Thursday, December 29, 2011

Personal Gaming Assistant Part 3: Planting the seeds

So I've planted the seeds for the PGA. I've asked some friends to keep an eye out for anyone who would be interested in the paid work. Only time will tell how things pan out, but I don't have to be idle. I will be giving instructions after all, so I might as well detail my plans, instructions and expectations so that I can quickly pounce on a lead.

Setting some realistic Expectations.
Its going to be like any process of hiring, I'm going to go through a lot before I get what need. I'm probably going to lower some expectations because its never going to be a perfect, I'm comparing everything to an idea and ideas appear perfect until tested. I guess I'll have to consider some key-performance-indicators: competency, communication skills, time-management, priority-management, and these all maybe collected as some kind of professionalism score. 

Other than key performance indicators, a way to measure and interview potential candidates after the project. A series of questions to find out more about behind the scenes. Also improve my scanning skills by having some of my own interview questions and ways to spot some red-flags. I guess this is not so bad, its like some of the stuff I made for sales.

The kind of work that would be most common would be transcription. This is one of those tasks that are under appreciated (until you put a price to it). The transcription the GM does to prepare for the game, can be a lists of equipment, rules, character generation options, inventory people, items, and locations in the setting or locale. Sometimes this list needs to be further detailed based on the peculiarities of the setting. What pet-peeve that comes to mind is when players start poking around where they shouldn't and use rules or equipment that GM's finite attention and free-time could not have prepared for. 

When all the material is transcribed into spreadsheet this makes my job as a GM easier. It becomes easier to find, group, array and sometimes automate some game processes. In GURPS, it helps give the players and the GM inventory of all the options they have agreed on for the game.

Another transcription task that is very laborious is taking the minutes of a meeting... in another case, asking for an 8-hour game transcribed and transferred to the campaign journal. But this is better saved for later.

What are the Games I have in mind?
There are a lot of games I want to run. Not only do I want to run the games I'm writing about now, but try recapturing some settings I enjoyed that could use an "update".

If I were to make a list in no order.
  • Traveller Game inspired by Firefly
  • Traveller Game inspired by Honorverse Naval Campaign
  • Harn Inspired Banestorm, A domination campaign starting from young and ambitious characters who get caught up in a war. (A game that uses GURPS Mass Combat).
  • The First Crusade with an Alternate Cast
  • The Reconquest of Rome, Byzantium 6th Century with an Alternate Cast 
  • Byzantium in the 3rd Millenium. A campaign that is about the "A Day in the life of Knights in the Service of their House".  
  • Survival Scenarios, near-ordinary characters randomly generated in extraordinary events (Kidnapping, Assassination, Serial killer, Chaos, etc.)
  • 19th Century Philippines Alternate History and a separate game that is a Historical Immersion
  • The Warring States
  • (As a player) The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (hopefully I can find a free audiobook about it or buy one)
  • Ancient Era 1300BCE, Before the First Dark Age. Before the fall of Empires of Egypt, Myceneans, and Hittites. (with a Conan Theme; inspired by The Teaching Company's Ancient Empires before Alexander and Origin of Civilizations)  
  • The Axial Age 700BCE 
  • Forgotten Realms with very little magic (Game of Throne-ish).
  • Lodoss War using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy
  • Convert an OSRIC Mega Dungeon into a B3M stronghold, than run that as a game. 

How can one prevent players being too character Invested?

Too Invested?
Being too invested means getting into a rutt when a character dies.
Why can't players have the same investment in their characters as the GM? I've taken this point of view, it has come to the point that I want the character randomly generated within a reasonable range for adventuring or storytelling purposes.

What works for me? Why is it ok for me if my characters die?
I am as attached to a character the way a GM should be: enough that he/she is competent and well thought out given the time constraints, but not so invested that I am not able to recoup and adapt if she/he dies. I find it well suited in games like those my GM would run, or I would also run.

As a GM I like to role-play a lot of characters, I get to play around with personalities and how they interact. I try not to role-play half-assed either, I would have role-playing notes for each character, even minor characters if time permits. That's why I'd rather have a personality generator, using key words to generate motives, aspirations, history, background, quirks etc... of a character.

I noticed the amount of time I spend on characters affects my degree of attachment. I guess that's why I have begun to like randomly generated characters, and the retro-appeal doesn't hurt. Less effort is less personal investment. The 90% of the time I should be investing would be making sense of the character and fitting him/her in the narrative of events.

Looking a my metrics of Character Investment.
If I have to make a cast of 30, 10% of which critical, 30% recurring and integral in the story, and the rest colorful dressing (reusable personalities), ideally I can spend as little time as possible with the 60% and enough time detailing the 40%. If I can make up the 60% in a few seconds, and weave their story in about 5-6mins each that would add up to ~99mins on dressing characters, 2x as much for integral characters (99mins) and about 30mins per critical character... that would be about 5-6 hours of story.

If I were to write these all down I would have written as much as 3-4 pages or 2,000 words. Although realistically I might take up some time to think about these characters. Hopefully not so much that it eats up so much time in my week or month. But usually compelling stories do, so hopefully i just draw from a bunch of stories drawn up from years ago.

Applying this to Players.
What if Players had to make a cast? What if the player had to contribute about 10-20 or so characters to the GM, and the GM, in certain points of time, will ask the Player to use one or a few of these characters?

If the player was distracted or divided enough to spread his/her attention in multiple characters, would this stop him/her from fixating over one. Maybe the GM can have a session where or pre-game exchange (play by post/email) where the player has to role-play a different character or set of them. Since there is an element of the unknown, maybe the player would set his expectations differently.

If there was fixation, I guess the GM would notice it when going through the characters and hold this character back for the players on good, until the GM feels that it was ok.

Reversing things and thinking if it were applied to me, as a GM I guess I would have no problem. As for career players, what comes to mind is a friend of mine who would "exploit" the multiple character option our GM offered to reduce the effect of character death on the pace and fun of the players. I know he would be disappointed, especially if I denied him the more powerful character and employed it for my own purposes...
...maybe the option to employ certain characters for the GM's purposes would reduce fixation even further?

Knowing what to do in the Future: something to try out.
I guess having this written all down, in the future, I should have the players share the load of NPCs generation. Not only it would drastically cut down the amount of time I need to sufficiently detail the game's cast, but also create a reserve of characters in lethal games.

Players who don't make characters.
Have another player make his characters. I sometimes make characters for my players, which I optimizes expectations but is a bad habit. If I have a random character generator, I'll have the player use that instead in the future.

Found another GURPS blog, GURPS Greyhawk.

I found this through Google Alerts set for GURPS.
The blog is The Ongoing Campaign by 
Its GURPS Greyhawk, and that is AWESOME!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

side notes relevant to Personal Gaming Assitant

Gothridge Manors's Article is one article I find related to my concerns because, if you want to be able to share the cost maybe it would be worth considering selling the cleaned work.

Gothridge Manor: PDF Pricing

a Second thing worth reading is the Free E23 book Running A Game Publishing Company 

There are so many different compensation systems to consider. Not just for direct pay for PDF, but continued support of an already held market. What if spreadsheets and pdfs that allow GMs easy customization are produced on a schedule and a menu, those that the market decide gets to move on yet not closing off all roads just when some majority decides a particular direction. 

Before getting more elaborate, if there are other GMs who want the same as I and want to share in the costs and benefits I'm game. If it drives the price to <$1 for 5,000 worth of words each I'm very game. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Personal Gaming Assistant part 2

I've heard complaints about the GM carrying 90-99% of the workload. There is some exaggeration there, but the emotional color is worth bearing in mind. Maybe the GM feels like he/she is carrying 90-99% of the load. I don't think its a good idea to have a lop-sided distribution of work or investment in time, in a shared activity. When people can't meet in the middle, there tends to be frustration and resentment. If one would take an economists look at the situation, maybe there is a way to fix things without blaming anyone.

One interesting thing about being able to Pay for the VPGA is being able to make the GM's job more pleasant. Social Norms (Predictably Irrational ch4), the non-monetary contribution the common good of the group, has their place in the Game Table, but so does economic incentives. Note that the monetary contribution to GM assistance does not go directly to the GM, it goes to the entire group.

Where to begin?
I guess such begins with setting expectations. Using metrics, we can potentially forecast workload. Its pretty much how you would measure clerical tasks: Research (Words per Minute) + (Transcription/ writing (WPM) ) x complexity of task (original thinking involved/level of autonomous decision making involved) ). The more steps in the processes the longer the task would take. 

Measuring to Project costs?
In the end, it boils down to the GM's experience in preparing such material, he would first make a guess then talk it over with the VPA. What really happens is that we only know the amount of work something is going to take when we've done something very similar or when we are 50% into the task. In this situation constant communication is what allows parties to maintain expectations. Over a course of a relationship, VPA just get more efficient as they get more familiar with the Client's style, needs and expectations.  

Its a person to person job after all.
A VPA is a relationship that begins with sensing and measuring, and finally with an assessment of its cost effectiveness. As one can imagine, gets projects a little at a time, these allow both parties to get familiar and understand the circumstance better and more effectively meet expectations. Given how gaming circles go, a recommendation of another GM can go a long way, and a negative assessment of one can be very detrimental. Here is where some Call-center skills can be very much of use. 

Nothing Ventured nothing Gained.
Like many VPA's there is a trial period, where there is a shared risk between client and vendor, if one didn't then people would just walk all over each other (thats just basic economics and game theory). This also lowers the risk for both parties and keeps people honest most of the time. There are risks and both if not one party should protect each other from failing too badly. Failure is Ok, I find negative reviews are ok as long as there is an improving trend. When things go south, it should be automatic that the VPA make a root-cause-analysis report in a poorly delivered service and protocols established to prevent this from recurring, even in faultless transactions. It's the professional thing to do. 

Low level VPA ($1-1.2 per hour).
This assumes purely skype and emailing. You can use this for evaluation period.
  • Research 200-250wpm. if thats GURPS book, 12-15 pages an hour. 
  • Transcription and organization 8-10wpm from gaming material
  • Creative writing 400-500wph (assuming 1/3 of time with research and discussion of instructions. this is over a long period, at least 2 hours)
  • proofing 100wpm
Mid-Level VPA ($2-3 per hour)
increasing performance by +50-100%. Typically can offer more complex tasks and services. 

High Level VPA ($5-6 per hour)
better performance of Mid-level of up to 20-50%, and a much larger range of services offered.
Sample task for Lvl 1 VPGA:
This is a task I would need: List all equipment in GURPS in Campaigns, Characters, High Tech and Ultra Tech in a spreadsheet, convert all cost modifiers to CF format, and have columns for weight, cost, details and description, and pages. This is so that when I build up campaign and setting inventories and requirements I have a handy source to get from. Already this sets the stage for other projects: load-outs, equipment for npcs, unique setting equipment, etc...
Expected hours 16 (2 work days) = $16 (since this is low complexity, mostly cut and paste). This is about triple the cost of a e23 book that presents collated material, but consider those are sold for a couple of thousands.
Step 1: Establish instructions and deliverable, have a short deliverable to see if everyone is on the same page. Break down tasks into segments: GURPS Characters, Campaign, HT and UT. use pages as metrics. At this stage, the convention is constant contact. At this stage, realistically the Lvl1VPGA is juggling multiple GMs or has other part time work, so its not surprising that deliverable are in a day or two. 
Step 2: Agree on a compensation. How many deliverables vs pay.  Typically, at the low VPA level, its VPA entails the risk first, delivering 20-50% for the same percent in payment. 
Step 3: Rate each other. The client gets to publicly rate the transaction. In every transaction there is an evaluation for an ongoing relationship. As the client, how much value this is going to to be worth to him. Did spending $16 worth while for all that labor. The simplest way to look at this is that, instead of doing this particular task what did I do with my time and is worth while? If your players appreciate the work and services, do they appreciate it to share in the cost? 
Familiarity Incentive.
Less 10 to 20% in a long ongoing relationship. I spelled out the costs, but what is the point behind long-term client discount: as you get more efficient/it gets easier doing work for the client, it is only worthwhile for both parties to incentive each other for a longer on-going relationship.

Why I need this for myself. I want to game. I happen to be good in my job, but the more time I put into the job the more money and time I get to spend on other things. Of course, some gaming preparations are not very cost effective use of my time. I want to game, but I don't have enough time to prep a game the way I used to before many things (work, family, obligations, exercise etc...) tied up all my other free time.

I happen to like the level of detail I would get into Gaming. I admit I ruined GURPS for my GM when it became a Cost Benefit Analysis and Accounting nightmare, but I find myself a much better person becomes of it and I am able to approach work very effectively with the Gamer Mindset. I'm very sorry for my GM, but I can't be so sorry as to not-want what happened to happen. I'm very gratefull for his GMing, and hope to impart the same experience and love for critical thought and strategic thinking to other players as well, if only there were others who see RPGs as that kind of learning opportunity.

Without those skills, I don't think I would have reached the point where I am now: able to some-what afford to pay someone to help my GM or help me GM. Maybe this year, if I find myself a PGA or VPGA, I can run more games. Maybe run them more efficiently and effectively, and have less of the work and more of the fun of the experience.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Personal Gaming Assistant

Applying what I learned in the BPO industry, I think I have the materials and processes to create a kind of personal gaming assistant. I have a handy set of performance benchmarks for tasks similar to that of a personal assistant: transcription, research, and writing. 

I made a new year promise that I would game more often, and even thought of a value how much I would pay to play for a month. I realized that I am willing to pay ~Php2000 or $45 a month if it could help me create some awesome material (this assumes, mostly work from home and about 96 hours worth of work i a month). At that level of services, and accounting for all the performance aspects of a given task, I could actually delegate it and create a specific task for the person to make. As a part time job, the going rate for such would be at about Php ~6,000. 

I crunched the numbers and that should be enough for a very specific set of part time.

Tasks of a PGA (personal gaming assistant)

  • Create tables, collect stats from the books and put them in a spread sheet. - Over time I will automate a lot of my tasks through a spreadsheet. There are a lot of tasks that are purely transcription in building GM notes and tools. 
  • After breaking down a GM tool into a project benchmarks, have some simpler tasks delegated to the PGA. 
  • Research and organization of data. An example task would be: "group all skills based on Multiple-Intelligence", research economic factors affecting this and that or doctrine for this and that, using the X tables, convert all costs into Cost Factor System, Convert all Harn costs to GURPs using X rule. Etc... 
  • Play-testing house rules.
  • 2nd pair of eyes reading one's work. 
  • Annotation of all my PDFs with the latest errata and FAQ. 
  • Update some of my house rules into the PDFs and Wiki. 
  • Follow up the players during the week for the game, help them with their writing and incorporating their material to the Campaign Journal. Keep the campaign journal. 
  • If the PGA has arts skills - help with maps, cards (for characters, rules, etc), paint my min-art 72mm figs, video-edit the recorded game session. If not, outsource it to a Graphic Artist and be the one to manage that. 
  • Proof my work 
An Entrepreneurial Gamer can probably get a job as a full time Virtual PGA. He will do everything remotely. He will divide his time among various GMs. Costs of a home office would entail the following:
  • Internet can run up to Php3,000 for the internet (PLDT). This is for skyping with the clients, downloading and uploading material, and video streaming if need be. 
  • A PBX using an old CPU and a US Telco (APN, Novanet, Accella; $5 for a US no.) would be the cheapest way to call the clients everyday in their mobile phones. If one is very good in IT, he can Virtualize this PBX or spend 8000 for an old CPU to act as a PBX server, and 3500 for the analog card. This allows clients to call him, and call the clients in their home phones at greater clarity than skype. Also this allows conferencing. 
  • I know a guy who set up an elastix PBX, you can possibly get him to teach you to set one up for Php5,000 (a worthwhile investment in the longrun) for a day. (contact me if you want to know where to get China made analog cards in the metro manila area). Once you know how to set up a PBX that, in itself is a valuable skillset. You can bring down telco-costs of offices. 
  • A good notebook laptop would be best for this, so that taking work away from home some-times is an option to relax. Php30,000 (Laptops in the Philippines is 2.5x the cost of retail in the US because of red-tape). If using open source: LibreOffice, Inkscape, GIMP, etc. etc. this saves about Php20,000 in licensing costs. Canonical and the Paid for Linux programs are relatively cheap, as well. The training for linux desktop support costs about 20,000, or free from a friend. You don't even need desktop support level. 
  • A home office would have airconditioning, that would cost in addition of about Php2200 a month in electricity. (12php per KWh, 800W aircon)
  • Having two computers running. The PBX running at 24/7 will cost about Php600 in electricity cost, the home PC Php300.
  • What ever he earns will be less 6% from the banking service fees.
  • Office Furniture and Air-conditioning Unit Php10,000. 
Overhead: Php6,350+variable cost of telco ($0.013 per minute at the most expensive, and $0.009 at the cheapest. depends what you can get). 
Capital investment: Php56,000 if starting from scratch - typically one already has many of these except the PBX, that leaves it at about only the PBX and the PBX training at 14,500php. If he adds this to his overhead as a amortization, he'll just be adding Php2,000 of expenses.

In the Philippines, skilled labor at this level is at about Php20-30,000. The VPGA just adds on top of that his expenses of about Php8,350+telco minutes. Php170-230 ($4 to $5.4per hour).

Note: Some of these GM's use this to make their own material to be of a much higher quality to be sold, thus being able to make the investment pay for itself. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

About Knights, Byzantium in the 3rd Millennium

Knights are central in the setting. The Princes and Nobles are too powerful and a bit too intelligent to be made player characters, and are better made as Patron and Adversary NPCs. So many of the adventures center around the Stronghold and its survival in this incredibly harsh and unfair universe.

Which ones are the real Knights?
They are the leading family/household of a given stronghold. A stronghold can have a number of knights, because everyone of that family is expected to serve their overlord in what ever capacity their overlord wishes. The families can be called nobles, but the greatness of the Knightly population, the title of noble is reserved for those with the most prestigious of pedigrees. 

Duties of the Knight?
Strongholds are assets that produce either manpower, material resources, and sometimes skilled retainers or technology. They are expected to manage their stongholds well and meet their duties and expectations. Some houses, tend to look closely at the efficiency of the strongholds of their individual knights like the Komenoi, and the Tang.   

The most important duty of the Knight is their management of his people and resources for his overlord. This trait can mean a knight getting more resources and favors, and the small bit of meritocracy that allows surviving generations to be granted their own strongholds. 

Fostering and Education
The Scions of Knights, boys and girls, are sent to foster in the stronghold of their overlord where they indoctrinated, socialized, and educated to what would be very high end TL9 concepts and technical abilities. They are only able to return to their home every 2 years, and only for a 2160 earth hours before having to go back to school. 
Often, by the time they are 16-18, they are pulled out of school straight into conflict to serve as squires of relatives or anyone the overlord chooses.    

Serving in War.
Knights are expected to serve 2 years every 4 years. What happens most often is that, they serve 8-10 years straight and either die in the line of duty or get home too injured and damaged to be useful in the battlefield. Accompanying him are his younger relatives and personal retainers and bondsmen: squires, lieutenants or sergeants-at-arms. The attrition for these knights are the same for their entourage/retinue, mostly the surviving Lieutenants and Squires are promoted in the battlefield to be the leading Knight, only to go home damaged and broken from the experience.   

Bondsmen and Retainers
Bondsmen are indentured servants, they have no where to go but to serve the knight or starve and die of exposure, hunger, or ostracism. Bondsmen are highly skilled, when compared to TL8 Real world standards, but have a very lop-sided education. They are completely focused on certain technologies, to the point it is ritualized and they are hidebound. They are also expected to serve as levies, and most of the time have the equivalent content of TL6 basic training and about 130 hours out of the 8640 earth hours of a year opportunity to train. 

Retainers are freemen, technically they have more rights by way of mutual convention and goodwill with the Knight household. They are given special favor and opportunities, but more expected of them in return. These retainers are allowed to have their children fostered in Guild for training. The Guilds train them many technical skills, difficult to maintain in majority of strongholds. 

Lieutenants and Sergeant-at-Arms.
These are the knights closest servants, they are part of his or her retinue. The lieutenant having the highest rank among the Knight's other sergeant-at-arms. They are all highly skilled: sometimes trained by a planetary Guild-outpost or their overlords stronghold. Knights with bigger retinues tend to have more Lieutenats and sergeant-at-Arms to manage his forces.  

Retainers and Squires in War. 
Typically, Lieutenants and Squires wear environmental suits with a combat helm and torso armor. They are armed in such a variety of ways, depending on their leadership style. 

Knights Hardware
A knight is usually given durable but rustic equipment. In GURPS thats rugged and cheap-heavy (x1.8 the weight, but +0.5CF). The knight is given a TL9 Powered Armor that is rugged and cheap-heavy (but not cheap in setting standards), but rarely do knights use such in their roles as leaders behind the lines. Most often, they wear heavy tactical suits (DR30/15*, 22.5lbs). 

Knight Outfit 
These come in a range of varieties, it all depends on the leadership style of the knight. A default view is that, a knight is more often in comfortable yet practical suit even within his mobile HQ. (logically, since this is the most comfortable armor to wear in extended periods). In extreme cases of emergency, he/she wears her TL9 rugged and heavy powered armor. Most of the time, they wear garmets made out of TL9 ballistic weave. In readiness, various combinations of environmental suits, tactical suits, ballistic vest armor or torso armor.  
Superfine Weapons. Swords, Spears or Glaives (retractable pole) are designed to prevent a knight from being swarmed if at dangerously close ranges. (some swords are modular-able that they can be easily transform to a glaive, if needed). These weapons are very lethal against levies, allowing a knight to cut through more than one at a time. 
Variety of Combat Styles 
Some knights lead in the front, some fiefs are specialized in light infantry tactics, some are great with specialty weapons, other are superior in their logistics, Intelligence gathering, support vehicles, or in more support roles. Every knight and his battalion is made up differently depending on the strengths from their environment and circumstances. This makes their equipment very different and their doctrines very different. Detailing a doctrine involves looking a the cause and effect of a how these developed for a House, a Fief, then the individual stronghold.  

Knight Battalion
Useful Ratios - these are common ratios, but in reality these are adapted to what a situation calls for or to the strengths of the individual knight.
  • 50-80 per Section. lead by a sergeant-at-arms. 
  • 200-560 per Company, lead by a squires and/or lieutenants. Each are only able to manage 4-7 sergeant-at-arms effectively at a time. (House Tang, having the organization levels of the highest end). 
  • 800-3920 per Battalion, lead by a Knight. The knight is managing up effectively 4-7 squires or lieutenants. 
  • 1:4 support personnel to combatant.
These are massive land vehicles, mobile housing for up to 200-300 personnel. This serves as the mobile command center of a knight and his battalion. There are is about 1 to 3 Dreadnaughts per Battalion, depending on the wealth of the stronghold and knight. Some knights would rather spend such resources in Auxiliary Transports, Screening, Recon Vehicles, or special purposes vehicles or equipment. 

Visualizing the Stronghold
Majority (~60%) of has a population of  90,000 to 130,000. A small percent, (~1%) are in the population of 2-4M, and The capital strongholds, have populations of 10-20M. 130,000 to 2M make up ~15%, while ~25% are smaller strongholds. 

A stronghold no matter what size is called a stronghold. They are often given the added description of Towns, Cities, and Capitals or Metropolis. It is when they are grouped into a Region do they start being reffered to a Duchy, Barony, County, Province etc... Like in the real world, there is no precise terminology if one is a Duchy, Barony or the like, they are used interchangably... although some take offense of a incorrect referral. 

There is about 50m^3 per person. As the stronghold becomes more affluent or poor this gets tighter and nicer. At about $500 per capital income, every 10% above that value there is about an exponential amount more in space per individual. Every 10% less, there is about the same linear percentage less space per individual. 

Strongholds of about 1M or greater, have its own internal weather with condensation and some form of condensation. The strongholds of 15M, have a cloudy night sky. It has an appearance of lightly cloudy colored darkness with the buildings hanging from the ceilings appearing like stars at night.

Special Stronghold fortifications.
Deepsea or Under-Ice Strongholds.  
Dense Atmosphere Strongholds. 
Asteroid Stronghold

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Parallels of Scifi Future to the past: The Great Houses

Its Byzantium in the 3rd Millenium. Looking at the world, I tried best to draw parallels with the 31st Century with that of the 11th.

5 Great Houses
Bloodlines - Princes are the most powerful bloodline Psions. they tend to have mastered the most complex and potent abilities. Inter marriage has allowed all houses the most basic forms of each houses special ability. The most common use of psionics is attribute augmentation.
QDP are initial estimates, i will have to callibrate it once I have time to do the numbers. It just looks incomplete without their context.
Capped Pop

House Baldwin - Baldwin the 1st would have been the synergy that could have revived the Byzantine Empire. The Second Sons of the Franks, earning their reward of Conquest. This is the Western Dream of Empire realized by being able to wrestle House Komenoi from their seat of power, the organizational center of the known worlds.
House Baldwin can maintain the greatest standing fleets and fiefs. Currently the have the greatest wealth to capital ratio, a kind of boom.
Bloodlines. It appears vanilla human ability augmentation (players should not know what house baldwin special abilities, it ruins the setting surprise).

Pop 46B
Wealth (Pop to Income ratio) $1,000 (2011 USD buying power value)

House Komenoi - This is if Anna Kommena merged her House to that of Bohemmond of Tarranto, the Normans. The Alexiad, hinted how she was drawn to him. How she called him both barbarian and very attractive and charming. She was the daughter who tried to remove her brother and become her fathers heir and Bohemmond was the Viking Prince who wanted it all and any cost. Combine Byzantine Courtiers with the Vikings, and you would have what should be the deadliest house.
Basically what happened is their analogs is what created house Komenoi.
Bloodlines. Sensor and Inference augmentation are the special abilities of the Komenoi. That is why they have a ton of Assassins and Spies. The privacy invading technology we have now, the acceleratometer that allows a cellphone that can serve as a key logger for devices nearby is the level of information gathering and utilization of Komenoi.
Pop 40B
Wealth (Pop to Income ratio) $900 (2011 USD buying power value)
GDP $1.7Q

House Adir - As the middle-east was the second heirs of Rome, House Adir is as Technologically advanced as Komenoi. They have an expansive territory but their worlds are more hostile than all the other houses, they suffer chronic population decline which have to supplemented by the slave markets. All the houses sell their worse-off to House Adir as slaves. In return they provide sellers tech, radio-actives, and vast amounts of rare materials.
Bloodlines. Radioactives and rare-material manipulation. House Adir bloodline can draw vast amounts of special materials that make them invulnerable to their environment and to many forms of energy attacks. Their special attacks and abilities allow them to manipulate radioactive elements and radiation. They are the only House who can freely walk their Fief worlds without special life-support and protection. Their Princes are the weapon keys of their capital ships.
Pop 24B
Wealth (Pop to Income ratio) $800* (2011 USD buying power value)
*massive use of slaves.

GDP $1.8Q

House Tang - The Tang Dynasty, the largest house relative to manpower, but wealth relative to manpower they are 3rd tied with House Komenoi. Like the Tang of the 11th century, they have the most effective trade network within their territory. House Tang benefits from a lot of internal trade, but still have rather
Bloodlines. Personnal FTL communication, not at the level of instantaneous. Just faster than the fastest modes by about 50%. Add to that, the ability to coordinate and communicate undetectibly over massive numbers and organize all that. They almost act like a Hive mind, but its really superior communication ability. Tang is best in maneuvering and positioning, no other House can match them in this level of expertise. House Guards coordinate with their Lords, like a wushu film, in the degree of perfected communication.
Pop 32B
Wealth (Pop to Income ratio) $900* (2011 USD buying power value)
GDP $1.8Q

House Tek-met - The House with the most number of exoplanets that have living ecologies. All other houses have their strongholds underground and in barren worlds of desert, ice, and toxics. House Tek-met has jungle worlds envied by all the other houses. What stops others from simply charging to get these is their control of their Jump-gates and control of the Biosphere through their blood line abilities.
House Tekmet is the largest food exporter, providing fresh genetic material (over time, radiation leakages destroys the stock material of fiefs, leaving them to depend on algae - the most basic food stuff).
Bloodlines. What makes them different is Biological Weapon Control. These thriving worlds support the largest and most powerful dragons* in the setting. All the other houses are aware of the awesome power of their biological forces, only house Komenoi know about their WMD biological weapons: swarms and pestilence that Tek-met Prince can control.
They can biologically alter their Beasts, allowing them to need minimal tech to survive the worlds of other fiefs.
These allow them to give their knights symbiotic armor.
Pop 28B
Wealth (Pop to Income ratio) $700* (2011 USD buying power value)
GDP $1.6Q

They are biological weapons, but unfortunately, they require a biological pyramid infrastructure to support. They resemble fantasy dragons, but their appearance hides their practical design (a very high surface area to mass ratio). They are genetically engineered for a variety of tasks: Heavy to Light Aerial Support, Tunnelers, and Undersea dreadnaughts, cavalry, armor, reconnaissance and even artillery.
When Tek-met calls their "banners" they call their dragons and all sorts of fantastic beasts.

Magic and Psionics a product of Technology

In the alternate Fading Suns I've been brewing I was inspired by the TTC lecture about Einstein and the G+ Mad Science Circles I follow. So its no surprise I got to thinking about Nano-Tech, Bio-engineering and Materials that Defy Physics as we know it.

Sufficient Technology is so marvelous as to be considered Magic/Psionics.

In this setting, there was a purpose to making something that appeared like magic as we envision it: To create Technology that is discrete, inherent, and outside the Technology infrastructure pyramid.

The primary role of the technology is survival in the greatest extremes. It allows human to manipulate their bodies to survive the many hostile worlds they cannot otherwise colonize. In the worse case scenario, it allows humans to rebuild when cut off from the rest of humanity and technology. So before the technology could be spread and perfected the fall came.

Now there is Magic and Psionics, but lets look at it technologically:
Before "magery" there was Nano-Tech Cybernetics. This was the highest form of nano-technology, but still conservation of matter had to be followed and this required special materials to maintain. The nanites had to be "cultured" and designed. These were even more discrete compared to micro-machine and micro electronics and circuitry of mature TL10 cybernetics but this needed even a much more sophisticated infrastructure base to maintain the technology.

Lets now move to what is "Magery".
magery evolved from the need of the technology to exist outside the Infrastructure pyramid. It needs to be very permanent or self sustaining, to a level of degree not possible with even with the most advanced materials. The kind of nano-tech materials that composed magery are the kind that the annoying property of defying predictibility. Materials that were still barely graspable by TL11 quantum theory.

This gave the technology a kind of undetectability in all but TL11 tech. This stealth was a side effect of the existence-complexity of the material. This also made the technology unaffected by A TON of factors like sophisticated problems: all sorts of radiations and energies. The sorts of problems all the lower TLs faced and compensated through shielding and heavier builds and parts. So the technology was almost "indestructible" and highly reliable.

Unfortunately this is something passed on and finite (depending on the supply of raw materials). Mages were made, similar to the process of nano-tech cybernetics. It required a very sophisticated industrial base to make mages. The Stellar Church had the best of these, they had the most resources to make mages because as a Church, they had lands in ALL the worlds and fiefs, and their own trade network to pool the ultra rare materials. Of course not at the level of efficiency a real market and economy of a multi-state stellar trade network can create.

Magery was essentially a computer system with modular tools that can be created within the human body. It took advantage of evolutionary wastefullness of the human body: waste heat, chemicals, ions charges etc... powered these tools. A mage had the power to create radio communication tool within the human body, of course this is the most simplest of its incarnations and uses. Mages can easily create EMP effects to protect themselves from technology.

To manipulate these tools, Mages used TL11 mnemonics. Imagine the songs that allowed you to memorize tons of lyrics, or how we sing the alphabet to children so that they can memorize it. Now imagine mnemonics that allowed a human mind to store terrabytes of code in the form of Spells. these spells are not rigid, but can be modified the way a Skald could tell the same story a thousand ways to create a thousand different effects or a Jazz player can play the same song a thousand different ways. Thats what spells are: super mnemonics.

Magery was powerful, but it was not easily transmittable. The scientists of the republic wanted their children to be completely able to fend for themselves and thrive even in the most adverse conditions. Lets say the apocalypse came and the Terraformers all went broke, the Republic Scientists wanted to be sure their children had a fighting chance against that. Even if it would take multiple generations, they would survive even in the scarcest of technology... enter: Psionics and the rational why only the Great Houses have these.

Psion and Scions.
Before the tech was perfected and spread through out humanity, the fall came. The people who had access to it, were the first to climb out of the dark age... but since these were few, human self interest took over and power centralized and coalesced to these few groups: the Great Houses.

Psionics is magery with less programming. It doesn't take enormous amount of resources to create a Psion... BUT psionics is now a weapon: and the Great Houses are in a Psionic Arms race. Ironically, the houses need each other to produce Psions (this is where arranged marriages and blood lines come in). Unfortunately another complexity is that The Great houses are dealing with materials that are highly unpredictable, Quantum elements in the genetics of the Scions/Psions of each great house.

You cannot breed Psions reliably. Strangely even bastards can become very powerful Psions. Forget restoring Humanity to its hayday and bring about peace and equality: its an Arms race and War.  (Psionics is TL12).

In the world envisioned by the TL12 humanity, humans can live almost everywhere. They can shapeshift and retain their sentience despite material barriers of gass giants, space clouds/storms, or on the surface of molten or frozen worlds. Through psionics, humanity had the ability to have a part of them indestructible to many of these physical limits found in the galaxy.

Artifacts and Relics.
These serve as Power supply, Augmentations, and added resources for Mages and Psions. Unfortunately, they are rare. Radioactives are not that rare if you look at the Solar System and relative to the amount humans want to consume. Diamonds are not rare if you consider the Galaxy and that Pulsars have a Diamond Planet orbiting it. The rareity of the materials used for Psionics and Magery, is the kind that allows a galaxy of trillions of humans, a few hundred have trace amounts of these.

Psions and Mages cannot draw energy any other way except through Artifacts and Relics. The properties that make magic and psi indestructible and other-world worldly are also the same properties that prevent it from handling common mediums of energy like electricity and radiation directly.

So a Prince and Titled Nobles of a House, will have with them artifacts that allow them to access the powersupply of their suits to create special effects: gravitic, radioactive, and electromagnetic effects.

Cybernetics Vs Psions and Mages.
Cybernetics, even nano-tech level suffer the weaknesses of Tech lower than TL11. As I've mentioned that many kinds of radiation and limitations can disrupt Cybernetics. I'm not saying Cybertech is fragile, its just that there are trade offs to the amount of shielding and protection, Cybernetics and regular hardware can take in.

Its easier to make very powerful Cybernetics, but the trade off is their weaknesses and it is easy to measure technological power. Psionics and mages are wild cards.

Typical uses of Psionics and Magery.
Why use a Fireball when a grenade will do the job cheaper. The one thing Psionics and Magery is used extensively is body manipulation and augmentation. Princes have Powered Armor and Suits, you can only push these materials as far as their human body can go. So what they do is they create augmented skeletal, muscular, neural and cogntive systems.

So Mages and Psions are superhuman in speed and strength. With technology, they are incredibly powerful, indestructible and appearing omniscient. In game terms, they don't suffer much of the cognitive limitations regular people have in the fast pace of combat and emergencies.

A little Excerpt about Knights.
I mentioned that Knights ran Strongholds. These Strongholds had populations of commonly within the range of 90,000 to 130,000. They provided about a battalion (3,000) worth manpower of about 2-4 years of service. Sometimes these were a mixed force. They had ATVs, APCs, and sometimes Ultra-light aircraft etc... Wealthier Strongholds provided Tanks, Artillery, Air Support Craft. Since many of the worlds they warred in were very inhospitable, land dreadnaughts were common mobile HQ for every knight, with their sizes ranging those that can house a few platoon and a few APCs and ATVs, while other can house the whole battalion.

Ideally there should be a Stronghold building spreadsheet. Allows a GM to build "Vaults" (in reference to Fallout) in the manner one can build Manors in Harn Manor.

Through fealty, Knights gain:

  • Valuable Tech, supplies, trade network among other knights of the same house, alliances and aid.
  • Fostering (TL9 education) 
  • The power and influence to maintain his absolute control over his Stronghold. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Growing up Gamer has some Odd side effects

My urge to write about gaming has been building up for a while, Its come to a point that I'm ruining the notebook I have for home projects and tasks and filling it up with GM notes of how I'm going to create incentive for players to with talent* instead of intelligence and how I will play on the risk aversion of players by designing a random character generation system that potentially allow players to get more for their character create incentives for them to play outside their comfort zone**.

It makes me wonder who I am when I find myself writing about these stuff and it happens to be right beside the stuff I do for work. It really is so alien. It doesn't help that I can't remember the last game I was at, except the ones in 2010. (maybe I can find that game if I go through this blog, I would have blogged about it for sure). It also doesnt help that people who can relate are mostly online than people I see and meet at even a monthly capacity (the other people I know who can relate, I haven't seen in more than 7 months)

Looking into the future and understanding this real trait that really just makes me: me. This blog will be going on indefinitely until I change to someone I will not be able to relate to. Its not sentimentality that keeps me being me, It is this me that embraced innovation, change, and seeing the positive spin of life. If I change so much that, that part of me is gone maybe that's a kind of change I should work against. I guess I'm not the only one who believes this about themselves: that the gamer part of us is one of our best parts and we can't afford to lose that.

I have to thank a friend for giving the this thought and triggering this realization.
* All my Cognitive Studies won't let me see intelligence as a single ability.  So i plan to impose a Tax and a Cap on IQ. Instead of 20cp, 100cp per point above IQ10 and cap it at 13. Next, I will double the cost of Talents. In the random generation i'll use the massive talent list.  
** A random Character generation spreadsheet that allows players to quickly generate a character according to the setting demographics. The emphasis in realistic motivations and limitations: family, friends, social pressures, responsibilities and obligations, loved ones, etc. and try an alternative philosophical view of chance and fairness through such. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Byzantium in the 3rd Millenium

 My brother has been telling me about his Fading suns Game, GMed by Spielmiester. So I can't help but fantasize and re-imagine fading suns after all this time. This got me thinking a lot. I began writing about knights and how I would refine the ideas in light of what I have learned. 

In summary I began thinking about the role of Knights in this Futuristic Dark Age. I began to write about how a futuristic Dark Age would look like, and how would does economic truths hold in this setting.  It got really interesting, especially since a lot of my all my studies were applicable. It was re-imagining the world using a TL8 view of the future and trends, plus the lessons of a TL8 perspective. 

One of the things that defined a knight is his/her creation and role. His role to his Stronghold and Household, and his role to his overlord and house. I got carried away defining relationships, the norms, the deviations and the general expectations of much of the setting. I guess its striking a balance of clarity without having to go into such great detail as to narrow the definition is where my errors and self edits got me bogged down. 

As I re-imagined the setting, I stumbled on away to make science appear like magic and psionics. I all got inspired by my lessons in cognition and how mnemonics of sufficient complexity and effectivity can turn out like magic, activating deeply embedded and discrete technologically imbued abilities.    

I stumbled on an interesting idea: Psions and Scions, as only great houses had access to the most potent of technologically imbued abilities and how marriage alliances served another role of trying to activate powerful dormant abilities. This idea is not new, but what is new is how I defined superhuman abilities as related to their technological equivalents. 

What became an recurring economic element is that in the Fall of man, technological and information monopoly concentrated an incredible amount of power to a few individuals. In the Dark Ages, where humanity is at its weakest and most desperate state, suspicion and over-riding self-interest has made a stellar human expanse of much greater scarcity. 

There are remnant technologies, types created to exist outside the infrastructure pyramid, in the form of Psionics and Magery, unfortunately humanity fell to the dark ages before this was spread and perfected. Humanity has to rebuild, but having experience greater levels of human tragedy and desperation, and bridge incredible technological gap and physical barriers. 

Humanity spread out through the stars, occupying many inhospitable worlds that through a sophisticated trade, specialization, and technological network were made habitable. In the Dark Ages, much of humanity perished, when this infrastructure collapsed. Those that survived now live in underground strongholds, like the self-sustaining fiefs of old.    

From the surviving megacorporations came the Great Houses Emerged. From what was the remnants of Stellar Order, a pan stellar organization that allowed the diversity of humanity to come together and have diplomatic and economic ties (like the UN), came the Stellar Church. The few democracies that survived, became the Guilds.       

Friday, December 9, 2011

A very long hiatus

Written Dec 6
My hiatus got much longer, I'm 32 and the family needs me so I had to put aside this for a long while. Don't get me wrong, never does an hour passes that I don't think of how best to do X in an RPG and how to incentivize players to take in more complicated and near realistic challenges.
Funny about being in the BPO industry, it's very much into performance statistics and with the broadening kind of services it gets into it a munchkin is pretty much at home with all these values.
Building my own web server for my own open RPG wiki.
So much of what I'm learning 200+ hours of not for credit courses on economics an history and my work in IT channeled my efforts to make build up my own mediawiki for my own game system.
I tried the free wiki services but it's too slow and chuck full of ads. The ads are a turn off, and I wanted to customize the theme. I also wanted an organized and easy to share approach.
The Wiki had the advantage of already implementing the creative commons I liked: share and share derivatives.
I was just finished reading up on getting a free domain when my last Ubuntu update crashed my GUI.
Right now we, the family, are waiting for someone and stuck for an hour. I had the chance so I'm blogging now.
I hope I can better organize and channel these energies.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In light of the Polls

Hi all, In light of the Polls my post is going to be about being able to cram as much medieval history in your brain.
I've finished about 80+ hours of not-for-credit history courses thanks to the teaching company. I don't listen to music in my 2 hour commutes in the congested traffic of metro manila but these, I also listen to it when I do about 1 hour of chores. so at about 3 hours a day for about 2-3 years.

Also note that I try to apply what I learned in terms of gaming and framing it in a game. So gaming, the world building type and game prep, are like my practical exercises. Any GM would understand this is like a tip of an ice-burg amount of work.

Ok, one more thing about these lectures, they practice what they preach, they have a Game Theory and Critical thinking lecture and they applied the incentive's techniques to get you to buy. I've been subscribed for about 2-3 years so there always rolls around a massive discounted lecture of up to 70%. I get the pure MP3 download. Thanks to Tablets and Goodreader app its even more portable than ever before. So I get them at about $34 (thats 12 hour or 24 course lectures).

I still can't post much and I'm kinda still on hiatus until we are finish with work. its end of the year, strategic planning and budgeting so hope you understand.