Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tinderbox Station

Randomly rolled up for a thread on RPGnet, from In Harm's Way:StarCluster:


World Description: Space Station/Habitat (This was a given.)

Cultural Technology Level: 10 (The highest)

Settlement Status: Independent State

Population: 100s of millions

Type: Humans and Aliens (Kiskit)

Cultural Traits: Hot Tempered 3, Argumentative 2, Arrogant 2

World Traits: Crowded 2, Gaudy 2, Spicy1, Rich 2

Political Traits: Ineffectual 3, Honest 2, Comic-Operatic 2

Tinderbox is the only inhabited "world" in the system of the same name. It orbits the dim red dwarf closely. There is a rich asteroid belt just outside, and a frozen water world farther out, from which raw materials are mined, but no substantial population lives outside Tinderbox itself.

Tinderbox is an enormous rambling structure, ostentatious and glittering. It is settled by a mixture of Kiskits and Humans in about equal number. The technology level is very high, and as the only source for antimatter and fusion gasses on this section of a rich trade route, Tinderbox has wealth to spare.

Tinderbox belongs to no supra-system organization, being independent and unaligned. The government is regarded as a joke by most citizens. Though government functionaries try their best, they are routinely scammed, avoided, beaten up, laughed at, and ridiculed. They are able to collect so few taxes that they stumble along on a mostly voluntary basis.

Private enterprise is a powerhouse. Most anything imaginable is available if you have the wealth. Even the poorer Humans and Kiskits of Tinderbox are comparatively wealthy compared to most places, and know it. They are arrogant, and love to duel. One had best be polite to a Tinderboxer!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

In Harm's Way: StarCluster in Playtest

For those of you interested, IHW:SC is now back in playtest. I am very happy with all the changes I made, and I think I have covered everything. Chargen is pretty much the only thing that hasn't changed since the previous playtest. I am *much* happier with starship and vehicle combat! Virtually everything is extremely customizable - clusters, worlds, aliens, ships, vehicles, and of course, characters. No two games will ever be the same, but the feel of StarCluster will be there. The use of traits throughout lends a consistency to everything. I wish I could have used the same combat system for vehicles and spaceships, but I couldn't do that and keep the physics based feel of StarCluster.

That was the important point for me. I could have a military game, but it wouldn't be StarCluster if it didn't feel right. These customizable elements end up feeling like a part of StarCluster that I never designed, which is just perfect!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

When Last We Heard From Our intrepid Heroes....

My notes establishing the end situation in my group's last OHMAS session, so we can pick things right up after Christmas:

1: There is a huge pocket on the bottom floor of the bell tower at Cambridge, being held stretched open by Franklin, a Ghost-cloathed-in-flesh familiar of the Warlock Edgar. The pocket is full of both charred and living earwigs.

2: There is a Salamader of unusual power sizzling in the pocket, frying and eating earwigs.

3: The Warlock Gwylliam and the Magus Rev. William are covered in live and dead earwigs, having just scrambled out of the pocket.

4: The Human Changeling Whit is in the form of a tabby cat, who is hunting and eating said earwigs.

5: Rev. William has a earwig which has eaten into his brain, and which is sometimes controlling what he does - each time he does anything he rolls a die. Even, he acts as himself, odd, he acts as an insect would.

6: Gwylliam is holding a glowing pin in his teeth. On the end of the pin is an Anchored Will-o-the-Whisp.

7: The Warlock Edgar is waving a torch at the earwigs, keeping them away from the entry.

8: The Savant Isabelle is near her husband Whit, trying to avoid the horrifying earwigs. It was she who opened the pocket, saving Gwylliam and William from certain death as they fell from far up the bell tower, both having fallen when Insect-William tried to eat his way into Gwylliam's brain. Luckily the proto-matter of the pocket is soft and rubbery.

9: Gwyilliam's familiar, the Sylph Melissa, is currently discorporated, and in the form of a swirling wind in the center of the bell tower.

This is the chaos I call home. You wouldn't believe what happened to lead to this...


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


In between finishing up IHW:SC, have begun work on Outremer, a Blood Games II game set at the same time period as OHMAS, but in an explicitly alt-universe. In this setting, the Crusader States have managed to survive by balancing between Sunni, Shi'ite, and Ismaili Islamic forces, and by compromise and intermarriage. The Assassins (Ismaili) have carved out an independent state around Homs, Egypt is governed by a Shi'ite Caliph, and Bagdad by a Sunni Caliph. The Turks under their Sultan have taken most of Anatolia, except for lesser Armenia (Cilicia) which is allied to the Latin states of Outremer.

Islam will be fully detailed in the game, as will Christianity and Judaism. The Islamic section will differentiate between Sunni, Shi'ite, Druze, and Ismaili Islam, while the Christian section will differentiate between Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Nestorian, and Protestant Christianity. The Jewish section will differentiate between Ashkenazic, Mizrahic, and Sephardic Judaism. Not all the States of Outremer will be Christian. The intrusion of European culture and thought into the area caused shockwaves in both directions.

There will be new Paths of Power found here, coming from the different religions and from the interactions between the religions. There will also be new monsters. The Djinn will be very important, I think.

Hope this is of interest!


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Compulsion to Showcase New Technology

Bill Corrie's Blog Hinterblog has an excellent post entitled "Compulsion of Technology in Sci-Fi" which got me thinking. This post is tangentially related to Bill's, but not directly.

Back when I released StarCluster 2E, I got a lot of people who asked - essentially - "Where's the nano-tech in StarCluster?" to which I would reply something to the effect of "In the factories where it belongs." This reply is, I think, insufficient.

I don't mention nanotech anywhere in StarCluster. Not once. Not in the core book and not in the supplements. This is by design. There are many reasons why, and I think they are compelling reasons.

First, the time frame of the game setting is some two thousand years in the future. By that time, nanotechnology will be a known, understood, and mature technology. People don't make a big thing about normal, everyday tech. Do you tell your neighbor "Hey! My new car burnes fluid hydrocarbon fuel in an internal combustion engine! Isn't that cool?" No - you only tell your neighbor how your car works if it's a hybrid or some other new technology. Nanotech is old stuff.

Second, many SF settings use nanotech in an obvious, personal way - grey goo that one squirts on matter to change one thing into another. I personally don't think nanotech would be used like that. For one thing, I think there would be elaborate safeguards to its use - it would be properly contained, programed to die if let out into the normal environment, and stringently controlled. It is too dangerous to be let out into the environment.

Third, I really dislike the use of nanotech as a substitute for magic. It's not, things don't work like that, and I'm not putting that into my game, thank you!

Thus nanotech is behind much of the technology explored in StarCluster - Active Plasteel, Active Color and texture, "Drugs" and other medical care, Bioroids and genetic design, etc. It's just used in the "factory" - behind bio-safeguards and underneath the hood, and not talked about as such. People talk about the products of nanotechnology, not the little critters themselves.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Aliens Redux

I did a rough sketch of the alien in the last blog post. Quick pencils, conventional pose, but it gets the idea across.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Randomly Generating Aliens

I've gone completely over to random setting generation for In Harm's Way: StarCluster! You can always use the setting supplied in StarCluster 2E, or SC3 if and when I ever write it, but that will not be included in the game. I wrote a section on creating aliens the other day, and finished it up today with an example. The three tables use a 4d6 roll, which gives a strong tendency to the middle. I thought I'd share the example with you all.

Example Alien

We’ll go through the steps of generating a random alien. Don’t feel obligated to use this alien in your game - it’s just an example of how you can create your own aliens tailored for your Cluster.

Diet: We roll a 10. The alien is a Carnivore.
Size: We roll an 8. They are dog-sized. Not too big, not too small.
Body Covering: We roll a 12. They are covered in scales.
Average Attributes: We need to roll for each attribute separately.
STR We roll a 19 for 10 - that’s too strong for a dog-sized creature, so let’s move that to COOR. We roll a13 for 6. That’s better. Still strong for its size, but no longer outlandish.
COOR We put the 10 from the first STR roll here.
AGY We roll a 17 for a 9. Excellent! It moves well.
END We roll a 12 for another 6.
CHAR We roll a 15 for 8. humans see this creature as rather attractive.
INT We roll a 14 for 7. Fairly smart, too.
PSI We’ll switch tables for PSI and Luck. We roll a 13 for a PSI of 1.
LUCK We roll a 15 for s LUCK of 2. Quite lucky!
Manipulator We roll a 13 for Tentacle/Trunk. Let’s make it a trunk! Trunks are cool! An elephant has two “fingers” on its trunk, and this alien has an average COOR of 10, so let’s give it 3 ”fingers” at the end of its trunk.
Locomotors Another 13. the alien has legs and hooves. That goes well with an AGY of 9!
Life Cycle We roll a21. Young-Adult, like a human. No egg or nymph stage.
Reproduction We roll a 16. Interesting! There are two sexes, but individuals change sex. Do they change at will? In crisis? In response to stimuli? Over time? Cool!
Senses We roll 2d6 and get an 8, so we’ll roll 8 times. We get Touch 1, Smell 3, Vision 3, and Hearing 1. So it hunts by sight and smell primarily.
Species Traits: We’ll assign it Lithe 2 for it’s AGY, Muscular 3 for its STR to size ratio, and Glistening 2 for its shiny scales.
Own Name: We’ll make up something - avoiding apostrophes, as they’re rather cliche! How about “Herensti”?
Familiar Name: Its most obvious feature is its manipulator. Let’s call them “Trunks”
Prejudicial Name: With that big nose, nothing but “Snotters” will do!

Done! Ten minutes tops.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Last weekend, we were playing our Aces and Angels WWII campaign instead of our usual OHMAS game because of absences. The Squadron Commander (a PC) told the flight that they were in for a few days leave in a place called Guadalcanal. The guys flew out to the island and were surprised to see a brand new field hacked out of the jungle, with fuel tanks, burned out hulks of planes, and nothing much else.

The Marines informed them they'd been had, and the pilots were appalled to hear about the daily sniper attacks and the nightly bombing by Washing Machine Charlie and shelling by a Jap cruiser from Ironbottom Sound.

One of the PCs (played by my wife, 52) looked out over the Sound, and asked about mines. When informed that there were no mines and that no one knew how to set them if there were, he replied "We could use some frogmen!" At this, another player (James, 21) looked at my wife with the most puzzled expression on his face and said: "Battletoads???"

I about died laughing!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Writing and Rewriting

I'm just beginning the third rewrite of the Vehicles section of IHW:SC. When I began writing this game in the long gone and sorely missed days of Spring - I speak now of a temporal unit corresponding roughly to a three month period, beginning in March and concluding in May, as there is no Spring Season in New England; then again February is at least 90 days long here, so I may be somewhat off - everything was falling into place so quickly I had visions of finishing it before Summer - which is a season here.

Since then I have re-written vast swaths of it. I have dropped almost anything already in StarCluster 2, instead using generators to create the setting and people it. In doing so, I have done my best to slant those generators towards creating the StarCluster "feel". This is because there is no such thing as a generic SF setting. Every SF setting contains fundamental setting assumptions which define the setting in key ways. For example, in StarCluster the fact that Fleets can't jump through wormholes with any expectation of arriving at the same time gives huge advantages to defenses already in-place, which means it's hard for the "typical" space-empire to form, which means cultures are extremely different from world to world, which means it's had to get them to agree on anything, which means any supra-system organization which they would form would of necessity be as loose and un-limiting as possible, which means... See what I mean? This one thing defines a lot of other seemingly unrelated things.

Anyway, the vehicle section has been giving me fits, but I have finally decided on two things - I will adapt the notation system of IHW: Wild Blue, which means three dimensionality is important in gravity wells; and I will use the Cold Space Vehicle Design Guide method of creating vehicles. In the CSVDG, I supplied base or iconic vehicles, and the GM could take one and use the system to change a number of parameters about the vehicle in positive or negative steps, so long as the steps in the end totalled zero. Example: Take a hover tank. Increase the Speed by 4 steps. Increase the Armor by three steps. Now you have to find some way to balance those seven steps! You end up decreasing the Range by five steps, and mounting a smaller primary weapon, giving two steps. You have a balanced vehicle, ready to introduce into play.

Because I finished the vehicle section twice before and changed my mind, this is the third total re-write of the chapter. The first modified the starship rules. Then I changed the starship rules and the vehicle rules carried the same awkwardness I had escaped from in the first starship section. So I re-wrote it, this time basing the system on the StarCluster Vehicle Design Guide. This system is very detailed, and allows you to construct any vehicle from scratch. It led to tracking too many factors in combat - the SCVDG combat rules are designed to work with small groups in small numbers of vehicles. Mass combat would be impossible. I got involved in a mares nest of "increasing X means that Y is too low, so that needs to increase, which means Z is totally out of phase for the mass..." AAARGH!

SO this time I'm going in clean. The IHW:Wild Blue vehicle combat system is designed for mass combat, it focuses only on those aspects needed in play, and it will work with the CSVDG balanced vehicle design system. I think this is the final iteration! I'm happy with the results so far!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Persistence of Old Technology

Let's assume we have a star spanning setting - a typical SF setting with space ships, wild electronic gear, armored marines, etc. What would be the most typical hand-held distance weapon? Laser? Electric shock? Tiny spin stabilized rockets? If you ask me, it's a slug thrower. Why? Easy to use, simple to make and maintain, self-contained, cheap, and deadly. But... but.. it's old-fashioned! So what! Good technology doesn't go away just because it's old technology.

What's a good model for transportation on an earth-type colony world? Anti-gravity buses? Sleek bullet trains? How about a prop-driven flying boat or amphibian? No need for infrastructure as it can land in any body of water, simple repairable tech, could be produced by the colony instead of imported, good range, and adequate load-bearing whether passengers or cargo. Colonies don't have established infrastructure like tracks and airports. They don't have extensive high tech manufacturing. Exotic materials may be scarce until their economy matures.

Instead of looking for flashy and sleek, let's look at sustainable, easily maintained, simple tech. Sometimes older technology is good enough, and sometimes it may be preferable in a different situation.