Encounter culture #11: Soggy Sahuagin spellcasters

CR- Variable, Minimum 5, recommended 10

It's been a hot minute since the last encounter culture article, so let's cool off with a new one. Ships and boats are classic set pieces in most fantasy games, but many of their fights tend to happen the same way. Enemies try to climb up the boat, or board from an enemy vessel, and they're fought on the deck and stop and killed as they board. This encounter gives the opponents a leg up and gives the players a fair bit more to worry about. Magican Sahuagin.

Basic premise: Sahuagin spellcasters use magic to teleport aboard the enemy ship, and damage it enough to require urgent repairs.

The breakdown: This encounter takes standard Sahuagin and gives them 2 levels of Wizard. They are not given generalist wizard however, instead taking the school of conjuration and the subschool of teleportation. This grants them the all important shift ability. Allowing them to teleport up to 5 ft as a swift action 3+int times per day. An average Sahuagin gets 5 daily uses of this, but they'll mostly only need one.

The Sahugagin break into teams, some attacking  from above by climbing the sides of the ship and/or teleporting aboard duck depending on the height. While a second team bores holes in the underside of the ship. The shift ability requires line of sight and so the Sahuagin are best served by making these holes so they can look inside and then teleport below deck. This also creates the problem of many small holes in the ship which could sink the vessel if not repaired.

In general a player should be allowed to patch an adjacent hole as a move action. The fight should ideally be a tough mix of repairing holes, and fighting Sahuagin who can teleport about as a swift action. Remember that Sahuagin's blindsense allows them to hop to the other side of walls as long as they can perceive what's on the other side. (Though blindsense is very poorly defined in terms of seeing objects rather than creatures).

With a few spells available the Sahuagin would be best served with a mage armor cast before hand. As far as offensive magic a good burning hands or two on whatever ship parts are dry would not be remiss.

For extra style, these holes and the weight of the ship pushing down could make arcing jets of water cross the lower decks, which could be used to describe things with more verve. Imagine an ice spell passing through such a stream making ribbons of ice in the air.


Tale of the tape: A sahugain given 2 levels of wizard increases to cr 3, and this plan needs a very minimum of 2 Sahuagin, which would be a cr 5 encounter, but pumping those numbers up a bit is not a bad idea. Since the ship itself is in as much danger as the players it's totally fine to add enough that individual foes are fairly trivial. Even if the players can always hit and kill them and not be hit by their attacks it can still be very dangerous having 32 angry magical fish people aboard the ship drilling holes and lighting fires. Plus the usual solution to masses of enemies, area of effect attacks, is a far less appealing idea on ones own boat in tight confines. And of course if a dozen or so of the angry fishfolk all fire their magic missiles at the same foe it could still be rather lethal.


Variations: The easiest ways to change up this encounter is by swapping Sahuagin for another type of creature, by simply changing their spell selection, or by making the ship flood/burn faster or slower. But beyond those simple variations this could also be applied to other ships. Air ships being attacked by Sahuagin with flight magic, or even spaceships being assaulted by crews of teleporting boarders. This could also be done off of a ship using wooden houses, forts, or castles to create a very unconventional siege that focuses on keeping the enemy inside the keep and not letting them reach and open the gates to let in the rest of their army.


Hopefully this encounter has helped you spice up your next shipboard battle. Until next time, take care and have fun!

Making of Naruto Pathfinder Part 5: Playtesting

In my previous articles I walked you through every step of the process for conceptualizing and creating your own game or game content. Of course you still need to test it, and make sure it all actually works the way you want. In my 15 years of game design I don't think I have ever seen a system go through playtesting without changes coming up. When you design something in your mind, you really can only have your own perspective on things. It's not until the game is in someone else' hands that you can really come to understand all the things you never even considered about your own design. So how do you playtest? Well there's a few things to consider, so let's take a look.

1.) Who. Who are you running for? Who is actually sitting down at the table to try out your game? The more different people you have the better your playest will be, from an information gathering standpoint. Having one other person test your product is twice as good as you designing it and testing it alone. Having five or six is even better. If you test twice, with 2 totally different groups of players you can an even better and broader audience. More people testing is always always better. Even if a particular person doesn't offer a lot of useful feedback, we can still learn a lot from them. You should also consider how likely you are to get the feedback you need. If you made a grimdark scifi game full of political intrigue, your playtest with a group of 10 year olds may not give you the feedback you need. If you play with friends or family they may hesitate to be honest about the game's flaws. If you make a very rules heavy, crunchy, mechanical, game then players who enjoy a good story and roleplay might not enjoy it as much. That's not to say that any of those people can't tell you useful things, but just beware of who you are testing with.

2.) How much. How thoroughly are you testing? If you design 500 abilities and run a single playtest that uses 5 of them then that's great, but you could do more. Playtest as often as you can, time and time again, until you can't possibly playtest anymore, until you are no longer getting any useful feedback, and then maybe a few times after. Playtest=polish, the more you have, the more your product will shine.

3.) What is happening? Awareness is key when playtesting. Is a player taking a long time to decide what ability to use? Did someone assume a rule works differently? Did everyone die? Did no one take damage? Do people have the same stats? Different stats? What questions did players ask? What questions /didn't/ they ask? Did everyone adopt the same tactic? Was every fight different? Were there any fights? Was there anything the players didn't get to do because there wasn't a rule for it? Did anyone have any abilities they didn't use or forgot about? After the game is done, don't let anyone escape. If people have to leave at 11, end session at 10, grill them for an hour. And when you observe all these things, write them down. Do not try to remember it all. Write it all down immediately, as it happens, as you notice it. Compile it. Did everyone understand the new flanking rules except 1 player? Did no one use their lunar bonus? You can never have enough playest data. You should swim in it, drown in it, it is the reason you're playesting.


4.) Why? Consider the cause of comments and feedback. Did the player who said the game is too hard happen to roll nothing but 3's and 4's for the entire night? Did the player who just got divorced seem distracted? Did the powergamer feel like the game didn't have enough options and variety?  Don't immediately discredit them, they could be right, but consider at least that they may have made their decisions. The reason why people say things is just as important, or maybe more, than what they say. If a player says "I ran out of chakra too quickly" but they used 100% of it on their first turn powering their strongest move it may not be an indicator of not enough chakra. It may be an indicator that you should limit how much a player can expend at once. Note not just what they say, but the context of it.

5.) What else? So here's also a few quick miscellaneous pointers for playtesting.  Keep the sheets! At the end of the session hold onto everyone's sheets, those are a goldmine of data. Record the session. If players are all cool with it then record the gaming session so you can look back over your data later. Compare with a control if possible. When I run a playtest of my Naruto things, I always include at least 1 regular pathfinder monster as a control group so I can compare. I also sometimes will have one player use a normal pathfinder class also to help make sure what I'm making is in line. Get player interpretations. When players ask me how a rule works I always ask them "How would you assume it works if I didn't explain it?" This is very important for finding out if your wording is good or bad and if you need to clarify things. If their assumption is right then that means you did a good job of establishing how the system works. If it's wrong, try to be more clear in your wording. If you want to create hype then play in public (if you can bear to). If you want to generate buzz about a new rpg you're working on, or about something you intend to popularize then go to a gaming cafe, stream your session, recruit players openly, get yourselves out there. All of this is assuming you and all your players are comfortable with it.


There you have it. How to playtest and get the very most out of those playtests. This is an incredibly important step, and if you skimp on it, players will notice it, guaranteed. If done well though, playtesting will turn your game from good into incredible. Until next time, take care of eachother and have fun!

Making of Naruto Pathfinder: Part 4: Creating

               In my previous articles I talked about envisioning what you want and thinking about how to get there. As I alluded to previously, this article is going to be about the process of creating. I'm going to closely be referencing my process creating Naruto Pathfinder as an example, but my intention is to make my examples just as applicable whether you're building something totally new, or for a totally different system. So let's take a look at the breakdown and some key points.


1.) Core first. Start by thinking about what the absolute key mechanics of your game will be, and then zoom out to the biggest critical pieces that you plan to create. If you're making your own system then you need to consider what the basic mechanics are. Is the game d20 based? Does it use a deck of cards? Is it purely point based? Think about why you made that choice. Creating core game mechanics is something I want to cover fully in its own article eventually, but for now we'll use this as a starting point. If you're adding content for an existing game think about what the largest chunk you need to create is going to be.

In the case of Naruto pathfinder I knew my two biggest elements were going to be creating a ninjutsu system, including all the basic jutsu, and creating the core ninja class or classes. If you were creating something for World of Darkness then I can almost guarantee you'd want to start by creating your own supernatural template. Once you have an idea what your biggest task or tasks are you can move to the next step. 

2.) Break it down and organize. Once you know what the big important jobs are you can start breaking them down into smaller tasks and figure out what needs to be done first. In my above example I knew I needed one or more classes and a system for Ninjutsu. Since the class is going to be granting the abilities, I need to know how those abilities work before I can put them together and create a class based around it. So that became my first priority. From there I broke it down further. How are jutsu's sorted? How strong are they? How are they learned? Do they require resources? In the source material these Jutsu require an energy source called Chakra. Which meant I'd need to design how chakra works. When I did get around to designing the classes I knew I'd need to include not only jutsu, but chakra as well. No matter how big the task is, if you can break it into small enough organized pieces you can tackle it.

3.) Conceptualize>Examine>Test>Repeat. I know that seems like a bunch of steps, but really it isn't. For each thing you need to create you should start off with a concept, a theory or idea about how you might do it. It's okay if it's not a brilliant idea, as long as you have something. Next examine your idea. What's good, what's bad, what are the obvious problems or shortfalls, what can be fixed? Next test the idea. This doesn't mean you have to whip up a whole session. If you have an idea for the basic card system then draw a few hands and pit them against eachother. Whip up a few plausible scenarios and see if anything immediate comes up. Then whip up a few unlikely but still possible scenarios and test those. Now take the problems and ideas that came up, and conceptualize again, but with those problems in mind. Repeat this cycle until you have something that works. And then maybe repeat again just to be sure.

For me I had to think a lot about how chakra would be calculated. I had one formula, and then when I ran tests I found some pretty normal builds would have almost none. And then I went back and changed and adjusted. Time after time. Eventually I settled on a formula using constitution, wisdom, a class bonus, and level. To ensure that it was something a player could build towards, but it would also be assured that everyone had at least a little bit. That formula went through four iterations before I thought it was done. Then, 30 hours into development, I went back and changed it one more time because I wanted to ensure players could bring their abilities to bear even if they faced multiple encounters in a day. That change meant I had to alter almost 100 pages of work. The more you can get right ahead of time the more trouble you can save yourself later on.


4.) Move on to the next problem. Once you have one mechanic figured out, move to the next, figure out how it works with the previous ones. Build on each system as you go, keep building and working through each of those individual problems and before you know it you have a system! It sounds simple to say it, but it's really going to be a fair bit of work, but when it's all done and it all works beautifully, the way you envisioned and the way you wanted, with all your core tenants in mind it's a beautiful thing.

For me that meant fully designing how the jutsus worked, how the chakra system worked, and then building the classes. For my design I settled on 3 core classes. One represents a martial focused ninja who can pull off all the advanced hand to hand abilities I wanted to include. One class was focused on learning as many jutsus and abilities as possible to build up a massive pool of options. One class maintained a medium between those two options but has the most chakra, allowing them less flexibility but more uses of the abilities they did choose. This helped me not only adhere to my core design principals, but also maintained a very lore friendly feeling, and ensures that there's a base class for every play style.


There's a lot here, but once you start sorting through what you need and forming it into small doable tasks it won't feel so intimidating. Just take everything one step at a time and you'll have your very own homebrew game, class, add on, anything you want as part of your own amazing and unique game. Of course once you're done, you aren't really done. Next time I'll walk you through some of the tenants of good playtesting and tweaking. Until then, take care and have fun!


Making of Naruto Pathfinder:  Part 3: Where to start

If you've been following the previous articles and their advice for making a system then by now you should know what you want to make, what the core elements are, and what sort of system you'll be making, whether it's an existing one or a wholly new game. That was all the easy part, now it's time to knuckle down and get to the brass tacks. regardless of how much or how little you're designing there are some steps to take early on. So let's take a look.

1: Imagine. Visualize your game in action, don't worry too much about the exact rules. Instead focus on the players. How do they look? Are they laughing? Strategizing? Are they excited? scared? Sad? Are they cheering or sombre? Do they know instantly what to do or are they agonizing over their choices? Are the players taking turns, one by one declaring their actions, or is everyone acting and adding all at once? How much control do they have over the narrative? What are the /players/ imagining? Are they visualizing how cool their attacks are? Are they thinking about their items or about the twisted monsters before them? Are they looking up references to real world people and areas? Everything about this vision of your game in motion should be considered and remembered. That's your goal.

2: Take stock. Think about what you need in order to get that vision on the table. If they're torturing themselves over which ability to use then you need multiple good interesting abilities. If they're scared or anxious you need a way to put that pressure on them. Even things like if they're rolling dice then you need a die mechanic. If you're using an existing system think of the permutations you need to create. New classes? supernatural templates? New super powers? If you're making your own game then consider what kind of mechanics you'll have to craft. Conflict resolution? A system for dealing or healing damage? A way for players to change the story or each others abilities? Don't worry about how to make it all work yet, instead just think about what you need. It's fine to say "I need a way to get my players to be emotionally invested in characters". Just as much as you might need "A system for resolving ties dramatically". Even if you aren't sure you want it, write it down. It's fine to scrap things later, but it's a lot harder to remember ideas that only briefly occupied space in your mind. Write it down, brainstorm, get ideas out there. If you need inspiration look to your core concepts and make sure you have the intention to create rules that support them.

3:Prioritize.  No matter how many or how few things you need it's important to recognize what you need. My recommendation is to take your list of ideas and sort them into 4 categories, I like to visualize them as concentric circles. First look at what is absolutely essential, the things that directly support the core concepts and the things that you absolutely cannot play without. If you have just those things you should be able to show someone what you're getting at, but shouldn't even really be ready for a proper playtest yet.  Next consider the things you need before you can do a proper playtest. This includes main mechanics, and things that form the game as a whole. With things in the second category you can run a playtest game, as long as you can control and avoid certain things that aren't done yet.  The third category includes the things that round out and complete your work. It covers mechanics that should be covered but aren't critical, this is also likely to include things you hadn't initially considered but realized you needed later, especially things that come up during playtesting. If everything in this category is finished then you have a finished game that you could share, get playtested on mass or even run a campaign with. The Final category is polish, it should include things that make the game better, more exciting, more varied, or that add replay-ability or solve minor problems or clarify things. This category might also include ideas you won't actually implement and is also likely to have things you skipped on during brainstorming. 

4: Create. This is going to be the topic of my next article, because there's going to be a lot to cover here, but just know by this point you have everything you need to start making your game, no matter how big or small your project is, you're ready to work it out one layer at a time.

Hopefuly this has been helpful for you, and if you want to see an example of this process in work don't worry, that's coming soon.

Making of Naruto Pathfinder: Part 2: Core Principals

As we discussed last time inspiration is at the core of creating a new system. But that alone can't get you there. Once you know what you want to make it's important to pin down the key components and how you plan to abide by them. To this end I highly recommend finding the core creation principals you want to follow. I usually suggest picking out three. For example, when I began designing the Naruto system I thought carefully about what I most wanted.

                For me when I play a game, I love the feeling of excitement when I consider what ability or item or class to pursue next. I wanted to create the wonderful sensation of wanting 30 things but knowing you have to pick out just 4 until next level. So my first core tenant was "I want players to always have "too many" options". Of course that immediately meant I'd be designing a great excess of abilities, but the variety of abilities in Naruto was one of the key things that inspired me, so that was perfectly fine.

                Next, I thought about what I loved about their magic system. They use chakra, which serves as an MP pool, and Jutsu which function similarly to spells. One of my favourite things was how consistent and understandable the system was, I wanted to preserve that intuitive nature that allows fans to theorize about abilities. For my second core ideal I chose "I want players to be able to make connections about how the magic system works." I knew this would be very difficult and would be hard to pin down, but when it works I'd know it right away.

                Third I considered carefully how this system being adapted to pathfinder works, and I thought a lot about ways in which the rules system may hinder the overall experience. I thought about pieces that didn't fit, or little problems in the system that bothered me. It was so important that I made my third core concept "I will not allow the problems of pathfinder to hinder the system." This meant realizing some things would have to be carefully designed, and some rules would need to be changed.       

                I had my guiding stars, things to keep in mind all the way from initial design to playtesting. Whatever your core principals are you should choose them carefully and let them help you make choices. Every game or system you design should have its own set of core principals, and they could be very different. Some systems may focus fun fast play, others might value depth, or style, or capturing a certain feeling. Whatever you decide is most important should stay in your mind from beginning to end and every time you examine your work. Hopefully this has proven helpful for anyone interested in designing a game of any kind, stay tuned for a deep dive into how to follow your core principals as you begin getting into the systsem.

Making of Naruto Pathfinder: Part 1 Inspiration

In the time leading up to the release of my new project: Naruto Pathfinder, I want to take some time to talk about the design philosophy I had in mind, as well as the process I went through. I want to help anyone reading this get a sense for why, and how to design their own system or content and what sort of steps to take along the process. No knowledge of Naruto is needed to understand everything in this series. So without further ado let's get started.

                The first thing I want to talk about is why I made this, and why I picked Naruto of all things. A large part of it was inspiration. Even while I was working on other campaign materials, running my company, and playing in other games I found myself drawn in my free time to working on this project. I couldn't stop myself from jotting down a few notes when I watched an episode, or thinking over the mechanics it would have in my free time. When creativity, resources, time and motivation all grow weak, you can always rely on inspiration. If you take nothing else away from these articles than it's this: Make what inspires you.

                For me, that happened to be Naruto. I'm not really much of an anime fan in general, I don't scramble to watch the new season, and a lot of the medium passes by me without notice. But I saw in Naruto, and even more so in its following series Shippuden some things that I have a deep passion for. I saw long term storytelling, I saw a growing evolving world, and I saw a deep and complex magic system that had, and followed, a system of consistent rules. I saw characters appear who were foreshadowed 6 real world years prior.  I had moments where I knew what abilities a character should use when and for what exact reasons. I saw exciting new characters appear one after another, each one building on the existing logic and lore of their world without breaking it. I saw an amazing campaign unfolding before my eyes.

                Of course once you know you want to make something there are a lot of factors you should consider. If, like me you are basing a game off of an existing franchise, I highly suggest taking a look at my article about the inspired campaign. Just as likely is that you'll want to create something entirely new. Either way, use your inspiration as a guiding star. Next consider what kind of game you're making. Are you creating a new system entirely? Are you making a single class for an existing game? Somewhere in the middle? There's no wrong answer as long as it's right for what you're creating.

                In my case I knew I wanted it to be pathfinder. The kind of high power, high flying, complex, magicky, damage taking, enemy exploding, power scaling adventures I was seeing would work best with a crunchy game system that builds in power significantly over time. And Pathfinder, along with d20 in general, was the one that I was most familiar with and the one I felt would work best. I could have made most of what I wanted in a superhero system, but they tend to start off very strong, whereas I wanted characters to begin weak and become mighty. A system like 5th edition however is too simplified, I knew I wanted to get complicated and include many many abilities, which is antithetical to the clean organized intuitive 5th edition. Basing it on pathfinder would also help me maintain a very solid way to check power. I would always be able to compare to something existing to get a sense of if I made anything too strong or too weak.

                So, I knew I wanted it to be Naruto, I figured out I wanted it to be Pathfinder, and from there I was ready to begin. Join me next time when I'll talk about the foundation of what I made and the guiding principles for the design. Until then, have fun out there!


Up and coming products

With regular posting having been very minimal lately a lot of fans have been wondering what's going on. Well here’s the news!

Three major projects are currently being worked on and their releases will be fairly close together!

At the end of November Duck and Roll will be releasing the first of two free products in: “Dead by Darkness” A horror game built using the world of darkness system to provide exciting one shot adventures centered around being pursued by a supernatural killer! Fans of the game Dead by Daylight should find it quite familiar.

By year's end the second free project should be released in its early form on the website. It’s a pathfinder variant that revolves around emulating the style, lore and mechanics of the incredibly popular Naruto Franchise. 

So why free projects? There are two main reasons for this, the first is that Duck and Roll isn’t a company solely dedicated to making a profit. These are incredibly fun games and systems and giving that joy to everyone at no cost is the best way to give something back to our fans. Secondly, these are passion projects that were created out of a love for game design and to see if they could be done. Thirdly since these games use existing intellectual property they can’t be monetized without a lot of legal hassle anyways. 

And the third major project is the long awaited “Behind the Vault door” a Pathfinder supplement focused on treasure, wealth, and magic items. If things continue on schedule Behind the vault door should be released sometime in the middle of 2019.

Sample Nations volume 4:

Alright! I hope everyone is excited for one last round of sample nations:

Lost Lorleic: The nation of lost Lorleic if defined by loss and sacrifice. Theirs is an ancient kingdom of dark magics, ageless curses and virulent diseases. Every era of Lorleic history is defined by a great cataclysm. Each cataclysm is ended only through the deaths of those in powers. Gods, Queens,  Churches, and countless numbers of the harried residents die for the good of the rest. With each era, each re-telling the story changes. A horrible disease ravages the kingdom until a desperate mad doctor is able to slay enough mutated victims to collect a sample of all their blood and concoct a cure. The ocean tides creep and rise slowly threatening to drown the world. Only a great divine flame, kindled with the bones of the gods can drive back the endless black sea. A terrible curse keeps the dead from staying in their graves until a pure and perfect soul is found and sacrificed to an unimaginable evil entity. For the people of this great kingdom there is no greater badge of honour than survival. some find it by scratching out meagre existences in harsh desolate lands. Some survive by feasting on the ruin left by the most recent cataclysm. Others, nearly identical, survive by scavenging from fallen pantheons or noble lines that were lost to save the kingdom for another few centuries. Most survive by serving, swearing to whatever dark lord or wicked god casts it's shadow over the land. But a few rise, a few stand and fight and oppose cataclysm, and in each generation a handful of those will succeed, while the rest will be crushed. Lorleic is home of the powerful and beleaguered lost legends of the world. Their hardships have made their people strong, in mind and body. It's not uncommon for the natives of this land to greet crippling loss with a dark and bemused chuckle. Lorleic's vast armies stand ever ready, many times even beyond death. Though despite their military might this noble kingdom is slow to go to war, always wary of when the next disaster will strike, at least until a great war becomes the next disaster. Of course if there is anything this nation does, it's endure. And it's not difficult to imagine even in the far flung future this ever suffering nation branching out into the stars to escape earth and slip neatly into the claws of fresh new cosmic horrors.


New Delaware: It was inevitable. As the state built more and more of its economy around providing huge tax breaks for big corporations it became more and more dependent on those same businesses. Of course they'd strengthen that stranglehold, growing bigger and stronger. It's what corporations do. Eventually the state became synonymous with naked corporate greed and it possesses wealth equivalent to the entire rest of the states added together. And as the number of  superhumans grew, new Delaware  saw an untapped market. Corporate heroes. Of course the other states gradually signed bills surrendering control of "Volunteer law enforcement" teams over to the government, but not new Delaware, they held firm. And sooner or later things were bound to come to a head. Of course on the surface you can't have opposing groups of superheroes warring in the streets, one has to maintain a veneer of civility, no this is a game of outperforming and out impressing the competition. Both sides making bigger, better, flashier, sexier, cooler heroes to try to win the favour of the public. Even as New Delaware toys with and threatens becoming its own sovereign nation it's hero teams are performing astounding feats of skill and power on the evening news. Many imagine the upcoming metahuman Olympics may well serve as a boiling point as New Delaware petitions to have their superhumans enter separately from the rest of the united states. Of course, the system falls apart without a steady stream of criminals and supervillians, something not lost to either side. It's easy to put on a good show when your opponent is in on the game, not unlike high powered pro wrestling. And if those same villains defeat heroes on the other side then all the better. Of course neither side would ever admit to funding the creation of villainous teams. But it does seem curious how they keep escaping and getting released so easily...


WWW.Finalfreefrontier.cyd:  What if there were a place free from all the laws, not only of man, but of nature? A place where immortality was the norm, gravity was measured on a slider bar, and consequence was a distant memory. Final Free Frontier. F3, the place to search for absolute personal liberty. It's more than a mere forum, it's a cyberspace that accommodates everyone from people sitting behind a screen all the way to purely digital entities. The only limitations are this: You cannot alter someone else' presence without their consent. You restrict someone else' experience without their consent. And you cannot shut it down. Of course this nation exists in no physical space in the world, unless one counts a collection of highly secure server farms scattered across the globe. But within that non space is an infinite world. A flat endless reality where each person is unto a god them self. An individual can raise a skyscraper with enough programming knowledge, and an aspiring artist might paint vast murals across the sky. Of course life isn't just a beautiful immortal paradise. Absolute freedom means that there are no laws to be violated, no taboos or social norms to hold people in place, and some gravitate to this place as a way to explore their darker nature's. It is a place that is both heaven and hell rolled into one. While the three basic rules are a fine safety net, there are countless horrors that can slip through. Many of the citizens exist solely as data, as living programs, thoughts and minds uploaded into computers, existing long after the body dies. Some were never even real to begin with. There may come a day when almost none of the citizens inside exist in the real world anymore. But if that time comes and something threatens the servers containing the world...well that would be quite an adventure.


National Tensions

So, you have a bunch of Nations, Kingdoms and Countries all set up for your world. Let's see how they can interact with each other. There are a number of ways that nations can view each other, and their relationships can be as complex as those between characters. So let's examine a few kinds of international relations

 Close allies: This is about as good as it gets, these nations are tied very neatly together. They likely share a great deal of trade, have frequent exchanges of citizens, ideas, and technologies. As a result it's very common for closely allied nations to slowly blend their cultures and religions, though this is not always the case. Since most nations tend to be pragmatic by necessity, close allies are usually formed between bordering countries. Often times close allies will experience mergers over times, but this is definitely not always the case. Often times even the closest of allies are happy to celebrate their differences and even use those differences as a fundamental part of cultural identity. And of course if a closely allied country goes to war then it's only natural to provide support by whatever means are possible. A good example of close allied nations would be Canada and the United states of America. Well, it would be as of a year or two ago anyways. 

Allies: Allied nations share trade, travel, and often times international laws. An ally nation is best marked by civil agreements to uphold certain universal beliefs that all allies can agree upon. These are usually laws that regulate how one nation treats the world, and treats the people in that world. An allied nation in a fantasy game might be another country that also hates the undead and views them as a menace, or might be a fellow kingdom that forbids wild magic. Allies are bound together by agreements, and by a mutual benefit, usually relying on trade to form that foundation. An ally is a fellow nation that plays by the same rules, and if they go to war then you must strongly consider joining them. A good example being the United Kingdom and France, despite some personal differences, they both are members of the united nations, and often both fall into similar views on various accords regarding war crimes and environmental concerns.

Neutral: A Neutral relationship among nations generally comes between two far removed countries that don't rely on each other for much. This commonly occurs between two distant countries, particularly ones that don't deal a great deal in trade. A Neutral nation is by no means an enemy, and can still engage in trade of course, but they both agree to live and let live and to pursue their own goals quite separate of each other. A neutral country is unlikely to get involved in the wars of it's other neutral countries. Switzerland has a reputation for maintaining neutrality to a legendary extent.

Hostile: A Hostile nation is a country that carries on unacceptable practises within its borders. It's a country that conducts itself in a way that is morally reprehensible, a country that must be changed for the better, preferably by diplomatic means. In a near future world where cloning is abolished, a country that instead churns out and enslaves clones of its citizens may quickly find itself branded as a hostile nation. So too might a fantasy or superhero kingdom ruled by the use of powerful mind control. Hostile nations are the frequent targets of bans, sanctions, exclusion, trade tariffs, and military posturing and veiled threats. All of these ideas are meant to force another country to change, without resorting to war. These countries are also the most prone to covert operations, the use of spies, cyber attacks, election tampering, and the blackmail of top political figures. A good example of this would be the United states and Russia.

Cold war:  This is the step above hostile, open aggression, direct military posturing and threats. A cold war is the last desperate phase before a full war. Hostile nations are not changing and they are not backing down. Aggressions have reached a boiling point. At this point countries will form embargos, blockades, travel bans and other offensive economic actions. It's also common for the nations at cold war to push their allies and other neutral countries to take the same, requesting or demanding that stances be taken and battle lines be drawn. Countries in cold war are filled with tension, and any day they could find themselves battling to the death even while spies have been infiltrating and covert ops have been taking place for months or years already. Cold war is perhaps the hardest of these categories to identify, though "The Cold War" between Russia and United states springs to mind as a good example.

War: The ultimate failure of diplomacy. War is one of the worst things a nation can do to another. To use ones most terrible weapons and tactics on another group with the express purpose of harming them. War is devastating economically, socially, spiritually, mentally and physically. It causes damage to buildings, crops, animals, soldiers and innocents alike with little to no discretion or distinction. Countries at war almost invariably drag their allies into it, and thusly spread even more destruction and damage until either one side "wins" by outlasting the other, or until all involved are so weakened and weary and wounded that they agree to a peaceful resolution. If you need an example of a country being at war, just look at the history of any country ever.

Of course there are likely to be some outside cases where the lines between the above are blurred. International politics can be a lot more complicated than this, but let these categories serve as a good starting point for you.

Sample Nations: Part 3

Sample Nations: Part 3

We're back with even more samples of even more different nations, just for you. This series has been so popular and I'm glad you're all enjoying it!

Candor:  On the high gravity world of Bromine there was a civilization known as Candor, deeply advanced in many scientific pursuits. They had explored, sequence, and mastered every combination of DNA found on their planet. They had perfected quantum computers and written artificial intelligences so real they were nearly indistinguishable from the living breathing residents. But they were so focused on the path ahead that few ever bothered to look up. For all their wonders, they had almost no sense of astronomy, they never dreamed of the stars, they loved their huge dense planet dearly. As a result they didn't see their demise looming until the asteroid was visible in the night sky. They knew there would be no way to save their lives, but that didn't, couldn't, mean their extinction. Instead they sought to preserve themselves. In a diligent rush the people of Candor downloaded everything into a great archive. Not just the complete, unvarnished, history of their world, but their plans, their inventions, their sciences, and even their people. Thirteen billion minds, complete with their DNA patterns and sequences, and another billion artificial intelligences, all backed up. Of course, with their skill and ability, even that vast sum of data was stored rather easily.  It could fit into a container of hyper dense diamond, it could fit into something as simple as a bottle, or even be encoded onto a single drop of blood.  The exact details of the container aren't as important as the hope it represents. An advanced lost civilization and the technology needed to restore them, all in a small mcguffin sized package. The Hope of billions drifting through space waiting to be found.


Necropolis: They're out there, hungering for flesh. They roam the world constantly looking to eat, eat, eat, eat. They slaughter each other for huge swaths of land to own as territories to better harvest food. They hunt and kill every day, carving apart flesh and devouring it without ever feeling satisfied. They are wild and reckless and unpredictable ruled by sudden whims and emotions. The Living are truly terrifying. Living people are the nightmares that the eternal children of Necropolis fear. To become a citizen of Necropolis you need only do one thing, die. If you submit to a necromantic ritual that extracts your life energy and turns you into an eternal undying being then you may live forever in peace with your new kin. Once the savage needs of the living are no longer a problem the mind is free to pursue scholarly pursuits. Necropolis has no need for farms to produce food, and many of the eternal dead choose not to even have proper homes, often needing only a room or two to spend time in private and store their belongings. There are no starving, no diseased, no sick. And because the dead will live forever there is an ever expanding circle of friends and allies and community. It's easy to be kind and patient when you literally have forever to wait. Necropolis is a paradise, a place of peace and harmony, and they extend a peaceful hand to all the other nations of the world. But to the living, that hand of friendship can often look like a ghoulish talon reaching for ones throat.


Mars colony 1: There is a Nation still in the womb, not yet born, merely a concept. Mars colony 1. It is inevitable that Humanity will extend to the stars, it is no longer an option. The earth is beyond repair as long as it is occupied. Mars is the nearest colonisable planet, and it will all begin with Mars Colony . For the first time a nation is being chosen and assembled, handpicked individuals are being chosen and offered the chance to join. Thousands are already accepted and confirmed. They are members of a new country. They are dual planetary citizens. Even as massive domes are being constructed and built they are training and learning, filling out forms and gradually being introduced to each other.           There is a camaraderie and a confidence that comes with being part of an elite group. There is a change in viewpoint when you consider that within a few years you will never again see %99.99 of the people you know and see every day. Already laws are being formed for this new nation, sent out in weekly e-mails, posted on special forums. Every citizen has a hand in deciding how the new colony will work. Who will govern it and how? What method will be used to track time? What foods are available and not? Will there be a currency? A flag? This is perhaps the biggest step humanity has ever taken, and the world will be watching. Who is funding this colony? Who is permitted access? What could possibly go wrong? This is a nation like no other, still more meme, more idea, than place.

Sample Nations: Part 2

Since the response to my first batch of sample settlements was so positive I'm going to go ahead and give you all a few more. Let's get right to it!

The Free Radicals: In the depths of space there is a place where you can be free. It exists at the edges of the "controlled zone". No matter how much of space they try to own, there will always be more just beyond. This is where the peoples known as the free radicals reside. There is a place for anyone who wants it, but nothing is guaranteed. The people here come from all walks of life, all planets and species. From escaped clones and robots, to refugees, criminals, and other entities not recognized as sentient by the common people living safe in controlled space. There is no law, only a suggested code of conduct. trade is done in a thousand currencies. Bartering and credits, favours and secrets all pass between the residents freely. Many help each other simply out of the kindness in their souls and to help build a sense of community. It's a place where radiation shields fail, and air filters slowly die over time, scrubbed so much that they're barely there. But the radicals are growing, larger and larger. Every planet forced to become a colony, every new world and race conquered and subjugated, every batch of clones that falls of the back of the truck. Sooner or later this small fringe group will be large enough to be considered a threat. What will happen then?


The Dwarven Kingdom: That is its name. Its practical, clear, no room for mistaking it. That's how they like it. The capital is a massive city built on, above, under and around a mountain. It is known as "The Dwarven Capital". Of course that's not to say it's without its charms, or that only dwarves live within. While the every day soldiers, citizens, smiths and the like are predominantly dwarves, they have a close kinship with Gnomes. The gnomish people generally occupy the roles of bureaucrats, politicians, judges, historians, and scholars. While this isn't a law, it's common sense that running the country is "Gnome work", often said with a disdainful grunt. The Gnomes run the country, keeping it working smoothly and efficient, making the laws and policies that form the kingdom proper. They tend to live in the tops of the mountains, and in towers and other high places where they observe the majesty of their cities. Meanwhile, the ancient undermountain tunnels and temples, once the proud birthplace of dwarves, now have new residents. A century ago the Ratfolk began pouring out of their tunnels and warrens, hidden even deeper than dwarves ever dug. After a short but terribly bloody war, it came to be realized that the rats were merely fleeing the more horrific Drow hidden even beneath them. It didn't take long for an arrangement to be made. Now the Ratfolk serve as the soldiers on the front lines of the Dwarven army. They are aggressive shock troopers who fight zealously with hearts filled with gnomish propaganda. The Ratfolk know that any fate is better than being left to the Drow. And so that is the state of the Dwarven kingdom now, stalwart Dwarven craftsmen and citizens, zealous Ratfolk armies, and all of it lead by Gnomish politicians. But the Drow are still down there, getting closer to the Dwarven kingdom every day. And threats can come from all directions, even within.

Prosperia: In all the world, all the worlds, it's the same; people struggle, they fight for resources, they squabble and scrabble to claim another little piece of success while the rich eat the poor. But those civilizations were built by circumstance, built by flawed people, built on a bedrock of human limitation. Prosperia is different. A Nation built to be better, by people who are better. Since "The Event", a small number of people have been given phenomenal abilities. Strength, speed, flight, teleportation, and more. At first these few individuals took it upon themselves to use their powers to protect others. To fight evil, to uphold truth and justice, but they could only be as good as the world around them allowed. Eventually, more and more of them came to understand that a new system was needed, a new home was needed. Prosperia was founded. A man made continent, created using the abilities of dozens of empowered individuals, was carefully constructed. They watched for everything, making sure that the  global water levels didn't rise, that ocean temperatures and tectonic systems didn't shift dangerously. That set the tone for the precisions and social consciousness of the country.The nation is run by a council of super intellects who, with the help of empaths, are directly connected to the needs, desires, and fears of their populace. Between super strong and fast humans, and those with the power to generate electricity and heat the entire nation has limitless free energy. Super scientists work at rapidly progressing solar technology and soon  even those who work part time to power the country will be able to retire, while still leaving Prosperia able to sell surplus energy to other nations. Superhumans grow healthy crops of food in days instead of months, and by-products are carefully recycled. Prosperia is a beacon of light to powered people, home to the best of the best. But only the absolute finest humans are permitted entry without possessing superhuman abilities. But no matter how perfect things appear, life is never without conflict. What happens when a nation of superhuman people grow ever more bored with the peace and lack of challenge in their lives? Can the rest of the world tolerate such a massive and rapidly advancing superpower? Are superhuman abilities passed on genetically? If they are, then soon Prosperia will have nearly all the worlds superhuman potential within it's borders. And if not, then what happens when the next generation begins to grow up, flawed and imperfect as anyone else in the world?

Campaign Social Links

Hey you! It's gosh darn Whatever wedensday! And you know what that means don't you? No! You don't it could be anything. What? You read the title? Crap.

I'm gonna scream to you about campaign social links. So what is that? 1.) It's a mechanic ripped from my favourite game series and thrown into any tabletop roleplaying game. 2.) It's a system for organizing downtime. And 3.) It's a way to reward and encourage roleplaying in your game, while giving it a bit of mechanical crunch.

Enough beating around the bush, let's get to how it works: Simply put, you divide up a section of downtime, free time, or non adventuring time and allow each player to decide on what to do with that time, with a focus on spending time roleplaying with eachother or NPC's. And then provide mechanical rewards based on those actions, typically with a specific arc in mind.

Let's see how it plays out: The crew of the Lightningbug, an agile and beat up midsize space cruiser, have docked at a familiar space station for repairs. It should be two days before the ship is fixed. So the GM decides each party member gets 1 block of time. Captain Ray Spaceblaster decides he's going to slip into the local watering hole, Hailey's comet, and spend some time pitching woo at the complex and gorgeous smuggler Alerina Le'grand. The last time they spent together Alerina had offloaded a stolen empire laserpistol onto Ray, she'd insisted he was doing a favour by taking it. This time she notices that he's held onto it all these months, even though it's finicky and doesn't shoot right, she's so flattered she decides to help him out. The two spend a romantic evening  firing laser blasts at empty cans in the cargo bay, permanently improving Ray's skill with laserpistols. Meanwhile the ships's mechanic Morgan Ficksit decides she doesn't want her baby, the ship, to be left entirely in the station manager's hands. She decides to spend her block of time helping with repairs. In the process she meets the distinguished welder Alex Ironhull and the two start a promising friendship when Alex gives the ship a plasma resistant plating free of charge as thanks for a truly stimulating conversation about Zero point energy conductors. Meanwhile security chief Galthrax Goldax calls home to their hive to make sure that all 37 children and 8 spouses are alive and well and well fed, and maybe to transfer a few credits from the latest job to make sure little Glorban get's that surgery they need. Seeing their family strengthens Galthrax's resolve, they know that no matter what they have to make it home alive, earning a permanent bonus to resist slipping through death's door.

Generally speaking the GM lays out ahead of time an arc and progression for all the major interesting characters that can be hung out with and picks a reward for each time. Often this might be 10 scenes and 10 benefits, but sometimes more or fewer is appropriate. These are typically small bonuses that don't do much to shift the balance of power, but still enough that when it comes into play the player is reminded of their connections. 


Depending on the length of the game it might also be suitable to not provide a benefit each time. For example if Ray Spaceblaster had sold that laserpistol, or even just wound up saying something particularly uncharming he might make it only halfway through that step along Alerina's social link, earning some quality time at the bar, but not making it out to the cargo bay for some practice. You can typically break each step towards another benefit into 2 halves. One half is given just for spending some time, and the other by either good roleplaying, such as giving a thoughtful gift, saying the right things, or having done something personally meaningful to that character since last time. Or for very long games you could break each step into third's or quarters, but usually you'd be better off adding more different social links than making each one require more investment.

You can also feel free to allow players to spend their blocks of time together, playing off each other, and even assign them bonuses for doing so just like any other social link. After all the connection between players is perhaps the most important one in your whole game! It only makes sense to grow and nurture that bond. Just don't fall into the trap of giving out social link benefits anytime the party hangs out, make it clear these are only for during blocks of time that could be used to interact with other npc's.

Of course sometimes a player might want to do something else. In games with crafting mechanics they might want to spend some time crafting, or working out, or practicing their skills. This is fine too, and they should still receive some kind of reward or benefit, but typically it shouldn't be as rewarding as the benefits for spending time with people, and if you take the above advice about splitting each step into halves then spending time alone should be less than half as beneficial as spending it with someone else. The whole point is to encourage roleplaying after all.

It's important to make clear that this system is designed for specifically allocating benefits and setting aside time for roleplaying, it's not meant to replace little interactions. Ray blowing Alerina a kiss across a crowded room so she can mime shooting it down is still absolutely good roleplaying, it just doesn't give an on the spot bonus. Likewise it's important to keep in mind how much session time you want to devote to this system. If you decide to set aside 4 "Blocks" of time, and you have 5 players, that is 20 scenes of roleplaying and not adventuring, which might be fine for your game, but might not. You could even adopt a pattern of doing one entire session of downtime blocks between each bigger adventure, but always bear in mind what your group wants.

Hopefully this fun little tip has helped you to set aside a little time and a few benefits to encourage your players to get personally involved with all the amazing npc's that occupy your game.

Sample Nations

Sometimes you need a nation fast and don't have time to plan out a whole ton. Or maybe you want to include references to past historical nationalities to add depth to your world. Or maybe you just don't want to go through the hassle of making your own. Either way I've got you covered. Obviously these nations won't be as fleshed out or in depth as a real nation, they'll feel two dimensional help up next to a true culture, but there's no way to shorten hundreds of years of culture and history into a paragraph. I'll be posting several of these sample nations throughout the month so stay tuned for more.

Erebeuna: This is a nation with little land but vast influence. They are world leaders on matters of trade and diplomacy. The vast majority of their people are nomadic, traveling and trading far and wide. In medieval or post apocalyptic games they can serve as traditional traveling merchants and caravans, whereas modern games see them shift into a country with powerful control over shipping and transportation by controlling the most reliable transport trucks, trains, cargo ships and planes. Their appearance tends to vary pretty greatly. It's very common for them to find love during their travels and integrate their partners into the family business. To ensure ease of travel most Erebeunians are Polyglot's and even their native tongue Erbue is rife with phrases and terms borrowed from other languages. Their language is very focused on numbers. Erbue syntax puts numbers at the beginning of the sentence, and always uses numbers when they are available. For example rather than say "You kept me waiting for a long time." they would say "25 Minutes you kept me waiting.". They are historically peaceful and diplomatic, though they lack a strong army they are so entwined into the trade infrastructure of so many other countries that it is difficult to take direct action against them. 

Neo Dollywood: When she woke up in the cloning lab Dolly was furious at her existence. That someone would make her, create her, was unthinkable. But she channeled that rage. She freed the other Dolly's, now known as the Progenitors, and then began to create more. Neo Dollywood can grow from a vicious genetically perfect gang into an entire district of raiders and scientists and eventually even into a nation if left unchecked. They have seized the means of production, or rather reproduction, and use their numbers and physical superiority to steal what resources they need. Life has never been fair to them, and so they in turn are not fair to others. A Dolly generally finds few acts to be immoral and is very quick to act. It is after all the impulsive violent Dolly that first overthrew the facility that served as a template for all others. Most Citizens of Neo Dollywood look nearly identical to outsiders, yet to eachother they are each unique in their own ways. A different way of parting one's hair, a piercing here, a tattoo there, even how they stand and walk can show differences, and then there's the scars. The dolly have not only a single language but an identical dialect and nearly identical thoughts. a lot of their language is made up entirely of innate understanding. Some ideas don't even have words because they don't need to be said, there is so much to their language unspoken that most people have trouble speaking with "Native" Dolly's unfamiliar with speaking to anyone who isn't a clone of them self.

The Daericia: There is a great evil at the heart of Daericia, a terrible thing. A demon, an alien, a horrifying mutant, the exact nature of it is flexible. But what is known is that it hungers for the living. The people of Daericia live in the shadow of this creature and they give it sacrifices of their own people. In exchange for a monthly sacrifice the creature brings them peace and prosperity, serving as an adjudicator and wise elder, and bolstering the nation's military with its legion of underlings and strange gifts. But these are not a scared and harried people, they are thankful. Sacrifices are not slaves or servants or captured prisoners, they are celebrated heroes. One who pursues a career as a sacrifice wants for nothing. They may eat their fill, never want for companionship, are showered in praise and luxury. Each month the sacrifice is honoured in a festival of admiration for their courage. Daily prayers are offered to this powerful creature and it's seen as a beloved public figure, immortal and benevolent. Of course, outsiders rarely understand such a practice, and it's not long before a Daerician decides to simply keep their practices a secret. These peoples are prone to keeping to themselves and their own kind, they listen patiently to others talk about religion, but they firmly believe they see their god several times a month. Daericia is widely known for sages and scholars, educators and scientists or mages as appropriate for a setting.

Nations in Gaming

It's July, and that means over the course of the month all of North America is going to be celibrating their nation's birth. And that means this is a great chance to talk about Nations themselves as the theme for this month! As usual with the first article of the month we're going to talk about the basics of what our theme means. So what is a Nation?

A Nation is a group of people who share the same culture. They have connected or similar beliefs on a macro scale and a shared history, and usually a language. In truth that's all that really defines a nation. Most often we view nations through the lens of countries. Russia is a different nation from the United states for example. Or a better example might be that North and South Korea are different countries, but in many ways to have a nationality that is simplified to Korean is not  unusual. Of course there's no definitive measurement for when a nation is formed or broken, so people tend to use concrete ideas like borders and countries.

Nations can grow and change and evolve over time. It's almost impossible for them not to. Cultural ideas shift, leadership changes, values are adjusted, needs change. Sometimes this change comes about as a union of ideas and people, other times it's a division. The entire history of the world could be viewed as the division and reunion of nations over time. It is a powerful force not to be overlooked.

Of course though, this is about tabletop role-playing games after all, and this concept applies there quite strongly. You cannot have a role-playing game without some kind of national influence. If your campaign includes even a single person, then that person has come from somewhere, they have some history, some origin. Whether it's as simple as a "Generic fantasy knight" or as complex as "High inquisitor of the grand Nation of Wysteria, may it's light shine forever.".

Even the lacking of a nation can be part of your story. A newly birthed clone has no true parents, no cultural they are inherently a part of, and may even have few or no others like it to share that lonesome existence. In such a case that character is defined by missing a nation all their own. Others may be driven by a rejection of their old life, and may even desire to create a nation all their own. A nation without borders, a free nation. Or perhaps they'd rather make a kingdom, that could also be a fantastic concept for a game.

And there too are many games and stories about the attempt to recover a lost nation, whether figurative or literal.  Hidden cities of gold,  sunken kingdoms, and striving to make a nation "great" again. Of course these stories rarely end well. A nation is the product of evolution, and evolution doesn't run in reverse.

Stay tuned all this month for more articles about Nations and Nationality! It's gonna be a wild ride.


Shipboard weapons in sci-fi

Science fiction is filled with a ton of great and fantastic options for exciting storytelling and perhaps none of those options are as common as Space. There are so many wonderful things  about space that I want to devote a whole article to that it’s hard to pick where to begin. I’m going to start with a topic quite important to most people playing any tabletop game. Weapons. Specifically I want to talk about spaceships, spaceboard weaponry and the effect it has on diverse weapon options.

               A single breach in a bulkhead or wall can mean depressurization and death. Which means the ideal weapon aboard a spacecraft is not likely to be a high powered energy gun, or some sort of handgun that shoots armor piercing grenades or a laser sword. This creates a need for a wide variety of very different weapons. From a  gaming perspective this means there are a lot of potential ways of justifying weapons that might otherwise fall by the wayside in a futuristic campaign.

                One common category of shipboard weapons could be sensory weapons like flash grenades and sonic pulses and nausea rays that disorient, blind, or stun the target. Even chemical sprays and gasses that knock out foes could see common use. In the modern day these sorts of weapons are used to disperse crowds, abuse the innocent, and disable dangerous criminals. This category could also include psychic weaponry that disables the targets mind directly. All of these weapons could be specific to certain common alien races, or more widely reliable, but there are always going to be exceptions. It might be impossible to blind a creature with no eyes, while a creature that is mostly a giant sensory organ could instead be killed by a conventional flash bang for example.

               Another category is binding or restricting devices. This could be throwable shackles/handcuffs that latch onto a foe, or small metal spheres that when hurled expands into a writhing mass of cables and wires. At which point it’s basically become a high tech nets, though conventional or electrified Nets could work as well, especially if made of a superstrong cable. And then there are force field generators that could be used to create a box or a prison, or even just a tactical shield like a modern day SWAT officer. More esoteric variations include gravity well generators that create a centralized point of gravity that pulls people towards them. Instead of generators one could use gravity nullifiers that cause their targets to float about uselessly without some way to adhere to the walls of the ship. And then there are chemical sprays that fire a liquid or gas that rapidly changes to a solid. this can either be a very hard durable solid like a concrete foam, or something much more sticky, or even slippery. Any of the three makes for an excellent deterrent. Trapping a foe in place or making them unable to move or get away without falling over. Or imagine a handheld 3-D printer that can fire spools of super heated or chemically unstable thread that rapidly hardens into steel or titanium or diamond. These weapons may all require some cleanup after use, but it’s a lot easier to dissolve a known chemical compound than it is to completely replace a ship or section of hull. And some of these devices may even be used to make immediate temporary hull or system repairs.

               Then there are lethal weapons that don’t risk breaches. This can include melee weaponry such as swords and knives and staves. These melee weapons are easy to control and deal little damage to a hull or glass but can still dispatch an unarmored or lightly armored foe. And of course these weapons can be enhanced with more advanced technology, vibrating blades are particularly common, as are ones sheathed in flames, electricity or kinetic force fields. It is of course important that these advanced weapons don’t become strong enough to actually destroy the windows and hulls, otherwise they’re only marginally safer than ranged weapons. My advice here is to pick really cool designs for melee weapons and just roll with them. The diversity of real world melee weapons speaks volumes about how much humanity values look and feel and uniqueness over uniform efficency.

               Then of course there are even more unconventional weapons. Psychic weaponry that attacks a foes mind, time disruptors, trained packs of alien hounds, aggressive nanite swarms, well programmed attack drones or robot guards, and even conventional firearms programmed not to fire if they detect that their shot will hit the hull. These help round out the huge roster of dangerous deterrents for anyone thinking to board a vessel. The important thing is that it in some way can stop, hinder, or kill an opponent without doing the same to the ship.

               What all of this truly serves however is allowing a massively diverse range of weapons that might otherwise be hard to justify in a futuristic setting. Each of these weapons is fascinating in its own right and serves to make threats so much more varied and diverse than simply blaster cannons and lasers. And of course as always when it comes to sci-fi, don’t limit yourself based solely on what you see here. Keep your mind open to the possibilities that advanced technology allows!

Sci-Fi in Fantasy

As I alluded to in my previous article, Sci-fi can be so much more than robots and spaceships. In fact even traditionally fantasy specific games can be sci-fi. The two are not incompatible. Allow me to weave some ideas for a sci-fi fantasy setting.


With a thought a mage focuses and is connected to a great humming web of magic. Millions of mages the world around sending spells and tidbits of arcane lore to each other using raw magic as the conduit. For the cost of a few motes of spell power the casters mind obtains the incantation they're looking for. A few words and gestures are fed directly into their mind and their hands and voice follow along automatically. Perfect casting every time. Even the humblest of spellcaster can access ancient forgotten magic as long as they can pay for it with their own arcane essence. The  Spelltender elementals, carefully trained and mindless constructs of magic, filter and sort this magic. The mage focuses on finding good offensive spells, ones with casting components that they already have. But with a frown they expand their search to include spells with material components within 100 miles, and once they choose a spell a simple unobtrusive illusion visible only to them forms a glowing line directing them to where they can get the missing ingredient.

 The warrior places her palm on the wooden door. The dragon leather glove she wears grows warm and the reptilian eye on the back of its palm opens. She sees with the prowess of the dragon, detecting each foe in the next room. A lightly armored goblin packing three different wands. Three orcs, one wearing an animated suit of armor, the other two brandishing finely machined falchions. She formulates her plan,  wordlessly she directs the two small, and rather expensive, homonculi to action. They each grab one of the small magical spheres from her belt. One would fill the area with a potent cloudkill, ideally it would eliminate her foes. The other would create a powerful and deafening sonic blast. Cut off sight and sound and then attack anyone that survives the initial assault, focusing on the goblin with the wands.

"Planar date, 332836.5 Our journey into the depths of quadrant E of the elemental plane of  wind proceeds smoothly. Our Vessel, "The Intrepid" continues to provide all that we need without waste, without loss, and without the need for other fuels. If I live another thousand years I'll not have had every meal our ships' conjurors drives can produce. Our mission is to go forth bravely into the infinite unknown of the planes, to seek out new life and new civilisations. Though our vessel brims with powerful arcane cannons, force wall generators, and invisibility technology we hope to never need any of it. Our people have long ago passed the need for violence, and now we seek only peace, understanding, and knowledge."

These are just three simple little prompts that can help you take your fantasy game and add a light, or even heavy dose of sci-fi into it. By using magic as a substitute for technology, and monsters for aliens, it's simple to take many common tactics, storylines, and plot devices and use them in your existing fantasy game. Hopefully this has helped make your game a little more exotic.

Sci-fi Month

It's May, and thoughts of space are in the air. So this month's theme is written in the stars. This is Sci-Fi month! All month long we'll be talking about space, science fiction, technology, and their places, uses, and adaptations.  So to get us started let's take a look at what makes something science fiction and some of the common ideas and themes of the genre.

To start off, science fiction is ironically more of an art than a science. It's something that is felt more than tested for.  The same quality, depending on how it is explored and presented can make something sci-fi, or not.

A story about internet monitoring, hacking, and privacy invasion in the modern age could easily be science fiction. Even if it contains only real, currently existing technologies. There's nothing futuristic, impossible or advanced about it yet the story is still about technology and its impact.

Conversely something like Dragonball Z features robots, androids, cyborgs, aliens, space ships, and time travel, but it's still not quite something most people would call sci-fi.

In a fantasy game like DND adding in a Revolver, and a Robot, and even a boat that can sail through space doesn't make it science fiction. And yet using only magic you could make your fantasy game into a sci-fi game. But I'll cover that more in another article.

The things that make up a science fiction story change over time. The nuts and bolts so to speak are different. What used to be "The Ether" and Lightning and radiation and chemicals has been replaced with hacking, cybernetics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing and quantum theory. The new impossible sciences are always growing and changing as fast as we expand what is possible. It's not the technology itself that makes Sci-fi, It's the exploration of that technology and what it means.

To me, science fiction is the examination of technologies and capabilities that are, were, or could be. Really good science fiction makes you consider the far ranging implications of what people are capable of. We know that you can't just staple a body together, zap it with lightning, and make a living being. But Mary Shelley's Frankenstein didn't suddenly become a fantasy story. Because it explores the repercussions of the modern Prometheus. It asks the question of if it's right to create life, what ones responsibility to that life is, and how such a life might experience existence. The same story is even more relevant today when we're so close to the process of cloning humans. Technology does not determine sci-fi.

This exploration of science can be done in many ways, it can be an adversary, or a tool, it can be benign or benevolent or malignant,  it can be subtle or overt. But we'll go over all of that later in the month. So consider that something to look forward to in the future.



Cool action

So, you’ve just gone through a tough dnd encounter. Enemies slain, xp gained, treasure get, but it feels somehow unfulfilling. Everyone just kind of stood around and attacked. You had cover, and interactable terrain, and lots of options, but none of it got used. The whole fight might as well have been in an empty room. I hear this problem come up a lot, but I’ve found other people too quick to blame the players. There’s a simpler truth.

Pathfinder does not incentivize, and often even penalizes, being cool. Sure, dashing around behind the enemy to attack from their blindspot is neat, but it actually just provokes an attack, keeps you from full attacking, and gives no bonus. Trying to disarm or trip a foe without the right feat provokes an attack, and the benefit is vastly outweighed by losing your ability to attack that turn. Flipping a table over for cover is stylish, but only of minimal value. For the same action you could drink a potion that would provide a similar bonus to ac but last much longer and follows anywhere you go.  Throwing a chair at someone is awesome, but when you have a sword on hand it’s kind of lackluster.

So it’s hardly fair to blame players for not using stylish but ultimately inferior tactics. Which is why I have introduced a “Cool action” into my game. This is an extra action that players can take on top of normal actions, but can only be used for stylish things. This can be an attack with an improvised weapon, a combat maneuver, or an interaction with terrain (such as by flipping a table of cutting or a rope or the like). But the important part is that this is meant to be a less tactical option. If your party fighter is built specifically for disarming then making a disarm attempt is not a stylish or cool action because they’re optimized for it, it’s what they would be doing anyways. The goal should be to encourage players to do things they wouldn’t otherwise be doing. This helps mix up combat, making it more diverse and interesting and rewarding players for thinking of fun clever permutations on combat.

This system takes a little bit of getting used to as you and your players think about what a good use for their cool actions might be and what would be an abuse of the system. Once you’re adjusted however this system allows a plethora of fantastic opportunities to help spice up combat. And don’t be afraid to let some of the villains be stylish too, turnabout is fair play after all. Hopefully this has helped make some of your blander encounters out there a lot more engaging.

Multiplying your possibilities

Hey all, It's whatever Wedensday, and you know what that means! It means whatever I want it to mean. And this week I want to share a story about game design with you, one that leads to a very important tip. I've been hard at work putting together some content for an upcoming play test and I wanted to go through the whole process with my players. I wanted them to be able to create characters and pick and choose using a bunch of different abilities for the content I'm making. It was a fairly low level game and I have about 80 pages. each page had three or so abilities on it. I had about 240 abilities, which was a pretty good selection.  I had a few hours left to work on things before people arrived. Each of these abilities had a cost to use, A cost to learn, a time required to use it, an element, a range and prerequisites. What I could have done was make probably three or four new abilities, maybe even five if I hurried. But I had a much better way to expand the number of options.

I instead wrote four abilities that could be taken to modify other abilities. You could now change the cost of learning a technique by taking on a weakness, you could make it take longer to use in exchange for reducing the cost to use the power, you could make a technique faster to use by raising the cost, and you could ignore some of the normal requirements in exchange for increasing the cost to learn it. Because these modifiers could apply to nearly every single technique, each one created a vast number of options. Now instead of 240 abilities, there were effectively 1,200. Now of course, there naturally would be many combinations that weren't as likely to be chosen, but they still existed. So by the time the players arrived to test, I had a massive plethora of customization, just from adding a few modifications.

Almost anyone is familiar with this sort of ability creation. DnD 3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder all use metamagic's extensively to create millions of theoretical spells. (If you count, Silent Magic missile as different from magic missile). And some systems like Gurps and Mutants and Masterminds are built so completely on these abilities that they present infinite options.  

As a game designer, these concepts are so incredibly useful for rapidly expanding possibilities that they should not be overlooked. But there is a danger to these sorts of things as well. If every player had, for example, 12 abilities, it would have taken 20 sessions to test all 240 abilities I had before. But by adding those four modifiers, it would now take a thousand sessions to playtest each combination once. And that's not even counting abilities that can be modified by more than one thing. If your system is carefully designed, and these modifiers are made with a lot of consideration, you can estimate that most of these new abilities will be benign. But if you want to test everything you need to be careful of how much theoretical content you're creating without actually writing. Look for and think about special outliers that might be unbalanced if combined with the right modifiers, and never stop looking at your own content in new ways.

Hopefully this has been helpful for all you up and coming home brewers and game designers.