Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Releasing Outremer Friday, July 1st

I will be releasing Outremer Friday, July 1st. It's ready to go, and I have an advance print copy from Lulu and it looks nice. It's fairly large - almost 300 pages, but it's not, I think, bloated. It just has a lot of setting to cover. There are name generators, lists of titles, clothing, timelines, and other space-taking but important things- important for setting flavor, that is.

With the probability of an Outremer Companion in the future, I don't see any reason to wait any longer. The Companion(s) will be covering a lot of peripheral stuff that is cool, but not essential. I hope to write a few articles myself, but the best thing would be articles submitted by folks out there.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Skype interview

Rich Rogers at the Canon Puncture podcast interviewed me over Skype this spring, and the interview is just released - Canon Puncture

I'd never even used Skype before this. Now we use it to game live with Klaxon in Florida every week. Neat technology!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Adam's OHMAS!

I tripped across this - a fellow named Adam is/was running OHMAS. I LOVE the Actual Play recaps! Brilliant!

Adam's OHMAS

Visit! Go! :D


The Outremer Companion

I am thinking I shall publish a Companion to Outremer - free for download, printed at cost - made up of contributions of various sorts to Outremer. This may include the two pieces I referred to earlier in this blog - the linguistic references and the village naming tables - if I can do them justice or find someone else who can do this. Other contributions could include player characters, NPCs, essays on trade and cultures, articles on the geography of the Outremer, creatures of all sorts, illustrations, maps, and anything else which would pertain to the game and setting.

Why? Outremer is a deep, deep setting, and ripe for such a delving. Also, I would like to involve customers and friends in fleshing out the setting. I would really enjoy it, both in the making and in the actuality, and would volunteer my time to edit and assemble the Companion. If it's successful, there could be other Companions down the line, and I may make this concept available for other games - StarCluster 3 and OHMAS would both be prime candidates.


Monday, June 20, 2011

More stuff for Look! Up In the Sky!

Worked a bit on Look! Up In the Sky! last night. All I am doing with the game is edit and layout. Klax is the writer and designer. Klax had sent me two files just before I left for Montreal, and I hadn't had time to do anyting with them. They were Vehicle Design and Weapons Design. For vehicles, design works like the old SC 2 vehicle design system - vehicles are designed from the ground up, rather than modified from existing vehicles as is SC 3, IHWSC, and Cold Space. The big difference is that costs are given in both Lifestyle for personal purchase, and in Association Resource Points for group purchase. It works well, and I like the dual costing. I will probably use it in the future!

The Weapon Design system is like SC2 and SC3's system - a group of standard weapons are given, and you can modify by steps them on several axes, so long as the changes equal zero. For example, you can raise the steps to make a weapon do more Damage, and add a firing Mode - say Full Automatic fire - but you have to work it down the same number of steps by decreasing Concealability and increasing Cost. Costs are personal, in Lyfestyle only. The group does not purchase weapons for individuals.

So far, it's really looking good!


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Roludothon Pics

Here's the StarCluster group:

Jocelyn played the uplifted housecat Captain, who refused to make a decision.
Luc played the centauroid construct who was brilliant at following procedures, and helpless without them.
Conan played the excitable Chimpanzee Engineer who was always trying to take things over, because, y'know, he was just better at it.
El played the uplifted Harpy Eagle pilot, who wanted to fly away.
Chris played the uplifted Crocodile who never saw a problem he couldn't shoot.

Here's the Outremer Group:

El played the Edessan Faris (Knight), an Alevi Muslim.
Charles played the Jewish Kabbalist from Damascus. Jeffrey's brother-in-law.
Denis played the Brewer from Acre, who was a half-Djinn, and Anglican.
Charles II played the Aleppan Magus of Djibril, a Sunni Muslim.
Jeffrey played the Jewish Mechanist from Acre, who made an artificial hound.
Chris played the penniless Armenian Crusader, an Orthodox Christian.
Graham played the Cypriot Esotericist, a Roman Catholic.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Outremer - Suggestions From the Playtesters

I've got a couple of suggestions from the Outremer playtesters I haven't yet acted on. I haven't acted on them yet because I'm not quite sure how to approach them. Both stem from the fact that the Appendix of Naming Tables was very well received - the tables are broken down by linguistic/ethnic group, and really help in naming characters. These are both extensions of that idea, and can be considered together, though they need to be implemented separately.

First off is a set of linguistic phrase tables - basically common things characters can insert into their speech to give local flavor. Basically the problem here is these languages are obscure at best - outside of Arabic and Turkish - that some of them are completely postulated - such as Outremer Frankish and Edessan, and that they all change over time. This will take some serious research into the languages, and will delay the release of Outremer. Should I release it later on, as a supplement? A big decision!

Second is a name generator for villages and small towns. Cities and large towns show on the maps, but the smaller settlements would need creation by the group and/or GM. The problem? Well, first of all languages, and for that see the above, but also naming patterns. The Arabs generally reinstated an Arabicized version of the old Semitic names, except where they didn't know, but the Crusaders used a hodge-podge of techniques - Latin and Greek names unused since classical times, assigning biblical names to places they thought appropriate - and were frequently wrong! - naming places after geographical features in Frankish tongues, assigning fortress or castle names to nearby towns, renaming settlements after saints and warriors, and the like. the Turks sometimes "Turkified" existing place names - Antioch became Antakya, Smyrna became Izmir - but they didn't differentiate between classical names and Semitic names. They also renamed places by translating the meaning into Turkish, or by commemorating ancient heroes. The Armenians? Who the heck knows? Armenian place names are just GONE! Again, a lot of research, no one method, and missing information I would have to flat out make up. Is it worth the time it will take? Should I delay Outremer until this appendix is finished?

By the way - I bought two games I have wanted for some time - Amber and Over the Edge - up at the Roludothon. I'm hip deep in Amber now. I want to re-write it as a Blood Games II game. The various magics work up well as Paths of Power, and the dice pool mechanic wold be slick. Don't worry! I won't! I just WANT to! :D


Monday, June 13, 2011

Seeking Suki and Perchance to Dream - Roludothon Finale

In the Morning, we played a game called Sparks, a story-ish game set in the far future. The Scenario was called Seeking Suki, set on a Japanese settled world with created peasants and ruling humans. It was very interesting, and engaged the GM side of my brain well. The mechanics were step die rolls, with various things allowing you to increase your die size - including assists from other player characters and involving core beliefs. This was El's first exposure to such concepts as PC scene framing, and she was entertained, though she thought it a bit strange.

In the afternoon session, I ran Outremer to a packed house. I had limited the players to 6, and seven showed up. Luckily, I always create an extra character just in case. The scenario started off with a dream, and then the PCs got together and discussed things. They traveled to Damascus and found that circumstances matching their dreams in some way had transpired - the youngest daughter of the Emir had disappeared the night of their dream, and everyone was frantically looking for her.

What was amazing was the speed and thoroughness with which the Players engaged with their characters, bringing bits of information in from their back-stories, like the Jewish Mechanist who lived with his mother. She was constantly after him to get married, which he took with patience and amusement. The game went beautifully, the scenario was paced perfectly, and things wound up in a very satisfactory manner. I think Outremer is much more suited to the con game than SC3 in many ways. It's close enough to the standard fantasy that it can be engaged with on that level, and different enough that the players were interested in the setting as well.

Had a wonderful time in Montreal in spite of the torrential downpours, and the Roludothon members were fantastic - welcoming and hospitable, and superb roleplayers!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

If You Should See A Great Big Box


Playing a con game is always a pig in a poke. You have no idea what you have until you open it up. My first Roludothon game was great fun, due entirely to the players, who were pure awesome! Conan (WalkerP), Chris (Thalaba), Jocelyn - all of whom I had known on line for some years, Jocelyn about ten years - my wife El, and Luc, who I just met. They played a bunch of uplifted animals and bioroids working off their indenture to a huge company in space. They walked into a SITUATION where they were screwed no matter what obvious path they took. The wonderful fun cam in the interactions of their personalities - the roleplaying - which was just a blast. Everyone at that table was an excellent roleplayer, and they did wonderfully.

StarCluster is not the best candidate for a con game. It's designed for long time interaction and much Player/PC input, both of which were necessarily not there. The basic concepts were complex, and took some time to get across. There are a lot of aspects to characters, ways for them to interact with the setting, alkl of which required some bit of explanation. I still could have got through the scenario OK, but the PCs spent a huge amount of time discussing the best course out of their Situation. THIS WAS PERFECTLY FINE! We had a grand time doing it, and it was all very rewarding in its own way.

Just letting you all know!


Roludothon Prep - Part Deux

We went to the Grand Prix practices yesterday, and watched the Formula One and Classic Formula One racers run. The new Formula One cars sound like enormous angry hornets. The classic ones have the deeper snarl I remember from my mis-spent youth watching Wide World of Sports. It was great fun, and El wants to come again next year, so hopefully the Roludothon will synchronize with F1 again!

We spent the evening making backstories for the characters. The SC 3 characters were easy - they were all bred and educated for the jobs they hold. They are Uplifts and Boroids from the Diasporan Community, and have no say in the matter. The DC has no over-arching laws about the treatment of non-human sapients, so it varies from world to world.

The Outremer characters were another story altogether. They needed some reason to join the association, and some reason to take the Path of Power they took. This one's husband died in a war. That one was the victim of intolerance.

Do I think the players will even glance at the back-stories? Probably not. Still, they are there if they are needed. Normally, these short, half-page stories are created by the players, not the GM, as the characters are created. The Players are supposed to create their own association, and decide where it will be established. They *own* the characters, rather than use them. I can't do this in a con game, and an essential part of the experience will be missing.

Until next time, au revoir!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Montreal Update

Made it to Montreal. I'm sitting in my campsite, logging in through my laptop, surrounded by bugs. The joys of camping! I'll blog about gaming later, just wanted to let you all know.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How Much is Too Much?

The balance for a designer on how much information is given in a setting is a tricky one, and very much a matter of personal taste. Some GMs prefer the Designer to nail down every detail and hand them a finished box, where all they have to do is wind it up and stick in the PCs. Others feel hemmed in by too much supplied detail, and prefer a broader brush. Most, of course, fall somewhere in between. I have written both types of setting, but more and more as I get older, I prefer the latter. It's pushing stuff down to the group level, which is one of my most central beliefs - which those of you who read this blog regularly know very well. :D

Giving detail tends to focus games where the detail is densest, thus the Designer can - even unwittingly - push exploration down certain avenues. Personally. I'm much more interested in the group deciding that direction, not me. I don't *want* to channel play in a certain direction.

Now StarCluster 3 was far less Designer coersive than, say, Outremer will be, but SC3 went about as far as one can go in that direction. It was all about giving GMs the tools to create rather than doing the creation for the GM. Outremer is more about the setting itself - so I have to supply more detail. This means establishing some kind of cannon for the GM to work within.

Yet I find myself being asked by the playtest GMs for more information. I'm trying to work a subtle line here, where I only give information as it applies to macro structure - painting with a broad brush. Thing is, we are talking here not about worlds and star systems, but about tiny city states. This info-structure must be by its very nature finer-grained than what I am comfortable doing. My broad brush is much narrower here, and I am constantly finding myself putting in more details than I am comfortable doing - like the Cultural Traits of the various nations of Outremer. I keep thinking I should not have done that, that I should have let the GMs do that.

So I am calling a halt where I am in Outremer. There are a few things that have been suggested that I will implement - like the common-phrase language appendix, which will give a bit of flavor to those interested in doing so. OTOH, I will not give descriptions of important NPCs. That would be a huge temptation - it's fun to generate plot hooks, but that's not a Designer level thing, its a Group/GM level thing. It's a temptation that would sharply focus play in a direction I want. I gave the groups NPC generation tools so they can do this, now I will step out of the way and let them do it.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Roludothon Prep

I'm off to Montreal for the Roludothon Thursday, and my wife El and I have been very, very busy prepping for the games I will be running there. I always forget what a pain in the butt prepping for cons is. Normally my group will take a session to prep together, creating the characters and association, sometimes the worlds we are going to be playing in. For con games I only have three or four hours, and I have to use pregens, a set association/company, and a pre-made setting. Ugh! Anyway, that's what I have been doing for the last week or so instead of updating the blog.

For my StarCluster 3 game, If You Should See a Great Big Box, I created six star systems, in an area known as the Calyx Knot - a complex of eight systems with a jump 5 wormhole leading out from either end - treating one star system, the starting point, in detail. Why six? I have no idea where people will go or what they will do past the starting point. The Jump 5s make it very difficult to jump into or out of, with most traffic in the Knot staying in the Knot. The PCs are all Uplifted animals or Bio-constructs, and the vast majority of human settlement in the Knot is Diasporan Community. The DC has no guarantee of sapient rights for anything except humans and those aliens given that status by treaty. Constructs and Uplifts may be treated as chattel slaves by a member planetary society so far as the DC cares. PCs will have to tread carefully.

My Outremer game, Perchance to Dream, will start off in Damascus, 1560. The Association is the Mid-East Peace Association, which is a not-so-secret Secret Society - a la the Freemasons or
Rosicrucians. Their existence and some of what they have done is known, but they operate secretly throughout Outremer. Most people believe them to be a wishy-washy ecumenical trans-religious association of doo-gooders, though some believe them to be an insidious secretive worm at the heart of the social order. Unknown to most, they have an executive arm, amongst whose agents are the PCs. Most of the prep for this was done by El - she loves making characters!

I also got my pre-release print copy of Outremer saturday, and it looks really sweet. Illos and maps are clear in gray scale, and the color covers look great! No squiggle, you StarCluster 3 haters! :D


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cultural Imperialism and Causality

I'm just finishing up Charles Stross' Iron Sunrise, and - as I always do - was thinking about running this universe in a game. First off, it can almost be run in StarCluster 3 as is. The society is definitely a TL 10 society as presented in SC3, complete with Comm jewelry, personal networks, augmented reality, and morphing clothing. More importantly, it's not a monolithic society - each system, each world, is unique, and not part of any empire or greater polity. That's pure StarCluster!

Where I say "almost" though, is Stross' take on interstellar communications. Real time interstellar communications - unlike in StarCluster - are possible through so-called causal channels. which appear to be a variation on the twinned-electron/ansible theme. They are reliable, safe, and easy to use, just hellishly expensive! The reason? They cannot travel through FTL - they must go through real space-time, as FTL violates causality - at least potentially. So worlds are linked via these causal channels, as well as some non-ftl ships.

This has always bothered me, but Stross needs this in the book. The reason people aren't violating causality left and right is that Stross has a transcended computer, which long ago involuntarily dispersed humanity to the stars - and back in time - using information it sent back in time to itself by violating causality. This computer reserves the right to violate causality to itself, as a self-protection, so that multiple god-like machine intelligences don't rear their ugly heads to take him down.

Stross chose this way to control causality violation - basically by creating a god to swat any egregious violators - because he could also use this deus-ex-machina to help his PCs - I mean main characters - take down the big bads, and he needs the causal channels to allow his uber-computer to be ubiquitous in real time. I think it's sloppy GMing. He doesn't trust his PCs to be awesome when push comes to shove. I solved the problem of potential paradoxes in StarCluster by a different route.

I don't like the causal channels for a number of reasons, most importantly because they would tend to make cultures far too uniform, yet he posits a highly differentiated network of cultures. I think he can have one, but not the other. Real time communication is the key to making empires - whether political or cultural. Every empire spreads to the limit of its communication network, thus allowing real-time interstellar communication allows interstellar empire and cultural imperialism. A highly differentiated culture is anathema to any self-respecting empire! It's highly inefficient!

Still, pick this one up for the glimpse of a high Tech Level StarCluster culture in action! It's awesome! :D