Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Kerberos Club

This April, I am going to be running the FATE Edition of The Kerberos Club at JonCon '13 in the Twin Cities. JonCon is a private gaming convention that emerged from a core of friends who have played for many years in each others' gaming groups. Horror games such as Call of Cthulhu are a hallmark of  JonCon, and I can honestly say that the only truly scary Call of Cthulhu game I have ever played was in a JonCon CoC tournament.

So this year I know I will get in some great games, and my own offering at the Con will be running The Kerberos Club. I am slowly making my way through the narrative background on the Kerberos Club, which is a society or private club for 19th Century Victorian heroes who have been touched by... The Strange. Early in the Victorian era, the level of weirdness in the world is modest, and the Club is secret. By the late Victorian era, the Kerberos Club is completely out in the open - rather like a high weird Victorian JLA - and has frequent clashes will all manner of technological and occult threats. Imagine several dozen singularities unleashed at once, and you have a sense of the haute weird at the end of the Victorian age.

The Strange FATE system which powers The Kerberos Club (Strange FATE SRD here) is on the complex end of the FATE spectrum, with a skill set tailored for Victorian age weird heroes, and skills organized into three distinct power tiers that differentiate the powers of heroes from those of mere mortals. There are also Gifts, which stand-in for Stunts in this implementation of FATE.

So far, I am finding the background text by Benjamin Baugh to be pretty evocative - sometimes quite subtly so - and as well as a little odd at certain points. There are a few places where a sentence seemed to belong earlier in the paragraph. But nevertheless I am pretty intrigued by the setting and am looking forward to digging into the mechanics of Strange FATE in another week or so. There's 180 pages of setting background to push through first!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

FATE Core Hacks

Over at his Walking in Shadows blog+Jacob Poss recently posted an impressive list of FATE Core Hacks: essentially worked examples of what people are actually doing with the game. I have added Jacob's list to the FATE SF Links page of the FATE SF blog.

There is a lot of FATE going on over at Walking in Shadows, so please stop over there to check it all out if you want a FATE-fix. Jacob is doing some very interesting universe-building of his own there; just look for his posts with a Space Opera label.

Do you have some FATE-oriented links that should be up at the FATE SF Links page? If so, please drop a comment so that I can add it to the list!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Aspects For The Temple of Vimuhla

"Inside the Temple of Vimuhla"
Photo copyright 2012 by John Everett Till

In my Con of the North FATE Core Tekumel scenario "Raid on the Temple of Vimuhla" one experienced Tekumel and FATE player asked me: 

"Instead of mapping the entire temple, and narrating movement from room-to-room, why didn't you just create some Aspects for the temple?"

Great question!

I suppose one answer is that I wanted to preserve the element of a dungeon crawl. There are probably many ways of creating a dungeon crawl feel, which is after all an affect, but I stuck to a very traditional room-by-room OSR-inspired literalist map-keying approach. That helped my immersion as a GM. I feel like I have been in the place now.

Dungeon World Goblins by Kyle Ferrin
I picked up Dungeon World this weekend, so am sure I will find some other approaches there to designing a dungeon crawl experience that are equally inspired. I know I sure like the goblins.

Another answer is that my long term goal is to create Aspects for every important location in the temple. By the time I was done with con prep, I had already spent 1.5 days writing up key temple locations using Ken Fletcher's wonderful handout.

I started with the trees and not the forest. 

But if I were to specify a few important Aspects that capture the temple's essence - or the affect of being there - here is what I might choose:
  • A temple AND a fortress
  • Lord Vimuhla demands sacrifices!
  • The sacrificial fire pit draws quite a crowd
  • A twisting maze of rooms and cells underneath the sanctuary
  • The torture chambers are just the beginning

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Microscope and Doctor Who

Our Thursday night gaming group has been playing some sessions of Microscope. It's a storygame which I first learned about through the Diaspora RPG listserv. I have now played it twice. This week's game was particularly fun. We decided to do a game about Space Vikings. Real Space Vikings, the kind who use longships with oars and sails to cross the foamy ether-seas to other worlds.

Our future history (the creation of which is the game of Microscope) began by establishing the beginning era and the end era for our story - the bookends for the timeline as it were. The beginning was the launch of Ragnar's fleet into the ether; the end point was the establishment of a democratic Viking space commonwealth.

The game's mechanics structure play in such a way that players take turns interpolating additional eras between the bookends, and/or specifying events that happen within specific eras. Players can choose to play out certain historical events so that the group can answer a specific question, and determine how historical events moved forward.

In our case, one of the key events that was played out was the question of "What did the Vikings take away from Mars?"  Individual players have a lot of say about what happens when it is there turn to be in the spotlight, but the mechanics establish some preliminary groundrules at the beginning of play (examples from this game were "I want this to be fantasy"; "I don't want this to be SF"; "I want there to be real Vikings with longships"; "I want there to be a Barsoom").

So I had an epiphany tonight about how to bring a bit more time travel to the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG. Why not use Microscope to create a world timeline for a campaign? The bookends would be fixed points in time. Maybe what happens between these bookends would be more fluid. Its an idea worth exploring a bit more with the gaming group. Maybe something interesting could come from it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Babylon 5 Station Aspects

"The Gathering"

ASPECTS for Babylon 5 Station:
  • Babylon 5 was a dream given form
  • A port of call for refugees, smugglers, businessmen, diplomats and travelers from a hundred worlds
  • Our last, best hope for peace
  • Nothing here is what it seems

With thanks to Babylon 5 Quotes, and in particular to "The Gathering" quotes page.

The Name Of The Place... Is Babylon 5

Babylon 5 Station

Today is the 20th anniversary of the debut of Babylon 5 pilot episode, "The Gathering". It hardly seems possible that my favorite SF series (with the exception of original Star Trek) is now 20 years old.

I have been running an occasional series here on FATE SF featuring B5 conversions for the Diaspora RPG; that series is called B'abSpora. Today seems the perfect day to announce an ongoing sub series here on FATE SF about the station itself. The series will include NPCs, encounter tables, scenario seeds, and more. A metagame may emerge.

The series will be based on The Babylon 5 Station Guide boxed set, published by Mongoose as a resource for their B5 RPG's second edition.

While Mongoose has a well deserved reputation for low quality and errors in many of their publications, this particular product seems fairly decent to me.

Let's open the box and spread out the contents. Here's what we see:

Here's what the box contains:

  • Four double-sided large station maps. They provide station cross-sections to orient the viewer, as well as detailed floor plans for key locations and typical locations. These are quite well done.
  • The Babylon 5 Visitor's Guide (Human Edition), a 16-page booklet with quick details on the station, including a key to the symbols used on the station maps, a two page center spread with station schematics, and overview of station sectors, and quick highlights of tourist attractions (Dining, Shopping, etc.).
  • Guide to the Station, a 96-page book that provides detailed information on the different levels and sectors of the Babylon 5 station.
  • Life on the Station, a 64-page book covering station services, social organization and groups (military, civilian, and alien), law, a more in-depth treatment of life on the station than is offered in the Visitor's Guide, and alien governments and factions based on the station.
  • The Station and the Galaxy, a 32-page booklet on the political, military, and trade missions of the station, stages of the station's history in the broader interstellar political context, support craft and station's fighter and point defenses, station security codes, and more.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

From London To The Hollow Earth

Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett's "Boilerplate":
The Vision for Vanadine Ironsides

The other big game - big as in 6 hours of play - that I ran at Con of the North was a marathon session of the Leagues of Adventure RPG, a steampunk RPG driven by the Ubiquity engine. The scenario was divided into two parts, the first of which was a two hour session set in London. In that session, the PCs were recruited by one Nathaniel Walker, the younger brother of the notorious filibustero William Walker, for a rescue mission to the Hollow Earth. 

Treason Broadside source:
This was an alt history game. In this 19th Century, the American Civil War was a three way battle between the Union, the Confederacy, and the revolutionary Black Republic formed after John Brown and Harriet Tubman's successful raid on Harper's Ferry. (See Terry Bisson's Fire on the Mountain for my inspiration.)

Ed Harris as William Walker in Alex Cox's "Walker"
In this 19th Century, William Walker's second expedition to Central America was really an expedition to the Hollow Earth. He departed for there in 1859. The current year was 1861. After receiving a mysterious letter from his older brother written on a strange, scaly/leathery membranous parchment, Nathaniel Walker was determined to either rescue his brother from the Hollow Earth, or bring back evidence of his death (there is the matter of an inheritance to consider, after all).

Enter the PCs, a motley crew of Americans and Britishers, with one metallic French citizen and a Ruritanian military officer thrown in for good measure:
  • Fury Grummersum, a British big game hunter and gourmand in search of Big Reptilian Meat; he was a member of the Epicurean Society
  • Lady Cornelius, an female member of the Brittanic Ladies' Speculative Society, whose player-created background has more than a little in common with the late Kage Baker's Nell Gwynne's Scarlet Spy
  • Doctor Crisis, an American inventor of intelligent automata and a member of the Armorers' Guild of Philadelphia
  • Vanadine Ironsides*, one of Doctor Crises creations who escaped from him on a tour of Europe, secured refuge and citizenship in France, and has now patented himself. Vanadine Ironsides belongs to The 1848 Society, a League of anarchists, socialists, and advocates for the emancipation of the working class.
  • Lieutenant Rudolf of Ruritania, one of the numerous and not-yet-united German statelets, and a member of the Dueling Club
  • Mays, a daring American female aviator from the Eccentric Society 
  • Nathaniel Walker, an American and a member of the Hollow Earth Society
The "Leagues" in Leagues of Adventures refers to the fact that each character belongs to some kind of social, political, reform, service, or academic club or society. This gives PCs access to additional skills and resources. Each character also had a henchman, a lesser NPC who was played by another player in the group. Some of these included: 
Svejk illustration by Josef Lada
  • Pepe, Fury Grummersum's personal chef
  • Schultz (yes!), a rather Svejk-ian "mule/gopher" 
  • Nigel, a highly effective bomb-throwing anarchist (everyone should have one of these)
  • Pip, a street urchin
The players' charge in the first two hours was to steal a Royal Air Navy airship. This would facilitate the journey to Central America where there was an opening to the Hollow Earth. The PCs succeeded. A lot of explosives were used. On a police station. That created quite a distraction. In the process,  the PCs disrupted the airship factory's extensive use of child labor. 

I think even Charles Stross might have approved of this adventure. Well, maybe.

More to come!

*This character was not only inspired by "Boilerplate"; it was inspired by "Take Your Time, Gentlemen" an amazing JonCon '08 convention scenario created by Jon Cazares. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

FATE Core Characters For Tekumel

FATE Core Character Sheets & Ken Fletcher's Temple Handout
Photo copyright 2013 by John Everett Till

This is the second part of my report on the Con of the North scenario "Raid on the Temple of Vimuhla." You can see the first part here. Today, I am focusing on character design and mechanics.

Who were the characters? Here's a sample:
  • A diminuitive Tinalyia burglar named EmThriGri
  • An impetuous Aridani warrior from the White Stone Clan
  • A Ksarul lay priest who is an underworld artifact hunter
  • A roguish Mu'ugalavyani foreigner who won his citizenship as a gladiator in Jakalla
  • A Shen veteran from the Legion of the Splendour of Shenyu
  • A military sorcerer from the Legion of Searing Flame

How were they built? A character in FATE Core has four elements:
  • Aspects, a total of five narrative hooks or tags that players craft to describe their character and let the GM know the kinds of play experiences adventure and trouble that a player is seeking through that character (e.g., "I got my start in the Arenas of Jakalla" for a foreign gladiator). Aspects produce bonuses in specific circumstances, boosting Skills or having other effects.
  • Skills, a list 18 of broad-brush abilities (i.e., hand-to-hand and melee combat is one skill called, Fighting; all ranged combat is one skill called Shooting).  Each Skill on a character's sheet is placed on a skill pyramid with four Average +1 skills at the base, three Fair +2 skills on the next level up, two Good +3 skills at the penultimate level, and one Great +4 at the apex. 
  • Stunts, special abilities  that make a character more powerful with a particular skill in specific ways, or provide new applications for the skill
  • Stress Tracks, usually two (one for Physical Stress and one for Mental Stress) that represent cumulative harm from physical and mental/social conflicts and that can lead to short term or durable disadvantages called Consequences
FATE Core produces fairly competent characters right out of the box. This is probably the greatest difference between traditional RPGs and many indie-favored games such as FATE. The skill pyramid is central to character design, and the Skill list also creates the opportunity to represent the world  in terms of the specific skills to be used in the game. For Tekumel gaming, I made a couple of small changes to the baseline FATE Core Skill list. I added Clan and Temple as Skills representing two of the most important social identities and skill sets possessed by people on Tekumel.

I created a Tsolyanu-centric Skill called Clan to replace the standard FATE Core Resources skill, since most non-state, non-temple wealth in Tsolyanu is held by Clans, rather than by individuals. The Clan skill also designates the status of the individual's Clan within the social hierarchy of the Tsolyani Imperium. This ranges from Clan +1 (Very Low), to Clan +4 (High) for baseline characters. I am debating requiring a Stunt if a player wants to play a member of a Very High clan.

For PCs who are non-Tsolyani, they either don't use the Clan skill (i.e., Shen) or have it set at zero and therefore not on the pyramid (e.g., a Mu'ugalavyani foreigner).

The name of the character's clan is one of their Aspects - for example, our Aridani character from Butrus had the Aspect Clan: White Stone, while a Ksarul-worshipping, underworld crawling PC was Clan: Obsidian Serpent, representing a small low-status stone mason's clan specializing in foundation-building. I made up this clan for the purposes of the game. That PC had a second clan related Aspect of "A high lineage in a low clan" to represent that his lineage was special and had afforded him more opportunity to study in the Temple of Ksarul.

Another new Skill, Temple, recognizes the prominence of the gods and religion in peoples' lives. Players creating characters who are lay-priests or casual worshipers place the Temple skill on the lowest tier of the skill pyramid (e.g., Temple +1), while priests with greater roles within their Templ and greater knowledge of its theology, rituals, and secrets will have a higher skill level. The specific Temple to which a character belongs is also represented by an Aspect, for example: Devoted to Lord Vimuhla or Alluring priestess of Lady Dlamelish.  

Another important Skill set were magical powers. For the purposes of the con scenario, magic was split into specific domains along the lines of those used in GOO's Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne. So, broad magical skill sets such as Body, Energy, and Illusions. The Tekumel veterans at the table actually thought the broad brush approach worked well in play, especially for bringing people who were newer to the game and setting into the action more easily.

There was one magic user PC, who was a military sorcerer from the Legions. Her Doomkill spell was a special Stunt - really a double stunt that cost 1 Fate Point to cast and which provided +4 bonus to her magical skill in Energy (which was Good +3) - so a total skill level of +7 when casting. Magic also had its own Stress Track, reflecting the fact that magic is tiring.  Every level of Effort cast is a tick on this Stress Track. The player was very cautious with her use of magical powers, so all of this needs more testing. 

Stunts were built for the most part using the free-form Stunt creation rules. Some represented "racial abilities" of non-humans. For example, I created a "Death Blow" stunt that provided the Shen with a bonus for using disemboweling leg strikes. Another interesting one allowed the gladiator to find "A Familiar Face" in every city. He had a second stunt called "Look Down" that enabled him to use Deceit (his apex skill) instead of Fighting, which dovetailed nicely with his Aspect of Dirty Fighter.

Overall, I thought FATE Core worked very well as a Swords & Planet implementation of the Tekumel setting. The reduced number of Stunts and Fate Points per character tended to keep play on the gritty side of competent action, and contrasted well with the more over the top style of other FATE games like Spirit of the Century. I am looking forward to further playtests of my FATE Core implementation of Tekumel.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Raid On The Temple of Vimuhla

"Raid on the Temple of Vimuhla"
(Four of the seven players)

Photo copyright 2013 John Everett Till

Yes, that's a copy of Guardians of Order's Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne RPG and map on the game table. But if you look carefully at the character sheets, you will see that this game session used the FATE Core system. Was this the first FATE Core game run in Minnesota? I have no idea. But it almost certainly was the first FATE Core game run at a convention in the Upper Midwest.

Today, I'll focus on the story just a bit, with some GM tips and reflections at the very end. The next post will describe some of my learnings from running FATE Core optimized for the world of Tekumel.

The scenario that I developed, "Raid on the Temple of Vimuhla", featured the famous Temple of Vimuhla in the town of Katalal. This is the same temple whose huge miniature model was featured at the back of Dragon #4. To construct the scenario, I did a great deal of research on the Temple. Fortunately, Jeff Berry, also known as Chirine baKal, was able to share numerous photographs of the Temple. Most of these photos were taken in the '70s and '80s and featured the temple model in pristine condition. Jeff also gave me access to a copy of Ken Fletcher's wonderful two page handout on the floor model for all levels of the temple. Between the photos and Ken's illustrations, I was able to get a clear idea of how the temple was constructed.

Jeff was also a huge help to me with figuring out the details of daily life in the temple (rituals, locations of temple guards, and much, much more).


In terms of the details, I also discovered an error in the Temple description in Dragon #4, which identifies an important statue in the temple as of the 13 Seal Emperor, under whose auspices this particular temple was constructed. That cannot be correct, as I checked the list of Emperors in Swords & Glory, Volume I. The 13th Seal Emperor was in fact an Empress: Sriyesa "the Lady of the Palaces", which S&G Vol.I describes as "A whimsical and unstable ruler, much devoted to pleasure" - not one with a reputation for temple construction patronage (or much of anything else except dissipation).

Ken Fletcher's handout, which has the M.A.R. Barker Seal of Approval, and is dated for 1983 (the same year as the first publication of S&G Vol. I, lists the year of construction of the temple as 1,138 years ago (as of 2361 A.S.), which would put the construction of the temple during the short reign of Metlunel  I "the Foolish". This feels pretty questionable too. However, the very next emperor was Metlunel II "the Builder"  whose entry includes "Many great palaces and temples erected..." He sounds like a much better fit. A small point perhaps, but verisimilitude has always been important within the Tekumel community, as it is an immersive, non-European swords & planet setting. It's also important to me as I like to "feel the world" in as much detail as possible when I am GMing

How did all this detail come up in play? "You walk by a statue of the Seal Emperor who built the Temple; it is flanked by two Temple guards."


At any rate, prep centered on the copy I made of Ken Fletcher's map of the temple complex. I assigned a code to each room, tower, and space in the temple complex.  Then in MS Excel,  I created a location key including brief room descriptions, and tabs for the location of temple guards, treasures, NPCs, and more.

This activity took about a day and a half to complete. I'll create Aspects for many of the spaces and more of the NPCs in the future.  And now that I have put together the temple detail, I really want to run a campaign set in Katalal. It is one of those quiet, quintessentially Tsolyani rural towns that is perfect for PCs to run roughshod over.


So, back to the scenario.
It was set in the later days of the reign of Emperor Hirkane Tlakotani. The PCs were summoned to the White Stone clan house in Butrus (Western Tsolyanu), which was in a bit of a shambles due to recent wedding festivities that got REALLY out of control. In fact, one of the brides' (yes, that's plural) party, a Green Kirtle clan girl from the city of Katalal, had gone missing along with her escort to the wedding, a warrior-priest of Vimuhla who was a veteran of the Legion of Searing Flame. Shortly after the disappearance, a letter had arrived at the White Stone clanhouse, demanding that the clan elder pay a ransom for the release of the clan girl and her escort.

The clan elder knew that the clan could afford the ransom, but decided that it would set a bad precedent to give in to this kind of extortion. He commissioned the PCs to form a rescue party to reclaim both hostages by stealth and/or force.

Katalal is about 400 miles from Butrus,  but the White Stone clan provided a rather unusual form of transportation. It was a silver, cigar shaped metallic craft that could make the trip by air in about an hour. The astonished PCs were welcomed on-board by the craft's Livyani priestess pilot and her hulking N'luss warrior companion (who did a wonderful job showing the PCs how to strap on their safety harnesses; the Shen kind of gave up on the seating due to tail issues).

Once in Katalal, the PCs investigated a bit, and then determined that they would enter the temple from the Underworld. They were successful in their adventure! They rescued both hostages and freed a number of others from the dungeons below the temple.

As if that wasn't enough, due to the raid, changes in temple management are almost a certainty now. By the end of the scenario, the Scholar High Priest had fled the PCs incursion in a most ignoble manner, and the Ritual High Priest was dead, killed by the Green Kirtle hostage. A certain Administrative High Priestess is likely to be promoted to a more senior position in the temple.

GMing Lessions:
  • Use a world background handout to speed up play
  • Focus world background briefings ONLY on details relevant to the scenario; don't explain all the gods and their cohorts, only those that figure in the scenario
  • The scenario is probably best suited to a multisession adventure:
    • Session One: Get to Katalal and recon the Temple of Vimuhla
    • Session Two: Make the plan, and get it into action (i.e., figure out how to get in he temple, and get underway)
    • Session Three: The Raid - Get in and get out!
  • Moving PCs to points/scenes/locations of maximum action is critical - we know this in FATE! PCs don't need to plod their way though every room. Skip ahead and hit the important spaces. If the floor plan is complex, just say so - don't detail it.
  • Have more character sheets to choose from than the scenario needs - maximize player choice with pregens (a note here is that only 3 of the 7 players returned their sheets - so I guess some people really liked their characters)
  • Limit the number of players at the table to maximize each player's opportunity to be in the spotlight

Sunday, February 17, 2013

X-Plorers RPG

Two kinds of X-Plorers and The Anubian Ambassador

I am just getting back from Con of the North 2013, and will have detailed con reports to share on the two events I ran. Check back here during the course of the week. I'll be sharing my experiences running the Ubiquity-system Leagues of Adventure RPG - which entailed 6 hours of adventures both above ground and below in the Hollow Earth - and a Tekumel game using FATE Core.

But first I'd like to share a little about a very fun two hour game session I had the chance to play in on Saturday night. Jay MacBride, who edited the X-plorers RPG (see the B&W first edition box set and the second edition all-in-one saddle stitched book above) ran X-Plorers in his '70s-inspired 'spoitation movie setting RAD ASTRA.

This is a game with serious 1st edition flavor. We created PCs in about 15 minutes. Everyone struggled a bit at first with chargen. This wasn't because there is anything wrong with the rules. Rather, it is based on people's acclimation to D&D 3rd Edition/Pathfinder chargen and mechanics. Once people realize that their very specific expectations didn't really apply here, they could focus on getting their characters finished and ready for play. (Our Tekumel group had a very similar experience this fall when creating characters for the original Empire of the Petal Throne rules.)

My character was a scientist that I rolled as having one, read that ONE, hit point. Again, I had the same experience recently creating a PC for original edition Empire of the Petal Throne, so I was preparedI didn't groan this time; I was actually curious about how long my Scientist character would live in the scenario. (Actually, a strong case has been made recently that this is a feature, not a bug of old school-inspired games. Read Porky's exploration of that idea here.)

Forbidden Planet (1956)
We played SPACE MARINES who had been pod grown and trained for different roles: Soldier, Scout, Scientist, and Tech. Well, nobody chose Tech. So two soldiers, two scouts, and two scientists went planetside on a world in the Gamma Aquilae system. The scenario was inspired by Forbidden Planet, but I won't give too much away except to say that it also had references to Space: 1999, the Buck Rogers TV series (1979-1981), and the film The Black Hole.

GM Jay MacBride shared that this was only his second time running an RPG! You never would have known that considering how well organized he was, with really neat props and a great, fast paced adventure! Congratulations, Jay, and keep up the RAD ASTRA! We want more!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hollow Earth Expedition Free PDF Link

If you are getting weird messages from DriveThruRPG, try connecting directly to the Exile Game Studios page on Facebook to get to the free download of the game:

Valen's Time-Day


Every year on this day, our thoughts turn to Valen, the "Minbari, not born of Minbari...the most significant figure in Minbari history" as the Babylon 5 wiki describes him.

Valen is indeed a signal figure in the Babylon 5 universe. His arrival heralds the turning point in the First Shadow War. All was lost before him; everything is possible after he arrives. Once Valen is on the scene, the Minbari have the resources and faith to persevere and win. In the process, Valen reforms and transforms Minbari society.

His greatest institutional legacies, the Grey Council and the Anla'Shok, become the first institutions in Minbari history to bring together the warring castes.  Both institutions also become vehicles for the Minbari to transcend fixed social identities.

Early in the series, Delenn takes a step away from her own race toward humanity through the Chrysalis Device; she was only able to build this device due to her role within the Grey Council. Much as Valen did, Delenn transcends her own race.

Later in the series, Neroon, a member of the Warrior Caste, makes the ultimate sacrifice and in doing so finds his true calling in the Religious Caste. His act helps transform power relations among the Minbari castes.

The Starfire Wheel

Valen himself combines aspects of each of these characters, as well as of Sheridan. Like Delenn, Valen voluntarily sacrifices his own species-being to assume a new form. Like Neroon, he was a warrior whose truest calling was the religious path. And like Sheridan at Za'ha'dum, the man who becomes Valen must die to himself and everything he knows, and take a leap of faith.

While Sheridan's passion, death, and resurrection take a very Christian form, the sacrifice that calls Valen into being has a more Eastern pattern. Sinclair's sacrifice opens a virtuous circle which guarantees both the Past and the Future. The man who becomes Valen makes this sacrifice willingly - with a sense of curiosity and openness.

To paraphrase Kant, Sinclair acts out of love rather than duty. And that is why we remember Valen today.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hollow Earth Expedition Free for Valentines

You can download a free copy of Hollow Earth Expedition on Valentines Day ONLY, using this CORRECTED-CORRECTED link.

HEX was the first Ubiquity-system game to be published.

I was very fortunate to get to play in a local demo of the game at The Source Comics and Games shortly after it came out. I remember how stoked the GM and other players were to try it out. It was a great experience! I haven't seen the GM and players around since then (I think) but I'd love to have them drop me a line if they are still in town. There is also a HEX game being played by some of the staff at The Source.

It is a great game, but of course it has dinosaurs in the Hollow Earth, so how could it not be?

Thanks to Exile Game Studios for celebrating its 10th anniversary in such a classy and magnanimous way!

Look for it on Thursday!

And if you are in town, please stop by the House of Indie Games at Con of the North on Friday. We will be running the Leagues of Adventure RPG, another Ubiquity game, for a 6 hour marathon that will end up in the Hollow Earth - unless the players do something completely crazy, which NEVER happens!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ready For Upgrade

Nuff said. Seriously though this cover and title is so craaazy it deserves a FATE Core treatment!

Leagues of Adventure

This weekend we continued to write and edit the scenario chapter for Modiphius Entertainment's FATE-based generation ship publication, Project Generations, as well as starting prep for two Con of the North convention scenarios happening next weekend: one for Tekumel using FATE Core, and a steampunk adventure using the Ubiquity System-based Leagues of Adventure RPG.

Our prep for Leagues of Adventure of course starts with reading the book, followed (on Thursday) by a marathon session of statting up the PCs, NPCs, and locations for the two-part Leagues of Adventure game I am running for 6 hours this Friday afternoon. I have not encountered huge surprises in my read-through, as I have run another Ubiquity game, All for One: Regime Diabolique several times. Most of the changes in the game anchor the system in a 19th century alternate history steampunk setting: skills such as the Anthropology and Expeditions skills, and the Weird Science talent (which helps you invent things).

The newest wrinkle for Ubiquity is the introduction of Leagues, which are essentially 19th Century social clubs that provide PCs with access to specific skills and eventually to League resources. These clubs or Leagues run the gamut from things like the Alpine and Automobile Clubs for enthusiasts of mountain climbing and the new invention of automobiles, respectively, to more esoteric societies such as the Osiris Club (Egyptian antiquities enthusiasts), the Hollow Earth Society (a bridge to the Hollow Earth Expeditions RPG), and The Gun Club (inspired by Jules Verne's creation in his novel From the Earth to the Moon).

The social class set point for PCs is upper and middle-class individuals who can afford to belong to clubs. This is the only aspect of the game that I dislike. I prefer the approach that Victoriana took with PC generation mechanics that actually make playing middle class and poor characters more interesting.

Ubiquity has Style Points which can do similar things to Fate Points, but its core system is more similar to White Wolf's New WOD Storyteller System. In my experience it is a great gateway drug for gamers who have played traditional RPGs, and who are open to exploring more indie-flavored RPGs.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

FATE Core Tekumel

Art c. M.A.R. Barker

I was finally able to complete my read-through of the FATE Core rules, including the Extras chapter, last night. Since I am running a Tekumel-based FATE Core scenario at Con of the North next Sunday, on 2/17, at 2 PM in the House of Indie Games, I have been thinking about how to design characters.

Some of my initial thoughts are as follows:
  • A character's clan will be a Extra, with both an Aspect and a skill rating
  • The actual clan name will be the Aspect for the character
  • "Clan" is the universal name of the Skill associated with this Aspect. The higher on the Skill Pyramid that Clan is placed, the higher the social status of the character's clan. 
  • Since PCs on Tekumel are very much creatures of their clan in terms of their access to wealth and resources - with very few exceptions - the Clan skill will replace Resources. One exception to this is for very low status clans, such as slavers, who are often very Wealthy. In that case, their Wealth will be represented as a Stunt.
  • Magic will be treated rather abstractly. It will be split up into a number of magical Lores, based on a broad Skill categories, such as Body, Energy, or Necromancy. Specific very powerful spells, such as Doomkill, will be represented as Lore-related Stunts. 
  • Magic will be tiring. At this time, I am thinking that the total Effort rolled accumulates as Stress - either Physical, Mental, or both. That should balance magic pretty effectively with other skills.
Everything is exploratory at this point. Any of the above may change before the Con. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Con of the North Prep

Next weekend is Con of the North, the upper Midwest's premier RPG convention.

I will be running two games there as part of the illustrious House of Indie Games:

  1. A two-part a marathon session of the alternate history steampunk Leagues of Adventure RPG (from 12-2 and 4-6 on Friday, 2/15 - sign up and play either or both parts); and 
  2. A FATE Core-based Tekumel scenario set in M.A.R. Barker's famed Temple of Vimuhla in Katalal (this was the huge miniature model building featured in Dragon magazine 4). The Tekumel game is 2-6 on Sunday, 2/17.

More on each scenario early next week.

So over the next seven days we will be doing a lot of rules reading/review and scenario preparation, as well as another big push towards the completion of the FATE-based generation ship publication Project Generations.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Centauri Prime in Babylon 5

Centauri Prime is the homeworld of the Centauri Republic, and the birthplace of the Centauri species. It is the third planet of the Zeta Tucanae star system (about 75 light years from Babylon 5 in Sector 130). The planet has two major continents, as well as islands, but its total land area is significantly less than Earth. Centauri Prime has at least one moon.

Centauri Prime was previously home to one other intelligent race, the Xon, whom the Centauri exterminated in ancient times. The Centauri population on the planet was about 3 billion in 2261 AD. There may still be Narn on Centauri Prime as well, retained against their will as servants or slaves. With the exception of Narn, who may be used in some areas for labor activities including agriculture and mining, most non-Centauri will probably be restricted to the Capital City, where they will be engaged in diplomatic or trade missions.

Industry on Centauri Prime is restricted to a few urban areas, including the Capital City, in order to preserve the homeworld's environment for the enjoyment of the upper classes. This should not be mistaken for a ethical commitment to environmentalism; the Centauri are quite willing to despoil the environments of other worlds they occupy or settle. They have even used nuclear weapons on their own world.

For aesthetic reasons, the Centauri have restricted urban development on the homeworld. Neverthless,  it should be noted that the Capital City has a ring of slums called Ghehana. Life is not easy for the lower classes in the Centauri Republic.

While industry and urban development on Centauri Prime are fairly regulated (and the subject of lucrative backdoor deals among government officials, the nobles, and offworld traders), the homeworld is the financial center of the Centauri Republic, as well as a manufacturer of numerous luxury goods destined for consumers throughout (and even beyond) the Republic. Centauri Prime also produces an agricultural surplus which can be exported to offworld colonies.

Finally, one should underscore that Centauri Republic is a republic in name only. It is in fact a constitutional monarchy with an Emperor and a Senate with two houses: the Centaurum, whose Legators represent interests of the great noble families, and the Populum, which represents the interests of the so-called Great and Lesser Houses (the middle and lower strata of Centauri society, respectively).

This description and the stats below reflect the state of affairs at the beginning of the Bablyon 5 series. Some elements of the post are necessarily speculative.


System Type: Major Power Homeworld

Technology: T+2 ~ The Major Powers
  • Artificial gravity, build and maintain tachyon communications networks, manufacture jumpdrives, manufacture jumpgates
Environment: E+1 ~ One garden world and several hostile environments in the system

Resources: R+3 ~ Multiple Exports

  • A Republic in name only
  • All games played for keeps
  • Everyone contender relies on "associates"

Monday, February 4, 2013

That Which Survives - A TrekCore Campaign

The simulacrum of Losira

In the Star Trek episode "That Which Survives" the crew of the Enterprise encounter a world the size of Earth's moon; a world which has a gravity and atmosphere comparable to Earth. It turns out that this is yet another hollow world - an artificial world - but before the crew of the Enterprise learn that they are on an alien outpost of the Kalandans, a number of the crew will die!

The ancient Kalandans who were assigned to this outpost were killed at least four thousand years ago by a mystery disease. However, a simulacrum of the base's former commander, Losira, defends this outpost against intruders from the Enterprise.

She materializes and dematerializes at will with a rather cool special effect that reduces her from a 3D simulacrum to a vertical black line. The line then collapses in on itself to a point - and then to nothing.

The simulacrum's materialization can be detected by tricorders; it registers as a huge surge in life force readings.

Losira not only strikes on the planet; she can even materialize on the Enterprise itself, as well as replicate herself to attack multiple people simultaneously with her "I am for you" death-touch  power, which is programmed for one specific target at a time, per simulacrum.

The Kalandans' civilization has some pretty high tech abilities. The Federation would want to learn more about them, and would trawl this outpost for clues to the location of another Kalandan base. Once they had that data, they would commission a starship to follow the trail from world-to-world into the heart of the Kalandan's long-gone empire.

Here are the campaign Aspects for this Star Trek sequel, using the FATE Core campaign creation parameters:

Current Issue: Find the next outpost. The crew of the Class I Hermes-class Scout starship U.S.S. Diana (NGC-589) is assigned follow the trail back to the core of the Kalandans' ancient civilization. They seek out and encounter many new worlds, life forms, and civilizations on the way. A chain of abandoned Kalandan outposts and worlds unfolds before them, each with its own deadly sentries. They are also being followed by a mystery vessel that appears and disappears at the limits of sensor range.

Impending Issue: An ancient war fueled by simulacra. When the crew of the U.S.S. Diana reaches the core of Kalandan space, they find themselves in the midst of a 4,000 year-old civil war among the successor civilizations of this ancient, extinct empire. But it seems that the Kalandans live on; their simulacra lead the contending factions in this ancient war of succession.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction - Now Online

We have added a link to the online version of John Clute's masterwork The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction to the right hand sidebar of the FATE SF blog (it is located just above the My Blog List) as well as to the General SF and Science Links page just under the FATE SF masthead. This an essential resource for any serious SF fan, and it is wonderful to see it in beta now as an online encyclopedia.

Visit our sister blog, The Everwayan, for a link to Clute's Encyclopedia of Fantasy, which is also now online. You will find it on the right hand sidebar of The Everwayan, just a bit after the sidebar splits in two. The link is located just above the My Blog List there.