Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Destruction of Vulcan

Some good came from the Destruction of Vulcan. A Unification of sorts occurred as some of the 10,000 space borne Vulcan survivors settled on worlds in the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Romulans proposed it; many of the Vulcans agreed; the Federation stood by and watched. A cross border trade emerged, with Vulcans as the intermediaries. This in time led to numerous intelligence breakthoughs for the Federation.

Some Vulcans even went to Romulus itself. It was an unpleasant surprise when the U.S.S. Intrepid and its almost entirely Vulcan crew defected to the Romulans. Negotiations dragged on for months, but the Federation never got that ship back. The few human crew were returned after months of subspace negotiations.

The Destruction of Vulcan freed many Vulcans from the oppressive Yoke of Logic, as some later called the old ways. The psychic pressure of billions of Vulcans sublimating their base drives was suddenly gone. Many Vulcans moderated their approach to logic; Vulcans were seen to smile again.  Pon farr disappeared, and Vulcan romantic patterns and mating habits soon harmonized with their more passionate Romulan brethren.

Vulcans of the Diaspora pursued many different ways of life. Some were traditional: teacher, trader, philosopher, scientist, monk. Some were new: prophet, courtesan, mercenary, smuggler, spy. A few forged the fearsome Trade Alliance with the Ferengi.

In the decades to come, no one ever took a Vulcan for granted again.

Here is a rendering of Sovak, a Vulcan smuggler-spy, 
using the current draft of FATE Core.

SOVAK, Vulcan smuggler-spy

High Concept 
  • I can get you anything you want
  • There's always extra room in my hold
The Phase Trio: Sovak was one of many Vulcans who sought new opportunities in the Romulan Neutral Zone. He gained a reputation for his ability to get anything for anyone, and soon both the Romulans and the Federation were trading with him - for both trade goods and secrets. A few bad deals made him a wanted man on both sides of the Neutral Zone. Fortunately he has friends like the human swindler Harvey Mudd, and the Romulan Subcommander Talina Shovaz to help him out of predicaments.
  • With friends like these
  • Know someone in the Tal Shiar?
  • Federation laws are notoriously lax
1 Great (+4): Contacting
2 Good (+3): Lore (Romulan Neutral Zone), Notice
3 Fair (+2): Deceit, Rapport, Resources
4 Average (+1): Drive (Starship), Empathy, Fighting, Shooting

  • My Own Ship (Resources skill) - Sovak owns a Mugato-class Free Trader.
  • The Weight of Reputation (Contacting skill) - Sovak is always ready with a well-placed counterthreat, such as to call down the Tal Shiar on someone who threatens him
  • Physical Stress: 1- and 2-point boxes
  • Mental Stress: 1- and 2-point boxes
Refresh/FATE Points: 2

FATE Core is copyright 2012 by Evil Hat Productions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Last Happy Vulcan

Remulek, or Romulus as the Terrans prefer to call him, was the first true Romulan. The Romulans see him as their all-father. They refer to him as The Last Happy Vulcan, because he escaped before the grey pall of logic descended over that red world and turned The Green Blood weak.

Remulek, his brother Rem'ez, and several hundred clan followers, commandeered a prototype starship belonging to one of Vulcan's city states.  They left their world behind precisely when it needed strong leaders who could forge peace and order out of war and chaos.  In a few short years, another leader would step forward to provide that leadership: Surak of Vulcan, father of the Awakening.

Remulek named his vessel the She-Wolf, because it would give birth to a new star-nation. He used one of the ship's experimental warp bottle torpedoes to take his followers on a one-way trip to a new world. In doing so, he and his brother founded the world of Romulus and set the stage for its future Star Empire.

Remulek's passions would drive the two brothers to greatness.

But only one of them would live long and prosper.

Here is a rendering of Remulek using the current draft of FATE Core.

REMULEK, Founder of the Romulan Star Empire

High Concept 
  • I have a great destiny
  • Ruled by passion
The Phase Trio: The flight from Vulcan and settlement of a new world brought with it conflicts from the old world. Remulek struggled with his brother for leadership of his followers. For a time after planetfall, Rem'ez took control of the clan. But with the help of clan-allies like Sevtar the Stealthy, and the Reman alien Am'rak the Mindful, Remulek overthrew his brother and cast him into the hell-world of Remus.
  • You can leave Vulcan behind...but not the civil war
  • Friends are better than brothers
  • The best allies come from hell
1 Great (+4): Rapport
2 Good (+3): Fighting, Will
3 Fair (+2): Deceit, Intimidation, Physique
4 Average (+1): Contacting, Lore, Notice, Shooting

  • Popular (Rapport skill)
  • Physical Stress: 1-, 2-, and 3-point boxes
  • Mental Stress: 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-point boxes
Refresh/FATE Points: 3

FATE Core is copyright 2012 by Evil Hat Productions.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

FATE Core Has Issues (but not in the way you think...)

Plasma Jets From Radio Galaxy Hercules A

I have read about half of the draft FATE Core rules now, and for the most part really like what I see. The FATE system has been simplified in ways that are helpful. Some of these reductions in complexity - such as reducing the number of PC aspects to 5, and describing a High Concept and Trouble aspect before moving to the collaborative phase of creating a triplet of shared-story aspects - can easily be ported over to other games like Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures.

I also like the very simple starting point of collaborative game/campaign design as presented in FATE Core. This precedes PC generation. You engage players in creating game/campaign aspects by engaging them in specifying a Current Issue and an Impending Issue for the game/campaign.

In this way, the PCs are telling you the kind of game they'd like to play. This can also be easily integrated with Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures' campaign-building systems.

In our recent Diaspora campaign, the Current Issue might have been written up as:
  •  The newly unified planet Juche receives the gift of an alien starship, and seeks to find its place in the Cobweb Cluster 
The Impending Issue might be:
  • The aliens are themselves divided, and the ship is stolen property 
Each of these then becomes a game/campaign aspect with further implications for play. The two issues also present "ways into the game" - ideas that help players come up with their own PCs aspects - and something new players often struggle with when they create characters. 

In Diaspora, this Issues step could take place right after Cluster generation, and right before PC generation. 

I can also think of a way to use this in Starblazer Adventures. If a GM is going to use the Collaborative Campaign Creation rules (Chapter 23) in Starblazer Adventures (rules which focus on creating and specifying some details of a sector of space), you could do a sequence like this:
  • Players/GM collaborate to create the sector (using the rules in Chapter 23)
  • Players/GM collaborate to create a Current Issue and an Impending Issue for the sector that could involve the PCs
  • Players create the PCs, developing PC aspects that inspired by the Issues where that sounds fun and makes sense
  • The GM then creates Plot Stress tracks tied to the Sector, the Issues, and the PCs (Chapter 24)
This could be a LOT of fun!  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FATE Library: Starblazer Adventures

Anubian Ambassador Conniption

This is the third post in our FATE Library series, in which I am looking at the FATE RPGs that I own, have read, and have used. The first post in the series was a review of Spirit of the Century. The second was a review of Diaspora.

Today, we are taking a look at Starblazer Adventures, a massive, lavishly illustrated tome of FATE-inspired rock and roll space opera.

(You can download a free 40 page preview of the game here.)

First, my rating system:
  • Book Condition? My copy is in excellent shape. It is a huge, very solid hardcover. The binding is  intact after being roughly 3.5 years in my possession. Slight corner rubs. Best of all, it did not kill the Anubian Ambassador when it slid onto her sleeping form. However, it certainly did get her attention!
  • Actually Read? Well, any tome that has 629 pages of text is going to be read-as-needed, rather than read-through from cover-to-cover. At least in my house. I have read A LOT of the book (it has 34 chapters and 6 appendices), but I am always discovering new worlds within; there is always more of Starblazer to read and learn. I am most familiar with the sections on character generation, careers, skills, stunts, equipment and gadgets, aliens and mutants, robots and vehicles, and starship design. Practically every time I use the book, I  also consult the Basic Scaling chapter, which is only one page of text, but an essential reference for this implementation of the FATE Fractal.
  • Ever Played? I have used Starblazer Adventures to run Fading Suns, and am currently using it to playtest my forthcoming generation ships supplement for Modiphius Entertainment, which is called Project Generations. I also use Starblazer Adventures for the FATE SF posts tagged with the Label "SBA". Many of these are for a sandbox space opera setting called "the Empire".
  • Science Fiction? It was the first FATE science fiction roleplaying game. The game's subtitle is The Rock and Roll Space Opera Adventure Game. The game takes its title not from the anime "Starblazers" (although, believe me, you could use Starblazer Adventures to run adventures in "Starblazers") but from the British comics magazine Starblazer - Science Fiction Adventure in Pictures published by DC Thomson & Co., Ltd., from 1979-1991. Grant Morrison wrote for Starblazer, which is enough for me!  The interior art is most definitely 70s-SFnal; it is all from the "Starblazer" comics and is certain to hit the sweet spot for fans of art in the same vein as Chris Foss and Terran Trade Authority books. So, a game based on SF comics of the late rock and roll era, as well as a rock and roll game in the sense that it is a perfect toolkit for running fast-paced sandbox space opera inspired by Perry Rhodan, original Star Trek, Star Wars, either Battlestar Galactica series, Babylon 5, or even Firefly. Hell. Planet of the Apes. Kamandi. Forbidden Planet. Planet of Vampires. Asimov, Heinlein, Frank Herbert's Dune - mix and match or anything of your own design. Rock and roll.
Some intellectual projects are very tightly focused on the exploration of the implications of a few key discoveries; this is what Diaspora is like. Other intellectual projects explode in every direction, exploring ever expanding chains of discoveries in multiple directions simultaneously; this is what Chris Birch and Stuart Newman's Starblazer Adventures is like. This was the first FATE game to explore the full potential of FATE for scalability at different levels. The FATE fractal they discovered can model anything from a human to a vehicle to a starship to a galactic empire to a galaxy.

That makes reviewing Starblazer Adventures a little bit like trying to review of the Bible. "In the beginning..." gets you started, but after that, there are so many different books and chapters, and numerous directions that one might explore.

But let's start at the beginning. 

Starblazer Adventures uses 1D6-1D6 as its core dice mechanic. It was the first implementation of FATE to do so. The resulting distribution for 1D6-1D6 extends one number higher and lower than the distribution for 4DF, and the amplitude of the curve isn't quite as high at and around zero. It's a bit swingier than 4DF but feels fine in play.

On to creation.

Characters in Starblazer Adventures are created in collaborative Aspect-generating phases similar to those in Spirit of the Century (SOTC). PCs have 10 Aspects. There are 32 skills, most of which are closely based on SOTC. There are a few new skills, including Starship Engineering, Starship Gunnery, Starship Pilot, and Starship Systems. However, there are also Alien/Mutant skills, and Psionic skills which expands the potential skills list by another 15. Dozens of Stunts fall under the specific "normal" skills. There are also Stunts associated with Alien/Mutant skills and Psionic skills, as well as special Stunts that are accessible for Aliens/Mutant characters based on novel uses of 8 normal skills. 

Players can create characters belonging to ten different science fictional careers ranging from Diplomat to Explorer to Pirate/Rebel to Sci-Tech. Each career also has unique Stunts that are outside the normal Skills-based Stunt menu. No one has to create PCs using the Career Types, however. You can create PCs completely without using them. Career Types just add a little more specialization and flavor Skill- and Stunt-wise, and provide a bit more directionality and inspiration for someone trying to select Aspects for their PC.

Characters have two stress tracks, one for physical Stress and one for Composure Stress. Weapons add to the shifts you do in a successful hit, while armor reduces hits and in some cases takes Consequences. 

As I mentioned before, there are rules for creating Aliens and Mutants, as well as robots, which are essentially only another variation in character type. Here is one of my creations, the Witchfinder-class Android. The book gives you a huge number of descriptions and stats for all sorts of creepy space overlords, aliens, mutants, monsters, robots, etc. from the Starblazer comics. You can use these out-of-the-box, or use them as benchmarks for creating your own aliens, robots, and creatures.

Starships have Aspects, Skills, Stunts, and Stress Tracks that are structured almost identically to those for characters. This is the FATE Fractal at work. There are 24 templates for space vehicles ranging from Scale 2 Sensor Probes and Scale 3 Fighters, all the way up to Scale 6 Fleet Carriers and Scale 7 Orbital Military Bases. There are rules for building your own space vehicles. I built the Flying Fist of Judah Heavy Fighter in about 15 minutes or so. The space combat rules give any player with a relevant starship skill a chance to do something interesting during space combat.

Additional variations on this theme of the "build X like you would a character" are found in the rules for statting up creatures, organizations (everything from space-chivalric orders to vast galactic empires), and planets. You can play out conflicts between different organizations and groups, just as you can with the Company rules in Greg Stolze's REIGN.

There is a very fun planet/system generator. Here is an example of the Prison Planet that I created using that tool. The book describes numerous worlds from the Starblazer comics.

There are rules for collaborative setting generation. They are more focused on creating distinct setting-zones in a solar system or in a larger region of space - places that the PCs can help develop bring to life by creating interesting names and Aspects for those parts of the map. These rules aren't as developed and tightly axiom-driven as Diaspora's Cluster generation system, but they point in directions that are equally interesting, especially for the creation of sandbox space opera settings.

Some of the ideas presented in the game haven't even been used elsewhere in FATE, such as the ideas of Campaign, Group, and Character Plot stress: "Essentially each one is a stress track that is affected by player character failures, specific player actions and trying to escape death. As the stress damage builds up various "plot events" happen which lead to change in the characters' lives or experiences" (p.387).

For me it's not a question of Starblazer Adventures OR Diaspora OR Bulldogs!  Each one is a unique implementation of FATE and they each fill a certain niche in SF gaming. 

Starblazer Adventures fills the niche of being FATE's space opera sandbox toolkit. It blows the niche wide-open into a swirling galactic vortex. So avoid the Space Sargasso! Watch out for THAT android! And get your blaster ready! There's more to come for Starblazer Adventures

Monday, December 17, 2012

Project Generations - More Details On The Publication

Over the weekend, the product page went live for Project Generations, my forthcoming FATE-based supplement on generation ships for Modiphius Entertainment.

It has a lot more details on the contents of the publication!

Once we iron out a few more details, Modiphius Entertainment should be putting up timeline information for the release as well.

Stay tuned to FATE SF this week! On Wednesday, we'll post our FATE Library review of Starblazer Adventures!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Project Generations

Project Generations is the working title for the generation ships supplement I am writing for Modiphius Entertainment

I have been wanting to do a generation ships RPG for two decades. Back in the mid-90s I took my first shot at it creating a space ark RPG called NOAH. Now after all these years I am finishing the writing for a generation ships supplement using my favorite game system, FATE!

 My love of space arks began as a result of Fall road trips to New England with my parents. I read my first two science fiction novels in the back of my Dad's Galaxie 500 on those trips: James Blish's Spock Must Die! and Robert A. Heinlein's Orphans of the Stars. The later novel is perhaps the classical generation ship story, with its humans and mutants struggling to survive on an out-of-control generation ship.

And I wasn't alone in claiming Heinlein as an influence. His book almost certainly influenced Jim Ward's classic generation ship RPG, Metamorphosis Alpha.

The Starlost was another major influence in my youth. Although the series was much derided by Harlan Ellison, who wrote the original screenplay and served as the science adviser to the show, the design of the Earthship Ark was elegant and beautiful.

I lived on that ship in the early 1970s.

So why Modiphius? That's the new gaming company led by Chris Birch, the lead author of the first FATE SF RPG, Starblazer Adventure! They have already made a big splash in roleplaying with the release of Sarah Newton's Zero Point adventures for Modiphius' WW II Call of Cthulhu series Achtung! Cthulhu. 

Project Generations is the first in a series of FATE-based SF products that we are planning.Whether you want to create generation ships, want off the shelf examples, or are looking for a scenario to run set on a space ark, we will have you covered.

The draft is currently dual statted for Starblazer Adventures and Diaspora, and makes the two game systems work together in some very interesting ways! Once I complete my current draft of the manuscript, I am going to go back in and do stats and conversion notes for Bulldogs! as well! There will be some particularly fun and interesting implications for the scenario included with the project for players of Bulldogs!

The most important journey for generations is about to begin!

Be sure to come aboard when we launch!

The manuscript is 90% completed, and I hope to wrap most things up this weekend. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting project!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SHADO 2 Mobile

SHADO 2 Mobile Dinky toy
Photo c. 2012 by John Everett Till

Moonbase Central's post today on the SHADO Mobile 2 Dinky toy inspired me to do another Starblazer Adventures post. (Mine is green wheels and black treads, guys!) And that's the Starblazer Adventures storyteller's screen you see in the background of my photos!

The SHADO 2 Mobile was an armored ATV used by the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization (SHADO). There were different models of the vehicle used by SHADO to intercept UFOs that had breached Earth's Moon-based and airborne defenses. This version of the vehicle could be quickly deployed in an area near a UFO landing/close encounter site to scout for the alien vehicle and destroy it.

This SHADO 2 is armed with a missile launcher that is hidden under a rotating roof hatch. Below you can see the SHADO 2 Mobile's missile and launch rack deployed.

SHADO 2 Mobile: Missile Deployed!
Photo c. 2012 by John Everett Till

The vehicle has a machine gun over the driver's compartment. I am also making the assumption that the vehicle is amphibious - it can operate submerged for short periods of time, and cross streams and small bodies of water - as long as the treads have traction on a submerged surface such as a creek bottom.


Armored Missile ATV

Scale: Medium (2) Assault Platform
Speed: Fair (+2)
Structural Stress: 5
Systems Stress: 5
Fate Points/Refresh: 7

  • Not every movie studio has these!
  • Missile launcher ready!
  • Earth's last line of defense
  • 1 Good (+3): Armor  
  • 2 Fair (+2): Manoeuvre, Projectile Weapons (Missiles)*
  • 3 Average (+1): Projectile Weapons (Machine Guns), Troop Carrier Facilities**, Ship Systems
  • Guided Missiles - Projectile Weapon skill (p.328)
  • Anti-Fighter Barrage - Projectile Weapon skill (p.328)
  • Amphibious - Manoeuvre skill (NEW STUNT) - Vehicle may perform on land or in water.

*Vehicle has Out-of-Ammo temporary aspect after firing two missiles

**A crew of two in the driver and passenger seat, and up to 10 soldiers in back.

Monday, December 10, 2012

FATE Library: Diaspora

"Two Diasporas" photo c. 2012 by John Everett Till
This is the second post in my FATE Library series, in which I discuss the FATE RPGs in my personal library and what I have done with them. The first post was on Spirit of the Century.

Today we are looking at Diaspora.

First, my rating system:
  • Book Condition? Dog-eared cover, lamination starting to peel, spine very much intact, thoroughly page-flagged. I also have a PDF which is in perfect condition.
  • Actually Read? Numerous times.
  • Ever Played? Held the first Diaspora game in a public venue in MN - a six hour marathon in fact! I have run a campaign (the longest I have ever run, in fact) as well as a one-shot adaptation of  Hereticwerks' Rogue Space scenario: Quick Score on Xudriss II at The Source Comics and Games. Never a player. I am also using Diaspora for my FATE SF-specific blog posts for Sector I-5 of the Kepler 22-B collaborative world-building project (more on the project here).
  • Science Fiction? The game's subtitle is "Hard science fiction role-playing with fate." It manages that in refreshing, player and GM-empowering ways, dropping the math-kludge of many Hard SF games and jettisoning the libertarian baggage that the Hard SF field has been burdened with for decades. Diaspora was the second FATE-based SF game. (The first, Starblazer Adventures, will be the subject of my FATE Library post next week. That will be followed by its sister game, Legends of Anglerre, one week later.) 

This is a 4DF version of FATE. 

Characters start as very competent people. Their apex skill on the skill pyramid is +5, which is higher than the skill level of starting Heroic characters in Starblazer Adventures. There are 36 skills to choose from, and these skills are highly optimized for science fiction settings [i.e., Aircraft, Archaeology, Brokerage, EVA, MicroG (combat), and Navigation (space)] to name a few. There is differentiation of skill types and a specific subset of skills with the marker (space), which are used to operate spaceships. 

A very important aspect of skills is that your apex skill is the only one you may use to make a declaration. I like this; its a very elegant and simple way to create characters with a clear differentiation in specialties.

The game takes a very minimalist approach to Stunts, which operate by means of simple axioms such as military-grade versions of skills (for example enabling access to non-civilian weapons), skill substitution (for instance, using one skill in place of another in specific circumstances), or have a thing (access to special equipment, resources, technology), alter a track (extend or change the functionality of a stress track), or free form (in which case the player negotiates with the GM/table for a specific stunt that they create (this creates a lot of room for creating special powers and abilities).

There are three stress tracks: health, composure, and wealth. The latter comes in very handy if you want to run a game in which the PCs are engaging in commerce, and/or contributing to the maintenance costs of operating a space ship.

PCs have 10 Aspects, which are generated in a collaborative process with five phases running from Growing Up to On Your Own.

But the real heart of Diaspora is its cluster generation system. Diaspora comes out of the box with an elegant sub-system which allows players to create the setting in which they will play. The setting is called a cluster, and clusters typically consist of 5-6 solar systems that connect to each other by means of slipknot (essentially spatial discontinuities or jump points). 

The number of connections any given system has to the other systems in the cluster is determined randomly. Systems can be relatively connection poor (a link to one other system) or connection rich (with slipknot to multiple systems). This helps produce the physical relationships between systems that give rise to a range of political and economic scenarios. 

But these scenarios are far more than spatial, which becomes evident once the ratings for Technology, Environment, and Resources for each system are determined. Each of these three ratings range from -4 to +4. For example, the lowest rating for Technology is T-4 which is stone age levels of technology. The high end of the scale is T+4 which is described as on the verge of collapse. At T+4 a system is one the verge of one or more technological singularities which are both wonderful and terrifying. Disapora's view of the singularity is that it is often a precipice; civilizations often reach this point and unravel, implode, collapse. You need at least T+2 to have slipstream use (i.e., interstellar FTL travel). But be careful how high you reach...

The Environment and Resource scales operate similarly to Technology. Together, they create three parameters for a system. Of course, the very same ratings might be interpreted differently by two different people. This is where the table comes in. Each player interprets one system's ratings, specifying three Aspects and a brief description for one system in the cluster. An entire setting takes shape as people take turns.

In the setting we created for my Diaspora campaign, it took roughly two 2-hour sessions to generate the setting. We had a group of extremely intelligent and creative players who had very strong but divergent ideas about how to interpret the T-E-R ratings. It took a while to reconcile these divergent viewpoints into something interesting, plausible, and coherent. We eventually got there. On the other hand, I ran Diaspora with a group of complete strangers at a convention and we came up with a fun, interesting sector in about 45 minutes.

Diaspora also has subsystems for space combat (I have tried and enjoyed them), social combat (haven't tried them and don't quite grok them yet), and platoon combat (haven't tried them yet). It was designed to be a complete hard SF RPG in one small package. It provides GMs and players with simple frameworks for building clusters, characters, space ships and more. These frameworks are simple but carry within them significant complexity and richness.  I think it succeeds admirably in all these goals. 

As long as you buy into a few core axioms - the nature of clusters and space travel; playing very competent but specialized PCs; sticking to hard SF by excluding things like artificial gravity, transporters, and technomagic; and the ethos of empowering the table to make decisions about the setting - Diaspora can take you very, very far.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Very Preliminary Thoughts On FATE Core

We have been watching with great interest this week as FATE Core's Kickstarter blasted through numerous goal levels. As of the time of this post, there have been 645 new posts on the FATE RPG listserv in the last seven days: this is a tribute to how much interest and enthusiasm there has been for the new FATE Core system since the working draft was released on Tuesday for Kickstarter donors.

I have had a very busy week, so I have not gotten very far into the PDF. I'm about 15-16 pages in so far.

So far, so good, I'd say. Simplifying definitions and rules, and expanding the potential applications of the existing FATE system seems to be at the heart of this initiative.

That's healthy.

Hopefully FATE Core will support conversion of existing FATE products and campaigns to the new system, for people who want to move in that direction. Hopefully it will also inspire lots of other kinds of conversions.

For example, who doesn't get excited about fun ideas like playing FATE Core in Glorantha?

I hope FATE Core also opens up a number of simple ways to revise how one can modify already-published implementations of FATE at the gaming table. I hope there will be examples, and practical how-to's for all this in the FATE Core Toolkit and/or Worlds expansions. That will increase the value of the new system, and further demonstrate its adaptability.

But modifying what you already use may or may not even be necessary, depending on your appetites and interests. Each of the existing FATE games is interesting, fun, and playable in its own right. They aren't invalidated by what comes next, however much FATE Core inspires some of us to adopt the new system in its entirety, or tinker with using it to modify the versions of FATE that we are already using.

On that note, we'll be continuing our series called FATE Library this week with a review of Diaspora.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Yonada: A Look Inside The Creators' Design

Yonada Cutaway by Rachel Kronick

Today, we continue our mini-series on the generation ship Yonada, the main character and core mystery of  the original Star Trek series episode "For The Word Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky." Thanks to the Inkscape skills of my friend Rachel Kronick, FATE SF is pleased to share a Star Trek first:

We have here first diagram of the internal structure of the ancient Fabrini world-ship Yonada.

I have watched the episode numerous times (most recently, twice, last Sunday), and for years have pondered the true structure of Yonada. Shortly into the episode, the Enterprise crew discuss the fact that the Yonadans don't realize that they are living on the inside of a hollow ball.

Early in the episode we also meet an old man. He enters the Enterprise crew's guest quarters shortly after they have descended into Yonada's interior. The old man claims that when he was young, he climbed the mountains on the inside of the asteroid, "touched the sky." But if he were climbing mountains on the inside wall of a hollow ball (i.e., if Yonada really were just a hollow ball), that would clearly be impossible.

He'd be reaching upwards and grasping air. He wouldn't be touching sky at all.

So instead of this simple hollow ball theory, I have come-up with an internal structure that is consistent with what we see in the episode: a more or less solid sphere that is inside a spherical shell.  

People live underground, just as they did in the latter days of life on Fabrina, before their sun went nova. The little orange nubs in the diagram are the orange cylindrical accessways from which  the Yonadans emerge to ambush the Enterprise crew.

Accessways, Closed

Accessways, Open

There are indeed mountains capable of reaching and touching the sky in our diagram. These mountains are columnar structural supports which connect the "planetary surface" of the inner sphere (where the ambush occurred) with the inner surface of the surrounding (i.e., outer) shell - the "sky" being on the inside surface of this outer shell, and therefore "touchable" from the mountains.

So, can really someone climb the mountains that are shown in our diagram, and "touch the sky"?  Yes, in theory. Particularly if the mountains are either slightly less steep/hourglass-shaped than they are depicted in this rendering - and/or if the mountains are sufficiently worked that they have rather secure handholds, or a spiral staircase to facilitate climbing.

The columnar mountains are also a possible point of origin for the missiles that attack the Enterprise at the very beginning of the episode. If some of the mountains are hollow, they may serve a dual purpose as missile silos/launch tubes AND structural supports. One or more hollow columns could also serve as tubes to channel reaction mass from the ship's nuclear reactor to the exterior thrusters. We know that these thrusters exist because one of them is under-performing when the Enterprise arrives on the scene. That's what takes Yonada off-course.

In this scenario, the Yonadans spend most of their lives living underground; that is, they live below the surface of the ship's inner shell.  There is plenty of room down there for living space, hydroponics, a gravity generator, the reactors, and everything else you need to have a functioning generation ship. I think this model works.

So here's the question of the day: Why did the old man climb the mountains in his youth? The surface of the world looks very desolate. This seems a strange thing to do, considering how comfortable the world is below the ship's inner shell. Who would want to be on the surface at all? Does Yonada have some version of the Vulcan rite of passage known as the Kahs-wan Ordeal? Punishment-by-temporary-exile for asking too many questions? Anchorites? Wandervogel? Something else?

There is a story here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

FATE Core Today!

Today is the first day of the two-month FATE Core Kickstarter. Pledge even $1 and you get the draft of the new FATE Core rules.

Monday, December 3, 2012

"For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky"

These are, of course, famous last words. Sometimes, discovering that you are on a generation ship can be bad news - for you! It certainly was for the old man who in his youth had touched the sky of the shellworld generation ship, Yonada. The computer known as the Oracle killed the old man for revealing what he had learned: that the world was hollow, and he had touched the sky.

The Oracle is the caretaker of Yonada. It has the ability to speak to the people of Yonada when they are present within its Oracle Chamber. Its face is the stone monolith with the gold star symbol (see the image, below). The Oracle also communicates the will of The Creators  through its intermediary, the High Priestess of The People, Natira.

Oracle Room

Of course, we all know now that if you push the small button in the center of the star image, the monolith moves forward and reveals an accessway into the control bridge of the space ark. But this is more than just an Oz-like Big Reveal (although it very much is that!) because the crew of the Enterprise really need to find the control room of the ship. One of its thrusters is firing under capacity and the ship is off course. In less than a year, Yonada will collide with a Federation world. The world ship is on a collision course with Daran V, which has 3.724 million inhabitants, according to Memory Alpha.

Yonada was built by the ancient Fabrini when they realized that their world's sun was about to go nova. The space ark has been in transit for 10,000 years. During the last years of that doomed planet Fabrina, the people lived underground to protect themselves from their unstable and doomed sun. It is perhaps not surprising then that the religious icon of the Oracle is a multi-limbed sunburst.
The Fabrini built a generation ship that enabled their people to continue with a semblance of life on their home world. The good news is that the underground existence of the Yonadans actually looks very comfortable and relatively abundant. However, there are many rules to observe here, most of which are framed as religious precepts.

The presence of swords on Yonada, and particularly in Natira's personal retinue, is less likely due to the existence of cultural, political, and resource conflicts, and most likely due to the fact that the High Priestess has many religious rules to enforce.

Natira, High Priestess of The People
For example, it is mentioned that only the High Priestess of The People gets to choose her mate. Presumably that is because the computer that runs Yonada, in its religious guise as the Oracle, uses advanced population genetics modeling to make reproductive/marriage decisions for everyone else on the ship. The star-shaped Instrument of Obedience can't directly enforce marriage decrees. That requires someone who will if necessary forcibly move a person from one set of quarters to another.

So we apparently have arranged marriage. But is this all bad?

Here in the West, we consider any infringement on individuals' personal freedom and autonomy to be nearly a metaphysical evil. But on a generation ship with a limited gene pool, this kind of reproductive control is likely to be a necessity. While it is a bit implausible that medical geniuses like the Fabrini did not develop technologies that would have mitigated population staleness and concentration of lethal genes, perhaps they felt that simpler systems such as religious edicts were easier to sustain over thousands of years. Who knows?

One thing we did figure out from watching the episode twice this past weekend: it is easy to imagine that many of the early High Priestesses knew they were indeed on a generation ship. By guess is that they lived in quarters on the upstairs level of the space ark's control room. (We see Spock walk up these stairs to manually adjust the controls of the malfunctioning thruster.)

The High Priestess could have appeared in the Oracle Chamber as either a holographic projection, or - even more mysteriously - physically appeared as if from nowhere in the Oracle Chamber just prior to times of worship and religious decree-making. Perhaps it was only later that the High Priestess came to live completely within the midst of The People. There could be quite a story here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Marine Encounter Table for Kepler 22-B

The inimitable John M. Stater has just posted our Marine Encounter Table for New Manila Bay, which is in Sector I-5 of the Kepler 22-B Strange New World collaborative world building project.

The SNW project is system neutral  but on my own blog I post Diaspora-specific supplementary content for Sector I-5.

You can join this project and claim your own Sector of the real Big Planet. The details for joining SNW are here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

FATE Library: Spirit of the Century

"Pulp on Shaker Table" c. 2012 by John Everett Till

There is an internet meme*  in circulation right now in which people are showing off their game collections. That would be quite a project for me, and I like the variant of this meme (fadduole?) in which people show only the books that they actually USE when blogging  and/or at the gaming table. Well, I am going to go one further and do a series of posts featuring the individual FATE books in my library, and what I have done with them.

First up is Spirit of the Century, the first RPG powered by FATE.

First, my rating system:

  • Book Condition? Battle damaged, thoroughly page-flagged. Lulu FATE ladder bookmark (to the right of the book in the photo) in pristine condition
  • Actually Read? Numerous times
  • Ever Played? Held the first SOTC games in public venues in MN. GMed SOTC too many times to count, all one-shots. Never a player.
  • Science Fiction? We've gone to pulp Mars, Skull Island, and Multiversal Moorcockian Brooklyn!

As I am sure many people who follow this blog are aware, SOTC is a pulp RPG, both in terms of setting and mechanics. It has a default early 20th Century setting featuring the Century Club (a way to get PCs together in one organization and feed them adventures), but really a GM can either use the Century Club or discard it in favor of some other campaign narrative structure/organizational principle. This is especially the case since character generation in SOTC uses the traditional FATE approach (this FATE tradition started here!) of collaborative character generation.

I have heard many players who have been through this collaborative process state that this creates the most cohesive PC parties they have ever been part of. Many people are used to that play environment now, but I recall the nasty 90s when every Shadowrun and White Wolf game I was in had players withholding information from each other - just because.

It was so bad back then that I remember Sam Chupp explicitly telling the players in a WW II pulp convention scenario (with Mage 1st ed.) that there was no point in withholding information from each other: We were the heroes! 

At any rate, SOTC chargen works to create cohesive parties because players share power so evenly in character creation: players take turns helping each other create the most interesting and flavorful characters possible. I have seen players struggle to find the right way to write someone else's character into their own PCs story, and I have seen people struggle with choosing tasty Aspects for their character. But I have never seen a player "just phone it in" or "go through the motions" during collaborative character generation. Everyone is playing their "A-game"!

SOTC came out a bit after Bruce Baugh's Adventure! and like that White Wolf game introduced mechanics for players (as opposed to player characters) to reshape or re-channel the story narrative in new directions. SOTCs metagaming mechanics are much more robust and granular than those in Adventure! (which I have never run or had the chance to  play, unfortunately).

The system rewards players who are quick on their feet linguistically (as opposed to mathematically adept, or gifted rote-mechanically). I think the game also works best with a GM who is willing to handwave some mechanical details (rather than looking things up) and keep things moving. The Ladder is the GM's friend, and if you have it, The Ladder bookmark that came with the Lulu print run of the game should be Xeroxed onto the PCs character sheets for quick reference.

SOTC was expressly designed for pick-up play, but it is an incredibly crunchy game. For pick-up play, the GM will either need to handwave some Stunts' details (or perhaps let people play without Stunts entirely). It works best with players who trust each other and their GM and are at the table primarily to have some fun.

*I won't get into a long discussion here of why "meme" is an incoherent and idealist rather than materialist explanation of how information spreads.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Anagogue; Or, The Whirlpool Gate

The Imperial Throneship Anagogue exited from realspace and entered into history when its slipspace transition coincided in spacetime with the precipitation of a hyperspace mine out of the lowest enumeration of hyperspace. (Such precipitations are rare enough to pose little aggregate threat to interstellar shipping. Hyperspace mines usually only precipitate in this manner when they become entangled in the wake of cloaked vessels that are leaving hyperspace.)

The detonation of the mine transported the ship's crew and passengers somewhere else. It bounced the wrecked vessel back into realspace in the Aclys System, its original point of departure. The Angaogue then became a visible singularity.

The ruined ship became a pulsar of sorts, undergoing a recurrence of its original detonation once every 1.275 standard hours. The vessel now lies at the center of a permanent whirlpool of entangled realspace-slipspace-hyperspace, surrounded by other wrecked vessels caught up in its eddies.

The Aclys System was subsequently evacuated forcibly, and has been declared a closed system.

However, the story does not end there. With greater and greater frequency, a variety of unauthorized and unidentified ships with various advanced designs have been detected leaving the Aclys System. Still other vessels with cloaking devices or other blockade-runner rigging. have been detected after entering the system.

Imperial observers speculate that the Anagogue's recursive detonations have created gate conditions between our native space-time continuum and several others. The resulting gating effect propagates ripples that act as a hyperspace beacon attracting prospectors and explorers.

The Imperial Sovereign recently dispatched an Imperial Survey Expedition to explore the wreck of the Anagogue and investigate the incursions into the closed Aclys System. The survey vessel was unfortunately disaggregatated by a hyperwave burst just as it neared completion of its mission. Fortunately, it was able to insert a record buoy into hyperspace before it was destroyed.

The Imperial Survey Expedition  reported that there were:
  • Numerous corpses - human, known alien, and unknown alien - on board the Anagogue
  • Many vessels - clearly damaged - forming a nimbus of space hulks around the Anagogue
  • Makeshift modifications in the ship's interior, including repairs and demolitions, improvised bulkheads, and propped open  hatchways, as well as unrecognizable technologies that had been apparently grafted onto the ship's exterior and interior
  • Several energy hotspots which moved inexplicably around the ostensibly dead ship
  • Spiderweb fractures in the fabric of spacetime surrounding the wreck; these fractures heal and re-propagate after every burst, up to a radius of 1 milliparsec from the vessel
Further investigation is recommended, provided a relatively safe method of doing so can be identified. Formal requests for assistance have been made to the Mir Civil Engineering Corps and to the RUR Workers-State's Navigation Safety Committee in pursuit of this goal.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Open Portals and Broken Rooms

This past weekend, I discovered an extremely comprehensive list and set of links to types of portals and ways between places, courtesy of Porky's Expanse!, one of the most intriguing game blogs out there. 

Take a look at it. Scroll down a bit. There's a lot to it.

Some examples are more fantasty-oriented, while others are decidedly science fictional.

I could have posted the link over on The Everwayan, which is of course dedicated to gate-based multi-sphere fantasy gaming. It also seems apropos of NJW Games' post today on Ikea worldbuilding, since gates or means of getting from one place to another are an important consideration when creating the kind of modular settings the post describes.

As I said above, some of Porky's examples are more fantasy-oriented and other are more science fictional. But perhaps the science fiction vs. fantasy distinction isn't as important or meaningful as it used to be. Thanks perhaps to the increasing prominence of Asian SF in the form of anime over the last couple decades, these distinctions - which were important in the West for roughly a century - are beginning to feel more and more artificial.

So in that spirit, stay tuned in the near future for a post or two over at The Everwayan on a new SF RPG called Broken Rooms.  The game features thirteen versions of Earth which diverged on August 13, 2002. The PCs are called Nearsiders; they are people with the power to shift between worlds, most of which are in very bad shape in quite different ways.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Nautiloids On Kepler 22-B

"The Nautiloids" by SaraRichard

The Nautiloids are an intelligent, tool-using marine race on Kepler 22-B. But they are not native to this world. Deft, agile, subtle, the Nautiloids have learned how to slip directly from one world to another without using spacecraft. They seek out habitats that are rich in life and explore ancient places there, gathering knowledge and technology.

The Nautiloids don't sell what they acquire, and they don't share what they learn. They colonize worlds that promise the prospect of long-term benefit for their species, but always move part of their colony population onward in search of new worlds. They believe migration and colonization are the greatest forms of wealth and leverage.

Nautiloids are highly social, live in large groups, and communicate with each other by means of subtle changes in coloration as well as by means of chemical messengers delivered tentacle-to-mouth. They feed on shellfish and other small sea creatures, and work together to harvest these creatures. They have learned how to modify their environment in order to escape predation by the numerous hostile and hard-bodied life forms of Kepler 22-B's seas - creatures both large and small. But moving in open waters always involves risk.

The Nautiloids can escape pursuing predators by releasing ink jets that obscure their immediate environment. Alternatively, they can bio-synthesize a variety of other chemicals including toxins and hallucinogens that can then be released through their water jet organ.

Nautiloids also use Enigma Boxes to create or gain access to high technology weapons, biological robots, and quick-hardening coral foam. Their connection to these artifacts underscores the Nautiloids' own alien origin, but its uncertain whether these devices came with the Nautiloids or are just another of their acquisitions.



  • Super (+5): Culture/Tech 
  • Great (+4): Agility (Cloud Attack), Slug Throwers (Jabbari fish*) 
  • Good (+3): Alertness, Energy Weapons (combat), Science
  • Decent (+2):  Craft: Toxins, Navigation (space), Resolve, Survival (Oceans)
  • Average (+1): Computers (space), Craft (shape coral foam), Medical, Repair, Stealth

STRESS TRACKS: Health 3, Composure 4

  • Cloud Weapon: Either release a cloud of ink to immediately move two zones away from attackers, OR place a taggable Aspect of Poisoned or Drugged on any non-Nautiloid in the same zone (+2 stress to any attack as with Diaspora poison rules, p. 113).
  • Access Engima: Spend 1 FP to use an Enigma Box to access information, produce coral foam, create Jabbari fish, or exude a beam weapon.

  • Migratory tech scavengers 
  • Machines can't keep their secrets from us
  • Swim between worlds

*Handle as a Throwing Knife (poisoned).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sandpiper Mechs Land On Kepler 22-B!

Art by Jason Stokes

The Yrkoon Corporation, a front for the criminal Cojuangco crime syndicate, has landed Sandpiper-class mechs in Sector I-5 of Kepler 22-B. This is a flagrant violation of the Bituin Expedition's assertion of territorial rights of the Philippines Kasama Peoples Republic (PKPR). This is in essence an act of war.

The landing occurred on the northern edge of Hex 113.73. This hex is the mouth of a river that leads west from a great inland bay on the western mainland.

Responding to this incursion requires the dispatch of a special expeditionary force from the Bituin Expedition.  Because of the presence of Cojuangco allies among the Bituin crew, the assault force will be composed exclusively of PKPR loyalists.

The landing also raises a few questions:
  • Why didn't the Yrkoon Corporation land its assets on the same island where New Manila Bay is located? 
  • Is there something significant in Hex 113.73, or upriver from there?
  • Why did the Yrkoon Corporation's dropship turn tail and run for the slipknot as soon as they dropped their mechs planetside?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mosasauroids And Nautiloids

In the depths of New Manila Bay, there is a war. Two intelligent species are engaged in a deadly battle for survival. Huge, swift moving mosasauroids - some almost 18 M long - are locked in a deadly battle with intelligent, tool-using nautiloids - most of the latter between .5 and 1 M in length.

The Mosasauroids have the size advantage, but while they have great intelligence, their limbs are not useful for tool use. In contrast, the nautiloids are able to use their tentacles to manipulate the Enigma Boxes on the floor of New Manila Bay to great advantage:

The nautiloids know how to induce the Enigma Boxes to secrete Tool Discharges from their storage vacuoles, including: 
  • Biodegradable beam weapons ; the beam weapons are optimized for nautiloid use;*
  • Jabbari fish** - small biological fish-robots filled with radioactive toxins;
  • Quick hardening coral foam, which the nautiloids can shape into fixed coral-like shelter labyrinths
Only one or two members of a nautiloid pod will approach the Enigma Boxes to evoke these discharges. The Enigma Boxes emit radiation and it is deadly to be in prolonged contact with them. Nautiloids who are skilled in manipulating the Enigma Boxes often have radiation burns, scars, or missing/withered limbs from their encounters. Some also develop psychic abilities and have access to the knowledge stored within Enigma Box libraries.

*The Bay floor is littered with the biodegrading remains of discharged beam weapons
**A tip of the hat to Frank Herbert's Dune (and of course the nautiloids are inspired by Olaf Stapledon)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dinosauroid Eggs in Sector I-5

Photo c. 2012 John Everett Till

At First Glance: These large plant structures, each about 1 M tall and 2 M across, serve as incubators for the reptiloids' eggs. Dubbed Incubator Trees by the Bituin Expedition crew, these structures create a moist, warm environment for the development. Crew members have observed reptiloids transplanting various plants into the muck at the base of the Incubator Trees.

The crew made one attempt to take a closer look at these trees, but was forced to turn back when they were pelted by a barrage of mud balls and a flurry of poison darts from the reptiloids hidden among the mangrove trees surrounding the lagoon where Incubator Trees were found. The three crew hit with these poison darts experienced paralysis followed by respiratory failure.

Deep Background: Reptiloids use Incubator Trees to nurture the fertilized eggs of their species. The rizomatic structures at the base of Incubator Trees extrude into deep into the muck in which the trees are planted, and absorb and process chemical signals from other plant material in the muck. The development of individual fertilized eggs can be modified by exposure to specific plants that the reptiloids place in the muck surrounding the Incubator Trees. The development of each specific egg is determined by its relative proximity to various plants paced in the muck surrounding an Incubator Tree. Specific developmental variations can include alterations in biochemistry, morphology, or behavior.

Incubator Trees are the basis for an inter-clan economy. The Egg Trade features exchanges of  highly specialized egg-lines for shell currency and other items of value including marriage offers, fishing rights to specific lagoons, and samples/seeds of different plants. Egg-lines are primarily developmental rather than genetic, each existing due to a specific combination and arrangement of chemical messenger-secreting plants around an Incubator Tree. These arrangements and combinations of plants are carefully guarded trade secrets of each clan, since they are the basis of comparative advantage in the egg-trade.



  • Sophisticated natural biochemical factories
  • Never left unguarded
  • A clan's source of wealth

Common Egg-lines Stunt Table

Roll 4DF and consult the results below.
  • -4    Feathered Shaman (Psychic, Disapora, p. 222-224)
  • -3    Advanced Tool Maker (Spend 1 FP to invent a new tool) 
  • -2    Chameleon  (Bends light around body)
  • -1    Regeneration (Regenerate 3 stress points  per round)
  •  0    Giantism (+1 to Health stress track)
  • +1   Poison spitter (Use Close Combat skill + Poison rules, p.113)
  • +2   Endurance diver (Operate for 60+ minutes under water)
  • +3   Leaper (Move one additional zone per round)
  • +4   Flyer (Move two additional zones per round)

Celebrating Our 100th Post At FATE SF

Just in time for our 100th post at FATE SF take a look at the beautiful new masthead at the top of the blog, courtesy of Jim Garrison of Hereticwerks!

We started the FATE SF blog back in May 2012 with the ambition of increasing the visibility of FATE-based SF gaming in the blogosphere. We also hoped to create a nexus point for SF-related content for FATE games.

We hope that the blog has helped to make FATE-based SF games more visible on the internet! Our project has involved creating examples of how games such as Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures can be used to build new or emulate classic SF aliens, spaceships, planets, organizations, and more. To help build that out, FATE SF has also featured two default settings:
  • The Empire, a space opera sandbox inspired by the: "organizations" that my friends and I created in the days immediately before the dawn of roleplaying. My first organization was called Bloodbath. That somewhat sanguine organization soon gave way to the United Empire, the inspiration for my Empire posts here. Moving forward, we will be focusing exclusively on Starblazer Adventures as the default system for The Empire, although I believe that trend is already well-established in recent posts.
  • Kepler 22-B, Sector I-5. This is a shared world (literally) hosted at the Strange New World blog. Intended as a collaborative SF hexcrawl, different contributors are developing different parts of the planet. System-free content for my sector is posted directly to the SNW blog; additional setting content, Easter eggs, and FATE-specific content are posted here on FATE SF. While contributions for the various sectors being developed on SNW are all over the map in terms of space operaticity vs. hard SFness, for Sector I-5, I am going for a soft, hard SF feel. Moving forward, my FATE SF posts for Kepler 22-B will use Diaspora exclusively.

Thanks are due to several people for inspiring me and helping me launch FATE SF. Jim and Jody Garrison of Hereticwerks have been a major help as well as a major inspiration. The Swords and Stitchery blog was another major (and hyper-real influence), as is Porky's Expanse, which just won an important blogging award.

Most of all, I'd like to thank the players of my first Diaspora campaign, Rachel, Eric, Pazi, and Darin for some amazing collaborative world-building and space adventure.

From the Tin Can 
To the stars we have gone
Juche a distant Light that guides us still
Enlightening the Cobweb Cluster
With the Light of Eunomian Thought!  
We have come so far my Comrades,
And through Struggle 
Will go farther still!