Monthly Archives: October 2013

Void Hunters: Character Classes…

All characters in Void Hunters start out as Redshirts. A Redshirt is a level-0 character with a lowly occupation, and they go through the same Character Funnel winnowing process as DCC characters. After this, Void Hunters assumes that they receive some sort of promotion and spend some years training for, and gaining experience in, a new career: their Class.

Void Hunters will introduce 6 new classes for science fiction gaming using the DCC rules set. Classes not only determine the basic DCC sort of things, like Action Dice, critical tables and special abilities, they also determine the type of technology the character is familiar with, their starting equipment and the particular type of mental instabilities they are prone to while out in the void.

SOLDIER

large-75The Soldier is the DCC Warrior in many ways, with the best, all around fighting ability of any class (including Mighty Deeds of Arms) and the highest Hit Die. The resemblance ends there, however, as Soldiers are not just talented fighters or fierce barbarians, but highly trained combatants, most with a military background of one sort of another, be it regimented army sergeant or gun-for hire mercenary.

They are, of course, trained in Weapons and Armor, but they also possess the MOS special ability, which allows them to pick up some very specific training as they rise in level, A Soldier does not start with Transport as a Technology Base, so they will never. for instance, be the all around driver, pilot and mechanic that someone with Transport is, but they might have an MOS in Tanks, giving them a d20 Action die in the repair and operation of those types of vehicles. They can even pick up very specific bits of Experimental technology with enough experience, like learning how to use and maintain a particular alien weapon. At higher levels, they can even pick up a special ability from another human class (i.e. not Synthetic) for a soldier who is incredibly stealthy or one who develops a single psychic power, for example.

SCI-TECH (formerly Scientist)

silentrnng4This covers all sorts of brainy folk with a very wide range of scientific and technical skills. They will have the widest Technology Base of all the classes and are the only class that get the Experimental Tech Base, which gives them the ability to decipher and deconstruct, bypass or utilize alien tech and then try and pass on that understanding to other classes. They will only start with a number of these, however, which will determine their specialty (starship engineer, research scientist, transport officer, etc.), but they will have the opportunity to learn more of them as they advance in level, until they become versatile in pretty much everything but fighting.

They are, pound for pound, the worst fighters of all the classes, having spent so much time amassing scientific, technical and esoteric knowledge that they have had little time for combat training, but they make up for it with their Gadgeteering special ability, which allows them to improvise devices using whatever is handy and lying around.

SCOUT

little-fuzzy

Jack Holloway from H. Beam Piper’s ‘Little Fuzzy’ is the inspiration for this class.

The Point Man for exploration teams, the Scout is a survival specialist who is also good at identifying potential dangers before they can do harm. Scouts are the second best fighters and also possess a wide Technology Base that allows them to function on their own for long periods of time. Their special abilities include an increasing bonus to AC (a sixth sense that helps them to avoid danger) and improved Stealth skills.

When it comes to dealing with sentient aliens who are not automatically hostile, the Scout also functions as a First Contact specialist, giving them a bonus on the Reaction Table when to trying to communicate with and befriend them.

OFFICER

tumblr_lt27szJ0T21qaye4so1_500The Officer is the team leader. In D&D 4E terms, you’re looking at a Warlord sort of character, whose abilities help to bolster his team, especially if he leads from the front.

Officers in Void Hunters also serve as the team psychologist, as the ability to lead a team in deep space is only as good as one’s ability to understand their innermost fears and desires, anticipate their behavior and head off any potential issues that might lead to…SPACE MADNESS! As such, some of their special abilities will revolve around ministering to the mental health of their team and helping to cure short term psychosis before it can fester into long term insanity. They are, mentally, the toughest members of the team with the highest Will Save for that reason.

PSYCHIC

hr_giger_dreadsThis is an optional career, and the GM may forbid them on the grounds of realism, especially if he is running a campaign in a hard science fiction setting. They are, in effect, the Wizards of the Void Hunter game, but with very different power levels and restrictions.

Psychic powers are going to work in much the same way as DCC Magic in that there will be a ‘Psychic Roll’ based on Personality, and the result will be looked up on a table. There will also be corruption in the form of ‘Psychosis,’ various temporary and long-term mental disorders that the Psychic can pick up and may eventually drive them totally insane (and there are some things in the darker corners of the universe that will speed up that process).

The tables remain, but they will have a much different slant. Hard Sci-Fi Psychics are a recent evolution of the species, their powers barely understood by science. This means, mechanically speaking, that the curve of effect on the tables will be much steeper (and the tables much shorter as a result). The low end of the table will be rife with poltergeist effects and misdirected mental energies, with only the lowest results costing the Psychic the use of their powers for a time or knocking them out from the strain. On the other hand, unlike Wizard Tables, the higher end of the Psychic tables, the ones where a Psychic shows truly massive power, offer a chance for corruption/Psychosis just as the low ends do. At level 5, a psychic might truly start to frighten their team-mates, whom the Psychic no longer relates to in the same way, and a level 10 Psychic risks turning into an insane being of god-like power with every use of their powers!

Psionic abilities will also be grouped into Disciplines, and Psychics will be defined by a single discipline until they gain higher levels (3, 5, 7, 9), at which point they might branch out. This means that they will be much more focused than wizards and their role in the game will vary from character to character. One can imagine a Telepath being part of First Contact team (or used as an interrogator in a War Amongst the Stars setting, ala Starship Troopers); a Telekinetic acting as the ‘thief’ in a Hulk Recovery Mission, using their powers to unlock doors or grab potentially dangerous artifacts from afar; while a Pyrokinetic would serve as ranged fire support for a Military Special Ops unit.

So psychics are more limited than wizards in some ways, but they don’t have to make deals with supernatural patrons, find arcane manuscripts to gain new ‘spells,’ and may eventually recover from their ‘corruption’ over time with the right psychiatric care. Like Wizards, however, their ticks and psychosis will slowly make them peculiar in a way that will make it harder for them to deal with the ‘normals’ that surround them. One day, they find themselves totally unable to relate to what are, essentially, dumb apes in comparison to them, from an evolutionary point of view, and may even find themselves at war with their previous team-mates and friends who are terrified of the Psychic’s power.

This of course, assumes that they live long enough. There are things in the void that hunger for the minds of the ‘gifted’…

SYNTHETIC

david8-102I deliberately used David 8 from 2012’s Prometheus as my illustration because while Ash, from that movie’s seventies predecessor Alien, is actually the same type of Android from the same setting as David, I think Michael Fassbender captured that ‘not quite human’ aspect so much better, and that is the image I want people to have of a Synthetic.

Game-wise, the synthetic class is the ‘demi-human’ class of Void Hunters. Better than humans in oh so many ways, but with a built in rarity that comes from a very limited place on the 0-level occupation table and a specific set of weaknesses or vulnerabilities that hinders them in unique ways as well. Being programmed to obey specific humans, for instance, and not being able to ‘heal,’ relying on others to repair them in many cases. I’m still noodling on this class, because I don’t want it to become an Uberclass, but I don’t want to betray their literary underpinnings by artificially weakening them, either. A few ideas I’ve had on how to approach them include:

1. Treat them as an Elf, basically giving them the abilities of two classes (Soldier and Sci-Tech seem the most likely) and slow down their XP gain in some manner to represent their lack of insight (the Basic D&D variation) or give them some serious vulnerabilities like the Elf’s aversion to iron (the DCC variation), or some combination of both.

2. Give them bonuses in STR, AGL and INT, but really nerf Personality and give them an automatic Luck of 0.

3. Some combination of the previous 2.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Those are my first rough concepts for the character classes for the game and, as you can see by the change of scientist into sci-tech, they are still evolving as Void Hunters simmers in the back of my brain. Some, like the Soldier and Sci-Tech, are very simple to design and will go quickly, while others, like the Psychic and Synthetic, will need careful crafting to make sure they are fun for everyone.

Note that I didn’t say, ‘balanced’ for everyone. I like classes to be powerful in their own, unique manner, even in situations outside of their sphere of influence where clever players, none the less, come up with unusual ways to utilize their abilities to overcome the challenges before them. Balance is a holy grail I do not pursue. Fun is my grail, and as long as everyone can play a different class and feel they got an equal amount of that, I’m a happy game designer…

Void Hunters: New Rules for DCC…

As this is a supplement for Dungeon Crawl Classics, it will use the bulk of the DCC rules set for basic stuff like Attributes, Combat, Skills, etc. As a silence fiction game, however, we will need to add a few new rules to the game that are specific to that genre (as well as alter some of the existing systems, which I’ll be talking about more extensively in later posts), in much the same way as I did in Barbarians of the Aftermath.

TECHNOLOGY

AstronautPerhaps the biggest difference between a fantasy setting and a science fiction setting is the growth in the complexity of technology. Most people can be assumed to able to use almost 99% of fantasy technology (hammer & iron spikes, lanterns, tinder-boxes, ten foot poles, etc.) with specialists in a few specific trades, like blacksmiths and wainrights, and the most advanced technology, reading and writing, only available to those with the proper education.

In the modern day, however, we are constantly being reminded of how much there is to know and how little of it we actually understand. Sure, the smartphone is ubiquitous, but how many people can strip and clean a firearm? And of those, how many know to do the same with military grade weapons? And how many military weapons  are so complex that you can’t repair them in the field? We could make the same point about driving a car being different from flying a plane to flying a fighter jet and the differences in programming a website versus programming an operating system, but you get the point: technology has turned mankind into a species of specialists. So in the game, it just doesn’t make sense to let everyone use every piece of technology equally.

As such, each PC will have a Technology Base that will be gained from their class, based upon the type of technology they are trained and competent with. Their 0-Level Occupation will also provide them with one, very specific, piece of technology they are familiar with, which may or may not fit inside that Tech Base. In a way, you can think of the Technology Base as a skill set for the operation, repair and basic understanding of the principles behind devices that fall within that base (including alien tech that bears a strong resemblance to it). Those familiar with the tech roll a d20 as their Action Die. Those unfamiliar with it (but, considering the level of knowledge and experience needed to brave the void, probably cross-trained in it) roll a d10 as their Action Die, just as with skills in DCC.

Each piece of equipment will have one or more Tech Categories that define where it fits within the class structure of the game: General (which is available to pretty much everyone), Combat, Transport (planet-side vehicles & mechanics), Scientific, Robotic and Astronautic (spacecraft & engineering). There will also be three other Tech Categories that are so specialized that only those classes that possess them can figure them out and use them: Experimental (weird super-science type gadgets and alien tech), Psychic and Synthetic (everything to do with androids).

Of course, it should go without saying that these Technology Bases not only represent technological competence, but overall skills sets as well, so a character with training in Transport is probably a general mechanic as well as a driver, which means he would be the guy to call when the base AC is on the fritz. Need to fix a Cybertank, however? You’ll need a guy who is knowledgeable in both Transport and Robotics to get the d20 Action Die..

RESOURCES

160d21128da98dc567406f7e2442d9ec-d53u2f1Another difference in the two genres is that characters who pillage the void are not going to come home with ready to spend piles of shiny coins. They are going to come home with resources that they must sell, and nothing that you spend weeks and years risking death in the void for is going to sell for cheap. Combine that with the fact that certain equipment, like spacecraft components, are going to be exorbitantly expensive, and you can see how keeping account of money in bits and pieces can become a bit unwieldy.

Instead of that, each character will have a Resource attribute, which works like the Luck Attribute in DCC, in that you will have an Attribute Score that goes up and down as you use your resources and add to them, as well as a modifier that doesn’t change (to represent your lifetime credit rating based upon your past dealings) and is used for when you try to get things above your current Resource Attribute level.

Buying things is simple: if you have the Resources, you take it and then reduce your Resource rating accordingly. Characters can also pool their Resources to buy bigger things. You want that fancy new fuel converter for your ship? Better pool your resources, team!

If the item is outside of the individual or team’s current available Resources, you can always make a Resource Roll, which represents buying things on credit. In this case, with an added difficulty based upon the difference between the cost and the available Resources. The character with the highest Resource modifier gets to add that to the roll. If you succeed, you get the item on credit with minimal to no initial outlay, but must pay back the remainder with interest the next time you come in from the void, or else: consequences (which can mean a variety of things based upon the situation and nature of those with whom the characters did business).

Resources are also used when you are trying to use the power of your wealth to influence others. In such cases, a Resource roll is made just like a Luck roll and, if it succeeds, you reduce your Resources by 1 and get your way.

FIREARMS

Speed_painted_sci_fi_pistol_by_torveniusOf course, firearms in science fiction would make a mockery of any fantasy arms and armor, magical or otherwise, due to high penetration power and rapid rate of fire often combined with a large area of effect. This of course requires a few new rules.

Damage for a firearm will be very similar to other ranged weapons in DCC. After all, they both poke holes in you, it’s just that one dose it faster, possibly does it to anyone else standing directly behind you and in line with flight path of the projectile and with little regard for cover or armor that isn’t specially designed to stop it.  Certain special types of ammunition might make hole a bit bigger (Dum-Dums) or even ‘splody (Gyrojet Rounds), but for the most part, the damage will range from d6 to d12 (with Hit Points representing more than physical damage, of course, but more on that later).

Rapid Fire is fairly easy to model and I’ll likely be doing that by allowing multiple attacks with decreasing die size. Soldiers will be penalized less in die size than other classes, making them a bit more effective.

Ranges are another thing you must take into account. The world record sniper shot is over a kilometer in distance, and energy weapons, like lasers, are unaffected by wind and barely effect by gravity so if you can see it and point at it you can hit it. As a result I’m thinking range is going to play little part unless it is Extreme, which I’ll probably define in the individual weapon descriptions.

Turning to the equipment side of Firearms rules, weapons will fall in line with their Barbarians of the Aftermath counterparts: general types and sizes, not specific makes and models. This, along with a number of upgrade kits, will allow for a wider variety of firearm types, with a minimal amount of rules,and without cornering the GM into any specific setting. I also intend for weapons to be sold in bulk. You spend a Resource point and get to outfit your character based on Armory points that can be spent on customizing your personal weapons stockpile (think Jane from Firefly). A team can do this to build up a communal armory for their ship.

As with Barbarians of the Aftermath, I’m not interested in turning ranged combat into an accounting exercise, especially considering the fact that a single Resource Point’s worth of ammunition could keep a platoon supplied for a month long operation. However, I do want to emphasize the Resource Management aspect of most dungeon-crawl style games. As such, I am looking at a method that mixes limiting carried ammunition but allowing for total reloads when the characters return to the ship.

When characters get into a firefight, no one calmly pulls the trigger for a single shot at their target. No, most folks throw a number of rounds downrange in the direction of their target without even thinking about ammunition expenditures, only stopping after the third or so ‘click click’ noise tells them their weapon is tapped. In the game this will be represented by an ammo check system built into the combat roll (in much the same way as Cleric Disfavor is built into their spell roll) which will occasionally empty their weapon. If they have reloads on them, they may take an Action to do so, but if they don’t, time to find an alternative.

Soldiers will have an advantage here. A trained soldier will learn to control their fire and keep track of their ammo expenditures. I’m thinking of either letting them reroll the first ammo check for a weapon or maybe reducing the number for every level they have in their class. Haven’t decided yet.

SERVITORS

silent-running.jpgOld school fantasy RPGs have henchmen. Void Hunters will have Robots! Basically, a robot is a henchman who does exactly what you tell them, as soon as you tell them to do it. They still require ‘payment’ in the form of maintenance, and they are very limited in what they can do based upon their programming, but you can send them into the dark corners of the unknown a hundred times or more and they will never object or leave your service (unless they blown apart, eaten or otherwise destroyed by whatever was lurking in said dark corners). Servitors will have some specific types and rules, but for the most part, that describes them.

Do not confuse Servitors in the game with Synthetics, who are self-aware characters and, hence, a PC class. Outside of their programming, servitors are dumb as a box of rocks and not self-aware… or at least not the ones humans build (although it might make for an interesting adventure if one did become self-aware through some bizarre in-adventure phenomenon, and turned on the crew for their crass abuse of it and its brethren).

PSIONICS

Psychics are, like Synthetics, an optional PC class which may or may not be allowed by the GM for their particular setting. I plan to base psychic abilities (‘powers’ seems an excessively fantastical word to use for the genre and level of ability I’m going for) on the DCC magic system with a few wrinkles to give it a totally different feel, but I’ll discuss this more in a future post dealing specifically with that subject.

SPACE CRAFT

PsychotechnicLeaguevincentdifateSpacecraft in Void Hunters are largely a way to get around the interstellar sandbox of a campaign, along with serving as ‘dungeons in space’ for hulk salvaging missions.

In the former case, they serve as a mobile base for the PCs, a base that becomes more and more useful and allows them to take on greater challenges as they upgrade it or sell it to buy an even better craft. In a way, it is like a group magic item that levels with them so long as they are willing to spend resources on it.

As such, spacecraft will be modular in design, a base hull with standard components and a number of attachment points for various upgrades that will provide a bonus to the team in specific situations.

The combat rules for spaceships will be highly abstract and focused on what each character does during said combat than moving miniatures about a map, which is not the best representation of combat in a 3D environment anyways. There will be a role for all the available classes to play in space combat, which will be spelled out in their class descriptions; a series of potential maneuvers that might be employed, and a critical system for ships, but other than that, I’m still thinking on this one and will go over it more in a future post.

 SPACE MADNESS

darkstar

Seriously. If you play RPGs, you need to see this movie.

Finally, Void Hunters would not be complete without a system for altering the mental state of the characters so that the effects of psychological horror can be brought into the game. After hearing about Torchbearer and how they are handling hunger, thirst and so on, I’m thinking of introducing a  number of mechanically defined states, like paranoia, fear, and so on that can be incurred during play.

Most will be temporary, and can be relieved by returning to the safety of the ship (if the ship isn’t harboring some alien monstrosity that is stalking the crew, that is) or by other means, like psychological counseling back at a friendly base station. Some, however, will have the potential for causing permanent psychological damage so characters who remain in the void for too long will start to mentally resemble the crew of Dark Star.

Void Hunters: Chapter 1…

In this post, I’m going to break down Chapter 1 of the book, because it answers a lot of questions about what, exactly, the essence of Void Hunters will be in look, play-style and overall direction. In summary, Void Hunters will be:

A Genre Toolbox Supplement for Dungeon Crawl Classics

That’s a mouthful, but describes the book pretty accurately.GMG5070-DCCRPG

First of all it is a supplement. Licensing rules for Goodman Games prevent me from including the core DCC rules in the book, so you’ll need the main DCC corebook to use it as intended. This is fine by me, as we really don’t need yet another retro-clone variation cluttering up a marketplace filled to the brim with minor variations on old school D&D. In fact, as DCC uses the D20 license and hews closely to OSR rules paradigm (without actually being a pure retro-clone, which is why I like it so much), you will find a lot of rules material in here that will easily translate to your favorite OSR game and the rest should only require minimal conversion.

Second of all, it will be a Toolbox for generating your own setting. A lot of the book will help you to decide what assumptions you want to make about technology, aliens even player classes, to make your ideal campaign setting with advice and even random tables for moments of indecision. Folks who have read my previous book Barbarians of the Aftermath will understand the kind of toolbox that I’m talking about.

That being said, Void Hunters will have a much tighter focus than BotA, which was a great deal more expansive in theme, covering every sort of post-apocalyptic scenario possible. Void Hunters will focus is on a very specific subset of Seventies Science Fiction (which I will talk more about in a minute) that revolves around my personal Appendix N, and does not include Star Wars type Science Fantasy or Pulp Science Fiction (cause Lord knows we have enough variations on those).

That being said, it is a supplement for Dungeon Crawl Classics, the premier 1970’s Style Fantasy RPG, so that means the rules will be totally compatible with anything you’d like to pull out of that book. You want Vancian wizards making Faustian bargains with elder gods who must not be named while flying about in spaceships with android companions and barbarian tribesman from the planet Mars? Well, if you have both Void Hunters and DCC (and an inclination for kitchen sink innovation) it will be as easy as picking something from column A and another thing from column B and throwing in a little bit of Column C for good measure.

An Homage to a Very Seventies Form of Science Fiction and Gaming

A question I’ve been asked recently is ‘What do you mean by Seventies Science Fiction Gaming?’ Basically, the style I’m talking about includes the following elements:

A Bleak, Uncaring Universe

Spaced Out Disco CD front

Look at this and try to tell me we were wrong to view Disco as a sign of the coming apocalypse…

One of the defining elements of the seventies is a darker, pessimistic (and some would say self-centered) view of the world that that was very much the ‘come down’ from the high of the sixties. Our psyches were darkened by the Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandal, the Oil Crisis, global cooling (yes, that was a thing), growing pollution and overpopulation worries, the threat of nuclear annihilation and Disco (hey, once you’ve heard every damned thing, from the Star Wars theme to Donald Duck turned into Disco, you’ll feel the same). This, combined with the rapid advance in technology and a growing realization that the universe was a lot more destructive and weirder than we’d ever imagined, gave a more serious, humanist tone to the fiction of the era.

As a result, much of the science fiction of this era, in books, movies and magazines, focused on the frightening advance of technology, the terrifying (but often breathtaking) unknowns of space, and the very well understood and depressing tendency for man to screw over his fellow man, even when faced with the total extinction of humanity.

There was a heavy emphasis on realism as well: the technology tending to hew more towards what might be possible in the next century rather than light swords and laser crossbows. In the same way, the search for extra-terrestrial life turned into an exploration of long dead or devolved civilizations and fighting off super-predators waiting to prey on the unwary. Science fiction became, in many ways, Dystopian, a violent rejection of the Utopian visions of the previous decades.

AlienPoster

Space in these stories is dangerous and uncaring. The unprepared will surely meet a gruesome end and, when so much is unknown, it is practically impossible to be fully prepared. Especially against the mad pressure of extended isolation in an infinite void, the dangers of previously unknown stellar phenomena and the predations of undreamed of alien life and your fellow man.

That is the very essence of space in Void Hunters and will probably be re-worked for the back cover blurb. The tiny caption on the movie poster to the left, from the quintessential dark science fiction movie of the decade, pretty much sums it up…

Seventies Science Fiction Gaming

Science fiction gaming in this era was best exemplified by three games: Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World and Traveller.

MetamorphosisAlpha2_TSR_1978

Metamorphosis Alpha was basically a game of D&D in space. Take the concept of the mega-dungeon (in which the players explore an expansive environment from top to bottom over a long period of time, slowly growing in power until they conquer it fully) and overlay science fiction elements on top of it. The players were the primitive, devolved descendents of humanity sent into space on a great space ark many centuries previous, exploring it and all the new creatures and peoples that have evolved since then, slowly recovering the technology and knowledge they need to take control of the ship and find a new home world. Very much in the vein of the early 70’s television show The Starlost.

thumbs_2493-gammaworld1978Gamma World was much bleaker and examined the dog eat dog world of survival after the near extinction of humanity in a nuclear apocalypse.It is the spiritual ancestor to Barbarians of the Aftermath in many ways. And while the post-apocalyptic genre really only took off in the eighties (when we were all certain we were going to die in a ball of nuclear flame or end up envying those who did) it got its gaming start in the seventies, and it seriously seriously struck a chord because, quite frankly, many of us didn’t think we’d make it to the eighties. The survival at any cost meme along with the man screwing over man theme was given cathartic life in Gamma World and influenced a generation of gamers.

Traveller was THE hard sci-fi game of the period, really pushing the realistic technology and humanist angles of seventies science fiction. Communication and travel were slow, so interstellar empires were non-existent or feudal in nature and player characters in the game Travellerwere experienced soldiers, explorers and traders in a universe that revolved around exploitation of interstellar resources. Characters were the epitome of humanity in seventies sci-fi, opportunists who  did not measure success by experience (the inexperienced and unlucky didn’t survive to become player characters, which was emphasized by the fact that your character could actually die during character generation) but by what they took from the universe for themselves.

Of these, I’m going to take the dungeon exploration aspects of Metamophosis Alpha and mix it with the stark realism of Traveller and the survival theme of Gamma World. to create the ultimate modern take on Seventies style science fiction style gaming.

 The Void Hunters Implied Setting

Void Hunters will bake all of these influences into the rules to create something that is a bit more than ‘DCC In Spaaaace!’ but retains that DCC feel of gritty adventuring in a dangerous setting. It will also be an exploration game set in a dark and uncaring universe where explorers, traders and military expeditions dive into the unknown and find new resources to exploit, the remains of ancient, long-dead alien civilizations to explore and unthinkable horrors to survive.

P2

In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the new mechanics that will subtly change DCC into a science fiction game…

Void Hunters: The DCC Game of Seventies Science Fiction…

01I like to use my personal blog as a game design diary. I first started the practice on the Strange Stones blog site, with Barbarians of Heavy Metal, and I found it to be an excellent way of not only keeping track of my thought process as I work through the particulars of a game (without wasting and losing reams of paper), but also to invite comments from others that can influence the final product early on and save me a lot of work re-writing the final document.

The first thing I like to do is create an outline. I know a lot of writers who think outlines are unnecessary and sign of inexperience, but of all the things I learned in High School, I find the humble outline to be one of the most useful tools for organizing thought and speeding up the writing process. To this day I use them for script-writing, fiction writing, technical writing and game design. In the case of an RPG book, they make a convenient table of contents, like the one for my upcoming game, Void Hunters…

Chapter 1: Introduction
● How to Use This Book
● Setting Assumptions – What is Seventies Science Fiction?
● New Rules

Chapter 2: Characters
● Defining Setting Assumptions about PC Classes
● Redshirts – Level 0 Characters
● Soldier
● Scientist
● Scout
● Officer
● Psychic
● Synthetic

Chapter 3: Psionics
● Rules
● Psionic Disciplines
● Power Listings

Chapter 4: Gear
● Defining Tech Level in your Setting
● Acquiring Gear – Resource Checks
● Standard Gear
● Combat Gear
● Servitors
● Psychic Gear

Chapter 5: Starships
● Defining Space Travel in your Campaign
● Acquiring a Starship
● Running a Starship
● Fighting a Starship
● Starship Construction
● Starship Modules

Chapter 6: New Worlds
● Sector Generation
● Star System Generation
● World Generation

Chapter 7: Alien Menaces
● Defining Setting Assumptions about Aliens
● Random Species Generation
● Sample Alien Flora
● Sample Alien Fauna
● Sentient Civilization Generation
● Alien PCs

Chapter 8: Exploring the Darkness
● The Interstellar Sandbox
● Hazards of the Void
● The Planetary Sandbox
● Planetary Environments
● Lost Civilizations
● Hulks

Chapter 9: Missions & Campaigns
● Player Unit Organization
● Mission Generator
● Dungeons In Spaaaace
● The Wider Universe
● Mission 1: The Lost and the Damned (Level 0 Hulk Recovery Mission)
● Mission 2: The Pyramids of Pyxis (level 1 Planetary Exploration Mission)

This not only helps me to organize my book, but also gives me a good idea of about how long this book is going to be. About 160 pages, methinks.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to let Void Hunters come to a slow boil on the back-burner of my brain as I work on my other projects. I’ll be posting whatever bubbles to the surface here. By the time November gets rolling along, you should see a game slowly forming…

Living, Eating and Breathing Game Design (Part 2)…

So my academic work from the previous post is all geared towards graduating in December, but a man (and his family) gotta eat, and that means making stuff to sell. In my case, that means more games.

I have three games that fall into this category, but only one of them is actually going to get any attention before next year, considering my rather hefty workload.

BATTLE BLOCKS

I’ve always loved wargames. Moving massed armies around a board and trying to go all Sun Tzu on your opponents backside is a hobby that has consumed a good 3 decades of my life. And up until about 6 years ago, I enjoyed the other aspects of the wargaming hobby that I now have absolutely no time for: building and painting the models and scenery that made such battles possible.

More recently though, it is nigh impossible for me to really enjoy that hobby anymore and, like many guys my age, I’m always looking for options to ply a good table-top wargame (particularly my favorites, Warmaster Ancients and De Bellis Antiquitatis, for which these base sizes are perfect) without having to invest the time and money in hundreds of models. that’s when it struck me to come up with that option.

GreekSelection

A selection of unit labels for Greek Battle Blocks (all images © 2013 Jabberwocky Media)

Enter Battle Blocks. Basically I found that if you take a 40mmx20mmx6mm wooden block and plop a sticker down on it to give you a general idea of what sort of unit it represents, you not only can cheaply create a number of armies for testing out strategies or mixing up forces (which is particularly good for Historical Wargaming where the armies tend to be grouped rather tightly by era) but the look and feel of the blocks moving along a

map recreates the mood of ancient generals controlling their forces from a tent on the back of the line. Very thematic. And they work for any ancients type game because unit composition is fairly standard. This for instance:

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Hoplites (© 2013 Jabberwocky Media)

A standard greek hoplite armed with spear, sword, shield and light armor. The shield shows a unit insignia so that you can group blocks appropriately (in Warmaster Ancients, for instance, a unit will be comprised of three such blocks) or so you can

show army affiliation in the case of grand strategic games like DBA (the above would represent a Spartan Hoplite and, no, I’m not yelling that out).

I’ve got a full batch of Greeks done up and I’m working on the Persians off and on (trying to draw cool looking Persian headgear that reads well at this size is a bit of a challenge) and I’ll likely try and get these out as a PDF sometime in January or February (after the Super Bowl). No Kickstarter, just a PDF that folks can buy and print out on sticker paper with instructions for constructing the blocks, and possible an easy set of quick-play wargames rules to go with them.

VOID HUNTERS: THE DCC GAME OF SEVENTIES SCIENCE FICTION

I do play games at least once a week. I have no business being a game designer if I’m not willing to make the time to do that. And I’m not talking about my own stuff, but other people’s games. It’s good for clearing the ol’ mental palette.

One of the games I’ve been playing is Dungeon Crawl Classics, which is a fantasy game with a strong 1970’s vibe. You heard me jive turkey! I’m gaming like it’s 1974 and I’m lovin’ it!

Well, since I can pretty much write an RPG in my sleep, and DCC is so popular at the moment, I figured I’d create a sci-fi version of it and, after discussions with Joseph Goodman and signing a licensing agreement, I’m going to start work on Void Hunters, the DCC game of Seventies Science Fiction in November, while my For Glory! Kickstarter is rolling, with a Kickstarter to follow in the Spring of 14.

The default setting is focused on the horrors of space exploration, including isolation, alien terrors, and weird quirks of science and nature that defy man’s understanding of the universe. The rules will follow closely in the gritty mold of DCC and reinforce the notion that space is a cold, lonely, uncaring thing that will kill the unprepared, and, when faced with an infinite variety of things that can kill you, it’s practically impossible to be totally prepared.

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Adventures would largely be based around sandbox style exploration of the universe, discovering the remains of other civilizations that died out long before man took his first steps into the universe, fighting against alien super-predators that are bred in the darkest and harshest environments, and salvaging the remains of lost expeditions that fell prey to unknown forces or the predations of their fellow men. Basically, DCC In Spaaace! But there will information for setting up Feudal Dark Sci-Fi settings (like Dune or 40k) and War Amongst the Stars settings (like Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers). Here is a list of the game’s major influences…

BOOKS

All the Stars a Stage (James Blish, 1971) – The imminent destruction of the sun forces humanity (now a matriarchal society in which men are considered largely useless) to flee for the stars in untested starships. Over 50 years of dangerous exploration to find a suitable homeworld ensue.

Dune (Frank Herbert, 1965) - The prime example of the Feudal Sci-Fi setting, the universal order has regressed into a series of interstellar Dukedoms ruled over by an Emperor; space travel and psionic disciplines along with human computer/assassins are controlled by guilds; and Machiavellian schemes, political assassination and interstellar war are the primary past-times of the noble houses.

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card, 1985) - Although the full novel came out in 1985, the basis for it appeared as a novella in Analog magazine in 1977. Mankind, still recovering after a narrowly won war against an implacably alien insect race known as ‘the buggers,’ starts training the next generation of children to become generals and launch a pre-emptive strike against the aliens before they can regroup and return to finish humanity off.

Gateway (Fredrick Pohl, 1977) – The core premise of this story, an ancient and long dead alien race leave behind a stargate and several hundred ships for humanity to discover and experiment with, would make an excellent setup for a Void Hunter’s campaign. The fact that the poor humans have little control over where they are going (Habitable world? Dead world? Edge of a black hole?) and when they might get there (Do we have enough supplies to last the trip or will we starve in space?) just makes it all the more fun. Throw in a 1849 era gold-rush mentality as people risk it all for a chance to get rich off the unknown, and a greedy corporation looking to exploit them when/if they return, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for adventure.

Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke, 1972) - The subject of this novel is another space born artifact from a long lost alien civilization, which would qualify as an extremely unusual hulk: part space craft, part world. The ‘biots’ also make for highly interesting alien fauna.

Ringworld (Larry Niven, 1970) – Louis Wu and company crash land on the mother of ancient archeological artifacts, a Ringworld, and are forced to explore it’s massive, bizarre structure in order to find a way to escape. While not all that dark, and featuring a number of different alien races, Ringworld does provide a perfect example of exploring the remains of a lost alien civilization while interacting with the retro-grade descendents and strange creatures that make up the flora a fauna around it. It is a massive, campaign worthy, sci-fi sandbox.

Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein, 1959) – For more military based campaigns, there isn’t a great deal of combat in the book, but there is a great deal on the no holds barred, anything to survive mentality humanity may adopt in order to cope with the extreme circumstances surrounding interstellar war. Brutal training for a brutal people to fight a brutal enemy in a variety of brutal environments..

Solaris (Stanisław Lem, 1970) – The perfect example of what happens when man inadvertently discovers that life doesn’t neatly fit in the pigeonhole that he places it in, and the consequences that emerge from that arrogant assumption. I won’t give away the core story element that makes this novel unique, but suffice to say, sometimes the observer doesn’t realize that they’re the one under the microscope.

Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader (Rick Preistley, 1987) – Although a game book, not strictly straight fiction, the first edition of the world-popular WH40k game set forth a dark interstellar empire in its decline, its teaming subjects living a feudal existence underneath a brutal regime venerating a corpse Emperor and beset by external enemies and internal corruption. The original is still the best and presents humanity and space as terrifyingly uncaring and full of black humor. It also provides a ton of story seeds revolving around the exploration of new worlds, the rediscovery of lost worlds and salvaging of massive ‘space hulks,’ essentially mega-dungeons in space.

MOVIES

spacejockey13Alien (1979) - A crew of space miners, ordered by the Company to investigate a signal coming from a mysterious moon, end up exploring a dangerous world, encountering the crashed hulk of an alien spaceship and bring aboard a parasitic alien life form that stalks the crew in the ‘dungeon’ of their own spacecraft. This is the quintessential Void Hunter adventure in the Dark Sci-Fi paradigm.

 
The Black Hole (1979) - No aliens, space demons or lost civilizations, just a mad scientist in a massive ‘lost’ space ship (the sci-fi equivalent of an evil wizard’s dungeon complete with the robot equivalent of orcs and an ogre) perched on the edge of the most destructive force in the universe with all the danger that entails.

Dark Star (1974) -Somewhat less serious than some might expect from the title, the comedy is still black as the void of space, the end result of the film is fairly fatalistic and the clear insanity of the crew after a long space voyage (not to mention the dark nature of their ongoing mission) is likely to remind players and GMs of the black humor and absurdity that even the most well meaning and serious RPG adventure devolves into after a long night’s play. It’s like somebody took an actual sci-fi RPG session, wrote it into a screenplay and then filmed the results.

Event Horizon (1997) -This movie came out well after the seventiesevent_horizon_gravity_drive, but it encapsulates the horrors of space exploration and turns them up to 11. A search and rescue team finds a spacecraft with a prototype interstellar drive that went missing 7 years earlier. As they explore the ‘hulk’ they find that, on its maiden voyage, the Event Horizon uncovered horrors beyond human comprehension. It’s ‘The Shining’ in space with a little bit of ‘Hellraiser’ thrown in for good measure.

Outland (1981) - Again, shortly outside of the seventies, but still deep in the ethos of many of the stories from that time. No aliens, just man’s inhumanity to man in the pursuit of interstellar resources and profit. Often described as ‘High Noon in Space,’ nothing better captures the frontier nature of space, where help is not around the corner and running away is not always an option when you’re surrounded by an environment that is totally antithetical to human life.

Silent Running (1972) - While this film is set within the solar system, it has many elements that define seventies sci-fi. Man’s inhumanity and self-destructive nature, the delicate nature of life and maintaining it in the cold dark of space, and a perfect example of how some last remnant of a lost civilization could end up floating in space (becoming a Hulk, in VH vernacular).

MAGAZINES

A lot of the science fiction I read that really defined the themes of seventies science fiction came from a selection of magazines that were popular during that decade and into the eighties as well. I can’t necessarily remember the specific stories or the particular authors, but the influence of these periodicals, whose stories reflected the time they were written in, will impress the feel of the era on you like nothing else can.

Omni – A magizine of technology, science and science fiction, it boasted articles featuring some of the most influential writers, scientists and artists of the time, including Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and H.R.Giger. The stories were a bit on the weird side. One story that sticks in my brain to this day involved an alien shape changer that absorbed people to feed itself and then took on their form and memories. It haOmni Magazined escaped from a government black site and became the lover of a woman who took it in after she found out it had eaten and taken the form of her ex-husband. She basically kept it as a lover until she started to think it might leave her, at which point she turned it over to the government, stoned out of its mind on oregano, which acted as a powerful and addictive drug for it. Yeah, that’s the kind of weird stuff the seventies was known for…

Analog - The premier science fiction magazine of the time, it collected the works of authors known and unknown and many of its stories really reflected the zeitgeist of the time, one of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Find yourself a dozen or so back copies form this period and you’ll probably have enough material for an equal number of adventures.

OTHER STUFF

There are a ton of other ideas fighting for space in my head, but one of the things I’ve sussed out in grad school is my working limitations. I can handle about three things at any one time (although I have reams of ideas noted down for future development). At the moment, For Glory!, Quarterback Blitz and Void Hunters are what I’m splitting my time between, with all of them in various stages of completion, slowly rolling off the assembly line of my mind one after the other. Once I graduate, I’m going to have to assign one of those three slots to non-gaming work (most likely teaching) so my production will slow down a bit, but I can comfortably conceive of releasing two or three things a year (especially if I get summers off). Hopefully, those initial three will establish Jabberwocky Media as a top-notch game company and firmly establish my vocation as professional Game Designer…

Living, Eating and Breathing Game Design (Part 1)…

As I near the end of graduate school, I find that a combination of classes, long term company goals and short term ‘I need money NOW’ issues, is brewing up into a storm of game design that is keeping me hopping like a flea on a hotplate. I am living game design 12 or more hours a day, every day of every week except Saturday (got to see my family sometime). If I’m not actually doing it, I’m thinking about it and seeing the world in relation to it. I’m not sure whether this is a good or bad thing, but that’s how it is.

GRADUATE WORK

This semester is my last, and like all the ones before it, I am using my time to the best advantage by combining my academics with business.

THE FIFTH KLINGO-KZINTI WAR

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Map (© 2013 Jabberwocky Media)

The project I started last semester, the Federation Commander Tactical Display App, is still going on. I’m extensively testing out the Proof of Concept version (you can see the details on that here) by running a Federation Commander Campaign for my Professor and my good buddy Chris Krueger.

Interestingly enough, the Campaign I developed for testing the App actually led to the creation of a simple, short 1-2 hour, 2 player wargame set in the Star Fleet Universe that I’m going to try and convince Steven V. Cole (publisher of Star Fleet Battles and Federation Commander) to publish. It’s focused on a small part of the larger General War in that universe and would make both a great board game and campaign system for Federation Commander.

 

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5-8 player map (© 2013 Jabberwocky Media)

FOR GLORY!!!

When Barbarians of Heavy Metal failed to reach its funding goal, I had many questions I needed answered before I Kickstarted my next project, For Glory!!!, so I’m researching crowd-funding for an independent research class this semester.

This project is actually the completion of a longer project cycle, which began last year with the creation of For Glory!!!, continued with the prototyping and play-testing of the game and will end with the successful or unsuccessful funding of its production through Kickstarter. There are a few papers on crowd-funding in the works as well (that’s academia for you) but hopefully it will not only result in a game ready for sale next year, but a much better understanding of the crowd-funding process on my part for future projects, including a new Kickstarter for Barbarians of Heavy Metal.

 
QUARTERBACK BLITZ

My previous thesis (an interactive, voice-controlled audio game based on The Shadow) got derailed by a lack of facilities this semester, so I had to make a quick adjustment and come up with something entirely new that could be completed in a 12 week period. The idea came to me while visiting my family one Saturday and watching them watch football. It occurred to me that there are NO table-top football board-games (unless you count Electric Football) and this struck me as both an odd omission and an ideal opportunity to do something different.

You see, I didn’t know jack about football. Unlike the rest of my family who, along with a massive number of Americans, are obsessed with it, I never really understood the draw of it. This made it an ideal Thesis project, because not only would I be researching a fairly complex anthropological facet of American culture in specific (and sports culture in general), I would also be studying what is, in effect, one of the most mechanically complex games in existence and trying to translate that into an accurate, but easy to play representation of that game for play on a table-top.

So far, over the last three weeks, I have succeeded in doing all of the above. I’m still picking up the nuances of the game, but my knowledge and interest in it, and all of the intricate subtleties of what is essentially a game of peace-time trench warfare, have grown exponentially. The historical and marketing research has been fascinating, and my growing understanding of the game has made it much more interesting to watch, and I can even predict the plays to a limited extent. But what is really tweaking my grey-matter is the mechanical conversion from real life to table-top. It’s just clicking so well I’m not sure why I didn’t do this before.

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A few Custom Dice Icons for the game (all images © 2013 Jabberwocky Media)

I can tell you why no one else has tried it: because the licensing issues are over-the-top ridiculous. They were worth a 4 page paper all on their own. But that’s all right, because I have a plan to market the game whether I get the license or not. I’ll be posting my Demo Game up at the end of the semester and you may well see the Kickstarter for it popping up in the Spring.

OTHER GAMES

Along with the important, school related stuff, I’m also trying to come up with some small, interesting games that I might turn around quickly for some fast cash. These games are much less complex than my ‘academic’ games and the subject of my next post…

October ’13 News: For Glory!!!

BoLBGMapV3It’s been a bit quiet since the Barbarians of Heavy Metal Kickstarter failed to fund, but that is mainly because I’ve been busy preparing our next Kickstarter: For Glory!!!, the Barbarians of Lemuria Boardgame.

Currently, I’m putting the finishing touches on a Print & Play Demo version of For Glory!!! for free download. Within the PDF package, you’ll find a complete game, although it only contains a limited selection of cards and is missing many of the more advanced features of the full game. I’m in talks with Angus over at Chronicle City about producing the physical game and Jeff Laubenstein, who did some of the art for the BoHM Kickstarter, is also working on some pieces for For Glory!!! (and possibly Simon Washbourne’s Barbarians of Lemuria Mythic Edition) as well.

Currently, the For Glory!!! Kickstarter is scheduled to begin in November, but I plan to release the Demo Kit as soon as I complete it so folks can play around with it and generate some comments and buzz.