Monday, October 29, 2012

Looking for Volant Beta Playtesters

OK, I'm looking for some folks to look over Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone and/or play it a bit. It desperately needs feedback I have talked about it throughout the process of designing, and I have taken in and incorporated feedback from you all. If you could email me at clashUNDERSCOREbowleyATyahoooDOTcom, I'll send you the Beta playtest document.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Volant Monster Illo

Here is a monster illo for Volant
I created it for my phase 3 Alpha Test group. Here is the Monster Sheet for it:


Friday, October 26, 2012

Volant Surface Native Tribes

Inspired by  Geordie Racer!

You can create Native Tribes using the following table:

Distinctive Beliefs
An explanation of Distinctive Beliefs follows.
Ascension - One day we too will ascend to the skylands when the Stone gods/Bird people will it.
Punishment - The beasts are a punishment for the forbidden knowledge of our ancestors.
Birthright - The gods mock or test us, and our people must seize our birthright in the sky.
Return - One day, the mountains will return, and on them the bird people. They will be as babes in the wood.
Expiation - We suffer here on the surface to atone for the sins of our fathers.
Curse - We labor under a hideous curse for reasons which we know not. One day we shall find the key and break the curse.
Magic - The God’s have hidden powerful magics inside the monsters  of our world. By killing and eating the right combination, we may free ourselves.
Reincarnation - By a life of purity and nonviolence, when we die we shall be born again as bird people.
False Gods - Our fathers refused to climb on the mountains and ascended into the sky, because those that led the bird people were false prophets of false gods.
Our Land - We refused passage in the skylands because this, here, is our land, where the spirits of our ancestors live.
Subterranean - Heaven, or salvation, lies not in the sky, but deep in the earth. The bird people follow a delusion.

Cultural Oddities
An explanation of Cultural Oddities follows.
Rite of Passage - Only those who undergone a specific rite of passage peculiar to tribe are treated as fully human.
Orgies - All sexual contact is made in these nightly gatherings, both procreational and recreational.
Odd Gender Roles - Gender roles in this tribe are different senders usually found in a tribal society.
Amazonism - Women are the warriors and hunters in this tribe. Men fill other roles as nurturers and gatherers.
Sexual Barter - Paying for items or services with sexual favors is perfectly acceptable in this tribe.
Body Modification - This tribe practices piercing, scarring, tattooing, and/or other forms of body modification.
Odd Facial Hair - The men of this tribe modify their facial hair in a strange and peculiar way.
Nudity - Wearing clothing means you have something to hide in this tribe.
Polygamy - Men of this tribe may have more than one wife.
Polyandry - Women of this tribe may have more than one husband.
Veils - Men, women, or both from this tribe wear veils over their faces.

An explanation of Taboos follows.
Cull Orphans - Unsupported orphans are ruthlessly dispatched.
Left-Handers - Southpaws are counted cursed.
Cull Deformities - Those children born deformed are quickly killed.
Dancing - In this tribe, dancing is prohibited or rigidly controlled.
Bastardy - Bastards are exiled from this tribe upon reaching adulthood.
Eating Meat - Eating meat is forbidden.
Cull Elderly - The old and helpless are left behind.
Slavery - Slavery is practiced by this tribe.
Premarital Sex - Premarital sex is encouraged.
Eating Utensils - All meals are eaten with the fingers only.
Music - All music is forbidden or rigidly controlled.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Expeditions to the Surface in Volant

Expeditions to the surface are very dangerous because of the horrible monsters there, so why do people from the skylands go there? Why co to all the trouble, expense, and danger?

Alchemical Ingredients

All monsters and many plants contain reservoirs of magical energy, which can be harvested and, through alchemical processes, rendered into usable form. Alchemical Ingredients derived from the surface are far more rare and expensive than those derived from ingredients found commonly on the skylands.

Ruins of the Ancestrals

Ruins of Ancestral buildings are sometimes found on the surface. Usually they have been looted at least once, but such run and grab oprations are seldom are thorough, and even looted places can be worth investigating.


With the paths of the floating skylands being determined by the winds, it is not uncommon to be driven out of familiar territory, and into unknown lands. A land pushed south from the Great Northern Gyre through the Grand Processional and into the Southern Gyre would find itself in utterly unfamiliar lands. Finding out where you are and where you are going can be of paramount importance.

Trade with the Natives

The natives are uncivilized, but not stupid. They understand trade, and the value of things. You can sometimes trade with the gives for goods such as artifacts, or alchemical ingredients, or for services. They make expert guides. Natives, however,will not put up with mistreatment, or force..They share the surfacewith horrific monsters, and are not scared of humans.

Food Gathering and Hunting

There are many, many food animals on the surface which are not found on any skylands. This is even more so of food crops. Foods found on the surface and taken back could be very valuable and may be sold to inhabitants of the skylands if proven healthy.

Claiming Land

Occasionally, nations may attempt to claim mountains they perceive to be in the process of breaking away or even about to begin that process. Typically, they will change or anchor a floating castle to the land in question and staff the floating castle with aerial troops and giant birds, in order to protect this land from claim by others. This new undeveloped land, when it does break free of the surface, must be cleared and tamed. This entails hunting down any monster on the surface of the land claimed or hidden in caves in the surface or along the sides of the flying mountain.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Personality Overlays for StarCluster 3 or In Harm's Way: StarCluster

 This is from Dan Potter, one of the players in my StarCluster 3 IRC game.
Quote:  Don't just look different, Think different.

A personality overlay is a program designed to run on an implanted computer, that situates itself between the host brain's layers and translates intentions into actions based on previously defined personality matrix;  changing language, mannerisms, short term intentions and desires to match those of the emulated personality. The strength of these edits is determined by the level of the program, and thus the number of skill slots it takes up, as the program uses one slot per level.

Mechanics: Each Slot functions as an edge for staying in character. 1 Small Modifier per Level Penalty is applied to the difficulty to determine that the person is not who they are emulating.  Half the edge rounded up can be used to apply to social skill roles that the emulated personality should possess but only used in applications that make sense for the design of the emulated personality - usually Engrace, Endear, Entice, Convince, and the like.


1  Virtually every brain hack has at least tried out this level of personality overlay. These are generally very stereotyped and overacted, mostly confined to speech pattern modification and two to five mannerisms. Still its better than just trying the role cold with no acting skills.  The base personality is unaffected.

2.  Level two is a significant improvement over level one and exmples are commercially available as acting software.  Although extremely unfashionable to use, (To accuse a professional actor of using one usually means a duel.) these programs are wide spread throughout the entertainment world.  These programs can completely rewrite the individual's sentence structure and alter body posture in dozens of ways.

3. At Level three body language is now altered in hundreds of ways but the simulation adds emotions specific to the character being emulated and will react to those emotions in an appropriate manner.  Emulating a maid, a broken a vase will trigger a rush of shame, fear and will cower and the operator will grovel in a very convincing manner.

4. At this level the personality matrix becomes deeply invasive, able to suppress and overrule base desires of the character. The emulation now has a completely individual lists of attractions and disgusts, altering base instincts and desires. A human emulating a Hyena uplift would think nothing about eating carrion (although he would still get sick.) Generally these emulations have a name of their own.

5. A Level five emulation is a complete individual, with goals and desires completely their own and separate from the character running the software.  A complete set of memories are fabricated and drawn on. While it is running the character is only very dimly aware of their original thought patterns.  It takes a major act of will to shut off or act out of character with emulation at this level.  A failed roll makes the next attempt harder and can only be attempted once per day. Because of this Level five emulation programs typically have triggers
or conditions that will turn them off in response to an outside stimulus or circumstance as the operator can be lost. 

Personality Overlay software is frowned on within most intelligence communities for many reasons, preferring agents with acting skills rather than software.  Firstly acting out of character with a emulation running or shutting it down is a disorienting experience as the  user must wrestle off the instructions of the software.  This slows the reactions of the user by a significant amount, producing a initiative penalty of the level of emulation times 1 Small Modifier.  If the software is turned off this effect lasts for the software level in turns otherwise it persists until the character resumes their character.  For example our cowardly maid who's actually a special forces marine decides flatten a thug who's holding a gun on her instead of cowering in fear.  She will have a -3 Small Modifier to all initiative rolls for the next three turns.

Secondly while the emulation is a static program, the mammalian brain is not.  It constantly learns and while an overlay is running, it learns all the mannerisms and emotions the overlay puts it through. Spending any length of time running a personality overlay will cause alterations in one's own mannerisms and behavior.  Activating a level 2 is disorienting and at level 5 is downright traumatic as the software does not come online instantly, rather the user can feel his or her patterns of thought changing. Regular use of emulation has been linked to a variety of mental disorders including disassociation, PTSD and multiple personalities disorders.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Volant, Chargen, and the Cards

Tonight we set up for the third - and last - phase of the Volant Alpha playtest. We created the home nation, created the association, then began character generation. Normal chargen in Volant is extremely fast - consisting as it does of stacking templates, and incidentally creating a lifepath as you go. This time we were using the cards to mess with each others' character!

I explained the cards before. - draw five cards, play a club to prevent a character from taking a template, play a heart to force the character to take a specific template, play a spade to force all players to give the character to the player on the right, play a diamond to stop any other card provided it is of higher value - and we were making three troupe style characters each.

The first was a scrounger - a character who goes to the surface to find treasure or alchemical ingredients and such - of around 34 years old. We played with the option of taking one card from the deck whenever we used the last card. Action was furious for over two hours. We had to reshuffle the deck twice, and characters went around the circle at least three times. coincidentally we all ended up with the characters we started with. Some of us found it vastly entertaining, others not so much, but all agreed the single last card should be the most profligate option, and I dropped plans for an option where you kept your five card hand full at all times. That would have lasted forever!

Instead, for the ~24 year old sailors we used a five card hand with no redraws. This proved simpler and far quicker. The ~50 year old Officers we created without the cards, and this proved fastest of all.

One of the players came up with another option. Include the Jokers in the deck, which may be used at any time. use of the joker ,means the player collects all the player sheets face down, scrambles them up, and the players roll off to pick. Highest picks first, then picks go clockwise around the table. We all loved the chaos that would entail!


Monday, October 8, 2012

More Look! Up In The Sky!

Ran a one shot of Klaxon's *Look! Up In The Sky!* supers game this weekend while camping. We had already run games at Moderate, Earthshaking, Cosmic, and Ultimate levels, so we figured we should definitely run a game set at lower levels - Pulp or Street. We chose the higher of the two, Street.

Street Supers are set up to be created as one-power wonders. They have enough power to do one thing really well. We set up our Company, and rolled *real* low on the funding. At first it was like *crap*! Then we started to realize the possibilities! We decided to go with a Great Lakes Avengers theme - an affiliate of a major, powerful supers team set in a total backwater. We crossed that with an Urban Fantasy theme to create "The Shepherds", a powerful nationwide secret society dedicated to prevent the misuse of magic, along with the prevention of exploiting humans by magical creatures and magic-using people.We were the Bloomington branch.

This was a fictional Bloomington, set vaguely in the vast sea of corn that is Middle America. We randomly rolled a totally ridiculous supers city - hard working, prosperous and affluent, few clashing cultures, moderate crime - nothing that makes super criminals come there. No docks. No old warehouses. No abandoned amusement parks. Just nice, wealthy, comfortable Middle Americans.

The chapter was so poor our HQ was in a storage unit. Our investigative hardware was a dial-up internet connection on a Windows ME computer. Our security was a B&W surveillance camera. We communicated with each other through our cell phones. The national organization gave us nothing in funding because - well - nothing happened in Bloomington, and it would be a total waste when creatures of blackest nightmare were crawling out of the sewers of New York on a weekly basis, or slinking though the canyons of LA. On the other hand, most of the members we well off - one being a billionaire - but we refused on principle to fund anything ourselves.

We ended up capturing an entire family of shapechangers who bilked humans out of money by walking up to them and talking them into giving money, or being in position to steal it.

IT WAS AWESOME! We had a BLAST! I laughed so hard my sides ached because of the silly things the characters ended up doing, because it was what their crazy-ass dysfunctional characters would do! As the leader said afterward: "One of us was competent, so competent he was always somewhere else doing important stuff. One of us was useful, but so frail she was always injured. The rest of us were screamingly incompetent."

Best supers game yet!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Two Campaigns

Two campaigns have ended this weekend! My face to face group finished Phase 2 of the Volant playtest on Saturday, with a climactic aerial battle against the deadly hummingbirds of the Elite Halomaran army, while below, the Knights' elite infantry stormed the keep of the Taomaran occupying army. With a miracle in the stormclouds, and heavier, more solid - though slower and less vicious - birds, victory was theirs. The hummingbird weakness was - well - weakness. A lack of strength and bulk, though they attacked like buzzsaws, and sounded much the same.  On the other hand, the Halomans were held to be honorable foes, not evil degenerates, and an acceptable arrangement was worked out after the victory. Next weekend, we go camping, but then, Phase 3 begins!

On Sunday, the final act of the capture of the island of Culebra, off Puerto Rico, by a flotilla of vessels from the British Navy under the PCs. With this, we are firmly in alt-history, no longer creeping around in the cracks of history. The leader was made Post, and a lieutenant made Commander. Amazing deeds were done - an ordinary seaman captured a battery of 24 pounders singlehandedly; a commander captured another with two seamen, a bunch of dead bodies, and a bunch of stripped saplings - and no casualties on either side; a princess pledged her heart; and a marine who thought he had been disgraced became the governor. Next year we continue, in Port Royal, Jamaica, but for now, we move to StarCluster 3 and a new continuance of a game that has been ongoing since 2003, and the first Edition of StarCluster.