Not Obvious Tech Challenges

When explaining Tech Challenges to people, I often get the response that they don’t represent the kind of challenge the GM is looking for. While yes, they are designed to replicate technology challenges, “Tech” is actually referring to Technical Challenges. Let me explain how we’ve used them in our games to illustrate how flexible they are.

In our current campaign, I used a Tech Challenge when the players wanted to pick a lock. Obviously the first skill that was attempted was the Pick Locks skill but that roll failed. The next player didn’t have the pick locks skill, and this really shows the power of Tech Challenges, he wanted to use his sensor systems to see the internal workings of the lock to help. He rolled amazingly well and solved the challenge. How I interpreted this was to say that, with the internal workings of the lock understood, it was a trivial matter to now open the lock.

When was the last time you used sensors to pick a lock? It was a first for me.

With a typical skill system, I would be hard pressed as a GM know if I should allow that kind of cross discipline skill use. But that’s part of the beauty of the Tech Challenge system.

In another game, the PCs needed to figure out why a general was holding out on supporting them. We used a Tech Challenge using sociology and culture skills to find clues. It worked wonderfully well. Each Challenge Point reduced, yielded more information on the general’s situation.

The power here is that the players decide what skills they want to use to tackle a problem. They justify the use and the character’s skill helps to decide if the skill will help. The idea here is that someone who is very competent may be able to use even unusual skills in unexpected ways.

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Amusing Swag, Sometimes Artifact Related

We’ve talked about doing this for ages, and I just got around to doing it.

Dodge! T-Shirt
If in doubt Dodge!

Banner T-Shirt
The Artifact Banner on a T-shirt and Chezbah on the back

More Equipment T-Shirt
NPC = More equipment for my PC

Chezbah Hound T-Shirt
Big pointy teeth!

And unrelated fun stuff. . .

Grouchy Mad Scientist T-Shirt
Yes I’m a mad scientist, don’t hassle me, I haven’t exploded anything today and it’s making me Grouchy!

Averagezombie T-Shirt
Averagezombie & Fitch, fashion zombies!

Bacon Genius T-Shirt
Be a Bacon Genius!

There’s lots more so check out the rest of the store. If you want something that you don’t see, give a shout out in the comments and I’ll try and make it happen.

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Running

We’ve played with the new rules for 3rd edition for a while now but just last week I was able to see one of the rules play out. This was the rule that running (more specifically sprinting) acts as a defense, just like dodging does. The players have focused on their dodge skill for defense for so long. It’s been an part of play for many years and now it’s been upended.

For the longest time, it frustrated me that when faced with overwhelming danger, players would stand their ground and defend themselves. It occurred to me that when faced with danger, players concentrated on the safest course of action. That used to be dodging attacks and hoping to give as good as they got. It really was their only mechanically sound choice.

In the last few games the players have picked up sprinting to defend. That’s right, they ran away from a fight and it was marvelous. The reason it was so enjoyable is because by giving the players a mechanical advantage to running away, they were able to change their long ingrained behavior.

It’s very gratifying to see a mechanical change deliver the results they were intended to.

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Updated Core Download File – Now 5% Original Size

I promised to revisit the download files and get a smaller version out there. I got the time this morning to fiddle with the files and got the whole thing down to an astonishingly small 11.8 Megs. I think that’s as small as my original, first edition download.

The internal links are intact and I was able to add chapters to the file for your navigation pleasure.

Come and get it! The Artifact RPG

You can also get a softcover for yourself.

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3rd Edition Softcovers Are Available!

They’re finally here! You can order your very own 3rd edition softcover book here!

I got my proof today and it looks great. The wrap around cover looks good and there were some interior corrections to make. Interestingly, this proof is the full 8 1/2 inches wide. The first one was 8 1/4 inches. Maybe the last book was trimmed by the new guy? The trim job is also cleaner than the last one. Maybe someone was having a bad day.

So what’s up next? The Player’s Handbook is nearly updated for 3e. All the rules have been updated but there are two pictures that I used in the main book that had been in the handbook. To avoid redundant pictures I’ll have to do some new ones (I know, I said I wasn’t doing any new art for the handbook, oh well). The other thing that I’m debating is changing the cover. All the books before this had a consistency to their covers, with art in the center and a border of a solid color. That’s changed now.

I’ve re-opened Tortuga, there are still some textual updates to do but they’re minor. Again, it’s the art that needs some attention.

We’re running a game now that I would like to make into an adventure. It fits into Tortuga so I think I’ll build it into that document. I don’t want to say anything because my players might read this. Shhhh!

I have some ideas for posts about the Chezbah (that would eventually go into a sourcebook about them). Particularly more nasty toys for Priests.

I want to re-work an old adventure that I wrote a while ago that delved into the Chezbah and their culture. I really liked it but it was too railroady but I didn’t know how to fix it. Now that I’ve written more adventures and studying some other people’s, I think I can do it justice.

There’s a third adventure that I set down so I could concentrate on 3e. With that done I could also work on kicking it out the door.

So pick up a softcover! You know you want to!

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What’s Up? When Can I Get My 3e Book?

Not just yet, soon though. I made some corrections to the interior and made a full wrap around cover. I just didn’t like the spine text that came with CreateSpace’s cover designer. I just got notification that the new proof is shipped. I should have it before the end of next week and if all goes well then the books will go up for sale.

I’ve been playing with the files and their sizes for the downloads. I did get one copy to shrink down to 56 Megs but some of the text got garbled in the process. I’m still trying to preserve the links in the document while shrinking it but that isn’t working so far. I can re-add them after shrinking the PDF but that’s a slow slog that I’d like to avoid.

I’m also working on The Player’s Handbook and making progress. I’ve worked my way through most of the document but I’m still hung up on viruses. I know where I want to go with them but I’m not exactly sure how I want it to work. Mainly I want to have a solution that feels natural to the system and so far I haven’t quite gotten there. I can do simple but it still doesn’t feel right. I’ll keep at it.

I also need to rework some of the existing art for Tortuga so that can be released. I also have several adventures that I’m working on that showcase some of the deeper mysteries of The Artifact.

I also have an idea or two for Chezbah Sourcebook material that I can put up as blog posts.

*Sigh* Busy busy.

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Proof Received

Today I got the third edition proof for The Artifact in the mail. Very exciting! Overall I’m happy with the book, the pictures look great and the text is crisp.

Proof Cover

Before now I’ve gone with Lulu as a POD provider. I like Lulu as a company and they make good books. They also charge nearly double that CreateSpace charges. After getting my proof copy I think I understand why. The book from CreateSpace seems sturdy and the printing is well done but Lulu’s quality is better. Instead of making vague statements, let me break that down as to why I say that.

The paper that Lulu puts into a book is a better quality. The pictures in a Lulu book are glossy so it’s strange for me to see the CreateSpace book with matte pictures.

Lulu’s books are 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches. The CreateSpace book is 8 1/4 by 11. Not a big difference but it matters for layout. It didn’t hurt anything in my case but it was surprising. The odd thing, is that even though the third edition book from CreateSpace is much thicker than the second edition books from Lulu, the thicker book is lighter. I don’t know if that has to do with the extra 1/4 of an inch of material on the Lulu book or if the paper is somehow heavier.

I used CreateSpace’s cover designer to make the book’s cover. Apparently it’s still in beta, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much about this but the only adjustment you can make to text on the spine is the font color. The font that the text is in is the most boring font imaginable. You also can’t change it’s size or position. I found that frustrating.

Proof Game RulesThe trimmed edges of the third edition book is rough. I’ve seen how books are bound and trimmed. There’s this big press with a razor blade that comes down and slices off the excess material. The blade must be getting dull because the edge of the pages show telltale tracks from the cutting. Although now that I look at one of my Lulu books I see the same thing only less pronounced.

As far as things to be fixed, I missed a few orphaned headings and tables that are nearly impossible to find when looking at a document on the computer but easy to see when dealing with a printed book. I’m unsure if I’d get it right if I try making my own cover to fix the problem with the spine font. I’m not sure what to think of that. There are two or three pictures that are too low of a resolution to look good. They’re old scans and I thought they might squeak by but no. Those will have to be fixed.

GM's SectionIn the end, will I go with CreateSpace or Lulu? If I were just making a book to have my own copy of, I’d want the highest quality which would be Lulu. The issues I’ve brought up are worth the cost savings though. As it is I can offer The Artifact Third Edition for $39.99 on CreateSpace. If I went with Lulu the price would be near $70 for a full color 300 page book which is not reasonable for my purposes. I do remember Lulu’s quality improving over time, maybe the same thing will happen with CreateSpace.

So with a few minor tweaks, I should have hard copy books available soon!Back Cover

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Redefining Hacking For 3rd Edition

Now that third edition is here, and I’m patiently (okay not so patiently) waiting for my proof copy. I’ve moved on to the Players Handbook . Most of the handbook will only need minor changes as far as the new rules are concerned, with one exception. The Comm Officer’s guide deals a lot with hacking computers.

The main change between versions is mainly the number of barrier points in a hacking challenge. This is simple to adjust in most situations except when it comes to virus stats. It breaks some of the calculations that are used to balance their effectiveness.

That’s okay though because as I liked the addition of viruses in 2nd edition, they didn’t quite model how a virus is used in the real world. I think I have a slightly better model now.

Social Engineering

One of the avenues of hacking that I never touched in 2nd edition was social engineering. This is where a hacker tricks the people that use a computer system to unknowingly reveal information about how they can breach the system. A slight change of the Social Conflict system is all that’s needed to make this type of hacking possible so look for it in the new Player’s Handbook.

Virus Rules

What does that have to do with the virus rules? It occurred to me that in a majority of cases the main method of intrusion with a virus is exploiting the user to allow the infection. This means that the virus is a pre-packaged social engineering attack. This means that the virus first tries to bluff the system user and if the user fails the bluff, the virus embeds and does it’s job.

My thought then is that a virus is programmed with a social engineering rating, basically how convincing it’s pre-packaged bluff is. Under the new rules that would take the form of a number of fractional successes that the defender has to roll better than.

The big trick at this point is making a system for a PC to make their own viruses. Since a virus can be used over and over, making a really effective virus is highly desirable. My hope is to make a virus generation system that makes it easy to create low level viruses but that really powerful viruses take extraordinarily long periods of time to create so that the PCs aren’t just spitting out killer viruses left and right.

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The Artifact Third Edition Is Here

Artifact Cover 2 WebIt’s finally ready! A full file with pictures and maps, even a cover! Weighing in at 303 pages! Tons of new and updated art!

So why grab this edition?

Third edition is a giant upgrade. On the one hand it sticks to core concepts and mechanics of previous versions but then amplifies them.

This is a game that really hands a huge number of mechanical options to the players and lets them explore them. Options like, do you want the basic concept of what someone is saying in a foreign language or the literal translation? Do you want to hit a weak point in armor or change the hit location? That’s just to name a few.

Like it was mentioned, new art!

Something I haven’t talked about much in this version but really deserves more of a spotlight, there are a couple of interlocking pieces in this game that come together as the Extra Effort rule. This is really a bigger deal than the paragraph that describes how to use it. This Extra Effort rule means that a character never has to miss an important roll. Think for a moment about the implications to that. That’s not just for PCs mind you, what’s good for the PC is good for the NPC. This rule also helps to tell the story of a hero that expends every ounce of energy they have to reach their goal and then finally collapses. You always wanted to tell that story, right? Now you can.

The Artifact is getting a Creative Commons License with this document. Something a little overdue.

This is likely to be a “living document” for a while. I have no illusions that all the editing is done. We’ve done our best to make it read well and keep things consistent but it’s a big book. Errors are inevitable, bear with me. I’d also like to shrink the file size down more but that might impact the quality so I’ll say, be cautiously optimistic about a smaller file.

What’s next? There will be a host of changes to the downloads page in the next few days. I’m going to order a hardcopy of the book and sanity check it. Then I’ll make the book available for purchase so you can get your own!

I’m putting up two links to the files for now. One has links in the document in the table of contents and when there’s a reference to another section of the book but the file is larger. The second is a smaller, more optimized file but I don’t have links in it yet.

Edit, the new file with links and chapters has been uploaded.

The Artifact 3e

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Tipping Too Far

Sometimes a good thing can be taken too far. In my last post I talked about improving the old art in the book for the new edition. It has slowed me down from finishing layouts but better looking art is a better looking book right? Absolutely.

At a certain point working on the art is counterproductive. I started work on the KS-10 picture and it was a three day project and it’s still not done. I’m trying a different technique that looks nice but takes a very long time. This is a minor image for the book, working this much on it blocks progress. I set it down for now to keep working on the rest of the layout.

A second tipping point I’ve reached, has to do with the number of pages in the book. I’m trying to maintain at least one picture for every four pages but this book is much larger than the old editions. This spreads the distance the pictures have to cover. Many of the pictures are of specific subject matter and they need to be next to the description of that subject or their reference value is greatly reduced.

What has happened is I’ve gotten all the way to the skills section and since I haven’t made pictures topical to the skills, there are very few images left to season the seventeen pages of text. I should have five pictures for this section and I have three. I’m working on a fourth now but I may leave it at that.

Once past the skills, the vehicles and equipment sections already have pictures so they should go quickly.

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