Saturday, February 27, 2016

Meat Pinata

School has me busy and a bit scatterbrained.  Random things keep falling out of my ears, maybe these baubles interest you.  Maybe they don't.
In Fragged Empire news, the Protagonist Archive will be coming along soon-ish with four new races.  One of them is the Palantor are the last true remnants of humanity:, digitized from their meat bodies, uploaded in Minecraft for millenia, and infugees downloaded into robot bodies fleeing the Mechonids.  They are going to have a Japanese naming convention and definitely represent the furthest transhuman edge of the game's technology.  A reddit thread expanding some of it here.

Swords and Stitchery put together a fantastic table detailing what you find inside a vacuum frozen corpse.  My favorite is number 6 - "A classic walk man with a Back To The Future soundtrack tape within."  There should always be weird things floating in the Black, update it to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack if there's younger players.  You can find that here.
Finished Priest, Matthew Colville's first novel, it's equal parts The Big Sleep and the Fisher King in a D&D influenced setting.  Retired priest Heden is charged with an off the books mission by the bishop, redeem an isolated Order of feral knights.  Nothing is what it appears, and everyone is working an angle.  There's several Green Knights, a magical sword, oaths aplenty, one good knight and a Lady of the Lake to boot.  If you enjoy modern crime fiction in other times and places you'll enjoy it.
Picked up the first three issues of Dan Abnett's new cosmic Marvel series Guardians of Infinity.  For $4.99 I'd like to get one whole issue of a single story, rather crippling Abnett's ability to tell a complete story with an obnoxious back up story.  In typical Abnett fashion the story starts small and gets larger.  This time it's a space fortress that cuts across multiple timelines and there are three teams of Guardians, the current team (2000), the classic team (3000), & a team from the distant past (1000).  The writer is known for killing his sweethearts but with the Guardians of the Galaxy riding an all time high of mainstream recognition, the Guardians 2000 & 3000 aren't really in danger. But the Guardians 1000 feel like they are just around to get sacrificed. 

Real world weirdness: digital maps in China are slightly off as a matter of national security.
Find it here.
Finally getting in another session of my monthly lucha libre campaign, Habrá Sangre, and it'll be pretty good.  Last session ended in a cliffhanger with our intrepid heroes facing off against brujas against a stormy backdrop.  What further revelations will they discover as La Hora Cero draws near?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fragged Empire: Pillars of the Community

Left to right: Nephilim, Corporate, Legion, Kaltoran
Expanding on the NPCs from Help Wanted, fleshing out their place in my upcoming Fragged Empire campaign.  Each character has ties to a larger community and the setting as a whole.  A preview of the Antagonist Archive can be found here.

Debra Omni- Working in OS R&D at Cypher Robotics and Power, few suspect the mild-mannered, four-eared engineer nightlights as the hacker D0mniNator.  Spurning the jury rigged assemblies of her Kaltoran counterparts, Debra will only work with the bleeding edge of soft, firm, and hardware, this extends to most of her criminal contacts.  Across the datacrime forums D0mniNator's tutelage is highly sought after.  She played an instrumental hand gathering complementary criminals together spawning infamous groups like the Republic of Desire and the Nsurgency.  Having established her underground reputation, don't be surprised if she asks you to leave a personnel review, just don't go into too much detail.

Gogmagog - Engaging, delightful, brimming with childlike wonder; these are some of the things you would hear asking about Gogmagog.  A renowned evolutionary biologist, the Nephilim Hybrid's intellect belies his brutish appearance.  He advocates the changes made to planetary biomes from Xion engineered lifeforms such as Living Ammunition and other warbred beasts.  Espousing the ecological changes as necessary and vibrant in an otherwise stagnating biosphere, he often comes under social attack from conservative groups like Topiary. They often hold protests outside his speaking engagements and escalate the media coverage.  Regardless of his detractors, Gogmagog continues to press for widespread use of Xion rooted organisms to repair damaged ecologies.
Agnes Oblige - The Twi'far spend most of their time in transit, sealed up in spaceborn fleets flung across the Wild Night. Cooped up with semi-stagnant populations are ideal breeding grounds for hardy, infectious microorganisms.  What may manifest as a cold in one Twi'far population could be a vicious respiratory infection in another.  The Fleet' maintain a dedicated corps of doctors, virologists, and medical researchers to shore up biological defenses.  Virologist Agnes Oblige is a vocal partisan against further genehacking of Xion based lifeforms.  Citing the difficulty posed to the Twi'far MediCorps to defend against the microbiological remnants of the Great Xion War, rampant genehacking will only further exacerbate the situation.  Her stance has found traction in many circles, particularly among Legion scientific circles.

Dia Steward - Every operator and agent has a few skeletons in their closet, Dia happens to the stack them up like cordwood.  Officially an assistant HR manager with C.U.R.E., she abuses her access to personnel files to run a network of honeypots and blackmail.  Identifying soft targets and assigning the appropriate agents she has accrued an impressive amount of information in a fairly short amount of time.  Pining for a return to field work and escape from her gilded office, she identified Odyssia Pullo as a promising lead and made the approach herself.  Successful beyond her hopes and dreams, Dia fell in love with her mark shortly before Odyssia was transferred to Echidna Station at Ms. Steward's clandestine request.  Regardless of her feelings the op must go on, and Echidna Station holds the keys to Dia's future ascent.

Odyssia Pullo - Employed by Vito Security, Legion security consultant Odyssia Pullo's life used to be extremely simple.  Adhering to comfortable patterns laid out by Legion doctrine: eat, sleep, drill, repeat.  That was before she was assigned to C.U.R.E. and met Dia Steward.  Since then nothing has been simple.  A whirlwind of romance, emotional and physical, tore through the repetitive comforts and left Odyssia dazed and confused.  The transfer to Echidna Station was the escape hatch Odyssia wanted, allowing a return to "normal."  Breaking off her relationship with Dia, citing distance, she now finds the chain of events serendipitous and has opened a private investigation into her former lover.  Perhaps relying too much on Echidna Station's remote locale and blacksite status for protection.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fragged Empire: For a Nominal Fee

To the private traveler the alphabet soup of planetary foreign ministries can be overwhelming, each with their own foibles and internal hypocrisies.  The bureaucratized smokescreen is purposeful on many levels, a nonlethal deterrent to filter out those who may not be ardent enough in their desire to travel.  If you have pressing business elsewhere, you can hire an agency to act on your behalf cosmographically freeing you. Cutting through the red tape and doublespeak these companies provide the following services: legalizing documents, travel auhorization external and internal, collection of intersystem shipments, expediting customsimmigration legal counsel and more.

These agencies offer nearly all the business utility of a law firm, but without the ethical restrictions or legal protections.  Operating in this gray area gives a greater degree of business mobility and deniability to Corporation and mercantile interests who retain these agencies on contract.  Since systemwide travel has become so prevalent, two of these agencies have expanded their operations aggressively and now vie for control of this gray market.
The largest processor and agency is CGBT, an orphaned acronym that once stood for Corporate Galactic Business Travel.  This company started off as a small travel agency that facilitated arrangements for deniable business assets and operators, since then they have grown due to their close relationship with the Corporations' Board of Directors.  Proving themselves indispensable when certain business initiatives need another layer of deniability and a shell company is too traceable.  The company's rapid rise has drawn both kinds of attention, and find their Datastream sites under perpetual siege from the Galactic Jesters and other hacker groups.  Housing a tremendous amount of transit data, if one of those groups could get in then a host of Corporation secrets would be revealed.  In counterpoint, CGBT regularly replaces the physical servers themselves, placing the retired machines in an anonymous storage facility for a set amount of time before wiping and reselling them on the secondary market.  Their tacit support in operation logistics has piqued the interest of Paladin Consortium. The Consortium has already begun to purchase shares of CGBT, laying the pipe for a takeover soon.

Hook:  A security guard at the CGBT server farm on Alabaster passes on a tip- in light of recent attacks the maintenance schedule has been stepped up and more servers than usual will be transitioned out.  Probably in response to life support failure on several militant, anti-Corporation habitats.  Twice as many trucks will show up, but the security will be the same to save on labor.
CGBT's largest rival is Translight System Services, emerging from a conglomerate of smaller agencies competing with CGBT on the system fringe.  They have made massive inroads with Kaltoran and Legion based planetary governments, functioning as a bureaucratic buffer.  Led by Dvorak, a four eared Nephilim emissary, and his husband, the Kaltoran fixer Jude Filch, TSS continues to expand its operations.  The Filch Clan happens to have far flung members in nearly every spaceport and pirate fleet, forming the seed for TSS satellite offices.  With these intimate criminal ties, the company has a more direct, blue collar approach to their business.  Where CGBT will go through the steps to obtain a legitimate manifest for illicit cargo, TSS will just smuggle in the freight and present forged documentation to the Port Authority if they can't manage that.  In a more extreme example of TSS' practices, they have managed to secure exclusive contracts with some Kaltoran planets so anyone looking to travel there will be required to process their paperwork with a TSS office.  Their greatest coup was contracting Denpasar, a hub of Kaltoran culture past and present.

Hook: Kaltoran planets tend to be leery when it comes to cultural contamination, wanting to retain their own belief structures in place and unchanged.  TSS works in concert and screens applicants, sure to reject would-be prosletizers.  A group of Black Key missionaries has approached the crew, asking for them to obtain leverage on a TSS visa officer so the group can travel to Denpasar and meet with an affluent Kaltoran celebrity, Sal Omni.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Fragged Empire: Papers Please

The Great Xion War has ended for each species in its own time, trust and cooperation have been slow to mend across the Systems.  Isolationist planetary governments (when there are any) have begun to open their orbital aerospace to outside travelers, seduced by the larger intersystem economy.  In order to protect their populations from cultural and biological contagion, it is common for would be visitors to apply for a visa - a document that authorizes temporary entry and residence on a particular planet and/or moon.  Extreme cases may even bar an individual from disembarking to an orbital station.

Each species/culture tends to maintain a particular view in regard to the application process, you can find similarities between two governments' approaches on distant planets if they share bio-cultural roots.  Below are common security practices for each species as well as common loopholes to slip through them.  This does not reflect the travel restrictions and security measures surrounding black sites, military bases, scum hives, etc.

The Corporation entered a state of uneasy peace first, and has had the most recovery time.  Their free market ideology has combined with their pivotal role in organizing utilities, constructing orbital stations, providing cheap robotic labor, and distributing the Datastream (an intersystem computing network,) giving them a fairly laissez-faire attitude towards sentient traffic.  When anyone accesses the Datastream an account is created, collating their computer use and tracking their movements, physical and electronic, through algorithmic detection.  The most common requirement to set foot in Corporate habitats is a simple login as anything more involved could discourage tourism, locales with increased security measures may require biometrics and spoor samples.

Loopholes: Simply knowing another person's account information and avoiding Datastream usage afterward.  Biohacking will be necessary to infiltrate higher security installations, in order to imitate a specific individual's spoor, retina, and bio-signatures.

Depending on where you ask, the Legion never ceased the war effort. A short visit to a Cerebus consulate would be persuasive as you would be subject to extensive sensor sweeps and issued an RFID card. Armed security present in the lobby and a fortified submission window complete the besieged aesthetic. Other Legion controlled worlds may not present such bureaucratic bulwarks, but the mentality is shared. Bearing strong resemblance to equipment requisition forms, applicants must be sure to complete the 15 page document  by hand, on premises, without error.  After submission, an interrogation disguised as interview is often requested and shortly after the harangued visitor receives their electronic authorization. Nephilim need not apply.

Loopholes: Less advanced Legion governments often implant the RFID card under the skin & tie travel authorization to that ID, so you could steal it. Monolithic hierarchies, like the Legion's, often fall prey to social engineered co-opting of key functionaries, aka a honey-pot.

Nephilim society without Xion closely resembles a food chain; the weak are meat and the strong must eat. Uninterested in actively courting tourism and its knock-on effects, already assured of their own dominance, planetbound travelers pay a reciprocity fee before exiting orbit.  The fee charged is based on what Nephilim pay when traveling to their respective homeworlds. Entering a veritable jungle, continued survival dirtside is on the visitor.  As the Nephilim don't particularly screen visitors, many Nephilim worlds are havens for foreign criminals and their syndicates. 

Loopholes: Nephilim customs law is often overlooked to merchants' chagrin, each inspector taking a cut of the product itself, according to their place on the food chain, so dissuasive bribery and smuggling are highly demanded.  Also the Customs officials make sure to collect biometrics from all travelers, so biohacking may be necessary to obscure movement.

Kaltoran space, if there's such a unified concept, possesses an underdeveloped presence in the Night. Outside of the asteroid habitats they tend to allow non-Nephilim free access to planets' surface but restrict subterranean traffic to the Hubs. Visitors without local family have to apply on an orbital station, authorized travelers are sedated to inhibit retracing their path through the tunnels. Subterranean approval often hinges on  favors from an Old Boys Network dirtside, a fact that grates on the Corporation's nerves. Particularly because many Kaltoran worlds are beginning to encourage historical tourism, great examples of Externality architecture are otherwise few and far between.

Loopholes: If you're too impatient to wait for a visa you can always hire a coyote, a border runner, to take you across. Traversing the Darkways leading to a Hub is risky, but possible.
All of this is meant to bring forward species' Prejudices without escalating inter-PC agitation, also to differentiate between the Wild Night and "Civilized Space." 

Monday, February 15, 2016

RPG Blog Carnival: Rules of 3

I tend to run two models of role-playing game sessions: the one shot game and the mini-series.  I rarely indulge in the long form campaign, my attention tends to wander quickly. I find inspiring my players relies on three elements: building emotional investment, sharing narrative control, and being on the same tonal page.  Just about everything players say matters and has weight, unless they're quoting Galaxy Quest.

3 x 3 x 3 - Building emotional investment - I found this on the old 7th Sea forums years ago, and works wonders for making everyone feel interconnected with the setting and each other.  The idea is have the players create 9 NPCs connected to their character - three friends, three acquaintances, and three enemies.  Don't require it all at once, have them create 1 - 2 before each game session and insist on no more than three sentences each.  Suggest cross pollinating the lists so some of the characters have mixed relationships with the same NPC. Then insert them into the narrative at any dramatic opportunity, as opposition or working cross purposes to build conflict.You mzy not use all of them, but try to squeeze in at least one NPC from each player.
It can contribute to a certain Guiding Days of All My Children's Hospital feel to things, making it feel like a small, melodramatic setting.  On the other hand you are establishing and spotlighting character backstory in a front staged, interactive way, rather than exposition.  Be sure to eschew backstory novellas when you do this, since it'll just be wasted work.

Tell Me 3 Things - Sharing narrative control- This is from the back of John Wick's Houses of the Blooded.  One of the core elements of role playing is the idea that you are adopting another persona, one who lives, breathes, fucks, and dies in the collaborative fantasyland.  So collaborate already.  

Expanding on the idea of the improv principle of 'Yes, and...' when my players meet an NPC or go to a new place I ask them to tell me something that they know about that place or that person, until three things have been said.  Everything stated is taken as fact on the surface, validating their fictional selves and further building out the setting.  Anything could possibly be rooted in half-truth or flat out deception further complicating things for the players and adding depth.

Share inspiration -Same tonal page- These practices are built on the conceit that your players are interesting and intelligent people that you want to role-play with. Also the idea that role-playing is a collaborative medium, none of us are as strong as all of us. This can go awry if you're all going in different directions, for example sci-fi is a broad genre and if you want to run a game that meditates on economic nihilism then you want to keep things from getting too Hitchhiker's.  

You can get everyone on the same page in two steps: 1) talk about the sorts of associated media so there's an established baseline of genre assumptions 2) make characters in a group so everyone can brainstorm character concepts and gel their relationships.  The player characters are the most important characters in the campaign, providing perspective and coloring events with their agency and motivations.  If you have most of the PC's are in line with Dark Matter, but there's one selfish Zaphod then the whole thing can go sideways, very fast.

Whatever your grand designs for fantasyland; if your players don't care, aren't enjoying themselves, and showing up out of obligation then you've failed. Loosen the reigns and share the narrative with them, as they've shared their time and presence with you. 

This month's theme is Inspiring Your Players. the seed article is here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Fragged Empire: Help Wanted

A Kaltoran hacker named Debra Omni needs a team to sabotage a forgotten defense outpost belonging to Swords of Glory. However, the job is a trap - Omni and the Swords have been hired by Derrick Bolt, an assistant HR manager with Dragoon Ventures Unlimited, to force the crew to release the MacGuffin (this could be anything that related back to Human culture and scientific accomplishment.)

A guarded Nephilim science personality named Gogmagog needs a team to recover a genetic synthesis program stolen by a rival, a Twi-Far researcher named Agnes Oblige. However, he fails to show up at the meet afterward.  Further investigation reveals he went to an underground fetish party, but didn't come back.  The "Leather & Lace" just departed, may be a lead worth looking into.

A Corporate agent named Dia Steward needs a team to assassinate Odyssia Pullo, an important security officer of Vito Security. Further, the team will need to acquire some special equipment first, Odyssia manages the security on Echidna Station - a deep penetration research habitat invisible from space.

A secretive Legion hacker named Atia Vorenus needs a team to deliver an antique floppy disk to shadow banker Fabian Gracchus. However, she can only provide alternative compensation.

A Remnant agent named Arpaio needs a team to break into the network of Tri Fuel Industries and steal code for a new fuel synthesis program. However, he tries to eliminate the team after the job.  Turns out the data stolen actually contains traces of embezzlement, and could provide leverage for blackmail.

A would-be Kaltoran mogul named Samantha Thirst needs a team to recover plans for a tailored nanovirus stolen by a rival. In addition, the team is randomly targeted by a mischievous hacker from the Republic of Desire collective.

Nephilim data broker Pertova needs a team to sabotage a secret research facility belonging to Cypher Robotics & Power. Further, the team runs into unexpected security, someone within Cypher has managed to open up channels of communication with the Mechonids. Furnishing the compound with a small unit of Disciples who are perpetually alert to any infiltration.

Twi-Far smuggler Collene Mondrian needs her rival, Mako Useful, to catch a hole in the head after snitching her out to the Port Authority.The crew's association with Mondrian has drawn the attention of an inquisitive media reporter.

Hired to abduct and extract Kristopher Riordan, an important programmer of Dragoon Ventures Unlimited, by data broker Jani Hyperion. The crew encounters an old enemy on the same job, adding an unnecessary level of pressure to what should've been a milk run.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Donde El Diablo Hizo Su Nido

When los campesinos overthrew the corrupt landlords of el Corazon, La Republica was born.  Catching the envious eye of the Federal Empire, it didn't even take a year for hope to die.
The blades, bullets, and shells rained down from the North; butchering the dream of La Republica and ending the War of Eagles before it even began.  In the Northern Frontier farmland is scorched, settlements erased, mountain passes collapsed, food poisoned, and it was all in vain. The Federal Empire's naval superiority allowed them to strike at the very heart of the country.  Los Yanquis got to choose their battle, and they won it, but the fight still smolders in the hinter country.

Your militia regiment was broken, disbanded and the remnants returned to San Pedro de Los Saguaros, the hinterland hamlet you called home.   Barring a bleeding younger generation, nothing here has really changed. El Jefe, Don Crescencio Hurtado de Mendoza, still lurks behind the high walls of his hacienda, keeping your familia in perpetual debt slavery and near starvation. Accepting money from the Federal Empire to keep the region pacified, reasoning empty stomachs can't bear arms.

Yes, things here haven't really changed, but you have.  You've seen comrades die in droves, perforated with Gatling gun fire, confettied by artillery shells, the dark things dragging away their corpses, and the wanton sac & ruin left by the Northern army.  Your brothers and sisters weren't torn apart so Don Mendoza could smother their families while sitting fat and happy.

So long as you breathe, the Republican Eagle can still take flight. Don your spurs and load your guns, time to take the fight where the devil makes his nest. 

"Donde el diablo hizo su nido" is a condemning turn of phrase akin to "middle of nowhere."  
This is a weird western set in the northern frontier of a Mexico that never was during Polk's War combined with the black metal aesthetic of Shadow of the Demon Lord.  Mix in El Topo, The Holy Mountain, From Dusk Til Dawn, Brutal Nature, House of Penance, Blood Meridian, & One Man's Hero. The opening adventure is the Battle of Chapultepec mashed up with Worms of the Earth.