Friday, January 31, 2014

Thursday Night Punctuated Equilibrium

The Hereticwerks blog was the host for January's RPG Blog Carnival. The theme this month was Transitions, whether in games, campaigns, or gaming groups. My regular Twin Cities Thursday night group has experienced plenty of transitions in the past couple of years, and we are looking forward to a great new transition starting next week.

More on that in a bit.

Transitions in our gaming group tend to follow a sort of punctuated equilibrium: we'll play a short campaign or multisession scenario, followed by a number of one shots of various Indie RPGs and storygames.

Recent campaigns/scenarios have included:
  • Blade & Crown campaign run by Eric Gilbertson; this is the first B&C campaign I have played in that wasn't run by the game's designer, Rachel Kronick. I think she had as much fun as I did finally getting to play her own game. I played my Eric Stoltz-inspired assassin, Stabber, with great gusto in that campaign.
  • The Alwyn Campaign, an episodic campaign I ran using Fate Accelerated Edition. The setting was the future ruined Earth of the Babylon 5 universe. We could come back to this campaign at some point. It was fun researching locations in the Twin Cities, and then extrapolating how they would look as far future ruins.
  • A playtest of a scenario for my forthcoming Fate product series, Project Generations which will be published by Modiphius Productions. We used Starblazer Adventures for the playtest!
  • Rachel Kronick ran a playtest of a forthcoming scenario for Blade & Crown. I had a lot of fun running a callow, brutal young mage in that one!
  • A playtest of Fate of Tekumel (TM) scenario that I will be publishing professionally some time in the next year. This will be a Tekumel Foundation-licensed Approved for Tekumel product, with wonderful art by Juan Ochoa.
Interspersed between these scenarios/mini-campaigns were numerous one shot games using a plethora of different systems including:
  • OG, Robin Laws' caveman game. We did a few different one-shots of this game
  • Lost Days of Memories and Madness, which our group calls the "elf memory game"
  • The Quiet Yeara wonderful storygame involving mapping a community and what happens to it during its final year before the Frost Shepherds come.  
  • Monsterhearts, your friendly neighborhood angsty let's all play high school monsters RPG. 
  • Heirs to the Lost World, Chad Davidson's wonderful alternate history RPG with pirates, Mayans, Aztecs, and more in the 17th Century Caribbean.
  • Durance, Jason Morningstar's "Botany Bay in space" storygame.
There's probably several more one-shots that I am missing.

So where are we headed in 2014? 

Next up is a campaign of Night's Black Agents, Ken Hite's RPG of espionage and vampire conspiracies. It should be pretty cool, as the GM is running the game in Eastern Europe, where he worked in the Foreign Service. We'll be doing a test drive of this GUMSHOE system RPG next week, and the campaign-proper will launch as soon as we all recover from Con of the North, where we're collectively running numerous games, as the House of Indie Games! 


Deck Of Fridays 13: No Way Out

Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF. We make a draw from the Deck of FateRPG Inspiration Cards, or another Aspect-generative randomizer. Then we do something interesting with it, using the Aspect as inspiration for a campaign or scenario seed, a situation, scene, location, NPC, thingie, etc.

This week's draw from the Deck of Fate is a card with the Aspect: No Way Out. That is a pretty negative sounding Aspect (and the card it's on is valued as a -3 on a 4DF roll), but we have something special in mind for it. Anime fans may recall a certain maze trap spell used in Doomed Megalopolis. That anime was one of the first ones I ever watched, and the spell has stuck with me for almost 20 years. So it's time to put it on paper.

The spell is called a Kimon Tonkou, and its historical inspiration is described in detail here. We'll provide a brief overview. The Kimon Tonkou is derived from the Chinese Taoist divination practice called Qimen Dunjia, or Strange Demon Gate Escaping Technique. Although the spell has had different attributes and effects at different times, for our purposes, it is a spell which traps a demon in a pattern-trap, allowing the caster to escape via teleportation.

It's a very useful spell. There's No Way Out for the demon, while the spell is in effect. But the caster has a ready means of escape.

What follows is a version of the Kimon Tonkou for FATE SF's Galactic Grimoire using the Fate Freeport Companion's excellent mechanics for creating discrete spells.


Strange Demon Gate Escaping Technique (Divination/Planes, Cost, Scene, Once Per Scenario, Requires one Divination or Planar spell, and one Evocation spell): This spell is used to trap a demon. It is most useful when the caster is aware of the demon's imminent arrival. Strange Demon Gate Escaping Technique is frequently used to interrupt rituals used to summon demons, diverting they into a prearranged pattern-trap. 

Once the demon is within the trap: 
  • Banish spell may be used to dispel the demon, and/or
  • The caster may teleport away to safety to a location of their choice
The spell's ritual begins with the preparation and placement of a pattern-trap. The trap is created by forming a pattern of stones, gems, tiles, or other materials. It must be placed within a few zones of where the demon is likely to materialize. The caster traces a particular path through the pattern; this action "charges" the labyrinth with a pattern of energy with many confusing eddies and flows. The shifting currents of energy constrain the demon's attempts to escape the pattern-trap. 

Once the demon materializes, it is diverted into the pattern-trap and must puzzle its way through to the trap's exit. As soon as the demon materializes in the trap, the caster may either teleport away to a specific location of their choice, or tarry a bit to first cast Banish.

When the caster teleports away, the demon will not be able to perceive the location to which they have teleported. The demon is thereafter unable to perceive the caster or divine their location until the two are again within physical proximity of each other (i.e., within the same zone). Observers outside the pattern-trap have no such restrictions. 

Pattern-traps can also be placed near an interdimensional gate or Nexus Point to capture a creature as it exits the portal. With this use of the spell, any creature passing through the portal is captured by the pattern-trap and must similarly figure its way out.

The spell is discharged at the end of the scene; in most cases, the demon will then be able to exit the pattern-trap.

There are potent variants of Strange Demon Gate Escaping Technique which use Evocation to manifest a pattern-trap at the moment the demon materializes. These traps take the form of three-dimensional puzzles with moving segments. Because of their uncanny similarity to the much smaller Lemarchand's Box, some scholars believe that these manifested pattern-traps are the inverse form or negative image of Lemarchand's demon-gate key puzzle boxes.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Sword of Alexander

The Sword of Alexander (Abjuration/Curses, Cost, Per Scenario, Requires The Eye of the Nexus, Corrupting):  Slipknots are pure imminences that suture together different locations in space-time. Nexialists use The Sword of Alexander to collapse a slipknot for a determinate period of time.

The formula can be used either defensively (to close a slipknot "behind" a ship exiting a slipknot) or offensively, to collapse the space-time suture around a vessel at the exact moment the ship enters the slipknot. The latter use causes a mishap for the ship entering the slipknot. Such a use of the formula is invariably Corrupting.

To cast The Sword of Alexander, the caster makes a WIS roll: at +2, the suture closes for one day. For each additional increment of effort past +2, use The Time Table to determine the duration of time for which the slipknot is closed.

It goes without saying that the use of this formula is frowned upon by the authorities. It can cause severe economic damage - even loss of life - to systems dependent on the slipknot network for their economic well-being. On more than one occasion, local closures have led to spontaneous pogroms against members of the Nexialist Order. The Order itself is extremely circumspect in teaching this formula to its members. Only the most faithful and trustworthy Nexialists have the opportunity to learn it.

Instantiate Entelechy


Instantiate Entelechy (Evocation, Cost, Permanent, Requires "Greater Pass Turing Test"): Nexialists use this formula to create an intelligent automaton from various machine parts, monitors, equipment, tools, cruft, and metallic trash in their immediate zone. Such items simply converge into a junk vortex where the entelechy manifests. The most common version of the formula manifests an assemblage with a roughly humanoid form. Variants of the formula exist which produce other types of assemblages (e.g., Echinoderms, Arthropods, Cerberi). The entelechy will obey the commands of its instantiator.

The entelechy starts with a base Fair (+2) quality, and is enhanced using the rules for summoned creatures on pages 31-32 of the Fate Freeport Companion. The entelechy always manifests with the Disadvantage Shambling.

Possible new Advantages that the instantiator may select in addition to those listed in the Fate Freeport Companion include:
  • Natural Ranged Weapon: Take +2 to Dexterity to Attack using a built in ranged weapon: energy beam, projectile weapon, junk hurler, etc.
  • Junk Dipole: The entelechy can Create an Advantage by shifting its size unpredictably by absorbing or shedding metal-containing junk in its immediate environment.
  • Meld: The entelechy can surround the instantiator as if it is a powered armor suit. This provides the instantiator with a two (2) Blue Dice substitution for armor, as described in the Fate System Toolkit.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Nexialist Public Lectures Table

Yesterday's FATE SF post discussed the public face, activities, and services offered through a Nexialist Institute's Reading Room. Today we have a quick 1D6-1D6 table to determine the most common public lectures offered by any Nexialist Institute.

Lectures are almost always free. They are typically delivered by one of the Nexialist Foundation's Integrators assigned to the Institute's Reading Room. One or more replicant Librarians will also be in attendance to assist patrons attending the lecture and ensure the event runs smoothly.

The table position items in relation to how often those lecture topics are offered; the more an item hugs the center of the table, the greater its frequency of presentation. 

Nexialist Public Lectures Table

Roll 1D6-1D6 and consult the corresponding results below.

-5: The Truth About the "Nexialist Revolt" 

-4: A Fresh Look at _________________ (a complex scientific controversy is illuminated using Nexialism's integrated, multidisciplinary approach)

-2: Nexialism: Common Myths and Misconceptions

-1: The Five Elements of Nexialism

0: Nexialism and YOU: An Introduction

+1: A Guided Tour of the Reading Room (an interactive tour of Reading Room amenities, resources and services)

+2: How to Break Bad Patterns and Create Good Ones

+3: Mind Games Are GOOD For You! (an interactive introduction to the Luminous Exercises)

+4: Does Human Potential Have Limits? (an exploration of psionics and related Nexialist parasciences)

+5:  Does Nexialism Improve Individuals or Society? 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Nexialists' Public Face

Every world with a Nexialist Institute - with the possible exception of a few remote research outposts and secret facilities - has a public Reading Room operated by the Nexialist Foundation. A Reading Room is the public face of a Nexialist Institute, and is open around the clock. For the convenience of patrons, Reading Rooms are always attended by 1-3 replicant Librarians who are ready to assist inquiring minds with a variety of research and educational tasks and self-improvement activities.

Patrons may use Reading Rooms to research a variety of historical, social, and physical sciences using the space's dedicated library system. The public is also invited to attend lectures and classes on a variety of integrative scientific topics held in the Reading Room's Auditorium. A schedule of lectures and classes is always available in a Reading Room's lobby.

Patrons are also invited to play a variety of Mind Games on site, the so-called Luminous Exercises, which are said to be based on neuroscience, and promise to improve memory and cognitive performance. (Mind Games are also available on a subscription basis outside the Reading Rooms.) As a matter of policy, the Nexialists neither confirm nor deny that these games are screening tools capable of detecting psionic abilities...

Reading Rooms meet people where they are at culturally. On worlds where the written/printed word is the dominant means of recording and sharing scientific information, the Reading Rooms will be stocked with numerous books, journals, and scrolls produced by the Reading Room's very efficient print-on-demand technology. On worlds more reliant on digital media, the Reading Room's library system offers patrons direct access to digital media. Print-on-demand resources are still available for a nominal fee.

Nexialist Reading Rooms also provide access to Instructional Machines, exceptionally advanced devices which impart both the theoretical knowledge and practical skills required for individuals to excel in a number of different fields. Knowledge acquisition and skill transfer takes place in just a few moments. In order to ensure patrons are not harmed by this advanced technology, potential Instructees are first qualified on Mind Games, and then screened by an Integrator, a Nexialist adept trained in a variety of psychometric assessments and skill retention therapies. Integrators are available daily by appointment during a Reading Room's peak hours of operation.

The knowledge and skill retention effected by Instructional Machines varies greatly among individuals. A normal human Instructee will retain the information and abilities transferred from an Instructional Machine for at most a few hours. With Instructional Machines, there is always a small risk of an accompanying "Charly affect" in which the Instructee experiences a generalized and precipitous cognitive decline. This is why this technology should only used by trained Integrators.

However, the skill retention therapies facilitated by Integrators often help people retain their new capacities indefinitely. Treatment begins with daily sessions using a Pattern Enhancer. Within a few weeks - usually in less than a month - less "time in the chair" is required, as new neuronal patterns are stabilized and reinforced through redundant neural repatterning.

Together, the Nexialists' Five Essential Elements - the Reading Room, Mind Games, Instructional Machine, Integrator, and Pattern Enhancer - form the public cornerstone of their project for human improvement.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Digital Intrusion

Digital Intrusion (Planar/Evocation, Cost, Per Scene, Persistent, Requires "Eye of the Nexus"): This Nexialist formula manifests as a detached, floating physical hand in the same plane as the caster, or in a planar adjacency in view of the caster. The hand is intended for subtle, dexterous manipulation of physical objects. It can also be used to grasp and retrieve an object, and has the caster's STR and DEX.

The hand is able to move about under the caster's conscious control for up to a distance of three zones away from the caster. The hand remains under the caster's conscious control as long as it remains in physical sight, or within the subtle vision provided using Eye of the Nexus. If the hand leaves sight of the caster, Digital Intrusion is immediately dispelled.

Many variants of this spell exist, manifesting the "hand" as tentacles, fungal fibers, long strands of hair, or even the proboscis of a Ganeshoid alien.

Manipulator Arm

Manipulator Arm (Evocation, Persistent): Nexialists use the formula to move, touch, or manipulate physical targets up to one zone away with an invisible force that emulates a manipulator arm. This formula cannot produce an effect if its target is shielded by or located behind a force field.

The caster rolls STR +2 vs. an object's STR to determine whether the object is moved. On a success, the object will be displaced up to one zone away, knocked over, or otherwise subject to a gross change of position. It is a trickier proposition to do something delicate with Manipulator Arm; such actions require a DEX roll and a succeed with style to achieve success.

Nexialists often use this formula on backward worlds to demonstrate the superiority of their rationalist dogmas, entering temples and toppling the statues of local saints and deities. During the Nexialist Revolt, they even desecrated the temples of the Cult of the Imperial Sovereign in this manner. Many leaders of Nexialist Communes in the Revolt paid a dear price for this sacrilege; they were converted into living statues to replace the ones they destroyed.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Deck of Fridays 12: Betrayed

Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF. We make a draw from the Deck of Fate,RPG Inspiration Cards, or another Aspect-generative randomizer. Then we do something interesting with it, using the Aspect as inspiration for a campaign or scenario seed, a situation, scene, location, NPC, thingie, etc.

This week's draw from the Deck of Fate is a card with the Aspect: Betrayed. This is a pretty good fit thematically with one of the novels I am reading right now, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. It's the book that kicked off the second wave of steampunk back in 2009. It's a very gritty novel, not particularly "light" or giddy steampunk - not the good clean fun divorced from the hierarchy and mayhem of 19th Century capitalism that so many steampunk aficionados are content with today.

The world of Boneshaker is filled with the consequences of betrayal: the lingering war with the traitorous South, racism and nativism in the supposedly free North and Northwest, women's oppression, and environmental destruction wrought by careless and callous inventors and industrialists.

So, a scenario seed on the theme of betrayal, inspired by Boneshaker.


Your husband the genius inventor was responsible for thousands of deaths; thank God he's dead. He left you to raise a kid on your own: a good kid, but one who's looking for answers. Too bad the answers he wants are all about his father. 

You had to change your last name to get away from your husband's horrible reputation. Not everyone gets to destroy a city with one of their inventions. Not everyone turns thousands of people into zombies in an industrial accident. 

The kid's taken off looking for answers. He headed right for the ruins of the city. Right on the other side of that Wall. You know, the Wall that keeps the zombies and the poison gas inside the ruins and away from the living city.

So you followed him in. You want to find him and save him before the gas or the zombies get him. Or cannibals. Or slavers. There are lots of possibilities in the ruins. There are people still living there, and a lot of them are worse than the zombies.

Although now that your over the Wall you've found some people who aren't too bad. They're helping you try to find your son. But the rumors! Everyone thinks the mysterious ever-masked Doctor who lives in the ruins is one and the same person as your deceased husband.

Supposedly deceased. Because if he were still alive, and had just abandoned you and the kid - well, that would be a betrayal.  Better that the zombies get their hands on him than you do.   

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Create Homunculus

Fleshy Elicitation (Evocation, Cost, Per Scene, Permanent, Corrupting): This Nexialist formula allows the caster to draw out a specific kind of homunculus (a Creeper) from the caster's own flesh. The Nexialist must cut or pluck off a skin tag from their own flesh. The skin tag becomes the fleshy kernel for the homunculus.

In addition to the normal Cost menu associated with casting this formula, the creation of a homunculus takes an additional toll: upon a successful casting, the Nexialist immediately takes a Consequence, since the creation of a homunculus extracts approximately 10 pounds of flesh in one fell swoop. This consequence goes away as soon as the homunculus is dispelled or destroyed.

The homunculus will remain alive as long as the caster stays within three zones of it. The caster may destroy the homunculus at will by mentally releasing the casting.

Many variations on this formula exist. The most common variations are in the mix of stunts with which a homunculus may be formatted. Some of the variations are relatively open-sourced among the Nexialist. Others remain closely held secrets.

The Nexialist Order strongly discourages the more instrumentalist uses of this formula, such as the intentional casting of the formula to create diminutive suicide bombers. Any intentional act of creative destruction of this kind is a two point Infraction with respect to Corruption stress.


Creepers. Acrocordons. Chaferlings. Papules. Different names for the same disgusting diminutive creatures: the homunculi created by Nexialists. The formula for creating Creepers is gestural, and involves a microsacrifice. Nexialists create their homunculi from skin tags on their own bodies. (Indeed, many Nexialists wear rasping garments which chafe their tender areas, ensuring a ready supply of new skin tags.)

The Nexialist uses a razor, or simply pinches a skin tag between two sharp nails - and pulls. From this bloody bud a Creeper will grow to its full size (approximately 12" tall) within a matter of seconds. This is accompanied by the temporary loss of approximately 10 pounds from the caster's body.

A Creeper carries a sufficient quantum of the Nexialist's consciousness to function as a rudimentary simulacrum. The Creeper will possess the same gross personality traits and memories as the caster, although few Nexialists go so far as to share compartmentalized memories, spell formulae, and planar passwords and the like are not usually invested. They will generally obey their creator's demands, but often rebel when given assignments that guarantee their immediate extinction. The use of Creepers as suicide bombers is discouraged for this reason.

Creepers may be formatted with a psychic tether through which their Nexialist may perceive what the homunculus perceives, and/or be invested with other capabilities such as the being able to walk on vertical surfaces, spit acid or glue, or pick mechanical locks using a prehensile tongue.  

A Creeper cannot survive for long if it is more than a few zones away from its creator. The one exception to this the extended lifespan that Creepers experience while living inside Nexialist Institutes and similar strongholds. Creepers are able to persist indefinitely in these spaces, even in the absence of their masters, due to these locations' altered planar geometries. Indeed, in such environments lone Creepers often begin to develop personalities, lives, and agendas of their own. They may even eventually become completely individuated subjects, able to live independently of their creators outside the precincts of an Institute.

But born from a skin tag, a Creeper always possesses an Achilles' heel. An acrocordon of its own lucks somewhere on its body.  If this small fleshy tag can be cut, the homunculus bleeds out quickly.


Nexialist homunculus (neutral)

  • High Concept: Foot-high creepy homunculus
  • Trouble: Its skin tag is an Achilles' Heel 
  • Aspect: If you see one, there's a Nexialist nearby
  • Aspect: Readily formatted with special abilities
  • Aspect: Balk at suicidal assignments
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +2
  • Flashy: +1
  • Forceful: 0
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: +3
  • Go Vertical: Creepers formatted with sticky feet may walk up sheer vertical surfaces or walk upside down on ceilings.
  • Hard to Hit: Because they are so small and fast, Creepers take +2 to their Quick Approach when Defending against a physical attack.
  • Lockpick Tongue: A Creeper formatted with a prehensile tongue may take +2 to their Flashy Approach to pick a mechanical lock.
  • Psychic Tether: Creepers formatted with a psychic tether may share sensory information with their creator over a distance of 1-3 zones.

Note: While Creepers are universally Hard to Hit, Nexialists format them with a variety of other stunts.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Summon Planar Steed

The Litany Of The Keening (Enchantment/Planar, Cost, Once per Scenario, Requires Eye of the Nexus or a similar transplanar sensory spell): Meditation upon the psychic sutra known as The Keening Hills creates a transplanar mesmerizing psychic call which imitates the Keening of the Dromedaries, the shaggy living mountains which are often summoned as planar steeds.

The Litany of the Keening will summon a Dromedary present in one of the planar adjacencies proximate to the caster. A spell such as Eye of the Nexus is typically cast before the Keening in order to determine whether a Dromedary is in fact close enough to call.

Then the caster begins The Litany of Keening. They take a +2 to their Charisma/Flashy Approach in a Create an Advantage action. The numerical result of this CHA/Flashy action roll determines how may zones the Keening extends into the caster's and any adjacent planes.

The Keening also exerts the equivalent of a Charm spell (as described in the Fate Freeport Companion, p. 36) vs. the Intelligence/Clever Approach of any intelligent creatures within the zones affected by the Keening.

Once the Dromedary arrives, the summoner may bargain with it for passage to another realm, sphere, or plane. Dromedaries crave new information and experiences, and will be positively disposed toward those summoners who can offer them contact with novel creatures, objects, and persons.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Deck of Fridays 11: LB 1968117-G

Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF. We make a draw from the Deck of FateRPG Inspiration Cards, or another Aspect-generative randomizer. Then we do something interesting with it, using the Aspect as inspiration for a campaign or scenario seed, a situation, scene, location, NPC, thingie, etc.

This week, we are continuing a planet generation project we began yesterday. We made a series of rolls using the Planet Generator rules in Chapter 26 of Starblazer Adventures.  Then we asked readers to contribute their speculations and help interpret the rolls.

Today, we are putting those comments together, and drawing a card from the Deck of Fate to help further flesh out the world. From the card we drew, we'll be using the Aspect Uninspired 


Part of the Linebarger survey series, the dwarf planet LB 1968117-G is the seventh planet in orbit around a red giant star. It is the outermost planet before the large asteroid belt surrounding the system. The planet, ironically known as Deep Gee, only has a gravity of about .35G. It's a metal-rich planetoid covered by a thinning layer of ice.

The planet's three small moons, which are actually ancient terraforming machines of unknown origin, concentrate and augment the distant sun's radiation, focusing it on the planet's ice layer. The ice sublimes and chemically degrades under the radiation lens effect of the moons, releasing a thin layer of oxygen which steadily bleeds into space. Current projections are that the remaining planetary surface ice will be gone within a few decades.

In deep crevices and fissures on the surface of Deep Gee, the oxygen is concentrated enough to be thin-but-breathable - with many impurities, some of which are organic. The planet has a faint ring system with this same water-oxygen-organic mix, albeit once again frozen.  Most settlements on the planet are built in these fissures in order to harvest, filter, and purify the available atmosphere.

While located far coreward of the Empire (and indeed coreward of the R.U.R.), the planet has a fairly sizable human population of 6,310 miners, prospectors, and scientists. They live in cliffside/subterranean settlements built within the gloomy fissures, which provide protection from the radiation emitted by the moons.

Human settlements are highly functional but entirely uninspired in their design. No one would come here for a holiday, or work here if they had better employment or research prospects. The suicide rate is between 3 and 5% per year in the different settlements; no one is doing anything about this, and bringing the matter up just results in indignant muttering about "Ghost Wolves." The locals are obsessive about never being alone, which has caused some odd variations in privacy norms and resulting "personal" accommodations - double beds only, double restroom stalls, and no one-person vehicles. All private spaces are designed for a minimum of two persons only.

Many of the settlements were built on top of more ancient settlements constructed hundreds of years ago by others - presumably by other species. There are a few variations in the paleo-settlements' designs, which has led xenoarchaeologists at the Nexialist Institute in G-Port (the largest fissure-settlement) to conclude that up to four distinct races may have explored this planetoid in the past.

The planet's only industry is mining, which gives the Deep Gee its Good (0) rating in Resources (industrial). The overall Technology Level of this world is Poor (-1), meaning that trade is a necessity in order to keep mining and life support equipment functioning. Tunnels and mines run below the surface in many directions. Miners extract metals, as well as interesting and sometimes dangerous alien junk from vast subsurface vaults that the locals call "Shrines." Most Shrine locations are jealously guarded secrets held by an individual prospector and a small team of miners. Several stasis boxes have been recovered from these Shrines.

In a few settlements, including G-Port, all subsurface extraction is done by the Autonomous Subsurface Assemblies (ASAs): collectives of ancient R.U.R. mining robots who were on the planet before humans arrived. The ASAs are known to be hostile to intruders mining or prospecting in the deep areas that the collectives claim for themselves. Instead, the robots bring ore to the surface (but only very rarely alien artifacts), and trade allotments of ore for items that either interest them (e.g., data crystals on various subjects including a variety of texts in extinct alien languages) or for replacement parts, tools, and equipment that the collectives require for self-repair and the maintenance/expansion of their own habitats.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Starblazer Adventures: Let's Generate A Planet!

We're feeling a bit restless, so we decided to try we haven't done for a while. Over the next few posts, we're going to randomly generate a planet using the Planet Generator rules in Chapter 26 of Starblazer Adventures. Today we're focusing on the random roles and the most elementary aspects of what those rolls mean. We'll be fleshing out this planet over a couple of posts, and the card from the Deck of Fate that I draw for tomorrow's Deck of Fridays will be part of the project.

You, Dear Reader, are invited to help build this world! Please comment and make suggestions to help flesh out the world we're creating. I've added some questions below each roll/result. Feel free to add your ideas in the Comments right below the post, or in G+ - whichever venue strikes your fancy.


TYPE OF PLANET: Our first 1d6-1d6 produces a +3. That means the planet is a Dwarf Planet; the scale is Colossal (class 7). Dwarf planets, according to the book are small - often the same size as moons orbiting other planets. According to the book, people "tend to live in hollowed out areas or in large bases built onto their surface"; they tend not to have much of an atmosphere.

  • Question: Is the dwarf planet orbiting close to the sun or further out in the system? Where is it?

ATMOSPHERE: I made four 1d6-1d6 rolls to determine the type of atmosphere; each roll came up 0, which means a breathable atmosphere. The rules say to re-roll results for dwarf planets that come up with a breathable atmosphere as the result, but after four successive rolls we're sticking with this result.
  • Question: Why and how does this dwarf planet have a breathable atmosphere?

MOONS AND RING SYSTEMS: Two rolls here; our dwarf planet has a faint ring system, and several moons.
  • Questions:
    • What are the moons like and what are they made of? Let's assume the moons are smaller than the dwarf planet (otherwise, it would be their moon...)
    • What is the faint ring system made of? Is there anything special about it?

POPULATION: Our roll for population size is -3; that indicates a population in the 1,000s. This is consistent with "Larger outposts/research stations, Newly settled worlds (terraformers)."
  • Questions: 
    • What is the purpose of the settlement?
    • Who lives here?
OK! That's probably enough for today! Post any ideas you have and we'll see where this dwarf planet takes us.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Two Million Swallow Gale

Art by Michael Hague

Two Million Swallow Gale (Nature/Summoning, Cost, Per Scenario, Persistent, Requires "Summon Nature's Ally" and a Pact with one of the Beast Lords): This spell is used to increase the speed of a sailing ship, enabling EITHER its swift pursuit of a target, OR its escape from any pursuing vessel(s).

The caster must have a preexisting Pact with an appropriate Beast Lord, such as the Lady of Winged Things. The Beast Lord will honor the pact by sending two million swallows to pull a ship forward with the power of their wings. The ship will have a thousand tether strings attached to its forward areas, with two thousand swallows pulling on each string. The caster rolls their Charisma +2 in an Overcome an Obstacle action vs. the Dexterity of the opposing vessel. If the casting succeeds, the caster's vessel overcomes its target OR it escapes its pursuer.


A Note on Inspirations: This spell is inspired by a scene in The Story of Doctor Dolittle. We've added a little bit of Moorcockian flavor with the Pact and the Beast Lords. Finally, the title feels a tad Exalted to us! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dollar Store Dungeons: Doctor Dolittle

Cover of the edition we purchased

Welcome back for our latest post on Dollar Store Dungeons, a cross-blog project coordinated by the NJW Games blog. Dollar Store Dungeons is about exploring the inexpensive GM resources available through dollar stores. In late December 2013, Rachel Kronick and I set out to each purchase $10 of items at the same dollar store. We're following that up with posts about our purchases. Today, we're taking a look at a resource which surprised me at our local dollar store: books for a dollar.

One of the three books I purchased for a dollar was The Story of Doctor Dolittle, a story by Hugh Lofting. Lofting was Irish, and fought in Europe with the Irish Guard during World War I, before migrating to the United States. Like many of his generation, he experienced the brutality of the war, and didn't want to expose his children to all that. Instead, he wrote fanciful letters to his children; these were the basis for the Doctor Dolittle stories.

Now, the musical and other film treatments of the story might make the doctor from Puddleby-on-the-Marsh seem incredibly cheesy and impossible to work into a game. But as I was reading the novel, I was struck by a few things that make Doctor Dolittle gameable:
  • When exactly the story is happening is a little unclear (at least from the first novel in the series) but it could be readily placed in the Napoleonic or Victorian era, especially in a non-horror setting with fantastic or outlandish elements. 
    • Doctor Dolittle would fit-in well with Blue Devil Games' Passages, which you can download for free here
    • The Doctor would also work well in  a Victoriana campaign, especially if the horror aspects of the setting were dialed down. Things would really get interesting for the Doctor if he not only cared for animals, but also for Victoriana's beastmen!
    • I could even see a Doctor Dolittle in the Land of Oz campaign. 
    • Don't put Doctor Dolittle in Unhallowed Metropolis, though. That's just wrong.
  • Doctor Dolittle can "talk to the animals"; he speaks their languages. And animals can readily converse with him. His reputation spreads easily among animals. They often come calling-on the Doctor after hearing about him through various animal grapevines
  • Animals like to live and adventure with Doctor Dolittle. The Doctor calls some (but not all) of his animal companions pets, but there is little or no sense of the human "owning" the animal here. In fact, Doctor Dolittle has so many animals - and often dangerous ones - living around him that he gradually looses his (human) medical practice. People are particularly afraid of his African crocodile. Instead, he opens a veterinary practice. Doctor Dolittle is very good at veterinary medicine, since he can converse with animals and ask them what their symptoms are. He hears about their ailments "right from the horse's mouth" so to speak.
  • The Doctor (like another one we know) eschews violence. Doctor Dolittle never uses violence to solve problems. He figures out other solutions - or his animal allies do it for him.
  • The animals do a lot of problem-solving in the stories. Many of the Doctor's animal companions have well defined skill niches. You could easily run a "The Doctor and His Companions" style game featuring Doctor Dolittle and several of his animal friends.
  • He has a built-in reason to adventure: Doctor Dolittle cares little about money. He spends it all on the care of animals. If one animal companion weren't tracking his expenditures, the Doctor wouldn't even know when he is out of money. But when the Doctor is out of money, he needs to go out and adventure to get some! 
  • In a mystery involving animals, Doctor Dolittle could team-up with Sherlock Holmes! I can imagine the Doctor's affable character would clash considerably with Sherlock's abrasive personality. No doubt Dr. Watson would be a useful intermediary! 
  • If the Doctor goes to India, he might meet Mowgli and his animal friends. What would Doctor Dolittle make of the so-called "Law of the Jungle"? He might do away with it entirely!

P. Craig Russell's take on Kipling's Mowgli

So let's write-up Doctor Dolittle:

Hugh Lofting

Doctor Dolittle
The famous veterinarian of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh

  • High Concept: The bachelor physician who talks to the animals
  • Trouble: Always running out of money
  • Aspect: Caring for animals always comes first
  • Aspect: No use for violence
  • Aspect: Always surrounded by animals


  • Careful: +2
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: +2
  • Forceful: 0
  • Quick: +1
  • Sneaky: +1
  • Ask the Patient: Take +2 to your Flashy Approach when Creating an Advantage by talking to an animal in order to diagnose its problem. 
  • A Little Help From His Friends: Once per session, the Doctor may ask for and receive the help of an animal or group of animals that he has recently befriended. If he has already helped them, the Doctor calls in this Stunt for free; if he has yet to help them, he takes on the Temporary Aspect I owe my friends a favor, and eventually repay the animal(s) kindness in some way.
  • Peaceable Kingdom: Because the Doctor speaks the languages of animals, and has a peaceable nature, even fierce predators behave nicely. Take +2 to Flashy Approach to Overcome and Obstacle by making friends with an animal.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Deck of Fridays 10: Flimsy

Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF. We make a draw from the Deck of FateRPG Inspiration Cards, or another Aspect-generative randomizer. Then we do something interesting with it, using the Aspect as inspiration for a campaign or scenario seed, a situation, scene, location, NPC, thingie, etc.

This week's draw from the Deck of Fate is a card with the Aspect: Flimsy. Since I traveled to DC this week, it occurred to me that a Damaged Luggage Table might be a fun thing to do today. After all, luggage ccan be pretty flimsy. And so are the excuses people sometimes offer for the illicit items they pack.

Like modern day airports, the spaceports of tomorrow will have plenty of damaged and unclaimed or confiscated luggage. In the Alwyn Campaign, one episode dealt with the luggage accumulated in the lower levels of the John M. Ford Interstellar Starport, a colossal wreck sandwiched between the ruins of Minneapolis and St. Paul. They found that the luggage had been thoroughly sorted through and reorganized into groups by contents (i.e., a pile of suitcases filled with underwear, another with projectile and energy weapons, one with evening gowns, another pile with drugs, etc.).

So what might players find in the damaged, confiscated, or unclaimed luggage in your game's starport?

Damaged Luggage Table

Roll 4DF and consult the results below.

  • -4: An antimatter bomb with detonator; countdown underway!
  • -3: A severed head or other body part. Missing ambassador found! 
    • Roll 1DF: on a (-) face, it's from a human; on a blank face, from a robot, replicant, or android; on a (+) face, from an alien (yowzah, the stink!). 
  • -1: Biological samples with cryptic notations in an alien language. The samples are small bugs, worms, and eggs. 
  • 0: Drugs of some kind. 
    • Roll 1DF: on a (-) face, they're powders; on a blank face, bottled liquids or gases; on a (+) face, pills.

Molecular Disruptor

  • +1: A recent model, highly concealable molecular disrupter: the favorite weapon of assassins and hijackers.
  • +2: The luggage is full of information.
    • Roll 1D6, and consult the according result below: 
      1. Books, scrolls, or maps
      2. E-books on a tablet-like device
      3. Data crystals, unmarked pastel colored microtapes, or data spools
      4. Psychic sutras recorded on small bits of folded or rolled spacetime. Call in the professionals.
      5. A sentient jewel, possibly the "egg" from which a Spindle might coalesce
      6. An Autodidacta, Plasmate, or Laminate
  • +3: At first glance, there's nothing too unusual among the items in this piece of luggage. The clothes look pretty nice, but some of them feel rather weird and tingly. And the tips of your fingers seem to disappear when you touch them...  
  • +4: A variety of extremely high-value goods reported to the Port Authority as stolen from several different passengers on-board a luxury starliner. Unfortunately, the passengers have long gone their separate ways. Many of the items are insured and the underwriters would like the items returned to their rightful owners - that's always better than making a series of big payouts. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What Is A Nexialist?

The Nexialist Order was established on Earth in the Pre-Diasporic Era. A secular scientific and philosophical movement devoted to integrating the different streams of knowledge, the Nexialists rejected the distinctions that formed the basis of Pre-Diasporic academic disciplines, and promoted integrative and lateral thinking.

Their movement established free institutes on every continent to promote science education and creative thinking. Much of their infrastructure and capital was acquired through mergers with regional movements that had global reach and some shared goals, such as occurred with the incorporation of the Gulen movement based in West and Central Asia.

The Nexialists' ability to synthesize knowledge and draw conclusions across different disciplinary and scientific boundaries made their Order invaluable during the early Diasporic Era. The Star League's first interstellar long range exploration vessels were often crewed with hundreds of scientists representing the numerous branches and specialties of every discipline.  More often than not these crews also included at least one Nexialist to help the members of the different shipboard disciplines, lines of inquiry, thought and practice to talk to each other and arrive at common understandings and solutions to problems. The integrative skills of the Nexialist assigned to The Space Beagle saved the crew numerous times from alien enigmas and threats.

As the Nexialists journeyed further out into space, they encountered stranger and stranger things. Psionics, group minds, parallel dimensions, Nexus Points. In fact, the Nexialists became so adept at using Nexus Points that they started using them for even deeper exploration among the planes. More than once, Star League deep range exploration vessels entered new and remote star systems for the first time, only to be greeted by a Nexialist who had already arrived in the system through a gate.

Over time, Nexialists integrated all of the strange phenomena they discovered into their general world view, and developed new practices which are indistinguishable from magic. Their enemies call them spells; the Nexialists call them formulae.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Rational Hammer

Paolo Ucecllo (1438)

Rational Hammer, Greater (Enchantment): Nexialists use this formula against opponents they consider to be worthy foes; for example, against other scientists, mentats, and scholars. Greater Rational Hammer delivers a stunning blast of mental force right into the target's cerebral cortex. This is an Attack action using the caster's Intelligence +2 vs. the target's Intelligence; attack does mental stress.

Rational Hammer, Lesser (Evocation): Nexialists use this formula against any beings they deem to be unworthy foes. Lesser Rational Hammer delivers a blast of kinetic energy directly into the target's brain. This is an Attack action using the caster's Intelligence +2 vs. the target's Constitution; the attack can do either physical or mental stress (the target chooses).

Partial inspiration: In Glen Cook's Black Company novels, there is a spell called The Golden Hammer; these two Nexialist formulae are no doubt inspired by that spell.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dollar Store Dungeons: Other Doctors

Two planes for $1.00

These two aircraft came in a $1.00 pack from the local dollar store. One is obviously a SR-71 Blackbird (but not black), while the other is a modern stealth aircraft (we're not too sure whether it's supposed to be a stealth fighter or a stealth bomber). Both aircraft have emblems on the wings which resembles the shirt emblems you see on crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which has me thinking about a specific way to use these.

Other Doctors, or-

Who is Gary Seven?

First of all, Trey Causey clued me into this. Others have blogged about thisas well. It's the question at the center of the 1968 Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth

Who is Gary Seven? Is it true that he's a Timelord?* After all, he uses one of these:

And he has some kind of console (with an interstellar transporter, no less) inside of his TARDIS "office":

And who or what is Gary Seven's cat?

We're told she's actually a shapeshifting alien:

And as if that's not enough, Gary Seven has another companion - I mean, "secretary."

Timelord or not, the Federation is going to keep an eye on any alien who is running around on 20th Century Earth tampering with space-based nuclear weapons. However, due to World War Three, the Federation's own records about what technologies were deployed exactly when are probably a little bit fizzy, at best. An SR-71? Not anachronistic. But a stealth fighter/bomber? Only the Federation, with its hazy historical records, would deploy one on Earth in 1968.

Chances are, both these planes are actually small time travel/warp-capable vessels disguised as  U.S. military aircraft of the late 20th/early 21st Century. The Federation deployed two of them to keep an eye on backtime threats from Gary Seven, other Timelords, aliens, etc. What happened to these planes and their crews? Who were their crews, anyway? Did the Federation also deploy ground-based agents? Were there Federation safe houses in major U.S. cities? There are some stories here worth exploring...

*There have been some nasty online discussions - particularly in forums - about whether Gene Roddenberry cribbed this episode of Star Trek while watching an episode of Doctor Who in London. That's not our concern in this post. We're mining the similarities for gameable ideas; that's all. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Tekumel Art For A New Blog

Juan Ochoa has done this wonderful illustration for my forthcoming Fate of Tekumel blog. We'll be building out the blog over the next couple of weeks, as a prelude to a larger project. We hope you like his illustration!

The inquisitive creature in the foreground is one of the quick-moving reptilian Feshenga. To its right is a patch of the toxic Food of the Ssu, some of the indigenous vegetation of Tekumel from the times before terraforming. It's always trouble when you see Food of the Ssu. And it's double trouble when a Feshenga sees you first!

We think Juan's art is quite evocative of the mysteries and dangers of Tekumel, where humans are most decidedly NOT at the top of the food chain!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

From The Zones - A Project Milestone

"From the Zones" turned 21 this weekend. That is, the 20th and 21st contributions to this cross-blog (and cross G+) collaboration went live over the last few days. The two most recent Field Reports were from The City of Iron and Hereticwerks blogs. Both deal with some of the strange phenomena discovered in the Zones.

From the Zones is inspired by the classic Soviet SF novel "Roadside Picnic" by Arcady and Boris Strugatsky, and by Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER, the film based on the movie. The Zones are places where an alien Visit occurred; the aliens left behind various things, life forms, garbage/waste - quite frankly no one is quite sure what these items are, but many of them are both deadly and inexplicable. Various militaries, paramilitaries, and police have set up Zones of Exclusion around the Zones.

The idea was to establish a cordon sanitaire around these alien-infected spaces, but the reality is that people called Stalkers keep on sneaking in the Zones to take things out. There is a market for the artifacts they recover. And some of the Stalkers may actually be addicted to the experience of stalking/infiltrating the Zone. It is subtle. It is still. It is capable of sudden, deadly movement. The place seems alive and aware of those who come to it.

The basic background on for From the Zones - along with guidelines for how to participate - are available right here. A table of all the contributions to date are right here. We have had reports from Zones in Calgary, the U.S.A., and Africa. Numerous subtle, enigmatic, and deadly phenomena have been identified. So much so that scientists have even established a taxonomic scheme to classify new findings.

New discoveries are being made all the time, and we are certain there is a great deal more to discover. You can make a contribution at any time.

"From the Zones" logo courtesy of Hereticwerks

Friday, January 3, 2014

Deck of Fridays 9: The Wrong Tools

Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF. We make a draw from the Deck of FateRPG Inspiration Cards, or another Aspect-generative randomizer. Then we do something interesting with it, using the Aspect as inspiration for a campaign or scenario seed, a situation, scene, location, NPC, thingie, etc.

This week's draw from the Deck of Fate is a card with the Aspect: The Wrong Tools. Today's Deck of Fridays is a scenario seed.

The Wrong Tools

Your tools and engineering manuals are state of the art - for 1906, that is. That's usually a good thing; it's when you're living, after all. You're good enough that the Baltimore Gun Club often hires you and your mates as the first set of hands and eyes to examine their strange treasures. Enigmatic machines harvested from the still unmapped corners of the globe, and even, reportedly, from inside the Hollow Earth itself.

But today you face a truly strange enigma. Inside the airship hanger lurks the largest land ironclad you have ever seen. It has enormous treads. Some are broken. It has as many main guns as a dreadnought. A few are clearly damaged.

How did the Gun Club even get it here? And where did they get it?

The thing seems excessively hot.

And it talks.

The ironclad seems quite cagey.  It keeps asking if you belong to something called the "North American Combine."

That sounds like a motorized tractor factory to you.

And it won't tell you anything more about itself than its name: Mark Four. So it must be some kind of robot. But it seems way too big to be a robot. Perhaps there are pilots inside and this is all some kind of trick?

The machine has only one demand: to be repaired. Fix its treads. Clear the jam in something it calls its "missile bay."

Then let it go on its way.

The machine says you have 24 hours. If you refuse to help it, the leviathan says it will be forced to "self-destruct". There will be something it calls "fallout", which it promises will wipe out the Eastern Seaboard.

That doesn't sound too good...


Repurpose (Enchantment, Cost, Permanent): The Nexialists are contemptuous of so-called "New School" diluted variants of Charm formulae that have very short-term affects on their targets. Partly as an insult, and partly as an act of misdirection, the Nexialists have re-named and rewritten the epigonic Charm formula that is so popular on many worlds. As Repurpose, they have restored the formula to its ancient and venerable form.

Repurpose works on humans, aliens, and intelligent machines in the same zone as the caster. The Nexialist makes an Overcome Obstacle casting using their Charisma vs. the target's Intelligence. If successful, Repurpose places one of the following Aspects on the target: HELPFUL, OBEDIENT, FOLLOWER; if the casting Succeeds with Style, the target gains the Aspect ENTHUSIAST, or FANATIC. These Aspects remain in force until the casting is dispelled.

In the Empire, the use of Repurpose has resulted in a great deal of civil litigation. A Nexialist caster will often purchase a Sovereign Dispensation in order to provide themselves with immunity for a single use of this formula. Some Nexialists have also been awarded a writ of Carte Blanche permitting the ongoing use of this formula in pursuit of the Imperial Sovereign's interests.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Nexial's Fractal Hand

Nexial's Fractal Hand (The Planes, Cost, Persistent/Permanent, Requires "The Eye of the Nexus"):  This formula is a disruptive casting which creates a fractal scatter of the proximate face of a Nexus Point, gate, or gate spell. The result is that the proximate face of a gate is scattered  into many extremely small gate apertures, most no larger than the size of a horsefly. This prevents the gate's use by all but the smallest creatures.

The effect is Persistent on a Nexus Point or other durable gate, but after a time such portals will reset.

The effect is Permanent on gates created through casting, such as The Janus Gate.

Individuals on the distal side of a disrupted gate will have a nasty surprise waiting for them if they enter the gate. They will be spaghettified and extruded through the proximate face's numerous small gate apertures. The result is an organic syrup rich in other-planar energies. Even worse, when a timelike gate such as a Janus Gate is disrupted in this manner, the resulting scatter of the proximate face is timelike; an organic syrup rich in timelike energies scatters temporally as well as physically.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Janus Gate

The Janus Gate (The Planes, Cost, Per Scenario, Permanent, Requires "The Eye of the Nexus"): Nexialists are particularly fond of adjusting their own timelines, and for that reason, The Janus Gate is one of the most common Nexialist formulae. It opens a two-way timelike portal to another time (past or future) in the same world and plane where the spell is cast. The portal's other face opens onto a geographically contiguous space in the future or past.

Once opened, anyone may traverse the portal. It is permanent until dispelled by the caster or another person with access to this formula. Because of this, Nexialists almost always cast this formula within a secure, often booby-trapped space inside one of their Institutes.

Prior to casting this formula, it is prudent for the Nexialist to cast the formula The Eye of the Nexus, in order to make sure that the destination is a safe space to arrive (e.g., not under water, filled with rubble, etc.).

If Corruption rules are being used, it is considered a major infraction to cast this formula in order to disrupt or alter another person's timeline.

The Eye of the Nexus (The Planes/Divination, Cost): One of the first formulae learned by Nexialists, usually in childhood or youth, The Eye of the Nexus enables the caster to view the planar adjacencies proximate to their current location. The caster is able to peer into contiguous dimensions and planes, perceive interdimensional Nexus Points and Tidal Pools, and observe the timelike forces, currents, eddies, and vortices passing through any location.

Depending on the planar adjacencies (and potentially, other-planar entities) being viewed, the GM may decide that casting this formula constitutes a mild, major, or severe Insanity trigger.