Friday, November 28, 2008

Details get sharper & universe development

After Thanksgiving Dinner with one of my players we reviewed some of the rules and the equipment lists as they are taking shape. I got some pretty good feedback. We seem to really be working out how to collaborate. He is helping a lot with the simplification of the rules and with helping he when I get too myopic about things that I've written.

Here are a few of the more recent changes:
  • Added an electropathy psion skill. How to write and develop the skill came to me all at once and I enjoyed it enough that I decided to add it even though I thought I was done creating the psionic skills when I wrote my last entry.
  • I've decided to increase the starting limit for how many points characters have per day in their psionic pool.
  • I'm reducing the reload times for the weapons. I had borrowed some of the stats from Fudge list of modern weapons from the and gave them sci-fi names (trying to keep the game less deadly) but the reload times are much higher for modern weapons than sci-fi weapons so I'm fixing that oversight.
  • I'm also going to modify the psionic combat details to allow the same skill to have two expressions; attack and defense. I had originally written it that someone attacking might be damaged by the opponent's retribution. My player thought that was a bit harsh and I agreed with him in the end.
As these mechanical details are coming together, I find my mind turning back to the world. I wrote a 3-page summary of the psionic campaign a few months ago to ask my players what they thought about it. That included a few intial sketches of the factions and relationships that exist in the world. I wrote those notes up in grid format as I usually do since reading this tip on Here's an example of the matrix I use for rating the relationhips between groups and the health/strength of each group. I use the Fudge adjectives in this campaign but in the GURPS campaign I ran I used number 00-10, 11-20, etc. for each row and then just had a number in each cell.

So then I decide on the number of groups. In each of my campaigns, I try to keep to keep the number of groups in the range of 5-9. Here I'm following the rule that typically people can only remember 7 things +/- 2 things. In my GURPS campaign, I created 6 empires and 6 groups within the home city of the PCs empire. In this campaign, I'm using the same rule. I've worked out 6 groups on the PC's home ship and 6 groups in the home quadrant of space. Here is the matrix for the home quadrant of space.

There's more nuance in my mind about these realtionships than gets relfected in the 2D matrix. For example, the relationship between the Religious Separatists and the Main Alien race is listed as Poor. In my mind that is because the Religious Separatists are preaching a doctrine of human supremacy and isolation at best, and advocating an extinction campaign against the Alien race at worst. On the other hand, the Alien race has superior technology and is ignoring the Religious separatists.

I added the final row to show how each group feels about Psions since my PCs are psions. The religious groups are persecuting and exterminating the Psions (Terrible relations), the Alien race is almost entriely psionic so their realtionship with human psions is Great. The relationship between the Free Colonies and Psion groups is very individual based on the colony and its rules/perspectives on psions.

As I plan out the groups the matrix helps me to affix ideas that I've already come up with on specific groups. For example, I knew that I wanted some tensions between different human groups trying to become the main unifying force for all humanity but before doing the matrix, I hadn't figured out which groups that was. The United Colonies, the Merchants, and the Free Colonies are all listed as having internal health of Good so it was easy to imagine that these are the 3 groups that are trying to unify humanity. Niether one strong enough to impose its own ruling principles on the other groups.

Now that I've completed my matrices for the group relationships I'm going to write up more detail with a lot of information in the Unified Colonies entry so that PCs can select which colony in that alliance they are from. I'm also considering telling the PCs that they may create an additional colony that fits their own desires as long as the history of that colony brings it into the Unified Colonies in the end.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Psionic powers & equipment lists begin taking shape

I've decided on 5 schools of psionic action; telekinesis, ESP, telepathy, mind control, and psionic combat. Right now it looks like I'm going to have 4 players, so that allows each one to specialize in a school (and each to take some skill in the psionic combat skill) and has the added benefit that I won't be doing more work to create and balance a school that won't be used. The 5th form, psionic combat, will have some tones of the B movie "Scanners" (which I think I saw when I was 9) but that combat will only work against other psionic creatures. You can't attack the psionic capacity of someone that isn't psionic. My rationale for this is that you can't cross swords if there's no sword.

I had considered two other schools of psionics; biofeedback and clairvoyance. I discarded the idea for a biofeedback school because I thought it would end up doing double duty as a combat skill (e.g., let me boost my dex before this fight") and I'm trying to keep psionics as the spice in a combat not the main course. I discarded the idea of clairvoyance pretty quickly for its capacity to ruin dramatic tension.

A final touch of flavor was added with the concept what I'm calling "The Red Button". When death for a psion seems inevitable, s/he can press the red button. This taps into a well of psionic energy and sends out an uncontrollable, unpredictable, but powerful and almost certainly life (and character) preserving wave of psionic energy that will affect friend and foe alike. It will take several days after utilization of this emergency action for the psion to recover their psionic powers. Rank and file NPC psions will not have this ability. Maybe one or two NPC psions will have single use of this ability. I thought this would be a fun way for a chracter to preserve their character in a game that is likely to be fairly deadly. I've got an XP system that will recharge "The red button" about once every 5-7 game sessions (we usually game for 10-14 hours). Which I'm hoping will make the use of this emergency button rare enough to make its use fun.

I've also begun working on the equipment lists which I'm trying to keep both interesting and small enough to be manageable. As a GM I don't deal well with increasing levels of crunch complexity. I found that as I added equipment, starting with armor, the system suddenly grew more complex. Here's an example, from the Fudge basic set, I selected Force armor, Composite armor, and Reactive armor. I've included the Force Armor (similar in my rendering of them to Holtzman shields from the Dune series) to preserve the possibility of hand-to-hand combat. The Composite and Reactive armors seemed reasonable given a higher tech level. In trying to make mechanical differences between these armors that will make it so that a player might actually choose one kind of armor over another, I found myself thinking along the lines of GURPS; cutting, piecing, crushing damage. To that I considered adding ammo damage which the force shields would be extremely resistant to. You can see how complexity spirals out of control so quickly.

Then I remembered how on the last session of my GURPS game I was still having to remind players about the difference between those types of damage and the appropriate multipliers to damage. I'm not interested in repeating that experience. So I thought I might make a more simple distinction between hand weapons and tech weapons. Or maybe just different damage scales for those two types of damage (though I don't want high tech weaponry to be too lethal either). Again, the goal is interesting depth to the equipment lists without adding complexity to the mechanic.

I also didn't want the force shield armor to make every combat degenerate into melee. So I added a disruptor weapon. With x hits (I'm thinking 3), this weapon will disable a force shield. However, they are extremely heavy and therefore not portable. I thought this would be a nice way of making the force shields vulnerable (especially when the PCs are attacking the enemy on the enemies turf) but without making them obsolete. The fun thing for me was that this swiftly shifted into an explanation for shielding on the ships. Ship shielding will be just a large force shield which can withstand X hits from enemy disruptor cannons after which more conventional warheads can be used. This may seem like an obvious mechanic to others but I've never run a sci-fi campaign and haven't watched Star Trek in ages so it felt novel to me for a second until Star Trek came to mind.

In the next few days I'm going to:
  • Fill out the details for the psion skill (what can be accomplished at each skill level from terrible-superb.
  • Zero in on a mechanic for armor, damage, and weapons that will satisfy all my many criteria.
  • Continue expanding the equipment lists to include more gadgets for the crunch monkeys.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Out of the frying dissertation into the deep Fudge

I've been done with the dissertation for a little while now. Woo hoo!

My brain has begun to decompress. I running an Eberron adventure for the group that I normally play in to cover for our usual GM a few weekends ago. I love GMing again. My group was great, the afore mentioned challenging player has left the group for graduate school and I loved the group's new configuration. Everyone cooperated, as GM, I was never left with that icky feeling that I was allowing players to do vile things to either each other or in the imaginary world. I have been running the stock Eberron modules from The Forgotten Forge forward. I only ran that particular weekend because our regular GM wasn't going to have prep time. I have been running the module almost exactly as it is in the modules. I've made minor NPC dialogue changes to make things alittle more relevant for the players. This was so that I could GM with a bare minimum of prep work when needed. I knew after the game that I was ready to GM my own world/campaign when I couldn't stop myself from thinking of all the changes I'd make to the module for the next session and how I'd alter the next module in the series to do the things that I'm more interested in.

That's when I picked up my Fudge notes and started getting back into it. Yikes! I had forgotten when I was stuck. I'm trying to make a Sci-fi campaign equivalent to GURPS TL 8-9. I've also been trying to build into the Fudge house rules an equipment list broad enough to satisfy my butt-kicker players. I've considered just taking the set from the text but it brings things right make into the cartoony, uber-powerful realm that dissatisfies me as a GM. Specifically, I prefer players to deal with problems rather than "Hey I've got a . Doesn't that just undo this entire plot line that you toiled over?" Um, yeah. GM downer, because then you have two basic choices: "Yes, you're right, let me scrap that plot line" OR "Oh, um, no, for reasons that you don't understand, it doesn't work, um, yeah." I've toyed with bringing in Holtzman fields from the Dune books to keep the door open to melee combat and to neutralize the impact of projectile and energy weapons entirely. I have considered shifting back to GURPS. Set the TL, exclude items or advances I don't want and away I go. Only problem with that is the Psionics system in 3e (which is what I would run) is BROKEN. Ultimately, I figure the weapons/armor combination will fall into place for Fudge.

The real challenge that I'm having is with the customizing the Psionics for this campaign. I say that this is the real challenge because I'm sure that if I get this right it will satisfy the butt kickers in the group. It is also a challenge because I'm very picky about super/magic/psionic powers. I never want them to be the ultimate go to option. I like them to have back fire consequences, limited use over time, blah blah blah. I don't like things that the butt-kickers don't always. I'm also not that fond of the Fudge psion system as it is so I've been tinkering with it. So far I've got Psionics powered and resisted by a Will attribute which all normal sentient creatures have. That way normal humans can resist Psions without having aPsionic abilities themselves. I've also broken psionic abilities up into different types. I'm struggling with setting the power level. I want a clear and beneficial progression but I don't want the top level of psions to be immune to overwhelm by mundanes. It always bothered me that a 15th level fighter in D&D could be surrounded by 1sts level fighter with crossbows and laugh, unafraid.

So that's what I tinkering with now. . . . when I have enough time to get into it. My mission in the next week is to finalize the psion action types (e.g., telekinetic, mind-afffecting, empathy, and others) and then begin fine tuning the power levels. I'm toying with the idea of allowing my players (and not just my GM lists online) preview the psion system to try to work out their feedback pre-game testing.