Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fate of Freeport at Con of the North 2014

Cover art by Wayne Reynolds

I own the book pictured above, The Pirate's Guide to Freeport, as well as the PDF of the Fate Freeport Companion, so I am planning to run a "Fate of Freeport" scenario at Con of the North in February 2014. I am thinking of setting Freeport on an island somewhere in a fantastic 17th Century Malay archipelago. Islands are great for pirate cities (and failed colonies in general), so I am thinking about running Freeport as in essence a failed faux-European colony somewhere in a fantasy analog of maratime SE Asia. The South China Sea had many pirates at different times (and still does!) so this seems perfect.

Pirate crews in this region are a mix of peoples of faux-African descent, as well as peoples from faux-India, the vast faux-Malay archipelago, and the faux-Chinese.  And, yes, faux-Europeans. Samurai are out. But who knows? There may be a few Lao pirates out there... although they may need airships.

The Orcs (since they exist in the Freeport setting, and in fact were barbarian invaders of Freeport) come from the tropical hellhole (or frozen hellhole, I haven't really decided) of the mysterious southern continent of Antarctica.

The Orcs aren't racial surrogates for anybody in particular.

They might even be Hollow Earth refugees.

The Laminates

The Laminates, better known on the non-Fallen worlds as Uplift Contact Sheets or Smart Trash, are often found in the wilderness areas and ruins of the Fallen Worlds that have lapsed into barbarism.  The industrial castoffs of failed colonies, Laminates are biomimetic detriforms that were originally designed as dermal contact infoports.

Laminates are typically made in molecular assemblers. Each Laminate is a flexible plastic sheet with two surfaces: a Recording Plate onto which genetic information, data, texts, or memories can be transcribed from an assembler template, and a Port Plate which transfers the recorded information to another Laminate or to a living creature through dermal contact.

On most High Worlds, Laminates are manufactured for Single Use; this means that the Laminate may record and transfer a single template one time. After the transfer it disintegrates into a puddle of goo. The next level up in terms of quality and utility is the Totipotent Laminate, whose original template can be reformatted as desired. Such re-recordable Laminates can acquire a new template from either a molecular assembler, or from a living biological substrate (whether it be a multicellular biotic medium in a laboratory, or a living contact-host organism). The third and most dangerous type is the Self-replicating Totipotent Laminate. The latter's manufacture is highly regulated, as they can cause planetary eco-disasters, such as that which crashed the High World of Intelego Vim.

Laminates have many uses. High worlds use them to:
  • Transfer knowedge and skills
  • Alter a person's somatic form
  • Heal wounds and cure diseases
  • Uplift animals to full or semi-sentience 
  • Affect biological, cognitive, and affective repairs in abhumans and mutants
  • Prepare suitable living host homunculi for Cartesian infusion by Ships' Avatars and Minds. 
On Fallen Worlds, Laminates are a constant nuisance and sometimes an active threat. Pity or marvel at the primitive or barbarian whose bare foot steps on the Laminate pictured above. He or she will gain the wisdom of a god, or a new bestial form. Sometimes both.

Even more dangerous to people on Fallen Worlds are the Totipotent or Self-replicating Totipotent Laminates. They are often carriers of a variety of unwholesome and lethal diseases and heresies, and some have even attained a species of malevolent sentience. Imagine an entirely inhuman intelligence suddenly in human flesh. His or her companions had best beware.

Many of these latter groups of Wild Laminates have also developed the ability to move about on their own. Some crawl, some move about by fluttering and flapping their membranous body.

Wild Laminates often begin to grow to enormous sizes - particularly on areas of Fallen Worlds with dangerous levels of radioactivity. Wild Laminates acquire the ability to grow by sampling the genetic information of living organisms. They often develop specialized folds and striations with specialized cell-like structures capable of breaking down and digesting animal and plant matter. Once a Laminate has grown to a sheet of 1x1 meter in size, it can easily envelop and kill a human.

The Laminate below is a particularly dangerous Wild Type.


Biomimetic detriform infoport

  • High Concept: Smart trash
  • Trouble: Susceptible to fire
  • Aspect: Self-Replicating and Totipotent 
  • Aspect: Big and Hungry
  • Aspect: A good book gone bad 
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: +1
  • Record - Acquire genetic information, data, texts, or memories stored in a living being by making direct physical contact with that being
  • Smother - +2 on a Forceful Approach to smother an opponent that needs to breathe
  • Transcribe - Once per session, transfer stored genetic information, data, texts, or memories to another living being by making direct physical contact with that being

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

FATES of August

Or Fates.

All I can say is "WOW!"

In one afternoon, Evil Hat released - to backers of the Kickstarter - PDFs (all but the last complete) of various new FATE Core Kickstarter publications, including FATE Worlds Vols. I & 2, Jess Nevins' Strange Tales of the Century, Green Ronin's much anticipated Fate Freeport Companion, Sally Slick & the Steel Syndicate, a - you guessed it - Sally Slick novel by Carrie Harris, the Deck of Fate, and the partial art verison of the Fate System Toolkit.

So there's all that!

Drone Free Update

Cover art by John Ennis

Work has been extremely busy and probably will be for a few more days. We have also been preparing the House of Indie Games theme track submissions for Con of the North. But at least some idiot isn't targeting us for missile strikes, so I'm not complaining.

Over the last week, we have managed to find a little time to read Iain M. Banks' second Culture  novel The Player of Games (1989). It is a tighter presentation than Consider Phlebas, but has less of the majestic War and Peace sweep of the latter.

We will probably finish it over the Labor Day weekend.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ringworld With Nova Praxis

What if Larry Niven had written Ringworld using the SF idioms of the last couple of decades? AIs, full body replacement, personality back-ups, nanotechnology, drones? We're considering exploring this a bit by running a game of Ringworld on Sunday night at Con of the North 2014.

I discovered Niven as a kid, completely by accident. One Saturday morning, I saw the Animated Star Trek episode "The Slaver Weapon", and discovered Kzinti, the Slavers, Stasis boxes. The next Sunday afternoon, I went to the Greece Ridge Public Library and discovered Niven's story "The Soft Weapon" in his collection of Known Space stories.

Very fortunately, I have a copy of Chaosium's classic Ringworld RPG, which is really the only reference material that I need for what I want to do. However, there is this neat animated visual reference for the Ringworld, as well as a website featuring the Ringworld RPG and Known Space.

The trick with this scenario will be to make it feel interesting and new. I don't want to read all the Ringworld sequels, or stick to the whole built-out history of Known Space.

It has to be Ringworld Reloaded.

But we will have Kzinti!  Kzinti Reloaded, with both males and females intelligent. This is a species that is already at a huge intellectual disadvantage, so let's not waste half their brains!

The Puppeteers are also must - they're just too fun to leave out. There are also interesting implications to having so conservative a species around in a setting that involves nanotechnology and transhumanism.

As far as the humans go, I am actually thinking of using most of the background of Nova Praxis, and mechanics of Nova Praxis/FATE Core.  That means a version of Known Space in which humans have developed many of the trappings of transhumanism, and have begun exploring and colonizing other systems using FTL. Borrowing from and mutating the history of Known Space, the humans have recently had a brief, first war with the Kzinti, and have also met and begun trading with the Puppeteers.

Players could be humans, transhumans, AIs with drones, Kzinti, or Puppeteers. The set-up would be similar to the novel Ringworld, in that the Puppeteers have recently learned of the existence of a Ringworld, and want it checked out. With the catastrophe that befell Earth, humans in particular might find something like the Ringworld a very attractive place to settle. And the Kzinti are always looking for new places to conquer. The Puppeteers, as always, have motives of their own...

Ubiquity Space 1889 Marathon at Con of the North 2014

I am planning another Friday afternoon two-part Marathon for the first day of Con of the North in February 14, 2014. The Marathon will use the forthcoming Ubiquity system rules for the new edition of the classic interplanetary steampunk RPG, Space 1889.

Like last year's Ubiquity Marathon, the adventures will be linked thematically, but separate.  So people will be able to register to play in either Part I or Part II or both.

Part I will run from 12-2 PM: "Dinosaur Hunt on Venus" involves, naturally, dinosaurs, a strange discovery, and an encounter with...Germans!

Part II will run from 4-6 PM: "Intrigue on Mars" makes the leap from strange discoveries on Venus great power rivalries among the native nations - and ancient ruins - of Mars.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Weird Adventures Accelerated

Cover art by Doug Stambaugh

As I mentioned over at The Everwayan a few weeks ago, I am planning to run +trey causey's brilliant Weird Adventures setting at Con of the North 2014! The book is 90% setting and built out with old school D&D in mind, but should port over brilliantly to FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE). Weird Adventures offers a pulp RPG setting with a D&Dified flavor.

The default setting is a place called The City, which is very much like New York. With an Underworld (and we're not just talking about the Hell Syndicate here), monsters, and sorcerers. If you thought "a 1920s version of Urban Arcana" you'd have the form, but not the substance. The substance is a setting that could have been written by fantasy and horror luminaries like China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, Fritz Leiber, and Cornell Woolrich.

So it's very cool.

We're going there in February.

Initially, I was planning to run a story called "The Cult of the Barren Madonna", as Our Lady of the Grave is one of the ways that the Virgin is venerated in this world. Then last weekend I learned about George Sylvester Viereck, and his connections with Aleister Crowley (I had no idea he ever lived in NYC!), and Crowley's apparent lover and Horst Wessel biographer Hanns Heinz Ewers - can't make stuff like this up!

Then a little more thinking, entirely new story ideas, a new title, a different blurb:

"The Anagrammatist, A Weird Adventures Story!"

Event Description: The mean streets of The City just got a lot meaner. Not only do you have to deal with the horrors dwelling under The City, Devils in the Financial district, and the Unspeakables of Little Carcossa, but The Anagrammatist is back, twisting people, places, and things into monsters. Stop him before he kills The City itself in this pulp-flavored supernatural thriller. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Firefly RPG

There was a whole stack of Firefly RPG: Gaming in the 'Verse books at The Source Comics and Games last night, so I picked one up. These were sold at Gen Con 2013 as a preview edition of the forthcoming Firefly RPG. The preview is a softcover that clocks in at 267+ full color pages for $35. The full edition of the game is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2014.

I haven't done more than gloss through the book a couple of times (most recently over breakfast today), but I am very impressed with the layout and design. The font is a great size and the layout makes the book very easy to read. Text is not obscured by art, and the graphics are crisp and sharp.

It's a handsome package.

My impression is that the Preview is informed by the Cortex system's most recent iterations in Leverage and Marvel Heroic. Using this book, you can create new crew members, or use the signature Firefly TV series characters (all statted out here) to run the book's two scenarios. Players can either use the Firefly as their ship, or use the ship creation rules included here to collaboratively create their own custom ship.

I can easily imagine people using the Preview book to run their own campaigns (beyond the two scenarios included here) until the final full RPG book comes out. This is a very good start on what looks to be a great game.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas Cover Art by Mark Salwowski*

Two weeks ago, I finally completed Iain M. Banks' first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas. I had tried to read the novel a few different times, always stalling-out about halfway through the book. I have blogged before that I found Banks' portrayal of cannibalistic religious primitives particularly distasteful (as it were). That aspect of Consider Phlebas was a definite turn-off for me.

Although I am a Marxist - and therefore belong to the only political and philosophical tradition to make a serious effort on a world scale to abolish religious practice - I don't consider atheism an essential part of Marxism in the 21st Century. By the mid-to-late 20th Century, religious movements were frequently our most important allies in attempting to challenge the social conditions faced by the poor and oppressed. In fact, I'd have to say that secular liberalism is today perhaps the greatest ideological reinforcement for inequality on a world scale.

So why did I return to Banks? Undoubtedly, the panel on Iain Banks at Diversicon 21 inspired me to go back and try again.

And I am glad I did.

It is in the second half of the novel that things really start moving. There's even a dungeon crawl of sorts that goes on for the last couple of hundred pages of the book. But the thing that really blew me away was a brief description of one of the Culture's General Systems Vehicles (GSV). These are truly huge starships operated by an AI. They can transport millions of people at one time. They can manufacture just about anything people could possibly need. They are mobile, post-scarcity habitats.

Which is the most important idea in the book. The GSVs are an expressive totality of the Culture itself. As long as you have one GSV, the Culture continues to exist, and can rebuild, extend, and reproduce itself. In this way a post-scarcity society makes itself very difficult to kill. This is very important since the Culture's neighborhood includes quite aggressive and militaristic political formations such as those of the Idirans.

*Image used by permission of of Mark Salwowski

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Numenera Has A Vorlon

We picked this up today. It is nice to see a far future, posthistorical science fantasy RPG.

There's a Vorlon on page 252.

Numenera reminds me quite a bit of the Zalchis setting of Jim and Jody Garrison. A couple years ago, reading Zalchis and meeting its creators inspired me to start blogging. The Everwayan and FATE SF blogs owe their existence to Zalchis

If I get around to running Numenera, Zalchis and a few other places will be just a gate away from future Earth.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Wonderful Weekend At Diversicon 21

Today was the final day of Diversicon 21, the science fiction and fantasy convention that is finally "Old Enough To Think", as its theme said this year. I didn't get to see much of our Guest of Honor, Jack McDevitt (our schedules didn't coincide much) but I did moderate an interesting panel on "the Grimdark" trend in current fantasy with Special Guest Roy C. Booth and Rachel Gold, as well as having a chance to chat once or twice with our other Special Guest, Catherine Lundoff, who was wonderful as both a guest and as a regular Diversicon participant.

I did have the fortune to have the winning bid on Melissa Scott's new novella, Point of Knives, a Kusherite fantasy set in the world of Astreiant, which she created with her late partner, Lisa Barnett. Thanks so much to Catherine Lundoff for donating this and several other wonderful books
to the auction!

Cordwainer Smith was one of the Posthumous Guests at the con. I moderated a panel on Cordwainer Smith and Transhumanism which I thought went pretty well. Rachel Kronick and Katie Ferriera did a great job as my co-panelists, and Dwayne H, Olson (see below) made useful contributions from the audience. One conclusion that we reached is that while Smith's fiction has many of the trappings of transhumanism, he was much more of a humanist than a transhumanist at heart.

I had also prepared a Cordwainer Smith-inspired Doctor Who game, powered by FATE Accelerated Edition, but we didn't quite have critical mass to run the game. So that scenario will debut at Con of the North in February 2014.

There was a second panel on Cordwainer Smith today, in which we explored the range of Smith's SF works in a specific context: Cordwainer Smith wrote "Myths From the Far Future" which managed to be mysterious, evocative, and poignant reflections on the human condition in far-distant times. Eric M. Heideman moderated the panel, and we were very fortunate to also have Dwayne H. Olson, who published Smith and is an expert on his work. Katie Ferriera was another wonderful contributor to the "Myths" panel and continued to share her insights based on her very solid understanding of Smith's stories.

During the panel, I shared my thoughts about some of the writers that Smith has influenced:
  • Frank Herbert's Dune universe owes a LOT to Cordwainer Smith (see Smith for the life extending drug stroon, which is a highly prized interstellar commodity, for ornithopters, a revolution on a desert planet, and the dier-dead, which are much the same as Herbert's gholas)
  • M.A.R. Barker worked a couple of Smith references into the background of Tekumel: both his Lords of Humanspace (who are reminiscent of the Lords of the Instrumentality in Smith's fiction) and the "Hegemony of Man", Barker's handwritten corrections in a proof of Empire of the Petal Throne (this language is reminiscent of Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind, and the Rediscovery of Man).
  • +Sarah Newton's Mindjammer novel and RPG, a far future space opera setting that is influenced by Cordwainer Smith (among other SF greats). 
Today I was able to attend two other terrific panels:
  • Greg L. Johnson and Russell Letson's "What Do I Read Next?" panel, and
  • A panel in honor of the late Iain M. Banks, moderated by Martha Hood, with co-panelists Greg L. Johnson, Rachel Kronick, Russell Letson, and Kelly Strait.
The former panel is a Diversicon staple and not to be missed. In particular, I'll be looking out for Chris Moriarty's SF trilogy which starts with Spin State, Paul McAuley's Evening's Empires, and Linda Nagata, who after a number of years away from publishing, has a new book out, The Red: First Light.

Cover art by Dallas Nagata White

The Iain M. Banks panel was quite good, and has inspired me to go back and try again to read more Banks. I read Banks' Transition and found it only-so-so. I have tried to get through Consider Phebas a few times, but always stall out about mid-way.

Banks' hostility to religion irritates me. I am a Marxist but I find this anti-religious sentiment on the part of a supposed leftist both irritating and typical; it smacks of what the British did "best": conquer people, and then look for reasons to justify the crimes of their empire based on their victims' alleged cultural and religious inferiority.

But I digress.

The panel has inspired me to find a copy of Against A Dark Background, a non-Culture novel which Rachel Kronick described as having a group of characters who are reminiscent of the kinds you'd find in a PC party in a roleplaying game.

So much to read! So little time!

I am already looking forward to next year!