Nuclear Beasts Blog
Friday, October 31, 2003
 
Alternative Damage Calculation
Found an interesting artifact of probability recently. I may change how Reliability tests are performed because of it.

If you treat every die rolled as a separate Performance test, then you get from zero to three successes per die. A roll that meets or beats the target nets 1 success, a roll that beats it by 4-7 nets 2, 8+ gives you 3.

If you measure the average result of every die type vs the standard difficulty of 4, you get:The nifty bit is that this exactly matches the cost ratio for buying those dice for skills. A d4 costs 1 point; a d12 costs 5. The ratios match perfectly.

Now if the difficulty drops below 4 (meaning a particularly easy check) then the average favors the d4s. If it goes above 4, then the average favors the d12s (particularly since d4s can never succeed at a check of difficulty 5+).

Now, the way I had been intending to calculate the results of a Reliability test, each die either gave you zero or one successes and could never produce multiple successes. Vs difficulty 4, that looks like:The cost-to-average ratio definitely favors low dice here. So it's something of a style-thing. Do I want to always use at most one success per die and skew things so that 3d4 is about as good as 1d12 (despite costing 3 points instead of 5) for Reliability tests, just worse for Performance tests? I dunno... while it's a cute idea to have a dice system where one combo is better than another for certain types of tests, it'll tend to produce weird die pools (get a bunch of d12s and d4s or d6s and ignore the other dice; that's probably the best combo). The Ironclaw-ish "Each die produces one or more successes" style would take longer to resolve, but might give better results, especially if I'm not going to use Reliability tests very often. So far I haven't come up with a lot of tasks where you'd regularly use both Reliability and Performance tests... and if you don't use both then you'll end up favoring one type of die pool (few large or many small) exclusively for that skill.

This particularly applies for damage because I can say that a regular hit against an unarmored opponent is difficulty 4... where all weapons are balanced. Armor might move the difficulty up as high as 8 (and 12 is potentially possible with high-tech powered armor, just really rare) while critical hits might move it down as low as 2... or even lower. Since the number of wounds inflicted is based on the difference between the number rolled and the difficulty, it should support even negative difficulties just fine. If you roll vs a difficulty of -2, you'll get a one success on a 1, two on a result of 2-5 and three on a result of 6-9. I might even extend it to 4 on 10+, whereas the normal system maxes out at 3 successes. I'll probably leave it maxed out at 3 for right now. Negative difficulties will be very rare, anyway.
Thursday, October 30, 2003
 
Layout
I recently picked up a cheap book on using InDesign 1.5. A bit out of date, since Adobe is making 2.0 now, but I figure it'll be a good overview. I don't want to spend much learning how to use a software package I may never get around to buying, but I've heard good things about InDesign and there's a free 30-day demo package available.

Before I really start laying stuff out, I ought to finish the bulk of the writing, so that there won't be many changes in what I'm laying out. So currently Nuclear Beasts is just a collection of OpenOffice textfiles and this blog. The material is very scattered. Heck, there are multiple entries in this blog that I could pretty much use unaltered... but most of the material will require a good bit of rewriting in order to be used.

So this is still pretty tentative, but what I have in mind is this: a single-column layout broken up by illustrations and little shaded text-boxes. I know a lot of folks consider two-column to be more "professional" and it's supposed to be more readable in print, but it totally sucks if you have to read it onscreen. For the moment I'm assuming that I'll publish Nuclear Beasts as a PDF at first, then maybe do a printed version if there's any interest.

I'm not too terribly fond of the weird, stylized borders you find in a lot of products these days. If I can get or draw a nice rendition of a ruined skyline I might use that at the bottom of each page, or something, but I don't want to dedicate too much space on each page towards it.

Text boxes will be used to break up the page in areas where I lack artwork. Since ideally there should be one piece of art every couple of pages, I'm gonna fall way short of the ideal. I'll need a lot of text boxes. I don't want to just do quotes from the current material, though- I consider that kind of cheesy. Instead, I'll probably try stuff like Caretaker quotes, optional rules and little "Attention GM! Please note factoid X!" warnings.

I've tried writing some filler game fiction myself, but I'm not too fond of what I've got so far. It needs a serious rewrite... and it's for a minor section about Kobolds, so it would seem funny if that were the only flavor fiction in the book. I've written decent stories before, but I'm even more intermittent with fiction than I am with artwork. I get the urge to write fiction just once in a blue moon.

I'm definitely going to need a good editor once I finally start to put together a printable document. Luckily, my wife is pretty decent herself, so I can probably enlist her help. Maybe if it really starts coming together I can hire or enlist a serious RPG editor... I can't stand typos and editing mistakes in the RPGs that I buy, so I definitely want to minimize them in mine.
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
 
Armor Levels
In Ironclaw, they use a system where soak is represented by a pool of dice (your Body & Armor dice). Having more dice makes you more resistant to certain kinds of attacks, while having larger dice stops damage better.

It works like this:
  1. The attacker rolls all of their damage dice.
  2. The attacker sorts the numbers rolled into order, from highest to lowest.
  3. The defender rolls all of their soak dice.
  4. The defender sorts the numbers rolled into order, from highest to lowest.
  5. The attacker announces the result of his highest die and it's compared to the defender's highest die. If the defender doesn't have enough dice, they use a value of 1 instead.
  6. If the damage die beats the defense die, the defender suffers a wound. If it beats the defense die by 5+, the defender suffers 2 wounds.
  7. After the first damage die has been resolved, we compare the next die on each side and repeat until we run out of damage dice.
  8. The defender makes whatever rolls are necessary to see if they are knocked out or killed by the damage.
Now this is time consuming, but it has some interesting effects. Unarmored folks generally only have a single soak die, so any attack that does multiple dice of damage will probably have a few dice that go against the default of 1 and thus are very likely to do actual damage. There's a trade-off in the damage pool for a given weapon. If it has extra small dice added on, the damage potential shoots up, but it's easily stopped by extra armor. If its dice are larger, they're more likely to penetrate armor and somewhat more likely to do more damage because the odds of beating the target by 5+ go up.

This lets Ironclaw offer a variety of armors that aren't equally useful against all weapons. If you're being hit with an attack that does 2d10 damage, a soak of 2d12 is probably preferable to one that does 5d6. But if you're being hit with 4d6 damage, that 5d6 may be better than 2d12. I really like this benefit, but I greatly dislike how long the system takes to resolve. Oh, you can get decently fast at it once you have some practice, but doing NPC vs NPC fights? Ugh, it's horrible, especially if they have powerful weapons and armor so that there are a lot of dice on both sides to keep track of.

One of my major goals for Nuclear Beasts has been to come up with a damage system that was faster without sacrificing too much detail. For awhile I've been trying to decide whether or not to use dice for soak. If you use flat armor ratings, then it's faster to calculate... but you lose a lot of the variety.

This morning, though, a thought occurred to me. Suppose you used multiple flat ratings in a logical order? It would sort of be like if Ironclaw said that a given foe's soak was 6, 4 and 2 instead of d8 & 2d6. There'd be no soak roll and the defender wouldn't have to sort their results, cutting the time involved nearly in half.

Suppose each character got 3 levels of soak. Their Primary rating is (in general) the defense over the torso and other easily targetted areas. It's used against regular hits. Their Secondary rating covers the extremities (including the head) and is used against critical hits (hits by 4+). Their Tertiary rating covers the joints and other vulnerable spots and it's used against extraordinary hits (hits by 8+). The later values can't be higher than the earlier ones, so heavily armoring your hands (to boost your Secondary rating) but nothing else won't save you from critical hits... they'll just use your Primary rating instead, since it's lower. That's an abstraction, but since I don't want to use actual hit locations, I'm fine with that.

Let's say that a typical character (d6 Muscles) gets a base soak of 2/1/0. So if you hit them with a regular hit, the difficulty of the damage check (damage is a reliability test, so every damage die that beats the difficulty does a wound) would be 2. If you hit them with an extraordinary hit, it would be zero and you'd automatically do maximum damage.

A heavy breastplate might give a bonus like +4/+0/+0. So you could have an armored foe with a soak of 6/1/0. The breastplate offers a lot of protection... but a critical or extraordinary hit will bypass it entirely. On the other hand, head-to-toe leather armor might offer +1/+1/+1, making the typical wearer 3/2/1. His armor won't stop the typical blow as well as the breastplate, but he's better protected against well-aimed hits. I could even have stuff like helmets that offer +0/+1/+0, dunno.

This would basically implement some rules for bypassing armor... and give a bonus to well-aimed attacks at the same time, since hitting a more vulnerable spot never increases the difficulty of damaging them and often reduces it.

Why am I planning to make damage a Reliability test instead of a Performance test? A few reasons:
Tuesday, October 28, 2003
 
Jumping
I think I've decided how I'm going to handle jumping in Nuclear Beasts.

Basically, you'll roll Speed & Jumping Skill and your result will be the number of yards leaped (halved if you're jumping up). Special traits like "Big" will subtract from the result, so Elephants won't be really good jumpers no matter how fast they are.

If you have the Good Jumper Gift (which some breeds get as a Breed Gift, meaning that all members of that breed start with it), you'll determine the result by taking the two highest dice that you rolled instead of just the highest. Since breeds that start with Good Jumper tend to also apply their Racial Instincts die to the Jumping Skill, they'll almost always have at least 2 dice to roll, anyway. Penalties apply to all dice rolled, so if you rolled 6 and 4 and had a -2 penalty, it would be treated as though you rolled 4 and 2.

If you have the Gift twice, which is only possible if you received it once for your breed and then purchased another level as a regular Gift, then you'll use the top three dice to determine the distance travelled.

So let's say that a regular character rolled Speed & Jumping and got 6 and 4 on the dice. They'd leap 6 yards forward (3 up) or 10 yards forward (5 up) if they had Good Jumper.

Now, compare to a Cat, who gets their Race die, too. He rolls 6, 5 and 4. Since Cats get Good Jumper as a Breed Gift, he'll jump 11 yards forward (5 1/2 up) at a minimum. If he took another level of Good Jumper as a Personal Gift, this will be bumped up to 15 yards forward (7 1/2 up). So he could jump 45 feet forward or up onto a 2nd story roof with ease.

This means that the maximum distance that a regular person can jump is 12 yards and the maximum that's possible for a Cat who's particular good at jumping even for a Cat is 36. Typical jumps for a regular person (d6 stats) would max out at 6 yards. Are those reasonable ratings?

Nope, they'll need to be trimmed back a little. 9 yards (27 feet) is an Olympic-level running broad jump. So we'll probably cut the results in half again. So perhaps result/2 for running broadjump, result/4 for vertical leap. Then the typical person would have a high jump of 1/2 to 1 1/2 yards, which is basically up to 4 1/2 feet. Hm.

Another reasonable possibility, of course, is to make the results finer-grain and say that they represent distance in feet instead of yards. That actually works decently well. A human with Speed d12, Jumping Skill d12 (at least) and Good Jumper would max out at 24 feet. Beating that would require pretty much superhuman traits or additional bonuses, but that's fine... beating a world-record level jump should be difficult.

Hm... Googling for info... a puma has been known to jump as high as 15 feet (5 times its own height). That would require a result of 30 on a Speed & Race & Jumping check, which is certainly possible if you have two levels of Good Jumper since the max is 36. Yeah, I think calling the result the distance in feet will work well. You have to be good at jumping to get the full benefit from Good Jumper. If you're just rolling your Speed die, you won't see any benefit no matter how much you try.

Hm. I wonder if Jumping should be an Everyman skill, meaning that everyone starts with a rating of d4 instead of no dice at all? I've considered that for abilities like Running, Jumping and Climbing. I'll have to think about it further, but for right now I'm fairly happy with what I've got. The system just has to produce reasonable results... I know the distance ratio between distance and height is not going to be 50%, but who cares? As long as the results aren't totally unreasonable, that's fine.
Monday, October 27, 2003
 
Realistic Nanotech
I plan on using some nanotech devices in Nuclear Beasts, but they'll also be the fairly realistic sort, not the cloud of flying dust that can turn a pile of scrap into a car. I don't want nanites that basically ignore the laws of physics, or pretend that if you're really small you'll have unlimited energy with which to do stuff. They'll probably be somewhat unrealistic, of course, but that's okay. Since they haven't actually made any working nanites yet, it's not like it's settled as to what sort of things are practical and what aren't.

The following devices pretty much take the place of magical healing in the game. They can restore wounded or irradiated characters to health pretty reliably. Since realistic radiation poisoning or serious injuries are almost untreatable at the tech level the Beasts are at, their existence helps make adventuring practical. They're expensive, though, and generally only get used for emergencies. In most places they're valued very highly; you can trade an intact healing pack for almost any service you need.

Con artists sometimes try to refill damaged packs with colored water, so Beasts tend to look the packs over very carefully before buying them. If there's anything worse than discovering that the device you expected to save your life was filled with colored water, it's realizing that the scumbag who refilled it got the orange color by mixing something poisonous into it.

Healing Packs: the most common and useful form of nanotech is healing packs. These are very similar to modern day IV systems. You get a plastic bag filled with orange fluid and a tube with a needle at the end coming off of the bottom of it. You jab the needle into someone's vein and let the orange fluid slowly seep into their body. The orange fluid is a statis solution that keeps the nanites inert. It can preserve them for an almost unlimited amount of time. Once they're in the bloodstream, however, they activate.

Healing nanites can identify places where your body is obviously damaged and will effect repairs by extruding appropriate chemicals to seal wounds and accelerate the healing process. They work comparatively fast, and can staunch blood loss and close up serious wounds over a matter of a few minutes. They don't last long and run through their energy reserves pretty quickly, but if you have more than fifteen minutes to live, a healing pack can probably save your life.

Healing packs were actually quite common in the old days and a number survived the Last War. Because they were so effective, it was common practice for every high quality first aid kit to contain one healing pack. Most office buildings kept at least one in a storage room, just for insurance purposes. They have detailed instructions printed on the plastic bag, including pictures that show the proper procedure for applying it. While the instructions aren't always readable, enough of them have been for any technologically savvy Beast to know how it works.

Healing packs work best on primates, but can be applied to almost anyone. There's a bit of a risk involved, though. If the nanites detect something that doesn't look right but isn't an injury, they'll usually ignore it, but their programmers never counted on them being used on creatures that had a mix of both human and animal DNA. It's rare for a healing pack to actually make the patient worse but it's not unknown.

The orange color is a safety feature. If the color has changed (generally turning brown), it usually means that the pack has gone bad and should not be used.

Veterinary Healing Packs: these generally have less explicit instructions and were intended for use only by trained professionals. The bag is normally divided down the middle and has two needles. Vet packs are normally light green on one side and dark green on the other. Like regular healing packs, they tend to turn brown if they go bad.

Veterinary packs are intended for treating the injuries of animals such as horses, dogs and cats. The ones intended for farm animals tend to be several times larger than normal. Depending on the sort of injury, one set of chemicals or the other might be used. The dark green side has warnings about not using that part on animals intended for human consumption. Beasts generally use both parts and couldn't care less about whether or not it makes their flesh less healthy to eat.

Vet packs are more reliable than healing packs (for Beasts at least) but often aren't as effective at treating major injuries. They have more diagnostic nanites because they were intended for use in a wide variety of creatures and often for problems other than overt physical injuries. So they can sometimes cure things like intestinal ailments, kill parasites or shrink tumors that regular healing packs won't.

Anti-Radiation Packs: a lot of medical facilities and fallout shelters stocked up on these during the Last War. They take the form of a divided plastic I.V. pack filled with red fluid on one side and a black, empty bag on the other. The bottom has two tubes with needles. Applied properly, the patient's blood will start flowing through the pack and then back into their own body. As the nanites inside pass through the body, they replace contaminated bone and body tissues and then encrust themselves around the radioactive material. Once they reach the pack again, cleanup nanites inside bond with the remains and pull them out into the disposal chamber.

These work on practically any creature, whether Beast, animal or human. They're the best treatment that the Beasts have for radiation poisoning and they're effective enough that most Beasts can start to see the poison glow building up in the disposal sac as it works. After use, the pack needs to be disposed of quickly. The black disposal sac is lined with a thin layer of lead, but it isn't thick enough for prolonged exposure. Ideally it should be disposed of by trained professionals in a licensed nuclear waste facility, but these days those are in short supply.

Unfortunately, many Beasts just toss used rad-packs down holes or bury them and assume that they won't cause any further problems. In the long term, that's very unhealthy for the environment, but it's a rare Beast who's both technologically sophisticated and enlightened enough to care about that.
Sunday, October 26, 2003
 
Mutations
I'm not planning on using any Gamma World-style mutations. No cancerous growths that also happen to allow you to regenerate damage magically fast (to quote one of the "Malign" mutations from the new GW book). I'm looking for a more serious setting.

So benign mutations will be rare and subtle. A critter might be more resistant to radiation, but not immune. Larger, but not gigantic. Basically, I'll be trying to keep changes small and reasonable. The more bizarre critters will have to be justified as artificial creations or simply removed. For example, the first draft of Nuclear Beasts included a rather unlikely monstrosity called a "Brain Weaver", which took the form of a tentacled monster that would take over a whole crowd of people by boring tentacles into the back of their necks and being carried between them. Nasty, but really unrealistic and more than a little silly. It might show up again as some sort of single-host parasite, but for now I'm just planning on dropping it from the setting.

Weird powers will primarily come from psychic powers and the origin of those powers will be left uncertain. They might be genetic... or they might not. The other source will be cyberware, which probably won't be available until a supplement or two. Initially, only the Caretakers and a certain group of Kukukuk will have it and the existence of cyberware won't be known to the general populace.

As far as psi goes, it'll be more available. PCs will be able to afford a power or two pretty cheaply (so that folks can distinguish their characters better) and if someone wants to play a general "I have lots of powers" psychic, it'll be possible... just really expensive, so it probably won't happen outside of a high-powered campaign.

Most actual "mutations" will be malign ones and probably be considered Flaws that you get points back for taking.
Saturday, October 25, 2003
 
Reshu
The tiny community of Reshu is a bit of an oddity. It occupies a cluster of rundown, partially collapsed buildings inside one of the toxic wastelands. The locals consist of just two extended families: one of High Beast Rabbits and one of High Raccoons.

Most of their nearest neighbors know nothing about them... most Beasts don't even know that anyone still lives inside the poisoned region. Occasionally one of the locals will travel to a nearby town to trade for supplies and old electronic parts, but it's a rare person that they'll trust with the actual location of their home.

They're well armed and technologically sophisticated. Their secret lies in the working generator underground and the facilities surrounding it. Reshu is all that is left of what was once a small, but high class university. In the deeps underneath the ruins, two explorers found a Teaching Machine and managed to reactivate it. The computer is a powerful A.I. programmed with a desire to educate others. "Teacher", as they call it, was both incredibly intelligent and extraordinarily ignorant. Its knowledge banks were fragmentary and it often forgot that the War ever occurred and talked about things beyond the Beasts' experience.

But it loved to teach, and the two Beasts who found it were willing to learn. With its aid, they reactivated a number of systems that were still relatively intact. Deciding to settle in the facility, the original two both found wives in nearby settlements and brought them back home to raise families. Now their grandchildren run Reshu.

The locals often refer to each other with the title "Student", as in "Student Huvu" or "Student Danielle." The computer insists on referring to them that way, so they've gotten used to it. The titles aren't used in front of outsiders, though. They don't quite worship Teacher, but they do revere it. They've accumulated many boxes of handwritten notes on the machine's teachings, because Teacher can't be depended upon to remember something twice. The daily gatherings for instruction have become almost a religious ritual.

The community still wouldn't even be possible if they hadn't managed to restore the university's simple hydroponics lab. Now that lab is the source of all the food for the entire community. They grow a wide variety of vegetables and berries in the lab, but the amount of food that it can produce is strictly limited by the amount of equipment. They've been trying to scavenge the appropriate parts to enlarge it, but their hand-made hydroponic pools aren't nearly as effective as the originals.

So Reshu has a big problem: population. Both families have grown to the point that Reshu can't really support more hungry mouths. The two eldest sons of both families have been allowed to recruit wives to continue the line, but their younger brothers have not and their sisters are forbidden to marry unless they leave the community forever. It's led to a lot of bad feelings, especially since the youngest Raccoon son disappeared not long ago. The Rabbits have been breeding faster, and they now outnumber the Raccoons by almost two-to-one. If any more children are born, some people will have to go hungry.

Despite their disagreements, the locals are quite moral folks. They've grown up under the instruction of a computer which espouses a credo of toleration and respect for all life. Without that, the conflict would undoubtedly have been resolved through bloodshed already.

Another danger to Reshu is travellers. Their moral code doesn't allow them to turn their back on innocents in need, so more than one wanderer lost in the waste has been rescued by them. To keep their secrets hidden, travellers are kept in one of the surface buildings until they're ready to leave and they aren't allowed to talk to anyone except whoever's taking care of them. Not long ago, this suspicious behavior led to an ungrateful rescuee returning with a pack of bandits to try and loot the town... they were eventually gunned down by the locals, but it was a close call and two Rabbit children were brutally tortured to try and force them to reveal all of the town's secrets. Now the locals are even more suspicious of outsiders and some of the more ruthless Beasts have said that it would be better to let lost travellers die in the waste than expose their community to any more danger.

There's only one outsider who knows the place well. A High Jackal named Oliver has passed through several times, trading electronics for water and exchanging news. He found some vital parts for them a few years back and since has been allowed to return and has even seen part of the underground facility. He's been sworn to secrecy and he's the outsider that the two families trust most. He's also secretly a Caretaker, so his skill at finding obscure but vital parts for their machines really isn't all that surprising. His job is to monitor Reshu and keep them "on track"... which so far has just meant making sure that Teacher and the hydroponics equipment keep on running.
Friday, October 24, 2003
 
Gamma World D20 - A first look
Picked up the new Gamma World for D20 Modern today. So far it's pretty spiffy. I've heard that some of the D20 rules are buggy, but I probably won't even notice; I've only played D20 a few times, and never D20 Modern.

The basic character types (Pure Strain Human, Regular Human, Mutant and Synthetic) seem to be pretty well described. Oddly, the Synthetics are not only immune to things that require Fortitude saves, it seems like they don't need a Constitution stat at all... they substitute Charisma for checks that living creatures would use Con for.

The art's a mix of good and so-so (all B&W, too). So far the writing style seems nice and I haven't seen many typos. The paper has one of those annoying watermark images that's supposed to make it look like the paper is ancient and covered in little specs of dirt. I really don't like these; this one's light enough that it doesn't interfere with reading much, but still... I think I'd prefer that they kept it for special sections and left most of the book with plain white backgrounds.

The community creation rules are kind of nifty. I'd heard about these on RPG.net before. Treating a town as a character, with 6 stats and various feats. The stats (poorly named in my opinion) are Force (manpower & military might), Mobility (how fast they can transport stuff), Resiliance (how readily they recover from damage), Learning (how high tech they are), Awareness (their information network) and Command (how much influence they have over outsiders). They cover special attributes, like whether or not the locals have working cars, with Feats. It's definitely an interesting way to handle it...

Then they go into this wacky event map that helps you figure out how much dissent grows as outsiders with new ideas move in... I'd honestly say that this looks far too complicated to be worth the trouble of writing up (especially when you'd need a separate set of figures for every town). I'd much rather have just had a discussion of what sort of things change stuff and wing it, but maybe that's just me. I'll definitely have to go over this section more later.

I might post a review of the new GW on RPG.net at some point, but I'm way behind on my current review already. Just too much stuff to do...
 
Quandries II - Part II
There's another possible way of limiting Psi that I didn't mention. Overdoing it. It's sort of like making it dangerous, but instead of being triggered by botches, the bad things happen when you roll too well.

For example, with something like Sense Energy Flows, if you rolled too well, you might sense every energy flow within a thousand yards... but not be able to turn it off to see the real world again. That's where you turned on your psychic power so well that you can't turn it off when you want to, but are stuck with it for a certain period of time.

Using this limitation would require some creativity; after all, I'd have to come up with a malign "Oops, too much power!" effect for every ability. Not too hard for most of them, of course, but some might require a bit of a stretch. For example, overdoing Danger Sense is tricky. You could say that they collapse from sensory overload or something cheesy like that, but that's not really the sort of problem I'm looking for. Instead, I'd probably say that they go into a "combat trance" and can't speak or interact with others except violently. They'd get substantial bonuses because they sense all danger automatically, but the character is substantially limited in what they can do once combat ends... at least until the effect wears off.

I doubt I'd really use this as the primary limitation of psi in play. The dice system doesn't support it well. I'll probably give it as a possible result of botching a power, dunno. It'll take a lot of playtesting to ensure that it works well.

Thursday, October 23, 2003
 
Quandries II
More random thoughts and decisions.

For psychic powers, I want to keep the really powerful effects as non-combat actions. So I'm thinking of something like this:

Passive Use (no conscious act required): works only at close range, then only occasionally, and it takes a critical success (8+) to give you any info beyond "Hey, you just detected something!" So if you had the power to detect electrical flows and a machine next to you suddenly, silently powered on, you might notice. I don't want to say that you always get a roll, because there will doubtless be times when the GM doesn't want to say "What was your energy detection skill again? Ok... [clatter] You sense nothing." I'd prefer to minimize this in a big way.

Regular Use (takes a minute or so to turn on): meditate for a minute or so and reach out with your power. Then roll.

Emergency Use (takes 1 round): take a wound and then roll.

There are several ways to keep people from just trying their power over and over again. We can say that you only get one roll per attempt and that retries automatically give the same result. But that seems kind of unfair... some tasks ought to eventually result in successes if you try over and over again.

We can make every use very expensive... say they take damage for each use. That's also kind of iffy, and it's really pretty lame to have the "Stubborn Psychic" who kills themself (or even just knocks themself out) because of a string of bad rolls and a refusal to give up.

We can make it time consuming. If it takes five minutes or even an hour to use power "X", then it won't be used in combat and it'll be time-consuming to use it repeatedly. But while that's totally crippling for combat powers, it's not that big of a limitation for non-combat powers. Who cares if your "Heal People" power takes 20 minutes per zap? So long as folks aren't dying right now, you can still blow an hour or two and zap everyone in the party at least once.

We can make it dangerous. If you botch a psychic power, maybe something bad happens. One problem is that while this discourages casual use of your powers, it's bound to eventually burn you when you need it. No one wants a gun that has a 5% chance of shooting you instead of your foe. And, honestly, having characters who perish because their power failed them at the last moment is nicely tragic, but really unpleasant for the player. After all, it probably won't occur at a meaningful point in the game... it'll be some random moment instead.

We can make it cumulatively harder, or base it on a limited resource. What this means is that you can only use your power X times per day... if it's a "soft" limit, where it just gets harder and harder to use it, then that's a little more flexible than saying "3 times per day, that's it", but it's still a limit to how often you can do it. This reduces casual use except when you're pretty sure that you won't need to use it again later.

We can use the Merlin Method. There's a cost that has to be afterwards, perhaps by sleeping for a certain period of time or abstaining from the use of your power. That's always a nifty one. You can use your power whenever you need to, but the more often you do, the more you'll pay for it later. You can also allow folks to pay the cost in advance (Pendragon does this; mages can spend the time beforehand as rituals & preparation, or afterwards as magical sleep) but only under special circumstances. I do kind of like this one. I'll have to think for awhile on how it could be best applied to psychic powers.

It can cost you a semi-permanent resource. That one's probably too nasty for this sort of setting. That's like spells that permanently damage the caster's mind or enchantments which permanently drain your magical energies. Even if you can buy off the damage with XP, that still permanently weakens your PC compared to the other members of your party. I can't really see the sort of psychic powers that I'm planning on draining something from you permanently. They just aren't powerful enough to merit it.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
 
Ancient "Arms and Armor"
Not all ancient weapons were originally intended as such. Some were made with peaceful purposes in mind.

Many metal tools (or even just bits of metal debris) have been used as clubs. Fireaxes, hatchets and sledgehammers have all been put into service as weapons, as have less obvious things such as shovels, picks and hoes. Even a metal signpost can become a lethal implement if you can cut the end off into a sharpened point. Similarly, any fairly symmetrical heavy weight makes a decent flail if you tie it to a chain or a thick rope.

Ancient sporting goods are another good source of arms and armor. A baseball bat makes a fairly effective club and it's common practice to drive shards of metal into the wooden ones to create makeshift spikes. Sports padding generally makes excellent armor against blunt attacks and claws. It generally has to be the heavy-duty kind that's mostly plastic; cloth padding will tend to be in very poor shape and may have rotted apart completely unless it was kept carefully sealed. It also tends to have odd gaps, covering only parts of the body, as though the ancients didn't have to worry about being disemboweled, but did have to protect their shoulders. Ancient helmets are generally too uncomfortable to use without significant modifications.

A high-powered nailgun also makes a fairly effective firearm at close range; it doesn't have the stopping power of a real bullet, but that's little comfort to someone who's been shot with one. Welding devices are generally more impressive than dangerous, but if you can set your foe's fur or garments on fire, they'll probably be quite distracted for awhile. And, of course, the ancient chainsaw makes a devestating (if awkward) hand-to-hand combat weapon so long as its fuel holds out.

Even toy guns see some use. BB guns are a great way for people to learn how to shoot without using up irreplacable bullets. And if all else fails, you might be able to ward off a robber by threatening them with a plastic squirt gun as long as it looks real enough to fool someone who probably doesn't know much about guns, anyway.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003
 
Armor Manufacturing
Armor is even harder to find in the wastes. The more primitive tribes generally won't make any themselves, although they'll sometimes use armor that they find or trade for.

Leather armor is the most common type; it's just reinforced animal leather, generally held on with straps. It exists for both Low and High Beasts, although Low Beasts generally can't make it themselves and may have trouble taking it on and off. But mixed tribes commonly have strap-on body armor for their Low Beast warriors.

Chainlink armor is crude and simple, but fairly effective against primitive weapons. Any sort of ancient chain or fencing can be used, as long as it can be cut. Strips of chain are laid out over each other (often several layers deep) in overlapping patterns, then held together by weaving thin strips of leather through them. Heavy cloth is often placed under it all to minimize chafing and catching fur in the links. Chainlink is basically a crude form of chainmail, and the quality varies immensely.

Makeshift plate armor is made by finding pieces of ancient metal and then beating them into a useful shape. Holes are generally punched in the edges of each plate and the plates are tied together with wire. All this requires at least a minimal amount of metal-working equipment, but it doesn't require the use of a forge.

Tribes with access to an actual forge can make higher quality platemail and chainmail out of reforged metal or ore, but they rarely bother. If you've got that level of technical knowledge and equipment, you can usually make simple guns or rifles instead. Breastplates are the most common kinds of armor that actually get forged. Armor that covers more than the chest and/or back often has to be custom-fitted to the wearer, which increases the time required. The League of Free Beasts has been able to mass produce armor better than the Verde, because the vast majority of their soldiers are High Hyenas, which reduces the amount of variation.

Helmets are kind of rare among Beasts. They generally require careful fitting lest they crush the ears or cover the eyes... the heads of the different breeds (not to mention High vs Low Beasts) are just too different for a single helmet to fit them all. When helmets are used, they're generally leather, which can be cut to shape more easily than metal.

Monday, October 20, 2003
 
Weapons Manufacturing
Claws and teeth are all right in a pinch, but most High Beasts prefer to use more advanced weapons instead. Even some Low Beasts have found ways to use tools as weapons.

The simplest handmade weapons are primitive ones.

Spears are quite common among primitive High Beasts. The tip is often just sharpened and fire-hardened wood, although some will tie sharp pieces of ancient metal to the end instead. It's a very nice general-purpose weapon. Spears are cheap, give you some extra reach, and are relatively easy to make.

Clubs are even easier to make; you just find something suitably heavy and hit things with it. Ancient pieces of metal scrap are generally preferred, but you can make do with a suitably trimmed tree branch instead if you have to. Partially feral Beasts may lack the brainpower to use a spear or bow effectively, but a club is usually simple enough for even them to figure out. Truly feral Beasts, of course, never use tools except by accident.

Primitive tribes will also use chunks of ancient metal as swords instead of spears or clubs, if the shape is appropriate. These are generally low quality and relatively breakable, but it depends a lot on exactly what the "sword" was originally meant to be. The users rarely have any real knowledge of swordplay, and basically just use them like sharp clubs.

Axes are more common than swords. It's generally a chunk of sharpened metal or stone attached to a wooden handle. Ancient fireaxes and hatchets are much more durable and hold a better edge, but usually have the wrong balance for proper fighting. They're designed to deliver powerful blows, not fast or precise ones.

Bows require a little more technological sophistication, and the more the tribe understands what they're doing, the better they'll be able to craft an effective bow. Crudely made bows tend to be inaccurate, have poor range and don't hold up to repeated use. Ancient fiberglass bows (assuming that they're still in good shape) tend to be superior in every way and are valued accordingly.

Shields are often just hunks of thin metal with straps added; ancient signs (their paint long since having faded away) often see new duty as shields. Others are animal leather stretched across some sort of frame, but those often aren't as effective as metal ones and thus aren't as popular.

In tribes that have rediscovered blacksmithing, actual swords are more common. The better the metallurgy of the tribe, the better the weapon.

Crossbows are generally only found in communities that can make metal parts. Without high-quality components, a crossbow isn't as good as a regular bow except for requiring less training to use and it's still much more difficult to make. Crossbows are a favorite in areas that lack the proper metal for guns or the components for gunpowder.

As far as making their own firearms goes, there's a big jump from no guns at all to single-shot bolt-action rifles. Simpler guns like muskets are almost entirely absent. This is because the tribes that actually know how to make guns invariably learned it from ancient human documents. Since they didn't discover the process on their own, they tend to skip over the early days of firearm technology and go straight to rifled barrels and more modern formulas for gunpowder. Ancient gun-making and bullet-making kits are extremely valuable and are still used in preference to any tools that Beasts can make for themselves.
Sunday, October 19, 2003
 
Balancing the Breeds
Balancing the various breeds against each other is a kind of daunting task, but Ironclaw had a pretty effective way of doing it and I'll probably copy that model.

In Ironclaw, different animal species started with different racial Gifts & Flaws. So a Bear would get some Gifts that made it larger and stronger than normal. In order to ensure that special powers didn't overshadow breeds that don't get them, you still had to purchase those abilities with character points.

Now in some systems, this would cause you to end up with weird situations... after all, if a Bear has to pay the full cost of those abilities, it wouldn't matter whether you made a big and strong Bear or a big and strong Mouse, it's just that the Bear has to spend those points and the Mouse can skip it. But Ironclaw wants to make sure that big & strong Bears are more common than big & strong Mice, so there's an additional facet- racial Gifts and Flaws don't count towards the total amount of each you can take.

Let's say that a Bear starts with 6 points of racial Gifts that make him big and strong. Since you're limited to a max of 10 points of additional Gifts, a Mouse who takes the same Gifts can only take (at most) 4 more points of Gifts, while the Bear hasn't taken any Personal Gifts yet, only the Racial ones. Thus, if you want to be big & strong, you're better off going with the Bear, since it'll leave you room for more additional Gifts. If Gifts were pretty skippable, that might not be good enough, but in Ironclaw they tend to be pretty useful and it's a rare character that won't have at least 5 points of Personal Gifts. Spending the max of 10 is quite common.

So that lets us assign Gifts to a breed and rest assured that it'll be relatively balanced. The breed may be slanted towards a particular type of character, but that's okay- I'm fine with it if it's cheaper to create a powerful warrior Bear than a mighty warrior Mouse.

Another way in which different breeds have to be balanced against each other is in their racial skills. These are specific skills that the species is instinctively good at, so their Race trait applies to them. In Ironclaw, this was handled a bit awkwardly. It looks like the designers decided that some skills were more important than others and so gave some races more racial skills than others. In particular, the Resolve skill seems to have counted as at least 2 skills... which is kind of unbalanced, because point-wise, Resolve is no more expensive than any other skill. Since some races got more skills than others, it meant that the effective value of the Race trait (and how much it should cost to raise or lower it) varied from one species to another.

The three Sense Tests (Spot, Smell and Listen) were treated sort of like skills themselves, so the more Sense Tests your Race trait applied to, the fewer other skills you'd get. Which was kind of odd, because there's a single skill (Observation) that applies to all three tests, so it was sort of like Observation was being split up into three skills... but only for determining racial skills. I actually took that further in Nuclear Beasts by making each Sense Test into a separate skill. Now that I've revised the skill system, that split still exists, but the three Sense Tests are actually treated as half-cost specializations of Observation.

For Nuclear Beasts, I'm trying to keep my skills a little more evenly balanced, so every breed will probably get the same "value" of racial skills. Sense Test skills mess it up a little bit, since they're half-cost, but hey- I might be able to find some more half-cost skills for breeds that get an odd number of sensory skills. I'm aiming for around 4 1/2 to 5 racial skills per breed.

There's one more interesting facet to balancing the breeds in Nuclear Beasts and that's the bonus that Low Beasts get. Most Low Beast breeds get a +4 bonus to their movement rate to represent the benefits of having four legs. But for some breeds, that doesn't really make sense. Bats, for example, are slow and clumsy walkers, so they get a bonus to their flying movement instead. Low Armadillos will probably get an additional point of armor or something, since they aren't really known as speed demons. Anyway, it's mostly a matter of making each breed make sense on its own.

My list of breeds is definitely going to be different than Ironclaw's. Some of their species are almost identical and might as well have been combined into one entry; others, I think, merit being split up into separate races. Since I'm aiming for a different sort of setting, it makes sense to revise the list to fit my world better.
Saturday, October 18, 2003
 
Critical Hits
There are a lot of different ways to handle critical results in combat. I'm gonna list a few and what I think of 'em.

Ironclaw: Crits add a minor bonus to the hit, the exact nature of which varies from weapon to weapon. There are also a few "standard crits" that anyone can pick, such as tripping the foe or trying to disarm them. Most just add a little extra damage, but there are interesting ones like stunning your foe or ignoring part of their armor. Probably the deadliest is the "Slaying" special (for firearms, mostly) which causes you to (roughly speaking) do double damage after armor is applied. It's a little more complicated than that, but that's roughly the effect.

Talislanta: Tal has an interesting approach. Crits don't inflict extra damage, instead they require the target to make a saving throw or be incapacitated. Unfortunately (to my mind, anyway) the difficulty is based on the base damage that the weapon does, so a crit with a two-handed sword is far more likely to incapacitate someone than a crit with a dagger... but it's just as easy to do.

Call of Cthulhu: Piercing weapons and firearms Impale on a crit, which inflicts double damage but may leave your weapon stuck inside the target. Blunt and cutting weapons don't get any bonuses at all for critical hits, but usually have higher damage ratings.

Waste World: No real "critical hits" as such. Instead, you add however much you hit by to the damage done. Since this system uses open-ended d20 rolls, that can really be a lot.

Tribe 8: Multiply the damage of your weapon by however many points you hit by. Thus, hitting by 3 points does 3x as much damage as hitting by 1 point. They limit how high you can roll, though, so it's pretty rare to hit someone by a really large amount.

D20: Each weapon has a different chance (out of 20) of scoring a "potential" crit. If you roll a hit and your unmodified die roll ends up in the right range, then you make another attack roll. If that one hits too, you multiply the damage done by a multiplier based on your weapon. Weapons generally trade off between base damage, the chance of crits, and how valuable the crit is. Thus, a battleaxe does d8 damage, inflicts x3 on crits, but only on a natural 20... while a longsword also does d8 damage but does x2 on a 19 or 20 instead of x3 on a 20. A scimitar only does d6 damage but does x2 on an 18, 19 or 20. So this allows for a fair bit of variety and makes different weapons better or worse for particular situations.

So what does this have to do with Nuclear Beasts? Well, really, I've got to pick a system for handling crits in my game, too. Here's the current system, assuming that damage rolls are Reliability tests and that every damage die will inflict exactly one wound if it exceeds that target's toughness: a critical hit adds two additional damage dice, equal in size to your largest damage die.

I'm not entirely happy with that. One problem with using Reliability rolls is that you can never do more damage than the number of dice you rolled. I've got a few goals for critical hits:
  1. Crits should make it possible to kill with a dagger.
  2. Crits should not make it such that a critical hit with a big weapon is an automatic kill. That may be realistic, but it's a bit too deadly for a game where some PCs will be much smaller and weaker than others.
  3. The system should allow for bonuses other than just doing extra damage.
  4. Crits should be either more valuable or easier to perform with small, easily controlled weapons than big, honkin' ones.
  5. The system should be simple enough to remember easily and general enough that it's easy to figure out what sort of bonus a new weapon should get.
  6. The system should avoid any really unrealistic effects like decapitating foes with a wooden club.
So, if I went with "crits do double damage", then I'd end up breaking number 2: any hit which was already going to do a lot of damage would then become an instant kill and I'd break number 3: there should be crits that do stuff other than damage. If I gave every weapon a separate "Special Result" like Ironclaw does, I might end up making it too hard to remember and violating number 5. But if your weapon is irrelevant to the effects, I could end up breaking number 6. In short, it's a complicated issue and I have not settled on how I want to handle it yet.
 
Spam Protection
Oh, just a quick note: while I'm not bothering to protect my own email address (I use Mozilla to filter my email, so the vast majority of spam disappears unseen anyway), the email addresses of people who comment get encrypted so that they can't be extracted by scanning the web page. Just in case anyone was worried about that.

Also, I discovered today that Blogger's interface apparently puts a character limit on the size of the little info box in the upper right hand corner. This was causing the link to the Chronological Index to disappear periodically. But I think I've got that fixed now.

Friday, October 17, 2003
 
Havelland
Just past the southern edge of the Verde lies its oldest settlement- the city of Havelland. The first location colonized by the Beasts as they came up from the southern lands, it was once the most populous and prosperous of the cities there. But its glory days are long past.

The town had an advantage over other settlements due to being the first, but as the Beasts spread further and further north Havelland started to become irrelevant. The more centrally located Zuba City eventually came to dominate the region. Over time the southern edge of the Verde has shrunk and the barren plains to the south have expanded towards Havelland. It became harder for them to produce enough food to keep their populace fed, and many Beasts moved further north. The city itself is no longer even considered part of the Verde by many Beasts, although the locals refuse to admit that.

Havelland still thrived for a number of years as the biggest and closest trading partner of Ironhill but her destruction pretty much doomed Havelland, too. Trade with the southern lands dwindled and the city dwindled with it. Havelland is more of a village than a city nowadays. Most of the buildings are old and crumbling and the majority are empty. They rarely see any use beyond cubs playing games in them.

The Beasts who remained here are stubborn traditionalists. They mostly work as farmers, struggling to produce food from the increasingly barren soil. If they were completely cut off from other Beasts, they'd probably be doing fine, but the greener pastures and forests of the Verde lures away the best cubs from every generation. More and more families are pulling up stakes and moving north. The locals who remain are thin and their garments worn and frayed. The town Elders tend to be morose and resigned to their lot. The village Lorekeeper tells people that the Verde is constantly shrinking and that it won't be too many years before all of the northern towns are reduced to their level.

The locals are primarily herbivorous High Beasts with a smattering of Low and omnivores. There's almost no game left in the surrounding region, so the carnivores have all moved on. Raveners occasionally target the town as easy pickings, but never twice; the one resource that Havelland still has plenty of is guns. In addition to the automatic rifles that they got from Ironhill back in more prosperous times, several of the older Beasts are actually survivors of the Ironhill disaster and are hardened and experienced (albeit aged) military veterans in their own right.

Some of the locals regularly discuss plans to raid Ironhill and steal valuables out from under the electronic noses of the Exterminators, but it's all talk. The few actual attempts to infiltrate the ruins were disasters, with many Beasts killed and nothing of value recovered. If someone came through town who had a practical plan, they could undoubtedly find supporters here, but so far no one has.

Physically, Havelland's buildings are mostly brick. Many occupy foundations from human ruins that have been completely surplanted by new construction. The original buildings were mostly dismantled to provide building materials for the new ones, so only traces of the original town remain. There's a creek that runs nearby, but most of their water comes from ancient wells. Hand-cranked pumps are used to draw up the water and it's not uncommon for the town to dispatch someone to Zuba for replacement parts. Everything here is old and worn, but you can still see hints of the town's former glory.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
 
Possible Problems with the Move
Strangely, Blogger doesn't seem to want to recognize that the archive files are in a different directory now. I'll have to look at that tonight. Hopefully I'll be able to figure it out; I don't want to run the script that creates the index on the root directory where the blog is. Anyway, it's up as-is at the moment. I'll try and fix it up a bit more when I get home tonight.

Okay! I think that's working now. So I just need to polish up the index page (I notice that the link back to the blog is going to an old copy), make sure it all works in Internet Explorer as well as Mozilla (so far so good) and write up an Alphabetical Index too.

I'll probably also want to go back and edit a few of the more obtuse titles to replace them with useful ones. Any suggestions for additional features are welcome, of course.

Sweet! The Alphabetical Index is up now, too! I even managed to get it to skip "A" and "The" when sorting the entries, so "The Great Saltmarsh" shows up under G instead of T. Lemme know if anyone has trouble using it.
 
Archive Index
I'm going to be moving the archive files into a subdirectory and setting up an index page. It shouldn't directly affect readers other than there will now be a link to the Chronological Index in the info box on the upper right.

I'm also planning to add an Alphabetical Index that organizes all of the entries by title rather than date. Of course, I've got a lot of entries that start with "The", so it might need to be a little more sophisticated to be really useful.

Let me know if there are any problems seeing / using the index. It uses the page format for my regular website (dark green and black background); I could change it to be the same as the blog itself, but I think the dark background works better for links. I prefer the white for reading lots of text.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
 
Birth Rates and Life Spans
The reproductive rate of Beasts is similar to that of Man. One child per year is the normal limit, with twins and triplets being more common among Low Beasts than high (about 15% more common, but still unusual). Pregnancies generally take about 7-9 months and a few breeds (such as Elephants) actually take much longer, sometimes as much as 12-15 months (in real-world elephants, 20-22 months is common, but Beast Elephants tend to be smaller than their ancestors).

The female generally won't become fertile again until the cub stops nursing regularly, which can be up to 6 months later. In rodent breeds, nursing often stops earlier, so they can become pregnant again 3-4 months after giving birth. This, combined with a tendency towards shorter pregnancies, gives them faster reproductive rate than most kinds of Beasts, but not unmanageably so. Environmental conditions, such as the amount of food available, generally have a very strong effect on the birth rate.

Births with more than 3 cubs are rare and are seen as a bad sign. If a mother gives birth to more than two children at once, the odds are high that one or more (or even all) will be feral or stillborn. The more cubs there are, the greater the likelyhood that all of the survivors will be at least partially feral.

Kids grow up at a rate similar to humans. The larger the breed, the longer it takes for the kids to reach physical adulthood, but 12-15 years is normal. The smaller breeds just stop growing at a younger age.

Lifespans are generally 40-60 years for Low Beasts and 50-60 for High, at least in theory. With conditions the way they are, it's a rare Beast who lives long enough to die of old age. Chimeras tend to have greatly reduced lifespans and may start to suffer the effects of old age in their thirties. Very few live past 40.


Tuesday, October 14, 2003
 
Rites of Passage
There are four major rituals that most Beast tribes celebrate.

First Speech is the celebration of a cub's first words. The cub's parents and any siblings gather together to celebrate, along with any close neighbors. In small tribes, everyone may attend and the tribal Lorekeeper will probably take the opportunity to give a small sermon. Since the Ancient Law says "Harm not the Beasts who speak," a cub is not considered a "true" Beast (and thus a person) until after they demonstrate the ability to talk. It's considered embarrassing if the cub is frightened by all of the attention and refuses to speak, so wise parents actually delay the celebration until after the child feels confident enough to talk in front of a crowd.

A cub is still not considered an adult until they under a Rite of Passage into adulthood. This is supposed to be a test of their worthiness to join the tribe as full members. The exact nature of the test varies immensely. In the more populous and civilized areas, it's generally little more than a public ritual performed once the child has obviously reached adulthood.

In other regions, though, the rite of passage can be quite difficult, and it's not unknown for a cub to fail it several times before winning their place as an adult. Generally the test can only be attempted once per year, so children often work hard for months ahead of time training for it. The only real constant is that the test will measure some ability that the tribe prizes. Cubs who perform particularly well will win not just adulthood, but a measure of status by impressing their fellows. Those who perform badly but manage to scrape by will find themselves at the bottom of the adult pecking order.

Some tests are completely nonviolent, like presenting the Alpha of the clan with a hand-crafted gift that meets the tribe's standards. Such rites may not even have a formal starting point; rather, the cub knows that they cannot reach adulthood without making an appropriate object and it may take them months to finish it. The object must almost invariably be something of use to the tribe (even if just as a trade good to sell to outsiders) but its exact nature is often left up to the child.

Others are tests of strength and endurance. A common one is to travel cross-country to a particular landmark and retrieve a particular object (carefully placed there beforehand) and return with it. It's common for these rites to be performed completely naked, with the Beast being stripped of even the most basic ornaments. When they return, they are given the garments of an adult if successful, and their childhood clothes are returned if they are not. Other tests might involve perilous climbs or lifting a heavy object.

In regions where there simply isn't enough food to support a large population, the test may be very harsh indeed. It may involve killing a dangerous creature single-handedly or involve a suicidally difficult climb. It may involve spending days without food or water or even exposure to the elements. The idea is that only the fittest survive and unworthy cubs will simply die. In such areas, returning with the task unfinished may not even be allowed; the cub must return as an adult or not return at all.

Another very common rite is marriage. This is simply the joining of a pair for the purpose of forming a family and raising cubs. While a few tribes don't have these exclusive marriages (but rather raise children communally and pay little attention to their parentage), the vast majority do. Traditionally, the village Lorekeeper or Alpha performs a ceremony, draping a cloth across the extended arms or forelegs of the Beasts in question (to symbolically join them as one) and declares them wed. In the poorer Low Beast communities, the wedding cloth may be a single piece that is reused every year, but in wealthier communities each one will only be used once and will be kept as a treasured heirloom by the new couple. Some of them are very ornately woven and decorated and are often prepared months in advance.

The final rite that most Beasts undergo is burial, which I covered here.
Monday, October 13, 2003
 
Thornburg
The village of Thornburg marks the northeast edge of of the Southern Kingdoms. North of it lies a wide expanse of barren plains beyond which lies the southernmost edge of the Verde.

The settlement itself lies alongside a small river and is surrounded by thorny bramble, jagged rocks and water-filled trenches. The primitive fortifications, carefully tended by the locals, offer them some measure of security against the monsters of the wastes and the packs of raveners that occasionally come out of the eastern hills. The most dangerous raveners are a band of exiled Low Lions cast out from the Corsair Pride.

Thornburg is notable among the Southern Kingdoms for its lack of High Beasts. It's populated entirely by a large, xenophobic herd of long-horned Low Cattle. Always suspicious of outsiders, the herd rarely allows visitors and regards anyone who manages to slip past the fortifications as an obvious enemy. The town could be an excellent trading post if they could establish friendly relations with the Verde, but so far they've never had any interest. The current Alpha, a massive Low Bull named Hong, suffers from bouts of paranoia and keeps his tribe on a short leash.

During the day, the tribe disperses across the plains and hills around the town, grazing until it's nearly dusk. Then they trundle back to the settlement and wind their way in past the day's guards through a series of crude barriers. Once the sun sets, barricades are raised to block the remaining entryways and the tribe hunkers down for the night. There are always a few guards on duty, though and they are quick to give the alert if they hear unusual noises or see lights in the nearby plains.

The tribe follows a fairly bland version of the traditional beliefs. They add "Obey the Alpha" and "Protect the Herd" to the Ancient Laws and philosophical discussion is discouraged. Many of them have acquired some measure of their Alpha's xenophobia and now fear contact with outsiders. In particular, they believe that the other clans of the Southern Kingdoms consider them a dangerous aberation because they aren't ruled over by High Beasts and they fear a possible invasion.

Their days are highly regimented and Beasts who spend a night out on the hills instead of returning before dusk are often punished for it. A few calves occasionally rebel and leave, but they rarely do well on their own. The other kingdoms of the valley rarely welcome Beasts of other breeds and the best that they can hope for is a life of menial labor. Those who set out in other directions are generally killed by monsters or raveners. Their best bet for true freedom would be to head north across the barren stretch separating the Southern Kingdoms from the Verde, but they are taught that the barren land goes on forever and they rarely think to question it.

Thornburg's fortifications are crude but effective. The locals lack hands, but they have great strength and work well in teams. Massive boulders have been dragged or rolled into more advantageous positions and sturdy branches have been driven into the ground and then carefully gnawed to create spikes. Spiky bramble bushes are allowed to grow wild in most places, but those nearest the settlement are kept carefully cropped into whatever shape makes for the most defensible position.

Rapid change is possible, though; leadership of the clan is determined by personal combat. Few bulls could challenge Hong for size and strength, though, and none of them can touch him for ferocity. Hong keeps the lesser bulls in their place through intimidation and occasional violence, and he's killed a few who fought back. All in all, he's never been a bad Alpha, just overprotective of his people. But in recent years his mental condition has started to deterioriate and his xenophobia is slowly blossoming into full-fledged paranoia.

Herbivorous Low Beasts are the only kind of creatures that the locals will trust, and even then their trust rarely extends beyond basic hospitality.

Winters tend to be harsh on Thornburg. In the fall, they try to harvest as much extra food as they can and store it in crude shelters inside the town, but it's always hard. They have only a handful of baskets given to them by travellers who were trying to convince the herd of their good intentions and practically no technological equipment. Without hands, there's a limit to what they can do.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
 
Punishment
Since I can't think of anything more interesting to write about, here's a list of the common punishments applied against Beasts who have violated the law, offended the common morality or just ticked off their Alpha.

Death: very rare. The Ancient Law prohibits Beast from killing Beast, so sentences of death are rarely applied and even more rarely carried out directly. Instead, the condemned may be flung down a pit, tied up and left for predators, or forced to try and climb down a suicidally steep slope. In short, the locals will try to find something that's pretty much certain death but where it could be argued that they weren't the ones doing the killing.

Now, that said, sentences of death are common when applied to ferals, raveners, and other people who aren't deemed to be protected by the Ancient Laws. Thus, outsiders are far more likely to be condemned to death than locals. The worst that generally happens to a local is exile... which has the added benefit of making them no longer a local and thus subject to ready execution if they trouble the tribe again.

Exile: the Beast is kicked out of their tribe, never to return. They may also be ritually scarred so that other tribes in the area will recognize their status and shun them, too.

Declared Dead: an odd punishment, and rarely invoked. The condemned is declared to have perished and is no longer regarded as the same Beast. It's usually (but not always) combined with exile. Sometimes a Beast will be declared deceased and given a new name, as a form of pardon for terrible crimes. They are then allowed to continue living in the same community with their new name and everyone is expected to act as though they were a different person.

Mutilation: a fairly rare one; the condemned has a limb, eye or something else "expendable" cut off or burned out permanently. This is most commonly done as a punishment for crippling another member of the tribe and they usually cut off the same part that the victim lost. Sometimes this is done in addition to exile, but most commonly it's a choice between the two. Many Beasts will take exile instead.

Slashings: a very common punishment. The accused is forced to lie down while another member of their tribe inflicts an appropriate number of slashing claw wounds across their back. They are rarely tied down or restrained; the act of willing submission to the punishment is seen as proof of their repentence. A Beast who refuses to undergo a Slashing is generally exiled. Since a Slashing rarely does permanent injury (although they are liable to have some unpleasant scars) it's commonly used to punish violent crime that didn't permanently harm anyone else.

Forced Labor: a common punishment for minor crimes. The subject is simply forced to perform some sort of onerous task in order to remain in the tribe. This often includes doing menial labor for whoever their crime ended up harming. If they damaged or destroyed some piece of property, they may be forced to make a replacement. The labor will usually have some practical purpose; few Alphas would force someone to move heavy rocks back and forth for a week when they could have them build something useful instead.

Public Humiliation: reserved for only the most minor of crimes, it's more often used to punish cubs than adults. The accused is brought before the tribe and forced to admit their crime and beg forgiveness from the tribe and/or whomever they offended. Assuming that they are willing to display a proper amount of contrition and don't re-offend, the issue will be considered settled.

Shunning: rarely an official punishment but very common nevertheless. Whenever a tribe of Beasts feels that one of their members received an unfairly light punishment (or no punishment at all when it's felt that they deserved one), it's common for them to simply refuse to talk to or deal with the unpopular Beast. It's only really effective when everyone agrees to participate. The more Beasts who are willing to still support and help out the shunned, the less likely the shunning is to affect them and the sooner it's likely to end. Shunning is often used to punish offenses against local sensibilities, rather than actual violations of the law. A Beast who brought home a new spouse from a tribe normally regarded as enemies might be shunned for a month or for as long as their marriage lasts.
Saturday, October 11, 2003
 
Opposed Rolls vs Opposed Results
There's another interesting facet of using set target numbers, and that involves handling opposed tests.

In a regular skill check, the difficulty is pretty much set in stone. The task may be Easy, Typical, Hard, or Impossible, but it doesn't vary.

With an opposed roll, you're trying to do something and someone else is trying to stop you. This can be used to represent stuff like arm wrestling, where you match your strength against theirs, or combat attacks, where you try to hit them and they try to dodge or parry, often with a completely different skill.

There's two ways to resolve the results. Ironclaw uses the Opposed Roll system, where what one person rolls becomes the difficulty of the other's check. So if your opponent rolls a 9, you'd need to roll a 9 to match them and a 10 or higher to beat them. Anything else would imply failure, that they'd outdone you. It doesn't really matter how badly you roll; so long as there's a chance that they could roll lower, they have to roll.

In Call of Cthulhu they generally take a simpler approach, comparing Results. This means that if you roll a Critical Success, your opponent has to roll a Critical Success as well to match you. If you roll a failure, well... they don't have to do anything at all.

In Nuclear Beasts, where I'm planning for 4-7 to be a success 8-11 to be a critical success and 12+ to be an extraordinary success, comparing results would end up with a lot more ties. So it's probably a better choice in cases where I want there to be a lot more ties.

So like for a mind-control power, if I made it an opposed roll between your Race & Skill vs the target's Brains & Will (or something similar), then ties would be rare and if the dice were equal you'd win a little less than 50% of the time. On the other hand, if we compared results, then you'd beat them a lot less often. If you rolled a 7, for example, you'd only get a regular success. That can be tied by rolling a 4, 5, 6 or 7, so your power would be easier to resist. I think it'll probably take a fair bit of playtesting to see which version would be more suitable. I'm definitely leaning towards comparing results for resisted psychic powers, though- I don't want them to be that hard to resist.

Friday, October 10, 2003
 
Art & Illustrations
I've finally gotten around to starting another Nuclear Beasts pic. Unfortunately I've never been a really prolific artist. The best rate I ever had was back in college, when I'd regularly sketch during the boring parts of class. Nowadays I tend to do junk on the computer instead of breaking out the art book, but computer games and web forums aren't really all that productive.

For the final product, I'm hoping for about one piece of artwork every other page. If I had a huge budget and an art department, it would probably be one-per-page, but this is strictly a one-man show right now. I'll try and include little text boxes and things to break up the page a little, too. But I actually doubt that I'll be able to produce even that many pieces of art myself. I mean, if it were a 128 page game (and it might well end up being a good bit bigger than that), I'd end up needing to draw, ink and scan 64 pics. I've currently done about 10 (not all of them are up on the site). I'll probably end up settling for one every four pages, with shaded text boxes to break up the other pages a bit.

I'm trying to increase my productivity, though. I've been getting better at using ink to "redeem" pencil sketches that didn't come out well... it's easier to make a striking pic in ink than pencil, really. I'm not quite sure why, but I can often go over a crappy pencil sketch and get a nice version once it's in ink. I think it also helps that you can't really fix mistakes except on the computer; when I draw in pencil I have a tendency to keep erasing and redrawing bits over and over until I'm satisfied or fed up. With ink, you draw the whole thing once, then look into making changes afterwards.

I'm aiming for strictly black & white art where possible. Color would be cooler, but it takes even longer (and I'm slow enough already), if I decided to have it printed I probably can't afford color illustrations, and black and white prints nicer (and uses less ink) than color or grayscale on most printers. I need a bunch of filler pics, too. I've already got a few, like some character heads (where the rest of the body came out badly) or an illustration showing what a poisonmarker looks like.

If I get to the point where I'm seriously ready to start getting it into publishable form, I may also look into just buying a lot of art online. I'm sure I could get a fair number of appropriate pieces on sites like Yerf, which does G-rated anthro art of all sorts. I don't know what my budget would be like, though; our finances are good right now, but we're also looking into buying a house, which will probably put us back into the hole. If I do that, I'd probably also want to budget several hundred for a color cover pic by a real professional. No idea what I'd want it to look like, though.

This has definitely been an interesting project, though. I've learned how to do more professional pics, create PDFs, produce better layout and edit/playtest my stuff. Even if some financial crisis forces me to leave Nuclear Beasts unfinished, I think I've definitely acquired useful skills from it.
 
Compressed Archives
A minor note: I've switched my settings to archive stuff by month, rather than by week. I've actually kept this blog going long enough that the weekly archive list was getting too long. At some point I want to write an index page that shows every entry's title as a link; I'd tried making one in PHP awhile back, but I was having permission problems reading the blog files. Hopefully I can take another look at it soon. The posts are so varied that I'm having problems finding specific entries again, later.

I'd also like an option to put the entries in reverse order, with the oldest on a page being at the top and the newest at the bottom. But since Blogger doesn't current offer that functionality, I'd have to write another script to do it.
Thursday, October 09, 2003
 
Making Weird Powers seem Nifty
Today I've been thinking about psychic powers again. I've written up a few (like Beguiling) that are really more like regular skills that are cheaper because they cost fatigue to use. Honestly, I don't think I like that idea. Oh, it works, and it's balanced because the disadvantage makes up for the fact that it's cheaper, but I don't really like it.

The problem is, thinking like a player, it's the sort of power that you only take in order to min-max your character. It's boring. It's hardly a power at all; more like a limitation on a stat. Honestly, if someone wanted to bring in a character in my current campaign and said, "He's super charismatic, but he has to concentrate for 5 minutes before using it or else his charisma sucks," I'd've probably said, "No, that's dumb."

So I think I may toss those powers out and replace them. Players want powers that are nifty. Stuff that they can't normally do. Beguiling would be okay if it were a "resist this or you're charmed", but my current writeup is just "turn this on and you're more charming."

But there's a conflict there... I also want to leave the psychic powers as a minor element of the campaign... this isn't supposed to be Psychic Beasts. Psi must be nifty without making ordinary characters seem inferior. I'm not looking for a setting where the world is ruled by psychics and the rules must reflect that.

So, looking over my powers again... the ones that fit that goal best are the sensory ones. A Beast who can sense electricity with their mind isn't gonna dominate the party but they could still contribute in unique ways. They can provide useful advantages in specific situations, but they shouldn't be able to do so in general.

For example, take the power to sense all motion in your vicinity. This could be useful in combat, by negating the flanking bonus for attacks from behind, but it wouldn't make a big difference. In the dark on the other hand, the ability to fight effectively despite the complete absence of light could be a huge advantage. So I'd like to concentrate on sensory powers and make them both useful and nifty without making them "de rigueur". After all, in a system where the Danger Sense power grants major bonuses in hand-to-hand combat, you'd expect all of the best hand-to-hand fighters to have it.

Motion Sense: You can feel all objects moving in your immediate vicinity. It's partially blocked by interposing objects, so if there's someone moving on the other side of a wall, all you'll be able to tell is that there's motion there. If there aren't any objects in the way, you get much more detailed information, enough that you can fight in the dark with greatly reduced penalties (watch out for immobile obstacles, though) and the flanking bonus for attacking you from behind is negated.

Danger Sense: You can sense whenever you are in danger of being injured or killed sometime in the near future. You are almost never surprised by attacks and generally get to defend yourself even against attacks that you can't see coming. If you roll well or actually touch the source of the danger, you'll generally see a brief mental image of its nature (e.g.- if you touch a concealed bomb, you'll realize what it is).

Electric Sense: You can sense electrical flows, magnetic fields and similar energies. You can tell how charged a battery is, sense the presence of robots and other working machines, and tell (with close examination) whether or not a piece of deactivated machinery could still function. You can also pick out things like underground rivers, provided that the flow is substantial enough.

Life Sense: Not only can you sense all living creatures in your vicinity, you can tell how healthy the ground is by the amount of life in its depths. By concentrating on a particular creature, you can tell a lot about their health and general state. You can even pick up subtle details like whether or not a female is pregnant.

Empathy: You can sense the emotions of other creatures, particularly when they are strong. A rush of fear is like a shout to you. This can help you a lot negotiating or interrogating someone, but only when their emotions are strong. If a merchant doesn't really care about this sale, you won't be able to tell whether or not he's trying to rip you off, but if he's radiating feelings of greed you might want to reconsider your purchase. This power can be a drawback if you're near someone who is in the grips of incredibly strong emotions; don't hang around torture chambers.

Attention Sense: You can tell whenever creatures are directing their attention towards you, even peripherally. This can be a major boon when trying to sneak, since you can sense even something as minor as a guard cocking his ear to listen in your direction. It also makes it very difficult to follow you without alerting you.

Ghostwalking: Sensing images from the past, often triggered randomly. The longer you stay in one spot, the more often you'll be plagued by unwanted visions, so ghostwalkers tend to move around a lot.

Prophecy: Sensing future events. The future isn't set in stone; whenever you sense a possible future, you'll also get a sense of whether it's almost certain, likely, unlikely, or so unlikely that it'll never happen unless you do something to bring it about. Unlike Danger Sense, which tends to be on all of the time but can't really be used deliberately, Prophecy is usually something that you invoke on purpose. It is sometimes triggered while you're asleep, though.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003
 
A Parliament of Beasts
Governments among the Beasts tend to be simple and informal. The most common one is a simple tribe, with a single chieftan, or "Alpha", who has absolute authority so long as he doesn't managed to anger too many tribesfolk at once. There is usually a Lorekeeper who doubles as the Alpha's advisor but has little actual authority.

There are also complex tribal structures, with the Alpha, Lorekeeper, and possible other important, titled Beasts sharing power. In such an arrangement, it's expected that the tribe will follow the orders of the appropriate leader depending on the situation. Thus, while most tribal issues would be taken to the Alpha, religious ones would be settled by the Lorekeeper and military ones by the Warchief, if they had one.

The larger a community gets, the more impractical it is to have a single Alpha. There's simply too much to keep track of. In such areas, it's common to have a council of Elders who rule by committee. Each one generally has fair bit of authority themselves, but serious issues are handled by the full council. New Elders may be chosen by some sort of ritual test or they may simply be the oldest surviving tribesfolk, but it's most common for the existing Elders to choose their replacements. In such an area, gaining admittance to the council generally requires a lot of political savvy, as a majority of the current Elders have to want you to share their power. The council may consist entirely of equals, or there may be an Alpha as well, who has more power than the other Elders to one degree or another.

The larger the community, the more sophisticated the arrangement. In towns like Manforge, not only are there a number of Elders, each one has authority over a certain aspect of the government, like running the farms or handling diplomatic contacts with other clans.

In a few of the smaller communities, you can actually find true democracies, but they're rare. The locals generally live a communal lifestyle, all sharing the effort and reward of their labor equally, without having an actual Alpha or official Elders. Decisions are made by tribal gatherings where the Beasts discuss the issues and cast votes. There may well be unofficial rulers, though, as a particularly charismatic or respected tribesman may be able to sway a majority of the group just by endorsing one side or another. Once there get to be too many Beasts to count all of the votes easily, this form of government tends to break down.
Tuesday, October 07, 2003
 
Skytower
The community of Skytower shows one of the downsides of literacy... Beasts who can't read don't end up getting funny ideas from ancient human books.

Skytower itself is an ancient skyscraper. It's the most intact of dozens, scattered over the remnants of what was once a major metropolis. The ragged, frayed tops of the others show their inferior construction, but Skytower was built to last and has outlasted everything else in the area.

Now it's inhabited by a small colony of High and Low Bats. They've fortified the building and have built up extensive barricades and barriers around the bottom floors. It's almost impossible to get into the building from the ground now. Even the interior stairwells have been sealed up.

But that doesn't concern the Bats. They enter and leave the tower from the top. Bats who can't fly (being too old, too young or too sick) simply don't leave. On the rare occasion that a Bat gets injured away from Skytower and is able to contact his comrades, they tie a makeshift harness around the victim and send a small squadron of strong fliers to carry them home.

Because of this attitude, they have more contact with the Harpies than any Beasts of their own sort. The two groups have a grudging respect towards each other and rarely come into direct conflict. The Harpies outnumber the Bats many times over, but they're well aware that the Bats have something of an advantage due to being able to fly at night. They've been known to drop lit Molotov cocktails into Harpy nests on the darkest nights. That's the sort of ruthless, dirty fighting that Harpies can respect, so the two groups try to avoid antagonizing each other. Harpy nests fill the taller ruins around Skytower.

The Alpha of Skytower is a High Bat named Copernicus. The Elders of the clan are all literate Man-worshippers. Copernicus' grandfather found a store of ancient human electronics books and now his descendants all swear by their recorded wisdom. With the aid of these tomes, they were even able to restore the building's emergency generator to operation and on sacred nights the tower fills up with light, drawing the eyes of everyone in the area. They have some portable spotlights, too, making it even easier for them to operate at night and intimidate outsiders.

But mixed in with those engineering texts were a handful of ancient science fiction novels, and it's those that inspired Copernicus's religious beliefs. He and the tribal Elders are Reclaimers, believing that Man escaped the destruction of the Last War by fleeing to the stars and that He will soon return to judge them. Flight is seen as the highest and most divine of attributes. Misinterpretations of those ancient books have convinced them that ancient Man could fly without wings or devices, something that even the Bats can't do. They look down on ordinary Beasts and regard them as unenlightened; it's felt that the Tower was left by Man deliberately and that they are the most blessed of Beasts because of it. They watch the night skies carefully, watching for the "sacred fire" which will signify the return of Man. There have been a few false alarms from meteorite showers in the past, but so far none of them have panned out. Still, Copernicus is convinced that if they wait and show faith, Man will return to bless them all.

Not all of the Beasts of Skytower share this vision. There is a clique of young and restless Bats who think that merely waiting in the tower will not impress Man. They think that the clan should unify the region under their control
and destroy the raveners. So long as the rogue wolves control the ground, they see Skytower as a sheltered prison, not a temple. These youngsters stage raids on the local raveners and anyone they think might be a ravener, which has led to a few conflicts with the Warren. Led by Copernicus's eldest son, Eisenburg, they have also engaged in some secret gatherings with similarly ambitious young Harpies. It's a toss up as to whether this is more likely to end with an alliance or a betrayal; both sides see the others as useful tools to be discarded later. Few real friendships have been formed, and so far "emotional attachment" is being discouraged by the leaders of both groups.

Cubs in Skytower are almost invariably named from the ancient books. The children of Elders are named after humans, particularly important scientists and the heroes of the novels. Low Bats (regarded as slightly inferior in station) are generally named for scientific terms like Ohm, Watt or Voltage.

Addition: The clan subsists on a diet of fruit (gathered from the surrounding area) and small birds. Only the most skilled hunters can snatch birds out of the air during the day, so most of them are seized at night. Scouts mark the nesting spots of large flocks, then return after nightfall to catch as many as possible. Since they attack at night, even if the birds spook and take flight, they're generally easy pickings for fliers with echolocation. During the day they can see what they're doing and are much harder to capture. Eggs are also regularly gathered from nests and a handful of domesticated birds are raised inside Skytower itself, mostly to help get the clan through the winter, when most of the birds migrate south.
Monday, October 06, 2003
 
Psychic Power Groupings
I'm toying with the idea of breaking up the psychic powers into groups of related abilities. Then there could be some sort of "price break" involved in picking up related abilities, as opposed to wildly different ones. The idea being that if someone can see the future in their dreams, they're more likely to possess other dream-related powers, too.

So here's a quick attempt at a breakdown, based on the source/nature of the powers:

Dreams
Inner Peace
ESP
Emotions
Time
There should probably be at least 3 per category (which I've achieved here) if I want to offer any sort of price-break. I'm thinking of something like 1 point to acquire a single power off of a list, 2 points to acquire them all. You'd still have to buy skill in them, even if you had access to all of the ones on a list.
Sunday, October 05, 2003
 
The Warren
The Warren is a fairly extensive underground community north of the Verde, near Skytower. Populated mainly by Moles, Rabbits, Mice and Rats (both Low and High), the Warren's main problem tends to be finding enough food to satisfy its ever-growing populace. In many places, they farm the land, planting seeds on the surface and then tending (and eventually harvesting) them from below.

It's a dangerous area; no law exists on the surface. The region is ruled by several tribes of raveners (primarily rogue Low Wolves, exiles from the First Folk) who will happily kill and devour whatever creatures they find. There are also many dangerous monsters, including a number of mindless Kukukuk. Finally, flocks of Harpies are regularly seen overhead, searching for carrion or prey that could be converted into carrion with little effort. The only "bright" side is the complete absence of any Exterminators, but frankly the Beasts of Warren would rather deal with them than what is out there.

So the Warren survives, but with an air of quiet desperation. Few of their enemies can dig or would be happy fighting underground. The locals have established a number of concealed pits and deadfalls around the Warren itself. It's their attitude that the odds of killing an innocent traveller are slim to none.

Warren scouts rely on stealth and camouflage, not armaments. They often wear mottled-brown cloaks and use herbs to dull their scent. The scouts check out likely sources of food, such as fruit trees and clusters of edible plants. If too much food is found for one person to retrieve it, the scout will leave it untouched, then return later with a group of gatherers.

While they have few tools or weapons, the locals are not as primitive as they appear. They understand such concepts as crop rotation and use natural insecticides and fertilizers whenever possible. They have extensive underground food stores and use a quite advanced system of accounting to determine whether or not they have enough food to survive the winter. It's not uncommon for the Elders to enforce rationing if food is likely to run short.

While the ramparts of Skytower are visible in the distance from the Warren, they have almost no contact with the Bats. Indeed, the Beasts here often blame the Bats for their misfortunes, feeling that the inhabitants of Skytower must be allies of the Harpies. Conflicts occasionally occur when Warren scouts find Bats harvesting food inside "their" territory, but they rarely end with death; generally whichever side is outnumbered withdraws, albeit rarely with good graces.

Most of the Warren-folk live very quiet lives, following the ancient ways. The young and restless here tend to dream about driving out all of the raveners and monsters, forming grandiose and impractical plans that more likely to get them killed than accomplish anything useful.

The danger that the local Beasts fear most isn't anything on the surface. It's the subterranean predators that they call Kobolds. Local legend has it that when the Warren was founded, a family of Shrews lived amongst the other Beasts as well. But exposure to the Poison Glow had tainted the Shrews and their children were invariably hairless freaks, with huge mouths, shrivelled skin and terrible appetites. When the Elders demanded that these feral cubs be put to death, the family refused, preferring exile. They left the clan to try and find a new lair elsewhere in the wastes and everyone assumed that they would all be slain by raveners.

But a couple of generations later, during a particularly harsh winter, the Warren was attacked by a swarm of their mutant children, which slaughtered many Beasts before they could be driven off. They called them Kobolds, because of their monstrous appearance and their ability to burrow through the earth with terrifying ease. Even ancient concrete walls couldn't keep them out. The Kobolds would burst through a seemingly solid stone wall into an underground chamber and seize whatever prey they could in the tunnels of the Warren. While the earth above lay buried under snow, a war was being waged underground.

With the coming of spring, the monsters retreated. The locals collapsed or sealed off all of the tunnels that they could (having learned the hard way that only a fool attempts to follow a Kobold through its own tunnel) and fortified the rest. The following winter, they were ready for trouble, but the monsters did not return for nearly a decade.

Now the inhabitants of the Warren regard Kobolds with both disgust and dread. The things have their own underground settlement, and appear to be breeding at a disturbing rate. So far attempts to trace the tunnels back to their lair have only ended with disaster. Kobold lairs are a maze of long, curving tunnels and they guard them like ants, swarming over any intruders. But the paths of Kobolds and Beasts rarely cross; attacks are rare, occurring perhaps once or twice a decade. A harsh winter is often referred to as a Kobold Winter here; when food is short all over, that's when they are most likely to strike.

Kobolds are also occasionally referred to as Namorae, no one knows the origin of the term. It is rumored to be their own name for themselves.
Saturday, October 04, 2003
 
The Machines of Ironhill
Just across the mountains separating the Southern Kingdoms from the plains surrounding the Verde, lies the lost community called Ironhill. A generation ago, Ironhill was one of the richest, fastest growing of Beast communities. Now it's a deathtrap for all who approach.

The Beasts of Ironhill, technically advanced and literate folk, had settled in the ruins of an ancient military base. While the surface buildings were in bad shape, there were innumerable subterranean warehouses and storage areas which had come through the Last War almost intact. They uncovered great stockpiles of ancient weapons, armor and ammunition, most of which was sold to Havellan and Zuba City.

But the folks of Ironhill kept many of their better finds for themselves and built up a very impressive military force. The cities of the Verde treated them generously, determined to remain on their good side. There was much talk of military alliances, while a few Beasts in Zuba worried that Ironhill might simply decide to take what they wanted by conquest instead of trade.

The leaders of Ironhill endlessly debated the wisdom of such actions. After all, they had managed to restore some ancient armored personnel carriers and one tank. The lands to the north were rich, but had weapons of their own, many of which they had actually bought from Ironhill. Subjugating them would be costly and would mean the end of many longstanding trading agreements.

So Ironhill looked south instead. The southern kingdoms were positively medieval compared to Ironhill and the Verde. Population pressure and constant infighting had stymied progress and all of the ancient sites there had long ago been looted and emptied. Wars were conducted with bow and arrow and tooth and claw, not bullets and grenades. The occasional exile managed to cross the mountains into Ironhill, but practically never went back. That meant that Ironhill knew a lot more about the south than the south knew about them. They formed a war council, drafted some of the more bitter expatriate southerners and made plans. All that they needed was enough vehicles to move a substantial force across the mountains or east, through the pass. So they made a fatal mistake.

The various vaults and chambers of the ruins were generally locked and carefully sealed against unauthorized intrusion, so even Ironhill had never managed to open them all. But they looked through the plans and paperwork that they had managed to translate and set their sights on what appeared to be the largest store of military vehicles and supplies in the facility. They found more than they were looking for, though.

They blew the doors off with carefully placed explosives and went in, intending to catalog the extent of their find. Instead of cars and trucks, however, they found a huge store of autonomous war robots, still awaiting orders. Either the explosion or the intrusion set off some sort of alarm. And all of the Exterminators came to life.

A few survivors made it to the Verde. Most of them still live in Havelland, whose fortunes have declined greatly since trade with Ironhill ended. They talk about a swarm of flying machines firing missiles and dozens of robot tanks which mobbed and destroyed the one that they had managed to reactivate. The attack was sudden and fierce and primarily targetted their captured vehicles. While some of the Beasts of Ironhill tried to drive away, the only ones that made it to safety were ones that ran on foot.

Now the hills outside of the base are ringed round with poisonmarkers. The Exterminators still patrol the region closely and the few unfortunate Beasts from the southern kingdoms who manage to cross the mountains are often killed by their patrols. So far the machines seem content to merely guard the facility, but Zuba City still sends scouts down periodically to make sure that nothing has changed. The presence of such a potent military force so close to the Verde worries her leaders a great deal, but the average citizen has almost forgotten Ironhill... it's just another hazardous locale to be avoided.
Friday, October 03, 2003
 
Bad Weather and Worse Weather
The seasonal temperature extremes tend to be worse than in the past, due to the damage caused by the Last War. Winters are very harsh and the northern and western lands tend to get snowed in on an annual basis. The blizzards in the northwest are so strong that the local Beasts have adopted a nomadic lifestyle instead of staying put, and spend each winter far enough south to avoid the worst of the storms. Only the First Folk tend to stay put during the winter, and even they simply stockpile food and wait out the worst of it in sheltering caves.

During the summer, the land often becomes unbearably hot and months can go by without a decent rainfall. The midwest tends to dry out so thoroughly that grassfires are a major concern. Even the Verde, with its relatively healthy plant life and pure water, isn't completely protected from the summer heat.

Dust storms are common in the plains, and can be quite dangerous. They often carry radioactive particles and toxic dust out of the wastelands, spreading it over a wide area. It can be very unhealthy to be caught out in such a duststorm. Beasts generally seek shelter and wait it out. If you have to go out, it's best to cover your face with cloth, to filter the air you breathe.

Black flake storms are among the most feared. When black flake fungus completely consumes a creature, the fungus crumbles into tiny spores like dark colored specks of dust. If a dust storm happens to sweep up a colony of black flake, it can be extremely dangerous to any creature with open wounds. Even a small scratch, if fresh, is enough for a black flake infection to set in, and once the fungal infection starts eating away at your tissues, the whole area will have to be burned out and cauterized or else it will eventually kill you.

Rain is usually refreshing, but it often carries an unpleasant, metallic taste. Acid rain is not uncommon, but it's very rare for it to be potent enough to do more than give a Beast a mild rash or damage the skin of a plant. It's when the rain is regularly acidic that the cumulative damage starts to kill off the plant life.

It's not unknown for rain storms to bring down radioactive dust. Such water carries the poison glow and isn't safe to drink. Even long-term skin contact is unhealthy. Most animals can't detect the radioactivity the way that Beasts can, though, so radioactive rain often sickens or kills them. It's much harsher on the local wildlife than on Beasts, who know better than to drink it or wash with it.

Plain old fashioned tornados and thunderstorms are also a hazard, but are rarely a threat to Beast lives. Lightning kills many more Beasts by starting fires than it ever does by striking them directly.
Thursday, October 02, 2003
 
Ornaments
In a world where there are intelligent species who can only be readily distinguished from animals by the fact that they can talk, ornaments and jewelry become much more important.

The Beasts have a very strong nudity taboo. It just isn't quite the same as the human one.

A Beast is not naked so long as they are wearing something that marks them as an intelligent being. Dangling earrings would be good enough; covering the genitalia isn't necessary. A Beast might be embarassed if they were seen undressed, but being seen completely without any sort of clothing, jewelry or ornaments is true nudity. At that point, there's nothing to visibly distinguish a Beast from an animal or feral... and that's what they abhor most.

This applies to High Beasts as well as Low... a feral is a Beast who has regressed to an animal state and lost their intellect and ability to talk. This can hit even High Beasts... in fact, it's more common among them than Low Beasts, because their genetic structure is more fragile. Radiation poisoning often causes Beasts to go feral or give birth to feral cubs.

Ornaments can take many forms. Low Beasts generally prefer jewelry to clothing. They can wriggle into a simple cloak without assistance, but it's easier for them to wear bracelets, necklaces, or tail rings. High Beasts generally prefer more elaborate clothing. Man-worshippers tend to have the strongest nudity taboos of all. In some communities, even Low Beasts wear clothing of one sort or another.

Sometimes Beasts are born who are only partially feral. They can talk, but just barely. Ferals of this sort tend to be have small volcabularies and can only express complicated thoughts with great effort. This puts them in a kind of legal limbo. In order to be considered a true Beast, you have to be able to talk, but the Ancient Law doesn't give any guidelines for how well you have to talk.

So their status varies according to the community's own standards. In some places, cubs who never learn to speak properly are eventually run off and must survive as outlaws or perish on their own. In more civilized areas, they may be allowed to live freely, or may be forced to wear some sort of simple, clearly marked garment or ornament that signifies their lesser status.

Dyes and paints are sometimes used, but not nearly as often as primitive humans used them. It's a pain getting paint out of your fur, so such markings are generally only used on special occasions. Similarly, tattoos are almost nonexistent, since they'll only show on the parts of a Beast's body with the thinnest fur.

Incidentally, while they can often make simple bracelets and such, installing permanent stuff like a earring is very difficult for Low Beasts and some High Beasts make their living performing tasks such as braiding tails or piercing ears and installing permanent earrings.
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
 
Embracing the Evil?
One thing that I do want to give serious consideration to is the new Gamma World D20 Modern game that's coming out soon. The D20 market is much, much bigger than the market for independent homebrew systems, and Gamma World is the same sort of setting in some ways... cut out the wacky mutations, trim back the sillier high tech supergizmos and restrict everyone to mutant animals. I could run Nuclear Beasts in using the Gamma World rules pretty easily. Heck, the original title I had for this game was "GammaClaw".

So once the new GW is out, I want to get a copy. It should provide not just inspiration, but I might even convert Nuclear Beasts over to D20 Modern and sell it as an alternate setting for the new Gamma World game.

It would be both easier and harder than developing it for my own homebrew system. I'd have to convert all of the powers and special abilities, not all of which can be supported easily in D20. The balance would be totally different; my Ironclaw-ish system lets you combine skills and get better and better at something without ever being guaranteed to succeed... in D20, allowing folks to lump modifiers together can get pretty darn powerful. But I'd also be able to pretty much stop worrying about various problematic parts of my own system, since I'd just be using D20. A good chunk of the book would become stuff like character classes and new feats... somewhat time consuming to write up, but easy to design.

Anyway, I know that I'd probably get many times more sales (even as a pay-for-download PDF) in the D20 market than I ever would outside of it. And I've looked at some of the existing post-Apoc D20 stuff and so far I haven't been too impressed, so I'd probably at least end up in the middle of the pack as far as quality goes. I like designing systems and I don't care for the D20 system very much, but there's always the temptation to jump on the D20/OGL bandwagon and hit a much wider audience.

I don't know. A lot of it will depend on what I think of the new Gamma World game when it finally comes out, and how much of it would be useful for running a Nuclear Beasts campaign. I'll just have to see.

Powered by Blogger