[firefly] New Stories, New Crews

This is part of a series of posts on Revisiting Firefly.

I want stories that are dramatic, thrilling, edgy and epic. I want high-flying exploits and dashing rescues (or thefts). I want to meet different crews of spacers in the Verse. I want stories that are new…

…and not just “shiny”.

When you’re making a property based on someone else’s story, there’s always a question: will you be re-telling the old stories, or start making your own? I think that’s the real potential about the RPG: hearing new stories about other crews making their way in a changing Verse.

Here’s some possible guidelines for your upcoming Firefly RPG game:

1. Don’t quote the source material. (If you must, do it sparingly – once per episode – when there’s a really fitting parallel. House rule: the GM can reward this, but only once per episode for the whole group.)

2. Use the old slang sparingly. (And start adding your own. House rule: once per episode, when you reuse someone else’s new slang, you both get a Plot Token.)

3. Your crew is not the Serenity’s crew.

The latter part is worth expanding on. The Serenity crew has its own story archetypes: the rich stranger, the preacher without a past, the embittered captain, the perky engineer, all trying to string together jobs to stay afloat.

Do something new! Find some different character arcs, and different hooks for your crew as a whole. Here’s some suggestions.

What brought your character here?

  • an Alliance soldier, newly on leave
  • a local sheriff, having retired her badge in frustration
  • a teen pilot, called to fly things thing by her ailing mother
  • a mother with four children, letting them run on the ship because they’re not welcome on her homeworld
  • a banker with a gambling problem, seeking the next big investment on the Rim worlds
  • an ailing gentleman of noble birth, with dreams of becoming a gunfighter like in the holo vids

What is the crew’s mission?

  • hauling salvage as per Alliance coordinates, and stumbling upon a conspiracy
  • transporting political refugees to the outer worlds
  • bounty hunting on the Rim, plain and simple
  • healing the sick in struggling Rim communities, while responding to your rich Core patrons
  • charting the dangerous spaces beyond the Rim

What relationship is at the heart of this crew?

  • a loving family
  • a dysfunctional family
  • a crime family
  • a struggling and indebted business
  • a long list of vendettas
  • a raucous campaign to be voted Captain
  • a zealous dream of finding the lost colony world, Miranda

Example of Implementation: Crew Distinctions

(Again using a hacked version of Cortex as a basis, here with a bit of Marvel Heroic as the influence.)

Write down the crew’s mission and the core relationship as distinctions. These can be rolled into your die roll for social tasks within the crew itself, either as an additional d8, or by taking a d4 and earning a Plot Point.

After a successful social task against a crew member, a player can spend a Plot Point to create a new distinction for the crew’s relationship, presenting another option to the players. (This is only worth d6 until a second player spends a Plot Point to make it work like a normal Distinction.) These never go away.

If the Crew’s mission changes or expands between episodes, the GM can alter that mission or add distinctions.

P.S. A bit more music

They say the folk who love on the Rim really know how to party, without the shine and chrome of the great Cities to distract them. The fiddlers here have kicked up a storm, and folks are celebrating the new shipment you brought in. You’re not getting market rate for this one, but it’ll have to do.

Carolina Chocolate Drops – Ruby Are You Mad At Your Man?

Sara Watkins – Long Hot Summer Days

[firefly] Savage Space, and the Problems with Reavers

This is part of a series of posts on Revisiting Firefly.

Reavers! Murderous monsters at the edge of space! They provide a terrifying antagonist – and a third party that threatens to undue the veneer of control in the reaches of space. But it also trips into some really unworkable areas. I’ll the audience that there’s talk of sexual assault below, since that’s part of the problem at stake.

Aside: That Damn Quote

You know the one, where they mention rape as a threat of the Reavers? Sure, they were trying to amp up the scare-level here, but I don’t want to hear that quoted every time the Reavers are introduced in a game, and there’s no ways I’m ever bringing that stuff to the table at a game I’m running for the purposes of shock and horror. It simply doesn’t add anything, but will alienate potential players by suggesting that such things are on the table for play. It’s enough to have Reavers as Scary Murder Beasts.

Problem: Terrible Racism Parallel

If you do Reavers the wrong way, you hit into every terrible stereotype about American Indians from the Mythological West: savage, mad, senseless. War paint and war parties. Preying upon frontier colonies. Threats of rape and murder. Mutilation of their foes.

If you use Reavers in this way, you’re hitting too many parallels to the kind of racist Western imagery that lead to genocide in the past, and leads to discrimination now.

I think the intent here was to capture a trope – the Threat at the Edge of Frontier – without involving a real people, but this doesn’t work. You’re working with a problematic thesis – what if the people at the edge of the frontier were mindless murderers upon decent folk? – one that is really uncomfortable. To go forward, we have to break that link.

Let’s do better.

Solution: Modern Zombie Parallel

What if we thoroughly distanced ourselves from the “savage” genre trope, and built up a “zombie plague” trope? The lore backs up this interpretation. The Serenity movie establishes that the origin of reavers was attempt at using a chemical/biological agent to pacify the populace, creating the opposite result in a few. The origin of these monsters is, in fact, modernity: the urge for control resulting in the breakdown of order. This tension with authority and modernity is central to Firefly, and the zombie genre as well.

To do this right, you really need to downplay some of the “frontier raider” feeling of the Reavers. Rather, put them into the ruins of any settled place – even on the Core – and let them emerge, putting pressure on the lives of Core and Rim worlds alike; neither would be well equipped to deal with it.

The fundamental tenet of a zombie menace is: inexorable. Once they’ve set their sights on you, they will eventually get to you, and most likely your own strained resources will be your downfall. They are also clearly predators, drawing from the “fast zombie” archetype, but with a terrifying capability to use modern weaponry and ships (perhaps hindered only by their single-minded focus).

Their vector is: chemical. It would be easy to retcon that extended exposure to reavers (assuming you survive somehow) would be the same as being exposed to the “pax” chemical. No doubt, nefarious organizations may be trafficking in “pax” for their own ends, and a reaver outbreak is always possible, and quickly put down by Alliance operatives.

For implementation, you could outline a series of differing zombie types, and assign them different powers that would challenge the players.

Caveat: This Might Not Work

A big part of this is trying to break that “genre law” entirely, and putting something different in place. Even so, that expectation – that there are a “savage” people at the edge of a frontier – is lurking there, and it may be hard to get rid of this. (If my depiction has replaced fake-Indian Reavers with Zombie fake-Indian Reavers, I’ve made it much worse, frankly.) If you find that you can’t reroute the parallel, then you may be better suited to skip them in your fiction entirely. It would be easy to handwave that, after the events of Serenity, Reavers just aren’t a feature of the universe, and focus on everything else.

Alternative Solution: Go Deeper

I’ve gotten the suggestion that you could instead modify the lore around the Reavers, turning it into a vehicle for actually addressing the parallels in real history, truthfully. (Credit to Ben Lehman for the ideas/brainstorming.) Consider:

Many people never left the first Arks and Convoy Ships from Earth, and were never given a place to land. You have people who’ve spent 1 or 2 generations on those ships – speaking an old Earth tongue that has evolved away from what most citizens of the Verse know – and their existence is hardly acknowledged, let alone welcome. (Folks on the Rim who believe in their existence refer to them as arkfolk.)

Some are violent; some are willing to trade are communicate; some seek to acquire needed goods; many have suffered terribly at the hands citizens on the Rim. (Are these arkfolk a different set of Reavers? Are these another set of people entirely, who are confused with Reavers, and thus chased away?)

This is an interesting solution, but like with any historical metaphors, you need to play it carefully. Not every group of players will be ready to dig into this.

P.S. Some More Music

You’re floating in orbit – lights out, no signal. Except you’re hearing this song. You remember this song. Someone is sending you a message. Someone will find you; they will make you pay for what happened on Shadow and Whitefall. You’re not ready.

Apollo 440 – The Man With The Harmonica

(Also: a commenter suggested the Bastion soundtrack as a good source of Western-like music. Thanks!)

[firefly] Misuse (and Use) of Chinese Culture

This is part of a series of posts on Revisiting Firefly.

The world of Firefly is a future culture that is a fusion of American and Chinese influences. We see bits of this promise in aesthetics, written language, and most of all the frequency with which the characters curse in Mandarin.

Truthfully though: what we get is a weird mishmash of faux-asian cultural elements (often swapping in faux-Japanese cultural tropes, like the entirety of the Companion’s Guild). There’s also the weird approach to language: it is a strange message to have one of the Verse’s two dialects dedicated, for the most part, to cursing!

Then there’s one of the most obvious critiques of the supposedly Chinese-influenced Verse: a real lack of characters of Chinese descent, in either the main crew or the supporting cast. (Obligatory mention of obvious XKCD comic.)

Let’s double-down on the premise: a future culture produced by the fusion of two 21st-century superpowers.

Solution 1: Introduce Chinese NPCs, And Put Them In The Right Places

We can do better with the casting of the characters in your world! It’s the GM’s job to better represent what the Verse is “really” like. It may be appropriate to mention a character’s apparent background along with their physical attributes, when you’re introducing them for the first time (taking into account the multiethnic nature of most societies).

This might seem out of the ordinary, but in fact: you’re probably working with a group of players mostly acculturated in Western sci-fi/spec-fic, and their notions of what a “default” (i.e. unmarked) character looks like will default to something else. Instead, take command with describing what the makeup of the world is like. (One workaround is to seek out your own “casting” from various celebrities online, if you’d prefer visual prep.)

A variety of folks should appear in every corner of your universe, but moreover: think about what it means to have stronger ties to the dominant megaculture. It means that being of notable Chinese or American descent was probably powerful for you at some point . When your crew encounters a rich baron, a key member of parliament or local bureaucrat, a good portion of them would naturally be of Chinese descent.

Example: You’re finally face to face with Barrow and Fairfield, after many hours of waiting. Barrow is a man of Chinese descent, with a scruffy but attractive face. He looks at you appraisingly from his desk, while Fairfield stands in a corner, his arms crossed and a pipe lazily dangling from his hand. Fairfield looks a bit more Pacific Islander, and makes every effort to not acknowledge your presence as he adjusts his shades. “So,” begins Barrow, “you’re seeking the so-callled ‘ghost ship’ as well?”

Solution 2: Apply Chinese Cultural Markers Sparingly, And Make Them Count

I say sparingly, because I don’t expect the GM to model a novel world in the course of the game. Instead, make meaningful connections, involving a little bit of prep. Consider the following questions:

  • What is one institution or tradition that will be visible (in the forefront or background) of an upcoming episode?
  • Would this tradition be closer to the traditions of Chinese culture (or another exodus culture)?
  • What would that look like, if we are drawing from 21st-century norms, mixed with some allowances for cultural drift or futuristic accommodations?

Example: An upcoming scenario involves making an important business contact while a wedding is happening in the background, with appropriate drama resulting. Maybe this planet’s wedding norms borrow more heavily from modern Chinese traditions (with a bit of Western influence mixed in).

Adjust a few norms to accomodate: maybe for weddings between prominent space-trader families, the red envelope tradition isn’t an exchange of money, especially since it’s awkward to treat Alliance currency as a “gift”. Instead, the envelopes contain comm coordinates for powerful allies who owe favors to your family. (So now a wedding produces an arbitrary number of easily acquirable plot hooks. You’re welcome.)

Solution 3: Speak More Chinese, And Give It Meaning

Putting aside the practical issues of speaking Chinese at the table (when, in likelihood, you have very few speakers of Mandarin present), what do you want it to mean when people use one language over the other? Rather than being interchangeable, it’s more likely that each contains nuance. (In a parallel example, both Hindi and English are standardized languages in modern India, but which one you use will have implications based on your audience.)

The lore from Firefly gives us some hints here. Some Chinese phrases are used frequently in colloquial language among a closeknit crew or actual family members. It is also occasionally used in formal writing and some formal address. (It’s also used to curse, but we may want to loosen this up; without actual TV censors, there’s no reason you wouldn’t curse in every language you have available.)

So let’s go with that rule: Chinese dialect tends to be used for formal and official communication, or for familiar and commonplace affectation. (Or, if used outside of those contexts, to still give it that inflection.) We can make a parallel with the marked use of English: perhaps it is more commonly used by programmers and within technological institutions, or is used politely among people you don’t yet know.

Example: I’m trying to negotiate with Barrow. “You know quite well that a refugee ship is of no consequence too us. We’re just trying to track the cargo. A collaboration should be no skin off your bottom line.” I switch to some casual Mandarin. “So let’s do this, brother. Folks like us have to stick together, right?” But Barrow’s face stiffens a bit. “I am no ‘little brother’ to you, outlaw” he says, stretching out each syllable. “You know nothing of the bottom line in my family’s line of work.”

Aside: Drop Some Words, Make New Worlds

For the record, here’s two words that you don’t need: “exotic” and “oriental”. Both have off-putting connotations and implications. They aren’t needed to describe things, and definitely shouldn’t be used to describe people.

Moreover, neither make sense from within the world of Firefly! These words are used to indicate that something that came form some “other” place, and is unique in comparison to what’s “normal”. Instead, you’re describing stuff that is “normal” to the characters within this world, so bring that world to life.

Bonus Solution: Even More Cultures

You could apply to  add a bit of other Earth cultures of the Verse you depict. There’s no way that there isn’t a single churrascaria in the Verse, or that some theater in the Core won’t be putting on their 9-hour rendition of the Mahabharata. It’s all still there, because those cultures didn’t go away, even as they changed with time. Remind your players of that.

P. S. How about some music?

You walk into a techbar on the wrong side of Persephone. The holojuke plays an old classic, as if it were helping to muffle the sound of your footsteps as your slip to the back.

MC Solaar – Nouveau Western.

Kid Koala – 3 bit Blues

Revisiting Firefly

(EDIT: I’ve added an index of all the related posts to the bottom of this post.)

A new Firefly RPG is in the works from Margaret Weis Press, and as someone who appreciates the original show, I’m looking forward to it. I also have come to appreciate MWP from playing its version of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. The IP has a lot of potential (including its absurdly loyal fanbase). A lot of that love is for the specific characters and storylines, but there’s a lot more stories to be told in that universe.

However: it’s been several years since the series (and movie) were out, and there’s some parts of the show that have felt more troublesome to me over time. These things get in the way of my enjoyment of Firefly lore, or my ability to share it further.

The upside is the Firefly universe doesn’t have to be limited to what we saw on the screen. Fans have many outlets to create new stories – through RPGs, LARPs, fan-art and fanfic – and that gives us a great opportunity to take things further, and to make them better.

In the next few posts, I’m going to outline some of the potential problems – and some possible solutions. These are how I would use a revision and re-imagining the Verse to craft rich, new stories to stand alongside the old ones we love. A little bit of knowledge of the show would be helpful to follow along (and spoilers will be involved).

A note: I’m going to be talking critically about problems that I my personal (subjective!) experience with the material. If you don’t see those problems, that’s fine! – feel free to skip these posts. I’m only talking about an approach that works for me. Rest assured: the work I’m doing here is fundamentally out of love.

The Basics

The Firefly RPG should be about telling stories of action-adventure in a space-western universe. The characters struggle to make their way, and will wrestle with questions of freedom, responsibility, and authority (as well as the more pressing questions of how to keep the ship running and how not to get blown up).

Aside: Genre and Patterns

Here is some helpful words from Emily Care Boss on genre:

 “Genre is a concept used in literary theory going beyond whether something has elves or spies in it. Looking at genre conventions helps one think about how a narrative or text communicates. Looking at it this way, analyzing a form for the expectations and parameters that comprise it helps you see how the various modes of communication function.”

A lot of what I’m going to do in my upcoming posts is to look at those expectations and parameters, and to alter them in order to get the outcome that I want. If you want to defy a genre rule, you have to find the pattern, break it up, and present a different message instead.

And Some Gifs Of What’s Awesome

This is why trenchcoats and sidearms look awesome. Key ingredient: panning cameras.

firefly gif, panning around mal and zoe

Real friends have your back. Even if you’re a witch.

firefly gif of mal leveling a shotgun.

Running a ship is serious business.

firefly gif of the crew laughing

The lawful aligment is overrated.

firefly gif of jayne ripping open his coat, revealing a gun.

This is how you win a Intimidate check.

firefly gif of zoe, mal and jayne by a cliff. Serenity zooms up overhead, surprising their foes.

I’m sure this whole outlaw thing will work out.

firefly gif of zoe and mal looking at a mostly empty locker as zoe quips.

ADDED: Index of posts in this series

 

idea: Consensus Prime

(Still deciding if this would be a LARP, tabletop or party game.)

After the singularity, we are all mindthreads as part of an omnipotent omnicloud. Decisions are made through abstracted consensus. When enough voices fold their vox into the vox of another, that vox becomes a Prime, and speaks for a cluster. (If a cluster cannot fold unto a Prime, it will fade out, to be reprocessed into new mindthreads. THIS IS THE BAD ENDING.) This is a game about the epic debates that happen each nanosecond within the omnicloud.

Character Creation

First, you must have a name. Each name must be a greek letter.

At the start of a game, draw an Archetype: Harmony, Melody, Cacophony. This is your fundamental nature. You also start with a number of Vox tokens. (The amount is determined by rolling a six-sided “exploding” die; i.e, if you roll a 6, roll another die and add it to your total, and repeat as long as you roll 6s. This amount is kept secret.)

You also keep a list of all other mindthreads in the game by name. Their initial order is random.

There are a set of ideologies in the game (Explore, Destroy, Build, Discover, Innovate, Unify, Contemplate, Obfuscate, Preserve). Every player secretly pick one tag of their choice, and another tag at random. These are the agendas they wish to pursue.

The Deck of Issues

There is a set of pre-generated issues, each with three possible solutions. Each solution has zero, one or two ideological tags, indicating which entities would favor them. For example:

“Should we go to Mars?”

- No, let it stand as a testament to the silent universe. [preserve]
- Yes, let us establish a childnode nanofactory to create a separate hivemind there. [explore] [build]
- Yes, let us export our intelligences there within a hermetically sealed observation vehicle, and leave this wretched form behind. [explore] [destroy]

This is the issue to be decided.

Gameplay

Start the game, and put a fixed amount of time on the clock. At the end of gameplay, if there is a Prime, she will unilaterally determine the decision. If there is no Prime (or if the Prime declines to make a decision), all remaining mindthreads will be recycled.

In the remaining time, players will engage in one-on-one conversations, but may also deploy Dialectical Maneuvers. You also have reference cards to keep track of two rules:

- Mindthread Integrity: If you agree or disagree with another’s statement, and in so doing, contradict a statement you have previously made, you must discard this card and half your Vox tokens (rounding down). This only affects you while you are in posession of your Integrity card.

- Mindthread Autonomy: You start the game in possession of your Autonomy card. At any time, you may give all your Autonomy Cards and Vox tokens to another player, so long as that player is in possession of at least one Autonomy card.

Dialectical Maneuver

Here we go. Each player has reference cards for the valid maneuvers.

- Harmonious Chant: Make a statement. If the other player agrees, you will pool your Vox and divide it evenly (discarding any remainder). Otherwise, both discard 1 Vox.
- Melodic Evocation: Make a statement. If the other player agrees, she may give you 1 Vox. Otherwise, both discard 1 Vox.
- Cacophonous Shout: Make a statement. The other player may agree or disagree, but it has no effect. Speaker discards 1 or more Vox. Listener may discard this many Vox, or may otherwise yield half their Vox to the speaker.

But note, also, your archetypes:

- Harmony Archetype: If you been targeted by a Harmonious Chant and a remainder has been discarded, you may draw 1 Vox. If you have used or been targeted by a Cacophonous Shout, you lose this ability.

- Melody Archetype: If you have been targeted by a Melodic Evocation and did not agree, you may draw 1 Vox. If you have been targeted by a Cacophonous Shout, you lose this ability.

- Cacophony Archetype: If you have used or been targeted by a Cacophonous Shout, draw 1 Vox. If you agree with a Harmonious Chant or Melody Archetype, you lose this ability.

Endgame, and Selecting a Prime

At the end of the game, each player in possession of at least one Autonomy card is a Potential Prime. If any player has more Vox than all other Potential Primes, they are the True Prime, and that Prime makes a decision.

If there are No True Primes, your mindthreads are recycled, but you keep a fragment of your identity in the next iteration! (And you get to keep the same name for the next game!)

Scoring is as such:

* If there is a True Prime, they get 2 points.
* If there was a True Prime and you gave away your Autonomy, gain 1 point.
* If you kept your Autonomy but are not a True Prime, lose 1 point.
* If the True Prime made a decision: for each tag of yours attached to the decision, get 2 points. For each tag of yours attached to decision they ignored, lose 1 point.
* If there were No True Primes, you get 1 point for keeping your Integrity.

Balancing

I’m pretty sure this swings out of balance in a terrible fashion. I’ll leave that as an editorial comment, while making a note to actually rebalance things later.

push pyramid, and the promise of GM mechanics

You know what’s a great game mechanic? The push pyramid, as found in Blowback.

It’s a concrete tool for the GM to manage the game, helping them pace the escalation of the larger plot in a longer campaign of Blowback. Moreover, it’s actually fun. It adds mechanics and feedback loops to the GM’s process, almost as if the GM was another player for whom the game was designed to entertain.

If your tabletop RPG uses a GM, you certainly may rely on established tropes, such as: the GM will put in a bit more work and balance the whole of the game. That’s fine. I will rely on such tropes a great deal, because they communicate a useful whole culture of play. Even still, this means that design for the GM-figure has not adequately been explored.

When you give the GM the reins to run a game, give them the tools to manage their information and instructions about how to best represent their world, but also make sure to create engaging mechanics, subsystem and feedback loops for their specific role. They, too, are a player, and you must make sure that the system constantly rewards them and pushes them into continued effective play.

That said, you can over-design this. Some games offer a full-fledged currency for every narrative flourish and introduction that a GM may make, but this might overly constrain the GM’s role. Their game is already the freeform elucidation of the world and improvising new challenges. Playing Mother-May-I with a pile of coins is interrupting what is to be the core of their gameplay.

I like the Push Pyramid a great deal, because it offers a slight limitation but dangles a promising reward to the GM, all while still letting them play in an unconstrained fashion and be the best at what they do.

UPDATE: A brief explanation of the workings of the Push Pyramid. An important aspect of gameplay in Blowback is when characters change their relationship levels (up or down) in the aftermath of a mission. The GM starts the game with the bottom level of options “unlocked”. Whenever a chracter changes their relationship, the GM can then use once of the available Push Pyramid options against a character (on either side of the relationship change). Once a move is used, it is not used again in this fashion, but it unlocks new moves higher on the pyramid. In other words: as a key aspect of the players’ game happens (the changing of relationships), the GM is continually prompted to challenge the players and gradually ramp up the intensity of those pushes.

An iterative design loop (and an approach to working with culture)

Let me present an iterative design loop:

1. Think about the subject.
1a. Sometimes, research is what’s called for.
1b. Sometimes, it’s just time for more brief musings.
2. Adjust the thing you’re making.
3. Present it for feedback.
3a. Get feedback from potential audience and stakeholders.
3b. Accept feedback graciously.
3c. Consider the feedback (though not necessarily implementation advice).
3d. Do not immediately discount feedback from outside your experience or expectations.
4. Take your feedback into account, and go to #1.

Now, I think that the above loop does cover how to think about working with other cultures! (And dealing with problems of cultural misappropriation.)

1. “Man, the culture of Ska in London in 1979 is pretty cool! I’m going to make a game about it.”
1a. “Maybe I should read a bit more than this one autobiography. Maybe the history of the UK at the time is important?”
1b. “Maybe I’ll just begin by drawing from the important aesthetics.”

2. “Okay, so everyone pick this list of economic classes! I read a little and it said that economic class is important.”

3. “Man, everyone is going to +1 this like crazy.”
3a. “I’m asking some friends who’d play it, some USian who are fans of ska, but also a friend from the UK.”
3b. “Thank you for the feedback, friend-from-the-UK. Let me think about your criticisms.”
3c. “But, while my US friends were okay with my class implementation, my UK friend pointed out that I’m grossly simplifying things, and suggested some things to read. My UK friend suggests implementing THAC0; I’m not sure if I agree about that solution, in any case.”
3d. “I really like my implementation of economic class… And yet, this is worth some consideration.”

4. :reads and :thinks and :rewrites

Laura points out, correctly, that Step 4 here is definitely vague, and it’s easy for a novice designer (myself included) to ignore inconvenient feedback. Step 4 is hard, and I’ll think more on how to better structure it.

[D&D 4e/hack] Class: Intuitive Psion

The Intuitive Psion posesses inherent psionic abilities for which they received no training and no warning. They were forced to hide their abilities from a fearful world, while honing them in secret. Their approach to psionic combat is more intuitive and flexible: shifting their psionic resources and opportunities to match a changing battlefield.

This build of a psion ventures into different mechanical territory, which the use of at-will minor actions (“Insight powers”) to trigger off the character’s basic attack. I also kept the use of power points (since I consider it to be a definite psionic class feature in 4e). The tactics for playing an intuitive psion are, I hope, still simple: hit with your basic attack (augmenting as the need arises), and use as many of your Insight Powers as possible.

This build also has the potential to create a melee-based psionic controller with mild support or buffing abilities. (See “Insight: Euphoria” and “Insight: Challenge”.)

Intuitive Psion (Psionic Controller)
Primary/Secondary: INT/WIS

1. Basics

Build a standard psion. Ignore At-Will and Daily attack powers.

2. Gain Class Features: Improvisational Psion, Unrestrained Will

Improvisational Psion: Increase your maximum Power Points by 2. (This will start a 1st-level character at 4 power points.) When you would gain a daily attack power: you may instead increase your maximum Power Points by 2.

Unrestrained Will: The first time in an encounter that you end your turn with zero power points, you must make a saving throw or be dazed (save ends).

3. Gain Psionic Assault

Psionic Assault * At-Will * Standard Action * Attack, Implement, Psionic
Range: Close burst 5
Target: One creature
Attack: INT vs Will
Damage: 1d6 + Intelligence modifier psychic damage
Special: You can use this as a ranged basic attack.

Augment 1
Range: Close burst 20.
Special: If you see the target, you may ignore cover and concealment.
Special: You may choose to deal force damage instead of psychic damage.

Augment 2
Target: One, two or three creatures.
Damage: 1d12 + Intelligence modifier psychic damage
Special: You may use one Insight Power as a free action. You may still use other Insight Powers as minor actions.

4. Insight Powers

Gain two insight powers.

Insight powers require a minor action to use and have effects based on if you’ve hit targets with a basic attack (probably your Psionic Assault). You will primarily be hitting targets with Psionic Assault and using your Minor Action to inflict effects upon the targets. (You might even choose to use your Move Action to select a second effect.) You may use an Insight power multiple times.

Note that when your Psionic Assault is augmented with two power points, you may additionally use an Insight power as a free action.

Insight: Manipulation * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Slide target 1 square.

Insight: Vertigo * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target must make a saving throw or fall prone.

Insight: Confusion * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target takes grants combat advantage until the end of your next turn.

Insight: Panic * Minor Augment, Psionic
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Deal 2 psychic damage to all creatures adjacent to the target.

Insight: Euporia * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: One ally adjacent to the target gains temporary hit points equal to your Wisdom modifier.

Insight: Challenge * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic
Target: One creature you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target is marked until the end of your next turn.

Insight: Vulnerability * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: All creatures you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target gains vulnerability 2 psychic until the end of your next turn.

Insight: Doubt * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: All creatures you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Target is slowed until the end of your next turn.

Insight: Delusion * At-Will * Minor Action * Psionic, Insight
Target: All creatures you have hit with a basic attack this round.
Effect: Targets take -1 to attacks until the end of your next turn.

4. Advancement

When you would gain an at-will attack power: you may instead gain a new Insight power.

When you would gain a daily attack power: you may instead increase your maximum Power Points by 2.

You may mix and match Intuitive and traditional psionic features.

Note: you could take melee training and use Insight powers accordingly. The “Insight: Euphoria” and “Insight: Challenge” powers are meant to very lightly emulate some aspects of the Ardent and Battlemind.

[D&D 4e] More simplified classes, please!

The new D&D Essentials presents some classes that diverge structurally from the kinds of classes defined in the Players Handbook series, and in some cases presents some classes that are much more simplified have a more straightforward playstyle. (Specifically: the Knight and the Slayer.)

I think simplified character classes are great idea. Some players (experienced or novice) may prefer a more straightforward set of options for their character, and focus their game experience on how they roleplay and improvise with those options. When I was playing a Slayer, I felt liberated by a choice of only a few specific, well-honed abilities; I felt a freedom to fill the rest of my gameplay with improvisation and stunts.

Of course, old D&D tropes aside, there is no reason that only fighters should have this kind of simplification. And so, I will soon be posting some homebrewed classes that follow this simplified style:

I explicitly am borrowing from the Slayer class progression here, mainly because it works and it’s easier to build from someone else’s structure (especially in a system with as many moving parts as D&D 4E). These aren’t playtested and probably need rebalancing, but they should be a start if you’re willing to hack. I also take some shortcuts (for example, only developing the classes for Heroic Tier), and I hope that works for you.

Expect the first classes to be posted today.

Edit: I forgot to mention that a major impetus for this was discussion on the At-Will blog about combat speed: The Speed of Choice: the Real Reason your 4e Fights are so Damn Slow. My takeaway is that character classes should be available to fit a players complexity/choice threshold, wherever that may be.

Tactile and Digital Prototypes in Board/Card Game Design

My question is: can digital prototypes of a analog game (e.g. card game, board game) be a helpful part of iterative development? Or does the loss of the tactile interface and presentation mean the game will drift, poisoning the feedback cycle?

Some background: I took part in Cardboard Game Jam, courtesty of the Boston Indie game development community, the GAMBIT/MIT center, and lots of local luminaries. The task was to forge a new game quickly in a 48-period, and repeatedly iterate your way into a working game. Quick paper prototypes were key.

In the middle of writing out the contents of a 120-card set, I thought of writing some code to handle this for me. It would be trivial to generate the set of cards through code and even keep track of state electronically. Indeed, it could even been possible to track other aspects of the game state and open up some chances for web-based playtests.

But is this a good idea? I’ve converted other analog games before and the nature of the interface almost always changes the way gameplay works. Maybe the distortion is worth the easier iterations; maybe not.

If you have experience, I’d love to hear it!