Some Sons & Daughters Topics for the New Year

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in Sons & Daughters

It’s Monday, so I Must Update. But I spent the day erranding and didn’t put anything together proper. Instead, have a smattering of Sons & Daughters topics I am currently working on and may appear in soonish future updates:

  • Hometown Creation
  • Hero Mentors and Mentor Missions
  • Mexico and the Reconquista
  • The Broken Bay
  • Oakland and the Raider Nation
  • San Francisco, the House Built on Sand
  • Portland
  • Stranger Seattle
  • Vegas, Baby

And other things inspired by my home group’s progression.


Looking Ahead to 2014

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in Most Dangerous Housekeeping

A whole lot of nothing happened on this blog in 2013. I spent a lot of my creative energies in 2013 at my day job at Fifth Column Games. I got laid off from there a few months back, and a lot of my creative energy since then was wasted in a whole unemployment-depression thing. Ain’t those just great? Inspired by Ryan’s post on half-done projects, I thought I’d muse on some things I’ve been working on and what I’m looking forward to digging into as I head into 2014.

Sons & Daughters

I’m currently running a Sons & Daughters campaign in meatspace. We meet every other Tuesday. It’s giving me lots of impetus and inspiration to work on the setting.

Sons & Daughters is intended to be a Savage Worlds campaign structure. I ultimately want to do a product, but the form of that product is still up in the air. A short setting book? A plot point campaign a la Fifty Fathoms, one of its direct inspirations? A boxed set with printed maps and tokens? I’m not ready to do any sort of Kickstarted monstrosity.

The good news is that I don’t have to know yet. The home campaign is forcing me to build the subsystems that I want the game to have (listed here with their main mechanical inspirations): airship travel (Fifty Fathoms and Slipstream), salvaging and trading (Fifty Fathoms, Slipstream, Atomic Highway), hometown growth (Gamma World, Flatpack), crafting (MMOs, God help me). Working on subsystems is fun. It’s a rich and delicious challenge to try and add functionality without bloating the rules too much.

Halfling Nations

Halfling Nations is a setting project that I’m doing with Ryan that I have yet to actually produce anything for. I’ll be setting some microgoals to get my side of that project rolling. We’re both pretty excited about it as a lightweight setting that could play well with whatever fantasy-friendly system you favor.

Not that publicly guilting myself is an actual motivator, and it’s not like boasting promises of productivity in a blog space actually work for making me produce content, but I’m boasting and guilting myself, anyway. And really, more than that, I’m excited to create this with Ryan and share it with you.

Project Triptych

This is the project name for the Zelda-inspired project (thanks, Nate). I want to have a playtest ready by February.

This project is ambitious. I have the rough outline of a decently lengthy campaign in a Zelda-inspired style, eight or ten dungeons in total with an act break after the third. I’ve got an artist who’s expressed some interest in working on the project with me, and a designer who wants to help with dungeon design. My ultimate goal would be to release the game as a boxed set, a complete experience including the rules and campaign and a cloth map. None of these parts are things I’ve completed entirely before, so it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of learning, a lot of growth. This is a whale I could be chasing for years. I’d better get on that sooner rather than later.

What I’m Not Working On

Frontiers: Frontiers is up on blocks, so to speak. The design of the native New World cultures is inspired by my popular literature- and high school social studies-influenced understandings of Native American cultures. Which is to say, hells of problematic. This is something I’ve come to care more about in recent years than in my earlier years of working on the setting. Before I can confidently prioritize moving work on the setting forward, I need to up my knowledge of Native American history. There’s a difference between well-researched inspiration and reductionist caricature.

Oh, and that whole “analog of Darkest Africa is where the orcs come from” thing needs to be like crazy rethought and finessed. Even I was giving myself side-eye on that one.

Rocketpunk: Not sure what I want to do with this concept. Maybe a Slipstream-style Savage Worlds Plot Point frame. Maybe a fiction or comics project. Regardless, I would need to do a lot of research into the 50s and 60s so I can then put them in space. I haven’t had the inspiration to sit down and do that.

“What manner of steampunk pageantry is this?” I hear you ask. Allow me to explain.

At PAX East 2012, in the Tabletop Workshop room, we (“we” being myself, Caroline Willis of LARP Couture, and Jack Graham of Lonesome Robot) held a Steampunk Worldbuilding Workshop and Exhibition. The room as a whole was given a prompt concerning Victorian wormhole colonization of a new planet–a mere skeleton of a setting to hang elements upon–then each table of attendees was given an element to flesh out. Some were asked to tell us about the climate of the new world and how fashion would be affected. Others were asked to describe various factions, such as a group controlling a vital resource, or a group of villains, or a group of heroes. One table was tasked with detailing a piece of ubiquitous-yet-fantastic technology. You get the daguerreotype. And so geassed, each group set about summoning these details from the aether of the shared creative space and writing them down.

And then the magic happened. Tables of relative strangers transformed into workbenches ringed with crews of comrade worldsmiths. Messengers zipped to and fro, trading knowledge, swapping girders of fresh-milled fantasy with which to frame their floating cities, anarchist plots, and generational industrial conspiracies. In under an hour, our sprig of inspiration bloomed into their arbor of clockwork creativity.

We kept the notes. They’re up at http://steampunkexoplanet.blogspot.com/. It’s even Creative Common licensed in case anyone wants to take it and run with it. And we had a few people promise by show of hands to run games set in the world at Tabletop at PAX East 2013. Come check it out.


Frontiers – Strongbox Tinskin (AGE System)

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in AGE System, Frontiers

These clockwork automatons look like a cross between a crab and a steamer trunk. Strongbox tinskins take the form of a rectangular, iron-bound chest with a clockwork undercarriage from which protrude six to eight legs, as well as a quartet of ocular lenses, one pointing in each direction. Not especially helpful in a workshop, where a craftsman would lay out his own tools and an automaton would be of use in directly assisting with the work, strongboxes are designed to assist scholars and engineers working in the field by carrying equipment and tools for them.

A strongbox has no external manipulators, but it does have a single internal claw manipulator that it can use to keep its compartment’s contents from shifting about too much, and to open and close its own lid on command. They are usually programmed to use the claw to hand out their internal contents as needed. In addition to internal storage space, it is common to see pouches or webbing affixed to a strongbox’s lid and sides to accomodate gear that won’t fit inside, either because the main compartment is full or an item’s dimensions are greater than the inside can handle.

Strongboxes intended for service in areas with access to cable power are typically powered by clockwork spring batteries. Those being taken more than a day’s journey into the field are fitted with either steam boilers or alchemical batteries. A decently programmed strongbox can be trusted to keep itself fed, hooking up to cable power or replacing coal or batteries from available supplies as needed.

The classic design features six legs, one to each corner and an extra on each long side, and a flat lid on the trunk, but the design varies by builder and workshop to include as many legs as ten or as few as four, and lids that curve or come up at odd angles. A rumor popular among engineers has it that the esteemed tinskin designer Viktor Czegei converted his trusty old strongbox into a reading chair that moves between windows throughout its master’s house to catch the best light.

Strongbox Tinskin (Non-Combatant)

Abilities (Focuses)
-3 Communication
4 Constitution (Stamina)
-2 Cunning
-1 Dexterity
-3 Magic
1 Perception
4 Strength (Might)
2 Willpower

Combat Ratings
 10; Health 40; Defense 10; Armor 4

 Attack Roll +0; Damage 1d3+4

Favored Stunts: Defensive Stance and Skirmish.
Weapon Groups:

Strongboxes obey their owner’s simple verbal commands. A strongbox can be instructed to proffer any single item in its compartment to its owner or another designated friendly target. This occurs as a major action on the strongbox’s turn. A strongbox can also be ordered to use its internal manipulator to pick an item up through a special hatch in its undercarriage.

A strongbox that has been ordered to defend a target will interpose itself between the target and any apparent enemies and open its lid, providing light cover (-2 penalty on attack rolls made against the target).

Strongbox tinskins can use their internal claw manipulator to hold their lid closed. Attempts to pry open a strongbox’s lid while the construct is active requires an opposed Strength (Might) test.


ZIP Design Diary 2: Map Doodle 1

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in ZIP


Presented without explanation. Doodling maps is productive, right?


ZIP Design Diary 1: Inspirations and Basics

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in ZIP

I’ve started work on a Zelda-inspired RPG project. For now, I’m calling it ZIP, for the Zelda-inspired project. It needs a better project name. Nate suggested “Triptych,” which has a nice ring to it, but I’m not sold yet. I’ve had the basics of a Zelda-inspired RPG kicking around in my head for a few years now, with a few core concepts: three main stats named after the important virtues in Zelda (Power, Courage, and Wisdom), a tactical combat system with three simple actions per round, and a simplified character progression system roughly matches the one in the game. It floated to the top of my brain recently, so I’m making it my project for November, with a goal of having something playtest-ready by Thanksgiving.

The goal of this project is not to create a Zelda RPG system. It is to create an RPG system very heavily inspired by the Zelda games, with which one could run a Zelda campaign. I intend to use it to run a campaign in a different setting, but very heavily influenced by the outline of a typical Link to the Past or later Zelda game. There are those who’ve done some very impressive work with the same inspirations, but our goals diverge. Others have taken a kitchen sink approach to creating a Zelda RPG, making it expansive enough to play any kind of character from the Zelda milieu, but I’m only concerned with the ability to include what I think is necessary to play what I consider to be a Zelda-style campaign. And like I said, I don’t necessarily want to run a Hyrule campaign, but a Zelda-esque one. Young heroes set out to right the wrongs of the land, they complete dungeons and acquire magical treasures, they have swords and fight monsters and solve puzzles and are awesome.

At its heart, the system is a relatively simple tactical combat game. Your characters are defined by their three core Virtues: Power, Courage, and Wisdom. Power is strength and aggression. Courage is pluck and resilience. Wisdom is mental power and fortitude.

Combat stats are values derived from a character’s Virtues. Attack is Power + Courage, Defend is Courage + Wisdom, and Magic is Power + Wisdom. Attacks are 1d6+Attack vs the target’s Defend, unless the target’s taking a defensive action, in which case it’s vs the target’s Defend+1d6. The Magic stat is a character’s pool of magic points for casting spells and using powerful martial abilities. Each Virtue affects two combat stats, reducing the likelihood that a higher-level character will have tons of spell power but no means of defending, or a strong Attack but no Magic for special attacks.

Other tests that aren’t hitting something or not getting hit are typically 1d6+appropriate Virtue. But really, I don’t think the system will involve much rolling outside of combat.

Health is tracked in a row of hearts across the top-right corner of the character sheet. Hits can be taken in heart or half heart increments, but are only gained as whole hearts. Characters at the beginning of the campaign start with three Hearts. Your Heart count is your power level, counting both your health and the number of Abilities you can have.

Abilities are cool things you can do, like Spin Attack, cast flashy spells, or brew potions from weird monster parts. Your total number of available Ability slots is determined by your Heart count. (Or rather, by your total number of Virtue points, but you start with six of those and three Hearts, and your Hearts, Virtues, and Ability slots all increase at the same rate.) Aside from the Abilities you choose to start the game with, you can teach Abilities you know to other characters, but new abilities can only be learned from trainers, who are ideally crazy hermits living in dangerous places with difficult places.

Progression occurs when you complete a major dungeon, or when you’ve four “milestones” from completing sidequests. In the Zelda games, the hero finds a Heart Container after defeating a boss at the end of a dungeon, which increases the hero’s max hearts by one. The hero also collects Heart Containers hidden in hidden places and as rewards for sidequests. I think putting something like a Heart Container in the fiction of the game as an item is a bit too video game-ish, but I like the dynamic of improving your character after one major, story-advancing challenge, or after a series of four lesser milestones. When you improve, you gain another Heart, add a point to any one Virtue (but not the same Virtue twice in a row), and open up another Ability slot.

That covers the rough basics. Posts to come will cover character creation, the philosophy behind equipment, combat, advancement, campaign structure, and the steampunk post-apoc setting I’m looking to set a campaign in.


Sons & Daughters – The Blue Wolves

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in Sons & Daughters

Terrifying scourge of the skyways, the pirate gang called the Blue Wolves leaves towns in smoldering ruins behind them, the poor townsfolk bound for the labor camps of the Great Lakes. Settlements across the continent from Nova Scotia to Baja have been wiped from the map in the wake of the dreaded Fenrir and her escorts.

The Blue Wolves take their name from their mothership, a sky blue dirigible with a wolf’s head in profile across its flanks, the symbol of some now-forgotten brand. The Wolves now call it the Fenrir. Originally built for hauling heavy cargoes, it has been fitted by the pirates with additional engines and heavy guns, and its myriad compartments have become their den. The Blue Wolves also operate three smaller airships, each also named for wolves of Norse mythology: the Garmr, the Sköll, and the Hati. The smaller ships are sometimes out on independent operations, scouting or raiding, but at least one of the three can always be found in Fenrir’s shadow. The Blue Wolves find most of their targets on the ground–independent or unguarded towns and the occasional unlucky airship at anchor–but when they do set their sights on an airborne prize, the flotilla fights as a pack. The smaller, nimbler airships flank and box in their prey, holding it for the clumsier but powerful Fenrir to close in for the kill.

In charge of the Blue Wolves is the mysterious crone called the Wolfmother. Clever, ruthless, and ancient, her old name and history are an enigma, but rumors of her present pride and sanguine savvy spread wide across the wasteland. She leads her beloved pack from her throne in the belly of the Fenrir, where she alone plots every move the Blue Wolves make. A haughty figure, she deigns not to touch the earth or any airframe that the Blue Wolves have not made their own by conquest. Even the Barons of the Great Lakes must board the Fenrir to seek an audience with her.

Below the Wolfmother are her Alphas. Powerful and violent men, they serve as her officers, her enforcers, and her consorts. The Alphas are selected for their strength, and their role is to control the gang, not direct it. The Wolfmother’s first Alpha, the only man she ever called her husband, once made a play to supplant her as top dog in the organization. After executing him publicly and painfully, she had his bones made into decorations and his skull made into a goblet that is never far from her hand. The Alphas may take other lovers, and are expected to show the proper amount of initiative when off the Fenrir, but each of them knows his place: to make real the will of the Wolfmother, and to beat that will into his packmates when necessary. The Alphas each receive a three full shares of the loot when a prize is divided.

Under the Alphas are the regular Blue Wolves, the unranked packmates. There’s overlap between the role of the sexes in the Blue Wolves, but for the most part, the men do the fighting while the women do the fixing and the flying. “Engines are women’s work,” is a phrase oft-heard from Blue Wolves, along with, “Let the men bear their teeth.” Regardless of their role on one of their airships, packmates each receive a full share of the loot.

Under the regular packmates are the unfortunate Omegas, the new crewmen recruited from the streets or pressed up into service out of slavery. The Omegas are given the worst jobs, the worst quarters, and only half a share of the loot. The other packmates heap abuse on Omegas with impunity with beatings and humiliation. This continues until the Omega earns their fellow pirates’ respect, either by proving their worth on the crew in regular duties, or by shifting focus onto newer or meeker Omegas. The sure-fire way to rise above Omega is to prove oneself on a raid. Omegas are given the option of staying out of combat, but an Omega that refuses to fight risks remaining an Omega forever.

The Blue Wolves have small forts all over the continent for stashing supplies. They often unload stolen cargoes and slaves at these bases if their holds have grown full before it is time for them to return to safe harbor in Detroit or Milwaukee. They have no central base of their own, however, except for the Fenrir itself. The outposts are found all over the Blue Wolves’ territory, which means they are scattered from coast to coast, excepting within the borders of strongly-defended territories like Deseret, Mexico, and the AIRCOM-patrolled part of the Pacific Northwest. The Blue Wolves never risk the Fenrir near any of these enemies, all of whom have huge bounties posted against the Blue Wolves and who have on occasion ventured from their borders to hunt them. Though prudence has them keep the Fenrir safe, pride demands that the Blue Wolves not let their prey rest at ease, so the Garmr, Sköll, and Hati are used to make raids into those territories.

When the Blue Wolves attack a town, it is a terrible, apocalyptic sight. Their airships rain down incendiary weapons and burning chemicals on the buildings, driving their prey into the open. Then comes the landing, with hunting parties of Wolves disembarking to crush any remaining resistance and hunt down those that flee. On the ground, the Wolves’ specialty is shotguns loaded with rock salt to painfully incapacitate their targets, with buttstocks and other bludgeons for subduing. Those that put up a fight will taste lead or the Wolves will “bare their teeth” and break out some manner of vicious blade. The slave buyers on the Great Lakes prefer their merchandise un-maimed, but their willingness to injure and kill their prey adds to the Blue Wolves’ terrifying reputation.

Their human cargo secured, along with any valuables not consumed in the fires, the Blue Wolves return to the industrial cities on the Great Lakes, where the ruling Barons are always eager for more workers to send to toil and death in their irradiated factories. The Barons harbor and sanction all manner of slavers and pirates, so long as the brigandage is conducted entirely outside their own territory. The Blue Wolves are the Baron’s single largest source of slaves, and for that, they are accorded a place of honor. The carousing that the Blue Wolves conduct when they set out to spend their plunder is chaotic and destructive, even by post-apocalyptic pirate standards, but the good favor of such reliable suppliers is deemed by the Barons to be worth the cleanup cost.


Thoughts on Playing and Running Dungeon World

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in Uncategorized

So far, I’ve played Dungeon World just a few times. The first was with my regular Thursday night crew, as run by Colin. The second time was at Gateway this past Labor Day weekend, as run by Colin. The third was just this last weekend at Nerdly Beach Party VIII, run by–wait for it–Colin. I also ran it on a whim Sunday morning of NBP8. Since the fine folks producing DW have this thing going where if you blog about your experience with the game, you may join the Adventurers’ Guild part of their site, with access to tasty playtest materials. So, wait, I talk about playing Dungeon World, and then I get more Dungeon World to play with? I am so down. Inspired by Ryan’s embloggenings earlier today, I will share some of my own thoughts on my encounters with Dungeon World.

Read the rest of this entry »


Frontiers – Road Skagar Background (AGE System)

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in Uncategorized

You’re a road skagar, a member of your hardy, hulking race who grew up amid the roving caravans of the halflings and those of your kind who play companion to them. Your people are descended from slave soldiers bred by the orcs in Ber-Tud, and abandoned after a failed invasion among the humans that have played uneasy host ever since. Broad, bold, and hard to kill, your people typically stand between six and half to eight feet tall. Your skin tones may range from an elephantine gray to deep forest greens and earthy browns, with your oily hair in a darker shade. Your long-fingered hands can vary in the number of digits, typically from three to six, one of several common mutations that occur as a byproduct of your regeneration.

Read the rest of this entry »


Frontiers – Czegei Tinskin Background (AGE System)

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in AGE System, Frontiers

Clockwork automatons, or tinskins, are an increasingly frequent sight in the streets and parlors of the New World. They come in many shapes and sizes to suit a range of tasks, from small repair models to lumbering cargo loaders. The most versatile are those built in the image of their creators. Among the humanoid tinskins, the model produced by the Czegei Workshop in Northport are the most prevalent. The Czegei tinskins are seen all over, from behind shop counters in town to guiding mules down the trail, to packing iron on free-willed missions of their own.

Viktor Czegei began producing humanoid tinskins in 500, the same year the last Atreborian emperor was assassinated. While not the absolute finest model available, Czegei tinskins are famously clever, capable, and reliable. They stand five feet tall and weigh a little under 200 pounds, and are powered by an internal steam plant that provides hydraulic pressure to their limbs and winds their internal clockwork. Like most tinskins, a Czegei’s “brain” is in its torso, near the boiler. The standard faceplate is smooth, with roughly humanoid features: a pair of lensed ocular receptors allowing for stereoscopic vision, aural receptors on either side of the head, and a grill for speaking where the mouth would be. A headshot against a Czegei wouldn’t kill the construct, but it would effectively incapacitate it by cutting it off from sight and sound, leaving it to grope about and navigate by touch. True to their name, factory Czegeis come plated in tin, resistant to corrosion and easy and inexpensive to repair, but their owners–or the tinskins themselves, in the case of emancipated individuals–often have the plating replaced with more glamorous and durable brass or steel.

Czegei tinskins’ adaptability allows them to be purchased for and instructed in a variety of roles: butler, secretary, groom, bodyguard, and porter, to name a few popular choices. They are so adaptable, in fact, that they very quickly begin thinking for themselves, though their programming keeps them obedient and servile–barring interruption of their programming due to flaw, tampering, or injury. It has become common among owners to emancipate their tinskins in their wills or even earlier. In cases where inheritance of a tinskin is unclear, frontier judges are inclined to grant emancipation to the tinskin in order to remove the question. Once a tinskin assumes ownership of itself, it is free to make its own destiny, and all cities in the New World recognize it as a person. If its former owner was both kind and generous enough to emancipate it while he or she still lived, it may remain with him or her as a friend or hired companion; if its owner was cruel, they may attempt to purchase the freedom of other tinskins away from similar masters. Tinskins left their freedom by a dying owner often take up the owner’s profession, one explanation for why there are a number of tinskins working as merchants, hunters, lawyers, engineers, and adventurers.

Playing a Czegei Tinskin

If you choose to play a Czegei tinskin, modify your character as follows:

  • Add 1 to your Cunning ability. Czegei tinskins can be coldly analytical when it benefits them most.
  • Pick one of the following ability focuses: Cunning (Clockwork) or Willpower (Self-Discipline).
  • Your character is a tinskin. You consume coal in place of food. You require only half the amount of rest as an ordinary character. You may not make Constitution (Drinking) or Perception (Smelling) tests.
  • You can speak and read Low Treb and Difference.
  • Choose a class. You can play a rogue or a warrior.
  • Roll twice on the accompanying table for additional benefits. Roll 2d6 and add the dice together. If you get the same result twice, re-roll until you get something different.

Czegei Tinskin

2d6 RollBenefit
2+1 Communication
3-4Focus: Dexterity (Crafting)
5Focus: Communication (Etiquette)
6Focus: Constitution (Stamina)
7-8+1 Perception
9Focus: Cunning (Engineering)
10-11Focus: Strength (Driving)
12+1 Dexterity