Sunday, November 30, 2014

D6 and the Blaster-Proof Wookie

So, D6, the WEG system used to run their excellent Star Wars game, and later exported to a generic D6 system (the latter is available through Drivethru RPG, but they're down for maintenance as I write this, confound it) had a problem: damage and damage resistance.

In the 1e version of the game, any hit resulted in a stun, no matter how insignificant the hit. If you got stunned, you got knocked prone, and unable to act for the rest of the round. You could easily stun-lock the rancor with a weak weapon, just standing out of it's range and plinking it every time it tried to stand up.

In the 2e version of the game, you ran into another problem: The Blaster-Proof Wookie. Every time you were hit, you rolled your Strength to reduce the damage. If you rolled higher than the damage, you had no effect. This wasn't too bad, until you got to wookies, who could have a 6D Strength.... while the average blaster did 4D. Chances are, your wookie wasn't taking any damage at all.

Now, the generic D6 version introduced a new rule. Instead of basing your hand to hand weapon damage on your raw Strength, it was based on half your strength, or half your Lifting skill (which was based on Strength). The default rules are that you removed the pips (so 3D+2 was considered just 3D), cut the number of dice in half and rounded up (so 3D+2 Lifting became 2D melee damage). Personally, I tend to count the pips and divide by 2, with a full die counting as a pip itself (so the aforementioned 3D+2 would be 11 pips... 1D is 3 pips, 2D is 6, 3D is 9, plus 2), and that works out to 5 pips in DR, or 1D+2; it makes every increase potentially meaningful.

Somehow, I also reached the conclusion that this applied to damage reduction as well, but through the Stamina skill, not Lifting. I cannot, for the life of me, find where this might be, and suspect it might be a house rule that we cooked up. But it neatly deals with the problem of the Blaster-Proof Wookie.

A Wookie with 6D Strength and no improvement in Stamina has a 3D damage resistance roll. Still sizable, and he's likely to resist most of a 4D blaster shot... but he's also wise to take cover. If he ups his Stamina to 8D,  he's likely to resist all of the 4D blaster (4D v. 4D), but he's still likely to want to take cover, just to be sure.

Now, you may be trying to tie this back to my just-posted rules for improving skills in D6 through use. Which you should. But, using Stamina (or Lifting, for melee damage) in this way is unlikely to increase your skill, because of the very high thresholds involved; you still base your threshold off the base skill, not the reduced skill. So the average human, with a 2D Stamina, has 1D Damage Resistance, but getting XP for Stamina requires passing a 10 Difficulty check... between the Wild Die, character points, and Force/Fate points, it's certainly POSSIBLE to hit a 10 Difficulty with 1D... but it's going to be rare, and you might be better off just spending the CP necessary to flat out improve your Stamina when you get a chance.

Use-based Improvement in D6

So, an argument on Dragonsfoot lead to me spending some time on my Star Wars and D6 Space books this week, and then another discussion on Giant in the Playground lead to me working out a system for auto-improving skills in D6... skills that, like skills in the Elder Scrolls games, automatically increase as you use them more.

Set a threshold, and any difficulties above that threshold are added together, and once you achieve a certain amount of "XP" in a given skill, then it goes up by a pip, and then you start your XP over. Using WEG's D6, I might go with something like

Skill/Threshold/XP
1D/5/20
2D/10/40
3D/15/60
4D/20/80
...usw

So it would work out that 4 very hard checks (average of 5 or better on your D6s) would improve you by 1 pip. It would take 12 such checks to improve you by a die (4D->4D+1->4D+2->5D). You could achieve it faster by doing harder things, but those things would be VERY hard for someone of your skill. You don't get any XP for doing easy things repeatedly, and this only applies to skills, not the attributes themselves.

Now, this would mean you reduce the awarding of Character Points (since mundane advancement is taken care of), but it also means that they and Fate/Force points play into advancing skills and abilities, since adding a +1, a die, or doubling the dice on important and difficult rolls makes it more likely that you'll succeed, and thus gain XP in that ability. You can also include them as a "training system"... so the pip-increases from use happen automatically, but if you want to improve your blaster skill and haven't been taking enough really hard shots (once you hit 5D in blaster, you either have to be facing an excellent dodger, a jedi who is trying to deflect your shots, or making extreme long range shots through cover), you spend CP like normal.

Now, this is going to run into problems with attributes and force skills. I tend to treat Force "skills" as being more akin to attributes, with force "powers" being treated like skills... if you have a 3D Control and learn a Control power, you have that power at 3D, and can improve it independently of your Control Skill. As such, I'd lump Force Skills and Attributes into the same category as only being able to improve through active training... pretty much any time you're using an attribute, you're actually using a skill under that attribute.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Savage Lance

So, a bit of a wrist-off that I did in early 2014, just defining some ground rules for using Savage Worlds with the Dragonlance Setting. Someone had honestly been posting a message every six months for three years, asking if someone was going to get back to them on some conversions they'd done.

I took an hour and wrote a bit down, covering some of the more unique races and the three Orders of Magic:

Minotaur:
+3 Begin with d8 in Strength; can increase to d12+4 through Edges
+2 Size +1 (Includes a +1 to Toughness)
-1 -2 to Charisma
-2 Major Personality Hindrance; Arrogant, Bloodthirsty, Code of Honor, or Vengeful

Kender
-2 Curious Hindrance
-1 Small (compared to humans)
-1 Pace 5
+2 Brave (no Spirit requirement)
+2 Fortunate (extra benny; may combine with luck and Great Luck)
+1 Free d6 Taunt
+1 Free d6 Stealth

Gully Dwarf
-3 Smarts can never go above d6
-1 Pace 5
-1 Outsider
+1 +4 to resist disease
+1 +4 to resist poison
+1 Low light vision
+2 Free d6 in Vigor
+1 Free d6 Survival

Gnome
-1 Pace 5
-1 Small (size -1)
+2 McGyver Edge
+1 Free d6 Repair
+1 Low Light Vision

Magic in Dragonlance

Spells allowed by order:
White Robes
All except: Greater Healing, Healing, Succor, Zombie, Disguise  

Red Robes
All except: Greater Healing, Healing, Succor, Zombie, Slumber

Black Robes
All except: Greater Healing, Healing, Succor, Disguise, Slumber

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Three Ranger Limit

For those not familiar with 1st edition AD&D, there was a rule that you could only have 3 rangers in one party.  There's not a big reason given for this, and so the whys of it aren't exactly clear, but since three rangers can do some fairly hefty damage to an army of humanoids or giants (adding their level to damage with each attack), it may be a balance issue.  Since rangers have high ability score requirements, they are kinda rare, so it's hard to reach the "Three Ranger Limit".  However, it also sounds like the name of a card game.  Thus, from Deeper Pulleditoutofmyassistan, I bring you the game "Three Ranger Limit".

Thursday, September 4, 2014

ODE: Metagame mechanics

So, I've been thinking about ODE recently, due to a couple discussions I've been having, and got to thinking about metagame mechanics; Hackmaster's Honor, Savage World's Bennies, and so on. In keeping with ODE's "gas station playable" system, I'm going to suggest pennies or similar coins, though pretty much any type of distributable counter would work. If you've got someone who simply CANNOT live without their dice at the table, use those... the mechanics of the meta-mechanics might throw them into paroxysms. It also adds an interesting twist if you can tell everyone's counters apart, though it's not necessary.

Each player starts with a certain number of counters; 3 would be a normal gaming session, but you might want more or less. The GM starts with none. As play progresses, players can spend counters to improve their play; I've got a few examples below. However, whenever they spend a counter, it is given to the GM, who can use it to influence ANOTHER play... not the one just influenced. When the GM spends a counter, it is given to the player who has the least counters (or one at random, if they're tied for the least), who can spend it to influence another play. This flow of counters can be stopped by either side... the GM can choose to sit on counters received to keep players from getting them back, then spend them in a flurry at the end. Or the players may hoard their counters, keeping the balls in their court, as it were. Players and GMs can also wage war with their own counters... the GM spends a counter, so you spend another to undo their counter, and so on. The only limitation is that counters, once used on a play, can't be used again on that same play (so you and the GM don't pass them back and forth infinitely).

Note that counters can be spent to influence ANY play which affects your character... you might provide a penalty to your opponent hitting you, or a bonus to your figuring things out. The only thing counters can't be spent on are metagame actions... you can't spend a counter to make an attribute raise play trump.

Uses for counters:
*Add +5 or -5 to a single play
*Make a single play trump (again, if necessary)
*Avoid or inflict a complication
*Draw a single card (which can take you above the hand limit) to either use for the play or to replace the one you choose to use for the play.

Counters can also be used to effect one's hand; if used this way, they don't count as having been used for the play.
*Draw up to 3 cards (subject to hand limit)
*Discard entire hand, shuffle the deck, and draw the same number of cards you just had.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Episode at the Old Mine

This short story, set on Hackmaster's Tellene (better known as the "Kingdoms of Kalamar" setting) started as something of a joke, but got worked into a full, fairly serious story, while keeping the joke just out of sight. I've hid it beneath the cut, since it's almost 3000 words long.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hackmaster Talent

Broad Training (8/16/24/32)

Someone who with Broad Training is familiar with a variety of weapons and can learn to use unfamiliar weapons rapidly. For 8 points, they ignore 1 point of non-proficiency penalty with any weapon. For 16 more points (24 total), they ignore 2 points of non-proficiency penalty. For 24 more points (48 total), they may ignore up to 3 points of non-proficiency penalty, and they may ignore four points of penalties for an additional 32 points (80 points total). Note that this does not make them proficient in weapons that have no penalties; they must still purchase proficiency before purchasing any relevant specialization. If your class is able to purchase all weapon proficiencies at half cost, then you may purchase this talent at half cost.

Commentary: I didn't like any of the suggested names, but Handy seemed universally unpopular, so I hit the thesaurus for another. You will note that I didn't double the cost for those who pay double for weapon proficiencies; off the top of my head, no one actually does that (though magic-users come close), and that just seemed unnecessarily punitive for an already expensive option... like someone else said, you're more of a combat monster by specializing in one weapon than being able to not hurt yourself with several.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mass Effect: Volus, and how they suggested a setting rule

On the Giant in the Playground boards (where I am a mod), I've been getting some feedback on my Savage Worlds/Mass Effect... including someone who wished I'd included the Volus. I shied away from them because they seemed difficult to do, but I thought of a method on the way home, and decided to post it.

Since Volus are native to high-pressure, ammonia-based atmospheres, the Earthlike conditions that prevail on most Council worlds are deadly to them. As such, they live in heavily armored pressure suits, and breaking those pressure suits is deadly to them. However, it occurred to me that, in Mass Effect, you frequently find yourself in hostile environments, buttoned up inside your armor. So, I'm adding a general setting rule: Armor Breach.

Any attack whose AP exceeds your Armor bonus, or which causes 2 or more wounds, represents an armor breach, and the full effects of the environment you find yourself in begin. Breaches may be repaired using the Repair skill, or by using the mechanical application of the Healing power.

In short, really big hits, or hits with weapons that blow through your armor, might kill you a lot easier.

However, let's look at the Volus. The numbers given are for the purposes of race creation, from the Savage World's Explorer's edition; Volus are +2, which is where every race is supposed to be.

-2 Pace 4, with d4 running die (similar to Lame Hindrance)
-2 Agility requires 2 points to raise during character generation. Volus are not clumsy, per se, but they are also not very agile.
-2 Strength requires 2 points to raise during character generation. Volus are small and physically weak.
-2 Fragile: Volus whose armor is breached must make a Vigor check at -4 to avoid instantly dying from explosive decompression and fatal oxygen poisoning. This check must be repeated each round until the volus is returned to their proper environment, either in a pressure chamber, a Vol-formed world, or by repairing their armor. During a breach, all actions taken by the Volus are at -4.
+2 Free Edge: Rich. While the Vol Protectorate doesn't have the wealth to field vast fleets, individual Vol have a lot of money compared to the average citizen, and can draw on clan funds.
+2 Start with d6 Smarts.
+2 Start with d6 Spirit.
+2 Free Equipment: Armor suit. Volus pressure suits are equivalent to Medium Armor (+8), providing indefinite life support and a +4 v. environmental hazards. It does not have a strength minimum. Volus armor does not incorporate HUDs, but frequently incorporates omni-tools and shield generators.
+2 +2 to Charisma. Though some volus are abrasive, their trade-based society gives them a great advantage in wheeling and dealing.

I find it amusing that the Charisma-mavens in SW Mass Effect are the grumpy hobbits, not the alien hot chicks. As one of the few races without the Outsider flaw, they have great advantages on top of their +2 to Charisma.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Savage Worlds: Mass Effect Page

I created a page for my previous Savage Worlds Mass Effect posts, cleaned up and with most of the redundancies and errors removed. As I get more feedback (or, as I call it, "Validate me, you bastards!"), I'll fix problems, and hopefully keep a change log.

http://rpgcrank.blogspot.com/p/savage-worlds-mass-effect.html

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Savage Worlds Mass Effect: Gear

Most Savage Worlds Mass Effect gear is similar to modern and futuristic gear in the Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition, pages 48-56. Many things function differently, but have similar statistics.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Savage Worlds Mass Effect: Powers

For those wondering, I will eventually compile these into a single document, edited into something a lot clearer. First, a basic overview of the two Arcane Backgrounds, then considering the individual powers.

Tech v. Biotics
While there's an obvious in-universe reason for the difference between the two, Tech and Biotics share many of the same powers. What's the differences?
1) Tech is not unique. Everyone can take the Tech skill, even without the Arcane Background. Tech represents the advanced technology of the Mass Effect Universe, and most people have a passing familiarity with it. The Arcane Background, however, represents a real flair with tech, being able to manipulate devices to share power pools and enact unique powers without necessarily having a device that does exactly that. With Tech, ANYONE can try to hack a computer with their omni-tool, use an acid-thrower weapon, create barriers with a portable barrier emitter, or activate the shields on their armor; someone with the Arcane Background might be able to use a Mind Reading power to simply learn executive level-passwords, or use their omni-tool to throw bolts of acid, create barriers, or create shields on armor that doesn't have it. The Arcane Background is Flexibility with tech, and the ability to learn new tricks.
2) Biotics have a bit of extra power. Though most biotics prefer to keep their slow replacing, natural points for emergencies, they can all make use of bio-amps for a pool of freely usable power points. While 500 credits isn't cheap, it's affordable to a lot of people and biotics find those 10 points to be enough for most uses. If someone has both Arcane Backgrounds, they can use Power Points from other objects to recharge their Bio-Amps; recharging a bio-amp from another device requires an action and a successful Tech check.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Edges and Hindrances in SW Mass Effect

We're looking at beginning a SW Mass Effect game, soon, and so I've been looking at a few Edges and Hindrances for what they might mean in the ME universe.

Now, one thing I should make clear; anyone, whether they have the Arcane Background: Tech or not, may learn and use the Tech skill. However, that is ONLY to use powers built into devices; you can use Tech to turn on shields in your military-grade armor (i.e. Activate the Armor Power built in). If you have the Arcane Background, you can use your learned Armor power to create shields whenever you have an omni-tool. Without the background, you can learn no powers, only use the ones already there. Civilian omni-tools only include the Healing and Speak Language powers, allowing them to dispense medi-gel and translate most common languages.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

GM's Day

This is something I wrote in 2009 for GMs Day. As GMs Day rolls around (on March 4th of each year), remember to thank the people who make your fun possible; GMs, designers (both professional and homebrew), and the players who aren't dicks.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Force Rules and "Wise Teacher" rules

Ok, so you may recall my Force Point rules from earlier, as well as the after-action.

One thing I am definitely doing away with on reflection? The idea that your Dark Side score innately adds to your Use the Force Checks. It worked well in d6 (where I got the idea from), but I think the "free force point whenever you're willing to embrace the Dark Side" is a much more effective lure. Thinking on it, however, I do have a slight change to make.

If you succumb to the Dark Side, things switch around. Instead of 1 red chip and 3 (or 4, with the feat) Blue, you will gain 3 (or 4; just take that as a given, now) reds and 1 blue. Spending a blue? That lowers your DS score by 1. But you can have as many of those as you want, provided it's in the service of the light side of the Force. If your side "switches" during a game, you don't "reset" until the next game... so if you go Dark, you can delve REALLY deep into the Dark but, likewise, it's possible to expunge a lot of Dark Side points at a heroically appropriate moment.

I'll post that on the Giant; there's likely some problems that need checking on my idea.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Several Sessions Ago...

Oh, boy, we've had a busy month with a lot of playing, leading to me getting way behind on session logs.

Soon after our time at Falcon Tower, we decided to head west to check out the pregnant woman's story of a den of orcs (and also wanting to investigate rumors of kobolds who robbed some miners). We headed west down the road, but found only a long-abandoned camp of kobolds. We briefly met with the "witch", Valdershenk, who told us that she knew the kobolds well enough, but that orcs were always trouble. She also gave us a bit of a potion, that most of us survived pretty well. We headed further west, past the river that marks the county border and into the mountains.

It was a fairly difficult trek, especially with the number of greenhorn travelers we had along. Being the strongest swimmer, Sevlan tended to lead our way across rivers, while the rest of the party would follow on a rope he carried, or ride a log downstream. There were some rough bits, but we made it to a small, protected cove beneath the cliffs, where we figured our lady must have come from.

Quite frankly, this is one impressive trek for her. She climbed down a sheer cliff, hundreds of feet tall, crossed two rivers, and walked down the road, all while heavily pregnant, with inadequate clothes and no shoes. We suspected that her captors were up near the top of the cliff, but we couldn't make it up safely, so we decided to head back to town and circle around. On the way back, we met Valdershenk again, still strolling happily through unsettled lands; she informed us that she had some cures and such at her hut near the old Has road, which we promised to keep in mind.

Since we were planning on heading back west, we talked to our friend, Captain Reymond, the captain of the guard at the Palisade, asking if he had anything that needed to be run out to the towers to the southwest... figured we'd get pay and the short-term use of a mule out of the bargain, and continue our good relationship with the captain. Before we headed out to Karpar peak, we retired to some rooms we'd rented in the keep itself... while cheaper to stay at the hostel in Quarrytown, I also worried about security, especially when we start picking up money (aaaaaaannnny day now, I swear). However, we got attacked by giant rats. Huge rats. Rats the size of medium-sized dogs. Ava, our priest of the Bear, got bit and fell ill. Since Balan was unable to cure her disease, and the disease wasn't fatal or contagious (so long as she didn't bite anyone), we chose to keep adventuring, figuring it would clear up and a few days on the road would give her time to heal. Then, we were going to go into the sewer to wipe out the rats.

We started to run supplies down to the tower, and Sevlen noticed someone picking one of our pockets. We caught him and presented him with a proposal: He could adventure with us, or we'd turn him into the guard. He was enthused by the prospect; he was Amnet, and his family was tradesmen, but died soon after arriving at the Keep. He'd been on his own ever since, stealing bits and, while never quite joining the Ravens, he was occasionally dependent upon their charity. We got him some armor and he came along with us on the supply run.

The supply run was... interesting. The Karpar tower is rumored to be haunted, so Grimwulf was interested in investigating it in his position as a dedicant on the Eternal Lantern. When we got there, we learned it wasn't so much "haunted" as "rumored to be a lousy duty station so those assigned there could party." Good food, good drink, even a prostitute out there. We partied with the Karpar guard, and they offered us a chance to join a "secret society", though they weren't clear about the nature of it.

After a good night (and looking west, since we're still worried about orcs out there), we headed back to the keep with an Ava whose symptoms were getting worse. Determined to exterminate the rats, we headed down below. We knew of several entrances to the keep sewers, but started with one well away from the privies. The first was a small complex, draining directly to the river below, but with one-way doors that we couldn't get open... but rats could. Heading to the lower bailey sewers, we found a vast complex... what seemed to be the remains of the old keep. We found a kennel, a jail (with evidence that someone named "Dirk" was executed by someone known as "Sir Trigger"), some storage and a great hall. The hall, Fredi told us had giant tapestries, some of them quite valuable, but all of them quite old and delicate. Exploring further, we found evidence of the rooms of several of Sir Trigger's "fingers", including Dirk, the Pointer Finger... who seems to have been the one executed. We thoroughly mapped the area, with Amnet (that thief we caught) finding a few traps, and Ava getting further diseased. This second one was more severe, but would clear up just fine... provided she went to spend a few months in the desert. Ava chose to leave us, then, heading south to the arid lands and her health.

After a couple weeks of training, and thoroughly exploring that remnant of the old keep, we decided to tell some of the authorities about it. And for this, we were torn. Did we tell the Earl, responsible for the keep and arguably the one who could inherit the treasures below? Or did we tell the Prefect, responsible for the protection of the keep, who would surely like to know about the passage between the lower and middle baileys? In the end, we chose to tell Greytar, the mage who was present for the last keep, and a possible friend of Sir Trigger. We kept some information from him, however... like the library below. Sevlen'd finally pieced out the Orcish writing in the diary we'd taken from the Orc priest, and had learned a different history of the keep... one that included Sir Trigger, the Grel Wizard, who had attacked the keep before he helped rebuild it. We weren't sure of Greytar's actual loyalties, but bribed him with a bottle of valuable wine to set up a meeting with the prefect and the Earl (figuring that telling them both at the same time would avoid appearances of favoritism, though Greytar clearly favored the Earl).

The Prefect react with bluster and anger to news of a complex beneath the keep, and the Earl with cautious optimism to word of artistic treasures below. We shared this discussion, and promised to spend more time mapping the deeps.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Alien Intelligence for Rifts

Yet another thing imported from my old blog. I tend to make these imports when the posts become part of a conversation elsewhere, and I want to direct people to my blog.


As many know (especially if you are on the Palladium message boards), my least favorite book in the Rifts line is Rifts Conversion Book 2: Pantheons of the Megaverse. I feel that it's poorly researched and that it avoids one of the biggest pantheons around: the God of Abraham, and all the various permutations that he's undergone since the Old Testament. This is something of an attempt to exorcise my hatred of that book... to lay it to rest by doing what I feel was left out of that book. However, it will make the most sense if I indulge in a bit of definition, first.
Palladium has two types creatures who are nearly equal in power: Gods and Alien Intelligences. The difference, so far as can be determined, is that Gods are dependent for their power on their worshipers; if they are no longer worshiped, they will still be powerful, but they will cease to be deities. Alien Intelligences seem to possess this level of power naturally. They are also frequently capable of creating quasi-independent fragments of themselves; beings which possess a portion of their power, and are capable of acting independently, but still are part of the whole, and partake of (and contribute to) the knowledge and power of the whole. They are, in effect, one being with many bodies.
I think you can see where I'm going with this.
I should warn you that there's a group of people who're probably going to find this really offensive; I'm putting it all behind a cut, but I want to warn you in advance... caveat lector.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Busy Busy Busy! Four Quests!

I have tendency to write these just before our next game; helps to remind me of what transpired, and speaks to my overwhelming laziness.

Our brave party (Elwyn the Elf, Fredi the Fearless, Ted the Terrible, Grimwulf the... Grim, Sevlen of the Journeymen, and Ava Cado) ventured forth to Vespin Tower, this time not encountering any pregnant escaped slaves, and instead running into some fire beetles, who scared the crap out of us, but failed to do much more than eat Ted and Fred's spell points. Upon arriving at Vespin tower, we found that the guard detachment there had been killed by goblins, who we quickly dispatched. Returning to the keep, we collected our silvers and started poking around town (though we've been keeping our main residence in Quarrytown... cheaper, and with easier access at the end of a long day).

We used a couple days of downtime to get Grimwulf's friend into the guard, and looked into the crime of Raishtlyn, who had tried to claim a bounty on a centaur's head (mistaken for a man's by the keep). We found the corpse of the centaur, and his hound, and brought back a guard to witness that there was, indeed, a creature with a body of a horse and the top of a man, as Raishtlyn described. We gave him a bit of healing, and he set out.

Also leaving town was Grond, who found out about the trick played on him by the scribes... and proceeded to trash the scriptorium. We got the commander of the watch to agree to keeping him overnight, and releasing him in the morning, given the harm that had been done to him. He left town, though we'd thought about giving him a job as meat shield.

Lastly, we saw to the matter of the totem at Falcon Tower. The foul creation was dedicated to the Strifelord, and would reassemble itself each night. The guards at the tower had been severely lashed for allowing it to remain, though they insisted it sprung up on its own. We tore it down, then laid in wait for the totem to rebuild itself. Instead, we got a quartet of orcs appear, including a shaman, all of whom we beat savagely. Taking them briefly prisoner, we learned that the spot was sacred to the Creator of Strife; since revealing that we'd taken down the totem meant the lives of the men guarding the tower, we're keeping mum for now... their lives are worth more than our fame, and it's nice to have folks owing us.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Heartbreaker

Heartbreaker

(This is something I roughed out in 2011. And, yes, a lot of it is stolen.)


The year is 2097, and the last eighty-five years have not been kind to the world... but, then, when were they? To keep this brief, I'm going to pick up world history at the turn of the century.
The terror attacks, and responses, of the first decade of the 21st century lead to a very unstable world. Massive public debts were contrasted to increased corporate autonomy. Improved medical technology meant that people lived longer, but the slow collapse of the financial infrastructure meant that they were working longer, keeping jobs longer... and keeping the young from advancing, if they could even get employed in the first place. The problems in first world economies meant that third world economies received less constructive investment; investment tended to be corporate and task-oriented. Rather than build a new port facility to support their natural resource extraction, corporations would erect short-term, pre-fab facilities that could be dismantled when they left. Governments, crippled with debt and increased factionalism, were unable to regulate corporate actions effectively, and corporations responded by taking on more governmental duties, building corporate enclaves where their employees could live and work in relative peace, but leaving much of the rest of the world to rot. The result is extreme balkanization among many major nation-states; the old United States is divided into no less than six nations, a process which ended about 2073 with the secession of Texas from the rest of the Southern Confederacy.

The Republic of California is most of California south of the central valley, as well as parts of western Arizona and southern Nevada, and has an economy largely based on information technology and, of course, entertainment. 

The Pacific West, including Washington, Oregon, and the rest of California and much of Nevada is more agricultural, using their access to the rest of the continent as a selling point for Asian business and their vast parklands for managed natural resource extraction. 

Utah grabbed the rest of Nevada, plus parts of surrounding states (about to the Continental Divide) to create Deseret; it's not illegal to be non-Mormon in Deseret, but it's certainly not any easier, and Deseret has been moving towards a second-world, managed-economy, theocracy in the last couple generations. 

Texas gobbled up those parts of New Mexico that weren't in Deseret, but lost some them in the '60s to the Oklahoma Council of First Peoples, a confederacy of sovereign tribes that took most of Oklahoma, parts of the Texas Panhandle, and a chunk of northern New Mexico for their own. 

The Great State of Texas (it's official name) now has about everything south of the Red River, but everything north of Amarillo is now part of the Council lands. They gained eastern New Mexico, however, from Clovis southwest to Las Cruces, so it wasn't a total loss. Along it's southern border is a number of narco-states, run primarily by drug cartels who can promise access to the northern lands; Texas's border fence is pretty porous (and hole-owners are well-paid to keep it so), but it does look pretty.

North of the Council lands, the plains states (including everything east of the Continental Divide and north of Oklahoma, but west of the Great Lakes) are making the most of their wind and farmland to run wind farms, but their real issue is water; many river heads are in Deseret, or close enough to it that water has become an increasing issue; there's been talk of creating an artificial watershed that would drain from the Great Lakes westward, even past the Mississippi, but the scale of the project is pretty daunting.

The already-mentioned Southern Confederacy (Confederated States of America, if you're formal) includes pretty much Kentucky, Virginia, and points south. They've got a lot of agricultural land, but are pretty well in the pockets of major corporations... the Congress in Atlanta is pretty much a puppet for whichever corporation has their hand up the governmental fundament on a given subject, and the port in Mandeville, Louisiana is the drug trafficking capitol of the CSA, now that the Gulf has reclaimed enough of southern Louisiana to make Pontchartrain a bay instead of a lake... the old Causeway is truly a bride to nowhere.

That leaves the rest, still called the United States of America, but now comprising just Indiana, Ohio, the lower peninsula of Michigan, and the East Coast from Maryland on north. They muddle on, having more or less the same system of government as they did three hundred years ago. They shed a lot of debt by blaming it on seceding parts of the country, which likewise refused to claim it, but they've made up for that in the past few decades.

Added to this balkanization was the energy crisis; peak oil was about 2020, and demand meant that there was little left by 2030. Natural gas gave out soon after, leaving power a valuable resource. Companies with heavy investment in alternate power generation became quite rich. Most ground-based power generation is, these days, done with nuclear power, though every home has solar and many places have wind turbines to eke out every available erg of their available space. Also popular are space-based microwave transmission stations; huge solar arrays in geosynchronous orbit, beaming power down to the surface. The power crisis is no longer acute in the former first world, and is improving in the third, but it's a fine enough thing that power stations going down can cause a lot of havoc. More exotic experiments in power generation, however, led to new avenues of humanity.

Humans generate a certain amount of energy; waste heat, small degrees of electrical energy and the like. This isn't a real source of power, but in investigating it, it was realized that some people had quite a degree of fine control over their own energy output, and others put out a fair amount of energy on their own. On it's own, it's not much; with concentration, a person might be able to power a lightbulb, or go without food for a long time by efficiently controlling their calorie burn, and most would burn out a watch in a few days. However, when hooked to certain implanted amplifiers, these natural abilities can be much more dramatic, including many traditionally "psychic" powers... pyrokinetics, electrical explusion, rough telepathy and extreme somatic control. Very few have these abilities, and fewer still get the necessary implants to make practical use of the powers, but the powers have been around and in the public mind for a decade and a half. A lot of "agents" (as they're called) are a bit mystical in bent; the powers themselves require concentration, and many agents use mental or physical tricks to put themselves in the right frame of mind. For some, it's quasi-religious, and there's an undercurrent (especially where agents are persecuted for their "unnaturalness") that agents are the "next step in humanity". It's not widespread, persecution isn't widespread, but that's partially because the most famous agents tend towards flamboyance... the degree to which agents can read thoughts, see the future, and other such privacy-invading things isn't widely talked about, and those particular skills are hard to find reliable teachers for. It's worth noting that agents don't tend to have much other augmentation; the fields they generate tend to mess with any but the most shielded of electronics... they have lousy cell reception, and most of their electronics are 50% more expensive due to the degree of shielding necessary to even function near them.

Human improvement is possible, but expensive. The bench-built cyber-monsters of the 50s have mostly given way to more subtle and realistic prosthetics, but outright augmentation has gotten a lot more common. Limbs can be replaced or enhanced, and implanted equipment is common in the upper 10% of humanity. Most common is an interface port in the temple, allowing direct mental control of computers and other devices; other people will have implanted computers and wireless transponders in their torsos, usually with any wired ports next to the clavicle. They're not quite to the point where a human mind can be transplanted to another biological body... that's still science fiction... but the cyberengineers are saying it's only about twenty years before they're able to build a computer capable of handling the totality of a human mind and writing it into a blank. Likewise, humans haven't created a true AI yet, though SI's (simulated intelligences) are increasing in complexity... the Turing test is no longer a measure of complexity, as computer search and parsing capabilities are such that a reasonable conversation can be carried on, and SIs will run some facilities with only minimal input from humans... and given that an SI can fit into something the size of a 20th century suitcase, they're pretty portable... even moreso when connected to the Net, where they're almost indistinguishable from other users.

The Internet of the early 21st century is gone. Instead of wired connections, most wireless devices now form part of a vast ad hoc network, supplemented by ground transponders and satellite access. The amount of data available on any given subject is immense, leading to a large business in information indexing and search. A lot of this can be done by SIs, but humans also handle a lot of the load, answering requests for data. This means that some things are very convenient, but it's also very hard to drop off the grid... even if you turn off your pocket computer, chances are you've got something on your, from credit stick to your sidearm that will communicate with the net.

Weapons. There's a lot of them. With the collapse of traditional nation-states, there was a lot of violence and unrest, so most of the United States has a limited, but regulated, gun culture. Most weapons sold commercially, however, are designed to be non-lethal (the descendants of tasers and stun-guns), and even then contain "squealers"... they alert local authorities when they've been fired, and many localities will then gather local surveillance to determine what happened. Squealers can also be pinged by anyone with a mind to (and an RFID reader... but pretty much everyone has one of those in their computer); if they have access to certain databases, the pinger can learn who is supposed to own the weapon, and if it's been used in any untoward circumstances. Of course, there's a sizable black market in disabling squealers so they give off a fake response to a ping, or in just taking them out altogether, and there's also a fair degree of variation in local enforcement... Texas's gun laws are non-existent by the standards of the USA, and a little lax by the standards of the CSA.