Monday, September 30, 2013

Read An RPG Book In Public Week!

Merlin's Rest on Lake Street USA

Let's think back for a moment to the days when Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall,  Frank Belknap Long, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H. P. Lovecraft sat down to play RPGs together with Cornell Woolrich as their GM.*  What they played - at least while the booze and smokes lasted - was Weird Adventures.

This is Read an RPG Book in Public Week!  We thought it was high time for FATE SF to participate in this public venture. We selected +trey causey's Weird Adventures RPG setting as our RPG book to share!

It's often been remarked that Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the first fantasy book to deal with the Matter of America. Weird Adventures is one of the few RPGs to embrace weird fantastic pulp America. It's got it all, from the nimbus of giddy static-spirits dancing like blue fairies around the mooring mast of The City's highest skyscraper, down to the muddy hoofprints in The City's lowest and slimiest sewer tunnels.

Location names, historical events, nations, and many other aspects of the setting have been altered in recognizable ways, and many aspects of the world have been D&Dified. For example, there's a car called the 5883 Raser "Dual Six" Fitzroy Sports Saloon. Who wouldn't want to drive a Sports Saloon?

Weird Adventures has some 1st Edition-style stats in the back of the book for various creatures, but the bulk of the book is pure setting and adventure seeds to support pulp era weird adventures in an alternate history version of North America. The most detailed place is The City, a pulp era version of NYC.

While the action is centered on human PCs, there are intelligent non-human races (including Hillbilly Giants!) in the world, and classic D&D creatures reskinned for the pulp era. Many of these will be lurking as adversaries in the subways and tunnels beneath the city, or in the dark corners of mazelike alleys behind shambolic tenements.

People have visited The City using 1st edition systems, and Trey Causey has been running it using the Atlas Games' OGL WaRP System (the engine behind the classic Over the Edge RPG). WaRP should work very well for creating distinctive pulp era PCs with one or two special knacks, supernatural or otherwise.

I'll be running it using Fate Accelerated Edition at Con of the North 2014.

Stay tuned for a cool campaign seed for Weird Adventures later this week!

*Of course, Lovecraft didn't show up very often for sessions in The City because he was a racist who hated cities. You may have noticed those towering mountains in the Mountains of Madness? Just a little too much like skyscrapers, don't you think? But when Lovey did take the train down once a year or so for a session, you better believe he demanded a year's worth of experience!

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Pineal gland image by Nephron

Glanding is the term people in Iain M. Banks' Culture use for the at-will production of neuroendocrine  drug cocktails. Glanded substances can improve performance. Glanding may improve almost any aspect of human performance (intelligence, endurance, concentration, fear reduction, pleasure enhancement, etc.).

This kind of drug use (and for that matter, almost any other kind) is considered quite normal in the Culture. No one is going to go to jail for glanding. No one would accuse a game-player of cheating by glanding a drug that increases memory or concentration. The same goes for athletes and glanding to enhance their physical performance and endurance.

The drugs that people gland have specific common names by which the are known throughout the culture. The names provide fairly explicit clues about what the drugs do - they are neither chemical names nor the marketing brand names used today. The names instead signify use value. For example, early on in the novel Use of Weapons, Diziet Sma takes recall to savor and re-experience the previous night's erotic exertions.

Here's how to use glanding in your FATE SF games:


The ability to gland is a Stunt. Any player with the Glanding stunt may gland a drug at-will. It takes one turn for the drug to take effect. The player makes up a name for the drug (or cocktail of drugs) that their character is glanding, which becomes the Temporary Aspect:

Glanding (drug name)

The name should suggest a specific Approach or Skill enhanced by the drug. The substance can be invoked  to Create an Advantage or Overcome something once per scene for free.  Subsequent uses in the same scene require the expenditure of a Fate Point.

This Temporary Aspect lasts one scene, unless the character spends 1 FP to sustain it for a longer periodof time (up to 1 day).

Additional drugs may be glanded in a scene, but each additional substance produced costs a Fate Point.

Dawning Star Kickstarter

We have backed the Dawning Star Kickstarter, a project whose intent is to bring the Dawning Star RPG's space opera setting to the Fate Core system. The game was published by +Justin Jacobson's Blue Devil Games (more on them in a bit), and the new edition will be as well. I picked up the Dawning Star D20 books several years ago. They were originally written by +Lee Hammock for D20 Future, and featured beautiful art by +Danilo Moretti.

I bought the products, but never ran the game. D20 was not really for me, especially with the level of detail and crunch that 3.5 and d20 Modern brought to the table. Fate Core, however, will be perfect for me!.

So what's there?

Big honking guns. Vehicles galore. Spaceships. Aliens.

All illustrated spectacularly.

The setting is not only a labor of love; that love is matched by the quality of thought and good design that went into it.

So what is Dawning Star? Well, you can always visit the Kickstarter page to see a video about the game, or go to to learn more, but in a nutshell, it is a space opera setting with most of the action taking place in another solar system on a planet that already has an indigenous population. There are also other aliens nearby.

It has a bit of a Firefly space-western feel, with factional conspiracies, and planetary romance style mysteries, galore.

Humans made it out of our solar system in a mass evacuation. Some of us made it to the Helios system  and established a settlement on the Earthlike planet of Eos. There are divisions among the human settlers, and different factions have developed as a result of these disagreements. Conflicts, dirty deals, and adventures ensue.

It is good to see Eos coming back, with a setting refresh and some updates.

I hope Justin will also consider doing a Fate Accelerated Edition version of Richard Farrese and his wonderful Victorian storytelling game Passages (you can download the game from the link) which was originally published using an extremely light variant of the d20 system. Imagine if you will Stargate crossed with the multiplanar universe of Everway, but all wrapped-up in fantastic Victoriana!

Art by Jennifer Rodgers

EDIT: Always read the fine print! Justin is in fact working on a conversion of Passages to Fate Accelerated Edition! That is really great news. It will be a perfect fit!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Autodidacta

Clark Nova in Bug Form from Naked Lunch

The machine-bugs known as the Autodidacta are rare and highly prized artifacts found on a number of different fallen worlds. On Earth in the era of the upright men, they were known as Clark Novas. On Barsoom, they are called Psychic Telegraphs. On the bethorm of Suphis II, the machine-bugs are called  Bhartel-braneae.

Autodidacta have several uses, including:

  • The psychic transmission of messages from one bug-machine to another
  • Text messaging with local spirit world entities (e.g., genus loci, demons, the souls of the dead, hungry ghosts, elementals, and the like)
  • The inscription of spell-scrolls using spells and psychic sutras known to either the Autodidacta, or the typist-caster using the machine-bug. 
Autodidacta know many rare spells, spell variants, and psychic sutras. They are wont to barter for special and often perverse favors in exchange for typing out the rare spell forms that few living casters know.

Autodidacta are made from the brain cases of Thysanurians, a vile invasive species also known as the Scroll Gourmands. They have become a particular menace in the deep jungles of the equatorial continent of the world Suphis II, where they strip the bark of the Axis Mundi trees to harvest the trees' quantum liquor.  On most worlds, Thysanurians will mainly be found in libraries, scroll collections, scriptoria, record-houses, and archives.

The process of creating an Autodidacta from a Thysanurian begins with setting a cage-trap. For example on Suphis II, the Peelers Guild hangs cage-traps from the upper branches of the Axis Mundi trees. When the Thysanurian embeds its mouthparts in the bark of the tree to begin harvesting quantum liquor,  a trap-cage drops onto the unsuspecting bug.. The traps are typically mechanical impalement cages, which capture the thorax and abdomen of the bugs while leaving the head exposed.

Once the trap is sprung, a Peeler immediately decapitates the bug. Then one of the Peelers' proprietary psychic sutras is immediately be cast, enabling the preservation of the Thysanurian's consciousness and memory at the moment of its decapitation. Other spells and psychic sutras are then used over a period of several months to reshape the Thysanurian's head and mouthparts into the keyboard, mechanisms, and receptive orifice of the Autodidacta.

Similar processes are used on other worlds. It is rumored that the Library of All Worlds in the city of Everway has a pair of half-completed volumes called The Antennae of the Machine Heads which catalogs numerous ways to create Autodidacta. Fair warning though: many of the pair's formulae are misleading or dangerous to use.

Once properly formatted, each Autodidacta has the ability to communicate psychically in one set-language. This is the language in which it will communicate through its receptive orifice as well as type texts. The language used is the one that Thysanurian was thinking in at the moment of its decapitation. Almost invariably, the language will be one of the ancient and obscure tongues used in spell texts and list-books that the Thysanurians enjoy and consume, including: Glissendo, Partikali, Sufic, Hypostatic, Sunuz, Premarain, Glopnik, Ka-chem, Krellic, Old Martian, Altrusian, Afuera, or Ur-Skartarian.

More rarely Autodidacta are discovered whose language is an extremely ubiquitous one such as The Prate, Cruft, or the Common Tongue. Autodidacta using set-languages that are common go for particularly high prices. They are easier for the less scholarly advanced to use. On at least one occasion, the discovery of two language paired Autodidacts (collectively known as an Ansiblette) ignited a series interstellar regional brush wars that lasted for decades.

To use an Autodidacta, a person must have a working knowledge of the set-language that is spoken and typed by that particular machine-bug. Check the keys of the machine-bug for clues to the identity of the language. Next, a powder derived from the meat of the aquatic black centipede (a retiring and very toxic denizen of riverine jungle areas and tidal pools of many worlds) must be gently and thoroughly applied to the receptive orifice of the machine-bug. Application of the powder will charge the Autodidacta's otherwise quiescent mind and mechanisms for a sufficient time to complete one desired task (i.e., transmitting a psychic message to another Autodidacta, text messaging a local spirit, or inscribing a spell that either typist-caster or the Autodidacta knows onto specially prepared scroll paper).

Repeated episodes of exposure to the powder over a short period of time (i.e., several times over a few hours), may provoke a ecstasy in the machine-bug. In its ecstatic state, an Autodidacta will type sheet after sheet of text, reproducing an entire book (i.e., one the Thysanurian had previously consumed) over a series of hours. It is rumored that the Chief Librarian of the Library of All Worlds has sequestered hundreds of such machine-bugs in the legendary and stasis-locked Azure Chamber buried deep within the Library's bowels.  Hundreds of Autodidacta are kept in a powder-crazed Recursive Epiphany, generating tome after lost tome for the Librarian and his closest allies. The Library's Acquisitions department has been charged with recruiting new Spherewalkers to discover new sources of the black centipedes whose powdered meat is required to fuel these ecstasies.

The Autodidact are of course inspired by the Clark Nova typewriters featured in William S. Burrough's classic novel Naked Lunch. Read the book. See the movie.

The Thysanurians are the brainchild of Hereticwerks; check that blog out for many other out-of-this world creations!


The Autodidacta
Scroll-inscribing Machine-bugs (neutral)

  • High Concept: Typing Machine-Bug
  • Trouble: Addicted to a rare poison  
  • Aspect: Would you care to bargain for a more powerful and exquisite spell that I just happen to know?
  • Aspect: Nibbles on books and scrolls when you're not looking
  • Aspect: Wizards and priests would kill for my favors
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: +2
  • Forceful: 0
  • Quick: 0
  • Sneaky: +1
  • Text Message - Once per session, the typist may send a text message to a local spirit and receive a typed response channeled through the bug-machine
  • Back Catalog - Once per session, the machine-bug may type sheet after sheet, reproducing the entirety of a lost book.
  • Inscribe Scroll - Once per session, a magic user or priest may use it to type a spell scroll for a spell they know (or may bargain for a special spell that the Autodidacta knows) 
  • It's Just A Machine - +2 to Sneaky Approach when trying to go unnoticed amid other old machines and table junk.
  • Psychic Telegraph - Once per session, the machine-bug may transmit a message to a machine-bug anywhere else in the same world.

New Fate Dice At The Source!

The Source Comics & Games in the Twin Cities, MN, was successful in ordering packs of Evil Hat's new Fate Dice! 

At the beginning of last week, I asked them to order me a set of the Atomic Robo dice, as I thought they were the handsomest of the bunch.

But The Source bought multiple sets of each type for their shelves!

I decided to get one set of each, as a way of thanking them for making the order. I am especially taken by the Centurion dice, which I had expected to take a pass on. They really look very nice!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Social Combat In Diaspora

"There's a saying: 'War is a long cliff.'" You can avoid the cliff completely, you can walk along the top for as long as you have the nerve, you can even choose to leap off, and if you only fall a short way before you hit a ledge you can always scramble back up again. Unless you are just plain invaded, there are always choices, and even then, there's usually something you missed - a choice you didn't make - that could have avoided invasion in the first place. You people still have your choices. There's nothing inevitable about it."
-Cheradenine Zakalwe
From Iain M. Banks's Use of Weapons (1990)

Banks' Use of Weapons involves a covert operation to prevent a regional civil war among the solar systems and political factions of a recently divided star cluster. The book evokes a bit of a Diaspora vibe, as the story features Zakalwe, a world-hopping hired gun for the Culture. There are a number of vignettes set in the midst of ground combats (something you can wargame quite nicely with Diaspora's platoon combat subsystem, thank you!). The novel also constantly refers to its star cluster setting simply as the Cluster, which even made me wonder whether +Brad Murray's usage of the term for the smaller units of connected solar systems in Diaspora might even be a tip of the hat to Banks.

Probably a stretch, I know.

But after reading the passage at the beginning of this post, I had the sudden realization that you could play out this dance on a long cliff at the edge of war using the social combat rules in Diaspora. Which got me started re-reading those rules a couple of nights ago around midnight.

The social conflict rules map rather well to what Gramsci called a war of position (ideology, propaganda, persuasion, negotiation), which often precedes or precludes a war of maneuver (the hottest and most fluid forms of conflict).

The map could present polarized competing endpoints such as Total War Breaks Out vs. A Path to Peace. A critical part of the contest for Zakalwe, the agent of the Culture, is to find, get close to, and push/re-position a central "NPC", the retired Cluster leader Beychae: the one person with the ability hold things together in the Cluster and prevent a regional war.  Beychae's buried deep in an archive in an undisclosed location, under the watchful eyes of Governance, a faction apparently opposed to the Culture's interests. The brush fires have already started in a number of areas of the Cluster; time is of the essence for even someone of Beychae's stature and credibility to prevent a regional war.

The figure of Beychae is a present absence for the first third of the book. I suppose he's a bit like a kinder, gentler Marshall Tito - one who just sort of faded away, after defeating an enemy and unifying diverse peoples into a single state. (I have about 100 pages to go in the book so that may become a bit clearer by the weekend.)

The book feels fresh, almost timeless. It's hard to believe the passage above was written 23 years ago, and published just a year before the Yugoslav Wars began.

It could have been written about Syria.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Red Martian Scientist

Many Red Martian scientists operate in the open, as high level functionaries in the court of a Jeddak. Others lurk almost out of sight, deep in the bowels of a City-State or in a remote science station far from any settlement. They may be weapons-makers, inventors, or philosophers. A few were healers, before devoting themselves entirely to science.

In these latter days on the dying world of Barsoom, most Red Martian scientists are hired guns: practical archaeologists, plundering ruins and libraries in search of the great secrets of the past, and applying their discoveries to create scientific marvels.  These wonders may be used to entertain a patron, provide a master with an uncanny advantage, wreak some terrible revenge upon an enemy, or pursue some twisted, appalling line of research far from prying eyes.

Red Martian scientists rarely have the training, indoctrination, code of honor, and martial sensibilities of the fighting man and woman of Mars, but not all of them are cowards. In fact, they are wont to launch bold schemes and once revealed will often pursue them with relentless fearlessness.

The Red Martian scientist described below is a cruel and vengeful bitter soul of just that type.


Red Martian Scientist

  • High Concept: Cruel and brilliant Red Martian Scientist
  • Trouble: Unrequited love
  • Aspect:  I have the perfect place to plot my revenge
  • Aspect: The Jeddak's rival keeps me supplied
  • Aspect: You'll never escape my LAByrinth!
  • Careful: +2
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: +1
  • Forceful: 0
  • Quick: +1
  • Sneaky: +2
  • Iris Remote - You have a gemlike device of the Old Martians that opens the ancient mechanical portals of the Martian Underworld (GM may Compel you for exceptions)
  • Secret Patron - Once per session, you may call upon your secret patron for a special favor (e.g., minions, money, material)  
  • Underworld Laboratory - Take +2 on a Careful effort to Create an Advantage such as deciphering the purpose or use of an ancient device, or completing an invention or weapon 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Red Martians

Dead Earth Imperial Citizen*

The Red Martians. If you read A Princess of Mars carefully, you will notice that Burroughs refers to the Red Martians - and the Green Martians for that matter - as "humans". We've suggested that this is more than a figure of speech or humanist sentiment, right here.

Since the Red Martians are human in almost every way that matters, with the exception of being egg layers, it may be more useful to suggest some civilizational Aspects. We will do that first:

  • Warring City-States clinging to dying Canals
  • The Green Martians are our enemies, except when they're our allies
  • An armed and loyal citizenry - except for a few spies and ambitious traitors
  • Better technology than the Green Martians
  • Each City-State has an Air Navy!
  • Not quite as decadent as the Old Martians

So how about a fighting man of Mars? Or a woman? Below are some stats for a worthy opponent.

*This is an excellent line of not-Barsoom miniatures which are of course perfect for a Barsoom campaign. We've made good use of them for Tekumel gaming as well.


Red Martian Blade

  • High Concept: A Gallant of the Red Martians
  • Trouble: Loyal to a fault 
  • Aspect:  A perfect physical specimen
  • Aspect: Trained in the Twin Sword School of the Red Sands Academy
  • Aspect: A radium pistol always ready 
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +1
  • Flashy: +3
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: 0
  • Expert Pilot - +2 to Quick Approach to operate Red Martian flying ships
  • Two Blades Are Better than One - +2 to Flashy Approach when Attacking with a sword in each hand
  • Quick on the Draw: Once per session, go first in combat with a Quick Attack when using a Radium Pistol

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Old Martians' Perversity

Amazing Adventures #27

You will never go wrong by overestimating the perversity of the Old Martians. They are experts at bringing out the worst in their fodderslaves, gladiators, and servitor scientists. They are experts at driving the perverse bargain. The Old Martians can make any member of the lesser species betray themselves.

The Old Martians twist the flesh as well as the soul. Amoral masters, they have no qualms about mutating the human form. How could they? They have been ingesting mutagens and teratogens for thousands of years to add variation and interest to their own asexually reproduced offspring. Why shouldn't they do the same to others?

The Old Martians observe no moral limits. 

Abraxas in Amazing Adventures 22

It is justified to rebel.

Killraven battles Skar, AA #37


Old Martian Stunts:
  • Twist Life - Once per session, an Old Martian may use their cruel knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and cybernetics to modify a member of a lesser species into a terrifying monster
  • Perverse Intuition - +2 to Sneaky Approach to persuade a member of a lesser species betray themselves, a loved one, or their own species

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Old Martians

Martian Overlord from the Killraven comics

H.G. Wells had it partly right. The last invasion failed. Bacteria were indeed the proximate cause of the invasion's failure. But there is more to the story.

The Old Martians had been to Earth many times before. They reproduce by budding, and have viewed each successive invasion of Earth as a civilizational bud off the body of their ancient civilization. A natural process.

The problem with the last invasion was that the scientist-soldiers from the Fourth Planet had been away from Earth for many generations - since the dawn of history, in fact. After Earth's last Ice Age, internecine struggles among the polities of the Old Martians, and the disintegration of Mars' ancient canal system, had diverted the Old Martians' attention to the local problems of food, water, and survival. Civilization collapsed as the Old Martians' slavefodder rebelled. The rebel slaves won, establishing the barbaric city states among the ruins of the Old Martians' vast cities and temples. The Great Rebellion happened while the Sumerians ruled the Land Between Two Rivers on distant Earth. The Old Martians did not return to Earth until the time of Wells.

But the Old Martians did not die out. They found havens below the surface of Mars and used their remaining slavefodder and machines build new havens in the world below the Mars' surface. But the long time required rebuilding their (albeit now subterranean) civilization on Mars meant the Old Martians could not mount new expeditions to Earth for many generations. This isolation reduced the Old Martian's immunity, making them  more vulnerable to our diseases. When they returned to Earth in the Wells era, disaster struck. All the Old Martian invaders died.

Scientists to the last bud, the Old Martians back home observed the defeat from afar. They dissected their defeat dispassionately (as they are ever wont to do), reviewing every detail meticulously and devising new stratagems to reverse their defeat. When they returned to Earth in the 21st Century, the Old Martians brought new immune systems with them: immunological prostheses which protected them from Earth diseases, as well as from the numerous chemical and biological weapons that humans had developed after the last invasion.

Once again the invaders from Fourth Planet took their place at the apex of the food chain.


Neo-Wellsian Martians

  • High Concept: A cold and dispassionate intellect
  • Trouble: Exemplar of a dying race 
  • Aspect: Tentacled connoisseur of  human flesh
  • Aspect: Expert craftsmen of machines
  • Aspect: Dependent on machines and servants
  • Careful: +2
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: +1
  • Forceful: +1
  • Quick: +0
  • Sneaky: +2
  • A Writhing Mass of Tentacles - +2 to Flashy Approach to terrorize slavefodder and other humans
  • Expert Pilot - +2 to Quick Approach to operate tripods or other suitable vehicles
  • Heirs to a Decadent Science - Once per session, an Old Martian may invent a technological marvel based on their mastery of ancient sciences.
  • Immunological Prosthesis - +2 to Forceful Approach to resist pathogens and poisons 

What The Heck Is A Dakker?

Kodak advert c.1915

Wednesday's in-character Shadowrun post referred to "Dakkers."  Depending on accents, that may sound a lot like Deckers, but - as a rather incompetent and pedantic early 21st Century President used to say, "make no mistake" we're talking about Dakkers.

The term Dakker has two meanings:

  • Doomed and complacent salaryman 
  • Dinosaur industry that's too big NOT to fail

Few people in our home town remember this today, but we once had a global corporation called the Eastman Kodak Company, or Kodak for short. They employed just about everyone. They specialized in emulsion-based photography. Polluted the entire city with their industrial wastes. Failed to innovate. Smugtown's biggest industry.

They REALLY didn't keep up with the times. Didn't even try. They missed the digital age entirely. There's no Deckers among the Dakkers, as the smart alecs say.

One of their "late" products was a camera that almost went to market with a lithium battery that could have exploded in the user's face.

So today the term Dakker is used for any megacorp (and its employees) who are set in their ways, and losing their edge. You know the type: they've hit the monopoly stage, and the rate of profit is starting to decline. Their main operation is using bureaucracy, financial tricks, mergers and buyouts, as well as payoffs and mercs to nip the bud on upstart competitors. Hold onto existing markets as long as they can. Charge rent on their brand, and get the golden parachutes ready to drop


Dinosaur industry; doomed, complacent salaryman

  • Smugtown's finest industry
  • A job for life - with no future
  • Too big to fail - for now
  • They can lay off thousands and still have a huge work force
  • Dilution is the solution 

*You decide which are High Concept and which are Trouble. Take your pick...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Shadowrun Aspects

The Anubian Ambassor Looks Askanse

What do you love?

What do you hate?

What would you KILL for?

What would you DIE for?

It was about 20 years back. I'd just returned to my Home Town. 

Gotten a job. Not great money, but not bad either. I could get back on my feet. Lick my wounds. Make plans. Move on with my life.

Management thought I had skills. They made me an Operator, with a 100 square mile turf. 

But I always had my eye on, well, further advancement.

And in those days you could go far. This was before Maggie's Gang started looting corpses. Even the stupids did OK, went Corporate, became a Dakker. You couldn't even call it selling out back then. It was making a living, and it worked for a while. 

Sure, half the city was toxic. But at least the whole goddamn town hadn't become a Barrens yet. The Company was still running things, calling the shots. No zombie malls back then. No chop shops either - just legitimate clinics. 

This was before law enforcement went to hired guns, all contracted out and legit. Internal Affairs kept everything on the up and up - or at least created the appearance of being a watchdog. They went through the motions of investigating the cops' drug dealing and murder sprees from inside their little armored hole Downtown. The Gangers were still pretty well bottled up in all their little 'hoods, so nobody complained too much about a little corruption.

Yes, it was still a Company Town back then. A Big Orange Box that was still riding high. For sure, your right: hindsight is 20-20. Everybody should have seen that the fall was coming. But back then the average person couldn't see that the ground was just about to give way. But few of us were ready and waiting when that happened. We were poised for action and hungry to build a rep and win some credits. They called us runners.


The questions at the top of this post were my entree into Shadowrun gaming - but you won't find these questions in any edition of Shadowrun. You had to figure things out for yourself back then.

You wanna play the game? Sure, bro, but you gotta answer a few questions first.

It was back around '92/'93.

The Questions were +Amon C Horne's. He was the GM that got me back into the game. He set the Stage. There wasn't a Table. We moved around the room. Acted. Played it out.

The Questions were intense. So were the sessions. The GM had the answers, but he wasn't telling. Some of us were human, some elves or orks. One or two were something else completely, like a Pale. I remember some freeloader named Chameleon, and a really murderous ganger named Judas.

Those were the days.

All we going for us was the grid, our guns, our 'ware, our gear, and our fellow runners. You and your team had to figure it all out for yourself. Or god help you.  The OSR thought they dreamed this up, but the way we rolled was Old School even back then.

And those Questions. Like I said, everybody had those Questions. Desperate times, back then.

Each of us had our own Answers. Answers that told us who we were. Why people turned to us to fix things. Why we'd take a risk.  What we'd go out on a limb for. What set us apart.

What made us hard, desperate, and mean - and once and a while, maybe just maybe, merciful.

Looking back on it all, it's easy to see those were our Aspects

Monday, September 16, 2013

Comet Barbarians Clan Location Table Key

Yesterday, I posted a 4DF space-based location table for generating the home bases of various Comet Barbarian tribes, clans, khanates, and principates called the Comet Barbarians Clan Locations Table.

Today, we are presenting a bit more detail on the locations described. Each definition also has a T-level based on the Diaspora RPG's standard descriptors for Tech level. Occasionally, the E-scale for Environmental conditions is also referenced.

Location Descriptions

Multiplanet Rosette - Like the Puppeteer homeworlds in Larry Niven's Known Space setting, this location is a fixed geometric arrangement of planets around an artificial star. This is a T4 location which requires artificial gravity for optimal maintenance.

Iceball - This cometary habitation was tunneled out of an ice comet. It typically travels at sublight speeds, and stays a safe distance away from its system's sun. The comet's ice can be used as propellant for maneuvering. Typically such locations are T1, but are often escorted by T2 or T3 vessels, and have hangar facilities for shuttles from those vessels.

Cluster of Small Rocks - This Comet Barbarian clan location is in fact an archipelago of small cometary rocks equipped with thrusters. It is usually accompanied by one or more conventional space vessels as armed escorts. The rocks comprising the Cluster may be equipped with either STL or FTL drives. Rocks with STL drives will usually be T1; however some Rocks have very crude T0 to T1 tech; they are armed with crude atomics and are powered by leaky, aging reactors. FTL-equipped rocks will typically be T2, but may go as high as T3 if equipped for the construction/repair/salvage of FTL vessels.

Rogue Planet - The majority of planets in the galaxy are wandering the depths of interstellar space as Rogue Planets. Most are entirely natural. A few are constructs such as the Shell Worlds found in Star Trek's Yonada, Iain M. Banks' novel Matter, and Fritz Leiber's SF classic The Wanderer.  Comet Barbarians have settled numerous such worlds, digging elaborate tunnel complexes under their surfaces to conceal their true purpose. The majority of such worlds have T1 or T2 technology, and are E-1 or E-2 with respect to habitability. Most Shell Worlds will be somewhere between T1 to T4, and are generally E-1 to E4.

Fleet Cluster, Active & Mobile - Some Comet Barbarian clans travel in fleets of FTL vessels. Few of the vessels are physically connected, but they often make FTL jumps in tethered electronically to a command ship. Such fleets are typically T2.

Sargasso Fleet Cluster, Mobile - A Sargasso Fleet Cluster is a cloud of individual space vessels. Comet Barbarians in a Sargasso Fleet are limited to one solar system (or one location in interstellar space). Many ships are physically connected to each other, but with mobile fleets some local maneuver is possible; for example, a mobile Sargasso Fleet Cluster change its relative location from another object in the system by 1-8 AU. Mobile Sargasso Fleet Clusters are typically T1, but may contain one or several T2 vessels.

Sargasso Fleet Cluster, Immobile - A Sargasso Fleet Cluster is a cloud of individual space vessels at a fixed location in a solar system or in interstellar space. Many ships in such fleet clusters are physically connected to each other, and damaged, in disrepair, and/or heavily jury rigged. Such immobile fleet clusters have very little local maneuver capability: typically just enough to maintain a fixed position and not collide with other objects such as planets. Some immobile Sargasso Fleet Clusters are located near jumpgates or slipknots to facilitate interstellar travel and raids. These locations are typically T0 toT1, but may contain one or several T2 vessels.

Ancient Temple Planetoid - A Comet Barbarian clan has made their home on a planetoid with an ancient temple ruin. The planetoid may be an active pilgrimage site providing an additional revenue source for its new guardians, or a long-forgotten place of worship built by a Forerunner race. The technology level may be anywhere from T-1 to T4. In the latter case, the temple itself may be a jealously guarded secret or a weapon of unimaginable power.

Human Generation Ship - Gigantic, long-abandoned STL generation ships make an ideal haven for Comet Barbarians, and still-inhabited generation ships also have their advantages. The original inhabitants of a generation ship may have evolved into Comet Barbarians after making contact with FTL cultures. Alternatively, the original inhabitants may have intermarried with a Comet Barbarian clan as insurance against exploitation or attack by outside parties, or by rival groups within the great ship. Such vessels are most often T1, but may have degenerated since launch to T0 or T-1; any lower on the tech scale than that and they will not be very desirable base locations for Comet Barbarians. Such generation ships are typically protected by one or more T2 or T3 vessels. Once Project Generations is completed, there will be many new resources for FATE-based generation ship games.

Alien Generation Ship - Gigantic, long-abandoned alien STL generation ships sometimes make an ideal haven for Comet Barbarians, while still-inhabited alien generation ships present their own unique opportunities and risks as home bases for Comet Barbarians. Alien generation ships often hide great mysteries and can confer secret advantages upon the clan that possesses one. Like their human counterparts, most alien generation ships will be T1, and may have degenerated since launch to T0 or T-1; any lower on the tech scale than that and they will not be very desirable base locations for Comet Barbarians. Such generation ships are typically protected by one or more T2 or T3 vessels.

Alien Space Fortress - This may be a fixed position in space, or a mobile battlestation of some kind. It may be long abandoned by its original inhabitants, retain a secret enclave of those inhabitants' descendants, or have a thriving alien population that is allied with or subservient to the Comet Barbarians. Tech level may be anywhere from T-1 to T4. Alien Space Fortresses at T3 and T4 often possess incredibly powerful secret weapons, which may confer great advantages on the Comet Barbarian khan or princeling who possesses the fortress. Such locations are often protected by T2 or T3 Comet Barbarian support vessels, and may even have vast hangars to accommodate those ships.

Alien Megafauna - The galaxy is a very big place, and filled with strange things. Some Comet Barbarian tribes have managed to find and colonize the bodies of gigantic alien space creatures. Whether these are the corpses of ancient space monsters, creatures from beyond time and space, or benevolent creatures making very slow migrations across the galaxy, the Comet Barbarians who inhabit them and burrow deep within their flesh and bones tend to be very strange barbarian clans indeed. With extra organs, weird pets and familiars, and odd mutant powers. Best beware and steer clear. Such clan locations tend to be much lower tech: anywhere from T-4 to T1 is typical. When such settlements have an escort fleet, it is almost always crewed  by an allied clan.

Ripple Bethorm - This is a pocket universe on the move. A Ripple Bethorms navigates space at one fixed speed, either STL or FTL. They often follow predictable courses through the galaxy. Almost anything may be on the inside of a Ripple Bethorm, from a vast hollow world environment to an entire solar system suspended in a starless void. T4 technologies are required to create and sustain such spaces, but those technologies are usually operating in the background, well beyond human control. The entrance to a Ripple Bethorm is a very small fracture in space-time. Often Comet Barbarians will protect this opening with a T2 or T3 ship located just inside the fracture. Clans living within such pocket universes may be at any level of technological development, from T-4 to T3, but whatever the general level of development there will always be a T2 to T3 elite capable of crewing Comet Barbarian ships.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Comet Barbarians Clan Location Table

FATE table design by David S. Goodwin
Content c. 2013 John Everett Till

As has been noted elsewhere, the Empire arose from a series of incursions by Comet Barbarians living on the periphery of the Terran Expansion Zone. They abolished the corrupt tyranny established by earlier Terran polities, and created a new Empire free of the scourge of slavery.

The term "Comet Barbarian" is quite broad, embracing a variety of clans, tribes, khanates, principates, and petty kingdoms of the periphery. Numerous such groups continue to exist within and beyond the borders of the Empire. The table above provides a way to generate the habitations used by the various Comet Barbarian groups.

You can click the table to enlarge it.

To use the table, roll 4DF. For each (+) result, move one horizontal column to the right. For each (-) result, move one vertical row down. Your location is where the two results meet.

We'll be adding more detail to the descriptions in subsequent posts.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


We'll have something more profound to share tomorrow. For now, the lovely image of a Hmelu stuffed animal. Tekumel's six-legged sheep are indeed six-legged.

As you can clearly see from the second picture, this Hmelu has two eyes. Not three. I am sure there are other Hmelu on Tekumel who have three eyes.

Variations almost certainly exist.

I have it on good authority that those raised on Ito lands are particularly to be avoided.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Hexcriveners Of Suphis II

The Hexcriveners, better known as Mentor Bugs, live on Suphis II, a planet in a solar system marooned inside a bethorm or pocket universe. Mentor Bugs are arborial insectile scriveners that range from 3-10 cm in length. Mentor Bugs can be found covering the bark of the Axis Mundi trees that ring the planet's equatorial continent.

Hexcrivener bugs live their brief lives in the summer month of Thermidor. (In the remainder of the year, they exist first as eggs embedded in the trees' bark, and later as soft grubs feeding on the leaves of the Axis Mundi trees.) In the month of Thermidor, mature Mentor Bugs descend from the branches of the Axis Mundi tree to attach to the bark of the trees' trunk. They consume the quantum liquor of the trees using their long, diamond tipped proboscis, and intoxicated by that liquor, begin to etch a variety of spells and psychic sutras into the bark of the tree on which they reside. During Thermidor, the trees glow at night with the numinous runes etched by Hexcriveners. Seen from orbit, the equatorial continent's nightside becomes one shimmering band of light.

Reading trees is one way for sorcerers, shamans, and priests to learn new spells and psychic sutras, as well as unusual variants of common spells. Care must be taken in the interpretation of these etchings, as the bark of any given tree will be a palimpsest consisting of several layers of etchings by one or more Mentor Bugs. Approaching the trees while the bugs are active is also quite dangerous - while the bugs are alive and etching, the spells are alive, and may be triggered by someone's approach.

The best courses of action for learning spells directly from the Mentor Bugs is to observe active etchings  from a distance, using a spy glass. Scrying and clairvoyance spells may be dangerous for this purpose, triggering the discharge of bark-etched spells. So use non-magical means of observation. The etchings will reveal the nature of the spell. Hexscriveners use one or more of the magical languages commonly used to inscribe spells on scrolls. Finally, prayers and offerings to the Bug Gods are often used to try to influence which spells the Hexcriveners will inscribe next.

Once the month of Thermidor ends, the Hexcriveners lay their eggs in the bark and remain on the trees as lifeless husks. At this point, members of the Peelers Guild will strip the bark from many Axis Mundi trees and use the bark to fashion spell scrolls and scroll books. The Guild is quite protective of its harvest rights so it is best to avoid the areas where they are stripping the bark of the Axis Mundi trees.

Many brave the dangerous, remote wild areas of Suphis II's equatorial continent to harvest bark spell etchings unmolested by the Guild. Such travelers are often followed and harassed by Guild members when they return to more civilized lands. It is often best to memorize and transcribe spells acquired from the Axis Mundi trees, recording them in a proper spellbook before returning to civilized lands. The bark can then be burned; the ash of the Axis Mundi tree is useful as a spell component.

Monday, September 9, 2013

FATE Track and Leonard Balsera at U-Con in November

This November, we'll be making the pilgrimage up to U-Con in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I completed a two year program in non-profit leadership at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, so it will be nice to go back up there for a few days. Hopefully we'll have a chance to hit one of the Zingerman's Roadhouse while we're up there too.

U-Con is deservedly famous for its longstanding track of Tekumel games. Readers of FATE SF know that I am a fan of Tekumel, so this con promises to be a real treat!

But this year, U-Con is also hosting +Leonard Balsera, the author of Fate Core, as its Guest of Honor. You can find info on events with Leonard Balsera here.

There will also be a special track of Fate-based gaming events. And they're looking for more FATE GMs.

I'll be offering two FATE events:
  • Lord Ksarul's Broken Labyrinth is a Fate Core scenario that will be cross-listed with the both the Tekumel and FATE Tracks:
    • A party of masons and priests must go into the Underworld to discover why the temple walls are collapsing! Experience both Tekumel AND FATE Core: two great things that go together!
  • Project Generations is the title of the other scenario I'll be running. That will be a Fate Accelerated Edition scenario featuring some of my forthcoming work for Modiphius Entertainment:
    • Create a generation ship setting and go for an adventure together with the author of Modiphius Entertainment's forthcoming Project Generations series of FATE SF games!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Gorn Sector Station

I have been rewatching Deep Space 9 from the beginning of the series, so for the Heat Exchange TrekCore campaign it is perhaps not surprising that I am thinking about a space station. As mentioned in previous TrekCore posts, the core of the station was built by the Gorn, who retain some rights to be be there and use it - even as the station has been ceded to the Federation.

At the core of the station would be two hub units of Gorn construction. These sections would house the Command & Control and Engineering facilities of the station, and would have been purpose-built for Gorn habitation. This section would be mostly GM-defined and would have at least the following Aspects:
  • High Concept: The Gorns' gift to the Federation
  • Trouble: Hides many secrets
  • Aspect: Too hot and smells like lizard
  • Aspect: Gorn tech has a mind of its own
  • Aspect: [TBD-Player Defined]

I realize ALL of the above could be Trouble Aspects!

Radiating out from the core of the station would be a series of modified Transport Containers: the cylindrical modules that are towed by a Ptolmey-class Class I Transport/Tug (as featured in the Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual). There would be one modified Transport Container per player at the table at the beginning of the campaign. Each player would specify the Aspects and contents of one of these cylinder sections.

Ptolmey-class Transport/Tugs

One of the Ptolmey-class Tugs that brought the Transport Containers into the sector might still be around, perhaps parked near the station and running on a skeleton crew - i.e., PCs required for missions!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Gorn Nest-Traps

U.S.S. Defiant in Tholian Spacedock

The Gorn will lay eggs almost anywhere. In fact, they are rather negligent parents when on the move, and will maintain or abandon nests as expedient at the moment. When traveling outside of Gorn space, they have also been known to lay nest-traps as unwelcome surprises to harass and inconvenience the lesser species on whose territories they have encroached.

Remote areas of alien space stations and alien ships, such as the Jeffries Tubes of Constitution-class vessels are perfect for such spontaneous egg laying. Locations with a bit waste heat and stray radiation are very desirable to the cold-blooded Gorn, whose tissue is much more radiation resistant than human tissue.  A Gorn parent is much less likely to get the itchie-willies experienced by so many human Engineers working in such poorly shielded locations! In fact, they find such claustrophobic, hot environments very homey.

The Gorn are sanguine about the production of spontaneous mutations. In their society, variety in physical form and intellectual capacities is highly valued, and it is well known that higher than normal background radiation potentiates the development of rare psionic abilities in developing Gorn embryos. Badly deformed hatchlings are never a worry; they're a quick snack.

In any event, the hatchlings produced in nest-traps are often viewed as little more than time-delayed weapons. They emerge from their shells nasty and ravenous, and more than one crewman or thief on a remote station or below decks in the deep bowels of a starship has lost a poorly paced hand or foot to these hungry Gornlings.

Nest-traps have also been proposed as an explanation for the surprisingly brief reign and unexplained disappearance of Empress Sato and several of her crew onboard the I.S.S. Defiant...


Reptilian egg clutch (inimical)

  • High Concept: A squirming mass of teeth 
  • Trouble: Did I just hear hissing and warbling over there?
  • Skilled +2 for biting from below, slowing someone down
  • Bad -2 for hatchlings being able to get away from the nest's shell fragments and goo
STUNTS: Feel free to add a stunt or two for mutant hatchlings. 
  • Pyrokinesis - Once per Scene, a single hatchling from the nest-trap can start a +2 Fire on organic matter (including a person) somewhere in the Zone.  Fire won't go out as long as the hatchling takes no other action than to Defend itself.
STRESS: 3-4 boxes (representing 6-8 hatchlings)

SPECIAL: The nest-trap starts as a fixed location within a zone, but the hatchlings can move out from the nest... slowly.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gorn Campaign Part II: Heat Exchange

A Gorn from classic Trek

Yesterday, I shared a framework for a TrekCore campaign set on the interstices of Gorn and Federation space in the Original Series era. The campaign conceit is that the two parties agree to a Heat Exchange. More temperate border worlds claimed by the cold-blooded Gorn will be ceded to the Federation; worlds that are uncomfortably warm for humans will be ceded to the Gorn. The two polities will police the sector together, and where possible, engage in trade and other collaborative activities. Meanwhile, Section 31 has developed a secret and possibly genocidal just-in-case plan in the event that a modus vivendi established by treaty turns out to be unsustainable in the real world.

The Campaign Aspects that I proposed in the last post were:
  1. Current Issue: A Fragile Peace
  2. Impending Issue: Section 31's Sinister Plans
The next question is what vehicle for the campaign? I could see an interesting campaign happening on either a space station (giving the campaign a bit of a DS9 frontier fort feel) or on a Federation starship. 
If a space station is to be used, an abandoned or ceded Gorn station seems in order. Solidly build, probably better armed and defended than most Federation bases, but perhaps too bright and hot to be a really pleasant place for humans. And maybe with a Gorn hatchery that needs to stay right where it is!* Reproductive rights as stipulated by treaty and all that. So there'd be a constant stream of Gorn visitors to the station's hatchery, as well as a contingent of Gorn Birthmasters who are assigned to guard and maintain the hatchery.

A key question is whether the Federation and the Gorn would pursue a strategy of relative disarmament on their shared border, or one of peace-through-strength. In the former case, PCs  assigned to a Starfleet vessel as opposed to a station are likely to be on something along the lines of a Class I Destroyer (Saladin class) or a Class I Scout (Hermes class). But if the border is going to be highly conflicted, then perhaps a real show of strength in the form of a Class I Dreadnought (Federation class) is in order. I have always wanted to run a campaign set on one of these classic ships from the Star Trek Technical Manual.

The setting would also need other kinds of aliens and antagonists. Some human-seeming humanoids perhaps, as well as some reptilian cousins of the Gorn. If there are a lot of mining opportunities in the region, there might be a sizable contingent of Tellarites stirring up trouble over mining rights on different worlds owned by both the Federation and the Gorn. Add some Orion privateers and Romulan pot stirrers skulking about in the sector, and you'd have a fairly complete setting. 

But perhaps an enigma or mystery of two would also be in order for this sector...

*I like the idea of Gorn as egg layers, rather than viviparous as Star Trek Into Darkness implies.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


The Gorn are one of the least used major races in Star Trek. They were introduced in the classic Trek episode "Arena", in which the Gorn lure the crew of the Enterprise into a deadly planetside trap on Cestus III. They also made an appearance on the Elysian Ruling Council in the Animated Series. And they return in an episode of Enterprise set in the Mirror Universe.

They are reptilian and cold blooded. They are slow and have poor agility, but are much stronger and tougher than humans.  The Gorns' homodont dentition and sharp teeth mark them as exclusive meat eaters. Many but apparently not all Gorn have compound silver eyes covered in tiny pits. Because of this whole constellation of features, humans instinctively find them sinister and repellent.


Brawny Star-spanning Reptilians (inimical)

  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +2
  • Flashy: +1
  • Forceful: +3
  • Quick: +0
  • Sneaky: +2
  • Gorn Throwssss That! - +2 to Flashy Approach when hurling huge heavy objects in a brute strength ranged Attack 
  • How Can You Tell If It's Lying? - Because humanoids cannot read a Gorn's expressions or "see into its eyes", a Gorn takes +2 on Sneaky Approach when trying Create an Advantage by deceiving a human/humanoid
  • Puny Humannnn! - +2 when using Forceful Approach to intimidate a human or other lesser species
  • Take One In the Chest - A Gorn may take a +2 to Flashy Approach to just stand there and shake off an enemy's blows from blunt objects such as rocks, boulders, and clubs 

Gorn Campaign for TrekCore

A Gorn on the far the right from the Star Trek Animated Series

The Gorn.  Never underestimate them, based on one hand-to-hand encounter on a gem planet. Never forget that they have warp capable starships, transporters, and advanced weapons. While they are slower and less dextrous than humans, Gorn are much, much stronger and tougher than we are: Gorns can survive direct hits from a hand cannon.

A war between the Gorn and the Federation would probably be disastrous for both sides. The Gorn are only all too willing to defend territory that they see as their own, and see no need to warn or parley with intruders before engaging them in a merciless, no quarter given attack. Just ask the settlement on Cestus III.

While the Gorn certainly appear to have all the makings of implacable enemies, Federation diplomat-scientists believe that the fact that the Gorn are a cold blooded species could actually create the material conditions for collaboration between the Gorn polity and the Federation. Diplomat-scientists have proposed a series of "Heat Exchanges" in contested border territories. The Federation would cede the hotter worlds it has mapped or claimed to the Gorn, while the Gorn would cede more temperate worlds to the Federation.

Of course, rumors circulate within Starfleet that Section 31 has developed sinister and reportedly genocidal fall-back plans in case the diplomatic path fails. The details of their plan are classified, but the plan's code name, Case Gorn Winter, is suggestive to say the least.

Campaign Aspects:
  1. Current Issue: A Fragile Peace
  2. Impending Issue: Section 31's Sinister Plans

Kirk & Gorn Seed Art - Minnesota State Fair

Seed art by Nicolas Rindo of Richfield, MN

I shot this image at the Minnesota State Fair yesterday - the largest state fair in the nation. It is good to see Kirk and the Gorn up on the big wall of seed art! (I am glad Nicolas Rindo didn't do a Medusan - I would hate to think of the mass insanity that could have induced among fairgoers!)

Kirk looks a little smug here, and the Gorn looks...well, all Gorny. One hopes that Kirk gets a bit more clearance before he tries to fire, but if memory serves Kirk's improvised hand cannon was fired at close range.