Thursday, 20 January 2022

Travellers

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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I've never read Traveller. 

This is despite hearing so many people talk about it in response to Foreground Growth and generally liking most of what I hear about it's design and gameplay. 

So today's the day. I ordered a print copy of The Traveller Book, which is the three original books plus a sample adventure. Let's see if there's anything that leaps out at me in the first few pages. 

p9 - This is the first page of proper text and we're introduced to "self-appointed goals", another area that I'm extremely interested in. Great to see it so front-and-center, though admittedly also slightly tucked away in a full page of text.

p10 - "The rules provide for solitaire and unsupervised play, but the highest form of the game, the ones that is the most fun, requires that someone act as referee."

I'm interested to see whether this is expanded on! Also unsupervised play makes it sound like forbidden fruit.

p12 - What makes a good referee? Apparently Imagination, Improvisation, Proportion (being neither over generous or restrictive), and Organisation. Seems pretty good to me, though I think many of us would wince slightly at the last one. 

p13 - Information the GM's setting is advised to be split into four categories, which I'd summarise as:

1: The PCs know it.

2: The PCs can find it out easily.

3: The PCs can find it out with difficulty.

4: The PCs can't find it out by their own efforts.

Whiiiiich, as a "give information" preacher, gives me a little twitch. If you're putting info in your notes that the players stand no chance of discovering, then is that wasted time? I guess it might help with your portrayal of the world to know this huge secret, but I'm not convinced. 

p15 - "One of the most important parts of being a good referee is keeping proper track of the passage of game time."

Hmmmm... this was a real vibe of this era of RPGs.

p18 - So I knew all the jokes about dying in character creation, but by the book it actually looks way more common than I expected! The optional "injury" rule feels much more practical. Perhaps they die on a second injury. 

p19 - "When a character reaches 34 year of age... aging begins to take its toll"

Presented without further comment.

It's around this point that I should confess I'm enjoying this book a lot more than I was expecting. Perhaps that will change as I get beyond the first chapter, but I definitely feel there's something special about this in comparison to other games I've read from the era. 

p21 - I understand that "Gun Combat" and "Gunnery" mean different things, but them both existing as separate skill entries, that actually need to be handled differently, really gives reinforces that old game vibe. It even repeats this with "Blade Combat" and "Blade" as distinct skills!

Melee weapons are handled so weirdly. Maybe it'll make more sense when I read the combat rules, but it essentially seems like there's one ideal weapon for any given STR score, and you should just consult the list to find your dream weapon. With a good STR of 10, my traveller seems destined to wield a halberd or pike, which seems hilarious when I picture them lugging the thing through a space station. 

p22 - Aaaargh! I was just starting to love this system, but now I see that having the skill "Administration 2" doesn't mean a nice simple +2 to your 2d6 roll relating to Administrative Affairs. Nooo, you have to look up each individual skill to find that Administration actually grants +2 for each level of skill, and you get an outright -3 if you lack the skill entirely. Just when I thought we had a nice straightforward system here. Hopefully this isn't a harbinger of things to come. 

I can already sense the distant presence of 40 years' worth of house rules to this game that make things more straightforward, but I can only judge what's in here, for now. Naturally, if I were to run this I'd probably be chopping off a whole lot either way. 

Though for all that I hate the idea of having to consult this skill chapter during play, I kinda love that computers have a 1-in-6 chance of just fatally crashing when needed, and a 27% chance of having a detrimental bug even if it's not fatal. 

Okay, we've hit the end of the character chapter. Feeling very mixed on this. My heart likes it, my head hurts slightly, but let's end by rolling my first ever character.

Major Dunne Reason   887646   30yrs

3 Terms Army  Cr22,000

Brawling -1, Rifle-1, SMG-1, Fwd Obsvr-1, Mechanical-1, Dagger-2

1 High Passage, 1 Mid Passage, 1 Low Passage

Amazing this guy got as far as he did with such a low Education score. Seems like he's mostly good for getting free rides and stabbing people, but it's a start!

Looking forward to seeing what the rest of the book holds. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2022

INTERGALACTIC PLANETARY

Last time I spoke about a modular approach I'm trying out for Ask the Stars.

Well, this coincided with last week's dip into Classic Traveller, which of course means I had to combine the two. 

So there are now two brand new Ask the Stars modules awaiting testing. 


INTERGALACTIC is sort of the core, giving you a spacefaring character and rules for drifting around space, seeking business opportunities at greasy starports, and spending your profits on better gear.

PLANETARY deals with going down to onto worlds, exploring their settlements, dodging hostile lifeforms, and even dipping into the corporate world. 

The PRIMORDIAL module that I shared last week needs some work based on what I've learned from these two, so you can expect that to get an update some time this week. Then my to-do list has no fewer than *checks* eleven other modules I'd like to make, so this might keep me busy for a while.

And for those bitten by the planet creation bug, I'll be creating five planets using five different systems  (including this one) over on tonight's stream, 9pm GMT. 

Check them both out in the Ask the Stars folder.

Friday, 14 January 2022

Modularity, Ask the Stars, and Primordial

This week saw the return of Bastionland Broadcast, where I looked through the fantastic 2400 games by Jason Tocci, which you should all go and buy as they're an absolute steal.

I've been staring at these games for a while, mulling over ideas of trying them out with a one-shot

Or perhaps a series of one-shots that connect into one game for a big finale.

Or perhaps just taking two books and mashing them together.

All in all, aside from the actual quality of the things (which is super high), I think I'm just as excited about the modular format. It's nothing new, of course, but sometimes it just takes the right implementation of an existing idea for it to stick with you.

It got me thinking whether this format could work for various related ideas I've been mulling for a while, but haven't quite managed to find the proper structure to bring to life. 

Presenting Ask the Stars, which at the time of writing contains a single module, Primordial. I have grand ideas for six additional modules around this idea, and one that takes things on a more distinct diversion.

As I create more I'll pop them into this folder, but I wanted to see if I could create a similar type of game, where you can go to the table with just the very core, or a few additions of your own choice. 

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Attention

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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So without delving too deep into despair, the pandemic situation here in the UK is looking a bit volatile in the lead up to Christmas, so I'm finding it difficult to focus today. Unfortunate how the negative things can grab your attention like a vice, while the positive things can just as quickly slip through.

Lurching back on-topic, for me this definitely applies to reading and playing RPGs, wargames, boardgames, and especially videogames. Not so much that I get hung up on negatives, but I can find it difficult to focus on a game, even if it's one I'm actively interested in. 

Or, rather, I can focus on the game, but I feel like I'm too busy thinking about the next step. If I'm reading some fluff, I just want to get to the rules. If I'm reading rules, I just want to see how this game actually works in play. Once I get it to play, I often feel it's running too slowly. This might sound terrible, but I've joked before that this impatience is the fuel behind Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland

Blighters comes very much from the same place. I still go back and read Blades in the Dark, because it has some of the best GM advice that I've ever read, but the idea of running it from the book melts my brain. Credit to John for including a section in the book that outright says "you can run this game stripped-back to the core mechanic and it'll work just fine" but why do that instead of spending months carving out my own system?

For those that were interested after this week's post, I'll be sharing a PDF at the start of January when I've been able to tidy it up enough for public consumption. If you read Voidheist then the majority is unchanged from there. 

So to the actual point of this Editorial. For a bit of a change, I'm reaching out to ask for some recommendations from you:

What games (of any type) have you enjoyed that get straight to the point, with minimum padding around its core concept?

Here's hoping we can all find something new to enjoy over the end of the year, and perhaps keep us nicely distracted from the negatives. 

 

Friday, 17 December 2021

Dragonmeet

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

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Last weekend was Dragonmeet down in London, the first convention I've been able to attend since the release of Electric Bastionland. 

I'll be looking over my haul in this month's Backstage video, but my biggest takeaway is just how good it felt to be able to speak to people that were either already playing the game, or just picking it up that day. Strange that it's almost two years since its release, but actually showing it to people over a table made it feel completely new again. Of course everybody loves the art, but the best feeling is when somebody gets excited by the promise that "this game has the fewest rules-per-pound of any book you'll buy today". 

I was hosted by the always inspirational Rowan, Rook & Decard, and it felt like a good match. Although the rules of our games are significantly different, I think we have a lot of common ground in terms of our approach to setting design and tone. Lots of Spire fans were keen to pick up Electric Bastionland, and vice versa. 

Most of all, I loved spending some time with people I normally only get to interact with though email and social media. You don't need to read another thinkpiece about how the last few years have impacted our real-world social lives compared to those of the digital realm, but it's something I've sorely missed. I've had plenty of good game-chat on Discord, but nothing beats actually talking to somebody over a table full of food, in a quiet hotel corridor, or a freezing smoking area. 

Admittedly I took an hour midway through the day to go and hide alone in my room, but I feel like that's something a lot of attendees would benefit from. 

Who knows what's in the immediate future for conventions like this, but I'm already looking forward to the next opportunity to show somebody Electric Bastionland for the first time.

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Blighters Rough Version

Oh alright, go ahead and have access to Blighters as it stands.


As always, work in progress, expect changes. 

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Blighters

Wow, these two posts were like 18 months ago.

Since then I've tested the game a handful of times, and spent a lot of time wondering why I hadn't gone much further with it. The overall state of things was:

  • The core system (in essence, a stripped-back Blades in the Dark) is simple enough to use in play and generates some interesting moments without intruding on play.
  • Sometimes there are a few too many Gauges being tracked for my liking, as some of them feel a little inconsequential.
  • The setting is well-linked into the characters and the hooks that they'll be dealing with, but it's a little safe and generic for me at the moment. Archetypes are extremely useful in RPGs, but it all needs seasoning. 
  • The starting characters all get something cool, but some of the skills feel a bit too useful (Software), while others are hard to bring to use in certain scenarios (Science, Authority, and even Weaponry).
  • There isn't a clear hook as to why the characters are doing these dangerous jobs other than "get rich quick".
  • Running heists is fun, but I feel like the shitty-sci-fi setting begs for a wider range of scenarios within the existing job structure.

Now as we know, basically all of my game design comes down to:

  • Stealing bits from other games
  • Deleting large sections of rules
  • www.thesaurus.com
  • Find and Replace
  • Abandoning the document for a long period of time
  • Add more stuff that might make the table laugh
So I've been doing a lot of that to see if we can revive this game with a new lick of paint.


> LOCAL BROADCAST:
> Macro-Ship BLUE TWILIGHT
> Callsign BLIGHTY
> Massive Budget Failure
> Commencing Nano-Liquidation
> All crew released for contract work
> No job too big, small, or deadly
> Survival projection: poor
> Still, you’ve got to laugh

Hardcore fans might have heard me talk about the idea of Blighters before. A Red Dwarf inspired microgame that I didn't quite manage to get to grips with. Well we're already a bunch of space losers in a world of Androids and Genetically Engineered Organisms, so why not lean into this inspiration a little? Every game I write ends up having a touch of dark comedy, so it seems like these two projects could naturally become one. 

Now, get me my axe.
  • Print and Prep Gauges are condensed into Cost
  • Assisting rules are simplified to a nice easy bonus
  • I basically had the "Devil's Bargain" equivalent in two different places, so now it's present in its simpler form
  • Event Gauges in the sample jobs now just use the Heat gauge instead of creating two new Gauges to track

How about those Skills?

Well, I briefly moved back to having them phrased more as Actions or Approaches, similar to how Blades in the Dark does. It was a useful exercise, but really just affirmed to me that I think more concrete skills are a better fit here, so Software rather than Hack, and Hardware rather than Fix. It helped me look at the spread of Skills, though, and they've been broadened/tightened as needed to make sure that every skill can be used in every session if the player is smart about it, without allowing them to just always use their highest rated skill for every task. 

Data replaces Science and takes bits from Software's portfolio to cover all sorts of information harvesting and analysis.
Deception replaces Secrecy, because it's a little more active. It's a small change, but it allows the skill to cover things like creating a false identity or making counterfeit items.
Force and Movement share the remains of Weaponry and Athletics. Weaponry was a strange one. It did get used, but it was weirdly focused on a task that most of the time the players were actively trying to avoid. Now it's a little broader to allow for a range of high-impact actions. Similarly, Movement takes the rest of Athletics, but also gains a little bit of sneaking to replace the "punching people" that was lost to Force.
Influence replaces Authority, and while I liked the flavour of that Skill I found players would struggle to get to grips with it in play. For social actions it's more direct than Deception and more forceful than Empathy, and can even be thought of as a soft measure of their place in the social hierarchy. 


What Next?

I should have more of this to share in the New Year, but this is likely the final non-editorial post of 2021, so as always, thanks for reading the blog, click here if you've really enjoyed it, and here's to an even better 2022.