Tuesday, May 31, 2011
This weekend I worked on polishing up Outremer, ordering a late beta print version from lulu to look it all over in print. Outremer is *not* yet on sale, I just loaded up a pdf and the covers to Lulu for a proof.
Klax sent me his latest - the vehicle construction system for Look! Up In The Sky! Now I have to lay it out into the document and edit it. I particularly loved the example vehicles!
In addition to running my usual two games this weekend, I began serious work on the StarCluster 3 and Outremer games I'll be running in Montreal next month at le Grande Roludothon. My wife and I were up all night making characters and setting up organizations.
Friday, May 27, 2011
One of the things I am interested in exploring with In the Beginning is The Economics of Slow. In SF games, everyone is interested in Fast. There are many things which must be delivered quickly - humans for example. Yet many more things would be more advantageous to deliver slowly - metals, ceramics, manufactured items, etc. - because of the steep cost reduction slow delivery entails.
Let's say we have a refinery in the Belt, and a market on Mars. Flying a ship from the belt to mars and back would be hideously expensive. A better way might be to set up a cycle of robotic light sail craft - cheap to build, and cheaper to operate, with no consubables and no lie support. Each individual craft might take months to move between the endpoints of the route, but if you use a lot of them, a delivery will happen every few days either way. Say it takes six months, 180 days, between Mars and the Belt via light sail. If you have 25 craft, you will have a delivery every (180/25)= 7.2 days. If you have 50 craft, that's a delivery every 3.6 days. The more craft, the more it becomes a flow, a waterfall of refined metal.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
The second new appendix, Appendix D: Muslim Titles, lists Arabic and Turkish titles that would have been used in Outremer, such as Sharif, Bey, Alim, Haji, Ghazi, Caliph, and Sultan. It also includes titles which were known in Outremer, but were not used often, such as Khan and Shah. In some cases, modern usages of terms such as Sayyid have changed since the times in the game - Sayyid originally meant one was descended from Huseyn son of Ali, and therefore noble, but now in many countries is the equivalent of saying "Mister". The scholarly titles were particularly tricky, as one must judge the particular degree of learning and respect - calling a Mujtahid a Mullah would be fairly insulting, though both are Alim, or Islamic scholars.
I thought both of these would be really helpful if one were to run a game in Outremer - the kind of thing a GM wouldn't think of, but might get totally stuck on when a player says "What's in this feast?" or "How should I address this fellow?". Knowing a Faris ranks above a Ghazi, and a Emir above a Bey might be very important in certain circumstances!
Monday, May 23, 2011
The horoscope for the next day revealed Trickery would be rewarded in Conflict. The idea was that the party would dress in the clothing of the people they had killed and captured, Except those who were to be taken alive, and gain entry into the castle at Baalbek. Everyone agreed. They wanted to speak to the emir. Again, everyone agreed. The next day (this last session) they rode, dressed as the Emir's men, through the streets of Baalbek to the citadel. The gates opened and the party rode into the citadel. They were greeted by a grizzled serjeant who said "You are not the Emir! Who are you?"
At this point things broke down. Some of the party had realized the guy with the cool clothes and sweet horse *was* the emir of Baalbeck. He was dead. They thought everyone knew this. When the party agreed they needed to speak to the emir, some were thinking "emir of Baalbek" and some - those who knew he was dead - were thinking "emir of Homs". The leader of the party was paralyzed at this point, because he didn't realize what was happening. he had just wanted to gain entrance to the citadel to talk to the emir, not realizing one of his party was wearing the emir's clothes and sitting on the emir's horse right beside him.
Men came rushing out of the central keep along the walls and the gates were shut, sealing the party inside, and still the leader didn't give the word to attack. Finally he gave word, and the party exploded into action. Throughout the battle, some of the party thought they were getting massacred, and were trying to call a retreat, while others thought they were winning, and were boldly advancing. finally, the few men left standing on the emir's side surrendered, to the bewilderment of some.
Then the party's leader, presented with a fait accompli, had to say something. He declared he had taken the city of Baalbek for the Emir of Damascus, the hereditary enemy of the Emir of Homs, and whose lands the party had recently passed through. Madness! No one knew why he said that. They weren't working for the Emir of Damascus, They were , in fact, a secret society dedicated to maintainng the political status quo. There could be no doubt the Emir of Homs would gather an army to crush this upstart in Baalbeck, then on to Damascus. Disaster!
Finally the party took counsel and the leader realized what he had done. They could not hold Baalbeck, and didn't in fact *want* Baalbek. The Emir's wives were given rich gifts and sent to their parents, except the youngest, who, being an orphan, could not be. The leader married her himself so she would be taken care of. A small part of the money in the coffers was given over for a feast of celebration for the wedding, followed by a day of remembrance and prayer. Then the leader gifted the city to the mosques and the party left Baalbek on the third day.
It was bizarre, and horribly dangerous. The party went from unknown to suddenly disposing of entire cities. They earned the enmity of the Emir of Homs. They may have started a war between Homs and Damascus, though the actions taken after that rash declaration may have confused the situation enough to stop that. If they are not successful, they will be caught between two armies.
The name of this secret society? The Tangled Web. How prophetic!
Thursday, May 19, 2011
In order to function as a relic or artifact, the object must be held to be true before it is used, with the successful use constituting the proof of its power. If an object is claimed to be holy, those hearing the claim must either attempt to doubt or accept it's power when the claim is made. If they decide to doubt the claim, they must fail on a Test of Faith to truly believe. If they decide to accept the claim, they must succeed at a Test of Faith to truly believe. This test has the following modifiers to believe:
If the object is found under supernatural circumstances, such as a person claims he had a dream or vision where the object could be found, and the object is found there undisturbed, such as buried under firm layers of soil, the modifier is -3 to disbelieve, and +3 to believe. If the object is found disturbed, for instance if the soil is broken up or loose, the modifier is reversed to +3 to disbelieve, and -3 to believe.
If an unbroken chain of possession stretching back to the original or previously proved provenance can be provided, such as mention in wills or letters, the modifier is -2 to disbelieve, and +2 to believe. If the chain is broken, for instance if the object is mentioned first centuries after the object was lost, the modifier is reversed to +2 to disbelieve, and -2 to believe.
If the object is found in reasonable circumstances, such as on the battlefield where the original was lost, or the tomb of the saint or prophet, the modifier is -1 to disbelieve, and +1 to believe. If the object is found in an odd place, for instance if the object is found in a location the person was known not to have died or lived, the modifier is reversed to +1 to disbelieve, and -1 to believe.
In other words, the more convincing the circumstances of its discovery, the more widely accepted the claim will be.
Relics and artifacts also vary in power. The more obscure the saint or prophet, the less power it will hold. This power would be ranked from 3 (highest) to 1 (lowest) according to this parameter. This number is the additional number of dice all believers in the object would have when in the presence of the object, but only when the object is on their side. This is reversed is the object believed in is on the other side, to a penalty of 3 to 1 dice, with a minimum of 1 die.
Relics and artifacts can only have power over people who believe in them, for good or ill. Since the Hebrew saints and prophets are considered holy by both Christians and Muslims as well as Jews, objects connected to them can have power over people from all three faiths. Christian saints or prophets would have no power with Muslims or Jews, and objects sacred to Muslims only would have no power over both Christians or Jews.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Antioch is the lesser, northern terminus of the Silk Road, and its economy depends on trade. It also exports much food, as the Orontes Valley is very fertile and well-watered.
Aqaba owns the Hajj pilgrimage route, as well as the lucrative Red Sea trade of incense, gold, coffee, and slaves. Its merchants sail all over the Indian Ocean, bringing spices and riches into the ports. it mines some copper, and the distilleries export Arak, mostly to Christian countries.
Armenia is in a perpetual cycle of war with the Turks. It is more than self-supporting agriculturally, but buys a good deal of weaponry from Acre and Cyprus.
Ascalon is a Trade-and-Agriculture economy, bouyed by the adoption of radically new agricultural techniques by the orders, led by the Hospitalers. It cannot possibly feed itself, with its huge cities and tiny land area, so instead it produces valuable crops for export, like cotton, linen, dye-stuffs, liquors, and other luxuries, exports them, and uses the profits to import bulk food.
Cyprus is the other pre-industrial state in Outremer. It also has focused on weapons, which - along with glass-blowing and copper - make up the bulk of its exports. The farms are rich but primitive, and land use is far from optimal.
Damascus is the Muslim partner of Acre, and they share many similarities, though Damascus' large fertile land area allows it to be self-sufficient in food production even though large areas are semi-desert. Weaving of wool and cotton are important parts of its economy, along with trade and weapons production.
*Galilee is the prime agricultural area of Damascus. Much of its food is grown here, and exported to Acre or sent to the capital.
Edessa is famous for horses, which are bred for various tasks, from chargers to hill ponies. European breeds are crossed with Outremer's native Arabians, Barbs, and Turcomans to create new breeds optimized for climate, disease resistance, and task. The horses are exported overland to every nation except Rhodes and Cyprus, which go through Alexandrette and Armenia.
Homs exports specialized cloth - especially for harem-wear - and fruit and nuts. Pistachios and almonds are big export items throughout Outremer, along with the hardier fruits. Soft fruits like melons and grapes are consumed internally.
Jerusalem's only export is wool cloth, but it is a prime pilgrimage site, the third holiest city in Islam, and the holiest city in both Judaism and Christianity. The Muslim royal family keep hands off on religion, but tax the pilgrims, raking in a fortune. The city is full of churches, mosques, and yeshivot, and there are dozens of other sites like the Mount of Olives and the Via Dolorosa which are musts on every pilgrim's list, along with nearby Bethlehem.
*Caeserea is the port of Jerusalem, both the city of Caesarea and Arsuf to the south being busy ports. Nazareth is a major pilgrimage site on its own, and most Christians and Jews come through Caesarea on their waty to the Holy City. It is also the prime port for transhipping both cargo and Hajj pilgrims to Aqaba and the Red Sea, most importantly to Mecca and Medina.
*Moab is the Hajj gateway to Aqaba. Everything and everyone destined for the Red Sea comes through Moab on its way, and the Principality takes it's share of the tolls. It is a dry and treeless plateau, but fertile when irrigated, and after the winter rains. Balsam and salt are exported.
*Transjordan is the gateway to Baghdad and many overland caravans, coming from the north and east. The land is reasonably fertile, especially after the winter rains, and the land is sef-sufficient in food. Wool is its only export of note.
Rhodes itself exports wine and olive oil, but it is as trans-shipper for goods moving between Constantinople, Outremer, and Europe that the nation makes its living. The big, powerful Rhodian Navy keeps pirates at bay, and the route through Rhodes clear and profitable. Escorted convoys routed through Rhodes are slower than going it alone, but far, far safer. Only the Templar and Hospitaler ships from Ascalon compete using the southern route, and they escort only their own ships.
Tripoli trans-ships wines, liquors, and foodstuffs throughout the Outremer, serving as the port of preference for Homs and Aleppo. There is little to no manufacturing or mining here, and the county has little which is exportable on its own. The hinterland is productive but small, hemmed in as it is between mountains and sea.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Arabic is the most commonly used language, thanks to the influence of the Koran. All Muslims are encouraged to read the Koran in its native Arabic, and thus non-Arab Muslims can speak and read Arabic in addition to their native Turkic or Kurdish languages. From this position of advantage, it has become used as a second language throughout Outremer, mostly displacing Aramaic in Muslim areas.
Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Arabic and Hebrew, is spoken mostly by Jews in Outremer, as Hebrew is a sacred tongue used in the synagogue rather than a living tongue. Some Syrian Muslims and Christians also speak it, though Arabic is the main language of these groups. It is widespread, but never spoken as the majority language.
Frankish, or Lingua Franca, is the language of most of the European-descended inhabitants. It is derived from Old Langued'oui French, some German, and Italian, and with many Arabic loan words. Related is Edessan, which is derived from Langued'oc French, because most of the settlers were Aquitanians and Angevins, from when Eleanor of Aquitaine was its Princess. Edessan has many Arabic and Kurdish loan words, and a strong Armenian element as well. it is spoken widely in Edessa and Armenia.
Armenian, a native Indo-European language, is spoken mostly in Armenia and Edessa, with a strong presence as well in Jerusalem.
Bohemian is a dialect of Czech and Slovak spoken only in Cyprus. It is a Slavic language, with many Greek and German loan words.
Turkish - an Altaic turkic language, is the language of the Turks, spoken in Edessa and the Othmanli Sultanate, as well as parts of Rhodes and Armenia.
Kurdish is the language of the Kurds, an Indo-European language. It is spoken mostly in Edessa, but also in Armenia and the Othmanli Sultanate.
English is spoken only in Acre and parts of Damascus.
Many Outremer natives are fluently multilingual, with most of those who are not at least bilingual, and which languages they speak natively - that is without taking the Linguistics skill - will be up to the GM.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Inhabitants of Ascalon:
Ancestry - New French, Frank, German, Arab
Languages - Frankish, German, Arabic
Religions - Roman Catholic
Edges - Warfare, Fortification
Relations - Relations with:
- Cairo are Strained
- Cyprus are Good
- Jerusalem are Awkward
- All others are Normal
Political Traits - Theocratic 2, Martial 2, Conservative 2, Puritanical 1
Physical Conditions - Crowded, Orderly, Flat, Maritime
This gives a quick overview on the nation. Inhabitants covers ethnicities, lanuages, and religions in the nation. Edges says what the people from Ascalon are good at. Relations tells us what the diplomatic relations with other nations in Outremer are like. Cultural Traits give us the Stereotype of the typical inhabitant. Political Traits tell us what the government is like, and Physical Conditions describes the nation's topography.
I think this kind of precis can be very valuable as an in-game reference. Sure, you could infer these things from the descriptive texts, but it's hard to find information buried in text when you are reading at the table. This way, it's all out there and easy to find.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
For example, in the First Crusade, at the siege of Antioch, the Crusader army was trapped in Antioch with no food, and a huge Turkish army all around. In our records, a soldier dreamed that the spear of Longinus, the one that wounded Christ on the cross, was buried in the city. He searched around, found a place that matched the dream, and dug, finding an ancient rusted spearhead. With this sign, the crusaders felt they were unbeatable, and they were - crushing the Turks, and opening up the conquest of Outremer. It's all there in the record. Yet when we look back on it, we see a crass attempt to manipulate superstition by foisting off some corroded junk as something historically and spiritually vital, not the will of God made manifest. The magic was always there, we just can no longer see it. In Blood Games, skepticism dilutes and destroys magic, and skeptics are sinkholes of nullity. There are just too few of them in Outremer to matter.
So it's important to make a believable timeline, with magic working as it has always worked, behind the scenes, underpinning everything.
Monday, May 9, 2011
James continues to have troubles getting here because of his jobs, especially now that we've switched back to Saturdays so that Adam can make it. Next week, we are splitting James and Michelle off on Sunday while our main group continues to meet on Saturday. We'll still be playing the same playtest campaign, but the two groups can work simultaneously but separately. This is in addition to Klax and my IHW:NN game over IRC on Sunday morning. Klax is also playing in a D&D game in Orland Sunday evening with his project group.
Speaking of Klax's project group, here is the url to their Facebook page . According to Klax, it's to be a full 3D puzzle-platformer.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Stereotypes are another name for cultural Traits in StarCluster 3 games - they are what you might get if you asked a stranger for a generalized description of a whole culture. They are very useful as descriptors for the culture as a whole, and as personality traits for people from that culture when it's not worth creating a personalized set of Traits. They also can be used as starting points for player characters when choosing their own Traits. What follows are stereotypes for the nations of Outremer - note that entries preceeded by * are quasi-independent subdivisions of a nation.
Aleppo: Cultured 3, Proud 2, Pious 1, Protective 1
Antioch: Arrogant 1, Argumenative 2, Hot-tempered 1, Prickly 3Aqaba: Efficient 2, Lazy 1, Cheerful 2, Independent 2
Armenia: Warlike 2, Arrogant 1, Loyal 2, Stubborn 2
Baghdad: Lazy 1, Cultured 3, Inventive 1, Argumentative 2Cairo: Tolerant 3, Creative 1, Good-Humored 2, Proud 1
Cyprus: Clannish 2, Defensive 2, Loyal 2, Meticulous 1Damascus: Inventive 2, Accepting 2, Cultured 2, Proud 1
*Galilee: Laid-back 2, Tolerant 2, Bucolic 1, Aloof 2Edessa: Arrogant 2, Expansive 1, Loyal 2, Brave 2
Homs: Standoffish 2, Aloof 2, Vengeful 1, Subtle 2Jerusalem: Proud 1, Cultured 3, Superior 2, Sarcastic 1
*Caeserea: Proud 2, Urbane 2, Superior 1, Glib 2*Moab: Proud 1, Standoffish 2, Superior 3, Close-mouthed 1
*Transjordan: Proud 2, Defensive 2, Aloof 1, Sarcastic 2,Othmanli: Proud 2, Stubborn 3, Warlike 1, Cheerful 1
Rhodes: Methodical 2, Cultured 3, Arrogant 1, Patient 1Tripoli: Flexible 2, Sly 2, Cheerful 2, Creative 1
Hope this is helpful!
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Another new player joined us as well, Martha. She had never played before, but fit right in, playing a badass half-Angel who is a bit too bad for the Light, but nowhere near nasty enough for the Dark. She and Klax' half-Djinn interrogated the prisoner by playing catch with him four miles above Damascus.
We played the Outremer playtest, of course, but Saturday was a more in-character day. We determined that the group needed a leader, so we held a series of votes, all of which were flawed because Klax's character kept cheating in hilarious ways. Eventually we held an election in which no one noticed his cheating, and went with it. in that last election he wasn't trying to win, but to avoid no votes at all, and luckily it tipped the balance away from an NPC and towards a PC, So I was happy to go with it.
The group also determined from interrogating the Minstrel we had captured that the Grandfather of Assassins was north of Damascus, and the Oracle had a vision of a castle in the mountains, so the group decided to work its way north from Damascus. They were in the hills south of the Bekaa valley when their group was hit by Sandwalkers - a nasty amalgam of crab and scorpion that prefers camel meat. They were dispatched, but the Oracle was grieviously injured in the process.
That's it for the recap!
Monday, May 2, 2011
This allowed me to prove empirically that system does indeed matter. The flavor of the games would change markedly depending on the resolution package I was using. The percentile StarPerc mechanic, for example, allowed a big random element in Quality, as chance and quality were entirely separate rolls. This meant skill was less important because it had no influence over quality of success. It also encouraged to a far greater degree abstract tactics. Players would freely take a penalty in one aspect to enhance another aspect, and there was greater control, with small gradations and three different aspects - four with the optional Active Defense rule - to tweak.
StarPool on the other hand, with its d20 dice pool with skill rank+1 dice rolling under stat and counting successes, has chance and quality tightly bound in one roll, both heavily influenced by skill. There are only two aspects - three with optional Active Defense - to manipulate, and the gradations are coarse. Consequently, players are less likely to use abstract tactics, and will tend to stick with their die rolls straight.
So, let us construct a sequence of events in StarPerc and see if it can happen in StarPool. We will take a tyro with a pistol, say skill+1, against a enemy threatening his family, friends, and shipmates, and he is the last defense. The character knows he's a tyro, so he will do whatever he can to improve his lot. Say he rolls a 25 on his initiative. He immediately changes this by 95 to 120, waiting and waiting to the last for the best shot possible, giving him a +95 to split between chance and quality. He bumps chance up by 25 from 50% to 75%, and gives himself +75 to his quality. He could also throw in traits or edges as appropriate. Let's say he uses his "patient" trait to give him an extra +10 to chance, now at 85%. He now has an 85% chance to hit, his damage is d%+75+20 from the pistol, so between 96 and 194 points, with an equal likelyhood of anything in between, and a mean of 146. That is a hell of a blow in one shot.
Now with StarPool, he has two dice to roll under his attribute. He can throw in his "Patient" trait for another die, to make three. He can knock his initiative back, giving him an extra die for each 3 points of initiative. Say he rolls a 5 - equivalent to the 25 rolled in StarPerc - so he can add 5 more dice by going up to 20. With eight dice, he is almost assured of at least one die rolling under his attribute of 9 for a hit, so lets assume a result of between one and 8 successes, most likely about 4-5. With each success worth 10 points to success, that is 10-80 points, most likely 40-50, +20 for the pistol. The range then is 30-100 damage, but strongly tending toward 60-70. Since Constitutions in StarPool are half that of StarPerc, if we double the damage, we can compare the two directly - low 60, high 200, very strong mean of 120-140.
"So what's the difference, clash?" you ask. "Looks like you pretty well nailed it, with high, low, and mean right close in there." The difference lies in two things, the strong propensity for the mean with multiple dice results, and the psychological aversion to taking advantage of the point trading/abstract tactics inherent in a lower variable system like StarPool. Players don't think statistically when they are in-character. Players think viscerally, and the transparency of the percentile manipulations, which can easily be handled viscerally, at the character level, trumps the obscure 3-points-of-initiative-for-an-extra-die of the pool, which can't. Players won't take that kind of risk, especially knowing they will most likely end up with the mean or near to it.
So, upshot is that the character will not hold out til last and give one huge bang with StarPool. I have never seen a player change more than two three-for-a-die units in StarPool. Never. In most combats, only one unit is changed, by one PC. That's usually it. Three-for-one, which is perfectly sound statistically, is not such an easy choice to make psychologically. Play changes to accomodate. Player Characters go with skills they are good at, and ignore skills they aren't good at.
So - at the group level, system is important. Yet play is not radically changed - it still follows fairly closely to the patterns established using the other system. It's just edge conditions that are different. Thus other things are *more* important in play - trust between players and between players and GM, internal logic of the game so far, estimations of the goals and resources of the opposition, and the inherent parameters of the setting are all *more* important to what happens in game, and they are extremely hard to quantify for the GM, and impossible for the designer.
So, does system matter? It very certainly does. Is it the most important thing? No, not by a long shot, not at the table. For designers, it's a parameter they can control, so it is far more important for them, but for the Group? Not so much.