Saturday, 31 May 2014

Deathwatch: the Siege of Mersadie Hive, 04

The Siege of Mersadie Hive was a custom scenario lovingly crafted by Arthur. As such, unless your GM is planning to borrow the scenario by hacking together what they hear on this episode and the notes on Arthur's blog, there's really no spoilers to worry about.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, and features some background noise, if that sort of thing bothers you.

The Episode

I'm afraid this isn't the most thrilling episode, as we're basically just setting things up, although we did have some quality time with our boys. I very much enjoy playing Big Gang Brother and otherwise quietly taking the mick.

Link to Episode 04.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Location: The Rose Garden

For quite a while I've been playing around with the idea of someone achieving a tipping-point in language proficiency where they can understand languages without studying them, and/or of people augmented with computational implants to use their brain's awesome language and pattern-recognition abilities to make elite code breakers. Bizarrely, it has its origins in an idea I came up with for Firefly, which I might return to because it was also interesting.

Anyway! The Rose Garden is a location slash organisation inspired by that idea. I feel like it would fit in very well into Warhammer 40,000 and other dystopian science settings. It could almost certainly be used somehow in World of Darkness and Shadowrun if I knew anything much about those setting.

The Rose Garden is a secretive foundation that gathers unusual linguistic talents, protecting and containing them. Linguistic savants are rare enough, but some individuals succumb to a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder known as linguapathy, becoming so focused on language that their lives suffer serious detriments.

These unfortunate individuals are known as Rosettes, after the ancient Rosetta stone; hence the foundation's unassuming name. Some immerse themselves in the wealth of natural languages and become obligate hyperpolyglots, while others are compelled to devise new languages incessantly. Their profound and wide-ranging linguistic skills are a valuable asset to the authorities, not least in cryptography. As translators, decoders, scholars, or simply research subjects, they more than compensate for the cost of their care. Frequently, their talents are boosted with special training and biomechanical enhancement: memory chips that store vast datasets, decryption modules, or high-speed processors that greatly accelerate their mental abilities.

The most serious cases may reach a kind of apotheosis, having absorbed so much linguistic knowledge that they begin to glimpse meaning in messages even when they have never studied the language. This talent leaves their sanity in serious jeopardy, as they begin to perceive not only the probable meanings of a phrase, but many simultaneous possibilities in different languages. In the final stages of their condition, the linguapath's mental filters break down entirely. With every conceivable interpretation open to them, they are overwhelmed, unable to any longer produce or comprehend language, and typically catatonic.

It is rumoured that an astronomically-small fraction of cases progress beyond this stage. Left to drown in a sea of language, some individuals learn to swim, fusing the myriad contradictory patterns into a coherent and holistic whole; an ur-tongue, an omni-language. All of language, real or imagined, human or inhuman, is within their grasp. They know no separation of thought and word; the word itself is the meaning. The capabilities of these legendary adepts are a matter of dark mutterings and ill-informed speculation.

The Rose Garden for Warhammer 40,000

In the grim darkness of Warhammer, the aforesaid dark mutterings have good cause. The omniglots' ability to parse impossible codes and decipher true meaning from alien tongues is a tool beyond price, but doing so may grant them access to all manner of terrible and sanity-shattering knowledge. There are good reasons why many secrets are so heavily encrypted, for few minds are strong enough to bear them. Writings tainted by Chaos or by inhuman lies can corrupt and corrode a mind already wrenched open by linguistic singularity. The inmates of the Rose Garden must be watched carefully, lest they fall to darkness.

The office of Gardener is a difficult and sensitive one, trusted only to resilient and quick-thinking officials. Often, a retired Inquisitor may take the role, their years of experience with strange phenomena and their knowledge of corruption aiding them to keep their charges safe and loyal. At other times, a talented administrator or arbitrator may be given command of the Rose Garden. They must be vigilant, yet lenient; allowing no trace of heresy or Warp-taint to infest this invaluable resource, yet permitting the peccadillos and quirks of the differently-sane and keeping them largely contented. The talents of linguapaths should not be lightly thrown away by undue harshness, and a pool of willing workers who delight to serve the Emperor of Mankind is worth far more than a mere slave-pit.

The Compound

The Rose Garden is a guarded compound, with looming rockrete walls that might hide an asylum, quarantine hospital or a school for the scions of nobility. Within the walls, numerous buildings sit amidst neat gardens, tended by the least-afflicted of the inmates. These mild cases are permitted to socialise and even exchange their learning, though interactions are carefully monitored for signs of trouble. These small freedoms - daylight, fresh air and company - are considered to help control their condition. Much of their time is spent in routine work for the Imperium, translating ordinary materials and aiding in linguistics experiments. Those with higher security clearance reside in the walled north quarter, and work extensively on encryption and decryption of secure materials, though only those dealing with mundane matters.

Though their freedom is strictly curtailed, the Rosettes are not treated harshly. Their talents are rare and valuable, and though they are likely doomed to madness, they may serve the Emperor for many decades before their fate is sealed. The lower-grade linguapaths are permitted to live comfortably in individual dwellings, wander the grounds as they choose, and even meet with family members - albeit under observation in the Salon. Restful water-features and fishponds provide a soothing atmosphere, and extensive libraries offer a vast wealth of learning. If the request be judged reasonable by the Gardener, tutors may even be introduced to teach some rare and fascinating tongue, adding to the stores of talent within the Garden.

Neat apartments house the domestics, sentries and psysicians who also reside here, tending the Garden. All are scrupulously investigated before they are permitted to work within the grounds, and sworn to silence. Many are orphans from the Schola Progenium, more trusted than mere recruits from the local populace.

A simple chapel provides spiritual guidance for all who dwell within the Garden's walls. Those who perish here are consigned to the flames, their ashes scattered upon the soil to nourish the flowers.

The Rosebuds

More serious cases are kept in wardhouses within the grounds, and not permitted to mix with the lower grades. These Rosebuds receive daily exercise at scheduled times when the gardens are otherwise empty, and their interactions with one another are tightly controlled. Their access to any linguistic material is restricted in an attempt to control their condition, keeping them at a peak of usefulness while avoiding linguistic overload. The unique talents of each Rosebud are used with care: some translate arcane xenos tongues, while others reconstruct framented and incomplete texts. All are security screened and trusted with sensitive material; any who fail are liable to summary execution, lest their talents fall into other hands. These are the most highly-regarded of the Rosettes: largely sane and stable, but with advanced and complex talents that are of enormous use. Implants greatly enhance their innate abilities, allowing lightning-fast calculations of probable meanings, comparison with vast archives of texts, and deciphering of a bewildering array of scripts. Roses are permitted to know the general talents of other inmates, so they may collaborate on complex tasks, but care is taken not to expose them to additional languages, to avoid destabilisation.

A small minority of Rosebuds, judged to have exceptional strength of will and purity, are transferred to the Court, a well-appointed but austere place of velvet, steel and glass housed in the inner compound. These adepts are trusted to work with even heretical and blasphemous materials, and their work for the Inquisition is invaluable. Naturally, despite the screening, losses within this group are inevitable.

The Roses

The third tier of inmates are the Roses, unstable linguapaths who have begun the path to singularity. The "flowering" of their condition is unpredictable; some struggle to form sentences comprehensible to any but another linguapath, or become highly poetic and abstract in their speech. Struggling with the myriad worldviews and ways of thinking demanded by their various tongues, they may appear mentally deficient. Isolation is crucial in controlling their condition, and they are kept in individual chambers within their barracks. Nevertheless, the strange insights of these individuals may be invaluable for comprehending allegorical, mystical or xenos works. Development of minor psychic talents is relatively common amongst them, and the Rose House is both warded and well-guarded, with inmates regularly screened for corruption. The correlation between their linguistic and psychic abilities is a subject of much interest to the Inquisition. Due to their condition, Roses are rarely permitted access to blasphemous materials, for fear that the call of the Warp might trigger unstable psychic episodes, or draw a vulnerable mind into heresy.

The Roses dwell in a reinforced barracks to the north, separated from the grounds by a triple wall and trenches. Though much leniency is extended to the Rosettes, so much as touching the outer wall is cause for interrogation and execution. In truth, these precautions are barely needed; the lower grades know well not to approach this place, and most view it with utmost dread. It is a looming reminder of the fate that likely awaits them.

The Blue Lodge

At the southern edge of the Rose Garden, far from the Rose Barracks, is a plain, windowless building of blue-tinged local stone. Three ranks of towering conifers wall it off from view, a kindly concession to the feelings of the Rosettes. This asylum houses the fourth and final tier: Roses whose condition has degenerated sufficiently that they are dangerously unstable and of minimal use. Some simply lie catatonic and silent, their minds endlessly parsing the reams of data in their memories. Others pace furiously, declaiming in twisted words that flow constantly from tongue to tongue, or composing mind-wrenching polyglot poetry no other could comprehend. Dedicated language-makers may withdraw entirely from common language, imprisoned within the mental pathways of their own bespoke tongues, unable to communicate. All are permitted whatever seems to soothe them; some seek silence, others read continually, rant and rave, or sit surrounded by broadcasters, drowning out the din of their minds in a wave of language. Even limited degrees of violence and self-harm are permitted.

Despite their condition, even these unfortunates may be of use to the Imperium. Some pattern or concept in their wild ramblings may provide a clue unthinkable to those of balanced mind. Occasionally an Inquisitor will call by to present one or other - chosen with utmost care - with a linguistic puzzle, hoping to see a glimmer of recognition and perhaps the hint of an answer. Some inmates may even snap briefly back to sanity, treading water long enough to decipher a riddle before their condition overwhelms them once again.

There is no fifth tier.

The Inner Compound

Within the Garden, the inner compound sits on a low hill, overlooking the grounds. Sentries on the walls keep a weather eye on the activities of Rosettes as they potter around the gardens. A beautiful door of polished bronze bears the likeness of the Most Holy Emperor upon the Golden Throne.

The Gardener's Lodge is here, a stately building offering mild luxury to a trusted servant of the Emperor. A small armoury stands nearby, offering heavier armament to the guards in case some enemy should seek to raid the Garden and slay or kidnap Rosettes.

The nearby Court is the second most secure building of the compound, and typically houses a score of inmates. Psychic wards and seals mark the walls, lest some fragment prove to carry more power than any had realised, and armoured weapon servitors guard the entrance. Here the most trusted of the Rosebuds live and work, deciphering terrible secrets and alien texts at great risk to their souls and minds. A walled garden permits them air and light, a little luxury amidst the hardship of their work, though even here warding seals dangle from silver nets overhead.

The most secure, however, lies beneath the simple control tower in the very centre of the Rose Garden, its very existence largely unknown even to the inmates and staff. An array of bio-sensors, vox-readers, locks and concealed doors blocks access to this secret bunker. This is the refuge of the fifth tier, who do not exist.

No generalisations can be made of the mere handful who emerge from singularity. Here are a selection of inmates the Deep Garden has housed. All are isolated, their chambers hundreds of metres from one another, and with no interconnections. Only the highest clearance will permit access to any, and all interactions are strictly recorded for future analysis.

Radila Mnessutivsk

Mnessutivsk is one of the most valuable assets of the Rose Garden. Nearly 200 years of age, she is gaunt and tall, exuding a kind of nobility despite the array of disfiguring implants that pockmark her skull and spine. She resides in a pleasant set of chambers far below ground, mint-scented and furnished with elegant pale wood. She is relatively lucid, able to communicate comprehensible ideas and emotions to her interrogators, although translation modules are needed to decipher the details of her commingled speech.

Emerging from singularity after nearly three decades of babbling and compulsive listening, Mnessutivsk was discovered to have unique parallel-processing capabilities, comprehending hundreds of simultaneous conversations in an array of languages. After purity tests found her untainted and essentially sane, this remarkable talent was put to immediate use in scanning suspect transmissions and decrypting multi-layer codes. Whatever secrets and plots are uncovered, she indicates to the Gardener, and thus many a cult and traitor have come to grief.

Mnessutivsk's ability comes with a heavy price; she has been classed as an obligate linguavore. Deprived of linguistic input for more than a few moments, she begins to suffer discomfort and stress, eventually turning to unbearable pain and dread. Even in sleep, four hundred and nineteen channels feed transmissions, writings and recordings to her dreaming mind.


Psychic abilities amongst the Rosettes are generally a cause for concern, but occasionally they offer great potential. Freigh is one of the most successful cases.

Freigh's domicile is ornate and untidy, after their own inclinations. The Rose prefers a stimulating atmosphere to foster their talents. Behind a jovial and welcoming face, they are entirely silent, spending most of their waking hours in ambling contemplation. Scans reveal vast and unfathomable patterns of thought racing in the marvellous brain beyond, and ecstatic dreams centred in the language regions. Such dreams are the only time they break their silence, spilling out streams of nonsense syllables that somehow hold meaning to whoever may hear them.

Such a person may seem of little use, but there is purpose in the thoughts. Freigh may not speak, but they do listen; the wishes and intentions of the Gardener will guide their thoughts. Roughly once a month, Freigh will retire to a small scriptorium, and there, with psychosensitive inks and blessed parchment, inscribe a sigil of enormous psychic potency: each one a rich and complex thought, condensed into a single unprecedented symbol. Some address directly the needs of the Gardener, others are merely passing notions. All are forgotten by their author, retrieved with great discretion, and conveyed with utmost care to the Gardener's library for investigation. They have proven of substantial value in many investigations.

Unch Saintblessing

Within an artificial sandy cave, a large plain of marram grass is nourished by faux-sunlight. A simple round house amidst the grass is the home of Saintblessing, mimicking his childhood home on a world now lost to Eldar depradations.

The linguapath is a large, rugged man, with a pattern of minute rubies inlaid in his cheek. He wears a near-permanent look of twinkling mischief, as of amusement at some private joke, as he mouths silent rhymes. Sound and rhythm is his passion; he is lost in a reverie of poesy, forming multilingual rhymes and patterns of staggering complexity.

Saintblessing's talent for allegory and pattern is unmatched. The most cryptic and metaphorical of messages wither before his mind, and rare indeed is the code that can lie undetected under his scrutiny; he sees the order in all communication, and the deviations therein. Yet this is not the limit of his talents, for he can sense at some trascendent level a greater order amongst the chaos of words, to discern from mere fragments what must have been said between them. Even entire lost messages can, in part, be recovered from the relationships his mind discerns amongst the web of communication.

Tragically, this very gift leaves Saintblessing isolated, for he can no longer descend to the level of mere common speech. He speaks in dense and manifold rhyme, a symphony of many languages woven into a beauteous whole. His oracular announcements are themselves a puzzle to the listener. Nevertheless, he strives to serve as best he may, marking the texts he reviews with simple symbols to highlight points of concern. Only in reconstructing texts can he speak clearly, for here the pattern of the text is strong and his own speech may flow along with it.

Rechaziel set Morrchal

At the airlocks barring entrance to this chamber, scanners search the visitor for any cogitator or calculating device; all are forbidden, for fear of Rechaziel's gift.

The room is a hollow sphere some sixty yards across; a metal mesh stands out against the rockrete, blocking any manner of electrical signal. At its centre, a small tower stands on a platform, reached only by a walkway whose last section is a drawbridge. There is little cause to think Rechaziel might seek to leave, but the risk cannot be taken.

She is a nervous-seeming woman, snub-nosed and prone to veiling her face in a mantle of green-black hair. Unlike most, she does not like to read or sing. The threads of her talent have converged like a tightening cat's-cradle, into a single knot whose threads she may tweak like a puppeteer. When no visitors come, she paints: vibrant landscapes, simple sketches of the life she once had before her passion overtook her. Only picture-books and albums line the stark shelves of her home. It is the echo of many a hiver's hab, ugly and spare, but stamped with personality.

Even the Gardener is only permitted a few minutes of speech with Rechaziel, and they submit to the scans of an apothecary before and after the visit. Often, hypnosis or other treatments are required to restore the balance of their mind after exposure, for Rechaziel's talent - or curse - is a crystallisation of language. Her words hover on the border where speech becomes thought becomes reality, and despite her efforts, she cannot but change others as she speaks. Computational devices, unprotected by any will, are the worst effected, and simple exposure to her speech is catastrophic; their very programming shifts and warps in response to her words, rendering them useless or even perilous.

Although her words are strange - indeed, they belong to no known language - the ideas they contain are somehow comprehensible, as though she speaks some primal tongue that addresses the very tissue of the brain. More than a brief exposure can be exhausting, for Rechaziel's own thoughts and self begin to infiltrate the hearer's mind. Early studies showed that those who spoke with her began to adopt her mannerisms and patterns of thought, even gaining some fraction of her linguistic knowledge. This mental imprinting is viewed with great suspicion, lest some outbreak should occur.

Despite this peril, Rechaziel's gift for holistic language is a powerful one. Presented with some passage of speech or a pile of transmissions, she can see through their superficial meanings to some greater truth within, granting insight into the mind and even soul of the author. Emotions, concerns and even biographical scraps morsels come to light under her scrutiny. Moreover, she has proven of some use in interrogations, seeing the patterns of truth between lying shrieks, and bending the wills of prisoners to the Inquisition's purpose with no other tool but words.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Monitors: helping hands

So, first second on my list of undone Monitors tasks is a mechanic for working together. This is a pretty important one, because there are many things you can logically cooperate on and expect to improve your chances: breaking down doors, intimidating people, keeping watch... it's a decent list. There are also tasks where cooperation as such isn't quite the thing, but where a more skilled person may be able to alleviate the inexperience of companions: climbing mountains, cooking, sailing, and so on.

My first inclination is to split these up into two types: Collaboration and Synchrony. Assistance is a further sub-type of Synchrony. These terms are for convenient discussion, and not jargon I particularly plan to include in the final game.

Monday, 26 May 2014

On skill synergy; or, Why it's hard to be a know-it-all

Like about a third of my posts, this one is inspired by Dan, specifically his comments on this article. I'll quote for ease of reference. I'm going to talk about differences between combat and knowledge skills, and how this results in it being easier to make combat monsters than polymaths, though as I have no solutions to present it's perhaps not very useful.

For reference, I'm using "skill" in a very general sense below - things like Base Attack Bonus, feats, attribute points and so on can be considered skills here.

There *are* Sage characters in DH (I think they're even called Sages) and they have exactly this problem. You generally can't make a knowledgey character in a 40K RPG that does knowledge as well as a fighty character does fighting, partially because of the generalist/specialist issue rearing its head again.

It strikes me that part of the problem with sages is that, because most games model combat with a small number of skills that often support each other, wile they model knowledge with a large number of skills that are unrelated to each other, a Sage is necessarily a generalist character. They might seem specialised, because their role is specifically "knowledge and research" but in reality you're a generalist who is spreading their skills over (say) Accounting, Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, History and so on while the combat characters just need to invest in Fist and Shotgun. You *could* design a specific class/splat/specialisation to get massive bonuses to all knowledge-related tasks, but games tend not to do that.

Because of the way knowledge is handled in most RPGs, you can't really have a character who is *generically* good at knowing about lots of stuff, because knowledge is almost always based on a wide variety of completely unrelated skills. A character who wants to be good at fighting usually has to invest in a single weapon, which they can then use to kill anything they meet. A character who wants to be good at knowledge has to invest in everything you might every conceivably want to know about. About the only exception I can think of to this in a mainstream RPG (and it's only partial) is the way Call of Cthulhu uses Library Use and Know Rolls as generic Find All The Knowledge skills.

Interestingly the one-and-a-half exceptions I can think of are World of Darkness, which has one skill covering all of Academics and to some extent Call of Cthulhu if you assume that all you really need to find stuff out are Library Use and Know.

This strikes me as a very good point.

I think a large proportion of the issue breaks down into two aspects: synergy and granularity (I talk about granularity way too much).

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Deathwatch: the Siege of Mersadie Hive, 03

The Siege of Mersadie Hive was a custom scenario lovingly crafted by Arthur. As such, unless your GM is planning to borrow the scenario by hacking together what they hear on this episode and the notes on Arthur's blog, there's really no spoilers to worry about.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, and features some background noise, if that sort of thing bothers you.

The Episode

I've said this before, but I'm always impressed by how much of the time in Deathwatch we spend discussing things with NPCs, investigating, and otherwise doing things that aren't war. I feel like it shows off some of the flexibility of the game, despite a premise that can seem one-note.

Here we had a nice little cast of NPCs to juggle. They all felt reasonably fleshed-out to me, and I appreciated how Arthur let us run with whatever ideas came to mind. I'm sure we could have come down hard on the nobles at this stage if we wanted, and it was a bit tempting OOC because hey, obnoxious rich oppressors; however, in the Imperium there's really no justification for thinking that way, so we stuck with the strategically-necessary approach.

The inclusion of Magos Sorvad was a stroke of genius, and I was evolving a ferocious grin throughout the conversation as my suspicions crystallised. Mashing up the two settings makes quite a bit more sense than it might appear, at least where the more brutal and sinister races are concerned. I'm vaguely hoping this might come back to bite us in the arse at some point.

Link to Episode 03.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Psykers, Howling at the Moon, and the Paladin Problem

Recently I started listening to Knights of the Night's Numenera series after Roo Sack Gamers pointed me there. One of the party chose the focus Howls at the Moon, gaining a form of lycanthropy. Listening to the episode and thinking about the situation, I found it quite interesting for a couple of reasons. This post is loosely based on some feedback I sent them. It contains spoilers for their Numenera podcasts.

The Paladin Problem

This was an idea outlined to me by Dan. I don't remember whether it was his, or someone told him, or he read it somewhere. Anyway, I thought it was interesting.

Essentially, the idea here is that the design of the traditional D&D paladin class uses behavioural restrictions with punishing costs to counterbalance the class' advantages. They gain foe-smiting, evil-detecting, magic horsies, healing powers, and an array of generally pretty kickass stuff for being a knight in shining armour. In return, they must be good, lawful and noble, with a code of conduct governing what they can do without losing their powers.

The problem comes about because of a discrepancy in where these elements fall. The benefits of the paladin accrue almost exclusively to the paladin personally, letting them kick ass in combat, be pretty awesome in social situations, bring righteousness and justice, ignore diseases, and so on. A number of the powers can be used to help others, and should be, but all classes have some ability to help their allies.

In contrast, the restrictions on the paladin affect everyone. A paladin's moral code restricts the entire party in what course of action they can choose, because they cannot reasonably permit acts that they consider evil or unlawful. A paladin that takes a "see no evil" approach when allies are torturing a prisoner is not roleplaying well (if their morality permits torture, they wouldn't need to leave the room). This leads to the common view of the paladin as having the proverbial stick: they need to be either naive or ruthless with the rest of the party unless all are entirely selfless and law-abiding. The party may well feel unable to use deception, poisons, or sneaky tactics to overcome obstacles, if the paladin insists on a stand-up fight and always gives foes a chance to surrender. Perhaps they don't feel it's acceptable to take a reward, or demand that a quest be accepted. They should seek judgement on evil characters - and they can always tell who's evil. No pragmatic deals, no half-measures. Because of the need to maintain their code, the paladin can effectively become the arbiter of morality with a casting vote on the party's actions. They don't play well with more complex parties featuring characters with looser morals - which is just about everyone.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Deathwatch: the Siege of Mersadie Hive, 02

The Siege of Mersadie Hive was a custom scenario lovingly crafted by Arthur. As such, unless your GM is planning to borrow the scenario by hacking together what they hear on this episode and the notes on Arthur's blog, there's really no spoilers to worry about.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, and features some background noise, if that sort of thing bothers you.

The Episode

Ah, strategising! One of the nice things about Deathwatch is that you really do feel free to be as tactical and military about things as you want, scouting things out and discussing approaches, in a way that other games don't necessarily support. Partly it's because you're expressly playing expert soldiers who would do exactly this sort of thing; partly it's because charging in headlong is reasonably likely to kill you, so good tactics are really important.

I actually cut out about another forty minutes of shopping and briefing that we flashed back to a little way into this mission, some of which I stapled into the first session to try and keep things coherent while drastically cutting down the time.

Link to Episode 02.

Yet more on Deathwatch party balance

So four months ago Dan posted an interesting thing about balance in 40K as represented by my character's difficulties in feeling useful. As I like necromancy, it's time to reopen that topic.

Dan talks about the difficulty of balancing specialists (high effectiveness in a narrow field) against generalists (moderate effectiveness in a broad range of fields). This is all very true, but the picture's actually a bit more complicated, I think.

Specialisation and optimisation

I observed in a comment on that post that actually I'm not sure the issue at hand was a specialist vs. generalist one. Nikolai isn't actually not a specialist; he's extremely effective at melée combat, and very poor at ranged combat. He's got a handful of broader skills, because I had to spend the points somewhere and some of the assault marine abilities are rubbish, or because Serious Roleplaying, but you couldn't really describe him as being moderately effective at a wide range of things - the Deathwatch system doesn't really allow for that. He's got about a 30% chance of succeeding at a few specific things that aren't hitting things with swords. He's a little bit less optimised for his specialisation than Iacomo, but that's not really had much impact, because while Nikolai has 99 vocation-related problems, damage ain't one.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Deathwatch: the Siege of Mersadie Hive, 01

The Siege of Mersadie Hive was a custom scenario lovingly crafted by Arthur. As such, unless your GM is planning to borrow the scenario by hacking together what they hear on this episode and the notes on Arthur's blog, there's really no spoilers to worry about.

As always, be aware that the podcast is not really family-friendly, and features some background noise, if that sort of thing bothers you.

The Episode

I really enjoyed having the catch-up notes for the Scouts. We had a lot of fun with the boy-hunting aspect in the first game, and while I wouldn't encourage a DM to put in that much effort unless they were enjoying it, the reports really helped tie things together and set the silly scene for our new mission. It also helped with the development of personalities for the Scouts and a bit of relationship between them and the Marines.

Briefing sessions are hard to make fascinating listening, but especially in a mission-based game like this, you need to spend time on them to lay the groundwork. I like this kind of thing, because I enjoy finding out details of the setting and picking up clues for the adventure to come. As you can hear, I get a bit carried away in terms of research - Space Marines have a fairly practical amount of information available, they're not Wikipedia.

This is actually a rearrangement of the material. In the original game, we say "right, let's go" before spending another full half-an-hour on other questions we thought of and yet more shopping. K was not impressed. I reorganised it for your listening convenience.

On that note, I'm never quite sure how much of the planning stages to leave in, and I tend to be pretty lenient with it. I cut out anything that's neither relevant nor particularly entertaining, and also some quite entertaining stuff that's especially disconnected from the subject at hand, i.e. Actual Play. Am I leaving in too much boring shopping? Not being aggressive enough in paring down questions and answers to the essentials? Or is it just about right? Responses from anyone not appearing in the podcast would be particularly welcome...

Link to Episode 01.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Minor Magic Items

In converting between systems for one of our Pathfinder games, I needed a replacement for a 0th-level pearl of power - since there's no daily limit on cantrips in Pathfinder. I needed something that was mildly useful, but only very slightly, so no existing magic items seemed to fit the bill, and I ended up creating more. No sense wasting them, so here you go, maybe they'll be handy.

Pearl of Blessing

Once per day, it casts Bless as a 1st-level priest, and can be used by any character. Spell trigger item; standard action. It doesn’t take up a slot, and works as long as it’s on the character. Equivalent to a single Bead of Blessing from the Strand of Prayer Beads.

Dead Ioun Stone of Light

This is not actually a pearl, but an ioun stone whose magical power has been exhausted. It retains only enough latent magic to orbit lazily around its owner. This particular stone has been imbued with a continual flame spell, allowing it to shed light as a torch. These crystalline stones always float in the air and must be within 3 feet of their owner to be of any use. When a character first acquires a stone, she must hold it and then release it, whereupon it takes up a circling orbit 1d3 feet from her head. Thereafter, a stone must be grasped or netted to separate it from its owner. The owner may voluntarily seize and stow a stone (to keep it safe while she is sleeping, for example), but she loses the benefits of the stone during that time. Ioun stones have AC 24, 10 hit points, and hardness 5. The powers of each stone vary depending on its color and shape (see the table).

For completeness' sake, I'll repeat a few that I've already mentioned creating for Stick in the Mud.

  • A large Glittergold coin, whose designs constantly shift to display myths of the gnomish deity. A Religion check (DC 10) can reveal that such coins are quite prized by the priesthood and used by initiates to memorise and teach their precepts.
  • A pack of gambler's cards, impossible to mark or crease, which will reshuffle themselves when gathed and tossed into the air, or sort themselves and return to their pack at a command. They bear the four elemental suits.
  • A reel of green seeking thread, which will fasten itself to a needle when tapped with it, and will not come untied.
  • A vanity comb, which leaves hair clean and glossy without water or soap. Once per day, it can be used to create an elegant hairstyle in mere moments, although its ideas are quite old-fashioned.
  • Flasks containing tiny amounts of highly pure elemental earth, water, fire and air. These can be used as components in any rituals, each flask providing 50gp of components.
  • Eleven small lodestones
  • A geomantic dowsing rod, which a trained practitioner can use to assess the geology and ley lines of an area.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Monitors: where do we stand?

A quick progress check on where Monitors is up to at the moment, after various redesigns.

  • Setting
    • Basic premise
    • PC's place in the world
    • Default tone and approach
    • Languages
    • Veneer of justification for herpetocentrism
    • Any kind of detail whatsoever
  • Doing stuff
    • Set of attributes to measure mechanical effectiveness
    • Unilateral action mechanic
    • Opposed action mechanic
    • Collaboration mechanic
  • Specific special stuff
    • Cyborghood
    • Casting spells
    • Sample spells
    • Magical side-effects
    • Weaponry
    • Armour
    • General equipment
  • Consequences
    • Soft impairment
    • Injury
    • Lingering effects
  • Interaction
    • NPC mechanics
    • NPC types
    • Balance and assumed competence
  • Player characters
    • Character generation
    • Selection of species
    • Background
    • Advancement
    • Traits

If you spot any more, please do point them out.

On weapon generation

This is rather old post that I forgot about. Nevertheless, it was mildly interesting so I thought I'd post it anyway.

Having mulled over the weapons for a couple of days, I decide to try a couple of tweaks. One is adding a couple of extra class types, allowing for a bigger range of sci-fi weaponry (and general weaponry) like fire, as well as arranging things so that being a game-mechanical Gas is emergent (Mask + Blast) and adding a Stealthy property as I mentioned originally. I'm also considering Dan's suggestion that Strength could be applied with a single save, rather than one save per point; this would mean Strength is less often strictly better than Pen, particularly when dealing with low-Wound creatures. However, I'm still not sure about that, since it ought to also be possible to restrict that imbalance by speccing up weapons so that it isn't really an issue - if only unwieldy Heavy weapons have higher Strength, while more convenient classes offer Penetration instead, that might be enough of a distinction.

I produce a beautiful spreadsheet so large that Excel cannot filter it without crashing, despite stripping out all my lovely intuition-guiding conditional formatting. With much effort, I delete an unnecessary weapon class (31104 rows!) and leave it at 28832 theoretically possible combinations. I strip out weapons targeting Ward defence, on the grounds that I don't even know whether I'm using that, let alone can I think of a weapon that would do so (the idea is basically anti-magic warding, but I'm not sure I want that kind of magic system). 186625 values. We're still on sorting only to remove values...

Remove explosive close-combat weapons (but not grappling ones, as this could cover auras or personal protective devices). 171072. Remove weapons that target Mask other than Chemical and Toxin. Remove Shock, Fire, Cold and Force weapons that target Visor. 106921 weapons left! Should I remove Photon weapons that target Armour..? But isn't that just, y'know, lasers?

At this point I decide there's no point including the most extreme costs. While it's certainly possible to imagine weapons that are just superlatively good (and I might want those for special circumstances, such as hardpoint-mounted defences or terrifying war robots) they're not relevant to the current exercise. I'll cut out everything with a cost modifier of more than +/-3.


The most useless weapons in existence include:

  1. A toxic two-handed grappling weapon that slightly impairs the opponent's senses. (cost -9) Found largely on Vultros Major, this is a ritual duelling weapon: an entire sacred sknar, generally known as the giant dream fungus, a metre-wide toadstool that secretes hallucinogenic slime. It must be handled carefully to avoid poisoning the wielder.
  2. A heavy cold grappling slowing weapon (cost -8).
  3. A heavy thrown toxic blinding weapon (-8).

The most terrifying weapon in existence is (one of a dozen or so very similar weapons):

  1. A compact silent weapon that fires phials of compressed chemical that erupt into lethal clouds on impact, seeping into the vulnerable eye membrane to render victims helpless in moments. Unsurprisingly it is utterly illegal. This Strength 3 one-handed Medium-ranged Chemical Blast Stealth weapon targets Visor with Pen 16, leaving it at cost 11.

This leaves only, um, 60777 weapons, of which 8883 are zero cost. Ouch.

Sticky: Games wishlist

This post is now obsolete, replaced by this page.

I've had this list knocking around for a while now, and thought I might as well slap it up here so I don't lose it, more than anything. What games would you like to get round to? I don't mean systems necessarily, but concepts or types of game you fancy trying. Anything I've missed off this list and really ought to try out?

You may notice a certain Warhammer 40,000 theme. That's largely because I'm quite familiar with the universe and it offers a lot of different play possibilities, whereas a lot of other games tend towards particular niches and haven't given me lots of ideas outside that niche.

Ticked off

  • Hellcats & Hockeysticks - playtested here.
  • Dying Earth - kindly run for us by K, although I'd like to do a little more some time.

Working on it


In the stress and fear brought by the ork siege of Mersadie Hive, Adeptus Arbites enforcers must ensure the hive doesn't collapse from within. A pulpy investigative game with touches of Judge Dredd (read: find bad people and shoot them).

I have about 95% of this ready, but need to tighten up my actual playtest scenario. I think the mechanics are pretty sound, but would need to check things like combat to make sure characters are the right level of tough.

Restless Souls

A motley band of Eldar outcasts wander the universe seeking their destinies. Will they fall prey to Slaaneshi hedonism, accept the iron discipline of the Craftworld Paths, lose themselves on the Path of the Outcast, or simply find a cold death out amongst the stars?

I actually have quite a lot of notes on this one, but it got complicated because it feels like it really needs some morality/sanity mechanics. More on this probably later.

The Sound of Music

A bardtastic game for D&D. Ever been puzzled, like me, by the inclusion of a non-archetype class in Dungeons and Dragons whose abilities consist of singing at things that are trying to kill you? I aimed to solve the problem with an entire setting built around Bards. Watch this space.


I kind of have to include this one.


Dan's game of stealthy murder, whenever he feels strong enough to let us break it.


There are two rival necromancer-themed systems being developed. Hopefully one or other will make it to beta.

Only War

It's a real game.

Blue-skies wishing

Ooh, ooh, Exodites

Dragon-riding Eldar Exodites travel the wilderness, battle monsters and aliens, and defend their ancestral homes from all manner of threats. Basically a D&D game with dragons for horses and laser-infused lances.


The sinister Harlequins travel through Craftworlds, Exodite kingdoms and the horrifying realm of Comorragh, nervously accepted by all splinters of the shattered Eldar race. A high-powered black-ops game with groovy Matrix acrobatics, false identities, probably infiltrating human space and handling some grey-morality objectives.


Rowdy ork pirates careen madly through space wreckin' stuff. A boisterous and silly game of lootin', pillagin' and makin' things up on the fly. Probably use an adapted version of the Only War rules, with each PC playing a Nob leading their mob of boyz.


I like the idea of an Administratum-themed game, but haven't yet got any solid ideas for it.

Fire Warriors

Pretty simple stuff - a lot like Deathwatch, but you're ET in a powered suit with a plasma rifle, and ditch that silly absolute loyalty to the Emperor of Mankind in place of nice sensible benevolent absolute loyalty to the Greater Good. So basically Communist Aliens the FPS.

Burning Down the Hive

Chaos cultists seek to undermine and take over a hive city from within, while evading the attention of gangs, Arbites and eventually Inquisitors. A sneaky, conniving game of skullduggery and lies.

Welcome to the Family

Also, extra bonus game! Tyranids establish a genestealer cult to prey on and corrupt the citizens of an Adeptus Mechanicus research world. A slow-build one-shot with a specific objective: hit enough minor objectives to make your victory inevitable, without getting found out and obliterated by the authorities.

Strawberry Knights Five-Foot Square Apocalypse!

D&D 4E, the JRPG. Suddenly it all makes sense - the limited-use powers, the square-based movement, the improbable names for hitting things with swords.

Outward Bounders

See this post.

Nite of da Cybork

You were the Nob of the toughest mob of Boyz on planet, until some sneakin' bastard did you over and left you for dead. Morky, but not morky enough. Not when a stray Mad Dok happened across your tattered remains and decided to try an experiment or twenty. You wake up with a new experimental Plasma-Driven Cyber-Everything, more machine than ork, and with just enough juice in the reactor to run riot until dawn. Time to show da boyz what it means to cross da boss.

Possibly not so obvious, but this is a 40K hack for Hell 4 Leather I've been knocking around in my head for a while.


That post-Cthulhu weird fiction game I talked about, which doesn't yet have much resembling a setting or anything to play. I just like the flavour somehow.

Skaven Versus Hitler

I see no way in which this would not be awesome.

Untested systems

  • Traveller - never managed to get round to this, but it looks very fun
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay - any game where you can be a ratcatcher sounds promising
  • That one Shannon is writing
  • Cathulhu, because how could I not want to play that?
  • Dinosaurs in Spaaace!, sounds like my kind of campy fun

Friday, 9 May 2014

Necromancers: some more magic spheres

Just for interest, I whipped up a few more spheres to see if it would actually work out. Here's a couple of examples; the first might be a druid, the second perhaps some kind of priest or a hermit sorcerer? I dunno, I had a feeling of shininess and (metaphorical) coldness and hardness when I came up with that one, so it felt coherent. A sort of severe, puritan kind of magic that contrasts with the usual chaos and poetry and strangeness of spells.

Forest Earth Weather Beast
Commune Navigate
Sense forest spirits
Speak with earth spirits
Predict weather
Travel safely in storms
Sense animals
Speak with beasts
Evoke Conjure plants Summon earth elementals
Create clay or stone items
Gust of wind
Lightning strike
Summon animals
Manipulate Warp plants
Remove or create paths
Shape earth
Hide tracks
Damage elementals
Change weather Control animals
Assume Take on plantlike traits
Blend into forest
Take on earth traits
Meld into ground or rock
Ignore weather
Take on bestial traits

Light Crystal Metal Cold
Commune Sense light
Speak with light spirits
Scrying orb
Shattering vibrations
Sense metal
Scrying mirror
Navigate by temperature
Scry with ice
Walk on ice
Evoke Glowing lights
Laser bolt
Create crystalline objects
Encase in crystal
Create metal objects
Conjure blade storm
Ice storm
Icy wind
Freeze water
Manipulate Shape, increase or decrease light
Warp glass
Resonate crystals
Shape metal
Command metal elementals
Change temperature
Command ice elementals
Assume Become radiant
Avoid blindness from intense light
Meld into glass
Become crystalline (semi-invisible)
Metallic skin
Meld into metal
Magnetic aura
Icy aura
Ignore cold weather
Avoid heat-seeking animals

Necromancers again

Any ongoing spell effect absorbs some of your Mana. So if you use three successes to summon a shadowy beast, it can be imbued with up to three Mana. The Mana commitment determines how powerful the ongoing spell is. This prevents summon-spamming (you reduce your dicepool for future spells) and helps balance different kinds of spell; it also gives a guideline for how useful things like growing skeletal claws might be.

Borrowing from Numenera, which I've been listening to, let's stick to Might, Speed and Intellect for non-spell activities. You have 11 points to allocate between these, because each needs at least one die.

So, for example: you might cast a Skeletal Claws spell (Assume + Bone) to make yourself more formidable in combat, granting you additional dice equal to the successes you roll. However, while you retain the claws, your dicepool is reduced. If you roll 3 successes, you can choose to allocate up to 3 of them; if you pick all 3, your Mana is reduced by that amount, leaving you only 2 dice.

The claws don't necessarily just boost your combat ability. They might help with climbing, breaking through doors, intimidating people, and so on.

I think for simplicity, I'll use these pools as hit points. Bad things happening to you deplete your pools - note, though, that I'm not envisioning any Mana-injuring effects, so while you might get beaten up, drugged and headachey, you should always be able to try and cast spells.

There's no critical rules for non-magical attributes. Either you succeed or you don't.

NPCs can be whipped up easily. If I want them to have magic or equivalent powers, I can easily either use the existing necromancy pools, or come up with alternative spheres for them, if I want an elementalist or druid or something.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

More necromancers

So a while ago I imagined a Necromancers game and proposed a broad skills-based system. Dan disagreed and has put forward a class-based game with specific abilities. After much distraction doing other stuff, I have an initial idea for this that I’m going to play around with.

Although I originally mentioned a BRP-like system, and I still think that would work, I've been playing around with ideas for theme-based organic magic recently. Which is to say, ways of combining small numbers of generic keywords to create a variety of interesting effects. I feel like this could avoid the need for massive lists of specific spells, and allow player creativity,


The basic idea is that magic – which should be the majority of the cool stuff going on – will be modelled as a combination system. There are Talents (what you do) and Spheres (what it relates to) which can be combined to model a wide range of necromantic magic, without creating specific spells. The Talents are Commune, Evoke, Manipulate and Assume. The Spheres are Darkness, Essence, Bone and Beast.

Spells are cast by rolling up to 5 d6s, at the caster’s choice. Each roll of 4+ is a success. On a double, the spell misfires in some way – low numbers will tend to sputter out or go awry so they have little effect, while high numbers go out of control, possibly doing what you intended but also wreaking havoc. As a result, rolling more dice will produce a more powerful spell, but will also increase the risk.

By itself, the misfire rule would be annoying. However, the caster’s aptitude makes a great difference. This allows you to ignore doubles, based on your Mastery, making it advisable to stick to your favoured spells.

Ignore numbers

You rank the Talents and Spheres from 0-3, and when casting a spell, add these numbers together to find your, um... Mastery? Sure, why not. You can ignore any doubles less than or equal to your Mastery. This means that your best combination can always be safely cast (3+3=6), your worst combination will be pretty risky except at low power, and most spells can be cast with 2-3 dice for only moderate risk.

Of course, this means there’s always a risk for anything but your very best combination. Or do I want to have improved skill cancel out specific numbers of doubles, making casting below your skill level always completely safe? Let’s look at some numbers.

For 2d6, the probability of a double is 1/6

For 3d6, the probability is... ouch. Okay, I can’t actually find any guidance on this question from people who are willing to talk the right level of maths. Which is to say: I can find people who answer specific questions about this with specific numbers, and I can find people who refer obliquely to complicated maths, but not anyone who will lay out clearly how I would calculate this stuff for myself. I’m pretty sure it’s a factorials thing, but I’m happier with my ability to tediously lay out charts in Excel than with my ability to guess at statistics. And doing factorials with fractions is a nightmare.

So it looks like probabilities go something like: 0.1666..., 0.444..., 0.722... and I can’t be bothered with the ghastly cut-and-pasting required to do 5 dice, but it should be around the 0.9 mark. Assuming I didn’t mess up. The figures match the specific figures I got elsewhere, so great.

This means that if you’re casting a four-dice spell, you have a 72% chance of something going wrong. Unless you’re casting your very best spell, there’s at least a 12% chance of a miscast, and this will generally be more like 36% as the average spell rating will be 3. Okay, you’re not likely to cast your rubbish spells that often, but basically you have a substantial chance of problems on any but your most favoured spells, although in many cases this will be a case of overpowering them rather than wasting your action, because low doubles get lost first.


What about cancelling dice instead? That is, on favoured spells you can ignore specific dice for the purposes of doubles, rather than doubles with certain numbers? So if you rolled 4, 4, 4, 5, 6 you’d be able to ignore the triple if you had two Mastery. I’d need to adjust the ranks, probably using 0012 rather than 0123.

That’s... at least equally difficult to calculate, if not more so, because I have to care about number of pairs rather than their existence. Thankfully, someone has done it because Yahtzee exists, although again they only vaguely mutter about binomial expansion without explaining it.

With only 3 dice, the most likely common minimum (rolling 2 dice for 4+ doesn’t seem like a gamble many people will take often), there’s a 3% chance of needing 2 mastery and a 42% chance of needing 1.

For four dice (I did this one first, which is why it’s longer): Four identical = 6/1296, Three identical = 120/1296, Two pairs = 90/1296, One pair = 720/1296

So there’s a 6/1296 chance (0.00463) of needing 3 Mastery, a 16% chance of needing 2 Mastery (a triple or two pairs can both be cancelled by negating two dice), and a 55% chance of needing one Mastery.

With 5 dice, there’s a vanishingly small chance of needing 4 Mastery, so small that I don’t think it’s worth worrying about ever. There’s a 5% chance of needing 3, a 38% chance of needing 2, and a 46% chance of needing 1.

On the whole, then 2 Mastery will be enough the overwhelming majority of the time. I suppose I could introduce a rule that when cancelling pairs, you have to cancel both dice of the first pair before you can cancel the second pair, but that seems a bit clunky.

Highs and Lows

A simpler alternative would be the ever-popular 1s rule. Rolling a 1 would make the spell fizzle, but Mastery allows you to ignore 1s. Similarly, 6s might make the spell a bit more powerful than you intended, but Mastery absorbs that (whether you want it or not) although they still count as a success. If you roll a 1 and a 6, you could decide which to cancel first. You’d of course get more 1s and 6s with more dice, but with Mastery you can ignore many of them. This is probably a lot simpler, I wish I’d thought of it before. But I probably want to use d10s rather than d6s here, and go for a 5+ success.


Here's a table of the Spheres and Talents, with some example spells that might be possible.

Darkness Essence Bone Beast
Commune See in darkness
Detect shadow beings
Detect souls
See ghosts
Speak with dead
Find bodies
Sense skeletons
Forensic necromancy
Sense sinister animals
Speak with beasts
Evoke Conjure darkness
Cause blindness
Cause fear
Animate dead
Death bolt
Conjure skeletons or skeletal constructions Summon bats, wolves, rats, cats
Manipulate Alter shadows
Create shadow servant
Influence creature
Compel Ghost
Warp enemy
Shatter bones
Turn into cloud of bats
Assume Travel through shadows
Shadow aura
Heal pain or cuts
Drain life
Ghostly “rider” aids you
Grow skeletal claws or wings
Mend bones
Take on bestial traits

Draft system

So, under this draft I'm using the high-and-low system.

During character generation, you assign numbers 0,0,1,2 to each of the Spheres and again to each of the Talents. When casting a spell, you determine which Sphere and Talent combination it falls under and add these scores to find your Mastery.

To cast a spell, you roll between 0 and 5 d10s. A score of 5+ grants you one success, making the spell more effective. To achieve significant effects, you need larger pools. The choice of how many dice to roll is entirely up to you; you decide how much power you want to try and draw on.

Rolling extra dice is risky because you're more likely to lose control of the spell. Any roll of a 1 is a Fizzle, as the spell dissipates prematurely or goes awry in some mundane fashion; there may be minor effects from the magic, but effectively it's a dud. Any roll of 10 is a Miscast, as the spell's energies overwhelm you and you lose control; the spell goes off and will typically achieve more or less what you wanted (10 is still a success, after all), but it's also going to have unexpected consequences.

Mastery helps you to control your spells without untoward happenings. You can ignore a number of Fizzles and Miscasts equal to your Mastery - this doesn't affect the number of successes you get (the dice aren't discarded), so rolling 10,10,10,2,4 with Mastery 3 is still a successful cast.

Additional successes don't have to change the result of the spell. If you only want to achieve a minor result, and roll four successes, it doesn't force you expand the spell's effect - it's not much of a success otherwise.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The shape of things to come in 2014

It's looking likely that things will get quiet around here over the next few months. This is for the simple reason that I'll be on a different continent from the rest of the L&L crew, and just as importantly, in a completely different timezone.

I'm hoping to maintain some sporadic contact in a couple of ways. One is play-by-email, which I'm thinking of trying out - some of my players seem like they'd fit quite well with less boisterous games, and I'm thinking of running some Cthulhu or general investigative stuff, but leaving out the gunfights and car chases. A more investigation-based, roleplay-heavy (in the sense of "talk about your character") game that doesn't require too many dice rolls that'll break up play by potentially several days apiece. Any tips welcome!

The other thing is that I worked out I can actually run short sessions over Skype, providing I start at 7am and everyone else is willing to play 10-11pm. We'll see! It'd do wonders for my efficiency, I'm sure.

Anyway! I do have a bit of a post backlog to work through, including some draft posts that'll never see the light of day, rather too many game ideas to play with, and several podcasts that need editing up. But you can probably expect things to dry up a lot here. The site will also drift yet further from its origins, as I will no longer be a librarian.

Alpha Dregs

I've been mulling over for a while now a game where you have a set of skills that are, at face value, basically useless. The challenge is to overcome difficulties by creative use of unsuitable skills. But what sort of game would it be?

As I was coming to work today, I had a sudden idea for a game concept that I'm going to call Alpha Dregs.

What is Alpha Dregs?

In a mildly dystopian near future, sinister corporation Nextstep was established by forward-thinking entrepreneurs as a new solution to staffing needs. Using radiation, gene tech, cybernetics and secret alien science leaked by government officials, they planned to produce special employees to fit a whole range of special needs, starting with the private military world.

Nextstep collapsed without ever getting to market after a series of tax laws and technical problems, combined with growing investor anxiety, left their business model unworkable. The enhancement projects were shut down; lacking any better ideas, the existing alpha prototypes were abandoned to work things out for themselves. Now they must make their uneducated, ill-suited way through the modern world.

Nextstep never managed to control their enhancement techniques. The alphas carry a range of abilities that might, in bad light and from a funny angle, be considered "superpowers". Grown in vats, they have no formal education and minimal experience of social contact: some received hypnotic instruction in niche roles, others were given military training they aren't qualified to use. Mutations and vulnerabilities are widespread.


Basically, the idea is that you create characters who have a range of unusual skills and abilities, none of them very useful - but don't have ordinary everyday abilities.

For example, you might have Assume Stone Form, Detect Cutlery, Illusory Birds, Repel Liquids, Hover and Transport via Adverts as powers. You might have Evade Guards, Parachuting, Operate Flamethrower, Poison, Assume False Identity and Bomb Disposal and skills. However, all your other abilities are very limited, so your best bet is to find ways to creatively use what you have. Operate Flamethrower is totally relevant to hosting a barbecue, right?

I'm going to have to mull this one over more, but this is a start.

You'd also have a random Weakness chart, something like:

  1. Afraid of
  2. Allergic to
  3. Can't interact with
  4. Fixates on
  1. Cats
  2. Porcelain
  3. Electricity
  4. Brunettes
  5. Uniformed officers
  6. Purple
  7. Jazz
  8. Mint

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Delayed Deathwatch

How annoying.

I've spent the last couple of weeks hammering away at more Deathwatch in an attempt to cut down my backlog - not least because there's some recent content I'd like to get up in more-or-less timely fashion to discuss while it's fresh, but don't want to leave older recordings hanging around any longer. Anyway, hot rough Fisting action is all ready to go, but is being a pain and I haven't been able to upload the files. As I'll be away this weekend, it's likely to be at least next week before I can change that. A shame, I was really hoping to start posting the game.