Timing Is Everything

June 2, 2010 - Leave a Response

I’ve been reading up on initiative mechanics, and found a fascinating idea. In martial arts manuals (European and Asian), there is no concept related to initiative in the RPG sense of the word. Instead, the concern is for timing. You should delay your action for an eternity if the right opportunity does not present itself. The true master does react quickly, but to the opponent, not in absolute terms.

I wonder how this sizing-up-the-opponent mentality could transform initiative from a complicated round-robin scheme to something really tactical?

Skyjack Actions

May 19, 2010 - Leave a Response

Steve Kenson’s ICONS has got me taking Skyjack off the back burner. ICONS is a lightweight super hero system using a handful of attributes, a very loose skill system, and a few other special features to define a character. Funny, that’s just what I was going for. (Except the super hero part.)

What really piqued my interest was how actions are handled. Some of this is speculative, since I don’t have one of the magic pre-order PDFs.

A hero gets one action each “panel,” and an effectively unlimited number of “supplimental” actions. The supplimentals impose “modifiers,” creating a dynamic limit.

I got really jazzed about the idea of rolling checks using two attributes simultaneously, but never really developed this into legitimate tactical choices since which attributes you used were largely irrelevant. I also had a strong interest in allowing multiple actions by splitting this paired-attribute scenario, effectively dividing your attention.

Honestly though, it was kind of complicated, and still never realized creating tactical choices around attribute use. Ideally, each attribute would achieve different effects depending on how it was applied. Each would be useful for certain actions or situations, but also created certain limits or openings for attack.

So let’s try another approach, with some ICONS inspiration. Each round you pick one action, more like a short-term goal, and set an attribute to it. For instance, your action might be to board an enemy ship, and your attribute to do it with might be Body. The GM sets a difficulty, typically 5.

Some obstacles might come up this round, like enemies attacking you. You can add extra actions to your round by using other attributes, but you can’t use the attribute you committed to your main action – it’s spoken for. Each extra action raises the difficulty by 1 for all actions this round. This goes in order, like a chain of events, so the earliest actions aren’t affected by later ones. Your primary action you picked at the beginning, however, gets rolled last, so it takes all the raises into account.

I think in this system, all the heroes could act simultaneously. There’d be no need for an initiative count. Each round would be a short mini-scene within the larger scene, like a beat in an action movie or spot in a pro wrestling match. Players could even cooperate on the same action, combining their efforts into a single roll.

Add into the mix, each attribute can only be used for certain kinds of actions. If our example player from above commits Body, he can’t deal damage that round. If some need for damage comes up, another player would have to jump in.


April 11, 2010 - Leave a Response

A little plug (and Google boost) for my upcoming business, +1 Gaming. I’m hoping to open in the summer. The big hurdle right now is financing. Cross your fingers, and if you want updates just email plus1gaming [at] gmail [dot] com.

Heroes of Skyjack: The Innocent

September 14, 2009 - Leave a Response

This series focuses on Pearson’s twelve heroic archetypes, and what they’d look like in the world of Skyjack. The point is to both crystalize character creation and action, as well as flesh out details of the setting.

The Innocent, fearing abandonment, seeks safety.

Their greatest strength is the trust and optimism that endears them to others and so gain help and support on their quest.

Their main danger is that they may be blind to their obvious weaknesses or perhaps deny them. They can also become dependent on others to fulfil their heroic tasks.

From ChangingMinds.org

The Innocent Hero is a staple of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies. It’s also a classic fantasy hero type. In the world of Skyjack, the Innocent most likely enters the heroic skies unintentionally; they are swept up by larger conflicts. They may also serve heroic NPCs who lose contact. Lastly, the Innocent Hero might voluntarily leave safety or be forced to go (perhaps as a coming-of-age custom).

The journey of the Innocent begins from a safe home which reflects their innocence. The key is that the Innocent Hero is not personally responsible for their safety. Also, the nature of their safety is largely paternal and nurturing, permitting them not to face their own weaknesses.


The Innocent Hero’s key abilities are forthrightness and endearment. Innocents’ make strong diplomats. Their nurtured background also often permits them to care for others. Innocent Heroes may regularly take abilities that dissuade others from harming them or their allies, or those which grant “buffing” or healing abilities.

Homeland: Attua

Attua was a steep-cliffed cluster of islands off the beaten path between two major land masses. During more warlike times, a heavily-armed warband sought to take control of the political center of the world. A colony was founded as a waystation for war fleets. Eventually the war ended, but the colony remained.

Now, several generations later, the people of Attua have carved out a livelihood. The flatlands above the cliffs are farmed, including stepped plateaus down some sides. Below suitable farmland, mining operations are carried out. Small trading outposts have sprung up, so Attua trades minerals and crafts for tools and technology.

There’s no major political structure; the islands are little more than a handful of villages, and most people are related somehow. Elders decide important matters, but otherwise people simply keep up their land and families.

Heroes from Attua

Some youth hear stories from traders or other passing ships about the larger world and sign up, not knowing what really awaits them. On rare occasion, a pirate gang will take slaves or indentured servants. As the skies heat up, battles may break out, and an Attuan farm could become collateral damage. The land’s history also opens the possibility for caches of weapons, technology or other secrets. And it’s only a matter of time before a larger nation takes note of the rich mining that’s kept the Attuans in good trade.

What’s a Player Character to Do?

September 13, 2009 - Leave a Response

My original conception of Skyjack was centered around what would be fun to do. My short answer was electropunk aerial swashbuckling. This has been evolving for some time, but I want to turn back to the root and talk about characters. If you played in this setting, what could you be? What could you do? What role could you fill in a party?

The “traditional” party for this setting is the crew of an air courier ship. The players might be a private enterprise, air pirates, part of a larger business or a government team. Regardless of origins or motives, a ship’s crew has a few common roles.

Captain: The captain calls the shots, organizes the crew, grants bonuses and deals with officials. Captains have to be skilled fighters, able to fly a ship, negotiate a deal and most of all have strong leadership skills.

Mechanic: In a world of scavenged technology, few people are as vital as a mechanic. The mechanic keeps the ship together and makes repairs to the hull and frame. Mechanics can’t deal with core components like the generator or engine, but they’re handy with a wrench and duct tape. Mechanics are usually tough figures on their own, and probably handy brawlers.

Sage (name tentative): Sages know high technology. They do what mechanics can’t – keep the power supply running, fuel use processing and engines firing. Sages always try to improve their education through books, lore and teachers, as well as collecting high technology. They’re mostly academics, but often have a small assortment of powerful gadgets. Sages might be institutionally trained or a grassroots freelancer.

Toughs: In the dangerous skies of Skyjack, every ship needs at least one guard. They’re as often friendly with the captain or other major crew as they are mercenaries. Toughs might be burly heavy weapons experts, or refined academy-trained swordsmen. They often double as a cargo hand.

Salesman: Any private enterprise needs someone to make deals, negotiate prices and find work. Salesmen are internationals, familiar with the major ports and dealers. They also know local laws and pirate codes. They’re usually dangerous sorts all their own with a pistol tucked in every cuff. Some might be clean-cut professionals while others are rough traders.

Pilot: Every ship needs a sky jockey. If anything, pilots are ballsy. They come in every shape and attitude, from cool efficiency to wild recklessness. Most pilots also know a thing or two about mechanics, and might have a military or pirate background.

Spiritist: The fuel source in Skyjack has pseudo-spiritual properties, and plenty of spiritualists abound. Sages usually find spiritual use of fuel a waste of resources, but many shrewd captains find their presence valuable. Spiritists might have sway over natural phenomena, healing powers, or other supernatural skills derived from the setting’s fuel. They’re usually esoteric and down-right strange, but each is different. One might be a monastic disciple while another is an animistic hedge wizard.

That’s it for now. The list can always use expanding.


September 7, 2009 - Leave a Response

In researching piracy I ran across non-state actors, a concept in international diplomacy theory. It led me to a concept for nations or people-groups within my air-pirates game. Basically, I just combined two of the four possible international actors. Here’s the list:

  • Corporate State (multi-national corporation & nation-state)
  • Social State (civic society & nation-state)
  • Pirate Empire (non-state actors & nation-state)
  • Merchant Society (multi-national corporation & civic society)
  • Pirate Utopia (multi-national corporation & non-state actors)
  • Rural Villages (civic society & non-state actors)

That’s the first draft, so it probably needs tinkering. The thematic goals of the setting are evolving into one of addressing social order, civic society, and the various forces which arise around those issues. In smaller terms, it’s about finding your place in the world. I think that will drive most PC design elements.


July 14, 2009 - Leave a Response

I had in mind a few basic “classes” for characters, which wouldn’t be formalized mechanically outside the setting content. I wanted clear roles to aid players with diverse, personally satisfying character options.

A few were easy. The game revolves around the ensemble crew of an airship, which would engage in business & transport, dogfights and boarding as primary challenges. It needs a pilot, probably a tough, a swashbuckler, a face, and a mechanic.

But I was missing the sage, the collector of knowledge. Pirates don’t need to know much in the way of philosophy and capital-T Truth.

I came across a blogger’s Google site which inspired me. Most creation myths involve a trickster who grants humanity some “gods-only” treasure, but demands payment. (I don’t actually subscribe to all of this fellow’s writings, but it’s a fun starting point for a story.) He argues this treasure is power – or energy – which originally comes from the sun free of charge to everyone. But some people tricked folks into paying them for fire, creating artificial scarcity in exchange for the promise of safety and security.

So what if these Truth-seekers are like that? Perhaps on the one hand there is an institutionalized cabal of sages who clearly have all the proverbial goods, but consider themselves guards against their treasure falling into the wrong hands. On the other hand, there may be vagabond scholars who give the stuff away to anyone, share and share alike.

If we tie this Truth-seeking to energy, it becomes the secrets of our MacGuffin power source. So the sages hold the secrets to unlocking godlike power. The institution protects it via stinginess, evaluating and judging people’s worthiness and motives, so only the “righteous” inherit.

This may be a root cause to the pirate economy of the world, that the “unworthy” are essentially barred access to prosperity. So they take to rebellion and stealing. The institutional sages consolidate control ever tighter in defense, while some break away to give freely to all.

Perhaps it takes some particular skills or refinement process, so not anyone can harness this power. Perhaps there’s something more magical about the whole thing. We’ll see what turns up.

Power Source

June 11, 2009 - Leave a Response

I’m working on a roleplaying game of swashbuckling ‘lectropunk air pirates.

On my mind right now is some logistics, specifically: how does stuff fly? Flight needs to have a fantastic bend to it, more than just WWII dogfighters and such. I decided I wanted to work with a Biefeld–Brown effect, where sufficient eletromagnetic forces lifted airships. Sure, the BB effect is a total sham, but this is pulp adventure!

Fuel sources can color the vibe of the technology tremendously, so where does all the juice come from?

I went back to basics. The setting is about free-wheeling swashbuckling adventure in the skies. It’s about freedom, excitement, unpredictibility… the technological fuel needed to mirror the motivational fuel. I’d sum it up as spirit.

Permit me to wax biblical. The word “spirit” in Hebrew means both soul or ghost, as well as breath or wind. In the New Testament, the Spirit of God set people on fire, granted supernatural gifts, and connected people directly to God – no more priests intermediating for the Christians.

So the fuel here needs to be sort of spiritual as well, I think. It needs to be wild, unpredictable – as likely to burn you as bless you. Maybe it should come from the sky? I also like the idea of mining ore.

I may settle on a radioactive meteorite(s) scenario, buried into the world. Perhaps meteorites still fall occasionally. Maybe it’s a beautiful thing – they might not even be hard rocks, but like drops of water in zero-gravity. Something that defies reason. Instead of being rock, it might pool underground or make cavernous rivers.

Yeah, let’s go with glowing, zero-gravity space water.

Why ’28 Days Later’ Was Better

January 5, 2009 - Leave a Response

28 Days Later rocked my socks. I was in search of a decent zombie flick, and found a surprising tale of what’s good about humanity – with an uncommon (for a zombie movie) amount of quiet time. When several people told me 28 Weeks Later was even better, you can imagine my reaction. A few minutes on Netflix and a few days later, I’m up an hour or two late trying to put my finger on exactly why Weeks was such a disappointment.

(Spoilers, by the way.)

In 28 Days Later we follow a disoriented and bewildered Jim blundering through zombie apocalypse Britain. (I know, I know – infected, not zombies; I don’t care.) It’s a microcosm of growing from childhood to adulthood, complete with what 28 Days implicitly asserts is the most important element: family and friends. Once he’s a proverbial adult, the makeshift family finds their army base destination.

For me, the first two acts were all foundational – demonstrating what is good and decent about people, specifically our capacity for relationship, mutual care and love. The protagonists make each other better. The third act, the army base, is the exact opposite – the terrible depths people can sink to, and the brutality with which we can treat each other. The soldiers operate on pecking order, individualism and craven satistfaction. They abuse their fellows to serve their own desires.

The beauty comes when Jim is taken off to be shot, escapes, and essentially takes on the guise of a zombie. He becomes a brutal killer, operating frequently on as much rage as the zombies. He transcends his situation by focusing purely on the welfare and rescue of his pseudo-family. Meanwhile, the soldiers – with all the appearances of civilization – are the true monsters.

The contrast of Jim’s zombie-esque rampage against the soldiers’ civilized defense is striking, and beautifully elevates the supremacy of that fundamental goodness of people. Jim’s care for others is the only thing retaining his status as protagonist. By stripping off every other recognizable human trait – and further by giving these traits to the soldiers but leaving out that crucial goodness – we see this compassion fully uncovered.

28 Weeks Later had none of this. It was a trip to get the MacGuffin from A to B. To make it worse, every character who shows the maturity of compassion Jim showed in Days gets killed, usually right around when you really start to like them. The focus stays on the children, who are frankly too immature to really grow attached to. 28 Days Later suffered a similar problem with its child character, who was usually too wooden to empathize with (granted, most of this was due to valium).

The point of a zombie movie is not action or horror or survival, it is to demonstrate what exactly is worthwhile about humanity in the face of the most inhuman environment possible. 28 Days Later excels at this. From the making-of documentary, I suspect it was by accident.