Nuclear Beasts Blog
Sunday, August 31, 2003
 
Damage Dice
So two roughly equivalent weapons might do damage d10,d8 and 3d8. Since you only take the highest number rolled, the first would have a higher maximum damage, and the second would be a little more reliable (less likely to hit with really low damage). Both have around the same average. Since most weapons include your Muscles die in their damage pool, it's rare to find anything that does less than 2 dice of damage in total. This is kind of important, because almost every foe will have a couple of points of armor rating, even if they aren't actually wearing any real armor. I want it to be possible for a solid hit to rebound harmlessly off of the target's armor, I just don't want it to be common.

In general, stuff like spears will consist of a single damage die, plus the user's Muscles rating, for a total of two dice. Swords will do Muscles plus two dice (usually with one larger than the other). Axes will also inflict two dice, but they'll generally be the same size. Blunt weapons will contribute three dice, for a total of four. So the basic damage for blunt weapons will be very reliable (roll 4 dice, take the highest), whereas piercing weapons will generally get larger dice but will be much less reliable.

On a critical hit, you actually add the top two dice together, instead of just taking the highest. On an extraordinary hit, you add the top three dice together. If you don't have that many dice, you add a d4, instead. I'm actually leaning towards changing that to adding a d12 instead, so that weapons that have fewer damage dice will see a greater benefit from really skilled hits. It'll only really apply to piercing weapons, which should be really devestating if precisely aimed, anyway.

There could, of course, also be special-case weapons like "this weapon ignores 1/2 of the opponent's armor rating" or "this weapon is +2 to damage and -2 to hit" or such. I'm going to try and stay away from special cases except where they're really justified, though. The damage system, while really important, isn't where I want the players to be focusing their attention. Nor do I want fights to be slowed down while the GM leafs through the rules, trying to find the special rules for using spears against chainmail.
 
The Damage System
One thing that I really liked about the Ironclaw system was that different weapons really did have different effects, even if it all boiled down to inflicting points of damage in the end. Some weapons might have better damage potential (larger dice) or be able to bypass armor (more dice). The exact effects weren't always intuitive, but the differences were there.

Unfortunately, resolving a hit in that system can be slow. The attacker rolls all of their damage dice (generally including their Strength dice), the defender rolls all of their Soak dice (generally including their Robustness dice) and the dice are compared one-at-a-time, in order, from highest to lowest. Every attack die that beats its matching defense die does 1 wound. If it beats it by 5+, it does 2. If the defender doesn't have as many Soak dice as there are damage dice (a quite common occurance), every extra die is matched against a value of 1.

Arranging all of these dice into order and checking them in pairs started to annoy me, though, especially as GM. If two or three NPCs happened to be pounding on each other, I'd have to roll damage and soak dice for each and I couldn't do it all at once, because every die matters.

For Nuclear Beasts I want to support the same sort of weapon tradeoffs (this one is better against heavily armored foes, this one is better in the hands of a skilled wielder, this one is reliable, this one sometimes inflicts really good or really pathetic damage, etc.) but with a faster system.

So the basic Nuclear Beasts system works like this: the attacker rolls their Muscles rating and whatever damage dice their weapon happens to contribute. The amount of damage done is the largest number rolled, just like regular skill resolution.

The defender will have an armor rating, which will be based upon their own Muscles rating and whatever armor they happen to be wearing. The final damage taken is equal to the damage done by the weapon, minus the defender's armor rating. Most PCs will have at least a point or two of innate armor, so only the smallest and most fragile of creatures won't stop any damage at all when they get hit.

This flat rating may get replaced with a Soak roll... that would make it work just like all of the other opposed tests that the system uses, and it would make it possible for a really crappy roll to only stop 1 point of damage, or a good roll to stop a lot. This would also enable me to support armor coverage... for example, if chain mail stopped a d8 of damage, then someone with just a chain shirt might only get a d8 of armor, while someone who was almost completely covered would get 3d8 or 4d8. Since you only apply the highest number rolled, 4d8 armor can't stop any more damage than a d8 can, but it's heavily weighted towards stopping 8 points and hardly ever stops just 1. That seems like a really cool feature: combining armor coverage (how much of your body is covered) and protection power (how much damage it generally stops) into a single roll. Layered armor is easy, too- if you wear a chain shirt (d8) layered over cloth armor (d6), you'd roll d8 & d6 and take the highest number rolled as the amount of damage stopped.

But there's a cost to that mechanic. Damage becomes an opposed roll again, and becomes irritating for the GM. There's a definitely advantage in speed and ease of use with making armor a flat rating. It may not support nifty effects like layered armor and body coverage, but it eliminates a step and makes resolution that much faster. And, of course, when NPCs fight each other, the GM only has to roll dice for the damage done, not the damage stopped.

At the moment we're playtesting with the flat armor value system. And honestly, that's probably the one that'll be in the final version, just because I'm not that interested in representing armor that accurately. My games are generally pretty combat-light, and when combats do occur I'd kind of like them to be fast and furious (to quote Savage Worlds) instead of long and drawn out.
Saturday, August 30, 2003
 
The Great Saltmarsh
The southwest of the setting map is dominated by an enormous salt marsh. Most of the California valley now lies underwater, sunk to a depth of twenty to fourty feet in most areas. The ocean tides wash in and out, but the marsh is somewhat sheltered by its size and the rocky, undersea barriers on the west. The water level generally doesn't vary more than 4-5 feet during the tides, except when particularly large storms are involved.

There are innumberable ruins here, and crumbling skyscrapers loom out of the water at regular intervals. Most are merely skeletons of rusting metal girders, where the interior structure has long since decayed. Many are tilted at odd angles, gradually coming closer each year to their inevitable collapse. The above-water ruins here, while picturesque, are generally too unstable to be safely explored. The salt water has not been kind to the works of man.

Ruins which are already completely submerged however, may be more intact. These buildings are generally much smaller, and less inclined to fall apart under their own weight. Skilled divers can often find metal trinkets or pieces of glassware by poking about in their murky, algae-encrusted interiors. Sharks and sea tigers are still a danger here, but they are generally smaller than the ones found out in the open ocean.

The marsh is a rich source of food for people who know how to find it. Small fish are present in great numbers, and the bottom teems with multitudes of tiny crustaceans and molluscs. Bivalves such as clams can be readily harvested from the shallower areas, and much of the seaweed growing here is edible, at least by herbivores.

Otters are the most common breed of Beast here. Most live on the small, grassy islands scattered throughout the marsh, often travelling by raft. Even the Low Otters may use rafts here, as even they appreciate the fact that food can be deposited onto the raft all day and then towed back home for later. Even some land-dwelling Beasts have adapted to the conditions of the marsh, living on small house boats or island communities. The locals are a quiet and tolerant bunch, who rarely ask questions of newcomers. All breeds are welcome, so long as they don't make trouble.

There's practically no government here at all. Each isolated tribe or extended family makes its own rules and handles conflicts internally. Most don't even bother with set laws, and merely trust their Alpha to make appropriate decisions. If someone feels discontented in their current home, it's easy to go somewhere else. Tracking a raft that's been out of sight for any length of time is almost impossible. Because travel is slow and difficult, actual fighting and raids are very rare. There are a few scattered families of raveners here, but they mostly content themselves with preying on loners and never touch the larger communities.

Because of the eternally damp conditions, both paper and gunpowder are in extremely short supply. Hardly any working electronic devices can be found, and those were usually designed to be waterproof. Even bows and arrows are rare, because the bows warp quite easily unless they care carefully maintained. Ancient fishing gear is probably the most valued commodity here.

The saltmarsh is considered a marsh because there are very few trees that can survive here, outside of the scattered islands. The water's surface is almost like a great, still lake, with scattered areas of dense, swamplike vegetation. Some of the smaller islands are actually the tops of large buildings, now covered in soil and vegetation. Beasts who dig on the islands here often find that the rock underneath the dirt is actually concrete.

There are also a number of small communities on the edge of the marsh. They are generally trading posts, buying and selling goods from both land-based and water-based Beasts. This is often the only contact with the outside world for the marsh-dwellers, and as a whole they just aren't interested in more.

Friday, August 29, 2003
 
Adventuring in the Wastes: 3 Campaigns
There are three basic campaign premises that I've been trying to develop. Other ideas, obviously, would work too, but these three I want to have suggestions and advice for.

Professional Scavengers: Scavengers (as a career) are folks who explore the various ruins in the wastes and try to salvage useful gear. The best stuff is generally brought back to Zuba City and sold off. They live it up for awhile, investigate leads and pour over crumbling maps, then head out on another expedition. Since the ruins in settled areas have all pretty much been picked over completely, professional scavengers have to go far afield, often into areas deemed too dangerous by regular folks. This campaign style lends itself to self-contained missions and easily supports changing characters; you just assemble a different team this time. It can even support the stereotypical dungeon crawl, with the PCs descending into a ruined, underground complex, fighting off mutant monsters, disarming boobytraps and trying to find the treasure... it's just liable to be working electronic parts or firearms, instead of gold and jewels.

Nomadic Tribesmen: The tribes along the western coast have to live a nomadic lifestyle. They have little to no shelter from the extremes of the weather, so they have to move south in the winter (to avoid the fearsome blizzards and icy snow) and return to the north each spring (because there's just not enough food in the south to support everyone). This style is generally a lower tech one, with bows and arrows and only the occasional firearm. There's more diplomacy, because there are a number of tribes competing here. You may occasionally mount an investigation to delve into some ruin, but it'll be rare. This style actually lends itself to a generational game, with the PCs generally having one or may two adventures per year, spending all of their XP during the winter months (when everyone pretty much camps down and eats their stored food) and eventually raising kids who become the next generation of PCs.

Fallout: Named after the game that inspired it, this campaign starts with the PCs all living in a small utopia, under the wise guidance of a benevolent A.I. and its robotic servants. They know nothing about the world beyond their little oasis in the radioactive desert, and have no interest in learning more. But eventually the facility starts to run low on replacement parts... So the A.I. assembles a group of Beasts, explains to them that there is more to their world than their little paradise, and asks them to go forth and find replacement parts. It shouldn't be too hard; the Beasts who left this place generations ago should have had plenty of time to restore civilization, right? This premise is ideally suited for players who know nothing about the setting anyway. Every region encountered will be a surprise, and they can learn about the game world gradually, instead of trying to read and remember the entire setting themselves.
Thursday, August 28, 2003
 
Veggies in the Wastes
Herbivores aren't all that much better off than carnivores. Yeah, a lot of them can eat grass, but grass is actually a pretty lousy food source. You have to eat grass almost all day to get enough calories to sustain a man-sized creature. Leaves are good if you can find the right kind, but a lot aren't really any better than grass.

Nuts, berries and vegetables are the way to go. Most herbivores can consume a wide variety of plant roots, even the sort that humans wouldn't consider food. Tribes of herbivores generally spend a lot of time gathering food over a wide area. In more developed areas, they'll plant a variety of crops and try to protect them from outsiders, animals and the elements. If the weather turns sour, you can herd a flock of turkeys into a pen... but if your food source is a field of greens, there's not much you can do to protect them from bad weather.

So carnivores generally eat bigger meals, but less often. Omnivores, of course, generally get the best of both worlds. They can't eat grass, but can digest almost anything else that the herbivores can. They can also survive on meat alone fairly well. It's good to be an omnivore, especially when food is scarce.

There's one last type of diet: the carrion eater. These scavengers generally have the most opportunistic gullets available. They'll eat almost anything, even after it's gone rotten. They also tend to be quite resistant to food poisoning, a very important bonus when you consider what their diet often consists of.

A character's breed determines what sort of diet they require. High Beasts are often a little more omnivorous than their Low Beast equivalent, but even a High Wolf requires a good chunk of meat in their diet.
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
 
Meat in the Wastes
So, with a good portion of the four-legged mammals now being intelligent, what exactly do the carnivores eat for dinner?

Well, first off, the really small creatures generally aren't intelligent. A Low Beast Mouse is going to be closer in size to a modern day housecat or a human child than its own ancestors. Most of the small species got bigger in order to accomodate more brain matter; most of the really large species got smaller, to increase their chance of survival. So unmodified rats and mice and such are generally called vermin, and no one associates them with Beasts. But they're too small to make a decent meal, either, so they're only eaten by the very desperate.

There are some areas where ordinary animals such as wolves and deer have survived, but there aren't that many and they're often deformed in some way. Mammals as a whole fared very poorly during the Last War, and most of the larger species are now extinct. In the areas where Low Beasts are common, they tend to crowd out their unmodified kinfolk, eventually replacing them altogether. But only in the harshest areas will carnivores eat creatures that look like Beasts, even if they aren't. It's considered to be just one step away from ravening, when a carnivore discards the Ancient Laws entirely and starts killing other Beasts for food.

The remaining mammals are generally mutant freaks. Things like howlers may be descended from ancient wild dogs, but no one would mistake them for a dog today. There are several new species of large mammal roaming the countryside, although their health is generally poor and the quality of their meat low.

Fish are often available, but their numbers depend directly on the purity of the water, and clean water sources are in short supply. In badly polluted areas, the fish may actually be dangerous to eat, so a good part of a Beast's fishing skill is learning how to recognize a diseased fish and what parts can be eaten safely and what parts should be discarded. In most areas, the Beasts can't catch enough fish to survive on that alone.

So the most common types of prey animals are reptiles and birds. While the amphibians were wiped out almost entirely and the mammals fared almost as badly, the reptiles actually survived quite well. Alligators, snakes, all sorts of lizards, these creatures populate the wilderness, often filling in ecological niches previously occupied by mammals. Iguanas sit in the trees and eat vegetation and monitor lizards scour the ground for insects and vermin.

Birds are also making a comeback. While not as common as they were before the Industrial Revolution hit, their numbers have recovered to at least what they were before the Last War. Some non-indigenous species such as ostriches and emus have managed to thrive, along with more typical avians such as wild turkeys and pheasants. Many species still tend to lay clutches of malformed or unnaturally fragile eggs, but as a whole, they're doing better than might have been expected. More advanced communities of Beasts often raise turkeys as a food source.

Finally there are the bugs. Various sorts of arthropods have adapted to the ruins of the ecosystem and are thriving. Their short lifespans have enabled them to adapt more rapidly than any other class of creature. Many of the smaller carnivorous breeds will actually raise colonies of oversized hissing cockroaches as a food source. There are far worse things to eat.
 
The Dogs of C.A.A.P.
The only reason why the creation of the first Beasts was practical at all, was the fact that most of the work had been done already.

The Companion Animal Augmentation Project was a United States government funded program dedicated to finding practical ways to enhance the intelligence and verbal capabilities of common animals, in order to further advance the biological sciences.

The pride of the program was Rex, a small, mottled white fuzzy dog with an I.Q. in the low 90s, a volcabulary of 235 words and the ability to speak more than a hundred of them in slightly distorted English. There were smarter dogs in the program, and ones with better pronunciation, but none that were more popular with the public.

The premise was simple enough. The C.A.A.P. program produced better seeing-eye dogs. C.A.A.P. dogs were patient, loyal, well-trained, smart enough to understand basic English and could say words like "Safe," "Come," "Danger," and "Medicine." They could not only remind an invalid to take their medication on schedule, they could dial 9-1-1 in an emergency or tell a cop "Master hurt, come quick!" They weren't intelligent enough to be threatening and they were all neutered before being released (both to ensure that they didn't get distracted and to make certain that they couldn't pass on their augmented genes to ordinary dogs).

The public had always been very suspicious of genetic engineering, fearing that some sort of "Frankenstein's monster" might be created, but the C.A.A.P. program always handled public relations brilliantly and many exceptions were made to the law specifically to accomodate them. Rex, whose natural charm and enthusiasm always endeared him to the public, was a regular speaker at kindergartens across the country. Children loved him. The schools would sign him up to give little speeches in the school auditorium, on innocent subjects like "Don't talk to strangers," or "Always look both ways before crossing the street". Each one would always close up with how happy he was to be in the C.A.A.P. program, where dogs like him could really help people, because helping people was what being a C.A.A.P. dog was all about. The sheer novelty of it ensured that every speech was always packed with spectators.

The project was politically untouchable. There might be concerns about the potential dangers, or qualms about the morality of it, or suspicions about what else the government might do with the knowledge, but no politician wanted to be seen opposing a cute little talking dog with an earnest attitude and an endless series of disabled people describing how their unnaturally intelligent pet had saved their life. Every time someone went into cardiac arrest and was saved by their dog calling for help, every accidental drug overdose that was successfully treated because a little dog was able to describe exactly what their master took, every fire that was put out early because a dog's incredibly sensitive nose picked up the smoke long before the fire alarms did, all of these stories ended up in the papers on a regular basis.

People might worry about inhuman monsters running amuck, but almost no one was afraid of the C.A.A.P. dogs. The mere existence of the program legitimized the cause of species engineering within a generation. When Rex finally died, a statue was put up in his honor in New Mexico. The plaque at the base listed all of the words that he knew in side-by-side columns.

The C.A.A.P. dogs did not survive the collapse of civilization. But the augmentation techniques that were their legacy enabled the Beasts to be born.
 
Weapons of the Apocalypse
Well, the exact circumstances of the Last War are kept deliberately vague, so that each GM can make up whatever they want. What is known is fragmentary and may be inaccurate.

But it seems fairly likely that it was a gradual build up, with more and more devestating weapons being used until finally it became an all out war, with nukes flying and everything else. There were a number of biological weapons unleashed, sometimes for practical effect and sometimes for the purpose of terrorism. These ranged from genetically engineered plagues to actual "monsters" released behind enemy lines. Some of the most devestating ones were indirect: stuff like bacteria that would assemble and release potent, non-biodegradable toxins into the environment. Or into food crops. Diseases that caused violent fits of madness, rather than death, so each victim might well kill and/or infect several other people before dying.

Some of these man-made pathogens were actual doomsday weapons. They were intended to force the infected populace to either surrender or die out en masse. Naturally, the people releasing these supergerms had the appropriate vaccine and/or cure- they intended to force their enemies to surrender, then take over. Unfortunately, sometimes they were used against nations who (it turned out) had something similar of their own to retaliate with. When the wrong people died too quickly, at least one of the cures was lost entirely. As soon as one side's dying leaders realized that no vaccine would be forthcoming even if they did surrender, the nukes started flying and the military A.I.s were given orders to continue defending the country indefinitely. Everyone expected some people to survive and rebuild. No one did.

The Beasts did not appear until many years later, long after the last surviving humans had given up the ghost. There were a few A.I.-run biological engineering facilities that had survived and continued to carry out their orders, at least one of which had been instructed to build new people capable of surviving in the post-Apocalyptic wasteland and restore civilization.

It cloned humans... and they very rapidly died. Some of the doomsday bugs deliberately designed to target humanity were still around. So the facility dug out its files on the C.A.A.P. dogs and the gene samples it had, and started a new program.

The new creatures had to be intelligent enough to rebuild civilization, but different enough from homo sapiens that they wouldn't be vulnerable to the super-pathogens still infesting the soil. They had to be able to adapt to extremely harsh conditions and it had to be possible to create a survivable population with the extremely limited resources and time that the A.I. still had available. Electrical power wasn't really a problem, but there were always parts that once they wore out, could not be replaced.

Simply put, rather than creating a new race from scratch, it decided to uplift various species of mammals, as wide of a variety as possible. Since it had limited information about the dangers that they would encounter, it felt that at least one breed would surely be able to adapt and survive.

Little is known about the early days. The first Beasts were designed for fecundity; they bred like mad, and each mother would often give birth to multiple cubs of different species without requiring fertilization by a male at all. This effect is mostly gone now, but every now and then a "Blessed Birth" will occur, resulting in a female Beast giving birth to a child of a completely different species; most tribes look on this as a sacred event.

The origin of the High Beasts is even more obscure. Even the Caretakers, who have access to a great deal of forgotten knowledge, can only speculate. Both the wolves who call themselves the First Folk and the grizzly bears who call themselves the Mountain Fangs claim to be descendants of the very first Beasts. The Fangs have legends about some sort of grievous betrayal, where a surviving human was found, and then slain, bringing a terrible curse down upon the land. But something happened which caused that A.I. to devise and release a new generation of Beasts, ones which walked upright and were cast in the shape of Man.

Shortly after that, all contact with it was lost. The High and Low Beasts have legends of a lost paradise called Eden, where God spoke to them and gave them gifts... but no one knows how to find it again, only that it is lost somewhere in the far south, where nothing grows and the radioactive desert gets harsher with every passing year. The Caretakers speculate that the A.I. simply ran out of time, unable to replace critical parts or otherwise repair itself and simply shut down. A more idealistic theory is that it cut off contact lest the Beasts become too dependent upon it. No one knows for sure.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
 
Design Goals for Nuclear Beasts
Peter Knutsen suggested that I add a few "Designer's Notes" showing what my goals for the game are. Sounds like a good idea to me.

If you follow the whole "Simulation / Drama / Game" split, I'm generally light on drama and about evenly split between the other two. Personally, my biggest motivating factor in RPGs has always been Immersion, anyway. I'm aiming for a fairly traditional RPG with a cohesive, well-developed setting and rules that are detailed enough to fit the setting but not so detailed that they slow down actual play.

I want the game to be fairly well balanced, so that no one character type really dominates in a varied game (obviously, if the GM is running a pure-combat game, then warriors will dominate; conversely, if they have no combat at all, diplomats will do better than fighters). I know that true game balance is an unobtainable goal, but I still think that it's worth striving for. You shouldn't be able to create a PC who is better in every way than another PC on the same points.

There's actually one exception to that rule: there will be some imbalance as regards racial "stereotypes". I don't mind if it's cheaper to create an incredibly strong bear than a mouse. Bears are supposed to be bigger than mice. A mouse that strong should be unusual. I'm not going to go out of my way to penalize PCs who are decidedly different from the norm (tiny rhino, huge shrew, slow cheetah, speedy sloth) but I won't consider it necessarily bad if more typical PCs are a little more efficient, points-wise.

Similarly, I want armor and weapons to be useful without being so useful that Low Beasts (who don't have hands and often won't have access to weapons or armor) are obviously inferior characters. For example, the standard Ironclaw combat system makes it so that armor is very important. An unarmored target who gets hit with a melee weapon will almost always take wounds from it... often twice as many. One of the reasons why I'm not planning on using the standard Ironclaw system is just that armor is too important in battle. That's realistic... but bad for characters who can't wear it and of iffy utility in a setting where some PCs will have it and some won't.

Guns are another balancing act. Firearms need to be rare and not all that reliable, so that Low Beasts (who generally couldn't aim a gun to save their life) aren't crippled.

Currently I'm playtesting a revised combat system. It's more of a normal "Hit Point" system than Ironclaw's Wounds mechanism. Fast, too. The last actual fight ended with a PC being killed after two very quick rounds of melee with a crazed mad dog. I like the fact that it was over blindingly fast and left the PCs in shock... but it was honestly probably too deadly for longterm play. I could give folks more hit points, or lower the average weapon damage, but since both of those would have annoying effects elsewhere, I'm leaning towards just giving everyone some innate armor (currently armor just subtracts X from the damage done by every hit). That'll reduce the average damage taken from each hit, and thus reduce the lethality of regular blows... double or triple damage hits (it's not exactly double or triple on critical hits, but it's close enough) will still be pretty fearsome, though.

The major difference between my hit points mechanic and, say, D20 or BRP is that once you go negative there aren't any automatic effects. Instead, you roll a "Survival Check": Guts & Will vs a difficulty based on how far negative you've gone. Depending on the result, you might be fine, stunned, unconscious, dying (but medical aid can still save you) or killed outright. If you get knocked out, on your next action you'll make a "Heroic Endurance" roll: this is a Will & Resolve check vs the same difficulty as your Survival Check. The results determine how long you'll be out of action.

The feel that I'm aiming for is very similar to Ironclaw's, but hopefully a good bit faster to resolve. Damage does nothing initially, then starts forcing you to make rolls to stay in the fight as the damage piles up. It's almost always possible for even the weakest PC to remain up and even the toughest PC to keel over, so there's a certain enjoyable level of uncertainty. It's not just a "Well, that hit takes me to -3, my character falls down."
Monday, August 25, 2003
 
Killer Jello
A minor hazard of the wastes is a small creature, physically sort of a jellyfish adapted for crawling across the land like a slug. Their hide is coated with innumerable stingers that inject a mix of several potent poisons. They have some small ability to change their coloration to match their surroundings; they mostly survive by killing small animals that stumble into them and by scavenging carrion. They can also swim, but only awkwardly. They generally only enter the water to escape the heat or to lay eggs. Since adults are only about a foot across at most (and 4-6" is more common) and very fragile, they aren't much of a threat except to sleeping creatures. Caretakers speculate that they are actually some sort of mollusc that had jellyfish genes grafted onto it and released as a biological weapon during the madness of the Last War. Normal Beasts just consider them a dangerous annoyance.

They lay millions of eggs at a time and reproduce asexually. If one of them manages to find an area with plenty of food and no predators, it can be swarming with thousands of them in just a couple of months.

I like the basic idea, but I can't come up with a name for them. Slimes? Jellies? Stinging slimes? Heck, if the Beasts found the write sort of ancient writing, they might conclude that the Ancients must have raised them for food and called them Jello. But that's probably a bit too silly.

Wraiths, on the other hand, are the same sort of creature, but on a different scale altogether. A product of the peak of the ancient bio-engineering sciences, these creatures are generally described as an ocean wave of black ooze. Physically they are something like an enormous slug without eyestalks, but they can move fast when they need to. There is a particularly shiny region just underneath the creature's forebody which is covered in millions of tiny stingers equipped with an extremely dangerous poison. Their back is covered with rows of tiny, iridescent eyes. They are dangerous predators and prefer humanoid prey above all others. They will kill quadrapeds to feed, but they'll attack humanoids just to kill them. The Ancients may have had some way to keep them under control, but the secret has been lost for ages. They are nocturnal and quite adept at squeezing their volumous body into small areas.

“Wraiths must be an artificial creation. There's nothing remotely like them in the guides; their body structure is fluid and reminds me most strongly of an ocean wave. I suppose they might be some sort of gigantic slug, but their body is far more elastic and flexible than that of a common one. They flow over the ground with surprising speed, leaving a faint dampness but little other trace of their passage. The back of the wave is lined with rows of red dots which I suspect are some sort of simple eye. As far as its internal structure, it appears that the creature has no true bones, merely a mesh of tough ligaments. I couldn't really tell whether or not it had any true internal organs. Bullets had almost no effect on it. We killed this specimen with a fire-thrower and only the toughest parts remained recognizable. They probably require a great deal of moisture to survive; certainly the area where this one was found was practically a swamp.”
---- Caretaker report

 
The Ancient Laws
The first Beasts were given or invented a set of rules now known as the Ancient Laws. Curiously, their legends scarcely touch on the origin of these rules; stories that explain where they came from are all relatively modern and were invented generations later. But they are widespread and practically every Beast community still remembers at least some version of them.

Here are the most commonly known Ancient Laws, although some communities don't know them all, disregard some, or may follow additional ones. There's a lot of variation; they've been passed down as an oral tradition for a long time.
The oral history and laws of a given tribe or community is refered to as their Litany. The tribe's Lorekeeper is the Beast most responsible for keeping it straight and interpreting it for their tribe. Some Lorekeepers are willing to compose new laws or invent fanciful tales if they feel that they are needed; others consider that a betrayal of their trust.

Most tribes have a lot of additional rules and laws besides these; but the above laws are sacred and thus may be taken more seriously than most. Some tribal leaders take advantage of that by claiming that their own rules are also part of the Ancient Law. Thus, some tribes have commandments like "Repeat Not the Mistakes of Man", "Defend your Tribe with your Life", "High shall not Marry Low" or "The Word of the Alpha is Law."

It's only relatively recently that scholars in Zuba City have attempted to permanently record the Ancient Laws in writing, and many of them have been dismayed and disheartened by how much variation there is between various tribes.
Sunday, August 24, 2003
 
Bloodtides and Sea Tigers
The western coastline ought to have excellent fishing and a be a rich source of food for the Beasts living along the coast. It isn't. The oceans are still very sick. The bloodtide is an enormous wash of crimson-red bacterial colonies that coats the beaches for a good part of the coastline. They produce massive amounts of cyanide and render what little fish can be caught quite inedible. The span of the bloodtide varies according to the time of year, contracting during the harsh winters and expanding again each spring, but there are some areas that get it year round. Sufficiently sturdy boats could theoretically get out past the colonies and fish in the waters beyond it, but so far no Beasts have managed to build boats so sturdy. To many, the bloodtide is just assumed to go on forever.

To the north and south of the infested region however, there are some spots where the water is less polluted and still harbors life. It's still not particularly safe, however. In addition to the occasional toxic fish, there are sharks and sea tigers to be reckonned with. The sharks haven't changed much; the reduced ocean life makes them a little hungrier and a little more willing to try taking a bite out of anything that might be potential prey, but otherwise they'd be perfectly recognizable to someone who lived before the Last War.

Sea tigers, on the other hand, are a relatively modern mutation. They're an oversized crustacean, actually the largest shrimp known. Covered in armored plates with yellow and black stripes, their foremost set of limbs have been modified into fearsome, hooked spears. Their eyesight is quite phenomenal and while most of them will ignore swimming Beasts, some of them aren't so picky. Their strike is one of the fastest motions of any living creature, and more than one Beast has been impaled and dragged under before they could react.

Basically, of course, the sea tigers are an enlarged form of Lysiosquillina maculata, mostly because I really like mantis shrimps. Enlarged to one to two meters in length (about 4x the real-world length), these creatures (already fearsome predators in their own right) become the sort of thing that makes you wish it was just a shark. Their origin is uncertain; they could have been genetically modified to defend ships, or maybe they're just the result of a natural mutation filling in a gap in the ravaged ecosystem. Regardless, they're scary and not nearly as unrealistic as giant ants or six-foot long scorpions.
Saturday, August 23, 2003
 
The Dreamers of Secrets
Cool. So, some actual new stuff: I'm working on a tribe of Low Beast Coyotes for the setting, they call themselves the Dreamers of Secrets. They have a reputation as mystics amongst the other tribes in the region, and it's not unknown for outsiders to come seeking divinations or advice. Since Low Beasts will be better at most psychic powers, they can have a lot of real psychics if the GM wants... or they can be a load of con artists scamming the neighboring tribes.
"The so called 'Dreamers' are clearly charlatans and layabouts. By maintaining an air of mystery and engaging in odd behavior, they've managed to convince the nearby tribes that their often-drugged ramblings are a font of not quite decipherable wisdom. While their mysticism may be retarding the progress of the other tribes in the area by distracting them from scientific pursuits, I'm confident that they'll eventually be exposed as frauds through their own incompetence."
---- Caretaker report

"I fear that strange wolf, the one with the metal in his head. I think he would destroy us if he saw us truly. We play the fool for him, and he goes away satisfied; but I wonder- why do I fear him so? What makes one wolf so dangerous?"
---- Barking Owl, Dreamer of Secrets
This actually points up another tidbit I like: the Caretakers are a mysterious group of technologically sophisticated Beasts who regard themselves as the caretakers of the nascent society slowly forming in the wastes. They prefer to observe, and never intervene or act openly unless there is a serious threat to society as a whole. Their motives are obscure (and fit fodder for a supplement if there's any interest later) but they allow me to add relatively sophisticated comments in various places in the book without using the "omniscient narrator" bit.

I'd rather that the comments, however likely they are to be true, NOT be "official". A Caretaker may speculate about where something interesting is buried or about the origins of a particular kind of mutant monster, but they won't know for sure. It'll only be educated speculation.
 
Comments
Well, now. I think that I've finally gotten the script that accepts comments working. Time to try updating the blog and see if it breaks anything.

If anyone actually tries to leave a comment and can't, let me know. One possible bug I've seen so far is that comments often don't show up properly until you refresh the page. I'm still trying to track that one down.

Okay, I think all of the bugs are worked out now. Let me know if anyone has trouble with it. One annoying bit is that it's easy to double-post if you refresh the page, but I doubt that'll be a big deal.
Friday, August 22, 2003
 
Psychic Powers and Cyberware
Another bit about psychic powers. While I'm convinced that the setting does need some sort of "fantastical" element (I don't want it to be too gritty), I don't want it to be a defining part of the setting. The GM should be able to write them out with minimal changes to the world.

My current plan is to make all of the powers subtle and limit them to only affecting minds (and possibly the psychic's own body). There may be a few exceptions but the basic idea is that they won't be able to affect physical objects, only living minds. This also means that while being psychic is great, if it gets out of hand the GM can always put you up against robots instead of living opponents.

Furthermore, I want to make it so that a "skeptical" character could realistically dismiss someone's claim of strange powers as fake or self-delusion, so there will be few or none of them that produce undeniably magical effects. Instead, they'll cover subtle things, like sensing danger or realizing that you're being watched.

Cyberware (which exists, but is pretty rare; you'd have to have it installed and only a handful of independent AIs still have the technical knowledge and equipment to do it) will reduce your Race trait, so it will directly interfere with psychic powers, as well as reducing the utility of your natural instincts. That should help balance it out, so that characters who do get the opportunity will hesitate before having some sort of gizmo implanted in their brain.
 
Psychic Powers
Hm. I'll have to transfer this to my own server and set it up to accept comments. Then I can pass it around to folks and they can reply here, without having to send email. Probably won't happen this weekend, though; I've got too many projects that need to be wrapped up.

So, some new stuff: I've been tossing around various ideas for psychic powers in the setting for ages. The first version they were potent (like having mages) but too unreliable. The second playtest version was just plain too potent AND too reliable at the same time... if I'd kept those rules, then psychics would dominate the setting; if not immediately, then as soon as the power gamers discovered the psi rules.

So I've almost come full circle- I'm currently leaning towards making them work a lot like the Atavisms in Ironclaw. They'll be skills that you have to purchase a special advantage (Minor Psychic Potential or Major Psychic Potential) before you can learn them. You'll roll Race & Skill to use it (usually trying to beat a difficulty of 2d6). Each use will incur a point of fatigue, possibly more if you're trying to do something impressive. Since Low Beasts get a higher starting Race rating than High Beasts (to help make up for the lack of hands), they'll also be better at psychic powers... So long as I can keep the individual powers "nifty" but not "overpowered", it should help balance out the character types.

Here's a quick example:
Beguiling: This psychic power enables the character to twist the emotions of those around him, lowering their suspicions and making them more open to persuasion and suggestion. Roll Race & Beguiling vs 2d6.
  • Botch, Critical Failure or Worse: Your power "burns out". Any further uses today will cost an additional point of fatigue. This penalty is cumulative.
  • Failure: Your power has no effect. The strain costs you 1 point of fatigue.
  • Tie: No effect, no cost.
  • Success: You can include your Race & Beguiling dice with all Charm rolls for the next scene at a cost of 1 fatigue. You can extend the duration to an hour by spending 2 fatigue instead.
  • Critical Success: As above, but activating this power only takes a Secondary Action, not a Full Action.
  • Extraordinary Success: As above, but activating it is a Free Action.

So it's expensive to acquire Beguiling and draining to use, but it lets you add a minimum of two dice to all social interaction skills, which is cheaper than buying them separately. I'm toying with the idea of whether or not it should be resisted by the target's stats... i.e.- roll Race & Beguiling vs the target's Brains & Will instead of a flat 2d6, but I'm not sure it's necessary. I'm looking for a kind of Saruman-style, "Whatever I say starts sounding reasonable and persuasive to you," effect, rather than hypnotism. The target will still get to roll to resist any kind of persuasion rolls, so their willpower will still apply, just not to the difficulty of turning the power on.
Thursday, August 21, 2003
 
Volcabulary
The setting has a decent amount of volcabulary associated with it. Beasts (with a capital B) are intelligent, talking creatures, quite distinct from animals (lowercase a) even if they sometimes look a lot alike. A Beast who lost their intelligence, or who was born without it, is generally called a feral and shunned by regular Beasts. The humanoid Beasts are referred to as "High" Beasts, while those that still run on all fours are regarded as "Low" Beasts. A creature might also be referred to by its breed (the animal species its ancestors were), e.g.- a High Wolf or a Low Cougar.

High and Low Beasts of the same breed can sometimes produce a hybrid progeny, but most of these Chimeras are stillborn mutants and very, very few live to adulthood. They tend to die young and are always sterile. There's a wide variety, ranging from slightly deformed High or Low Beasts to the prototypical "Chimera", a centaur-like mutant. Due to the likelihood of birthing such monsters, it's forbidden for High and Low Beasts to mate in most communities.

The underground tunnels and sewer systems that exist beneath most major cities (often the only part left intact after the last surface building collapses) are referred to as deeps. Some of the better preserved deeps have been colonized by Beasts; the best known example is Deeptown, whose inhabitants are commonly called Mushroomers because of they get most of their food by eating edible fungus that grows down in the tunnels.

The most feared danger on the surface are the Exterminators. This is a generic term for any ancient war-robot which is still functioning, programmed to defend the continent against all unauthorized personnel... which definitely includes Beasts. A few Low Beasts will be ignored by Exterminators (mostly smaller herbivores), but even Low Beast predators may find themselves regarded as dangerous animals and shot on sight. Luckily, their numbers seem to be dwindling, but there are rumors of sleeping Exterminators in underground hangers, just waiting for someone to accidentally reactivate them. War robots were programmed to be very literal and are almost incapable of creative thought; they have almost no free will at all. They're still fighting the war because no one has told them not to... and the codes necessary to shut them down have been lost for centuries.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
 
The Various Regions and Cultures
So, a bit of explanation about the setting map...

The small valley labeled "The Kings of the South" is where the first Beasts, coming up out of the radioactive wasteland to the south, finally found an area of fertile land. Many settled there forever, and ended up eventually dividing the area up into small kingdoms. They're relatively primitive; most of the locals believe that they have the most advanced civilization left in the world, but actually they're relatively stagnant (the Beasts who kept going to the Verde managed to establish a more sophisticated civilization). While Beasts are forbidden to kill other Beasts, brutal raids and quick skirmishes are pretty common due to population pressure and most of the leaders are willing to overlook a mass murder or two if it nets them another acre of land. The alliances and vendettas are ever changing and usually have very petty motivations. Low Beasts are regarded as inferior here, and are ruled over by the High. The tower of Greenmark is actually a ruined skyscraper, but it marks the southernmost extent of the valley and is still considered a sacred site.

The Verdant Crescent (commonly called the Verde) is a sheltered region that has recovered from the Last War better than most places. It's the heavily forested region in the center of the map, curving around Zuba City and Manforge. It was mostly one huge forest when the first Beasts reached it, and they've since carved out a number of small towns and cities. The Verde is probably going to be the default setting for the game- it's a relatively civilized area that understands the value of ancient technology and is willing to pay for it. Many professional "scavengers" make their living by scouring the less radioactive ruins for relics to sell in Zuba City. It's one of the most egalitarian areas, and Zuba is a giant melting pot of a trading metropolis where all breeds and forms are welcome.

The western lands are populated by nomads- the best hunting during the summer is in the north, but during the winter it's unlivable, so they regularly migrate north and south along the coast. They're mostly High Beasts, and very low tech: bows and arrows are common and guns are regarded as sacred relics.

The Harpies rule the far north- they're a mysterious race of intelligent birds, like talking condors. Their origin is probably similar to the Beasts, but the harpies were born somewhere in the north and are migrating south. They have a tendency to regard non-harpies as food, which makes it difficult for the Beasts of the south to establish friendly relations with them.

The eastern valley is the League of Free Beasts, centered around League City. This area is obstensibly a democracy and Man-worshippers; they've done their best to copy the ways in which Men governed themselves before the War, but with mixed success. The League is very militant, and some of their leaders are really more like dictators than actual elected representatives. They believe strongly in set roles for different breeds, with the hyenas handling most of the fighting, the otters being expected to work as fishermen, etc.

The League's eastern expansion is hampered by the presence of a variety of large, dinosaur-like creatures called Kukukuk. Rumor has it that some Kukukuk are intelligent and use tools, but so far most of the ones that the League has encountered have been mindless eating machines.


 
The Big Map
The rules aren't all that relevant, anyway. I'm of the opinion that the setting makes or breaks most games. Even stuff like GURPS would probably have a pretty small following if it didn't have those lovely, sweet supplements... for practically every setting that they could think of.

So I hand-drew a nice map of the northwestern United States and then went into Paint Shop Pro 7 and started adding labels and names. I already had a long list of area write-ups for specific locations... now I had to figure out where they should go on the map. This process actually helped a lot. You may start with a fishing village and an industrial center, but put them both near each other and suddenly it's obvious that the road between the two probably sees a lot of traffic. So starting with the map helped a lot in terms of arranging stuff into communities. There are actually a few locations (like Wardhall, which is famed for the ancient medical hospital that they've managed to partially reactivate) that may get moved again... some of the locations don't make sense, or are too isolated to be really interesting. Wardhall may have access to fabulous healing techniques, but that doesn't matter much if it's so far away from any other major settlements that no patient would live to get there in time.

I grayed out the lines beneath the labels so that they'd be more readable, but wouldn't destroy the underlying pic too much. I'm not sure how much I like the technique. Any comments?

Incidentally, I'd kind of like to go back and redraw the map at some point- as someone else pointed out, there isn't any real texture or shading to the mountains. It could definitely look a lot more artistic.
 
Quandries
Sadly, while the setting has slowly developed more and more, the rules system has gone through several major revisions. It's been fairly difficult to get the right feel. The original combat system was based on Ironclaw's... which is great, but very slow. It can take 3 or 4 sets of opposed rolls (meaning that both the attacker and the target roll) in order to settle a single attack. Experience with the system speeds stuff up, but it's still darned slow. So I've been making the NB combat system simpler and simpler... or at least faster. The current iteration has an opposed attack roll (attack roll vs defense roll), then an unopposed damage test (armor subtracts a flat amount from the damage done). It's a bit like Wasteworld, in that running out of HP doesn't kill you... you just start having to make Survival Rolls. In this case, the more negative you go, the greater the difficulty dice of the Survival roll. Since it's dice vs dice (roll your Guts & Will vs the difficulty dice), it's always possible for anyone to survive any hit until you get beyond -10, where the accumulated difficulty starts adding to the minimum value. That's a holdover from Ironclaw, and it's one of the features of the system that I really like.

So the difficulty is balancing stuff so that guns and such are important but not so powerful that Low Beasts (who don't have hands) can't compete with a High Beast who actually has a gun. The system needs to be deadly enough that combat is fast (I can't stand systems where it takes a dozen solid hits to take a typical foe down) and risky but not so deadly that characters die like flies. It's a difficult balancing act, but hey- I can make the system adhere to whatever my own preferences are so even if no one else likes it, it'll be good for my games. I'm already doing a playtest of the current system, running a normal Delta Green adventure to see how well the system works for other settings. Unfortunately, we only have time to play once ever other week. Bleah.

I may make damage into an opposed test again... I don't really want to, because even though the attacker and defender can roll simultaneously, it's still a pain to wait for both and it's a hassle for the GM to run NPC vs NPC combat because he has to make both opposed rolls. But I do have some cool armor layering & coverage rules that could handle it all in a single die roll... a spiffy enough feature that I may want to include it anyway.
 
The Basics
Nuclear Beasts was sort of a combined spin-off of several games. I started running an Ironclaw game that's gone on for a few years now, and I was impressed by the level of detail in the setting and certain aspects of the system (particularly the roll all relevant traits and take the highest result mechanism). So I dug out my notes for a partially written Gamma World rewrite (bear in mind, this was long before they announced that a new edition was coming out) and started tweaking around with it again. The Ironclaw rules for handling different animal species seemed perfect for handling mutant animals in Gamma World.

But, over time, I started to debate the originality of it. After all, a world of mutants with intelligent animals thrown in has been done time and time again. So I toyed with the idea of dumping the humans entirely... and then at some point I decided to dump the wacky mutations, too. So practically none of the original setting elements made it, except for the post-Apocalyptic setting.

Here's the little "origin legend"...
After the Last War wiped out the race of Man, God opened the gates of Eden once more. He brought the body of the Last Man to the Garden, and gave the Tongue of Man to the Beasts of the Garden, so that Man's wisdom would not be lost.

Then God gave the earth into the care of the Beasts and sent them forth from Eden to restore the land. But the death of Man had shattered the world, and let loose terrible monsters from the black pits. The hills were filled with poisons and strange ills, and not one in ten lived to see their first cubs born.

Some of the first Beasts went back to the Garden, to beg aid from God, for the dangers of the world beyond were indeed great. And God was moved by their plight and gave them the Thumb of Man, that they might walk upright and wield the ancient tools with which Man had ruled the world.

Those were the first of the High Beasts.

---the creation story, as told by the Beasts of the Southern Kingdoms
So the basic setting is a post-Apocalypse landscape with intelligent animals, some of whom have been crossed with humans to create humanoid creatures, and some of whom have merely had their intelligence and vocal cords enhanced. They are largely ignorant of their origin, having only vague legends about a terrible war and, of course, the omnipresent ruins of the lost human civilization. They started out as a single culture (all of them originating from the same location) but as they have spread out over the continent they've fractured and squabbled and now it's not unknown to find a tribe or city which consists of only a single type of creature and where other breeds are unwelcome.
 
Nuclear Beasts
Since it apparently works for Bruce Baugh, I figure I'll give a blog a shot. The idea here is to brainstorm/record progress on the RPG I'm trying to write. I've had a bit of writer's block on it, and I think it's largely because I haven't had any feedback in ages. I'd like to get into the habit of updating this sucker regularly (and probably move the hosting to my own site), but we'll see how it goes. I have a feeling that there are about as many abandoned blogs as abandoned websites. :-)

Oh, there's also a bunch of files and stuff located at this page on our http://www.kizandjenn.com website.

Feel free to email me with any comments or feedback! I'm hoping to use this as a brainstorming exercise mostly, but hey- all opinions are welcome!

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