Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lowell Was Right! and Filling Up the Cracks

In playtesting Lowell Was Right!, one of the first things my players noticed about the new skill system was that, though it worked great for everything it covered - and it covered a hell of a lot of territory in 30 skills - there were areas where things just weren't right. In the first session, within an hour of play starting, a player asked me "What about cooking? I want to cook this stuff. How good is my cooking?" I opened my mouth, and realized nothing in the skill system would work!

OK, cooking is an Art, right? Except as a specialization of the broad Art skill, the cook could paint at an almost expert level. Besides, only artists could cook well. That didn't make sense! Maybe cooking is a specialization of Survival? You need to eat to survive, right? Then the thought of Emeril dumped in the desert without pans, onions, or essence stifled that notion.

Maybe I can make it a new skill! Take one of the existing skills out and replace it with Cooking? No! Cooking was far less broad than anything it might replace, leading to many more gaps than before.

It just didn't fit! I made a quick house-rule to get out of that situation, but damn!

As play went on, these little cracks kept appearing. Places where broad skills were too wide and specializations too powerful. I realized I had to come up with a parallel system that wouldn't replace Skills, but complement them. So I came up with this...

Spheres of Interest

Everybody has different interests competing for scarce time and attention. The more time you give these interests, the better you understand it, yet that means taking time away from other interests. In Lowell Was Right!, each character has five points of interest to distribute among five Spheres of Interest. These Spheres are:

Domestic, Intellectual, Political, Cultural, and Religious

These interests are measures of time spent engaging in these general areas. If a Skill applies to a situation, use the Skill check. Skills always trump Spheres of Interest. The GM determined the most applicable Sphere of Interest, and whether a Skill or Sphere applies to the situation.

To use Spheres of Interest, in a situation where an interest might apply, use a Skill+0 check with an Attribute of 9. Each point in the applicable Interest adds a large Bonus.

Example using StarPool: Jordan is attempting to impress visiting Mars Human House members with a tasty Earth meal. He has 3 points in his Domestic Sphere of Influence, so he rolls a Skill+0 check - 1d20 roll at or under TN 9 - plus three Large Bonuses - 3d20 roll at or under TN 9 - and counts successes. He rolls 7, 12, 9, and 18, for two successes. A good meal, but not as impressive as he hoped.

Example using StarPerc: Jordan is attempting to impress visiting Mars Human House members with a tasty Earth meal. He has 3 points in his Domestic Sphere of Influence, so he rolls a Skill+0 check - 1d100 roll at or under TN 9 - plus three Large Bonuses - +60 points to TN,  making the TN 69. He rolls 58, for a success. A separate Quality check is made, with a result of 71. A good meal, but not as impressive as he hoped

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Digression

I make a lot of jokes on how few fans my RPGs have. I make jokes about my "stealth marketing" and how "I had a fan once, but he retired" and the like. It's exaggeration for laughs, but it's pretty much true in spirit. That has apparently led some folks to believe I think I'm not getting my fair share of interest.

That is not in the least true. My games are getting exactly the lack of attention I deserve. If I wanted fame and fortune, why am I not spamming for my games? I should work at that, but I won't. Even when people are specifically asking for something I just feel stupid, awkward, and horribly self-conscious. Fault all mine.

I should be part of some group, like the OSR or the Story Games movement. Both of them boost their members' games by cross promoting like crazy, all part of the movement, and all working for some end. I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I'm not much of a joiner. Like Groucho, I would never join a club that would have me as a member! Causes and movements leave me bored and uncomfortable. I boost a lot of other designers' games, because I just really like those games. They have not much in common, really. It's all over the place. No coordination. Awful job, really!

I should write games that people actually *want*! If I did that one thing, if I just paid attention to trends and stuff, I could hop a wave and cruise. Instead, I only write games about things that interest me, and those are usually quirky, strange, and don't fit what anyone is looking for. Really - I can't imagine someone searching desperately for a game about a 21st century world where 19th century science was correct. What am I thinking? I really should stuff some Cthulhu in there. or just drop the science and make it Steampunk, but I won't. See the stupid trend here? Mulishness.

I really should get involved writing for some popular system like FATE or Savage Worlds or something. People who write for these game systems have a built-in audience, and these are fine systems! Not this special snowflake!  I'm too interested in refining my own system. It's starting to vaguely resemble what I wanted when I started it 12 years ago. A little more chiseling, some polishing, and in another dozen years maybe it'll be mostly done. Like anyone but me cares! It's not like we are facing a critical shortage of RPG systems! Why doesn't that matter to me? It really should!

So, it's my own fault. It's like I deliberately set myself up to disappear!  I have no interest in or talent at leading, and I refuse to follow, so I should get out of the way, right? Except I don't see it that way. I'm on a journey to wherever my mind takes me, and just because I don't want anyone following me doesn't mean I'm not glad of the company if someone is heading in the same direction for a bit.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Popular Music in Lowell Was Right!

The history of popular music remains essentially the same as in our world until the popular Big Band music of the '40s gradually moved up in age demographic in the '50s, and became more and more Latin influenced. The younger kids of the early '50s embraced small band jazz - quartets, trios and quintets - as a more intimate reaction to the Big Band era, but by the middle of the decade, popular teen music was all about Rockout - a genre derived from the blues and country music, featuring loud steelbox guitars, simple vocals, standup bass, and trap drums in a heavy beat. Rockout would remain at the core of popular music until the present, though the sound changed every few years as new aspects were featured.

By the '60s, Rockout was cross-pollinating with other genres, becoming a mega genre which absorbed others. Some Rockout bands crossed with small band jazz to form Bopout, which heavily featured horns and syncopated beats. Jango was created when bands took on the Latin influences of popular Big Band music. The Glitz style featured complex shifting rhythms  which were impossible to dance to, and elaborate polymelodic lines for all the instruments.

In the mid '70s,  reaction to the overelaboration of rockout styles - particularly Glitz - triggered the inevitable backlash. A movement toward home-made instruments and simple, strong rhythms led to the Thunk movement. As percussion instruments are the easiest to create, most Thunk bands were heavily percussion oriented, which encouraged dancing. By the '80, Thunk bands were automating their music with flywheel-strummed steelbox guitars and extremely fast rhythms to make the Speed style. This in turn led to complete automation - machined designed and constructed to make musical sounds controlled by a single person. This movement was dubbed Mechanica, and became quite popular.

The Glitz style of Rockout eventually merged with Thunk and evolved into a new style called Loopout, which was created by control and manipulation of recording devices, particularly tape loops and record scratching rhythms. The loops were played through keyboards, where the speed of the loops could be varied to sound different tones. Anything - even percussion or machine noises - could be recorded and played back through these keyboards. Loopout is a studio-bound style, as the tape loops change their size depending on air temperature and humidity.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Volant - Merchants of Death III

We played our third session of Volant over IRC Tuesday. So far the Scrounger characters and their relationships have shone. The "rivalry" between the veteran Scrounger Farise and the young Tyss has been fascinating. Scrounger flight leader Ray has demonstrated great abilities as a teacher and as a leader. Aelia has been amusing for her overall competence and sardonic detachment.

The Spy/Diplomat/Negotiation team has been less golden. I hope they can pick it up a notch next session. They have been interesting, but not as developed as the Scroungers. Next session,when the actual negotiations start, should see some character development!

The uniformly excellent nature of the reviews for Volant (2 at 4/5, 2 at 5/5) obscure the real fact that no one has heard of it. Like almost all my games, it has created no buzz at all. It's lucky I am doing this for other reasons. My marketing skill must be at a negative value. By sheer random chance, somebody with no particular skill should have had a game that received some notice  by now, after 11 years, releasing an average of two games a year. The little marketing I do must actively drive people off. Maybe I should just not do anything at all? :D

I've started work - broken ground on - two different Volant accessories. One is a supplement for creating Fragments - skylands too small to be called regions. The other is a supplement centered on taming flying monsters for use as mounts. So far both subjects are holding my interest. :D


Monday, July 15, 2013

Another Volant Review

Another review up for Volant: Kingdoms of Air and Stone on RPG.net. This review is from AsenG, and he actually liked the two page long trading/debate minigame! Awesome! And he's coming from a different viewpoint. Rich Rogers of  Canon Puncture called Volant "Joust: The RPG", and most people are attracted to the bird rider aerial combat. AsenG, who wrote this review, is far less interested in that aspect of the game, but was very intrigued by the other aspects of the game. That means the game reflects the balance I sought when I wrote it. It's *NOT* just about the birds! :D


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Volant Hacked!

So Levi Kornelsen took Volant and ran with it, and this is what he came up with - http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?695386-Volant-I-made-a-quickstart-campaign-with-alternate-rules

I think it totally rocks! :D

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Lowell Was Right! Update

I am going to start Alpha playtest of Lowell Was Right! on Saturday. The game is now playable, though it lacks severely in several areas. Albert and I are working on space ships, but we are starting to nail down the aesthetics.

Life on Earth in Lowell Was Right!:

With virtually no radio - only spark-gap all frequency broadcasts - and no electronics, life on 21st century Earth in Lowell Was Right! is very different from ours. All recordings are in analog. Images are on film, sounds are on tape and wire recorders, and on platters played on gramophones. There is no amplification other than electrical and pneumatic/acoustic horns and speakers.

It is much more common to go out to see movies and musical performances than in our world. Most clubs offer live music rather than recordings. Computers are analog and mechanical‐electric rather than digital and electronic. They are large, specialty instruments with cams and shafts, designed to calculate ballistics and other unwieldy mathematics.

Phones are connected by wires, and long distance calls are manually switched at switchboards by operators. Most vehicles use external combustion steam engines instead of internal combustion
engines, except where power to weight or speed is vitally important, where turbine (jet) engines are used, even on motorcycles. The IC engine was never properly developed in Lowell Was Right! All machines are run by cams and levers, or manually operated. Even kitchen appliances. There are no microwaves, no turbo ovens.

Even so, there are compensations. Anti‐mass jet dirigibles lift great amounts of weight, and air travel is very cheap. Materials are available which could never exist on our world. Spaceflight is not uncommon. Stirling cycle steam engines are extremely efficient, and environmentally friendly. There are no radioactives. There is no detectable human engendered climate change. People read more ‐ newspapers and magazines thrive, and books are extremely popular.

Fashions have gone in different directions than on our world. Hats are universally worn by both men and women. Skirts are longer ‐ flowing and accentuating shape ‐ slit, and layered. Men’s clothing also emphasizes shape, texture, and draping. Waists are set high - Empire fashion. Waist‐length jackets are common, though longer thigh‐length or calf‐length coats are common as well, and both are often worn with vests and bustiers.

Collars tend to be high, open, and stiffened. Neckties are typical, but in the form of scarves worn around the neck, inside the collar. Clothes are more formal in public. No one wears jeans and t‐shirts where people can see. Balanced asymmetry is fashionable. Capes are worn frequently in bad weather. Buttons are more prominent, and zippers are generally used only where hiding the fastener is preferred.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Volant - Merchants of Death II

We had our first session of Volant over IRC. We started off with our scroungers searching for giant bird nests and eggs. Two of our characters, Tyss and Farise, got into a verbal bitchfest, some nasty epithets being thrown around - which was totally expected, set up from day one - and kept on flying without really looking. Meanwhile the rest of the scroungers found a giant eagle nest in a tall tree over the river they had been following. When they swooped down to investigate, they found that the eggs had been smashed and the chicks stabbed in their shells.  Roy, the scrounger leader, read the evidence, examining the scratches on the tree limbs, the fecal matter, and a bootprint in it, and shivered. "Bat-riders!" he said. The Raft was back, the nasty predatory horde of the air had returned to haunt them.

He sent Tyss and Aelia off to warn the Cockoos' Nest that the Raft had returned. Along the way, they ran into a Quetzalcoatl, a huge, 10 meter long flying feathered snake-bird. Tyss said something, and the Quetzal abruptly turned and headed for them. They split up, Tyss diving, while Aelia broke left. The Quetzal followed Aelia through a barrel roll as she tried to get behind it. The Quetzal made one less success, however, and Aelia came out of the barrel roll with a decent shot. She attacked, making a slight wound, while Tyss who had made a low yo-yo, swung up from below and shot the Quetzal in the belly. With the Quetzal and Aelia both losing their airspeed, and in search of easier prey, the Quetzal dove for the ground. Aelia and Tyss regretfully let it go, as they had a mission. the others meanwhile camped for the night on the shelf of a cliff, with no fire.

It went well for a starting game, but the new players Rich Rogers and Franck Michaux  seemed a bit confused by the air combat, so I ran a quick Volant Air Combat 101 over G+ Hangout on Saturday night. Both seemed to have things in much better comprehension at the end, so I think that too went well! Now to Wednesday, when we play again! :D