Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Sisyphus Can Teach Us

From Wikipedia:

"In Greek mythology Sisyphus... was punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever."

So I've been going through the process of creating races for my sci-fi game when I realized just what a Sisyphean task it is to try and populate an entire galaxy with individual alien races. Especially since I have already noted that space fantasy tends toward specific alien tropes. 

So what separates reptilian alien A from reptilian alien B? In games that cover a huge multitude of alien races like Star Wars, the difference comes down to the Planet of Hats trope. For those unfamiliar, it's when we say things like "All Jawas are mechanics", or "All Trandoshans are hunters". It defines an alien race down to a specific stereotype that rarely leaves any room for diversity. But what if I wanted to play a Jawa farmer, or a Trandoshan technician? The rules in many games say I would be better off playing the stereotype because I would be handicapping my character by making him individualistic.

You could argue that cultures have given rise to specific types of specialists (Sparta) but I want my players to have the freedom to create characters that are interesting and varied. I don't want Race to become a substitute for a D&D style class system. Wow, there's a whole lot wrong with that sentence.

The game High Space for Savage Worlds had an interesting way of handling it. They created racial "Templates" that you could just plug in to any trope alien and let the differences between the races be trappings. I'm going to follow that philosophy in my game design because frankly I have neither the time or willpower to make 3 different reptilian races with unique traits, let alone a billion.

So what can Sisyphus teach us about setting? That if you spend all of your time pushing the rock up a hill, you have no time left to play. Unless you really enjoy the never-ending-boulder-roll game.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Waxing Nostalgic

I miss the box sets, and I don't mean the "beginner" or introductory sets. I mean going to the store and buying a complete game that included dice and character sheets. It was a self contained world with everything you needed to play except for players and pencils.

Opening those boxes was a combination of unwrapping a Christmas gift and opening up a munitions case. These were my shiny new weapons and I could dive into exploring them. I just don't get that feeling much anymore from the new game books.

Your typical boxed game had a players book, a referee's manual, and either an adventure or a gear book. The coolest thing about these sets was the brevity. They had to pack all of their rules into a small booklet, which meant learning the game could be done in about an hour. You didn't have to slog through a 500 page tome before you started kicking spy/cyborg/alien butt.

Now, the industry treats the box set like a stepping stone. You get a piece of the game, but if you want to play more then you need to invest in the bigger books. More rules! More Fluff! And eventually we'll put out a new edition so you can buy these books all over again.

Here are some of my favorite boxed sets, and damn I wish I still had them:

Top Secret SI
Star Frontiers
Gama World
even FASERIP Marvel!

I know that there are some boxed set games out now, but it just isn't the same. I feel old. Get off my lawn.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Punishing Players

Warning: I try to keep my site free from swear words as much as possible, but today is an exception. 

Every now and then we GMs come across a problem player. He wants to argue and twist the rules to his own advantage and he won't let up. He makes a character that goes against your campaign ideal, and he does everything he can to derail or break your setting. If you are paying attention, you'll catch the smirk on his face as he argues. He's a Griefer. He's a Bully. He's an Asshat.

So what do you do? He's making you mad, pushing your buttons... you need to lay down the law!

Actually you don't. You need to calm down and take a reality check for your own good.

It's tempting to argue, or to find a devious means to punish his character in-game. I'm here to argue against it. Calm your mind, young padawan. Don't succumb to the Dark Side. Here's why...

  1. Griefers thrive on conflict. The more you argue, the more fun he's having and the less fun everyone else is having. He's not playing the game, he's playing you. The more you fight him, the more he wins.
  2. Conflict can turn to violence. This is his goal, to break you down. Nothing would give him more glee than seeing you get arrested or kicked out of wherever you are gaming. This is a worst case Griefer but they are out there. I have met three in my gaming career, and I know how the rage burns inside. Don't give in.
  3. If you are the GM, you are essentially god of your own universe. If you abuse that authority to seek petty revenge on an Asshat, you will look like the bully to everyone else at the table. Now he can play the victim and make you the bad guy. Don't fall for it.

How do you recognize a Griefer?

It's not always as easy as you think it is. There is a fine line between someone who is intentionally making a character to break your campaign and someone who is looking for a role-play challenge. Always be respectful to your players and talk with the individual, feel them out.

BTW, if the player is making choices that don't follow your script, that's not necessarily a Griefer. The problem might be that you decided what the characters should do and have gotten rid of their freedom of choice. That is a GMing mistake. Don't blame the player.

So what can you do when you have a Griefer?

  1. Smile. Be happy. Let his comments roll off of your shoulders. Smiling makes Griefers angry. Let that further fan the flames of joy in your heart.
  2. Inform the player (in a calm and helpful manner) that he is being disruptive to the game, and that perhaps he'd have more fun in someone else's game since this one is causing him so many problems.
  3. Remember, this is a game. You can walk away at any time. You don't have to play with Asshats. He may think he's won if you start packing up, but if you've acted in a mature manner then everyone else at the table will know who the real Asshat is. They may even unite in kicking the Griefer from the table so they can continue playing. Nothing kills a Griefers ego like a crowd that turns on him.

Above all, play respectfully. 

Or as RPG.Net says "Rule #1: Don't be a Dick".

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wednesday Sci-Fi! - Starpunk Races Part 1

So I thought I'd display some of the reworking I've done to player races for my campaign. Following the trope races I posted earlier, here are the Archemedians (space elves/devils), the Dvargen (space dwarves), and my version of Droids.


Archemedians are tall, lithe humanoids with pointed ears, cranial horns, and skin of varying hues. Their society is founded on barter and contracts which resulted in a race of very shrewd wheelers and dealers. Archemedians always honor their contracts to the letter, but you might want to check the fine print twice before entering into a contract with one.
·   Agile (+2): Elves are graceful and agile. They start with a d6 in Agility instead of a d4.
·   Low Light Vision (+1): Elven eyes amplify light like a cat’s, allowing them to see in the dark. Elves ignores attack penalties for Dim and Dark lighting.
·   Quirk (-1): Always honors a contract.


Dvargen are short, stout, hardy people who come from the high-G world Dvargus. Dvargens are well known for being doing things larger than life as evidenced by their huge monuments, week-long binge parties, and lakes of vomit.
·   High-G Worlder (+2): Dvargen come from a high gravity world, making them stronger than other races in standard gravity. Increase Strength die by one step.
·   Slow (-1): Dvargen have a Pace of 5”.
·   Tough (+2): Dvargen are stout and tough. They start with a d6 Vigor instead of a d4.
·   Zero-G Phobia (-1): Dvargen are accustomed to knowing which way is up and the feel of sturdy ground beneath their feet. They suffer -2 to their trait tests when caught in zero gravity.


Droids are sentient machines with a variety of appearances. Some appear almost human, some are purely mechanical. They are built as servants to their “masters” and typically fill the rolls of butler/maid, personal assistant, mechanical repair and construction, and in some cases they are “personal companions”. Advances in artificial intelligence have gone so far as to give droids “Genuine Sentient Personalities” making it act just like a typical sentient being. Rest assured that when your droid screams in a panic, it is doing so at 150% efficiency.
·   Asimov Circuits (-2): The droid cannot harm, or by inaction bring harm to sentient beings. This gives him the Pacifist Hindrance (Major).
·   Construct (+3): Droids are immune to poison, disease, and psionic effects that target the mind. Droids cannot heal naturally. To heal a droid requires the Repair skill—which is used like the Healing skill only with no “Golden Hour.”
·   Programming (+2): Droid begin with a free d6 in one skill, representing their original programmed role.

·   Genuine Sentient Personality (-1): To make droids appear more like sentient beings, mental faults were programmed into the cortex functions. Droid characters start with one minor “personality” hindrance from the following list: Big Mouth, Cautious, Death Wish, Delusional, Greedy, Habit, Mean, Phobia, Quirk, or Yellow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Planetary One Sheet - Ralka Station

Ralka Station. A scummy hive of villainly wretchedness, where pirates barter their illegal goods outside the fringes of law and authority. Enjoy.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Musings! - The Flexibility of Arcane Backgrounds

My Mojo is in overdrive for some reason.

An interesting thought occurred to me on the way to work that involved Arcane Backgrounds and starships.

So far I am using ABs for Psionics, cyberware, and robot upgrades. The reason is simple, an AB is the catch-all for abilities that enhance the person as opposed to external enhancements like gear. In the Sci-Fi Companion, starship upgrades are handled as "external gear" that just get bolted into place on the starship where the only limiting factor is the available space of the superstructure. That didn't make much sense to me. A starship's superstructure isn't really affected when you add in systems because you don't have to worry about aerodynamics (unless your an aerospace ship). You could bolt 100 plasma guns to the outside of an x-wing and it will still fly (in space) provided it's powerplant is strong enough.

And there is the real limiting factor, the powerplant. At least for me in my setting where aerodynamics are secondary thanks to anti-grav engines and starship shields.

Now suppose we use ABs and Powers to outfit our starship. It makes more sense to me since they are integrated systems. I don't need to make any separate combat rules and then try to teach them to my players. Plus "power management" becomes something that all the crew must keep aware of.

So, Power Points! This represents the amount of power a ship has for its combat systems each round. Upgrading the ship with the Power Points edge represents modifications that increases the output of the power plant. Each round, the ship can expend this much energy for combat.

The powers all remain the same, except that they specifically affect starships. If multiple crew-members want to use the same power in the same turn, multiple versions of the same power will need to be purchased.

Armor = Ship's shields. Uses Piloting skill
Blast = Ship battery. Uses Shooting skill
Blind = Anti-ship hacking/ "overload their sensors". Uses Knowledge: Computers skill
Bolt = Ship cannons. Uses Shooting skill
Deflection = Jammers. Uses Knowledge: Computers skill
Detect/ Conceal would be split into two different powers, one for sensors and one for stealth technology. Uses Knowledge: Computers skill
Disguise = A type of jamming that passes the ship off as an ally. Uses Knowledge: Computers skill
Divination = Sensors that give detailed information. Uses Knowledge: Computers skill
Entangle = Tractor Beam. Uses Knowledge: Computers skill
Farsight = Long Range scanners. Uses Piloting skill
Healing = Automatic damage control systems. Uses Repair skill
Invisibility = Cloaking. Uses Uses Knowledge: Computers skill
Puppet = Anti-ship hacking. Uses Uses Knowledge: Computers skill
Speed = Warp boost. Uses Piloting skill
Stun = EMP cannons used for disabling a ship. Uses Shooting skill
Succor = Anti-EMP damage control. Uses Repair skill
Teleport = Mini-warp jumps in case you need to perform a Picard Maneuver. Uses Piloting skill

Each crew-member may activate one power on their turn, but the crew must stay withing the total amount of power points available for the ship. So not only am I getting a very Star Trek feel to combat, I make sure that the crew has to work together during combat. And I do it with only minor rules tweaking from the core book. I also create a tangible method of handling ship upgrades so that players can modify their vessel.

Now granted I haven't play-tested this concept at all. I just post whatever falls out of my brain-pan. Still, what do you think?

Bonus! - Character Creation Addendum

This addendum concerns Robots. As written, this race is very powerful. Even in the Sci-Fi Companion the beefed the racial cost +8. The Shaken and Wound bonuses are awesome, but don't really fit in with a C-3P0 style droid. So I'm making the following changes to the Construct racial ability.

Construct (+3): Droids are immune to poison, disease, and psionic effects that target the mind. Droids cannot heal naturally. To heal a droid requires the Repair skill—which is used like the Healing skill only with no “Golden Hour.”

I'll bring back the "+2 vs Shaken" and the "ignore Wound modifiers" for NPC Warbots, which will also remove the Asimov Circuit in favor of a Slave Circuit (that forces them to obey their commander's orders, even unto their destruction).

So standard Droids have the following racial abilities:

  • Asimov Circuit (-2): Pacifist (Major) hindrance.
  • Construct (+3): as noted above.
  • Programming (+2): One skill starts at d6.
  • Recharge (-2): Once per day or suffer Fatigue.
  • Low-Light Vision (+1)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sci-Fi Wednesday! - Character Creation

Eye candy brought to you by "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe".


I'm not going to knock the Sci-Fi Companion. It's a very detailed book full of a lot of good information. However, I don't want to cherry pick rules from it and DTotSL. I need to keep this down to the Core Book and one supplement.

DTotSL handles aliens as either starting with a free attribute bump instead of a free edge, or using the rules and races in the SWDEX (perhaps with some name changes). 

So what kind of races will I use? Well let's look at the common trope aliens of 80's sci-fi. You'll probably recognize many of these as the better races to come out of Star Trek.
Space Elves (Anybody seen my Vulcan?)
Lizard-men (Oh my Gorn!)
The Vermin-Men (I luvs me some Jawas)
Cat-Men (I should say "beast-men" since I don't want to go through the entire animal kingdom and make obvious human-earth animal hybrids)
The Big Strong Brutes (the Sc-Fi Companion has the Yeti which is brilliant, so I'll have to go a different direction)
The sexy Aliens (Twi'leks meet Orions and have a wet T-shirt contest)
The Bugs
The Greys (or something that would equate to definitely not a human/animal hybrid)
And Robot-men. Players won't be playing combat models unless they purchase upgrades, basically an arcane background where powers represent system upgrades.


Any physical Hindrances cannot be fixed with cybernetics. Doubting Thomas will have to go since the supernatural isn't a big enough part of my setting. Which reminds me of that episode of Buck Rogers where there was a space vampire. That episode hurt my feel-bads.


Champion, Holy/Unholy Warrior, and Wizard just don't fit the setting. I don't see the need to create any Professional Edges since many of the character tropes can already fit into reskinned edges. Deep space scouts would use a reskinned Woodsmen edge, etc.

Arcane Backgrounds 

I see using three different types of ABs: AB Psionics, AB Cybernetics, and AB Upgrades (Robots).

The Psionics AB would operate the way it is stated in DTotSL. One of the key features I like is that your Psionics skill can't be increased after character creation. It represents your maximum Psi-Potential (like a P12 in Babylon 5). The available powers will be Beast Friend, Blast, Blind, Bolt, Boost/Lower Trait, Burst, Confusion, Detect/Conceal Arcana for free, Dispel (Psionics), Farsight, Fear, Fly, Havoc, Healing, Mind Reading, Pummel, Puppet, Slumber, Stun, Succor, and Telekinesis.

AB Cybernetics and Upgrades would essential operate the same way. Both would be based off of AB Magic and would use power points, but in this case the power points represent their internal battery system that is tapped to energize these upgrades. It would use the Weird Science mishap chart. The available powers will be Armor, Blast, Bolt, Boost Trait (Strength or Agility, self only), Burst, Damage Field, Darksight, Entangle, Environmental Protection, Farsight, Fly, Invisibility, Light, Smite (self only, unarmed damage), Speed, and Wall Walker.

Next week will either be a Planetary One Sheet, or maybe some eye candy.