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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

on Ashen Stars pt3

Ah it's been busy lately, but I have been playing stuff, just not so much writing about it.  I finished my run of Ashen Stars and now we are two session into a Trail of Cthulhu run.  My guy got killed already- RIP Dr. Krombach but I have stated up a new guy to get killed with - so that's all right.

I thought that I should give my final impressions of running a short Ashen Stars campaign before I forgot too much.  I imagine that since it's an investigative genre a lot of Gumshoe games are one off-adventures or con games and so many people might not get into the campaign rules and I wanted to make sure that I did focus on those rules and see how they worked for Ashen Stars.  I ran a very money oriented game because I wanted to have emergent story arise from that mechanical pressure.  I think it worked for the most part.  I did find that when the economic pressure was high the reputation and upkeep mechanics worked better.  There was a lot of arguing about PR and reputation that was undercut with money talk.  I don't think that reputation would have worked nearly so well without the money woes.  I did find that the downtime rolls were a bit too easy to game but this could have been because the players did not generally use their business skill and saved it just for the downtime roll and once they had some reputation built up, this meant very little downtime.  I made sure to provide opportunities for side deals to soak up some of those business points in all adventures, but the players didn't generally follow up on them.  I think that this was because aside from the Cybe player and the player running the ship books, there were no real incentives for the individual players to acquire credits.  Any money coming in went to ship and cybe upkeep and after that there were no worries - no 401ks among the Lazers -  it was assumed that the future was taking care of itself.  Some players might have had a couple big creds* upkeep to worry about but aside from the Cybe player they were banking more than they were spending.  I did try to rectify that later in the campaign by giving one player an economic incentive (blackmail) and another an economic goal (securing breeding rights), but the players didn't act on these - probably because it came too late and events were already rolling along.  I would do this kind of life event economics again, and much more of it, in a future game.  Giving all players divergent economic goals is the way to go here if you want to play an business orientated game.  I think that without either story pressure or money pressure it is too easy for the upkeep and reputation mechanics to become "managed" and they become either a gm fiat 'story of the week' thing or a toothless mechanic.  I don't think it would be good to mistake economic inducement for materialism however.  I do really like the game's focus on large scale economics and not everyday inventory management.  I would rather generate up a big ol' table of Life Events and Social Obligations for Ashen Stars instead of a big ol' table of +1 Swords and Power Armours.

I really liked the Space combat - we used playing cards for the point spending aspect and I think it worked really well overall.  I saw how the point spend added some character to the ship fights - a cautious pilot or a reckless gunner on either side could really change the outcome.  I do kind of wish that the personal combat had a similar feel to it.  Rolling against a hit threshold got a little boring especially since there were not so many options as there would be in a d20 type system.  I would certainly consider an alternate combat system using opposed rolls and hidden point spend like in the ship combat - perhaps not four full axis of attack but perhaps one force/armour based and one agility/dodge based axis for both ranged for non-ranged combat.  It would slow down combat a bit, however it would be more engaging than the simple roll to hit option.  We are looking at using some of the Nights Black Agents advanced combat rules for our pulpy Trail of Cthulhu game and they look pretty good, I'd consider adopting them for Ashen Stars too.  I do think something with more opposed rolls could be interesting as well.

The setting was very good and it flowed very well.  I was a little nervous my first real run of a sci-fi setting since it is hard to establish a common understanding when dealing with so many unknown social and technology cues - but with the Ashen Stars Lazer framework and a few establishing proclamations, the players quickly fell into the swing of things and were able to make logical projections.  I did have to establish that there was no communication while in trans-light and that there were no ubiquitous galactic networks, just a collection of planetary and corporate systems.  This was important because investigative games need to be active not passive and having universal access to cameras and personal files and history records has to be curtailed or the game will suffer.   The first couple of games there was a natural tendency for players to want to lean on the technology and call in Ossa One troops for every traffic offense, but I made it clear that they would have to prove their suspicions and that there were privacy and legal protocols that had to be followed.

The Lazers for hire nature of the game was very interesting and was a great setting conceit. I wanted to be in the background as much as possible and feed different players different information so that they would generate their own motivations.  I did send players informational emails between games, including the aforementioned economic incentives, but also little nuggets of personal mail or advertisements they could really take up and own as characters.  At one point this lead to a whole off-screen story about a character's cat going missing and the players all had different perspectives on what had happened.  I made sure that I only presented the "Bagger" character with the options for jobs and had them decide how to choose which to take - even  if that meant informing the other players or not of all their options.  I really tried to have the players run the game as a business.  It thought it was important for buy-in to have them make choices about which jobs they were taking.  Sometimes I was hard pressed to know ahead of time which adventure I was going to have to prepare, and in a couple cases I had two different adventures prepped and waiting.  It worked very well from my perspective, however it was a shorter campaign and I'm not sure there was enough time for much of that to get acted upon.

I also had a bit of a disconnect when I was trying to populate the setting with interesting worlds.  At first I found it hard to see how I would balance having a star map of places and work that in with the downtime travel mechanics, especially when I wanted players to decide which cases they were going to take next - something that involved travel.  This played less of a role than I thought it would since they looked more at the case than the location and they didn't chew through the adventures as quickly as I thought they would.  As for having a comprehensive star map - well I didn't need it.  It really did resolve down to 'world as a problem' as outlined in the Ashen Stars book. The simple map of the Bleed and the travel time rules were a great building block and I managed to build a map of event/locations as the campaign progressed.  Over time the character of the different worlds was built up so having the spartan map and slotting in planets as the story progressed worked much better than trying to fit the story to a fuller and established starmap.  I had to let go and wing it more than I was comfortable with at first but it really did work out better.  I did carefully note where things were afterwards so the setting gained coherence.  Knowing that the ice planet of Ijiraq is in the Medusa Outzone is now important and I want to make sure that the stories can emerge from those relationships.

This was probably one of the most fun campaigns I have run.  I think Ashen Stars has a lot to offer in a campaign type setting as opposed to one-shots and I'm looking forward the supplemental book that's coming out with more material.  I'd run this again certainly.  I'd even pick up the same campaign.  I would have to add in some more work on economic inducements and probably try to get a better handle on some of the business skills that effect downtime, but all in all it was a very satisfying game experience.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Krombach's final letter

My good friend Glen,

I know that that we have embarked on a dangerous path and I am older but not perhaps wiser than a few years ago, so I am preparing for the worst.  If you are reading this then something has happened and I am dead.  I think that you will have landed on your feet however.  Do not be sad for me.  I have had an extraordinary life.  These adventures we undertake are very exciting and the potential for learning is great, however I think that one of the greatest rewards has been your friendship.

I have left my affairs in good order in preparation for boarding the plane tomorrow.  I did not wish people to know but I tell you now - most of my money has been spent testing my theories on shared memory, and I have had many setbacks.  I have few beneficiaries, most notably my brother and his wife, die Möwe.  I have never liked her.  Fitz will inherit what little money I have and what income I make on this adventure.  I am also leaving them the only investment I have left - 61 shares of Abbott Laboratories preferred stock.  Perhaps they can use it to line a birdcage.  

I am leaving you my Durant.  Never drive it to Toronto.  I also leave you what things you may wish to have from my apartment before it is all auctioned off.  There is a lock box in my desk which contains my notes on the lotus and what little remains of it.  If you see Dr. Peasley, please return his silver cigar cutter which he must have dropped at some point.  Also you will find the pocket watch you lost some years ago.  I had found it and had been meaning to tell you.

Abschied und gute Nacht meine feiner Kerl!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Captain Thornside's tale

We were on the return leg of a deep patrol and station holding for position transmissions. We were the advance of 3rd fleet and pathfinding so we needed to recalculate.  This was just after what’s he saying I didn't catch that so everyone was set to lethal and moral was pretty low.  We were skirting a nebula when Oligar - he was the hailer on the Casanova - he had something on long range and he called Skip here and asked if we were picking it up too.  We slipped into low EM and waited.  It was a nevermind its not important.  Our orders were to find a route around them, but if we could pinpoint their location without tipping them off - that was even better.  We knew we had to get a message back but here was no way we would hit translight or get signal off without being discovered.  We waited and we just watched them.

It looked like they were hanging around for something to happen, and sure enough after two days a durugh ship dropped out of translight.  Well that just changed things up since we had intel that the duruhg were engaged with the 7th and 23rd at would you get to the point.   They must have been staging up for a sneak attack!  Now we had to try to get word back to fleet, even if it meant getting caught.  Skip here set up a crypto pack and we pulsed it out and at the same time we fired up our transwarp.  They must have had some kind of spike or counter-measures up though because as soon as we broke translight there was a huge feedback surge and all our the systems went dead.  It took too long but we got life support back up and when we rebooted the nav and tried to position - well we were here in The Bottle.  I was pretty banged up and we had lost Sven and McMurphy and over on the Casanova they lost Kt' l' ak, their medic, and Captain Bonner.  We tried to figure our position, but there just wasn't anything out there - you know - not even any stars but the dwarf.  Skip picked up the wreckage and a signal beacon on the rock - that's the one you picked up in the other crater.  We didn't recognize the code so we assumed it was oh my head hurts and so we went silent.  I think that’s what saved us since a lot of of those wrecks out there look to have scoring like the Casanova got so I figure they hailed the beacon and the squids took them out.

I don’t know who they are.  Rex here says his people have heard of them and they are called Ged.  Says they are ravagers.  Says their ships land and they spill out and lay waste.  The Woodies have been here longest of us and them squids were here a long time before they came.  It’s hard to pin the Woodies down on that, but they have a way of talking that makes me think their idea of a long time is a bit bigger than ours.  I figure a couple hundred years at least judging from the damage on some of those hulks out there.  That ship they have is some sort of carrier/dreadnought and the crew are all in cryo with just a few out slinking about keeping a big ol eye on things.  Its a good thing too because they are nasty business. Fast moving and hard to see.  One of them kraken bastards took out half my people and ripped Woody 2's arm off before we drove it off.  He was out hunting.  They like to hunt.  It's a big ship, there must be thousands of them on there, but like the stickman says, they are sleeping.  They are just as stuck here as the rest of us.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

News Net Nine Special Report

The following blog post contains some pretty big SPOILERS concerning the Ashen Stars supplement Dead Rock Seven.  This post is primarily supplemental material for my game group but may be of interest to you if you are running Ashen Stars games or have already run or read the Dead Rock Seven materials.

DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU ARE A PLAYER OR WANT TO PLAY ASHEN STARS OR ADVENTURES FROM DEAD ROCK SEVEN.  Seriously it will spoil it for you.  It will even spoil it if you don't play this adventure because your GM might rip off some of the ideas.  Don't even peek if you are curious because THESE ARE SOME GOOD ADVENTURES AND YOU WANT TO PLAY THEM. Go buy the PDF or something.

If you are still good to go then scroll down for the post.  If you are playing in my game then please dig in.

################ LAST WARNING HERE BE SPOILERS. #########################

"Hello Capitoline and the Bleed.   Th-Kurst here with a News Net Nine flash update.  The infra-web has been well cooked with speculation when it was discovered that former lazer Denna Bonner had been taken into custody and implicated in the destruction of the Princess Beatrix starliner.  Bonner is well known as being one of the first wave of licensed effectuators, a delicious career that came to an end with her resignation two years ago immediately following the acidic conclusion of the Mo'toka trial.  Bonner has been a staple feature of conference circuits since her retirement.  She is also outspoken critic of Combine policies regarding the Bleed, a tasty side-dish that has not gone unnoticed on the forums.  Officials from Ossa One have neither confirmed or denied rumors that Bonner was working with a highly placed official from the Caver government on Pioneer, an historical synthculture in the Darrian Colonies.  News Net Nine's own Abbi Longren has secured a rare interview with Pioneer's Minister of Security.  Are you there Abby?"

"Yes, hello Th-Kurst.  I have here on holo Fina Rossi, the top Minister in President Caver's cabinet and the head of Security and Internal Affairs.  Minister Rossi, can you shed some light on this troubling news linking your government with the destruction of the Princess Beatrix."

"Thank you Abby, and greetings to all gentlebeings of the Bleed.  Before we continue, on behalf of President Caver and myself, I want to express my heartfelt and humble condolences to the families who lost loved ones in that terrible terrible accident.  The Caver government wishes to offer our full cooperation into this investigation.  I believe it was Kima who said ‘There are none of us so vast that can not be brought low by our sorrow.’"

"Minister, can you speak to our listeners about the allegations that one of your own staff is implicated along with Denna Bonner in this criminal investigation.”

“Yes Abby, I believe you are speaking of Mr. Vos, a junior security officer on my staff.  It makes me very sad and distressed that Mr. Vos is implicated in this alleged crime.  He was a good man and it pains me to think that his generous and open nature may have gotten him into such trouble.”

“Excuse me Minister, I’m not sure I understand.”

“Ernst Vos was an ardent admirer of Denna Bonner and had followed her career with great interest.  This was during the rebuilding, a time when emotions were very high and we were all glad to be survivors. Almost everyone had some hobby or passion that helped them get through that dark time. However he was a quiet man. He did disclose his interest in Bonner when he asked to be assigned to her personal security during her recent visit, however his psych records showed no indication that this might cloud his judgement."

"Are you saying Vos was in love with Bonner?"

"Oh Abby, no. I believe he was infatuated with her however. Perhaps he imagined himself on her crew, a Laser himself, when she was ambushed in a dark car park. Perhaps he thought himself her savior when he opened fire upon that crew of bounty hunters?"

"So is it the position of your government is that Vos was acting on his own?"

"It is our position that the situation was handled very poorly. Although the Caver government is willing to extend full support to agents of the Combine, we were not informed of their presence on Pioneer and we were not extended the courtesy of learning that Bonner was a person of interest. Perhaps if Ossa One had deigned to work with our people we could have settled this matter without violence and the death of two of our officers. We realize that one of ours, a minor but good officer, may have overstepped his authority, however we hope that these extenuating circumstances are taken into consideration in the coming days."

"Minister Rossi, why was Denna Bonner on Pioneer? Did your government know she was a fugitive? Did Ernst Vos know?"

"Miss Longren, Denna Bonner was to be the keynote speaker in a conference being hosted on our planet.  Many other prominent speakers were also in attendance, many of whom incidentally have spoken out against Combine policies in the past. If we had any knowledge that Denna Bonner was a fugitive we would have taken appropriate action. However we did not know. In fact it is apparently still unknown what the status of Miss Bonner is by anyone except Combine agents. What Mr. Vos did or did not know is not mine to say, he alone is responsible for his actions. But is that not all any of us want? To be responsible for our own actions, to make our own decisions? And how can we do that if we are not given all the information? I think that we in the Bleed need to seriously consider where we stand in the eyes of Ossa One and the Combine. Thank you."

"Thank You Minister."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

on Ashen Stars (pt2)

One of the things that really excites me about Ashen Stars is the economic system.  Isn't that a hoot.  But it is true and not at all sad.  We ran a game of Diaspora which is a Fate based Sci-fi setting and it was alright, but I didn't enjoy the abstraction of wealth in Fate.  I like my money crunchy and countable, not a roll on a status track. In Beacon I made sure that it cost a lot to buy things because money was so worthless in D&D proper, and one of the best things about Dungeon Crawl Classics for me was the fact that a bow and some arrows cost more than your life was worth at level 1.  I was really chuffed when we took the bows from the bandits that attacked us.  Good times.

I like tracking resources in games because it is a huge lever you can use in telling stories and providing motivations that feel real.  Everyone likes to get ahead and I think it's good to leverage that.  Also most people know what it's like to be in debt or to need more of something and that is also good material to draw upon. I do however understand when the economic mechanics of the game become too burdensome.  Lots of players don't want to track arrows or their meals and as a GM it's not practical to force them to do it or do it for them.  People play games to have fun so keeping a spreadsheet is not always going to be the fun option.

But I really like how Ashen Stars handles this.  Having Big Creds allows me to have all those economic story levers that come with the detective and the space opera genres.  There are lots of stories of space captains with bounties on their heads or detectives tempted to do the wrong thing for an easy payoff.  Having to pay the bills makes players consider interesting choices they might not otherwise entertain and having them sweat over their reputation in order to keep their bank balance in the black is one of the best ways to naturally curb those darker murder hobo or anti social character tendencies.  I love how this macro economics works and that players don't need to keep track of their bar tabs and hotel bills but can still panic to scrounge up a cargo run to some mudball planet to pay their upkeep.  It's great.

When I decided to run a campaign in Ashen Stars I knew I would have to lean on the economics so that the player choices would have meaning.  I didn't want to simply have the characters worrying about their upkeep, I wanted them to be invested in building their Lazer business.  I also wanted to make the economics drive some inter-player interaction. The one thing about economics in Ashen Stars is that is is a little but of a group hug.  Since Robin Laws is Canadian and therefore a communist it's not so surprising that the book references the mechanics of upkeep and payouts from a crew perspective.  I thought there should be all those economic business pressures from the book, but the players should also have individual relationships with money, some would want or need it and others would not care so much.  I wanted both friction and a cohesion to come from this.  

In order to facilitate this I did was do away with the economic budget in crew creation. I did let players have a little money to start out, but I decided that I wanted to see the game be orientated around personal finances instead of a group equipment template.  I wanted there to be some tension between paying out salary to the crew while also doing ship upkeep.  To add to this I also wanted to have them paying off the mortgage on their business and their ship - a very Traveller kind of thing I realize.  The first stumbling block to this was there were no prices for ships in the book.  I asked around a few places online to see if anyone else had done this but didn't get back any useful replies.  I even had some people on G+ tell me that if I wanted to do this I should go play Traveller!  Silly person.  I knew Ashen Stars could do this so much easier.  

After a very short deliberation I decided that a secondhand ship/laser business should cost around 1000 bC*.  I imagined this would, emotionally at least, be roughly between 1-4 million bucks just for some perspective.  I created a CFO role and told the players that they would have to decide which character was managing the finances and also that they as business partners would have to determine how to pay out salaries and service their business.   I added in a 2.5bC minimum payment to the monthly upkeep to service their debt just to twist the screws a bit tighter.  I told them that the characters would have to pay personal upkeep out of their own money and work with the CFO to manage common inventory and such. The players would provide the drive to pay down the debt faster or not according to their character.  What this was intended to do was give them all a stake but also some different perspectives on it.  The upkeep heavy players would naturally want higher salaries while other players with fewer obligations might want to invest in or service the business.

And so far it seems to be working out well.  With very little work the macro economics in the game serve to drive story but not bog it down in detail.  There is enough there to make payment for rare and interesting things work while the preparedness system manages to handle the smaller issues quite nicely.  The only additional thought I have had is to maybe make a upkeep price for standard of living since there is a big space in the game where characters with little interest in cyber or viro ware or high end gear have little economic outlets.  Maybe a little table like this:
Standard of Living      Upkeep Modifier
                 Normal                   N/A
                 Well to do              +1
                 Extravagant            +3
                 High Society           +5
                 Rock Star               +10

This would let some players burn off bC in amusing RP ways.

So all in all the game provides some good tools to manage money in a campaign and I really like how the upkeep and reputation mechanics work through this macroeconomic system to help create some natural narrative.

* I use bC as the currency symbol for Big Creds in the game and in the spreadsheet I use make the CFO track the finances.

Friday, February 7, 2014

on Ashen Stars (pt1)

If you wandered in here off the Internet and are wondering about the last two posts, well it's all about the Ashen Stars RPG I'm running right now.  The Pioneer poster is a hack on some content from the Pulp-O-Mizer all slicked up to provide some theme for the adventure I'm running.  The News Net Nine feed is some feedback and more theme for the same.  Just like all the other little story snippets you see on here from my characters or the session notes I post.   I think it's a good way to provide some extra oomph for the games and I'm going to continue to do it.

I did however want to break a bit from the vanity press shtick and write a bit about the Ashen Stars system and the things I'm liking about it.  First thing, I really like the game and I like it more now than when I started liking it.  I played a one shot and then I ran a one shot and then I agonized over using Ashen Stars out of the box.  I thought about trying to tack the things I liked about it onto a Mongoose Traveller game or something.  I even looked a bit into the Traveller 2300 AD material they put out so I could avoid dealing with some of the deeper depths of Traveller.  I admit I was hesitant to run a longer game in Ashen Stars even though I liked the basic concept.   Mostly I was worried that the Gumshoe system was too simple to handle a decent fight and too 'meta' to let the players loose themselves in the story.  In the end I decided to stick with Ashen Stars as presented and I am glad that I did because both those apprehensions were mis-apprehensions.

Combat, it turns out, seems to work just fine.   It is dangerous and so the characters are motivated to interrupt it after the first punch gets thrown or avoid to fights altogether and thus the combats seem much more fluid and natural than the big production numbers you find in some systems.  The point spend mechanic isn't getting in the way and I don't notice players hording their points.  The NPCs certainly don't have a problem, and I've found that having the points lets me control the NPC reactions to a much finer tune - having an NPC be calculating or cautious or desperate is a simple matter of spending accordingly.  I don't feel I have to pull punches or make tactical errors like I might in a d20 system -I can just do acting.   I can have a NPC throw out a couple points and a roll as a cautious feint, or load up the points if they are out of control or perceive themselves to be in dire situation.

Also, the setting material is much better than it seems.  The Ashen Stars setting material is a deliberate homage to a lot of mainstream sci-fi tropes and that might seem a bit goofy when you are reading the material.  But it isn't goofy at all in actual play.  Players pick up the tropes and benefit from all that associated material without bumping into objects in the mirror or stumbling over canons.  I can load up a alley with a press gang of Tavik, and it is easy for the players to feel like they are in a dangerous place without making jokes about Klingons or any of the other baggage that label entails.  Same for the technology, everyone gets tethers and NLD mode and osmotic punches right away.  It works because we are all thinking about klingons or tricorders and hyposprays, however the name has been filed off and everyone is free to have them act as the campaign requires.  It's the sci-fi analogue of the Elf/Dwarf/Halfling thing is so represented in fantasy.  The setting therefore feels fresh and new, but still very familiar and there is less time needed to set up things for the payoffs.

I wanted to get into the economic system but I think this post is too long already now.
So this is now a two part review of Ashen Stars.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

News Net Nine

"Good Morning Cappers!  Abby Longren - News Net Nine and I'm here with your Mid Morning Info Dump."

"The market closed lower yesterday, continuing it's recent slide.  Hardest hit were the industrials, but investors also seemed skittish on Agra and Chem.  Losses were slightly offset by soft rally in the financial sectors, fueled by rumors that the Council will once more be pushing back the final voting deadline on Prop 14, the insurance reformation bill.

Joloca/Beta Tarsus president Sheel Augustine met again this week with members of the pheromone manufacturing industry from across the Bleed to draft formal submissions addressing the controversial Olfactory Regulatory Agenda Bill, more commonly called the Sniffer Law.  Should the ORA bill gain traction in the Conference, use of pheromone based personal enhancement products will be subject to tighter regulation and higher liability.  Augustine has stated publicly that should this bill  pass it would cripple not only the highly controversial Stimulust market, but all phero based industries.  She cautions that the bill is a slippery slope that could cause far reaching impacts through out all scent based businesses, from perfume and to food preparation - even your morning coffee.  Yikes! Better savor that sweet morning cuppa while you can folks."

"And now on to our top story:
Recovery teams from Knossos are still working to gather the remains of passengers and crew of the Princess Beatrix, the luxury liner that was horrifically wrecked en route to the Aldebaran system.  Eighty-eight bodies were recovered from the wreckage, confirming that almost all hands were lost in the accident.  The Lazer crew first on the scene managed to rescue three passengers but immediately left the scene in pursuit of the single lifeboat that launched.  Why no other lifeboats were launched and why the Lazer crew left the scene so rapidly is still not yet clear.  Family members were quick to condemn the actions of the rescue crew and are demanding an explanation why no attempt was made to recover the remains.  Salvage crews arriving quickly after the accident report that they have not seen such devastation since the wa-- incident.  I have with me Lloyd Thornside, owner and operator of Lloyds Lazers.  Good morning Lloyd."

"Why thank you Abby, and top of the morning to you and yours."

"Thank you Lloyd.  As a Laser yourself, can you perhaps pop a spot on these events for our viewers?"

"Well Abby, I think what we're dealing with here is a new crew and you know they gotta be looking to prove themselves.  I mean I'm not condoning sloppy work but I've been there, and when the money is tight it's hard to have the patience to really hit all the marks.  Not everyone can follow that hard path like I did. Now you might expect everyone to provide top notch professional like you get with Lloyd's - you know Lazers with that personal touch.  But I have to tell you that kind of service only comes after years of experience.

"But Lloyd, why would they leave the wreckage so quickly, and with only a short broadcast beforehand?  Was this because of the SVC?"

"Right you are Abby.  A SVC or Standard Vengeance Clause is a very attractive incentive.  That is why some shipping lines still use them.  However in my opinion these type of contracts only serve to encourage people to get into the effectuator business.  People who might not be dedicated to Law and Order or those looking for a quick payoff.  I think that the industry needs to work towards a licencing model rather than these kind of open ended incentives.  I don't blame these fellows for putting their thrusters before their processors, but I also think we can do better.  The public deserves better."

"Indeed they do.  Thank you Lloyd.  We've been speaking with Lloyd Thornside, founder and owner of Lloyds Lazers, about the recent wreck of the Princess Beatrix.  Stay tuned to News Net Nine for all the details on this terrible tragedy.