Wednesday, February 25, 2015

StarCluster 4E

One of my settings has a known flaw which I have been steadily ignoring for 13 years. Most ships in StarCluster, whatever edition, use Matter/Antimatter drives rather than fusion drives. Unlike fusion, which is safe by default - if you shut off power to containment, the fusion reaction cannot be sustained and collapses safely - M/AM is hideously dangerous. Every instantiation is a possible bomb. If you shut off power to containment, matter and antimatter will contact and disastrously explode. Boom. City and much of the country around will be vaporized.

We just ignore that. Why? We didn't feel comfortable with fusion drives! Albert Bailey, my co-author and plasma physicist - a man who knows tokamaks like google knows search routines - didn't feel comfortable designing fusion drives which would be as flexible and as useful as M/AM drives. We mentioned them - they are there in StarCluster 2 - but they are limited, slow, and inefficient.

I will fix this in StarCluster 4, which I am beginning work on. Only military craft which do not land on planet will have M/AM drives, with civilians and planetary military craft getting enhanced fusion drives. Albert and I have worked out how they will work, and we'll finally be rid of this Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. :D

Friday, February 20, 2015

The 'Vanilla' Nation of Larain

A Nation generated for my vanilla fantasy game. A Nation is composed of one or more Regions. This example has two.

The Queendom of Larain

Form: Monarchy Function: Matriarchy

The FORM of the government is a monarchy, but FUNCTIONALLY, it's a matriarchy, thus the "Queendom" in the name. Only females inherit the throne.

Region: Quisal

Small, Mountainous

The region is Small and Mountainous.

Animals: Cattle Vegetables: Hardwood, Grain Minerals: Iron, Coal, Slate Poor: Cotton

These are the resources of Quisal. As a Mountainous region, Quisal is heavy on Minerals, and light on animals. These are resources Quisal can export. Poor means a major import, needed by the region.

Cities: (Medium) Quisal Swords, Spears - Iron, Hardwood

Quisal has one city, also called Quisal, and moderate in size. It is well known for manufacturing swords and spears, using its resources of iron and hardwood.

Conditions: Mountainous, Sculpted, Cool, Wooded

These are applicable descriptors for this region.

Cultural Traits Poker-faced 2, Laid-back 2, Roguish 3

The stereotypical Quisalian demonstrates these personality traits.

Cultural Oddities Economic: Contract Work Interpersonal: Polyandry Leisure: Climbing Fashion: Body modification Taboo: Hair

These are the things that stand out about Quisal. Jobs are let out by contract. The marriage norm is one woman to many men. Climbing - presumably mountain climbing, given the region - is a popular leisure activity. People from Quisal like piercing, tattooing, and otherwise modifying their own bodies.

Region: Shiman

Large, Mountainous

Like Quisal, this Region is mountainous, but it is also large.

Animals: Horses Vegetables: Bamboo, Flax Minerals: Serpentite, Quartz, Copper Poor: Poultry

These are Shiman's resources. Again, heavy on the minerals, light on the animals. the bamboo should prove extremely useful.

Cities: (large) Atai Telescopes - Quartz, Bamboo, Copper (large) Vimarai Horse barding - Copper, Flax, Bamboo

So, Shiman has 2 large cities. Atai is famous for building telescopes using polished quartz for lenses, bamboo for tubes, and copper for bindings. Vimarai is well known for its horse barding, using linen cloth, made from flax, and light bamboo 'plates', with copper banding.

Conditions: Mountainous, Sculpted, Cool, Well Watered

Shiman contains the headwaters of several important rivers. Otherwise it is much like Quisal.

Cultural Traits Arrogant 2, Honorable 2, Hot-Tempered 3

These are the personality traits of your stereotypical Shimaner.

Cultural Oddities Economic: Breeds Soldiers Interpersonal: Amazonism Leisure: Fencing Fashion: Courtesans (Male) Taboo: Cull Deformities

So, Shiman breeds soldiers - the youths are trained early on as warriors - and they are all female. Fencing is a popular activity and sport, and it is fashionable for women to hire male courtesans for company. The Shimaners, being a hard, warlike people, expose infants who are in any way deformed, keeping their genepool clean.

Monday, February 16, 2015

'Vanilla' religions

Two of the five religions for our Vanilla fantasy game based on Volant and Tolkien:

Religion #1 GAIANISM The standard Ogkyran religion Gaianism is based on cultural expectations and simple ritual. There is no hierarchy, no central belief structure, no orthodoxy, just shared common cultural ritual. Conception of Deity Ecumenical Polytheism Communications With Worshipers Prayer, Intercession, Ritual, Augury, Astrology Organizational Hierarchy Universal, Teacher Political Influence Inconsequential Taboos and Obligations Ritual, Sacrificial, Funereal, Matrimonial Places of Worship Open Altar, High Place, Nature Orthodoxy and Heresy Splintered Duties of the Faith Sacrifice, Sacraments Paraphenalia of Worship Music, Ritual Implements Themes Balance

Religion #2 Fieranism The standard Rabahallan religion Fieranism is a passionate, ecstatic religion based on ritual communal drug ingestion, levels of initiation, strict hierarchy, and obedience Conception of Deity Strict Monotheism Communications With Worshippers Placation, Prayer, Ritual, Superstition, Priests Organizational Hierarchy Democratic Political Influence Pervasive Taboos and Obligations Alchemical, Sacrifice, Ritual Places of Worship Temples, Open Altars Orthodoxy and Heresy Persecution, Paranoia Duties of the Faith Scarring and Mutilation, Sacrifice, Prosletization, Service Paraphenalia of Worship Dance, Special Clothing, Ritual Implements Themes Fear, Chosen, Renewal

"Vanilla" Backstory

So Klax and I have been talking about the back story for this campaign.

A long long time ago, thousands of years ago, Human wizards summoned demons - evil godlike spirits - to gain power over others. The Gods had to come to earth in person to destroy them. All humans were stripped of their magical abilities, and the people who worshiped the demons were punished with everlasting life - never to die except by wounds, and even then they would return to a new body eventually. These became the elves, who could never leave the circles of the earth. Most elves try to atone for their treachery by living good lives, hoping to be allowed to leave the world in their death.

Some humans were loyal to the gods, and the demons had punished them by stunting them. These the gods rewarded by giving them long life, followed by a release in death, when they would have grown tired of life.

Most neither worshiped the demons nor resisted them actively. These, the gods merely left without magic.

Recently, some 250 years ago, a series of deadly plagues swept the civilized lands. Some nine of ten died, destroying many cultures and shrinking others. The plagues stopped some hundred years ago, and civilizations are slowly starting to recover.

It it is suspected that the god worshiped by the Rabahalans is actually a demon who escaped the gods somehow.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Prepping Time!

We spent our Wednesday Night IRC session finishing up our group prep for the "Vanilla" fantasy game using Volant rules. one player was unable to come, so we worked on the regions each of the players there had created - the missing player emailed his in later. The Cultural Oddities table really helped to make the regions distinct and non-bland. Then we turned to creating the characters' Association for the rest of the night. It turned out the players wanted to create a Condotierri Company, a high class mercenary outfit.

What eventually resulted was four companies of infantry, and four platoons of crossbowmen as the fighting forces, with each company having an Alchemist and a Herbalist, with a Master Alchemist and Master Herbalist at the battalion level. Now that is well over 500 soldiers, so it's a significant force. The Company has a castle, village, and farmlands, with an Armory and Master Armorer, and a library with loads of maps and a few alchemical-related books. Among the other sundries were 6 trainee warrior Squires, and lots of espionage assets like spy rings and double agents in far away lands in which we might be campaigning.

We also made some decisions on Elves and Dwarves - and I made some decisions on Orcs. Volant uses an age-based advancement mechanic based on a human model - after all, only humans have civilizations in Volant. But as we are going after a Tolkien-ish feel, we have immortal Elves and Dwarves that can get really old. We decided to model Elves like OHMAS models Immortals. In OHMAS, an Immortal progresses normally until they die. Then they come back, after which they can no longer gain new skill ranks, and do not age, though they can swap ranks in one skill already known to another - say they have Skill A at +2, and Skill B at +3. Over time, they can move those ranks around to be Skill A at +5, Skill B at +0 if they want. So, in this game, Elves and Dwarves stop learning new skills at age 34, never losing attribute points to age, but only able to swap skill ranks around among already known skills. This gives a *very* Tolkien-ish feel to Elves, where they get narrower over time. Elves, of course, do not die of old age, while Dwarves suddenly fall apart after 350-400 years, though both can die of injury.

Orcs are another matter entirely. In this game, Orcs are human religious fanatics who deliberately scar and uglify themselves up with cutting and abnormal healing. They have religious rites where they consume alchemical potions and mind-altering drugs. They are considered elite warriors in battle.

After the session, Klax and I created five new religions for the area - two major and three minor ones. That was a lot of fun - as Volant covers religion extensively. The two main religions are an 'invisible' religion, where religious rituals are actually cultural customs, and there is no religious infrastucture or hierarchy at all, and the orcs' religion, a fiery, demonic, passionate faith, with all power given to the embodiment of the god on earth, their supreme priest.

At this point, the payers are making their characters and we'll be ready to play when we all come together next week. :D

Friday, February 6, 2015

Vanilla in my Future!

So, Thomas having dropped out of our OHMAS IRC group due to ill health, the whole premise of the adventure pretty much dissolved. It was all based around espionage, and Tom was playing the only spy. So Tyler - my nephew, who is also in the group - proposed we start up a new adventure , a standard low-magic Tolkien-esque fantasy game. I had major trepidations, as I burned out on this kind of fantasy long ago, but the group liked the idea, so we decided to go ahead with it.

We are using Volant - Kingdoms of Air and Stone for the game, with no floating skylands, no floating stone ships, but yes to the giant riding birds. Last night we did the group setting generation. We used the Skylands generation tool to create normal earthbound regions rather than floating lands. These would be civilized lands, surrounded by wilderness, in a Points of Light type setting. Each player made two Regions, all to be part of the same Kingdom. We had a complete blast making the setting!

This coming week, they will finish up their creations with Cultural Oddities, then create their Association, then their characters. We will be embracing Troupe play as recommended, with each player playing two characters. Chargen is fast in Volant, as it is done with overlaying templates.We should get done and start the actual play next session.

I am still very nervous about this. I haven't been able to run anything this vanilla in decades. Pray for my soul!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Paying the Noah Tax for Uramkup

OK, having read up on the 'Noah Tax'* I feel compelled to explain why I thought 'Uramkup' by Albert Bailey was so cool I could not resist publishing it. Uramkup is a 30+ page dissertation on an alien species, set nominally in the universe of the StarCluster game, but actually - as Albert uses real world terms, usable in any SF RPG. The last page of the work is a Uramkup species sheet for StarCluster 3, inserted by myself, the editor. This is useful as a comparison, for statting up Uramkup for other games, but it is the only game-specific thing in the paper.

Uramkup is a study. It goes deeply into what this species is, what it does, why it does it, and its relations to and with humanity. This species is not just some almost human with bumpy forehead. Uramkup are distinctly different from humanity in every way. Uramkups have four sexes, and Albert describes their genetics - basically, there are two male-female pairs, each of whom creates an egg, which eventually hatches into a larva. This larval form is intelligent, and persists for several years, but is limited. Eventually, it will fuse with another larva - from the other male-female pair - undergo a pupa transformation, and emerge as an adult Uramkup, far more intelligent and with much greater potential.

Once emerged, Uramkup do not grow. They have thick jointed and articulated shells which are renewed on the underside as they wear on the outside. They have two powerful and flexible legs with bird-like feet, a flexible trunk tipped with a pincer claw, and complex, insect-like mouthparts, all of which are used to manipulate objects - the feet for heavy, gross pulling and lifting, the trunk for moderate weight and control, and the mothpats for extremely fine, light-weight work.

The study covers everything about the Uramkup in detail, from sexual practices to how they organize themselves to religion to their art and architecture. Not all of this is necessary, but the sheer wealth of data allows the reader to see things from a Uramkup perspective. The big problem in playing a real alien is the fact that they are really alien. This paper tells everything about them in a clear and concise manner, so that you can, as it were, wrap yourself in the plates of a Uramkup and play one with confidence.

Man! It is so much easier to write about someone else's work than one's own! :D

*The Noah Tax - if you post about something all excited and fan-ish, you really should say *why* you are so excited, so that other folks will understand.