Around the internet…

Here are some things I am reading hither and yon:

Bret wrote about our game of Mouse Guard:

I feel like I spend a lot of time failing die rolls, but at the end of the game when I tallied up advancement rolls I had more successes than failures. Why did I feel like I got beat down the whole game? I think it’s because I feel like our mice are really fragile. I mean, they’re not any more fragile than any other game, but I feel really protective of them and want only good things to happen to them. I mean, they’re little mice with swords.

Vincent wrote something interesting over at Anyway:

Giving the group a creative process – a set of rules – doesn’t give them everything they need. They also need an initial something, seed content, to work with.

And Joshua wrote about Middle Eastern truckers in a way that made me want to play a sci-fi game where the spaceship crew’s political alliances are carved into the ship’s hull, because that is how Joshua rolls:

If you look at pictures of Afghan and Pakistani trucks online, you can see they are covered with jewelry and paintings, which serve to announce their alliances.

*looks at interesting links and such*

Yeah, that is about it.

You reading anything interesting?

System Avoidance

System Avoidance is when you either aren’t confident in your own mastery of the rules or are worried about what the rules will tell you if you go to them.

I totally did this last night.  I was just this side of exhausted, two really interesting conflicts came up that would have been well served by two of Diaspora’s mini-games – the Social Combat and the Space Combat and rather than engage the system, I went with a few limp rolls and left it at that.

The game wasn’t terrible but as a result but as Pete said in an IM this morning, it didn’t pop.  Without a solid system to back up the play, there is a lack of accomplishment in the results and also a lack of really surprising elements in the resolution.

There was a scene where the players were mediating a contract negotiation between the clones they had liberated and a clone-owned silt-sea mining company and I would have been really curious to see where the Social Combat map led us.

There was a second conflict where a ship was on auto-pilot through a complicated A.I. and the players had to catch it, connect, do a zero-g walk, open a hatch and get in to shut it all down before it got to the slipknot.  It was hot stuff and would have rocked with the Space Combat as written.  I tend to have a pattern, where I read the rules, play the game and then re-read the rules again and I think it is time for my re-read.  The holidays are upon us and I do not think we will get in another game of Diaspora in 2009.  Ah well…next time.

The Sleeping Space Wolves

It has been really neat to have a few players from the Friday night Diaspora game contributing both Story Hour-ish micro-fic contributions and more Actual Play-inspired thoughts on how the mechanics are shaking out.  Here are the in-game ficlets so far:

Librarian’s Journal: Sun Washington (Judd’s librarian NPC and Judd wrote her journal entry)
Note: If you have somehow broken the encryption on this journal, you are breaking Archive Law. This is the private journal of an Archive-trained fully bonded Librarian and is thus classified. The journal’s purpose is for the librarian’s own reflection and critique on hir data-collecting techniques.

Archive Date: Jule 21, 3245 Astronaut’s Descent

The Valiance Corporation’s latest retrieval team has arrived to take the company’s latest data key back to Vestal. This team, on board a New Ovid-made scout class slipstream-capable ship, is different than other data retrieval teams. Their research patterns are different and team is made up of a mix of corporate administrators and former military personnel that must make for tense travels among the stars.

The Libertine is a handsome ship with a free-clone captain who reminds me of my own husband when I first met him, so confident concerning what he was told he was bred to do and so unsure of everything else. The crew was very excited to have the services of a Librarian and made good use of the Archive’s vast data. They have access at a high level, as the Valiance Corporation is a major sponsor, our security teams all wield custom-altered V.A. weapons.

My first duty was to discover what was the nature of the clones they had in their ship’s cargo hold. Apparently, the ship’s engineer, Anton Kilkenny, had won them in a card game in a Lodi oxygen mine. The clones turned out to be a lost cadre of special operations soldiers, bred in the highest quality factory-cathedrals of New Ovid.

The squad’s specialty was drifting at a satellite or a ship in orbit, making magnetic contact and then wreaking havoc. The Andrews series of clones are legendary. The Libertine had a full compliment of 30 in a state of the art stasis container attached to their ship.

Storn’s art  is always keen and he does a neat job of blending in-game fiction and out of game system thoughts:

Engineer Log: Lodi Archive docking (I wrote this part)
I think these logs are total waste of time. But to keep our corporate masters happy with the idea we actually read their memos and they read ours, here is my sad attempt.

One heat sink got stuck and would not rotating. Banging on the coupling seemed to do the trick.

Besides that, the Libertine is running very good for a 40+ year old ship.

Upon docking at Archive, met up with Safron Delaney, who is joining our intrepid crew. He is a decent guy for a suit. Picked up some Data Key for Valiance Arms.

VA payed for remarkable amount of access to The Archive. Capt Carter spent his time researching some Clone myths. Rojas helped me look into a decent place to unload the clones I won in that card game awhile back. They are still on ice. Good cargo parameters, their drain on ship’s power resources are well within reasonable tolerances.

Researched clones missing manifest, try to figure out what they were grown for. Didn’t find much, probably because it is New Ovid black market clones. Not much for the recording and such, these marketeers.

{out of character and for those who read these APs: This is a flat out lie. Clones turned out to be SpecOps, super troopers, spliced with wolf DNA to generate pack hierarchies. They were sold (or kept on ice and recently sold) some 20 years ago by Admiral Zafreet as the war was winding down and he went AWOL into “the Ink”. Not only he sold clones, he sold off his “black fleet” over the years. Substantial amounts of mothballed military tech he had dibs on. Our research revealed that Zafreet sits on the board of Valiance Arms and lives a comfortable retired life. He recently sold a military scout ship to VA… that ship turned out to be none other than our very own Libertine. After virtual interaction with the head clone, Col. Jubeska Andrews, they aren’t too happy about being sold down the river.

Jubeska requested placement into civilian life on Vestal, the home system of Valiance Arms. We all were a bit squicked about New Ovid SpecOps clones running around Vestal, probably trying to kill Zafreet. Rojas went behind my back and programmed himself to be the Alpha pack leader of the Star Wolves. He admitted his mistake and that is when Carter decided to take them to Binghamton. The thought of keeping them and having our own private army did occur to us… but just doesn’t seem right. I did end up changing one of my Aspects to “Heart of Gold” }

I think Capt Carter has decided to wake the clones up on Scranton or somewhere in the Binghamton system, so they can have their own lives and freedom and get them outta our hair. I have no problem with that. I don’t feel good making money on the souls of folks, even manufactured folks. You corporate sharks probably think I’m weak for not making a financial killing on this windfall. To that, I can only say; I’m not a suit.

{The game was a lot of fun, very philosophical as we totally debated for most of the short evening on what to do with these clones. Anthony’s Safron dug into our pasts using his best skill, science. He totally outrolled my Alertness, but I struggled for a bit as most of my secrets are social… he then suggested that “have I left DNA anywhere” and I got to thinking “maybe I have a kid somewhere out there?” And that clinched it. Anton has a 14 year old daughter named Andrea, who is looking for her dad and submitted a DNA report to match. Her mom, Talia Sackett, is/was a hard scrabble prospector/frontierwoman on Scranton and we had a brief affair 15 years ago. Anton doesn’t know…so it didn’t go into my engineer log, Saffron does and is going to try and find my daughter when we go to Binghamton system. Very cool. I’m considering swapping a Stunt out and taking Andrea so the Libertine might get a ‘cabin girl’ and I get a relationship with a spunky frontier adolescent… tie an Aspect on Andrea and knowing Judd, she will be a SERIOUS FATE pt generator.}

I wanted to jot down some thoughts on the clones:

To: New Novid High Cleric of Genetic Engineering
From: Abbot of Covert Military Factory-Cathedral Production
Status: Classified
Subject: Andrews Class Clone Soldier

The Andrews class is the next wave in clone soldier but needs to be utilized in very specific circumstances and then placed directly back into their cryo-pods for hibernation storage. The cryo-pods we have engineered for them have linked-in capabilities, allowing the officer in charge of a battalion of Andrews to talk to them while they are in hibernation and also allowing them to train as a battalion while sleeping, actually programming their muscle memory through their neural relays.

DNA take from Earth-original wolf packs have been spliced into the Andrews’ DNA, giving them a ferocious bonds with their series-mates. Using the wolf traits and the cryo-pod’s linked-in capabilities, we have combined these technologies allowing the officer in charge of them to wire hirself in as the battalion’s alpha. This alpha status is not license for the Andrews handler to be irresponsible. A wolf pack’s alpha can be removed.

The Andrews are a special breed of soldier. They are smart, independent and disdainful of weak leadership. In short, they are dangerous. Our AI projections see any group of them left outside of their cryo-pods in a slipstream-capable ship as real mutineering threats, especially with the skill-sets that the Admiral Kafreet is demanding of us for his Void Marines. Due to the admiral’s lack of faith in the ancient texts, it is our recommendation that a holy engineer be placed with the clones, allowing for scientific and spiritual guidance [Archive Librarian’s Note: The holy engineer was never noted on any of Kafreet’s ship’s manifests].

Technologically and religiously speaking, these clones are a huge step forward. They show how our genetic engineers are making real strides in incorporating all manner of genetic material into the new breeds. While we are still far behind the schematics in our holiest and most secret of biological texts, the messiah clones who piloted the FTL ships and allowed the first human astronauts to set foot in our holy land, we are making strides. Praise the helix and all its mysteries; the diaspora will end in our generation.

And J.C. jumped in and contributed a nice letter to his character’s fiancee:

A letter home…

My lady Min-

By the time this letter finds you, I expect you to be settled in my home on Vestal. I do not know when I shall see you again, exactly, as not only is this team constantly sent on missions by Valiance, we consistently find trouble on our own and timeliness does not seem to be one of our virtues. Perhaps I shall need to tell Valiance that for that very reason, courier works is not our forte in the future.

By the time you read these words, I believe this situation will have resolved itself, one way or the other. I freely acknowledge that in the guise of writing to you and keeping you informed, I am also outlining my own thoughts and perhaps a new method of handling the situation will come to me.

You of course remember Anton? He won that load of clones from your brother. I don’t know if you knew the background on these clones; I’d like to think you’d have told me if you did, or more ascribing a more selfish motive, your family would have demanded them returned. They are… perhaps I shouldn’t say explicitly, but they are dangerous, but potentially powerful. The others want them to be freed, and perhaps that is the right thing to do – I have very little opinion on the slavery of clones. But these particular clones, uncontrolled, is a thing I can not abide. They are to dangerous.

There is a control mechanism, and I used it. I had no right to do so as they are Anton’s property, although he doesn’t believe they are property so I find his use of that argument a bit hypocritical. I don’t particularly want or need control over these clones, except in my darkest desires, but I know they need to be controlled, and the only way I knew they’d be controlled is if I did this. It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission, in this regard, although it has not been particularly easy to gain forgiveness. Anton and I are not friends, nor are we the kind who would be friends, but I want a mutual respect, and I disrespected him by doing this, and lost what respect for him I had built up.

It was necessary.

Anton will not act against me directly, and he made a good point – if anyone on this ship has anything close to a right to control these clones, its Carter. Carter doesn’t want it, of course, and I knew that. He may wind up with it anyway. Or we may free them without a control. On a world where they lacked sufficient ability to strike against citizens, that might be allowable.

My new assistant, Saffron, is a capable fellow who so far has stood up to my abuse. I actually need to abuse him less; there’s a difference between professional detachment and criminal indifference.

I hope you are settling in well, and that access to my properties and accounts has been granted fairly easily. Valiance *should* be taking care of that. I know that the men and women on Vestal are not the company you are used to, but they may see you as a curiosity and try to make friends. Or they may make fun of you. It is my sincere hope that by the time I see you again, you’ll have made the former, and not taken the head off the latter.

Until then – Paul

Our First Diaspora Social Combat

I have been meaning to write about our social combat from last game for a while now and since we played again last night, I thought it was time to dust off the notes and get to work.

ENworld, SG

So, there are a couple of techniques we used in making Diaspora Social Combat interesting, gleaned from our years of playing Burning Wheel’s Duel of Wits:

Tangible Effect: The Social Combat has a tangible effect on the in-game fiction. Otherwise, you are just moving pieces around a board for no damned reason. When Storn’s gambler blew the Sars son right out of the combat, there were consequences and in-game stuff happened.

Compromise: There has to be a mechanic for compromise. In this case, I used several different members of the opposing factions, each of which with slightly different goals. The father wanted what was best for the family. The mother wanted to keep the slaves. The son wanted to see the family gain control over the corporation and the daughter wanted profit. By seeing where everyone was positioned at the end, we could see how the combat shook out. If the players had just attempted to destroy every member of the Sars family’s damage track, it would have gone very differently; they might have just liberated the clone-slaves on the spot.

As it was, I was very pleased with how it shook out. The map is a really interesting way to represent the whole abstracted process and it really allowed us to compress a month of game-time into a half hour or so of play. We got to roll dice and be strategic while giving the night a fun, dynamic and interesting conclusion.
Now to write up last night’s game, in which they find out that Anton Kilkenny, in a card-game with Carlov Sars, won a cargo container filled with lost black-ops Void Marine clones, lost since the New Ovid-Vestal war that ended 20 years back…

EDIT: Storn already wrote up last night’s game. Nice!

Engineer Log: Lodi Archive docking (I wrote this part)
I think these logs are total waste of time. But to keep our corporate masters happy with the idea we actually read their memos and they read ours, here is my sad attempt.

One heat sink got stuck and would not rotating. Banging on the coupling seemed to do the trick.

Besides that, the Libertine is running very good for a 40+ year old ship.

Upon docking at Archive, met up with Safron Delaney, who is joining our intrepid crew. He is a decent guy for a suit. Picked up some Data Key for Valiance Arms.

Talked to Rich About Burning Wheel and then it was Friday

I just talked with Rich for 40 minutes about Burning Wheel.  Canon Puncture has a new segment called Game Advocates.  It was nice to just talk about the game I have played most in the past four or five years and probably my favorite game just on its own for a while, not in the context of any other kind of gaming thoughts.

Reading: I am still reading A Player of Games, though it was taking a while amidst finishing up for school.

Planning: This weekend I have a paper to knock out but Friday night is Diaspora and Saturday night there are some sweet UFC fights on Spike.  As usually lately, I will be over to see Pete and Kalista a whole lot, which is awesome.  Sunday will be brunch with Bret, might go try out Wildfire, as it has a gluten-free menu.

Wearing: Sweatpants and a t-shirt.  The t-shirt is one of two that makes me feel huge and muscle-y.

Writing:  I haven’t been tinkering with much this week, just other stuff going on but I hope to get back to the top three google docs on my list before too long.

Valiance Corporation Action Memo – Sars Family Oxygen Mining Company Contract

Excerpt from the Valiance Corporation Action Memo- Sars Family Oxygen Mining Company Contract:

Paul Rojas, an up and coming middle manager, was given a crew with all of the skills necessary to broker corporate policy across slipstreams. Along with Mr. Rojas was Captain Carter Manning of his Valiance-leased ship, The Libertine, and Anton Kilkenny, a new hire, a highly decorated engineer from Ithaca.

I’ve got that post-good-game-can’t-sleep thing.

I think I’m ready to pass out about now, though.

Memo and mechanical thoughts posted in full on SGENworld.

Diaspora passed the first test.


When I buy a game, the true mark, the truest review, is whether or not I am so inspired after reading it that I feel compelled to get a posse together and play the damned thing. As I was three-quarters done reading Diaspora the group came together. I was growing just a touch sick of fantasy, as I’ve had a steady diet of delicious Burning Wheel fantasy for the past year or so with slight side dishes of Shock: Social Science Fiction. Pete and I cleared up our Friday nights and got a posse together.

Diaspora is a love-letter to the Traveller’s Little Black Box. The introduction talks about the creative team’s background with old school Traveller and its setting creation. The Introduction charmed the hell out of me.

The Economics system has touches of Burning Wheel’s Resources rules. The Personal Combat has touches of Burning Empires’ Firefight and the Cluster creation has touches of BE’s World Burning. The Space Combat has touches of Agon’s abstraction in combat. It steals liberally and it steals well. Character creation takes the Spirit of the Century model and does some nice little tricks with it that we enjoyed.

The issues I have with FATE it addresses but doesn’t quite come out and solve them. Spirit of the Century’s character advancement never sat right with me and that makes sense, pulp characters don’t do a whole helluva lot of growing. They explain how to advance skills and how to change Aspects but it isn’t where my picky-ass wants them to be yet. That said, it isn’t so far gone that I can’t play it. As a matter of fact, its my favorite iteration of FATE yet published.

I would have liked a mediagraphy, a list of movies, books and graphic novels that inspired it, along with a list of the games that inspired its design.

The Cluster creation, I think, could inject just a touch more situation into the mix. I’d like the dice rolls to inspire just a little more conflict and mystery but just a touch more. It is a minor quibble.

I wanted to play it as soon as I was done with the Cluster creation rules. When I got hip deep into the Mini-Games, the different forms of conflict resolution (Personal Combat, Platoon Combat, Space Combat and Social Conflicts) I was damned hungry to give it a go.

I e-mailed the posse of guys who had clear Friday nights:

Dear Gaming Geek Brothers,
Pete and I are currently playing a one-on-one game of Burning Wheel. There is an end-point in sight, or at least a good resting point and when we get there, I’d love to get a posse together and game. I’m rather sick of fantasy at this point and just got a new shiny, science fiction toy that I’d love to take out for a spin.
Here it is…wanna play? Friday nights from around 9:30ish until around midnightish?
Here’s the game’s basic pitch:

Old Earth-that-was and faster than light travel are myths.

The human diaspora through the galaxy was thousands of years in the making but since the earth empire fell apart, it is made up of isolated systems called clusters. These clusters might be thousands of light years apart, only linked by slipstream gates.

Some systems have regressed back into a superstitous Iron or even Stone Age, viewing left-over technology as magic artifacts left behind by the gods, medieval tyrants wielding plasma rifles like clubs. Some are edging back towards transhumanism, re-capturing the glories of past ages, if not attempting to push beyond it.

What’ll we do, Judd?

We’ll get together and make our own cluster, a 4-system group with its own astro-politics, conflicts and mysteries. Then we’ll figure out where we want to adventure and make our game (and our characters) there. Diaspora is Hard SF, no anti-gravity or FTL but still with awesome ship-to-ship and platoon based combat. For tone, I am thinking Firefly, more raw space with bills to pay and a dangerous void out there. I’d love to end up with a game where the PC’s are former marines turned free-traders or government-backed settlers pushing to the edge of space’s frontier…shit like that.

I’d love to start off in the GM’s chair but I think this game would be a neat one to swap around the GMing once in a while, maybe play for a solid chapter with one GM and then fast forward the system 300 years or make up another cluster or whatever makes sense. We’ll figure it out once the cluster is made and we get some laser blasts.

Here’s the web site:

Here’s the SRD (all of the rules that are Open Content):

Thoughts appreciated.

And that is as nice a review as I can give. It made me want to take one of my two gaming nights a week, in a busy, brutal schedule and play this…now. I had to get like-minded geeks together, get the fudge dice out and play this damned game. Now let’s see how she flies with lasers taking aim, the engines creating too much heat and electronic counter-measures mucking up the computer systems. Next we get to find out how it works at the table.

AP threads on Story Games & ENworld

Rifkin’s Answers

Everyone thinks they know what I should do or what I am up to but no one seems to fucking know what I am going to do next.

– Rifkin, procurer, former Ravensgate convict, hero of the Sangre and wizard-slayer

Answers in MoBu City

Came to some conclusions about running a whodunnit in BW.

  1. The game has to be more interesting after the reveal than before. Meaning, the reveal should inspire the player into action.
  2. The pace of the mystery is actually set by the player, I think.
  3. The GM should be putting obstacles in the way of the character, not the player.

The 13 Cities, Book 1.

Why write all of this shit down?

Part of it is sharing my experiences with certain techniques and systems – talking about what is working and more importantly not working for me and my friends at the table. The more selfish reason is just to have these threads as a way of remembering. Now that I have a body of AP’s built up, it is satisfying to look back on the various blog tags (ap04, ap05, ap06, ap07, ap08, ap09) and read about old games, like a tabletop gaming yearbook, a way to remember good times with friends.

Also, seeing the names of the different threads, the titles each night of gaming grew into, really makes me giddy, just seeing an outline of how it all came together is immensely satisfying.


Part I: The Horselord Prince

Part II: The Summoner of Gaham

End of Book 1.