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Topics - Johnstone

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brainstorming & development / Evil of the Stars (sci-fi horror)
« on: September 04, 2014, 08:05:58 PM »
Evil of the Stars is a sci-fi horror game about an isolated expedition that discovers something with the potential to destroy humanity as we know it. Kinda like The Thing, Event Horizon, the Alien movies, or even Prince of Darkness.

It's related to an older game of mine called Black Seas of Infinity, which you can read about in the Eschaton sub-forum on this very site (currently in the swamp). Recently, I finished enough of the bits and pieces that this game needs so I decided to finish a rough first draft. It's not complete, but whatever. I finished the stuff that I wanted to finish. I think.

Anyway, you are welcome to look at it.  THIS IS LINK RIGHT HERE

brainstorming & development / World of Algol Revised
« on: July 23, 2013, 07:02:32 PM »
So this is a thing I've had kicking around for I guess a couple years now, and recently I figured out how to make all the basics of it work. Since I've got a bunch of other commitments to attend to, this has to go back in the drawer, but I figured I should at least cobble together a playable draft. So here is the World of Algol Explorer's Guide.

There's no GM rules, so here is how you run it:
1. Prep like it's old-school D&D. You need to bring a dungeon or a hexmap for the PCs to explore.
2. Add in the PC backgrounds as you go. The PCs should feel like D&D characters of approximately levels 3-6 who have already gone on a bunch of adventures. You can use that stuff if you want, when they go back to civilization with their ill-gotten loot, but if they stick around in town, that's the intrigue mode and I haven't written the rules for that yet. So make them go back to the dungeon.
3. There's no "defy danger" move. If a move does not apply, you have to decide what happens. That is mandatory.
4. Injuries are always actual wounds, the numbers are there just to back them up. If you deal 2-harm to a PC and don't tell them what kind of wound it is, they don't have to write down shit. That also means: regularly check what condition the PCs are in (ie ask what conditions they have).
5. Read the Planet Algol blog for ideas.

The document's pretty rough, only some of it's been playtested. Probably somebody will enjoy reading it anyway.

the nerve core / Can we get larger message boxes?
« on: January 25, 2013, 03:57:37 AM »
Hey Vincent!

I don't use PMs like everyday or anything, but I do use them and I'd like to continue using them, but after 2 and a half years, mine is almost full! And it feels weird to just delete my conversations.

So, can we get a higher message limit? If at all possible?


Dungeon World / Critique my spell list [Technician class]
« on: January 02, 2013, 06:17:35 PM »
So I decided to try converting some of my World of Algol ideas to Dungeon World, and it's given me some good new ideas. Anyway, I made a new class, the Technician, which is supposed to replace the Cleric in godless planetary science fantasy setting (like Planet Algol) where clerics aren't really appropriate.

The Technician has operations instead of spells, and prepares them in machines instead of memorizing them, but it's pretty similar. She has some operations "mastered" but the workspace move lets her prepare any operation (it just takes days instead of an hour).

I'm not sure if this spell list is balanced with the cleric and wizard spell lists, or if any of these spells are overpowered or total lemons and whatnot, but here they are:

Automatic Operations

One of your machines emits light, of whatever color you desire. It gives off no heat or sound. This operation lasts as long as the machine is in your presence or as long as the person you give it to holds it.

One of your machines creates noise, either loud or quiet, dissonant or pleasant, your choice. The noise cannot mimic another sound, but if you have any other operations prepared, you can use that machine to speak through this one, wherever it is. This operation lasts until you stop using it.

1st Level Operations

Capture Sound
level 1 ongoing
When you run this operation you record sounds, which are permanently stored in your machines so you can play them back again at any later time. While this machine is recording you take -1 to operate machines.

Destroy Sound   
level 1 ongoing
Your machine dampen the sound around you, or whoever holds it, and creates a zone of silence. While this operation is ongoing, you take -1 to operate machines.

First Aid
level 1
Your machine binds wounds and relieves pain. Heal an ally it touches of 1d8 damage.

Laser Beam
level 1
Your machine projects a beam of energy (near, far, 1 piercing, +1 damage) at one target of your choosing.

level 1
You can instantly repair one inanimate object that is not magical or mechanical, or heal a robot of 1d8 damage.

Purify Matter
level 1
Your machine purifies any food, water, or other matter with nutrients you put in or on it, so that they can be consumed by human beings.

level 1
Walk a perimeter or room as you run this operation. Until you prepare your operations again, your machine is alerted whenever anyone breaches this perimeter or enters this room. At your option, an alarm rings out within the room or perimeter.

Universal Translator
level 1 ongoing
While your machine translates, you can communicate with any other living creature in your presence. You can only communicate in one “language” at a time, but you can switch back and forth between communication modes. While this operation is ongoing, you take -1 to operate machines.

3rd Level Operations

Auto-Immune System Boost
level 3
Your machine stimulates the natural healing powers of an organism. Heal an ally it touches of 2d8 damage.

Fabricate Nutrients
level 3
Your machine reconstitutes inert matter into one day’s worth of nutritional fuel for as many people or machines as you have levels.

level 3
Choose a magical or psychic effect that links multiple people or objects together in some way, or any kind of technological effect, in your presence: this spell jams that communication or technological device so that it no longer works. Lesser effects are destroyed, powerful magic and psychic effects will only be dampened, as will properly shielded machines.

Locate Object
level 3
Name a specific object or a type of object. Your machine will indicate which direction it is in, and where it is exactly if it is within walking distance. If you name a type of object, your machine will show you the nearest one.

Minor Mechanical Repair
level 3
You can instantly repair a small computer, engine, or other machine that does not think, or heal a robot of 2d8 damage.

Neutralize Organic Process
level 3
Choose an organic substance in your presence: its effect is neutralized. You can neutralize acids, chemicals, drugs, poisons, webs, or even parasitic relationships.

Probability Calculation
level 3
Pose a course of action or an objective to your machine and it will run the probabilities. The GM will give you advice on how to best achieve success. Take +1 forward when you act on this information.

5th Level Operations

Build Robot
level 5 ongoing
One of your machines transforms into a robot. Treat it as your character, but with access to only the basic moves. It has a +1 modifier for all stats, 1 HP, and uses your damage dice. The robot also gets your choice of 1d6 of these traits:
·   It does 1d10 damage
·   It has +2 instead of +1 for one stat
·   It has some useful functionality
·   It is sturdy and strong: +2 HP for each level you have
·   It’s not single-minded
Describe the shape of your robot based on the traits you select. The robot functions until it is destroyed or you shut it back down. While this robot is functioning, you take -1 to operate machines.

Contact Person
level 5
You send a mental link to another place or person. Specify who or what you’d like to contact by location, name, or object. You open a two-way communication with them or whoever is there. Your communication can be cut off at any time by you or whomever you have contacted.

Environmental Protection
level 5 ongoing
While you run this operation, your machine surrounds and protects you from the environmental hazard of your choice: resist fire, breathe underwater, etc. While this operation is ongoing, you take -1 to operate machines.

Locational Tracking Sensors
level 5
Name a location on the planet. You find out where it is and exactly how to get there from your present location, along with alternate routes and full details of how to make the journey.

Major Mechanical Repair
level 5
You can instantly repair any large machine, including thinking machines, or heal a robot of 3d8 damage.

Non-Invasive Surgery
level 5
You machine re-knits flesh and bone to make a body whole again. Heal an ally it touches of 3d8 damage.

7th Level Operations

Death Ray
level 7
Divide 5d6 between two or more targets that you can see, no less than one die each. They take that much damage, ignoring armor. You can target inanimate objects.

Perfect Mechanical Mastery
level 7
You can destroy, modify, repair or sabotage any machine.

level 7
Your machine reverses a crippling wound by growing and implanting new flesh. This operation restores one limb or sense of an ally to fully functional capability.

Star Gate
level 7
You open a gateway to another dimension or plane of existence. You can pass through this gate, either entering this other location or passing through it to get to another place in your present dimension. You can bring a number of others with you equal to your level, if they are willing, or you can send one target of your choice that you touch through, by themselves.

The Forge of Creation   
level 7
Describe any kind of organic life form or robot you can think of—this is what you create. It cannot be fundamentally divine or arcane in nature, though it can have magical abilities. It can have any level of intelligence, up to and including peak human capabilities. Its size is limited only by the space you have to work in. You do not automatically have control over it.

9th Level Operations

Cloaking Device
level 9 ongoing
Choose a location, up to the size of a city. That location disappears from the view of outsiders, who can no longer find it without your authorization. Anyone who leaves a cloaked location also cannot find their way back to it without authorization. While this operation is ongoing, you take -1 to operate machines.

Digital Self-Projection
level 9 ongoing
Your machine projects a digital copy of your body into the astral plane, where you can meet nearly any kind of divine spirit. You cannot bring mundane objects with you, only magical items and your own machines. An electrical current connects your digital copy to your physical body, which is immobile while your copy roams the stars. While this operation is ongoing and you are in the astral plane, you do not suffer a penalty to operate machines.

level 9 ongoing
You put a machine upon the ground and its vibrations spread, causing the earth to shake and tear asunder for miles around. While this operation is ongoing, you take -1 to operate machines.

level 9
If you have access to a person’s body or corpse (or a piece of it), you can regrow or restore their body to the prime of its youth and, if needed, call their soul back to inhabit it. They will be strangely marked by the experience (the GM will say how), but otherwise young and alive again.

The Regiment / I thought up a special move
« on: December 24, 2012, 09:52:02 AM »
I was just musing, and I thought perhaps the Officer should have this move as an option as well:

Saving Up to be Jewish: When you rummage around for something extra after you've run out of gear, you still have something left. Roll+tactics. On a 10+, you have just the thing saved, with all that is necessary to make it work. On a 7-9, it's not much, but it's 1-gear extra. On a miss, you did have something tucked away, but now it's broken.

It's not specifically WWII, obviously, and there might be another similar move that I didn't see, but I thought it was a good one.

Eschaton / JEDE2: Character Improvements
« on: October 29, 2012, 07:29:22 PM »
Johnstone's Eschaton Design Essays #2

Character Improvement and Personal Goals in the Face of the End of the World

Why are there experience mechanics and character improvement in Black Seas of Infinity? Are they necessary? The short answer is no, not really. They might be necessary in games that are actually about self-improvement, but even then, you can still "improve" without them, as long as you accomplish things in the fiction. Maybe you get a job opportunity that pays really well and you pull it off. Hooray, you have money! You've definitely improved. Also, for short-term play, even three or four sessions, improvement doesn't really add that much, unless it's fairly dramatic, and Apocalypse World advancement a sight less dramatic than, say, 20th-level wizards in D&D or characters becoming gods in Mythender. You could still collect more than one new special move over the course of a session, but in doing so, you might not have the opportunity to even use them all.

Improvement does have some important uses, however. First, it provides a character arc for long-term play, and it's been doing this since the original edition of D&D. The way Black Seas is set up now, you can start in the middle of this arc, with five out of ten improvements right away. This means your character is extremely competent and effective, which makes for a great spec-ops one-shot. Or, you can start less effective and build your way up to the top, with all ten improvements—a place you can only get to if you start at the beginning. This arc makes long-term play both more interesting, because the improvements increase the amount of change your character goes through over that time, and more satisfying, because that end-point is something you have to actually work towards.

Second, it drives play forward, by making improvement contingent upon characters pursuing and achieving personal goals. When characters are motivated to act, the game has a hard time stalling. When the MC has to drag them around and fight to get them engaged, stalling is pretty much the default position. Attaching actual mechanical rewards to character agendas works to motivate players, just like competitions bring out more in competitors when there's a prize at stake.

And third, improvement is another way for the players to influence the fiction. If there are more options than just personal improvements, like +1 to a stat, they allow players to make declarations in the fiction without having to go through the MC to get it. An improvement that allows a character to resolve an obligation gig for good, for instance, or change the details of their followers, gives the player permission to declare things. When a player chooses to improve and get a gang, there's rules backing her up, instead of when she has to say "I want a gang. How do I get one, MC?"

Personal Goals and the Eschaton

In the pre-eschaton, the impending end of the world provides a major source of motivation for players and their characters. As the MC, you ask the players what their characters consider valuable, you find out where they aren't in control, and then you push against that stuff. Let them tell you what their characters believe in, then threaten that and allow them to fight back and defend what they cherish.

Characters also have their own agendas, and their own personal goals. Pursuing these goals are how they gain experience and improvements. But if characters concentrate only on their own goals, the eschaton will win, and it will all be for nothing. Everything they fought so hard for will be gone. This dichotomy reinforces the themes of cost and sacrifice. How much will it cost you to defeat the end of the world? Characters need to strike a balance between putting themselves in a good position when the eschaton's threat is over, and actually making sure this defeat becomes a reality. What those actual goals and agendas themselves are isn't even really that important, at least to the game itself. It's the tug-of-war between them and the threat posed by the eschaton that really brings the tension to the game.

Once the eschaton becomes inevitable, though, all that goes out the window. In victory, the eschaton stops being a force motivating the characters to unite and work together. Because that particular fight is now futile, those personal goals become the real heart of the game. In the pre-eschaton, concentrating on your own goals and not fighting the eschaton guarantees your doom, but in the post-eschaton, the exact opposite is true: in this new era, it's fighting the eschaton that guarantees failure. Your personal goals are still what put you in an advantageous position later, but now they propel you towards the uplift to post-humanity. They're what allow you to make the transition you want to make, instead of the one the eschaton forces onto you.

In the pre-eschaton, characters either try to balance the fight against the eschaton with their own personal goals and attempts to accrue power, influence, and security, or they sacrifice themselves to the fight so that others can live. In either case, however, they're fighting for humanity to stay human, as we the players know it. So a list of improvements that stays within those limits, and the limits found acceptable in other games, is appropriate here. Characters improve their stats, gain new special moves and advantages, increase their social influence perhaps, but don't progress along radical tanshumanist lines. That's left up to the fiction in each individual game's setting.

In the post-eschaton, that list of improvements is totally unnecessary. Since the main economy of this future is personal change, improvements can function as simply as player-dictated changes. Throughout play, characters will have various changes forced on them, through trauma, social influence, or demands made by the eschaton. This is why mechanized trauma mechanics are mostly unnecessary: as the eschaton, the MC is in a position to frame all consequences as choices between changing to suit the eschaton (and hopefully gain an advantage when forced to do so) and trying to instead change in a way that honours your own self and still allows you to survive in the post-eschaton world. As the fiction unfolds, most of these choices will be between changes that the MC invents, with some tweaking here and there by the players. With improvements, however, players have a way to dictate their own inventions—their characters' own inventions—straight into the fiction, with little or no negotiation between them and the MC's creativity. This also makes sense from the perspective of the fiction—as characters pursue and succeed at achieving their goals (which include surviving these post-eschaton times) those successes become actual elements in the fiction. They become real for the characters, which is exactly what they were striving for in the first place.

And so it should be obvious that the fourth important function of experience and improvement rules is to distinguish the pre-eschaton from the post-eschaton, and vice-versa. Just by changing the context they operate in and the final product, agendas become completely different animals in these two games.

Eschaton / JEDE1: Fiction First vs Abstract Mechanics
« on: October 28, 2012, 05:20:00 PM »
Johnstone's Eschaton Design Essays #1

The Fiction-First Ethos and Abstract Mechanics

So one of the things I've done in Black Seas of Infinity is make extensive use of advantage and disadvantage (aka 'vantages). Joe Mcdaldno used this concept in Monsterhearts, and it's a lot like aspects in Fate games, or situational modifiers in most any old rpg. The idea is this: if there's a thing in the fiction that helps you or gives you an advantage, you get a +1 to your roll. If there's a thing in the fiction that hinders you or puts you at a disadvantage, you get a -1 to your roll.

This promotes a fiction-first agenda in several ways. First, you get modifiers to your roll based on the fiction and only the fiction. There's no +1forward, no strings, and no other abstract mechanical objects that modify the roll. You also only get a modifier if the specific 'vantage is actually relevant. You need to decide whether a particular skill or training, for example, has relevance to a specific action before you can apply a bonus, so you're always thinking about the fiction and providing more detail.

Second, it promotes reincorporation. Anything you make up after you know you're rolling the dice doesn't count as a 'vantage, only the situation and the elements that have been described up to the point where you describe your character making a move. You need to look back at things that have already been introduced, and consider how they affect the current situation.

Third, the way 'vantages are limited also reinforces the setting. Instead of using a Fate point economy to create the pacing sense of a narrative, or just allowing players to cite elements ad nauseum, I've borrowed the concept of scopes from the VSCA guys (Diaspora), where there's distinct categories of things that can influence a roll, and you can't double-up on advantages or disadvantages in any one category. In Black Seas I use three categories: circumstantial, personal, and technological. That means you can't get more extreme than a +3 bonus or -3 penalty to a roll, and to get that you need a 'vantage in each category. Having two personal advantages, like two skills for example, isn't any better than having one—you still get a +1 bonus. Set up this way, all three categories have equal weight, so that technological advantage is just as important as personal skill. This reinforces the transhumanist science fiction theme that is central to Black Seas of Infinity, and also keeps the time spent searching for die roll bonuses to a minimum.

How this affects resolution:

Using 'vantages this way is supposed to result in instances of mechanical resolution that only consider the fiction, and not earlier instances of mechanics (or at least not without the concrete fictional elements that are attached to them). Diagrammed out it might look like this:
fiction --> mechanical resolution --> fiction.

In Apocalypse World, a roll or a mechanical element that generates a result of, say, +1forward can influence the next resolution roll without ever entering the fiction between them in a concrete sense. It might mean your character feels awesome because he just got laid, and we might even recognize this as players, but the rules don't require any concrete in-fiction statement or description to get that +1. In Black Seas they do.

Granted, there are still stats. When you go to the dice for resolution, you still look down at your character sheet to see how many dice you roll. Currently, there's nothing mandating that number be reflected in the fiction, and I'm not sure there ever will be. Hypothetically, an AW hack could just have you roll 2d6 for every move, and apply modifiers based only on traits you have on your character sheet, equipment you're using, and circumstantial conditions. But stats also communicate genre, divide up areas of expertise and allow for character niches, and allow for levels of effectiveness that bypass the whole process of combing through lists of details looking for ones that apply.

How this affects relationships:

Strings, another mechanic from Monsterhearts, represent a more fluid economy of emotional investment than Apocalypse World's Hx stats, or the bonds in Dungeon World. In a Monsterhearts game, having a string on someone means having a certain amount of power over their emotions and affections. One of the major components of play in this game is the gaining, spending, and losing of strings, which represents the emotional volatility of the teenage protagonists. They're abstract quantifications of emotional power, however. Unlike bonds, they don't come with mandatory and definite fiction. We might describe the moment when the Witch gains a string on the Werewolf by turning her on, but the Witch's player might not remember or reference this when that particular string is spent to manipulate the Werewolf later. And yet we all know, in at least some vague sense, that the Werewolf's heartstrings are taking a beating, just because that string was spent. This is a case of using abstract mechanics to describe the fiction. The same sort of thing happens in D&D: when you take 5 points of damage, we're not usually concerned with any resulting wound—we know you got hurt, but the details are irrelevant. As long as you've still got hit points left, we move on (or maybe you check to see if you're bloodied, if we're playing 4e).

This is more or less exactly what I'm trying to avoid in Black Seas. Or as much as it is possible to do that without ruining the other reasons I have for writing the game. That means quantifications of relationships need to be rooted in concrete pieces of fiction, just like 'vantages are. And so they essentially become advantages, used once and expended (crossed out) like strings are, but each one is a phrase indicating the nature of the relationship, just like bonds. Because each one needs to be written down and actually considered as a piece of fiction, they won't see as much action as strings in Monsterhearts do, but then again, there's also scopes to put a cap on how many 'vantages can apply to a single roll.

To be honest, I'm not sure yet how well this actually works. In World of Algol, I've been using bonds, which you can use as leverage to manipulate other players' characters, or as a limited resource to help or hinder. When you use one to add or subtract from a roll, you mark it, and can't use it until you unmark it, and the rest, in between sessions. You can lose a bond by missing a manipulate roll, betraying someone's loyalty, or wagering it to give someone xp if they do what you want. It's a much more permanent resource than what I'm using for Black Seas, and it's also harder to get them. But then, that's World of Algol—it's supposed to be difficult. And much more of a long-term game than Black Seas of Infinity.

How this affects harm:

In practice, I've found harm in Apocalypse World gets described the same way as strings do (or hit points for that matter): that is, not as a piece of fiction, but as an abstract amalgamation of injuries we're not really concerned with describing. We talk about “x-harm,” but not about the actual injuries. One of the ideas Orlando had for his post-eschaton game was that there are no harm ratings, and that wounds exist solely in the fiction. We have a move for assaulting someone, we have a move for attempting dangerous things that could get you hurt, and we have a move for recovery. What more do you need, right? Within this framework, dealing with wounds doesn't require hit points of any kind: “She shoves the knife deep in your side. Your hands get weak. You hit the ground and you're bleeding like a stuck pig. What do you do?” Then you decide how to deal with this situation, and maybe the MC's judgement determines the outcome, or, if there's a move involved, the dice decide.

One problem with that situation arises out of the fact that it's entirely up to the MC to determine the consequences of injuries and to determine when a character dies. Without any rules allowing the MC to disclaim decision-making, it can be tempting for him to pull punches and be soft-hearted, even in situations where playing tough and dangerous would clearly enhance the fun and not detract from it.

This may not present a problem for some groups, the same way it wasn't a problem when Orlando and I played Ghost/Echo. But having run a fairly grim D&D campaign for several years now, I've noticed that tendency to pull punches increases as guidelines for difficulty levels become less definite and as characters stick around longer. This is why I've chosen to include the injury and stress tracks in Black Seas of Infinity—so the MC can disclaim decision-making and play the opposition in a manner that produces dangerous and tense tactical combats.

The difference between the pre-eschaton and the post-eschaton:

All this isn't to suggest, however, that things should be the same on both sides of the eschaon's victory. The major dilemma of the pre-eschaton game is the price of averting the end of the world, and how characters balance that with their own lives. The ultimate price here is death, of one kind or another, and the ultimate consequence is the end of humanity as we know it.

But in the post-eschaton, the end of humanity as we know it is already inevitable, and we're playing characters as they transition from one point (human) to another (post-human). With this transition, the over-arching goal—prevent the eschaton—becomes impossible and thus irrelevant, and all we have are personal goals. In this case, the ultimate price and the ultimate consequence converge into one: being changed in a way beyond your own control. Either you become the post-human being that you want to become, or you don't. In this case, having the rules determine when death happens really serves no function. It's the MC's job to present obstacles to the players, to give them hard choices, and to push forward the eschaton's agenda. And this is all a matter for the fiction to decide, not the machanics. In the post-eschaton world, neither death nor the tactical maneuvering of resources in the war between humanity and the eschaton mean anything. In the post-eschaton, change is inevitable, and it's up to you to decide what each change means to your character. That's what matters most and what makes it different from the time before.

Eschaton / Black Seas of Infinity draft
« on: October 27, 2012, 01:52:33 AM »
So, here is a draft for eschaton part 1: Black Seas of Infinity.

How do I pitch it?

It's a sci-fi / horror hack of AW. It has moves and stuff, but the stats and modifiers work differently, and hopefully reference the fiction a lot. I've tried to be as aggressively fiction-first as possible, while still keeping abstract injury and sanity tracks so the MC can disclaim decision-making on those points.

Doesn't have an exact setting except for the future. You try to stop "the end of the world" from happening, but you (or the MC) have to make that up. It's supposed to be trans-humanist, without being post-human or getting the two confused, and there's no aliens per se, just humans (who can become like aliens) and the end of the world (which could be aliens).

There's a definite emphasis on covert ops and even h+miltechpr0n, although later drafts will have more options. And probably more Solaris.

Apocalypse World / Last Child playbook (again)
« on: June 28, 2012, 01:21:06 AM »
Yeah, so I posted a version of this playbook like 2 years ago, and there were two revised versions in my Heralds of Hell booklet, but it wasn't until just the other day that I realized how to make it an actually decent playbook.

There's still one playbook in Heralds of Hell that kinda sucks, so I don't really want to revise the whole thing. So fuck it, I just put this one in it's own file (like the Horseman) and now I don't have to think about it anymore: The Last Child.

Apocalypse World / [AP] Two Cities, One Desert
« on: May 28, 2012, 02:23:01 AM »
First session:

There are two holdings out in the desert. The characters live in The Hive, but there is also The Pit. The Hive is located upon a shelf of rock near the mountains to the west. This shelf is separated from the rest of the desert by a cliff, a hundred feet high. In the lower desert, with less protection from the badlands raiders is The Pit. Far off to the east is a thin black line extending from the horizon up into the sky indefinitely. It is used as a visual aid to separate the Northern Badlands from the Southern Badlands. There are some alien features to the landscape, and hi-tech gear is futuristicky.

The protagonists:

Oliver, the 14-year-old Savvyhead. His father managed the mechanical caste, but he has died recently, and Skip has taken over. Oliver does not get along with Skip. Oliver has been growing clean food in a secret space that is an Ancient automated greenhouse, with a few assistants, including Mercury, a 13-year old motormouth.

Easy (Yi Xi), an old Chinese guy Hoarder. He is a scavenger, who usually goes around in the underground tunnels, but may have found his last stash within walking distance. He has armaments, machine stuff, and Golden Age Tech in his hoard, which is conscious and beautiful (it talks to him in his mind and NPCs covet it). It is hidden away behind his shopfront. He is an old man and vaguely remembers being a child before the Apocalypse. He has a bunch of grown-up children in The Hive

Vonk the Sculptor, a mutilated Gunlugger with a robot arm. She is tall and fit and very, very dark-skinned, with burns and scars on her left side. She fights for The Hive, and is respected, but not a leader.

Spc. Horace Staszkiewicz, the Quarantine. Born in Poland, raised in California. He always wears his armour suit, so people think he's a robot. His memory is not so good, but he remembers getting a degree. And that he lost his wife Rosalita and his three children when Las Vegas was destroyed… and that he could have warned them. His colleague, Spc. Jackson has gone insane and he has her locked in an observation room.

The story so far:

Vonk the Sculptor and Easy are out in the desert together, with Shanelle and Freddy, who drove them out there in his car, trying to impress them (esp. Shanelle). Freddy was showing them this door he discovered in a desert valley, but when they got there, a large cloud of dust signals the approach of badlands raiders. So they entered the underground compound for safety.

Easy figures he knows this place, because this is where he found the "robot." He manages to ditch the others and walks back to The Hive. Vonk sends Freddy down the other stairwell to look around.

Meanwhile, Stashkevich has been looking for food. he finds Castro, a fighter who is a sort-of lieutenant for Vonk the Sculptor. Castro leads the Stash-bot to Oliver, because he knows a thing or two about machines as well as food. But then the radio goes off in Stash's helmet, and he hears someone nosing around in his compound, perhaps opening some doors and then screaming and causing a ruckus. Then the warning signal goes off in his helmet too, a bit later.

Oliver leads the robot (but not Castro) to his secret greenhouse, in exchange for Stash showing Oliver where his own home is. On the way there, they run into Easy. Stash tries to get Easy to go back with them, because Easy warns them of bad things going on, but he won't go.

Meanwhile, Vonk the Sculptor finds Freddy again. He has found a medical kit after supposedely getting lost. He wants to just open the door and get going again, and won't listen to Vonk's orders. She threatens him with a gun and he doesn't care so she shoots him, gives his handgun to Shanelle and gets her to carry the medical kit.

Downstairs, Vonk the Sculptor looks around, and finds an empty observation room but also an elevator, below which there is the sound of running water. She climbs down to find a concrete room and a flimsy aluminum door with light shining underneath it. Listening, she hears something beyond it and after she bangs on it a few times, a couple bullets rip through the door. She hears the sound of Antonio, a guy who sells clean water, and somebody else making up their minds to leave.

Upstairs, Stashkevich and Oliver come into the compound carefully, but when they surprise Shanelle, she shoots at them before she sees who they are.

I might have missed a thing or two.

NPCs who died before the game started:
All of Easy's wives (no names).
Staszkiewicz's wife Rosalita and their three children.
Oliver's (not biological) father, Frank, head of the mechanics.

NPCs introduced during the session:
Freddy, a guy with glasses and a leather jacket. Got shot by Vonk, who left his car (and his binoculars) behind.
Shanelle, a mechanic. Sensible, but no good with a gun.
Castro, a fighter. Sort-of a lieutenant for Vonk (i.e. he looks to her for leadership decisions).
Mercury, 13-year old girl who helps Oliver grow stuff. Motormouth.
Antonio, a water merchant. And his buddy, who has an assault rifle.
Skip, new head of the mechanics (no screen time).
Spc. Tammy Jackson, insane woman from the past (no screen time).

Things we established about the world:

The Hive is segregated into occupational communities. There are, at the least, growers, mechanics, and fighters. Families do not rely very heavily on biological relationships.
The fighters go hunting for animals in the mountains, and sometimes conduct raids on The Pit. Mechanics have a communal warehouse area, as well as some private workshops. The water that flows through The Hive is dirty, has to be boiled before it can be drunk

Specialists Horace Staszkiewicz and Tammy Jackson were working on a scientific project that had something to do with causing the apocalypse.

The badlands raiders are psychotic nutbars who have gear and weapons in surprisingly good condition.

All four PCs know how to read, at least somewhat.

What will we find out next session? I wonder…

So, Paul asked me about my process of taking my really basic AW hack, called World of Algol, and crossing what Vincent is calling "the Iridium Plateau" in order to make it a full-blown game, like Monsterhearts or Dungeon World. I have been working on this very slowly, because school keeps me pretty busy.

For the first version of World of Algol, I wrote some new playbooks, added a second harm track called contamination, and wrote up a list of spells so I could use Vancian-style D&D magic. Then I wrote an adventure and ran it more or less the same way I run B/X D&D, but with the basic moves from AW.

It was fun! The only really serious problem I found was the disparity between character advancement that AW supports and what Planet Algol assumes. Everything else was good... but I could also see how to make it better.

So here is a quick list of my considerations for taking World of Algol the setting hack and turning it into world of Algol the stand-alone game.

The first two considerations are the most important:

1. What is my goal here?

You'll notice I don't have a sub-forum here in the hack section. This is not laziness, this is intentional. I have friends who like to design games in public, but it's not really my thing. And for this one, my intended audience consists of one person: me. I'm making this so I can run Planet Algol with it; no more, no less. And so I tailor my process to that goal.

I do want to make something that looks as professional as possible, and I like sharing my work and hearing about what other people do with it, but other peoples' opinions on what this game should or shouldn't be are not actually helpful to me. So, until I finish something, I mostly keep it to myself, and once it's done, then I decide what I want to do with it. "Done" is a variable concept of course. The first draft of World of Algol was done and so I decided to share a pdf of it on the internet, for example.

2. How much do I really want to change?

I thought about this one for a while, and even tried out some radically different rules variations. Ultimately, the basic resolution (2d6+stat) of AW is also inherent to D&D, and I decided to stick with that. This way, my finished game's moves will be able to cross-pollinate with both D&D stuff as well as other AW hacks. The workspace rules are also very nice, so in terms of the basic mechanical resolutions, I'm not straying far from the tree.

But here is a short list of things where I DO need to diverge from Aw:

3. Basic moves and stats.
What you use for stats and what the basic moves are, even if players don't always pay attention to them, is a key aspect of a game's genre. There are two considerations here: what's best for the setting, and what works with my sensibilities.

So for example, I need different stats to deal with technology and psychic/magical powers. so I rename the stats for flavour and add a tech stat, and that's probably good enough.

However, I also need a search move, because that's something D&D characters do a lot and Planet Algol adventurers are no different. So I add a search move that's basically like open your brain.

Those are two examples of things the setting demands. I also want things like: fighters should be tougher than wizards, and while the setting is pretty deadly, there's also an element of rough-and-tumble pulp action heroism there, so I have a recover move, for when you pick yourself up off the ground and get back into the fight, instead of, say, variable hit points.

But I'm also annoyed that some moves are really easy to use without adding much to the fiction, like reading people and situations. So I re-worked reading a sitch:

When you assess your situation, roll+wise. On a hit, you can ask the GM questions. Whenever you act on one of the MC's answers, take +1. On a 10+, ask 3 from the list. On a 7-9, ask 1:
* What should I be on the lookout for / paying attention to?
* What's my enemy's true position?
* Where's my best escape route / way in / way past?
* Who has the advantage / is in control here?
* Who is the biggest threat / most vulnerable to me?

If acting on one of the GM's answers requires you to make a roll, you get +1. You can only assess the same situation once.

So now you have to actually assess your situation, in character, before you can roll. Go ahead and do your impression of a noir detective: "I knew she was trouble the minute she walked into my office..." This version isn't particular to Planet Algol or anything, I just like it, is all.
(Feel free to steal this one from me if you like it too, but remember: being able to assess someone else's situation is a special move.)

4. Playbooks.
The stats and basic moves establish a baseline for what everybody in the game does, and then the playbooks tell you how characters are different. I don't have too much to say about this, it's just like writing up a custom playbook. You figure out what the archetypes of characters you want and decide what the range of options they should have is and then just write them up. As long as you know what game you're writing, this is just work, nothing more.

In World of Algol you can have two players choose the same class/playbook, so each one needs more options than what's available to, say, the Chopper and the Hardholder.

5. Violence.
In my experience a lot of the time people tend to treat harm in AW as hit points. You get shot in the face and take 2-harm, but the real consequence here is that you mark down 2-harm on your sheet, not that now you have to deal with being shot in the face. I think harm should be a bridge between mechanics and fiction. If you break your leg in the fiction, you check the harm list and mark that much harm. But, because there is a recover move, even if you can un-mark that harm, your leg is still broken until it heals in the fiction. The harm listing for weapons is when you use them with a move, and it says to deal harm, you deal that much harm, and the GM will look at the list of injuries at that level of harm and say what the injury is. When you mark X amount of harm on your sheet, you drop dead. If you die in the fiction, you die mechanically too.

I don't really mind hit points per se, we use them in D&D, but I'd prefer to go with a more fiction-first design here. Joe did a neat thing by adding conditions to Monsterhearts. That ensures you have to write down your injuries, so I'll be using some version of that idea.

6. Bonds
Hx is a neat idea, and so is bonds. What I need for these rules to do in my game is two things: support adventuring-party play while leaving room for betrayal (unlike in Dungeon World), and supporting retainers. And by retainers, yes, I mean meatshields.

The Hx questions in AW are often easy to forget about, which is why I like bonds. I like resolving bonds, too, but I want to retain some tension between resolving a bond for xp and keeping it for the bonus to helping rolls, so I need mechanisms for creating bonds other than just writing a new one when you manage to resolve one. I'm still not sure exactly how bonds with PCs and NPCs will differ yet.

7. Experience
This is probably where I break most from AW. I want xp to be really stingy and focused on long-term play. Rolling dice, playing your character, and having fun are their own rewards, if you want to advance on Planet Algol you need to actually accomplish things. No highlighted stats, no alignment moves, and if there are player-determined goals via bonds, these only allow for a very slow rate of advancement. If you want a quicker rate, you need to accomplish things the game says are important.

However, I'm also looking at writing three different modes of play for this game, with the main differences being in what the GM creates for each mode, and how the players are rewarded. So in Exploration mode, for example, the GM prepares an unfamiliar environment for the players to explore, and the players are rewarded for recovering valuables. But of you want to play Story Now style, you can play Survival mode, which is more like AW.

But a lot of the details are still pretty nebulous and I won't get much work done on them during the next couple months.

So! Those are my issues. If you have been following other peoples' hacks, some things might be familiar, others maybe less so. Everybody has a different process, and even when some things seem like they should be similar, they often aren't. This game takes a lot from D&D, for example, but it's not the same D&D that informs Dungeon World.

Anyway, I hope that was interesting to somebody.

Monsterhearts / Infernal Questions
« on: February 15, 2012, 10:07:55 PM »
1. When I use the Infernal power where I give Asmodeus (or whomever) a string and somebody's character reveals a secret fear, desire, or strength, do I get to choose one of these three for them to tell me about? Do I get to demand a secret fear, for instance, if I don't give a damn about their strengths? Or does the other player get to choose whether to reveal a fear, desire, or strength?

2. Why isn't there a list of personality tags so I can decide what kind of devil Asmodeus (or whomever) is? (i.e. what kind of evil he wants to wreak upon the world which gives the MC a starting-point for what he wants me to do in order to get favours from him).

Apocalypse World / When you reset Hx, learn a secret [custom move]
« on: August 03, 2011, 06:55:53 PM »
Here's an idea I had regarding resetting Hx numbers. People who aren't satisfied with the current explanation for this rule might find it interesting (or not, I dunno).

When you reset Hx to +1...

When your Hx with a character goes to +4 and you reset it to +1, have that character's player tell you a secret about their character.

When you tell a secret about your character, tell the other player something their character did not already know, either some weakness or habit, or some psychology they manage to puzzle out. This should be something more than trivial; if it can be used against your character in some way, if it's something the MC didn't know, or if it paints your character in a radically different light all of a sudden, all the better.

If you're using Hx (or bonds or the equivalent) with NPCs, and you reset from +4 to +1, the MC will tell you a secret about that character.

brainstorming & development / Apocalypse World + Planet Algol
« on: July 04, 2011, 03:45:33 PM »
I've been using the Apocalypse World rules to run a game set on Planet Algol, which meant some new playbooks and a few other small rules additions. So I put them all into a pdf for you, over on the Red Box Vancouver blog, if you're interested.

If you have any questions, you can ask them here or on the blog. Thanks.

Apocalypse World / Apocalyptic Documentary on Kickstarter
« on: May 16, 2011, 05:56:23 PM »
An old friend of mine is using Kickstarter to fund a documentary about the impending collapse of civilization and what people are doing to avoid this. It's not gaming-related or anything, but might be of interest to people here, either as inspiration for an Apocalypse World game, or because you care about these issues in real life, too.

It's called Fall and Winter, directed by Matt Anderson. Check it out:

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