I’ve been seeing a lot of international traffic to the website, welcome all! If you are reading this and would like to do an official translation of the book for your language, I can provide source material like maps and images. Technically you don’t even need my permission since the game is creative commons, but I’m willing to go a step further by providing my higher resolution images to make things easier.
I was reading something I wrote a few years back and pulled a thought out. I’ve been thinking about reducing the kinds of actions a player character starts out with to make games less complicated for beginning players. That turns out to be a complicated thing to accomplish. I realized while reading, that maybe it’s not the specific actions that need to be narrowed down, maybe it’s the goals.
My thought is that a character in this hypothetical game would have to go through a right of passage that is their first goal. Once the character has accomplished this goal, they are more free to move in a direction they make up for themselves.
In simple terms, lets imagine that this right of passage is hunting your first bull elk. Imagine a society that requires you to take down the elk to make their weapons from, to pay back their family in food and hide. Now the child is no longer bound to their parents and can go out on their own.
I don’t have much interest in making that game, but it serves as an example of what the first goal could look like.
Why do I feel this is important? I am frequently asked “How do you win?” A question I usually make up some long and complicated answer to. If the answer was the first right of passage of a society, then the game becomes more concrete.
Now imagine a string of societal goals that a character can go after, each which give a character specific rights in the society. The goals of the players are defined and the reasons they go after them have to be clear too.
I have heard of a game that does this explicitly. The players have to first gain a title that allows them to move up in society. I don’t think it helped in the game’s adoption, but that may just be an anomaly. Maybe it means that the thought is garbage.
It could be said that in a lot of games, the first goal is to amass wealth to become a formidable opponent. The point where the PC has reached this point is fuzzy though and makes it hard for an early player to know when they’ve arrived at their goal.
I really like tech challenges. I’ve had a lot of interesting things happen in games because of them. That’s mainly because I read the “tech” not as “technology”, but as “technical.” The difference is significant.
That’s the first change, they should be Technical Challenges, so their use is better understood. What does this do? For example, I’ve used Technical Challenges when a character was picking a lock. A player decided to try and help by using their vehicle’s enhanced sensor system to scan the lock and understand how it worked. The result was an interesting story, that the players still tell. I’ve also used Technical Challenges in a diplomatic negotiation, where the characters needed to use cultural information to decipher a person’s responses.
The official process in the book is too complicated though and the “transforms” (hereafter called consequences) don’t feel right. The rules call for new skills that players want to use, be tested via a three step process. It’s too cumbersome, but it does allow for novel solutions that the GM might not have otherwise allowed.
I see rules as an arbiter between the players and the GM, something like laws that apply to police. The rules give the players power to do things they may not have felt like they were allowed to do. The problem with this strategy is if the player never digs deep into the rules, they don’t know they have this structure available. They want to get to the point and start knocking down the problem. That makes the whole structure pointless, the GM can try to enforce it but at that point the rules are just in the way.
One solution would be for the GM to pick a set of skills that could be used to attack a technical challenge and to be open to reasonable suggestions by players, especially if they have a way the skill could apply to the challenge. I do want some mechanism for players to challenge a GM veto, because I feel that there are often unusual solutions to problems that people feel could never work, just because they’ve never seen it.
Usually at the table the situation goes like this. I’ll state a suggested skill that will be effective in taking down the challenge. One of the players will look at their sheet and not have that skill. They may allow the characters with the skill to start rolling, but either if the others are failing rolls or if they just feel bored, they’ll ask if they can use one of their skills to help. In most cases, the angle they’re trying to use the skill in is unusual but often interesting.
Let’s split the difference. Since these unusual skill applications shouldn’t solve the problem all by themselves, for example, using sensors to pick a lock, the characters can use an unusual skill only after one of the primary skills has been successful. Each time an unusual skill is used, another successful primary skill roll is needed before they can try again. Primary skills can be used repeatedly. If the GM feels the skill is unsuitable, they should allow the roll, but the consequences should be greater (possibly double or more) than a primary skill roll. This deincentivizes the use of random skills, but wouldn’t leave the characters in the lurch if for some reason no one was able to use the primary skills.
On to the issue of Consequences. Technical Challenges are set up so that the challenge responds to the character’s efforts to solve the problem. If every combat was solved by “I hit it with my sword” then combat would be quite boring. Consequences are there to keep the problem changing and keep it interesting. The problem is, I don’t think that many changes are needed. In play, I rarely impose as many consequences as are called for mainly because they slow down play. Even with failures, I don’t always use a consequence, because it doesn’t always make sense to.
Consequences are important though, because the challenge is the opposition. If it just sits there and doesn’t change, it’s boring. So let’s make this simple. The main consequence of a failed roll is that the character takes a stress point. But each turn, the GM can roll for or impose a consequence that makes sense. Here, the challenge is behaving more like a monster does, that it gets a way to fight back but on it’s own turn so to speak. This way the players can all work on the problem quickly and then the GM can apply the consequence.
I think those changes would streamline the system significantly.
I would have to figure out how to work the technical challenges in the Players Handbook for crafting equipment though. In each of those cases, the rolls are much more concrete because the consequences are very specific to the tasks. The new way of running the challenge would make designing equipment far easier in a group. That makes sense, but a large group would be overly effective. I’d have to restructure the number of challenge points. It would remove the need for two consequence tables, making the results more standard. It would be difficult to model a whole nation (like the Scimrahn) designing a vehicle. In short, I can’t recommend using this simplified system for that yet.
Report by: Major Jacob Kibler
Position: 4th Special Sciences Division Commander
Assigned Objective: Investigate Space Time Warp
Purpose of Mission: Evaluate the connection between Array structures and space time distortions
Progress Report: My team believes we have been successful in our objective. Our investigation of the phenomena we have come to refer colloquially to the warp, is complete.
Our resident expert Dr. Evan Larrs has a working theory on how the warps came to be. We believe that the builders of this planetoid have developed a technology based on the emergent nature of gravity and gravitational waves.
Dr. Larrs feels that the technology in the arrays creates gravitational waves that alters spacial or dimensional fields. This effect is not limited to physical space and time, but also forces like the electromagnetic field which could be described as tightly bound dimensions.
As it is understood that black holes warp space and time, this technology uses constellations of microscopic black holes that orbit each other to create sharp gravitational waves. These waves and their intensity create distortions in space that alters how it behaves.
We have calculated that the black holes are truly microscopic and evaporate almost immediately.
Dr. Larrs has demonstrated that larger black holes can produce more complex patterns since they last longer than comparatively less massive black holes. We assume that the entire mass of the planet was intended to be used as reaction mass to create a large constellation of black holes some of which would evaporate and others that would absorb each other and eventually create a black hole that would exist for approximately ten minutes and then evaporate from zero point Hawkings radiation.
It is assumed that this energy being released is intended to be altered by the dimensional warps the black holes created. We have intended to model the intended end result, but have been unable to produce a model that can predict the behavior of even simple warps.
We are confidant that this information fits the historical record and the facts established in our investigations.
This represents a significant technological achievement as it utilizes a fundamental force in a technology that we are not able to replicate at this time. Furthermore, this planetoid represents a fully mature version of this technology, meaning the builders of The Artifact are as far ahead of our technological advancement as a society that is in the iron age encountering a society that has fully developed electrical technology. Alternatively the technological disparity could be compared to the invention of the nuclear bomb vs. an enemy that had not yet built or even imagined such a device.
Last post I wrote about trying to simplify the Survival Challenge system for groups. To expand on that thought, I feel like the system works just fine for one character and conceptually it works for a group, but tracking challenge points individually for each character is a pain. The other issue I have with the system is, while there is a way for characters to help each other, it’s not simple.
The easiest way to simplify the process is to handle the challenge points as a group. The problem is, to a simulationist (me) that doesn’t make sense. It could make some sense, since lowering the challenge as a group could signify the characters helping each other through the difficulty. The problem is, that in some situations like surviving a dessert trek, more people make the challenge harder.
The solution could lie in scaling certain challenges, like climbing a cliff, according to how many characters are going to take on the challenge. Even that solution is messy however. For one, the group could decide that only the good climbers in the group are going to attempt the climb and the rest will stay behind.
There is one other issue with the system. That is, tracking when certain events happen in the challenge
Now, midstream, the GM has to change the number of challenge points to match. That’s just annoying. The other problem is that the character’s strategy may be to have one character run through the challenge quickly while the others work through the challenge more slowly. Then the one pool system really doesn’t work.
The solution could lie in flipping the math. It’s mentally easier and possibly more enjoyable to have the players build up to the total number of challenge points. The players track their own progress, and because it’s a build up, the process is more interesting. It would also make sharing progress easier. If each player has a number of points built up, it’s easier to redistribute points among the player characters.
It would also make sense to track this kind of progress with a spin down d20, or in this case, a spin up d20. This would make the progress evident for each character. The players can distribute their points among themselves as they see fit.
The other advantage to this is, it’s easier to know when each character gets to each stage of a challenge. The GM can mark down at what stage each stage occurs.
One more thing
It came to my attention that at each stage of a challenge, the player should get a choice of two different “attacks” the environment can make. I think that would introduce more player agency and introduce choice.
Survival challenges are reasonably concrete in how they work. The part that is a little fuzzy is tracking the challenge with multiple players. It just feels like the group should all fight the challenge together instead of individually. It would make Challenge Point tracking simpler but would loose a bit of it’s realism. For instance, if I’m a really good climber and cut through the challenge points easily, another character who’s physically incapable of climbing also overcomes the challenge. That is, unless I can come up with justifying everyone decreasing the same pool of points. I think that’s the big change I’d like to figure out.
Tech Challenges are a different story. They’re completely not concrete and that makes them difficult to handle. A GM has to go through multiple steps just to have the player’s roll once. There’s a whole series of steps that determine if a skill can be used.
I’ve come to use the tech challenges in a bit more cut and dry way. I set a number of points and judge if a skill is usable, usually if a plausible explanation is given for how it’s used. I don’t use a lot of transforms either but that’s kind of guts the system’s consequences.
I think a simpler system needs to be in place. The GM should pick from a small set (2-3) of skills that are approved to overcome the challenge and select a few transforms (transforms are the consequences of the character’s rolls) from a list. They can either roll or choose the transforms.
Come to think of it, transforms should just be called “Consequences” to make the process more concrete.
I’m not sure how the consequences should happen though, at the moment, they are a reaction to the roll the player makes. That doesn’t seem organic to play though. It should be that the GM gets to make an “attack” that alters the challenge. The problem with that is, the attacks are going to feel directed by the GM instead of a natural process of the character learning about a problem.
I think the key there is to structure the consequence as character learning instead of a series of random events determined by dice. I’ll try and write that up later.
From the very start, I wanted sensors to play a big role in vehicle combat on The Artifact. For the most part, that hasn’t worked out. With the third edition I tried to introduce “sensor locks” into the game. This required sensor rolls in order to start using vehicle based weapons. This is plainly the wrong approach.
I was juggling a lot of elements when putting out the third edition, but this plainly breaks many game design criteria that I set for other systems in the game. Primarily that any additional rolls should reward a player when they succeed, not penalize them when they fail. If a character can’t start firing until they pass a sensor roll, that’s plainly penalizing them.
The sensor systems of a vehicle should make them more capable than a person handling a weapon manually, not be an impediment. My thought is, how does a “sensor lock” work in movies? It means that the sensors make for an automatic hit unless a heroic effort is made to evade.
That means that getting a sensor lock guarantees a basic hit. That’s simple for the Fraction Column system, a sensor lock gives a single success each turn the lock stays in place. This means the vehicle will at least hit it’s target as long as the target doesn’t dodge, or use their ECMs to break the sensor lock.
A pilot can still roll to hit with their Artillery Operation skill and improve the number of successes the attack has. This means that doing things like avoiding shields or armor is easier. Burst weapons are more effective and having multiple weapons firing all at once suddenly is very very effective. Rall 4s weapon lay out becomes staggeringly effective.
There is one little peculiarity to this concept though. What if the character rolls under their 8th for their sensor roll? Do they get 4 fractional successes to hit? My instinct is no. That would be far too effective and probably break the game. So what does rolling well under sensors do for you?
The main advantage of a good sensor roll would be that the lock is harder to break. The defender has to make an ECM roll that matches or exceeds the roll for the sensor lock. That makes a good lock roll a devastating development to a pilot.
I think that should do it, it makes sense and it follows the basic concept that people would expect. It rewards the player for using an action, so that’s better too.
Any objections to this system?
I’ve casually kicked around the idea of a fourth edition for The Artifact. My first instinct is to convert the whole game over to my Energy System (ES) that’s been getting more and more capable of handling the game world. I’m currently veering away from that though, not because I wouldn’t like the result, but more because of the history the game has. Converting to ES would massively streamline the rules since it does all the things that the current Fraction Column system does, but with fewer moving parts. The downside is that it would make all the system knowledge that players have built up over decades invalid.
So if I’m not looking at moving to ES, what would a fourth edition do that would make it worth the effort? Let’s look at the things I would like in a new edition.
I would like to clarify and possibly simplify the tech and survival challenge system.
I’d like to make the infantry system more organic to the system. It’s functional but still requires the player to absorb a very different mindset to employ.
I want to change the role of sensors in vehicle combat. Currently NPCs have a really hard time properly locking on targets and using ECMs. They can take stress to make sure they get the sensor lock but that severely limits them later. We’ve hammered out something of what the new sensor rules should look like and I’ll do a post later on what they’d look like in case anyone wants to use them. As it is, the role of sensors is a little murky in the current rules.
A big maybe
There are a huge number of moving parts in the current game. I know some players really like that, but no one uses everything that’s built into the game. That means there’s a lot that can be trimmed. I’m thinking that some of the in play complications could be helped by reducing the number of attributes, something along the lines of the Physical, Functional, Mental categories becoming the actual attributes. That would be sacrilege to many players though. Maybe characters could specialize in one of those categories and they’d get the attributes in that category broken out for them? That would require a lot of other moving parts to implement, but in play it might make things more streamlined, or it could just swap one level of complexity with another.
Is that enough?
Looking at the list, I’d say no, the third edition is standing up pretty well. That’s never stopped me before though. I think I should approach this the same way I’ve always handled things. I’ll post ideas here on what might work and when I feel like I’ve built up enough changes, I’ll want to rebuild the whole thing into a fourth edition.
I’m feeling mighty disgruntled lately about working on games. I probably did it to myself, but I’d like to talk about what’s been bothering me. I’m all for nostalgia. If something from your childhood gives you the warm an fuzzies, go ahead and bask in it. The problem I have is that there are huge numbers of RPG players out there that basically feel all they ever need to wear again is Underoos.
Not literally, I’m talking about the gaming equivalent. I mean Underoos were fun and all, but haven’t we grown past that? They’ve decided that games from their childhood is all they should ever run. That’s backwards, it’s reversion.
I think there’s something to be learned here from the rejection of modern games but it’s the rejection part that’s getting me down. Honestly, there’s always a lot of rejection going on in RPG circles, so that’s nothing new. It’s the rejection of anything that isn’t directly modeled on their nostalgia. When there are so many possibilities that could be explored in RPGs, they only want to revisit their childhood.
That’s not where I want to be though. I’d like to build on what the past has taught us. I want new players to come into the hobby, not having to relive my childhood, but find something demonstrably better.
I’m still alive! As to what I’m up to, I’ve been working on a space opera I’m calling Jump Temp and talking about it over at Store32. It’s almost done, but I just thought of an important rule that needs to be added today, so I’ll have to get at it. Jump Temp is almost done being written but needs more art. I just haven’t felt like drawing lately. If anyone wants to put art in a project, let me know in the comments.
As for the novel The Imbalance, I know what I want to write but I’ve just been having too much fun putting together Jump Temp to sit down and hammer out the next chapter. I started it, but each time I get a little time to write, I feel like working on rules or other fiddly bits.
I haven’t sat down lately to work on the last sourcebook for The Artifact, although I have talked about it with my son. He’s starting to play with some of the ideas in it and I really need that kind of feedback, because I don’t know if what I’ve written makes any sense to anyone but me. Although There’s work to do on some elements in the book, I think the core of the book is where I want it to be. It’s been my big worry, that the systems introduced aren’t coherent enough, but an intelligent 13 year old is able to throw them around easily enough, I’m pretty happy with that.