Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sci-Fi Wednesday! - Back to the Sci-Fi Design!

I kind of copped out by using Daring Tales of the Space Lanes. I really should forge my own setting if I'm going to blog about. However in my brain I'm hearing "If it ain't broke..." Daring Tales hit the mark so well for the type of game I want to play that trying to build a new set of rules is pointless.

To make this design post-worthy, I need to design something that doesn't already exist for Savage Worlds (a prospect that is getting harder as time goes on). Now while DTotSL does give me all the rules I need, what it lacks is a defined setting. So if I continue these design posts, I should focus my energies there.


A bit of a recap but I want to make it clear what I want from this game since sci-fi is a huge subject.

  • The setting shouldn't take itself too seriously. Capture the feel of late 70's early 80's TV sci-fi. Great examples are Buck Rogers and the original Battlestar Galactica, as well as the original Star Wars trilogy.
  • Aliens should be fun in appearance. It isn't necessary to make aliens so alien that you wouldn't want to date one let alone know which way it's facing.
  • All space ships and no star-fighters. Yeah, it goes against the tropes of the shows I listed above but rpg games should be more about teamwork. Plus I want more of an "age of sail" or Flash Gordon feel to space travel. The ships should have crews.
  • The heroes are freelancers that work for a guild of troubleshooters that often get hired to solve the problems that the government either can't, won't, or is causing. Missions will vary from finding ancient relics to saving kidnap victims to ending the career of evil governors. All while contending with local law enforcement who hate the heroes for butting into their business, to rival mercenaries, to the high halls of the government itself.
  • Keep in mind that the heroes are not well trained, well disciplined soldiers and agents. They are desperate and slightly mad freebooters that have a heart of gold, empty pockets, and an aversion to the Stellar Authority.

Map Zones of the Galaxy

  • The Core Worlds: These are the home-worlds and seats of power for those races that control the Stellar Authority. The closer you get to the core, the more paperwork you will need to file and the more restricted general freedoms become. These worlds are clean, well developed, oppressive, and sterile (in both environments and attitudes). The best tech can be found in the core worlds but it isn't always shared with the outer systems.
  • The Outer Systems: These worlds are made up of those races that have been annexed by the Stellar Authority. Rules are slightly looser here as the reach of the Stellar Authority begins to show. Freedoms vary depending on the regional governors, and the loose grip of the Stellar Authorities allows these governors to pursue their own agendas.
  • The Rim: The Stellar Authority has a much harder time maintaining their grip on the Rim worlds due to the lack of technologies and resources. The Stellar Authority could build up these worlds, increasing their tech and their foothold but it runs the risk of letting those technologies slip into the hands of more rebellious elements. The Stellar Authority prefers to keep the Rim as low-tech as possible to keep them dependent on the Stellar Authority trade and ensuring they will never be strong enough to become a threat. The SA prefers to keep local warlords on their payroll and turn a blind eye to how a world's resources are exploited as long as the SA gets its share. SA warships maintain patrols but the won't get directly involved in a planet's problems until a warlord grows to be a potential threat. 
  • The Wild: These planets are un-settled worlds that harbor wild dangers and ancient secrets. Some have become the refuge of criminals or those seeking to escape the SA. While beyond the typical reach of the SA, SA scout ships can be found keeping an eye on the Wild for external threats to their empire.
Now that we have a concept, it's time to look at what sort of optional rules I might want to use in this setting.

Key Factions

  • The Stellar Authority: Basically the government. It is a bloated, self-centered bureaucracy made up of many core world races but ruled by a race known as the the Executives, who prize order and efficiency over all things. While the SA has brought order to the Core and Outer Worlds, it comes at the cost of personal freedoms. And despite the Executives promises of efficiency, corruption within their ranks threatens the enforced peace they have created.
  • The Criminal Syndicates: Capitalizing on the growing dissatisfaction within the empire, criminal clans have risen to bring illicit pleasures and stolen goods to the populace. Some Executives have even joined the ranks of these clans, seeing better promotional opportunities as well as a more efficient method of governance (provided murder doesn't make you squeamish). The Syndicates run their operations from the Rim but frequently smuggle and occasionally pirate closer to the Core.

Optional Rules

I will use the following optional rules from the core book.

  • Critical Failures: I want some good humor in this action-y, pulp adventure game. In fact, I typically use this rule in any game. For me, it's good to let the heroes fail to keep the game interesting.
  • Joker's Wild: Again, it's just a fun rule.
I considered using the Multiple Languages rule but it gets fiddly trying to role-play it. All Stellar Authority races will be able to understand Galactic Trade so actually learning another races native language should be uncommon and a big deal.

So now that the concept is locked down in my head, it's time to start looking at character creation. See you next week.


Why not share some of my generation's music?
One of my favorite "one-hit wonders" of the eighties.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bonus Tuesday! - Lairs!

Today I want to talk about Lairs, specifically how they can add a lot of challenge to your encounters/boss battle. Many of us already add challenge to our encounters by using environmental factors like heat, rain, darkness, obstacle avoidance, etc.  But here's another thing to keep in mind, that a creature's lair will often give them an advantage. Here are some examples...

  • The creature is a burrower that attacks from below the ground. Its lair is a pit trap filled with soft sand that reduces the heroes movement and keeps them from leaving while the creature moves and attacks unhindered.
  • The creature can fly and attack at range. Its lair is filled with darkened holes all around the hall so that it can attack from any direction, harassing the heroes as they try to climb their way through the chamber.
  • The goblins have hidey-holes and traps they can trigger to help repel against attackers.

A creatures lair should give it an advantage, and your players should be hesitant to engage any creature on its home turf. It will also help make those encounters more memorable.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

GM Wednesday! - Thinking About Dungeon Crawls

I'm taking a hiatus on the sci-fi setting because my brain wants to go in different directions. With creativity coming so difficult to me right now, I'm just going to go with the flow and see where it takes me.

Today it takes me to the dungeon crawl. Why? That's the question. In my mind I have been telling myself that a vast subterranean complex filled with monsters is the cheesiest of GM adventures: just draw a crude map and populate it. Where's the story?

My brain has been dwelling on this so let me do a few breakdowns.

Why am I finding it appealing?

I love archaeology. I love the idea of being amid old history. It's not something you come across much in sci-fi. I have an unnatural attraction for the corpses of places that once thrived with life. It follows that lost places that once served a purpose but have become buried and infested thrill me. To me, exploring the "once was" actually holds more appeal than exploring the unknown.

When I played Asheron's Call 2, I made a point of fighting my way to the ruins of Shoushi and Hebian-To. Those where the towns I spent a lot of time in when playing Asheron's Call (the first one) and since the sequel was set hundreds of years after the first game, I wanted to touch those places where my previous characters had walked. To make a long story short, these places were disappointments. They didn't resemble the original towns and not merely because they succumbed to the ravages of time but because they were just a thrown together collection of art assets (ruined buildings) that ignored the footprint of the original town. It was nothing more than a place with a name stamped on it. Any links to the former world were casually ignored.

Note: The name "A Yelp in the Dark" was actually my first foray into web comics and it was based around my anticipation of AC2. 

Where's the Story?

Again that's one of the reason why I found dungeon crawls so low-brow. The idea is that the party of lucky adventurers are marching through the woods in search of loot (because that's the best place to look for loot) and happen upon a subterranean complex that has been heretofore undiscovered. Naturally, they dive in seeking blood and plunder.

Pathfinder adventures have added some story to this concept but being printed adventures they tend to be very rail-roaded and linear. You are meant to travel through the dungeon in a specific direction, meeting specific challenges that must be overcome to unlock the next section, rinse and repeat. As for story, it typically boils down to "Formerly abandoned area X has been occupied by monsters/cultists/bandits and we want you to go there and clear it out again."

Granted they are writing their games for conventions and four hour play so there's only so much you can do with plot.

But as I struggled to let my mind drift, some interesting ideas popped up in my head. Why does the dungeon have to be out in the wilderness? Imagine what would happen if a town were unknowingly built on top of it. I know this idea has been explored at least once in Pathfinder and in D&D. I haven't had much experience with them so I might be retreading ideas.
So some farmers or town engineers are drilling a new well or sewer when they inadvertently open up a subterranean network. Some may see this as an opportunity for loot but a monster infestation under the city would be an even greater concern. They could try to seal up the hole, but it is too late. The "things that live below" now know that prey exists just a few yards straight up. The creatures may create new ways into the town, like demented gophers. The town needs exterminators.

Now imagine that the tunnels below the city are the remains of an ancient world that ended in a violent cataclysm (not too hard since it is a very popular trope). What if these aren't just ruins, but subterranean prisons that were created to seal away the very threat that ended the glory of the previous age. This may not just be a local/ one of a kind problem. An entire faction of the government may have to employ hired exterminators to keep the darkness from escaping. Enter the heroes.

There is also a sense of urgency when dropping the dungeon under the town like that. In old school dungeon crawls, the heroes can always take a jaunt back to town to heal and resupply. The monsters and treasure aren't going anywhere and the town itself isn't under threat. But when it's below their feet and the creatures do want out, then any moment wasted is an opportunity for the creatures to wreak havoc. There is no such thing as a restful night's sleep when they seep up from the ground to feed.

So I guess the take away for me here is that there is no such thing as trash. I just need to look at old tropes with new angles.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

No GM Wednesday Today, But New Bike!

Real life has taken up much of my time. The weekend was spent looking for a new bike and I even had to take Tuesday off so I could hit the loan office and then the dealer to pick up my new bike. Tomorrow I have to go in to work late as I wait for Geico to come pick up my scrapped bike.

So I'll be back to business next week.

On a side note, I stopped by Half-Priced Books and hit a small jackpot. I scored a hardback copy of Deadlands Reloaded and a digest sized After Ragnarok, both in excellent condition. There were other books from the Savage Worlds line there like Suzerain and .... I forced myself to walk out with just two books until next paycheck. There were other game lines too in near mint condition like Pathfinder, a second printing of Mekton Zeta and Zeta Plus...

If you are in the Redmond Washington area, go to the Half -Priced Books and save these games from euthenasia. Won't you help? (...cue Sarah McLachlin).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

GM Wednesday! - Tech and Magic

Again, sorry for the late post. I'm still dealing with Geico about the wreck. They've actually switched to being very helpful and I hope to be on a new bike by next week.


In a general sense, yes, but not with decks plugged into people's brains. I'm going to leave that level of cybernetics to Cyberpunk. Besides, with the problems I have had with viruses or Windows crashes, why would I want to any of that drek direct access to my brain?


Cyborgs are more set dressing than techno-wonders in this style of sci-fi. Limbs are usually just replacements and don't have built in auto-cannons. Going full cyborg is the purview of cyberpunk, where one of the major themes is the blurred lines between man and machine.

I want to limit cybernetics but the whole "losing sense of self" just doesn't work for me (especially since I am a huge Ghost in the Shell fan). So I am going to go with cybernetics as an Arcane Background. Using edges represents the difficulty a person experiences in learning to control their cybernetic parts (it's not as easy as plug n' play) and the power points represent actual power points. These limbs run on batteries, so triggering special powers are going to suck up the juice faster.

This approach makes it F!F!F! to implement and understand cybernetics by using the current rules without creating an entirely different sub-system that would take the focus away from adventures and make it more about the tech.


Typically in sci-fi, magic is called psionics. The idea is that the power of the mind develops to create stunning effects instead of relying on mystical words and finger waggling.
This might be something that I add or lose depending on my players wishes but I am dealing with space fantasy here. That level of mysticism adds a new layer to my adventures. 

Another type of magic in space fantasy is the technology itself, which begs the question "If you can buy a bacta tank, why would we ever evolve Healing psionics?" It means that while I can base technological devices off of the magic system, I should be careful to not overlap or make psionics a waste of character points.

Ideally I think I would prefer to handle psionic powers the way Babylon 5 handled them. Telekinetics are rare and there are no flashy powers. It's all about monkeying with the minds of others. For this I'm going to borrow the powers breakdown from Slipstream but dump things like Armor. Blast and Burst could still work as mental attacks.

So here's my power list...

From Slipstream:
Confuse the Mind
Mind Reading
Mind Riding
Object Reading

Beast Friend
Boost/Lower Trait
Detect/ Conceal Arcana (Psionics)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Adventure Friday! - Adventure Generators

To make up for Wednesday's light post, here's a bit o' fluff.

Everybody seems to have one. Even I took a crack at it (see the Free Stuff page). While they often give you a rough idea of the type of adventure, they don't give you the interesting color (or trappings) for the adventure.

For instance, my adventure generator might tell you that the heroes must Steal an Artifact while contending with Rivals. Sure it's serviceable but it doesn't exactly get the creative juices flowing or tell you how to make the adventure memorable.

Inspiration. I've been having a lot of difficulty with it. I've written a lot of adventure generators and none of them have inspired me.

If you are in the same boat as me, I can tell you there may be hope. Try looking for a Random Title Generator. Adventure titles, pulp titles, rock song titles, these online tools are out there. I've just started using them. Many times I don't use the actual titles they generate (many adventure title generators are geared for Fantasy) but they do inspire me to create titles for my adventures.

Now I have a creative springboard. I have to figure out what kind of sci-fi rocket adventure has a title like "Beautiful Plumage". Inspiring, evocative, my mojo is engaged.

So if you are stuck for adventures, try generating ten adventure titles and then go from there. It may help get you through your sagging mojo moments. Bonus points if you can link those ten titles into a campaign.

Here's some that I have found useful...
Random Story Title Generator
Title O Tron (Pulp Sci-Fi)
Random Fantasy Novel Title Generator