Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dark Space Rules and Technology

I should have mentioned before that I've decided, for now, to call my Gothic Space Opera "Dark Space," though that might clash with a book series I'm reading (Which seems to be called "The Sentients of Orion," so perhaps not).

Anyway, I wanted to discuss ideas about the technology and core rules.

A Gothic Space Opera does two things. First, it wipes away all that complicated technology that creates a strange and alien future that modern audiences find difficult to relate to, replacing it with something more medieval while keeping "cool" technologies like big guns and powerful spaceships. Second, it establishes a highly cinematic setting, where style counts more than substance. In keeping with this, I've established some ground rules for how the universe and technology works.

First, there are no hit locations, to accommodate fashionable armor choices, such as female warriors who go for a little cheesecake, or (more importantly) warriors who choose for forsake helmets to show off their burning eyes and their wicked hairdos. Second, and this is a little more important, we discard the TL familiarity rules. The technology of Dark Space, utterly urealistically, spans everything from TL 9 to TL 11, and using the core rules makes this variation too difficult to deal with, especially when you have knights wearing TL 10 power armor, wielding a TL 9 autocannon in one hand, and a TL 11 plasma sleeve in the other. Instead, we'll play up familiarity (Knights wielding Robo-angel weaponry is at -2), and establish broader TL rules ("low tech" societies, anything below TL 9 but above TL 0 suffer -5 to high tech gadgetry, while TL 0 societies suffer a -5 to TL 1-8 items, and -10 to TL 9+). If GMs find this problematic, they can further apply familiarity penalties. Your core TL establishes the upper limit on devices you can normally purchase, and allows you to take +1 TL items as Signature Gear. The standard of the setting is TL 10 (the average between the two) though the common man is TL 9.

Ignoring the crazy alternate races (the werewolves, the vampires, the changelings), we have three "core" technological civilizations all interacting with one another in Dark Space. The original "relic" technology from the golden age lingers on, and continues in the hands of the tech-priest type guys. You see the knights using alot of these devices, and these tend to be TL 10-11. The Robots have their own technology, which takes advantage of the structures of their "angelic cores." This technology is TL 11, but occassionally borders into TL 12. Finally, we have the standard technology of the setting, which is generally TL 9.

GURPS divides technology into four broad areas, but I prefer to discuss 5: Transportation, Medical/Biotech, Military Arms, Power, and Information/Computer technology.

Transportation: During the golden age, mankind traveled in vast "light hugger" ships that moved through physical space. Since the collapse, few planets have the infrastructure to build new light huggers, and if they could, they'd build warships instead. Once a light hugger reached a new world, it established a connection to the "Dark Engine," a vast web of dark matter which interacted with normal matter only via gravity, and the ends of these "strands" existed in multiple places simultaneously, allowing for rapid communication. These Dark Engine strands also served as a sort of anchor and highway for FTL travel, allowing rapid transportation from one world to another. Since the collapse, the Dark Engine has been wracked with storms and collapse, but most of it remains intact, if nightmarishly disorganized and haunted by wicked, man-hating AIs. Thus, the Dark Engine remains the primary mode of transportation in Dark Space. Outside of space, vehicles travel on wheels and tracks, with contragravity isolated to spaceships, large airships, and robotic angels.

Information: The Dark Engine allowed for instant communication between worlds, and so formed a sort of pan-galactic internet. Each world housed at least one calculation spire, a vast super-computer that contained that world's data, and at important nodes, humanity constructed planet-sized computer brains which house god-like AI, constantly monitoring the pulses and information of the Dark Engine. Finally, near the end of the Golden Age, mankind learned to manipulate dark matter so well that they created AI nodes that existed entirely in the Dark Engine. After the fall, of course, most of this capability vanished as the Dark Engine collapsed into virus-wracked chaos, and even today is plagued with nightmarish "zones" of legacy code and corrupted data. The data spires also generally collapsed for fell into disrepair or were hijacked by rogue AIs, which forced mankind to recollect data where they could. Datapads have become the primary "computer" of today, worked by data-scribes who carefully collect data wherever they can, uploading it into their heavy "tomes," and collecting them into jealously guarded libraries.

Weaponry: The guns and armor of Dark Space generally follow the rules of those found in GURPS Ultra-Tech. After the fall, most armies use TL 9 slug-throwers, though Knights use TL 10 "ETK" slugthrowers (though houseruled to be more reasonable). Knights have further access to a variety of "knightly" items, like "lances" and "shields," most of which is TL 10 and 11. Of course, they have access to power armor. Standard armies do not, and are forced to make due with Reflex vests and such.

Power: It's a cinematic setting, so naturally, we don't want to fiddle much with batteries and bullets. Nuclear Fusion is common in the setting, and most vehicles have hand waved "micro-reactors" that mean you never need to fuel them. Standard power cells enjoy the benefits of Super Science, giving them 5 times as much power as normal (meaning most guns don't need to worry about big, bulky packs or changing batteries often). TL 11 "relic" devices use cosmic power cells that feed off of the Dark Engine directly, and thus, never require power (convenient, huh?)

Medical/Biotech: Many denizens of the Dark Space universe benefit from Biotech, but it has fallen out of favor since many of their creations rose up to destroy them. Medical technology suffered most of all, falling to a mere TL 9 level. This allows us to have medicine that's "good enough" to keep people safe and alive, but losing limbs or death are big deals still. Robots generally have the ability to upload minds into the Dark Engine, and call those that do so "Reapers," who generally only collect the dying (or the truly wicked).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Once More Into The Breach

As mentioned in my previous post: Frozen War! We played another session.

Between my classes and my 40k obsession, it's hard to focus on my standard Space Opera, but thankfully, I managed to find the attention to do so, got it together, and we played it out again. All in all, it went well and was well received by my players. But just as before, there are places I could have done better.

I'm still really uncertain of gravity. I think I might just ditch it in my main Space Opera game, as it doesn't really seem to bring much to the game except alot of mathematical hassle. Gunplay improved alot, but I made another mistake here: Byler went "down" when he was under suppressive fire. So far, so good. He thereafter tried a "pop up" shot, which put him under suppressive fire for one turn and gave him a -2 to hit. Again, so far so good. Unfortunately, Gunslingers don't suffer that penalty. He's even more badass than I realized.

In another colossal screw-up, I really underestimated the defenses of Caldera City, and as a result, the attacking forces were slaughtered. I lied to my players, something I had decided I didn't want to do: by the rules, they actually should have killed every last man, woman and child that attacked the players, through a combination of the Quetzali leader's stupidity and the sheer power of Caldera's defenses. The old rule of thumb is that you need 3 times your defender's strength during a siege, and I should have used that, but I figured 1.5 times was more than enough. However, with players making heroic actions and the massive defenses of a city, I should have placed alot more firepower in the hands of the Quetzali.

The lowest point of the game, alas, was a player. During an early battle, they managed to ambush some Quetzali, wound their leader, take down two of their infantry, and run them out of town, and Walter qualified it as a "defeat." He complained when their non-infiltrator types couldn't detect an infiltrator, when his APC HMG couldn't blow a flying APC out of the sky. He complained that he's always losing (despite the fact that the players have won every battle they were allowed to influence), that Quetzali have superior technology (they have essentially identical technology to humans, much to my annoyance), that the Quetzali are superior themselves (They are worth more points, but I've designed them to be weak in certain, important areas), and complained that he couldn't possibly defend his city ("I'm out-numbered!").

The other guys didn't complain. They even got on his case for doing so, so it's clearly not the game itself. To me, the most grating thing about this is that it destroys the illusions I'm trying to create. Now that they won that battle, it sounds like I toned things down based on his complaints, and his victory is now hollow because he won by whining, and that's just not so. He won through his own grit and (reluctant) determination.

I suspect I know where the real problem is. In the previous session, Walter actually lost, but didn't complain. This session, he won and complained. The difference, I think, is the role of his character. Byler and Roomie have both slipped into their roles perfectly, and know exactly how to play their characters, and achieved some serious badassery. Walter, once again, finds himself in a sidelined support position, and he does not do well there. Only, he's not really in a "support" position. His character is just as good with a rifle and UBGL as before. He's just as well armored as before. And he hasn't yet mastered the arts of leadership in GURPS. Walter hates to feel useless, and not knowing how to achieve victory is a form of that. As he learns better, he'll relax. I just wish he'd trust me. I think I'll have Sasha suggest to him to "get involved" in the next fight as much as possible, commenting that he doesn't enjoy "leading from the rear."

I trusted him last session and gave him a nuke when he requested it, having visions of epic uses of it later in the game. He threatened to use it on a squad of 5 Quetzali at the risk of his own men. Wow. Then he threatened to use it on the city he was defending. Wow. You should never give someone a toy unless you're willing to let them use it, but man, this is really not how I intended him to use his nuke. I'm not generally a fan of "punishing" a player, but this might be a case to pull out some dirty tricks: All his loud, boisterous threatening of the Quetzali with a nuke has told them that he has a nuke. If they can take it from him, the enemy general who just lurves holocausts can use it on the city. Hopefully, that will make him think twice about blabbing confidential info at the enemy, especially in the form of empty threats.

But beyond this, I think it was, overall, a very good game.

UPDATE: I feel the need to add that, as pointed out by Byler (I believe), Walter's complaints are a good sign. They mean he cares about the game. If he didn't, he'd just shrug and disregard any setbacks. Instead, he wants to see his lieutenant succeed! And that means he actually likes the game.

UPDATE 2: I might have given the impression I was mad at Walter, and I wasn't. I've seen players get frustrated with their characters before (Erik, a friend from the Netherlands, was very frustrated with his Dragon-Blooded sorcerer before we fiddled and found a way for his generic Occult to be useful). I'm quite sure Walter is in the same situation.

In fact, he contacted me and apologized. This is what I mean when I say I have good players. According to him, his real frustration is the lack of a decent MAP, since visual input really helps him formulate strategies, so we've figured out how to sketch out some stuff on MapTool, and we should be ok. His comment about the nuke was this: "A Nuke is a bluff, a MAD device. Thus, it's useless if you don't announce it." Which is true, come to think of it! I suggested that he might save that bluff for more useful times, however, not overestimate it (You can't demand the surrender of an entire army just because you have a nuke and you're in their midst), and to better understand his opponent psychology (Quetzali tend to be skeptical of physical danger, both a great asset and a grave problem for them)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Double Banana

Aka "Green Shirt + Red Shirt = Rosarius!"

I've been away from 40k for awhile, due to cost and losing my American crowd to play it with, but my hunger to be a part of that universe has driven me once again into the unloving, cold arms of GW, and I'm painting a Crimson Fist army (it's going very well, thank you, the prettiest minis I've painted yet, though still not up to the standards of Koen, Roomie or Walter). I've also been getting to know a group of people at a place called Gameforce, and it's been nice. I was really making inroads today, which is a shame, because something really got beneath my skin and made me walk out early.

I'm watching a battle between Orks and Space Marine, and the Ork player is a little iffy to me. The way he measures bugs me (for range: front of model to front of model), and "accidentally" snatching up failed rolls and tossing them with the next batch (unless someone points it out), forgetting rules if they inconvenience him. Really, smaller than I'm making it sound, more "round up for me, round down for you," sort of gameplay, and this already begins to bother me. But then he really starts to pull something that really gets me going.

He keeps saying his units, in plain sight, have cover. I finally get up and say "Dude, look, he can see all of them but like four. You don't get a cover save!" Then he argues that his units are intermixed, so he does. And the thing is, he's right.

Lemme explain:

If you have a bunch of guys behind rocks, they get cover saves, like so:

SSSSS (space marines)

RRRR (some rocks)
OOOO (Some orks)

If the Space Marines try to shoot the Orks, the Orks get cover. Makes sense.

Units provide cover too.


GGGGG (Some grots)


The Orks are behind the Grots. If the Space marines wanted to shoot "through" the Grots to hit the Orks, the Orks would get a cover save. This makes sense, as the point of sending a vanguard is for them to die first. Duh.

But he pulled this:



Now, he can only see about 3 of the 8 Grots, and 2 of the 7 Orks. If he declares he's firing at the Orks, the Grots give them cover. If he declares he's firing at the Grots, the Orks give them cover. You can only fire at one unit, and since these are technically two units, each unit has a cover save (even, incidentally, if you hit them with artillery). They just march around, ignoring cover, because they don't need it. Orks that are supposed to have a 6+ armor save suddenly all have Rosarius, superior even to Space Marine armor, for a third the cost. Victory was assured, because he picked the ideal army to use this tactic. Completely cheesy.

The worst thing? Completely legal. Completely legal asshatery, if you ask me.

(He's not the first to come with this, after a brief perusal online. You find plenty of discussions, replete with the foul-mouthed offensive-defenses you'd expect from twinks defending practices they know are twinky. A common house rule is: You cannot both give and receive cover to/from a unit," and that seems reasonable to me.)

"Ok, so just don't play against him" says Bee. Well, I don't plan on it. Even if he relents and admits this is a crappy way to play, or if GW (finally) comes out with a rule against it, his attitude bugs me. See, I know I'm going to lose when I play. It bugs me, but I accept it, because playing will be fun. It'll be competitive too, as players use superior strategies to defeat one another. Feelings will be hurt but, hopefully, friends will be made, and I'll have stories to regal my friends with. Yeah, I've been on the benefiting side of overpowered cheese (Space Wolf 2e codex with that magical teleport device), but I remember realizing it was cheesy after a few games, and honestly enjoying my "invincible" SW scout "Roark." (He never died. Really.) I remember losing alot as Black Templar, and never winning as Chaos. That's how these things go. As one fellow (Tommie, I think) said "Whatever happens, just smile." That's a good attitude to have.

But I don't want to play if I have to get into yelling matches about the rules, or have people tell me to look up stuff on the internet. Just because a loophole isn't against the rules doesn't mean it's a good idea. The fun of the other player matters too. As Tony said "I want to have someone to play against again after I win," and that takes sportsmanship.

I'm really disheartened. I was hoping to get back in, and now I'm nervous that this sort of thing will be wide spread. If so, I'll focus on friends I make, and playing with the Knights (they play 40k too). I feel bad I walked out, but I wasn't really planning on it, it just sort of happened because I needed to cool my head and I wanted to paint (needed a new brush). Hopefully, though, I'll feel better next week.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

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