Feb 2 2010

A little more on Deluge

So I put up Deluge last night for sale, as I already noted. I thought, though, that I had better talk about what’s in it because, well, it costs seven bucks.

Deluge is 37 pages of material, about 30 of which are strictly game-related stuff. It’s in PDF format using a version that lets me add bookmarks and hyperlinks, so it’s not fully functional on some kinds of software and devices, but you should be able to read it just fine. I have an ePub and MOBI version kicking around on my drive at home (and on my Kindle) that also works and if you want a copy of that just give me a shout.

It costs seven bucks but you can share it for free with anyone you want. Yeah that means that you can re-host it and give it away to the world. That’s cool by me — that’s part of the experiment. It’s only available through Lulu at the moment but I’m looking into getting its stuffed into more popular locales in the next short while. Probably in the complete “package” with all formats. Well, all the formats I have, I mean.

It contains, aside from some original artwork and thankfully terse fiction:

A discussion of the premise of the setting.

Concrete ways to organize and design characters so that they have cool things to do in the setting and with each other.

Ideas for developing communities so that they are interesting to discover and interact with.

Random tables for finding out what communities have, need, hate, and love.

A method for building a session around your home town, plus fourteen meters of water and a hundred and fifty years without modern technology.

Details for angels, bears, and giant squid.

A discussion of the kinds of secrets the GM will want to invent, keep, and reveal in the process of participating in a Deluge story.

Factoids about rain.

In the spirit of Diaspora and my own preferences, even though Deluge is a setting, it’s also still a toolkit. Yeah I know, settings have been traditionally anti-toolkit, but rather reference material for a campaign. Honestly, I hate that. Remember Thieve’s World, the game aid? What was cool about Thieve’s World for me was not the characters or the stats or the story lines already unfolding in the city. Honestly I barely read any of that because it wasn’t mine, I didn’t want to memorize it, and I knew my players would not read it or listen to me read it. What was cool about that was the map and the tone.

So Deluge is all about this kind of thing too — the core assumption is that you, the potential consumer, want to tinker. You want to take something and make it yours. You want to be as unhindered by canon as possible, so all you need is a premise and a methodology and you will be off and running making your own awesome game. Because that’s what GMs do, at least where I come from. So that’s what it delivers — premise, methodology, atmosphere, and some examples to spark your own imagination. In a sense I’m selling you a good idea rather than a game or even a setting. A good idea and a way to use it.

I am certain that my idea of what play is (as a GM) is not universal. There are people who want encounter details in a setting document. They will hate this document but, hopefully, they already know that because Diaspora is full of clues regarding my preferences and they already hate that game (or know they will hate it). However, if your idea of a good time is drawing over a map of your home town, documenting its destruction and its treasures, and then slowly revealing this to your friends during a rousing game with your favourite system, this is certainly built for you. It’s built for me, after all.


Jan 20 2010

Setting: Deluge

It’s always rained. Since I was a boy, it’s always been raining. Sometimes a light mist on my face with the sun shining through, spraying colours. More often a torrent so loud you have to shout to be heard. I’ve never been truly dry, I don’t think, and only once can I recall a place where the smell was other than vegetable and fungal.

I’m old enough to have known someone who remembers when it was different — when rain was rare, perhaps a few dozen days in the year. She even claimed that there were places where it never rained — empty plains of sand. Where you could actually die of thirst. That is hard to believe, of course. Anyway, she’s been dead twenty years now.

I am David, and I am one of the Hounds of our town. Village, perhaps. As I understand it, Burned Mountain, was once actually a mountain. Now it’s an island, but there are still buildings in the strait that can tear out the hull of your boat. So I know that much is true — once a million people lived within sight of here, and their world is drowned beneath my keel.

My team steals what that dead world still holds tight to its breast. And we watch the skies for angels.


The world of Deluge is our world, perhaps a hundred years after an event that changed it forever. Since that time, the world has been under a constant rainfall. Civilization as we know it has crumbled, slowly at first, but more rapidly as the rain destroyed those aspects of our world that we had thought most secure: our agriculture and our trade. The water level has risen, the temperature has risen, and all too rapidly to react to. And no one claims any more that this was all our fault, because we know whose fault it was. There are no ice caps, but we didn’t melt them. The world is a jungle of sorts, but we didn’t let that grow. The world is now slowly taking the shape that they prefer, and a day will come when they are ready to take possession.

And some of the people of this sodden world intend to be ready for that day.

Deluge is system-free but there will be places throughout that imply systemic choices. I’ll highlight these because if you intend to fit Deluge into your preferred system, these are the places where the work might be. Sometimes that work will be identifying analogous mechanism — your system does the same thing but uses a different term. Sometimes that work will require new mechanism and where this seems likely, I’ll try to point towards a fruitful path. Sometimes you’ll have to hack through jungle yourself for it.

Who are you?

Player characters in Deluge are people with grave social responsibilities — they belong to small and desperate communities that are lacking at least one essential product and the PCs are the people who have taken on the burden of finding and securing more of it, whether through investigation, excavation, trade, war, or some other means. The health of their community is paramount to them. Mechanism: the player characters should belong to a community that is mechanically relevant — players should care deeply about the health of their community and one way to do that is to tie character or player rewards to the community’s health. Another way would be to represent the community as another character and allow players to progress it mechanically, making it more powerful and interesting.

Characters wield two kinds of technology: things that are from around or before the Deluge and things that have been made since. Things from before are powerful, rare, and prone to breakdown. Those that use expendables (like ammunition or batteries) are less useful as those expendables are hard to come by (batteries in particular are going to suffer hard in this world). But a well made steel machete from before will be valuable for a long time to come.

Technology built now will vary wildly. For the most part there is little if any electrical power and so communication between communities is mechanical: people move from place to place and talk to each other or move physical mail. The ability to forge steel still exists and in principle can be mechanized where there is still power. But those places are rare now and dwindling. A decent cartridge can still be made for a revolver, and certainly a revolver can be made, but more sophisticated weaponry is less reliable and too labour intensive. Weapons exist mostly for hunting, and so they usually reflect that need — shotguns, varmint rifles, and so on. Mostly single shot or bolt-action, though there are still craftsmen out there who make more complex devices. Usually that fire their own idea of the perfect ammunition. Anyone serious about travel and self defense carries a good knife — it never misfires, and misfires are a problem when it never stops raining.

People of course still have myriad occupations, but there are a smaller number that are going to be interesting to play. You could represent these categories as classes or as skill choices (such as a FATE-style skill apex) perhaps.

Scavenger. Scavengers help their community by finding things lost in the pre-Deluge ruins. They penetrate deep overgrown abandoned cities, braving the flooded cellars and vaults, to find something that the previous scavengers missed. They dive on flooded cities and they scale half-crumpled skyscrapers for the high altitude pickings. They keep and trade secrets regarding what is hidden where. There is always a Legendary Vault in their lore that draws them to the vocation — that one big strike that will make their world easy to live well in. Maybe even that one secret that will change the world.

Mail carrier. Carrying mail from island to island or deep into the jungles is a dangerous business. Not everyone plays fair — plenty take the easy route and waylay travellers for their cargo. So mail carriers usually travel in teams, whether through common duty or disparate purposes that happen to converge. The mail carrier is always looking for reliable friends to travel with and has a sacred trust. She is always well received at her destination and so is her entourage, making it fairly easy for her to find companions on the road. Nonetheless, she is always armed and quick to violence or flight. Or both. The mail is her priority.

Trader. There are those that believe that scavenging is a dead path and that the best way to restore the splendour of humanity is through trade. Each community has things it excels at producing and things it needs. This might be a good thing to represent mechanically when thinking about how to make communities. The trader is the person that finds out what those things are, makes contact with other communities to establish deals, and then starts the trade moving. And she finds away to come out ahead herself, making her life slightly more comfortable than most everyone else. As with the mail carrier, the trader is in constant potential danger (moreso because she always carries valuable commodities) and seeks protection and companionship. She is as much diplomat as entrepeneur — communities at war do not trade.

Hired gun. The world is now a fairly violent place. The wilderness encroaches on every settlement and the rich jungles house many animals. Megafauna have returned to North America through various routes, and it’s a good place for apex predators. Lions, tigers, and bears at least, but also humans. And so for every person that needs to travel between communities, there is at least one more who wants to waylay that person. And therefore at least another that will defend him for pay. The hired gun is an expert at violence. She may be duty-bound and therefore prone to self-sacrifice (certainly mail carriers are more likely to find this sort) or she may be pure mercenary and prepared to cut a deal with a well-off bandit. And yet, even the hired gun has to rest somewhere, and functioning communities are always the most comfortable option.

Scout. The world is not only vastly different than it was — wet, wild, and green pretty much everywhere — but it is also changing at an increasing rate. A path well used a month ago may no longer exist. A landmark building may now be no more than a hill. A pond may be a lake. The only certainty is that pretty much nothing is drying up. The scout spends her time out there in that wild, usually in a relatively small area of specialty (around a community or along a few select routes between communities perhaps) and maps it well. She is highly observant and meticulous in her note-keeping. She belongs to a super-community of scouts who share knowledge and interest and when scouts meet there is a wedge for diplomacy even when all else seems ready to explode in violence. Any travelling group that can find and afford a scout has one.

What opposes you?

Other people oppose you, obviously, as communities compete for scarce resources. But there is much that binds humanity together as well, and communities that band together can flourish more effectively, often, than those that remain alone and hostile. Still, violence and theft is always the easiest short-term path, and many will choose it.

The old world opposes you. As the world crumbles back to jungle, the structures of the old world become more and more fragile and dangerous. And yet the greatest value is likely to be deep in those dangerous places — high atop failing office towers, or deep below them. Inside military vaults intended to keep people out. With spaces designed to generate great power — that may still: more than one nuclear reactor still operates. But safely? What price the lightning? The best model for this sort of thing is probably a trap or a puzzle. If your system already explicitly supports these then it might just be a paint job away. If it needs supporting you may have to write it — looking towards mechanisms that engage the player will be profitable. Skill checks or even modifying a chase mechanism or other chained check system.

The wilderness opposes you. The jungles are full of insects and larger animals that feed on anything they can catch and kill. Or simply hitch a ride on. Parasites, swarming insects, larger predators, pack hunters, and even deadly vegetation all threaten any group of humans with a mission that ends on the other side of the wilderness. And every interesting destination is on the other side of some wilderness. You’ll want to make sure you have a way to stat up monsters that can model animals here, obviously, but also think about some wildlife as a kind of trap, and think about how traps can be fun and not fun.

Finally the angels oppose you. But the world is not quite ready for them yet. Until it is, their plans may oppose you more directly — they caused this Deluge and for their own reasons, but maybe you can stop it. Is there a weakness in their grand plan? Is there a weakness in one of their smaller ones? While this setting has rich opportunities for personal goals and also for community goals, often it comes time to ramp up the goals in a campaign. Here are two new scales: ruin a local plan of the angels — a part of their grand plan requires a certain installation to continue functioning or requires destruction of a particular community that is close to an answer perhaps. The top scale is the world-saving scale — find out the weakness of the angels and use it to stop or reverse their changes to the world. Or perhaps discover that their way is better….

What motivates you?

I already touched on this, but lets enumerate player motivations. Some will be system specific, but others can be hacked into any system.

Character advancement. Success in various objectives is tied to the improvement of character capability, allowing them to take on larger scale goals (personal -> community -> global) and perhaps also become more renowned and respected. Don’t discount that last — lots of players value in-game respect for their characters more highly than practically anything else.

Community advancement. Success in community objectives results in improvement of at least one community on some axis. This requires that you find a way to represent communities in a way that is rich and interesting to advance. My advice is to make them a kind of character.

Gear. Depending on the system you use, it may be powerful to give characters better and better gear. This is actually a risky path, but if you balance the improvements well (and the scarcity of materials, expertise, and expendables should give you plenty of tools to control this) it can be great fun. When your Hired Gun finds a grenade launcher, she will not only grin but also have a new built-in personal objective: more ammo.


Build a community somehow. For any post-apocalyptic setting my preference is always my home town. My whole table knows it and it’s great fun to take a good map of the area and colour everything below the twenty (or hundred or thousand) mete mark with a dark blue. After you do this, you will see where the people went and where the wilderness is. Warning: some of your home cities will not be so interesting unless you want to posit a submarine culture.

Build characters in that community that have built in motivations and a reason to group together (the ones I elaborate above are designed for this purpose but you can think of others).

Introduce an external mission by leveraging the character types.

Watch where it all goes.


Who are the angels? Why are they doing this? Can they be stopped? Should they be? I don’t know. That’s yours.


Dec 14 2009

The Generic Urge

Today I read a review of the Wordplay RPG. It sounds like a clever little take on the features found in Hero Quest, various D6 pool systems, and a bit of Fate. Very attractive to my kind of gaming, or at least what I think my kind of gaming is.

I proceeded to dig into Chimaera and what it is really, fundamentally. I came up with the title Infected Bunker. That’s a bit what Chimaera talks about–you’re inside, they’re outside. But actually, they are inside too! Oh no! What will you do? It’s a classic, maybe even a compelling theme.

But it isn’t a game. It’s the enginery behind the game. I have nothing against such things, but I want to write something that gets people excited; something like Diaspora, which is one of those games that seems to say something pretty definite–you are in space, humans are scattered all over, you have to make your way among systems with differences in wealth and environment that make conflict and are basically unfair. And yet it’s being warped all over, including a rather interesting Google Wave adapting the cluster-generation system to a D&D-type universe.

On the flip side of that, I did make (with the always energetic and interesting Mike Holmes) a game called Synthesis. It has a lot of elegance in it, if I do say so myself, and a lot of my “new” better ideas tend to turn out to be borrowings from that design. But as a game, it left me feeling pretty flat–it was, simply, too generic.

It seems not too hard to reverse-engineer a game and get to its putative “engine” and make something new and cool. Yet I don’t reliably get cool play out of games presented as engines. And I don’t see that happening too often for others either.

So, I’m stuck delivering a proper game. Then maybe I can go back and think of other cool “infected bunker” situations to try with it.