Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Web of Million Lies

The internet was a mistake. Everyone knows it, but we're stuck with it. The breakdown of reliable information transfer is a Great Filter - there are dozens of failed civilizations in human space as testament to that. The passing centuries have made the net as dangerous to use as uncharted jungle is to walk through without boots, thanks to an overflowing ecosystem of constantly-adapting hostile data-life and the eternal shore of perniciously nasty humans.

Using the Internet

Unless there is something terribly wrong going on, players can always access the internet when in a station or colony that has a civilian population - military and corporate bases will have secure, pared-down networks that will have to be directly accessed via a terminal.

Basic usage includes things like looking up something on Space Wikipedia, hiring someone for a simple job (rideshares, etc), viewing a public personal page, making financial transactions with the Company, using a chat client, and so on. Players can just do this normally without incident.

Hacking a computer means getting access that you aren't supposed to have - getting into someone else's account, spoofing administrator privileges, and so on. This requires a skill check.

Venturing off the beaten track (weird imageboards, shady download sites, seemingly-abandoned conspiracy blogs, domain squatter hives) is dangerous: players should make a Sanity save (modified by a relevant computer or cultural skill).

On success, you find the information you want.

On critical success, you find the information you want AND either find something else interesting OR heal 1 stress.

On failure, you find nothing of worth and gain 1 Stress. Further research cumulatively increases Stress gained by failure by 1.

On critical failure, the player's device has picked up some hostile datalife. Gain 3 stress and a virus:

  1. Identity stolen
  2. Porn spambot
  3. Advertising spambot
  4. SEO spambot
  5. Ransomeware
  6. Datavore


Every settled system has its own separate network(s), but nearly all are built on the same foundation of nodes - overarching categories that sort the zillions of sites available into relatively-useable umbrellas. You'll always have a search engine, a wiki network, social media, and so on. If a site exists in real life, it's safe to assume that there's a space version. Just add '.space' at the end.

d50 Space Websites

  1. I Know Someone - All-purpose find-a-service app.
  2. Big Brother - Corporate search engine
  3. Scrounge - Open-source and usually illegal search engine.
  4. Silicon Fantasies - Forum for android fetishists
  5. Mosaic - Hub for dedicated-topic forums.
  6. Vent - Screaming into the abyss. Also provides counselors.
  7. Corporate Core - Company social media.
  8. Indenture Zone - Buy and sell yourself and others.
  9. The Campfire - Home of creepy esoterica, errata, apocrypha, rumor and tall tale.
  10. Interstellar Academic Database - Primary source of corporate-funded scientific studies.
  11. Interstellar Pirate Academic Database - As above, sans paywall and DRM.
  12. Green Market - Listings for terraforming jobs and planetary relocation.
  13. DoubleTake - Unravelling hoaxes, countering propaganda, identifying deep fakes.
  14. Matchbox - Dating service. Squeaky-clean corporate shlock.
  15. Rabbit Hole - Algorithm-guided tour of the net's bizarre underbelly.
  16. Union Square - Hub for union services and social media.
  17. Lonely Star - Dating site. Shitty and hasn't been updated in forever, but less invasive.
  18. Transistor Railroad - Forum for supporters of android emancipation.
  19. Scrapyard - Everything you wanted to know about fixing old out-of-date junk tech.
  20. Lend a Hand - Public board of volunteers offering services.
  21. Swapworld - Swap your junk for their junk.
  22. WIKI - Still doing its thing.
  23. Open Blueprint Database - All the public domain printer blueprints that compiled in one place.
  24. 5 Rivers - Shipping and warehousing conglomerate. Universal storefront.
  25. The Longhauler Boards - Home for spacers out on the fringes. Filled with wild tales.
  26. Ulthar Station - Popular slice-of-life VR sim based on the real space station.
  27. Rot Luck Club - Commiserating over awful happenings.
  28. CTANN - Colonial Trade Alliance News Network. Finest propaganda in the core.
  29. Peanut Gallery - A cyberdemocracy moot specializing only in inconsequential or silly choices.
  30. Freshers - Social network for those new to the system.
  31. Yomi - Black market for slaved logic cores.
  32. Bathroom on the Right - Venerable general-purpose community with devoted core user group.
  33. The Quarantine - A site that is still up, but has been encrypted for so long and so thoroughly no one knows what is behind the wall.
  34. Lady & Tiger - Possibly a mystery religion, we're not really sure. Paywalled community.
  35. Go Hack Yourself - Biohacker forum.
  36. The Allthing - Cyberdemocracy moot.
  37. Neighborhood Network - Local community news and chat
  38. Boarding Action - Social network for marines and mercenaries.
  39. Mornington Crescent - Long-running hub of a still-fake game.
  40. DevJam - Open coder community. love doing challenges with specific handicaps.
  41. Fester - A livestream of a regularly-replenished pile of rotting foodstuffs.
  42. As You Like It - Algorithm-generated media tailored to your tastes.
  43. Fatberg - The weird, gross dregs of the internet.
  44. Mud Blood and News - Crowd-sourced anarchist muckracker news.
  45. Soapbox - Near-abandoned corporate social media platform. Was always awful and kept getting worse.
  46. Atarexia - Laid-back friend-finding discussion forum.
  47. Slipstreamline - Video streaming and hosting site.
  48. The Altar - Payments of cryptocurrency and personal data will get you an AI-generated oracle.
  49. Speak With Dead - AI replications of the beloved dead, for affordable per-minute fees.
  50. The Embassy - Online home of Dog Knights.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Let's Look at Some More Books

I read a whole lot, y'all.

Sabriel & Lirael, Garth Nix

I love these books. There's a special place in my heart for young adult fantasy from before YA was a marketing behemoth, as well as for the lesser-known titles of the pre-LotR movies era, even though I'm reading it for the first time just now.

It breezes along at a wonderfully swift pace without skimping on memorable imagery. The main character is well-realized as a young woman taking on a great responsibility, and a proper breath of fresh air in her not being defined by violence either done to her or done to others.

I kept comparing it to FMA (down to imagining individual scenes as animated by Bones, no less) and I will stick with that. Sums up my feelings on the matter quite nicely.

Lirael is interesting. In terms of quality it is a fine follow-up to the first, but it's very clear that a sequel (and then the third installment) were not intended from the beginning. It's much more of a "first book is solid standalone, then the latter two books form a duology that attempts to make a trilogy." But, given that the quality remains high (aided no doubt by a decent timeskip and new main characters) it is not an issue.

The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi

1) Resource conflicts among space-faring civilizations are, by and large, incredibly stupid.
2) Acknowledging that a scenario is incredibly stupid does not make the scenario less incredibly stupid.
3) There is a point where the scenario and the people responsible are so incredibly stupid that the reader can only declare that they deserve all the consequences and thus the tension evaporates, tedium filling in the space left behind.

That sums up this book to a T.

Some damning praise must also be heaped upon the character of Kiva Lagos, who manages to be one of the most singularly unpleasant individuals I have read in quite some time (and I am grading on a curve that's got Severian on it), swaggering about with the puerile braggadocio of a drunken collegiate slacker - the teenage boy's idea of a "strong female character", all swearing and aggressive sexual appetite. She's neither funny nor clever, and yet always seems to end up in the right when everyone else should be shutting her shit down.


The Vela Episode 1, SL Huang 

DNF at very quickly

I get what you were going for, Huang, no shame in a good "hey climate change will fuck you up" story.

But in order to siphon off enough hydrogen to actively affect a star's mass and temperature within human-comprehensible timelines you need some crazy Kardashev 3 spacegod techmagic bullshit and if you have access to that, a wee bit of cold isn't going to bother you.

The Black Tides of Heaven, Jy Yang

DNF at 16%

I will never ceased to be amazed at how dry the prose can be in some fantasy works - you're describing a thought-to-be-extinct magical beast and the words embody no majesty, no wonder, not even the mundane thoroughness of a veterinarian's anatomy manual. Calling the ineffable magical force "The Slack", especially in a faux-Chinese setting, took me out of the story every time it was mentioned, which bordered on every page.

There was one mildly-interesting tidbit of how children in this setting are considered gender-neutral until they reach adulthood, but a good book one mildly-interesting setting detail does not make.

Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer

A gibbering, incoherent whirlwind of sound without fury, signifying nothing. Powerful descriptive ability abounds and it all flows nicely while reading, but the complete and total lack of connection with any of the characters, or the setting, or the scenario, means that the unknowable mysterious force is just as unknowable and mysterious as the narrator and everything else which means that it is literary teflon. Nothing matters, nothing means anything, nothing sticks.

The movie, though, is excellent. Having sound and sight (plus an adaptation that shares almost nothing with the book) helps immensely.

The Silent Tower, Barbara Hambly

Another throwback book, with all the pleasant charm of solid mid-to-late-80s fantasy. Read this one quite some time ago so my opinions have moved on, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly in its very 80s computer programmer protagonist. Big old "mid-to-late-80s homosexual villain" warning should probably be slapped on there, though.

City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff VanderMeer

A complete turnaround from the other VanderMeer book on the list, this story collection is some quality weird - a simmering pot of bizarre imagery repeated and contradicted as needed, a place of fluid canon dynamics yet fleshed out to the point that you can name it Ambergris whatever form it is taking.

I am a sucker for grotty, overpopulated fantasy metropoli (and in-universe historical documents with fake footnotes), and Ambergris delivers in spades.

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson

Rare is the book, but convenient, when you can provide a specific page number for when it goes bad. It's page 542. Stop there, tear out what comes after it, though you could actually probably stop reading a few chapters earlier. You'll be left with a gut-gripping seat of your pants hard science tech-thriller and some of the best suspense I've read in a good long while.

This is spoiled utterly by Act 3 of the book, which seems to be the opening arc of an entirely different novel, which is a lackluster attempt at social science fiction involving descendant human clades that you could write a solid sized essay on how his treatment of genetics and race is...a bit wonky. Stevenson's love of disconnected asides describing technology in excruciating detail, no longer a matter of survival, are interminably long and unbearably dull in this section.

Burn, James Patrick Kelly

Never thought I would see a story about Transcendentalist firefighters in the far future, but here we are. Enjoyable light read. Does a good job hinting at the bizarre high-tech universe out beyond the planet Walden, though the colonization plot fell a bit short for me because we never actually meet or properly interact with the locals (descendants of a centuries-old mining colony) who are fighting the terraformers.

The Only Harmless Great Thing, Brooke Bolander

This story has more weight and value in 60-some pages than books ten times its length. You should definitely track down a copy and give it a read - what can be safely said is that this is a story that had me hooked from the first sentence, and executed on its concept with impeccable skill. Novel alternate history that is also thoughtful and humane science fiction is a precious thing.

Plus, it has elephants in it. I like elephants.

The Emperor's Blades, Brian Staveley

DNF at 1%

Had to mention this one, because it might be the fastest DNF I have ever had: one page. In the space of that one page there were four nonsense proper nouns, two of them with unecessary apostrophes and such a complete lack of Show that I wouldn't even say that it is all Tel, because that sells the art of having a strong narrative voice terribly short.

From the cover and title I thought "This is a Malazan ripoff, isn't it?", and even after one page I feel terribly confident that it is.

The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle 

Audiobook in progress, part 7/14

On the short list for preservation, Leibowitz-style, through whatever coming catastrophes that may arrive. A thing of beauty that makes it very difficult to read anything else in close proximity to it.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Mothership Play Report: 4:33 Intermission

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

A short intermediary session, featuring
  • Manny the scientist (JOZO)
  • Jes, the tecnavi (Zelda)
  • Zach, permanently drunk biker gang member (thatotherguy)
Several weeks after the events at the weather station and dealing with the Church of Skin, the gang has collected their payment from FRIEND and returned to life in Wasteland Park (generated via Michael Raston's Infinigrad tables).

Wasteland Park was one of Colony Central's public parks, but over the course of the war has turned into a kowloonlike warren of shipping containers, groundcars, cargohaulers, tents, lean-tos, and clapboard sheds. The warren is so tightly packed that most passages are single-file. Disease is rampant and it is one of the poorest districts in Colony Central. Paradoxically, it is also among one of the safest, due to the actions of the Trollgarden, the dominant gang. These malfomed folks (signified by the exotic flowers always on their person) are led by a notorious glutton, but have managed to maintain the stability and safety of Wasteland Park against threats both outward and inward.

Using Humza K's community rules , Wasteland Park has Identity 6, Prosperity 4, Safety 11, Governance 7, Legitimacy 10, Sustainability: 8

Manny takes the plunge and, using some of the funds gained through the job for FRIEND and some support from the Trollgarden, establishes a small clinic to treat the sick in the community, increasing Identity by 1. In the weeks since the clinic started he has made friends with the local drunk Zach, and now has run into the tecnavi Jes, carrying a message from Shipmother Talibiri.

It seems that the tecnavi the group found at the weather station put in a good word for them, as Talibiri is offering a bit of aid. She is willing to help crack open Dess Kartz' logic core, in exchange for access to the information. The trio take up this offer, as while beaming it to lunar orbit is a bit slower than trying it in the clinic, it is safer.

A few hours pass before the cracked monitor in the clinic switches to a public newsfeed - hundreds of Lamplighters, more than anyone has seen in the years since Lantern Boy's presumed death, are marching against Zaibatsu riot cops near the space elevator. Violence is already breaking out and looks like it only going to get worse.

Manny takes charge, whipping up a plan to run to the front and helping injured civilians - neither the militant Lamplighters nor the Zaibatsu are particularly friendly towards those outside their respective factions. They sneak out of Wasteland Park to where Zach is keeping his delivery van, and book it downtown.

There's tear gas and molotovs in the air when they get there, rubble and wounded in the streets. Taking care to stick to the sidelines, the crew are able to pick up the wounded and set up a makeshift clinic in an abandoned cafe. By the time the violence lulls, six folks who would otherwise be dead aren't. Talibiri had finished cracking the core by this point, and had the information ready for them when they made it back to the clinic.

The logic core contents are as follows: the androids had gathered at the weather station as part of typical android behavior - non-emancipated androids will, in the absence of direct command, gather together in herds at the nearest place of authority. So they were standing around exchanging minor bits of data for months until someone - a tall, gaunt man with lank blond hair and the disheveled appearence of the truly apathetic - arrived and presented the herd with what appeared to be a sizable fragment of carapace.

There are no insects or crustaceans of that size known to live on Maha Raurava.

After that, it was a swift course in the establishment of the Church of Skin. Dogmas are set down and debated in gigabytes of raw text files. Sermons are recorded, as are the murders and skinnings. This continues for some time, until Dess Kartz is sent off by truck to the radio tower he was found and killed in. Of note is that the man never returns, and that the garage has no horrific amalgam of flesh and metal in it when he leaves (and the core has no mention of plans to build such a thing), which is only shortly before the events of Episode 1 and less than a week before the events of Episodes 2 and 3.

Manny grabs his phone and calls FRIEND. The line rings for abnormally long before FRIEND's cheery voice comes over.

"I'm sorry I missed you, but I'm dead!"

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Dragon Republics

This post is old as hell. Like, probably around 3 years old. Back before I decided that the dragons were all murdered and they sat around running banks and monopolistic guilds. This was back in the days when I still brainstormed 5e stuff, it's that old.

It's been a good long while since I've done a straight-up random table like this.

The Dragon Republics

  1. Arretin – Destroyed by volcano and buried in ash. A new city was built on top of the ruins. Haunted. Demons live in the sewers.
  2. Hannia – Home of Sarino’s leading mage college, master gunsmiths, an alchemists’ symposium, Tinker’s Alley and epidemic lead poisoning.
  3. Potenzi – Home of the church-in-exile after the dragons burnt its home city to the ground. With the line of the pontiff severed by the market, the surviving bishops are trying to piece together a working hierarchy again. Golems made of saints’ relics are a growing sight, as are heresies.
  4. Ciarri – City run by mercenaries – the previous doge was drawn and quartered during a coup. Famous for breeding war-dogs.
  5. Valduchu – A colorful town built around the base of a mountain. The mountaintop holds two ancient monasteries of a revered order (Order of Sts. Rotechto and Naisani).
  6. Leodoa – A port city of canals and islands. Pirates welcome. Buildings on stilts. Home of the Tower of Commedia, Sarino’s grandest school of humor and clownery.
  7. Vi’Sanno – Gigantic baroque opera house. Duchess is eccentric lesbian who plays dumb as cover to undermine the dragons’ control of the city and its economy (also writes horrible operas filled with equally horrible puns)
  8. Szelio – Famous for their lamprey farms. Good vacation spot. Esoteric occult orders and secret societies behind every door.
  9. Pantria – Former home of the church – dragon inhabits once-grand cathedral. Partially rebuilt after the dragons burnt it down – majority is still slums and shantytowns. Population consists of guild members and the incredibly poor.
  10. Zanis – Operates on a pre-republic caste system, now modified to elaborate political parties. The forum never sleeps in Zanis, and the soapbox-sellers make fortunes.
  11. Barrana – Best vineyards on the continent. Best whorehouses on the continent. Best gambling houses on the continent. Dominoes is serious business. Duke is has a secret police devoted to enforcing a mandated level of good cheer, to nefarious ends.
  12. Zhrone – Former leper colony. Rebounded very nicely. Locals fond of decorative scarification, heavy body piercing, and coffee.
  13. Ensil – A recent acquisition to the north. The local dialect is difficult to parse. The cobbles in the roads are all mosaics, writing out a history that has yet to pass.
  14. A’Fostuna – Sorcerous mafia families called truce to practice eugenics. It’s really an elaborate play orchestrated by the city’s dragons for their entertainment.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Classless Mothership Chargen

Keller Pyle

And you thought I was done. FOOLS! I will never be done! I will tweak these forever!

This post contains a whole lot of material swiped from other talented folks. (And feedback from Slantio Pink)

Classless Character Generation

  1. Roll 6d10 for Strength, Speed, Intellect, and Combat
  2. Roll 6d10 for Fear, Sanity, Body, and Armor saves
  3. Roll 6d10 for Luck
  4. Roll 1d10 for Personality (Stress Response)
  5. Select a background (Skill package)
  6. Add +5% to two attributes, or +10% to one
  7. Roll 1d100 for trinket
  8. Roll 1d100 for patch
  9. Select a gear package
  10. Get out there and die horribly in the empty vastness of space.

Luck works near-exactly to its use in Call of Cthulhu 7e. It may be used as a check on its own, or burnt to so that another roll succeeds (ex. If the stat is 40 and you rolled 51, burn 11 points of Luck to succeed)

Burning 30 points of luck can save you from lethal damage.

Personality (Stress Response)

  1. Aggressive - After Panicking, all attacks are made with (+) until the end of the encounter
  2. Charismatic - Allies heal an extra 1d10 stress during reduction activities.
  3. Cruel - Can shift Panic roll to another character 1/session.
  4. Ecstatic - Heal 1d10 stress on failed Sanity save; result integrated into belief system.
  5. Expert - +1 stress to allies when you fail a Sanity save.
  6. Protective - When you Panic, allies must make a Fear save.
  7. Repressed - Can cancel Panic result 1/session. Stress gained afterwards is doubled.
  8. Resilient - Reroll a Panic result 1/session.
  9. Supportive - Ally can reroll Panic result 1/session.
  10. Unsettling - Allies have (-) to fear saves in character's presence.

Background Skill Packages

Stolen wholesale from Saker Tarsos and Sean McCoy, plus a few of mine and a few by K Yani. I've kept them in their class-archetypes for convenience's sake. I don't like the normal tier list of skills and its prerequisites, and so go by this rule of thumb:

  • +10% = you're competent, costs 1 skill point
  • +15% = you're highly skilled, costs 2 skill points
  • +20% = you're the best, costs 3 skill points
There aren't any pre-requisite skills, but you have to move up one step at a time.

A Note on Zero-G: Zero-G can, depending on the adventure, be something of a lame duck skill. As such I'm fond of the idea of treating it as a general "Spacer" skill, which I envision as generalist experience on a ship or station - including Zero-G maneuvering, spatial awareness, spaceships and travel, EVA maneuvers, and social environments. This way it doesn't stop being useful when you're planetside.

Making your own packages: A fresh character starts with 3 + 1d4 skill points. You can trade 3 skill points for a +5 combat bonus when near an allied combatant.

Skill Clarification:
  • "Corewise" is the corporate / high-society / white collar version of the Rimwise skill
  • "Logic Core" is unique to androids, and combines Computers, Mathematics, and Linguistics
  • "Mysticism" deals with the Celestial or seemingly unnatural. Unrelated to Theology.
All skills can serve as knowledge or social skills as needed.

For backgrounds, roll d6, then d10

1. Teamster

  1. Junker: Zero-G +10%, Mechanical Repair +10%, Heavy Machinery +10%, Scavenging +10%, Jury-Rigging +15%, 1 SP
  2. Scoundrel: Zero-G +10%, Mechanical Repair +10%, Piloting +10%, Athletics +10%, Rimwise +10%, Firearms +15%
  3. Space-Force Dropout: Zero-G +10%, Mechanical Repair +10%, Piloting +10%, Military Training +10%, Athletics +10%, Astrogation +10%
  4. Vehicle Engineer: Zero-G +10%, Mechanical Repair +10%, Heavy Machinery +10%, Engineering +15%, Vehicle Specialization (choose vehicle) +15%
  5. Survivalist: Zero-G +10%, Mechanical Repair +10%, Heavy Machinery +10%, First Aid +10%, Hydroponics +10%, Scavenging +10%, Athletics +10%, Gut Instinct +10%
  6. Mendicant: Scavenging +10%, Theology +10%, Mysticism (Choose religion) +15%
  7. Fugitive: Rimwise +10%, Firearms +15%, Scavenging +10%, Zero-G +10%
  8. Union Rep: Zero-G +10%, Command +15%, Asteroid Mining +15%, Rimwise +10%, Heavy Machinery +10%
  9. Void Orphan: Scavenging +10%, Jury Rigging +15%, Athletics +10%, First Aid +10%. Alternatively, choose Innocent: +5 Any, -5 Combat, let ally reroll Fear saves of panic checks, Rimwise+10% +3 pts.
  10. Hypernaut: Zero-G +10%, Astrogration +15%, Guild Authority +15% Hyperspace +20%

2. Androids, Bioroids, Cyborgs

  1. Engineer: Logic Core +15%, Engineering +15%
  2. Hacker: Logic Core +15%, Hacking +15%
  3. Translator: Logic Core +15%, Culture +15%
  4. Specialist: Choose 2 master skills, other skills cost twice as much
  5. Corporate Protocol Android: Logic Core +15%, Corewise +15%
  6. Debtboy: Computers +10%, Linguistics +10%, Mechanical Repair +10%, choose 1 science at +10%
  7. Caretaker: Logic Core +15%, Childcare +15%
  8. Vatborn Mule: +10% Strength, Athletics + 10%, +2 points.
  9. Vatborn Pod: Roll a non-Elite background. Logic core +15%. Disadv to Body saves due to planned obsolescence.
  10. General Purpose Model: Logic Core +15%, + 2 points

3. Scientist

  1. Archaeologist: History +10%, Archaeology +10%, Art +10%, Linguistics +10%
  2. Anthropologist: History +10% , Linguistics +10%, Anthropology +10%, Art +10%
  3. Biologist: Biology +10%, Chemistry +10%, Genetics +15%, Botany +10%
  4. Physicist: Mathematics +10%, Computers +10%, Physics +15%, 1 SP banked
  5. Psychologist: Empathy +10%, Analysis +10%, Psychology +15%, Linguistics +10%
  6. Roboticist: Computers +10%, Engineering +15%, Robotics or AI or Cybernetics +20%
  7. Virologist: Biology +10%, Chemistry +10%, First Aid +10%, Pathology +15%
  8. Hidden Cultist: Choose 2 sciences at +10%, Art +10%, Mysticism +15%.
  9. Savant: Choose 2 master skills, other skills cost twice as much
  10. Corporate Researcher: Corewise +10%, Marketing +10%, choose 1 science +10%

4. Military

  1. Grunt: Military Training +10%, Firearms +15%, Athletics +10%
  2. Gunner: Military Training +10%, Gunnery +15%, Mechanical Repair +10%
  3. Paramedic: Military Training +10%, First Aid +10%, Zero-G +10%, Athletics +10%
  4. Officer: Military Training +10%, Tactics +15%, Athletics +10%
  5. Thug: Military Training +10%, Rimwise +10%, Close-Quarters Combat +15%
  6. Chaplain: Military Training +10%, Theology (Choose religion) +10%, Approachable Manner +10%
  7. Spy: Rimwise +10%, Linguistics +10%, Military Training +10%
  8. Lancer: Military Training +10%, Gunnery +15%, Piloting +10%, Zero-G +10%
  9. Ace Pilot: Piloting +10%, Vehicle Specialization +15%, Zero-G +10%, Athletics +10%
  10. Guerilla: Military Training +10%, Firearms +15%, Tactics +15%, Scavenging +10% 

5. Elite

  1. Celebrity: Corewise +15%, (Select Field) +20%
  2. Decadent: Art +10%, Depravity +15%, Corewise +10%
  3. Pretender: Scavenging +10%, Linguistics +10%, Psychology +15%, Art +10%
  4. Floating Nobility: Corewise +15%, Rites +10%, Command +15, +2 pts.
  5. Wageslave: Corewise +10%, roll again on Teamster or Scientist tables.
  6. Exiled Corporate Scion: Corewise +10%, Casual Cruelty +10%, Business+15%, Memetics +15%
  7. Simulation Lifer: Simulations +20%, +4 pts
  8. Afterlife Salesperson: Cybernetics +10%, Theology +10%, Upload Tech +15%, Programming +10%, Snake Oil +15%
  9. Slum Tourist: Rimwise -10%, Corewise +10%, Languages -10%, Inexplicable Luck +15%, Damnable Persistence +15%
  10. Corporate Investigator: Contacts +10%, Corewise +10%, Forensics +15%, Dirty Secrets +15%

6. Uplifts, Metahumans, Special Classes

     1-3. Uplifted Ape: Roll on a non-Android background table. Gain adv. on climbing.
     4-5. Uplifted Dolphin: Computers +10%, Mathematics +10%, Echolocation +20%, +3 pts. Out of water, your harness acts as a cargomule.
     6. Whale Proxy: Computers 10%, Piloting +10% Astrogation +15%, choose 1 science +10%
     7. Uplifted Octopus: +10% intellect |Camouflage +20%, Tight Squeeze +20%, +2 pts | Lose 5 HP on failing a panic save to autocannibalistic stress atavism.  
     8-9. Thelychroma: Roll on a non-Android background table. Gain adv on saves against poison and disease. Can go 3 days without food before penalties kick in. Can live on half a liter of water / day.
     10. Tecnavi: Zero-G +20%, Shipwise +15%, Consult the Shipmother +10%, Machine Language +10%


In addition to the packages in the main book, I like defaulting to the "Everyman pack", consisting of whatever items the character has on their person, personal or work related, that the character has on them when shit goes down. Generally this turns into "a sidearm, a phone, and whatever else makes sense."

Thoughts I have had while making this: the skill system in Mothership is very, very good for having archtype characters in high-intensity survival situations. Moving the context to a broad spectrum of backgrounds and potential skills runs into some walls really fast, but two potential solutions show themselves:

  1. Fluff out a couple extra stats (I do like how Eclipse Phase handles its six)
  2. Roll with a Troika-style "One skill to rule them all"
Further testing will, eventually, find a good middle ground.

Dirty Iron

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

LET'S LOOK AT: Eclipse Phase, Second Edition

Hot off the presses, it's the long-stewing second edition of my favorite gigantic mess of a game.

Let's Get This Out of the Way First

Too much text. Goes without saying, was endemic to 1e and remains so here. Way too much shit in the book, written for people who are already into the game or the idea of the game. Referees trying to run it for the unfamiliar and uninitiated have to do extra work. Some of the text is actually good, but it's certainly not well organized. Easy to become overwhelmed. The overwhelming bulk of the book is setting and background or cultural information and it is presented with terrible inefficiency. You can throw out pages and pages and pages of it. Clunky, clumsy, overwrought and inadequate at once. The lessons of using material culture to sketch an evocative universe are nowhere to be found.

Point goes to Mothership, no question.


There's so much here that Referees will have more than they could ever need and can pick and choose to their liking. This is a good thing conceptually, but the aforementioned terrible information presentation means you've got to sift through it. At the very least it contains material from all the major setting supplements of 1e. It's still written in a lot of in-universe voice, mixed results. No major changes to background lore.

Still, I am fond of a good deal of it - it's issues are the kind that inspire me to fix them. The gazetteer section is probably the most useful. You can strip that right out for Mothership.

I had to delete an entire subsection of this review about how the Jovians are a thematic mess and lazy writing and how to fix them but I can save that for another time and another post.

Basic Gameplay Stuff

1d100 roll under your skill plus any difficulty modifiers, same as before. Crits are still on doubles, but they added a step between where you can get a superior result added (from a list) if you succeed while rolling above 33, or two if you succeed rolling above 66.

They cut down the skill list to 21, thank all gods above and below.

I do like how bodily and mental health follow the same tracks: you can take X damage before incapacitation, if you take Y damage in one go you will gain a penalizing wound or trauma, and if you hit Z you're dead.

As with everything, there's too much chaff, but the core is doable. I can work with it. The quickstart rules cover everything I need.

Character Creation

My god, it's full of stars. They fixed it.

The damnable point-buy system is out, skill packages as found in the Transhuman supplement are the default. Pick a background, pick a career, pick an interest, pick your aptitudes, pick a gear package. Boom, done.

The attribute names are still a bit weird and clunky (cognition, intuition, reflex, savvy, somatics, will) but they've got them down to six now, and they are paired off into three pairs to use with the Pools. Pools are cool - you get a certain number of refreshable points (Insight, Moxie, Vigor, Flex, determined by your morph) that you can use to:
  • Cancel out modifiers on a roll
  • Add +20% to a roll's target number
  • Flip digits on a d100
  • Upgrade a success to a superior result
  • Get +5% to all skill rolls for a single aptitude for 24 hours
  • Things specific to that pool.
Flex Pool is where things get fun, as those allow you to introduce an NPC, item, environmental detail, or relationship.

You get two short pool recharges (1d6 points, choose where they go) and one full recharge per day.

THE IMPORTANT PART: you can now switch morphs (you know, engage with the core conceit of the game) without rewriting your entire character sheet. Morphs give you pools, your health stats, and implants, and that's it. Not attribute bonuses like in 1e. They actually feel like gear (being able to purchase multiple morphs at chargen helps further).

I still don't like the gribblyness of purchasing attributes and flaws and spending additional points, but you know, that's not a big deal.

The important thing is that this makes me want to run this game. I actually feel like it's possible to get other people invested and involved.

Final Verdict

They unfucked the character creation. You can just toss out almost everything not in the quickstart rules and go just fine with a few basic tables. Use what you want from the setting and ignore the rest. I want to run it, then I want to hack it, then I want to steal whatever I can for Mothership.

It's all still Creative Commons, which is great. Even more so now that I don't have to call that fact the saving grace of the game.

I cannot overstate how important it is that they unfucked character creation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Dredge are the Coolest Orcs

Igor Artyomenko

This post contains MASSIVE, UNMARKED, UNCIPHERED spoilers for The Banner Saga. And not just plot spoilers either, these are huge emotional and thematic spoilers.

The dredge are introduced in the first game as typical orc stand-ins: an invading horde of implacable monsters with glowing eyes and stone armor, humans stolen and twisted by an unnamed god into his army to depose of the other deities, sweeping down from the furthest frozen north to sack and pillage everything in their wake, lead by a handful of immortal warchiefs (The Sundr definitely give me vibes of the Ten Who Were Taken from The Black Company books). No one is able to communicate with them, they are feared and hated by all, so on and so forth.

So far so orcish.

Move along to game two. Near the midway point you come across a godstone site that the dredge have already visited, and find there the corpse of a dredge woman and a still-living infant. The characters, already suspicious that the encroaching darkness is not all it seems to be, piece together that the dredge are not an invading army - they're refugees, fleeing from the darkness with increasing desperation, putting every able body on the front lines whether or not they are a fighter by trade because there are no other options.

Exactly like you have been doing for a game and a half.

Game three. You get the closest to the dredge that you'll get in the series, with a handful of dredge party members and a human translator (a witch who has learned how to replicate and understand the vibrations they use to communicate.)

Here we get the big bombshell. After the end of the war that killed the gods, the dredge made a secret treaty with the Velka (the council of the most powerful mages) - in exchange for an end to hostilities, they would be taught magic and other crafts they could use to build their own civilization outside of the influence of their god - the survivors had grown resentful of their nameless deity making them for war alone and giving them none of the knowledge and gifts the other peoples possessed.

The second and third generations of dredge are less inclined to war then their forbears, but then the inner sun goes dark and old wounds are re-opened (atop all else, the dredge believe that the Velka have darkened the inner sun and broken their treaty) and the games run their course.

I'll always love LotR's "elves-minus-maslow's-hierarchy" orcs (I'll eat my hat if the thematic parallels between the dredge and Tolkien's orcs weren't intentional.), but the dredge go the extra step of showing what happens when the influence of the Great Evil is no longer at play. You aren't fighting them because they're evil, you're fighting them because there's not enough food.

And that's just it, at the end of the day. An orc is just a man who, broken through the engines of desperation, oppression, ignorance or greed, has been driven to commit terrible violence against his neighbor. 

For further reading on the matter, I recommend Emmy Allen's fantastic post and followup tweet. Also Skerples' post. And Arnold's.