Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sci Fi Campaign Map: WIP

A quick little post here. I've been working with GIMP and some tutorials to create planetary maps and textures for the sci fi game I wish to run. These are mostly going to be play aides for the game, to really give the players something cool to look at. The map is still in the rough draft. I need to blend the textures better, do some more texture variations, and redo the ice caps to not be crappy. I may redo the map in a higher resolution, but so far I like the way it looks.

This is the planet NESS-89-03. It's purposefully given a sciency name so that players can rename it to something they prefer when they colonize it. The planet already has several nicknames, including New Earth, Promise, and Zion. There are two main land masses and one large island chain/sub continent. The planet is a little more temperate than Earth, and NESS 89-03 has a shorter year but similar day cycle. It orbits a bright orange K-Class star in its habitable zone as the third celestial body in the system.

What makes NESS 89-03 stand out is that it has Earth analogous fauna and flora. However, the atmosphere is saturated with poisonous fungal spores that are hazardous to human life. This miasma will take some getting used to for the players when they arrive to NESS 89-03.

I'll post up a completed planetary map once I am finished. Also, if anyone has any links to GIMP tutorials that can help with this, please feel free to post them.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ability Score Generation: Part 2 in a Series About Dominoes

Using dominoes for ability score generation works a lot like the previous rules. For this, since you are emulating 3d6, you can either use two sets of double 9s or just one set. If you use one set of double 9s, a friendly warning. It does have a different probability spread than classic 3d6. The probability percentages are below, using the value of 55 dominoes for a set of double 9s.

Value Probability Fraction Prob. %
0 1/55 1.8%
1 1/55 1.8%
2 2/55 3.6%
3 2/55 3.6%
4 3/55 5.4%
5 3/55 5.4%
6 4/55 7.2%
7 4/55 7.2%
8 5/55 9.0%
9 5/55 9.0%
10 5/55 9.0%
11 4/55 7.2%
12 4/55 7.2%
13 3/55 5.4%
14 3/55 5.4%
15 2/55 3.6%
16 2/55 3.6%
17 1/55 1.8%
18 1/55 1.8% 

As you see, the average runs to about 8-10, or 9. This could mean that values will end up a bit lower than what you would find on simply rolling 3d6. With this method, the bell curve is shallower. So while the average stat dropped will be 1.5 lower than on 3d6, you have nearly 4x the chance of rolling an 18 (and conversely, a 1) than you do rolling 3d6. So keep this in mind. This method will produce average scores with a higher deviation to the extremes when using a single set of double 9s. Now remember that we'll have to remove the 0, 1, and 2 values to make the values right, so many of these percentages will increase. That means that in reality, we will be drawing from a boneyard of 51 dominoes. So drawing a 3 will actually be a 5.8% chance, compared to .46% on 3d6. That's a bit rough. So how do we balance out these probability issues?

Usage #2: Generating Ability Scores With 1 Set of Double 9s

For this method, put your double 9 set into a bag, removing the 0, 1, and 2 values. Mix everything up, then draw seven bones. Add the two numbers on each bone to reveal your stat. Write them down. 

Now, try and match up dominoes with like numbers. So if you draw a 4-3 and a 3-9, you can connect then via the 3. A bone can only connect to two other tiles (one for each number), unless it's a spinner, in which it can connect to four. Count how many tiles are connected. This is the value you can add to any of your stats. You can even split them between stats. If you can connect two groups of dominoes, then total the tiles and add them. Once you assign your number to your stats, drop the lowest and assign them how you desire.

Example: Mariah is making a Psychic for her Stars Without Number game. She draws seven bones, getting [4-3, 3-6, 5-7, 8-3, 4-2, 7-1, & 4-0], for values of [7, 9, 12, 11, 6, 8, 4]. Some rough scores. Mariah begins connecting the dominoes, able to connect the 2-4, 4-3, and 3-8 together as well as the 5-7 and 7-1 in a separate group. This gives a total of 5 tiles that are connected. Now she can split the 5 to any of her stats, or simply add it all to one. Mariah decides to add 4 to the 12 and 1 to the 11, then drops the 4. Her new stats are 7, 9, 16, 12, 6, and 8. A little better.

At the GM's option, a player can trade out a stat and draw a new one from the boneyard. Play can choose whichever one they want. This can help alleviate the more wonkiness of the stat distribution of double 9s.

So that's ability score generation for dominoes. While it's a bit more complicated than just rolling 3d6, there is a sort of fun moving around the dominoes and connecting them together. If you find fun in tactile stuff, this is definitely great. I find it takes the same amount of time as rolling 3d6. And, you can simply lay out all the values and write them down in one go, rather than rolling 3d6 six times and writing the values after each roll. Let me know what you think below. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Using Dominoes in D&D: Part 1

I had this idea almost a year ago, but it went on the back burner because a) I couldn't think of anything and b) I couldn't find my set of dominoes. While unpacking more stuff from the move, I found my long lost set of double 9's. Seeing this, I got some idea on how to use it in RPGs.

Quick Terminology

Bones - Slang for dominoes
Boneyard - The area of dominoes you can draw from. Always face down
Spinner - slang for doubles. Dominoes with the same two numbers on them (i.e. 6-6, 3-3, 0-0)
Pip - The black dots on your dominoes, like on a set of casino d6s.
Double 6/9/12 - This categorizes the type of dominoes the set is, by its highest number. Double 6s has 6 as its highest suit, while double 9s has 9 has its highest number
Blank - the number zero. No pips on this side

Why Use Dominoes?

So right off the bat, we have to ask ourselves, why use dominoes? Now personally, I do like using alternate knick knacks in games. Playing cards are a big thing for me, which was one reason I loved Savage Worlds. It's something that is fun and a bit different from rolling some multisided dice. Of course, not everyone has a set of dominoes. This really wasn't a problem in South Florida, since a lot of the people I played D&D with also played dominoes on the side. But in other places, you'll have to go out of your way to get them. Luckily, you can get them at any Wal-Mart or Target, and most FLGS carry a simple set.

Since we are using dominoes, we need to play to their strengths. Big strength is positioning. In a game of dominoes, you set down dominoes with same numbers facing each other. Using that in a RPG can add an element of strategy and critical thinking that you don't see with using dice. So, here goes nothing.

Usage 1: Alternate Conflict Resolution Mechanic

Using a set of dominoes can replace die rolling if using a system that rolls 2d6s or even 3d6s. Doing 2d6s requires two sets of double 6's, the standard dominoes. Simple remove all of the dominoes with blanks as well as duplicates of doubles, then combine the two sets into a bag. This replicates the results of 2d6. Crit failures and hits would still be the same value. You can do the same thing with double 9s for 3d6. This ends up being the same cost as everyone buying their own set of polyhedral dice, but the cost is unfortunately front-loaded to one person. So it may not be the best usage of dominoes cost-wise. However, you'll never have to worry about dice rolling off the table again with dominoes.

Visual of dominoes for 2d6 - Courtesy of Geek & Sundry
Playing to the strengths of dominoes, let's add something for positioning and stacking dominoes on each other. Let's say that a player draws a bone and drops it down for their 'die roll' of 6-3. We can leave that out on the field. So if another player draws a bone and gets a 2-3, they can attach it to the previous bone dropped since both have 3's. A player that does this gets a Synergy Bonus to that roll. This means that they add the highest number from the connecting bone to their result. So in this case, since a 6-3 was dropped, they can add a 6 to their 2-3, getting a total value of 11, plus your stat bonus. Bones can only have two bones attached to them, one for each common number. The exception are spinners, which can have four bones attached to them. Dropping a spinner is a wild card, meaning any bone can attach to it and gain the synergy bonus, even if they don't match. Dropping a 1-1 bone is always a failure, and dropping a 6-6 is always a critical if the system you use has criticals in them.

If you really want to make this a bit more 'gamist', have the players draw four bones at the start of each session. Those are their die rolls they can use. They can then coordinate with each other, helping out poor rolls with good domino placement. A player can still draw from the pile once per roll if they aren't happy with their hand. This does run the risk of slowing down the game, and in addition, it can get a little 'metagamey' for some GM's tastes. But, I think it can also increase teamwork in an interesting and simple way. 

You can also have the dominoes Cascade as a limit for stacking Synergy. The more dominoes you have out connected with like numbers, the greater the chance a GM can use them against you. A GM can remove any number of adjacent bones out on the field to activate a complication to the scenario. Removing one adds a minor complication, 2 a moderate, 3 a major, and 4 a severe. I haven't decided what is considered for each complication. 

The GM could instead have an upper limit of dominoes that can be placed before the stakes are raised. Or, the GM could instead choose to use any of the bones placed down by the players as a die result for their monster. They shatter the chain of bones, use the result, and place that bone back in the boneyard. If doing leaves some bones orphaned from each other, place the greater amount of bones back in the boneyard. For example, if the GM uses a 6-5 bone and separates the chain into two groups, one with 2 bones and one with 3, put the group of 3 back into the boneyard. If the GM uses an end bone, then just take that and one adjacent bone and put it back into the boneyard. This can help recycle old results back through.

I like the idea of having events or actions that happen when certain bone results are revealed. Especially for spinners, since that is easy to keep track of. Again, this does make the game a little metagamey for some GMs, but I think it could add some cool fun and strategy for the game. I imagine the same process here can be used with a set of double 9s for d20 rolls, especially with the usage of Synergy Bonuses to make up for the lack of an actual '20' on them. I'd probably have natural 17 and 18 as the critical roll, and a natural 0 or 1 as a failure.

This is the first usage I have. I have some more, but I want to work on them a little longer before I post them. I think dominoes can really add a cool strategic element to the game when used. I'd love to give it a try one day.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Sci Campaign: The System So Far

So I've been ranting and raving about sci fi and pretty much putting my fingers in everything science fiction related. I'm replaying Mass Effect 2, as well as playing a lot of Beyond Earth again. I'm watching The Expanse with the missus. And I got a whole bunch of sci fi RPG books and supplements, like Book 6: Scouts for Traveller and SWN's Engines of Babylon, as well as some Mindjammer stuff (the new BLUE adventure) and Diaspora. Basically, I think I'm going all in for the sci fi game next year.

I am thinking that I'm going to be running Stars Without Number, with the Engines of Babylon, Suns of Gold, and Transhuman Archives supplements. I honestly enjoy the themes and settings in Eclipse Phase, but the lack of spaceship support is a real deal break. I was heavily considering Cepheus Engine (and I still am), but I think my players might be more familiar with the more D&D aspects of SWN.

With Engines of Babylon, it's to bring the ships down a bit in tech. Less Star Trek and more Firefly or The Expanse. I've modified it somewhat for ease, using Cepheus Engine's acceleration and distance chart for travel. For Suns of Gold, I'm using the colonization rules from that with some alterations. Since the players are out on their own without any real allies, they are going to have to get their own resources. The ark ship they have has resources on it, but eventually, they will need their own stuff to survive on their new home of NESS 89-03 (purposely made it sound too scientific so the players would feel encouraged to give it a more dynamic name). This won't get into the detail and minutiae like you'd see in a 4x game like Alpha Centauri. I haven't decided how to do the resource harvesting, but I plan on keeping it very simple. I'm actually looking at ACKS's Domain Management system for this, since most of the leg work is done and I really like that system.

Speaking of ACKS, I will be using their Population Increase mechanic for the players' colony. Much of this is to represent the people in cold sleep or archived being put online and brought back down to the new colony. The big change I'm making is the value of families. In ACKS, 1 family is 5 people. For this colony game, it will be 50, 500 or 5,000 people, depending on how much resources they put into self sustaining terraforming installations. This will essentially be a part of building Local Supplies (from Suns of Gold) and means that population growth will increase until the colony is big enough (100,000 people) to really be its own city-state instead of just an outpost.

For planet generation, I've been using Mindjammer's System Generator. It's surprisingly good, with lots of information for the planet and its make up and resources. This means that each planet will always have something interesting on it, even if it isn't a full-on session of adventure. That will be very useful, as eventually, the players will get their hands on FTL travel. But, that will bring its own issues, which I'll talk about another time. Finally, I like the dual class idea from SWN's Designer Notes. I may be allowing that.

That's about it for the rules side. I do want to talk about the setting and get things squared away with that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ideas for a Possible Sci Fi Campaign

It never really fails for me, really. When it comes to RPGs, I am very ADHD. One week, I'm all about D&D and fantasy races and building up my fantasy setting. The next week, I'm drawing up a star map for a sci fi campaign. Good thing for my players that I have a great deal of adventures ready for our 5e game, or else I'd be screwed for spending the last week prepping for a game I won't be running for a long time.

So, it started last Thursday on my girl friend's birthday. We went to see Rogue One. I liked it. And I kinda caught the bug for sci fi. Then we saw Interstellar on Sunday. Now we are watching through the Expanse. And boy, the sci fi bug is really hitting me. As much as I love D&D and fantasy, science fiction has always been my first love. Most of my movies, books, and video games are sci fi related. This is why I am now taking the time to detail out a possible campaign, or set of campaigns.

Campaign Idea

So here is what I have for ideas, first being what I'm most excited about.

Human Exodus - In this campaign, the Earth has been wrecked by a Luna mining incident gone wrong. This has fractured the moon and caused pieces of it to hit the Earth, flooding major cities and blanketing the world in a cloud of ash. The nations of the Earth come together in desperation and pour every resource into the impossible: a massive space ark with millions of people, seeds,  resources, and genetic material on board and a wormhole generator with enough energy to work once. So the players will be undertaking this one-way trip to a far away world charted for them. Of course, things go wrong...

For this, I'm torn between starting the game post launch, or starting it leading up to the launch. The latter is nice because it sets up the background and setting more with the ongoing conflict between those that want to fix the Earth and save everyone, and those that are leaving with only a handful of people. And it'll be something that'll haunt them in the future. For this first part, space travel will be stuck on the stellar system they currently jumped to. But that will change, as you'll see below.

One idea I have is that when the players make it to the world, they will eventually find remnants of a colony already there. The strange part is that they discover that the colony was filled with Earthlings. As they'll discover, they were stuck in the wormhole for decades, and in that time, the people of Earth sent a second ship capable of FTL to try and meet with the ark. Things went wrong, they crashed, and there are very few survivors. One of which is the person that invented FTL and can retrofit the ark with it. This will open up the sector and allow the players to have a more Traveller-esque experience with space exploration, further colonization, and getting more resources for their colony.

With all this, mind you, there will be colony and resource rules as well as exploration. The players will be creating a managing a colony, though the management part will be between sessions so that the session can focus more on the game itself. There will be your standard alien wilderness encounters, as well as the social issues of trying to keep a colony together. There will be splintering of factions and such as the colony is built up. Possibility of outright war. There is also dealing with the survivors of the FTL mission that have 'gone native' and are now raiding the colony for supplies. And even the air is attacking the players, as there is a large amount of fungal spores from the flora that is poisonous to the humans.

Some things for the future, if the campaign sticks, are plans for the players' first contact with aliens. I like to go weird with aliens rather than people with suits, so it'll be something crazy. In addition, when their colony is a large, bustling metropolis, there will be contact from an invading force. But it isn't aliens... it's the Earthlings they left behind. But that might be a different campaign for another time.

A lot of this is based on all kinds of games and movies with this in its nature. Alpha Centauri, Civ Beyond Earth, Mass Effect Andromeda, Interstellar... lots of good info of this. There is also a frontier feel to the game, much like Firefly and Starcraft. The players really are out in the space boonies. I tend to lean towards harder sci fi (though not too much) and I have been enjoying The Expanse, so expect at least the social issues of that to creep in. I have considered having multiple, smaller arks from different countries to make it easier to have rival colonies, but I think for now I will keep it one ark that they can fight for control over. Have the rival colonies splinter off from there. There will also be transhuman elements in the game, though not to the extent that you see with games like Eclipse Phase or Nova Praxis. But, there will be mind uplinks and sleeving, as well as some basic nanotechnology and cornucopia machines.

Rule System

So now the elephant in the room is... what system do I run this in? Right now, I'm looking at Stars Without Number, as it is the only rule system I know that has rules for running a colony (Suns of Gold). That is really important to me. I plan on tying that together with the rules of population growth from Adventure, Conqueror, King's Domain Management section. That said, I also enjoy Cepheus Engine (essentially old school Traveller) and the ruleset there. Though the trade section wouldn't get much use until much later. I thought about Mindjammer, but FATE rules don't quite resonate with me as they do with others. As much as I love the setting and technology of Eclipse Phase, the lack of rules for space travel and combat is a deal breaker for me. I've also considered M-Space, but I don't own that.

So that's the campaign I'm looking to make. Tell me what you thing, any ideas you have, and what ruleset would be great to try out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thivola Regional Map

Thivola Regional Map: 1 hex = 24 miles opposite corners. Sub hex = 6 miles
So here is the regional map of the setting I am running my players in. This isn't anywhere close to the final draft, as everything is too saturated and such. But, this is usable enough to where I can give it to my players and we can use it.

I will be placing some more icons on the map as the game continues and demands it. At the moment, the red triangle is the city of Kosna, the dilapidated frontier city that the players are currently at. As you can see, they are at the edge of a large forest. They've encountered some interesting locals both new to the players and familiar. There are some roads on the more zoomed in Province map below. These roads lead to some of the keeps that lie on the frontier. Two of the ones that the players have encountered were housing not the locals, but other people. The first one had a tribe of onbu, squat grey fey creatures that were robbing the locals on the roads. The second one had a mercenary band of orcs performing a sky burial for a fallen comrade killed by a pack of Iemesch. 

In addition to Kosna, there is the black square in the upper area by the merging rivers. This is the capital of the frontier province, Rikantu. This is very much a large city and a great place to get some items that would normally be out of the price range for the players. This is also a good place for some more urban styled adventures. Dealing with guilds 

At some point, I do plan on putting the map through the GIMP and work on it. Clean up the line art more, color it in a much better way, better icons. For now though, this will suffice for my game.
Thivola Provincal Map: 1 hex = 6 miles opposite corners. Sub hex = 1 mile
Above is the zoomed in Province Map, colored with pencils instead of GIMP. This is the actual map that I use currently for the day to day adventuring. Currently, my players are stranded in the mountains that are two hexes to the right of the city of Kosna (the red and black triangle). You can see that I've put in some roads and icons in here for the keeps and such. The way I have been doing my 'zoomed in' maps is that I try and break up the globs of terrain more as I zoom in. So, looking at the Regional and Provincial maps, you'll notice that I broke up the glob of forest some. I did this by adding bare patches of grasslands as well as some forested hills and such. I like doing this because it makes the terrain more realistic and more varied for the players. Though drawing it was a bit of a pain, but it was certainly worth it I feel.

I plan on populating it some more as the month progress. One of my biggest blocks right now is the trouble of finding stable work. Sadly, it's taken up a lot of my time to search for a job that can help pay to keep the lights on. The other thing I want to work on is the largest Atlas map, where I can get into some of the real big changes in area, like rainforests and deserts and such. Plus, I do plan on adding a sort of confederation of free city-states for the players to interact with and possibly even rule in, if that is their sort of thing.

That's it for now. I do want to detail some of the adventure sites on the Provincial map for the next blog, as well as talk about how the "Adventure in One 6 mile Hex" is going.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Turkey Day Approaches

For a RPG and food blog, I don't have much to say about food here. So, time for the second blog about food, celebrating Turkey Day. I apply that old school, DIY attitude to making food, making delicious stuff with both traditional and new methods.

So for this, I have decided to do something different with the turkey. See, I have a sous vide thermocirculator I got for myself as a graduation gift. It's a really handy device that lets me cook things in sous vide. What's sous vide? Well, it's when you store a food item in a ziplock bag or other plastic bag, then cook it in water that is kept at a certain temperature. It keeps the food at a constant temperature and lets you fire and forget, working on other stuff. To learn more, you can go to ChefSteps or Serious Eats for more information.

So I've been rocking that and have decided to sous vide the turkey pieces. This is to ensure correct cooking time, maximum juiciness, tenderness, and flavor. In addition, dark meat cook to a higher temperature than white meats. Cooking the breasts together and away from the thigh quarters ensures that the breasts don't end up dry and boring. So starting, I needed the turkey.

I made a bit of a mess here.
I went with a young turkey because I'm only feeding three people. So it'll be enough, especially with sides and such. With this, I broke down the turkey carcass into quarters. Two leg quarters and two airline breasts. One thing that was disappointing was that the company that pre-trussed the legs screwed up the skin on the tips of the turkey breast. Shame, as I really wanted it to cover the whole breast for searing. No worries though, we can manage.

Top two: Leg Quarters; Bottom two: Airline Breasts
An airline breast is a breast cut that retains the forewing bone. This was mostly for looks, so that it'd look the same as the leg quarters. Sadly, I screwed up the skin on the bottom left turkey breast. I'm getting out of practice. I also removed the thigh bone from the two thighs up top. Again, this was for symmetry and also for ease of slicing when I serve everything cooked up.

From this point, I seared all of the turkey pieces on a cast iron pan for maximum browning! Did it for a minute skin side down so that we can get the skin nice and crispy, then took it off. While I'm getting all of this prepped up, I have the thermocirculator heating the water to 167 F. Once the turkey pieces were seared on their skin side, I put each piece in a separate ziplock bag. In this bag, I also put olive oil, salt and sugar to brine while cooking, and some herbs. For salt and sugar, I like to go 5 parts salt to 2 parts sugar. Then I cover the pieces of meat with them fairly heavily. For herbs, I like rosemary and thyme with a bit of sage. Can't go wrong with that.

Now, we have our four bags, each with their flavorings and their turkey quarter. I elected to do the legs first, but you can start with the breasts. Here are the turkey leg quarters cooking in the sous vide hot bath.

Nice browning on these bad boys.
These suckers will be in there for seven hours. Plenty of time to kick back and relax, maybe plan out the sides. When they are done, I put them in an ice bath to bring down the temperature, then store them in the fridge until Thanksgiving. Because they are already cooked to the temperature required for doneness, it's all a matter of reheating by searing it again. I'll show you what I do with them on Thursday. From here, I repeat the process, but bring the temperature down to 131 F and do the breasts for eight hours. 

Thing is, now I have a carcass laying around. And with that, plus the wings and thigh bone, and all of the other offal (neck, gizzard, heart, liver), I still have a lot of stuff lying around. Do we through that away? Hell no. Throw it all into your biggest stock pot, throw some whole carrots and halved white onions and celery, fill with water, and put it out to make turkey stock.

DIY applied to cooking.
In mine, I also threw in some garlic cloves, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. I love that extra flavor. The stock stays on a simmer for 6-8 hours. You can also roast your carcass for extra flavor. I like to put my oven to 225 F and then place the stock pot in there to cook for eight hours. After that, strain it and cool it off so you can store it for later. I will be using this for gravy, but you can also use this to flavor your rice instead of using just water. Or make an awesome turkey soup. Or turkey polenta/grits. Maybe a turkey flavored gastrique.

That's the start of my Turkey Day. I plan on having some pictures and actual recipes of the sides in the coming two days. I'll also post up a picture of the finished turkey stock later. Until then, have a great Turkey Day!