Thursday, August 10, 2017

Product Release: The Gods Have Spoken

Hey, I contributed to another RPG book, and now that it's out I figured I should tell you about it.

Dread Unicorn Games (led by the invincible John WS Marvin) just released the digital edition of a 5E sourcebook called The Gods Have Spoken. It's a book of gods and divine-related content for D&D, written by John WS Marvin, Vanessa Rose Phin, Connor Marvin, Matt Evert, Sean Clark, and me!

Here's the product description:
Twenty-eight new fantasy gods arranged in three new Pantheons for your 5E game. Gods with passions, backstories, and agendas. So much more than a list of names and domains. 
The people who followed the Old Gods was conquered by the those that followed the Thirsty Gods, who in turn were displaced by those following the Bright Gods. Yet all three pantheons still have followers, and coexist in an uneasy peace. 
New domains and other character options that work with these new gods, some for everyone, and others focusing on clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers. And new magic items, new creatures, and more! 
Plus, an exciting new faction system that gives players a voice as to which factions take a hand in your campaign.
A print edition is coming soon, in hardcover and softcover. You can read more about the book at its Kickstarter page.

(Thanks John!)

The Gods Have Spoken [DriveThruRPG]

Saturday, July 29, 2017

First Star Trek Adventures Session

This is how we read in the 24th Century: on a PADD.

On our last game night, a few friends and I started a new Star Trek campaign, and I'm excited enough about it that I wanted to chat about it here.

Some of us took part in the playtest for the new game--Star Trek Adventures--but this was our first trial of the just-released PDF of the core rulebook. (For more information about the game's background, read the interview with Modiphius's Chris Birch that I wrote for Gnome Stew.)

Playtest aside, this is the first Star Trek campaign I've kicked off since around 2000, late in the Last Unicorn Games years. For this campaign, things went a bit differently than I had planned. Let me tell you why I think that’s a good thing.

The official Challenge Dice haven't shipped
yet, so we customized some blank dice.

My Traditional Campaign Setup

One of my favorite things about starting a Star Trek campaign is all the fun decisions I get to make. Things like…

  • Which era? Original series? Next Generation? During one of the shows? Before/after the televised episodes?
  • Where are we? Alpha Quadrant, like in most TV series? Gamma or Delta Quadrants, like Voyager or parts of DS9? Non-Federation territory? A single planet or starbase?
  • Who are the PCs? Standard Starfleet senior officers? Up-and-coming cadets? Academy students? Klingons/Romulans/Cardassians/other non-Federation folk?
  • Which ship class? If the setting is a ship (which it usually is), we need to know what kind. A familiar one like the Galaxy-class that’s been extensively featured in a show? A more minor class that hasn’t had the spotlight? Something old and storied, or something new and shiny but untested?
  • What's the ship's name? After we’ve picked a fun ship (if we're doing that), we've got to name her. Something to honor a part of the real world (like USS Darwin)? A more universal name that would apply across worlds (like USS Discovery)? A name borrowed from a previous series (like USS Reliant-B)?
  • Who are the people in your neighborhood? I love filling out the crew roster with non-player characters, the ones who fill the roles not occupied by players.

I usually get input from the players on some of these details, but not all of them. This time, for example, I asked them their preference of era (and the choice was Next Generation), but that's it. I knew I wanted a ship-based game in the Alpha Quadrant featuring Starfleet senior officers, because I figured that would give us the best chance of using published adventures without a lot of modification.

So, I was just about to start picking out what ship I wanted to set the campaign on when a glance through the new rulebook changed my mind.

Collaborative Campaign Setup: The Ship

One of the things that the Starships chapter in the Star Trek Adventures rulebook covers is a ship’s “mission profile,” a way to specialize any ship class by adding points to this or that system in a pre-set way depending on its assignment. Here’s the bit that caught my eye:

“The players choose a single Mission Profile for their starship.”

The players? Then I flipped back earlier in the chapter, at the discussion of ship classes.

“The Players choose a single class for their starship."

YES. I realized I hadn’t even considered putting the keys to the starship in the players’ hands. This should absolutely be a joint decision, because the players who are Star Trek fans will have favorite ship classes (and some will likely have ships they strongly dislike!), while even the players who aren’t such fans will still feel more of a sense of ownership if they have a say in which beautiful space boat they get to live in.

Time for me to put on my Old GM’s Hat.

Back when I started running games, in the 80s, a GM was expected to do all the work of setting up a campaign. I loved doing it, but also love the fact that more games now are encouraging us to share that work—and that fun—with the players. I just hadn’t had the chance to do that in a Star Trek game yet!

(I’m not even saying that previous Star Trek RPG publishers didn’t address this, just that if they did, I didn’t notice it and carried along with the way I’d always done it.)

So I took the game’s advice and let the players choose and name their ship. They chose the Intrepid-class, the same one used on Star Trek: Voyager.

Image: Memory Alpha

Collaborative Campaign Setup: The Crew

Although I had decided not to define anything about the players’ ship, I did prepare some notes on a few crew members before the game. My thinking was that I would have an NPC captain prepared in case no players chose that role, and also have one co-worker for each PC to work with during the introductory adventure.

I like having lists of crew members for a Star Trek game. For one thing, when I improvise some action on the ship with a new crew member, it’s less obvious that I’m winging things if I already have a name and species ready to go for Ensign Extra. My other reason for liking these lists is that the players themselves can select an NPC from it whenever they need one. Instead of asking me if there’s a science officer they can summon to the bridge, they can just look under the list of science officers and pick, say, Lieutenant Meeshay.

Crew rosters from previous campaigns.

Star Trek Adventures suggests handling this differently. This game uses the concept of Supporting Characters, which are ones that any player can create on the fly for immediate use. Creating supporting characters involves a simplified version of the game’s character rules (which makes them really improv-friendly), and better yet, players are encouraged to take control of such a character when their main PC would be otherwise away from the action.

And, as with the player decisions being invested in the ship, there’s the hope that they will connect better with crew members they helped create.

As it happens, I DID end up scrapping my NPC plans for the first session and asking the players for ideas. One reason for this is that my three “co-worker” NPCs didn’t feel like a great fit for the PCs after seeing how those characters emerged from the character creation process. (For example, one NPC was a Betazoid and one was a Vulcan—and so were two of the PCs. I wanted the players to feel unique, so I shelved those NPCs.) The other reason…well, we’ll get to the captain shortly.

The He-Man Connection

While the players were creating their characters, one ended up with a Vulcan Chief Medical Officer. When trying to think of a name for the character, this player figured he’d have a nickname along the lines of “Bones.” He went with “Skeletor.” (From a colony planet called Eternia.)

The nickname stuck, a little too well. Because later, when we were brainstorming ideas for the name of the PCs’ ship, I joked that if Skeletor is involved, maybe the ship should be called USS Grayskull. To my surprise, everyone immediately agreed.

It was a good test of my commitment to roll with whatever ship name my players decided on.

The players also immediately rejected my idea for their NPC captain (a Vulcan), eventually deciding that the captain’s name is Adam Randor.

What’s really funny about all this to me is that none of us are He-Man fans.

Custom ship sheet by Matt.Ceb

Final Notes

The players ended up making a Trill command officer, Betazoid/Human science officer, and (as already mentioned) Vulcan doctor. The game’s Lifepath character creation system was fun, and gave each character a home environment (e.g. homeward vs colony), upbringing (e.g. artistic or agricultural), Academy specialty, and a few career events. For example, we learned that our science officer had to take command once in the past to save the day, and that our Vulcan doctor was involved in a transporter accident that cost him a leg.

After making characters, I ran a short adventure I’d written for the purpose of taking the PCs on a test drive. I’ll probably talk more about that in a later post. And I had the opportunity to learn one more lesson that day, after I tried to embrace the game’s philosophy of collaborative creation by asking the players to describe their ship’s transporter chief. The lesson was: don’t expect more creativity right after the players have spent two hours creating their characters.

"Live long and..."
"...rule Eternia!"

Friday, July 14, 2017

Interviews from the Loop

I've got another Tales from the Loop article up on Gnome Stew, this one an interview with some of the creators: Tomas Härenstam, Nils Hintze, and Matt Forbeck!

(In case you're counting, this is post #32 out of 30.)

Interviews from the Loop [Gnome Stew]

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

How To Host A Rad Tales From The Loop Game

Why have 30 Days of Tales from the Loop when you can have 31? Here's an additional post about the game I wrote for gaming blog Gnome Stew. (And I have another one coming next week!)

How To Host A Rad Tales From The Loop Game [Gnome Stew]

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Future of the Loop

Image: Fria Ligan

This is post number 30 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

Tales from the Loop shows us what things are like for the two Loop facilities in the 80s. There’s one in the US, one in Sweden, and strange things tend to happen around them.

And as I’m sure is true of most science fiction fans, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for them.

We’ll find out some of that future when Fria Ligan publishes its Things from the Flood expansion, which the Tales from the Loop RPG Kickstarter tells us will contain info about the setting in the 90s. What I want to consider today is some possible futures of the Loop and its surroundings in the days to come, whether those days are in the 80s, 90s, or beyond.

More Loops

It’s easy to imagine more cities (and countries) becoming hosts to their own Gravitron facilities. This could affect the Kids in your game in a few ways. First, they might begin play at one of these alternate sites instead of the two in Tales from the Loop (as we covered in an earlier post, Additional Campaign Frames). Second, they could all visit (or relocate to) the area of a new facility. Or third, someone might discover a means of traveling between Loops—a teleport, perhaps—and thus open up numerous Loops as possibilities for exploration.

More Secrecy

The game setting might instead take a slightly darker turn, in which the Loop’s authorities become more secretive about activities at the facilities after having to deal with the repercussions from a critical mishap or two. Field trips cease, security tightens up, and things in the area become more tense. This doesn’t stop strange things from happening, of course…it just makes for a more paranoid and dangerous atmosphere, as the Kids have to deal with increasingly strict adults at the same time they’re coping with all the results of weird science.

Higher Technology

Tales from the Loop is already a game of an “80s that never was,” so why limit ourselves to particle accelerators and magnetrine ships and robots? Perhaps the Loop experiments quickly yield rapid advancement in technology, so that the Kids begin seeing ray guns, holograms, and transforming robots. Maybe the Kids can trade in their bikes for hoverboards!

Ecological Toll

The longer these enormous particle accelerators operate, the more chance there is for them to cause lasting damage to the environment. It might become more common to encounter anomalies in the area, such as time loops, time- or space-portals, areas where physical laws operate differently, and other phenomena.

Loop Protests

This could be a possible follow-up to the previous item, as environmental groups and other safety watchdogs begin to demand the Loop shut down or curtail its activities to avoid further damage to the world—or even to reality itself. Are the environmental complaints valid, or are they engineered by some other group to eliminate the Loop? Which side of this issue will the Kids end up on?

Day 30

This is it! We've reached the end of 30 Days of Tales from the Loop. I feel like I know the game a lot better now, and I hope you do too. I loved interacting with fellow fans in the comments and on social media, and especially loved learning more about Swedish culture, history, and language thanks to my new Swedish friends.

I have two more Tales from the Loop posts to put up next month, when the stars are in the correct alignment, so please stay tuned!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Few Robots

Image: Fria Ligan.

This is post number 29 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

Robots are a significant part of the Tales from the Loop setting. Even a casual glance through the art book would tell you that, and the rulebook includes more robot background info and features robots prominently in at least one of the adventures.

If that's STILL not enough robot content, then I'm here to help. Below you'll find four robots to use in your game. These robots are intended for you to drop into your game in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples of how your Kids might encounter them:

  • The Kids find the robot already in their Hideout. (Remember: don't throw Trouble at the Kids in their Hideout. This encounter would be for a friendly robot.)
  • Someone finds the robot in a junkyard or other abandoned location.
  • The robot follows a Kid home, or to school, or to wherever else they're headed.
  • One or more of the Kids follows a suspicious trail that leads to the robot. (For example, a beeping sound, or a column of smoke over the trees, or a radio signal that turns their Walkman into a tracking device.)

The Wrecker


A local junkyard is now employing a two-story-tall bulky industrial robot to compact cars, appliances, and other large metal refuse into tidy cubes. This robot wrecker is slow-moving but incredibly strong and tough (metal might 3). The machine is normally obedient, but lately has come to believe that its mental abilities are going to waste in its current job, and is looking for a way to prove it is more than a simple laborer. The wrecker cannot speak, but perhaps it can communicate its wishes through its chosen art form: metal sculpting.

The Foreigner

"Mayotte imasu. Tetsudatte kuremasu ka?"

This poor robot has become separated (or escaped) from its owners far away and is trying to either get back home or make a new life for itself here. It is roughly human-shaped, though a bit small, and seems timid and frightened. It also doesn’t have a language in common with the Kids. If they learn to communicate with the foreign robot, will it ask for help, or will it tell them something frightening it learned from its original owners?

The Janitor

"Ah! A broken radio!"

The school’s newest addition to its employee roster is a robot designated J0, called “Joe” by the teachers and students. Although some parents object to having a robot working so near their children, Joe gets along well with the kids, and the school has never been cleaner. Joe also really likes his job, and especially likes the opportunity it gives him to add to his collection of discarded electronics and bits of local culture (such as toys and photos torn from magazines).

The Pet

“Weeeeeoooooooooo. WooooooOOOO?"

This cute little bugger is smaller than a football and had big, friendly, innocent-looking eyes (or cameras, or infrared sensors, or whatever he uses for vision). And that low-frequency vibration he's putting out is very similar to a cat's purr. Where did he come from? What was he made for? Perhaps he's a messenger sent by someone else, or he (knowingly or not) contains data that is valuable to a less-friendly third party. And what if this cute form he's in is not his only one...