Thursday, September 30, 2010

StarCluster 3 is Out, and Self-Balancing Edges

Just to note, SC 3 is out. The Developer's Edition is outselling the Standard Edition by about 10 to 1, which is weird. I doubt that many people want to develop for the game, so why spend more money?

I realized today that Edges are self balancing. If you define the Edge broadly, you cover more conditions. If you define it more tightly, it's more likely to be able to stack with other Edges. I love self-balancing stuff!


Sunday, September 26, 2010

StarCluster 3 Developer’s License

Purchase of the StarCluster 3 Developer’s Edition, and registering your intent to use your license with xxxxxxx@yyyyyy.zzz, entitles you to develop new material based on the materials in this game. As a registered developer, you may use the ”Powered By StarCluster 3” logo on the next page. You may publish this work commercially, or you may publish this work non-commercially as you wish. As use of the ”Powered By StarCluster 3” logo tells the customer that your work is compatible with StarCluster 3, use of the logo on non-compatible works would be non-compliant.

What You Can Take:

In your derivative work, you specifically may use the text from pages numbered 50 to 56 and the pages numbered 67 to 73 from the StarCluster Character Generation chapter, the entirety of the Guide to Skills, PSI Skills, Edges, and Traits, and the entirety of the Playing the StarCluster RPG chapter if you wish, with or without alteration. You may use the ideas and concepts in the rest of this game book, but may not use any other text from this book without expressing it in your own words. This is a license to develop your own work based on this work, not a license to copy or distribute this work.

You may:

Produce an entirely new game, optionally using the material specified in the preceding paragraph along with your own developed work.

Produce supplementary material for your own game based on the StarCluster 3 game, as in the preceding paragraph, such as setting, equipment, adventures, and other supplementary material.

Produce supplementary material for the StarCluster 3 game, such as setting, equipment, adventures, and other supplementary material.

Produce new resolution sub systems for use with this work or any other work derived from this work.

Use the generators and tools in this game to produce your material if you wish.
Refer to concepts and system components by the names used in this book - there is, for example, no need to rename Traits to something else in order to use the concept. This practice is, in fact, recommended.

Change the orientation and size, but not the proportions, of the ”Powered By StarCluster 3” logo.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Simplifying StarCluster 3 Chargen

Most of the crunch in StarCluster 3 is in Chargen. The chargen for the game is designed to yield very individual PCs at the end, but the process is detailed. I've been thinking about how to shorten this process for developers who do not want or need the fine detail inherent in the process.

Let's drop the concept of separate skills entirely, and make Professions functionally equal to Skills. In effect, professions become broadly defined skills, like Risus cliches. A Soldier can do any Soldier thing, and a Lawyer can do Lawyer things. Skill Rank can equal Professional Rank. The rate of professional rank acquisition is up to the developer, but a StarCluster 3 standard 35% promotion rate translates to 3.5 promotions after 10 years, so that would round up to 4 promotions, or one rank every 2 years, when the base +1 is figured in. one can roll for rank acquisition, or you can assume it, or you can allocate points, whatever the developer prefers.

As for education, figure a Bachelors worth +2, Masters +3, and PhD worth +5 in the subject studied. Background skills should be treated as Edges - Hardscrabble Farmer, or Pampered Rich Kid - and be worth 1. I think this scheme would be easy to set up, simple to use, and be very much in the Pulp/Comic spirit.

One doesn't have to define or even list these Professions. People know what modern professions entail, and can supply them ad hoc if needed. A few examples will suffice in this case. Otherwise, a listing like the ones in the StarCluster 3 book - without the skills - would suffice for settings with professions that need detailing.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

StarCluster 3 Finished

I did the last bits of StarCluster 3 yesterday. Spent the day indexing and spell-checking everything. The only thing left is the developer's license, which still has to be worked out. I'm looking now for reviewers. The game will be released the 29th.

I could not find a license that would do what I wanted, so I will have to word my own. As I AM NOT A LAWYER, this will probably fail utterly to either protect my work or encourage others to share what they do with it. Thus I am dreading this.

I am just about wrung out. I know two games will be developed by others under this license, but beyond that I am totally blind.


Monday, September 20, 2010

The Axes of Skill Handling

I've been playing with a concept over on The RPG Site the last few days. The idea is that how a system handles skills can be quantified along certain axes. The axes we seem to have settled on in the thread are:


For the purposes of this discussion, anything that functions as a skill is covered. For instance some games use Professions or Classes as skills, in that they are what supplies the character's target number - or the character's part of the TN - for a test. This does not cover actual interpretation of how skills are handled by a GM, which is impossible to quantify for all GMs.

Player/Group-defined<--->Designed is a continuum from a game whare all skills are player or group defined and/or created to one where all skills are designed into the game by the designer. Example: Risus allows players to create their own Cliches - the functional equivalent of skills in that game.

Broadly-defined<--->Narrowly-defined is a continuum from a game where all skills are defined so as to cover a great deal of circumstances to a game where each skill is defined so as to cover a very limited set of circumstances. Example: A skill such as Science is generally broadly defined, where a skill like Hydrodynamics is generally narrowly defined.

Edge-defined<--->Center-defined is a continuum from a game where all skills are defined by their limits to a game where all skills are described by their central focus, with the limits being left vague. For example, GURPS skills are generally defined with a statement describing in a fair amount of detail what is and is not covered by the skill, whereas in Risus a Cliche like Lion Tamer is defined as "Stuff that has to do with Taming Lions."

Overlapping<--->Discrete is a continuum from a game where different skills may apply to the same situation to a game where the problem dictates the skill used. For Example, one game may allow you to use your Rifle skill to operate a pistol - either as is or with a modifier, while another game may force you to use the Pistol Skill, perhaps with a default.

Nested<--->Stand-alone is a continuum from a game where all skills start out as root skills which can in some manner be specialized into several other skills to a game where all skills are essentially unrelated. For Example, in Ringworld, you can take a root skill of Physics, which can be specialized into Physics: Astrophysics and/or Physics: Plasma etc.

The endpoints of these axes are essentially theoretical - such paragons seldom exist in the real world - but they are none the less effective. As to the gradations, make them however fine you want to make them. Strongly - Weakly - Neutral - Weakly - Strongly works fine, or 1 to 10, or -9 to +9 for that matter. However you feel comfortable.

Some combinations are more common than others I'm sure you can supply dozens of examples for some combinations, and none for others. Breaking down how one can handle skills is a useful tool, either in design or in nailing down why one reacts the way one does to a particular game, thus allowing you to apply that to other games.

How many times have you heard "I can't stand games with over X number of skills!"? On the surface, this makes no sense - there is no cutoff switch in the brain where when X is reached no more information can be processed. However, maybe they are actually disliking Narrowly-defined and/or Discrete and/or Edge-defined skills, all of which are associated by custom and usage with long lists. If you can address that, you have gained something.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Detail and Field of View

Here's an experiment. Take your camera and look at something through the view finder. Zoom all the way in. Now zoom all the way out. Notice that, zoomed in, you can see many details of the area you are focused on, but when you zoom out, you can see a much larger area. This is a law of perception - Field of View and Level of Detail are inversely related, given the same data flow. When you increase your Field of View, you decrease your Level of Detail, and vice versa.

"Well, clash," you say, irritated at the irrelevancy of the previous paragraph, "What's a camera got to do with RPGs? Are you changing your blog subject now?"

Hear me out! That is just an easily demonstrable illustration of that general principle, which applies to anything, including RPGs. The more detail you put in, the smaller your field of view needs to be, or else you need to increase the amount of information - i.e. make the game longer. This applies to everything - systems as well as settings.

Generally, increasing detail gives you increased flavor, but there are things you can do to increase flavor without increasing size much. Painting in broad strokes while implying much more is one way. With this method, the reader supplies the missing detail, much as the viewer of the movie Jaws supplies the shark. Increasing detail in the system - which generally is much smaller in total size than the setting - while keeping the setting sketchy is another. With this method, interacting with the system supplies the missing setting flavor. A third way is to allow the users to generate the setting in whatever detail they like by supplying setting generation tools. This engages the group's/players' creative abilities in a rewarding manner.

Of course, you can always just write more on the setting...


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Skills: The Thinning

Some folks really, really, really are bothered by the number of skills available. This attitude has always surprised me, though I don't question its validity for those concerned, so let's explore thinning out skills in the StarCluster system.

One thing you should always keep in mind - reducing the number of available skills directly reduces character options and thus character flavor. This is an asset in some genres, like Pulp, with its strongly drawn archetypes, and supers, to whom skill use is of minor importance next to Powers. It is not an asset in genres with subtle differences between character types, but if you are bothered by number of skills, this is presumably not a problem, or is taken care of in other ways.

Reducing the number of skills itself is not a problem in the StarCluster System. Since all skills are center-defined, as a skill is removed, the other skills close by naturally expand to take up the slack. For example, medical skills in standard StarCluster 3 would be Diagnosis, Treatment, Surgery, Drug, and Herbalism. If you removed Drug, Herbalism, and Diagnosis, you are left with Treatment and Surgery. Just subsume some of the damage that would be healed by Drugs or Herbalism into the other two skills' healing, and you are set. You could also roll Treatment and Surgery together as well, if you want to, into a Medicine skill, also increasing the damage healed once again. Using this collapsing process, you can bring the StarCluster galaxy of skills down to about 20 core skills, or anything in between, as Klaxon did for his supers game, Look! Up In The Sky!.

Now you need to change the rate of skill acquisition by the compression factor - the ratio between the starting number of skills and the number you ended up with - otherwise you will end up with supers in every hovel, and everyone able to do everything at a Master's level. For example, SC 3 has about 100 skills, including PSI skills. Compressing it to 20 skills gives a ratio of 5 to 1, as 100 divided by 20is 5. If it takes 5 years to learn 5 skill ranks in standard SC3 professions, then it should take you five years to learn 1 skill rank in the compressed Skill version of professions. This ratio would also give you 3 Background Skills for your first 18 years. As for education, an Associates degree would give you one skill in 2 years, a Bachelors 3 skills in 4 years, a Masters 1 skill in 2 years, and a PhD 2 skills in 4 years.

You would probably have to mess around with the professions of course, but that would be relatively straight forward, and would need doing if you were customizing for a setting anyway. Doing this will give you a game that will play just fine by SC rules, using any of the resolution mechanics, with the number of skills you want.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The FATE Skill Pyramid

OK, I like FATE. It's got some great ideas in there, and it's amorphous enought to easily change it in whatever direction you want. I don't like compels, for example, but it's easy enough to just not use them and have the players refresh FATE points voluntarily. Works a treat!

There is one thing about FATE that just rubs me the wrong way, though, and it's pretty much central to the game. That's the Skill Pyramid. In FATE, a character has to structure her skills pyramidally, so that she has one skill at the highest rank - the apex skill - two at the next rank down, three at the third rank down, etc.

Why does this bother me? It's too freaking neat and artificial. It's a BUILD. It is so obviously not natural that it jars me. It is there for the same reason D&D has classes - to make everyone in the party the best at something - enforced niche specialization. It is also, curiously, a bit of Anti-Munchkin Engineering, which means it's a limitation on the good guys too. I trust my players! They are awesome! Why do I need these stupid training wheels?

The next time I run a FATE game - which will be Diaspora - I will try ditching the Pyramid in favor of something less rigid and artificial. Maybe a rule saying no skill rank can be higher than ((total skill ranks)/X). Maybe just leave it open. I'll let you know the results!


Friday, September 3, 2010

StarCluster 3 Update

Playtesting continues to bear fruit. Last night (Thursday) we poked and prodded at SC3, as the guys made characters, worlds, and aliens. We also decided which mechanic to use (StarNova) and how many troupe characters each (three). John found some formating issues, a couple simply fixed, others requiring more effort. Tim also found a formating problem in CharGen, one which one of my Saturday players also hit - fixed by making the sidebox text more prominent.

This will be a problem with running StarCluster 3 - it requires some time and effort to set up in play. The good part is, if you set it up in game with the players helping, everyone learns and buys into the system. The good thing about the GM setting it up out of game play is that you can jump right in, but you don't have the understanding of the setting you gain with making it. I expect 3rd party pre-made settings to be a popular add-on, either for profit or for free.

I also came up with a simple and easy to use method of using senses. In a game featuring aliens and animal uplifts, senses can play a powerful role. Humans have a fine sense of sight, but everything else is pretty poor, so all the skill chances are normalized to human sight. In SC3, human sight is ranked at 3. If McGruff, your bloodhound uplift with a sense of smell ranked 5 wants to Track a fugitive, how does it work?

Well, Tracking is normalized for Human sight (3). McGruff is using Smell 5. Subtract that 3 from the sense you are using to de-normalize it. 5-3 is +2. Each point of difference is worth a Small Modifier. McGruff, then adds 2 Small Bonuses to his Tracking skill check. Suppose a Human (Hearing 1) wanted to Observe a conversation by overhearing it? Subtract 3 from 1, getting a result of -2. The human would have 2 Small Penalties to his Observe skill check. Works a treat!

Now, using a different sense for swimming would not net you any result, because like many skills, Swimming is not sensory based. However skills like Analyze could very well be sensory-based. Senses need to be ranged as well, with standard range modifiers, but that can wait til tonight to finalize!


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Swords of Albion Series and OHMAS

I just finished reading the Swords of Albion book 1, the Silver Skull. It was very, very strange for me to read it. It's as if it were an Actual Play of an On Her Majesty's Arcane Service game, written up by a decent author - except for the whole Unseelie Court thing, as there is no such animal in OHMAS. I had no idea this book existed before someone commented about the similarities on a forum (I think!) discussion of OHMAS. The similarities are stunning!

It's not like In Harm's Way: Dragons!, where I read the Temeraire series long before writing the game, and where I was acutely concious of where I diverged from that series - all the details, BTW. This was, was, was bizzare! I had no clue this book series existed. Everything was created in parallel, separately. OHMAS is far closer to Swords of Albion than IHW: Dragons! is to Temeraire. If I had read it before writing OHMAS, the game would have been different, because I would have been conciously *making* it different. I just feel strange about the whole thing...


Cthulhu Does Not == Bacon!

When you add bacon to anything, it just gets better. Cheeseburger < Bacon Cheeseburger. Baked Potato < Baked Potato with Bacon. Turkey Sandwich < Turkey Club Sandwich. It's just a fact of culinary life.

Now I love CoC, but Cthulhu does not equate to bacon. RPGs are not automatically better because they have the Mythos in them. I just wanted to point this out, because it seems a lot of people think the way to make their games way more awesomer is to stick Nyarlathotep in there somewhere. Just like painting racing stripes on your car does not make it any faster. Just sayin'!