Monday, January 31, 2022

Shards Preview - Big Space Battles

I was going to wait until tomorrow until I did another post (since the last one was so meaty), but then I realized that today was the last day of January, and I have done 39 posts this month (all substantial by the way - all killer no filler is the way). I couldn't let it go without getting a 40th in under the wire. I could do my next worldbuilding post, but I'd rather let that simmer for a little bit longer in my subconcious (it's about a 'thin slice' by the way, to whet your appetite, as if it needs whetting). So, I'll go with a preview of something I just wrote for Shards that I really like. I'm not sure why my gaming philosophy is a bit different for this game, but it is. I'm not really trying to write rules - I'm working on a simulation of the source material. How do I mechanically solve the moments I see in my head in the simplest way? I think about the various mass combat rules I've written before, and I thought they were pretty good at the time. There were maybe ten questions you'd ask to build a framework, and then you'd do a series of rolls to determine how combat went. 

This is SO much better. My mass combat rules drafts of the past have always had the actions of the PCs be an important part of the mix. Now, I've realized they are all that really matters. The fight is happening in the background, but the mission the PCs are on has to be central to victory or defeat; the PCs win, and we all win. The PCs lose, and we'll all have to re-group and try again tomorrow (unless everyone is dead. Then maybe not). That said, here are the few paragraphs that solve everything I've solved in about five pages in the past:


Big Ships, Space Stations, and Other Set Pieces 

The vehicle rules presume that any starship involved is small enough that it could be destroyed in combat between small numbers of adversaries. When it comes to larger ships, and there are such things (although they are rare), or larger objects in space such as space stations and orbital ports, it is best to view these as locations and set pieces rather than piles of hit points. If the story leads towards their possible destruction, it is better to mechanically solve this in other ways than resorting to figuring out the whole thing’s armor class, shields, hull, and hit points. For example, the heroes lead an assault on a messari battle carrier that comes through a wormhole. That thing is BIG - four kilometers long and filled with messari, but the PC crew has managed to align all of the local guilds to assault that thing. Okay. Rather than working out the statistics for each part of the battle carrier, construct the scenario in another way. 

Once the assault on the carrier begins, the crew’s mission is to disable the carrier’s wormhole navigation system. That system is mounted on the back of the carrier, has an AC of 20, hull of 10, and 50 hit points. The heroes have one turn to do it, and there will be 1D4+1 messari shadowblade interceptors joining combat against the PCs at the beginning of rounds 1, 4, and 7. The dozens of other ships are engaging other messari craft, neutralizing gun positions, and taking part in the larger space battle. It’s all in the background. Each round, 1D4 allies and 1D4 messari gun positions are destroyed. If either gets to 20 total losses, the crew either receives +2 to all future actions (if all enemy gun positions have been destroyed, and your allies are now only engaging interceptors) or suffers -2 to all future actions (as there are now a few more guns and other interceptors at the periphery that are creating distractions). At the end of one turn, either the messari battle carrier starts to collapse under the weight of all of this damage, or it reaches the edge of the wormhole and is able to jump through, escaping to repair and plot its vengeance. This all makes for a more interesting encounter that is easier to manage, and feels as though it has genuine stakes. It makes a big space battle feel different from a skirmish between a few smaller vehicles, because it is. 


Worldbuilding Part 8: It's All About The Characters

Stories are about people. They may look like mice, or ants, or tree-powered aliens, but at heart they are still people. People, and what people do or think or experience or overcome, has to be at the heart of the setting. Let me start by rolling out a caveat: there is a fundamental difference (to me at least) between developing a setting for my own creative life and one for others to play in. I've spent the last two years trying to thread the needle on this, with what feels like increasing success.

The biggest reason to adventure in the settings of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or the MCU is that the characters there are ones you know and love so much. That is also their biggest drawback as RPG settings. The best stories in those worlds have already been told. Your character is never going to be as heroic as Captain America or as smart at Tony Stark. Your hero is cool and all, but I mean Frodo carried the One Ring into the heart of Mordor, so... and Luke Skywalker blew up the first Death Star with his targetting computer shut off, and that was before he basically single-handedly overthrew the Empire. But, I mean, your character is doing cool things too, I guess.

It's the double-edged sword of the Forgotten Realms. People who love the setting seem to love it because of Elminster and Drizzt. But, your wizard is never going to be Elmnister, and your ranger is never going to be Drizzt. 

For Stalwart Age, I tried to solve this by having my signature character Doc in the background. and not really all that powerful in the grand scheme. He's old, and semi-retired, and off in other realms a lot of the time. He's not Superman who is there to solve everything before you even realized there is a problem, and oh by the way I made you an omelette in the extra .24 seconds I had after saving the world and foiling the bombing of Metropolis. 

For Shards, my own characters are not very cool. They're struggling level 2 or 3 guys just scraping by. They might run into your characters, but they are just as likely to run from your characters. My characters are not saving the galaxy this week; they're just trying to get by.

All of that out of the way, your setting will need to have a few 'major players' in place. These are the handful of characters, at least out of the gate, who are going to make decisions that have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the setting. Back to my foundation in acting... characters have three levels of goals: super objectives, scene objectives, and actions. A super objective is the one 'big thing' a character really wants. In Shards, Eno the Prime Director wants to slowly allow life to atrophy so that only machines remain. Nisa Montrel wants to establish the most powerful guild in the region. The messari want to find their way back to this realm. On a lower tier (where I'm playing and writing), Vex Kalar wants to restore honor to the Centurions (if it ever had that honor to begin with). Sky Stalwart wants to go home (and for him, 'home' includes traveling back in time 814 years, so that one might be a bit tricky). 

Once you know what your characters want, you can work out at least one 'scene objective'. While I've always defined this as 'what your character wants to do before you'll leave the stage', it's more loosely seen as a medium-term goal. How is this thing going to help me towards my larger purpose? Hmm. Well, Eno needs to establish his power (done) and put infrastructure in place to support the changeover. That's what he's working on. It's always 'infrastructure week' on Banquo II. Once in a while enough sentients break the terms of their contracts, and he can justify vaporizing a bunch at once, which gives him mechanical warm fuzzies. Nisa knows that she needs to start turning a profit quickly so that she can build a cushion. She also needs to secure the territories she already has and ensure that her name is established. She can't helm the biggest guild until she's at least got a stable guild. Vex needs allies first. Sky needs resources first. I can't get to my big goal unless I accomplish this smaller thing first. That's where my focus is today. Then actions are the moment-by-moment choices. Right now, this moment, do I capture that guard and interrogate him, or sneak by him, or shoot him in the back? Not sure. It depends on which one is most likely to help me towards my medium-term goal. Or, even better, is this a short-term setback I'm willing to endure because it might ultimately help me to achieve my goal? It's part of what I love about Mandalorian; he is continually accepting short-term sacrifices to his larger goal because he believes that the sacrifice today will pay dividends later. I remove my helmet today because I want to help my friends, even though I know that my long-term goal of helping to re-establish Mandalor might be harmed by it, but I guess I'll have to figure that out later.

Some of the best writing advice I've read (no idea where anymore) is to create a character, throw as many problems at them as you can, and then see how they react. Another thing good actors know: acting is not about 'acting' so much as 'reacting'. You learn as much as you can about your character, and then you just listen and respond to what's happening around you. Those who are really good at improv tend to develop strong, one-note characters quickly and then react in real time as those characters, with often humorous but fully in-character responses. My 'Karen' character wants to see the manager, and nothing is going to stop her from seeing the manager (except when Heather texts me, and then everyone has to wait while I answer this text, because HEATHER). The manager responds, but he only has ten minutes left on his break, and he REALLY wants to finish his toasted ham on rye before taking forty pallets off the truck. Like, that sandwich is everything to him. Hilarity ensues. 

In some ways, world building is about putting as many impediments on the road of your setting as possible, and seeing how the various characters respond. Let's take Nisa. Building a guild is hard work. The labor is difficult. There's a lot of competition. There's always sketchy stuff happening behind the scenes that she'd rather not be part of. Nobody really respects a female guild master who got her money from her daddy. She's pretty, which pretty people will likely tell you is a blessing and a curse, because it is hard to be taken seriously when you're pretty, and everyone is attracted to your prettiness and not to you necessarily.

But as the writer you also have to know your characters. You have to try to do the whole walk a mile in their shoes thing, because then you end up with interesting choices. Nisa is invited to a high-end guild party where several heads of families will appear. This could help her establish her name, or could weaken her standing if things go poorly. Can she find out their motivations for inviting her? Once she finds out, does she go? If she goes, what does she wear? Does she play down her prettiness and try to be taken seriously in some formal business attire, or does she try to weaponize her prettiness against her adversaries? I'm not sure. I'd be interested to see what she decides to do.

If it's obvious what a character would do, then it's not a meaningful obstacle. One of the rightful criticisms of the most recent Star Wars trilogy is that Rey has things too easy. She doesn't really have meaningful choices to make. Her destiny is set out before her like a connect-the-dots. To pile on Star Wars a bit, Episode I starts with a trade blockade... but why? What exactly does Naboo even trade? Architectural magazines? High-end fashion? Silver starship paint? Why is it so important? I literally have no idea.

If you set things up with genuine obstacles, your NPCs will have interesting choices to make as the game goes on, and that can almost guarantee that the PCs will, too. Some of my favorite writing moments are when characters surprise me. I wrote a draft of a novel maybe ten years ago that was never finished, where the main character was a half-goblin who was just trying to get by, but he then got a cool pet who happened to be a pocket dragon. He loved the dragon. It was the best thing that ever happened to him. But then he learned that it actually belonged to a princess and had gotten lost. The last moment of the book I wrote was that he let the dragon go back to her, because it was hers first. It was the moment he changed from looking out for himself to looking out for others. I had no idea what would happen on that last page until I got there, and I straight up cried for ten minutes when he did it, because I was so surprised and proud that he made that decision. I had no idea he'd do that until he did it on the page as I was typing. That was the moment I knew that I had written a pretty clunky first novel that would probably never be published, but it was also the moment I knew what it was to be a writer. It was the first time I let the characters tell the story. 

I encourage you to do the same. I'll bet your characters will surprise you.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Rumek

The game needs a foundational mook creature that can be part of armies and serve as fodder - I present the rumek. I want them to have a little something that makes them at least somewhat interesting, so I'm going with the whole Jawa thing - these are little scavengers who are mechanically-inclined, and they're always gathering parts and building crazy war machines that are just as likely to deal damage to their enemies as to spontaneously combust and wipe out the whole colony. Go big or go home is the Rumek way. I think they're a little over a meter tall, and they've build their own small blast carbines that deal 2D4 damage. Here is the line drawing and final color work for these guys.  

They have me considering that a species, when presented, should get a full-page write up with the base creature, one or two elite types, one or two of their vehicles, and maybe some technology or a relic they value. Give each one a little more fleshing out as they are introduced. Maybe there's even a sidebar on the species as a PC - how to play them, what vocations they select, that sort of thing.

STAT THAT: The Ever-Evolving Feat

I'm a thief. I stole the title of this post from a commercial playing constantly during NFL games, and I originally stole the idea of a Feat from White Box (which I never played, but which I read a little bit about) - the idea that you have one universal 'saving throw', and then you plunk modifiers around this as needed for situations. You don't need a reflex Feat, a willpower Feat, a Feat against dragon breath... you have a Feat modifier. If you are good against dragon breath, then somewhere you have a note that you get +2 to Feats against dragon breath. I find it keeps things simpler but you don't sacrifice much in terms of complexity.

But I've also found that over time I've allowed Feats to attach some barnacles. Not a lot, but subtle things. I found this was important for spellcasters, and made a lot of sense to me; as a caster 6, your spells are harder to resist than those of a caster 2. Your spells are generally DT 26 to resist, whereas the level 2 dude is DT 22 to resist (20 + level in both cases). That makes a lot of sense.

It also makes sense in how Feats have gradually escalated on the other side as well. Over time, my games have introduced more ways to pump up your Feat rating. You can use magic, and talents, and gifts, and special items, and the help of others to take a small bonus here and another small bonus there. But, when we're starting from a basic bonus of maybe +9 or +10, those little increments represent around 10%, so they add up quickly. I've needed to escalate the DTs of Feats to keep up with the escalation of the bonuses that the game provides. 

But old school gaming doesn't care what level your foe is, and old school gaming doesn't give you bonuses for crap. You are getting hit by dragon breath? Save vs. dragon breath. Is that a young black dragon or an ancient red dragon? Who cares? It's dragon breath. Save. You have an ancient ring of the elder drake that gives you unbelievable protection against dragon's breath? Fine. You get +1 to your save, then.

I've already scaled back the bonuses from attributes, and I like the impact it's had on my own psychology in character building. The bonus breaks are every 4 points instead of every 2 or 3, and it makes a difference; now, I don't really care if my character has an 9 or an 11 in a secondary stat, because it's still a +1 modifier either way, and I'm not going to be doing a lot of checks. It causes me to turn off the min/max part of my brain and let the character be a little more uneven. I can play a viable 'fighter' with a STR 9 and I'm not helplessly gimping myself forever, cursing under my breath every time I miss an attack by 1 or 2 points.

Now I've also scaled back the bonuses for Feats. There aren't a lot of ways to improve your Feats, and those there are don't really synergize and escalate nearly as much. As a result, I have been able to go with the default DT 20 for Feats much more often. I had to put some information into the GM section for Stalwart Age about how to build DTs for Feats, because there is a lot of variability and nuance to Feats that game requires. I'm not saying I was wrong there (I think that is a big part of what that game needs), I'm just happy here to be getting back to basics a little more, and speeding up gameplay a wee bit as a result.  

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Vex Solo Play 1

I think I'm ready to play test some starship combat. Let's stat up our centurion, his ship, a few enemies, and see what happens... 


Galan Centurion Standard Issue:

  • Heavy Phase Pistol (1D8+1 frost damage | STR | STR 9+ required)
  • Blast Pistol (1D6) as second weapon (and in case the foe is cold resistant!)
  • 2 Bola Grenades
  • 2 Medi Pads
  • Utility Line
  • Nutri Powder
  • A Centurion Flex Suit (+2 AC | -1 to sneak attempts)
  • Blast Pack.
  • Centurion Helmet. This special helmet has a built-in tele link; it has both range goggles and a vent mask that can each be activated with one action; it grants +2 to all Feats against any sensory attack.
Lieutenant Vex Kalar, Centurion of Gal (Myrmidon 2)
    AC 15 | hp 26 | Feat +8 | Move 3 | Resolve 2D8 
    Heavy Phase Pistol (x2 | +4 | 1D8+1 frost damage); Blast Pistol (x1 | +4 | 1D6)
    STR 9 (+1) | INT 7 | WIS 5
    DEX 9 (+1) | CON 13 (+2) | CHA 7
Attack (+1) | Resolute (+1) | Vehicles (+1) 
Intuition: Object Reading | Vigor (soak 1 point per round)

Vex is a sincere, optimistic, and somewhat idealistic young man. Vex has kept his object reading intuition a secret from high command, and has actively worked against developing it. He never wanted to be an intuit; he has always wanted to be a centurion. Awareness of this gift would almost guarantee that he’d be placed in another division, and would not be on combat patrol.

Centurion X-8 Javelin Interceptor (With Vex Piloting)
    Rel +13 | Ctrl +4 | Speed 3 
    AC 19 | Shields 3D6 (2 zones) | Hull 6 | HD 2D8 (12 hp) 
    Twin-mounted phase cannon (+6 | 4D8)
    -1 die shift for upkeep (2D6) | Full sensor array
Muskrat Patrol Ship (with standard pilot 1)
    Rel +11 | Ctrl +3 | Speed 1
    AC 16 | Shields 2D6 (2 zones) | Hull 4 | HD 2D8 (9 hp) 
    Single Blast Cannon (+1 | 4D6) 
Playtest 1
Vex has been looking for a pair of muskrat patrol ships that have been harassing guild vessels as they enter and leave Banquo’s Tooth. His scanner picks them up and he moves to engage.
He hails them, but they try to bluff. It fails. He stops at 3 km from them. When he notices they are activating weapons systems, he does the same. Initiative. He wins. In the first round, he fires once, and each of the enemies fires once. All miss.
In round 2, he notes that they are preparing to drop into orbit and try to escape on Banquo’s Tooth. He fires twice, and hits once. His cannon deals 18 damage. The first muskrat's ship soaks 5 in the shields, 4 in the hull, and the remaining 9 to damage. This is the full hit points of the ship, so it is down to 0. The pilot must attempt a control check to keep the ship from careening into the atmosphere. He rolls a 3, and fails. The ship must attempt a reliability check, and gets a natural 1. The ship spins into the atmosphere, and burns up on re-entry. Ouch. The pilot has no chance to eject. The second muskrat uses its action to try and escape, but there aren’t many places to go… He pushes the engine for speed, and gets 2+1 =3. He travels 3 km with this engine fire. Weak sauce.
It’s round 3.  The muskrat was able to travel 3 km (now 6 km away), but this is still within the 10 km encounter distance. Vex will take chase, traveling 3 km without effort. He uses his other action to hail the ship again, telling it to stand down. The scavenger piloting it decides to still make a break for it. He pushes his engines, getting 3+1=4 km. He is now 7 km from Vex, so still within encounter distance. Vex fires, getting 19+6=25, and hitting easily. He deals 19 damage; the shields soak 6, the hull soaks 4, and the ship sustains 9 damage, which is again enough to put it at 0. The pilot must attempt a control Feat to crash land, and gets 8+3+6 = 17, so fails. 
I roll 1D6+1 for how many rounds until he crashes, and get 3. Vex is going to try and help him. He issues a command to stay in the cabin and lean into Vex’s vapor trail; Vex should be able to guide the craft down so he can make a safe emergency landing; this would be very, very difficult, but he has a lot of resolve. He attempts a CHA check and gets 3 on the die. Nope. The pilot ejects.
Vex sighs and follows the falling pilot. It is the beginning of the next turn when the pilot finally lands, his drop chute carrying him into the middle of the Veth Tundra. Ugh. Not good for this dude. There is a 1 in 6 chance that something dangerous is nearby; I roll 1. Yeah. It’s a Mirdan Crystal Wyrm. I guess I need to stat that bad boy up. Here’s a first stab at it:
Mirdan Crystal Wyrm (Huge Creature 4)
    AC 19 | HD 8D10 | Feat +10 | Move 6 (burrowing) 
    Bite (x4 | +8 | 4D8) | Ice Breath (8D10 per turn | 10 meter line)
    Burrowing | Immune to Cold 
We’ll just go ahead and give him 5 hp on the die, so 40 hit points. 
The Wyrm starts 2D20 meters away, and we get 12. That’s close.
Order of events: Vex hovers 6 meters up; scavenger pilot lands 3 meters from shadow of the Javelin; wyrm erupts from loose snow 12 meters away from the scavenger. It’s initiative. Vex wins, then the wyrm, then the scavenger. Vex would rather not just kill this thing if it can be avoided, but we’ll have to see. He is just hovering, so he doesn’t need to do anything else, and can fire his cannons twice. He gets 3 and a natural 1. Dang. He attempts a Feat on that natural 1, and gets 14+8=22, so he’s okay. He realizes that he had switched off fire control on his chase, and had to re-energize. Rookie mistake.
The wyrm has a decision to make; it can eat the easy little morsel, or try to crack this ship open and see what’s inside. Odds will be against Vex; I roll 4. He goes for the easy meal, and chases the scavenger, who is freaking out. He is able to easily cross the distance and gets 3 bites. Uh oh. He hits with the first bite, and swallows the little scavenger dude whole.
Vex realizes that engaging this creature is no longer justified, and decides instead to investigate the crash site. He leaves behind a circling and still hungry Mirdan Crystal Wyrm. If he wanted to, he could hover maybe half a km up and hit it with gunfire until it died or went aground. That would be needlessly destructive. He also knows that several members of his platoon would do that without qualm. The thought bothers him.
He turns his ship to the ruins of the crashed Muskrat. He might still be able to salvage something from its flight logs.
  • Chase rules work really well. By getting movement rates down to single digits for the most part, I am able to use 1D6 to reconcile most chases; if you have speed 8 and you are chasing a craft with speed 2, you will catch it, but it depends on how long it takes. If you have speed 8 and the other craft has speed 6, you are probably going to catch it, but if it rolls well and you don’t, it might be able to get away.
  • I can’t always tell how much is my intuitive understanding of what I want the rules to do versus what the rules actually tell you, but the rules framed everything out well enough. I was able to improvise quite a bit, but always knew which ability or modifier would govern whatever I was trying to do. I didn’t have to ask too many questions; again, I’ve been tinkering with this system for a long time, so I don’t know how much of that is my own experience just kicking in, and I’m not sure how a newer GM might reconcile these situations. 
  • I like it that a starship's stat block changes based on who's piloting them. A good pilot in a bad ship is still going to be able to do more than a bad pilot in the same ship would. 
  • Starship combat is deadly; Vex is flying a superior craft against basic interceptors; he is a more experienced and capable pilot; he should be able to do that. There are a lot of ships that get one-shotted in space battles. Small interceptors with limited options should be exploding all over the place.

Worldbuilding Part 7: Breathing Room

This one is adapted from Wenninger. He posits that you don't want to create more right now than you have to; don't lock in details or specifics of your setting until you really need them in place. I tend to think of this as 'breathing room'. Leave room in your worldbuilding for new ideas to have a place to find their way in. When I teach writing, I tell students that they need to intentionally create some time and space between one draft and another. Give it a few days. Take a nap between. Eat a meal. Print out a copy and work on it in a different media. Read it out loud. Do something to see and hear it differently, but (even more important) insert some time between your initial ideas and when you start to lock things down.

I have trained my subconscious to write when I'm not writing. I have learned to go to bed and give my subconscious a task to do: 'okay, I need to figure out that Commonwealth thing'. Then I go to bed, and I don't actively think about it. I just let my subconscious do its thing in its little laboratory. 

For example, I've left my understandings of how the Commonwealth is set up pretty loose. I know that they are a police state of sorts, and that they are aggressively colonizing. But, beyond that, I didn't have much. I started noodling a drawing of a dude with a pistol and jet pack just for some spot art, but as I drew, the design started to get me thinking of the Mandalorian, Storm Troopers, and Judge Dredd, and suddenly I had a fit. My subconscious timer dinged, and revealed what it had been working on.

Out in the Pale, the Commonwealth dispatches Centurions who are independent judges, able to enforce the law. They have considerable latitude and power. So, back to yesterday - they are ripe with corruption. 

Consequently, we've got poor Lieutenant Vex Kalar, who signed up because he wanted to make a difference in the Pale, and who wants to make sure that justice is served and that people see why the ways of the Commonwealth are the best ways to live. But, he is surrounded by a bunch of jerks who wear the same uniform, but who use their badges and titles to get rich and live lives of excess. Will he be able to change his ranks from within? Will he leave the Centurions? Will he be arrested for treason when he refuses to do the wrong thing? Will he lead a rebellion? Something else entirely? 

I have no idea. I'm confident my subconscious will let me know when it figures it out.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Let's Make a Creature!

I finished the draft of the creature generation rules. Then I rolled up a creature. Then I drew it based on what I'd generated. This is so weird and specific yet also just flippin' awesome alien bug goodness. I mean, this is something I never would have come up with if I didn't have the random generator. Love this so much...


Example of Creature Generation:

·       For form, I roll 1D6 and get [4]. This is insectoid in some way.

·       For level, I roll 1D20 and get [12]. This creature is level 2. One 1D4 I get [4], so it has AC 16. On 1D6 I get [6], so it will be the regular 4 HD variety of level 2. On the 1D4 I get [3], so it has a Feat modifier of +9.

·       For its size, I roll 1D10 and get [9], which added to its level x2 [2x2=4] gives a result of 13; this is a large creature with D8 for hit points. For its move, I roll 1D6 and get [6] +2 = 8. It’s a fast critter. Its main attack (a bite?) deals 2D6 damage. I roll 1D6 and get 1. Wow. It has a second attack. I decide that the second attack will be maybe a tail or something that deals damage on a -1 die shift, so it will be 2D4 damage instead of 2D6. 

·       I roll for gifts and get [2]. Rolling randomly for gifts (page xx), I get invulnerable and energy reflection (rolling randomly, I get gravity). For invulnerable, I roll [4]; this creature will soak the first 4 points of damage it suffers every round. I decide to tinker with the gravity reflection a bit to make more sense for this creature. It has that second attack, so I’m going to tie this to the gravity reflection. It can neutralize gravity by pointing its antennae at a foe and emitting an intuitive wave that impacts the gravity affecting that creature, but any intuit using a pull action against this creature may have that turned back on them; it’s a rare situation, but it could happen. I think I’m ready to throw together a stat block for this thing. I will use the word gravitation and an online anagram maker to get… gan vitiator. That is so much cooler than I expected.

Gan Vitiator (Large Creature 2)

      AC 16 | HD 4D8 | Feat +9 | Move 8 

      Bite (x3 | +4 | 2D6); Antennae Strike (x1 | +4 | 2D4 | + see below)

      Invulnerable (4); Gravity (pull) reflection

The 4-meter-long gan vitiator lives amid dry wastes. It appears like an elongated beetle with thin antennae. Once per round, it strikes a target up to 4 meters away with its antennae. The target of a successful antennae attack must attempt a Feat or be pulled towards the gan vitiator; the next bite attack against that creature is made at +2. Any gravity (pull) attack against the gan vitiator allows the creature to attempt a Feat; if successful, the vitiator ignores the attack; on a natural 20, the attack is reflected back upon the attacker.

      Drinking blood from a dead gan vitiator’s heart forces the drinker to attempt a CON check. Failure means that the drinker falls ill for 1D4 hours, suffering -1 to all action attempts. Success grants the drinker the intuit push ability for 1D6 turns. Gan vitiator blood loses its potency 24 hours after being extracted, and this pure heart blood may only be extracted from a dead gan vitiator. For some cultures living near gan vitiator hunting grounds, this is used as a test of adulthood, and becomes a requirement of tribal membership. Gan vitiators build nests in shallow, rocky holes, and females will produce 2D4 offspring once per year.

Worldbuilding Part 6: A Superstitious, Cowardly Lot

Two things before I get rolling with this post:

1. The draft of Shards of Tomorrow is plugging along. The draft is 38 pages without illustrations, any creature stat blocks, a starter adventure, or some of the background material I still want to write. At this point, we're talking at least 48 pages for the core rules, considering I have almost 30 illustrations done. 64 is not out of the realm of possibility (but again, not chasing page counts... just taking a status check).

2. This post might come off as cynical, and I don't mean for it to. In the last few weeks, I have seen the best of my family, friends, and the various communities I belong to, as people offer support, friendship, food, rides, encouraging texts... I am in a great place right now (other than the 8" incision across my throat and radiation hanging over my head), but that doesn't change the truth of this post, and its relevance to world building.


Because people are stupid, petty, selfish, and superstitious. We see outliers. Kansas City Chiefs fans donated over 300k to a Buffalo Bills charity after last week's game. Outliers happen. I am living amid outliers. But the general truth holds. And this truth deeply impacts worldbuilding.

Why doesn't every starship have light-powered drives? Because it is expensive to produce them, and it's hard, and you aren't going to make enough money from one of those drives to justify the cost. Nobody is going to develop one to explore the stars, or to build faster medical transports, or to increase the response time of interplanetary militias. It's not worth it. However, we're lucky that two rich guilders have a bet going, and one of them has a million credits on the line if he can win a race against a meteor, and he thinks a light drive might be the thing that puts him over the edge. His selfish pursuit of winning a bet may lead to an upgrade in technology. We just have to cross our fingers that the other guy doesn't cancel the bet. It's our only hope. 

When I read The Good Earth for the first time maybe 15 years ago, I was rooting for the main character. I saw that he started the story in poverty, under the thumb of a petty, cruel landlord. He had it hard. But he was noble, and he was going to turn his life around. And I believed he could do it, largely because he was Chinese, and I was American, and I already knew that Americans were pretty awful in general, but maybe a Chinese man living a hundred years ago was better than the people I saw around me. Nope. By the end of the novel, he's using opium and has taken a second wife; he treats his faithful first wife like trash and takes advantage of his own workers. 

Because people are gonna people.

So every time I come up with a story element for the worldbuilding portion of the program, I follow it up with 'how did they f*** this up?' A platoon of angelic creatures from another galaxy came to bring life and hope to this cluster? Mm. Let's kill them and take their stuff. We have an armada that can unite the cluster? Let's use it to isolate planets from each other and milk the locals for every last credit. 

The trick with this is that there is very little 'true evil'. Yes, there are the Hitlers, and they are bad news. They are pathological. But there are a lot of Trumps (sorry, not sorry) who are just selfish and greedy and they look at everything as a grift, and everyone as a mark. And, as the last several years have proven, there are a lot of willing marks.

It's my fundamental objection to conspiracy theories in general. At some point, a conspiracy theory assumes that people are smart and can keep it together for long periods of time. It assumes that the guy in charge of monitoring my every activity won't get bored and start playing the snake game or see how his fantasy football team is doing instead. 

What could we do with 3 billion hours of human investment? We could probably end world hunger. Or we could make sure every veteran had a home to live in. We could re-build the water system in Flint, Michigan. Or, we could play Fornite.

Cause humans gonna human. And other species, even if they are not human, are going to respond like humans do. They might be bound by superstitions or traditions or cultural differences, but they are still going to follow the path of least resistance eventually. It's why we love dogs but do memes about cats. Dogs are noble and kind-hearted. Cats are us - we want to take a nap, have a full food bowl, and wake people up at 3 in the morning because chaos is more fun than not chaos.

This idea influences my writing as well. In the story I'm working on, Kirby finds another sentient computer system for the first time in 800 years, and one of his first thoughts is that he better be able to take this thing out if it becomes a competitor. Kirby is a good bot. He's programmed to do the right thing. But if it's him or another bot, it's not a question. He's taking that mother down.

Pure Energy

I thought I'd take a break from the worldbuilding posts and get back to some game design stuff. My pets had me up at 3 in the morning (the cats really, really wanted to get into that closet), and I had some time to think. I roughed out some ideas around how energies work, and I'm really happy with how this all came together. I have been thinking that one of the things that this game needs more than the supers game (or the fantasy game... or an ants game...) is some logic and at least pseudo-scientific thinking behind the whole thing. I have already discussed how this game is not science fiction, but that doesn't mean that science isn't at least pretending to be part of it. Over night, I thought about the idea of fantastic science: it looks and sounds a little like science, but it is not beholden to any of the actual rules of science. This is the backbone of technology in this universe. I was thinking about opposing pairs of energies, and I think I got it down to eight relatively simple energies (four opposing pairs). I came up with fantastic science reasons why some work better than others, and why some are used how they are, and this little write up gives the entire universe of the game much more veracity. This is well worth dedicating a page of the game to, because it gives insight into the larger universe. You kind of know how the engine of your starship works, which makes tinkering with it and roleplaying around it much richer. You have to change your void filters, because those are going to get full of dark energy and start messing up other systems. That's what void energy does. 

Here are my current notes on these energies:


The foundational energies include concussive (blast) and electro (shock) energies. These are popular and in significant use. Blast energy is cheap, easily produced, and is the simplest energy to control, although it is the least malleable. It is produced from blast fields, which are naturally-occurring cosmic phenomena appearing as clouds in space filled with this energy.  Larger clouds often become the centers of space stations that contain the cloud, and the planet Banquo II has a dense blast cloud at its core. Blast is the go-to energy choice for weapons and engine systems. Electro (shock) energy is cheap and easy to produce, but has fewer military applications than blast energy. While it is popular for civilian purposes, it has limited use in powering vehicles and weapons. While blast energy has found most of its uses in ranged weapons and engine systems, shock energy still drives most basic systems, communications, and many melee weapons, where its energy is easier to control. Despite many attempts to master them, shock ranged weapons have proven inconsistent and difficult to use. Recent advances have been able to create shock energy from blast energy with zero energy loss, which has been instrumental to the growth of Banquo II.

The phase energies include cryo and thermo. Cryo (frost) energy is difficult to produce and expensive. Thermo energy is easier to produce than cryo energy, but can be costly to contain and transport. Because both energies use phase technology, devices using them bring added expense and power to the design.Phase weapons deal +1 die shift damage compared to blast weapons, but cost 10x as much, and require INT 9+ to tinker. Phase engines are typically 25% more powerful than blast engines, but with the 10x additional cost to purchase, and a +1 die shift to all maintenance costs.

The pulse energies include radiation and void. Radiation (light) moves along a variety of wavelengths, while void (dark) energy moves directly across those wavelengths, shattering them. Pulse weapons deal +2 die shifts damage compared to blast weapons, but cost 25x as much, and require INT 13+ to tinker. Pulse engines are typically 50% more powerful than blast engines, but at 25x the cost and a +2 die shift to the maintenance costs, few can afford the upgrade. Void energy is inherently destructive, and generally only the messari are corrupt enough to wield it.

The natural energies include gravity (pull) and kinetics (push). These have proven incredibly difficult to weaponize, and most efforts to produce weapons systems around these energies have been abandoned. However, push energy has been vital to the development of skim technology for vehicles (which relies on emitting hundreds of minor kinetic pulses every second), allowing vehicles to hover. On the other hand, pull technology has allowed for the development of ubiquitous air travel, with gravity dampening systems that allow vehicles to travel through atmospheres virtually ignoring the effects of gravity. Additionally, some intuits have learned how to manipulate and shape both pull and push energies.     

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Worldbuilding Part 5: Process Not Product

(Original Concept Art for Shards Version 2)

Like yesterday's post, this one is more of a general mandate that I have in place rather than a discrete step in the process. I will get back to actual steps soon...

When I was throwing together some ideas for a second edition of Shards just about two years ago, I did a few quick drawings to try and get into the vibe. I was at the very end of my 'all art is going to be clean black and white silhouettes' stage. I'd done some publishing in that style, which I still like a lot. It gets to some of the simple principle that I was talking about yesterday. It's more iconic by its nature. It communicates a lot in a few simple lines and shapes. It's got a lot going for it.

But it's not Shards. I mean, it's not what I think Shards should be. It's maybe a more Dune-like game, with a darker presence that hangs over the whole thing. I still think it looks like a cool game. But, I don't know if it looks like a fun game. I'd rather work on fun games, in general.

I realize that I'm mixing some of my steps here, but the creative process isn't linear. Again, unlike what I've been teaching for a few decades (but no longer do, thank goodness), creative people don't complete an outline, then a rough draft, then a revised draft, then a final draft. They write a chapter in a few hours that is done and publication-ready in the first draft. Then they take notes for a second chapter. Then they wait ten years. Then they realize that the first chapter they wrote (which they still don't need to edit at all, because it was perfect) is actually chapter three, and those notes for chapter two were for a different book altogether, but that's okay, because now I have two books to work on! And chapter one is not actually chapter one. It's half of a short story. The other half just came to me, and once I write it, it will be done.

That said, I understand that the point is to get stuff done. I mean, at some point, you've got to actually finish things. Back to theater - I LOVE that opening night is on the schedule. On that day, this thing will be almost done. A lot of it will be locked down. I won't be able to pull the whole set apart and re-build it over the weekend. We're still going to tinker with character moments and play with pacing over the course of the run, and I might swap out your hat in Act 2 for the final two performances because the color isn't exactly right, but we're close to the end. And, when the curtain falls on the final production, it's a finished product that I can no longer return to. It's incredibly helpful to have that outside force in place.   

But, throughout, I'm focused on improving the thing rather than finishing the thing. I have learned to trust that if I do a good job today when staging the fight between these two characters, and we give this scene the time and attention it needs TODAY, that will pay a dividend tomorrow because it will be a strong moment we can build upon. If I do a good job today crafting this spot art or this character design or this stat block, it's going to be a snazzy piece of the final thing, whenever that thing gets done.

That drawing at the top is two years old, but I am glad I hung on to it. I was able to use it right here! This is probably what it was meant for the whole time. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Worldbuilding Part 4: the Simple Principle

This isn't necessarily a step in the process so much as a larger mandate that guides all work going forward. When it comes to history, or names, or backstory, or interplanetry socioeconomic policy, keep it simple. There are a few reasons for this: 1) Simple is catchy and memorable. You can remember Darth Vader. You're going to struggle with Lord Vasothos Darakanovochinovin, Dark Knight Templar of the Mixovax and Keeper of the Crystal Blade of Brum Katarathan. Sure, he sounds kind of cool, but it's just too much. 2) Simple is ICONIC. Simple comes across as somehow larger and more enduring. Lord Vasothos is going to be defeated and replaced by another warlord at some point. Darth Vader is forever. 3) It forces you to distill things to their essence. You get closer to truth more quickly.

As a writer, this goes at odds with what I (sorry!) have been teaching students for two decades. It took me until about three years ago to finally realize the damage I was doing in giving students minimum word count requirements or page requirements. Yes, you need to write enough to answer the question or address the prompt. But, a word count is an artificial way to encourage students to write enough. Even worse, it encourages students to write filler. If I just jam more words in there, it's better. 250 words is better than 100 words. That's just math.

But writing and storytelling and game design are not math (okay, that last one totally is, but not in this way).   

As a writer, I have fallen into that trap. I want to write a 75,000-word novel, so if I write 1,000 words today, I am closer to that goal. If I only write 500 words (even if those 500 words are much, much better) I am further from my goal. As a game designer, it is the almighty page count. Can I stretch this to 64 pages? If I add a few more monsters and a few more spells, can I get to 80? 80 would be sweet.

As a cartoonist, I want to publish a graphic novel that is 300 pages. So, I have to rush through today's page because I'm not getting any younger, and this son-of-a-behemoth is not going to write and draw itself.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrongwrongwrong. Any time I'm looking to stretch or push my word count or get through a page, I'm producing lower-quality work. 

I've lingered on this because this 'must make more' philosophy directly undermines the 'simple principle'. Simple is short. It's direct. It says only what it needs to say, and no more. So, if you have a running page or word count in your head, the temptation to add a few more details that aren't really important or to give the character an extra flourish to their name is going to be strong, because it gets you further along the road to 'done'.

On the micro level, the simple principle forces me to condense things. How can I get these two parts of the character condensed into one trait? How can I communicate all of this about his backstory in one sentence? How can I demonstrate the complex history between these two characters in a single exchange? 

Working on comic strips for a few years helped me to refine this. With a comic strip, you only have a small space to work in, and you are always trying to jam as much fun stuff into that small space as you can. It's an entirely different approach. 

Avoiding spoilers here, but it was probably my favorite thing about Book of Boba Fett Episode 5 today. There was a silent exchange between three characters with helmets on, and it lingered for about 3 seconds. And in that three seconds I started giggling and was like 'oh my God it's ON'. I knew what every character wanted, and what they were willing to do, and how bad it was going to get, based on the exact right choice for a moment of silence between the characters. It was brilliant. And it was simple.

Worldbuilding Part 3: What This Is Not

It is important to know what your world is, and what it's about. However, it is also important to know what the world is not. This is where worldbuilding overlaps heavily with game design, and sets the parameters for the game that will follow (or, in my case, must derive itself from the parameters that the game has already put in place). The D20 engine, as I have been interpreting and refining it, is a pretty fluid, open, and malleable thing. I have worked to put in some guard rails so it doesn't play as hand wavey, but I also intentionally leave a lot of blurry edges. I remember that decades ago, I wanted to create a game that could be everything to everyone; it would be such a robust system that you could play any genre. I suppose that I wanted to make GURPs. But, I've never played GURPs. My guess is, because it tries to do everything well, it doesn't nail anything perfectly. Okay, I cannot speak to GURPs; I can only say that I don't think I could do it.

My game defies a simple clear explanation is a really bohemian response, but it's also bad design. As I've grown, I've realized that limits are a vital part of the creative process. You've got to know where the boundary lines are, or you're always getting the chocolate in someone else's peanut butter, but not in the good way. So, genres Shards could be:

Science Fiction. This is Traveller. This is measuring fuel, and tracking ammunition, and working out the physics of how a planet's gravity may impact a missile's trajectory, and how much power is actually needed to drive this starship, and how much refrigeration is needed for the consummables of a crew of 325 for a mission of seven months, and bleh. No. Thank. You. Furthermore, the rules don't support this. There is not enough gradation in the basic system to allow for this level of scientific precision.

Science Fantasy. This is what I want to call it. Its heart is rooted in a fantasy game, after all. It's going to have dragons in it. However, science fantasy is still firmly fantasy (mine is not) and is also rooting itself in scientific concepts (mine, also, is not). This is a bit hard for me; I know that the messari had colonized a moon of Banquo's Tooth, and that moon was destroyed, and that its fragemtns have been pulled into the Rings of Banquo. I know that Saturn's rings are full of debris and meteors and rocks, so this scientifically aligns with what is really out there. But, I also know that Banquo's Rings are held together with void energy, creating something of an evil atmosphere, and that many of the ancient tombs of the messari exist within, floating amid the debris field, waiting to be explored. That's fantasy, but it leaps away from the science rather than leaning into it. It doesn't use science to support the fantasy; it says 'heck science to heck, we're going for the crazy'.  

Space Opera. I have resisted this term just because it is linked to Star Wars. But, it's also linked to Guardians of the Galaxy, so I have to accept that this is where my game falls. This is why Midichlorians were so universally reviled; we don't need to know about blood tests and lab results; we want you throwing stuff with your brain and hitting things with your laser sword.

Planetary Romance. This is a genre within space opera, and it shares many of the tropes. While the core rules are going to hew towards this (the initial focus is on the planet Banquo and its moons), the game will be expanding outward. It's going to have rules for star travel and space combat. Space is a big part of it.

Okay, so now I know that I'm writing a fantasy-inspired space opera. This tells me what the game is, but also gives me clear parameters. When I start asking you to tabulate how many fuel crystals are needed to power a transport weighing 132.5 tons, allowing it to travel 1.275 light years, you'll know I've forgotten where I came from. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Worldbuilding Part 2: Pick Your Primary Conflict

Conflict is the heart of any story, and it as the heart of every fictional world/universe. I think the more conflict the better, but at this step I want to keep it pretty open and general. Back to Wenninger - you don't solve something until you have to. You don't have to know the entire history and backstory of the conlict between the various groups, you just have to know the basics. To whit:

Star Wars: An evil empire holds control over most of the galaxy, and rebellious freedom fighters are rising up to challenge their rule. Got it.

Lord of the Rings: The dark lord of old is returning, and several peoples must make amends to work together after a long period of antipathy. 

Indiana Jones: A plucky adventurerer seeks to protect ancient artifacts from those who would use them towards evil purposes.

So, basically: who are the 'good guys', and who are the 'bad guys'? 

However, I don't love this for gaming because (spoiler alert), the PCs often resist being the good guys. I mean, yeah, maybe I'll be a rebel and join the resistance against the empire... or.... there is probably coin to be made in this situation. In effect, there has to be some kind of viable third option. That's what I'm trying to do here. Furthermore, for each I want there to be a 'hook' or a 'yeah but' or something that makes this side of the conflict a little different or gives it some flavor. 

Moving to Shards, the primary conflict is between the Terran Commonwealth (re-named for copyright clarity purposes) and the messari. I like actually going with Terran Commonwealth as a name, because it implies that they are nice and want to work together. Which is what they think about themselves. I think of them a lot like British Imperialists - we are going to conquer everything, because we are really, really good at being in charge. This, of course, despite their history of literally killing their own goddess and tearing the fabric of creation. But, to their credit, it is not as bad as if some other species had killed THEIR god and torn the fabric of creation. It would be much worse then. They are lawful neutral with big starships and a lot of confidence, despite their terrible track record. In this game, humans are generally bad guys, too.

The messari are not redeemable. They are not able to be fixed or brought to the light or any of that jazz. I see them as primarily demons and undead creatures, so just all bad. Unlike in Lord of the Rings, I don't think there are any living creatures that are willing to serve them. In fact, this becomes their hook. They feed on fear. I have a little note-machine in the back of my head that kicks in here - fear must be an important game mechanic - and then go back to worldbuilding. More on them in a later post. The messari are chaotic evil.

In the middle are the guilders. These are business people. I know that games have presented corporations as monolithic entities that control everything, but my own experience with corporations is that once they get big enough, the knives come out and things fall apart. Yeah, they work together for some mutual benefit (see: tax law) but then try to rip each other apart when the opportunity arises: and the opportunity often arises. They lack military discipline (unlike the Commonwealth - rule everything) or a single shared purpose (unlike the Messari - kill everything). I like it that the Commonwealth and messari don't dislike each other by default - but the Commonwealth will have nothing to rule if everyone is dead (so that's a problem), and killing the messari gives them a 'noble purpose' (which helps them write poetry about their divine mandate). Guilders just pursue the almighty dollar, which the Commonwealth has more of right now. But, if the messari ever decide that money would work towards their purposes, then some guilders might be willing to chat about it... guilders are neutral, but tend towards chaotic.

This doesn't mean that these things HAVE to frame your game. The Mandalorian works, in large part, because this conflict is in the background; he is not actively seeking to fight against the remains of the Empire, or to join the emerging New Republic. He's just trying to stay off everyone's radar and make some cash. That works only because the primary conflict is so well established at this point, we can tell smaller stories inside of it. 

I want to leave lots of room for these smaller conflicts to play out (since that is where the games are going to take part), but these give me enough hook points to build other things on.   

Worldbuilding Post 1: Setting A Foundation

I remember being ENAMORED of Ray Wenninger's series of posts in Dragon Magazine on campaign building. I thought that they were mind-blowing at the time, and as I review some of them now, I still see things where I go "oh yeah!". I loved seeing how another DM thought through the process of putting his campaign together. I liked the intentionality of it all.

I routinely tell my students that I don't want them to just know what they are doing, but I want them to understand WHY they are doing what they are doing. Yes, you are writing an essay analyzing this text. But WHY? Why is this valuable? Why is this a good way to attack this task? Why and how does this help you build your capacity to think and understand? Most of my students stare off into space and then follow up with, 'but how LONG does it have to be'?, but a few get it. They nod their heads as I watch wheels turning in the back there, processing.

So, I thought I'd write a few posts (maybe more if this gets organized in some way), about how my wheels turn. I expect this will go like all of my creative processes go - a bit messy and seemingly dicsonnected, but eventually I start to tease out the threads that pull the whole thing together. Over time, I'm getting better at setting thicker and more robust threads in place earlier, knowing that I'm going to be teasing the heck out of those buggers later on. 


ONE: It starts with a vision.

A lot of what I do comes from theater (more on that another post). As a director, if I'm going to stage a show, I need a picture in my head: usually more than one. I need to see the climax, and I want a few touch points along the way. I want the visual moment of when that conflict reaches its peak, and the moments that helped us get there: what's the lighting like? Who's standing where? What angles and shadows and colors are here? Once I have that, I know what I'm building to. I can sort everything into two piles: 'this can help me get to that moment' (maybe keep) or 'this moves me away from that moment' (ditch it). 

For Shards of Tomorrow: Second Edition, that is the first ten minutes or so of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. James Gunn tells out straight out of the gate, "this is Indiana Jones in space". Okay. I can get behind that. Space guy goes into ancient vault, gets by some traps, recovers a mystic artifact, then has a quick gunfight before he jumps into his starship Dukes of Hazzard style, and then barely keeps it together before blasting off into the cosmos.

Having this vision in place gives me all the power I need to make every decision going forward. Can I bend THIS new idea in some way to fit into THAT image? Can these two coexist, or (even better) synergize and inform each other? If I can find some threads to connect them, the idea goes into the brainstorming pile. If not, it is set aside for a different project on another day.  


Monday, January 24, 2022

Drones vs. Bots

I have already written a bit about bots, and how they are going to work in the game. However, I was thinking that there should be lots of incidental animatronic things all over the place. Hence, a second class of non-sentient life is born! (metaphorically) - the drone. Drones are single-purpose, limited-task constructs that reply to a handful of commands, and can carry maybe twenty pre-programmed responses. I could see how this could be role-played for fun... a servo drone who only has four-letter words and phrases programmed, and has to find the most 'appropriate' response in any context. Good fun all around. 'D-732998, is dinner ready?' is met with "smells like S***' or 'go F*** yourself' because those are the closest things it has in its programming - that is roleplaying GOLD I say. Pictured above are a servo drone, a security drone, and a battle drone. The battle drone is painted in the 'tough little mudder' battle configuration. I was thinking of a mosquito on wheels, and my pen didn't disappoint.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Some Atmospheric Art (Nuff Said)


Chi'Ok Interceptor

Look what I can do with twelve hours of sleep! This is a Chi'Ok interceptor, which turned out nice and organic and buggy looking. The Chi'Ok live on the volcanic moon of Banquo's Maw, and they are very defensive about their native crystals, which they believe are religious artifacts of their huge bug god that lives at the center of the moon, and not just plain old crystals that are ideal for energizing to drive starships. As you might imagine, this leads to a bit of conflict with visitors who come to take their religious crystals.

On the health front, I had surgery Wednesday, came home Thursday, and have been pretty tired for the last three days. Today I'm feeling a little more spry, so decided to crack out ye olde Surface Pro and give it a whirl. The plan is still healing for a few weeks and then radiation on my neck, which I have been led to believe is a profoundly uncomfortable experience.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

A More Thorough Preview

Surgery is tomorrow (welp), so wish me luck! I might be out of touch for a bit here, depending on how it all goes and how quickly I feel like sitting in front of a keyboard pounding some keys, so I thought I'd leave you with a deeper preview of Shards of Tomorrow: Second Edition. 

I have been tinkering with the backstory a bit, and I have realized that the backstory is vital to generating a game that is not just GoTG or SW with the serial numbers filed off. This is morphing into its own thing, and I am enjoying the process quite a bit. I understand the social and economic forces at play, and how these impact the various shenanigans. There are lots of opportunities for adventure in this that aren't just "it's like the Death Star, only BIGGER". I present to you the starter NPC (and her bodyguard) who would serve as the initial patrons for the PCs in the default starter campaign. FYI, Banquo II is a dense mechanical planet that is composed of ore gathered from thousands of meteors that collected there. It has a magnetic core that undergoes dozens of fusion reactions every second, and which generates untold power. Guilds have come to purchase that power, and they use the nearby moons to supply the resources they need for survival; Banquo is missing little things like vegetation, arable land, and water, so they have to come from somewhere. Fortunately, nearby moons are rich in a variety of resources that the guilds gather and bring to Banquo, to support the work of their energy mining facilities. The leaders of one of the new guilds would hire the PCs to do their dirty work important missions.
    Oh and FYI, Eno the Prime Director is a JERK. He's like Ultron if Ultron was a character on the Sopranos.
    Finally, a disclaimer that these are in draft form, and are likely to see significant changes before the book is actually published.


Nisa Montrel | Rinjak Rogue 3
AC 14 | hp 28 | Feat +9 | Move 4 | Resolve 4D10
2 Blast Pistols (+4 | 1D6 | +1 action for 2 weapons; 5 actions total per round)
      STR 6 (--) | INT 12 (+1) | WIS 10 (+1)
      DEX 9 (+1) | CON 7 (--) | CHA 14 (+2)
Danger Sense; Heightened Senses (+2) 
Beguile; Contacts (+1); Quickness (+1); Resolute (+2)
Nisa Montrel is a young investor (having just completed economics academy) who recently founded her own guild. When the rival and more powerful Phalanx Guild nearly went bankrupt and had to liquidate many of its holdings, she purchased some of their weaker assets for chips on the credit. She is clever and strategic, but has relatively few connections and limited assets. She owns three skimmer barges on Banquo’s Tooth, a greenhouse dome on Banquo’s Eye, and a small refinery on Banquo’s Maw. Each of these was underperforming when operated by the Phalanx Guild but is performing well under her stewardship. She does not trust bots at all, and dislikes interacting with the bots of Banquo II, even though this is required for high-level transactions, especially since Eno the Prime Director holds all contracts for the planet and its moons. She has contracted several clans of worob to work her various holdings, with much success. She will not use bots, even though many find it is more cost effective to do so. She has a twin brother named Kale who is profoundly lazy, and an uncle named Vix who continues to maintain friendships among the Phalanx Guild; Nisa knows her uncle sometimes subverts her purposes. She routinely feeds him limited or false information to stay one step ahead of her competitors. She is looking to put together a crew for the various operations that are needed, including a range of exploration, security, recovery, and salvage operations.
Kril Gorodan | Uran Myrmidon 3
AC 16 | hp 38 | Feat +9 | Move 4 | Resolve 3D6 
Heavy Blast Rifle (+8 | 3D6) 
      STR 15 (+2) | INT 8 (--) | WIS 10 (+1)
      DEX 6 (--) | CON 14 (+2) | CHA 6 (--)
Body Armor (+3); Charm (see below)
Attack (+3); Health (+5); Vigor (soak 1 point per attack)
Kril Gorodan was the bodyguard of Nisa’s father, and Kril was present when the elder Montrel was slain. He swore to watch over Nisa, and he has dedicated his life to her protection. The uran have a tremendous sense of pride, but also are steeped in superstition. As a member of the uran, Kril must take part in elaborate worship ceremonies to his god-king several times per day and must undertake holy pilgrimages several times per year. Nisa respects Kril’s religious obligations, and often makes excessive allowances to accommodate his faith.
      Once per turn, he may (as a free action) emit pheromones that cause a living creature within 3 meters to attempt a Feat or be charmed (as the intuition). All Uran have this innate ability, although not all develop it as fully as Kril has. 


Monday, January 17, 2022

Air Car

This is typical of air cars that are purchased as patrol craft for local police and militia forces. Guild families will purchase several of these to patrol their lands and engage soft targets.


My favorite Luke is Bespin Luke. It is the only LEGO minifigure I want but do not have (yet). Believe it or not, this might be the only drawing of Luke I have ever done. I mean, I've rarely tried to draw actual Star Wars characters (Vader being the notable exception). This was just a quick doodle, and I didn't use a photo reference at all, and I think this is a very evocative version of Luke. Not sure why, but I feel like this captures his essence pretty well for a quick sketch. I would put this in the book for Shards of Tomorrow if I could, but Disney has a lot of money and a lot of lawyers, and I have neither. 

Sunday, January 16, 2022

And Some Skimmers

This is the final post for this vehicle-themed day, with two basic vehicles: a skim car and a skim cycle. There are three basic classes of vehicles: skim (hover over the ground up to 1 meter), sky (travel within atmospheres), and star (can move through space). Each next upgrade has the options beneath it: a sky car can travel in sky or skim modes; a starship can travel in sky and skim modes. 

Starship 2

This is only one ship, but it's as big as the other three combined, so there's that...

It's going to be a gunship of some kind, but it doesn't have any guns. Yet. I'm still tweaking this one a bit, but it's pretty far along. This is about as big as standard ships in the game are going to be... this one is maybe 100 meters long (the Rebel Blcokade Runner is 126.68 meters), and that feels just about right to me. The Millenium Falcon is 34.75 meters, so this would be about three times that size... again, just about right. I just need a few gun turrets on the top and sides to finish this bad boy off.

Starships 1

I love me some starships, and I love me THESE starships. I might have mentioned how I'm into a groove with my art, but I am into quite a groove with the art for this project. The first two ships are different common ship types (among the shuttles, escort ships, and light freighters that are most available as junkers) that the third is a basic interceptor class ship (your no-frills BSG Viper class ship, or maybe an A-Wing with less maneuverability). At least one more ship to come later today...

I think that the first ship is a light freight hauler. It seems that freight would be packaged in box-like storage pods, and the hauler (think of the cab for an 18-wheeler) would use magnetic riggings to sit atop and lift the cargo. Most cargo would be transferred from space dock to space dock - you do all the hauling in zero gravity. Taking cargo from orbit to a planet's surface might be done by another craft; I'm thinking that heavier lifters would be required for that, but in zero gravity you don't need a huge ship with a lot of muscle to carry things across long distances. Therefore, these smaller, light haulers would be pretty common. The second ship is more of an escort ship or a rich person's personal transport; it's a very fancy mobile home in space, or a small interstellar yacht. That third one is a short-range interceptor: your basic patrol craft. I'd think that these would be very common, and even minor warlords may have been able to get hands on a few to use for routine patrolling of their small nations.    

By the way, I really, really like that these ships don't look like they necessarily belong in Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, but they do look like they come from the same shared universe. That's all win to me.