May 12 2021

Traveller, And Why Enigma Sector Is Not That

Posted by

Enigma Sector banner

I recently started a D&D space opera campaign which I’m quite pleased with. It’s in a homebrew setting (I hesitate to use the term “original” here) designed to be a giant mashup of all the spacey tropes, in the same way that standard D&D is a mashup of all the fantasy tropes. So we’ve got not-Jedi, we’ve got a “good guys” Federation and a “bad guys” Empire, battledroids, bug-eyed monsters, and so on. It’s a lot of fun!

So when it came time to figure out spaceships and the whole economy of trawling around in a little freighter, I naturally looked to Traveller, the grand-daddy of space RPGs and pretty much the unacknowledged model for things like Babylon 5 and Firefly. Its “tonnage + Credits” ship-building model has been imitated dozens of times by dozens of other games, and its interplanetary trade matrices have appeared in places as weird as Savage Worlds’s gothy-fantasy pirates 50 Fathoms campaign.

But you can’t just lift those systems out of Traveller and plug them in to D&D—the numbers are crazy and designed for a very specific gameplay loop. As SirPoley describes succinctly in his Four Table Legs of Traveller series, the game assumes that your party will be paying out huge amounts of money to pay for their ship every month, which will in turn drive them to engage in trade and/or exploration to scrounge up enough money to keep the bounty hunters off their tail. This trade/exploration is procedurally handled by the GM via random encounter tables and except for the random appearance of “Patron” encounters, could all be done faster via computer if you were so inclined.

And this is where we come to why I’ve never run Traveller. Just like I have little patience for grinding in a video game, I ain’t got time to build self-populating spreadsheets just to watch the numbers roll. Patrons, those rare high-paying jobs that actually force you to get out of your acceleration chair and go do stuff, are intended to be the spice of Traveller, a fun diversion that creates a break from the core gameplay loop. And I’m just… no. -.- For me, that should be the meat of the game, with the trade/cargo/passengers business being a fun little mini-game for the people who are interested in it.

So while I’m lifting some of the trade rules and tables from Traveller, the math is going to require some heavy tweaking to make it work for my purposes. The Enigma Sector characters already have a small ship that they used to escape from their Badguy Empire captors, and there are enough planets it could reach that they never have to upgrade if they don’t want to, so the “exorbitant debt payment” motivator is out. In its place, I’ve reduced the amount of money that cargo and passengers will make, and increased the operating expenses of the ship itself (in the form of fuel and spaceport fees) so that it’s still worth engaging in that system, but not to the point where taking time off from cargo hauling to go on adventures seems insane. (As SirPoley mentions, the pay scale for Patron encounters in Traveller is keyed off the size of your party’s cargo hold rather than having a diegetic in-universe value in order to guarantee this, which is taking handwavium just a little too far for me.)

I also want the players to be able to spend money on gear and such—partly because this is still D&D, and partly because at least one of my players just really loves that and I want them to be able to engage on that front. If they’re breathing fumes as far as money is concerned because they have to pay $50,000/month just to keep their ship running, they’re more likely to dump the ship than to go out exploring, which kinda negates the purpose.

Mar 17 2021

Shady and Androgyny

Posted by

Shade-Of-the-Candle, Like a BOSS

It’s no secret that my preference is for leading ladies in my work. From Tiffany Tiger to Verity Anjo, there are reasons both practical and philosophical that nine times out of ten I will pick a gal to be my hero. And while Shade-Of-the-Candle is a character who grew organically in my mind rather than being deliberately created, the same is true for her. But of all the female leads I’ve created, Shady is probably the least “feminine.” Physically, she’s a skinny beanpole, “all elbows and knees,” and while lithe and flexible as any other cat (and, let’s face it, clad in a leather corset and thigh boots), she’s not Superhero Sexy like Catwoman or Black Widow. Depending on her age and circumstances, Shady ranges from a scraggly alleycat to a scrappy tomboy to a Georgian duelist in a longcoat and feathered tricorn hat. In terms of her personality, she is snarky, aggressive, goal-oriented, and covers pain or vulnerability with bluster or bravado… all of which are pretty typically “masculine” (or at least boyish) traits.

Which led me to thinking about the role womanhood plays in the makeup of her character. I know some male writers whose women come off pretty much as “men with boobs,” and I have always worked to avoid that. But as I examined it, I found that I couldn’t really picture a male Shade-Of-the-Candle, and have it be the same character. The closest analogue I could come up with was Disney’s take on Aladdin—he’s got the imposter syndrome, the very cavalier ideas about property, the swashbuckling physicality, and so on. Aside from the fur and tail, a male version of Shady would probably hit a lot of the same beats.

But at the same time, there’s an external-vs.-internal difference between Aladdin and Shady. Aladdin is “unworthy” because he’s poor, because society says he’s unworthy—the words may sting, but he never actually believes them. He just has to get past it, like an obstacle. Shady, on the other hand, has internalized it. When Maraldo and the pawnshop owner and however-many-other people told her over the course of her life that she was nothing and nobody, on some level she believed it. Even with her own ship and crew and having slain a dragon and more, the fight that Shady can’t win is inside her own head.

That’s not an inherently “male/female” dynamic—lots of women know they’re more than society says they are, and lots of men never get over toxic voices from their childhood. But in our culture at least there is a “masculine/feminine” dichotomy that it does play into. (“Male/female” and “masculine/feminine,” while closely related, are not actually the same.) And I think it’s a dynamic that would express very differently in a male Shady who’d grown up under the same circumstances. I suspect male Shady would have ended up a lot meaner, certainly more wrathful, and run with a more cutthroat crowd. He’d also be a lot less clever, more inclined to intimidation or violence than charm or wit. Would he have even Shady’s sketchy version of a conscience? Hard to say. Shady’s feminine aspects inclined her to identify more with Velas’s kindness than Maraldo’s brutality (and I notice that she has diametrically opposed father figures but no mother to look to); I think in a lot of ways it’s the push-pull between her aggressive and “masculine” traits and that quiet-but-persistent “feminine” side that make her compelling, to me.

-TG

Filed under : Dungeons & Dragons | Comments Off on Shady and Androgyny
Mar 14 2021

Shady, Rogue or Bard? Time To Choose

Posted by

Shade-Of-the-Candle Takes It Easy... But Takes It
Yes, Shady, choosing is very hard in this case.

WARNING: Lots of rules rambling ahead. Read only if you are a big ol’ D&D nerd.

So last night Shady hit 6th level after a fun session fighting against the most cheerful demonic bounty hunter ever. So now I have to actually choose, Rogue or Bard? Neither option is great immediately—6th level rogue gets her expertise in Investigation and Persuasion, but nothing else changes. 1st level bard gets her a new skill, a new proficiency, a small handful of spells, and three uses of bardic inspiration per long rest.

So neither choice is about what happens at level 6; they’re really about what happens at levels 7, 8, and 9.

If Shady sticks with rogue, at 7th she’ll get evasion and more sneak attack, at 8th she’ll hit 20 Dex, and at 9th she’ll get that awesome Panache ability and still more sneak attack. If she jumps over to bard, at 7th she’ll get Jack of All Trades (double-bumping her Initiative on top of her swashbuckler boost), at 8th she’ll get Blade Flourish (which is a game-changer ability) and Two-Weapon Fighting*, and at 9th she’ll finally catch up with that 20 Dex.

The problem is, I want all of this stuff for Shady! Panache especially is something that suits her perfectly, that whole “piss off the baddie so they chase only you—but also can’t actually GET to you” annoyance/avoidance tanking strategy goes all the way back to her fight with Kresthianze the black dragon. Having a mechanical backup for what she’s been doing purely through RP would be very nice.

On the other hand, in play, Shady’s biggest weak spot is totally her AC. The pattern with her, from the mimic that one-punched her at 2nd level, to the fight in the warehouse, to fighting Gornstard the Wailer last night, has over and over been:

1) Combat starts
2) Shady gets almost one-punched before she even gets a turn
3) She spends the rest of the fight either out or reeling from the first hit

To a certain extent, this is the rules working as intended. Rogues are glass cannons, and even swashbucklers—who are intended to get in melee and stay there—are expected to jump in and out, hide, and generally be evasive more than durable. Fortunately, Uncanny Dodge is a big mitigator here—when I remember to actually USE it—but the fact remains that Shady’s paltry 16 AC is her big ol’ Achilles Heel.

But short of magic items (and man, she is looking for that Cloak Piratey Longcoat of Protection), the only ways for her to boost her AC are 1) maxing Dex, or 2) Blade Flourish—either of which she can get at 8th level, it’s just a matter of which.

20 Dex will set her AC to 17 whenever she gets attacked, before she gets a turn or after, all the time. Blade Flourish, using the Defense option, potentially adds +1d6 to her AC (typically putting it around 19), but only after she’s made an attack, and only up to three times per long rest. It also boosts her already-crazy speed and bumps her damage on the initial attack roll.

The biggest thing is that going the bard route gives Shady the 20 Dex at 9th level—which means that in terms of AC, she gets both of the boosts by going the bard route, at the expense of a bit of sneak attack, evasion (which has not been a factor so far since we don’t have a lot of fireballs flying around, but might become one if more dragons start showing up), and, of course, panache.

I dunno; I keep going around and around and not being able to land. All of this is solved by 15th level, in which she has all the bard and all the rogue she wants and everything after that is gravy… but what are the chances of any campaign getting there? Generally not considered good. That’s what makes this a tough choice—whichever direction she chooses is likely to be the only choice she gets.

-TG

*Theoretically it would also open breastplate + shield, but even if the breastplate looked like a leather battle corset, the Dex cap would make it a net wash, and I just cannot see Shady carrying a shield. Dusk does, because he’s a fighter-flavored-with-rogue, but Shady is not a gird-her-loins type.

Filed under : Dungeons & Dragons | Comments Off on Shady, Rogue or Bard? Time To Choose
Jan 29 2021

GeekQuery: Respect At the Table

Posted by

InkBlitz and Gneech discuss respect at the table during D&D games, or really any time human beings are interacting with each other if you think about it. ¬.¬

FIND US ON TWITTER
InkBlitz: https://twitter.com/inkblitzer
The Gneech: https://twitter.com/the_gneech

SUPPORT US ON PATREON: https://www.patreon.com/the_gneech

FIND INKBLITZ ON TWITCH: https://www.twitch.tv/ink_blitz

Filed under : Dungeons & Dragons | Comments Off on GeekQuery: Respect At the Table
Jan 05 2021

Shady’s Solo Adventure, Scene Seven: Nothing to Scene, Here

Posted by

Sea cave concept art from Assassin's Creed IV

After the last scene I realized that it would have actually been faster for Shady to go alone via road to Saltar’s Port and send the Moonlit Horizon along after, since to get there from Everkeep Harbor by sea you need to go an 20 miles around the cape of Winnowing Reach. But since we’ve already had Scene Six, we’ll just assume that Shady was working out plans with her Quartermaster and First Mate during the trip.

Going in, I have no idea where the adventure is gonna go here. Shady knows there are gunrunners in town somewhere, and she probably grilled Telekain about the adventurers’ raid. (SHADY PERSUASION CHECK w/ Adv: 25. Telekain gave her all the information she wanted, including what he told the adventurers, what they found and where, etc.) So now all I’ve got to do is figure out what he told her. >.>

We know the gunrunners have some well-placed backers in Saltar’s Port. FATE QUESTION: Are the Saltar’s Port authorities corrupt and in on it? 50/50, Chaos 4: 97, “Exceptional No.” So they’re not only in on it, they want to root it out. FATE QUESTION: Have the Saltar’s Port authorities taken action against the gunrunners since the alchemist’s fire was captured? Somewhat Likely, Chaos 4: “Exceptional Yes.” They’ve gone to roust them out completely! FATE QUESTION: Has this been successful? 50/50, Chaos 4: “Exceptional Yes.” Soooo… crap. It sounds like the Saltar’s Port trip is a complete waste of time. And the gunrunners being out of business means that Shady’s top pick for a fall guy for the alchemist fire theft is a no-go.

Is it possible for a procedurally-generated random story generator to have writer’s block? >.>

Well I need to do SOME kind of scene here! So I guess I’ll say the scene is Shady arrives at the gunrunners’ hideout and finds it obliterated. Chaos Die for interruption is: 7, none. Scene focus is 24, 4, 54: NPC action, “fight of investment.” Hmm.

Shade-Of-the-Candle stared at the burned-out cave fortress. It had been little more than brick-and-mortar palisades blocking a natural cavern that had been built out with floors and a few walls. Great scorchmarks blacked the walls and ceiling, and the tang of fire and death tickled her sensitive nostrils, even though it had been at least several hours since the battle was over. The charred skeleton of a large frigate dominated the central lagoon area of the cave, burned nearly down to the waterline and listing drunkenly in the shallow water. Some bodies still floated in the water, being fished out by laborers under the direction of soldiers wearing the livery of the Saltar’s Port guards.

“Well there’s THAT idea shot down,” muttered Shady’s Bosun.

“The powder magazine must have gone up,” said Shady. “Saltar’s Port doesn’t have anything bigger than a patrol schooner, no idea how they bottled that frigate up in here. But if the guards had a wizard worth his salt among them, and a hold full of powder… Foom!”

“Hoy!” shouted one of the guardsmen, noticing Shady and her men at the mouth of the cave. “Get out of it!”

“Who’s in charge, here?” Shady shouted back at him.

“Who wants to know?” the guard shouted back, collecting up his musket from where it leaned on the cave wall nearby.

“Shade-Of-the-Candle is my name,” Shady said. “Captain of the Moonlit Horizon. I’m a Sea Lancer out of Everkeep.”

“A bit late to the fight, aren’t you, privateer?” the guard said, approaching close enough so he didn’t have to keep shouting, but far enough away to still bring the musket to bear if needed.

“Nobody told me there was a party or I’d have been here sooner,” Shady replied. “I was following up on a tip that there were gunrunners here, I was just coming to scout them out.”

“Well you can take your scavenging hide back on to Everkeep, it’s all over here but burning the last of the bodies.”

“Take any prisoners?” (FATE QUESTION: 50/50, Chaos 4: 88, “Exceptional No”)

“Not a man-jack left alive,” said the guard. “Most of them went up with the ship.”

“I heard there were two more ships,” said Shady. “Did they get away?” (FATE QUESTION: Somewhat Likely, Chaos 4: 77, No. Wow, just shut her down, dice!)

“Nope. We had a little help from one of your own, the Dragonfly. She just stood off the inlet and blasted anything coming out of the cave. Why do you think this frigate was hiding in here?”

Shady’s tail twitched once. “Ainsworth,” she said.

“Now THAT’S a privateer!” said the guard. “Maybe you shoulda checked with him first.”

“Maybe I shoulda,” said Shady.

“Now beat it. Sail on back to Everkeep. Some of us have REAL work to do.”

“Sorry,” said Shady. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your picking over the dead.” Ignoring the scowl on the guardsman’s face, she herded her crew back towards the cave entrance. “C’mon boys, leave the vultures to their picking.”

CHARACTER LIST:
Shady
Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
Captain Dryden Ainsworth
Wharfmaster Fean Wavecrest
Sea Lancers: Kia (Captain of the Recluse)
Sea Lancers: Sterling (Captain of the Silver Corsair)
Sea Lancers: Adric (Captain of the Blue Fin)
Telekain
Gunrunners
Cardinal Maraldo
Scullery maid
Patrician’s guards
Prince Mibakaaz
Morely

CHAOS: 5 (SO. MANY. EXCEPTIONAL RESULTS.)

THREADS LIST:
Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues
Ainsworth’s botched security vs. Shady’s spying
Gunrunners
Morely (and henchmen?) set adrift

Dec 15 2020

GeekQuery — D&D Is a Team Sport

Posted by

Or, “You’re A hero, but you’re not THE hero.” This week InkBlitz and Gneech discuss group dynamics in Dungeons and Dragons.

FIND US ON TWITTER
InkBlitz: https://twitter.com/inkblitzer​
The Gneech: https://twitter.com/the_gneech​

SUPPORT US ON PATREON: https://www.patreon.com/the_gneech

Filed under : Dungeons & Dragons | Comments Off on GeekQuery — D&D Is a Team Sport