Saturday, February 27, 2010

More Outremer junk - just ignore and move along...

A couple more Outremer maps. First, the rainfall map:

Note the correspondence between the states and the annual rainfall patterns.

Next is the religio-political map of Outremer:

Now you see the isolation of Ascalon, the balance between the Turks, Baghdad, and Cairo, and the position of power the Ismailis (AkA the Assassins) have taken with Homs.

I love maps!


Friday, February 26, 2010

StarCluster 3E Possibile Outline

Here's what I am currently thinking, based in part by what you guys have said:


CharGen - Stats by Random, Determined, and Template means
CharGen - Human and Humanoid option examples
CharGen - Uplift, Bioroid, and Robot option examples
CharGen - Backgrounds as in IHW games rather than Primary Schooling.
CharGen - Colleges and Advanced Schooling
Chargen - Civilian Professions and Intensive Training
Task Resolution - At least three different sub-systems
Setting - System Generator
Setting - Diasporan background and Cultural Lineages
Setting - Alien Generator
Spaceships - Example Civilian Ships
Spaceships - Space Travel & Civilian Combat System
Vehicles - Example Civilian Vehicles
Equipment - Example Civilian Weapons
Equipment - Personal
NPCs - NPC Generator


Spaceships - Civilian Ship creation system
CharGen - Planetary Edges
CharGen - Human and Humanoid options
CharGen - Implants and Genetic Modifications
Vehicles - Civilian Vehicle Combat system
Setting - Local Area Definition


CharGen - Uplift, Bioroid, and Robot options
Spaceships - Starship Crew section
Vehicles - Vehicle Creation system
Equipment - Weapon Creation system
Setting - Adventure Generator


Sample Adventure
Cluster Religions


StarCluster 2E Setting
StarCluster 2E Aliens
Martial Arts


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Outremer - Ascalon, and More Setting Crap to Ignore!

When Saladin swept over the Kingdom of Jerusalem before the Third Crusade in the real world, he started with a crushing victory at the Horns of Hattin, near Tiberias in Galilee. In Outremer, Saladin is just as brilliant, but much weaker, as Egypt and the Hejaz were never incorporated into his empire. He still wins the battle near Tiberias, but Baldwin, the Leper King of Jerusalem and his army were able to retreat to Caesarea on the coast, south of Haifa. The military religious orders - the Hospitalers and elements of the Templars, the Knights of St Lazarus (the Leper Knights), the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Teutonic Knights - on the other hand, retreated to their fastness around Ascalon. There, despite repeated attacks, Saladin was unable to push them out.

When Richard Courleon, Saladin, and Baldwin made their pact which led to a Muslim/Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, the area around Ascalon was excepted, as it was controlled by neither Saladin nor Baldwin, and the religious orders refused to give it up. Ascalon became an Order-State, controlled by the Hospitalers, but with all five fighting orders in residence controlling parts of the land.

The Hospitalers controlled the city of Ascalon and it's hinterland. The Templars controlled Jaffa in the north, and the Teutonic Knights held Gaza in the south. The City of Ibelin was the home of the Knights of St. Lazarus, while the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre took the town of Beit Dejan. The headquartes of the five orders were moved to their territories in Ascalon over the next few decades.

By the present of the game - 1560+ - the Order State of Ascalon consists of a triangular wedge of coastline between the Kingdom of Jerusalem/Emirate of El Kuds to the east and north, and Egypt to the west and south. The state is populous and wealthy, and defiantly and almost completely Christian. The land is farmed by a population of mixed native Christians and Europeans, who form the lower ranks of the armies of Ascalon. The Knights take their fighting seriously, unlike many orders of chivalry, and are trained to a pinnacle of skill. The Knights do accept natives and those of mixed ancestry into their orders as well as Europeans, although it is most uncommon with the Templars and Teutons, both of which have vast European holdings.

Here's a map of Outremer:

Map of Ascalon - Style 2 - Ink


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Suggestions for StarCluster 3E

So I'm looking for suggestions as to what to do with StarCluster 3E - what people want included, what would be cool, what was a waste of time in 2E, etc. 3E will be created from IHWSC, not from 2E, so I'm not going to be chained to anything in particular.

I have a thread open on The RPG Site

And another open on RPGnet

If you want to post there more permanently... :D


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

IHWSC Session

As the player characters were armoring up in my IHWSC game, Thor announced he was suiting up in a montage to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkeries". Not to be outdone, Wakko announced he was suiting up to "Eye of the Tiger". Then Baldy announced she was suiting up to "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood", and Mug just started singing "Why Can't We be Friends?".

See what I have to put up with?


Monday, February 22, 2010

In Harm's Way: StarCluster and StarCluster 2E

Well, i released In Harm's Way: StarCluster today, and at the same time released StarCluster 2E for free download. I'm starting work on StarCluster 3E, and I thought 2E would be a big plus for some folks in the meantime. IHW:SC is just not at all civilian, but it will work fine with SC 2E.



Friday, February 19, 2010

Terminology for the New

I've poked that this before with a sharp stick, but not everything new is innovative. Designing a game based on reading sheep entrails (call it the Haruspex System!)may be new, but newness in and of itself does not equate to innovation. I distinguish three separate levels of the new:


This is what most people mean when they talk about innovation. If something has not been done before, it is a Novelty. It may be more, but it is definitely at least Novel. A Novel mechanic can be good, bad, or indifferent, but so long as it's new, it's Novel. The Haruspex System iss very certainly Novel.


This level pertains to fitness of use. If a Novelty is well made, and useful for its intended purpose, it is also Original. Originality is the highest quality of newness which can be judged immediately. The Haruspex System, if well crafted and useful, may also be Original, delighting its fans with the verisimilitude and setting engagement it provides for Primus Inter Pares, a Roman political game.


This level can only be judged long after a mechanic or other concept is released. If it is copied, imitated, mutated, and used in other games by other designers, then it becomes Innovative. It has changed the nature of game design by its creation. The Haruspex System is very unlikely to be Innovative, tied as strongly as it is to the Roman setting it was created for, but perhaps the principles of how it works can be applied to inkblots or tea leaves or other semi-random things. If so, it may become widely used and Innovative in spite of itself.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Addendum and Explanation

In the comments to my last post, Bill disagreed with my final phrase: 'So the question is not "Is it historical?" The question is "How historical is it?"' I agree with his point entirely, because I was not clear who should be asking this question.

This is the question a GM or group needs to answer before running an historical game. That this game will *not* be truly historical is a given. These PCs did not exist in history, so therefore all historical gaming is alt-historical, without exception. But does this fact mean you might as well throw out any pretense of being historical? Of course not. It means you need to answer this question for yourself, as to what your group wants. There are a whole spectrum of answers, all of which are correct. Taking pains to be as historically accurate as possible is no more correct than making the vaguest hand-waves about period feel. Answering this question tells you how to approach the game. It doesn't matter if the designer is all anal about historical authenticity if your group doesn't care about it, so don't let that stop you.

And now for a general disclaimer, and the reason this is a new post instead of a comment: I can't comment on this blog from my work computer. Not at all. I can make new posts, change the structure of the blog, edit old posts, comment on other blogs, or anything else, but I cannot post a comment to my own blog. I can either wait 'til I get home, or post a new message. Yes, this is weird. I have no idea why this works this way - it just works this way.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Historical and Alt-Historical Gaming

This is from an exchange I had with David R on the RPG Site. He mentioned that his IHW: Napoleonic Naval game was historical except for gender roles - i.e. they had an openly female captain. He added that he supposed that this made his campaign not historical. My reply was that all historical games become alt-historical once the PCs set foot in them, though some are more historical than others. This is a very important point, and one which could go a long way towards easing the apprehension most gamers feel towards running historical games.

It's like the man who asked a woman if she'd sleep with him for a million dollars. She thought a bit, and said she would. He then asked if she's sleep with him for twenty dollars. She got very angry and asked if he took her for some kind of whore. His reply was that they had already established that, and were now dickering over the price. By allowing PCs into an historical setting, you have established that it is non-historical, and now you are just dickering over how non-historical it's going to be.

GMs in particular fear running historically based games because they don't want to mess with history. They prefer something which is alt-historical from the get-go, because then they can let the players have their head. This can lead to what I call the "Inglourious Basterds" school of historical gaming, where they go completely over the top, because as long as they are being non-historical, anything goes. BTW, I'm not knocking the movie, as I loved it - it was my favorite this year, and the best thing Tarantino ever did. :D

Other GMs, if they do allow their players into an otherwise historical setting, try to keep them to the cracks and crevices of history, places and times where not a lot is known, and nothing important is happening. Thi "PCs as Historical Roaches" approach has never really appealed to me, and it seldom appeals to players. They prefer to be where things are happening, important things, where they can take a hand in forming what comes next.

That's a big point in my experience! Players love making history. My approach is to keep it as historical as possible, except for the PCs' actions, and the reactions to those actions. They were not there historically, but they are there in the game. It's their presence that makes this alt-history, and they can change it however they wish, so long as they make their rolls, and work with the materials that are there. If they want to kill Hitler, then they are welcome to try. It ain't going to be easy - many, many people tried to assassinate Hitler, and they all failed - but it will be possible.

So the question is not "Is it historical?" The question is "How historical is it?"


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cultural Tensions

After I posted the account of last session, I realized that you may think "racheting up the tension" is a general phrase, but it's a game mechanic which may be of interest. It can be used with any game with a cultural clash, especially where one culture is much more powerful. "Alien" as a descriptor can be taken either as meaning "of non-Earth origin" or as just "very different" when applied to other games.

SaVaHuTa is a very large organization, particularly as compared to independent and alien cultures. When dealing with a different culture, care must be taken to keep public opinion in that culture from resenting the League - it is easy to see the League as bullying. The tension meter will help you keep tabs on what that opinion is.

First you need to establish the baseline for relations. Some cultures are just not going to get along. Start at 5.

Diplomatic Relations - i.e. embassies, consulates - gives a -2.
Moderate Trade gives a -1
Shared Ideals gives a -1
Cultural Exchanges give a -1
Cultural Traits that are viewed positively give a -2
Heavy Trade gives an additional -1 over and above the award for Moderate Trade
Alien Culture gives a -2
Historic Alliances give a -1
Recent Wars give a +1
Cultural Traits that are viewed negatively give a +2

This is the normal or typical level of tension between the Alliance and the local Culture. Thus an Alien Culture with Diplomatic Relations, Moderate Trade, and negative Cultural Traits would have a baseline of 5+2-2-1+2=6, or Tense.

The Cultural Tension Meter

1 Friendly
2 Casual
3 Polite
4 Guarded
5 Prickly
6 Tense
7 Simmering
8 Hostile
9 Angry
10 Hateful

Then you can adjust it for current PC/NPC actions.

Emergency Help gives a -1
Disaster Aid gives an additional -1 over and above the award for Emergency Help
Careful Restraint from escalation of violence gives a -2
Public Apology for a wrong - or perceived wrong - action gives a -1
Active Contrition - punishing the perpetrators - or some likely scapegoats - for a wrong gives an additional -1 over and above the award for Public Apology, but only if the Active Contrition is believed to be sincere.
Acting Weak gives a +2, which is awarded if the local culture doesn't believe the Active Contrition is sincere.
High-handed Actions - or actions perceived as such - give a +2
Civilian Injuries give a +1
Civilian Deaths give an additional +1 over and above the award for Civilian Injuries
Religious Disrespect gives a +1
Outright Sacrilege gives an additional +1 over and above the award for Religious Disrespect

Friendly relations have an easy give-and-take aspect. Small peccadillios are readily forgiven. The relationship is very solid.
Casual relations mean the cultures mingle readily, but some sharp corners are still present. Some resentments may lie hidden from overt notice.
Polite relations are somewhat separate by design, and any trust given is always verified.
Guarded relations are not trusting. Cooperation is grudged and short. Little mingling occurs.
Prickly relations mean the cultures are mistrustful - both sides are always looking out for perceived slights.
Tense relations mean relations are formal and very distant, lies are plentiful. Official pretense at cooperation masks popular resentments.
Simmering relations are just below the boil, popular anger is just under the surface, and official cooperation is not even pretended.
Hostile relations are openly bitter and angry. Resentment is public and loud. The culture is just waiting for an excuse.
Angry relations are physical. Stones are thrown, knives flash in alleys, and people stay behind locked doors.
Hateful relations are the short step before open war. Officials now lead the physical attacks. Agitators are promoted. Blood will be spilt.

Hope this is of some use to folks!


Saturday's Session

Last session, in our IHW:SC game, we decided to come up with grunt characters. Our ship, the Frigate Copperhead, carries 120 Marines and has six drop tubes, so it can land a respectable force, in fact the Marines far outnumber the Navy on this ship, but so far we have been only playing Navy Officers, with the Marines as faceless nobodies. The players each made a Marine character, with the highest rank being a Lance Corporal. Most of them were human, but we also had an alien who had grown up on a SaVaHuTa Space Habitat.

We were in the middle of a typical IHW:SC crisis - the embassy on Lemon, a Lepha - AKA Big Cat - world, had been invilved in a big hubbub. A Lepha had been shot dead on the Embassy grounds, and the Lepha were royally pissed. A sniper killed the Ambassador, and we flew in the new one from a nearby world. There had been several attempts to kill the new Ambassador, including a suicide bombing, but all had been defeated. We had ended up last mission by sending Marines after the body of a Lepha sniper the PCs had shot.

The sniper was in a parking garage some distance from the Embassy grounds, but overlooking them. The Marine Officer grabbed the sniper, but a Lepha mob was storming up the ramp after the PCs. She ordered the PCs to cover her as she got away with the body. The four PCs - the whacky Lance, a Viking-esque PFC, a sarcastic female Private, and the alien Recruit - were all wearing power armor, and the mob was unarmed and unarmored, so they confidently waded in. They took down a large number of Lepha, using non-lethal combat, but the mob was undaunted - made a morale check - and swarmed over three of the PCs, with only the Viking free.

The Viking got the Lance out, and the Private managed to free herself with unarmed combat. At this point, the Lance tossed a Talking Bomb into the crowd - it's a bomb that says "I am a talking bomb, and will explode in 5 seconds. I am a talking bomb, and will explode in three seconds. i am a talking bomb, and will explode..." BOOM! The mob failed it's morale and ran, they got the alien out, and A-Grav jumped out as the garage exploded behind them. The bomb killed all the Lepha they had put out of action non-lethally, and heightened the tension.

Next day, after some hijinks involving tying the alien's tail to his cot, then waking him with an alarm, with hilarity ensuing, the group was sent on a quick snatch and grab mission. An agent had managed to tag a noted rabble-rouser and the PCs were to grab him and detain him for questioning. This is, of course, very illegal. Just as the PCs were about to make a quiet grab, the target stepped into a waiting grav-car and sped away. The PCs had been using A-Grav flight, which is slow but silent, well above the Lepha crowd. Instead of dropping back and following, they decided to make the grab. They dropped to the street and used Grav-glides - like frictionless ice skates - to speed off after the grav-car.

They were spotted, and the target's body-guards started firing at the PCs out the back window. The PCs split up, two to flank the car on either side and two to follow, putting out the bodyguards. The guards were both shot, and the driver put the car into flight mode to get away just as he was shot. The Lance jumped onto the hood of the car, took out the windshield, and grabbed the target. They rendezvoused below building height, avoiding the police who were swarming about the area, and made it back to base. Tensions are ratcheted up another notch.

So far, things are progressing very well!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Additive Primitive Fencing?

Oooh! I just had an idea! Additive primitive fencing! The fencer learns basic maneuvers - positions, thrusts, parrys, etc. - and strings them together into coherent, complex attacks. The character can string together as many primitives as he has ranks in the skill. That could be *very* interesting!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Whooshy Space Fighters!

IHW:SC has two space combat systems. One is the main one, used by default for all space combat. The other is Appendix D, an optional Space combat system for small craft - i.e. space ships smaller than 100 tons. 100 tons is the size of the Shuttle, so small is a relative term, but it's smaller than a 747. This system is optional, because it breaks the firm, grounded in science mode of the rest of the game, but it's there if you want to use it.

The difference is the Inertial Capacitor, a squishy device - presumably made from unobtainium - which stores energy used to overcome inertia in straight line flight for use in maneuvering flight. The capacitor is rated at different storage capacities which is inversely proportional to the size of the vessel - thus it's use only in small craft.

The maneuvers use an additive Primitive scheme, where a maneuver consists of a number of "Primitives" - basic maneuvers - strung together, with penalties and energy usage added up. You can string together as many Primitives as you have ranks in the Pilot skill, so that crack pilots can just flat out do more, as well as do it better.

Hopefully this gives folks the proper Star-Wars-y swooshing feel, which is how most people envision space combat with fighters. I prefer the standard system myself, but I wanted folks to have the option. IHW:SC is all about the options, after all.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Negotiations in IHW:SC can be modeled much like assaults, and this technique is portable across any system. You try to push the enemy out of the area he is holding, back to the place you want him. Each party - and there can be more than two - has a goal in the negotiations, and each side has a negotiating team. I like using an abstract map with the starting positions in the center and the various goals on the edges. Here's an example:

In the example, there are three parties negotiating a treaty dealing with an independent world's relation to SaVaHuTa. One side, A, is xenophobic, and wants the League out of the world entirely. Side B wants only trade with SaVaHuTa, with no political association. Side C wants full membership in the League.

Each side has one main negotiator, and an equal number of assisting, allied negotiator. The allies go first, each using a skill to manipulate the other side - the skill does not matter, although it needs to be explained as to how it can help. Intimidation, bribery, inspiration, conviction, seduction... anything is possibly of use. Each success at this level gives a Small bonus to the main negotiations, each failure giving a Small penalty. The main negotiators face off with their modifiers, using the appropriate skill. A failure means the side has to move from its position one area towards the winning side's goal.

If all sides win, then the negotiations remain deadloacked for another round - I like to make one round equal to a day, but it doesn't really matter. When a side has been pushed to another side's goal area, then that side has lost the negotiations and is out. The negotiations end after a set time period, for example 20 rounds, or only one side remains viable, whichever comes first. If time expires, the negotiations have failed and the status quo remains in force. If only one side remains viable, then the negotiations are successful, and that side wins.

I have adapted these rules from my own assault/boarding rules in previous incarnations of IHW, assisted and clarified by the Social Combat rules in Diaspora. You are - of course - free to roleplay it all out completely, to play this negotiation like a minigame, or mix and match roleplay and rules as you see fit.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

IHW:SC Finishing Up

I'm in the home stretch with IHW:SC. The last major thing to do is run a final spell check and generate the index. I finished up the alternate fighter combat system last night, It's more different from the aerial dogfighting than I anticipated at first, but I've retained the fun factor. Instead of discrete maneuvers, I have a set of Primitives which can be combined into ad-hoc maneuvers, with the limit being the pilot's skill rank. This system works only for small craft, and the smaller the craft, the better. Something the size of the space shuttle (100 tons) is the limit.

This alternate system is as soft as a grape. That's OK. The do-it-yourself ethos I've run with in IHW:HC means I'm not in control anymore, so folks might as well please themselves. The breadth and limitlessness of the game is leaving me breathless. It's topping the scales at about 412 pages, and it's absolutely packed. If you use this with StarCluster 2, the opportunities should be mind blowing.


Final Version of IHW:SC Cover

The final cover is finished, after around 70 posts on the thread i started on the RPG Site! I got a ton of advice. The reactions were far more accepting than I had anticipated, and a whole bunch of folks jumped in with great ideas. It's thanks to them all that this turned out so well!

I'm very happy with it! :D


Thursday, February 4, 2010

IHW:SC Cover and Copperhead Frigate

Here's a couple more illos. First the front cover for IHW:SC

Next is a side view of the example ship, the Frigate Copperhead.

Note that the illo isn't done with a 3D renderer. It's a hand done e-painting, so it's not exactly perfect.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Vehicle Control Sheet for IHW:SC

Here is the final version of the IHW:SC Vehicle Control Sheet. This is similar to the look of all the sheets used in IHW:SC.

Coming Full Circle

StarCluster 2E is a fairly firm SF game. It's based on the fiction of CJ Cherryh, Larry Niven, David Brin, and other classic SF writers. It evolved system wise from Traveller, Ringworld (BRP), and SPI's Universe. It was originally designed in the early-to-mid-eighties, typed on a typewriter. My group at the time played a scenario - later rewritten and released as The Nugik Adventure - and then demanded more D&D, which was their unvarying response to playing anything else. They indulged me, grudgingly, then wanted to go back to what we (eventually) played for 20 years.

By the early nineties, I had just had enough D&D. I was beginning to hate running games, and that was not good. I was totally burned out. I disbanded my group and took a year or so off from gaming, but my son was getting to that age where he wanted to roleplay. I ran him and his friend Paul - the son of one of my old players - through an AD&D adventure, then asked what they wanted to do next. They answered that they would like to try something different, and didn't I mention once that I had designed my own game? I was floored. They tried out the game I had written way back when - running them through the Nugik Adventure, which came out totally different this time - and loved it, but even while they were enjoying it, I was beginning to alter it in my mind. We began a long series of explorations to figure out just what needed changing.

By the year 1999, I had completely re-written StarCluster through many different versions, though it was still recognizably the same game. By this time my new gaming group had grown, and they said I should publish it. I began re-writing the game for publication, and released version 1.0 in 2002 on the new RPGNow. It was weird - it consisted of a bunch of separate pdf books, like Traveller. It had a bunch of gaps and inconsistencies, and I was painfully re-learning how to draw after a 30 year gap and the illos suffered.

I incrementally improved the product, and in 2004, I released StarCluster 2E. it was completely revamped, much smoother, and got a lot of interest. I went on to develop other games using variations on the same mechanics, but I've wanted to rewrite StarCluster again for a long, long time.

By the end of the month, I should be releasing In Harm's Way: StarCluster - which is my latest take on this perennial game. It is *very* different. It doesn't replace StarCluster 2E, which will remain available until I write StarCluster 3, and maybe even after that, but it supplements it. IHW:SC is a military SF game, where SC 2E is decidedly civilian. You can play IHW:SC in the SC 2E universe, or play SC 2E in a IHW:SC universe of your own making. Virtually everything in IHW:SC is customizable, and I doubt there will be two games played nearly the same anywhere. PCs were always wildly customizable, but now the setting, the aliens, the ships, the vehicles, and more can be molded to your liking, and there will be three task-resolution sub-systems you can choose between - percentile roll under, dice pool roll under, or bell-curve d6 roll-over. I will be using this model for StarCluster 3 when I ever get around to writing it.

Also, what I started writing this blog entry to announce before I staryed off into history-land, there will be not one but two space combat sub-systems. One will be the StarCluster standard Firm SF, but the other will be soft and squishy, apply only to small craft, and be based on the vehicle combat rules, which are in turn based on the air combat sub-system developed in the In Harm's Way series to date. The group can choose whichever one they like, and I am betting the star-wars-ish Soft SF will be the more popular. I personally like the firmer, default one, but that's just me.