Tuesday, December 6, 2016

World Building Part 8: Demons and Monsters

At the dawn of time something went wrong. No one knows exactly when, as it was before the first people came forth onto the world. However into the perfect creation came a flaw. A being of great power that was the antithesis of the world spirit, the anti element if you will. It sought to wipe out everything and bring about and eternal nothing. This was Niddhoggandr, the demon king. Long ago it was sealed away with great elder magics, no long lost, by the four chosen disciples of the four peoples. All demons that exist today are but pale shadows of the true demon awaiting it's eventual release.

What no one realizes, is that event caused untold destruction  in the Fallen, a parallel and similar dimension, and directly led to the constant threat of demons. The demons seek to either destroy that original spell and hopefully save their world, or gather as much life energy as they can to prolong the life of their world. to gather that energy they must cause hardship, pain, and despair among the peoples of this world. To break the spell would reawaken Niddhoggandr and spell doom for this world.

Alrighty folks I am back to playing around with this bit of world building. I am still working on my other projects, don't you worry, but I had a bit of inspiration on how demons and such would work in this world and so I thought I would share. It has come to the point where I will need to come up with a name for the world. As I have been building the setting I have seen a few things start to pop up, the ideas of harmony and balance are pretty key to the setting, extremes of one thing or another seem to be bad, in the setting as it currently exists. That is what led to humanity conquering the other peoples, so I could go forward with that. So I need a word that sounds like a planet name that also means something like harmony. So I got to digging in good old google translate and came up with, Amoni ,the Haitian Creole word for harmony. I chose it because it sounds nice and is easy to say and spell. I may change it in the future but I am currently leaning toward calling the world I am building Amoni. Yay!

Previous Posts in the series:
Part 1 Initial Ideas
Part 2 Airships
Part 3 Peoples
Part 4 Basic Magic
Part 5 History
Part 6 Deeper Magic
Part 7 Culture

On to the world building:

There are two alternate dimensions that seem to directly interact with Amoni in some way. The Far Away and The Fallen. Each contains beings that seek to access Amoni and the people therein. These beings are known as demons and spirits and they seem to delight in chaos and the destruction of the world for their own purposes.

The Fallen may once have been like the world, but something went wrong and the energies of the dimension became corrosive and corrupting. Most demons hail from this land, sent to reap the life energies of the world and return them to the wastes to use that energy to prolong the life of that dimension. People can access and use the energies of The Fallen, though there is a cost. People who tap into this dimension's energy can gain great power and the ability to do what would normally be impossible standard magics. However as they use it they become corrupted and eventually become demons themselves, unable to survive in the world naturally without harvesting life energy merely to survive.This is the nature of what folks call the undead, people who have become so corrupted that they must devour life energy to survive.

The Far Away is a strange land of pure spirit and natural energy energy. It is wild and full of dangers.The landscape constantly shifts to suit the moods of the spirits who reside within it. Often they will seek to echo the world's landscapes, but they will feel off and have odd angles.  Time has no meaning and the beings who dwell there wish to steal your soul and ride your body in the world. They live in a world without meaning or feeling, and so possessing a person and wandering about in Amoni is a great vacation for them. Make no deals with the spirits from the Far Away. For every deal you make brings you closer to falling under their power.The Spirits behave like spoiled brats who have never had anyone tell them no. Even when they wish to do good, they cause chaos and disorder.some spirits are actually fully malevolent, and these are also called demons.

Those are my first thoughts on the demons and spirits that inhabit the land as well as a brief on the worlds they come from. Now I want to dig into creatures and monsters of the world. I am currently trying to sort out exactly what makes a good creature description and which creatures do not need a description. I could go the route of Jack Vance where I just give the creatures a name and do not describe them in any detail. This works very well in the Dying Earth and might work here. I do feel like I would be missing out on some fun though. I could also go full on Audubon and give a detailed description of every creature in the world with detailed analyses of the habits and variants of the species, but man that seems like a lot of work.

Perhaps if I knew for what I am going to do with this project that would help me. If I am making this just for my own fun and nothing else then I guess I can just do whatever animals and monsters interest me and be done with it. I can describe what I like as I like. However this is not just for me. I mean I am already posting online so at the very least this is for the entertainment of at least one other person(though I hope everyone who reads this is at least a little entertained...please?). Because of that I must have some sort of focus in what I design here. If I were designing a world to write fiction about then I could probably get away with the Vancian method of merely describing the barest of minimums, though all I would need then would be a list of weird sounding names and some basic descriptors on the size of the creature and if it would eat people. Then there is my wheelhouse, RPGs. If I am designing this for RPGs then I need to give the GMs enough information that they can use the creature in play and make the game more fun.   I would need to do one of three things with each creature(perhaps all three). The creature needs to add flavor, challenge, or plot to the setting. I think this final method would be most useful to me here. It is always easier to describe less than what I have in my notes and adding more is relatively easy(though it takes more time), but this final method will at least give me a set of goals to aim for. Lets break that down with some examples.

Welcome to flavor country. Animals described for flavor exist to define the world and showcase either its normalcy or its strangeness...or both. So when we describe a creature that is mundane and ordinary in the context of the world, something that does not add drama or danger we must use it for flavor(I think, though let me know if I am wrong). So for this setting I was thinking of not having horses be a thing in the world. I have already established that the Bit-Bit ride about in giant flamingos(not too giant as the bit bit aren't all that big themselves) so perhaps birds have taken the place of draft and riding animals. Though I think that lizards would be cool too. S I think I will brain storm a little on the riding and draft animals of Amoni:

Phoru: Humans ride about on terror birds, Mostly this is because I really like the idea of giant riding birds, but it also fits with the motif of the Human Empire, where even their mounts are dangerous and scary.

Djialisks: Njan have domesticate giant lizards that they ride. There are two types of domesticated Djialisk: The Wa-Geck is a giant gecko that hey can ride only with special harnesses and ride over any surface. The Annago - giant monitors, unruly and difficult, but super useful in war and for draft work(pulling large wagons and plowing). Cats riding lizards just sounds like fun and it fits better with the desert terrain they dwell in.

Gelves: The great war flamingos of the Bit-Bit have already been discussed and so I will just say I really like the idea of tiny knights riding great pink flying death machines. But maybe that is just me.

Once you get past beasts for flavor you get into beasts as challenge. This is your standard monster or danger. It is the Bear that made its home in the abandoned farm or the dragon pillaging a town. The beast exists to be defeated, driven off, or appeased. though this is fairly simple, it is important to know what motivates the creature, its instincts and desires.

Sky Whales: Lumbering behemoths of the sky. While they are called whales they are in fact something else entirely. They fly through the inflation of air bladders that are then heated with elemental fire energy, allowing them to be neutrally buoyant in the sky. They then channel air energies to travel slowly through the clouds gathering sky plankton. They are dangerous to air travel as they see anything smaller than them as food and most things smaller than a full on warship are smaller. They are territorial, and fairly passive unless disturbed or hungry.

Shabu-Shabu: a swamp dwelling creature that feeds on blood. It is a small bipedal creature that appears somewhat like a Bit-Bit from a distance. It spreads disease and actively hunts intelligent peoples. The Bit-bit claim that it is a curse on their people by Niddhoggandr for locking it away.

Finally there are creatures as plot. these are more than just challenge but the goal of the story/adventure/narrative itself is so tied into the creature that it becomes the core of the story entirely. Examples from other stories include the Questing Beast, The Unicorn(who could heal anything), and The Dragon Fafnir(as the whole of the story is based around the horde of the dragon and the ring that was in the horde), also Smaug(though he is just a better characterized Fafnir when you get right down to it).

Lundorm: Massive worms that devour rock in the mountain ranges of the world. They cannot digest precious metals however and those form into an ultra dense melded precious metal sphere in their many stomachs. these spheres are the most valuable metals in the world as they accept enchantment better than any other material. As the Lundorms are too large to domesticate and too dangerous to live near there is a powerful market for the Spheres and a whole adventuring community has grown up around Lundorm Hunting.

Ur-Phoen: A massive bird lat lives far from civilization. It is said to be the first bird, somehow still alive after all these years. One of its feathers when properly treated can cure any disease, and it is said that eating its heart would grant immortality.

And that is my thoughts on demons and creatures in rough. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Comments, critiques, and ideas are always welcome.I will probably do my next post on the Challenge of the Star Knights, and later this month I am going to start a big new thing, so look for that(#12gamesofchristmas ...shh). So I guess I am fairly busy in the upcoming weeks.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Challenge of the Star Knights: Ever Expanding Horizon

While working through the mechanical issues with the game(Part 1 and Part 2) I realized I needed to lay down a bit more on my thoughts on the setting ideas and possible issues and solutions. The initial pitch is solid, I think, but it does not lay out some of the core themes and ideas of the setting. So in this I will be laying out some of the details and maybe talking about the setting as a whole and the issues that cropped up when I sat down to do this post. 

With this game world I am aiming for a kind of classic space opera feel(though hopefully with enough plausibility to not break verisimilitude) so I wanted a bunch of alien species and faster than light travel to be fairly common. I also wanted a sort of operatic and epic feel to it, I have always been heavily influence by Jack Kirby's Fourth World and I love the visuals and ideas of the MCU's Asgard and Jupiter Ascending. So I wanted something with a feel of Mythic Significance and  also to be a coming of age story set in a school for Space Knights. I am not sure if that will be doable, but I am going to give it a go.

 Firstly lets get started on the various Sophonts of the setting. Now, I want there to be lots of them so I think I will just focus on the ones who are most important/influential in the setting. No here comes the difficult part. ready? In a game world when building characters you want to give the players enough information on the species/race/culture that they can understand it, but not so much that it gets bogged down with details. I have written on this topi before for a different project, if you want to see my thoughts there. However in this i want to look at the potential solutions and maybe analyze those(as much as I am capable of analyzing anything). Mostly in this I will be focusing on statements I have read elsewhere and seeing if they might be of use here.

 First I want to dig into a statement made in a post on the Walking Eye, specifically Lesson #3, "Complexity Should Emerge from Play, not Setting." I think that this is a fascinating insight and could be of use when working forward on this project. I also think the rest of the lessons in that series are quite interesting and could foster whole discussions of their own. The thing I like about this is the idea that clarity is important and that you should start with stark and simple designs. However the issue comes down to avoiding stereotyping and constraining player agency through setting design. However, stereotypes can be very useful to players when starting out as it gives everyone a solid starting point off of which they can riff and push against. I think there is a lot of interesting insight packed into this Lesson, I am not sure I completely agree with it, but that may be a knee-jerk reaction on my part as a world builder. Were I working on this for fiction or for some other purpose I would definitely want to have loads of nuance and such in my world, but this is for a game. One of my core beliefs is the idea that in games you should endeavor to make as much of the game as possible(all if you can) player facing(and yes to me the GM counts as a player).

On a similar note I have been digging into Dungeon World and Fellowship a bit. They are both fantastic games Powered By The Apocalypse.  they also both deal with similar ideas to the one presented above. In Dungeon World there is a principle of, " Draw Maps, Leave Blanks." Basically it is the idea that the game's setting should be a framework rather than a straitjacket. It should inform the players on the type of world they are in, while allowing for them to change things and add to it. I think the same idea could be applied to character species. Each Every statement of truth should be surrounded by blanks for the Players(GM included) to define as play goes forward. Blanks are questions to be answered. If you make a pacifist Klingon or a war like Vulcan you have added a deeper question to the nature of these species. Are Vulcan normally pacifistic or is a war like nature more likely than not? Are Klingon all pacifists or is this unusual? Each question adds a another truth to the universe and adds further questions. The best part is that you can leave those blank if they don't matter to the players, or you can delve as deeply as you like. this leads to a sense of ownership for the players and a sense of investment in the setting.

In Fellowship this idea is tied directly into the game mechanics, one of the player jobs is to tell stories about the chosen type and to define their people as the game goes on. You can start out with elves who are space aliens or elves who are fairy nobles. You can define the technology and magic as you go along, and the GM gets to define the Dark Lord and what that means to the setting. It is a really marvelous set of gaming principles. When I read through it I kind of want to steal it for every game I design. However it does depend on a series of stereotypes to work within or against. Everyone kind of has a similar idea of what elves are now(thanks to Tolkien and Jackson) and everyone has a similar idea on wizards, dwarfs, and so on. So once again we are back to starting with a very simple idea and allowing the players to build outward from their.

I am not sure if I have done proper analysis or critical thought on these ideas, so much as built a cumulative case that supports the direction I want to go. I am perfectly willing to be wrong on these thoughts, but for now I will work with the simple and we will see how this goes as I build further outward. 

The Current Dominant Species
One of the central conceits of the setting is that a long time ago there were three great species. I am currently calling those species the Elders, but I am not really solid on that as the term for them. These Elders fought a series of wars with the Maggedon, also and elder species. The Maggedon sought to wipe out all life in the universe and had the technology and numbers to do it. the three groups of Elders won the war but were wiped out in the process. Now lets expand on that a bit. the elders saw that they would not survive the war in any recognizable way, so they sought to create hidden enclaves of beings that were different enough from them as not to draw the attention of the Maggedon directly and yet similar enough so that something of the Elders would be passed on to the future. All of the sophonts who exist in the now of the setting are related to or responding to the meddling of the ancients. I think that is an interesting idea, like David Brin's uplift universe, but without the patronage of an elder species. So there is a lot more chaos and less stagnation. How people view the Elders is as varied as how they view anything else. There are those who have records dating back to the War and there are those who only have the barest hints of meddling in their past. So, with that said lets do a bit of species design!

Chashi: Short, squat, turtle like technicians and philosophers. Few become Star Knights as they view combat as wasteful and those who seek to become Star Knights are seen as the honorable insane. Though many do become technical and logistical officers in the Knight Support Corps. They claim to have been out in the galaxy the longest of the Younger Species. The were directly uplifted by the Elder Peoples before the fourth extinction war. Their histories hold much knowledge of the ways of the Elders, though much of it is in pseudo-mystical poetry and is open to interpretation.

Imdar: Hyperactive species of Soldiers, scholars, and scientists. One of the early species to gain access to the wider galaxy. They see themselves as the children of the elder races, as they were uplifted by them toward the end of the Fourth Extinction War though they have no records of that time. They maintain the Grand Archive, a collection of all archeological and scientific knowledge their species has ever recorded. Many in the wider galactic society believe them to a divergent sub species of the Humani, due to some similar genetic markers.

Glass Walkers: Energy Beings, seeded among the Nuetron Stars by the elders. They live a listless life of purposeless existence. They have few needs and impressive intellects. Many become bored with a life of deep thought and seek danger and adventure in the wider galaxy. While incredibly passionate they tend to see nothing as mattering to any degree. They interact with the rest of the universe through their environment suits which allow them to make contact with non energy beings. They are the youngest of the Created people. They are gravity based rather than electromagnetic based like most life(though I am not sure what that means, it was just something I saw that was interesting when doing research). They gain energy from gravity...somehow...they communicate through light pulses and use those to control the suits. they were initially quite dependent on outsiders to create their contact suits that allow them to talk and interact with material beings.

Esiksina: Robot descendants of the elders. There name means First Born. One of the few who still have members who remember what the ancients were like. They worship the ancients as gods.Probably will add a little more to this.

Pallasi: Warrior race who focus on tactics and strategy, they see everything in terms of wins and losses, often seen as emotionless and cruel, they see themselves as pragmatic and focused. Emotions are for private experience, not for others to see. The follow a set of philosophies based around warfare and tactics, either Clauswitz, Jomini, or other more esoteric disciplines. They are not necessarily warlike or violent, they just view everything as a problem to be solved through the application of tactic and logistics.  

The Ashrl-Kral: A newcomer to the galaxy, they have less political power than the other sophonts by far. However they are the most warlike and vicious race yet encountered. Focused on external honor and personal glory. Those who seek to become Star Knights have become some of the greatest heroes in the order. Those who seek to dominate have become some of the worst villains in history. Descended from some sort of super predator, it is thought they may have been uplifted by an as yet unknown species.There is a rumor that they were uplifted by the Maggedon.

Mugg: Small, cute, and cuddly, the Mugg exist nearly everywhere. They are some of the premier negotiators, pilots, and traders in the galaxy. They also have a very strong sense of individuality and freedom so many have become Star Knights. Amphibious species, probably based off of seals or something like that. Graceful in the water, they are still fairly swift and skilled on land.

Elder Peoples
Humani: Their name is thought to mean the Children of Wrath and their deeds spread far beyond the time and place of their origin, a small planet called Dirt. Masters of biotech and materials sciences capable of making the great symbiotech weapons and armor. Also creators of the five master martial forms. Martial arts that stand as the standard to this day. Unlike the other warrior races in history the humans seemed to have a strong sense of empathy for their enemies. They have the uncanny ability to understand others and still be able to kill them. They even were known to actively kill each other for reasons beyond mere momentary passion.
The Kha-Li:  Energy beings. Masters of the mind and the energy that lies within. No one quite knows if they discovered and developed Ikhai abilities, or if they created Ikhai whole cloth as a tool and weapon. Much has been lost. Master Ikhai Users with technologies that could enhance Ikhai powers to do things impossible even for a master.
The Bashro: Masters of stealth and energy storage. The only race to ever make stealth star ships work, no one knows how they did it. Almost nothing is known of them save for their name. Their are always rumors that the Bashro survived and live in hidden exile somewhere out in the back of beyond.

So there are the basics of the Intelligent species of the Galaxy and a brief bit about the history. What do you think? Am I right in going the direction I am going, or is there a better way? Maybe I am way off, let me know.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Challenge Of the Star Knights: The Breath Of Eternity

Before the Fourth Extinction War was a time of unprecedented growth and advancement in the universe. The Elders, now long gone, created wonders beyond imagining and their understanding of the universe stretched the very notion of what was possible. One such discovery was Ikhai, the Breath of Eternity. To many it seemed a perfect combination of the Known and the Unknowable, the Sublime channeled through the mundane technology. None now know whether the Elders grafted the ability to channel Ikhai into the younger peoples, or if it was somehow innate within all life, but to this day Ikhai is a powerful tool and a weapon against the forces of the Unmaker.

I was originally going to focus this post on creating Sophonts and history as well as digging a bit into technology and how that will work in the game. I still plan on doing that post, so no worries in that regard. However as I was working on that I started having a lot of different thought on how to make Ikhai work and how that would work in the setting. So this post is going to focus on the metaphysical and supernatural mechanics and abilities of the game. Many of the influences I mentioned in the first post have supernatural power of one sort or another. Mass Effect has biotics(as well as some sort of telepathy), Hunter x Hunter has nen abilities, Harry Potter has magic, Star Wars has the force, and the Legion of Superheroes has full on super powers. So when setting out to do my version of mystic abilities in space, I needed to focus a bit on what feel I was trying to go for. Did I want a more mystical feel, like in star wars, or a more formulaic and well defined route like in Harry Potter? When I started this I was unsure the route I wanted to go, but as I dug into the mechanics I started to see the direction that would work best for me.

When I started to look at the mechanical aspects of the game(here and here) I had only the very roughest of ideas on how I wanted Ikhai to work. I wanted cool powers like in Star Wars and such, so I put a line in the pitch about having cool powers and techniques that allowed one to be awesome. I didn't have a firm sense of how awesome or what that might mean.

Usually when I approach a project like this I start with the world and work toward mechanics. In this case I had already set out to make a game that fit within the D6 System paradigm and so I had a solid mechanical foundation to start from. In looking at the mechanics and the possibilities within it I saw some of the edges of the game and how I could use that to help me deal with my world building problem.  So in this case I started with the mechanics and built the world out from there.

First I needed to nail down some ideas for using Ikhai in game. I started with D6 Space as that seemed like a very good place to tart when dealing with science fantasy space opera. From there I moved outward and came up with a number of different ways I might go when doing these sorts of powers.

Method One: Use the standard Metaphysics rules as they exist. The system is workable as is, however it has a couple of problems I do not care for. The first problem is the complexity of using Metaphysics powers. It is too difficult to easily do it on the fly, and the complexity seems to serve no purpose other than to exist on its own. The second problem is, in my opinion, much more difficult. Metaphysics is hard to be good at early on, and so is kind of useless. However later on it takes on a primacy in play and anyone without it cannot seem to match a dedicated Metaphysics practitioner. That second one won"t be a huge issue in my game as the assumption is that everyone will have Ikhai abilities and so will have equal ability to do cool supernatural stuff. It is something to keep in mind though.

Method Two: Every skill has powers built into it. Basically what I would do is take the existing power building rules for metaphysics and apply it to every skill. This would allow for a lot of flexibility and a lot of interesting builds. you could have two people with identical skills have very different feeling characters in play. However this does have a major downside. It would ramp up the complexity of the game significantly. I am not sure if that would be worth the end result, It also could cause major indecision in the players when making a character as they would have so many options available to them.

Method Three: Rather than dedicating a new set of rules for the Ikhai abilities I could use this solution I found on +Raymond McVay's website .  Using this method there are no powers laid out in the mechanics specifically. Instead you use force/hero/fate points to indicate use of powers. Basically anytime you want to something crazy you spend a point and double your pool in an existing pool. The hard part would be increasing the difficulty level to an appropriate amount in order use a skill to do the impossible. How difficult should it be to walk up walls or jump over eighty feet? This would require a fair but of testing and such, but I do like its simplicity. It also allows the powers to fit what the table wants rather than what some unknown writer wants. You can ask the players to define the power and its limits. This one is what led me to the direction I am currently leaning which is...

Method Four: In this method you roll your Ikhai skill at the beginning of a scene in which you intend to use the abilities. From that roll you gain a number of points(probably a set number and you gain extra for every three you gain above the difficulty). These points can only be spent during the scene in which you rolled for them. You spend these points on enhancing actions beyond what is possible. You may spend more than one point per action if you want(though there may be a cost for doing that, I haven't quite decided yet.  You spend the points one for one on any of the following enhancements: No Tools(lets you create tools out of soul stuff), Increase Scale(which could let a normal person attack a on a star ship scale or greater), Use at a range(point blank, close, far, extreme), or adding dice to a roll(these do not count toward XP like character points). I figure there might be more uses you could put these to, but I think that is a solid start.

By and large, when looking through these options I really like method four, however I could see some problems with it. I would love to hear any thoughts on how to improve on it, or if I should try and use one of the other methods, or even another method entirely I have not thought of.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Challenge of the Star Knights: Ruminating on Rules Part 2

Part 1: The pitch
Part 2: Rules discussion part 1

There was only supposed to be one post on the rules mods I would be looking into for my game, However when writing up the last post I finding or inventing so many interesting ideas that I decided to split the post in two. In this one I will be delving a bit further in to rules mods and trying to explain my mindset a bit as I go through my options and choices. Lets get started, yeah?

Attributes and Skills
I could just go with one of the standard groupings of attributes and skills used in the various iterations of the D6 system throughout its long history. In looking through them, I found that I did not care for how they break down so much and I feel the need to work on a set of attributes that will fit my game a bit closer than the current sets do.

I ran across this post from the Walking Mind, and it is a fascinating look at how attributes are chosen and what that can mean for your game. I want to keep the number of attributes manageable, so I want less than seven, however I am not sure that three or four would do enough for what I want. I wan a game of rollicking space adventure focused around a group of students coming together to save the galaxy, or at least their section of it. Social stuff will be very important in that kind of game gaining and losing influence, the ability to work well together, and building networks of friends, rivals, and enemies all seem important. However at its heart the game is about playing Star Knights, so I think that there would be a lot of physical obstacles and confrontations as well. Though it is a school setting, I really don't see a need for a boat load of mental skills, as that is not really core to any activities they will be doing...maybe. So I think the breakdown on attributes that I want is two social attributes, three physical, and one mental. SO here are the ideas I have for the list:

Physical: Strength, Speed, Endurance(will probably change all of these names, but this gives me a solid starting point)
Social: Social Awareness, social control(less sure on these ideas)
Mental: Education(any Traveller fans out there?)

That is my current thinking on attributes, now to skills. Skills are both easier and harder for me. On the one hand I could just use them as they exist in the system and I know that will work. However I have had a few thoughts on this for a couple of different options for skills rather than just using the existing method.

Option 1: Don't have set skills but instead use something a little more freeform, like backgrounds. When a background would be useful in a situation add its level to the attribute dice for a roll and there you go. I am not sure I like this method, but it could lead to a lot of interesting stuff. I thought it worth mentioning.

Option 2: Instead of skill dice, you just have a rating with the skill which alters the difficulty(either subtracts from the difficulty number, or reduces the opponents die pool) of the roll. Again not sure if I like this, but it is interesting and would alter the way in which people look at the game...maybe.

Option 3: You have a maximum skill level(three or four dice) and you skills can never go beyond that. This is just a way to get around that huge dice pool people have mentioned many many times. Not sure I like this either.

Point of fact I am leaning toward a standard skill list with this game, though I will definitely be altering what skills are in the list and all that. I want the skills to feel more futuristic and also more school oriented. So any ideas on how to make that work by renaming existing skills would be appreciated.

The Basic Sketch on Ikhai Powers
This is currently very sketchy as I have a couple of different ways I could go with this and I am not really sure which is best or if I want to do any of the ideas I have had yet. My current thoughts are:

1. You have an Ikhai attribute with 4 skills however you choose one skill as your primary two as your secondary and the third is your opposition. Primary  skills cost the normal amount to advance and master. Secondary cost twice that to advance. And your opposition skill costs quadruple to advance.
Sense/hide energy/minds/thoughts
Manipulate objects
Create energy constructs

2. Your Ikhai abilities are an add on to existing skills and allow those skills to be temporarily boosted beyond what is possible. This is more nebulous even that the previous one as I am less certain how this would work other than increasing the scale in which that skill operates and maybe using skills without the needed tools...though that could get weird with stuff like vehicle operation...

I would love any thoughts on how to implement this as I think this particular facet of the game will be my biggest hurdle.

In standard D6 there is a bit of an issue with vehicles. The maneuver rating is added to the pilot's skill roll for dodging fire. By itself this is not such a huge issue, however it can lead to a massive disparity between the attackers roll and the defender's roll as the attacker does not get the same kind of equipment bonus. I have a solution to this that should work(I think).

When under attack you compare the maneuver ratings for each vehicle. If the defending vehicle has a higher rating then it gains a bonus d6 on the roll. If it has a lower rating then it has a penalty -d6 on the roll. That should reduce the number of dice added and all the odd results that follow while still allowing for maneuver ratings to matter.

Damage and Consequences
With  the D6 system there are currently two methods of handling damage, that I am aware of. Body Points and Wound Levels. After playing with them for a while I really dislike body points. They just feel off to me, and so I will be sticking with Wound Levels. Though I will be making some modifications to how damage works.

One of the issues that comes up with the wound system is that high strength characters can soak most damage, especially if they are wearing armor. I have a couple of thoughts on how to handle that:

1. When attacking  an opponent every die that is rolled that would be beyond what is needed to hit are added to the raw damage. So if you have four dice for attack and you need a twelve to hit; if three of your dice cover that 12 difficulty, your fourth die would be added to damage.

2. At the beginning of the attack action players may divide their dice pool into "to hit" pools, and "added damage pools", i.e. A character with 6d in Blasters can roll all six dice to hit, 4 dice to hit and add 2 dice to damage, or any variation of those 6 dice. The decision to divvy up between the two pools, gives it more of a tactical consideration.

3. This idea is a little further out there: Steal from Mouseguard and have a set of conditions that a character can mark rather than taking damage. This is kind of nebulous at the moment, but I think there is something to be said for it. It might also allow for social conflicts to have a little more tactical weight without having to construct a whole system for them.

Some Ideas that just didn't fit anywhere else
I had a couple of random ideas that I thought might be worth discussing, but didn't really seem to fit anywhere else so I will put them here.

If I wanted to add in something like Body Points, but I still wanted to avoid them on a systemic level I could add in force fields, like from Dune. Your force field can absorb a certain amount of hits and then it shuts down. I could even have a mystic Ikhai power that does a similar thing so that users of that could spend a turn making themselves tougher. Just a thought, and I will probably not use it. As soon as I did every Player Character would want to get a force field or that power, and the game would rapidly begin to revolve around that. Though perhaps the force fields shunt the damage into the environment and so cause hazards and problems for the heroes? As I said, just a thought that occurred to me.

I would like language and culture familiarity to be handled differently than skills. Perhaps a three tier system that lets you pick up familiarity rather quickly. You would spend CPs on it during the session. You may spend them(one per session) to gain the benefits of it in the moment. Once you have done that for three sessions(or something) you gain familiarity. And if you keep focusing on it like that you can eventually go native. Mind you, his would only be for games where people cared about different languages. Most gaming groups would not, and in fact that would be seen as a useless time sink.

A crazy idea: Seriously this is a crazy idea. I most likely won't use it, but it occurred and wanted to share it. So, if I choose to go with roll dice count successes(rather than normal roll dice add them up) I could do something like this: When you have increased your dice pool to ten(or whatever arbitrary number) rather than increasing it further you your skill drops back to 1d but your threshold for success goes up. So instead of a success on a 4+ you no get a success on a 3+. this would keep the dice pools lover and add in a sense of master(like in Heroquest/wars and Burning Wheel). Just a thought.

And that is the end of m first pass through the rules and the changes I will be making(or might be making) to the game. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter as I am still on the fence on a number fo issues. Comments, critiques, and ideas are always welcome. That is it for mechanics for the moment. The next post will be a bit more on the universe the star knights inhabit and how I see that. Sounds like fun.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Challenge of the Star Knights: Ruminating on Rules Part 1

In my last post I laid out the very basic pitch for the game I am working on.
Part 1: Da' Basics

 In this post i will be digging into the mechanical changes I will be making to the D6 System in order to make that fit better with the setting I am devising. that means that I will be constrained somewhat in what I can do, as a great  advantage to working within the framework of an  existing system. this also means that there is a certain amount of fan expectation for how the game should work and the changes I make will not please everyone. If I were working on a brand new system I could avoid this because those preexisting expectations wouldn't exist.

Dice Rolling Conventions
There are a number of ways we could handle dice rolling in this game. I will go through the methods I have thought about using and what their strengths and weaknesses are(as I see it). Please let me know your thoughts on the matter as this is very important to the feel of play and I am not fully decided on the matter.

Standard d6 Method: Add skill level to attribute level and roll that many dice and add them together. This can lead to too many dice being rolled and everything slows down. Especially because adding together pools higher than seven or eight can get a bit tiresome. However it is a tried and true way and adding up the numbers is a minor inconvenience. Also, I run and play most of my games online for the last few years and online dice rollers can do all that adding for me.

The Mini Six method: Used in the phenomenal game Mini Six. Very similar to the standard method, but it uses static defenses and thus lowers the number of rolls in total. I may go this route as I think it is the easiest to implement. It also leads me to an interesting idea...

The Apocalypse World fix: The seed for this idea started in this thread post over on rpg.net. It reminded me of how Apocalypse World handles dice rolling. Other games have used similar rolling methods, but Apocalypse World was the first time I encountered it, so that is where my mind went when I came up with this. Only players roll the dice.  All of the GM's stuff is handled with static difficulties based on the character sheets of the NPCs.  This would allow for interesting things, like say take the dice total times three for mooks and low level minions, or multiplied by four or five for named villains and such to give you an interesting differential. This would allow the GM to set a basic campaign difficulty or allow the players to have a sense of how tough their opponent is going to be. It would make for a more cinematic feel...I think.

The 5d6+whatever method: Offered as a way to cut down on the number of dice used. Every die over five is converted to a +3 bonus to the roll instead. I find that this can lead to huge modifiers and the dice become somewhat irrelevant...or at least that is how it felt to me the few times I have tried it.

The d6 Legend method: Roll as normal, but count the dice showing a number above a certain threshold. I have seen this use in a lot of different games(Shadowrun and World of Darkness spring to mind). I know it works, though it has its own feel. I think I might go with this method as it lets me do all sorts of interesting things, like scaling the campaign from Super Gritty(only count sixes as success) to Super heroic(2+ is a success) without altering number of dice. the issues with this come up with making it still feel like the D6 system that I fell in love with lo those many years ago. Though I am not so sure, as I am rather fond of all of the methods shown.

Character Points
You must spend them before you can use them to advance. This gets allows for a more freewheeling use of character points. in the old days when I would run the game, i would have this issue where my  players would all spend a great deal of time going back and forth on whether or not they should spend character points. the reason was that the more character points spent in the moment the less powerful the character would be long term. the character that horded them would become more powerful as time went on, and this would lead to those less powerful needing to burn more CP to keep up and thus actually fall further behind. It became a weird sort of death spiral.

A really weird add on to that: At the end of every session the number of character points remaining must be spent on on advancement downtime actions, like building up contacts, wealth, and influence with a specific culture. Not sure if I want to go this route but I really like it, and the more I think on it the more I like it. Something that +James Etheridge pointed out to me was that I might want to lean away from concrete growth in this manner and instead focus on these points belonging to a team pool that can be spent in team specific ways. Though I am still unsure on the exact limits and options that could be used in this case. One idea I had was to use it a bit like Team is used in Masks. Though I would need to make adjustments in order to make that work in this system.

I also want to come up with a better name for them than Character Points, but I am sure that will come with time.

The Wild Die
I do not have an issue with the wild die as it stands. However I have seen enough arguments about it to be convinced that an issue does exist for many. I would like to look into some possible solutions to the Wild Die conundrum and maybe come up with something that will please people like me, who like the wild die, and the people who do not care for it.

Methods I have thought about using:

The standard method: The wild die explodes on a roll of a six and on the roll of a one it either subtracts the highest other die from the roll or causes a complication. All other numbers are treated as normal die rolls. I like this as it adds that sense of chaos and awesome when that guy at the table rolls seven sixes in a row and just drops the mic.

Variable Success method: The wild die does not explode. If you get a 6 on it something good happens to benefit you in addition to the success or failure of the roll. If you roll a 1 something complicates the scene whether you succeed or fail. I kind of like this as it allows for a bunch of different outcomes to a die roll. Critical success(success with a 6 wild die), Normal success(success with the wild die on neither) Success with a caveat(Success with a 1 wild die), Failure with a caveat(failure with a 6 wild die), normal failure(failure with no wild), and critical failure(failure with a 1 wild die). There are, no doubt numerous problems with the system that would need to get ironed out, but it is an interesting idea.

Opportunity Method:  The wild die allows for an opportunity to do something amazing. When you roll a six you may spend a character point and have it act as a hero/fate point(or something). When your wild die is showing a one the GM will offer you something bad happening instead of the roll proceeding as normal, if you accept you gain a hero/fate point, or something equivalent. I kind of like this one as it always puts the choice in the players hands. However this would need a lot of playtesting a tweaking in order to make it feel right, and I would need to devote a lot of words explaining what it is and how to do it properly.

Aspects and Keys: Gaining Character Points
I would like for the gaining of character points to be a little more character facing than it currently is. I am heavily influenced by three games in this regard: Fate Core(I know, shocker), Cortex Plus, and Lady Blackbird.

I like how aspects(Fate Core) allow for an iconic character while also allowing for change. However compels can be tricky and are enforced from outside of the player's control. The GM compels and the player decides to accept it. The player can let the GM know that it would be a good time to compel, but the decision to compel still rests on the GM's head.

Distinctions(Cortex Plus) on the other hand are entirely player driven and allow the player to give themselves a negative by rolling the smallest die type(d4) rather than what they would normally get from the distinction(d8). When they do this they get a point. I like that it is decided by the player, but I find some other parts of the system in Cortex Plus not to my taste.

Then we get to Keys(Lady Blackbird). I love keys, they are absolutely fantastic at causing the players to drive play and putting their experience gains in their own hands. However, Keys work toward building a dramatic arc for your character, where they start out with a problem and as they go along that problem keeps surfacing until they face it and either embrace it or expel it. With this game I am looking for a more Iconic and procedural arc, and so I am unsure if keys will do what I want.

However I think that I have laid out the groundwork here for what I want, if not exactly how I want it. I want players to gain Character Points through their own choice, and not have it forced upon them by external sources. I want the source of Character Points to be able to shift and grow as the campaign goes on, and I want the core of the character to shine through. I want that, "Believe in yourself," moment to feel good and make the world better. I want growth and exploration without changing the core of the character too much, or making changing that core too difficult. Hmm...Will need to think on this some more.

I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these topics. Comments, critiques, and ideas are totally welcome. This post kind of got out of hand. I was also going to go into Attributes and Skills, as well as gear and the basics of how I see Ikhai working. I guess I will have to leave that for part 2. Huh, I guess there is more depth to this than I initially thought. That's a thing.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Challenge of the Star Knights: The Basics

The Elevator Pitch
In the distant future you play students at the lowest ranked Star Knight academy who discover the secrets of their order and the threat that will soon come to the universe.

Expanded Concept
Ten thousand years ago, during the fourth extinction war the three ancient peoples formed an alliance to drive back the forces of the Maggedon, servants of the unmaker. Through their unity and the creation of the legendary Star Knights, the drove back the forces of the Maggedon and saved the universe. Their legend grows with every telling, though few believe in any of them. The Star Knights yet survive,  though the ancient technologies have long been lost. They still uphold justice and peace as best they can with what they have left.

Now we stand on the precipice of the fifth extinction war and once more the Star Knights are needed. The forces of the unmaker on on the move once more. Only those trained in the methods of the Star Knights, those who can use the techniques and technologies of the Elder Peoples, can save the galaxy from annihilation.

You are students of the Delta Academy, one of the fifteen Star Knight Academies spread across the cosmos. The academies train students in the use of Ikhai(inner breath) to awaken the soul and power the ancient technologies and techniques passed down by the elder peoples.  Delta is the lowest ranked academy, filled with those applicants who were too poor or not good enough to get into the other academies. Delta Academy sits on the edge of the Marconi Traverse, a vast mineral poor area of lawless space.

Only one percent of applicants make it to becoming a full star knight, most fall by the wayside. But even a failed knight applicant is a skilled and knowledgeable person. Many go on to be quite famous and influential in the galaxy at large. All those who pass the challenge become something more, a Star Knight, defender of the Galaxy.

Things that inspired me.

Voltron: Legendary Defender: OMG so good, also it had a huge influence for how I see the technology working and how I see the force of the Maggedon working. I especially like the evil space druids who give the evil forces their power. I really want evil space druids...or something.
Titan AE: Mostly for the visuals and the idea that the earth was blown up. The movie itself is sort of all over the place and not very well written.
The Last Starfighter: This whole project sort of stemmed from my desire to see the first class of new Starfighters being trained by the last remaining.
Mass Effect: The SPECTRs and Reapers are very close to how I see the Star Knights and the Maggedon operating in the wider universe.
Star Wars: specifically Rebels and the Young Jedi Knights series of books, I like the whole kids who have powers and must be trained in responsible use.
Lexx: Mostly for His Shadow and the Insects. Though the Time Prophet is cool too.
the Deathstalker Series of novels: I find the series immensely entertaining and I love the Madness Maze, and other things like that.
Harry Potter: specifically Hogwarts as a concept where kids go off to learn strange abilities with the hopes of becoming meaningful contributors to society.
Metroid Series: The universe is so interesting and Samus is just the coolest character ever. She was the inspiration for a lot of the technology I picture for the setting.
Phantasy Star Online Series: I really like the look and feel of the games.
Hunter x Hunter: I really love this show, I only recently discovered it, and I think it is fantastic. It makes the characters look for solutions that are more complex than mere direct action. It shows them succeed and fail, but they earn their successes and failures.
Naruto: the ninja schools and the Chunin exams specifically interested me when looking for inspiration. Although the character of Naruto is also inspirational as the guy no one thought would amount to anything.
Legion of Superheroes: Super powered teens saving the day in space. Yup.
The Bad News Bears: I love me a tale of the lovable losers finally doing well.
The Goonies: Lovable losers must find an ancient treasure to save their home. Set it in space and you have the elevator pitch really.

This is to be a game, and as such I need to decide on a system. Of late I have become more and ore fond of the D6 System. It has been used for a lot of great games(Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Metabarons, and Men In Black). I will be making some modifications to the system as I go along, as there are a number of things I would like to see changed from past experience playing the game. Most notably I want to change how character points work in play, but I will get into that as we go. The D6 system was the first game system I played in my youth. I was introduced to RPGs through the Star Wars Role Playing Game. It was very fun, Ewoks in Airspeeders kind of fun.

Much of my focus when designing the mechanics will have to focus around teh technologies of the setting and the use of Ikhai to do amazing things. It is a bit like the force but more expansive and less mystical. I am still toying with what it can and can't do, but I was heavily influence with how Nen works in Hunter x Hunter, so I am likely to do something along those lines.  I want the system to be diverse and yet not over take the whole game. I have a couple of ideas on how that will work, though I am not sure if they are simple enough to suit me. We shall see.

That is the pitch, I will be digging into this more in future posts and nailing down the mechanics and the setting in a lot more detail . What do you think? Let me know. I am always interested in comments, concerns, and critiques.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

World Building Part 7: Monoculture, Mindset, and Meandering

This one is going to be a bit looser and more like brainstorming than actually nailing down specifics of the world. We have a reached a key point in world building that needs some thought. Its hard to say when exactly in a given process this point gets reached, but for this project it is time to dig into culture, nationhood, and societies. Yay!

If you are unsure of what is going on in this post here are the links to the previous posts in the series:
Part 1: Initial Arbitrary Ideas
Part 2: Airships and Implications
Part 3: People and Purposes
Part 4: Basics of Magic
Part 5: A brief History
Part 6: Deeper Magics

Back when I started this project all I had was the very basics of each people, and so it would be easy to keep them that way, as two dimensional stereotypes. However I think we can get into more detail and have a bit of fun by showcasing a bit more diversity of thought and deed within each people. Sometimes when working on a world you can stick with those basic stereotypes for a while, but if you wish for your world to feel more real you will need to deal with the issue of Monocultures.

Now what I mean by that is not something about agriculture methodology or computers. Though like those issues monculture can lead to collapse of plausibility.  What I mean by monoculture is the idea that all Klingon are warriors, all elves are aloof archers who live in the woods, or all dwarves are greedy makers of metal-craft, things like that. Monoculture is the idea that within a given species, people, or nation that all beings share the same traits.   In the real world this leads to all sorts of unpleasantness and badness, but in world building this is an issue as well. Even when you have a really solidly built world it can be easy to leave some cultures as monocultures. Its easy, and sometimes people won't notice. And because they won't notice it is even easier to do.

Whether you wish to really develop the culture in full is directly proportional to how relevant the culture is to the events that occur. Whether in a story, game, or just your own head. The more you believe in your world the more fun it will be to play with, and the more interesting problems will crop up and offer chances for interesting solutions.

Again I like to steal from the real world's history for help in this. No matter how deep you dig into a historical event there is always more complexity and nuance, so I try and emulate that. Back in part two I asked, "what the people eat?" I find this to be a useful question for world building, because if you can't answer it that shows a problem that needs fixing. I have a similar set of questions for societies, nations, and cultures. How do they get rid of their trash, and how do they get what they want? These questions are not as simple and direct as, "what do they eat?" but they are useful in giving you a sense of what their society look like and how the basic get done.

Also at this point I will need to name the world. Well, maybe not need, but I kind of want to name the world and the nations and such so that I have some dang ol' proper nouns when talking about stuff. I am leaning toward naming the world something based off the word cosmos, as it must encompass all the elements rather than just earth. Though that might be a bit on the nose. I would love to hear from any of my readers on this, what are some good proper nouns for all the various nations, societies, and the planet? Until then, to work:

 I think I will start with humans, as they are the most widespread and the driving force behind the current political climate(trying to conquer the world will do that). Also i need to bear in mind the nature of societies in the world. There is a great deal of natural seclusion, with loads of mountains, valleys, canyons and such and not a whole lot open ground. Then there are the large number of monsters and such in the wilderness. I think that most societies and nations would be highly centralized and closely linked, otherwise they couldn't stay in contact with each other or protect their citizens.

So back in the day there was this empire, and it fell. This is known. I figure that humans probably ended up with a couple of small kingdoms that tried to hold with the ideals of the empire, but the dark age demanded such from them that they only managed to hold onto the idea of empire. so we have a couple of kingdoms that are both somewhat feudal in nature(kings and barons and such) while also trying trying to appear more cultured and cosmopolitan than they really are. They maintained a senate of Peers(wealthy landowners) that ostensibly had similar power to the king. Due to the state the countries of humanity were in those senates rarely held much actual power. Since the fall of the empire humanity was seen as a non-issue, a bit of a sad joke. And then one of the nations gets airships and declared itself the New Holy Empire and began conquering everything in the name of the God-Yet-To-Come.

Now the New Holy Empire controls nearly all the lands of it's former rival human nation(which I need to name) as well as most of the lands that were controlled by the Bit-bit Alliance of City States and the Fa-chia tribes.

The Holy Empire has grown decadent and corrupt, it is only their armies and technology which hold them in power. Their are a bunch of factions within the empire that are trying to gain control of the empire(the names re just place holders):

  • The romantics - see the past as pure and simple, before the corrupting influence of this current religion and outside forces. They are anthropocentric and anti religion, they want to get back to nature while still driving out all outside influences. Within this movement are a number of distinct opinions on precisely how change should be gained and what they should do with the power. A number of famous poets and actors have espoused this ideology and it has gained a lot of traction in recent days. 
  • The Militarists - believe that the empire is not pushing hard enough and that the military should run things. They see their failure to take the last Bit-bit city and their lack of any territory in the lands of teh Njan as a direct affront. Some within the moment push for the emperor to become more militaristic, while others wish to overthrow the emperor and take power.
  • The royalists - hold that the senate has too much power and that things would be better if the emperor were to get rid of them.
  • The Populists - hold that he royals are an anachronism and that pure democracy would serve the people better(well pure democracy to the rich, the peasants should know their place)
  • The Church - want to see themselves as the greatest power in the nation so that they may finally compete the great working. though there are several different views on exactly how to bring about the God-Yet-To-Come.

The Bit-bit city states used to be the most powerful alliance in the world. Their use of Sky Knights and War Gelves allowed for communication and military unity the other nations could not employ.  While they bickered among themselves their shared religion and the impartiality of the Sky Knights led to an enlightened peace for nearly a century. The the New Holy Empire crafted Sky Ships. Now only one city state remains, the Sky Knights are nearly wiped out, and they stand on the brink of losing everything. They are the most unified people, not due to some higher calling but to their lack of options. Their hubris and lack of care has cost them much.

Njal are barely held together states unified only by their desire to remain free.
They are separated into various bloodlines who are all allied with other bloodlines and have enmity with other bloodlines.  They are extended family based and will unite only when facing outside forces. They have firm laws on vendettas and feuds, for in the past feuds have led to vicious wars that hindered their growth as a nation. These rules are enforced by the Unblooded.
Unblooded - orphan children are taken and raised in monasteries to be warrior judges who travel from clan to clan and hold impartially to the law(at least in theory). They are sterilized  so that they may not start a new bloodline and thus confuse the political landscape.
There is also the tale of the exiled bloodline who claimed that all gods were false and were exiled due to their strange madness. They wandered off into the wilderness to pray to the world spirit, though that is known to be a fruitless endeavor.

Fa-chia: tribal peoples, unrelated and hey have never really needed to gather in large numbers. I don't really have much for them just yet, I will need to do more research and more thinking on what to do with them.

OK, there it is the basics of my brainstorming on how to make cultures stand out a bit more and be a nit more complex than just a simple stereotype. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear and comments, suggestions, critiques, or whatever.