Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Continuum Gumshoe

If I ever run Continuum again (and I would really like to), I'll probably port it over to the GUMSHOE system. I think it would be an excellent match - information control is the name of the game in Continuum, so Gumshoe's various investigative skills would be right at home there.

This would also provide solutions to the two gripes in my earlier post about Continuum:
  1. Gumshoe has much more elegant rules for mundane combat than Continuum does.
  2. You could put all 10 Fraternities on the character sheet, and give starting characters 1 dot in 3 of them, determined randomly. They'd work like Investigative Abilities, with a Spend meaning you're calling in a favor from some friend in that Fraternity. Possibly a friend you haven't met yet. You give them randomly to the players, so they only have to learn 2 or 3 of them, but between the whole party most of the fraternities are represented. Osmosis of information would occur gently in the background.
On top of that, numerous other elements of Continuum would convert well to Gumshoe. Here's a couple examples off the top of my head:
  • Graces would become a spendable trait - a new character has just a point or two of Grace, which can be spent to make a "coincidence" happen.
  • Gemini would be a spendable trait, but one that only refreshed when your achieved the next level of Span. When you want to Slipshank something, you either take Frag, or spend a Gemini point.
  • Most Time Combat Stratagems would be easy to convert. You'd replace die rolls and charts with Investigative Spends, making Time Combat faster as a bonus.

What I'd like to see in Continuum 2.0

I don't know if the 2.0 version Aetherco's been promising will ever come out, but if it does, there's two things I'd like to see improved:

1) Skill rolls, especially in regards to mundane (non-Time) combat. Most of the time you don't roll, but when you do, it gets awkward. I'd like to see that changed. If they keep it more-or-less as-is, they at least better have a good explanation of why, and better examples of how it works. Graces, hit locations, bouts, victories, blunders, etc, are cool in theory, but rarely seemed worth it in practice. Unnecessary mechanical complexity is not something I enjoy.

2) Better GM advice on how to introduce the players to the Fraternities. Frats are a huge part of Span 2 play, but really hard to work into Span 1 in any meaningful way. Wrapping your brain around time travel is tough enough on the new player, you don't want to dump the fraternities on them as well. By the time they've got Time Combat understood, they'll be chomping at the bit to get to Span Two (with multi-year jumps), and not focused on learning a whole bunch of new stuff (such as fraternities). Worse yet, it's too detailed to do as an in-character exposition dump, you'd bore the players to tears. You'd like to do it bit by bit, by introducing a character from each fraternity gradually during Span One - but that would take like 10 NPCs.

Other than that, the game's awesome. Love frag. Love the setting. Love being able to travel through time and space at will.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Continuum GMing Tips

I got an email from someone asking for advice and suggestions when GMing Continuum. Here's my third draft of my first instincts:

  • GM from a computer.
  • Have a simple plot, with multiple explanations.
  • Have maps, but don't use them.
  • For the later campaign: Make history real.

GM from a computer:
As far as general advice, the most important thing is GM with a computer handy. Not just for note-taking, but so if the players surprise you, you can take a 5-minute break to google map and wikipedia-search the place they went to.

I kept a calendar for the game - it was a word processing document with a separate page for every day. I GMed with my laptop sitting next to me. Each page started with the date in big letters so I could find it quickly. I did my prep-work in it, color coding things. When the PCs left a scene by spanning away, I noted the day they spanned to. In that way, it became like a master span log for the whole campaign.
  • Green meant "Planned, but not set in stone".
  • Black meant "it happened, but wasn't viewed by a PC, so there's some wiggle room if things change it."
  • Red meant "This happened in a scene, and is set in stone. Changing this creates Frag."
  • Eventually, I had to add a fourth color for events that had happened very differently than what I'd planned, so I could highlight things that needed updating as they happened. I'd then actually update them at the end of the night, and didn't have to spend time typing up complicated explanations in the middle of a scene.

Have a simple plot, with multiple explanations:
In the early stages, you can be fairly plot-light. Throw one simple dilemma at the players, and let them deal with it. Being able to time travel and teleport is interesting enough to carry several sessions without much need for added complexity. I went overboard in the first half of my campaign, and I think it would have been better if I'd delayed half that plot by 5 or 6 sessions. Give them a small mystery, one that can be solved by clever use of time-travel, and they'll have fun doing so. They'll probably screw it up a couple times first, and have to unfrag themselves.

At the same time, drop in little hints of weirdness, of faux-complexity. Have a PC stumble across a weapon or tool behind a sofa, implying that someone has set up a slipshank and will need that tool in a future scene at the same location. Have a person in a fake-looking beard watch them from the corner cafe. This sort of stuff looks sinister, but is actually par-for-the-course for information-controlling time-travelers.

Players being players, they'll get paranoid, but this sort of thing is perfect. Once they get the swing of how time travel works, PCs will set this sort of stuff up for themselves all the time, and your "hints" then retroactively become mundane. Having it present before they get to that stage adds to verisimilitude, and heightens tension in the early campaign. With all these spanners in the mix, cause and effect don't necessarily have to be close to each other in time or space.

Time travel gives the GM an escape hatch. If some sinister clue turns out to be not what you wanted, just let the PCs go back and plant that tool behind the sofa themselves. Suggest that the guy in the fake beard might be an enemy, but he also might be your mentor (or elder self) checking in on you. Again, you don't have to really put out much plot at first, the players will generate it themselves just getting used to the ramifications of spanning. The nice thing is, you can put a bunch of strangeness out there in tiny doses, and then latter reverse-engineer whether it was hints of something big, or just their mentor acclimating them to post-level life.

Not that I'm advocating massive ret-cons and red-herrings. In general, I feel GMs should always know what's really happening in their game, and not change the shared past unless the situation is exceptional. However, Continuum is not like any other game you've ever run. It can be helpful to have two different explanations in mind for certain critical junctures, and hold off defining which explanation is right until after you see the player's reaction to it. You need to know when to reign in the confusion, and when to revel in it.

Have maps, but don't use them:
If you anticipate a fight scene or time combat, I recommend having detailed maps ready of the relevant areas. Don't show the maps to the players, though. Information control is everything, both in-character and out-. You want the maps handy on your computer, so when they hop off to ambush, you know what's there without pause or waver. But avoid minis (and showing the maps to players) like the plauge - you'll find that even if you love them in other games, in Continuum minis are a nightmare.

Time combat involves fragging actions - the same critical moments will get revisited again and again. While it's all just in our heads and the shared narration, minor inconsistencies are easily glossed over. But once you put mini to map, the players start thinking about line-of-sight, and want to rewind to 3 rounds ago when they had a better shot. You'll never quite get the minis positioned exactly right again, there'll be disagreements about who was where, and it won't be worth the headaches as it takes you out of character.

Make History Real:
When the campaign had advanced for a while, and the Players were ready to start exploring more of time, I found it very helpful to find just a couple of details to focus on in any era.

I picked up some cheap costuming and history books, and book marked them - when the players arrived at a new place or time, I could flip straight to images of the fashions of the era. I'd sometimes have photos of places prepared for when they arrived. I also researched what the food would be like for each era, as that was a great way of making things real (and sometimes disgusting). This was a lot of work, but it paid off really well, and made the second half of the campaign (the century-hopping) feel very different from the first half (which was all focused on a month-and-a-half in a single city).

Part of how I was able to do that without wasting research time was by having the NPC Mentor be several levels of Span ahead of the players. The PCs could go places, and hop around within a few years, but the NPC mentor was the person who took them to Ancient Rome, for example. She was happy to show them around, but they couldn't get home easily without her.

The ability to teleport and time-travel doesn't play as much havoc on the GM as you might imagine, either. The 4th Maxim dictates that players can't just hop around willy-nilly, they need to do so out of the eyes of the public. Oh sure, they may want to go visit Feudal Japan this session, but if they don't know a safe corner to span to, it ain't happening.

On the other hand, when the much-prophecied poop hits the proverbial fan, the untethered players can get pretty crazy. They'll time jump like crazy, with slipshank and other tricks making a complicated mess of the situation quickly. See my map-related advice, above.

A bit more on Storytime

For my current Deadlands game, we've been starting each session with "Story Time". I also used the technique for a Vampire LARP (named Hearts of Darkness, often just called HOD), I ran several years back, and IIRC, the idea of Storytime came from then-Co-GM Dave Hearn.

At the LARP, we had 50 players, and needed a way to convey plot-points more reliably than the grapevine of PCs telling each other what had happened "off camera". So, when a scene was really important, we'd recreate it (or a trimmed-down version of it) for the whole group at the start of the next session. We also used pre-game scenes to foreshadow events, play out the arrival of NPCs, tell backstory and spread rumors. It was a lot of fun, and a very useful tool for our bag of tricks.

We opened Storytime up to players as well, saying anyone who requested it could have 2 minutes of stage and spotlight at the start of any session. We'd usually get about 15 to 40 minutes of material between the GM-prepped stories and the player-performed ones. The stories were for the players, not for their characters - you could use the information gained, but really shouldn't directly reference it in-game.

This being a LARP, sometimes the story-times would end up with some serious production qualities and some real suprises. I remember one time someone told a tale about how their character disposed of a body (torpored vampire, actually), and they brought a bloody (painted, actually) mannequin, complete with stake (painted styrofoam, actually) through the heart. In retrospect, that was awesome, but at the time I nearly wigged out over it, since we were playing in public (college campus) and it looked convincing from a distance.
Then there was this other time when someone else thought it'd be fun to try to do a magic ritual, complete with blood and candle, before the group. I did wig-out that time, and put the player on notice. Never let him do another storytime after that, nearly kicked him out of the game over it.

What I'm doing in the Deadlands game is on a much smaller scale, since there's just 5 players. At the start of each session, I tell one story related to the plot. If players care to tell one, they can do so, and will even get a Bennie (it's like the Tokens in F#) for doing so. My stories are clue-laden, and reveal things relevant to the plot. The players mostly use theirs to develop their characters more. The tales are considered told around the campfire as they travel - they are encouraged and expected to use the information in-character. I wrote a bit more about it a month ago, if you're interested.


As mentioned in my earlier post, the timely application of three cards from the Adventure Deck completely short-circuited my plans in yesterday's game. I'm almost completely cool with that - my only regret is that I didn't get to use the minis I made.

I'd mentioned the possibility of a 3-way battle between the PCs, a witch, and a bunch of cowboys. The cowboys were mostly extras - the Cattle Baron was technically a Wild Card, but with underwhelming stats other than for commanding his "troops". Their cook, however, was a one-legged retired bank robber, a real badass Wild Card. I had a campsite prepared for the battle scene, complete with his chuckwagon. You can see it in the picture, above, with the cabinets open (and decked with food, pots and pans, and knives).

Deputized by Adventure Cards

Okay, that headline's neither fair nor accurate. The players in my Deadlands campaign did an astounding job of deputizing themselves yesterday. They were relentless in their pursuit of Finnegan Cobb, regardless of how many diversions, distractions, red herrings, and "wandering encounters" I dragged across the path. They were single-minded bloodhounds, even before the Adventure Deck came through with perfectly timed hole-card aces to every dilemma.

It's just that three Adventure Cards got played, and each one put a hard 112-degree turn into my prepared narrative.

My main plan was to tie them up in a complicated situation. I often throw "Kobayashi Maru" scenes at players, where there is no right course of action, and a high likelihood of misery and trouble no matter what they do. The idea being that you great roleplaying and memorably intense scenes, at the small cost of bogging down the plotline for several hours. In this case, the prepared scene could easily devolve into inter-party feuding (or even one PC arresting another), a very bloody 3-way battle with cowboys and a witch, curses on the whole group, death by evil tumbleweed, and a knife-fight with the peg-legged cook.

Yesterday, though, the PCs were able to sidestep everything easily, thanks partly to the Adventure Deck. Everybody drew real powerhouse cards. One got played that made peace break out. It took most of the wind out of my sails, diffusing the tension, and the players thought and acted quickly in its wake. Problem solved (about 2 hours early) without any bloodshed.

All of two minutes later they played a card that gave them an additional supernatural advantage in chasing after Cobb. I had easy ways to counter this, and would have felt justified, since no one card should short-circuit the plot. However, I really wanted to reward the PCs for handling things so well and being so determined. So I gave them a glimpse of Cobb high on a ridge before them, now only a few hours ride ahead of them (minutes if they left their horses behind and piled into Dr Immelman's flying machine). Cobb spots them, and starts testing the wind, like he expects his pistol to have the range of a modern sniper rifle (it is The Gun, afterall).

Down comes another Adventure card. This one causes a case of mistaken identity, to the players benefit. Cobb thinks they're someone else. So he shoots a bird, reanimates it, and sends it flying to the PCs. It lands in a tree, and it's beak twitches with Cobb's voice. "Which one of you is Hoyle?"
An aside: In Deadlands, the laws of magic were codified and "popularized" by Edmond Hoyle, author of the book of rules to card games. Officially, he's been dead 100 years, but then, Cobb's got several slugs lodged in his eye, so it's not impossible Hoyle might be up and about, too.
The session ended with the PCs bluffing a bit to their intentions, and arranging to meet up with Cobb and "posse up" together.

For the record, I'd planned on having the chase for Cobb last about 8 sessions (and I tend to over-prep, so 8 could easily become 10 or 12), but between determination, cleverness, and good cards, it looks like the PCs will be in pistol range on session 4. (We'd been playing once a month, due to scheduling conflicts, but that's cleared up a bit, and the next session will be two weeks from yesterday.) I'm excited, as much fun as the chase has been - the confrontation should be far better.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Deputize Yourself

The Trail of Cthulhu RPG has a two-page spread of advice for players, and my favorite bits are:
"the best way to fail is to become defensive and do nothing.... Instead, talk through the most obvious options, quickly pick the one that seems the most appealing, and then execute that plan. Will something horrible happen? Of course it will - it's a horror game! Something horrible will happen no matter what your plan is. "
"Passively playing the good citizen won't save you. You must carry the ball into the enemy's court, and part the dark veil of the unknown. A few moments of reluctance is understandable and realistic. More than that is boring."
Sound advice. Frequently, players get "analysis paralysis", or are so fearful of the consequences of action, that they just sit back and let the plot happen. In a game I'm running, at least, that's always a mistake.

Think of it this way. If the player does something, it's got at least three possibilities:
  1. Paying off! It's the solution to all your troubles.
  2. Ineffective! Despite your action, things keep on the same track.
  3. Disastrous! Something bad happens, and you feel like it wouldn't have if you'd not done anything.
Now compare that to what will happen if you do nothing. In this case, there's only one possible outcome.
  1. Disastrous! The Big Bad already has plans, and I guarantee you don't want them to happen.
Trust me, what I plan to do to your character is far worse than any complications you're likely to get yourself into by taking an action. A Big Bad with wimpy plans that can be survived by turtling or dragging your feet ain't a Big Bad at all. The main plot, left unaltered by player action, will always end in the worst possible situation.

An example drawn from Session 5 of my Trail of Cthulhu campaign. My wife (who previously would often over-analyze RPG situations) took the TOC advice, and Deputized herself in the most recent session. 4 NPCs were hauling stolen artifacts into a warehouse. So, armed with just a two-shot derringer and the "backup" of a 60-year-old NPC librarian, she stormed into a warehouse to face four individuals she suspected might be possessed by aliens or demons. It was a very tense scene, and nearly went south at one point, but by quick thinking (and quick acting) she recovered the truck full of artifacts, and got out without having to fire the second bullet.

Had she dithered and wimped out, even just to sneak back under cover of darkness, the world might have ended in the meantime. I mean, it is Cthulhu, and I have a track record.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Post Apocalyptic Decay

I recently watched Life After People. It's a TV special (and soon to be a weekly series) about what would happen to our cities, technology, pets and environment if humanity suddenly died off or vanished. It captured the imagination nicely, and I started google-searching and wikipedia-hunting for other works on similar topics. (See also: World Without Us and Aftermath: Population Zero.

Before I knew it, I'd written over 3700 words on how to use these concepts and timeline in a roleplaying game, including a hybrid timeline drawing from the wikipedia pages on all of those sources. I put it up at Arcana Wiki. I think I'll mirror it here as well, since that was one of the original goals of this blog - to preserve gaming materials I'd put up on wikis and forums elsewhere.

This post is going to be pretty long. The version at Arcana Wiki will have better formating, and is probably the better read as a result. I probably won't take the time to fix the formatting here unless my original gets deleted at Arcana Wiki. Someone else there might have the good sense to edit me, eventually, since I tend to get a little verbose.

Post Apocalyptic Decay

This page describes the affects on our planet, it's environment, and human technology and endeavor in an After The End scenario. Assume mankind is wiped out by some contagious and lethal supergerm, or taken away in The Rapture. What happens to our planet, our cities, and any scattered pockets of survivors?

Just how our world is altered will depend on what the nature of the Apocalypse is. The decisions you make for your campaign will color this information. If it's World War III, you'll have to worry about nuclear winter. If it's alien invasion, or a global pandemic, those will have consequences and aftershocks to affect this as well.

Just as important is on how long after the disappearance of man the campaign is set. The impact of time will be pretty radical, and is the bulk of what's detailed below.

Another important element is where the setting is on earth - coastal areas and rainforests will see the fastest degradation of man's monuments, and dry desert areas will preserve things the best. This is mostly addressed in the text that follows, but if setting a game in a very wet or very arid location, you'll want to adjust timeframes slightly.

The text below mentions survivors, since we're using this for gaming and at least the PCs are still alive. In order for these predictions to be accurate, though, far more than 99% of the population would have to be gone. Communities of even a few hundred survivors should have no trouble maintaining dwellings and some measure of technology. If more people survive in your world, then these descriptions may only apply to areas that are abandoned (for whatever reason).
A Few Hours Later
Psychological Trauma

This soon after the death or vanishing of humanity, the main focus is on the creepy ghost-town affect, and the mystery of what happened to the human race. PCs are probably among a scattered handful of those left on the earth, and they'll probably scramble to determine the fate of family and friends, scout for survivors, etc. Games with psychology and sanity rules should be smacking the players pretty hard.
Power Outages

Most Fossil-Fuel power plants shut down once their immediate supply of fuel is exhausted, within a few hours after mankind is gone. This causes local blackouts, which cascade across the power grid. Only places supplied by nuclear, hydroelectric, or wind power stay lit, and some of those blackout as power is drawn away from further down the wires.
Vehicular Dangers

If mankind left instantly, due to rapture or a disease that kills in minutes, then moving vehicles provide a challenge. Empty cars swerve and crash. They idle and pollute until their fuel supplies run out. Planes continue flying on autopilot until their jetfuel runs out, then they drop from the sky over a period of several hours. Trains collide or derail.
A Few Days Later

The ghost-town affect is still an omnipresent theme at this stage of the campaign. The initial shock may have passed, but survivors may still be facing denial, and are likely to seek out broadcasting towers and long-range radios to send messages that they hope will reach other survivors.

Vehicles are no longer a danger (or running), but the other issues that manifested within hours of mankind's fate grow more pronounced.

Blackouts spread further on the power grid.

Many subway systems and urban tunnels would flood as no one is around to activate the pumps that keep them dry.

House pets trapped in homes would begin to starve, though they'll have water leaking out of defrosting freezers. Pets capable of getting outside would escape and fend for themselves. Those bred for cute appearance, with short legs and small mouths, would face serious disadvantages. Given this situation most players will be likely to take pity on them and spend time opening doors or breaking windows so pets can escape.

Electric fences on zoo pens are no longer functional, and starving animals will eventually make a break for it. In the early stages they'll stay contained, or feast on each other, and not be a threat to PCs who don't actually go to the zoo.

If mankind died, instead of disappeared, the bodies will begin to stink and rot. Scavengers will pick at the bodies, and most human corpses will be crawling with insects. These sights should lead to more psychological trauma in games that support such things.

In the big cities, there's just too many corpses for the PCs to bury them all. The stench of rotting meat will be awful. Smart survivors will grab supplies on day one, and drive to less densely populated areas for at least the first few weeks.
Toxins and Radiation

Nuclear reactors automatically enter safe mode and are rendered harmless. However, the on-site storage for spent power rods no longer has the water circulation needed to cool it. It boils away, and releases clouds of radioactive gas. This results in radioactive rain, and thus groundwater contamination downwind from power plants.

Similar problems happen within toxins (instead of radiation) at many factories. If the smelting furnaces, chemical extractors, etc were running when mankind vanished, safety measures and waste containment would likely fail. Industrial sites could see an accumulation toxic sludge, harmful vapors, or explosive compounds.
A Few Weeks Later

Mice, rats, roaches and gulls will see a temporary upswell in population as food is briefly plentiful and easy to acquire. They take over the supermarkets and dumps.
Produce rots, followed by things that had been refrigerated or frozen. The insects and rodents eat into boxed and bagged foods.
If humans died, the insects that feed on them will also have population spikes, but eventually be forced to compete for dwindling resources as the corpses are cleaned.

Those dogs that don't starve will begin to gather into packs, and a pecking order will develop.

At this point, PCs will be unlikely to have any guilt over raiding abandoned stores and houses for supplies.
Canned goods are still a plentiful source of food for PCs, but the trip to the grocery store to retrieve them will be a very unpleasant experience thanks to rotting food and vermin infestation.
Clothing, camping supplies, jewelry, firearms, etc, are also readily available. The buildings are still sound, and these sorts of stores probably won't feature nearly the level of infestation that plagues the supermarkets.

Most of the cows will have died from starvation or udder infections. Only free range cattle will be likely to survive. In rural areas predators and scavengers (including domesticated dogs) will feed on dead penned up cattle.

Domesticated chickens probably won't survive either, as their survival skills have been bred out of them, and predators are many. Those kept in tiny cages in factory farms will starve or peck each other to death.
A Few Months Later

The survivors will have largely grown used to the ghost town effect by this point. Increased presence of animal life, however, is one of the big themes of a campaign set in this timeframe.

Rats and mice start abandoning homes and supermarkets, and range further out for food. Hawks, and coyotes come to prey on the tail end of the rodent explosion. Animals have definitely noticed the absence of man at this point, and wildlife will infiltrate the suburbs. Those housecats that didn't get trapped in a house and starve will have plenty to feed on, and will quickly adapt to the new conditions.

Cockroaches, having exhausted the actual food in our buildings, will eat paper, cardboard, and glue. PCs who realize this may struggle to protect libraries from insect invaders.

Large zoo predators will range further out, as the supply of their natural prey is exhausted. PCs may be prepared to deal with packs of dogs, swarms of insects, and rodent infestations, …but a tiger?

Canned food is still good, and exists in sufficient quantities in large cities to sustain the PCs for some time. Accessing it is not nearly as much of a problem as it once was, as the supermarkets are no longer swarming with vermin.
A Few Years Later

The PCs are used to the ghost town affect by now. However, aging and disuse will cause buildings creak and groan, and that, plus animal intruders, may cause unstable NPC survivor to grow paranoid. The buildings themselves will remain stable for now. If you don't mind stairs, skyscrapers and other tall buildings are a good place to stay - the corpses are no longer fresh, the plants and animals haven't gotten very far up the buildings, and they provide shelter from the elements.

The last of the Hydroelectric Power Plants fail around the one year mark, and the nighttime world returns to a level of darkness the likes of which it hasn't seen in centuries.

Wild animals would move into the cities in large numbers. The PCs are probably used to this by now. Unless survivors are numerous or very active (or live in tall buildings), wild animals will never be far away. The migratory patterns of land animals may resume, as there are no more busy highways to interrupt them.

Most of the vermin who had major population spikes in mans immediate wake will now have reduced numbers, as food supplies have dwindled and predator populations increased.

A new visual to spring on the players is how plantlife has expanded into urban terrain. Plants will sprout within the cracks in streets, sidewalks, and buildings. Within five years, most urban areas will be covered with grasses, vines and saplings. Ivy crawls up the walls unchecked. Roads will disappear beneath the clover. Non-native plants that were formerly tended by gardeners will have either died off or spread out of control, depending on how well they deal with the local climate.
A Few Decades Later

Former garden vegetables now resemble wild strains, and are less palatable. Survivors who've hunkered down and engaged in controlled agriculture as opposed to nomadic hunting and gathering won't face this particular problem.

Predominantly wooden houses have burnt and rotted away, unless they are being actively maintained by PCs or NPCs. The roofs will collapse before the walls, and trees may grow within them after the roofs are gone. Unchecked by man, termites will prosper and consume residential areas, so even houses maintained by PCs might start to have issues.

Brick and masonry buildings are weakened by salts and plants, but many still stand, and any maintained by PCs should be fine.

Buildings in arid climates fare the best, those in coastal or rainforest areas deteriorate quickly. Lowland and coastal cities are swallowed up by (or washed out to) the sea as locks and dams fail due to disrepair.

As the window sealants succumb to the weather, windows in skyscrapers crack and fall to the ground far below. Walking between the skyscrapers is hazardous due to the falling glass, though the concrete and steel buildings themselves are still stable. Steel structures show stress and corrosion, but still stand.

Suspension bridges, however, will give out. It only takes a few corroded cables to start a chain reaction that collapses them.

Thanks to neutering practices while mankind was around, many of the large dock packs will fail to sustain their numbers. Larger domesticated dogs will likely be accepted into wolf packs, and may interbreed with wolves. Even if the crossbreeding doesn't happen, wolf territory and numbers will expand dramatically in the absence of humans.

As the windows of skyscrapers crack and fall, pigeons and other birds will nest within the building frames.

Most automobiles will have rusted out and been overgrown. Tires have deflated, but are still intact. Within 75 years most cars aren't even recognizable unless you dig through the overgrowth - only their tires and plastic components will be the least bit salvageable.

Coral reefs will form around abandoned ships in harbors and beaches. While ships washing up on individual beaches is rare when you look at the short term, after several decades they'll start to accumulate. There are still plenty of ghost ships adrift on the sea at this point.
Toxins and Radiation

Rains have dispersed the radioactive clouds the Nuclear Power Plants emitted, and buried or scattered the particles. Life will return to the areas around the powerplants and factories, and only the most concentrated pollutants will keep plants and animals away. By this point you might not realize there's something toxic nearby until you're almost standing in it.

Satellites fall from the sky over time, looking like shooting stars. Only a few reach the ground to start fires. Some will have nuclear reactors, and without anyone monitoring their safety failures, the debris may contaminate large areas.
A Century Later
Remains of Technology

Houses have vanished in areas at all prone to hurricanes or flooding. Wood support beams will have rotted, and the waters will wear away at bricks and mortar. The next big storm washes away even the bits that can't degrade.

Tin cans are corroding and degraded. Should you find a can that's appears to be intact, the food inside it is probably unsafe by now. Aluminum cans are faded, but not corroded.

Abandoned tires finally start to decompose. All that's left of cars is just the most durable plastic pieces, and corroded bits of metal. Even cars maintained by the initial survivors will be non-functional now. Unless enough people survived with the knowledge and resource to make new ones, they are lost.

Books that weren't personally saved by human Survivors are completely lost. Weather penetrated the library roofs, rain molded the books, and vermin ate the pages. Much of technology, science, and philosophy will have to be discovered all over again. PCs hoping to preserve the knowledge of man will need to gather the books in an arid climate, dry them out, and seal them in aluminum, plastic, or pottery.
Plants and Animals

Vines grow up into the steel and concrete skyscrapers, turning them into multistoried ecosystems. Rodents and birds move into them when the plants do. Feral cats become the ultimate predator in this environment, capable of climbing and skulking through the layers.

Most animal species reproduce quickly enough to have repopulated themselves to levels approaching those before the industrial revolution.

Human survivors have certainly reproduced, but mankind has longer gestation and slower onset of maturity than most of the animal kingdom, so it'll be a while before we hit our old levels again.

The sea is once again teeming with life as it did before commercial fishing. The oldest of individual fishes will reach sizes they rarely (or never) did when man was hunting them.
Another Century Or Two After That

Assuming the PCs didn't get themselves killed off before establishing a community of survivors and future generations, they could be the new founding fathers.
Plants and Animals

Elephant populations expand dramatically in regions where they'd previously been endangered by Ivory Poachers. They fear no predators now.

Winters are colder than they were when humans were around. There's less pollution, fewer fires, and no cities to hold in the warmth.

Rodents, birds and cats are displaced (or killed) as the skyscrapers collapse.

All that remains of houses is the plastic, aluminum, and stainless steel items that were within them. Pots and pans, faded toys and utensils, parts of appliances can be found amid the undergrowth. Suburbs have reverted to forest.

Subways and tunnels in urban areas, which had flooded long ago, cave in. This collapses many skyscrapers before the time they would have normally become unstable on their own.

Other large steel structures collapse from corrosion and disuse over the centuries. Proximity to water is a large factor in how fast they degrade. When one of these buildings comes down, it'll be a sight to behold (and very dangerous to those near it). Concrete buildings slowly succumb to moisture as well, as the rusting rebar reinforcements breaks them from within.
Other Debris

The last of the ghost ships has washed ashore or sunk. Ocean beaches are littered with rusting hulls.

Metal casings on atomic bombs corrode away, leaving radioactive cores exposed.

Aluminum cans slowly degrade over the course of 200-500 years of exposure. Plastic may break into smaller pieces as it weathers, but does not chemically break down.
Other substances likely to survive beyond this point are ceramics, bronze, and radioactive isotopes.
A Millenium Later

The survivors have had long enough to reproduce and relearn lost technologies, if they didn't learn their lessons they could rebuild quickly enough to do this all over again.

Modern cities disappear entirely, buildings having long ago collapsed. Their wreckage has now been been broken apart by the roots of the trees now growing atop their wreckage. Plastic items remain, but are broken by roots an buried under layers of new topsoil.

A new ice age expands, further obfuscating and damaging whatever stone walls and well-constructed artifacts may have miraculously survived to this point.

Only a handful of man-made structures can still be detected: Hoover Dam, Mount Rushmore, The Pyramids, the Great Wall of China. The rock ones might stay recognizable for hundreds of thousands of years. Perfect for a Planet of the Apes Ending, though Lady Liberty herself has long since corroded and collapsed.
Much, Much Later

Chemical pollutants in the soil, present since the start of the industrial revolution, are finally cleansed away after tens of thousands of years.

Exposed nuclear bomb cores are far less dangerous, having met their half life several times over, though they're still detectable against the background radiation. Depleted Uranium still hasn't reached it's half-life, though, and it's tough enough to survive the passage of ice ages.

Bits of plastic remain for millions of years - it doesn't photodegrade, it just breaks into smaller pieces. Styrofoam likewise has in indefinite lifespan, it might never break down. Individual styrofoam beads and tiny flakes of plastic will be found in the soil and on beaches for ages to come.
4 to 5 Billion Years Later

The sun swells as it nears death, raising the temperature of the planet beyond what multicellular life can endure. Microbial extremophiles survive for a million years beyond that. Eventually, though, the expansion of the sun sets the earth ablaze, and all is swallowed in fire.
Not On This Earth

It's possible the PCs aren't on the earth when the apocalypse happens. What evidence will be found as they approach and try to land?
Returning from Space

The final radio and television signals of Humanity degrade into the background radiation after they travel a light year or two, rather than the waves continuing across the cosmos infinitely as had once been thought. If the setting had manned deep space probes out before whatever calamity befell the earth, those missions might have expected there was a good chance they'd lose contact with earth during the voyage. Radio silence won't be disturbing to them until they get back within a light year of earth. They'll certainly be confused or scared when they return to find humanity mysteriously gone and their landing pads overgrown. Genre Savvy characters might hit on the planet of the apes angle pretty quickly.

If they approach on the night side of the planet, the lack of lights on cities will be very noticeable, and very disturbing. Radio break up could just be solar interference or equipment malfunction, but a dark planet means something really bad has happened back home.
Meanwhile, On The Moon

Items left on the Moon will stick around for millions of years, even those that would have been unrecognizable after a year on earth. There's no atmosphere, moisture, or bacteria on the moon to break them down. Long after man has passed, aliens exploring this region could learn of us by finding things left in our various lunar landings. Unless that changes somehow, things on the moon should be perfectly preserved until the Earth or the moon are destroyed.

Sources / Bibliography
1. Books: World Without Us by Alan Weisman
2. World Without Us website
3. Wikipedia summary of World Without Us
4. TV: Life After People on the History Channel
5. Wikipedia summary of Life After People
6. TV: Aftermath: Population Zero on the National Geographic Channel
7. Wikipedia summary of Aftermath: Population Zero

Game and Story Use
* Hopefully very useful for an After The End campaign.
o The first third of the page could provide a few ideas for any Twenty Minutes Into The Future game that features some sort of disaster.
* May be helpful for setting Alternate History or Lost Civilizations in your campaign setting. Turns out, as long as a civilization didn't develop plastics, aluminum, radioactive isotopes, or advanced chemistry, it can vanish without a trace a few hundred years after societal collapse. Atlantis, Hyborea, Mu, Pre-Desert Sahara, or some unknown culture in Antarctica could have hit an almost Wild West level of technology without leaving signs of it's passage. Much more advanced than that, though, and we'd be swimming in Out Of Place Artifacts.
* You could give a Planet Of The Apes Ending to a fantasy setting. After several months of play with only very subtle hints the players are likely to miss (describing bits of broken plastic as gems or magic eggs or whatever), have the PCs pursue the orcish bandits (or whatever) back into their hills and find Mount Rushmore or the Hoover Dam or just a superdungeon, that turns out to be Site R. The players would get it, even if their characters didn't.
* How about a sci-fi version of Roanoke Colony, where the PCs arrive to find a formerly-prosperous colony world empty? They have to figure out why it went dark, and how recently, so that they can know if this is a threat to other colonies.

After all that, I find myself wanting to play some Gamma World.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Having had some time to reflect on F#, I think it's the system I'll use should I ever end up running a Firefly campaign (which I've wanted to do for years). F# is very flexible (good for all that multi-genre-ism), handles tech extremely lightly (just like the show does) and it features the right amount of danger to characters that the series has. Yes, F# doesn't do the "characters die like flies" thing that the Serenity movie did, but that's okay - I wouldn't be likely to use Reavers as Orcs, either.

I'm tempted to run F#iref#ly at the Thursday night group sometime, to try it out. I'm also intimidated/scared to do so, because the coffeehouse we play at on Thursdays is the Seattle Browncoats HQ, and I'd feel like some stranger (or the barista) might wander over and correct me if I break cannon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Arcane things in Moderation

So, a few weeks ago, I gushed about Arcana Wiki. Since then, I've been spending a lot of time there, making pages on a huge number of topics. So much so, that they just made me one of the moderators.

I had to reply with an email that basically said "Thanks, but since I've got family flying in to town tonight, I expect I won't have time to do much moderating or posting for the next week and a half."

Speaking of which, my folks are flying in to town tonight, and I probably won't be doing any gaming for a week and a half, so don't surprised if this blog also sits idle during that time.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Looking back at Yesterday's Posts

I realize that in all the long-windedness of my literary meanderings, the real message might not have been obvious. Here's the points I should have made:
  1. F# is a really good system.
  2. It's very elegant, and easy to remember and run. I took about 10 minutes explaining the rules at the start of our first session, and ended up with only two rules questions coming up all night - both of which were resolved without having to look any further than the one page summary sheet.
  3. The rules never once got in the way of the story or characterization, even with the weirdass setting I was using. Neither did the lightness of the rules ever leave us clueless on how to proceed. It's not very crunchy, or tactical, but it doesn't try to be, either. It's narrative, and free-wheeling, and flexible, and it succeeds admirably in those arenas.
  4. Most importantly, it was fun. I like it.
That's not to say F# is the game to end all games. Some folks will just prefer a more tactical system, or more crunchy PC stats, or to keep all the narrative control in the GMs hands, and for those folks F# is a poor fit.

It's also not completely flawless. The section on GM-imposed mostly-negative aspects could probably use one or two more examples. Having the steepness of the bell curve emphasized in the rules would better prepare the new GM. But none of those minor gripes in any diminished the fun for me or my group. (I'll of course be forwarding my feedback on to the author in hopes that version 1.2 might be a little tighter in those areas).

In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that I used to game with the author/designer of F#. Don't want anyone to think I'm mindlessly shilling for him. Had his game sucked, I would have burst his little bubble with glee. Then I even would have rubbed his face in it. That's just the kind of friends we are.

Spheres of Magic

Just wanted to provide a quick link to something cool a buddy of mine made for a campaign he's running. He's got a unique magic system, and pretty spiffy flowchart to the schools of magic. I just might have to steal a few of his ideas sometime.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Quest for the Sky Food

Lengthy scene by scene break down (and more than a few colorful throwaway highlights) of last night's game:
  • Started in a tavern, when a wizard came in to hire some adventurers. Might as well do things classic, eh?
  • Fermented StunJelly, and frosty mugs of Ice Troll Blood "on tap".
  • The Wizard was the infamous Hiram B'schnoz, Sverfneblin Illusionist, and his symbiotic Tween. I'd planned on having some fun with his diminuative stature, but the PCs ranged between 2 and 5 feet as well.
  • An unexplored asteroid was passing nearby. Hiram had hidden it behind an illusion so no one else would know it was out there and ready for the pillaging.
  • 3 out of 5 PCs could fly, so they borrowed a Giant Hornet to carry the others.
  • Once they'd pierced the illusion, the PCs were attacked by Gorbels riding Thorks. I know, that's a bit of a stretch, but I wanted to establish early on just how odd the "all FF" scenario could be. It's kinda explained below.
  • When a Gorbel was knocked off a Thork and fell hundreds of feet, he bounced back up like the rubber ball they are.
  • The leader of the Gorbels was General Gorbels. When the PCs popped him, all that was left was hot air and a hitler mustache.
  • The Nilbog PC fell out of the sky too, and was also unhurt.
  • The beach he landed on was populated by female Quaggoths. The Nilbog had the aspect "Greatest Lover", and much adult hilarity ensued.
  • The Fiend Folio is the Bible. The PC priest carried a copy around, and would reference it in-character. This was a stroke of genius - I'm so glad I made that last minute alteration to the setting taglines. The PCs were reading passages aloud in reverent tones, and it "spoiled" secrets in ways that were a laugh riot.
  • More Quaggoths gather as word of the PC spreads. The first group of Quaggoth were carrying battle axes. The lastest Quaggoth arrival was unarmed. Page 74 of the holy book says "A particular quaggoth group will always be either unarmed ... or armed - there will never be a mixture of unarmed and armed types in the same group". Since there was one fewer axes than quaggoth, the fuzzy critters all buried their weapons in the sand.
  • Sky food! A "crystal ball" falls from the sky, it being the same off-white color as the great void-sky. The quaggoth rip it open and eat it. The more Sky Food starts raining down. It smells nasty and makes your eyes sting, but unlike any other food in the Fiend Folio, the Sky Food doesn't try to eat anyone.
  • The local Fire Newts have a special version of the Fiend Folio, with Apocrypha. It's hand-written entries on the blank page at the back of things they'd discovered that weren't in the original holy text.
  • There's an information exchange - Ossible the Imp (from the 3.5 FF) answers the newts questions about his species, in exchange for the information about Sky Food. As this happened, Sarah actually wrote a Sky Food entry in the margins of page 80, between "Skulk" and "Slaad".
  • Sky Food falls from the Moon, about once a Moonth. Since the PCs can fly, they head to the Moon.
  • The Nilbog ends up getting dropped again. He lands on the moon, in an SkyFood farm being tended by Crab Men. Our "Token" pokerchips make good castenettes / crab men claw sounds.
  • An awesome scene as the PCs debate the notion of food that doesn't attack you. This is unheard of! Eventually they learn that once you know the secret True Name of the Onion, it is rendered docile. Or so the Crab Men claim under duress.
  • Flind knights (riding Disnenchanters) attack. The badass Flind leader goes all Nunchuku on them, and is Nigh Impossible to defeat. Lots of tokens get spent (and the Fire Mephit PC gates in a Smoke Mephit cousin - with a Dennis Hopper-esque voice) before he's felled.
  • The Smoke Mephit took a few hits off the Euphoric Imp, and the Euphoric Imp smoked the Mephit. Ain't no Flinds gonna harsh their mellow.
  • The PCs storm the castle. Flind army is easily circumvented (mostly 'cause it was nearly 10pm already) and the clever Steward (a Grell in a silver tiara, with a personality reminiscent of the Chamberlain from The Dark Crystal) leads them deeper into the castle to the throne room of the "Great Master".
  • The Great Master is a Crypt Thing. His pet is a Guardian Familiar, perched on a pile of silver.
  • The Aarakokra made a cat toy and tempted the kitty off the silver. It died. A second later, it was reborn bigger. The PC priest unholy worded it. A second later, it was reborn bigger.
  • The Great Master was not amused. He teleported the party away in stages, as they traded insults and taunts.
  • Two PCs came back, and got teleported away again.
  • The group reassembled, and tried again. This time they parleyed. They bluffed that Ygorl himself needed the Crypt Thing to leave this moon on a mission. The Crypt thing countered with "The Holy Book indicates that Crypt Things, such as myself, must stay in their lair permenantly. 100% In Lair percentage, you can look it up - just ignore the part about how I'm not actually disintegrating you."
  • Eventually, they set up a deal. They'll take all the onions (and get rich back home for having a non-man-eating crop) so he doesn't have to keep handwaving the darned things away.
Wow, that was a long synopsis. Seems kinda random as presented, but a lot of thought went into this - I carefully "balanced" the ecosystems.

  1. The beach was populated by female Quaggoth and female Fire Newts. Men were very scarce. Turns out that's because the oceans were full of Kelpies - who can hypnotize men to their deaths but won't attack women. The ocean also had Dragonfish and Throat Leeches. Dragonfish have poisonous spines - and Quaggoth are immune to Poison. Throat Leeches can only be detered by heat or fire - and Fire Newts have a breath weapon. So the Female Quaggoths do the hunting and fishing, after the Fire Newts heat up the water just enough to repel the leeches.
    Other critters in that environment included Thorks (who have internal furnaces) and Gorbel (who can float on the waters surface or bounce down the beach). The Thorks were too hot inside for the Gorbels to bite, but they'd grab their feathers and hang on semi-parasitically. The Gorbels preyed on Quaggoth only when the later were in their culturally-enforced unarmed phase. Gorbels are described as "mischevious", so I figured this was all almost plausible despite thier lack of intellect.
  2. On the moon, the Onion farms were carefully tended by Crab Men. Crab Men have a passion for silver, and the Crypt Thing's treasure was all silver. The Crab Men would roll onions at him (from out of his range) to pay tribute, and he'd teleport the stinky things away (usually into the gravity well of the planet). The onions were thus "Sky Food" making life a little easier down on the hellish beaches. The Flinds had set themselves up in their traditional role of luitenants and minibosses. As for the Grell, the Guardian Familiar, and the Disenchanters - well, lets just say I'm thankful everything else made enough sense that the PCs didn't go asking any more questions about how that came to be.
  3. And, as detailed in an earlier post, back home the PCs live in a carefully maintained fortress-farm of barely contained killer plants. Or, they did, before they returned with Onion seeds and simplified life considerably.
So, the PCs retire as rich men. Should I ever do a follow up game, I'd probably put stronger emphasis on the gemstone economy, and include a subplot about trying to track down the lost tome of THE ADVANCED DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS MONSTER MANUAL, which is known only from parenthetical references within the holy Fiend Folio.

Math in F#

Most RPGs have a learning curve that comes from the rules being complicated, or from there being lots of weird modifiers a character can invoke. In D&D, for example, you've got all those +1's and Feats that apply.

F# is a really elegant system, downright minimalist, yet it still has a little bit of a learning curve. I ran it for the first time last night, and I found it kinda tricky setting difficulty numbers right. The rules document offers this scale:
0 Easy
1 Average
2 Tricky
3 Hard
4 Flawless
5 Masterpiece
6 Nigh Impossible

That's it. It doesn't go into any deeper examples, and probably for good reason. The system is very flexible, and what is "tricky" will vary from situation to situation, and campaign to campaign. In a very over-the-top setting, an entire squad of mooks might be a single Easy roll, in a grittier game each henchman in the squad might be a seperate Tricky roll. You throw some Tokens into the mix, and such generalizations mean nothing. It's a strength of the game that it's so flexible and can handle a great deal of variation.

Last night, however, that meant my difficulty settings were largely arbitrary, and I wasn't completely happy with that. I feel like, in hindsight, I didn't do enough homework. So today I want to analyze the math just a bit.

At the start of the first session, all Aspects are rated at 1. New Aspects added mid-session are rated at zero. Once per session, you can advance one Aspect by +1. As a result, the information relevant to your first session (all the sessions in a one-shot) is pretty simple to calculate.

DifficultyChance with Aspect 0Chance with Aspect 1Chance with Aspect 2
0 (Easy) 63% 85% 96%
1 (Average) 37% 63% 85%
2 (Tricky) 15% 37% 63%
3 (Hard) 4% 15% 37%
4 (Flawless) 0% 4% 15%
5 (Masterpiece) 0% 0% 4%
6 (Nigh Impossible) 0% 0% 0%
  • In the first session of a campaign, Nigh Impossible really is Impossible. No problem there, and no big surprise either.
  • Average tasks are very likely to be a success if it's inside one of your character's specialties, but more than likely a failure if it's an improvised level 0 trait.
  • Now I understand why raising a trait from 0 to 1 costs 3 Tokens, but raising it from 1 to 2 only costs 2 Tokens. The power jump from level 0 to level 1 is pretty huge.
  • I like that starting characters have very good odds at succeeding at things they're good at. (That same notion is probably the thing I like most about Savage Worlds, as well.) I want to be able to play a Hero right out the gate - I'm not a big fan of "1st level" in D&D (versions 0 to 3.5), for example.
  • I am not so fond of the notion that you'll fail at an average task if it's outside your original purview. Little worried this could encourage players to never try anything new. On the other hand, the consequences of failure are rarely very hideous in this system, so maybe that balances out. I'll have to run and play it more to say for certain.
  • All the more incentive to take advantage of the way character creation rewards being a Jack-of-All-Trades.
  • I hadn't realized last night just how steep the bell curve was, and neither did my players. They were spending Tokens much more slowly than I was handing them out, and I suspect if they'd seen this chart (which didn't exist then) they would have been a bit more active with the chips. We were all assuming that it was always worth taking an action if the difficulty is 1 above your aspect. Considering the math, it's way better to spend another Token or two. You really want to be rolling against difficulties 1 below your Aspect whenever possible.
Last night, I'd felt like I was giving out too many Tokens, and at the end of the session everyone still had a handful. Now I know that I was giving out the right amount of Tokens, I just wasn't setting my pre-Token difficulties high enough. I think once everyone has grown comfortable with the system, F# will be almost diceless. There'll be a lot of back-and-forth as Tokens change hands and cool ideas get rewarded, and the characters will finally roll when the odds are really in their favor. You want (or at least I want) the Tokens flowing like water.

Will I use F# again?
Yes, definitely, and those future games of it will be better balanced than the awesome one-shot I just ran. Will F# replace all other RPGs for me? No, but I will be more likely to run F# than Risus, InSpectres, d6 System, or probably Savage Worlds. F# is really good at doing stylish narrative games, and lends itself well to games cerebral, pulpish, or humorous. It's an excellent system for any setting where character death is rare, provided you're okay with the hefty amounts of narrative control the players will have (and I generally am okay with that). I think I'll be hauling the fudge dice and poker chips to one-shot night fairly often.

F# Fiend Folio Characters

Last night's F#FF one-shot featured:
  • an Aarakocra (a bird person whose arms are shaped kinda like a pterodactyls)
  • a Blindheim (a four-foot frog whose eyes are blinding spotlights)
  • a Fire Mephit (a winged implike fire elemental)
  • a Nilbog (like a Goblin, but backwards - due to a temporospatial disease, damage heals a Nilbog)
  • and a Euphoric Imp (a drug-dealing hallucinogen-producing devil from the 3.5 Fiend Folio - I'll explain how that came about below)
I have three of the five character sheets in front of me, so I'll share the aspects that I know:

Erik's PC:
Snarl Bite Howl III
Background: Nilbog
Background: Gentleman Adventurer
Background: Great Lover
Catch Phrase: "I shall compose as I fight!"
Catch Phrase: "I laugh at danger, ha ha!"
Catch Phrase: "No one expects Snarl Bite Howl III!"
and he eventually added Catch Phrase: "Weee!!!!" because he kept getting dropped from great heights.

Sarah's PC:
High Priestess Winnefred
Background: Blindheim
Background: High Priestess of Ssendam (Slaad Lord of Insanity, Madness spelled backwards)
Background: Learned ('cause normally Blindheims have animal intelligence)
Catch Phrase: "Now I shall consult the Holy text of the Fiend Folio."
Catch Phrase: "By the golden light of Ssendam"
Catch Phrase: "Do my ears decieve me, or..."

Mark's PC:
Background: Euphoric Imp
Background: The Pusher
Background: Spawn of hellfire and brimstone
Catch Phrase: "Dude, I'm like totally baked"
Catch Phrase: "I got what you need right here"
Catch Phrase: "Dude, that was like, totally uncool"

I learned a few things about F# from these characters. It's clear to me that if you really want to focus on a very narrow character you can do so, but there's no real benefit to it.

Look at Ossible. He was a very fun character, but he wasn't terribly deep. 5 of his 6 aspects are essentially redundant, or at least interchangeable. Partially, that's the result of my dictating that one aspect should be a Fiend Folio race. Euphoric Imp covers the same ground as his other two Backgrounds and overlaps a little with 2 of his three catch phrases. Despite all that overlap, there's no real benefit. In four hours of play, we had one situation where "spawn of hellfire" was applicable but "Euphoric Imp" wouldn't have been. If we'd all had a little more experience with the system, I'm pretty sure Ossible would have been a much more broad character. For example, we probably should have gone with a background of "Walking Blasphemy" or at least "Not In The Holy Book".
About that: Earlier in the day, I'd emailed the group and asked who wanted to play what races, so I'd have a little advance notice for finalizing my scenario idea. Mark replied with a whole character write up for the Euphoric Imp named Ossible (and his brother Robable, and his sister Lausible) and how he'd ended up in the Prime Material Plane because of falling through a Magic Portal that he'd (in a drugged stupor) mistaken for a taco stand.

This, of course, didn't work within the limits of my proposed setting. The Euphoric Imp is from the 3.5 edition of the FF, and the game was supposed to be "If it ain't in the 1st Ed Fiend Folio, it's just a myth". One of the other taglines of the setting was that "There are no other planes, only this bastardized version of the Astral". I'd have been completely within my rights to deny this character and insist he come up with something more fitting to the setting. But gaming is about having fun, and Mark was definitely excited to play this character he'd come up with. I hate to discourage someone from prepping for the game (even if he didn't read my post of the game's Taglines), and it's not like there was some long term balance issues to worry about. So I said yes.

I even modified one of the taglines of the game to accommodate him. It was changed to "The Fiend Folio is the Bible" which opened up lots of cool avenues in the game, but I digress... That'll have to wait till a later post.
On a related note, I don't think most characters will need anywhere near 6 aspects. The 3 catchphrases, in particular, are likely to end up under-used, or to duplicate one or more of your backgrounds. I think there's just a touch of a learning curve to the system in that regards: your first character will be suboptimal, but you'll learn from the mistakes pretty quickly.

I'm still glad the game allows for so many aspects, as that means you can have a really diverse and complex characters.

The game definitely rewards Jack-Of-All-Trades characters over specialists. I don't think that's a problem, as long as the players understand it when they're making their characters. When next I GM F#, I'll be sure to emphasize to the players that it's better to leave one or more aspect "slots" undefined than to be redundant.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mind Control Robots

Had to double-check the date on this one, but it predates April Fools, so it seems to be legit.

Honda has new non-invasive brain-machine-interface technology:
TOKYO, Japan, March 31, 2009 - Honda Research Institute Japan Co., Ltd. (HRI-JP), a subsidiary of Honda R&D Co., Ltd., Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) and Shimadzu Corporation have collaboratively developed the world’s first*1 Brain Machine Interface (BMI) technology that uses electroencephalography (EEG) and near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) along with newly developed information extraction technology to enable control of a robot by human thought alone. It does not require any physical movement such as pressing buttons. This technology will be further developed for the application to human-friendly products in the future by integrating it with intelligent technologies and/or robotic technologies.


♦ About BMI
While conventional machine-interface uses devices such as switches which need to be operated by a user’s hands or feet, BMI uses brain activity data measured by various devices and enables non-contact control of the machines (such as robots). Invasive BMI, which is widely studied by U.S. and European researchers, requires the surgical implant of electrode arrays, whereas non-invasive BMI uses sensors touching the user’s scalp.
My evil plan is almost to fruition. The world will quake and cower when my army of psychic robots invades every home. I'd been considering this for a long time, but was previously held by by fear of losing humanity points when they install my neuroware processor. Now I can dominate humanity without loss of humanity.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Melon Drop

While working on the Arcana Wiki today, I had an evil idea. The next time I'm running an RPG that features critical failures, I'm totally gonna do this:

I will wait till a PC rolls a critical failure in a public place. Then I will describe that they bumped into or knocked over some random NPC, and the NPC's precious piece of artwork was knocked out of his hands and broke. "I just paid 1,000 GP for that!" Since the player just rolled a "1" (or the equivalent in your system of choice), they'll scowl a bit, but probably consent to pay whatever reasonable fee you "improvise" on behalf of the NPC. They may haggle a bit, or complain about their bastard GM, but they'll accept this as the consequences of a critical failure. Most players will "do the right thing".
  • Later in the campaign, at least a few days or a few sessions later, the same PC is walking in the same neighborhood, and he sees this happen to someone else. The same con man he'd "fumbled into" is carrying the same piece of already-damaged art. Before the PC can intervene, the con artist intentionally bumps into someone and tries to extort money out of them. It doesn't matter how little money the PC was taken for two sessions ago, the chase scene is about to begin.