Friday, 7 August 2020

GRIMLITE - Horrors of Husk 28

GRIMLITE now has a living document. Expect regular changes in there, so apologies to anybody that's actually trying to run a campaign with this thing.

My goal was to make a game let you spend almost no time thinking about the rules, instead being able to focus on what I affectionately call narrative bullshit. The wild things that happen in miniature wargames that stick in your memory.

Basically everything that goes against the idea of a chess-like pitched battle between two carefully balanced sides. I wanted to make sure that intent was clear from the start, so the default scenario needed to be something that exemplified that.

Coincidentally I've been revisiting Frostgrave this week, having mostly ignored it in the past. I'm surprised at how much philosophy it shares with GRIMLITE with its swingy combat and high-impact magic system. In particular I like the focus on gathering treasure, rather than trying to wipe out the opposing side (somewhat OSR in that respect) and the inclusion of a system for neutral monsters roaming the battlefield.

This took me back to my experience with Necromunda, and what I was trying to recapture with GRIMLITE. The games that I remember even after a 20 year hiatus are:

  • Running a Purge where three of us all had gangs taking on hordes of whatever hive-monsters we had minis for. 
  • A clash between two gangs that was interrupted by a squad of Arbites that would fire indiscriminately, but if you killed one you could potentially loot their high-end gear.
  • Something involving frozen Chaos Warriors? I mainly remember them waking up and slaughtering a few gangers before the rest fled.
I can see why Frostgrave went in this direction. This is potent stuff.

I've also been working on the implied setting for GRIMLITE, a world I'm calling Husk 28. A forgotten moon of a broken planet. I liked the idea of a world that had been abandoned by the typical sci-fi corporation or empire, focusing on what happens to those left behind. The Husk, if you like. An exaggerated Dark Ages feel rather than anything too explosive. More post-abandonment than post-apocalypse.

So the idea of Horrors emerged from these thoughts. Neutral creatures that would roam the battlefield and protect the loot the Warbands were trying to seize. These were the things that the caretakers of the planet had previously protected its residents against, but they're gone now. 

This evolved into the idea of Trophies, so the Horrors are the loot. The scarier the Horror the bigger the potential reward for taking them down, provided the other side doesn't steal the spoils. 

Anybody that's played Frostgrave will see similarities here. It's like grabbing the Treasure system in one hand, the Creatures system in the other and smashing them into one blob. Now, go fight the blob and hope it doesn't eat you. 

This new focus on Horrors allowed me break up the more traditional Scenario structure I previously had in there. Now there are loose ideas for Battlefields and Twists that you can apply to have a battle with a more non-standard structure. Ambitious players can pull options from three different systems to create a unique combination each time. So you might have:

The Hells-Gate Compound
Horrors: 1 Devourer, 1 Hellion
Battlefield: Complex - A single sprawling complex of corridors and rooms.
Secure doors can be opened or closed with an action.
Twist: Relic - Both sides are hunting down a powerful weapon that can be used in battle and worth extra Trophies at the end of the game.

Which would feel quite different to:

Terrors in the Dark
Horrors: 1 Arachnid, 4 Vermin
Battlefield: The Shadow - An area of Husk permanently shadowed by the
broken planet.The Horrors here know how to use
the dark, and all attacks against them are at QL6+.
Twist: Mercs - A third Warband is on the board, with control passing back and forth between the players as the tide turns.

But even a relatively simple battle with a few horrors and a basic battlefield should still generate memorable drama. 

As with the RPGs I write, I don't want to create a canonical library of content here. I want players to feel empowered to design their own horrors and battlefields. For now I'm hoping I can do this through show don't tell but I suspect some more prescriptive guidance will appear in the doc later. So for now a look into how I've designed the content that's in there.

Break the Rules

Warbands all operate under pretty simple rules, so the Horrors can afford to be downright broken. I have the Colossus that basically ignores any low-powered weapons and the Witch who can mind-control Warband members. There's no way I'd put these abilities into Warbands themselves, but here it creates a puzzle for the players to solve and is sure to create memorable moments.

Hinder, Don't Invalidate

The key to keeping things interesting is to make them difficult but not impossible. If a battlefield makes Shooting impossible then it's probably going to feel like it's just punishing one warband more than the other, and there aren't many interesting ways to tackle it. However, in the Shadow battlefield all attacks are hindered, which means everybody is in the same terrible boat. 

Be Horrific

Remember these are Horrors. They should scare the players. If they're too soft then the game turns into a PiƱata where players take turns showering the ground with trophies before scrabbling over the sweets within. Keep things scary and desperate.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

A Setting to Serve the Game

At some point I suspect we've all sat down to read an RPG and gone through the following process:
  • This setting looks neat, I'd love to run a game in it.
  • Okay, there's quite a lot of setting here, time to dig deeper.
  • Right, that's all cool, but I have no idea how I'd actually run a game in there.
This is something I try to avoid whenever I'm working on a setting for a game. I've spoken about it before as the idea that Setting should Serve the Game.

Basically, the game is more important than the setting, so if something needs to change it should be the setting. This isn't some universal dogma, just how I like things to be with games I'm playing. I believe that the world comes to life at the game table, not on the GMs desk.

So from the very start Into the Odd did this. The game existed before the setting, so I knew that I needed a world where:
  • Adventurers could go out and look for treasure as independent groups.
  • Weird obstacles could guard the treasure.
  • Some treasure would have weird powers.
With Into the Odd we got a world with a single city that's barely held under any sort of authority, a perilous underground that doesn't follow the rules and a wilderness that doesn't make sense, and the implication that Arcana are discarded alien devices. A world born out of the game's adventurous requirements.

Electric Bastionland expanded on this with the Debtholders, Failed Careers and Machines all being new elements that both flavour the setting but were ultimately born from game requirements.

As with all my advice, this all sounds very absolute. Am I saying that your game setting should have NOTHING that doesn't directly relate to the game? Well sure, if it works, but I don't begrudge people that like a bit of side-salad on their plate. If it gets the reader inspired then it's good by me, but too much side-salad and I suddenly realise I can't see the pasta anymore.

This is particularly relevant as I hash out a loose setting for GRIMLITE, a world I'm tentatively naming Husk28, a forgotten moon of a broken planet. Tinkering around with it got me thinking about one of the most successful tabletop RPG settings of all time.

WARHAMMER 40,000

Something about this setting just works. It got its flesh-hooks into me when I was 10 years old and despite walking away multiple times something keeps dragging me back. Sure, miniatures are appealing, and there's some incredible artwork that brings the setting to life, but I think it's worth dissecting the setting to see why it works. Does it support my theory that the best settings serve the game, or does it cry Heresy at my false sermon?

This is cheating a bit, as this is clearly a setting primarily written for miniature wargaming, rather than RPGs, but the same principles apply. Many jokes have been made about the tagline "In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future there is Only War" but it really spotlights that this is a world that exists for the benefit of your table. 




I'll take any excuse to talk about the two original Realms of Chaos books. These were giant, messy volumes filled with Chaos stuff. The core of it really was a procedure for creating a Champion in the service of one of the four Chaos Gods. You'd also get some random followers ranging from humble Skaven and Orcs to Sorcerers, Manticores, and Giant Snails. It definitely had that early-GW feel of "let's make a game where we can use all our weird miniatures at once", yet the setting makes it work. You aren't just a grab-bag of unrelated miniatures, you're a warped and disparate warband following a twisted god of corruption. Why is your Knightly Champion being followed by a Giang Frog and a Minotaur? Chaos! That's why!

Of course the random element sort of spits in the face of this idea. If I roll a Treeman as my latest follower I guess I'd better go and buy the miniature or get creative with some twigs. I suspect many players would fudge the randomness slightly to make their own miniatures fit here, but the kitbasher in me sort of likes the challenge of going full-random.

So the Realms of Chaos work as a setting for narrative wargames. There's a reason for your warband to exist the way it does, and there's a reason why you're always fighting everybody all the time on bizarre battlefields. I'm cheating here, because while these books do serve 40k they feel primarily written with an eye on Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

Warhammer 40k has Chaos, sure, but amongst other elements it also has the Imperium. This is both its biggest asset and flaw.

Chaos works because you've got four factions with a very strong identity and clear reasons to oppose each other, but plenty of room for variety within them. A Khorne warband made up of Dark Elves and elite Chaos Warriors is going to feel very different to one made up of a horde of Beastmen and Snotlings. Yeah, you can get Khornate Snotlings in Realms of Chaos. 


At first the Imperium looks like it has all the same hallmarks. It's big and incomprehensible. It's fractured into the Mechanicus, Militarum, Inquisition, Arbites, Astartes and the faux-latin list could go on all day. Even these fractures have sub-fractures, most classically in Space Marine Chapters that breaks the Astartes down into handily colour-coded factions each with their own gimmick and agenda.

But it's not quite the same. At a glance you'd think this perfectly serves a game where you need to be able to explain any two players fighting a pitched battle against each other. 

Ultramarines vs Tyranids? Great. Rematch of the century. 

Ultramarines vs Mechanicus? Sure, I guess. Their agendas could clash in a way that sparks a battle.

Ultramarines vs Imperial Fists? Erm. I guess one of these Chapters is sheltering an enemy of the Imperium? Maybe Tzeentch has tricked one of us into attacking the other. No, not my side, your side.

Ultramarines vs Ultramarines? Suppose one of us has to be the Alpha Legion in disguise? Wait, we both have Roboute Guilliman soooo....

It gets worse with some of the other factions. Eldar are an ancient, dying race where every life is precious. So why are they mowing themselves down again?

I mean it's not going to stop two players fighting each other, but it lessens the narrative appeal. You can make it work if you're creative, but it doesn't have that masterful directness of Realms of Chaos. Anything goes over there, so two followers of Slaanesh could easily be pitched against each other just as easily as they'd go and raid the civilised lands. 

I wrote WARPHAMMER 99k as a joke, but it sort of demonstrates a very clumsy approach to making the 40k setting better serve the game. It catapults the 40k universe back into the Realms of Chaos, but it  loses a lot in the process. Personally I feel like it's an issue of scale. 40k wants to be this epic thing. Wars of millions are fought every day above hive planet with billions of people, all but a speck compared to the trillions of Daemons that pour into the galaxy from the Eye of Terror, yet all this is nothing compared to...

And so on.

But the fact is, most people are going to engage with the setting through battles between armies measured in dozens rather than even hundreds, maybe even less than that if they're playing Kill Team. Sure, the individual life is meaningless in this cruel galaxy, but I also spent hours painting this little Exarch and I think she's actually pretty cool. 

So I like that the Imperium is unfathomably massive and stagnant, but what's lost if we apply a thunder hammer to it until the cracks are a bit clearer.

Completely fracture the Astartes. At least enough that it's easy to explain why your Salamanders are fighting my Blood Angels every week.

This is a lot easier if you remove the idea that the marines are the heroes of the story. There's an entire rant on that topic stashed away inside me but I'll bury it down for another day.

Put more narrative focus on the individuals. Allow everybody to be a bit of a renegade. Allegiance is primarily to your army's leader, rather than the faction as a whole. Now there's more appeal in considering why two Wolf Lords would bring their Companies to war against each other. 

What's that? There's already an edition of Warhammer 40k that solves all of these issues?


Rogue Trader was weird. Sort of the 40k parallel to the Realms of Chaos books. Giant mess of creative ideas, blurring the line between wargame and RPG, with heavy focus on "let's use every weird mini we have". 

And the Rogue Traders themselves are essentially the Renegades I was describing above. They fly around deep space seeking money by whatever means. They have Imperial authority but can also basically do what they want. Hire an Eldar bodyguard? Sure. Get some Ork crew? Great. Blow up a rival Rogue Trader? Absolutely.

Most meaningfully, it's easy to imagine two rival Rogue Traders calling on support from different Marine chapters. Now that Salamanders vs Blood Angels battle is on.

Modern 40k is clearly having to walk a line between serving its tabletop games alongside a range of novels, video-games, and presumably the big-budget TV series and movies are only a matter of time away. 

If you're writing a setting to be used purely at the table then you've got the luxury of focus. Take a step back and look at the actual needs of your game. You'll thank me when you sit down with a bunch of new players and your world emerges through play rather than an exposition dump.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

External Engagement in RPGs

Last week I wrote about how I found External Engagement was hindering my enjoyment of videogames.

Again this is just my own experience. Some enjoy it as a part of their game experience, and for others it's their main way of engaging with the hobby.

Now with Tabletop RPGs the divide between External/Internal Engagement isn't quite as simple.

At its most obvious it's the classic player/GM divide. The GM spends all week preparing for the game and the players roll up, play for a few hours, then go home and don't think about the game until next week.

But there's a lot of space between those two extremes, and some nuance in the way that people engage externally with the game.

Prepping Content: This lies closest to the actual playing of the game, whether it's a GM crafting a setting or a player planning out their character. 

Training: I guess this is a sort of prep, but instead of making content you're brushing up on your skills. That could be learning tips to running the game or reading up on how to be a better player in terms of tactical decisions or portraying an interesting character.

Spectating: Essays have been written about the growing appeal of actual play streams and podcasts. I don't really have much experience of them but fair to say it's a form of external engagement.

Discoursing: Talking about RPGs. Not necessarily to get ideas for content for your game, or even necessarily to understand the game itself, but almost for the enjoyment of the discussion. I describe this slightly pejoratively because I'm clearly a sucker for this myself, and I'm in an ongoing process of reviewing how much I actually enjoy it

Designing for External Engagement

Some games do this pretty clearly. Forgive the dated reference, but in the 3rd Edition days the official D&D "Character Optimisation" forum was pretty popular. This was a whole lot of people crunching away at the numbers to make powerful characters, completely away from the realities of at-table play. A fun process in its own right for some, I'm sure, but if you're not somebody that enjoys that side of things its very presence can affect how you view the game. Should I be like the people on that forum when I sit down to play 3e? Is this what the other players are expecting of me? Will they be mad if I just make a weird character that isn't super effective mechanically?

Games that are designed to support this sort of External Engagement might see the positives being reaped ("everybody is talking about our game!") without necessarily seeing theses hidden negatives. From the inside I've always felt like the barrier to entry for RPGs is super-low, but dig a bit deeper and it's easy to see how they might appear more daunting to a newcomer.

"Oh I always liked the look of the 40k RPGs but I don't want to have to learn a bunch of setting stuff"

"D&D looks cool but I don't want to have to buy a load of miniatures"

"I want to run Mothership but I heard on Twitter that it doesn't support campaign play, so probably not worth starting it"

So External Engagement is Bad, Right?

No! Again, this is about working out what your own preferences are. 

The activities listed above can all be enjoyable, and I enjoy them myself, but I feel like going too deep into them hinders my enjoyment of the actual game when I sit down to play. 

Will it be the same for you? Depends entirely on the person, but I think it's interesting to consider whether these engagements are laying too much pressure on your weekly game, or setting unrealistic expectations. 

We all remember that session where we were excited all week, spent a tonne of time doing prep, and then it was a big flop. On the other side sometimes those unplanned games turn out to be the most enjoyable for me, where you have nothing planned and have to run on pure improvisation.

Everybody has seen that person posting a hot take on twitter presenting a purely theoretical argument or describing a bizarre situation completely alien to your experience at the table. Sometimes you sit back and think "has this person actually played this game or do they just talk about it online?"

Do you ever feel like you're that person? Might be worth considering whether External Engagement is improving or hindering your enjoyment of the hobby.

Designing for Internal Engagement

So you'd expect Electric Bastionland to be designed purely for Internal Engagement, right? Well, no, because this is only really a recent concept for me. Even if I were to re-write the game today I don't think it's useful to see this as such a clear dichotomy.

There are loads of ways you can engage externally with EB. There's regular discourse on how best to run the game, and the Oddendum is basically a huge chapter where I engage in that discussion. There are procedures for creating maps and stocking your locations, both of which you'd usually sit down to do between your games. I even made an Actual Play video so that people can watch before they play.

But it's missing some of the key points of External Engagement.

Character optimisation? Don't make me laugh. Roll up a character and see what you get.

Sure, there are a bunch of procedures in the book for prep, but you're encouraged to leave lots open to discovery at the table. I try to lead by example here, where the entire setting of Bastionland is only really presented through the lens of an RPG. There's no delusion that this world deserves a nine-book fiction saga, this is a world built for the table.

There's certainly no giant wiki of setting to digest. You only get to discover Bastionland by playing it.

But like I said before, this isn't about purity of design. It's about... wait... what is it about again?

What's the Point of All This?

As I said at the start of this post, this whole process has been a bit of self-reflection, and I'm sure there are people that feel similar to me. My hope is that somebody might read this and consider whether they're enjoying tabletop RPGs as much as they possibly can, and whether there's another way for them.

It's extra rough if you don't have a group to play with in-person, a situation a lot of us are in at the moment. I spent years in this wilderness before online-play became so straightforward and local groups more commonplace, so I sympathise with those who feel like they only have External Engagement to enjoy, but I'd encourage them to look at all options to get themselves involved in the actual playing of the game.

And maybe think about stepping away from RPG twitter for a week. Limit yourself to an hour of prep for your game and accept that you're going to be filling in blanks on the night. Rather than listening to actual plays, dive into a history podcast or audiobook that might give you some cool ideas to draw on.

Don't deny yourself the type of fun that comes with that low-pressure, no-expectation game.

Friday, 24 July 2020

GRIMLITE Weapons and Factions

GRIMLITE was written to be generic enough to be used with a wide range of sci-fi miniatures. But as I tinker with kitbashing miniatures into free-form monstrosities I noticed they were slipping into three distinct factions, albeit with some blurry lines between.

Basically:
  • Humans
  • Mutants
  • Robots
The tyranny of the blank page has ruined many creative endeavours, so I've slipped the free-form Warband creation of GRIMLITE into the background to focus on these three factions (well, four, but that's one for another day).

So forget generic. Let's bake a little setting into this without going down the dark path of timelines, maps and prose.

Militants

The last remnants of humanity as it was. They range from grim survivalists clinging to an old way of life to active crusaders seeking to dominate what remains of the land.

Splicers
Some believe that humanity cannot survive in its current state, tinkering with the essence of their being. Some draw on the stock of long dead aliens, others directly manipulating their genetics in search of perfection.

Cyborgs
Living flesh has so many flaws that mechanical augmentation is the only logical future for humanity.

As with the RPG stuff I write I want them to be flavourful enough to inspire, but open enough to allow multiple interpretations. There's no rigorous codex here, just some templates to use as inspiration for warband creation and kitbashing miniatures for.

A forgotten moon of a broken planet. Only the doomed and the lost remain, fighting over the dust.

Another change since the last post is the addition of Weapon Mods. I always wanted weapons to be ultra simple, and modifiers were just an extension of that. You paid some points to get more shots or damage. Easy, right? 

Actually, no. It allowed more weapon variation but it was all very cold and clinical. It didn't capture what makes more interesting weapons actually fun to use at the table.

So now weapon mods generally give you a very specific effect, or a general effect with a specific drawback. Even if a mod generally makes a weapon better it also makes it more specialised, so you're going to have to think carefully to get the best use out of it.

Simple ones like this:
Impact (x2 Damage if you have not Moved this Turn)

To slightly trickier ones to capitalise on:
Blaze (x2 Attacks, Max 1 Damage per Target)

This works nicely with factions, where I can use the weapon mods to give each a more unique set of tools at their disposal.

Are they balanced? No. I want to make sure they're fun to use first, then I can balance afterwards, but even then this is never going to be a tournament style wargame. Simplicity and drama are the twin priorities, so if I have a choice between keeping something fun or axing it for the case of balance I'd probably go with the former.

So let's see some Warbands in their disgusting, warped, mechanical flesh.


DECLARED INTENT - MILITANT SQUAD


Pastor Vox - Judge (Grim 3+) [free+4pts]
Carrying the authority to declare judgement on the enemies of humanity.
Cruel Fist (T1x3, x2 Damage vs Downed targets)
Thundergun (S1x5)
Tactic - Capture: Target a Downed enemy one of your units is touching. They are seized and treated as Dead. 

Skol - Champion (4+) [5pts]
A favoured follower granted the blessing of their leader and best equipment.
Relic Blade (T2x1, Roll twice for Shock and choose the result)
Charm: Ignore negative Shock effects.

Urlas - Hunter (Elusive 5+) [3pts]
Self-made vigilantes tracking down the enemies of humanity.
Rifle (L1x3)

2x Rat Heads - Vermin (5+) [6pts]
Subhuman scum that can at least die for the cause.
Flail (T2x1, If a 6 is rolled x2 Damage)


THE RED COVEN - SPLICER CULT


Red Slayer - Alpha (Tough 3+) [free+3pts]
Ruling through strength alone.
Jaws (1x3)
Impaler (S2x6, One use only)
Tactic - Brutality: Your Leader makes a Move, Fire or Fight action.

Gasper - Offspring (Fierce 4+) [5pts]
The product of a successful splicing.
Hardened Blades (T3x1)

Neutron - Engineer (Precise 4+) [6pts]
Holders of the science of splicing and access to experimental weaponry.
Grav Warper (L1x5. Instead of Shock, Move the target d6”)

Lucida - Seer (4+) [4pts]
Those given mildly telepathic powers by their splicing.
Shotgun (S2x1)
Sensor: You and all Allies within 3” ignore penalties for Firing at targets in Cover. 



THE RUSTED ORDER - CYBORG RETINUE


Argastes - Sage (3+) [Free+3pts]
Spiritual leaders and repositories of knowledge.
Corrosion Pistol (S1x5)
Shock-Pick (T1x3)
Assistant: Once per battle ignore one Wound.
Tactic - Arise: All of your units attempt a Free Recover. 

Brother Calcum - Besieger (4+) [5pts]
A splinter faction of cybernetic knights that serve the technological cause.
Electro Blade (T1x5)
Shield: Reroll a single Resist die once per Turn.

Brother Auris - Besieger (4+) [5pts]
Corrosion Pistol (1x5)
Shield: Reroll a single Resist die once per Turn.

2x Rust Scavengers - Acolytes (5+) [5pts]
Mostly untouched humans seeking to earn their first cybernetic augmentations.
Jackguns (S1x3)
1 Sword (T2x1)

As always you can see the constantly evolving game doc here.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Demo Videos

The Bastionland Broadcast is taking a short break, but this week saw the finale of the Electric Bastionland Demonstrations, where I run through the procedures included in the book such as creating a borough of Bastion and making memorable NPCs.

Luckily they're all immortalised on YouTube, so go and check them out!

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Killing your Fun with External Engagement

Way back, videogame designer Soren Johnson wrote

"Given the opportunity, players will optimise the fun out of the game"

I've noticed a similar effect in myself where, given the opportunity, I will externally engage the fun out of the game.

That's a clunky way of phrasing it, but here I'm talking about engaging with the game outside of the game. Everything you do outside of actually playing the game that you're captivated by. Most commonly these are reading and talking about the game.

We'll get to tabletop RPGs, but for now the context is videogames.

Now this isn't to say I'll deliberately go and find plot spoilers for games. If I'm interested in a game I'll do my best to avoid those, but there are certain elements of a game that can actively be ruined by externally engaging with the game too much before you've fully played it.

Finding a hidden location or detail in the game world that you weren't led to.
The Outer Wilds is basically entirely this. You're thrown into into a solar system and each planet you could choose to visit has little secrets to find and piece together to form the big picture. Actual play videos are probably the most common way to ruin these for yourself.

Learning which tool is best for each obstacle.
In Dark Souls certain weapon types are better/worse against certain types of enemy. In Forza Motorsport certain cars respond better to certain upgrades and tuning changes. You can discover these for yourself or just go on a wiki and find the best tool for the job.

Making an unexpected connection.
This is especially satisfying when it makes perfect sense in hindsight. In Breath of the Wild there are puzzles that require you to connect two electrical points to complete a circuit. There's a solution involving moving metal blocks around but if you have a few metal weapons you can just lay them down instead to carry the current. With Breath of the Wild I heard about a number of these connections in reviews before I even bought the game. It's a conundrum, because hearing about these connections existing contributed to getting me excited for the game and deciding to buy it, but I would have loved to discover them on my own.

False expectations
Whether you're watching a pro-player and feeling like your own gameplay is sloppy, or watching a carefully edited and scripted playthrough of a game, you can sometimes set yourself false expectations by watching a gameplay video rather than actually playing the game.

My specific context here is that I recently dipped into Elite: Dangerous on PC. 

In 1993 I was 8 years old, and I got Frontier: Elite 2 for my Amiga The sheer scale and freedom of the game was unlike anything I'd experienced before. I didn't progress very far in terms of improving my ship or getting a galactic reputation, I mostly just loved the immersion of jumping between systems, docking at stations, and keeping one eye on the giant map poster that came with the game.


It was pretty much a pure sandbox. The intro was the most impressive thing I'd ever seen on a home computer and the music still gives me tingles today.

The map, manual, and gazetteer were all I had, and the latter really just had a small paragraph of background information for the most important systems rather than anything useful in the game itself.

But I was out there exploring it. Frankly there wasn't even that much actual content to see, but I felt like I was out doing it on my own in a huge galaxy.

Fast-forward to 2020. I get the Elite bug and dive into the long awaited sequel, now years after its launch. Can't wait to feel that freedom of space.

Okay, I don't know how to fly. That's fine, I remember the same feeling back with Frontier. 

There's an in-game training thing, but I'd be better off just watching a YouTube video tutorial, they might have some extra tips.

Okay, there are a million tutorials. Oh, this one is specifically for Exploration, which sounds like what I want to do.

Right, I can fly between systems now. Sounds like Exploration can be pretty lucrative if I do it right. 

This is where I really should have stopped. I jumped into the game and had some fun hopping between systems, selling exploration data and trading goods, even getting myself stranded without fuel as I try to roam too far without proper preparation.

Okay, it sucks that I died. I really want to get to Ross 154 so that I can see how it looks now compared to the old game. 

I'll just look at Ross 154 on this wiki to make sure it's still there. Oh cool, there it is. Huh, Aster doesn't have rings like in Frontier. That's disappointing.

Hey, if I want to explore the galaxy I wonder which ship I should be aiming for. Let me watch some videos talking about the best ships for exploration.

Woah, you can customise your ship a lot here. This wiki has recommended builds for the best exploration ship. I should make a note.

I should join the subreddit and see if there's a Discord server I can join. 

Wonder what the review are like for the most recent updates, I should have a look to see what's new and how the community are responding. What's coming in the next update?

Oh, this page has some interesting systems to visit and cool points of interest. Ah, which I hadn't looked, I'd have loved to discover those for myself.

Wait, what I am doing here?

I was externally engaging the fun out of the game. Part of it comes from the fact I don't often have long stretches of time to sit and get immersed in a game, so if I start wondering about an element of the game on my lunch break or in a queue at the post office I can stare at my phone and absorb the game second hand. 

It's compelling, and not necessarily in a good way. I wanted to immerse myself in the experience of being a lone pilot carving a path through space but I've done nothing but surround myself with the achievements and knowledge of others while they tell me which bits of the game they love or hate.

As confessed previously I can be guilty of getting fixated on things.

Luckily I really didn't spoil all that much for myself. I've turned off the tap and committed to playing the game solo from now on. Disconnected. Like I'm 8 years old playing a game that nobody else at my school had ever heard of. No wikis, no discords. 

And that actually feels pretty exciting to me.

I don't think this is a phenomena limited to just me. The fact that so many game wikis and let's plays and discussion platforms exist suggests it's a pretty common urge. The urge to learn from the experience of others makes total sense, but I think it can be a detriment when it comes to our recreation activities. 

As another example, I'm really bad at Chess. Every now and then I feel like I should give it another try. Here's what happens.
  • Research the best Chess app to use, one that all the best players use with the best features and most active community.
  • Jump into some games and get beaten. I'm still at the stage where my games will go fine until I blunder a piece away. After that I get frustrated and tend to snowball into defeat.
  • Watch some good players commentating over their games. I know some of the terms but don't fully understand what they're doing.
  • Try to learn some chess theory. Openings, tactics, key lines to look out for.
  • Feel like I'm basically trying to learn a solved game. I'll never get to the point where I'm actually good at this. Forget it, I quit.
Repeat every year or so.

And yet sometimes I get to play chess on a board with somebody that isn't a pro player. My partner, Sarah, played chess a lot at school so she'll usually beat me, but I occasionally win and get to hold my own at least most of the time. Maybe she's going easy on me.

This is where I actually enjoy the game. Disconnected from the sprawling community. Outside of wikis and theories. If I wanted to become a tournament chess player I'd probably be better off learning some theory alongside playing the game, but for sheer recreation it can be nice to just let it go.  

What's this got to do with tabletop RPGs?

Now tabletop RPGs are weird and don't follow the same rules as videogames or chess. For example, it's actually much harder to ruin moments of discovery because there isn't a wiki I can read for whatever adventure location you've homebrewed in the week leading up to our game.

So as a player I think you're pretty safe, but I think the pitfalls of External Engagement still exist for a GM.

And that's a topic for the next post.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Journeying the Living Stars

The Living Stars above Bastionland are starting to take shape, but nothing stays the same up there. They're living in every sense of the word.

Don't get too attached to any one place, any one person. You're not going to find a home out here. Nobody really has one forever anyway.

More than anywhere else it's about the journey. And that isn't some poetic statement, you're literally going to have to keep your mind on travel, routes, rest-stops, ways to pass time on longer stretches, and hopefully you've got an actual destination in mind.

That part can be even more difficult than the others. 


Travel

Supplies
It's pretty tough to actually run out of the essentials here. Crap food is easy to come by, energy can be slowly tapped from the stars themselves, and there's a surprising amount of breathable air floating around. 

The trick is getting hold of the good stuff. Living off cultivated fungus and recycled air is going to leave you Deprived after a while, and travel between the stars is much more bearable when you've got some of the special stuff to juice-up your engine.

Ships
Owning a ship is a real pain. Big up-front payment, high maintenance costs, refuelling is time-consuming, and there's always the risk you'll crash it or somebody will steal it. 

In spite of all the stories, it's basically just not the best way to travel the stars.

Better to make use of those committed to ship-ownership and get a ride with them. Some are making a business of it, some just have more money than sense, others believe it's some sort of service to shuttle people around. 

Landmarks
Contrary to what you might think, space really isn't empty. There's always something out there to look at, keep your bearings, know when to turn. Even the Dark isn't like an endless plain of blackness. You just might not like what you see there.


Danger
It really depends where you are. Of course if you're in The Dark then you're asking for trouble, but in The Light you're probably fine as long as you follow the rules. Oh, that reminds me, you should probably find out what the actual rules are here as quickly as possible once you start to feel that star-glow on you.

Now it's in The Between where things get a bit more complicated. 

Spark Tables for the Between

As always, roll 2d20 and smash the results together. 


Ships

d20
Shape
Style
1
Saucer
Organic
2
Bullet
Rocky
3
Cube
Copper
4
Sphere
Clinical
5
Spike
Ceramic
6
Box
Wood Panels
7
Sleek
Carbon-Fibre
8
Lumpy
Hard-Light
9
Rough
Liquid
10
Chunky
Recycled
11
Spindly
Cheap Plastic
12
Fat
Lead Bunker
13
Tiny
Extravagant
14
Huge
Textiles
15
Teardrop
Industrial
16
Triangle
Homely
17
Diamond
Reclaimed
18
Cylinder
Sacred
19
Torus
Filthy
20
Hourglass
Chitin



Stops

d20
Vibe
Resource
1
Cosy
Comfort Food
2
Reverent
Fuel
3
Dirty
Repairs
4
Scientific
Gourmet
5
Corporate
Library
6
Cheap
Sanctuary
7
Greasy
Luxury
8
Suspicious
Spicy Food
9
Hip
Art 
10
Tourist-Trap
Gambling
11
Declining
R&D
12
Exclusive
Worship
13
Military
Shopping
14
Survivalist
Hard Booze
15
Crowded
Arms
16
Unwelcoming
Theatre
17
Humble
Telescope
18
Oppressive
Craft Drinks
19
Decadent
Music
20
Creepy
Transit



Landmarks

d20
Type
Mood
1
Cloud
Mournful
2
Gas Planet
Beautiful
3
Rock
Hopeful
4
Belt
Illuminating
5
Swirl
Mysterious
6
Current
Calm
7
Cluster
Energetic
8
Dust Pillar
Pitiful
9
Light Stream
Lonely
10
Nano-Star
Uninspiring
11
Wreck
Tragic
12
Fleet
Weird
13
Beacon
Haunting
14
Sculpture
Satisfying
15
Echo
Curious
16
Wormhole
Beckoning
17
Air Pocket
Beguiling
18
Ruin
Eyesore
19
Grav-Well
Distressing
20
Free Ring
Pitiful