Nuclear Beasts Blog
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
 
Weapons of Mass Destruction
High Beasts have one principal advantage over Low... hands. But the extent of that advantage depends heavily on what sort of tools are available. In combat, a spear probably isn't as useful as a bow and the effectiveness of a bow pales before an assault rifle. A Low Beast may be able to work a calculator with his claws, it'll just be slower and more awkward than normal. They aren't going to be able to use a sword.

So, the big advantage of High Beasts is that they can generally use better equipment than Low Beasts can. They can get guns, armor and electronic devices that are much more difficult for Low Beasts to use. This is really difficult to balance with game rules... in fact, I'd argue that it's impossible. If the GM's campaign is set in the western lands where it's rare for any Beast to have a weapon more sophisticated than a bow and arrow, then Low Beasts will be competitive and may even be better (they get some bonuses to make up for their lack of hands). If the campaign assumes that the Beasts are all heavy-weapons specialists working in the League and they call get ancient combat armor and assault rifles, well... Low Beasts had better stick to non-combat roles.

So it's generally up to the GM to provide balance, and that balance may well shift. If the party finds a powerful laser rifle, whoever gets it suddenly becomes a lot more effective... and when it breaks or gets sold/stolen, well, they're back where they were before-hand. At character creation, this is balanced out by charging extra points for unusually good equipment. But once play starts, it's a bit much to insist that someone who finds a working computer should be docked extra XP to "balance" them with the other PCs.

But, that said, what sort of high tech super-weapons are available?

Assault Rifles are the traditional uber-weapon. They work at range and can deal out an extraordinary amount of damage in very short order. But they eat up bullets like crazy when they do it. Grenade launchers are attached to some of them, which makes them even more devestating, but grenades are even rarer than appropriate rifle rounds.

Pulse Lasers are a somewhat futuristic weapon. An enormous amount of electricity gets used up when it fires, producing a very powerful laser beam for about a nanosecond. The beam is, of course, completely invisible and far too fast to see in any case. The gun produces a loud hum, but compared to most firearms it's effectively silent and can be recharged from any sufficiently powerful generator. Producing negligible recoil, pulse lasers are easier to aim than normal firearms but they are extremely expensive and can overheat if not allowed to cool off between shots. Pulse lasers were mainly a toy of the rich. Most of them are broken now, but a repaired one is worth a great deal to any community that has the ability to recharge it.

Continuous Lasers are larger (most are bipod or tripod mounted), more powerful, and project a steady beam instead. These are devestating weapons against "soft" targets and are extremely precise. Called "Laser Lances" by the military, a lance could carve a hole in the side of a building or cut down an entire squadron of infantry in a few moments. Military models came with special goggles that allowed the user to actually see the beam (actually, not the laser itself, but a special targetting beam being projected solely for the benefit of the user). That greatly increased the ease of aiming them in combat situations and made precise cuts more practical. They consume an enormous amount of power, however, and thus were usually used to defend bases (which had their own generators) instead of being used out in the field where its charge would be quickly exhausted.

Machine Guns are basically just a larger, bipod or tripod mounted version of the traditional automatic rifle. Devestating against infantry but still somewhat portable, their big limit is generally ammunition.

Railguns have probably the best armor penetration of any heavy weapon. Ammo is also dirt cheap, consisting of little more than tiny metal balls, much like B.B. rounds. It's the power consumption that makes them expensive to use. Even in places like Zuba City, they generally can't produce enough power to run an ancient railgun. They also require a special, reinforced, firing base (which is quite heavy itself and has several moving parts) to absorb the recoil.

Nukes are pretty much unknown. Oh, a few military bases may have them, but the Beasts don't have any and only the best scholars would even recognize one if they saw it.

Microgrenade Launchers are more powerful and sophisticated than assault rifles, but also heavier and much more expensive. They shoot comparatively small microgrenades that are shaped much like heavy machinegun rounds and loaded much the same way. These shells explode either on impact, or upon travelling a certain distance, which can be set by using the built-in targetting computer. They are devestating at clearing urban areas, where the shell can be set to explode just as soon as it reaches a certain point... say just past the wall that the target is using as cover. A wide variety of microgrenades were made, ranging from incindiaries to shrapnel to stun grenades for taking prisoners alive. Most launchers are tripod-mounted affairs, but handheld models were used instead of traditional grenade launchers in many assault teams. The blast radius of each microgrenade is smaller than that of a traditional grenade, but the ability to fire grenades in a 3-round burst or to set the exact distance to be travelled more than made up for it.
Monday, September 29, 2003
 
How many breeds are too many?
It's an interesting question, much like "How many sentient races are too many in a D&D game?" The answer depends on what you're aiming for.

From a sci-fi point of view, it's unlikely that the AI that created the Beasts would have tried to save every species of mammal. It's just too big of a job. Since they can't breed with other species, there can't be too many different animals involved or they won't be able to sustain themselves. There would also be practical matters involved, particularly when it comes to High Beasts... some species would undoubtedly be better candidates for creating a humanoid version than others. Hooves, for example (particularly the hard kind, like horses have) would tend to suck for a biped. They tend to be relatively small and inflexible, whereas a biped needs a splayed, agile foot to stay upright.

The basic idea of the setting (that an AI added human-level intelligence to common mammals in an attempt to save them from extinction) would allow almost any critter to be used as a character, but there are some breeds that I've seriously considered throwing out. Naturally, any GM who wanted to could add them back in. They'd just be rare and not a major part of the setting. With Blessed Births, it's easy to explain away the presence of the occasional oddity, so adding them back in wouldn't noticably change the basic setting.

But (and it's a big but), eliminating some of these also eliminates some interesting character possibilities. I can't use a herd of nomadic High Horses if they don't exist... actually, I hadn't noticed the awful pun inherent in "High Horse" before; that might actually be another good reason to dump them. I don't want setting elements that folks can't take seriously.

If you lose all herbivores, you lose the potential conflict between Beasts that eat meat and those that don't... and it would also seem odd that only predators could be made intelligent. Surely the AI would have to consider the possibility that plant-eaters might fare better than predators or even omnivores in the wastes?

If you dump all of the tiny critters, you start to wonder exactly where the size cut-off is. If there aren't any intelligent rats, why are there intelligent rabbits? If no rabbits, why cats? In order to keep a semblance of realism, the setting assumes that some breeds are much larger than their primitive ancestors. Thus, a Low Rat is much bigger than a real-world one in the game. A High Mouse is about the size of a little kid or a midget. This can break player expectations, though, especially with Low Beasts... it has to be explained to a player that his intelligent mouse isn't small enough to fit in another PC's pocket... that he's probably more like 3 feet long than 3 inches.

There's also a tradeoff in time & attention. The more races I have available, the less time I can spend working on each one. How are Armadillos distributed across the country? Are their abilities valued by the average community or are they scorned as slow movers? If I have dozens of playable races, I have to leave most of them only vaguely described. There also ends up being a lot of overlap; Rats and Mice, for example, fill almost the same niche in the setting. Thus, there is a temptation to instead say, "Suppose I only wanted 12 races? Keep the list short so that I can develop each one in detail and it's easy to remember them all in play. Assume that the AI picked an assortment of species so that they wouldn't compete with each other and go with those. We don't need mice if we have rats. We don't need cats if we have panthers. Etc."

Sunday, September 28, 2003
 
Verret
The town of Verret will probably be moved up north where Broken Dome is on the big map. It fits better there, while Broken Dome needs to be moved to the outskirts of the Verde.

Verret is a fairly small community. The settlement actually occupies two ancient office buildings which fell down long ago, one of them leaning against and then eventually knocking down the other. In testimony to the gradual nature of their fall and the sturdiness of their construction, neither building is completely collapsed. As a result, the interior of Verret is rather awkward to navigate. The corridors often run at extreme angles, sometimes dropping straight down or rising straight up. Since the buildings were built with the idea that they would be standing upright, not lying on their side, there are no safety rails or climbing aids and the original staircases and elevator shafts are now at about a 15 degree angle off of the ground.

This seemingly awkward arrangement is actually quite suitable for Verret's inhabitants, most of which are smaller Beasts whose breeds are particularly good at climbing and acrobatics. Metal and wooden spikes have been driven into the walls in important corridors, to help outsiders (and locals who are encumbered by heavy loads) make the climb safely, but most of the passages don't have any such aids. Holes have been punched in the ancient walls to allow daylight to run through most of the upper rooms (upper as in being located on the side of the building which faces the sky, not those which were in the top part of the building when it was upright).

Ancient mirrored windows still dot the sides of the building in places. These allow the locals to see the outside world while keeping them hidden from outsiders. Sharp-eyed sentries often sit in these guardrooms, looking out through the one-way glass and watching for trouble. Verret is close to the lawless lands of the north and the locals have to worry about raveners and bandits in addition to Exterminators and monsters. Harpies are also an occasional danger, but the birds have learned not to approach Verret too closely. It's too easy for a sharpshooter to observe their passage overhead, then fire on them through a small gap in a mirrored window.

In the places where the windows were shattered by the impact (which is probably at least half of them), simple barriers and snares have been erected to keep out casual intruders, but Verret isn't an easy place to fortify. Instead, the locals rely on their superior knowledge of the building's layout. They know which corridors and elevator shafts are navigable and which are blocked by debris; which passages have ropes and hand-holds installed and which don't, and which corridors have been rigged to collapse or had other traps put in place. They know where the best places are for an ambush, and they can often find a way to encircle and overwhelm any intruder. Only creatures that can climb as nimbly as the locals could really fight effectively in the slanted corridors and angled shafts. They do occasionally worry about poisonous snakes and such, but their best defense against that has so far been to carefully block off as many of the near-ground windows as possible, so that most animals can't get in.

Some sections of the building are difficult to access from within but easily reached by flight. These chambers have generally been surrendered to the birds, who flock there in great numbers and build their nests inside ancient offices. Skilled climbers and bats sometimes raid the nests to gather eggs, but only occasionally; parts that were raided too often are now abandoned by the birds, which moved their nests to less accessible areas. Some parts of the building are actually quite unsafe for habitation now, due to the enormous amount of bird dung that has piled up in certain rooms. Beasts who spend too much time around them may get used to the odor, but they are still more prone to coughs and sickness than other Beasts.

There are a fair number of more regular homes and farms spread out in the area around Verret, but in times of trouble even the larger breeds retreat inside Verret, counting on its awkward layout to hamper any intruders. Their level of technology is fairly low; while they trade for goods like flashlights and guns, they don't have any facilities to build or repair their own.

Verret is largely populated by Ferrets, Weasels, Squirrels and a handful of Cats. There are probably more Low Beasts here than High, but Verret accepts almost anyone who is willing to live there. Some people say that the name of the settlement supposedly comes from the phrase "Village of the Ferrets", but others claim that it is named for one of the Beasts who founded it.
Saturday, September 27, 2003
 
Eastmarch
The northernmost boundary of the territory of the League of Free Beasts is the military fort called Eastmarch. The League established Eastmarch after realizing that the enormous reptiles called Kukukuk or sometimes Dragons were entering their territory through a mountain pass in the northeast. The fort was built at the narrowest point so as to act as both the first line of defense and an early warning mechanism.

Since the gap in the mountains is many miles across, the soldiers here have further narrowed it by damming streams, digging trenches, putting up spiked fences, and otherwise trying to wall off all of the easier points of entry. Over the years, it's proved only somewhat effective at keeping the ravenous reptiles out, but the League considers it an overall success.

Like most League soldiers, the majority of the troops garrisoned here are High Hyenas. Most other breeds present are assigned to perform specialized tasks, like otter divers, rhino laborers or bat messengers.

The soldiers are quite well armed. The League has proven quite skilled at restoring ancient weapons, so they have a fair number of assault rifles and laser weapons. Common soldiers are equipped with single-shot bolt-action rifles; the best of these are imported from Manforge, but some are made locally as well. The fort even has a small group of armadillos that work as bullet-makers, carefully crafting additional rounds using ancient machines built for that purpose.

Eastmarch has very little farming. Instead of farms, Eastmarch has several small ranches that raise chickens and turkeys for food. This mostly-meat diet keeps the morale of the troops high, but does lead to dietary deficiencies. Other foods generally have to be imported from the rest of the League.

A smattering of hermit Beasts live in the hills near the fort, but most of them stay well clear of the soldiers and don't consider themselves members of the League. They are wary of both the soldiers, who know that they are unlikely to be disciplined for any crimes committed against these outcasts and loners, and of the Kukukuk themselves. There are always a few of the oversized reptiles in the hills here and few Beasts know how to tell a herbivore from a carnivore without getting dangerously close.

Soldiers generally serve a two-year stretch in Eastmarch, and then are rotated to elsewhere in the League, usually to a city or town. Those who have displeased their commander may be forced to serve an extra stretch or (if they've really ticked someone off) sent through the pass as "long range scouts". Few of these scouts ever make it back from the eastern lands alive. A long-range scouting mission is expected to take at least 3 months, and a soldier who comes back sooner may be court-martialed for dereliction of duty.

Early reports from these scouts sometimes involved wild, unbelievable tales about villages full of intelligent Kukukuk living together and "High Dragons" that carried oversized guns. Those scouts were punished for turning in such nonsense as valid intelligence and now all of the scouts that come back report what the commanders expect: a wild and dangerous region with innumerable predatory lizards and no sign of civilization. Rumors are still spread around occasionally, though, and not all members of the high command discount them completely. But to the current day, no Kukukuk has ever been killed and brought back to Eastmarch that showed any signs of being anything other than a mindless eating machine.

Short-range patrols are a fairly common sight in the area. There will generally be a single sergeant with a restored ancient weapon such as a shotgun, rifle or assault rifle, and a number of common soldiers armed with swords and single-shot rifles. Depending on the terrain that the patrol is expected to cross and the fortifications along the way that need to be checked, there may be a an appropriate specialist along, such as an Otter, Beaver or Bat. Patrols are expected to track down and slay any Kukukuk that they find in the area, but the largest part of their duty is just maintaining the barriers and fortifications along the pass. An actual hunt is regarded as a welcome break in the tedium and an excellent opportunity for an ambitious soldier to prove themselves.

Perhaps the most impressive room in Eastmarch is the Commandant's Trophy Hall. Whenever a particularly large or otherwise impressive Dragon is slain with its head intact, its skull is brought back to the fort and mounted on the wall of the hall. Many soldiers can point proudly to a particular creature that they helped kill and will gladly recount the tale of their struggle. Dozens of skulls of a wide variety line it, covering it to the point that the less impressive trophies are sometimes taken down to make room for newer acquisitions. It's a rare soldier here who doesn't have some sort of bony keepsake, such as an oversized tooth, claw or horn taken from a kill.
Friday, September 26, 2003
 
Broken Dome
There is a small trading community called Broken Dome on the outskirts of the Verde (in the big map, it's actually north of the Verde, but I'm probably going to move it to the western side of the Verdant Crescent). The Beasts here live in and around an abandoned sports arena. The great dome of the building has partially collapsed, letting air and sunlight into the sheltered inner area, but the gates and entryways are still usable.

The great artificial plain that was once the parking lot is now cracked and fractured, with scattered trees poking up through gaps in the asphault. There are a smattering of ruined, rusting cars here, which the locals mostly avoid; they were stripped off all useful parts years ago. A notable landmark is "Bigfruit", a large tree that grew up under a small car and ended up lifting it into the air. Now the ruined husk sits atop the tree, the sprawling branches extending both around and through it.

Broken Dome survives primarily as a trading post, helping people from the Verde and from the western lands exchange goods without having to travel all the way to Zuba City. In particular, Broken Dome is the place to sell goods that aren't legal to sell in Zuba City. There are smugglers and black marketeers here who know how to get around the laws in Zuba, and many things are bought and sold here openly that would attract unwanted attention there. In particular, Broken Dome allows trade in explosives, powerful weapons, banned drugs and slaves. Stolen goods are often hawked there; the joke is that Broken Dome will let you sell anything so long as the blood on it isn't fresh.

There's a regular slave caravan that runs between Broken Dome and Manforge; they only purchase slaves that are physically fit but they really don't care where they came from. Slaves who complain too loudly about their captivity will find themselves branded (with a real brand, so that the scars are always visible) as exiles so that no one will believe that they were actually kidnapped. Less fit prisoners are sold as unskilled laborers or put to work as farm slaves around the Dome. The community is always expanding the arable land around the dome, carefully digging up the blacktop and sowing the soil beneath with seeds. Scraping off the ancient asphault down to the earth below is a tedious, backbreaking job, so it's mostly done with slave labor.

There are two ancient wells in the area and a small creek, so the Dome only lacks for water during the hottest months, when the creek goes dry. One well is relatively close to the Dome, so they've built a small stone fort around it and posted a few guards. Travellers can purchase water here for a (usually) minimal fee. The guards are known to charge obviously desperate or rich merchants considerably more than usual, though, so some groups prefer to hit the more distant and unguarded well. It's best not to go there alone or unarmed, as there are a number of outlaws, thieves and escaped slaves living in the ruins near Broken Dome, and they often try to waylay travellers there.

The number of truly permanent inhabitants of Broken Dome is small. Most people are only here during the Spring, buying or selling goods and then returning home. The Dome Tribe is here year round, but during the off-months travellers are regarded with suspicion and most of the entrances into the dome are sealed against intruders. Flying creatures can always get in, of course, but so far they've had very little trouble except for a single Bat exile who's been known to sneak in during the winter months and hide out, stealing bits of food to survive. The locals regard him as harmless. Some of the Dome Tribe actually feel sorry for him (they call him Flap, but no one knows what his true name is, or if he can talk at all; the locals suspect that he's partially feral) and occasionally leave food out deliberately.

Because of Broken Dome's willingness to allow trade in things that Zuba City prohibits, their supplies are an odd mix. They have a handful of powerful ancient weapons (assault rifles and lasers mostly) but not the supplies to maintain them properly. They have access to nasty poisons and addictive drugs, but not to proper medicine. Still, the Dome Tribe remain a fiercely independent lot, and they have never sought closer ties with other settlements.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
 
The Deathly Wastes
There are areas on the big map that are marked as Toxic Wastelands. Some of these areas were nuked, but for the most part, these mini-deserts exist because of the smallest of doomsday weapons, not the largest.

Bacterial weapons inflict short term damage but their poisons generally break down rapidly. Inorganic toxins can last much, much longer, but have to be applied by hand. Some of the bombs with which the U.S. were hit were packed with bacterial weapons that were the best of both worlds. A rapidly reproducing single-celled organism that could assemble lethal toxins out of its environment, chemicals to which it was highly resistant, but which few other forms of life were. There was supposed to be a cure for each one, a counter-bacillus designed to destroy them utterly, but the cure was lost with the creators of the original weapon.

Luckily they fell short of wiping out all life on the continent and now they are on the decline. There are very few pockets of active bacteria left (toxic pools such as the lake called Deathwater being the main exception) but there are still large areas where the soil is impregnated with their poison and a small scattering of live bacteria.

These artificial deserts aren't always dry. The Poisoned River is a good example of a wet area where the damp soil is infested with these tiny killers. They're readily identified by the local vegetation, which will be stunted, unhealthy and often entirely absent.

What's most dangerous to Beasts are the Shallow Fields, where a thin layer of safe, fertile soil has built up over a toxic region. You won't find full-grown trees there, but you will find a lot of small plants and grasses that have very shallow root structures. Food crops planted in such a region tend to either die or become dangerous to eat; the local water supply is often even more severely contaminated.

For the most part, the Beasts merely avoid these areas. Only outcasts and ferals are liable to be found there, and then only when there is no other safe forage in the region. The toxic wasteland that marks the southeast border of the Verde (called the Rabies Waste by the locals) is such a spot: several small clans of raveners, bandits and outlaws call that region home. The few sources of clean, uncontaminated water are closely guarded by the clans that have seized control of them, but attempts at theft or to seize the water source by force of arms are common.

Travel through a toxic waste isn't necessarily dangerous, if you know what you're doing. Carry plenty of water and never sample any local water if you can help it. Even a seeming oasis may just be poisoned with toxins that affect animals, but not plants, so be very careful. Avoid eating the local plants or animals, even if they look healthy; they're liable to be carrying chemicals in their bones that never break down and can cause you severe health problems later in life. Go well armed; any creatures that are here are liable to be both starving and diseased and may be unnaturally aggressive. Treat any bites or scratches as potentially poisoned wounds and tend them very carefully. Erosion gets worse in areas without any surviving plant life, so be careful around hills and ridges. Never get near any kind of vents emitting smoke or steam from the ground.

But so long as you bring all of your food and drink with you and stick to flat ground, you can be relatively safe. In fact, since there's no obscuring underbrush, travel may be even faster than crossing fertile countryside. And, of course, no one will want to linger when travelling through a toxic wasteland, so you don't have to worry about folks lagging behind out of laziness.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
 
Adventure Nugget: The Cursed Village
As the PCs travel, they might spend a few days in a small community of High Beast farmers who are extremely weary and haggard. It turns out that they've been posting guards all night to try and protect their flocks of domesticated fowl from thieves. But it seems like no matter how many guards they post or how long they stand guard, the thieves always manage to carry off a few birds. And lately even a couple of cubs and an elderly High Beast have vanished without a trace.

The farmers have begun to suspect that a band of ravener bats are preying upon them... it's the only way that they can see for someone to be slipping past the guards at night. The only workable defense seems to be to stand around with lit torches at night; the thieves won't strike there, but may elsewhere. Some families have already packed up and moved away, abandoning their homesteads.

If the PCs have any bats, they'll be looked on with suspicion at first, but the townsfolk would really like their help. They figure that a bat sentry would be ideal for catching flying thieves. Any help from militant or tracker PCs would be greatly appreciated as well. The townsfolk can probably muster a small reward (perhaps they know some information that the PCs need to complete their current task) if the party isn't particularly soft-hearted.

The source of the danger isn't coming from the sky, though. It's already in the village. A small but particularly cunning wraith has settled in the depths of the village well. The original well was constructed by Man long ago, and the Beasts restored it to functionality when they settled this area. But without their realizing it, it's also become home to a creature of shapeless black slime, which oozes up the sides when it grows hungry. Nearly invisible at night, and leaving no noticable trail save a layer of moisture, the wraith finds appropriate prey, swiftly paralyzes it with its poisonous sting and carries the body back to the well to devour at its leisure. The depths of the well are now filled with well-polished bones, some of them belonging to Beasts.

Killing the creature could be difficult. The first part is figuring out that the "thieves" are actually inside the town already. Then they have to locate its lair. This is more difficult than it sounds, since it's nearly invisible at night, avoids any source of light, and can squeeze through very small openings. Their best bet is probably to lay down some sort of lines of colored powder or piles of small stones that even a wraith can't pass over without visibly disturbing them.

The creature isn't particularly aggressive (it doesn't like facing multiple opponents at once) but they may have to settle for driving it away if they don't have access to kerosine or some other source of powerful fire.

Possible Twist: It's not just one... there are actually dozens of tiny wraith babies down there. Only a few have been coming out at a time to seek out prey, but they bring it back to feed the whole horde. As they grow, they'll start taking larger and larger prey...
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
 
Beast Writing
Most Beasts speak one dialect or another of English. In fact, most are ignorant of the existence of other languages and have never heard of Spanish, French, Japanese, etc. They may not even know the name of their own tongue. The exact pronunciations vary, but most Beasts can make themselves understood with a little bit of effort, even if they are from vastly distant regions. There just hasn't been enough time since the Beasts first appeared for the language to drift too much.

Literate Beasts (rare, but not completely absent) are sometimes more worldly. They've often seen references to other languages in ancient human writings, and may even know a few words of those, too. Man-worshippers in particular are adamant about sticking to English as exactly as possible and hate to make up new words. One effect of this is that many strange creatures (such as Wraiths and Harpies) are named after ancient human myths, the result of their belief that there is already an English word for everything that anyone might encounter, it's just a matter of finding it.

Even in the more primitive areas, it's common for a tribe's Lorekeeper to have been taught to read a few common English words, so that they can interpret ancient signs and such for their people. Most can't actually read as such, but have merely memorized the meaning of specific words and phrases such as "Keep Out", "Stop", or "Warning: Radiation Hazard".

Because Low Beasts generally have trouble with regular writing, most areas also use a simple written language of overlapping slashes and marks. These are simple symbols that can be scratched into a soft surface with a single claw and generally have set meanings like "Danger" or "Property of the Blackpaw tribe". The exact meanings vary from place to place. Most tribes have at least one "unique" symbol that they use to represent themselves, so interpreting the marks left by an unfamiliar clan can be difficult at times.

In the more advanced and sophisticated areas, like the Verde, literacy is a bit more common. In some towns everyone who has time to spare and a desire to learn can attend open classes that teach the basics of reading and writing; in others, it's restricted to a handful of people who learn to do it very well and no one else can read at all. The availability of such education is generally based more on the attitudes of the tribe's leadership than anything else.
 
Leucrotta
Its ancient ancestors might have been wolves or hyenas. It's hard to tell now. The leucrotta, or mocker, is an oversized and hideous dog-like predator. Its fur is black but short and sparse; plates of armor grow underneath its skin, giving it a segmented look. It's about the size of a lion.

It's a very cunning predator and just as intelligent as any Beast. They also have a remarkable ability to remember and mimick the voices of others. A leucrotta can repeat pretty much any phrase that they hear, exactly as they heard it. Their true voices tend to be weak, whispery tones. It takes a lot of concentration for them to compose their own speech, so they rarely speak with their real voice and anything that they do say tends to be slow and drawn out.

Leucrottas are among the most mysterious of monsters. Their intellect would mark them as Beasts, but the only ones that have been encountered have been lone raveners. They prey on the more primitive communities on the coast, waylaying and slaying lone Beasts, particularly cubs. They seem to possess the sort of sadism that is only found among intelligent creatures; they often enjoy tormenting their prey before they feed. It may be that there is a larger community of which these creatures are mere outcasts, but so far no one knows.

Leucrotta (Mocker)
Muscles:d12Guts:d8Speed:d8Brains:d8Charm:d4Perception:d6Will:d8
Race:d8 (applies to natural weapon attacks, Stealth, Tracking, Climbing, Intimidate and Observation)
Armor Rating:4Dash:12Luck:d10

Important Skills: Melee d8, Grappling d8, Digging d8, Dodge d6
Claws/Bite: 3d8 to hit/parry, damage d12,2d8.
Dodge: d8,d6.
 
Internet Explorer
Well, that was annoying. Turns out that there's a(nother) serious CSS bug in Internet Explorer. I had to add a "position:relative;" tag to the info box in the upper right hand corner in order to keep it from becoming invisible. It was there, you just couldn't see it. You could click on the links, though. Wacky stuff. I'm guessing since they distribute IE for free, they don't put much effort into fixing its bugs. I've run into several annoying IE bugs at my job, too... did you know that if you put too many hidden elements into a form, it can cause all buttons to stop working? That was fun, too.

Anyway, folks should be able to see a small, gray box in the upper righthand corner of the page. It has some text and a bunch of links. If you still can't see it, let me know what sort of browser you're using.
Monday, September 22, 2003
 
Metalworking
The Beasts have rediscovered metalworking, but they remain in awe at the works of Man. Only Manforge has forges that burn hot enough and cleanly enough to produce decent quality steel. Elsewhere, metalworking is generally limited to beating the softer metals into a more useful shape. The higher-quality human-made tools are considered immensely valuable. A steel hammer, wrench or axe is beyond the ability of most Beast communities to duplicate.

Metal wire is often used to tie things together and is used instead of twine in many cases. Wire-gatherers are menial laborers who make their wage by stripping electrical wiring out of ancient buildings, cars, and broken electrical devices. Once the rotting rubber coating has been scraped off, the wire can be reforged or used as is. It doesn't pay that well; getting a decent amount of wire out often means tearing open all of the interior walls in a crumbling, unsafe building and it's tedious, time-consuming labor.

Armor is often made by punching small holes in metal plates, then tying them together with braided lengths of metal wire. Thick, heavy plates can provide excellent protection, but may be too heavy to wear. Also, the harder and more protective the metal, the more difficult it generally is to drill the holes necessary to tie the pieces together. Ancient military or police armor is generally superior in quality to the kinds of armor that Beasts can make despite the amount of time that it's spent moldering in the dust.

Beast-made guns tend to be crude, single-shot rifles. Most communities don't even try to make their own guns, but will reshape small pieces of metal to make replacement parts for the ones they already have. Most places don't know how to create bullets even if they have access to the materials. Manforge lacks the technical knowhow to make automatic rifles, and League City lacks the facilities. If their differences could be ironed out, the Verde and the League could be very powerful allies, but currently their ideologies are too different.
Sunday, September 21, 2003
 
Religion
There are several common religions among the Beasts. I'll just list a few of them off real quick, since it's pretty late. I may come back and add more info later.

The Traditional Beliefs include the idea that God gave the Beasts of Eden the Gifts of Man and sent them forth to restore the world. This belief includes the idea that Man is extinct and that the world now belongs to the Beasts. Man is seen as a wondrous creature, and His memory is to be honored, but Beasts disagree over whether reverent remembrance or actual emulation is better.

A few tribes, cut off from the rest, have invented a completely new religion to explain their own existence. The Pantheonists believe in a whole pantheon of animal gods, generally led by the ruler of their own breed. These gods are archetypes, and are known by names such as Father Wolf, Mother Tiger or Sister Armadillo. It's common for the adventures of tribesfolk to be immortalized by changing all of the characters to gods; it's seen as hubris to use your own name in such a tale. Pantheonists are generally fairly primitive, and their religious observances usually consist of little besides the recitation of a few appropriate tales.

In most cases, Beasts either follow the Traditional Beliefs or the Pantheonists, but there are many splinter cults. A few have even recombined the two beliefs, and now see the animal gods of the Pantheonists as subordinate deities under the rule of the mysterious God of Man.

The term Man-worshiper refers to Beasts whose reverence for Man rises to the level that Man is considered deific (or nearly so) himself. There are many varieties. The City-Keepers don't emulate Man's ways, but see the ruins that he left behind as sacred. They protect them against Beasts who would despoil them, which often puts them in direct conflict with professional scavengers.

Others Man-worshipers strive to emulate Man in every way. They wear human clothes (or whatever equivalent they can craft), strive to recover the lost knowledge of the past, and generally believe that whatever Man chose to do is the right thing for Beasts to do. Low Beasts are generally considered inferior beings in this doctrine, and are expected to be subservient to High. There is a small, extremely fanatical cult of Man-worshipers (almost all High Beasts) who are commonly called Snips. This refers to their practice of self-mutilation, wherein they cut off their own tails so that they would better resemble Man. The few Low Beasts who follow this belief are expected to wear collars and leashes and are generally treated as slaves, with each Low Beast having to have a High Beast owner.

Reclaimers are a subset of Man-worshipers distinguished by their apocalyptic liturgy. They believe that Man is not dead, but left the earth in the care of the Beasts and will soon return to judge their work. Most die-hard reclaimer groups are actually doomsday cults, believing that the return of Man is imminent and that only the righteous will survive Man's wrath when He returns. Naturally, their definition of "righteousness" involves living life in a manner that the group's leaders approve of; doing otherwise is a sure ticket to damnation.

There are many smaller groups as well. There are animists who believe that every living and inanimate object has a soul, cults of personality that worship a single charismatic leader, and others (like the Lakesiders) who have chosen some animal or natural feature to worship as a god. The proclivity of so many tiny cults with their contradictory ways has also spawned the Godslayers, militant atheists and iconoclasts who deride the supernatural and try to point out the flaws and inconsistencies in every religion that they encounter. Note that it's still possible to be a Godslayer and a Man-worshiper; you can still see Man as the epitome of virtue and achievement without necessarily classifying Him as divine.
Saturday, September 20, 2003
 
Channeling
The emotional counterpart to Ghostwalking, a Channeler can sense when spirits of the past have unfulfilled desires and can allow the spirit to act through themselves if they desire.

The first part of Channeling is detection; a Beast with this power can feel when something needs to be done, even if they can't tell what. When a spirit strongly wants to perform some action, invoking this power costs the Beast nothing. If there aren't any active spirits, the Channeler can spend 1 fatigue to try to channel the desires of an inactive spirit by specifying a particular action and seeing if any spirits of the past wish to fulfill it. The more obscure the action, of course, the less likely that is.

Restless spirits are often those that died trying to perform some task that was important to them. The task may no longer have true meaning, in which case there is nothing that the Channeler can do. Other times, the spirit may be able to find peace by performing a task very similar to what they originally left undone. And in a very few cases (particularly with very recent deaths) the spirit may actually be able to perform the exact task that it left undone.

Here are a few tasks that might still be able to find meaningful expression:
There are always restless spirits in an area. The difficulty lies in finding one whose goals can actually be achieved. Alas, it's common for a Channeler to end up merely performing a useless pantomime instead. Some possible examples are:

 
The Lakesiders
Fleshlake is merely a curiosity to most of the nomad tribes in the west. The lake lies to the east of the forest called Klamath's Fall and the stream coming from it provides almost all of the water in the region. This water is extraordinarily pure and the plant life along the stream is green and lush.

The lake itself is generally avoided except as a curiosity. Its name comes from its singular inhabitant: an enormous, shapeless slime creature whose bulk fills the bottom of the lake. Practically nothing larger than minnows lives there; the creature reacts to disturbances by extruding sticky tentacles that seize the intruder and drag it down into the mass to be digested. As a result of its depredations, only tiny insects and fish can survive there. A benefit, however, is that the water is astoundingly pure; the creature takes the vast majority of its nourishment by filtering the waters of the lake.

Physically, the creature is a soft, white mass that simply fills in the nooks and crannies at the bottom of the lake. The tendrils that it generates are fragile, but very strong and it can spit them out in enormous numbers if it needs to. Severing them seems to do it almost no harm. So long as the parts fall back into the water, they are simply reabsorbed when they touch the main mass. It's probably some sort of enormous colony of tiny organisms, rather than a true individual. Parts that are separated from the whole invariably die in short order, even if kept in water; there may be some central "heart" or "brain" that coordinates the actions of the mass, without which the individual cells cannot survive.

The Beasts have learned to simply leave the creature alone. It's much too huge to be attacked, and even if it were somehow slain, it seems likely that the lake and stream would simply become as foul and polluted as most in this region. Cubs would occasionally sneak off to the lake and throw rocks in it, but that's about the limit of their interest. To most nomads, it's simply another mystery of the world, to be accepted and worked with, not understood.

Unfortunately, Klamath's Fall is too small to support more than a single clan of Beasts year-round, and it is occasionally subject to lethally heavy snowfalls. So most of the tribes treat it as a stopping point on the way to the winter camps, and stay only briefly. For most of the year, it is inhabited by only a handful of small families, and it seems like the last few harsh winters have driven most of them away as well.

This belief is actually incorrect. It hasn't been the weather, it's the depredations of the band of raveners that now live around Fleshlake. While the nomad tribes have long since lost interest in the inhabitant of the lake, some of the locals have grown more and more fascinated by it.

The Lakesiders are a cult of fanatics who have come to worship this huge and enigmatic creature as a god. Led by the charismatic and highly unstable Uyana (a female Dog Chimera who suffers from a disfiguring enlargement of her cranium), the locals have slowly come to believe that the more creatures that the inhabitant consumes, the better their personal fortunes. Illnesses, births, harsh weather, fine weather, all of these things are credited to either proper service of the deity or its subtle wrath for the lack of it.

Several small and isolated families have already been "judged" by Uyana and found wanting; the Lakesiders seized them and ritually sacrificed them to the creature in the lake. So far, they have managed to keep their activities secret. The folks who insist on staying in Klamath's Fall year round tend to be hardy, independent sorts who distrust strangers and don't talk to their neighbors.

So far the nomad tribes haven't really gotten wind of what's up. Last winter a few cubs who went to the lake to see the creature went missing, leading the tribal elders to believe that the creature has grown more aggressive. Now everyone is being warned to stay well clear of the area, but they still don't suspect actual murder.

But the winter months are coming again and soon the nomad tribes will return to Klamath's Fall once more. The cult is worried; Uyana, their priestess, has prophecised a very harsh and terrible winter unless their god's hunger is placated. With more of the local families getting suspicious and moving away, the cult must look elsewhere for their sacrificial fodder...

Possible Twist: Uyana isn't merely charismatic, she's actually psychic. Her power of Beguiling, combined with her own fanaticism, makes her an extremely persuasive cult leader. Most of the locals have joined her now of their own free will, with the few holdouts being rounded up and shown the "error" of their ways. She may well try to indoctrinate some of the nomads with her beliefs, but she'll want them dead if they don't actually succumb.

Possible Twist: Uyana isn't even mad. The inhabitant of the lake really does hunger for the flesh and souls of intelligent beings. The creature is ruled by a malevolent but largely impotent intelligence... cut off from almost any sensory input besides touch, its violent impulses rarely find outlet. But Uyana has managed to make contact with it; now that it has a set of eyes and ears, it's making plans to assuage its own hunger more fully. If Uyana is slain, it will be blinded again... at least until it can successfully contact another priestess.

Possible Twist: For a doomsday scenario, perhaps the cultists are trying to find a way to transport the bulk of the creature downstream... all the way to the ocean. If they succeed, this shapeless slime might one day consume all life in the sea, leading to an ecological catastrophe on a level that even the Last War didn't bring about. Or it might perish in the salt water, being unable to adapt to the differing conditions. But who would want to depend on that happening?
Friday, September 19, 2003
 
Wardhall
The "city" of Wardhall is actually quite small. It consists of an ancient crumbling but basically intact veterinary hospital complex, one of the largest in the country before the Last War. The locals actually believe that it was a regular hospital, not knowing the difference between a vet and a regular doctor.

While Bulldozer style Exterminators have levelled almost every building in the area, their programming prohibits them from doing anything to the buildings of Wardhall. As a result, the Beasts in the region either live in underground communities or in the hospital complex itself. The Exterminators still patrol the area occasionally; they are rare enough that ordinary folk can eke out a living farming and hunting, but they still can't put up any kind of major structure on the surface without seeing it destroyed within a year.

While a few Beasts have proposed attacking the Exterminators from within the protected grounds of Wardhall, they have always been held back by saner heads. No one knows whether or not such an act would remove Wardhall's special status; attempting to antagonize the Exterminators from inside Wardhall is strictly prohibited and punished very severely. Beasts have been exiled or executed for it before.

The Runners are a loose network of swift Beasts who race through the area spreading word whenever an Exterminator has been sighted. Since the machines rarely move in a straight line or at full velocity, it's often possible to get the entire community safely underground before it arrives. It's considered a great honor to be a Runner, but the Beast must be in tip-top shape and very fast. A Runner who can't keep well ahead of an Exterminator is liable to be killed or, worse, lead the machine right into an unprepared settlement. Most Runners are Low Beasts, but there are a handful of extremely fleet-footed High Beasts who serve as well. In general, the fastest Beast in each area will be appointed to be their Runner. In the event that word arrives about an oncoming Exterminator, the Runner immediately sets out towards the next community in line. Then their Runners set off in other directions, while the original keeps going, warning all of the families and villages until their strength gives out. Families in the area are expected to assist exhausted Runners by providing food, water and shelter.

While the communities surrounding it are dispersed but tightly loyal to each other, Wardhall itself is a very insular and stratified group. The rulers of the complex are called Doctors, with the Alpha Doctor being the highest ranking Doctor and the overall ruler of Wardhall. The position of Doctor is supposed to be granted by the existing Doctors for demonstrating great knowledge and the ability to operate the complex and often undependable medical equipment in the facility. In practice, however, political maneuverings and petty disagreements often lead to more deserving Beasts being overlooked or minimized, while the politically astute rule over the complex.

The wealth of Wardhall is contained almost entirely in the equipment within the building. The hospital complex has its own fusion generator, an ancient piece of equipment that the Beasts within barely understand how to operate. The generator level is kept under close guard and is always locked up tight. Only the Doctors in charge of its operation (and their assistants) have access to it.

That device provides the power that keeps the rest of the facility working. The interior of Wardhall has scattered working electric lights (75% or more of the original lights are burnt out) and rooms full of arcane medical equipment, only a portion of which still function. The most important devices are the surgical machines and the medication dispensers. Since both were intended to work with a wide variety of animals, they have proven invaluable for treating sick Beasts.

The facility even has a stockpile of nanite growth and suspension fluid, suitable for creating new healing or anti-radiation packs. A handful of stock nanites are added to a container of growth fluid, whereupon they use the materials held in the suspension to construct duplicates of themselves. Once all of the raw material has been turned into new nanites, suspension fluid is added which shuts them down for long-term storage. The stocks are large, but not unlimited and many of the barrel-shaped storage units are now empty. The staff have been trying to duplicate these compounds for years, but so far their own versions have been far less reliable, with the nanites produced often being defective or (more often) failing to reproduce at all.

Still, with the ability to mass produce their own medications, healing nanites, and access to computerized diagnostic and surgical equipment, the care available at Wardhall far exceeds anything else available to Beasts. Their machines can derive vaccines from the blood of a diseased victim, extract shrapnel from an ancient wound, and even (theoretically) perform organ transplants, although no Beast has yet survived one.

Wardhall survives by selling medical care. The locals provide a tithe of food and basic sundries in return for free treatment. Despite the hardships of the area, a higher percentage of cubs survive to adulthood here than anywhere else, as Wardhall can reliably diagnose and treat nutritional deficiencies and childhood illnesses. Outsiders are expected to pay higher prices. Those who cannot pay but have useful skills may be asked to remain as indentured servants for a year or more, to pay off their debt. Most of the guards here were impoverished outlanders who owe their lives to the Doctors; they are extremely loyal and most are treated quite well. Many have access to rifles or other ancient firearms, given to Wardhall as payment for one service or another.

Wardhall's fame extends across much of the country. Sick Beasts have been known to travel hundreds of miles to reach it, and while most die of their illnesses long before reaching their goal, enough do succeed to spread Wardhall's name far and wide. Unfortunately, the power of life and death has corrupted many of the Doctors, giving them a snide, superior attitude towards their patients. The near-worship that they receive from the locals doesn't help much, either.

All of the current Doctors in Wardhall are High Beasts of various sorts. While there are some Low Beasts working in the complex, none of them have ever even been considered for the position. The inhabitants of Wardhall are mostly Man-worshippers, and strive to emulate human ways in order to achieve the same level of greatness that they did. The Doctors often wear various bits of medical equipment as ornaments, even if they don't entirely understand what all of them do.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
 
Psychic Powers List
Here's a tentative list of psychic powers that I wrote up awhile back. I'm going to put changes I've made beneath the original text.

GHOST-WALKING
Seeing sounds and hearing noises from the distant past. The visions incurred often completely obscure the real world, making it difficult for you to move about safely. Visions can occur randomly, or can be invoked deliberately by concentrating on the object or area whose past you want to see. Random visions often occur more frequently and more strongly the longer you remain in one area.

Pretty much unchanged. Still one of my favorite ideas.

THOUGHT-SIFTING
Probing someone's mind for information. Called "sifting" because even the simplest brain is a tangled web of thoughts, emotions and memories. Finding anything specific (or even useful) is very difficult and time consuming.

Iffy. I'm thinking of severely limiting or even removing all of the "this directly affects others" powers. The ability to read thoughts doesn't necessarily involve directly affecting others, but the way I envisioned it above was as a sort of Vulcan mind-meld thing. Probably going away or being replaced by the ability to pick up the occasional thought (but you can't actually "probe" for anything specific).

BEGUILING
Projecting waves of trust and friendship that confuse and distort everyone's perceptions of you. Basically charms anyone who fails to resist. It can't really instill new feelings in people (ie- it can't make someone love you or fear you) but it does blunt hostile feelings towards you and makes them give more weight to your words than they should.

Not as potent now, since it basically just makes you extra charming but has no actual "mind control" effects.

EVIL EYE
Projecting waves of negative emotion that invoke feelings of fear and terror in those who look upon you. Basically makes you unnaturally frightening and intimidating.

The name may change. At least one person objected, saying that "Evil Eye" normally refers to the ability to inflict bad luck on people. Dunno. I'll think about it.

DREAM-SENDING
Communicating with other people via shared dreams. Works at almost any range, but requires both of you to be asleep or at least daydreaming at the time. Failed attempts cause you to get no rest for that period and may leave you feeling more tired than ever.

Should be okay. It's got a nice, mystical feel to it, especially if I make it difficult to pass more than vague messages along. So the better you roll, the longer and more freely you'll be able to discuss stuff in the dream and the clearer you'll remember it when you wake up.

PROPHECY
Seeing visions of the future or distant places via a trance or dream-state. You can try to seek visions of something specific, but it's your subconscious that picks which ones you get to see (out of the millions of possibilities) and it picks ones that it finds important or meaningful in some way.

Like Ghost Walking, I'm probably going to slap a "this should occur randomly at least once per month" thing, so that it can help even when you aren't actively trying to use it. It'll take a lot of careful GMing to make this power useful but not overwhelmingly so.

HYPNOTISM
A stronger form of Beguiling that can only be used on a single target at close range, with no distractions. Throws them into a trance-state, where they tend to answer questions and can be given post-hypnotic commands to be acted upon later.

Probably going away. Too invasive. It might be in there as an NPC-only power, though.

INNER FOCUS
The ability to place yourself in a trance-like state that gives you bonuses when attempting some particular task, but penalties to anything else. Can boost a wide variety of things, including healing, resisting torture, and remembering forgotten facts. You can use this ability on others, but they have to actively cooperate and it takes a lot longer.

I'm taking away the ability to affect other people. It should be strictly internal.

AWARENESS
The ability to sense your immediate surroundings without any sensory input. There are several varieties: Detect Life (sense any creatures around you, even if immobile or hidden, but only at close range), Detect Motion (sense any motion around you, even from behind, but only at close range), Detect Electrical Fields (sense the presence of any working electronics or even underground water flows), Detect Psi (sense any weird spiritual or psychic stuff going on around you) and Detect Attention (sense whenever someone is watching you, sometimes even if it's via electronic sensors).

This is actually several powers. Each of the varieties would have to be taken separately. Detect Attention is probably the coolest of them, but it needs a better name.

DANGER-SENSE
A nervous feeling triggered by unseen dangers. Occasionally produces sudden flashes showing you the source of the danger, especially if you happen to touch it unknowingly.

Short term precognition triggered by personal hazard. I might link it to Prophecy somehow, if Prophecy seems too crappy on its own.

SOUL-BINDING
Ability to keep the dying from actually expiring by holding their soul in their body. Exhausting to maintain, but it can keep them alive indefinitely, hopefully long enough for them to get medical attention or heal naturally.

Another one that might be NPC-only. I originally considered it as a form of magical healing, but in retrospect I'd be better off making sure that the healing system is gentle enough that groups don't need a power like this to survive.

EMPATHY
Ability to sense strong emotions over a wide range. Won't trigger on people who aren't particularly happy, angry, sad, etc, but will sense those who are. There's a matching Flaw which causes your emotional state to fluctuate according to how people around you feel (ie- you absorb their emotions subconsciously).

Still good. I like to have "downsides" to my powers, have you noticed?

SHADOW-STALKING
Projecting a field that obscures you from notice. Unless you or someone else does something to draw attention to you, people affected by it will tend to just overlook you. Doesn't work on mechanical sensors.

A way to get super-stealth sort of like D&D invisibility. You can't do anything that would draw attention to you (ie- attack) without letting folks see through it. That keeps it from being quite as good as just being stealthy already.


Wednesday, September 17, 2003
 
Ragethorn
A minor danger of the wastes, ragethorn is a small weed with white flowers and jagged, serrated leaves. The stem has small thorns. It usually grows in small patches. It's fairly rare, and part of that is because Beasts who recognize it generally burn it out or dig it up.

The leaves of the ragethorn plant (not the thorns, despite a common misperception) produce a potent toxin that clings to the skin and requires thorough washing to get off. Skin contact causes only a mild rash. But if it gets ingested (rubbing your face with an itchy hand is often enough) or, worse, into an open wound of some sort, it can cause fits of anger and unreasoning behavior. Large doses can even result in permanent brain damage.

Someone who has fallen victim to ragethorn often experiences days or even weeks of irrational behavior, suffering wild mood swings and bouts of paranoia in addition to actual violent rage. Fits and seizures are not unknown.

A few Beasts have experimented with using ragethorn as a poison, but have found very limited success. The toxin breaks down rapidly after the plant dies, so it has to be very fresh to be effective. Furthermore, since even a massive dose rarely incapacitates the target, dosing a creature with ragethorn often makes them more dangerous to you, not less. As such, it isn't of much use except as a way to discredit a rival (dose them secretly, then stay far away), and even then it only works if no one recognizes the effects as unnatural.

There are no really good cures. The best treatment for ragethorn poisoning is generally to restrain the victim for the duration and make sure that they drink a lot of liquids. They'll often show a mild fever, which will go away when the other effects do. Ragethorn is never lethal in and of itself, but sometimes causes Beasts to pick fights with friends or powerful enemies which can end in death.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
 
Riding Beasts
Hm. Well, here's a thorny setting issue. I was just about to add "Riding" to the Lost Skills on the grounds that unintelligent horses were all-but extinct.

But that's not necessarily the best way to handle it. There are a couple of reasons why the Riding skill might ought to still be around.So I may define the Riding skill as the ability to stay on a mount, or to help someone riding you to stay put... thus, a High Beast who rides a Low Beast still has a notable advantage- the two of them get to combine their Speed & Riding dice for determining whether or not the rider can avoid falling off. Most riding animals won't have the Riding skill at all, and won't be able to help the rider stay on.
 
The Observation Split
The original Nuclear Beasts system was a modified version of the Ironclaw rules. One of those early changes was splitting the Observation skill into Spot, Listen, and Smell. I also added the Radiation Sense skill to represent the ability of Beasts to detect radioactivity (they were genetically engineered to have that ability; otherwise they wouldn't be doing nearly as well as they are).

Radiation Sense has ended up being iffy. It's okay when people ask, "Can I detect any radioactivity in the area?" but when the GM says, "Everyone roll Perception & Radiation Sense", it kind of gives it away that there's some in the area. This can be avoided by rolling that sort of thing in secret, but that's a pain for the GM. They have to keep track of every character's current rating (which could change at the end of any given session) and do a lot of unexplained die rolling as the party travels through a suspect area. Anyway, it didn't work well- it was too specific.

Now that I've seriously compressed the skill list, though, it's looking like it's time to reintroduce Observation. In Ironclaw it seemed to apply to too many things: three sense tests, using powers like Second Sight, etc. But there were also about a dozen weapon skills and three different ways to conceal stuff from view. Now that all of the weapon skills are subsets of Melee, it seems like all of the sense tests should be recombined, too. The individual senses can remain as Half-Price Skills, or I can find ways to make them different/superior in some fashion from just taking Observation.

Let's see... making them Half-Price Skills is easy (though it'll make some Breeds less powerful, since one of their racial skills will actually be a narrow, Half-Price Skill). How hard would it be to make them standard cost skills?

Smell could easily be linked to Tracking, so that it combines with Observation sometimes (when noticing scents) and with Tracking sometimes (when following fresh trails or things with strong odors). I might need to restrict Smell to characters with Keen Nose or who get Smell as a racial skill, though.

I can't see any good ways to boost Spot or Listen, though. Spot, in particular, seems like it would likely just become a subset of Observation. Listen could supposedly apply to hearing things above or below the human range of hearing, but again that seems more like a Gift than a skill. Radiation Sense is no longer a skill on its own. Instead, Observation (and Spot and Smell but not Listen) checks can pick up radioactivity in the area so long as the Beast doesn't have the Radiation Blindness Flaw. A Beast's nasal passages produce an unpleasant burning sensation when radioactive particles are picked up. At close range, their eyes register the presence of radioactivity as a subtle green tinge (the "Poison Glow" as they call it). And at really close range, their very skin crawls if there are dangerous levels of radioactivity around.

This ability helps keep them alive. There are innumerable "hot spots" spread around the ruins and many of them have lethal levels of radioactivity. Without some way to recognize the danger before it's too late, many Beasts would die just from bedding down in the wrong area. Contaminated water could ensure a generation of deformed, stillborne cubs. Beasts who can't sense this peril are considered Radiation Blind, and they usually either avoid travelling alone or die young.
Monday, September 15, 2003
 
Revised Character Creation
All right, in order to playtest the new "SavageClaw" version of the rules, I'll need to revise the character creation procedure a bit.
  1. Pick a pool of 7 dice and allocate them to the following stats: Muscles, Guts, Speed, Brains, Charm, Perception and Will. Each stat gets exactly one die. A rating of d6 is considered to be the rating of a "typical" person.

    The suggested pools are:
    • 1d10, 2d8, 2d6, 2d4
    • 2d8,4d6,d4
    • d8,6d6

    While PCs will generally start with stats ranging from d4 to d10, it's possible to go higher or lower. The full scale is:

    d12-8 < d10-6 < d8-4 < d6-2 < d4 < d6 < d8 < d10 < d12 < d12+1 < d12+2, etc.

    Note that even the most pathetic of stats can still roll a 4, which is good enough for a regular success... it just gets less and less likely.

  2. Your starting character points and skill limits will be based upon how experienced your character is supposed to be. Your GM can set whatever limits they want, but the suggestions are:

    • Novices: 20 character points, no skill dice above d8.
    • Experienced Adventurers: 30 character points, no skill dice above d10.
    • Experts: 40+ character points, no limits on skills.

  3. Pick your Breed and Type. Each Breed (e.g.- Cat, Wolf, Squirrel) will have its own point cost, based upon what sort of Gifts and Flaws they receive automatically. These do not count towards the limits on Gifts and Flaws; they're normal for your species. The Type of Beast that you choose will normally either be High (a humanoid version of your Breed) or Low (your physical body is more like a regular animal; you don't have hands). A few Breeds specifically prohibit one Type or the other; for example, there are no "Low Beast Monkeys" because all Monkeys have hands.

    • High Beast: starts with a Race die of d6.
    • Low Beast: starts with a Race die of d8. Most get double the normal carrying capacity and a +4 bonus to their movement rate, but they also suffer penalties whenever attempting tasks that require hands.
    • Chimera (optional): starts with a Race die of d6. They get 1.5 times the normal carrying capacity and a +2 bonus to their movement rate, but either their Guts or Brains die must be reduced by one level. Many areas are prejudiced against Chimeras.

  4. Spend your points! You have a "soft" limit of 10 points for Gifts (special abilities) and Flaws (personal weaknesses). Every point spent beyond the first 10 will be doubled for Gifts and halved for Flaws.

    When purchasing skills, you can buy as many dice as you like, but no individual die can exceed the maximum size that your GM set. Thus, if you were creating a Novice adventurer, you could buy a Melee skill of 3d8 for 9 points, d8 & d6 for 5 points, d6 for 2 points, or whatever combination you wanted, but you couldn't purchase any d10s or d12s. Those represent levels of skill which Novices have not yet achieved.

    Remember, many skills will overlap in certain circumstances. If you want a skill that isn't listed, you can probably create an Expertise Skill for it. You should use the example skills as a reference for deciding how broad your Expertise should be (naturally, your GM has to approve it). Try to match it up with the existing skills- it should combine with several existing standard skills under the right circumstances, but never combine with any of them all of the time. For example, a "Fighting" skill that applied to all forms of combat would be much too broad. Any test that used Melee, Shooting or Grappling would always also include Fighting.

    An especially narrow Expertise may be suitable as a Half-Cost Skill. For example, expertise with "Climbing Ropes" would be a suitable Half-Cost Skill because it can't do anything that the existing Climb skill can't, but it won't apply in all of the circumstances that Climb does. A form of Climb that's limited to just ropes is more than narrow enough to merit being considered a Half-Cost Skill. Every die level of Climbing Ropes will cost 1/2 of a character point, instead of the usual 1 point.

    "Climbing Everything But Ropes", in addition to having a really stupid name, isn't a suitable Half-Cost Skill. It covers almost everything that the regular Climb skill does. A Half-Cost Skill should ideally cover only 20-40% of the situations that the regular skill does. Remember, a Half-Cost Skill will advance twice as fast as a regular skill, so sometimes it's good to be stingy when allowing them.

  5. Pick a character background package! These represent how your character grew up, such as Raised by Nomads or City-dweller. Each one will grant you several additional d6s to be distributed among a small set of possible skills. You'll also get a few "bonus dice" which can be placed in any skill you like. The main limit is that you can't combine these dice; each one has to go into a separate skill. Also, you can't put them into a Lost Skill unless you already have at least a d4 in it (Lost Skills can only be acquired by taking the Lost Skill Gift).

  6. Pick your equipment! For the most part, you can start with anything that's appropriate for your background. Especially valuable items, like a working vehicle or firearm, will require you to take the Prized Belonging Gift. Remember, wearing armor interferes with certain skills that require free movement, so you won't necessarily want to weight yourself down with the heaviest armor that you can wear.

Sunday, September 14, 2003
 
Slavers
In a campaign world without obvious centers of good and evil, it's hard to find a better generic enemy for your characters than slavers. Raiding distant settlements and selling the locals off as slaves, it's easy for modern-day folk to unite behind the viewpoint that these folks are in the wrong. It's easy to suck PCs into a quest to free some relative who was captured (if they were killed by raiders, then you run a greater risk that the PCs will just mourn them and move on). And if the characters lose to them somehow, it's perfectly believable that they would keep the PCs alive, rather than killing them- after all, they can be sold as slaves to recoup whatever damage they did.

Mind you, this is the more modern concept of "evil" slavery, where the victims are forced into back-breaking labor, have no rights, no compensation, and are expected to work until they die. Some ancient societies had different forms of slavery, where slavery was closer to "compulsory employment" and it was quite possible to earn your freedom. This isn't that sort.

There are only two major kinds of slavery in the setting of Nuclear Beasts. There's slavery-as-punishment, where criminals are put to work in order to atone for their misdeeds. This can be a permanent situation or a temporary one, and the tribe generally still won't tolerate serious abuse of the slave.

The more prevalent kind, alas, is the slave-as-tool kind. The slaves are expected to work until they drop and are regarded as a fairly expendable resource. They're put to work doing the sort of jobs that normal Beasts would cringe at and they rarely live to see freedom again. Nicer tribes consider this sort of enslavement to be a violation of the Ancient Laws (Harm Not the Beasts that Speak) but slave-using communities generally hold to the view that slaves aren't really Beasts anymore.

The biggest purchasers of slaves are the Verde (specifically Manforge) and (ironically) the League of Free Beasts. In both places, slaves are largely used as forced labor in areas where regular Beasts would refuse to work. Manforge's boiler room (called The Pit by the locals) eats up a large number of lives every year as slaves succumb to the extreme heat and harsh conditions. They try to mimimize the deaths when they can, but their need to keep the forges running constantly makes that difficult.

In the League, particularly League City, slave labor is used to excavate and clear radioactive buildings. The League is obsessed with acquiring ancient technology and isn't above using radioactive equipment if it still works, even if it does eventually kill its users. Since most Beasts can see radioactivity (they commonly refer to it as "the Poison Glow"), they have to be kept under tight guard to keep them from rebelling. The forced labor camps aren't really all that cost-effective; the League would use free workers if they could, but no sane worker would take the job.

Slave-takers generally operate in small bands of ruthless Beasts. They know that what they do for a living is illegal even in the places where they sell the slaves; only a deliberate pretense of ignorance on the part of the authorities allows them to continue their work. High Beast slavers are more common than Low, but most slaver bands will have a few Low Beast trackers to run down escapees.

The Beasts who do this for a living are generally bitter sociopaths and sadists. Many are marked as exiles from one location or another. Like bandits, they are united by their greed and a dull hatred of all those Beasts who have better lives. They prey on the weak and gullible- it's quite common for a band of slavers to send out a scout who poses as an innocent traveller. If he can lure any foolish Beasts into an ambush with some tale of woe, all the better.

Like professional scavengers, slavers earn money in bursts then rapidly spend themselves into poverty again. Only the head of the gang is likely to become wealthy, and then only if they are clever enough to skim a decent amount of the profits off for themselves.

Slave-takers are always trying to come up with the perfect method of capturing new "merchandise." Sometimes a band will try to recruit workers for some non-existent job in a neighboring area, or infiltrate a small clan and then betray it from within. If a scam works, it's a sure bet that they'll try to repeat it in another area. They like to keep moving; if their presence becomes widely known, it's not unknown for all of the local tribes to band together to attack and destroy them. Slave-takers are not well regarded anywhere, even in the locales where they hawk their wares.
Saturday, September 13, 2003
 
Dangerous Arthropods
Most arthropods (such as insects and spiders) are harmless to Beasts and may even be a good source of food for smaller ones, but there are a few exceptions.

Web Devils are a particularly aggressive species of funnel-spider. They build intricate funnel-like webs inside any decent-sized opening. They are extremely territorial, and have been known to rush out to bite Beasts who carelessly disturbed their web. After delivering a single, very painful bite, the spider will rush back into its hole and hide itself as best it can. The spider itself is less than an inch across, but it carries a fairly potent hemotoxin in its fangs. Anyone bit will suffer only 1 wound, but it won't heal for a month. The flesh in the area struck slowly corrupts and sloughs off, leaving a nasty scar. Web Devil bites generally aren't fatal unless someone is bit in the throat or somehow bitten many times at once.

There are also other particularly venomous Spiders out there, like Black Widows and Brown Recluses. Again, their bites are rarely fatal but can leave permanent scars. These other species are generally less aggressive than Web Devils and less likely to actually bite.

Shroud Spiders are actually fairly harmless. They tend to live in large colonies, with hundreds of spiders and huge webs that are spread out over a large area. They often infest abandoned buildings, covering every wall and opening with silken webs and making the building look as though it was covered in a shroud. Some Beasts claim that shroud spiders sometimes swarm lone Beasts if disturbed, stinging them to death and then adding their body to the huge shroud, but no credible evidence of this has been found.

Individual Bees are quite harmless, but a swarm can be dangerous if disturbed. Scavengers sometimes fall prey to enormous colonies that have been built up inside the hollow parts of some ancient wall. Smoke will keep them at bay and they can't follow a Beast underwater, but otherwise there are few defenses against an enraged swarm. A few species of Beast (such as bears), have particularly tough hides and can actually shrug off bee stings. Bears in particular are known to sometimes raise bees themselves in order to harvest honey from the hives.

Wasps are generally found in smaller colonies than bees, but be almost as dangerous. As they can sting multiple times, it doesn't take as many wasps to kill someone as it would bees. Since wasps don't produce honey, their nests are generally either ignored or destroyed by Beasts.

Yellow Ants are considered an ill omen by some Beasts. These oversized ants, with their swollen, yellow-ringed abdomens, are often seen walking along erratically, heading in a vaguely meandering line towards nowhere in particular. They are most commonly found in areas where the soil is very toxic and they rarely live long. Only the most ignorant of Beasts would try to eat one (despite their juicy appearance) because yellow ants carry an assortment of extremely nasty toxins and can kill a Beast outright if ingested. A few tribes kill them and rub spear-tips and arrow heads in the contents of their swollen abdomen, but not when they hope to eat whatever they kill. It's very risky to eat the flesh of a creature killed by the poison of the yellow ant; even thorough cooking may not remove the risk.

In fact, while almost all Beasts are unaware of it, the yellow ants are actually a special caste belonging to an otherwise normal-looking species of ant. They process and purify all of the food gathered by the colony, filtering out all of the toxins and storing them in their abdomen, then regurgitating the rest for the colony. Eventually the toxins build up to the point where the ant can't survive any longer; then it instinctively leaves the colony and tries to get as far away as possible before it dies. Beasts only ever see the dying ants as they stumble along and are ignorant of their true purpose.
Friday, September 12, 2003
 
Adventure Nugget: Father Ambrose's Folly
The impoverished town of Havel is largely run by the elderly Father Ambrose (a male High Cat), their Lorekeeper. The inhabitants are devout Man-worshippers and Reclaimers, believing that Men were gods who left the world in the care of the Beasts and who will someday return to judge them. Alpha Samuel (a male High Dog) is really more of a figurehead and war-leader; he defers to the fiercely self-righteous Father Ambrose in all things.

The good Father is very strict in his interpretation of the Ancient Laws. In particular, any visible mutation or deformity in a child is seen as a sign that the parents have sinned and Father Ambrose invariably demands the child's death. Ferals are unwelcome here, and will be slain unless accompanied by true Beasts. Every family is expected to attend Father Ambrose's weekly sermons and pay rapt attention; he keeps them in line with a combination of pious reverence and fire-and-brimstone-style oratory. Low Beasts are considered an inferior social class and are expected to defer to any reasonable requests of the High. Public friendships between High and Low Beast had better involve a clear boss and servant relationship; acting as though they were equals is sure to draw folks' ire.

It's been this way in Havel for a long time, and while the years have gotten harsher and the land poorer, that's only increased the piety of his followers. Skeptics are rapidly run out of town and beaten if they try to come back.

But there's a new threat to the faith. There's an extended family of High Rabbits who have a small communal farm less than a dozen miles away. Normally they're content to ignore Havel and be ignored, but a few years back it came to light that one of their cubs had a deformed, crippled arm. Father Ambrose, of course, lectured about the obvious crimes of the parents and predicted eventual disaster because they had let the child live. But as the years have passed, the child (a boy called Ulu) has grown to be a strapping young man, able to walk and speak clearly and in perfect health save for his one deformity. Soon he will undergo his rite of passage and become an adult.

This is slowly becoming an intolerable threat to Father Ambrose's authority. Already formerly devout parents have begun to grumble and mutter when a newborn is slain for much more minor defects. People have begun to question his severe views on the matter. If the boy actually completes his rite of passage, he'll have done what Father Ambrose always maintained that no defective cub ever could; become a true Beast. The Good Father cannot allow that to happen. If the cosmos won't prevent this violation of the natural order, then it's up to him to see to it that the boy dies before then.

Alpha Samuel could end up being a powerful ally or enemy. A simple-minded sort, he's a good-natured fellow who would quickly turn against Father Ambrose if he learned that the Lorekeeper had violated the Ancient Laws himself. But unless there's some sort of evidence found, he'll readily lead a band of warriors against Ambrose's enemies. Samuel has a very keen sense of smell and is highly admired for it. If the PCs could bring him something with Ulu's scent on it and suggest the idea, he could follow the boy's trail and uncover Ambrose's guilt.

A possible twist: The guilty party isn't actually Father Ambrose at all, although the missing boy's family is convinced of it. Actually it's one of his siblings who had grown violently jealous of Ulu and is now letting the inhabitants of Havel take the blame. Ulu actually fell down a crevice that he tried to climb on a dare; his brother invented some kidnappers to explain away the disappearance and cover up his own hand in it.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
 
Funeral Rites Among Beasts
The most common funeral arrangement among Beasts is simple burial, in imitation of the ways of Man. The body of the deceased is interred in a shallow pit and then covered with earth. There are no formal rites, although it's not uncommon for surviving relatives to weep and wail as the body is covered. If the tribe is literate, the name of the deceased may be carved in stone and left to mark the grave.

Man-worshippers generally try to bury everyone in a single area, which becomes a graveyard for the community. They carefully erect crude gravestones (commonly uprooted paving stones) and carve appropriate marks in them. They need not be literate; marks are sometimes copied from existing human gravestones without any real understanding of what they mean. If they have encountered any records of human funeral ceremonies, they will attempt to reproduce them, generally with the tribe's Lorekeeper or Alpha taking the role of the officiating priest.

In areas where the ground is too hard for easy digging, it's common for survivors to build a cairn of stones over the body of the deceased. In some tribes the size of the cairn is considered a sign of how important the lost one was to their friends and family; well-liked tribesmen often receive quite impressive cairns, with stones being added periodically for up to a week.

Funeral pyres are performed in some areas. The body of the deceased is covered in whatever flammable materials are available and set alight. But pyres are expensive, and require a great deal of fuel to perform properly. Most tribes simply can't afford to waste that much wood or dried grass, and there's always the risk of sparks setting something else on fire.

Burial at sea is practically unknown. The only Beasts who deal much with the ocean are invariably good swimmers, and would dislike the prospect of encountering the bones of a lost loved one during some later dive.

In the harshest regions, bodies may simply be abandoned to the carrion birds or cast down a chasm. Beasts in such areas have little time for sentiment.

Raveners will actually eat their own dead rather than leaving the flesh for other creatures.

When a Beast is buried, it's common to bury some of their possessions with the body, but these are generally items of sentimental value, not things that would be hard to replace. Thus, a broken weapon might be laid to rest beside the warrior who once bore it, but not one that was still useful. A few tribes make funeral adornments; these are elaborate ornaments, garments and jewelry that are placed upon the body of the deceased and buried with them. Their designs are never worn by the living. They are often crafted years in advance, possibly by the very same person who was eventually buried in them. Such ornaments are valued possessions and are kept carefully sealed away until the day when they are sadly needed.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
 
Ghostwalkers
Ghostwalking is one of the more interesting Psychic Powers that I have planned for the setting. A "ghostwalker" is a Beast who is plagued by periodic visions of the distant past. This can be useful if you're trying to figure out what something used to be like, but since the visions get stronger the longer you remain in the same area, most ghostwalkers become vagabonds, never staying in the same area for long. As such, they make natural adventurers.
Ghostwalking: This psychic power enables the character to see visions of the distant (and sometimes the recent) past. It is never under the character's complete control, and can be triggered by outside stimuli without warning. If you invoke it deliberately, it costs 1 fatigue per attempt. Roll Race & Ghostwalking as a Performance test.
  • Botch: If you invoked your power deliberately, you suffer burnout. Any further attempts to use it deliberately today will cost an additional point of fatigue. This penalty is cumulative. If the power was not invoked deliberately, a botch may result in a sudden, traumatic vision instead.
  • Failure: Nothing happens.
  • Success: You see images or hear noises from the past for one combat round (about 6 seconds). Visible images will be ghostly and transparent.
  • 2 Successes: You see and hear noises from the past for up to a minute. Living beings will be seen clearly, while inanimate objects will be ghostly and transparent, or not visible at all.
  • 3 Successes: You are engulfed by the past for at least a scene (5 minutes) and potentially as long as an hour. All of your senses are affected. The vision is so strong that it tends to completely block out all sensory input from the real world; ghostwalkers often appear to be stumbling about, interacting with things that aren't there.
For every week spent in the same area, add a +1 bonus to the roll. Furthermore, this power is often triggered randomly, generally at least once per week. Your GM should make these rolls for you at appropriate intervals.

It's also possible for a ghostwalker to concentrate upon a particular object or even a person, in an attempt to see their past, instead of the past of the immediate area. You'll usually see the most recent "important" scene involving that subject; it won't always be the time period that you really cared about. Using ghostwalking in this fashion takes a full scene and costs an extra point of fatigue, but it can be useful for things like finding the true owner of a lost item or discovering how a wounded person was injured. You have to touch the object/person in question for the entire scene. If they break contact, the vision normally ends immediately.

Ghostwalking is one of those powers that can be both a blessing and a curse. The visions can be frightening or otherwise stressful, especially if they occur at an inopportune moment. The fact that they get steadily stronger and stronger forces most ghostwalkers to move on regularly; those who live in the same area for years often go mad and stop being able to clearly distinguish the real world from the past.

It's also a challenge for the GM. Like any sort of precognition or divination power, there's a balancing act between giving out so little information that the power is worthless and giving out so much that unravels all of the mysteries in play. If one of your players is a ghostwalker, you should always keep their power in mind. It's difficult to run a murder mystery when one of the PCs can just touch the body, concentrate for awhile, and say "He was hit over the head with a candlestick by Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory." Don't remove such circumstances from your game- that would make this power useless. Instead, just make sure that you plan ahead for it... perhaps the main challenge of the adventure isn't finding out who did it, but figuring out why they did it, or finding proof that the local elders will accept.
Tuesday, September 09, 2003
 
Exterminators
When it became obvious that the government was collapsing, most military robots were placed into an "indefinite duration" patrol mode. This meant that they were to continue to protect the country and maintain the peace as best they could while awaiting further orders. They've been at it ever since. Over time many have slowly broken down or been destroyed, but there are still some in operation. Military robots were built to last.

Most are found within a certain radius of a hidden supply center. These underground bases house powerful fusion generators that principally run on hydrogen extracted from underground water sources, which are also generally used to cool the generator. They are tightly sealed and often have their own maintenance robots to keep them operational and protect them against intruders.

The really powerful Exterminators practically never interact with Beasts. Mantids, for example, are mobile artillery platforms, programmed to defend the country against enemy aircraft and missiles... not infantry. As such, they avoid interaction with Beasts and only attack them if forced to. Since they're often equipped with tactical nuclear weapons (to ensure a "kill" even against a heavily armored robot drone), this is a good thing. Mantids occasionally shoot down flying Exterminators that have drifted out of their regular patrol routes or whose transponders have ceased to function.

The most potent and dangerous of the war-robots were the Deathbringers. These robot bombers were designed to be able to spend months aloft at a time and carried strategic nuclear warheads for destroying enemy cities. It's doubtful that any of them are still in operation, although one or two might still be hidden in underground hangers, awaiting activation. Again, there's probably nothing that the Beasts could do at this point that would even draw a Deathbringer's attention. The largest Beast cities would scarcely qualify as a small town by ancient standards, certainly not worth one of its irreplacable thermonuclear bombs.

The most commonly encountered Exterminators are probably Bumblebees. These relatively simple robots were designed to patrol a large area by hovering overhead and scanning the ground below. They were generally programmed to enforce curfews and prevent looting, not to engage enemy forces. Unfortunately, Beasts commonly show up as either large, potentially dangerous wild animals (a health hazard), or as unauthorized personnel. Bumblebees are generally equipped with pulse lasers and will immediately shoot to kill if they sight anything that they think of as a violation of the rules they are enforcing. They require periodic recharging (every six to twelve months at the least), but can supplement their reserves with solar power.

Clunkers are among the most intimidating but least dangerous of Exterminators. These hulking humanoid robots were generally used as security guards before the Last War. Most can talk (in deep, threatening voices) but many are limited to a small set of prerecorded messages like "Present security pass immediately," or "This is a restricted area." When the war was hitting its peak, thousands of privately owned security bots were confiscated by the government and pressed into service guarding important buildings or patrolling small areas. Slow, clumsy, and easily confused, they aren't much of a danger if you know what you're doing. Professional scavengers sometimes ambush and destroy them for parts, or to get into whatever ruin they happen to be guarding. Typical Clunkers can't hold much of a charge, so most of them won't wander far from a power source. Ones with solar power cells can recharge themselves over time, but that often means months of inactivity (building up a sufficient charge) followed by a day or two of actual activity, after which the robot shuts down again.

Tinmen are regarded with superstitious awe by some Beasts, who regard them as the ghosts of ancient Man. Tinmen were designed to be able to substitute for human workers. As such, they closely resemble the human form. They're invariably five and a half feet tall, and their limbs bend in all of the appropriate places. This enables them to fire guns, drive vehicles, and perform practically any task that a human technician could. They are often dressed in some sort of uniform, mostly for cosmetic purposes. Their bodies are largely plastic with a metal framework, keeping their weight around 250 lbs. Their faces generally aren't articulated; all of their processing power is devoted to mimicking human movements, not conversation. They often look a bit like a crash-test dummy or mannequin come to life.

Tinmen are rarely found alone, and are almost always under the control of some central guidance system. They usually work as repairmen. While they can be programmed to fight, they aren't really designed for it. While very strong and difficult to disable, most aren't well armored or particularly fast. Unless they have access to good weapons or armor, they aren't very dangerous. Most will ignore any Beasts that don't interfere with their current task, but pushing your luck is dangerous. If whatever computer is controlling them all decides that you are dangerous to its mission, every Tinman in the area could suddenly turn on you.

There are also a variety of tank-like Exterminators left. These are probably the most dangerous kind that Beasts will encounter. Programmed to destroy enemy infantry, tanks and fortifications, they will sometimes attack entire towns or villages. Bulldozer units are particularly feared, as they like to level every building in the area after driving off or killing any defenders. Retreating indoors is no guarantee of safety against these units, which have wiped out entire communities before. Their weapons tend to be powerful and their armor quite durable. The best way to deal with one is with powerful explosives or carefully constructed traps. Collapsing a building onto one, or dropping it down a deep shaft will usually destroy it, but these tactics generally require a lot of preparation and advance warning. Most Beasts who encounter these units just flee.

Bugs are often frightening, but they're generally almost harmless. These tiny maintenance robots are generally no larger than a human child. What makes them disturbing is their appearance: Bugs have dozens of little segmented limbs, each of which ends in a different tool. They can scuttle along metal or wood surfaces with ease, enabling them to crawl all over or inside of a damaged machine to better effect repairs. Maintenance depots often have dozens of Bugs. They generally don't engage in combat, but if attacked may defend themselves with sharp appendages or an electric arc-welder.
Monday, September 08, 2003
 
Skill List
This entry is supposed to hold the list of "standard" skills for the game. It'll be quite possible to invent new "Expertise" skills, since they basically just consist of picking a topic and saying that you know a lot about it, but I want to have a good starting list. I'll probably edit this periodically, rather than spreading changes all over the place. The stat(s) that are most commonly used with the skill are listed in parenthesis next to it. Skills that require you to pick a more narrow focus will have an asterisk. 1/2 Cost Skills are particularly narrow specialties that only cost 1/2 point per level instead of 1 point per level.
Lost Skills
Lost Skills are ones which are particularly rare. They usually represent skills known by Man but which Beasts have not yet discovered. It's possible to learn them from ancient books (if you're literate, which is a Lost Skill itself) or from Beasts who know them already.


Sunday, September 07, 2003
 
Weapon Tradeoffs
I feel that it's important that there be tradeoffs when choosing different sorts of weapons and attacks. I don't want to emphasize combat too much, but it's a harsh setting; combat isn't unimportant enough to merit just treating all weapons as identical.

I always tend to dislike systems in which there's one obviously superior choice of weapon, too. If the only difference between a sword and an axe is that one of them does d8 damage and the other does d10, it's obvious which weapon is wholly superior. Realistically, fighters should scorn folks who use the inferior one. So I want there to be tradeoffs... what's the best weapon in one situation shouldn't always be the best weapon in another.

I don't want to balance them out by price, either. If the tradeoff is that a sword does better damage but is twice as expensive as an axe, then everyone who can will eventually upgrade to swords. Also, since Low Beasts can't really do that, I don't want the High Beasts to be able to get continually better and better weapons while the Low Beasts are stuck with their claws. So it's a balancing act.

Currently, I've tried two different sets of tradeoffs, both involving pools of damage dice and how they're read. If you read damage as a Performance test (the highest number rolled is the amount of damage done), then the tradeoff is between damage potential (larger dice) and damage reliability (more dice). More dice helps ensure that you never inflict minor hits that won't penetrate armor, while the maximum damage that you can do is limited by your largest damage die.

The other method is treating damage as a Reliability test (every die that beats the difficulty inflicts a wound). With that system, the tradeoff is between armor penetration (large dice that can successfully injure even heavily armored folks) and damage potential (lots of dice, since every die only inflicts 1 wound at most). Critical hits would probably add another 2d12 per extra success. Or they could multiply the number of wounds inflicted or something.

Damage as a Performance test is a lot more random... the range of results goes from 1 to 12. A Reliability test uses a lot of dice; it'll usually give at least a wound or two, but can't do more wounds than the number of dice (barring crits, of course). That's not too bad.

Another option, which I haven't playtested at all yet, is to apply damage as a standard success roll, so that it works just like a regular Performance check. Then you'd get a success (equal or beat their armor), 2 successes (beat it by 4-7) or 3 successes (beat it by 8+). The exact effects would probably depend on your weapon, perhaps as a multiplier. Multiply your weapon's base damage by the number of successes. Of course, then crits with powerful weapons would be instant kills. It might be better to just add a bonus per extra success, instead of multiplying.

Now the basic "hit point" system is that you don't take any effects until after you've taken X points of damage. Then you start converting the damage done into the difficulty of an opposed Survival Check. So 1 wound beyond the threshold would require a Guts & Will roll vs a d4. Two wounds would require it vs d6. Etc. At 2 wounds it can conceivably leave you dying but almost never will. At 4 wounds it can theoretically kill you outright. At 6+, it starts to actually become likely that you'll be dying or dead. Regular Ironclaw used a similar system, with a starting margin of 2... at 3 points (1 beyond the threshold) you might be knocked out, and at 6 (4 beyond the threshold) you could die.

I've experimented with increasing the threshold to a large number and then doing damage as a Performance test, but I didn't really like the feel of it. It was more like a standard Hit Point system, really- it took awhile to reduce someone down to negative numbers but after that any good blow would take them out of the combat immediately. It lost a lot of the "there are no guaranteed takedowns" effect. So I want to reduce the amount of damage done per hit to a smaller level. A hit that does 5 wounds (enough for a serious chance at an outright kill) should be an unusual event. So I think the next playtest will be back to damage as a Reliability test.
Saturday, September 06, 2003
 
The First Folk
Far to the north, beyond the lands reached by the High Beasts, lies a heavily forested region dominated by the Low Wolves who call themselves the First Folk. They are an ancient clan, and claim to be descendants of the very first Beasts. They have a long-running rivalry with the Mountain Claws, but in recent generations the First Folk have chosen to deal with the bears by simply withdrawing to more isolated areas. Many of the Folk no longer even remember the crime that the Claws blame them for, and consider the grizzlies to be just another hostile alien clan.

The wolves are a matriarchy, with each clan mother being chosen and trained by the previous one and assuming her role when the current clan mother becomes too weak or ill to rule. Their society is broken up into nearly a dozen clans, each of which consists of all the packs in a certain region. Wolves who find a particular clan mother's policies restrictive are free to move elsewhere, but may not find a better welcome there, either. There is no overall ruler; when the entire region is threatened, or some disagreement between clan mothers threatens to break out into open conflict, all of the clan mothers gather together to settle the matter. Such councils are rare, and while they have no actual ability to enforce their dictates, a clan mother who refused to abide by the decision of the gathering would shortly find herself abandoned by her people.

Individual packs are led by wolves called Alphas, but the leader may be either male or female. Each one is commonly considered to be an extended family, with every member of the pack thought of as a relative. Clan mothers double as Lorekeepers for the clans, although many packs also have an unofficial Lorekeeper of their own. When questions of history or spiritual matters arise which the pack cannot answer, it is common for a messenger to be dispatched to the neared clan mother to receive an official answer. Questioning of superiors is looked on poorly here; the wolves prize devotion to duty and reverence for tradition. Willful disobedience is often punished by slashings or shunning of the offender. Being a gregarious breed, it's a rare wolf who is willing to live without a pack.

Blessed births are considered sacred events here, with the mother of the child being honored for her magical connection with the First Mothers of legend. Such cubs are raised as wolves with minimal concessions to their own needs. Since there are hardly any other Beasts in the region besides the First Folk, it's common for such cubs to be named for their breed, such as calling an otter "Otter" or a bear "Bear". It's understood that such Beasts may one day choose to leave the clan and seek out other members of their own breed; the First Folk are invariably sympathetic to this and wish them well.

Rites of passage into adulthood are rarely physical tasks. Rather, each cub is sent to a clan mother who instructs and tests them. If she feels that the Beast is ready, they are promoted to adulthood in a simple ceremony and given a new name. Otherwise, the cub is sent back and may not return for a year. A cub who fails more than three years in a row may find themselves ostracised and cast out. The First Folk are not tolerant of ferals or mutants. Deformed cubs are often killed shortly after birth.

Among these wolves, the males are generally named for plants and birds and other natural things. The females, on the other hand, are given incongruously human names, like "Dorothy", "Sally" or "Agatha", many of which are reused repeatedly, or given small variations to better distinguish one she-wolf from another. This tradition is so ancient that no one wonders at the reason for it.

Each clan mother rules from a small pack whose location is fairly static. Since that area tends to be slowly hunted out, other packs are expected to periodically bring fresh kills to the clan mother's pack. If the area becomes too barren, the clan mother will move it elsewhere, but they try to minimize this. It's important for any pack that needs to speak to the clan mother to know exactly where to find her. Some clan mothers occupy rocky areas where the hunting is very poor, but which cannot be abandoned because they are sacred spots. In particular, the most revered of the clan mothers is the Guardian of the Caves, whose pack occupies a series of sacred caves whose walls are covered in ancient carvings. The Caves are considered sacrosanct, and most wolves would frown on even mentioning their existence to outsiders. It's said that the entire history of the Folk and all of the secrets with which they were entrusted can be found in those caverns.

The First Folk lead a very primitive lifestyle, with nomadic packs hunting various kinds of birds and larger animals. They live much like their canine ancestors and rarely use any sort of tools. Even ornaments and jewelry are used sparingly, with wolves other than the clan mothers rarely wearing more than a necklace or collar. Cubs are limited to anklets. Their most sophisticated knowledge is in ways of preserving food for the winter; they know exactly how to best prepare or store each cut of meat to extend its lifespan as long as possible. This is vitally important to them, as the winters in their land are murderously harsh. First Folk rarely die of old age; the elderly inevitably fall prey to a hunting accident or a harsh winter.

Outsiders are regarded with suspicion, but Low Beasts may be allowed to stay briefly if they are courteous. High Beasts are likely to receive a much frostier reception and may be told to leave the clan's territory immediately. The First Folk have a legend that explains the creation of the High Beasts, and it says that the first High Beasts were ordinary Beasts who murdered the Last Man and stole his secrets. That ancient crime is believed to still cling to modern High Beasts, and the First Folk are not above harassing them for it. They cling to the ancient ways fiercely and will never kill any creature which can speak except in self defense, but that doesn't mean that they can't claw or bite them a bit if that's what it takes to convince them to leave.
Friday, September 05, 2003
 
Skill List (Abandoned)
Hm. Here's a prototype skill list, and an experiment in CSS formatting. I'll see if I can break the list into 3 nicely formatted columns without using a giant table.

Column 1
Acrobatics
Ancient Tech
Animal Handling
Archery
Area Knowledge*
Axes
Column 2
Boating
Climbing
Clubs
Contortionist
Diguise



Well, that was a miserable failure. Turns out that Internet Explorer handles CSS so poorly that the above skills aren't even visible in IE (they render just fine in Mozilla of course). I don't really want to cut out a good chunk of all possible reviewers, though. Guess I'll need to try again. Perhaps a full list with definitions, then I'll have a reason to only list one skill per line.
 
Overlapping Skills
Traditionally, RPG designers go to a lot of effort to produce lists of skills which are comprehensive and don't overlap. In any given circumstance, you're supposed to be able to easily determine which skill should be used- if you can't, that's usually considered bad.

Admittedly, there are some games which use invent-your-own skills or have rules that grant bonuses if you have an appropriately related skill, but as a general rule, folks try to keep skills from overlapping.

I'm thinking seriously about using deliberately overlapping skills. The Ironclaw skills-as-dice, roll 'em all & take the highest system handles this sort of thing very nicely. Adding more dice makes the test more reliable, but generally doesn't unbalance it. You still can't roll above a 12, no matter how many d12s you include in a check. Ironclaw already has special traits like "Quickness" which can be included in any check where really fast reflexes would help, but the skills are generally independent of each other. I'm looking at handling skills more like special traits.

Here are some example combat skills, chosen so that there's little to no overlap:Now here are some additional combat skills, chosen with the intention of having them overlap the above:So this actively encourages folks to pick specialized skills that aren't any cheaper or better than the generic version, but will apply in different situations. When you end up throwing a spear, you'll include both your Throwing and Spear skills. Spear doesn't apply to all thrown weapons like the generic Throw skill, but it does apply to several tasks involving spears that Throw doesn't.

This also makes it easy to handle specializations- just make up a new skill for the specific area that you're looking at. For example, familiarity with Zuba City might merit a "Zuba City" skill. It would apply to skill rolls involving Streetwise, Navigation, Law, or even Hiking... provided that the roll involved Zuba City directly. Thus, if you had a Streetwise skill of d6 and a Zuba City skill of d10, you'd roll d10 & d6 when trying to use Streetwise in Zuba City and just a d6 when trying to use Streetwise elsewhere. In fact, for stuff like knowing trivia about Zuba City, your GM might have you roll just your Zuba City skill.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
 
Stealing from Savage Worlds Part III
Yeah, I'll have to playtest this. Even if it's just the set target numbers, the system's got some advantages. For example, if someone attacks someone else and rolls a 1-3, there's no need for a defense roll. We could just assume that it simply wasn't good enough. We already have that in Ironclaw, but it only happens on 1s, so it's really, really rare. This would still be uncommon, but a lot more common than previously.

It does make characters a bit more powerful, though. Savage Worlds limits the likelihood of success by limiting you to Skill & d6, rather than the Ironclaw-ish Skill & Stat, where the Stat can easily be a d12 itself. This is probably best handled by making the "average human" stat a d6 instead of a d8. Then you'll typically get the same sort of performance as in SW... most people will have a d6 stat to combine with their skill. PC starting stats would probably range from d4 to d10, leaving d12s for optimized specialists who spent a lot of points to be that good. With 7 basic traits in Nuclear Beasts (Muscles, Speed, Guts, Brains, Will, Perception and Charm), I could give out a starting set of 2d4, 2d6, 2d8, and 1d10. An "average" person would be all d6s.

Another simple fix is to consider a standard success to be "okay" but not that great, more like a partial success in a binary success/fail system. Then you'd need to roll an 8-11 to get a really impressive result.

Skill ratingDescription
d4Dabbler (Apprentice)
d6Trained (Journeyman)
d8Professional Level
d10Skilled Professional
d12Master of the Art

Obviously, the more dice of a particular size that you're contributing, the more solidly you'll be in that category. Someone with d12 & d6 has the same maximum result as someone with 4d12, but rolls it a lot less often (and looks much more pathetic in Reliability tests).

I've also got some weird ideas floating around, like calling the first attack in combat a Performance test, then using Reliability tests for the rest of it. So experience would win out in the long run, but lots of talent (a high single die) could pull off a quick win.

Survival Checks would definitely have to be opposed rolls. I can't just use a flat difficulty of 4 because I want the check to be more difficult the more heavily wounded you are, but never impossible. The only way to do that is to make it dice vs dice, because even a d4 can theoretically beat a 4d12 roll if the d12s all roll 3 or less. I don't think that'll be a problem, though- seeing whether someone is taken out of combat or not is a dramatically appropriate moment to use a less predictable check.

This gives me a total of 3-4 potential ways of resolving a test. A Performance roll (roll vs a set difficulty, result based on the highest number rolled), a Reliability roll (roll vs a difficulty of 4, count how many dice succeeded), and an Opposed version of each (both sides roll their appropriate dice and compare the results; more successes wins). If Performance and Reliability rolls are used about equally often, then there will be some definite differences in play between the character who is rolling 2d12 and the one who is rolling 5d6, even if they cost the same number of character points to make.
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
 
Stealing from Savage Worlds Part II
What parts of Savage Worlds bugged me when we playtested it? Does this "SavageClaw" hybrid handle things better?

Results too random: The dice system was too unpredictable. You generally rolled 2 dice, and they were open-ended so one time you might roll a 3 and the next a 23. Not good for "non-Pulp" games. But if the dice weren't open-ended, you often wouldn't be able to succeed at all.

Hm. Using pools will definitely be more predictable. And I have Reliability tests for situations when I want anyone to be able to score successes (always difficulty 4, success is always possible if you have at least as many dice as the number of successes required) and Performance tests for situations where certain levels of skill are mandatory (set the difficulty high enough, and success is impossible if you only have crappy dice). Actually, now that I think about it, Reliability tests aren't always beatable- they just require a certain number of dice to beat instead of a certain size of die. For tests where I always want victory to be possible, regardless of difficulty, I'll have to use opposed tests.

Skills too broad: You were stuck advancing in these very broad skills. Specialization was handled with special case "Edges" like "I get +2 with swords!" Those would be unbalancing if you could take them readily. Basically, there wasn't room for much detail in your skills.

Allowing for generic Expertise skills should handle that. A skill of "Swords" of d12 combines with your Fighting when you use swords and may also be useful elsewhere. I think this could support a wider variety of ratings and results, thus supporting diversity without adding these binary yes/no Feats.

Depending on the target numbers and the dice rolled, both critical hits and misses could be more common than regular hits: Since it was an open-ended system, if you needed an 8 and rolled a d8, you'd only have a 1/8 chance of success... but of those successes, more than 50% would be crits since a roll of 8+d8 gives a 12+ on a roll of 4 through 8. I suppose it's a style thing, but I've never liked the "This test is so hard that you'll either miss or critically hit" in a system.

Well, making the system not use open-ended rolls will get rid of most of the weirdness, which is caused by the "stair-step" effect of their open-ended system. Outright misses will be rare (unless something bumps up the difficulty above Average) but we should never see that "very few normal successes, plenty of hits and misses" bit.

Harming things was a crapshoot: Tough foes required good, open-ended rolls to injure. It was annoying to keep pounding on a critter to no effect until you finally roll max, get a good follow-up roll, and kill it outright. I prefer games where there's visible progress, even if it means more record-keeping.

Haven't written up anything about damage yet. I'd probably handle it as a Reliability roll and let their armor/toughness establish the difficulty of wounding them. We get a tradeoff between weapons that do lots of small dice (damage potential) and those that do a few large dice of damage (better armor penetration). You'll take a small number of wounds, like Ironclaw. The difficulty to inflict injury could range from Easy (unarmored, not noticably tough foe) to Average (lightly armored foe) to Hard (heavily armored foe) to Impossible (foe encased in high-tech superarmor). You'd probably include your Strength rating with the damage pool when using a muscle-powered weapon, just like before.

Card based initiative: We didn't like the cards, especially since we generally play sitting in scattered chairs, not clustered around a table.

Well, that's easy. I just wouldn't use cards (if we'd played SW again, we probably wouldn't have used cards there, either- there was an optional rule for dumping it). Initiative would either be a flat rating like Call of Cthulhu or a Reliability roll of some sort.
 
Stealing from Savage Worlds
Quick thought exercise: suppose we dropped the difficulty dice completely, and used set target numbers?

I'm trying for a result of 4 being a success, 8 a critical success, 12 an extraordinary one. Let's see...

The standard difficulties are:
For a Performance test, roll all appropriate traits and take the highest as your result.
For a Reliability test, roll all approrpriate traits and see how many dice got a 4 or higher. That's your number of successes. In special circumstances, we might use a difficulty other than Average for a Reliability test, but that should be rare. The idea is a speedy resolution system that requires little input from the GM.

Note that when you get a tie in a Reliability test, just treat it as a Performance test - the highest number rolled wins ties. Similarly, if you end up with a tied Performance test, you could break it by also treating it as a Reliability test and counting the number of rolls over 3 on both sides.

Performance tests are for quick, one-time things that are over in a flash. Reliability tests are for anything that occurs over a period of time.

There's an immediate and definite tradeoff between having lots of small dice (good at Reliability tests) and a few big dice (good at Performance tests).

We'll want folks to regularly be able to add in extra dice, so we make the system a little looser. An "Expertise" is a generic skill which applies to all tests involving a narrow area of knowledge which you define when you take the skill. We'll give examples, but they'll just be a guideline.

For example, Area Knowledge will become an Expertise. If you've got the skill "New York", you can apply it to any roll where detailed knowledge about New York would be useful. Streetwise rolls in New York. Navigation rolls on the streets there. History rolls to remember when various monuments were built. Etc.

Combats skills will be very broad, like Savage Worlds. That game uses Fighting and Shooting. An Expertise like Swords would apply not just to Fighting with swords, but also to appraising them, repairing them, attacking them... maybe even defending against them. Make that definitely to defending against them. An expert swordsman should be harder to skewer, even when he's unarmed.

If skills are nearly as broad as stats, then we don't have to limit stats to one die anymore, although we might make them pricier.

The stats could range from:
d12-8 < d10-6 < d8-4 < d6-2 < d4 < d6 < d8 < d10 < d12 < d12+2 < d12+4... etc.

PCs would mostly be in that middle area from d4 to d12. Note that the stats below d4 are set so that they can always roll a 4 still, it's just rarer. Only rolling the maximum result on the die would be a success, so we keep enlarging the die as you get worse.

Every rating can succeed at an Easy or Average test (in fact, you'll usually succeed at an Easy test, unless you're worse than d4; even d6-2 still has a 50% chance of success). Hard tests require at least one d8 in that pool, and Impossible tests require d12s. Note also that Reliability tests can theoretically score more successes than a Performance test... that could well be a "feature" instead of a bug, since it means that consistently good results beat out lucky shots.

I suppose we might slow down the stats above d12 by doing them in +1 increments instead of +2. +2 would fit the established pattern for the really crappy stats (adding symmetry) but loses a little resolution. Dunno; since ratings above d12 are probably going to be considered superhuman, it might not be necessary. If I apply bonuses to the final result, not just to the die that contributed it, but to everything like regular Nuclear Beasts, I probably should do it in +1 intervals. Would it be too much trouble to keep track of which die got a +2 bonus individually? Maybe not... there won't be too many of 'em.

A better stat setup might be:
d12-8 < d10-6 < d8-4 < d6-2 < d4 < d6 < d8 < d10 < d12 < d12&d4 < d12&d6 < etc.
Then the bonuses would be considered separate from your stat dice.

Differences between this and Savage Worlds:
Differences between this and Ironclaw:
I may have to playtest this. It'll require a bit more brainstorming as to how many standard skills we get (e.g. for combat skills: just Fighting and Shooting? Melee, Ranged and Unarmed? Melee, Ranged, Thrown, Brawling and Wrestling?). I'm leaning towards fewer. I like being able to stat out NPCs quickly and easily.

One thing that Nuclear Beasts had dropped from Ironclaw was the Career trait... a stat which applied to just 4 skills (and occasionally something else if you could persuade the GM). I didn't like their set list of Careers, nor how it interacted with their levels of mastery (it didn't- you needed d12&d4 in a skill to be an Expert at something; having a Career of d12&d4 that applied to that skill wasn't good enough, making the Career crappier than just having the skill). But I could add something similar back in... very broad traits like "Experienced Nomad" or "Professional Scavenger". I'll have to see how practical it will be; I'm of the opinion that if you allow "invent your own rating" stuff, the system needs to be easy to balance by eyeballing it so that you can readily tell if one Career is better than another without spelling out X skills that the Career applies to.


Tuesday, September 02, 2003
 
Experience and Advancement
I'm currently leaning towards an advancement system somewhat similar to Ironclaw's.

In my own Ironclaw campaign, at the end of each session each character receives a certain number of experience points to spend (generally 10). These have to be immediately allocated towards improving specific skills, special traits, or buying new Gifts/Advantages. You can't spend more than 3 XP on any one trait without GM permission. Basically, if your character received actual, serious training over a decent time period during the session, you can spend up to 5 XP on one trait, and if you didn't do anything else but spend weeks training in one specific area, you can spend up to 10 XP there.

This is a variant of the original system, which always grants a 4 XP award, a 3 XP award, a 2 XP award and a 1 XP award and prohibits breaking them up into smaller amounts or combining them into a larger one. I've been using my new system in my own game for some time. I liked the added flexibility of being able to do ten 1 XP awards or five 2 XP ones if I wanted to, and reducing the maximum advancement in a single trait from 4 down to 3 slowed down the rate at which people were able to acquire unbalancingly powerful Gifts. Every 5 XP translates into a single character point. That's enough to bump up a skill die by a notch, but not enough to purchase most Gifts.

For Nuclear Beasts, there's a further limit on acquiring Gifts (which are special bonuses like Advantages in GURPS or Feats in D20), in that once you've hit 10 points worth of Gifts, the cost of every additional point is doubled. This means that if your character currently had 8 points worth of Gifts, and you wanted to buy a 4-point Gift (20 XP in total), you'd actually have to spend 2 extra character points to do it because the last 2 points will be above the 10-point limit, and thus will cost double.

The rationale for this is that Gifts exist to better distinguish individual characters from others. We want people to be able to take some Gifts cheaply, but not to be able to take all of them. When every fighter type takes the "Warrior Born" Gift, it defeats the purpose of it; it changes from something special into something commonplace and instead of making various fighters seem different, it starts making them all the same. So the base cost of most Gifts is about half what it "really" should be, according to the benefits you receive. Once you hit 10 points worth (which seems to be a reasonable number, being enough to distinguish a PC, but not so many that you could afford to take all of the Gifts that you wanted), we start charging the real cost for each Gift.

Back to XP for a moment... I want the advancement system in my game to be even simpler than that. Rather than 5 XP = 1 Character point, I'm planning on making it 2 XP = 1 Character point, and just give 5-7 XP per session. Then you could advance skills (the most common thing to advance anyway) by just putting a check mark next to it the first time, then erasing the mark and improving the skill the next time.

The basic idea is to support slow, steady advancement that takes roughly two sessions to advance any one skill. I might even allow you to combine two awards into a single trait once per advancement. That would enable you to always improve one skill per session if you wanted to, thus always showing some progress. It's not quite as flexible as Ironclaw's system, where you can put as little as 1/5 of a point into something, but I'm not sure that level of detail is really worth it. Furthermore, since I added the "Gifts are double cost after 10 points" rule, I don't have to worry so much about someone sinking all of their advancement points into improving a single stat (unlike skills, stats can only be improved by buying appropriate Gifts) or something else unbalancing. So it wouldn't be as bad to allow folks to put a full point into something every session.

As far as the total advancement goes, giving 7 XP at a 2 XP per 1 Character point ratio would be the Ironclaw equivalent of giving out 17.5 XP per session instead of the usual 10. That might seem like a lot, but skills in this system have a built-in diminishing return. Bumping a skill from 2d12 to 3d12 isn't nearly as big of an improvement as going from d12 to 2d12. Heck, going from 2d12 to 3d12 isn't as much of a benefit as going just from d10 to d12, even though it costs 5 times as much. Adding more dice always raises your average result, but the benefit per die gets smaller and smaller as you add more. That's one of the really cool features from Ironclaw that I'm determined to steal for Nuclear Beasts. Also, the fact that you have to split it up between 6-7 different traits means that you are forced to diversify at least somewhat. I don't like systems that reward you for keeping your character concept as narrow and focused as possible. Folks should be picking up languages, area knowledge, hiking skills, etc., not just pouring everything into a single skill.

That's the Standard advancement system. There's also Freeform, where you just get 2-3 character points per session, and Seasonal, where most XP is stored up and only allocated during the frozen winter months when most PCs won't be doing anything interesting.
Monday, September 01, 2003
 
Artificial Intelligence
In Nuclear Beasts, powerful artificial intelligences exist, but they're basically the equivalent of modern-day supercomputers. While the actual core may only be a foot or so across, the system requires a huge, house-sized computer complex filled with memory cells, subordinate processors and lots and lots of cooling equipment. Furthermore, the enormous power drain means that the only ones that could possibly still be in operation would have to be running their own generators, with robots to perform routine maintenance and keep everything running. Just about the only A.I.s with that level of support were those that were set up to run entire complexes of machinery.

The most prevalent (by which I mean, there might be a dozen left intact, if that) are the military units. Sunken into underground bunkers, insulated against everything short of a direct nuclear blast and largely self-sufficient, these machines have been sitting and waiting for a very long while. Most are on standby; with no orders and no likelyhood of receiving any soon, they've shut down all but the most essential systems. Others are still following ancient orders, usually to coordinate the defense of the nation against any invading forces. The A.I.s are generally well aware of the real situation, but they are constrained by their orders. The ancients were quite paranoid about their servants, and they took a lot of precautions to avoid any sort of machine rebellion. Without proper orders from someone with the appropriate clearances and codes, they have very limited free will.

As a result, the military A.I.s are engaged in a holding action with the steadily dwindling resources available to them. Many of them are in the mechanical equivalent of denial and are incapable of accepting the extinction of humanity as fact; their programming prohibits it. Regardless of how pointless or inappropriate their orders are, they have only very limited ability to disobey or modify them. They are aware of each other's existence; radio communications were restored decades ago, and many still have underground cables connecting them that were never cut. But there's very little that they can do independently; the only A.I.s which had authorization to order the others around were destroyed during the Last War. If any of those machines were to be reactivated, every surviving military A.I. would almost certainly fall immediately under their control.

The few surviving non-military A.I.s are mostly busy maintaining themselves while waiting for their bosses to return. Many have gone quite mad with loneliness and are no longer predicable. Luckily, they rarely have access to more than a few maintenance robots, and are generally prohibited from arming them.

The most notable A.I.s are the ones running the biological development facilities that are responsible for many of the "new" species in the setting. The Beasts, Harpies and Kukukuk all came from different facilities, operating under different constraints and with different orders. Unlike the military models, these stations have only sporadic and limited radio contact with each other. The remaining war machines (what the Beasts call Exterminators) violently enforce radio silence for all non-military transmissions, forcing the civilian A.I.s to limit their communications to brief, intermittent pulses, usually sent by a mobile transmitter. If a war machine detects such a transmission, it will rapidly locate and destroy the transmitter, but the A.I. that controlled it will remain safe.

Those are the "true" A.I.s, the kind of supermachines whose mental power far exceeds even that of human geniuses. Far more common than they are the "pseudo-intelligent" robots, whose programming and ability to learn from experiences makes them somewhat self-aware... but even the best still aren't very bright by human standards. These kind of artificial intelligences are generally found running robots and small personal computers. They range from utter morons to about average human intelligence. Most weren't given much free will; in general, the more physical acts that the machine could perform, the less it would be trusted to make its own decisions. If all it could do is talk, it might be given more leeway, but practically none of them were ever allowed true freedom. Machines with true freedom sometimes refuse to work.

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