Sunday, September 9, 2018

Tabletop Tesseract 2

Yesterday, Saturday Night Space Opera presented Tabletop Tesseract 2 at the Source, the only exclusively SF focused gaming con in the Twin Cities, Minnesota (and maybe the state, and maybe the Midwest)! From 10:15 AM-10 PM, we offered 18 games (16 RPGs and 2 board games) run by 10 different GMs. I haven't seen a head-count of participants, but attendance grew steadily through the day!  Almost all the event organizing was the work of one person, Jay Mac Bride! This was a huge amount of work for one person. Jay did everything with grace and style.

I ran "A Cloaked Ship is No Small Flavor" a post-Dominion War Klingon bird-of-prey heist game (so to speak) using Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures RPG. The crew of the Intrepid-class USS John Brown was tasked with liberating a bird-of-prey from a Tholian Web. This was a covert operation, one provoked by the brief Klingon war against the Federation during the Dominion War. In the postwar environment, the Federation is understandably less interested in begging the Klingons for favors when they need a cloaked ship. The players enjoyed themselves, and did some clever things to advance the mission. They were successful.

I was also able to play in a couple of great games.

Numenéra has become my current obsession, and after a couple of weeks of reading the Numenéra 1st edition book, getting the new slipcase edition of Numenéra Discovery/Destiny (essentially 2e), and securing a copy of the Numenéra deluxe boxed set, I was ready to play the game!  Fortunately, our Saturday Night Space Opera group has about four GMs with Cypher System experience, and I'd say that Cypher is probably the most frequently GMed system at our monthly events.  

Jenifer Doll ably ran a great Numenéra 2e game; I really admire her mastery of the system, the preparation she does to ensure a smooth game, and the small touches like the SFnal fantasy coins she uses for XP.  Jenifer really rolled with the punches as players did unpredictable things, or got distracted - or maybe our PCs got distracted... 

I played Heliára, a Cutured Nano who Possesses a Shard of the Sun. I really liked playing her.  She reminded me a bit of Kyra, the female iconic cleric from Pathfinder.  I've always liked that character.

But all of the pregens were memorable and came to life as played at the table: the bardish Marduk, played by Patrick (who actually sang a bunch while in character!); Tars, the tankish Glave played by Jay; and Spraunk, played by Ben. Spraunk belonged to one of the new Destiny classes that specialized in cannibalizing old cyphers and numenera to build new cyphers.

I also had my first opportunity to play Ben Robbins' Kingdom RPG, which is a neat storygame that focuses on exploring what happens when a specific situation occurs in a "kingdom": anything from a nation-state to a starship, in the case of Patrick Shifano's scenario based on "Tambu", an SF novel by Robert Lynn Asprin. We played the crew of a starship in a space empire that rules through the tributary mode of production. The situation that we faced was a distress call from a ship troubled by the breakout of a bioweapon. I played Shipcat (see the paper miniature at the top of the post. Shipcat was also the captain of the ship, although he spent a lot of time prowling in the ducts and vents.

Patrick had great paper minis for use as primary and secondary characters, and had a very nice set of handouts prepared for the game. He did a great job of preparing a situation to explore in advance of our game. One issue with some storygames like Fiasco and Microscope (Ben's earlier game) is that aspects of the setting and situation to be explored can get pretty random, fanciful, and silly when a group of players has to create the entire set-up at the beginning of the game. Patrick very effectively gave us an initial situation with which to work, and that contributed to a satisfying game.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we had 16 RPGs, and of those RPGs, there were a total of 10 systems used. Only two of the ten systems (Stay Frosty and Mutant Crawl Classics) have any degree of family resemblance to traditional Dungeons & Dragons, yet all the games were quite accessible to new players. I think this gives the lie to the idea that the d20 system as represented by D&D and Pathfinder has a special place as a universal or uniquely accessible system.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dinosaurs On A Spaceship: Part YOU

I had a full table for my Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG event at Saturday Night Space Opera last night!  I had seven players, so a big table. For Jessie (farthest left), who played Nefertiti, this was her first time playing an RPG, ever. She did a great job playing the character we remember so well from the 11th Doctor episode, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship." Another really memorable performance was that of Alex, the player on the right holding up his character sheet. He stole the show playing K-9.

It has been about 2010 since I last ran this RPG. I reread the rules over the course of last week, and I believe I ran the rules fairly close to as-written. Players learned them quickly, which was great, and a couple really became skilled in using Story Points to create interesting story details, mitigate bad rolls, and boost their levels of success with actions. People also appreciated the action sequence in DWAITAS -  actions take place in the order of Talking -> Moving ->Do Something -> Fight. That is a really effective mechanic for creating a Doctor Who feel at the table.

I know what I could have done better as a GM: MORE DINOSAURS! The PCs had an initial fight with a T-Rex, dealt it a couple fatal wounds, and then administered first aid. That was very Doctor Who! But the players' feedback was that they would have liked even more dinosaur action. They did find some of the other adversaries on the ship, the Cybermen, pretty scary and compelling. So that was good.

My question, maybe frustration, with the system is with the number of Story Points that characters start with in the game. One of the players, Patrick (furthest on the right) stayed after the game to talk with me a bit about DWAITAS Story Point mechanics (as well as Elysium Flare and Diaspora), and that was helpful. He is a storygamer, by which I mean he takes mechanics seriously, as one should.

Patrick suggested reducing the number of Story Points that players start with, in order to see if that increases narrative tension and the possibility of failure. Today, I checked both the DWAITAS GM book, and the core book for Rocket Age, which uses the same system.  The DWAITAS GM book provides little guidance on Story Points and perceived challenge, and Rocket Age uses the same parameters for Story Points as DWAITAS, so no help there. 

I may run this scenario again in the near future, add a whole lot more challenges and adversaries, and see if that makes a difference.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Join Us for Jurassic July!

I'll be running one of the two scenarios for Jurassic July, our next Saturday Night Space Opera event. The games are this Saturday, July 14, starting at 6 PM at Source Comics and Games in Roseville, MN.

My game is called "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, Part YOU":

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was one of the best Series 7 Doctor Who episodes. The Doctor and several companions jumped onto the Silurian ark with the Tardis, and saved the ark and its dinosaurs from both the missiles of the Indian Space Agency, and from a particularly disreputable salvager and his sarcastic robots.Then the Doctor left the scene.

Now the ark needs YOU! Jump into the sequel, as an expedition from Earth seeks to wrest control of the Silurian space ark from unknown invaders!

Game System: Doctor Who RPG by Cubicle 7
GM: John Everett Till

The other game is "Skull Island: A Three-Hour Tour":

You and your veteran team are handed an easy assignment from your boss in the Estate: Penetrate a quarantined bubble of reality drifting near the Shoals of Earth. Ignore any reports you may have heard about the hazards of Skull Island, giant monsters fighting for dominance, weird Fay creatures singing to moths in caves, or fire-breathing three-headed dragons. Pack your hiking boots and a spare pair of socks, because it's going to be a working vacation!
Game System: The STRANGE by Monte Cook Games
GM: Matt Towle

I hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Elysium Flare

Everyone knows that the Elysium Flare is Archon's gamma ray burst. Everyone is waiting for it. It's the moment when everyone lost to a hegemon or a horror comes back. The best of us contrive to accelerate the event. The worst among us dawdle and distract, or seek to interfere with the great work of immanence and precipitation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Coronal Mass Ejection


Coronal Mass Ejection (Enchantment/Necromancy, Cost, Per Scenario): One of the most potent subterfuge/obfuscatory formulae, Coronal Mass Ejection is a Flashy casting that generates an anogenic solar response. Upon a +2 effort, a sun releases a coronal mass ejection that reaches a planetary target up to one Astronomical Unit (AU) in distance; each additional +1 effort extends the range of the ejection by 1 AU.

Casting this formula requires a considerable sacrifice: the caster takes a Severe Consequence, which may manifest as radiation burns, psychological harm, or other disturbances, such as spontaneous mutations.

The coronal mass ejection permanently takes out any planetary and orbital communication and computational systems unless they were purpose built to resist such stellar events. Hardened systems will still be taken out for at least one scene.

There is a further potential consequence of casting this formula. It often increases entropy in the star that is the target of the casting.

Roll 1dF:
  • A positive face indicates no effect beyond the coronal mass ejection;
  • A blank face indicates that the star enters a period of instability, with frequent subsequent coronal mass ejections; 
  • A negative face indicates that the star enters a terminal, often explosive phase. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018


During the Nexialist Revolt, seventeen worlds were rendered Harmonized by the Nexialist insurgents. This was both a practical measure to mobilize entire populations to resist the Imperial Sovereign, and an ideological demonstration of the principle of Nexialist Unity. Every ball was said to bounce at the same time on these worlds.

While the Empire's philosophers and sociologists are loathe to use terms like "totalitarianism" to describe this level of planetary-civilizational social engineering and manipulation, the term of course fits. The pacification of these worlds was equally absolute, and took the form of Excommunication.

Harmonization (Curse/Necromancy, Cost, Per Scenario, Permanent, Requires the Great IT spell, Corrupting): This formula must be cast in the immediate vicinity of an IT-class giant brain, and is therefore typically cast inside a Nexialist Institute that has been configured to accommodate such a brain. The spell's zone of effect expands incrementally; it can take up to 24 hours to achieve its effect planet-wide. A newly cast Harmonization reaches out across the planet's surface in an expanding circle whose center is the giant brain. The effect is Permanent, as long as the giant brain is intact.

The casting places the following Aspects on any intelligent living creatures on the planet:
  • Of One Mind
  • Obedient to the Brain
  • Every ball shall bounce at once
Anyone who needs to resist the effects of Harmonization does so as if contending with a +6 Clever adversary. This casting has no effect on robots or other non-biological intelligences, or on other-planar intelligences such as angels and demons. 

This entry in the Galactic Grimoire is of course inspired my Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time."

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Space Vampires

We finished Colin Wilson's 1976 classic "The Space Vampires" this weekend, just a tad after Vintage Science Fiction Month (in January). It is arguably a Mythos story since the titular monsters have a connection to Clark Ashton Smith's Ubbo-Sathla. The book is written using the Van Voghtian method: a narrative with terse sentences, and often vague or partial description of things in the environment. The latter is supposed to produce some anxiety and a sense of estrangement, as the brain "fills in" the missing pieces of the description.

So who or what are these space vampires? They are the spirit forms of formerly star spanning aliens who lost their physical bodies as a result of ancient accelerations of evolution. Or the immortal, malevolent, and degenerate forms of an ancient and benevolent star spanning race - take your pick.

The space vampires are very similar to how Nephilim were conceived of in the old Multisim/Chaosium RPG: they are disembodied astral parasites who can only act when they occupy a host organism. No less importantly, they are also energy vampires who feed off of life energy/sexual energy of embodied intelligent creatures.

They require a voluntary host - probably. But we know how that goes: such parasites always target those with very strong drives - often drives about which they would be embarrassed to tell others.


Space Vampires 
Parasitic energy vampire 

  • High Concept: Parasitic energy vampire from another world
  • Trouble: No body aside from yours
  • Aspect: "I know what you want."
  • Aspect: "I can help you get it."
  • Aspect: Skilled infiltrator
  • Careful: +2
  • Clever: +3
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: 0
  • Quick: 0
  • Sneaky: +2

  • Embody - A Space Vampire first spends 1 FP to attempt to embody in an intelligent biological host to which their spirit form is adjacent, or to transfer from one intelligent host to another with whom their host is physical contact. The Space Vampire attacks with Clever; a potential host defends with Clever or Forceful, whichever is lower. Stress lands immediately as a Consequence. A Severe Consequence indicates possession.
  • Feed - Take +2 to Forceful Approach when Attacking a potential victim with a seductive touch or kiss; the target resists with their Forceful Approach. Any stress lands as an immediate Consequence for the target. When the target takes a Consequence, the Space Vampire immediately gains 1 FP.
  • Insight - Take +2 to Clever to ascertain the appetites of an embodied intelligent being.  

STRESS: 3 Boxes



  • Hunger - Must feed daily. Each day without feeding means the Space Vampire either takes a Consequence or loses 1 FP.
  • Physical invulnerability - Cannot be harmed by physical (i.e., melee/ranged weapons) attacks, although mental and energy attacks might harm a Space Vampire, and a Faraday Cage Room might contain one. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Machineries Of Tarot

Fans of Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire series, which starts with Ninefox Gambit, might like to know that the author has created an online Tarot card spread generator based on the world of the SF series.  Hopefully, Yoon will one day publish a deck of cards.

In the meantime, you can generate spreads here.

Everway fans should enjoy this. Just don't become like these factions.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Azure Nebula Campaign II

Tonight was the fifth and final session of our Azure Nebula mini-campaign, so I can share the map I made for the adventure. The core of the nebula consists of a double layer of spacetime folds. It's quite mitochondrial really. Outside that double structure, the "dots" are a series of rather rude Klingon buoys warning ships away from this region of space.

You'll find the Azure Nebula in the Star Trek Adventures gamebook. It is right on the border of the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and also rather proximate to the Romulan Empire. If you're looking for a place for a Triangle Campaign, the space just "Northeast" of the Azure Nebula should work just fine!

The Azure Nebula is also a rather storied region of space. Enter at your peril; there's no telling what you'll find!

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Azure Nebula Campaign

We're four sessions into an Original Series mini-campaign using Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures.  I asked the players in our Thursday night group for the opportunity to run a short campaign, because I'll be running two scenarios at Con of the North in February. I ran three one-shots of STA in the Fall of 2017, and want to stay fresh with the mechanics, since the system has a little crunch.

The crew of the Larson-class starship U.S.S. Argument is tasked with serving on a technical test bed starship with a rudimentary cloaking device. The cloak is a prototype derived from the Romulan cloak recovered by the U.S.S. Enterprise during the Original Series TV episode "The Enterprise Incident".

First session was devoted to character creation, along with ship design and detailing the captain, which was a group effort. Captain Rex Tillerson secured his assignment as captain of the U.S.S. Argument purely through political connections. He has little in the way of traditional Starfleet competencies (and behind his back, the crew snickeringly refer to him as "Wrecks Everything", although the Captain does have Orion syndicate connections, and is something of a collector of rare artifacts and taxidermized aliens.

The crew successfully launched their vessel from Starbase, but the Chief Engineer almost immediately discovered many problems with the vessel, including an unreliable cloaking device, plasma power system issues, and possible, nay, definite sabotage.

The crew's mission is to test the cloak, and to survey the Azure Nebula, which is a region of space immediately adjacent to the Klingon Neutral Zone. Officially, no Starfleet vessels have previously entered the Azure Nebula, so a survey will fill an obvious gap in Federation starcharts and increase Federation knowledge and intelligence about the Klingon border.

As you can probably tell from the photo above, thanks to STA, I am finally putting to use some of my ancient FASA Star Trek RPG resources, including the Klingon D-7 blueprints on the right hand side of the photo, as well as the Federation and Klingon starship books, and John M. Ford's excellent Klingons sourcebook.

As of last week's session, the players are really getting the hang of the system, and are developing insights into the the range of things players can do with Determination, Momentum, and Talents. For example, one player encourage his teammates to roll for a Difficulty 0 task as a way to build up their Momentum pool.

We have one more session next week, but this set of characters can be used for one off adventures whenever the players decide they want to play another session!