conspiracy with many elements similar to John Clute's notion of a pariah elite.

The singularity-transhumanism-planetary catastrophe triptych genie is now out of the bottle. And these themes are going to continue to combine and recombine in new and different ways.

That being said, Eclipse Phase did not invent the concepts of the singularity or transhumanism.

The origins of the concept of the singularity go back to the 1950s: you can read about its history here. I think the concept is profoundly theological (which is one reason it is also called The Rapture of the Nerds), but it makes for some fun gaming. Arguably the concept is also derivative of the works of earlier philosophers such as Spinoza, Olaf Stapledon, and Teilhard de Chardin.

The concept of transhumanism goes back at least to J.D. Bernal's 1929 essay "The World, the Flesh, and the Devil."  You can read the essay in its entirety over here at the wonderful web-archive

Of course the notion of planetary catastrophe goes back thousands of years as theology and mythology. The Late Victorians were quite obsessed with the notion, and it is in this time period that we begin to see the theme first presented in science fiction and the scientific romance.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Subterranean Maltruskans

The Time Machine (2002)

The Maltruskian species has two morphogenetically distinct types. Its most common form is gracile and either non-hirsute, or lightly downed. It lives above ground, and is known for its pheremonal and empathic susceptibility to humans. The other Maltruskan sub-species is troglodytic, hirsute, and muscular. It lives a subterranean existence, and has a discernibly more appetitive and predatory nature, with aggressive psychic abilities which match these drives.

Many if not all troglodytic Maltruskans have developed an appetite for the flesh of other sentient beings, including but not limited to the gracile clade of their own species. They have an affinity for the more violent psychic powers, including telekinesis, machinic domination, and negative emotion projection. 

Subterranean Maltruskans frequently make their home in ruins. They quickly puzzle out how to use ocular and other ancient superscience devices salvaged from those ruins, and many artifact hunters have a contact or two among their kind. Such contacts help the subterranean Maltruskans bargain to move from world-to-world in exchange for choice artifacts. This is frequently a dangerous bargain; many small free traders and scouts transporting the troglodytes have gone missing over the years.

A troglodytic community dwells among the labyrinthine structures below the Imperial Palace on Altair III. Other communities haunt the ruins of Maltruskan colonies, or lurk beneath inhabited cities on other races' worlds. They are considered an inimical species on most human settled worlds, and locals frequently take considerable pains to remove them.

Their underground warrens are dark and dangerous places. More than a few unruly children have been scared into good behavior by tales of these devils in the dark.


Psychic Morlocks

  • High Concept: Alien Morlocks
  • Trouble: A taste for intelligent meat
  • Aspect: Drawn to ruins and abandoned places
  • Aspect: The fear legends are made of
  • Aspect: Dangerous minds
  • Careful: +2
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +1
  • Sneaky: +1
  • Ancient Device: Spend 1 FP to have the use of an ancient device once per session.
  • Machine Meld: Spend 1 FP to awaken and/or control a machine once per session.
  • Psychic Projection: Because they have Dangerous Minds, take a +2 to project fear, hate, jealousy on someone nearby as a Sneaky action.
  • Telekinesis: User takes +2 to their Forceful Approach to cause an object up to the size of a human head to fall,  move, or fly of its own accord.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013


The picture of Neanderthals keeps evolving. No pun intended. A few years ago, the science shows said that Homo sapiens sapiens probably exterminated them, and had none of their genes. The case was made for conflict and little positive cooperation and interaction with Neanderthal people. 

Today, that is not so much the claim - as will be especially clear to people who saw last week's episode of NOVA. All of us have a few of Neanderthal genes - they're often 2-3% of our genome. The Neanderthals had burial customs (and hence probably religion), and apparently wore decorative ornamentation. Neanderthals were also advanced tool users; their inventions included a kind of glue which helped affix spearheads to spear shafts. They cooked and ate vegetables. Maybe they even roleplayed.


Ice Age Human
Closest relative of modern humans

  • High Concept: Cold climate survivor
  • Trouble: High energy diet, please!
  • Aspect: Close-in fighter
  • Aspect: Advanced tool maker
  • Aspect: Beginnings of art and religion
  • Careful: +2
  • Clever: +1
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +3
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: +1
  • Power Lifter: The average Neanderthal could bench press 300-500 lbs. Take a +2 bonus to any Forceful attempt to lift, move, or hurl something.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Triceratops Of London

Art by Mark Rehkopf

Wooo-hooo, FATE SF's all-time favorite dinosaur, the Triceratops, put in an appearance in my recent Kerberos Club scenario (excellent player reportage here) at Jon Con '13 last month in the Twin Cities, Minnesota!

The scenario used a FATE Accelerated Edition hack optimized for Kerberos Club (design outlines here).

Today, we're sharing our write-up for the Triceratops.

The one below made a mean mess of some of London's finest commercial streets, but eventually ended up in the London Zoo.

Get a Triceratops onto the streets of a game near you soon!


Everyone's Favorite Plant-Eater

  • High Concept: Tri-horned herbivore
  • Trouble: Ornery as hell
  • Aspect: Never met a human I didn't want to charge
  • Aspect: Armored on the front-end
  • Aspect: Meat steam-roller
  • Careful: 0
  • Clever: 0
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +5
  • Quick: +3
  • Sneaky: 0
  • Goes Down Slowly: Take two Severe Consequences (6 stress each) before being Taken Out.
  • Impaling Attack: When a Triceratops Succeeds with Style on an attack using the Forceful Approach, the person playing the Triceratops may declare it has impaled its target on the Triceratops' horns. An Overcome action will be required before the target can detach itself from the horns.
  • Stampede: Spend 1 FP to roll 2DF + 2D6 on any charging action using a Forceful Approach.
  • Armored Frill: Take +2 to Forcefully defend against attacks from the front. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Fate of the Maltruskan Union

No moment in the history of the Terran Expansion is as shameful as humanity's first encounter with an alien civilization, the Maltruskan Union.  The Maltruskans were a gracile hominid race that had settled many worlds near Sol. Their society was mercantile and clan-based. Their technology was a stable Imperial Standard T+2 on the Diasporic Scale of Galactic Development, and they made good use of the ancient network of slipknots, as well as of hyperspace travel.

The Mastruskans' Fall after their first encounter with humanity was precipitous. The problem was both biochemical and psychic. Biochemical: the Maltruskan's were vulnerable to a form of pheremonic attraction and servitude to humans. Psychic: the Maltruskans were moderately empathic, and overly responsive to humans' appetitive nature and the instinctive psychic pressure that humans exerted in proximity to Maltruskans.

Of course, the problem was also imperial: the humans of the Terran Expansion era simply didn't care very much about the welfare of even very similar species. They viewed the Maltruskans as one more resource to exploit to Terran advantage.

The result was the wholesale disintegration of Maltruskan society: their mass enslavement on the humans' plantations and in their extractive industries, and the destruction of the Maltruskan's household, clan, and inter-clan systems. Within a few years of their initial contact with humans, Maltruskan society and technology was in ruins, and only a few enclaves of an odd, subterranean troglodytic Maltruskan sub-species remained extant.

Things did not fare well for the Maltruskans' new masters, either. Once the Maltruskans' network of settled worlds had been overrun and incorporated into the Terran Expansion zone, human expansion stopped, and human-settled worlds became ever more culturally involuted, decadent, and ineffectual. Some Imperial scholars have suggested that this was a hidden vulnerability inherent in the empathic bond established between human masters and their Maltruskan slaves. Whatever the case may be, the end of the Terran Expansion Era came swiftly in the form of an invasion of Comet Barbarians from the periphery of the Terran Expansion zone.

One of the Comet Barbarians' chieftains became the first Imperial Sovereign. Glorious First conquered all the worlds of the Terran Expansion zone, and she began the forcible Separation of the human and Maltruskan populations.  The second and third Imperial Sovereigns completed the dismantling of the traffic in Maltruskan flesh - which extended into the barbarian zones well beyond the formal Terran Expansion zone. These two Sovereigns abolished slavery of all species and kinds within the Empire forever.

The fourth Imperial Sovereign, also known as the Banisher Pontiff, carried out a decree of Excommunication on several Maltruskan worlds that had been purged of human populations. In this way, it was hoped that the Maltruskans might rebuild their culture and civilization, even if limited to a few isolated systems.

Notwithstanding that, there continue to be Maltruskans out and about amidst the Empire. A brave few make their way among humans by using hermetically and psychically shielded encounter suits. Still others have established small clans on remote or barbaric worlds. It is said that a few Maltruskan tribes even wander the deserts of the Imperial Throne World of Altair III. Still others - perhaps the troglodytic psychics - are said to have taken refuge within the lower levels of the Imperial Palace itself.

More than a few humans, meanwhile, dread the day when the humans of the Empire have that inevitable disastrous first encounter with a species for which they are not biochemically or psychically prepared. If this disaster befell the starfaring Maltruskans, why couldn't a similar one befall humans themselves? Modern Imperial Quarantine Procedures are based on the assumption that one day this will happen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ancient Lore In The Alwyn Campaign

How do you handle the presence of ancient super-science (or even remainders and the reinvention of modern science and technology) in a retro-medieval setting? The Alywn Campaign is set on Earth long after the Great Burn destroyed a planetary civilization(s) that had access to star-spanning technologies. Add to that the potential presence of even more advanced alien technologies some of which are indistinguishable from magic.

In FATE Accelerated Edition, past knowledge and ancient tech may call for access to specialized Stunts. Here are a few ideas for how those stunts might be structured. I am sure our players will come up with their own ideas at the gaming table, but hopefully these ideas will serve as a springboard.


Rubble Rat: You have this Stunt because you have learned a thing or two about the Ancients the hard way, while out prowling the dangerous ruins from before the Great Burn. Player gets a +2 to their Careful Approach once per scene to recognize or discover the purpose of a ruin or relic.

The Tongues of the Ancients: You have this Stunt because you are learned in one or more ancient written languages from the times before the Great Burn. You may know High Vorlonic (i.e., Minbari), Classical Interlac, English, Spanish, Somali, or another language. The number of ancient languages you know is equal to your Clever Approach. This Stunt is usually taken at character creation and should be accompanied by an Aspect related to scholarly or monastic training.

Lore of the Times Before: You have this Stunt because you have gone beyond the Holy Books, and have dabbled with reading the books of the Ancients from the times before the Great Burn. Player gets a +2 to their Clever  Approach once per scene to try to determine the purpose or significance of an ancient ruined place or piece of tech.

The Gift of Prometheus: You have a preternatural gift, and possess an intuitive understanding of ancient technology. Any time you encounter an ancient relic, spend 1 FP to either declare its function, or compel the GM to disclose its function (GM may choose which). This gift has a limit: technologies of the First Ones (Vorlons, Shadows, etc.) are truly beyond your ken. But even these will call out to you as being special when you see them.

A Great Hand Reaching Out: You have been touched by the technology of the Shadows, or their minions, and have been contaminated in some way by their foul arts. Choose an Aspect reflecting this connection. You intuitively recognize Shadow technology. Add +2 to your Sneaky Approach to awaken, and then understand its function (in that order).    

The Alwyn Campaign Links and Resources

The Alwyn Campaign is an Earth-based far future campaign set in the Babylon 5 universe. The year is 3262, hundreds of years after the Great Burn, a nuclear war that destroys Earth civilization. Humanity has crawled back up to a medieval/early Renaissance level of technology, but most humans are highly distrustful of the technologies that led to the Great Burn. The setting is featured in one of the B5 future history vignettes of the episode "Deconstruction of Falling Stars", and is reminiscent of the science fiction classic, A Canticle for Lebowitz by Walter M. Miller. 

Very Brief Intro to the Setting

More Descriptive Introduction to the Setting

Setting Locations and Parameters

Handling Ancient Lore and Tech In The Alywn Campaign

First Session Set Up

The Alwyn Campaign Google Map

Babylon 5 Starship Table used in Session 4 (see Session Reports, below)

Treasure Found
Dramatis Personae:
  • Francis, High ConceptRaised By BearsTroubleUncivilized. Other Aspects include: All problems can be solved by charging, yelling, and waving a giant Axe and Chosen of [the Giant Squirrel God].
  • DerekHigh ConceptOutcast MerchantTroubleDrunkard. Other Aspects include: Knows the cost of everything, value of nothing"Million Pockets"; and Skankeroon.
  • Big AlHigh ConceptFort Snelling's Hardest Working HustlerTroubleIt always costs a favor. Other Aspects include: Pillar of the (criminal) community; and Nothing worth having is behind an open door.
  • LarissaHigh ConceptIntrepid HunterTroubleCurious, other Aspects include: At home in the wildEagle-eyed; and Iron Stomach.
  • The Blacksmith - Henry Leroy Jenkins

Session Reports:

Starports Are A Blast!

Last night's Alywn Campaign session ended with a bang! PCs Larissa, Francis, and Derek had gone back to the John M. Ford Minneapolis-St. Paul Interstellar Starport to see if they could access a starship. Exploration and salvage (i.e., looting) was their goal.

They explored the tarmac a bit and found numerous steep hillocks or drumlins. Some had holes dug into them; others did not. Two had metallic structures protruding from the mound. The PCs decided to explore one that had both protruding metal structures and holes. Larissa found a hatch around the base of that drumlin. After some heaving and hammering on the manual latch, the hatch open and slid downward and out of sight. 

The PCs entered a dimly lit room. It had a first aid kit with supplies in pristine condition, crashcarts and stretchers mounted on the bulkheads, as well as an inner airlock with keypad/viewscreen and a table console with many buttons. Francis and Dereck began pushing buttons. Many buttons. Eventually, more lights came on, there was humming and vibration from deeper in the ship, a ship AI turned on and began conversing with the PCs, and the inner bulkhead opened.

The PCs found themselves in a room with another console, a larger first aid kit (really a small surgical suite), five odd control nodules, and five large metallic containers. The AI came-on in this room too. It cycled through several languages until it hit upon the PCs dialect, which is an odd patois of English with many borrowed words and phrases from Spanish, Somali, Ojibway, Lakota and Interlac.

The PCs asked what was in the containers, and the AI told them that the containers held individuals subjected to Diplomatic Quarantine. Larissa found a depression on the control console in this room which seemed to fit her Circuit-Jewel Ring; this apparently authorized her to command the AI to release one of the quarantine subjects. A great deal of organic fluid with sizable biomass lumps sloshed everywhere. A medical robot appeared and began to release a strange looking creature from the harnesses within the containers. The creature looked like this:

It had a translation orb in its abdomen, and began communicating with the PCs.

More or less simultaneously, the lumpy elements in the floor slime began moving, and attacked all three PCs, grabbing limbs and latching on with their headtails:

None made it to the neck, but Derek's character succumbed to the nasty paralytic these creatures release to subdue their prey. Long and short of it was that Larissa and Francis prevailed in combat. Dereck managed to garrote one of the creatures and dislodge another that had attached to his leg. He got the hell out of Dodge, and headed back as quickly as he could travel to Fort Snelling.

Derek is planning on getting into a less risky end of the relic market.

Meanwhile, Larissa and Francis stayed in the ship and revived a second quarantine subject. This one turned out to be a normal human - a Ranger in fact. He was not fully thawed out before rescue and evacuation of the ship became imperative - about this time the ship activated its self-destruct mechanism - so a somewhat traumatized and amnesiac Ranger was carried out of the ship.

Larissa, Francis and the Ranger got clear of the spaceport just in time to see the column of fire created by the ship's explosion. The full scope of the damage will have to be assessed in a later expedition, but they saw the spaceport terminal undergo a pancake collapse. It is an open question whether Virgil survived.

Oh, and Francis did a catch and release with one of the little monsters. It's probably out there somewhere. And the big nasty alien got away using some kind of stealth magic.

Player feedback and GM reflections on the session:
  • I wasn't handing out Fate Points when PCs were doing cool things during the battle
    • I need to be more conscious of that as a critical part of GMing action scenes
  • Derek's player is retiring that character in favor of a more combat-oriented one
    • I never explained Declarations properly to Derek's player. To make matters worse, his character took a moderate consequence very early in the battle. I should have thought about offering him some ideas for Declaration that could have avoided or mitigated that initial damage.
  • I'm trying to balance combat vs. non-combat in these adventures. Larissa's player definitely wants more combat. So I've been trying to supply more of that. But this session, I wasn't paying sufficient attention to the needs, abilities, and interests of each character/player. As a GM I am somewhat combat avoidant, and at least in the early days (the 1970s) was a monte hauler. These days, I strive for more balance (i.e., more risk to balance potential rewards) but I need to pay attention to the balance between challenge and possible PC responses - and offer some ideas and options.
  • Derek's player read the new draft of FAE and caught an important rules change between drafts: PCs can now start with 3 Stunts and 3 Refresh. I liked the earlier draft better (1 free Stunt, after which additional Stunts cost Refresh) as the set point was grittier. We'll be going with the new draft, however, so PCs will be adding Stunts as seems appropriate.
  • We also identified a need for an Ancient Tech/Lore kind of Stunt, representing knowledge and skill with things from before the Great Burn. I'll be working on some examples of how such stunts might work within the next couple of posts.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spaceport, Or Mall Of America?

Michael Pollock, Architect

In the third session of the Alwyn Campaign, the players in the Thursday Night Group decided to explore the ruins of the John M. Ford Minneapolis-St. Paul Interstellar Starport. They trundled over the ruins of Highway 5 and approached the main terminal's eastern entrance.

The embankment below the terminal building was riddled with holes. They went in one, and found themselves in seemingly endless galleries filled with piles of luggage. Many of the cases were open and the piles, which seemingly had no particularly obvious pattern of spacial distribution were filled with various items: a pile of suitcases with clothes, a pile with cheap jewelry, knives, and so on and so forth.

Scrabbling about in these materials, they were soon greeted by an old raggedy-man named Virgil. This strange fellow carried a curious makeshift spear with supersharp oldtech on the delivery end, and was wearing a number of other improvised pieces of ancient tech, possibly as jewelry. Virgil also wore lamellar armor made of tablet devices. His mode of speech was rather peculiar too, and his sense of time and space was rather off. Where have we seen this before?

Virgil kept on referring to the terminal as the Mall of America, and to himself as having been here since the Great Burn. The PCs got a tour, and discovered that the terminal's mall was rich in a wide variety of ancient and exotic commodities.  The main challenge would be limiting the introduction of these commodities so as not to either flood the market and therefore devalue the commodities, or attract undue attention from other ruin delvers.

When Virgil mentioned that he knew where Plasma Pulse Gun Pistols (PPGs) were stored, the PCs decided to trade a bottlefull of Napoleon Ants for a couple PPG pistols.

As the PCs were about to head back to Fort Snelling, they decided to check out one other tunnel near the entrance to the starport. Going in a ways, the encountered subterranean canids with lightning projection powers. The PCs killed a few, and the rest of the pack fled deeper into the tunnel system.

The players decided that for next session, they want to go out on the starport fields, and see if they can get onto one of the ancient grounded ships! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Post 200 - A Few Thoughts From Clavain

Inhibitors by Joonas Koonula
"We did make love. Early on, we made love often. The other Conjoiners didn't like it, I think - they saw it as an animal act, a primitive throwback to baseline humanity. Galiana didn't agree, of course. She was always the sensual one, the one who revelled in the realm of the senses. That was what her enemies never truly understood about her - that she honestly loved humanity more than they did. It was why she made the Conjoined. Not to be something better than humanity, but as a gift, a promise of what humanity could be if we only realized our potential. Instead, they painted her as some coldly reductionist monster. They were so terribly wrong. Galiana didn't think of love as some ancient Darwinian trick of brain chemistry that had to be eradicated from the human mind. She saw it as something that had to be brought to its culmination, like a seed that needed to be nurtured as it grew. But they never understood that part. And the trouble was you had to be Conjoined before you appreciated what it was that she had achieved."
-Alastair Reynolds, Redemption Ark

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Post 199 - Focusing In On Devices For FATE

Jeff Berry poses with a Ruby Eye (in firing mode)

Eyes are the signature superscience devices of M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel, and are cited as well in the Humanspace Empires RPG. (The latter game, which can be downloaded for free on the site at the link, is an OSR-inspired attempt to reverse engineer the space opera precursor setting for the star spanning races and civilizations that ended up trapped together in Tekumel's pocket universe.)

Magical superscience devices aren't unique to Tekumel; they are a common feature of a wide range of pulp-inspired and space operatic settings. Take Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series and you will find them there. Lensman? Check.

Eye-like devices even crop up in more contemporary sources. Gene Wolfe's The Claw of the Conciliator for one.

Art by Don Maitz, Artist Guest of Honor at Minicon in 2014

All of this begs the question: can you use FATE to create charge-based quasi-magical and/or superscience devices of the kind found in a range of science fantasy settings?  The answer to this question is "yes" and I am relatively certain there are many different ways to do it in FATE!

First, you could think of some of these devices as placing an Aspect on a person or scene. For example, a beam-like superscience device like Barker's Excellent Ruby Eye puts the Aspects "Invulnerable" and "Trapped In Stasis Until Further Notice" on someone. Alternatively, that's an automatic Taken Out for any given scene. You'd better hand out a FATE Point to the victim of that weapon, because either way you'll have a pretty pissed off player.

A device like Barker's Eye of Exquisite Power Over Maidens is equally problematic. A device, scroll, or spell which causes a player to immediately fall in love (or lust) with another player or NPC is deprotagonizing, and may even raise personal safety issues for some players. Consideration needs to be given to these factors.

That's part of awesome.

So let's come up with some mechanics for these superscience devices for FATE. Many of them require some degree of manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination to use properly. Many are, after all, ranged devices.

Let me know what you think of the ideas for mechanics outlined below. I'll write-up a few unique devices in future posts, so that we have some examples to consider, and perhaps playtest them in upcoming sessions of the Alywin Campaign.


Guidelines for old-school inspired magical and superscience devices:
  • The user of the device may be taking a Create Advantage, Overcome, Attack, or Defend action. 
  • The kinds of actions which are possible will depend on the nature of the device. 
    • Something that shoots a "love" or "like" beam is going to be more like a Create Advantage or Overcome. 
    • A device that blows holes in walls will be more like an Overcome. 
    • Something that blasts flames will have a bit broader range of possible actions: Attack/Defend, Create Advantage, and maybe Overcome (if facing a wall of ice, for example).
  • Devices require a Shooting roll against the target (if the device has a target).
  • If the device has no specific target, make a straight-out 4DF roll and add any inherent skill bonuses from the device for the effect. 
  • A target can Defend using skills like Athletics to get out of the way of the device's beam. 
  • If the user of the device succeeds with style in their action, they place one or more Aspects on the target or scene (which are often predetermined by the nature of the device)
  • No instant kills.
  • If the nature of the device would place an Aspect on someone where they are in effect Taken Out, the target should have the opportunity to make a Concession.
  • If keeping track of charges is important to your setting and/or to the discipline of the table, you can:
    • Assign the device a specific number of charges
    • Have the player roll a d100, d30, d20, d12, d10, or d8, d6, or d4 to determine the number of charges
    • Roll 1DF. The device has one of three Aspects: (-) result = "Fully Charged"; (blank face) = "Partially Charged"; (+) = "Out of Charge"
    • Alternatively, the GM may specify a charge state
    •  Unknown, and subject to an "Out of Charge" Compel offer at some point
    • Subject to negotiation (player gives a Fate Point for the device to be Fully Charged, or takes a Fate Point for it to be Out of Charge)

Post 198 - My Kerberos Club

Kerberos Photo by Denoir

Rachel Kronick, designer of the Blade & Crown RPG, has just done a wonderful actual play post on the Kerberos Club adventure that I ran last weekend at JonCon '13.  It's much better than I could have done; the session is one big space-time blur for me right now. You won't  be surprised at all by that comment if you read Rachel's report.

I used FATE Accelerated Edition for character generation and play. You can see the rules post on this set-up over here.

For today, I thought I'd share my write-up for the Kerberos Club itself. It was a character in the story, and that was inspired by the fact that the original Strange FATE rules for Kerberos Club RPG encourage each play group to develop their version of the Club as if it were a character. The FATE Fractal enables that.

Below you can see my version of the KC, which is a 1890s period Club. The institution has evolved from its early Torchwoody days of being a secret organization charged with finding and suppressing irruptions of the Strange, and proceeded well past its middle stage of being weird supers hiding in plain sight, as the world becomes Stranger and Stranger.

By the late '90s, things have begun to spin seriously out of control in the Club, the British Empire, and the World.

One interesting feature of the Kerberos Club rules is that PCs can transfer stress to the Club itself; the Club can take Consequences for the players. These are called Collateral Consquences, and represent the impact of the characters' actions on the prestige, reputation, resources, etc. of the Club. Some affects may be fleeting, such as the superficial Minor Consequence of a Fleeting Headline, while others might me more dangerous, burdensome, and lasting, such as a Vendetta, Government Inquiry, Prolonged Lawsuit.

So here's a quick peek at my Kerberos Club.


The Kerberos Club (1890s)

  • High Concept: A Necessary Evil 
  • Trouble: Trouble Finds Us 
  • Aspect: A Haven for the Strange
  • Aspect: Stillpoint in the Coming Storm
  • Aspect: A house divided*
  • Careful: +0
  • Clever: +2
  • Flashy: +3
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +1
  • Sneaky: +1
  • There's Room For You: Any member has access to private rooms, as well as the Club's libraries, workshops, and laboratories. This provides a +2 bonus to an Approach once per session per player when using one of the Club's resources for an action taking place within the Club.
  • Borrowing Privileges: A Kerberan PC may spend 1 Club FP to discover/locate just the right weapon, book, relic, device, etc. to help solve a problem beyond the walls of the Club. This item may be "checked out" for one session and then automatically returns to the Club armory, library, archive, menagerie, workshop, lab, or vault from which it came. Note that this FP goes directly into the Kerberos Club's coffers and is not lost at session's end.
  • Friends in High Places: Any PC may spend 1 Club FP to use the Club's membership, reputation, and connections to call in a specific favor from someone among London's power elites.  Note that this FP goes directly into the Kerberos Club's coffers and is not lost at session's end.

REFRESH/Club Fate Points: 1**

*More on this Aspect in a future post.

**Yeah, this is kind of low, but the idea is that the PCs are adding to the kitty by using the Club's Stunt resources.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Post 197 - The Thursday Night Group Goes Back To Tekumel

Photo © 2013 by John Everett Till 

Last night, the Thursday Night Group had a visitor from Duluth, +George Harnish who likes both Tekumel and FATE.  So we took a break from playing the Alwyn Campaign and broke out some Tekumel using FATE Core. We had a two hour slot for gaming, so to get characters created as quickly as possible, I ran a brief follow-up adventure to my Con of the North game, "Raid on the Temple of Vimuhla."

Three of the five players created warriors. The fourth created a thief from a high status clan (one who specializes in stealing from "them that has", while our fifth, the Man from Duluth, created a priest of Dlamelish.

The set-up was that the PCs had just rescued the two hostages being held in the Temple Of Vimuhla in the city of Katalal. Their goal was to get out of the temple and make it to the underground tube car system whose nearest known station was under the local Temple of Ksarul.

Imagine the scene in the temple: at the highest levels in the temple, the Ritual High Priest and Scholar High Priest had just been killed by intruders (our PCs). Down below in the dungeons, the chief torturer and several young and willing apprentices had also just been killed (can you guess by whom?). Meanwhile, the temple was chockablock with hangers-on who were there for the evening feast.

A hostage from the Green Kirtle clan, and her armed escort had just been freed by the party, and the PCs were itching to get out of Dodge.

I asked the players to choose three Aspects to set the stage for the game session. Their choices were:
  • Night
  • Underworld
  • Carnival (everyone kind of smiled at this idea)
When I asked "Hmmm, what kind of carnival?", player Rachel quickly responded "The Parade of Worms." 

This produced groans.

I said: "Let's go with that. Sounds like a Sarku festival to me."

The priest of Dlamelish did a quick investigative roll as we started the adventure and declared that temple personnel had hinted that there was another very secret entrance to the Underworld from the lower regions of the temple of which the PCs were unaware. I said, "Sure. You were told it's in the crypts, but you'll have to find it on your own. They were a little too vague on the details."

The PCs headed down to the crypts and entered the ossuary. There was a bit of a tussle here between the thief and the priestess because in the ossuary, the thief discovered a beautiful green jade ring.It was on a finger bone in the ossuary's finger-bone jar. Next, the PCs found the secret holy-of-holies to Lord Vimuhla, and then a special crypt room with a very large central sarcophagus on a dias, as well as lesser sarcophagi and funeral urns on all sides.

Then there was a battle with the supernatural guardians of the sarcophagus room. The temple's first high priest was buried here. Our female warrior fought a Fire Shen; the grizzled male veteran of the legions faced off against a Magma Ahoygga; the priest of Dlamelish sought to flatter and seduce an orange fire demon so that it would not attack.

Eventually our players found their way into the Underworld. They descended a vast staircase.

At this point, we were running out of time, so I pulled a few RPG Inspiration Cards to set the final scene. One of the cards was Carnival, another was Lovers, another was Death, and the final one was Twins. I asked the players what all of this meant. The results are below.

Before the PCs reached the bottom of the stairs, Rachel made a declaration that the level where the stairs landed deep below was in fact a tubecar station. So we actually have two access points to the tubecar station in the Underworld below in Katalal, OR the temples of Ksarul and Vimuhla have Underground passages that converge - which is bound to cause trouble from time to time.

A tubecar arrived. When the doors opened, the PCs discovered to their dismay that the contents were the fungal congerie better known as the Parade of the the Undead! An Unspeakable Ritual was underway within the tubecar. The car also contained a mysterious twin of the Green Kirtle woman they had rescued. On this horrific note, our adventure ended.

A Couple of Quick Reflections
  • With some help from Rachel, I am going to develop some quick Tekumel handouts to facilitate faster play in the future. Things like Clans, Gods, Races, Legion names, and cool Tekumel flavored Aspects.
  • The implementation of magic that the Dlamelish priest used worked well, I thought.
  • I need to tweak the skills a bit more, to increase the Tekumel flavor and utility for players.
  • One player hadn't been to Tekumel in about 20 years. He said it felt natural stepping right back in to the world.
  • The Man from Duluth reflected that he had wondered what it would be like to do a dungeon crawl using fate. I think he felt it was a pretty good experience.