Monthly Archives: May 2013

So, this week I’ve been thinking some about only a couple of things. Job hunting has been paramount, as I’ve had a couple of jobs pop up on my radar, and those have required some paperwork and phone calls, and that’s been on my mind more than StarSea. However, I have had some flashes.

One, in the comments section of a Gnome Stew article I was reading this week, the suggestion was made that Savage Worlds might not work for my setting. No, it wasn’t a comment specific to my setting, rather it was a comment on the magic system being a portion of the ruleset that is frequently house ruled. I need to read that section of the rules and make a decision for myself.

I’m also going to start looking into Fate Core or Fate Accelerated (or maybe even starting with Accelerated and moving on to Core as our group becomes more comfortable with the system). What little I’ve seen, I’ve liked. I looked at an old draft of Fate a number of years ago, but the little PDF pamphlet was pretty horrible in describing how task resolution worked. It’s getting good reviews, so I’m willing to give it another look. It might work well with what I have in mind for StarSea.

I’ve also given some thought to building a d20 game that might incorporate a lot of 4e into the system. I honestly don’t think it would be that hard, but it would be immensely time consuming. This idea is really low on my list. But I’m having troubles with the way 4e skills work, especially in relation to the DC Charts. My player’s characters are rarely really challenged when running skill challenges. I use the modifications of the skill challenge system presented by Rodrigo of Major Spoilers: 1) any skill that can be justified with an in-game explanation can be used; 2) you can’t use the same skill twice; and 3) you can’t use the same skill as the player before you in the initiative order. I don’t use the action point gets you a reroll, as I don’t use the normal action point economy. None of this negatively impacts the challenge. The issue is that DCs are simply too low for my PCs. The typical roll seems to be in the 30’s or 40’s, and the PCs have been 23rd level to this point. S0, for their trained skills, the PCs typically have a bonus to these roles of about 25, meaning a roll of 10 usually exceeds the medium difficulty by about 8 ticks.

I found this article today on the Pelegrane Press website, that offers a better way to handle backgrounds that the designers of D&D Next seem to be able to come up with (in my opinion). I won’t be changing my current game to this, but maybe for the StarSea. I could even see 13th Age work for StarSea in general, but I think I’d end up doing a lot of class building, again.

I’d also like to simplify some elements of the d20 system. I’d like to simplify armor down to three types, light, medium and heavy, rather than whatever multitude of armor types exists in the usual d20 systems. However, I understand that this kind of manipulating would be difficult, and robs the possibility of having armor really impact the aesthetics of the game. For example, the various bone and chitin armors of Dark Sun become more difficult to incorporate into the game.

On the other hand, I’ve also been thinking about assigning gear to characters as per Mongoose Publishing’s Wraith Recon (this setting was originally published for 4e). I really rather like the idea of simply giving the characters their gear as a package. Some of this is likely anyway, as I don’t think characters should simply own a main battle tank, which I want to have floating around.

I realizing that eventually, I’m going to have to focus and make some decisions. However, I don’t want to force the issue and find myself making decisions I’m not happy with down the line. I’ll make my decisions organically, and probably more intensely when my current campaign is complete. Then I won’t be splitting my thinking about both campaigns, and I can truly focus on the StarSea without distraction.

I think that’s plenty for this week. Until next time…

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Aesthetics and Corruption

So, I’m a bit late because last week I got a Beta code for the game in development, Card Hunter. I’m finding it really fun, even when the AI does something completely frustrating (like monsters baiting my characters to move towards them then moving away). I need to post on the forums over there a couple of buggy things I’ve encountered over the past few evenings.

But I’ve managed to do some thinking about some of my ideas for StarSea. Mainly I’ve been thinking about the aesthetics for the different factions, in regards to armor and color scheme. For example, I’ve been thinking that the Divines should be more regal, as the successors to the previous empire (who are now the undead throughout the StarSea). The Arcanists might have armor that makes them look as intimidating as the creatures they bargain with for their powers. That leaves me wondering what the armor of the Psionics and Primals looks like.

One of the books I looked at in regards to other stuff I’m thinking about was the Dark Sun Campaign Guide. It kind of got me to thinking about the possibility of different armors for the Primals. Bone or giant insect chitin might be interesting, as might unusual animal hides. But that book led to other ideas as well.

I also started considering what the corruption of the StarSea actually is. An argument could be made that most corruption starts as hubris in the Real World, so why could the same be true in the StarSea. This is also often true of fiction. Anakin/Vader and Palpatine both display a pretty significant amount of hubris at various times. As does Raistlin and other villains. I’ve looked into the systems for Dark Sun defiling (and found them wanting) as well as the systems for the Dark Side in both Revised and Saga Edition versions of the Star Wars RPG. Again, I found Saga Edition wanting, but because the handling of Force points in general is flawed by being tied to level. But the general rules ideas are solid. But they’ll need adaptation for other game systems.

Other thoughts I’ve had about the corruption/hubris element is that, with some of my other ideas, maybe the Divine and Arcane orders are the villains I want them to be. It also says that maybe characters of those orders have default levels of corruption/hubris to start off with, and that the orders have their own levels of corruption. This does give me ideas for DM tracking of organization level corruption/hubris, and having the campaign possibly revolve around changing levels of order corruption/hubris.

However, all of this thinking gets me to wondering: If the orders aren’t monolithic, does this mean there are villainous and heroic versions of each order, or is each order fighting corruption within? Frankly, I don’t like this idea, because it simply increases my work, but this is a question that has to be asked, and I need to determine how the orders work and how to keep my creativity under control. However, I can see how this idea could easily force changes in how the world works and the numbers of orders, maybe forcing a reduction in the orders down to two, one heroic and one villainous. I really don’t want to do that, as it smacks too much of Star Wars

Finally, I also thought about colors and symbols for the Orders. Do the Divines carry crosses or some other symbol? Of course, they should, as it’s fairly typical of religious types to have some specific sorts of dress. What colors? Royal purples and golds for color schemes? Should the Primals follow the expected greens and browns, or something else? Do the Psionics use the colors of the D&D 3.5 Lords of Madness organizations colors of cerulean and topaz? These are things I’m thinking about, as well as my own knowledge of how colors affect how we feel about things.

Right now, like everything else, I’m sort of up-in-the-air as to what where exactly I’m going with the aesthetics and the systems of corruption or hubris. The world I’m building will be fairly complex, and I have quite a bit to make decisions on.

Aesthetics and other ramblings

So, Monday I had a comment on Facebook that spawned a rare additional post, making two in two days. Whee! Now, however, I’m kinda left with little (at least in my own mind) to write about this evening.

I think I’ll ramble on a little more about the aesthetics of the world. I’m an artist by education and vocation, as well as a storyteller by inclination. So, when I think of my stories, I see little movies in my head. Those little movies help me establish the sweeping scale and grandeur of my stories. I’ve had an image or two in my head of the end of my current D&D game since the beginning. Now, at this point, I think that image actually played out a few months ago, but I’ve formed some new images in my head that I hope will eventually see the light of day at the end of the campaign.

In building the StarSea, I’m needing those kinds of images again. This is part of the reason I feel the need to build characters for the setting, and why I’ve obsessed a bit on the look of the giants and dragons and so on in the game. I need those images to tell me things about the story of the world, because they’ll also tell the players about the world.

For example, in Star Wars, what does Obi-Wan’s garb tell you about him and the Jedi? It tells you, the viewer, that Obi-Wan comes from a monastic order. Conveniently, Luke wears similar clothes, and the “Jedi as monk” image is carried forth after Obi-Wan sacrifices himself so the other can escape. However, Luke more or less eschews this look for the rest of the movies, but we see it again in Yoda and the force spirits in the older trilogy, and with most all of the Jedi in the newer trilogy.

This aesthetic tells us a lot about the Jedi. It tells us how they lead simply lives of study, and how they try not to rely on artifice to accomplish their goals. It gives them a mystic feel throughout the movies, for the most part.

This is what I’m hoping to accomplish with the StarSea. I want to be able to create images I can use for my players, and as a guide for artists (including myself) should I decide to publish the StarSea setting in the future. If you look at a lot of really successful products, the aesthetic really does sell the item. Look at Warhammer 40K: The imagery of the Space Marines and the Orks and Eldar sell the setting, even moreso than the aesthetic of Warhammer Fantasy sells that setting. Don’t get me wrong, but in the general public, WFB is pretty much unknown, but all gamers know WH40K. This aesthetic is why Jon Schindehette has spilled so much digital ink on the appearance of monsters in D&D 5e. He wants to combine the aesthetic of older editions of D&D with newer artistic techniques, rather than the ugly old line artwork of the D&D 2, so it will sell to a more savvy new consumer.

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In other thoughts, between thinking about aesthetics for the StarSea, I’ve been trying to go through my Downloads folder on my laptop’s hard drive. I’ve accumulated about 70 GB worth of miscellaneous stuff; free samples of music, free game systems, graphics I’ve thought were interesting and/or inspiring, cardstock minis, purchases from DriveThruStuff… You name it, it’s in there. And this is just the stuff I thought I should look at immediately and didn’t. I have a network drive that has probably a terabyte of stuff on it already. So, I spent at least part of the day going through all that. I made a dent. A small dent, but a dent nonetheless. I’m going to try to do more as the week goes by. I’m exposing myself to sample chapters of other games that have become available over the past couple of years, so I’m hoping to get more ideas for potential game sets, or even rules I can pull out and add to another system and make some of my crazy ideas work. Or maybe find the image that captures and aesthetic for one faction or another. 🙂

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Well, I’m beat. that’s pretty much it for tonight. Catch you later…

Expanding on ideas from yesterday…

So, a friend left the following comment on my Facebook:

Commenting on the use/creation of tech by non-tech classes. I think it would depend on how comfortable they were with those that created it were and how accessible tech is to acquire. Sort of that “necessity being the mother of invention”thing.

Here’s my response:

That’s a kind of logical way to look at it, and I’m more looking to create flavor. That’s why I focused so on the Primals. I can also see the flavor being related to corruption. Even the Primals will be subject to it.

So for example, in 4e, none of the Primal Classes seem to get proficiency in heavy, metal armors. That gives them a certain flavor. They don’t learn these armors for some reason, and one could say that’s a throwback to 1st ed when druids couldn’t wear metal armor, which I think was explained as the worked metal of men interfered with their connection to nature. So, in 4e we have a defender class that can’t wear heavy armor, but gets a boonus to AC based on their Con, or some such. Again, we have that flavor of the Primals being more natural and not working lots of metal for whatever reason, and it’s probably related to their philosophies rather than resources, assuming a magical world.

The further thinking is, do the Primals make stone weapons, or do they have metal weapons? Do they reserve metal for other things, or do they not use it at all as it’s an unliving thing, and they refuse to use things that weren’t alive at some point? Something I haven’t commented on in my posts has been a historical point I’ve been playing with, that the Primals were the first rebels against the ancient empire (which is now the source of all undead), and the Divines were the second. It could easily tie in to this historical element that the Primals now eschew the use of metals because they see it as a symbol of the dead things that the old empire has become.

Now, the powers of corruption in the universe affect everyone within it that uses power, and even some who don’t. In the ancient empire, the leaders created vast numbers of undead, including many of the leadership who fell to the corruption. Some leaders rebelled and became Primals, some became the Divines. However, corruption still exists, but it’s different for every group. Could a sign of corruption amongst the Primals be that they twist that idea of (once) living weapons to the extreme that they are still living, just in great pain and mutated form? Are they willing to mutate themselves? And what are the Arcanists, who bargain with unholy things, willing to do as corruption sinks in? Or are they corrupted by default, and characters from that corner of the setting are those who have risen above their corruption, or will I simply disallow certain classes based on power source (which I’m leaning heavily towards, or feat taxing the crap out of them)?

These are the kinds of things I’m looking towards, to create a lot of flavor in this particular campaign setting.

I’m really less concerned about tracking resources with this setting. I’m planning the monolithic worlds scheme (each world is basically a huge desert or swamp or whatever), so I’m assuming that the entire world’s resources can be brought to bear, and there will be few worlds which will have strong deficits of any particular resource unless it fits the world (water shortages on desert worlds, etc.). So, this is what I’m looking for when I’m referencing technological use: How does the technology (as an aesthetic) reflect the philosophises of the group?

That’s largely what I’m doing here. Determining aesthetics, and I’m just explaining it in a piss-poor, overly wordy manner. This was one of those things I really liked about 4e as the preview books came out, is that they had an aesthetic for every race. Dwarves have very geometric designs to their weapons, while elves have woodland motifs on gracefully curves weapons, and eladrin have a mix of natural motifs with the faerie kingdom motif. Dragonborn and tieflings were also given their own looks. Even humans have a look, which is sort of piecemeal, that tells us that the humans of 4e collect and reuse bits and pieces of the past to make their present.

I’ve already made some notes regarding this. For example, the Psionics will favor long, straight weapons (especially swords), while the Arcanists favor cruelly shaped axes and picks, and the Divines will use heavy maces and hammers. I was thinking spears and bows for the Primals. Do you, gentle reader, see the thinking of each faction in the weapons they carry? Do these suggestion begin to flavor the differences between them?

Wow. Another post in less than 24 hours. Will this continue? Maybe. Only time will tell…

Feeling MUCH better now…

So, last week, I was in bad shape, so a very brief post got made. My stomach was in knots from a back issue that is now more past than present. I’ve still got some aches and pains in my back, and some in my guts, but closer to what I consider normal. I’ve had back issues for years, and intestinal problems with them, so I’m sort of used to this stuff by now. Last week, however, was a special sort of Hell.

But now I’m back, and I’ve had a few thoughts worth sharing.

I’ve had a couple of campaign/plotline ideas recently (as recently as tonight, even). The idea I’d sparked on earlier this week is really nothing new. I would codename it “Minecraft,” after the video game my friends’ boy is so fascinated with. Suppose the PCs are part of a colony recently established somewhere far from home. They have been hired (or shipped as part of a penal colony) along as colonists and protectors of the other colonists. The PCs can be tasked by the administrators of the colony to explore more thoroughly the environs around the colony. Wood and food should be easy to find, but the PCs need to find potential mineral deposits for mining and clear such mines, at least to a certain depth initially. This would probably be a pretty sandbox-y campaign, at least to start. However, eventually, some threat could rear it’s head, either being pre-existing cultists (Deep Ones in a Mythos-style setting) or some other sort of organized resistance. At that point, you’re almost more looking at something like an RTS sort of game, but I like those, so I don’t have an issue with a campaign that goes that route.

I do believe that an DM who runs such a game be cautious with his players, as it could end up reflecting poorly on you if the campaign becomes too close to the United States’ own history. If the pre-existing civilization is simply a tribal group who simply happened to be there first, and you make the campaign a life or death conflict, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. However, if the pre-existing civilization is only a temporary enemy with whom the PCs eventually have to make peace with and negotiate an alliance with to destroy a third set of villains who threaten both, then you break from potential stigma or uncomfortableness. If your an even passible DM, you should be aware your players’ sensitivities already, and know how to navigate these waters.

SPOILER ALERT! You may want to skip a couple of paragraphs If you watch Once Upon A Time and missed the 2013-05-05 episode. This will be you only warning.

The other campaign starter I’d thought of was while watching Once Upon A Time eariler. Tonight’s episode was a flashback into Balefire’s history, and how he’d come to Earth and ended up in Neverland. Peter’s Shadow is depicted as an actively evil thing. It kidnaps children to Neverland, seeming to sup on their pain at being unable to return to Earth. This campaign idea is similar, in that the PCs will start off as kidnap victims, brought to a location far from home to be tortured. In the first session or two, they escape, but now must live as hunted escapees, and with some luck and forethought, rebels agains the mysterious power that brought them to their current location, at least until they can find a way off the island. Fellow prisoners need to be important to the PCs to keep them from running to quickly, to give them as reason to stay and continue to work against the major evil.

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On the StarSea front, I’ve had a couple of thoughts or three. One of those is that I think I need to do a “design precepts” page. This is something I got from Werewolf the Apocalypse, Second Edition. In the afterwards of the book, the designer included a page they’d written as sort of a mission statement/focus document. There were six ideas they wanted to keep in mind as they worked on the game, and I found it a wonderful document that could be used to focus any project. So, at the time when I read it, I copied the format and “rephrased” the paragraphs to a more generic form. I’ve used the design precepts form a couple of times in the past, but it’s been a while. I think it’s time again, as I’ll want to keep my focus as I create the StarSea setting.

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Something else I’ve realized about this setting is that so far, I have no character ideas. In the past, most of my settings have actually come second, and a series of characters (usually a group of three to six) come first. From them, I create my villains and nations. I think I need to stop letting this languish. In the case of this setting, I think it will help me start focusing on the technology of the setting.

I’m going to let that sentence be my segue onto the next thing I’ve been thinking about. I know I comment on technology a lot, but in this case, it involves me trying to direct my thoughts. For example, what kinds of technology do the Primal characters use? Do they use technology, or is everything they use simple and rustic, like the Native Americans, or do they shape lifeforms into tools, ala biotechnology? Or are animals more sacred to them, too sacred to be used that way? Do they have war wagons drawn by animals, or is there an animal that could act as a wagon, like elephants? What about the Psions? If they are a group like the Jedi of Star Wars (which at this point I sort of envision), do they use animals only as mounts (which fits the movies), or do they go so far as to use their powers to reshape life? Is that considered evil?

I’ve also bee considering how alignment fits in with the Orders. What happens when a Psion uses his powers to abuse others? Does he lose his ability to use his powers, and is he forced to eventually leave the Order and become an Arcanist? Does a Divine Knight lose his faith, or is it his hubris that causes his fall, and what does that fall make him?If I come up with a corruption system for this setting, I’m going to have to know what becomes of those who allow corruption to take over. Hopefully, if I can start creating characters of my own for this setting, that will point me in a direction for making those decision. Of course, with my dumb luck, it will only cloud the issue. 🙂

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That’s really about all I have right now. Of course, I haven’t written this much in quite a while. For now, it’s late and I’m closing things up for the night soon. So, good night, and we’ll see you next week.