Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Genesis of Traits

I've been using Traits for a while - since Blood Games II back in 2007 - but I've kept them applying only to character personalities. I got the basic idea from Risus' cliches, not from Fate's Tags/Aspects. I've been a fan of Risus for a long while - it's an elegant extremely light game system. I didn't read Fate until SotC came out, and since I didn't care all that much for SotC, I didn't use them 'til I got StarBlazer Adventures at GenCon in 2008. Risus' cliches are ranked and free form, and are meant to be used as descriptors and mechanics equally. I used them to apply to the character's personality, so that the personality would be of mechanical use to the character.

Applying Traits to things other than personality is due to two game system mechanics - Precis Intermedia's Gimmicks, and Fate's Aspects. Both are descriptor mechanics applied to many different things, and work the same wherever applied. I really liked that, and decided - rather than creating a new mechanic or importing Gimmicks or Aspects - I'd use Traits which are already integrated into the system and are similar descriptor/mechanics.

This frees up a *lot* of overhead trying to get random generators working properly. The generator I came up with for systems doesn't have to account for making perfectly natural results, because the creator can edit them simply with some re-arrangement and application of Traits after the fact. I don't have to make sure the worlds come out in order, hottest to coldest, because you can re-arrange the results. I don't have to worry about small differences between worlds because Traits takes care of that. I don't have to generate governments or cultures, again because the creator can apply Traits as needed. I don't have to worry about the differences between planets and moons, because the re-arrangement and Traits deal with that. Does this world make more sense as a moon than a planet? Make it a moon! Want to make this vaguely earth-like world different from that one? Make one Stinking 3, Jungle-clad 2, Thick-Atmosphere 2 and the other Chilly 3, Flinty 2, Hardscrabble 2.

I'm enjoying this!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

More on Traits

I've extended the traits system to system and world generation, as I mentioned in my last post, but since then I've pushed it a lot further. Let's take a look at the Tenderloin system, presenting in the Making Your Own Cluster post, but this time with Traits in place:

Char is a burning quasi-molten cinder, and is unsettled.
World Traits: Searing 3, Hellish 2, Baking 2
Culture Traits: None
Government Traits: None

Light Belt
Light Belt is an Asteroid Belt, and is a Diasporan Community State. There are tens of millions of Humans living in this belt. Tech Level is 9.
World Traits: Sculpted 2, Light-gravity 2, Rocky 2, Heavily-modified 1
Culture Traits: Meticulous 2, Argumentative 2, Jumpy 2, Judgmental 1,
Government Traits: Theocratic 3, Hereditary 2, Honest 2

Hero is a Gas Giant, and is a SaVaHuTa Colonizer with billions of mostly Human inhabitants living in the clouds. Tech Level is 10.
World Traits: Cloudy 3, Stinking 2, Lovely 1, Windswept 1
Culture Traits: Gregarious 3, Roguish 2, Greedy 1, Sly 1
Government Traits: Corrupt 3, Despised 2, Rapacious 2

Blue Ring
Blue Ring is a Ring System, and is a SaVaHuTa Colony with millions in population, mostly Uplifts. Tech Level is 9.
World Traits: Highly-modified 3, Beautiful 2, Desolate 1, Empty 1
Culture Traits: Spacey 3, Off-kilter 2, Audacious 2
Government Traits: Functional 2, Capricious 2, Disinterested 2, Open 1

Haricot is a water world moon, with almost no land. it is a SaVaHuta State, with hundreds of millions of people, mostly Humans and Vantors. Tech Level is 8.
World Traits: Oceanic 3, Windswept 2, Populous 1, Fresh 1
Culture Traits: Officious 3, Bombastic 2, Loyal 2
Government Traits: Popular 2, Bumbling 2, Bureaucratic 2, Overbearing 1

Andalusia is a hot, rocky, and dry moon, and is currently unsettled.
World Traits: Dusty 2, Arid 2, Flinty 1, Baking 1
Culture Traits: None
Government Traits: Mone

Heavy Belt
Heavy Belt is an asteroid belt, and is an Alien Colony, inhabited by Tumuran. Tech Level is 8.
World Traits: Rocky 2, Crowded 2, Rough-hewn 2, Light-gravity 1
Culture Traits: Off-kilter 3, Nefarious 3, Arrogant 1
Government Traits: Tiny 2, Ineffectual 2, Under-funded 2

Quiver is an icy water world, and is currently unsettled.
World Traits: Oceanic 3, Icy 2, Sculpted 1, Virgin 1
Culture Traits: None
Government Traits: None

Tinkerbelle is a small iceball moon, and is currently unsettled.
World Traits: Icy 3, Light-gravity 2, Empty 2
Culture Traits: None
Government Traits: none

Now that gives you an excellent picture of these worlds, without too much information. The Traits can be free-form or picked from a list of examples, like these. Even if you don't use them as mechanical devices, which is certainly possible, their utility as descriptors is excellent.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Traits for Non-character Use

One of the things I am doing is extending the Traits mechanic I have used for some time to use in describing other things. Traits in the SC system work sort of like Tags in Fate, except that you don't need to use a token to invoke it - it's a resource pool which refreshes per session - and there is no formal mechanism for a GM to compel it - though informally I use stuff like "Wait a minute! George has Hot-Headed 3 as a Trait! Do you really thing he's going to take that insult so calmly?" all the time, and it works. Traits are free-form, though I supply a list of suggestions to prod folks who are having a tough time on their own.

So with these new generators I'm creating for clusters, ships, vehicles, and aliens, I am adding Traits. You have seven points to distribute among at least 3 Traits, with no more than three points per Trait. So a culture which is Xenophobic 3, Pious 2, and Mercantile 2 would be very different from one which is Cosmopolitan 2, Refined 2, Snobbish 1, Back-stabbing 1, and Educated 1. A person from that culture would have these as personality Traits by default, though they can always vary as much as they like.

A ship might have Reliable 3, Comfortable 2, and Maneuverable 2. A vehicle could be Cramped 3, Up-Armored 2, All-Terrain 1, and Hard-to-Hit 1. An alien could be Intimidating 2, Fast 2, Huge 1, Revolting Diet 1, and Excitable 1. It all works slickly. Individual vehicles and ships could be customized - perhaps changing one point a year with successful applications of the proper skills. Even if they are only used as descriptors and never invoked, the system is simple, flexible, and shows how relatively important a Trait is.


In Harm's Way: StarCluster Progress

I finished the section for IHW:SC starship creation. As expected, it makes creating ships very easy, at the cost of a little flexibility and a lot of space. I created a few example ships, both to test out the method and to use as illustrations, and it all worked very well.

Next I need to create a similarly simple method of creating vehicles. I am thinking the best way to do this is the method I used in the Cold Space Vehicle Design Guide and the StarCluster Weapons Design Guide. In the CSVDG, I listed iconic vehicles with stats, and supplied a method of modifying the iconic vehicle in various ways, so long as all changes balanced. For example, you could add armor, but you'd have to drop something like speed or range to compensate. I'd create the iconic vehicles with the StarCluster VDG, and would recommend that for creating any user-generated iconic vehicles.

Next on the list is an alien generator, for peopling your own Cluster. This should have some wierd twists - the advanced aliens from the regular StarCluster game are not humans with funny foreheads or cat-aliens. Toads (Guaru) are humanity's closest allies, but their reproductive methods are creepy as all get out, and Slug-roaches (Tumuran) are just *wierd*. Imagine a species so alien that they "trade" by taking stuff and leaving what they consider just compensation in its place. And people call them "slug-roaches" for a reason - they eat decomposing food, scurry en masse on six slick, rubbery tentacles, and leave a trail behind.

This alien generator would be real useful even when playing in the standard StarCluster setting - I only created the Advanced species, leaving Backwards and Primitive species as an exercise for the GM. :D

Advanced in SC lingo means the species has at least fusion power. Backward means they have at least steam power but not fusion, and Primitive means pre-steam. These categories apply to human societies which could not maintain technological cultures during - and after - the 1200-1700 year long Diaspora as well as alien cultures. Cultures will only be contacted and traded with if they are Backward of higher. It is thought - with some solid evidence - that Primitive societies cannot stand the strain of contact, and tend to unravel.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Function of Randomization in Simulation

"Why does a presumably trained and qualified surgeon have a 70% chance of success? That's a 30% chance of failure! Any surgeon with a 30% failure rate would be stripped of their license!"

Ever hear stuff like this? I do, all the time. The problem comes from the first assumption made, in which the dice are assumed to be rolled every time. If this first assumption is not true, then the random system is a much closer approximation to reality. If instead the assumption is that the 999 iterations that went without a hitch are not played out because they have no interest for the participants, then when in the 1 in 1000 occasion which is rolled for there is a 70% chance of success, then the actual odds of success are 99.97%.

Now why is that 70% there? Why not just give the surgeon a 99.97% rating? Why mess with randomness at all? At this point isn't it basically 100%?

That randomness represents a slew of external factors, all rolled up into one and abstracted. All things are not equal, and the random factor is there to tip the equation. That doctor with a 99.97% success rate going into surgery may be coming down with a cold, the scrub nurse perhaps is upset, having just broke up with his girlfriend, and the anesthesiologist is possibly worried about an IRS audit coming up. Maybe there's an equipment fault, or an electronic glitch. In practice we can't deal with so many small influences, so we abstract their effect to a single random roll.

If you are going to work solely with modifiers, then you have to itemize every influence. It isn't worth the bother, so we abstract it to a roll. The roll represents unquantifiable factors - unquantifiable either because they are so by nature or because they individually are below the resolution of the simulation. Quantifiable factors are always best expressed as modifiers. By taking out any random component, you are essentially stating that either all factors are quantifiable or that all unquantifiable factors are collectively below the resolution of the simulation.

So that's what the 70% roll represents - It doesn't mean the surgeon fails 30% of the time, it means that surgeon has a 30% chance of allowing these outside factors to interfere in what would normally be a successful operation, if such factors are present and significant. The vast majority of the time, they are insignificant, but for this operation, they are significant.

We normally don't play out the stuff with no chance of failure. For those things every qualified surgeon is at or close to 100%. It's the tricky ones that get played out. If there is no pressure from external factors, there should be no roll - and there isn't, unless you have one of those ass GMs who make PCs do a dex check every time they walk.

Here is what I am saying, in a nutshell: If the GM calls for a roll, it means unquantifiable external factors are potentially interfering with the usual, expected result. The factors are balled up and abstracted into the surgeon's roll. The roll is not "Is something going to go wrong" but "When the thing which is going to go wrong goes wrong, how well does the surgeon handle it?" If there are known factors which are easily quantified, the GM is free to apply situational modifiers as required.

Now whether anyone designs games as pure simulation is another point entirely. I certainly don't.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Making your own StarCluster Setting

Back when I started working on the first version of what would become StarCluster - about 1995-96, long before I released it - I created a bunch of cascading random tables which were extremely complex, with weighted results and lots of modifiers. These tables I used to create the Cluster, the actual setting for the game. Once I had finished with the tables, I junked them. Tossed them. I never intended to release the game, it was initially designed for just me to use, and I didn't need them any more.

Flash forward to 2002, and the release of StarCluster. One of the persistent requests from everyone who asked me was "How can I generate my own setting for the game?" I had to answer "You can't. I randomly generated the Cluster, then tossed all the notes. I couldn't replicate it from memory if I tried."

Some weeks ago, I read a friend's copy of Diaspora - which I'm in the process of getting for myself because it's damn good - and their cluster generation system tickled something in my brain that wouldn't go away. It sat there in the back of my head and insisted that it was important. I just left it there, knowing how semi-autonomous my brain can be, and let it fume and perk.

Last night, it did a data dump, with a complete random Cluster generation system in three tables. It was far more compact and simple than my original system, but generates remarkably similar results. Here's a random cluster section, the Mammoth Loop:

Now that just *looks* like the Cluster! So far so good!

And here's the randomly Generated Tenderloin System:

Tenderloin is a small, dim star with two Jump Lines ‐ a Jump 5 to Soba, and a Jump 2 to Higgs. Rolling for # of Worlds, we get a roll of 12, for 9 worlds. That’s a moderate number.

World 1: Andalusia
Andalusia is a hot, rocky, and dry world, and is currently unsettled.

World 2: Light Belt
Light Belt is an Asteroid Belt, and is a Diasporan Community State. There are tens of millions of Humans living in this belt. Tech Level is 9.

World 3: Tinkerbelle
Tinkerbelle is a small iceball, and is currently unsettled.

World 4: Blue Ring
Blue Ring is a Ring System, and is a SaVaHuTa Colony with millions in population, mostly Uplifts. Tech Level is 9.

World 5: Hero
Hero is a Gas Giant, and is a SaVaHuTa Colonizer with billions of mostly Human inhabitants living in the clouds. Tech Level is 10.

World 6: Heavy Belt
Heavy Belt is an asteroid belt, and is an Alien Colony, inhabited by Tumuran. Tech Level is 8.

World 7: Char
Char is a burning quasi‐molten cinder, and is unsettled.

World 8: Haricot
Haricot is a water world, with almost no land. it is a SaVaHuta State, with hundreds of millions of people, mostly Humans and Vantors. Tech Level is 8.

World 9: Quiver
Quiver is an icy water world, and is currently unsettled.

What if a Roll Just Doesn’t Fit?

There are two ways to deal with a roll that just doesn’t fit, like a Space Station/Habitat with billions in population. You can ignore the roll and reroll or pick something you think fits better, or you can figure out just how billions of people live on a space habitat, which means getting creative. You choose!

Rearranging the Worlds of Tenderloin

This arrangement of worlds in the order rolled doesn’t make much sense, so we’ll rearrange the worlds into something more reasonable. Char goes into close orbit around the star Tenderloin, as it’s too hot to go anywhere else.
Next out we’ll put the Light Belt, the DC State.
Next out, let's move the Gas Giant Hero, and move Blue Ring, Haricot, and Andalusia around it as moons.
Next out, we’ll put the Heavy Belt, the Tumuran Colony.
Lastly, there is Quiver, the icy waterworld, with its little iceball moon, Tinkerbelle. The Tenderloin system is done.

Again, that really has all the earmarks of a StarCluster system! Several different political systems in the same stellar system? Check! Humans, Humanoids, Uplifts, and Aliens, all living cheek-by-jowl? Check! Stellar system loaded for conflict? Check! Mix of Tech Levels? Check! Unconventional worlds? Check!

This is actually going to work!


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Future Projects

I have a bunch of projects that are very interesting to me, but I'm not sure which I should do after IHW: StarCluster. Here's the choices:


This would be an alt-historical Blood Games game, set in the Holy Land. History diverged when Saladin's brother married Richard Couerleon's sister as was proposed but did not happen in real history. It is now 1600, and the Crusader States have survived in an uneasy alliance-conflict cycle with the Islamic kingdoms of the area. The cultures of the area have blended and merged in different ways, and new hybrid states have emerged. This game would take much of what was developed for OHMAS, and bring in new Islamic and Judaic Paths of Power.

In Harm's Way: Pigboats

This game would be an IHW game set in WWII, with the PCs being officers and crew (troupe style) of submarines. This is a natural for RPGs - a self-contained vehicle with a moderate sized crew sent out alone on dangerous missions where there would be little strict oversight from the brass, and lots of room for PC improvisation. It woudl use the IHW ruleset of course.

A Very Different Now! - AKA Lowell Was Right!

This game would be another alt-history. This time, the idea is that the general scientific community of around 1900 actually got it mostly right. The very-different concepts that underlay Fin de Siecle science, if they were true, would yield a very, very different universe. In this world-view, for instance, the solar system's planets each had a time where life could thrive on them, but as the sun shrank and new worlds were created further in, the older, outer planets became cold, dark, and lifeless. Mars is older, but still habitable, with canals and a breathable but thin, cold atmosphere; while Venus is younger, a hot jungle planet with perpetual rain. The older civilizations on the moons of the Gas Giants have had their time in the sun, the Martians are no longer the fearsome force that destroyed the sixth planet and created the Asteroid Belt, and now - in the first years of the 21st century - it is Earth's time to shine. I don't know what system I would use - it's not pulp, but a very different Now - but Bill at Hinterwelt was intrigued and we may make it a cooperative project.

And there's always Glorianna... sigh!

So what do you all think?