Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Roll20 and what to buy in the Bleed.

My Ashen Stars online game is still ticking along and by all accounts it is pretty well liked by the players.  I use Roll20 for this and it works really well.  I rely on the dice roller and have made a couple virtual decks of cards (one for me and one for the players) for revealing point spends for opposed challenges.  I also have gotten some good use out of the virtual tools to display both  pictures and maps and to run simple combats by drawing on a map.  All in all it serves well.  It would be nice to have an in-game character sheet but there is not one available yet.  There is a Trail of Cthulhu character sheet in roll20 but not one for Ashen Stars yet, although I have put in a request for one.  I did try to take the ToC template and replace all the skills with Ashen Stars skills but I don't have the knowledge or time to finish coding it or submitting it for someone else to take on.  In any case that's a nice to have for later but not essential for now.

The Roll20 play area
I also use google drive to store a character skill spreadsheet that we can track all the player point spends on.  We also use shared session notes to document cases and any needed reference materials and of course the character sheets that we spun up on The Black Book.  I also have a financial spreadsheet in google docs that lists all the character bank accounts, a company bank account and the ship mortgage info.

I know, Ashen Stars is supposed to dispense with the money in favor of story right?  I have to disagree.  You could play that way but it seems to me that the default game without the money pressure just doesn't cut the mustard.  Without external pressure, it's way too easy to get along and there is less pressure on the characters to tempt them into bad decisions, and money is one of the great narrative pressures that everyone can relate to.  Ashen Stars is great in that there is no nickle and dime transactions to bog things down but there are the big ticket transactions to spice things up.  The only problem is that unless you have borderline psycho players ruining the crew's reputation every game it's too easy to get money and there isn't enough stuff in the core rules to spend that loot on so it piles up.  Also the rules as written are pretty crew orientated and that can limit the fun when it comes to having players fighting over how to allocate the group income or what to do with their share of the loot.  I did post a table here some time age for players wanting to have some lifestyle options by spending Big Creds.  I also have found that making the PCs manage their business by having to pay off a 1000bC ship mortgage is pretty swell - but even these things are pretty easy to surmount with given the costs/payouts in the book as a guide.  What I am looking for is a way to tempt the players into spending money, which will in turn tempt them into bad behaviors in game which will tax their PR skills and offer some spice to the day to day of being a spacecop for hire.

The biggest and bets idea I have had is to come up with some random life event tables to hit players with financial encounters.  Not all these would be bad things that simple place a burden on the PC, although there should be some of these.  I think that for the most part you would want to offer opportunities that come with an associated cost, things like breeding rights or perhaps some sort of potlatch thing for an alien culture spring to mind.  I would want these to be things that the player can jump on that serve as both economic grease and as character goals.  Then watch the players fighting over a bigger share of the payout instead of sinking it all into buying a larger upkeep buffer to more mods for the ship.  What I don't want to hear is an agreement that it would be best to just sink all that money back into the ship - where's the fun in that?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


In the coreward sector of the Chiron Outzone there shines a ruddy orange star around which limps a single rocky planet.  The star still bears the name CK230-HE11N0 in official charts, but the entire system was simply called Hellno by the unfortunate Human settlers who woke from their colony sleeper ship almost 300 years ago.  It is still called Hellno by those who live there now.
The rocky planet was low in mineral wealth, was perpetually cloud covered, was cold and drizzling. It sat far from any trade routes or potential sites of interest.  When translight travel became ubiquitous, and interstellar society opened for business, Hellno benefited little, as it found itself deep in a translight outzone and hidden behind the Prokofiev nebula. Given little choice, the colonists clung to this wet rock. Through hard work and the magitech of weather control and nano-replication they turned Hellno into a beautiful sustainable outpost on the edge of The Bleed.  Finally after many generations the residents had turned their efforts from survival to art and architecture and culture.  Their children inherited this new world and they lifted their eyes to the golden sky and looked outward with native pride.

Then came the war, and when it was over the ruddy star carried flecks of grey.  The magic machines began to fail and the clouds began to return.  So began the long slide back into the damp.

After 8 months in the deep Outer, the Snowball’s Chance arrived back in bleedspace.  The half starved crew gazed out at civilization once again and only had one thing to say.  

“Oh, Hell no…”

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Returning to The Bleed.

I'm pretty happy to say I'm starting an Ashen Stars campaign on Google+.  Well more like restarting to the tabletop campaign I set ran last winter.  Ok, more like a reboot, but with some of the same characters and with nods to what happened in the past, but not depending on past information.   Well whatever - Ashen Stars wooo.

I'm going to try to use Roll20 for some of the stuff, especially for rolling dice and adding point spends vi the use of cards.  We quickly found in the tabletop run that using playing cards was the best way to add points to a die roll when doing challenges - especially for ship combat.  It was exciting and fast to for Gm and players to slide out the cards (sometimes other players would slid in an extra one if they were helping) then roll the dice and flip the cards over.  I have made a custom set of cards for this in Roll20 so we will see how it works.  I'm not really interested in using the virtual tabletop for minis or things but it might be useful for bringing up clues and images.

There is no character sheet for Ashen Stars but I did put in a request for one and someone did do a sheet for Trail of Cthulhu so hopefully someone can use that as a spring board.  In the meantime we will be using Pelgrane's The Black Book Gumshoe character creator to manage the sheets and storing them up on Google Plus for me to reference.  Old school  (well new-old school) but it works.

I also managed to get a copy of Accretion Disk which is available now even though they sure don't seem to be shouting about it.  The Pelgrane site  mentions this book is available for is a pre-order but I ordered it and got my copy of the PDF right away - the physical copy is probably still making it's way across the sea.  I really was waiting for this book to come out and it is a good resource.  I was a bit disappointed that there was not more campaign related material however.  The initial pitch mentioned different paths for a crew to take - more info for running traders, or criminals or explorer crew campaigns.  There does not seem to be which is a shame - but that doesn't mean the contents of the book are bad - just that it doesn't have that stuff which I really wanted.  I will try to do a review of it when I finally get the physical book - but quickly say it is well named in that there is good stuff and it adds to the existing rules but it's not an expansion of the rules.

I will be adding in my extra financial rule for lifestyle costs and we will be tracking ship mortgage on a spreadsheet.  I am looking for rules that flesh out Public Relations and Business Affairs skills to manage contracts and reputation, things to make money more interesting in the story without getting into inventory and cost tables.  This includes financial random events, mini jobs and trading and anything that will keep a crew hungry but not counting pennies.  I had some success with this in the previous run and think it adds to the game.

I am also trying to pick which combat rules we can include from the thriller combat rules for gumshoe.  One of the biggest complaints we had from the last time we played Trail of Cthulhu was when a player would spend points for a great hit and then roll a 1 for damage. Not very satisfying after paying for that spotlight.  This isn't so bad in Ashen Stars where there are stun settings and poppers -  but it still sucks.  We are thinking about using a suggestion to add in some of those points to the damage - or using a critical hit rule - or using fixed damage for lethal combat.  Well we are thinking about something anyway.

So much excite and all the good things.  I love this game and it will be good to play again.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Marvel Comics Unlimited

I always liked reading comics.  I was a DC guy myself, and I have a set of Crisis on Infinite Earths and a almost full run of Sandman and a bunch of bagged issues of Legion of Super Heroes.  When comics went digital I was interested in that format and read some on my tablet.  It was great - comics on a tablet are even better than comics on paper in my opinion.  But it was hard shelling out for them - graphic novels were expensive and single issues even more so.  It is possible to get comics online for free, but I really don't like the idea of reading comics without giving something back to the writers - be that feedback or money or whatever.  Without that feedback I feel, the comics I like won't get made, and the ones that did get made would be the gimmicky crap that sells.

I purchased a one year subscription to Marvel Unlimited for myself in December.  Marvel Unlimited is like the Netflix of comics.  You subscribe for around 9$ a month and then you get unlimited reading of a huge part of the Marvel library going back for many decades. This is a fantastic entertainment deal.  I had read Marvel comics before sure - I knew who Iron Man and Nick Fury and Thanos were long before they showed up in movies, but like I say I was much more familiar with the DC line.  Well aside from the Micronauts - I have a long run of Micronauts boxed and bagged still.

Since December I have read the fuck out of Marvel comics and I am really enjoying myself.     You cannot get better value for your money than this   In the last few months I've read about the Avengers Disassembling, about the Ultimate Universe, about the stupid Civil War and the better Siege. I am particularly enjoying reading the 2010 run of Thor right now and the excellent 2014 run of Hawkeye and the also can say enough about The Superior Foes of Spiderman.

Its true you don't get the new stuff with Marvel Unlimited -  they track about 6 months from the current releases so they don't cut into sales.  I get that.  I don't care though - its all new stuff to me and I wouldn't buy it anyway.  This way I actually read it and I do get my updates every week.  And I hope Marvel is doing what Netflix does and tracking what I read.  I hope they are smart enough to use that info and realize that She Hulk as a lawyer is interesting and that although I might read something once - the stuff I re-read is a valuable metric to note.  I hope it influences what books (and characters and movies) they green light in the future.  I hope that is somewhat valuable even if not as dramatic as the money they see from alternate covers and crappy 'Death of X' stories.

Now I just wish that Darkhorse and DC comics would figure this out.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wood Elf Monk

I'm enjoying the new 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons (notice its got D&D right there on the cover so that this trademark is reinforced). It's not perfect but its really good. The Players Handbook is good, the Monster Manual is well done.  I like the advantage/disadvantage mechanism. I like the way characters level. The three strike death check is interesting. The way different damage works is fun. All in all it's well designed.  Combat is interesting without being a slog and there are a bunch of ways you can punch things up with the simple combat mechanics. Character role playing isn't entrenched in the rules but it certainly doesn't get trampled by the rules either. You can play your character's style in combat without worrying too much about sub-optimal choices. There is a mechanism for helping or hindering enemies without actually attacking which is nice and lets someone play a true support type character without having it hurt the party - the proverbial klutz with a frying pan type. I'm eager to get my Dungeon Masters Guide to see just how the XP and campaign advice is put together, but so far this is top notch d20. I think it's the best version of D&D since AD&D, and probably only coming in second place because of the 'AD&D came first' slash nostalgia factor.

Our group is taking turns running a series of adventures to test out the game and I'm playing a wood elf Monk character (a good synergy) and having fun with it. He's still only second level, but so far it is fun playing him. I figure since the wood elf/ monk combo fits so well together, that in this campaign many wood elves are 'monks'. It's part of the wood elf culture. They would have a lot of Koans and monkish sayings that need to be sprinkled around the gameworld. Here is one:

The story of Crown of Thorns

Once long ago the great king Lonbarath, who was also called Crown of Thorns, came to the forest and happened upon a brook under a mighty oak. As he approached the brook to drink his fill, he noticed a person sitting in the low branch of the tree eating her meal. Lonbarath spoke, "Come down from your branch and fetch my water for I am the King Across the Sea." The person spoke not, but softly chewed. Lonbarath set his face and it was clear why he was called the Crown of Thorns. Again he called out, "I am the Lord of the Eagles and my army marches not an hour behind me, I require water and food, come down from your perch and serve me." Again the person spoke not. Truly angered by this Lonbarath drew himself up to a great size and shook the trunk of the great oak tree and roared, "I am the Keeper of the Eld Stone and rule all lands under the sun, you will serve me! Come down from that tree!" and the forest boomed with his mighty voice. Then, nimble as a squirrel, the person ran across the tree branches and struck the mighty king on his cheek. She spoke, "You will not be thirsty again King Across the Sea". Enraged beyond sense, Lonbarath reached out wildly to crush the person in his mighty hands. Quick as a sparrow, the person flew through the air and stuck him across his other cheek. "You will never go hungry so long as the sun shines O' Eagle Lord" she said. Unexpectedly Lonbarath felt his anger cooling but still he seethed, he reached up his hands to the sky one last time trying to catch the person, but she slipped between his fingers and at last stood in front of him on the ground. Slowly she reached out and put her hand on his trunk. Sleep now Stone Keeper and you will be well served all your days. And Lonbarath slept, his great roots deep in the earth and his great branches reaching to the sun.

And so even today many years after the Kingdom across the Sea has fallen, and many years after the Eagles have cast off their lords, and many years after that person passed into memory, the Crown of Thorns stands well satisfied beside the brook under the mighty oak.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts

I read a review of this book and thought it sounded interesting.  Suddenly just after that I was in a text conversation with my mom and dropped the name of the book.  It was actually my daughter who was on my moms phone just to tell me that they had hit town and were out shopping.  Anyway long story short, they bought the book and my daughter thought it was for her.  She mentioned it to my mom who the thought I wanted her to buy it for my daughter.  So it goes.

It's a good read.  My daughter read it an loved it.  I read it an thought it was very well done.  Some where along the line I redlized it was written in third person present tense which was pretty novel for me.  I'm not sure if this is a thing now but it made the prose more immediate in a way I thought worked well with the material.  I haven't been suddenly aware of tense like that since Steinbeck switched to first person in The Winter of Our Discontent so that was nice.  It could just mean I am a bit oblivious but I will take it as a win anyway.
After I read it my wife read it and couldn't put it down so I have to say this book is a real hit in our family.  If we all can agree it is a fine thing then I really have to recommend it.

The Girl With all the Gifts by M.R. Carey.

Full disclosure its last day of camping and the fire is guttering out, everyone's asleep and I'm pretty drunk at the moment.

Good book though.