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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What’s Up? 3e News

I’ve been busy. The layout of 3e is underway, and I’m just about to the GM’s section.

Most of my time has been spent touching up and improving existing pictures. I’m putting the new art next to the older art and I’m having a hard time not wanting to improve the old pictures.  That’s been slowing me down but it’s a good kind of slowdown because it’s making this a better book.

I’ve updated so many pictures that I forgot that I had already updated a picture and did it again. I like the first one I did better.

Then I lost a picture that I swore I saw on my drive. I eventually found it but it just shows how many files and versions of those files that this is getting to.

Something that’s going really well is that I’ve learned how to layout elements that used to take a lot of manual steps and automate them. It’s making this process far easier.

What’s scaring me is my file sizes. I’m using higher resolution graphics than I have before and that means much larger file sizes. Right now I’ve got my working files in sections to reduce the load on my computer so it’s not a big deal that way but I hope the file isn’t too big to send to the POD printer. I’m sure the printer can handle the file, it’s just a question of sending the file through my tiny internet connection.

All that said, I’m happy with the progress and I’m going to go update a picture and paint two new ones.

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Worldbuilding, Beauty and Alienation

My wife is fond of asking me when I’m going to stop trying to learn more things. I don’t have an answer to that because I suppose I will never know enough about the universe to have the complete picture of it that I want.

Lately my interest has been neuroscience and behavioral science. I think this is mainly because in the last few years I’ve been exploring the fact that I have a mild spectrum of autism and I learned that most people do not experience the world as I do.

To me autism means I do not have some of the automated processes that are normally encoded in a human being’s brain. The fewer automated processes an autistic has, or if certain important processes are disrupted the more severe the dysfunction. This is my take on my autism, it’s how I define it.

When these processes are not automatic a person has to develop their own process for dealing with input from the world. This is often on a more conscious level. It takes conscious thought to work through a situation that would normally be dealt with automatically. This usually means a greater mental stress load for common every day things but the trade off is that you sometimes know why you process things the way you do and can occasionally manipulate the process.

So it become profoundly interesting to me to learn how these automated processes actually should work in people. It’s fascinating because most people make use of these automatic programs without knowing that they’re doing it.

Today I listened to a program about beauty. I listen through the lens of the above. What are people doing that they aren’t aware of?

For one the program talked about a landscape that was nearly universally considered beautiful by humans. It was one that a human would be able to thrive in easily. A diversity of plants, the presence of water, evidence of bird life, an optimal view of the surroundings. This is a process that most people have, built in to tell them when life will be good for them. A subconscious signal that this is a good place to live.

To tie this in with world building, what does that mean for your world? Does your world deliver beauty?

Without specific knowledge of these universal human tendencies for perceiving beauty, long ago I set out to create a very alien world for The Artifact that rejected human ideas of beauty and strictly dealt with functionality. This was important to the story that I wanted to tell.

It does have it’s trade offs though. It is extremely difficult to draw and paint things that are not beautiful or at the very least intriguing. Even something that is ugly is easier to depict. It’s also difficult to describe things that are not beautiful and not ugly with words.

But why do I want to try and make a world that is not beautiful and not grotesquely ugly? To me, this is an expression that is sublimely alien to the human mind. It is not something opposed to our thinking and not something that we would want to think about. It is alien.

The difficult thing about it is to now fill it with enough humanism to make it inviting  enough to want to stay for a while. The reader can be disoriented by the alien, but invited by the human. This has been a struggle to get right, I’ve made some progress but is something I will have to keep working on.

Most worlds that are constructed swing from beautiful to grotesque. We know how to deal with those things. They are in built, automated responses. What happens when you put normal people in an environment where they have no in built response? Each response must be handled consciously. This can be taxing on the mind so it has to be done slowly and carefully. It throws off a person’s ability to easily parse their world.

Without knowing it, was The Artifact crafted as a metaphor for my own autism? They always say to write what you know. Was I recreating a feeling that I have in response to the world?

When worldbuilding, it seems that people often build off a feeling that they have. I often find it difficult to articulate the aesthetic of the world, the why or what of that root feeling. I may have found a few tools to describe it here.

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It’s time to get to work!

Loc's RobotI was thinking that I needed another few weeks of pictures to get started laying out the 3rd edition but when I did an inventory, I found that I’m already at my goal of twenty pictures. So it’s time to crank up the pace and get the 3rd edition out the door!

The first step is to get an edited version of the text finished so that I’m not editing while I’m laying out. The size of the files starts to get very large when all the pictures are added in and the whole thing becomes very difficult to edit.

It’s best for me to build each section of the book as it’s own file and then put them all together when I’m done.

I can probably squeeze out another picture or two in the time it will take me to put it all together. If I apply myself I think I could finish in a month!

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Scout

Scout

It’s been two days but we still haven’t found the real entrance to the safehouse. Jahre has searched every nook and crevice in a kilometer of where the map says the entrance should be. He’s saved us a lot of effort by tagging each tunnel that he’s already looked in. He says the his sonar imager would sometimes show entrances that have been covered over but so far it hasn’t given us any real leads. We’ll have to return for ground penetrating radar.

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Report by: Warrant Officer Robert Smith

Position: Field Scientist, Juliet Company

Assigned Objective: Observation of Scimrahn to Kelrath negotiations

Purpose of Mission: Provide documentation and observe Kelrath business and cross cultural relations.

Progress Report: The Raid that we had observed earlier was on a vessel owned by a Kelrath that the tribe had not worked with before.  The vessel’s records say that it is owned by a Kaloord named Hessik Rannil of the city Gethilsichk. Two representatives from the tribe and myself will travel to the city and make contact with Hessik Rannil.

Chiah-boch and Feraw will represent the tribe in the negotiation. They have contacted a Kelrath merchant that they have worked with before. We will remain hidden in cargo containers that the merchant will bring to Gethilsichk to trade.

Skiff

Update: We were successfully smuggled into the city where we had the opportunity to observe the Rantaa’ addressing the city.

There seems to be a good deal of unrest in the city. Although the Rantaa’ has the confidence of the Kaloord, the Geetin and the Gijorn class are unhappy about treatment they’ve received at the hands of the Kaloord. Apparently the Gijorn generals felt they could put some pressure on the Rantaa’ and get some relief. I was not able to follow the whole speech but Feraw tells me it does not look like the Rantaa’ is going to bow to pressure. The speech was to give the Kelrath new authority to discipline the lower castes.

The way things normally work is that the Kaloord have Geetin on loan from the Rantaa’ and if any die, they have to justify the loss to the Rantaa’. The new disciplinary measures allow the Kelrath to loose up to ten Geetin a year without having to report to the Rantaa’.

Kelrath

Chiah-boch and Feraw have decided to back out of trying to negotiate in this city. We will leave tomorrow. This choice is not made lightly, the Kelrath that brought us here has been paid very well for smuggling us in here.

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What’s In The Works?

This week’s been pretty busy so I didn’t get a picture done yet. I liked the last picture as a full page pic to introduce the Chezbah. I’m working on a full page to introduce the Kelrath. It’s about a 3rd done.

I recently posted a new adventure that I worked on for the RPG Geek Adventure Design Contest called Some Dreams Are Nightmares. It’s a simple adventure but it goes in a different direction than the existing adventures and introduces some bad guys that aren’t in any of the other books.

I’m working on an adventure now that explains some of the things the Chezbah do. We’ve been playing with the idea behind this one for a while. The main challenge to writing  this game is that I want it to be partially replayable. I’d like the main threat to be reusable in other games should the GM choose. The other difficulty is that the threat is very dangerous. Getting a balance between very dangerous and TPK is not easy.

The third edition of the player’s handbook is in the works too. This is mostly going to be rules updates and changing how some of the Comm Officer’s guide works. I might get a chance to do a new picture or two, we’ll see.

Tortuga is on hold until I can get 3rd edition done. Actually most of it is 3rd edition ready, I just have to re-write a new skill and I wanted to improve some of the artwork. When I started doing the art, I was really out of practice. Now that I’ve got new equipment and I’ve been practicing I’d like to do a better job.

Then there are the other sourcebooks. The Engineer’s sourcebook is going to be a challenge because I’m going to have to gut a lot of the equipment creation rules and update them to tech challenges. This may not be as hard as it sounds though. It was incredibly easy to do for the vehicle modification rules. If I follow the same logic, making equipment should work similarly.

I’d also love to rebuild the Fringe for 3rd ed and give it a cover. It usually falls by the wayside when it comes to projects.

In the past I didn’t like making adventures but I’ve come to see their value in telling very specific things about the world. Even if a GM never runs them, I can put some very specific details in them that would just get glossed over in the main book. Because of that, you’ll be seeing more adventures that go a lot more into plumbing the hidden depths of The Artifact.

Waiting for me to finish all this art for 3rd edition is a little tedious. It’ll be nice to finish it up and put it all together.

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