Monday, June 20, 2011

Digging Out

I've been struggling to find time to write, game, run the Humanspace PbPs, post, or comment on blogs lately.  This unfortunate situation has arisen out of a period of overwork at the day job (that's me excavating in the cellar of a 19th century house that served as a Union cavalry HQ and field hospital), several annoying annoyances on the homefront (like broken AC during a streak of 100 degree days), and a new addition to the family (a really cute but bloodthirsty killer kitten!).

Hopefully things will calm down soon and allow for a return to more weird science fantasy fun.  I'm still aiming for a release of the first Humanspace book this summer and the Space Monster and Campaign books by the end of the year.  Other projects are in the pipeline as well.

Sorry, especially to the PbP crowd for my lack of alacrity.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Transfinite: More Humanspace Empires Game Design Notes

In his Gamma World cover to cover series at Grognardia James Maliszewski  noted: "I can't help but notice both the vagueness and the ad hoc sub-systems created to patch over holes where D&D provided no rules or no model on which to make rules. I don't think this is a bad thing by any means. Indeed, I think I prefer this approach all things considered. However, it's definitely one that is alien to so much of contemporary game design and the culture of play that's grown up around it."

I definitely want to emulate this in Humanspace Empires...particularly the vagueness.  The lack of detail for many of the skills has been one of the major criticisms from playtesters and reviewers. Although I can see that a more thoughtful approach to skills and more clarification is needed, I don't want to lose vagueness and I don't want the importance of skills overstressed in the game.  I've started working on somewhat more detailed descriptions and a few changes in the Scientist skill set.  These will be posted in the near future.

I found one bit in Dungeon Crawl Classics that I liked quite a bit and plan to include in the final Humanspace rules to replace the somewhat artificial and arbitrary limits on the number of times that psychic and super-scientific powers can be used each day.  Excepting a few powers already noted in the Humanspace rules as being so draining that their use limits access to all psychic or superscientific powers for x days, there will be no limit on the number of times that an individual may attempt to use powers; however using any power will incur a  cumulative -1 penalty per use on subsequent power success rolls until the character is fully rested, typically after a period of at least 8 hours sleep.  I will begin using these rules in the PbP games immediately and see how it works. 

The Imperial Academy of Science

Founded on ancient Terra, the Academy of Science in the 621st century is represented by numerous Universities and Halls throughout Humanspace.  The most important centers include the massive pyramidal Ancient Academy on Terra, the towers of the Science University of Alpha Centauri on Zán, and the sprawling Institute on Tázkant, the planetary metropolis of Sirius 7.
Throughout Humanspace, the Academy operates as both an educational and social institution, acting to control the development and dissemination of technology. The organization has many detractors, who feel that Academy interference actually limits technological innovations and that a super scientific utopia would be possible without the Academy’s entrenched support for the status quo.  
The most brilliant offspring of the wealthiest and most powerful families of the Empire gather together in the Academy to unveil the deepest secrets of the universe.  Students and members of the Academy rise through a number of degrees or Phazes.  Any number of scientists may rise to degrees below the 14th, but there are only 64 Master Polymaths of the 14th Phaze, eight Arch-Viziks of the 15th Phaze and one Grand Vizik of the 16th Phaze.  Admission to the lower Phazes is proficiency-based; admission to the higher Phazes is much more politicized.   Typically, members of progressively higher Phazes are more aligned with the ideals and goals of the Academy.
Tuition for Academy training varies between the institutions but averages CR 100,000 per standard year.  Dues for post-graduate and other members are CR 1000 per standard year. Scholarships and grants are often awarded by planetary lords to qualified students unable to afford the tuition.  
The Academy will license a scientist within the disciplines he, she or it has qualified as long as dues are paid. Licenses may be suspended for ethical transgressions, criminality, and sometimes political reasons.   Practicing science without a license is illegal throughout Humanspace.
The Academy provides many services to its members including facilities, protection, education, and access to political power.  Such power is great though curtailed by byzantine and often vicious internal politics within the organization.   Within Humanspace, the Academy is authorized to manufacture and attune lenses, collect dues, discipline members, issue scientific edicts, and regulate super science and scientists.
The Academy offers a 20% discount to members on the prices stated in the Humanspace rules for instruction in technical and expert skills related to the sciences.   Additionally, instruction in super-scientific powers is available and, at great cost,  experimental hypnotic teaching devices may be used to greatly decrease the time necessary to learn such skills and powers.
Academy activities may also serve as the basis for an adventure or an entire campaign.  The Academy operates research centers on many strange alien worlds, controls a fleet of interstellar laboratory ships, and organizes expeditions to explore the weird mysteries of the galaxy.

Credit to Il Male™  for a vision of the Academy in his Junkyard Alpha Doom post which includes several other great ideas too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Roll percentile dice and let's see what you get

It's been said of Professor Barker's Tékumel games that he used a very rules light approach...basically "roll percentile dice and let's see what you get."

I've been experimenting with this  in the PbP Humanspace games and I'm thinking of writing it into the rules to handle unplanned WTF kind of situations.

Currently, in the Ancient Astronauts campaign, the party was on the run from a group of cold blooded Shen assassins. migellito came up with this plan:

"Quickly scanning above and around the shen as they step out of the dust, Sungam looks for a structural element to hit with his old disruptor. Will he find a way to bring down a bit of the Old Quarter on top of their pursuers? Perhaps he can at least put some rubble between them, buying the impromptu group some time to lose the shen in the bazaar."

I was a bit skeptical of this plan and wasn't clear on what Martian architectural elements might be overhanging the street so I left it up to the Professor's "roll percentile dice and let's see what you get" mechanic.

The roll was "02" so I decided something pretty favorable should happen.  It turns out the Shen were standing next to a parked standard utility marked "Abuzek's Best Liquid Oxygen."

Too much fiat? Does anyone use this or a similar method in their games? What about building this into the Humanspace rules for certain situations?
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