Friday, May 25, 2012

Tally Ho Dragon!

The first doscking of a commercial spaceship at the International Space Station orbiting above Earth took place today, as SpaceX's Dragon (that's it up above) capsule arrived with supplies for the crew orbiting high above Earth.

So whats next fr SpaceX and commercial spaceflight? My mind swiftly goes to space prospecting, Lunar colonies and the journey ever outward. 

For those unaware, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) is a space transport company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. SpaceX was founded in June 2002 by PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk. These guys want to push space-going technologies. Which calls to my not-so-inner child who has been continually frustrated by the slow advance of space travel.

Looking forward to see what will come out of SpaceX!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


This is a re-post from my other blog. I post it here because I intend to use the below system to flesh out a Space Opera setting that I have been knocking around for a bit (more on that soon). The below system is a "rules light" one that focuses on story rather than an endless list of rules.
Personally, I LOVE dice pool systems. This likely comes from my early introduction into games via White Wolfs "Classic" Storyteller System. Such systems allow a wide range of character concepts, but are not so simple as to avoid the mis-rolls, disasters and victories that are so very much a part of tabletop role-playing games.
So below are the base rules for the NUGGET system.This simple and easy to learn game system is brought to you by the folks over at Silver Branch Games and is completely free. You can download this game system here, but for ease of reference I have posted the rules system below.

NUGGET is a simple set of roleplaying game (RPG) rules. A group of people sit around pretending to be imaginary characters having adventures in a fictional setting. Each controls a player character (PC), except one who takes the role of Game Master (GM), setting up situations for the PCs and controlling the other characters they meet (non-player characters, NPCs). The players say what their characters do and the GM tells them what happens next. The story progresses through scenes of particular actions at a location. You.ll need pencils and paper and about 10 six-sided dice.

Characters are described with Advantages and Disadvantages compared to an average, untrained person. If a task is neither trivial nor impossible, you roll a "pool" of a variable number of dice to see whether you succeed. The pool is made up of the Base Dice that an average person would get, plus one die per Advantage (Adv) from a Skill (knowledge and training) and an Attribute (natural talent), minus one die per relevant Disadvantage (Dis); e.g. Research + Brains.
Base Dice (BD) set difficulty. Just rolling your Advantages is BD 0, a task that needs a professional. If anyone can have a decent try it.s BD +2 (probably the commonest). If only the best can pull it off it.s BD -2 (subtract 2 from your Advantages). Near-impossible tasks are BD -4. The GM can give an extra Adv or Dis for special situations. If you end up with no dice it.s just too hard.
Count each die that shows 4, 5 or 6 as one success. A single success means you just barely do it, though not very well; 3 successes is a good, solid result; 5 or more successes is truly impressive. No successes (all rolls 1, 2, 3) means failure. If all 1.s that.s a fumble: you messed up and the GM describes the awkward consequences.
Exceptional success can be handled in one of two ways. For a realistic or gritty style run the game lid-on.: if all dice come up as 6.s you get one extra success. For high-energy, unpredictable action run it .lid-off.: each die that shows 6 can be rolled again for a possible extra success, and further 6.s give further re-rolls.
Opposed rolls happen when two characters come into conflict - a physical fight, interrogation, haggling, armwrestling or a chess match. Both characters make appropriate rolls. The one with more successes gets their way, and the difference tells you how decisive it was. Ties usually go forward (dramatically!) to another roll.

Making a Character

These describe natural talent at general kinds of things. As NUGGET is very simple there are just four:
Brawn - strength, toughness, stamina
Agility - speed, coordination, flexibility
Brains - noticing, remembering, working things out
Will - determination, self-control, charisma
Most people are rated at 0, the average point. Some are talented at +1. A few are exceptional, rated +2. Some are particularly poor, rated -1. Player characters are well above average. You have 2 points to raise Attribute levels. Spend both on one at +2, or split them between two at +1. If you take one at -1 it gives an extra point to spend.

These are areas of knowledge, training and experience, like Fighting with Swords, Piloting Starships, Chemistry or Investigation. They go in levels 1-4: Basic, Professional, Expert, Master. NUGGET doesn.t give a list, so you.ll have to name your own, neither too broad nor too narrow.
Write down your Occupation. This is what your character spends their time doing - Space Smuggler, Doctor, Private Detective, Barbarian Warrior, Schoolgirl, etc. It gives 1 level with a cluster of Skills, and you don't have to list them all: whenever it makes sense for an action to fit within the Occupation you get an Advantage on the roll (but use a specific Skill if you have one written down).
Pick one Core Skill that.s central to your Occupation (e.g. Medicine for the doctor, Sword Fighting for the barbarian, Pilot Starship for the smuggler) and write it down separately as level 2 (professional).
You also have 4 levels of Skills to allocate as you wish.
They can be new hobby Skills (the doctor might be an amateur stage magician), or you can increase specific Skills from your Occupation - your work is your life!

Finishing off
Write down 1-3 Goals - things that are important to the character, which could be people, objects, organisations, principles or things they want to achieve.
Write down your Initiative bonus: the total of Agility and Brains Advantages and the levels of your highest Fighting Skill. (Disadvantages subtract; it can go negative.)
Write down your Physical Resistance (2 + Brawn Advantages) and Mental Resistance (2 + Will Advantages). These scores are the number of dice you'll actually roll (BD 2) - it speeds things up if handy.
Write down Destiny Points, with space for it to change over time. You start with 1 point.
You have ordinary items of equipment to allow you to perform your Skills - beyond that it depends on the game.

Initiative. When it comes to high-speed action, things happen in rounds: chunks of time a few seconds long divided into 10 phases. At the start of a round everyone rolls one die and adds the result to their Initiative bonus.
The GM counts down from 10 to 1, and your initiative total tells you when you can take your action (e.g.punching, throwing, shooting). After phase 1 the next round starts, until the fight is over. A total over 10 means you can act once on 10 and again on the remainder (e.g. 14 => 10, 4), up to 10, 8. A total less than 1 means too confused to take an action this round. You can also do one simple thing for free each round any time after you're ready for your first action (Phase 1 if you can.t act) - e.g. drawing a weapon, picking something up or running a short distance. More involved actions like all-out sprinting take an action. You can delay an action till later in the round. Characters acting on the same phase go in order of Initiative bonus. You can defend against an attack at any time; one roll counts against all attacks in that phase.
Attack and defense. Attack rolls use the relevant Skill plus Agility, usually BD +2. Defences, like parrying or dodging, are similar but use any close combat Skill (e.g. not Gun), and against projectile weapons are BD 0 to BD +2 depending on cover. If the attacker gets more successes it.s a hit and does damage; otherwise it misses.
Damage. Add the difference between attack and defense successes to the base damage, below. Hand-tohand attacks add Brawn Advantages as well.
0 unarmed
1 knife, small club
2 sword, big club, axe, spear, arrow
3 big sword, polearm, handgun, SMG
4 rifle, shotgun
6 machine-gun
8 tank gun

The target rolls Physical Resistance to withstand the attack, with successes taken away from the total damage. (A fumble adds 1 to damage!) Read the result off here:
1-2 Hurt
3-4 Injured
5-6 Injured and Unconscious
7+ Injured and Dead

Note Hurts and Injuries on your character sheet : they build up and give penalties while they last. Hurts are bruises and cuts that slow you down - each subtracts 1 from Initiative for future rounds and takes 5 minutes of rest to disappear. Injuries are serious wounds - each takes 1 off Initiative and gives a Disadvantage for all rolls except Resistance, and takes a day of rest and care to recover.
.Unconscious. and .Dead. are self-explanatory. Someone with medical supplies can try first aid: roll Medicine + Brains, BD 2. Each round the patient and healer do nothing else, one success can be spent to heal a Hurt.
Combat details. Any armor worn subtracts from damage: 1-3 points for archaic types, possibly up to 5 for modern types. Firearms with spray/burst firing give an Adv to hit. Shields give an Adv to defend. Surprise, e.g. if an opponent has successfully sneaked up, means no defence roll is possible. Unseen opponents turn attack and defense into Fighting + Brains rolls, BD 0.

Special rules

Weird stuff
This includes things like magic and psychic powers. NUGGET doesn't try to cover these. The way they work makes a big difference to the feel of a game, and that needs detail. One simple way is to set them up as Skills, rolled normally but costing a physical or mental Hurt for fatigue unless a success is spent to be good enough to avoid it. The players and GM need to agree how much or little these can do. Possibilities include .Telepathy., .Moving Objects., .Fire Magic. and .Illusion.. Mind-based attacks use Brains with Will as base damage, or just a roll with Will.

Destiny Points
These are a mixture of karma, luck and self-esteem, given by the GM during play and spent to direct the character.s path. Use counters for Destiny during a session and write it down at the end. Gain a point for doing something cool like beating an enemy, performing a dangerous stunt, or just making everybody laugh. Gain a point if the character takes an important step toward one of their Goals in a scene - but a point can also be taken away if a Goal is seriously thwarted, like your beloved aunt getting hurt or the Empire taking over your base! (If you are already at zero and would lose a point, the GM gains one to a general pool for the opposition.) Spending Destiny. Spend one to make a roll again and keep the result you prefer. If the GM allows it, spend one to be unconscious instead of dead (some games should be dangerous, but usually heroes can survive all sorts of harm). Buy a new level of a Skill between adventures for (new level x 5) Destiny Points. Specific games may have further uses, like establishing a minor, plausible coincidence, or getting one die to roll when you have none.

In general, give opponents the abilities they ought to have rather than trying to balance points. Minions are lowlevel riff-raff with an Occupation and low or no Attribute and Skill bonuses. Put them all on initiative (3 + bonus).
Even one Hurt takes them out of a conflict. Henchmen have higher stats and are taken out by an Injury or 3
Hurts. Major villains work like PCs, with abilities as good or better, plus other advantages like henchmen or fiendish devices. They start with Destiny - often one point per PC - and can get more for advancing their plans.
Animals, monsters, aliens etc can have Attributes beyond the normal range: up to +4 and down to -2. This is most common with Brawn, related to size.

Apart from combat, characters get exposed to all sorts of things that can do them physical or mental harm, like fire, poison, falling, or terrifying monsters. They're all handled the same way: the GM gives a damage rating from the table below, which is opposed by the appropriate Resistance and applied as above.
1 Irritating
3 Painful/Tiring (desert)
5 Damaging (ordinary fire, drowning)
8 Deadly (strong electricity)
10 Extreme (space, deep ocean)
Record mental damage separately: Hurts and Injuries add to those from physical damage, but heal
independently. An .Unconscious. result from a Threat gives an impairment lasting about a scene, e.g. blinded by a flash, fleeing in mindless terror. .Dead. gives a permanent condition - curing it could be a story seed.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Music The Game By II

Continuing from my last post on the subject of music for games, here are a few favorites to help add the right mood to your games. Personally I love having music playing while running a game. I suggest putting some thought into what is playing in the background. Not that every scene needs to be musically mapped out, but a little forethought can go a long way towards creating a properly immerse experience for your players.
This selection is more "Heavy Metal" than the last selection. Not to the liking of some but just the sort of thing to get the "old school" creative juices flowing.

Luca Turilli - War Of The Universe
Great for combat scenes and for planning out an adventure, the work of Luca Turilli is great for that action-packed feel so loved by gamers.  Particularly well suited to Mutant Future, Icari or Mystery Men campaigns or other games where characters can rock out while battling gooey space beasts.

Praying Mantis - Remember My Name
Moody and dark, this song from Praying Mantis is excellent for revelations, traveling music and at the conclusion of a story. Any genre of game is good for the music of theis awesome band, but I particularly like this music for epic Space Opera/Science Fiction games.

Magnum - The moon King
A more bluesy song than their usual fare, The Moon King is a good song for any sci-fi, fantasy or post-apocalypse game, particularly Mutant Future or classic Gamma World games.  For X-Plorers games, I think Magnum music is particularly good for colony worlds or when dealing with aliens and distant worlds.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

World Seeding: Panspermia Asteroids and Exegenisis

Where did life come from? Its an old question whose answer(s) have been hotly debated down through history. Whether you prefer religious, scientific, or a mixing of the two for your answers, the truth of the matter is that we can never really know. The best we can hope for is a really good guess, mixed in with an awful lot of hope that we are not missing the point entirely.

Still, the question is a very interesting subject to ponder. Especially when we use science fiction to flesh out the weird and wonderful nature of life, death and the vast expanses of space-time.

One interesting theory is that life on Earth came from space. NASA researchers studying meteorites found that they contain several of the components needed to make DNA on Earth. The discovery provides support for the idea that the building blocks for DNA were likely created in space, and carried to Earth on objects, like meteorites, that crashed into the planet’s surface. According to the theory, the ready-made DNA parts could have then assembled under Earth’s early conditions to create the first DNA.

Check out this cool video for some of the details of this fascinating subject:

Of course such theories are just that; theories. However they ARE very interesting and and feed the imagination machine at the heart of all sci-fi writers, artists, dreamers and geeks. The idea that life can be helped along my space bullion cubes dropped into the chemical stew of a planet makes the possibilities of extraterrestrial (and extra-solar) life all the more possible.

Another variation on this theory is "Directed Panspermia" which is the seeding of worlds is directed by intelligent beings. In-essence this is a form of intelligent design, albeit a scientistic variant of the concept. The late Nobel prize winner Professor Francis Crick, OM FRS, along with British chemist Leslie Orgel proposed the theory of directed panspermia in 1973. A co-discoverer of the double helical structure of the DNA molecule, Crick found it impossible that the complexity of DNA could have evolved naturally.

Crick posed that small grains containing DNA, or the building blocks of life, could be loaded on a brace of rockets and fired randomly in all directions. Crick and Orgel estimated that a payload of one metric ton could contain 1017 micro-organisms organized in ten or a hundred separate samples. This would be the best, most cost effective strategy for seeding life on a compatible planet at some time in the future.

This theory is of-course fertile ground for science fiction of all kinds, as the concept of super-intelligent aliens are involved in seeding planets. The potential horror of this is rarely touched upon by hopeful scientists and mystical gurus of course.

The Science Fiction Treatment
 In my favorite science fiction books, comics, movies and RPGs (including the X-Plorers RPG), life is widely spread across the galaxy. Though you still get really weird alien life, many worlds not only support life, but this life falls into categories that are comparable to life here on Earth. Plants are plants (and often falling into familiar forms such as trees, grass and flowers), and animals not that different from Earth reptiles, mammals, insects etc are all in evidence.
Though members of X-Plorers teams would be happy to find habitable worlds where potential food is available and air is breathable, one must sometime wonder why so many worlds in the reaches are inhabitable. If they were terraformed, than by whom? And will they mind finding all of these pesky humans messing up their planets?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mystery Men RPG

Superhero role-playing games and I have a love/hate relationship. While I love comic books, and grew up on tales of superheroes, mutants and monsters, their translation into a working RPG is tricky to say the least. This trouble mostly has to do with the large lists of powers, many times attempting to cover the entire gamut of super-powers seen in the pages of comic books. Unfortunately, a truly comprehensive and "realistic" system quicky creates both a book-keeping nightmare, and a very, very dry game.

So imagine my delight when I encountered Mystery Men. This delightful game is a rules-lite superhero role-playing game based on the original fantasy role-playing game rules. Mystery Men! is designed to let you create characters quickly and get right into the crime fighting. The system is light, but the possibilities are nigh endless, limited only by the imagination of the player and gamemaster.

The game has only three classes, The Adventurer, The Scientist and The Sorcerer. The Adventurer is the classic two-fisted purveyor of justice (or villainy) who is well represented in comic books. The Scientist is the creator of marvellously weird super-science of comic and movie lore, While the Sorcerer is the weilder of weird forces that whips up plot-promoting and destroying effects. All three classes use the same "pool" of powers, which are effectively "spells" from D&D and other classic games, but can be taken as go-to powers, or in the case of the sorcerer and scientist, material for spells and weird gadgets.

The game was created by John M. Stater who is himself a huge fan of all that is pulp and marvelous. His obvious adoration of Golden and Silver Age comics is apparent in every page of this game, as well as in his blogs; The Land of Nod and Strange New World.
So check out this game: You can download it for free here, or buy a print copy here (only $8!).I strongly recommend spending the $8, as we should all want to encourage this level of awesomeness.

Uses in Science Fiction Adventures
Personally, I think Mystery Men would be GREAT for a pulpy, space-going game. Science-Fiction, Cartoons and Comics have always been chock-full of space-faring superbeings. Though most of such instances are of marauding aliens attacking Earth, many involve space-faring heroes and entire adventures taking place on assorted other planets and in the depths of space itself.
Not all superbeings can live in the vacuum of space or fly (few of them in-fact), but rely on all of the spaceships, survival gear and other gadgets that help make science fiction tales so much fun.
Some that come immediately to mind are:
Lensmen Series: This classic series of science-fiction novels is effectively about super-beings protecting the galaxy. Cool stuff!
Shi'ar Imperial Guard: A group of superbeings gleaned from across the galaxy to serve and protect the Shi'ar Empire. This is amongst the most impressive (yet mortal) supers teams of the Marvel Universe, and yet they only rarely gained any face-time. Frequent foes are the dreaded Kree, Skrull, Galactus (and assorted heralds) and other nasties.
Legion of Super-Heroes: One of the best of the DC comic series in my opinion. A future version of the classic justice league, now protecting sentient beings across the galaxy.Many of the space-faring enemies found in Superman and other series are very much still around in one form or another.
Space Ghost: Loved this cartoon as a kid. And though it is pretty goofy, it definately has a high wowie-zowie factor that cannot be denied.
Deathstalker: A space opera by Simon R. Green ( that features at its core a relatively small number of superbeings who savagely fight over the universe.
Star Wars: The Jedis for all intents and purposes are superheroes, and the Sith are super-villains. They not only posses impressive powers, but the universe is regularly devestated by their struggles and influence.

I will be posting articles for using Mystery Men in a space-faring setting, as well as taking a look at superheroes and villains found in science fiction. So stay tuned!