Friday, March 27, 2015

High Strung Reviewed!

My High Strung! game got reviewed by Tommy Brownell! - http://mostunreadblogever.blogspot.com/2015/03/tommys-take-on-high-strung.html Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The StarCluster is, and Always Has Been, Brown

The Cluster is a SF setting I have been writing about for years, since 2002. Three editions of the StarCluster RPG, two of the Sweet Chariot RPG, and the In Harm's Way: StarCluster RPG all have been set there.

From the beginning, the Cluster has been explicitly multiracial and multicultural. The vast majority of slow boat settlers were from UN ships, with settlers from a purposely varied group of nations and peoples. There are very few which came from single nations, which are limited to the ethnic mix of that one nation.

Why? For a lot of very good reasons. One, the UN is made up of many different nations, and by assigning passengers and crew from multiple nations to each ship, it could guarantee better representation from each nation and people. Two, people from very different ethnic mixes would give more genetic material to choose from, a far better evolutionary situation than a monoculture, so that the colony would have the best genetic chance of success. Three, by sending a mix of cultures, it could better secure funding to make the ships in the first place. So, Politics, genetics, and money all entered into the decision-making process.

To prevent ethnic cliques and cultural dominance games, with consequent cultural breakdowns over the long (1200+) years of the sub-light voyage, most of the ships used cultural emulation, where all of the people in a ship or, more commonly, in a watch - that is, all the people who were awake as crew at the same time - were encouraged to adopt an emulated culture and language different from their own. Usually, over time the synthetic culture became the natural culture, without reference to actual ethnicity. This procedure was not forced, but was voluntarily adopted on most slowboats, because of a greater chance of coherence over time.

So, the people of the Cluster were ethnically and culturally mixed long before they got to their destinations. The genetic make up of each world is different due to the different origins of the initial crew, and thus the world had it's own particular ethnicity - most tending to brown skin, dark hair, and brown eyes with a slight epicanthic fold, but all unique, all varying, and none quite like the ethnicities of an Earth long gone.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What's new in The Necklace - Pucks!

Worked on the Pucks. The combination of the Losonta and Eleena that make up a Puck is fascinating for me. An Eleena is introduced to its future host, usually by the parents, when a Losonta is very young - before its head plates close. Losontas are born through the female's false penis, so Losonta heads must be very flexible at birth. After being introduced, the Eleena burrows its tentacles through the skin into the brain and nervous system of the infant Losonta. From this moment, they are a Puck. The Eleena begins both feeding on the Losonta, and stimulating hormonal production, making the Losonta sapient as it grows.

Losonta and Eleena births are not synchronized. Losonta are two sexed, male and female, while Eleena reproduce much more rarely, through asexual budding. Horizontal gene transfer with the Losonta makes the budding much more genetically variable than with most asexual reproduction. There are thus many Losonta on planet that are without Eleena, and in effect only intelligent animals. These are used by Pucks as unskilled labor.

The Elena is very visible, perched on the Losonta's head like a soft, fleshy, bouffant hairdo. The changes made by the Eleena are permanent, so if the Eleena dies, the Losonta stays sapient., though prone to irrationality and madness. The Eleena, through control of the Puck's hormonal system, serve as a super-ego for the pair. The Losonta half of the pair is the communicator as well as the mobile unit, while the Eleena sits back and controls the larger picture. Losonta and Eleena parts can communicate by thought, though more like an internal dialog than a conversation.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Assuming Things about Aliens

A casual remark by my son during a game has changed my perspective on the Puck aliens for The Necklace. It got me thinking about assumptions and aliens, and how dangerous that is.

So, as of now, Pucks are gender-flipped. Male Pucks have only internal sexual equipment, while females have external sexual organs. Females penetrate males during the generative sex act. Females give birth through their external genitalia, like hyenas. When performing outspecies sex with humans - which is a possible thing in The Necklace - Pucks would be seen by humans as the opposite of the sex they actually are, and humans by Pucks likewise.

Why? For a few reasons:

Aliens are different. This concept needs emphasis. It creates interesting situations. I love interesting situations It messes completely with expectations. This is always a good thing. It brings perspective to the table. Playing a Puck gives the player a new point of view.

I will give the two players currently playing Pucks in my current game the choice of keeping their character's current sex, or changing it. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

My Whacky Sunday IRC Group

I don't often talk about my Sunday IRC game, because it has been running for a dozen years - with two of the original characters and one from year two still aboard - and there is an immense amount of history behind it. The players are amazing. If I miss a day because of whatever reason, they play anyway without me, and send me the log. But the latest session was so cool, I need to talk about it.

At the start of this season, back last fall, the PC's ship mis-jumped - or did it? - into an entirely different Cluster, some 50 LY away. They jumped into an area called Jeshen Space, inhabited by humanoid, hermaphroditic aliens called Jeshen, along with humans. The Jeshen were there first, and helped the human refugees from Earth spread out into Jeshen Space starting some 500 years ago. The Jeshen-Human alliance is threatened by another alien species, the Etvar, who have destroyed any human settlement in this cluster outside of Jeshen Space.

The humans in Jeshen Space long ago convinced the Jeshen that they (humans) co-evolved with animals, and thus were dependent on their animals (now uplifted) for survival. This effectively means legal enslavement for uplifts, robots, and bioroids on human worlds. The Jeshen have let humans do what they wish on their own worlds, but any creature which comes to a Jeshen world is immediately and irrevocably free.

The PCs have allied with the Jeshen, and have found indications that the Etvar are manipulating humans via their music - which reaches a non-rational emotional core in humans - and are investigating this. They also want to free all uplifts, bioroids, and robots held in servitude on human worlds. To do this they have split up into four groups.

Group One includes the pilot, the Captain, and the Captain's significant other. The pilot, Rellis, is a technically human genetically modified Wolf-Uplift/Human hybrid. She has four arms and foot-hands, as it was intended she be at home in space. Instead, she decided to be a musician, though she's also a damned good - though occasionally too risky - pilot. The Captain, Yoriko Mac Pedro, is a typical Cluster mutt. She is also the ship's cook, and squid is high on the ship diet stuffs. She is quiet, sharp, and ruthless if necessary. Her S.O. is Willam, who is a human from Jeshen Space. He is an ex-diplomat - resigned his credentials to follow Yoriko - and serves as a negotiator when necessary.

Group One is on a Jeshen planet, with Rellis trying to get a musical contract for distribution on Lorraine, a human world, where she wants to use her music as a wedge to open doors for non-humans. She was performing a gig in front of various interested parties when someone simultaneously attempted to assassinate her and himself at the climax of her song "Break the Chains!". Whether she lived or dies is not known, and focus immedialtely shifted to groups 2-4.

Group 2 includes the gunner, the engineer, and the Jeshen Military Liaison. The gunner, Brindella Singh-Wu, is also a typical Cluster mutt. She is also a clothes designer, and is emotionally labile, but surprisingly persistent and stubborn. She married the engineer, Alinthee, soon after coming to Jeshen Space. Alinthee is Jeshen, and is practical, a terrible tease, and very good with tech. The Liaison is Hylinthee, another Jeshen. She is cerebral and shy, and is engaged to Brin and Alinthee.

They have collectively travelled as first class (rich) passengers on a Sphynx Liner to Lorraine, hoping to insinuate themselves into the Lorraine upper classes. Their cabin servant, Greta, was a Sphynx construct/bioroid - part lion and part human female. The three fell in love with her and bought her from the lines, intending to free her eventually, when they leave Lorraine. They also brought along Tack, a male dog-uplift, who is pretending to be far less uplifted than he is - passing as the groups' pet.

At a meeting between groups 2-4 in a restaurant on Lorraine Station, everything got busted up by the police, and Group 2 were all arrested, Group 3 were ignored, and Group 4 escaped, during which a bus boy at the restaurant was shot dead by the police, by accident.

Group 2 endured pressure tactics and accusations from the police, but Hylinthee's knowledge of the law forced them to get the Jeshen Consul involved, and the Consul was able to free them, as any evidence was in the luggage, and their luggage was stolen.

Group 3 includes Greta the Sphynx and Tack the Dog. They grabbed the luggage and hid under a table. The police, thinking of uplifts and constructs as property, ignored them, and during the confusion, and aided by the restaurant staff, they left with the baggage on a station grav-cart, and are now wandering the station unsure how to get back in touch with Group 2. They are currently walking into a Jeshen bathhouse, which Greta thinks is operated by former passengers and friends of hers. Greta is amazingly trusting, and Tack is very young and inexperienced.

Group 4 includes the security guy and the navigator. the security guy is Eemo 'Satch' Guitierrez. Another typical Cluster mutt, Satch is highly trained by the Glorianna Royal Marines, and is hellaciously deadly with or without weapons. The navigator is Liz Montfort, former Queen of Glorianna, now a private citizen after abdicating. She and Satch are lovers, and she herself is former Royal Navy. Not at all a mutt, Liz is that rarity of rarities in a mixed racial stew, a blue-eyed redhead. All Gloriannan Queens are clones of the original queen, and HER grandfather was of the British Royal Family. Liz had her skin and hair dyed dark, and is wearing brown contacts - in order to not be so conspicuous. They had traveled on the same liner as groups 2 and 3, but third class - nasty - and were aiming to penetrate the Lorraine underworld.

In the restaurant, confronted with the cops, Satch did a master level throw, pitching one of the police into two others, knocking all three down. Meanwhile, Liz grabbed a pistol out of the holster of another cop, threatening to fire as they ran out of the restaurant. The detective leading the cops shot at her, just missing and hitting the bus boy behind her. Group four escaped into the maintenance tunnels, and are now outside the station - bypassing the alarms on an airlock - attempting to get aboard a robotic cargo lander to get to the planet surface.

So, all four groups were in a good place, and you can see why I hardly ever post about this group! :D

Monday, March 2, 2015

Direction for StarCluster 4th Edition

So, here's the thing. StarCluster 3 was huge. Intimidating. It did not give you a setting. It did not even give you a damned resolution mechanic. It threw tools at you and expected you to know what to do with them. There was no default style of play. It was too open. It gave people blank paper syndrome. They didn't know where to start. Too much information.

That is the negative feedback I got from SC 3. Of course, people who are comfortable working that way - like me - love it, but I'm in a tiny minority here.

I have to change that for StarCluster 4.

I hate to give defaults, because people take defaults and assume that they are canon, but maybe I have to. How do I do this without giving up the freedoms SC3 gave? What is the best way to approach this?

Should I create a package, with a default setting, a default chargen, a default resolution mechanic, some default aliens, and a default style of play keyed through a default Association? Maybe more than one such package?

Should I strip out the vague background universe entirely from the tools, and give tools to create your own background universe? So you can have your galactic empire or federation of planets or whatever, leaving the old Anti-empire trade and defense league as just another option?

Should I open up development entirely? I mean licensing SC3 was trivial - it cost you an extra buck to get the Developer's Edition and license, and opened up big chunks of the game for direct copy - but very few did anything with it. Should I bother? Did that really get SC out there to more people? I don't think so.

Or should I just put SC3 in the public domain and walk away? I can just keep SC4 for my friends and family, and be happy. It's not like I make money on this shit.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

StarCluster 4E

One of my settings has a known flaw which I have been steadily ignoring for 13 years. Most ships in StarCluster, whatever edition, use Matter/Antimatter drives rather than fusion drives. Unlike fusion, which is safe by default - if you shut off power to containment, the fusion reaction cannot be sustained and collapses safely - M/AM is hideously dangerous. Every instantiation is a possible bomb. If you shut off power to containment, matter and antimatter will contact and disastrously explode. Boom. City and much of the country around will be vaporized.

We just ignore that. Why? We didn't feel comfortable with fusion drives! Albert Bailey, my co-author and plasma physicist - a man who knows tokamaks like google knows search routines - didn't feel comfortable designing fusion drives which would be as flexible and as useful as M/AM drives. We mentioned them - they are there in StarCluster 2 - but they are limited, slow, and inefficient.

I will fix this in StarCluster 4, which I am beginning work on. Only military craft which do not land on planet will have M/AM drives, with civilians and planetary military craft getting enhanced fusion drives. Albert and I have worked out how they will work, and we'll finally be rid of this Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. :D