Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Wine-Dark Sky, Session 1: Naxos

Yes, I've given the Full Light, Full Steam/Spelljammer game a pretentious name. Get over it.


Low on food and air, the exhausted crew found their way out of the phlogiston to the ring-colony of Naxos. On approach, Naxos appeared to be a series of asteroids circling a water planet and connected by huge plants hundreds of feet long. The center of the colony was an ancient Elven Armada that had “gone wild” and grown around the largest asteroid. Although there were a substantial number of Flitters on the Armada’s landing deck, the elves did not appear to be part of the Elven Empire. In fact, the colony looked to be populated by a mix of humans and elves, all of whom dressed in extremely simple styles. Reassured that the locals wouldn’t be interested in killing them for their ship, the crew decided to land in order to take on supplies.

The ensuing first contact went humorously awry. Due to some Thematic Battery charging and bad die rolls, the human governor, a man named Demos, become convinced the crew was part of the Empire’s strike force sent to wreck vengeance upon the colony for not supplying troops to the Empire. There was already an Imperial Military Envoy, an elf named Einar, on the asteroid who had been stirring up trouble, and Demos was convinced the crew was part of the retribution Einar had promised. While Guillaume, Reg, and Piter were unable to calm the governor down, they were able to convince him that they weren’t going to start killing people right away, and they arranged a meeting with Einar.

Fortunately for the crew, Einar was easily confused, so even though Piter’s title (pronounced perfectly by Guillaume, whom Einar took to be some sort of footman or valet) was more than slightly archaic, Einar reported the details of his mission to who he believed was a superior officer. The Empire’s primary concern in the area was bringing elves lost in the Diaspora back into the Imperial fold, so as to bolster their forces. In this, Einar had failed completely, as the local elves had so “debased” themselves as to put the humans in charge of the colony, as this particular band of elves though that the primary failing of the Elven Hegemony was that they were too inclined to take the long view. Einar had nothing but contempt for colonists. He had also discovered that the Governor had some sort of secret agreement with local pirate captain who was searching for lost elven artifacts. Most disconcerting to Guillaume was that this pirate, Antoine le Flamboyant, was none other than the previous owner of the crew’s last ship (which was stolen, of course).

Meanwhile, Kami, Reg, and Kaira were seeing the town. While the idea of human/elven harmony was reassuring, and their mastery of agriculture was impressive, the notable absence of young men was a bit disconcerting. They soon discovered that the colony was afraid some external threat and that the governor had conscripted all of men capable of military service and sent them on patrol to protect the outlying settlements. They also encountered a rather disgruntled and suspicious Einar, but before he could spot their ship, Reg’s “new friends” carried the elf off.

Kaira and Kami (especially Kami) still wanted to learn more about the Imperial Military Envoy, however, so they followed him back to his ship. Einar spotted Kami just as he was about to board his Flitter, but as he drew his sword on her, Kaira turned his rapier into rope. Embarrassed by this turn of events (discharging three levels of his Grace Condition Battery), he invited Kami into the ship to speak to her in private.

Meanwhile, Antoine’s Hammership landed at the colony. While Piter headed off the market to buy some unusual supplies for their ship, Reg decided that seeing what Antoine was up to would be a good idea. He was able to overhear a conversation between Antoine and Demos in which Demos thanked Antoine for protecting the colony from the Neogi. In fact, Demos said, as there had been no additional sightings of the Neogi ship since Antoine’s arrival, perhaps it was time to bring the patrols back. Antoine counseled against this action, saying it was still too soon. He and his men were still “investigating” some of the outlying asteroids where the Neogi might be hiding. Before Reg could hear any more, however, Antoine spotted and recognized him. Both men took aim at each other (Reg with one of his many pistols, Antoine with a blunderbuss tossed down from the ship), and the exchange of volleys ended with Reg gravely wounded and limping back toward the ship.

While Kaira, who had by now returned to the ship, tended to Reg’s wounds, Guillaume challenged Antoine to cross blades with him. While the duel lasted mere seconds, with Guillaume handily disarming Antoine, the post-duel posturing for the assembled masses and crews took considerably longer. Antoine gave Guillaume the opportunity to kill him and “expose these poor people to the terrors of the Neogi,” but Guillaume declined. Instead, he was able to gain access to Antoine’s charts and maps, giving him a clearer idea of how to get home. And to add insult to injury, he convinced Antoine to fly Guillaume’s personal jack until they left the system. Angry and embarrassed, Antoine agreed, but he swore revenge upon Guillaume and his crew.

In the meantime, Kami had grown tired of Einar’s imperious demeanor and had used his sword/rope to tie him in his own ship. With help of the recently-arrived Piter, she absconded with the crystal he used to communicate with his superiors. Piter, while ostensibly letting Einar go, in fact sabotaged his spelljamming helm, which would leave him stranded in the phlogiston, much as the crew had been.

With the ship’ stores restocked, a new course home plotted, and an escort out of the sphere provided by Antoine’s Hammership, the crew sailed on, in search of home.


As expected, passing Scrips took a little getting used to, but people seemed to catch on reasonably quickly. I suspect we’ll get better at it.

Josh has said that Full Light, Full Steam is a system where the players get to decide when they want to win. I agree, and I like the shape that gives the game. The way the player characters’ Thematic Batteries charge and discharge (and how the NPCs’ Batteries work the other direction) mean that the players will take it on the chin early but then win in the end. That’s exactly the sort of feeling I want from this game.

The inability of the GM to end a scene leads to the players having a lot of power in Risky conflicts. If they win big and get a situation modifier out of it, they can keep asking for more. If they lose and give the NPC a bonus, they can end the scene. The scenes with Antoine vs. Reg and Antoine vs. Guillaume were excellent illustrations of this.

Because the GM doesn’t have the usual scene framing control, I need to be more aggressive about introducing things during scenes. I need to be more willing to throw in “two guys with guns burst through the door” type developments. I wasn’t, and that lead to not enough Situation getting exposed during the game. There were a lot of elements of the underlying Conflicts that didn’t really come up because the players didn’t really investigate them, and I didn’t really put them out there.

Switching from Full Light, Full Steam’s usual “you need to defend the Imperial Navy’s interests” setup to “you’re a group of outsiders trying to get home” situation means that I need to pull harder on people’s Thematic Batteries to tie them into the Situation.

I could have sworn there was something else, but I’ve forgotten it.

And of course, it was fun!

Andrew, Teisha, Christina, Ted, Roy: Comments?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Odyssey, If Odysseus Was A Space Pirate

That was my big takeaway from the planning session of our Full Light, Full Steam game. It’s going to be a game of people trying to get home and the piratical adventures they have along the way. The central McGuffin is the ancient Elven Man-O-War the crew found while lost in the phlogiston, which has the Thematic Batteries “Mysterious,” “Loyal Crew,” and “Responsive.” The ship disappeared thousands of years ago, before the end of the Unhuman War. The crew, stranded in the Flow after a privateering raid gone wrong, found the ship and its pilot, who had spent millennia in suspended animation. They have now finally made their way back to a crystal sphere, and they’re beginning the long trek home.

And here’s who they are.

Captain Guillaume de Lyonesse (Roy), a noble son whose dissolute ways earned him a pointed "invitation" to make a name for himself as a privateer, far away from home. Thematic Batteries: Fiery Temper, Remittance Man, Noblesse Oblige

Reginald “Reg” Verant (Andrew), a middle-aged marksman and gunner who dislikes violence "up close", has a family he misses back home (though he knows that Dora and the kids can take care of themselves), and tries to always keep things low-key and relaxed. Thematic Batteries: Armed, Salt of the Earth, Experienced.

Kaira (Teisha), the teenaged, technology-obsessed wizard who accidentally stowed away on the ship. Thematic Batteries: Young, Inquisitive, Claustrophilic.

Kami Greenleaf (Christina), the elven pirate ninja who intentionally stowed away on the ship to avoid a life in a temple. Thematic Batteries: Diasporic Elf, Prima Donna, Idealistic.

Pietr (Ted), the ancient elven pilot. Thematic Batteries: Elven Noble, Man Out Of Time, Ever-Present.

More to come. . .

Monday, July 23, 2007

True Kings Of The North

After a game each of Ca$h 'n Gun$ and Bang! (including my first time playing with the excellent Dodge City expansion), I spent much of Sunday playing Fantasy Flight’s A Game of Thrones board game. I’ve played this one before, and after having figured it out a lot more, I like it even better. I played House Stark again in another five-player games, and this time around I had a much better idea of where I needed to be headed in the early game. I was able to grab the critical choke point of Moat Calin in the first turn, through aggression on the part of both Greyjoy and Lannister kept me from marching on Seagard the following turn. My reluctance to fight a pitched battle combined with Lannister’s movements along his southern flanks kept Greyjoy’s attention elsewhere, though he did smash my nascent western navy in the Bay of Ice. Along with my early defeat in the Narrow Sea by Baratheon, this kept me confined to overland movement.

In the middle game, however, I was able to slowly creep down toward the middle of board, taking the Twins and eventually moving into the Mountains of the Moon. Lannister had rebuffed Baratheon’s early gambit for victory, and Greyjoy had repeated invaded Tyrell’s capital of Highgarden, so I was largely left to my own devices. By the time the next bidding phase came around, I had maxed out my Power, allowing me to substantially improve my position on all three tracks. This, along with having a powerful force of three cavalry units near the middle of the board and rebuilt navy in the Shivering Sea, put me in great position for endgame.

The key component of my final strategy was finally dislodging Baratheon from the Narrow Sea. Once I had done that, I had three ships there to provide support to all of the adjacent areas. I took The Eryie from Baratheon and moved quickly to grab Crackclaw Point before Lannister could get there. That gave me five Cities and Strongholds to everyone else’s three or four. With three turns to go, all I had to do was hold on. Yes, I was adjacent to the two additional spaces I would need to win, but I was stretched pretty thin. I decided to hole up, consolidate my power, and prepare for the final push.

That strategy worked pretty well. I was able to take King’s Landing in the second to last turn, but Greyjoy’s resurgence almost doomed me. He took Winterfell from me, but I didn’t panic. On the last turn, I lost Crackclaw Point to Baratheon but retook it and Winterfell before fending off one final assault from Greyjoy to pull off the win.

As usual, there was something strange about the game. In this case, it was lots of Musters and few Supply cards coming out. As a result, I had almost my entire set of troop markers out, but I was incredibly constrained as to how I could move them. I spent most of the game controlling six supply spaces, but because of the timing on the card I never moved past four on the track.

Overall, I was satisfied with the game. I played a deliberately conservative style, and I was able to capitalize on the mistakes of others. I wasn’t overly aggressive, and I didn’t over-extend myself. I’m sure that this strategy worked better than it should have because of the number of new players in the game, but even if I hadn’t won I still would have enjoyed it. There’s a lot of nuance to this game, and I was pleased that I got the chance to explore it further.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

That's Right: Fantasy Anime Steampunk Space Opera

Our next weekly roleplaying game is a bit of a mashup: We’re playing in the Spelljammer setting using Full Light, Full Steam for mechanics. Think fantasy anime steampunk space opera. Or something like that. Before talking about what the specifics of our group’s setup, I want to touch briefly on a few system issues.

The only real changes I had to make to the Full Light, Full Steam rules to make this work were related to magic and skills. On the skills side, Motoring is replaced with Riding, and Weightless is out in favor of Weaponry. Beekeeping, Ether, Jury-Rigging, Gadgeteer, Horticulture, Mechanics, Steam, and Theory are all gone. Everything technology-related now falls under the Technology skill. The rest of the new skills are all Magic skills. Spelljamming replaces Piloting. Healing works like an improved version of Medicine (and possibly Empathy). The other five skills pretty much straight translations of Ars Magica verbs: Creation, Destruction, Control, Divination, and Transmutation. Want to make or summon things? Use Creation. Need to blast someone? Destruction, baby. Control can be anything from telekinesis to mental domination, while Divination and Transmutation allow you find stuff out and to change things that already exist.

The important thing about Magic skills is that they’re tied to the new Magic Condition Battery. The key difference between these and other skills is that using them always involves risk, so any use of magic may discharge your Magic Battery. That seemed like a good way to avoid having to keep track of spells per day while still maintaining the feeling of magic as a limited resource. Recharging your Magic Battery is much easier than recharging the other three, however, as it simply requires eight hours of rest and either praying for spells or studying your spellbook (or however else you get spells back).

I believe that the difficulty for Spelljamming checks will be determined by the Helm Type and Maneuverability Class of the ship in question. Note that unlike the original, simply sitting in a helm doesn’t drain all of your spells for the day. Tough checks may discharge your Battery, however.

That’s it so far. I’m sure things will come up in play, but I think this will deal with 95% of potential system issues. Later in the week, after we hash out a few details, I’ll talk about what sorts of stories we’re going to try to tell in this crazy world, and I’ll get into a few details about characters.

It Happens

The last month has been not so good for this blog. Fortunately, it's been really good for my gaming. Between wrapping up the PTA season, PaulCon V, Go Play NW, and Origins, I've been able to play a ton of fun games. I just haven't had time to write about them. Now that we're starting up a new Tuesday night RPG series, I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things. More on that later today.