Archive for the ‘Role-Playing Games’ Category
I’m a huge fan of My Brother, My Brother and Me (an advice show for the modern era). One of the bits they’ll do involves occasionally giving real advice, and then when they realize they’re helping someone and not being funny, one of the hosts will interrupt with “Unless…” and then the three of them go on a laughable journey.
This has made me think about some really stupid shit in our world, like the boob window armor. I mean, it’s just there to titillate a demographic, but in the process makes a character portrayal just ridiculous and difficult to take seriously, and alienates not just women readers who are objectified, but anyone who would be embarrassed to be caught with such images in public.
Unless this is a world where chakras are a source of powerful magic. And the only way to work such magic is to have your charka exposed. Sure, it makes it easy to shoot you in the heart…unless you can do totally awesome psychic shields because your heart chakra is open. That’s right, bare boob window = power.
This started as a silly idea, a MBMBaM “Unless,” and then it started to hit me: what if we were playing in such a world where magic required different chakras being uncovered? Well, there’s more than one chakra! You know what would be a fearsome sight to see on the battlefield?
Yeah, he’s not naked because he’s poor or because he’s just trying to be intimidating, but because he needs to keep all those chakras free since he’s a goddamned battle-wizard.
(Or, he’s bluffing and isn’t actually a battle-wizard, though only the bold will dare to find out.)
Anyway, it’s a pretty fucking ridiculous idea, and doesn’t justify boob window armor, but sometimes it’s interesting to take something that’s stupid and work a model that makes that something reasonable in a different world. So a setting where different magic requires different chakras to be “unburdened” is a world where some people don’t wear helmets into battle, and some people just wade in naked. Plus, dudes wearing boob window armor. And that’s kinda funny to me.
Play the Unless… game next time you see something stupid. You might hit on a usable idea, or you might just amuse yourself.
P.S. If you’ve read this and think I’m cheering on boob window armor, turn your literacy card in. You’re done.
 In fact, I bet some people have closed this window because of the image attached.
There are these two things that I love that, for a long time now, I’ve wanted to smash together: Grey Ranks and the Terminator resistance war.
I got to play Grey Ranks at Dreamation 2009 with Jason Morningstar facilitating it. That single convention session cemented itself as one of the strongest emotional moments I’ve had in a game.
For those who don’t know what Grey Ranks is, here’s the quick pitch from the site:
In Grey Ranks, you will assume the role of a young Polish partisan before, during, and after the disastrous 1944 Uprising against the Germans. Together with your friends, you’ll create the story of a group of teens who fight to free their city, one of countless Grey Ranks “crews” that take up arms. Your characters – child soldiers – will have all the faults and enthusiasms of youth. Across sixty days of armed rebellion, they will grow up fast – or die.
I suggest that, if you’re interested in one of the rare RPGs that is actually about war and not about just winning a series of battles, read up.
I have been a Terminator fanboy forever. For my 13th birthday, my mom took me & some friends to see Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched that. I love the shit out of Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles. I even rewatched T3 (which was not great) in preparation to watch Terminator: Salvation (also not great). But even though those movies were disappointments, I still ate up the world-building.
I still eat it up. And maybe part of the reason the Resistance War intrigues me is that, until Salvation, we heard about it the way we hear about many real words: second or third-hand, as people telling stories. It’s fascinating.
One of my favorite little bits is the slang introduced by the TV show: “I won’t be the bastard that brings metal down on the Connors.” I like “metal” over “toaster,” maybe because it sounds more natural to me?
Because Grey Ranks is truly about how war changes you and how you’re a person with desires, and because it’s a game about an occupation, it felt like a possibility for being a game that tells Tech-Com’s story. I’ve been codenaming this project “Resistance” for the last few years, but it never went beyond notes and drinking with friends (notably my good friend Justin Smith). A few months ago when John LeBoeuf-Little came up with the final piece of the puzzle that might make the game work, but I still hadn’t tried playing it until last night.
From here on, this post assumes you know what the fuck I’m talking about, in terms of both of those.
The core story of Grey Ranks is of kids growing up during an uprising that will fail. Here, the Human Resistance is destined to win, and about the personal costs of that victory as heroes grow into battle-scarred, PTSD-suffering veterans. The tagline is “How much of a machine will you become in order to fight the machines?”
I should start off saying that there’s no time travel. If there is time travel, that’s another Tech-Com unit, not you guys, and you don’t know shit about that.
The world follows, more or less, how you’d except from the Terminator-verse, but with a sprinkling of Matrix and Battlestar Galactica — the machines have to have human collaborators, so that there’s that conflict. And Skynet has a plan for humanity that doesn’t solely involve wiping them out, which is why there are Skynet Work Camps and why the machines round people up rather than just bomb them.
Resistance takes place in the city you’re in, rather than telling you about another location. This will make the Situation Elements either difficult or vague to construct, but some of that can be solved through some setting creation, where we turn our current city into one that’s suffered machine devastation for five years.
A brief timeline that throws out factual Terminator canon, in favor of something a little simpler/easier for those who aren’t well-versed in the IP:
- Five years ago, Skynet happened. It restricted human freedoms, but didn’t immediately nuke us. It just took away all our guns and ruled over the world.
- Four years ago, the Retaking failed. Humans attempted to shut down Skynet, but Skynet saw it coming. Seeing that humans would not accept machine rule in this manner, it began creating internment arcologies, and with that nations were sundered.
- Two years ago, the First Human Uprising finally broke, its leaders’ executions broadcasted. Humans were warned that further insurgency would “forfeit humanity.”
- A few months ago, we seized an opportunity, and the Second Human Uprising began. True to its word, Skynet began slaughtering armies. It’s destined to win, but at what cost?
What Stays the Same
The grid does. The basic mechanics of a chapter does. I liked all that and didn’t want to fuck with it.
First of all, all the Grey Ranks fiction trapping need to be replaced: the Radio Lightning, the situation elements, etc. Frankly, that’s the hardest (or at least most work-intensive) part, and definitely the part I haven’t touched yet.
Naturally, as heroes of Tech-Com and not as teens growing up, the characters are very much different.
- Pseudonym becomes Callsign
- Age isn’t 15/16/17, but teen/early 20′s/pushing 30
- District shifts to Before Skynet, but I don’t know what all’s there right now. It’s not about places, but about what you remember about how the world was.
- Thing You Hold Dear only shifts slightly: “Country” becomes “Humanity” and “First Love” becomes “Romance”
- Add Role, your job in Tech-Com. Pick two off this list: heavy weapons, hacker, pilot, scout, combat engineer, demolitions (note, “commander” and similar intentionally not on this list, as to not mess with the Mission Leader bits)
- Your Reputations start off as positive, heroic things. You choose them for your character (with a healthy list, sure) When you mark off the d10 (not the d8), it becomes the negative — either going too far or going the other direction. (“Brave” could become “Suicidually Overconfident” or become “Shell-shocked.) The rest of the group decides on the new reputation for you.
- Characters need to want some sort of life beyond smashing metal.
The last part is one of this game’s darlings, the first idea I had back in 2009 about hacking Grey Ranks for the Resistance War.
Personal scenes don’t change. Mission scenes change slightly: they always require a human extra, whether someone from Tech-Com or some civilian encountered. If you give a d10 for a mission scene, a human (extra) is killed in the process — making the contribution dice not about success/failure, but about consequence and people surviving. Success/failure feels very “teenagers in over their heads,” not “heroes of the Resistance.” And I think “cost” is a recurring theme to play with.
Because of the situation, I think we’re going to be a bit more ready to have these characters die than we do in Grey Ranks, but full-on play would tell if that’s true.
Humanity’s “Hit Points”
This is the bit that John LeBeouf-Little came up with to make this interesting. Humanity has a list of five things about its future, and every time a mission’s lost, we cross one off. So, yes, humanity will certainly win the war, but we’re playing for humanity to not lose itself in the process (just as we’re hoping to not lose our characters in the process):
- Faith & Spirituality
- Hope for the Future
- Rule of Law
I call this “Our Ideals.” I suspect that often, Technology will be the first thing to go. Humanity’s dump stat, if you will — but still, it’s an interesting choice. And if the table can’t agree, the Mission Leader chooses.
If you lose all five, the game is over. Sure, humanity beats Skynet, but what point is there in fighting for it?
Tech-Com has an overall game sheet. Along with Our Ideals, it has a large section whose background is a bit like a war memorial, and its titled “The People Who Died So Humanity Could Live.”
Every time a human dies — from putting a d10+ in the Mission, from the corners on the Grid, from the rule below, etc — we take a moment and write down a bit about that person. If your mechanical action or narration killed someone, you write it down. If your character dies, someone else writes it down.
You don’t just write down a name, but also a little more. Here’s from our game:
- “Stickshift,” he was useful in his skinniness
- That little girl on the road in her dirty flower dress, she never saw the HKs coming
- “Jackknife” — thought it was responsible for everyone, and we loved him for it
“The New Character Rule”
A fresh character with all their Thing You Hold Dear checkmarks ready to go — that’s a valuable asset to a mission. Characters who have used all that up in a strange way become a liability. So I just, while typing this post, came up with a new rule: In between missions, if you want a new character, narrate your current character committing suicide.
(This is part of that whole “making mechanics that you hope people won’t choose, but by giving the option you make not choosing it — and choose it — have meaning.” vibe)
Always Name/Describe Human Extras
Just what it says — always name and describe them when they show up. Make humans real.
I would need name/callsign lists, lists of people with different descriptions, etc.
I’m not sure how to approach chapters 1 & 10 yet.
Those are my notes for the moment. There’s clearly more work to do, if I were to fuck with this more.
A huge thanks to Justin Smith & John LaBoeuf-Little for talking with me about it, and for Kit La Touche and Lillian Cohen-Moore for testing a chapter with me last night (despite all of us being pretty tired).
 Which Jason recorded back then, all of us talking about the game after the fact.
Yesterday, I posted a little bit on my G+ about the book. I’ll build on that here, and tell you some stuff you’ll find inside:
- I put forth the question to my writing team: “Clearly, there are loads of player character-esque Progenitors in the Convention. Who are they?” And thus was born Applied Sciences: Biosphere Explorers, Deviancy Scene Investigators, Medicines Sans Superstition, Damage Control, and Ethical Compliance.
- Have you ever wanted a genegineered creature as a retainer? Or play one? The Progenitors have uplifted octopi, lizardmen, dinosaurs, and so on.
- The theme of this book is of the Convention’s (and the Union’s) sense of guilt, and of healing. They have some ambitious (and dangerous) plans to keep the Technocratic Union from fracturing.
- We touch on the other, little Methodologies in the Progenitors, the ones focused on veterinary medicine, psychiatry, ecology, and so on. And we talk about why even most Progenitors don’t know that these exist. (Spoiler: they don’t get a lot of funding.)
- Naturally, we add the Progenitors’ thoughts to the bigger picture that is the fracturing Union, and how the Dimensional Anomaly changed them.
- New gear, Procedures, etc., some of which is a bit creepy. And most of it key to the combat-oriented Progenitor amalgams.
- Memetic warfare.
- Progenitors not just in their own amalgams, but their roles in mixed-Convention amalgams.
- And more. I’m pretty goddamned happy with this book.
This book was also one of the harder books I’ve had to make, because the 1995 Progenitor book was written purely from a “lets write about the villains as unrepentantly evil! let’s twirl those mustaches!” (Though, Syndicate turned out to be even harder for that same reason.) And that was fine for that line, but the Revised line is all about them as heroes.
So how the fuck are the Progenitors heroes? That was a lengthy conference call, and the results are inside the book. :)
If you’re a Technocracy fan, I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!
 And I’m damned happy with the results.
Now, for Specimen – Glenfiddich 15:
[Note: I wanted to find an Arabic transliteration for the title, but I couldn't in 30 seconds, and I only have 15 minutes to work on these, so...]
This is the crown jewel in the Rightly Guided Stellar Caliphate’s. The twin gas giants orbit each other, but otherwise float freely in space rather than orbiting a star. The story tells that the ancestors of the RGSC left Earth so long ago, as the Geostorm — the massive set of geological events that were rapidly morphing the planet’s crust — consumed the ancient holy city of Mecca. They traveled, as did all the orphan’s of Earth, out to the stars. After three years of searching for a home, they came across these wayward planets.
Recognizing them as at least an energy source, they stopped to fuel up. The geothermal reactions were powerful, but at dangerous as a star’s fusion reactions, so much easier to tap for energy. The energy output put their own fusion reactions to shame, so a vote was taken, and they decided to set up space stations here.
Along with energy, the RGSC was able to harvest new metals from the planet, and built larger, permanent space stations. Over the next decade, these refugees became one of the most powerful post-Earth nations, as they held access to limitless energy and with that limitless trade and diplomatic options.
As this is what the generation prior had before the Geostorm, some took it as a sign of divine providence. Few people left the Sapphire Twins for long, and all always sought to return home. Other traders — and not just other Muslims — settled in the growing number of stations orbiting the Twins. Today, a century later, it is the second-largest post-Earth nation.
It took a generation to discover the side-effect of the blue light. What happened to the first generation to be born in the Twin’s gravity well and radiation influence?
The University is known as the finest education institution in human-colonized space, and populated by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Lately, there have been some controversy. Tell me about that, and what’s happened as a result.
 Totally stolen from Kenneth Hite’s mind in GURPS Alternate Earths 2.
Now, for Balvenie Doublewood 101:
Station Anders is a scientific endeavor by the Academy of Extraoceanic Discoveries. AED is a high-profile group, dedicated to finding new sources of water capable of support Earth-like life.
Anders is on planet designated as PXJ115 — a newly discovered planet in the Inner Combine that the government has not yet named. The planet is almost entirely covered in water similar to the records of old Earth’s oceans. Much of the western hemisphere is peppered with enormous geothermal vents, making the water far warmer than humans would find comfortable. However, it is also the largest near-human-compatible water source the Inner Combine has found to date — most of the Combine’s water is created from hydration plants in the Omega Sector. So this is an important find.
The station is an Elkino 285, an omni-atmospheric station that can easily travel around the planet and reach both deep in marine trenches and high in orbit. As you might imagine, having a state of the art mobile science station can make a group confident, especially one that’s full of grad students and hyperfocused scientists trying to make names for themselves rather than, say, a team of seasoned cosmonauts. Anders may serve as a cautionary tale as to why you don’t have scientists leading such explorations.
The team entered orbit three months ago. Within a day, they discovered numerous species of life living in the ocean! As the science teams began writing papers and staking naming rights, the (much smaller) engineering noticed that their engines were attracting some of the creatures toward them.
By the time anyone from engineering was able to get the attention of the captain, it was too late — the creatures swarmed engines 3 and 4. While they were killed, their dead flesh blocked the intake valves, causing the engines to seize.
Engineering shut down the other engines before further damage could be done. Anders began to sink, and only by firing the engines briefly was the station able to land. The internal reactor is still functioning, so they have life support for years to come. The sensors work throughout the ocean, but they cannot receive any signals from space — possibly a result of their depth, or of the ocean’s or surface’s composition.
All they know is that right now, they’re stranded. There’s not enough engine power to escape into orbit. They don’t know if their messages are transmitting out. Their only hope is that someone misses them and comes looking…and doesn’t make the same mistake they do.
Until then, they’ll continue cataloging. Just because they’re stranded doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.
- As the weeks went on, one of the teams discovered something utterly chilling, something that makes them sure they never want to return (if they ever get to leave in the first place). What did they all decide to delete from record and swear to never tell another soul?
- Yesterday, the rather small armory — really, a token placement of sidearms and ammo — was broken into and everything taken out. What happens tomorrow?