Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Monitors: cornerstones 3

Not being sure where to go next with Monitors, I'm going to do a bit more looking at the "cornerstones" I brought up earlier. I've previously discussed being a lizard (and gone into some detail about possible body temperature mechanics), and archetypes that I'd like to try and support.

I think the next thing up for consideration is being part of an intergalactic organisation. This is going to involve a bit of actual worldbuilding, which is typically something I enjoy, but rarely has to support the weight of an entire game system. Fingers crossed.

I think what I need here is to outline some basic principles of how the Monitors work, while trying to leave space for other interpretations. It's not like I'm working with licensed property here and trying to meticulously recreate the experience of the Monitors film franchise. I know I'm only making this thing for a bit of fun, but nevertheless I feel like tying anything mechanical too firmly to a very specific setting is probably not the best idea, because it limits what people can do with it. Franchise games are typically adaptations of existing products tailored to that game, which seems relevant. Basically, allowing flexibility with the basic parameters is good, so I don't want potential games to be irrevocably tied to particular NPCs, worlds or even playstyles.

Before I get onto the Monitor Network, I'm going to have to think a bit about the universe it's set in. Cue copy-pasting.

The Universe

In a vast universe of squabbling galaxies, trouble can erupt at any moment: calamities, rebellions, coups, trade disputes, accidental hyperevolution, accidental necromancy, dimensional fluxes, awakening the sleeping armies of the lost Ghkrat, dreams becoming real, enthusiastic postgraduate researchers carelessly building an unstoppable army of invincible robot armchairs – the possibilities are endless. No conventional task force can be assembled in time.

In this unimaginably distant future, heroic teams of spacefaring reptiles maintain the tenuous peace between squabbling mammalian empires. No drifting wreck is too sinister, no jungle world too unexplored, no asteroid belt too pirate-infested for these fearless trouble-shooters. With modern technology and ancient wizardry, they preserve the fragile web of intergalactic civilisation. Only their hardy poikilothermic bodies can survive nanotech implants, arcane infusions and the harshness of intergalactic deepjumps. They are the Monitors.

Our intrepid bands of anthropomorphic armoured cyborg warlock lizards will confront a wide range of troubles, many of them violent. They may have to battle anything from a million-strong sea of rock-grubs, through entire ships full of parasite-possessed parrotfolk, down to a gang of vicious pirate jellyfish or a single giant robot.

This tells me a few things right off the bat.

This is a wide universe, with many galaxies and many inhabited systems among them, populated with a whole swathe of species and cultures. There is plenty of room for whatever oddity I want to incorporate, plenty of distance to put between things, and plenty of excuse for massive differences between locations. While rapid travel does exist, the Monitors are amongst the few creatures with both the technology and the physiology to handle full-blown intergalactic transit, which means minimal worrying about technological transmission, communication and so on. Planet-hopping is entirely feasible, space-piracy a cause for concern. There are many political powers in the universe, and they frequently clash.

Reality is fantastical, and not entirely serious. Science is both commonplace and a constant source of wonder and danger. Mad scientists and bungling boffins are as much a concern as natural disasters or outright war. Bionics, nanotech and reliable high-speed wireless networking are all available. Experiments are regular, and no more tightly regulated than is entertaining. At the same time, the universe is ancient and mystical. Powerful ancient magic gives the Monitors an edge, at least against things that don't also have powerful ancient magic. Long-buried civilisations have left ruins, secrets and relics scattered throughout the galaxies, and are both a source of marvel and a lurking threat to wanderers and explorers. Alternate dimensions, dreamworlds, necromancers, runes, glowy magic swords, hypnotism, temporary transmutation, love potions and that sort of thing are perfectly reasonable elements for a Monitors game. Because knowledge is both immense and partial, very little of this needs detailed in-game explanations as long as it's self-consistent and doesn't wildly contradict the rest of the game.

More about the Universe

Monitors takes place in a universe of amazing technology, where myriad species have spread sprawling empires across countless galaxies. Pre-galactic history is largely forgotten, the origins of most spacefaring races a matter of guesswork and myth. While many planets are peaceful places, in a boundless universe there is always someone looking for trouble, from ambitious politicians to criminal geniuses and the simply insane. When sabre-rattling and piracy aren't in the offing, then an ion storm, wandering black hole or long-buried piece of technology is sure to burst onto the scene.

While interstellar travel is relatively simple, intergalactic travel is difficult, expensive and dangerous. Deepships can be fast, safe or not cripplingly extortionate, but not all three. The more resilient the travellers, the cheaper the ship can be. Reptiles' flexible metabolisms make them perfect for space travel: they can handle significant temperature swings, so insulation and life support can be far less sophisticated than other species require. For long journeys, they can be dopped into torpor, needing minimal food or oxygen, but avoiding the technical risks of cryogenics. When emergency strikes, they can survive long periods in escape pods with minimal injury. Reptiles, and other poikilotherms, are therefore the perfect first response teams, able to reach a danger zone at incredible speed, long before less hardy creatures can arrive.

As with any group of allies, rivals and outright enemies, there's need for neutral and more-or-less trusted parties to keep matters civil, investigate problems and intergalactic crimes, keep tabs on remote or extra-territorial sites, and deal with anything that's too bizarre, too much or too sensitive for the local agencies, or simply so vague and improbable that they don't want to know. These are the job of the Monitors, a spacewide network of researchers, emergency stores and special agents. They may not be universally liked, but when push comes to shove even the most paranoid government knows they can be relied on.

The Monitor Network

The Monitor network (which you can, if you like, think of as some improbable acronym) is well-established and widely dispersed. It's hierarchical, but loosely so: while efficiency and communication are crucial to running an organisation like this, the last thing they want is blind conformity. Galactic headquarters assign missions and run teams, but given the weirdness they often deal with, the reins are light and the mission parameters broad. In some sparsely-populated sectors, local brigades are more or less their own bosses.

The popular image of the Monitors is a hulking, armoured reptile battling crazed robots, or a trenchcoated reptile taking over investigations with an array of gadgets. In truth, not all members of the Monitors are reptiles, or even poikilotherms, but certainly the majority of field agents are, due to the rigours of constant space travel. However, they have agents of all species on many worlds, and research centres and bureaux care only for talent. Their missions are far more varied than the stereotypes would imply: tracking down driftships, exploring uncharted territory, investigating ruins and artefacts, and trying to cope with natural, magical and technological disasters. Some teams specialise in disaster relief, others in anti-piracy patrols.


Monitor candidates come from a wide variety of backgrounds, but most are reptiles, amphibians, or other poikilothermic species. They undergo rigorous psychological testing and background checks to make sure only trustworthy, reliable individuals with no hidden motives are recruited, both to preserve their reputation and to maintain the network's operational integrity. Political impartiality is crucial, and while the network doesn't care much about its agents' views, they must not be compromised by competing loyalties.

Training for field agents is tough and wide-ranging. Monitors are expected to have a broad scientific education, basic mechanical and computing skills, to pilot vehicles of all kinds, perform first aid and field medicine, make initial surveys of unexplored planets, negotiate with locals and avoid bureaucratic disasters. They need to survive unaided in the wilderness, handle a blaster and a spear with equal competence, scale mountains and ford raging rivers. They learn to decipher ancient runes, break or reinforce wards, wield spells and bind supernatural entities. Those who pass through basic training are, if not necessarily the best of the best, certainly never amongst the worst. No matter what challenge may arise, they can at least make a creditable attempt to handle it. Even a single Monitor is a force to be reckoned with.


While the Monitors are a fairly standardised intergalactic organisation, the setting ought to allow plenty of room for varying amounts of shininess, resources, local acceptance, status, initiative and general tone or genre. Assume that some regions tend to be underfunded, slightly shambolically managed and understaffed, with frontier-type attitudes or run-down planets who don’t have much time for the League, so Monitors have to make do, mend and improvise, as well as doing more sandboxing in terms of patrolling, exploring and so on. Other regions are well-funded and established, with populations very much bought into the intergalactic civilisation business and eager to support their protectors, nice shiny spaceships, and good communications. Some teams may end up in the field for long periods, and have to resort to funding themselves and scavenging gear.

Things like the usedness of future can be up for negotiation - tech can be as shiny or as cobbled together as you like, though my basic assumption is that this is an optimistic tech-ridden society and things will be pretty darned shiny. Also, it helps reinforce the division between shiny new technology and sinister ancient magic.

To some extent, this could be extended to further vary the tone with optional rule tweaks; for example, you could vary things between Turtles, Dan Dare and Firefly by allowing some varying amount of deadliness or injury into the game.

The approach to bureaucracy is also likely to vary. Some teams may be confronted with Byzantine complexity when dealing with HQ, as well as in dealings with other organisations, and their commanders expect everything in triplicate with hard evidence of what happened. Other regions may take a hardline bolshie approach, making only a token effort at record-keeping and only caring that the job gets done; these are also likely to be laxer with regulations, so suit players who want to rough up the occasional witness, or nick the odd tank. Most are probably pragmatically in between.

Modelling Monitors

So, how do we go about making it feel as though you're part of a universe-spanning organisation of special agents responsible for keeping civilisation ticking along from day to day? Quick brainstorm follows.


This idea seems to work well in Deathwatch, which is another very organisational and mission-based game. Start off most missions with some kind of briefing that formally lays out parameters for them, even if these are vague. Have characters report to their superiors at the end of missions (or when a point in more open-ended adventuring seems appropriate). This might be tied into advancement, if there's advancement. Perhaps there's a one-mission temporary bonus based on what happened in the last mission.

The formal assignment of missions seems like a very sensible way to give an impression of being part of a greater whole. Now there are of course some consequences to this choice: on the one hand it gives players a relatively clear indication of what sort of thing they should be doing, and how success can be measured; on the other it ties the players down to the intended mission to at least some extent. That's a sort of philosophical issue where I think different people will have different opinions, but as long as nobody insists on absolute sandboxing at all times, and the GM is relatively sensible, it doesn't inevitably produce railroading. Arthur runs very successful Deathwatch games. A lot of it will come down to the tightness of mission parameters, which can easily vary from "Go and check why the relay station on Archis VIII isn't responding to signals" to minute-by-minute instructions that leave very little room for manoeuvre.

Hierarchies and bureaucracy

If you're part of a massive organisation, there are hierarchies and departmentalisation at play. These don't necessarily have to be linear, and for Monitors a lot of them won't be; you'd be looking at talking to another department, typically a more specialised one like Archives, Arcane Services, Cybernetics, Legal or whoever else has the resources and expertise you need. However, there's also some actual structural hierarchy in place, with senior officers assigning missions and expecting results. This gives a bit of structure to the characters' actions, and makes them answerable to the organisation. It may also help to guide the way they handle problems and deal with situations (hopefully in a "providing useful structure" way rather than a constricting way). To help reinforce this part of the setting, we need to explicitly allow the characters to call on the resources of their organisation, while hopefully not leading them to just sit around and wait for the cavalry.

Dealing with bureaucracy is a constant thorn in the side. I suspect this is something where we want to try and give an impression of bureaucracy, without subjecting the players to much of it. Also, the appropriate levels will vary somewhat with how people want to play the game - is it a constant battle against paperwork, or does their ability to ride roughshod over the bureaucracy mark out the PCs? However, this may come more to the fore when dealing with other organisations, like local governments. While individuals are often pretty free to do as they please, the PCs will have to present credentials, work with agreed parameters, avoid treading on toes unnecessarily, and uphold the good name of the Monitors. This means it's harder to break laws (unnecessarily), be careless with suspects' rights, and escape the consequences of actions, because they can't simply hop on a shuttle and assume a new identity when they're answerable to their bosses. Opponents may use this to their advantage, tying up the Monitors in red tape, especially if the bureaucrats themselves are compromised. On the other hand, Monitors with a good grasp of the regulations can use this to gain an advantage.

The power structure also offers a couple of interesting options. One is sanction of PCs who compromise their missions, whether as straight-out rebukes, or redeployment to less interesting duties. This is a potentially useful tool for stirring up the plot, and of course it can be used as part of a scheme by the hierarchy to get Monitors where they need to be under the guise of punishment. It also allows for anyone interested to work their way up into the network, and take on duties other than straight fieldwork.

Bureaucracy is also likely to lead to standardisation: standard equipment for particular mission types, standard operating protocols, and so on. That doesn't mean things can't vary in the game, but it does help add a bit of structure, and means PCs should have some idea how to act in most situations.

Organisational attitudes

Another important aspect of being part of an organisation is that it brings along attitudes and opinions, in both directions. A large organisation tends to have an official corporate view of many other groups (and individuals), as well as its members' internal and unofficial views, which may not match. In some cases the organisation itself has two views: a public relations view and a private view, which shapes its members' actions. For example, the Monitors may publicly recognise the Pseudonis Corporation as a perfectly legal corporation with an excellent charitable record, while internal policies forbid any cooperation with the group on the grounds that they know damn well Pseudonis are a bunch of thugs up to their elbows in slavery and possible sedition.

Similarly, and perhaps more importantly, being a Monitor will shape people's reactions to the PCs. Some will admire the PCs and want to help them out of hero-worship, or because they view them as noble and selfless. Some will be eager to help the Monitor network because they're law-abiding citizens keen to do their duty and keep the universe safe. Some want an easy life and won't fuss one way or the other. Some may have a deep distrust of the Monitors specifically, or of external authorities in general, or of any uniformed services. Some may have no problem with badged and known Monitors, but object to any kind of subterfuge. Some resent outside intrusion into their culture, politics or business affairs, without any specific objection to Monitors, and may get on perfectly well with Monitors in a personal capacity. Some may be criminals, corrupt or otherwise have good reason to fear the Monitors, while others may be oppressed and fear authority figures. In some cases, past failures or mistakes will give people distrust of the organisation; in others, past achievements will open doors and hearts.

This is really a matter of scenario design and general GMing. I suppose I could build in some kind of relations system, but honestly any mechanics can be handled perfectly well by adjusting the difficulty of any tasks. I don't see much need for crunch here, or anything that I could actually do, barring some kind of big table of organisations and their views. Yeah, that sounds like a riot.

In terms of play, I'd expect this to be an influence on whether and when PCs choose to reveal their affiliation, versus keeping it quiet, versus actively concealing it.


Belonging to a large organisation is a double-edged sword: it brings the promise of support and resources, and the likelihood that they won't be easy to obtain. A large organisation with a role in galactic politics may well be better-supplied than a small one, but it's all the more likely that formalities, legal restrictions or political burdens will restrict its ability to use those resources. There's also the important consideration that at any time, many Monitor teams are calling for support, and resources must be directed where they seem most crucial. As such, there's scope to play this at either end of the spectrum.

The Monitor network is well-placed to offer certain resources. Training is perhaps the most obvious, and the least problematic for a GM. If the PCs need to acquire some particular skill, they can be summoned for training, or sent a manual, or however else you want to deliver the information. This can also help with any levelling mechanism that we end up with, as experienced Monitors can reasonably be more skillful that novices because they've not only handled more missions, but also undergone more training and learned specialist techniques that even experienced civilians may not know. And of course the bionics and magical training don't hurt.

Gen is another handy possibility, and field agents contacting headquarters for files on NPCs, organisations or regions are staples of the genre. They can be introduced to moles in suspect organisation (who may or may not be moles), or even alerted to worrying developments - "We've just detected fifteen speeders approaching your location", or "someone's tried to hack into the records of your cover identity" and all that jazz.

Similarly, going undercover is likely to come with support from HQ, with false IDs or disguises issued to help them. Of course, there's plenty of scope for on-the-fly impersonation too.

Central control of resources is a handy option for differences between different missions. Last time you had a tank and fifteen servobots, but they got reassigned after the dimensional intrusion in the next system, so you're on your own. On the plus side, they can also explain why PCs pick up new gear: try this experimental laser watch! In general, the PCs shouldn't have to worry about things like maintenance, ammo and everyday supplies unless they're under deep cover or off on an expedition. Daily expenditure is not really an issue, though personal cash and luxuries are a different story. In some ways this might help, because PCs can have small amounts of personal cash and use it for luxuries, without much impact on their mechanical resources.

A combination of these ideas and the general tone of the game should (I hope) also discourage the looting that tends to crop up in RPGs, and the wildly improbable economics that are usually needed to alleviate it. There's no point taking a load of laser pistols, because you get equipment from HQ. Selling them is a problem because looting for profit is against regs, and you don't need the money for gear because again, you get gear from HQ. If you upgrade to a better bionic arm, you can't sell the old one, because it belongs to the Monitors and they're issuing it to someone else. You can't get a Class IV thaumocannon as a novice character, not because of your personal finances, but because there's no way HQ are issuing you one (because of their finances, if nothing else).

Final thoughts

Obviously there's quite a bit more work needed here on the actual organisation, fleshing out things like what the Monitor network is actually like in structure and approach, as well as its political position. Which means more work on the universe so I can tell how it slots in. But this is a really long post already.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Monitors: some like it hot 2

Dan's Dicepool Tracker

In a comment on my last post, Dan made this suggestion:

I think I'd lean towards a combination of the small pool tracker and the ultra simplified system at the end.

I'd define any environment as either Cold, Very Cold, Hot or Very Hot, and I'd have you lose HPs in Cold/Very Cold environments and gain them min Hot/Very Hot environments.

I'd also be inclined to keep a simple version of the Tracker system, but make it symmetrical (1-2 Very Cold, 3-4 Cold 5-6 Average 7-8 Optimal 9-10 too hot). I might also be inclined to use some kind of dice pool mechanic - like you roll a number of dice equal to the difference between your temperature and ambient, and you gain/lose a point of Heat for every 6 or something.

Well, let's take a look.

  • Reptiles have a capacity of 1-10 Heat Points.
  • Environments vary as Cold, Cool, Moderate, Warm and Hot. These are defined in relation to reptile body temperatures, and their effects on other species would have to be determined later. Each range equates to 2 Heat Points.
  • Freezing and Scorching environments represent intolerable cold and heat exceeding the scale.
  • Insulation has a rating representing a d10 score, arbitarily 5-10 for now.
  • At as-yet-undetermined intervals, you roll a number of dice equal to the difference between your temperature and ambient. For each die, if you roll equal to or under your insulation score nothing happens. If you exceed your insulation score then a point of heat is transferred.
  • If Heat Points are exhausted, the reptile becomes torpid.
  • If Heat Points would exceed 10, the reptile falls unconscious.
  • Specific heat sources and targeted basking modify the ambient temperature. Same for chiller cabinets and seeking shade.
  • There are specific bonuses and penalties for different body temperatures.

Tangent: shifting ranks

I have this idea of avoiding variable numerical bonuses and penalties, and instead shifting things in ranks. For example:

Xerxes is trying to pick the lock of a door. He's okay at lockpicking, but nothing special. He has plenty of time, a helpful electropick and is nice and warm. On the other hand, it's dark here and he's trying hard not to make any noise.

The D20 way to model this might be something like: +2 for electropick, +3 warmth bonus, -4 for poor light, roll an additional Stealth check. Perhaps the Stealth check would be replaced by noise as a consequence of failing the roll, or perhaps the GM would apply a -2 penalty for the care required to avoid noise. Maybe Xerxes could take 20 on the roll because of the plentiful time, but has to roll a Stealth check to see if he makes noise in the process. In Traveller, you might decrease the difficulty by extending the timeframe beforehand.

Basically the idea is that rather than having a series of different numbers to add and subtract, you just tot up bonuses versus penalties. So Xerxes would have two bonuses, plus a third for spending a heat point, and then two penalties, which means the difficulty is shifted down one rank overall, making it a Simple task which has some arbitrary overall modifier.

In the table below, for example, the numbers for skill/speed are not hard modifiers but a number of ranks. More on this in a more relevant post.

So here's a handy crib table with pretty colours (you can tell I'm proud of that).


Heat points Description Actions Skills/Speed Metabolism
0 Torpid N/A N/A No metabolism
1 Cold Major only -2 Slowed
3 Chilly Major + Minor -1 -
5 Moderate Major + Minor - -
7 Warm Major + 2 Minor +1 Increased
9 Hot Major + Minor - -
++ Heat Shocked N/A N/A Unconscious


Okay, time for some maths!


Average rolls equal or higher
Die number value
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
1 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1
2 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2
3 0.3 0.6 0.9 1.2 1.5 1.8 2.1 2.4 2.7 3
4 0.4 0.8 1.2 1.6 2 2.4 2.8 3.2 3.6 4
5 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5


Doc Edna has basic Insulation 5 clothing, and manages to escape from the meat safe just in time - to find the building on fire. With a single Heat Point, she's Cold, while the building is Scorching.

  1. In the first interval, this gives a difference of 5 ranks, so she rolls 5d10. On average she will roll 2.5 over her insulation value, and gain 2.5 Heat Points, increasing to Chilly.
  2. In the second interval, it's 4 ranks difference, and 4d10. On average she'll gain 2 more Heat Points and become Moderate.
  3. In the third interval, it's 3 ranks and 3d10. She should roll another 1.5 Heat Points. At this stage she's gained 6 HPs and is now at a healthy 7, able to act with peak efficiency.
  4. At this point, it should take her two more intervals to reach 9 HPs and start overheating.
  5. Finally, she has four more intervals before she hits the limit, exceeds it and succumbs to heat shock.

This suggests an average of 7 intervals to move from Moderate to heat shock (or torpor - it's the same maths either way, of course). Honestly, that seems suitably generous to me even if it's once per turn. This is also with the lowest type of insulation, and with top-quality 9 Insulation clothes you could survive 37 turns in a furnace even if you start moderately warm. The maths may want some work, depending what kind of timescale I want, but I think the principle's fairly sound.

Something very nice about this is the way that the dice pool handles the probability effects of temperature differentials without feeling too clunky and mathematical. Of course, it also introduces an element of randomness that might be problematic at times; a bad set of rolls could shift you two or even three ranks in a single turn. However, I could work around that with some safety measures (a maximum HP change of 3 per turn, for example, would avoid too much bad luck).

Also worth bearing in mind is that only a small proportion of environments will be dangerously hot or cold; most will be Cold to Hot even when outside, so Monitors may find themselves struggling at times, but they're only occasionally risking collapse. So mostly you're working with differing levels of efficiency, nothing more. That being the case, I'm inclined to think that much lower numbers for insulation (1 for barely-clad, 3 for ordinary clothing, for example) would be perfectly acceptable. It really just depends on the timescales, as I said.

I think this system is probably streamlined enough to be worth trying. The metabolism aspects would only come in when drugs, poisons and healing are involved. Actions might not come in at all, depending how I end up doing that. Really, it's mostly about modifiers to skills and speed.


Die Tap

The complicated tap model I mentioned last time is a damp squib, but I have another one.

The die tap is a fairly simple halfway house between a spendable pool, tapping and Dan's idea.

  1. Environments are rated 0 (Freezing) to 6 (Scorching), while you can have 1-5 Heat Points and remain conscious.
  2. You can tap heat points from your hand to make tasks easier (changing the difficulty rank by one) either before or after attempting it (again, fun game, not hardcore)
  3. You can tap heat points outside your own turn, such as when reacting to an event, but they remain tapped until the end of your next turn.
  4. When your turn ends, untap the points and roll a die:
    1. if you roll over your insulation value, and the ambient temperature exceeds your hand, add a heat point to your hand
    2. if you roll over your insulation value, and your hand exceeds the ambient temperature, remove a heat point from your hand
  5. Specific sources of heat or cold may modify your hand out of turn.
  6. Specific events (such as special attacks) may modify your hand out of turn.

This system doesn't directly give penalties or bonuses based on body temperature. However, at higher body temperatures you'll have more points to modify your rolls, making you more effective. It has more of a brinksmanship element than other models, because having 5 Heat Points is optimal, and only occasionally a risky strategy - though if it does go wrong, it goes badly wrong.

Like most models, this does not immediately help with controlling general metabolism. However, the size of the body pool could modify metabolic effects if I do worry about that. The main strengths of this model, in general, are simplicity and turning body temperature into an active, choice-based mechanic. It also gives some hard predictability by limiting heat change to 1 per turn, barring things like a heat ray attack.

A disadvantage is that heat- and cold-based attacks could be very powerful in this system, and would need to be carefully... monitored, I suppose...


Flip Tap

A more complex version of the die tap. This is a loose version of that model I mentioned that didn't work. Dan's suggestion of using dice for insulation has really been helpful (although I haven't yet succumbed completely to the lure of the dicepool) - which you can probably tell from the fact that all three of these models use it.

  1. Environments are rated 0 (Freezing) to 6 (Scorching), while you can have 1-5 Heat Points and remain conscious.
  2. The flip tap uses points counters that might as well be actual pennies. One side indicates a Heat Point, the other indicates its absence (Cold Point, if you like).
  3. Hot points go in your hand; tapped points of either kind are kept together in your tap pool; and cold points are effectively in a discard pile of no use to anyone
  4. When your turn begins, if the environment is warmer than your hand, add cold points equal to the difference to the tap pool.
  5. You can tap heat points from your hand to make tasks easier (changing the difficulty rank by one) either before or after attempting it.
    • if the environment is colder than your hand, you must tap hot points equal to the difference this turn, whether you use them or not.
  6. When your turn ends:
    1. roll a die for each point in the tap pool, and if you roll over your insulation value, flip it
    2. return hot points to your hand and cold points to the discard pile
    3. your hand can't decrease when below the room temperature, nor increase when above it, so remember how many points you started with and adjust the end result accordingly.
  7. Events outside your turn may move points to the tap pile, such as exposure to heat or cold. In some circumstances heat points may be tapped to modify rolls outside your own turn, as when reacting to an event.

Like the die tap, this has the advantage that it lets the players actually do something with body heat, rather than just passively dealing with it (although note that all the models I've tried offer strategic choices, just not necessarily immediate tactical ones). It also makes the difference in temperature more relevant, and makes it easier for monitors to shift temperature if they want. Because points are spendable bonuses, it means colder reptiles are less effective and warmer reptiles are more effective, without any thresholds needed.

Unlike die tap, I can't really call it that simple, although I think you'd get used to it fairly quickly: it's just compare, tap when wanted, roll, untap. It still has the disadvantage that hotter is always better, and an abrupt cutoff when overheated, though that could just mean interesting gambles to take.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Playing with Traveller chargen

So I've been listening to a Traveller podcast for a while and Arthur has started a Traveller campaign (not featuring me, alas). It's always seemed like an interesting system, and I've heard particularly good things about its character creation process. Actually, rephrase that: I've heard particularly intriguing things about it, including the well-known trope that you can die during character creation.

Arthur's latest post on Traveller character creation finally spurred me into checking once more for a legal PDF (I can't justify buying any more hard copy RPGs, especially ones I'm not playing any time soon) and finally finding one. It's partly a matter of sheer curiosity, and partly also because I'm vaguely trying to write a game at the moment and any subsystem that gets rave reviews from Arthur needs serious consideration.

Obviously, I'm not actually playing a game, and I haven't yet had time to read through the book in detail, but I've skimmed it, I know a bit about the system from elsewhere, and I've tried generating a few sample characters to get a feel for things. The weakness there is that without actually playing, I don't have an accurate feel for how effective or fun any of these characters would be. However, I have noted down a few thoughts on the process itself; like Arthur, I think the first impression of a game created by trying to generate characters can be very important.

These are very much gut reactions, not hard-hitting formal analyses, and I'm sure anyone who knows more about the game could pick all kinds of holes in them (please do).

Sample Chargens

At first glance, the process is intriguing, but a bit daunting. That's partly because I had to roll up homeworlds, rather than having any in place to pick. It's also because the richness of the process also makes it quite complex, with lots of flicking back and forth between sections, tables and references to work out what things actually mean. On the other hand, glancing over the tables, it seems full of interesting possibilities.

First Character

My first character looks fun: sturdy, quick-witted, clumsy, with a background on a temperate desert world that gives her a range of survival-type skills only partly inspired by the early scenes of Star Wars. Unfortunately, things go very badly. I botch a string of rolls, failing to get into Field Research and ending up as a "Barbarian" wilderness guide, then leaving the career after a crippling accident that cuts four points off my Strength, halving it. Because I failed the survival roll, I gain no exit benefit from the career path.

Because previous 'careers' penalise your chances of entering one, I just fail another qualification roll and end up drifting again, this time grifting around starports. I manage to advance a bit in this rather dismal career, then get attacked and injured again, reducing my Strength to 2. The choice of stat was metagaming, but I decided that one very poor stat that I could work around was better than reducing my average Dex or losing my Endurance bonus. I finally manage to make an actual career in my fifth term, in Intelligence - I decided that someone with Strength 2 was never going to make it into a physically demanding field. Somehow, working as a spy improved the Endurance of someone raised on a harsh desert world who'd spent years as a wilderness guide and hanging around polluted spaceports.

Thoughts I

I know this isn't even for a real game, but getting bad rolls for your first term can be very disheartening - I tried to maintain enthusiasm and generate good background for my character regardless, but there's something about failing interviews and then being horribly maimed that tends to damped my enthusiasm. I appreciate that skills technically are more important than stats, and gaining several skills means that even losing 4 points of stat probably leaves you ahead of the game, but it doesn't quite feel that way. Also note that that's only true in your first career, where you're gaining a lot of skills free through basic training.

I was genuinely quite ticked off by how punishing that initial set of rolls was, and how brutal the chargen rules are in that situation. I couldn't get the career I wanted, halved one of my stats, and got no benefit at the end because I'd failed to survive the full term. While I appreciate this is a random set of rules that produces interesting results, it's still not necessarily fun. I suspect after a few games it'd probably be less of an issue, but as an introduction to a game it does not make a winning impression. In fairness, there are rules to ameliorate the situation, allowing you to spend money to regain lost points through surgery. It's not that obvious, though, and also requires... money.

The randomness also means that things don't entirely make sense. My hard-living desert girl, for example, gained Endurance twice in bizarre circumstances, first by living in a slum (which I could just about rationalize) and then by working as a spy, of all things.

Also, the way that benefits build up over a career means that if you end up failing your first entrance roll and become a drifter, it seems sensible to stay that way because you'll accumulate better retirement benefits if you can gain ranks. Staying with one four four terms gives you an outside chance of reaching rank three, which is typically far better than rank two, whereas in two separate careers you're incredibly unlikely to make rank three. The ranks also grant you free skills. However, that also traps you in a dead-end and quite risky career, with quite poor retirement benefits in the first place.

Finally, the penalties for previous careers don't entirely make sense to me. Wide experience is often valued in recruitment, particularly if it seems directly relevant to a new career. This felt to me like it was trapping the character in an unwanted career path. I'm also a bit disappointed by the very limited options if you fail a career roll, given that each term covers four years of life - easily time to try corporate work if you fail to qualify for science, or get into trade if you can't pass the Army exams.

This could certainly be an interesting character to play, and Strength aside she's ended up fairly competent, but I still feel like getting your stats (the starting point for your character) hacked down like that tends to estrange you from a character a bit.

Second Character

This character's homeworld is a bit odd.

I manage to get two average stats and four below average, suffering penalties for them. I leave my pathetic little homeworld on the first Army recruitment drive that passes, going into support because I have at least a chance of surviving there and not ending up back home or anywhere even worse. Much to my surprise, I manage to pass a string of survival rolls and even several promotions, leaving me with a decent and fairly competent character.

Thoughts II

The world-generation tables can throw up some very odd results because there are no conditionals: how precisely does a world have a Balkanised faction? Let alone that faction being one of four power blocs in a moderately-populated small planet.

The tables are also rather confusing in some places. For example, Tech Level has DMs based on other elements of the world, like starport. It lists things like 12 (C) with a +2 modifier to TL. However, the Starport chart also has a C entry, which is the starport's rating corresponding to a roll of 7-8. Eventually I worked out that the C-class rating is irrelevant for TL modifiers, and that numbers of 10+ on each chart are also marked with a letter because... well, actually I don't think it's explained anywhere? A forum thread somewhere suggested that this was to reduce confusion, in case anyone misread "11" as two 1s, which... is technically possible, I suppose, but in context would clearly not mean anything. Bizarre.

I have to say he doesn't feel especially compelling, somehow, but maybe that's the poor stats talking. I could certainly construct something interesting out of his background, rapid ascent and the string of bitter Rivals he picks up along the way. If this was a Call of Cthulhu character I'd be happy enough with him, but in a system with a heavier emphasis on mechanics I'd be reluctant to play someone so comprehensively hampered.

I'm also slightly unsure about a system that mixes up mechanical, plot-point and background in the way this does, but more on that later.

Third Character

This homeworld is a miniscule place with nearly zero gravity, trace atmosphere and a temperature that swings wildly from day to night. Its tiny population inhabits a buried colony ship that went off course, where they have a collective mystical government. Nevertheless, they have a brilliant starport.

I get a decent set of stats (two plus, one minus) and manage to enter a scientific career. I try to move into Scout Exploration after a couple of terms for background reasons (starry-eyed backwater kid wants to see the universe), but fail the roll and have to enter the Navy instead. I survive the term, manage to move into Exploration this time, and do pretty well for myself, leaving with a fairly interesting character all round.

Thoughts III

I find the world-traits system a bit weird, in that the quite extreme worlds I've randomly generated so far nevertheless manage not to have traits (which affect character generation). So this waterless world doesn't get the Desert trait, fractionally misses out on being High-Tech despite its really very high Tech level (and lack of any other traits), isn't Poor because... it has too little atmosphere to be poor..? and has too much atmosphere to be a vacuum. Despite its bizarreness, therefore, it has no notable traits whatsoever. It strikes me that the absence of a planetary trait for gravity is particularly odd. It seems like there should be some fall-back traits to make sure any interesting world has at least something mechanically different about it.

Being less negative for once, I ended up with what strikes me as a really interesting background (admittedly my fluff, but their random charts) which led me on to make some fun career choices. I would quite happily play this character.

The Life Events are rather annoying. They're by far the most likely result to come up when you roll to see what happened during your term of service, and frequently lack any mechanical effects, giving only background, which I'm quite happy to make up myself. Plus, random background is quite likely to be unwanted. Where they do have any effect, it's largely negative (there are, it seems to me, too many results in this process that give you crippling injuries - though I notice, none that reduce your skills, which is interesting). If I'm pursuing a career in an exciting field, I want to get interesting career-relevant events, not generic stuff that may be mundane or even inappropriate. In addition, because only some results give Life Events, they contrast badly with the mechanical effect of the more interesting results (particularly those that give bonuses).

Fourth Character

My fourth character's homeworld is a cold, toxic, low-tech place run by a xenophobic oligarchy. My character is poorly educated, but astonishingly hardy (END 12) and well-respected. I decided to be a local celebrity, some kind of athlete who'd achieved popular fame. Unfortunately, my attempt to move into high society as a sports star fell flat, presumably being a bit too nouveau riche and wide-eyed for the oligarchs. Rather than admit defeat, I accept a place in the Scouts as a survey operative (the only one not reliant on EDU), where I do so well I'm compelled to accept a promotion for another term (double six). Predictably, he's injured in a disaster, but only slightly - I metagame by dropping Strength so he's not mechanically penalised. I gain another promotion and Jack of All Trades 0, a skill which helps with using untrained skills - but not at level 0. Hmm. I manage to retire with a fair chunk of cash and an EDU boost that cancels my only penalty score. Despite his great success in the Scouts, he still can't get acceptance as an aristocrat, and ends up navigating belter ships, but he's so bitter he just makes an Enemy and gains nothing but a weapon. Abandoning grand ambitions, he hopes to make it into the police for a steady career, but fails the qualification. Thoroughly fed up, he heads off into the mountains to shoot space grizzlies, surviving only thanks to his incredible toughness.

Thoughts IV

This character has had a pretty bad run of IC luck (albeit he escaped any really serious consequences), but I think would be fun to play. He's got an interesting history, a decent range of skills and a good set of stats (in fact, above average). Job's a good'un, all told.

I don't understand the inclusion of the Jack of All Trades skill. While a very useful skill in play, it's only usable once you reach level 1 or higher, which means randomly rolling it twice in character creation - you apparently can't improve it during play. The odds of doing that are very low, especially as it only crops up in a few advancement tables. This means that gaining JOAT 0 is often just going to be a waste of a roll. Again, maybe I've missed something.

I appreciate it's unlucky that I've failed such a high proportion of my qualification rolls, but it does show what's possible. Characters do tend to end up drifting or in the armed forces - and you can only Draft once, and can't even return to that if you fail to qualify for something else.

Fifth Character

Another interesting background - a sizable desert world (four of five have been deserts) ruled by an absolute military dictatorship under crippling restriction, but idolising space travellers. My character runs into a band of daredevil smugglers and seizes the chance to escape. I take up free trading to see the stars, but after a few years of decent success a war breaks out, forcing me to flee with only the clothes on my back. Imbued with an intractable loathing for the uniformed services, and too restless to be a colonist, I move into field research and end up running a secret jump drive project, surviving a diplomatic mess and earning a promotion. Having had a relatively successful and interesting career with no crippling injuries, I muster out with 5,000 and two ship shares.

Thoughts V

I note that almost half the possible careers are in the armed forces. I'd have maybe liked to see some more civilian options, but I can appreciate that it might get tricky to differentiate them mechanically (though I notice there are a few splatbooks). If your group's willing to refluff, you can probably treat a couple of the military careers as civilian ones, particularly things like Engineering.

Overall Thoughts

As expected, this system does indeed produce a range of characters with interesting backgrounds and skill sets, give the player a certain amount of choice, but throw in random elements that adjust those choices in unpredictable ways. All of the characters are probably playable, particularly as there's rules for treating injuries and even funding that treatment through debts.

That being said, my first and fourth characters showed pretty clearly that you can end up pretty comprehensively foiled by the system, which may well be frustrating if you're invested in a particular character concept. I think you'd need to be clear from the beginning that there's no point planning anything, and you need to work with whatever comes your way. Even picking careers that would work well with your stats - or compensate for weaknesses - is a chancy endeavour. You can probably control things a little better than I did if you know the system inside and out, or are less concerned about fluff issues like whether someone with a Strength 2 would keep applying for physical jobs. As it is, I got quite into a particular idea of my first character, so when everything went pear-shaped I'd likely have just scrapped her and started again. That's a fairly big deal, as I tend to pride myself on playing whatever I roll; moreover, Traveller chargen involves building connections with other PCs through sharing your events, so it would be a pain all round.

The fact that I failed six of thirteen qualification rolls - mostly needing only a 4+ or 5+ on 2d6 - is bad luck, but also demonstrates the possibilities of a system like this.

Another thing to note is that I lost out here by not having the connections rules to bring in. These connections to other players should really help to strengthen characters (fluff- and crunch-wise, as you get bonus skills) and keep you invested in them, as well as potentially taking the edge off mishaps. So I've probably overstated the negatives here.

While I've griped about it a bit, the promotion system (and the mustering-out benefits) do produce a complicated set of choices, in that you have to decide whether it's worth risking your existing career to try and break into something new, and the longer you've been in it, the riskier it is. However, at times the mechanics of it do chip away at the realism - it's artificially better to leave after one or three promotions than after two, for example.

Hacking it

If I were ever to run this myself, I might sit down and work out some mild hedges for the more extreme, boring or ineffectual results so that people aren't going to feel cheated by bad luck. I'm also not entirely happy about the Events where you have to make a skill check to gain anything, and potentially have a horrible accident despite having passed your Survival roll.

I might also tweak the rules so you can apply for a new career while employed, and only have to leave your current one if you pass the recruitment roll. This is more realistic for one, and also means you're not going to get screwed over as much if you botch a roll. It makes shifting careers much more appealing as an option - by default it seems quite a bad idea to voluntarily leave a career, because not only does it stop you building up promotions and benefits, but also there's a high risk of being stuck in a dead-end path by failing a roll, since you can never return to a previous career (also unrealistic, but not worth tinkering with). Drifting would be a final option for the sacked, or for anyone who wants that in their background.

Another thing I'd be tempted to hack is the application process, because I find it ludicrous that you can apply for only one career in four years, and your only fall-back is petty crime or war. The world is full of people who end up stuck in call centres, restaurants and other tedious jobs that - importantly - very rarely involve getting shot at. Off the top of my head, I would either whip up a list of fall-back jobs (specific undemanding ones with low Survival requirements), or just plain allow you to keep applying until you get somewhere. As in real life, people might then start with their most tempting career option and move gradually towards less appealing ones. In the present system, it's very dangerous aiming high because you can only crash and burn - you can't simply fall short. Moreover, it seems to me like the fall-back systems will lead to more generic and less interesting characters, because it tends to draw people into a small number of careers: nobody leaves the navy and ends up busking in starport bars until they get a record contract, nobody fails their entrance exams and leaves for a new colony in an angry huff.

Mixed Rewards

As I mentioned above, I'm really quite sceptical about the way Events mix up types of "reward". There are mechanical effects on your character, which you can provide your own fluff and inter-character connections for in a way that suits you. There are plot-point outcomes, like Contacts and Rivals, which are only relevant when they can be worked into the campaign, and which aren't intrinsically more interesting than any other plot point. Finally, there are pure fluff events like "someone close to you dies" or "romantic entanglement". Now I can see why the designers thought these might be interesting, but in fact it's very easy for that sort of thing to infringe on someone's character concepts, rather than enhance them. I think it's a reasonable thing to include in a game, but I think it should be an optional table that's an addition to the mechanical rolls of character generation, not mixed in amongst them.

Fundamentally, I think my issue is that I can roll something as simple as a Steward increase and decide that I had a romantic entanglement with a passenger's valet and exerted myself to the utmost to keep them happy - whereas if I roll "romantic entanglement" I don't get to allocate myself a mechanical bonus (you can, I admit, use the Connections rule to involve another player and gain a free skill - but you can do this with any event, so a Life Event is still mechanically worse). It's very possible for one character to get a career skill, a promotion that gives another skill, a rank skill and an event bonus from their term, and another character to get a single skill and an unwanted romantic interest with no mechanical impact. The second character is objectively worse off.

Over the course of four terms, you'll naturally tend to average out, but the problem is this doesn't prevent extremes. At the far end, a character could get sixteen highly useful improvements and leave with fabulous career benefits. Or fail every qualification roll, become a Drifter, be horribly mutilated four times and lose 24 stat points, but gain four unwanted skills. Or gain level 4 in a niche utility skill and have four romantic entanglements - even if you wanted them to be asexual, now their only notable feature is a string of would-be suitors.

Power disparity between characters doesn't have to be an issue, of course, but I think it's a drawback to the system that's worth bearing in mind. However, I do think the mechanical/plot/fluff mash-up in the tables is a problem. The other issue is something Dan mentioned when constrasting the varying crunchiness of D&D editions: stifling imagination (I think his original point was that having, say, a tripping attack power, actually creates the idea that you can only trip people using this ability, and that other classes cannot do it at all). It strikes me that if you explicitly include generation of background fluff in your character generation process - and even more so if it's mixed up with mechanical attribute generation - it can both shut down options for the player to create their own fluff, and tacitly establish an idea that background is something provided by the game. In this sense, I think again that the most personal fluff (generated by Life Events) is the most problematic, because events that kick you out of a career or have you pulling off some professional coup do control your fate, but allow the player to decide how, why and what it says about the character. In contrast, "romantic entanglement" decrees that you're a character who has romantic entanglements and this one was significant to you. I suppose you could decide to ignore it entirely, but then you're not following the intended chargen process, and you wasted that term's event (and you don't get many), and unlike some other games there isn't much chance to modify characters once chargen's over.

Worra Lernd

So have I learned anything useful that I can apply to Monitors?

Firstly, this never actually came up for me, but cross-party connections as part of chargen can be quite powerful in building characters you're invested in, and creating convincing background (and reason to work together). It strikes me that the way this is incorporated here, giving targetted mechanical benefits for involving other PCs, is probably quite a good way of doing things.

I also think mixing different levels on the crunch-fluff continuum as possible outcomes is a mistake. I was going to say "unless your game is not only balance-light but quite light-hearted", but I think I want to go stronger than that and remove the disclaimer. If you have a completely ridiculous and rules-light game, then background may be far more interesting than mechanics; conversely, in most situations, mechanical results are both more relevant and less likely to impinge on player choice, while creating space for player interpretation. I think there are very few situations in which both are equally strong, and character generation of all things is not one of them. This is, after all, the time when you are trying to get invested in a character.

Life-paths with random events are clearly quite a good way of creating interesting characters, while giving the player some degree of control. Control is based on things like:

  • How much is down to player choice versus random rolls;
  • Whether choices are conditional on success rolls (or other success mechanisms);
  • The probability curves associated with random events;
  • Whether players can influence unwanted outcomes after the fact (as with the Draft);
  • Whether random outcomes offer choice, and how much

The amount of control will, I think, influence the tone of the game. A more random system is more likely to leave characters' fates to chance, which gives a merciless and turbulent tone to the game, perhaps most suited to comedy games or those where a lot of investment in characters isn't called for. A very controlled system allows players to build exactly what they want, and invest in the character (though it will privilege experienced players), but will have less potential for incorporating unexpected elements in interesting ways, and requires a character concept in the first place.

The kind of elements generated will also affect the tone, even if they differ mostly in description. If the system generates accomplishments, it imparts a bit of heroic flavour. If it generates things that befall you, it emphasises things like the chaos and unpredictability of the setting. One that generates exotic adventures that you've had, it suggests an adventurous and rather wild tone, while something that talks about shifting social relationships will make those seem more significant.

I do like the use of homeworld and career backgrounds, and I can see both of those being useful in some respect or other. I probably won't be generating detailed planets, though, so I'd probably go for more of a keywords list that players can pick suitable backgrounds from; also I might want origins to be more important than they seem to be in Traveller. But that's all something for another time.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Monitors: cornerstones 2

So once again, I'll be discussing some of the cornerstones I'm working on for the Monitors game: things that the game experience needs to be built around. I had a look at some of the biological aspects last time, and before that I've spent a while discussing general mechanics. That's all getting a little bit dense.

Instead, let's move on to more immediately exciting things: career paths! By which I mean, what kind of cyborg secret agent warlock space lizard can I be?

There's at least two major elements here that I can think of: what sort of archetype you want to be, and what sort of species you want to be.

Archetypes in Monitors

As I've mentioned before, this is supposed to be a skills-based system, so when I talk about roles I'm thinking mostly about portraying particular types of characters, not about occupying mechanically-discrete slots. The following examples are organised by very broad archetypes just because it's convenient. Ideally, there will be a fair amount of overlap between Monitors so that it makes sense for them to be handling similar missions. So what kinds of character might Monitors be expected to support? Not necessarily all in the same game, mind.

Naturally, Private Eyes are a shoe-in. Okay, Monitors aren't quite like self-employed PIs, but you can certainly have characters who specialise in investigating, interrogating, searching for clues, puzzling out problems, tracking, sneaking, and generally poking their snouts in where they're not wanted. These are your Erast Fandorins, Men from UNCLE, Dick Bartons, Del Spooners... maybe even the odd Thraxas but probably not anyone as much a lone wolf a Philip Marlowe. Monitor 'private eyes' might appear publicly as official investigators, or might adopt civilian personas to pry into suspect organisations and notable people, or simply turn up for a black-ops job and try to avoid engaging with their targets at all.

Based on this lizard photo by Moayed Bahajjaj under CC-BY-SA-2.0 licence, plus one of Bogart.

Marines are another likely contender, by which I mean tough, combat-trained, and typically armoured characters who're most at home with confrontation and overt danger. Here you might end up with characters like Marcus Fenix, Titus, B. A. Baracus, Samus Aran et al. Monitor 'marines' are likely to be a bit of a mashup with some other core skills, because they're agents rather than actual soldiers, though there's certainly fighting to be done. They'll be perfectly capable of fighting by themselves, but bear in mind we're looking for team players, not one-man armies.

It's a sci-fi game, you've got to have Engineers of some kind. The kind of lizards whose idea of a good time is being chest-deep in the guts of a scoutship, trying to persuade it to run on the local cabbage-based vodka, or reprogramming the pirates' mainframe to do nothing but play Qbert. Your Donatellos, MacGyvers, Men-At-Arms, Steels, Agatha Heterodynes, and your Flynns. They'll need lots of gadgetry to use, mechanical and electronic obstacles to deal with, and opportunities to invent, tinker, sabotage and hack their way to success. They're likely to want vehicles too.

While I'm expecting a fair bit of action, Scholars should also be a reasonable bet. While perfectly capable of handling some rumpus, their focus is on knowing things, interpreting clues, doing science, reading runes, generic wisdom and suchlike. When an astronomic anomaly shows up, or you find ancient alien ruins on your planet - when, in other words, there's something strange in your neighbourhood - you call these people. So, arguably, Lara Crofts, Indiana Joneses, Gileses, Susan Calvins, Dana Scullys, Reed Richardses, and of course, Doctors Who. This sort of thing is likely to form part of a mystery, and it's noticeable that (with the partial exception of Dr. Calvin) those are all pretty active adventurous sorts who get very hands-on with their work.

There's a whole slew of other characters that don't really fall neatly into one of those, but are generic plucky do-gooders who mix up bravery, quick wits, luck and inquisitiveness.


The closest thing to character classes will be the different species you can choose from. I’m going to leave my biologist hat to one side for this, and just look at broad distinctive characteristics and tropes, rather than getting hung up on technicalities (like “species”). Not all of these will necessarily turn up in the final game, especially the non-lizard ones. I've decided to call these "Lineages", on the grounds that they're only vaguely based on existing species (what with being bipedal magic-using technophiles) and that "Bloodlines" is far, far too Vampire.

Some possible lingeages and their associated traits:

  • Chameleon : colour-changing, tongue, gripping feet, separate eyes, UV vision
  • Geckonid : fast, climbing, night vision, tail-shedding
  • Heloderm (gila monster) : poison bite, slow and clumsy
  • Varanid (monitor lizard): large, powerful, can run for long periods (unlike most reptiles)
  • Basilisk : water-running, swim, fast
  • Chelonian (tortoises and that) : armour, slow, swim
  • Crocodilian : large, powerful, swim, secondary eyelid
  • Anuran (frogs): jump, swim, tongue, poison, water-breathing, water-dependence
  • Caudatan (salamanders): swim, tail-shedding, regeneration, water-breathing, water-dependence

I might allow some lineages (particularly geckos) to choose from nocturnal or diurnal ancestry: they either get night vision or colour vision, but not both. Notably, nocturnal species tend to have much more compact functional temperature ranges because they can't bask; I can't decide currently whether this would make things too complicated, or nicely interesting.

I originally only planned to have actual lizards, but Dan seemed very keen to play "a psychic terrapin", and with things like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspiring me, and my abiding love of frogs, I'm easing up. I'm currently leaving snakes out of the equation because, well, limbs are really useful. Particularly if you want to use weapons, operate tech or generally do anything remotely complicated. I'm not saying there's no chance of snake Monitors, but it seems pretty problematic. Of course, you can add limbs, but then you're removing some key snakiness. Similarly I've made no attempt to comprehensively cover possible reptile or amphibian types.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Monster Maker

It's been a bad day, and coding pointless things usually cheers me up.

I mentioned when I posted the Random RPG Generator that I'd like to add an antagonist maker. This isn't quite that, but it's a random monster generator. Click the button, pick which bits you like, and ignore the rest.

Many of the creatures listed here are real organisms. I've used technical terminology, because that makes it easier - if you're intrigued - to look up the specific traits of your chosen monster. You might find some surprising, fiendish or bizarre biology to inflict on your players.

This is a draft, and I'll probably come back to it sometime. I'd like to add some kind of genre filter, and also some kind of weighting function so that people can (if they want) overcome the statistical skew towards invertebrates.