A Social Interaction Engine

I’d love the ability to use social interaction and have a tactical system associated with it and not the players simply winging things. I think that players (including GMs) enter playing a character with far too much of themselves bleeding through. I don’t want to take control from the players but I would like something that gave as much texture to social interaction as physical interaction gets.

Being keen on simulation, I research psychology and neurobiology to gain insights into how to model interactions. In my studying there was a particular finding on willpower that fascinated me. In some situations, making choices cost mental energy but for people with strong beliefs on a subject, the choices are nearly automatic, they can resist temptations of certain sorts all day long and feel fine.

Knowing how to describe that in a game would be really useful. I made a crude approximation of it for the 3rd edition system with principles and priorities but I had a new thought on how to model it today.

It involves knowing the desires of a person. Having a desire for something means that a person has to use mental energy to resist a temptation. If a person will be deprived of something they want, they’ll fight to get/keep it. This can work two ways though. Say that I want chocolate cake because it’s a food I like. Then say that I desire to lose weight. The two might cancel each other out to an extent and so making a choice is difficult. It would take an effort.

Now what if I could add things like “really doesn’t want to exercise” to argue with myself that I shouldn’t eat it. Then maybe “hungry” could kick in and “It’s a small piece of cake” could deliver the knock down blow. Resisting now will be especially costly.

What this becomes is a list of draws on the character, not barriers that protect them. However if something takes the character away from one of their draws, the character gets a bonus to resisting. If it goes against several draws, the choice is automatic and can’t challenge the character.

So what this looks like is a system of tags that add or subtract from the argument for and against. The problem is that in any person’s own mental argument, there could be dozens of desires that come into play and naming them all would be difficult to impossible.

So either a simplified list would be needed or some way of intuitively calling them up would have to be created.

One idea that comes to mind is that most desires are in balance, it’s the really strong desires that sway things one way or the other. Then a character could have a short list of desires and only deal with those.

But to have this work well, the players have to see having desires as a net benefit. They need to mechanically benefit the character in most situations and only be harmful occasionally. In part, that means the GM not overusing them to the players detriment. Players may also view it as taking away some agency, so there has to always be the choice of resisting at a cost.


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The Imbalance – Warpies

For the next Artifact sourcebook, there’s a jump in technology that moves the main story forward. It may look like power creep but it’s really core to the main story. Earth forces will adopt and adapt technologies found on The Artifact but the Chezbah have also been working on their own technologies.

Leading scientists have come to believe that The Artifact was built to alter matter for an unknown purpose. The name given to these alterations has been called “warping”. Loc and apparently a small number of other groups have had access to this technology but using it has been problematic. Although some technologies have been built around the warped matter such as the War Engines or Titans as they’re called by Earthers, no one has been able to give humans the ability to control warps. That is until recently.

Loc has made a breakthrough in enabling humans to produce their own warps. A number of his priests have been training to use the technology and they are first seen in action in 2090, in the Imbalance sourcebook. Earthers start to call these priests “Warpies”.

What is a warp and what can it do? More importantly, how does it happen? A warp is altered matter. Matter is always in motion in directions, or dimensions that humans don’t perceive directly. What we do see is the effects of the motion. This includes matter having gravity, it’s motion through time and space, particle decay and electromagnetic fields. If the motion of the matter is altered, the properties of the matter is altered.

For in game effects, this means that there are certain effects that a Warpie can accomplish. This includes moving through these other dimensions, a process called shifting. They can alter the effects of energy, either amplifying it or dampening it. They can twist the fabric of space into impassable “dark fields” with concentrated gravity fields. They can make short jumps through time and space. Each effect is modular and can be combined with other effects to accomplish different goals.

A warpie could double the power of a weapon and then double it again for a single turn, or they could double it and then make that last ten turns. They can increase the hit points and armor of a vehicle. They disrupt the normal conventions of the game, and that’s on purpose. The Artifact was never intended to be a static story where the world stayed the same. Instead, the idea was to move along with humanity’s adoption of this alien technology that’s just beyond our control.

I’ve only recently come up with a structure to define this technology. I’ve struggled with it for more than a decade, constantly refining it. Well, now it’s time to sit down and get it done.

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The Fringe Gets A Cover

The FringeThe Fringe 3e

The Fringe was the first sourcebook I published for The Artifact but it’s never had a cover. Today that’s changed!

A bot pilot flees from a horde of Chezbah Intercepters.


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Amplifying and Atrophying – A different take on progression

I was tossing around the idea of getting a character to progress not just mechanically but having the story they tell, change over time. I want mechanics involved though, because mechanics are one of the tools the players use to assert their agency on the story.

In some games, the player builds a character out of predefined elements by spending points. Xp are points, so what if the player progressed by spending xp on things that change their character? Cheaper buys would be more of a give and take. More costly buys would be better for the character as a whole. I don’t know if it’s necessary to have dozens of options. The more attributes and abilities you have in a game, the more options you’d need though.

What are we talking about then? My first thought was a buy like “Battle Hardened” where the character gets tougher, mentally and physically but becomes scarred as a human being. Maybe “Pumping Iron” makes the character stronger but their mental abilities of skills drop a bit from lack of practice. A buy where the character becomes more charismatic might mean becoming more mentally flexible and so loose some of their mental toughness.

Implementing this in The Artifact is a little tricky because of the progressive nature of xp buys. If my Constitution is 90 and my Charisma is 10 and I take a buy that boosts Constitution 5 points but drops Charisma 5 points, it sounds like an even trade. I’ve actually made out by a lot because those Constitution points are really worth 3 Charisma points apiece.

I like the idea but I’m not sure how to implement it. It could be as simple as saying one attribute is raised and another lowered the same amount. Instead of the regular 3 xp it costs to raise an attribute, the cost could be brought down to 1 xp.

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The Fringe for 3rd Edition – Rough Draft

It took a while to reconstruct this document so I’m happy to have something editable to work with. The original fringe setting source book was the first sourcebook released for The Artifact and hasn’t been updated since.

The Fringe is about the people that live on the edge of inhospitable environments. Most people rarely go near hostile places like the methane wastes but some stout souls actually call it home. Orbit around the planet is also a difficult place to survive because of enormous orbital cannons that the major powers have employed to protect their territories. The I-CA has chosen to take them head on so they can stake their claim on the surface of the planet.

The document still needs a cover (it’s never had one) and there’s still some tweaks to be made but it’s well on it’s way to being finished. Enjoy!

The Fringe 3e-Draft

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Long Shot

Equipment ranges are governed by Range Classes in the Fraction Column System. The ranges are based on rough amalgams  of different distances I found in research. In normal use the ranges make sense but in a few edge cases though I’ve become aware of people busting these distances. Very frequently they’re exceptional cases, but they do happen.

I thought about changing the range classes, but that doesn’t seem practical especially at this point.

My other thought is to say, by spending fractional successes, one could extend the range of the equipment. I’m not sure how difficult to make that though. On the low end the thought is that by spending 2 fractional successes, you can double the distances in a range class. That would make tripling the distances in the range class possible if the character gets one fractional success from an advantage.

That seems to be almost right, but it’s an odd process. Do you spend the successes before or after rolling for range impairment? Do all rolls of this type get an extreme range Impairment? Do they get two? I think that requires us to play the rule and smooth out the process.

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3rd Edition Player’s Handbook Beta Doc

I got through with the rough tweaks. I changed some old language in the book and did some rearranging that should make the document flow a little better. The equipment and vehicle crafting rules work. I can actually build a TF E-suit with them and have the numbers be very close to what’s in the main book.

I’m pretty happy with this effort, it’s only been a few months to get the crafting system balanced. It took me five years the first time. I did have my first system as a guide and that did help a lot but this system is more consistent and more descriptive of how to follow through with the process.

I’m designating this file as a Beta document. It should stand up to most uses.

Player Handbook Cover

Player’s Handbook Beta



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How Do You Win, Revisited

I’ve mulled over this question before but now I’m thinking of changing my answer. My first attempt still has a lot of value but it missed the goal.

That’s the point of this post, goals. The way you win an RPG is by achieving goals. Now, that’s really true of most games but they’re goals that are given to you. The difference between those games and RPGs is that you can decide on your own goals to reach out for. The nice thing is that if you’re not sure what you want, the GM or even other players can suggest goals for you.

A stranger approaches you and offers you a grand sum to find the sparkly whozit. Do you take the job?

You can even take the goals offered you while you work on your own. RPGs are very flexible.

Why that’s important

It’s difficult to underestimate how important knowing that achieving goals are the way a player wins. For a while I knew that some players preferred to set their own goals and others were more passive about it but I didn’t realize the value of that.

I knew that some players like the game Fate and some didn’t. I knew that some players have a blast with Fiasco and others thought they would but don’t.

On the flip side some players get bored with more traditional games and they gravitate toward narrative games.

The difference is how they like to set their goals. It’s not that players that like more traditional games don’t set their own goals, it’s just the priority they put on their own goals. They will take up goals presented to them as an avenue to reach their own. Players that gravitate toward more open games prefer their own. They’d rather skip the slog through someone else’s ideas and reach directly for their own.

Preferring one’s own goals tends to be something that players gravitate toward as they become more experienced. They learn about the kinds of experiences they like and want a short circuit to get there. They’ve done zero to hero, now they want to be the hero without the zero. That’s understandable, you don’t usually want to tell the same kind of story over and over.

That doesn’t mean that a player that never takes up narrative games is less experienced. It may be that zero to hero is their favorite kind of story. Maybe they feel that just skipping to the hero part is less satisfying. It’s more a matter of preference.

Its that the large majority of first time players start off not knowing what they want, other than an adventure. As they play, they can sense the gaps in their play experience and want to fill them.

Summing it up

When a prospective player asks “How do you win?” I would answer them like this.

You win by taking up goals and accomplishing them. They can be ones that I’ll offer to you as a GM or if you already know what you want to do, you can set your own goals and work towards them.

There! Nice and concise, it’s a simple answer that assures the player that knows what they want but doesn’t scare the player that is overwhelmed by choice.

Other stuff

In my original post I talked about the game as being collaborative, challenging and social. I think the idea that the players, even the GM collaborate can be reassuring to other players. Some players may like challenges but players like my wife would be turned off by that. Social might attract some but range from unattractive to even scary to some.

They’re selling points that could be used for the right person.

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Imbalance of Power

While I’m tweaking the Player’s Handbook, I also started moving The Fringe setting sourcebook over to the 3rd edition rules. That might take a while. In the meantime, I need something cool to talk about for the blog here. For that, let’s delve into what was going to be the first sourcebook for The Artifact.

The main game starts in the year 2085. The intention was to take the game from that point and imagine what would happen just 5 years later in 2090. This will be the project for once the other two sourcebooks are completed. I may try to integrate the posts under Chezbah sourcebook into this project instead of a whole separate book. There’s a lot of really cool stories to tell with the Chezbah but that may have to happen after this sourcebook.

Here’s a sneak peek.

The Artifact 2090

In the few short years since Earth forces arrived, they have quickly assimilated the technology available. Massive exploration campaigns have uncovered amazing insights about the planet. A series of events have altered the political and scientific landscape for the entire planet.

The Indo-China Alliance has made an astonishing discovery deep in the Methane Wastes. They have released a composite image of a massive hulk over a kilometer in length. The image appears to be a previously unknown creature dated to approximately four thousand years ago. The I-CA claims there is evidence that this is the creature that the Methane Wastes were designed to accommodate.


This may be the first direct evidence of the planet’s builder’s. So far there has been no comment from the Chezbah. Kelrath sources have no records that would describe them but have asserted that this may be one of the old gods, killed in the great war.

ASO and The Kelrath

In a major diplomatic reversal, the ASO has announced that the Kelrath have agreed to a peace treaty with ASO member nations. In a surprising turn of events, the Oracle Depta’ have directed the Rantaa’ to forming democratically controlled governments like the one pioneered in the Kelrath city of Gethilsichk. The Rantaa’ are to retain executive control for the time being until parliamentary elections can be held. Rantaa’ families have been promised that they will keep their land and property rights. Part of the motivation for this move is thought to be a growing of rebellion among the Kelrath Kaloord  caste who saw the revolt at Gethilsichk as an opportunity to gain power.

Although the transition is expected to be slow, some of the largest and most powerful Kelrath city states have already begun preparations for elections.

ASO officials are reporting extraordinary cooperation from Kelrath scribes that control records from generations of Kelrath. Huge caches of historical books have been made available and are being scanned for translation and academic study.

Kerdi quantum liquid brain technology has also become available and is already finding it’s way into ASO autonomous drones. Some have voiced concern over the technology by so quickly deploying drones using the alien processors but ASO engineers have commented that Kerdi brain programming has been well understood by the Scimrahn for centuries, it was only the production of the brains that was a mystery. Some scientists are proposing to further augment the advanced processors by integrating teleporter technology.

The ASO have completed their moon base and are now able to teleport thirty percent more cargo and personnel to and from The Artifact with even higher reliability. On August 3rd 2089, the ASO began deploying its new Defender E-suits and arsenal four months ahead of schedule. In a technology sharing bid, the ASO helped to complete designs on the Kelrath built Rall 5.

The Chezbah

Intelligence on the Chezbah provided by Kelecs produced evidence that a new technology was in production. The ASO and I-CA took notice and on February 24th 2089, a mixed Division of over five thousand men moved in on the collector wells where the technology was under development. Few of that force survived the counter attack. Those that did reported the Chezbah to have highly advanced capabilities. Among the reports were personal force fields capable of withstanding repeated missile attacks, personal plasma weapons that defeated E-suits, tactical teleportation without a transmitter or receiver pad and greatly increased Hunter and Demolisher capabilities.

The reports greatly concern the ASO and I-CA military commands, if these technologies make it into main stream production, any advancements made so far will be outclassed by these weapons.

The Ken-Telex

On January 9th 2090, the I-CA encountered another never before seen life form. A group that numbered into the hundreds was found moving through Chezbah territory. They displayed social grouping and used technology. Attempts to communicate were unsuccessful. At first, the creatures ignored the I-CA communications officer but when more vigorous attempts were made to communicate, the creatures killed the officer.

The I-CA platoon followed the creatures for two weeks where the aliens were intercepted by a large Chezbah force consisting of a sea of Hounds, several hundred Warriors, A hundred or more Hunter E-suits and Eleven Demolishers. In the ensuing battle the aliens were defeated but only after heavy losses on the Chezbah side.

After the battle, a broadcast was sent to every functioning terminal on The Artifact. It translates to the following.

“I am Loc. The time that I have had to prepare for the events you will soon witness have come near to their end. I am very close to finishing my work that has spanned three thousand years. An enemy of man is trying to stop this work. I will do everything in my power to protect you but they are powerful and are making their way here. They are the Ken-Telex. It is in the best interest of all that they be stopped or all of man(kind) will die.”

The name “Ken-Telex” given these creatures is a Chezbah name meaning “Thoughts bound to the master.”

The I-CA has not released any photographs of the creatures and descriptions redacted from the documents made available.

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Should RPGs Leave The Saturday Morning Cartoons Behind?


Mark Plemmons has a new game he’s running a Kickstarter for called Corporia. While the setting isn’t my cup of tea, one thing really peaked my interest about the project, the art. That might not seem unusual, a lot of people look at games and say “Whoa, that’s amazing art!” In this case though, it’s not just the quality of the art, it’s the format. These aren’t drawings and paintings, they’re photographs.

Mark isn’t the first designer to use photographs in his game but so far as I’ve seen he’s the first to use them extensively and well at the same time. The pictures have a specific magazine cover look. Indeed, some look like mock ups of a cyberpunk future Cosmopolitan cover which really grounds the setting. It has the effect of the subjects looking mundane, while doing really out of character things, like a businessmen wielding a broadsword.


I asked Mark why he went in the direction he did and he related how, when he started, the project was intended to be smaller than it is now. As he worked on it, he kept finding artists he really liked and the art took on a new dimension.

Here’s why I ask if RPGs should leave saturday morning cartoons behind. Mark looked at this as an opportunity to make a game that was visually attractive not just  to gamers but to non-gamers as well.

We often forget that the style and the subject of the art in game books can be a bit juvenile. Yes, there are a lot of extraordinary paintings and drawings out there but there is a lot of silly, poorly proportioned art too. Often, that has the effect of putting people off.

There’s been a lot of discussion about representations of women in games. Again disproportionate bodies and physically impossible poses are frequently lampooned. Using photographs of normal people in fantastic situations reduces that problem significantly. There could still be the issue of if the art is tasteful but let’s take what advantages we can.

There’s been discussions of using photographs in RPGs over at RPGGeek, the conclusion really pointing to the idea that good art is just good art but we tend to be less forgiving of flaws in photography.

There are a lot of games where it would be amazingly hard to pull off with photographs. Mark has the distinct advantage that his subject matter of business men wielding claymores involves reasonably easy to acquire props. I was talking to a cosplayer that did an amazing job of a cyborg and his suit is estimated to cost over $350 in materials probably double or triple that for the labor. Although you could use the suit repeatedly for game art you’d probably need dozens of costumes like that to make a full sized game book. That’s $8000 and up just for some of the props. Now you need the photographers, the graphic artists and to pay the people in the picture. Probably an art director too. In short, expensive. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Mark’s cost were in the same ballpark though.

So why isn’t Hasbro or Pazio doing this? They have the budget and if they don’t have the talent in house, they should be able to acquire it. If you can make a movie about a genre and have it look good, why can’t you make a photo of the same genre look good? Mark and his crew of artists are making it happen. In the next ten years, will we be looking back at Corporia as being the game that broke the mold?

If you’re interested in finding out more, Corporia’s Kickstarter page is here.


Filed under Experimental Mechanics, News