Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blow the Bridge

I've been chatting with a friend of mine about table-top gaming and how to avoid railroads but still have a semi-structured and cohesive plot for a campaign. It can be cool to want to run an epic adventure module with friends, especially some of the adventure paths like Age of Worms or Rise of the Runelords. As much as I like sandbox gaming with a bold group of players, sometimes I do long for a more structured adventure path that still takes into account the actions of the players. So to answer my friend, I remember something told to me by my lead cook.

One of the things his old boss talked about was called "blowing the bridge". Basically, the bridge is some goal or task that needs to get done. It doesn't matter how the bridge is blown, as long as it's blown up by the time he gets back. In this case, the bridge could be cleaning the kitchen, or getting through some prep quickly, or pushing through a rough service. He doesn't care if someone takes a lot of smoke breaks, eats on the job, or imbibes in their chefly vice (nose candy is fairly popular in the food industry), as long as ultimately the job gets done correctly and by the deadline. 

Now, say what you will about the philosophy in terms of physical and mental health of a chef (and believe me, we are not mentally healthy in the slightest), the idea is something that has stuck with me when I design my campaigns. For me, when I have some scenario in mind for the players to run through, I segment the goal of the players as the proverbial 'bridge'. I try not to throw too many limitations on their methods, though I am a believe that limitations breed innovation. But in general, I don't care how the players blow the bridge, as long as they go and accomplish their goal. Now, depending on the method of blowing the bridge, it can lead to some serious fallout and consequences. Which for me is great, since the players are literally doing my adventure hook creation job for me. So with that, even in a more structured adventure path/module/fox hunt style of game, you can still have the freedom of player ingenuity and cleverness take the forefront to tacking a problem.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Styles of Aliens

So in the last post I talked about aliens and how many I wanted and such. I think the important part about aliens is how strange should we make them. There are all kinds of alien types out in science fiction, some made to be more familiar to us humans and some meant to be mind boggling strange. In M-Space, they have a Strangeness meter about them that shows how different an alien is from the baseline of an Earthling. It goes from 1 to 100, where 1 is practically a human, 50 is some where in the middle, and 100 is really really strange. I've actually used that in many of my games since, including Stars Without Number and Cepheus Engine. It's a really handy tool to gauge your aliens. So I made up a little silly scale for people to use when making their aliens, based mostly on Hollywood special effects

Stage One: Big Ears/Ridged Foreheads (BERF)
Strangeness: 1-25
SFX: Makeup and a mask

This is a common one to see in a lot of media. It's familiar to the players since the aliens look so much like humans, and easy on the budget both for Hollywood and the GM. Sometimes it's something really low key, like different markings on the skin, or something more like pointed ears or antennae on the forehead. I've always liked blue aliens, so the Andorrans were always pretty cool to me. Star Trek is big on this obviously, as are many of the aliens from Stargate, Eldar from WH40K, and some of the aliens from Defiance.

Stage Two: Actor in a Rubber Suit (ARS)
Strangeness: 26-50
SFX: Rubber Suit, Some Prosthetics and Make Up, A little CGI

This is the sweet spot for me in terms of xeno sophonts. The ARS still have a mostly humanoid body, but are different looking enough to make them feel alien. Most of the Mass Effect aliens are like this, as are some of the Star Wars aliens.

Stage Three: Complex Alien Puppetry (CAP)
Strangeness: 51-75
SFX: Complex Puppets, Some CGI, Stop Animation, two or more people operating it

The CAP is where things get pretty strange for the aliens. This is where you get quadrupeds (or hexapeds or more [or less]), strange alien limbs and heads, and other unusual, but recognizable shapes. A lot of the original trilogy Star Wars aliens are like this, as are some of the Xenomorph from Aliens, and Farscape. God I loved Farscape. While not strictly alien, many of the monsters in Ray Harryhausen's Dynamation films could also be under this.

Stage Four: Undeterminable Sapient Lifeform (USL)
Strangeness: 76-100
SFX: CGI, Film Tricks, Animation

This is the weird stuff. USLs are aliens that don't look like anything we as humans would identify as life. Clouds of intelligent plasma, sapient suns, living techno-organic metals, creatures of living energy, or shadow monsters can definitely fit the bill. What's important is that the alien is truly alien, Some good examples are The Blob from the original 50's movie, the shapeshifter alien from John Carpenter's The Thing, the Shadow Aliens and Sun Alien from Doctor Who, the C'Tan from WH40K, and the ELS from Gundam 00 Awakening of Trailblazer.

This post marks the 30th and last post in my 30 Days of Blogging Till I'm 30. It's was an interesting and fun thing to do, though I'm kinda glad it's over now. So now I'm going to take a break and enjoy my 30th birthday tomorrow.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Twenty Parsecs: Aliens

I've been rummaging around in between my two long weekend shifts. Stayed too late at work and woke up too late to blog about anything substantial. Tomorrow is the end of my thirty day challenge, and I promise to have something longer and with more meat in it. So aliens.

I'm wondering how many aliens I want in the game. I'd like the scope to feel a bit more personal, so I kind of want to do what Starcraft did and have just two aliens, or even just one. Keeps the setting more tightly knit I feel, and allows me to really sit down and detail more about the aliens. Much easier when there is only one or two, rather than ten or twelve like your standard space opera.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Twenty Parsecs: The Commonwealth

Korhal, the capital of the Terran Dominion in Starcraft
One thing that I've been rummaging through my head is how I want the Commonwealth of Free Planets to feel like. I definitely want to keep a frontier feel about it, but at the same time, I do want points of human and alien civilization so that I can have interesting urban and political adventures. For this I've found a great deal of inspiration with Starcraft, the implied setting for D&D 4e, and the TTRPG Clement Sector.

Both are settings that take place out in a frontier area and have their fair share of worlds to explore and colonies to meet with. But they also have that 'points of light' style of campaign where you can have large capital worlds that the players can run through for fun. So using Starcraft's Terran Confederacy/Dominion as an example, for every Korhal capital planet out there, you'll have plenty of Mar Sara backwaters out there for 'lawless adventuring'. Which to me, is the core of exploration. Lawlessness and lack of social rules and etiquette so the players can (and many times have to) use their wits to overcome difficult obstacles. While the points of civilization are mostly safe havens until trouble happens (or they go looking for it). Then they have to use the same wit and canny but with the limitations of the social center they are in. Which to me, can bring about the most innovation and ingenuity from players. Conflict + limitations = ingenuity.

So the Commonwealth have been there for centuries. With a decent enough population growth, I see most of the Core Worlds with a population in the tens to hundreds of millions. Most would be centered around the first colony of the planet, with many of the later ones acting as satellite cities. You'd probably have the occasional colony far away for reasons unknown (resources, religious, or simply tired of the main colony's shit). Leaves plenty of undiscovered wilderness on the planets for intrepid players to explore, while still having cities for other adventures. I'm thinking five main core worlds would be good enough, with the oldest being the most populated and probably the capital. Soon I'll have to give these planets names and maps, but for now, it's a bit up in the air.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Twenty Parsecs and FTL

Getting a new puppy acclimated to a new house and new people has been a full-time job in of itself. It's been fun at the very least, and I'm working muscles that haven't been used in years. In the meantime, an idea for the sci setting I was thinking up called Twenty Parsecs (I really like that name).

While there is definitely FTL, it's new for both sides and not super face. Going a parsec takes a week and this sector is very very far away from Earth. But, even with a week, they could still get to Earth in a year. That's partially why I had FTL development take so long. It doesn't really make much sense if they have been separated for centuries if they can simply go to Earth in a year. So I'm thinking that FTL for the Commonwealth of Free Planets is in its infancy, only a decade old. With this, planets are focusing on reconnecting with each other via trade and transport, instead of travelling to an Earth that may simply be a fable.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dog Eat Dog Days

Too pooped to blog with a new puppy that adores play and the outside world. I'm way too out of shape to be playing with a puppy.

Also, GMs, let your players have dogs as NPCs, even if they aren't a ranger. It's fun, not game breaking, and just something totally awesome.

That's all I have today. I'm going to go pass out now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Campaign Space Ship: NECI Sigrun

This here is the spaceship that my players have been using for their game of M-Space. While it's mostly just been a plot device to get to the planet from the Ark, this time around, it'll get put through its paces in actual space combat. For those more knowledgeable of M-Space, you'll notice that the speed, engine power, and armor is low. This is to represent a lower tech ship on the cusp of achieving fusion drive, somewhere between Traveller and Orbital 2100. Many of the added stats like tonnage were mathematical formulas I used to convert Traveller stuff to M-Space.

I plan on working with either Blender or Unity to combine the 3D models of the ships and planets to make cool landscapes with them. It's something my players certainly will like. 

NECI Sigrun (created using the Galactic Civilization III Ship Builder)

New Earth Colonial Initiative's Sigrun


Size: 58 (290 Tons, 52 meters/170' 7" long)
Armor: 2 AP
Speed: 5 (Delta V: 80 km/s)
Handling: 3
Distance per Month Traveled: 200 Mkm
Fuel per Month Traveled: 3 tons
Fuel Capacity: 10 tons

Named% chanceHP
Cockpit 1-42
Engines, Thrusters 5-135
Engines, Maneuver 14-225
Sickbay 23-304
Crew Quarters 31-409
Cargo Hold 41-455
Railgun 46-471
Railgun 48-491
Engineering Lab 50-511
Crew Common Area 52-668
Hanger, Rover67-744
Hanger, Shuttle 75-9210
Sensors 93-1003

The NECI Sigrun is the premier spaceship for the Initiative Scouts. It is outfitted with two railguns for defense, a standard nuclear thermal rocket, and a life support system to last a crew for six months. The Sigrun has a connection to the ark AI, Noah, for information and orders from the higher echelons of the NECI. Able to traverse 1.3 AU in a single month and scan for all kinds of minerals and chemicals to locate important resources for the survival of humanity. The Sigrun can fit a standard crew of 9, including pilots, surveyors, and an engineer, all of which crossed trained to be survivalists, scientists, and security for the planetside away team.