Friday, October 9, 2015

Echo City Team Up #2

The second issue of Echo City Team Up is now posted as a pay-what-you-want download. I assume you want to pay like $100, so that would be just fine, thank you.

It's an undersea adventure that made me want to write all sorts of puns about 'diving into it' and 'getting your feet wet', but I held myself back.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Check... check... is this thing on?


Man has this month been a blur.

I ended August by tearing the roof off of my garage (and putting on a new one, incidentally), going through a battery of follow ups from my cancer treatments (all is good), and gearing up into the school year (which has taken some getting used to, since I returned to full time teaching for the first time in a year). In the interim, I ALMOST fell behind on my webcomic Teaching Ted (I was actually doing strips the day before for about three weeks), and hit two comic conventions (Wizard World Pittsburgh and Uticon).

It has been a grind and fun and crazy, but I REALLY want to settle back into my identity as a cartoonist and game designer, and that side of me has totally taken a back seat during September as the rest of life was just so darned demanding.

As of right now, I have 7 strips of Teaching Ted done, and I finished a layout project for +Christopher Cortright that I owed him for something like three weeks.

Happy to be back in the saddle. I'll let you know what the next step is when I figure it out :) It seems like one of the unfinished projects for Sentinels of Echo City should be next thing on deck...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Splinters of Tomorrow: Vehicles

Here is some brainstorming I'm doing for vehicle rules... I like how these 'feel'. They need a few more tables (for example, what happens when your vehicle breaks down), but this is a solid start:

Several archetypes begin with a vehicle. For example, a Terran Smuggler begins play with a transport. You build your vehicle in a similar way that you would build a character. Follow these steps:

How did you get it? (D6) 
1.            Was given it as a gift (see, people DO like you)
2.            Won it (you had a great bluff)
3.            Stole it (the previous owner didn’t really deserve it)
4.            Found it/recovered it/salvaged it (it was in a scrap shop, but you saw its potential)
5.            Earned it (accepted as payment for a difficult task you completed)
6.            Purchased it (you know, the old fashioned way)

 Starting Vehicle Stats

10+1d4 (12)
11+1d4 (13)
12+1d4 (14)
14+1d4 (16)
16+1d6 (19)
18+1d6 (21)
1d4 (2)
1d4 (2)
1d6 (3)
1d6+2 (5)
1d6+4 (7)
1d4 - 2d4 (1d4)
1d6 - 4d6
1d8 - 6d8
1d10 - 8d10
1d12- 10d12
1d20 - 12d20 (6d20)
1d10 (2)
2d10 (4)
3d10 (4)
4d10 (6)
+1 to +4
-1 to +4
-1 to +4
-2 to +4
-6 to +2
-6 to 0
25 credits
50 credits
100 credits
250 credits
500 credits
1,000 credits

Armor Class: trade for dependability on a 1:1 basis.
Hull: trade for dependability at the rate of 3 points of hull for 1 point of dependability.
Hit Dice: trade hit dice for dependability on a 1:1 basis.
Shields: trade for shields at the rate of 3 shield points for 1 point of dependability.
Control: trade control for dependability on a 1:1 basis.

I’m rolling up a transport for my character. He’s a Terran Smuggler. I roll for how he got the ship, and roll 1: gift. This was given to him by his wealthy uncle for his 18th birthday. He was expected to go into the family business, but the business was soon taken over by the High Theocracy. Rather than submitting to their demands, he went rogue, taking his ship with him. It’s a transport. I get a default dependability of +10, although I may modify this some.

For Armor Class, I roll 1d4+14 and get 1+14=15. The starting AC for this hunk of junk is 15.
For Hull, I roll 1d6 and get 6. Nice! She’s got some thick skin.
For hit dice, I roll 4d10 and get [4, 3, 7, 3] for a total hit points of 17. This is low, so I spend 1 dependability to increase hit dice to 5d10; I roll and get [6], increasing the hit points to 23.
For shields, I roll 2d10 and get [4, 7], for total shields of 11. I give up a point of dependability here (moving it to +9) to get to shields 14. I decide that the default setting is 8 points to the front shields, and 2 points each to each side and rear shields.
For control, I roll 2d4-4 and get [1,1] = -2! That’s just terrible. I want to have better control, so I take a hit of -3 to dependability (it’s down to +6!) to get my control to +1. There. Now the ship flies better, but it tends to break down far more often.
For speed, I roll 1d4+6 and get [4]. I finally get a break! This ship may be living on the edge of breakdown all the time with a random assortment of pieces, but she has a SWEET pulsar 5 vector engine that makes her among the fastest ships in the five systems. I could lose a little speed to pick up more durability, but I’d rather be fast.

A few things:
The daily maintenance will require me to spend 2d6 credits. I roll each day to see what maintenance is required; some days, I only need to re-charge my fuel cells, while other days require an astrogation fluid change, new void energy filters, or even the replacement of some weak solar panels. Any day I skip my required maintenance, I suffer a cumulative -1 to dependability.
If you pay twice what is required for a day (for example, you roll 3 credits for your maintenance today and decide to invest 6 credits), you take a temporary +1 to dependability until tomorrow’s check.

Recovering hit points
Every hit point of damage needs to be repaired. Restoring 1 hit point of damage always costs 25 credits. A sky cycle that suffered 2 hp requires 50 credits to fix to full hit points, while a star cruiser that has suffered 80 points of damage during a major battle requires 2,000 credits to repair the damage and restore it to maximum hit points.

Dependability Checks:
You can generally chug along just fine with very little maintenance. Your fuel cells are set to slowly re-charge themselves over time; your air filtration system and water generator are able to process clean consumables from almost any environment, and you’re able to skip around through the systems with no real worries.
However, when you find yourself in the middle of a dogfight or struggling to outrun a pair of Shadow Cruisers, you push your ship to its limits, and things can (and often do) start to break down. When you suffer considerable damage, or you push your ship towards its upper limits of performance, you have to see how it responds. Remember, you often keep this thing together with drock tape and chivven wiring.

When you make a dependability check, roll 1d20 + your current dependability rating. If successful (a total result of 20 or better), your ship does just fine, able to continue for the rest of the turn without any major system failure; unless another factor applies.

Make a dependability check:
Whenever the ship goes into a combat situation
Whenever the ship’s performance is done under pressure
When the ship suffers more than half of its hit points in total damage

Dependability results:
Fumble (natural 1). Over-taxed. The entire ship (except for basics like life support) shuts down for 1d6 rounds as the system resets.
Failure (result of less than 20). Failure. Check failure results below.
Success (result of 20 or more). Success. You continue on without a problem.
Critical Success (natural 20). Amazing success! Apply 1 dependability point to one of the ship’s attributes (your choice) for the rest of the turn.

In Play:
I’ve tried to bluff the Inspector at the Wormhole Entrace via comm channels, but he’s suspicious of my ruse, and is sending a boarding party to inspect the Valhallan Princess. I don’t think so, bucko!

I decide to race for the wormhole, throwing all of my shields to the rear deflectors and putting the stick to the brick. Immediately, I have to make a dependability check, and I roll a natural 1! The entire ship shuts down, and the inspector comes back on the comm, asking what happened… I explain that I was trying to activate the air lock, but it’s been malfunctioning, and it might be dangerous for troops to enter until I get it reset. This required a total system re-start. I ask for a minute to re-set my internal systems. I roll a CHA check, and get 21. He says fine, telling me to hurry it up. I ask the GM if I can use that time to jury rig the control panel, disconnecting my pulse cannon and routing that power to shields and engines as the ship tics back to life. The GM allows me to make an INT check (using my engineering), and I get 17 on the die, for a total result of 26! That’s awesome success. The GM tells me that I’ll get +4 to the initiative roll, and that I won’t have to make another durability check to gun the engine. I’ll take that. When the systems come back online, I tell the enemy carrier to start sending his boarding party. As soon as I see the hatch open and troops prepare a stabilizer line, I punch it.

I roll for initiative, and my +4 allows me to just beat the enemy ship. The Valhallan Princess roars forward to the wormhole. I can’t fire back even if I want to, but I DON’T want to… I want out of here! The GM rules that it will take 2 rounds to get to the wormhole (it would have been 3 if I lost initiative), and all 6 cannons on the ship are trained on my tail. I take the lower of my DEX modifier (+2 from DEX 11) or ship’s control (+1 for me) for defense, so I get +1 to AC vs. these attacks. The gunners are attacking at +3 (they have +1 to attack, and the cannons have +2 targeting). Two of them hit in the first round, dealing 7 and 5 points of damage respectively. The entire 12 is soaked by my shields, but that leaves only 2 points in shields for next round.

In round 2, all six cannons fire again, but this time 3 hit. The first deals 7 points (uh oh), knocking out my shields (2 points); the hull soaks all 5 remaining points. The second attack deals 7 points; my hull is able to soak 6 of that, but the Princess suffers 1 hp (it’ll be okay, baby!). The final cannon hits with a critical, rolling 8x2=16 damage. The hull soaks 6, but the internal systems suffer 10 points of damage. The Princess has taken 11 damage, and is down to 12 hit points. WHEW! 1 more hp of damage, and I would have to immediately make a durability check to sustain that much damage and keep chugging along. That could be very bad.

As it is, my poor girl is going to require 275 chips in repairs, and the cargo I’m carrying is only worth 500 chips, so I’m out over half of my take for this job… and I’ve just run a Theocracy blockade, putting me on their radar. Man, I need to find a safer line of work… or… if I put all of that money into my ship, maybe I can up her durability… no… actually, if I up my shields, I won’t have to worry about… that 225 credits isn’t going to go very far. I’d better start thinking about my next job.


The Broken Confederacy issued a currency in various colors of prismatic chips that were specially minted. These included:
Red Chips, representing 1 unit of value.
Orange Chips, representing 10 units of value.
Yellow Chips, representing 100 units of value.
Blue Chips, representing 1,000 units of value
Green Chips, representing 10,000 units of value
Indigo Chips, representing 100,000 units of value
Violet Chips, representing 1,000,000 units of value

The vast majority of commerce was conducted in red, orange and yellow chips. Blue chips were rare, and most people have never see a green, indigo or violet chip.

This monetary unit was outlawed by the Theocracy of Shadows, replaced with the System Credit. All ‘official’ business must be conducted in Credits, although the entire black market, and most markets on secondary planets, continue to conduct trade in chips. Chips are virtually impossible to track, but each is uniquely imprinted with a code verifying its value and legitimacy. No one has ever been able to successfully counterfeit Confederate Chips, although not for lack of trying! Any official bank of the Theocracy will gladly accept chips in trade for System Credits. System credits values are coded into your DNA signature, and any legitimate merchant has a reader to scan whether or not you have enough credits to purchase whatever you are trying to buy. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Splinters of Tomorrow: Towards an Elevator Pitch

So, I wasn't sure what approach I would take with a (possible!) future sci-fi version of Saga of the Splintered Realm which incorporated elements from Sentinels of Echo City. I would want to do several things with this, and I feel pulled in a number of directions at once. Here are the questions I started asking myself:

1. Should this even exist? I mean, there are a number of great sci-fi systems that emulate old school play already. Is one more needed? The answer is pretty simple... the same question could be asked for an old school retro-clone and an old school superhero game. I was pleasantly surprised to find there was room for both of those, so I suppose this could find a place, too. Since the first came out in my fictional revisionist history version of 1981 and the second in 1984, this one belongs right smack dab during 1987.

2. What is this? I have a number of options. My first instinct is to go with a straight-up homage to a specific sci-fi franchise that might have a new movie coming out this December. SW is my single largest creative inspiration, as it is for many of us, and the desire to re-create that world is pretty strong. However, that's been done. In fact, much of what I might want to do has 'been done'. I learned that what gamers want, as much as a solid ruleset to use, is an environment to use it in. A campaign setting. So, what could I do to differentiate my campaign setting from any other?

The answer is nothing. I cannot DO anything to intentionally differentiate it. I am not going to look at Traveler and see what I can keep or leave... or Warhammer... or White Star... or Hulks and Horrors... or Star Wars... etc, etc.

Nope, I'm just going to do my own thing and see how it works out. So this is, I think, the answer.

If Saga of the Splintered Realm is a fictional 'what if' of an ancient realm, Splinters of Tomorrow is the fictional 'what if' of that same realm, several thousand years later. It's NOT fantasy in space, because such things as arcane magic, dragons, and elves are long since gone. They have been reduced to the role of fairy tales. Many things have changed.

But some things have survived. The battle between good and evil as represented in the conflict between Bael and Yahalla. The power of faith and magic associated with it (although it has morphed and grown in significant ways). The interaction between the world and a variety of other-planar dimensions. These are different, but it's the same world, fast forward about 2,000 years. Since SSR is set in the year 228, I may set this game in the year 2228. I see 'big events' happening in markers of 1000 years, so there would have been two such big events since the events detailed in Saga of the Splintered Realm.

This provides very specific ground rules for me to work with, and a very well-defined (at least in my imagination) world that I can now bring through 2000 years of history to give it some internal consistency and a sense of authenticity. There are a large number of things I just 'know' about this world from the outset, and clear limitations on what won't be here.

Or rather, wouldn't be here. In the fictional alternate universe where I actually make this thing.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Because I Cannot Believe I Am Working On This Right Now (or darn you, Splintered Realm Community, darn you to heck!)

Look at this! Look at what you are making me do! I can’t even right now….

Lord Valar, The High Inquisitor of Terra System
Chaotic Terran Dark Templar 9
AC 20; HD 10d6 (hp 99); Move 40’; Feat +16; Templar’s Greatsword (+8/1d12+7)
                STR 12 (+3); INT 12 (+3); WIS 20 (+7)
                DEX 10 (+2); CON 14 (+4); CHA 14 (+4)
Traits:  Body Armor (+3); Dark Templar’s Sword (1d8); Source Attunement (Shadow)
Talents: Armor Use; Quick Strike; Two-Handed Attack; Weapon Mastery

One of the five high inquisitors serving the Grand Inquisitor, Lord Valar rules with an iron fist. His attunement with the Shadow Source allows him to perform five Source Stunts each turn, rolling 1d20+20 for each attempted stunt.

As a terran templar, you are an adherent of an ancient code, a follower of the Source of Light, and a champion of justice in an unjust galaxy. As a Dark Templar, you are an adherent of the Source of Shadow, bringing darkness to all you touch.

The Source
A powerful energy field, the source is residue energy from the destruction of the goddess of light. The opposite, the Shadow Source, allows you to tap into the residual dark energy that contributed to her destruction.

As a wielder of the source, you get to do a number of things:
Add your WIS modifier to damage rolls when wielding source weapons (instead of STR).
Use the Source to perform Source Events

Source Events
Your attunement to the source allows you to perform a number of special actions each turn, manipulating it for a special effect a number of times each turn equal to your LM. As a terran templar 7, you have 4 opportunities per turn to manipulate the source to perform a special effect called an Event. (or maybe 'Stunt' would be better)

Compel Shadow/Compel Light. You channel your attunement to the Source to control beings of pure shadow or pure light (as applicable), either holding them at bay or forcing them to flee from your presence for 1 turn.

Control. You channel your ability into mentally manipulating a thinking target with whom you can communicate. You can do this up to 10’ per WIS modifier. You force the target to roll a Feat, modified by your WIS modifier, to resist your control.

Focus. You channel your ability with the source into a situational bonus for 1 round. You can elect to add your WIS modifier to your AC, to attack rolls, to damage rolls, or to Feats (or distribute these as needed). For instance, with WIS 14 (+4), you could elect to add +1 to your AC (dodging a strike that would have hit you), +1 to a Feat (narrowly making a sense Feat), and +2 to damage (dealing extra damage with your source blade).

Heal (light only). You channel your ability into a healing touch that restores 1d6 + your WIS modifier hit points to a living creature.

Wound (shadow only). You channel your ability into a wounding touch that deals 1d6 + your WIS modifier hit points to a living creature; no resist is allowed, and no hit roll is required.

Telekinesis. You can move objects with your mind, up to 10’ x your WIS score distant.

- As a standard check (target 20), move an object weighing up to 100 lbs. (notably less would give up to +4 to the check; notably more would force up to -4 to the check)

- As a titanic check (target 30), move an object weighting up to 10 tons. (notably less would give up to +4 to the check; notably more would force up to -4 to the check)

For instance, a small goblin-like light source wielder of level 12 with WIS 24 could lift an interceptor out of a bog pretty easily, needing only a roll of 6 on the die to lift an object weighting up to 10 tons (the typical interceptor weighs about half that much ... and YES I looked it up!).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On Superhuman Charisma

I did a blog post about a few weeks ago discussing superhuman INT and how it can have cool effects in play. I liked how this brought new options in play for characters with superhuman ratings in what might be considered a 'dump stat', and I wanted to do the same for the other perceived dump stat, Charisma.

Charisma reflects the power of your personality, and how you can exert your influence upon others. While mechanics exist that tie Charisma to traits using manipulation (an important first step in making less dumpy), I'd like to do more with it. The groovy gang on the Splintered Realm Community got me thinking about this, and I've since clarified it a bit more... this is another something that will eventually make its way into the GMs sourcebook....

Since half of your hit points represent willpower, determination and mental toughness, it seems reasonable that this 'half' of your hit points can be attacked directly in ways that diminish your willpower or directly impact your mental toughness. CHA is the solution.

Superhuman CHA gives you the opportunity to deal damage that comes off of the half of hp representing willpower/determination. I think of the dragon Smaug and the power of its personality 'wearing down' Bilbo over time through its wordplay and manipulation. You'd be able to deal up to half of a creature's hp total in damage through 'CHA combat' in this way. With exceptional CHA (14+), you can use 1 round to deal social damage equal to your CHA rating. The target may roll a FEAT for half damage. A target will never take more than 1/2 of its hp total in such damage. You can do this a number of times per turn equal to your LM.

For example, Lex Luthor, with CHA 16 and at level 10, can potentially deal 80 hp of social damage each turn, as he stands back and tells Superman what he's going to do to Metropolis, how he's going to scar Lois Lane's pretty face with acid, how the Daily Planet is going to become the Daily Luthor, and how he's going to scour space for the remains of Krypton and poop on it. Meanwhile a bunch of Luthor bots are beating on Superman.

I'd also like to introduce a new Talent, Taunt, that allows you do either make one bonus attack per turn (if you have CHA 14+) or take on this special application of CHA even with CHA 13 or lower. For example, Spiderman has CHA 9 or so, but with Taunt, he can get under the skin of Doc Ock, badgering him during combat, dealing 9 points of damage with each taunt.

Using you CHA to make willpower attacks in this way would be a minor action, meaning that you can do this and take a simultaneous attack at -2. Spidey can jaw at Doc Ock while also firing webs at him, taking -2 to the simultaneous attack action.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

On Superhuman Intelligence

My daughter wanted to watch Mr. Peabody & Sherman yesterday on Netflix, and I liked how they portrayed Mr. Peabody’s hyper intelligence, similar to how it’s portrayed in various current depictions of Sherlock Holmes. You slow down the world to see how quickly the character is able to calculate a number of factors simultaneously. As with all things, this got me thinking about gaming...

In Sentinels of Echo City, Mr. Sherman would have an INT score somewhere around 18, giving him amazing-level intellect. I was trying to figure out how to use this in the game, and I think the solution is tying hyper intelligence to stunts. As a character with INT 14+, you are able to use your INT score in place of any other attribute when you use a Resolve point as a stunt.

For instance, you are punching a foe, and you only have STR 6. You’re going to have a base modifier of +0 with that punch. However, your INT 18 (+6) allows you to quickly determine that your foe is leaning just a little to the left; you are able to immediately deduce that he must have suffered a ligament sprain in his right knee (probably a football injury - you know statistically speaking that these injuries are due to football-related hits 63% of the time, so you’d take the odds on this one - and the scars on his knuckles are characteristic of those experienced by offensive linemen, probably played right guard based on the uneven distribution of scarring between his hands). If you place your punch 7.2” lower than you were going to, you can hit a muscle group that has been overcompensating for that old injury, causing a ripple effect that will deal quite a bit of pain.

You just replaced your STR modifier (+0) with your INT modifier (+6) on the attack and damage rolls for that punch, and still get to take the +1d6 to the damage roll as well. That was a resolve point well spent, and reflects the coolness of hyper intelligence.

In the same way, you could sub your INT in for your DEX (you normally wouldn’t be able to roll a DEX check to balance on the tightrope, but you were able to successfully gauge the wind speed to use it to your advantage and steady your walk) or CON (you cannot hold your breath for that long, but by quickly gathering bubbles that had gathered on nearby seaweed, and using a clamshell you quickly modify to  inhale them, you are able to give yourself another minute of air). You can use this for a CHA check (normally, you wouldn’t be very persuasive in this situation, but your awareness of the target’s tattoo, and its linkage to a specific military branch, and your ability to quickly ask about his service in that, specifically recalling the heroic deeds his platoon carried out in May of last year, allows you to endear yourself to this officer at this moment) or a straight up STR check (you can’t hold up the collapsing bridge, of course, but you could use a piece of debris and perfect leverage to erect a temporary buttress that will prevent the collapse for 7.8 seconds more, allowing the civilians to escape).

Suddenly, I really want to play a character with hyper intelligence!

By the way, these concepts will eventually make their way into the game… probably in the GMs guide....