I’ve been working on An Echo, Resounding lately. It’s a supplementary book for Labyrinth Lord focused on creating sandbox adventure regions, managing domains and political polities that PCs or locals might have there, and running mass combat in a way that integrates with the whole. While I’ve been sweating over the specific mechanics and resource tables of the book, it’s left me thinking about theories.
Theories are beautiful things. I’ve got lots of them about game design and building optimal sandboxes, and in many ways Sine Nomine itself is just a convenient rubric for me to use in expressing these theories. I think sandbox gaming provides a remarkable set of possibilities to a GM and players, and I think the design space hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves over the past ten or twenty years. Given the opportunity, I’d talk your ear off about all the things that sandboxes can give to a group that other gaming styles can’t provide so easily. Those other styles each have their own strong points and advantages, certainly, but the special virtues of a sandbox are experienced all too rarely these days. I have my theories about why that’s the case.
But GMs and players don’t need theories in a published product. They need tools. One of my pet peeves about a lot of RPG books aimed at GMs and worldbuilders is the studied vagueness of the contents, the preference for giving sweeping advice and broad generalities over specific guidelines. The author will explain why a particular technique or goal is a good one and leave it to the reader to actually implement the directive. I’m not sure whether the authors honestly believe this is the best way to go about things or whether they’re perhaps paralyzed by the sheer scope of material they’re dealing with. Perhaps they fear to put down anything specific because they can easily imagine a case where any particular offering would be wrong or useless. I don’t think they’re doing their readers any favors this way. Why? Well, here’s a theory:
Continue reading Theory and Practice
Discover Sights of Woe
Rain-slick streets beneath an alien sky. Untraceable mail on a private terminal. A man in a shabby coat who is always watching. Poison in a glistening needle. From the distant ages of humanity’s dawn to the far end of the Silence, espionage changes only its tools. A useful lie is eternal.
With this book, GMs and players are equipped with everything they need to run campaigns of interstellar intrigue and covert action. New backgrounds, training packages and equipment options will kit out your starfaring spies, and the history and context of interstellar espionage will help you plan your adventures in a cosmos in dire need.
GMs are given special help in assembling an espionage campaign, with tools for the cooperative creation of enigmatic intelligence agencies and long-hidden Perimeter outposts. You’ll also find concrete, step-by-step techniques for building complex spy adventures and sinister plots, complete with detailed support material to keep your focus on the fun.
Look inside to find…
- The history of interstellar spying in the Stars Without Number universe.
- Details of the hideous maltech cults that threaten the very future of humanity.
- A system for cooperatively creating intelligence agencies for your campaign and handling exploits against their nefarious rivals.
- 36 new tags for flavoring your cults, all of which can be used as world tags as well.
- Over 200 new adventure seeds, each one keyed to a different aspect of an espionage agency.
- NPC, scheme, and method tables for fleshing out conspiracies and dark plots.
Get it now at DriveThruRPG!
Now that Darkness Visible has been entrusted to the tender hands of Lightning Source and I have another week or so to wait for the printed proofs, I can start work on the next project.
An Echo, Resounding will provide the tools and resources to help a GM run princely domains and sweeping mass combats under Labyrinth Lord rules. While specifically set in the devil-haunted world of the Red Tide, the tools in this book are applicable to almost any old-school game or retroclone. An initial chapter helps the GM build a sandbox region that both provides immediate outlets for adventure and embeds the necessary framework for future political machinations. Rather than having to suddenly retrofit everything in as soon as the PCs start to show an interest in influencing the local powers, these tools let the GM build those elements right into the sandbox. PCs that want to lead a village to victory over its oppressors or who are suddenly placed at the head of a city-state’s ragged militia can now effortlessly step into place without forcing a sudden rush of ad-hoc judgment calls and improvisations by the GM.
Many old-school domain management systems focus on simulating the strict details of a fantasy fief- gold income, population, peasant morale, food supplies, and other specifics. While this is a perfectly natural approach, An Echo, Resounding instead abstracts the fundamental elements of a domain into Military, Wealth, and Social values. These totals rise and fall depending on the types of locations held by the domain and the sort of special resources or advantages the PCs can bring to their homes. These totals are then used to support Assets, which reflect the military units, unique traditions, temples, schools, and other specific resources the domain has at its disposal. Outside threats and conflicts between domains then become focused on these Assets and the locations that support them. Struggles become specific, and every clash or sudden peril from the wilderness becomes a ready-made adventure hook for the redoubtable rulers. In addition to these domain rules, a mass combat system is provided that can flex to accommodate heroic PCs, massed troops, and special monstrous foes all on the same battlefield.
An Echo, Resounding is going to require extensive playtesting on the appropriate balance of location values and asset costs, so keep an eye on this space for playtest invitations over the course of the next month. And fear not, Stars Without Number fans; the lessons and playtesting data drawn from An Echo, Resounding are going to be directly useful for the project to follow; Other Dust, the standalone SWN-compatible game covering the post-apocalyptic savagery of Terra in the wake of Scream’s horrific devastation.
The sinister secrets of interstellar espionage are set to be revealed at the end of the month, as Darkness Visible makes its PDF and print debut on DriveThruRPG. Guidelines and tools are provided for forging your own campaign of star-spanning intrigue and trans-solar spies, complete with specific mechanics for generating both the agencies that employ these daring covert operatives and the vicious cabals that threaten all they hold dear.
In the customary Sine Nomine style, it is not counted satisfactory to simply give you dozens of pages of practical advice and specific pointers for emulating dashing interstellar agents. No, it is not enough. Darkness Visible provides page after page of specific, focused tools to produce concrete results for your game, along with step-by-step instructions for using them to generate the content you need.
You need a spy agency for your players? Follow these steps to build one. Your players want to break into a maximum-security prison satellite to kidnap an alien framed for war crimes? Take this template and fill it in from these tables. You need to dish up an adventure full of double-dealing and hidden actors but have no idea how to support the players’ investigation attempts? Use this adventure structure, lift the challenge rules from this chapter, and prepare these things for the session. Darkness Visible gives you the direct, specific guidance you need to get the job done.
Darkness Visible is written for the Stars Without Number role-playing game, but the guides and tools it uses are system-neutral and compatible with a vast swath of science-fiction settings. Expect it by the end of October.
Stars Without Number fan N. Harrison Ripps has produced an admirably handy online sector generator. One simple click produces a fully-mapped sector for Stars Without Number, complete with generated name lists for corporations, NPCs, political parties, aliens, and a list of different types of religion to be found as well. You can also download the sector as a TiddlyWiki file for offline use, where you can look at individually-generated world statistics and tags for each of the planets in the sector.
Give it a click here!
Just when I thought it was safe to relax, a sharp-eyed reader has pointed out a pair of dropped tables in the Core Edition, covering the evolutions of monarchies and oligarchies in the Societies chapter. The omission was entirely my error, Mongoose having faithfully printed all that I gave them, and so I offer here the missing Monarchy and Oligarchy tables.
The whirling presses of Mongoose Publishing now swiftly usher Stars Without Number to friendly local gaming stores throughout the globe. This new Core Edition provides a typo-cleaned copy of the current free PDF, but in consideration to the loyal fans, over forty pages of fresh new content has been added to the book, material exclusive to the Core Edition. These piping-hot additions include…
- Rules and historical information on AIs and robots, including AI player characters. Assemble your artificial heroes with a point-buy character creation system and an array of armature hulls for them to use. Included information covers non-sentient guard bots and expert systems as well!
- Rules and the historical context for mechs ranging from almost human-sized powered suits to hulking heavy assault mechs to the enigmatic psychic war machines that were the ancient psimechs. Strap in for those special occasions that call for the really big guns. Nine sample mechs are included, along with a design system for creating your own.
- Society creation guidelines and generation tables to help GMs flesh out their worlds with vibrant, living cultures and their ages-old conflicts. Every culture comes with built-in struggles to fuel adventures on that world and give GMs a quick and easy hook for pulling in the players
For those GMs and players who prefer the electronic simplicity of a PDF, Sine Nomine is making available an electronic version of the book at DriveThruRPG. Grab it now, and revel in that new PDF smell.
An Iron Ghost from a Dead Age…
The Bruxelles-class battlecruiser was one of the mainstays of the ancient Terran Mandate, a regular sentinel along the ragged borders of the core and the deep colonial wilderness of the frontier. Its fearsome guns brought peace to squabbling worlds and rebuked raiders and alien interlopers with radioactive fire. When the Scream washed over the human empire, countless Bruxelles-class ships were left lost and isolated on the fringes of human space. Many died in vain attempts to get back to Old Terra, but a few such corpses still linger in the dark between worlds, waiting for some reckless soul to drag them back to a bright and terrible life.
This free Mandate Archive gives you the details on the Bruxelles class of battlecruiser- its history, function, standard crew complements, and statistics. A half-dozen plot seeds are also provided, each one revolving around this ancient engine of war. Finally, several examples of pretech ship weaponry are given with which to terrify the feeble heirs of the Mandate’s lost glory. Grab it now at DriveThruRPG!
Interplanetary commerce is an old standby for sci-fi adventures, and many GMs are going to run into a situation where the PCs want to make a buck moving cargo from world to world. Eventually, I plan to put out a sourcebook for trade campaigns in the same vein as Skyward Steel does naval themes, but some GMs need useful information right now, and the GM’s guide trade section in the core rulebook isn’t enough. Here are a few guidelines that can help.
Continue reading Clippings: Interstellar Trade
Espionage isn’t usually a genre that leaps to mind when considering sandbox games. The baseline espionage adventure is built around a complicated plot, multiple NPCs with their own motivations, the obfuscation of truths, and the misdirection of PCs. Even the most adventurously athletic spy stories require a context, and that context is usually something complex and only partly-visible to the players. Compounding this, most PCs in an espionage-based campaign are either government agents or somehow affiliated with a controlling organization. How do government operatives tasked with specific missions fit into a sandbox gaming style? On the face of it, they’ve got no influence over the jobs they’re given to handle and no practical ability to bow out of the organization without defeating the entire point of running an espionage campaign.
Continue reading Clippings: Do Espionage Games and Sandboxes Mix?