Modifying Uncharted Worlds ship combat to resemble “The Expanse”

Uncharted Worlds has a Move called “Shields Up”. It’s a pretty simple move to resist damage. But ships in The Expanse don’t have shields. So what the heck do we do?

PDCs to max!
Attempt to shoot down incoming torpedoes; roll 2d6.

On a 10+, you eliminate the most dangerous torpedo attack pending.
On a 7-9, you defeat the incoming attack but the next attack takes -1 (include any previous negatives).
On a 6-, the PDCs have failed to protect and the torpedo hits.

But what about railguns?

Defensive Maneuvers
Roll, pitch, and move along the thrust vector; roll 2d6

On a 10+, you dodge the incoming railgun attack. Yay!
On a 7-9, take half damage.
On a 6-, you take full damage.

OK not exciting, but that’s about all they do in the show.

Alternate skill resolution systems

I was thinking today about different ways to implement a skill system.

The question I asked myself was: how often did I “fail” a “test” at work?

Ok, I get it, developing ecommerce software in Perl is hardly an epic adventure that our PCs regularly face, but there are parallels:

  • A fantasy group haggling with a merchant
  • A scifi group working on fixing the stardrive or whatever
  • A cyberpunk group fencing stolen data

So relative to those sorts of tests, I thought about the Powered by the Apocalypse “success with complications”. That’s pretty interesting, but not quite what I was thinking about.

The mechanic I was envisioning probably exists in many systems: it’s a question of time. How long does a task take to succeed?

This goes back to my thought about work. I rarely failed but some of the time, it took me a considerably longer time to complete the task. Still other times, I had a sudden flash of inspiration or just a solid work day and knocked out whatever was on my plate. Similarly, adding more people to a task often helped (and sometimes hurt – you can’t have 9 women birth a baby in a month).

I think this resolution method applies mostly to professional or vocational skills, not “instant” actions (although, if you’re a professional locksmith …).

Still, something to think about when working out how your PCs tackle a task.

Motivations of the Big Bad

Another thing I think about a lot of the time is the motivations of my Big Bad. I’m running out of ideas for something new.

An example is Justice League. (Spoilers, I guess.) The motivation of Steppenwolf is to find these 3 magic mcguffins, and then use their power to “terraform” the planet into his. (His ecology is apparently lots of fire and yelling, none of those awful plants or animals)

This is really dumb, because it presumes that for some reason there’s not a lot of interesting places to terraform. We’re talking about a universe with both Old and New Gods, and dimensional travel and all sorts of other things, AND probably the Drake Equation. So … why the hell does he even need Earth? Just find a rock in the habitable zone you need, and use the boxes to “clean it up”. No muss, no fuss, and no pesky Atlanteans and Amazons messing with you.

In other words: this is an example of a Big Bad whose motivation is dumb. He’s a garden-variety sadist with a magic McGuffin. That’s boring.

Another funny thing to think about is how any attempt to bring forth some “new dark age” will always end up creating a boring, bureaucratic empire. Your glorious dark legions will run out of things to conquer, and will spend most of their time trying to get those layabouts in the GleepGlorp mountains to pay their goddamned taxes. I mean, what else can happen, once you’re on the throne? What the hell else would happen had Sauron won? He’d have plowed over the gentle agrarian Hobbits in favor of factory farms, and you can’t just kill them all because those Orcs of yours are hungry.

So I’m thinking a lot about the idea of a kind of aging Dark Lord. He conquered the known world with fire and steel and his evil magics, every hero fell before his loathsome might. But now, it’s a thousand years later. The players take the role of higher-ups in his regime. They have to deal with all sorts of unusual problems: reports of a rebellion (turns out it’s just a play, but the regime refuses to listen – and wants the “rebels” exterminated), politics (those pesky taxes and the functionaries who collect them), and what happens when your death-dealing shock troops run out of enemies. As a kind of complication, the players may work for a kind of Chaotic Evil regime but they themselves are not really evil at all.

It might get boring, or it might be hilarious. I can’t decide.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Post-apocalyptic settings are numerous in RPGs: here’s a good feature on quite a few of them.

They mostly feature the “fun stuff”: mutants, dungeon crawls, weird tech, a nuclear war, and so on. Something awful happened; the world changed; I need to dress in leather, chains, and old tires, and fight to survive against waves of bloodmurder fuckvikings.

Rebuilding the “world that was” is a central theme to a few of them: The Morrow Project, for example, and in a roundabout way, Traveller: The New Era.

One of the themes I don’t see explored, and wish I could, is the idea of emptiness. How do you build and populate a meaningful game world that is empty, and cold, and lifeless, and barren?

Without the requisite bloodmurder fuckvikings (or whatever) is it just a series of “collect food and clean water” skill checks, until you die? Could all that emptiness be turned into a kind of meta-mystery?

ICRPG: nearly perfect

So I picked up ICRPG a while ago, but haven’t had the time to really sit down and digest it. I’m pretty peeved I didn’t, because it’s amazing.

ICRPG can be thought of as 3 things:

  1. a broad methodology for tabletop gaming (“the index card method”)
  2. a set of rules, suited to but not required for, the above
  3. a bunch of actual gaming (tabletop and online) assets for #1

The rules itself are solid: a roll-over, d20, bonus-based minimalist system. If you’re used to a system like 5E or Pathfinder, you’re going to be a little lost – ICRPG has very little in terms of rules, preferring to let the basic mechanics and group decisions drive everything.

It also assumes you have a fair amount of existing material to adapt; there are plenty of good spell lists in 5E, after all.

Players/groups who expect great detail are going to be disappointed: there’s a basic “everything does the same damage” system, for example (shared by the brilliant WFRP). I consider it a feature, but some will see a bug.

The “index card method” is another great idea. In brief, it tries to bridge the gap between highly detailed tactical play and purely abstract theatre-of-the-mind. In my opinion it succeeds perfectly. Perfect foot-by-foot maneuvering and range calculation slows down gameplay in any group that’s not already committed to wargaming.

You can break down a large area into “sectors”, you can represent groups occupying said sectors, and still have “champions” and individuals occupying space. It works really well!

The art design and quality of the materials is excellent. I can see the argument that the art style may not be your thing – it’s kind of abstract – but I dig it and I think it’s really, really good value for the money. (If you want extremely detailed and specifically designed art, it’s going to cost you!)

Anyway, it’s really good and worth a look, especially at the price. http://www.runehammergames.com/index.html

vt100 development

With the exception of the web browser, every single piece of my job could be accomplished with a vt100.

I don’t want to go into too many details, but suffice it to say that we are running on a very specific platform, with extremely specific hardware and software requirements. Historically, developers were not provided with machines that could easily run lots of local VMs, preferring instead to build a server farm that resembled production and eventually parcelling out VMs to devs from that. There are also other reasons to eschew the “just run it all in Vagrant+Virtualbox” mode, involving database resources and other considerations.

I discuss (and overshare!) this here, if you’re curious. At the time – for the first year and change I have worked at $SALT_MINE, I’ve been strugging with this mode of remote mounts, sync, SFTP, etc.

In short, it sucks. I have managed to get a couple of Vim configs that work, and now I run basically 2 programs: iTerm 2 and a web browser.

All that hardware – we get nearly top-of-the-line Macbooks – is used to run 2 programs. I could do my job on a vt100, and I hate that.

As I’ve said elsewhere, this has almost always been the case, too! At $LASTJOB the core work required an actual goddamn computer, you couldn’t even use a VM (don’t ask, it was complicated). At the job before that, there was no reasonable way to run one of our products on anything but a real computer of a very specific make, model, and OS (although in fairness that involved licenses as much as bytes).

Every now and then I look at companies like JetBrains and wonder, who actually gets to use those tools? Who gets to do, I dunno, some sort of Java or .NET dev with a fancy IDE that pushes to the cloud, or something? Who gets to use fancy database admin tools? We have to hide our production DBs behind 100 layers of security (a very fancy logging proxy, among other things).

I have managed to get a working Linux config that does the same thing without any distractions: it’s just OpenBox and Terminator. There’s not much else. I’m missing a few nice tools – LaunchBar and TextExpander are the most strongly felt, but I’m sure there’s replacements.

I’m still using a glorified vt100 to this day. I hate it. Is this all there is?

Missing features in the iOS Activity app

I’m sort of amazed we’ve made it as far as we have without these two features being built in:

Sick days. Sometimes we get sick! It would be pretty great to not lose a streak because I have a really bad cold.

Rest days. This is the big one. One day a week, it would be nice if my calorie goal could automatically be a little lower. It’s very common for workout programs to have a day per week that is to be at a lower intensity.

There’s almost certainly apps that can incorporate this somehow – although I’m not sure how to reset the calorie goal for a single day, one assumes there’s an API for it.