Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack

So, the cat’s out of the bag. For the tenth (!) anniversary of Vincent Baker’s Mechaton, I’m working on Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack. I’m working with Vincent, his son Sebastian, and Lego superstar Soren Roberts on a few new rules, a bunch of instructions, a setting, and a bunch of advice for both construction and play. Like all things LEGO™, it will be fun to make what’s on the front of the box, plus we’re making certain that it’s fun to repurpose the parts to make your own robots, factions, and even rules hacks.

I got a chance to try the new basic rules at Metatopia this last weekend, playing couple of games with Dave Leciston, Mark Andrews, Michele Mishko (who subbed for Bill Refsland when he had to attend to con duties), Mike Miller, and Rich Flynn. Here are some highlights. Many robots died for this playtest.

All told, the con was really interesting, if event-packed. There was little time for socializing, which suits the intentions of the con, but I really wish I’d had the time to hang with some of those folks some more.

More photos available on Flickr!

If you’ve got Mechaton already and would like a PDF of the Metatopia experimental rules, please give mee your email address in the comments!

Want to see how to play Kodrek?


Hurricane Irene really set me back on finishing up Kodrek. But I managed to get a video of play up in time to get it into the Thousand Year game Challenge!

Also excitingly, I’ll be printing up booklets and sending out games in the coming week!

The Contactor Spooky Motion At A Distance

Want to see something neat? This is Scott Dunphy’s Contactor, Spooky Motion At A Distance. The game’s got some really neat features! The expedition has already failed once — they got to their intended colony, only to find it dead, with evidence that its inhabitants came from somewhere else! Does that mean that a Rectifier will follow them, only to find no evidence of their having been there but their Bridges?

Scott told me about this in the course of discussing a Human Contact story repository. I started working on a wiki a while back but abandoned it because I couldn’t get my chosen wiki to not be a pain in the ass. I’ve since messed around with a couple more wikis but would love help getting one working well.

Shock:Human Contact Is At the Printer

Human Contact

For 800 years the Academy has been slowly bringing the humans of Earth back from the brink of extinction to enlightenment. For the last 300, it has looked in wonder at the faint signals from the stars, knowing that humans had fled their home deep in its terrible past and may now be struggling without aid. Only now, with its powerful wormhole technology, can the Academy bring its light to the rest of the galaxy.

This special Dreamation 2010 preview includes material about the Academy and limited rules specific to its mission of exploration.

You need a copy of Shock: to play.

The Dreamation 2010 Preview of Human Contact is at the printer as we speak. I’m running two official sessions of it on Friday and Saturday night and anyone who goes will get one.

I’ve got a bunch of extras printed that are helping me pay my way at the con, too. I’ll be running games off the schedule, too, so pick up a copy and corner me if you weren’t able to get a slot! We’ll sit down with your and your friend for a couple of hours and see what happens where the Academy goes next!

The Sisterhood of Taw

Sister's Thighs

Over at Anyway, we’re talking about our factions for Mechaton. Here are some of the forces of the Sisterhod of Taw:

Sisterhood of Taw Sympaths
Two Sisterhood of Taw Sympaths emerge from Between Space. These ships, among the smaller classes of ships to come from the Udu shipyard, where they are constructed from rote and carefully maintained for centuries. They are solely for the relief of suffering among the foes of the Sisterhood — strictly for boarding actions, they latch onto opposing vessels and cut holes into the side, flooding the interior with the nuns of the Sisterhood.
Sister of Taw
A Sister of Taw, armed with the traditional weapons of her kind, the Sister's Thighs. You can see one such weapon at the top of this post. They are longs daggers made from the thighs of fallen comrades. They fight in tightly coordinated teams.

Douchebags End the World

James Bond in: Hot War

Back in August, I played a game of Hot War at Gen Con with Malcolm Craig, Rob Bohl (designer of Misspent Youth), Matt Machell (designer of Covenant), and Greg Stolze (designer of Unknown Armies). Hot War is the follow-up to Cold City, one of my favorite games and the spiritual descendant of The Mountain Witch, which makes the following story all that much stranger (sadder?).

You will note that Rob seems to be a recurring character in the drama of my drama. He was much more reasonable than I was.

See, here’s what happened. Malcolm, the designer of the game, was at my house the week before Gen Con. We’d been talking about what we wanted to do in a game of Hot War. I’d said, first jokingly, that I wanted to play James Bond.

Then I realized, no, seriously, I want to play James Bond.

See, the first game, Cold City, takes place in 1950. WWII is over and the old powers of Europe — and the emerging Superpowers of the US and USSR — all want some of that occult Nazi technology that the Thule Society was so keen on. So they send secret agents, ostensibly to aid each other, but usually to steal the goodies for their own purposes. These powers, being ganglial conspiracies themselves, often don’t inspire the greatest loyalty in their own agents, who then accept the mission for their own purposes. It’s very grim. The tone is that there’s something horrible writhing under the skin of Berlin, and you’re about to trap and release these horrors for purposes national or personal — but whatever the outcome, they’re horrors.

On the other hand, in Hot War, the writhing ugliness under the skin of society has frothed into the open. It posits that, in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis became more than a mere crisis and not only were nuclear weapons unleashed, but also the mysterious and occult Nazi technologies that had been collected a decade earlier. Clockwork soldiers, ghost guns and medusoid gazes are overt weapons of apocalypse. Despite that, the British government, such as it is, believes it can retain secrets and control. Wanting back its power and finding no one to conquer but its own citizens, it has turned inward. Ration cards are hoarded by those who want their neighbors hungry. Communication about the supernatural horrors you’ve seen is treason. Spam is once again a wartime delicacy. The skies of London are free of pigeons, the last of which were eaten weeks ago. The waters of the Thames, never potable in recent memory, are a clogged and polluted sludge.

Enter Bond. James Bond. Sent to sabotage a Soviet submarine off the coast of Cuba to prevent WWIII, he’s returned to London. But he doesn’t know. When he left Cuba in a British sub, the world was normal, even if there was to be a war on — after all, there was always to be a war on. But with the nukes flew the ghosts in Zyklon B canisters, the diesel-powered and human-brained robots, the things unknown and unknowable, between all powers and all who wished themselves powers. When his sub surfaced in the UK, the whole world had changed. But he was going to save Queen and Country, and he was going to do it with the techniques that worked so well: by sexing up beautiful scientists, by shooting the bad guy, by blowing up a building, and by exposing SPECTRE.

That was months ago. He’s still in his tuxedo, but he can’t get it cleaned or mended, so it’s a bit of a mess. The only person remaining in M Branch in Moneypenny, who’s doing her best to shield James from the news and tell him he did a good job. His gadgets are used up or comically unreliable. SPECTRE seems to be wholly a figment of his imagination.

Now, Matt Machell played a cop. A vicious, racist, misogynistic, stupid cop. He was hilarious. He was a vomit fountain of profanity for hours on end. And so here’s the thing. I wouldn’t have played my silly, fish-out-of-water James Bond if he’d come up with a straight character. Really! I would have come up with something else! But his character was designed to be irredeemably vile and hilarious. Sort of like Cartman with a York accent and a truncheon. And even were it not for Matt’s character, I still might have gone for something more serious were it not for the choice of starting situation: there are people exploding all over London. I mean, it’s not like it’s the souls of citizens, turned to pure quantum state by nuclear fission, and asking if their children are alright. It’s not like there were the brains of RAF pilots wired into rocket interceptors that were supposed to destroy incoming missiles, wondering if they can go home now. This is exploding Londoners. I just couldn’t see it seriously.

If I sound a little defensive, it’s because it’s how I feel. Rob’s character, a Jamaican cab driver, was the only reasonable character in the story. He talked to a witness while James was seducing a secondary character and Machell’s cop was shoe-groining some kid. The taxi driver came up with clever solutions and rolled his eyes as James took credit and gave his “sidekick” a pat on the back, completely missing the racial epithets thrown at him. I just hope I didn’t diminish Rob’s fun. There was some gnarly shit about racism that was going on, but I’d committed to a course. The course that led to my scientist paramour exploding in her tattered nightgown when she looked into her microscope.

(Greg seemed to be having a good time. He likes to laugh, and the game was absurd. Adding to the absurdity was Greg’s astounding impression of a London accent. I wish I could remember his character, but all I recall now is the accent. It was amazing. It was )

Malcolm’s games are gritty by design and use clever devices to make the humanity of the characters apparent. He said it was the only game of Hot War that had ever gone the way it went. I’m hoping that it was a fun way for everyone to go, even if it’s probably best to not go that way again.



From our game Human Contact, this is Ayizé, a character of mine. She’s an anthropologist with a (scandalously) tight team. She was working to put herself in a position of political power in the station, but as she sees the Robusts as more and more human and interesting, she’s starting to feel like her political responsibilities are a distracting burden. She hasn’t even assumed her new position yet, and she’s regretting having achieved it. Well see how that hashes out.

Human Contact

Evolution and Human Contact

I’m in a regular game right now called Human Contact, also with Rob Bohl, and with Meg and Vincent Baker. We’re using the resolution rules from the imminent Apocalypse World, combined with the Owe List and Oracles from the Anthology Engine (as used in In a Wicked Age… and Beowulf). We’re making up Oracle elements on the fly and tossing them into a bag, pulling them out at a slower rate than we’re writing them. It’s working quite well. Because of the Oracle system, we’ve got a shit ton of characters, so I’ll give only broad strokes:

At some point, Humanity sent out starships to every conceivable humanly-habitable planet. They would take hundreds or thousands of years to arrive, and when they did arrive, they’d have no way of communicating home. Sometimes, colonies would be close enough to each other that they would be in contact, perhaps more than one planet in a system, or colonies on separate continents of a planet. Usually, a colony would be lost. A million years have passed since that time. Each planet that had survivors has grown its own humans. Some remember their ancestry. Some don’t.

One that does is the Graciles. Inheriting their Zulu names and developing a powerful academic culture, they explore the galaxy with a network of wormholes, finding and contacting their fellow humans. They have tatooed dark skin — jewelry is impractical in 0-G — and are tall and gangly. They have opposable toes. Their clothing is subdued, their lives centuries long, their technology familiar but flawless. They are masters of the strength:mass ratio, having developed gossamer structures of titanic strength and a ubiquitous communication network. Their society is a meritocracy based on their scientific work.

Another group, called the Robusts, developed cities and maybe even local spaceflight, but has since disregarded those technologies as irrelevant. Instead, they have the Dirt, a thin information-saturated crust covering the six continents of the world. It feeds them endocrinal information about their own pasts, each other, their quarry. They live in tribes of a few dozen. They are physically strong (at least compared to the Graciles, many of whom have been wounded accidentally when trying to take liberties with Robusts), they are confident of their place in their world, and they possess information about their existence in the world that clearly contradicts the Graciles’ records but is no less credible. The Robusts have shown themselves quite capable of eliminating the Graciles, but hold themselves in reserve, hoping for a peaceful exchange with their cousins, whom they believe left them in the world to develop into better people. Personally, I’m hoping the Dirt makes it off the planet. It’s got some sort of apocalyptic agenda, itself. It’s some sort of vast endocrinal system.

One episode was composed entirely of a debate over academic credentials. Another was what society had the right to raise a baby borne of a Gracile and fathered by a Robust. There’s always was a lot on the line.

Our principles in designing this world are that:

  • There are no monocultures. Cultures develop in the same varieties that they do among humans, including subcultures and languages.
  • Speaking of language, it’s hard. Everyone has some common language root back on Earth, but so do we and Persians. Mistranslation is a common phenomenon in the game. It brings both comedy and terror. Usually at the same time.
  • Everyone believes they’re doing the right thing for good reasons. Sure, there are laws, but that doesn’t mean they’re obeyed. The Graciles have some sort of prime directive thing, but it goes out the window in approximately the time it takes for an anthropologist to get interested in their subject as a person. That is, about a week.
  • Everyone acts like humans. They fall in love with the wrong people, they lie, they refuse to see things about themselves that are inconvenient or uncomfortable, and somehow, life goes on.

Vincent and I have been illustrating as we go. I’ll scan some illos. We’ve got a Gracile, a Robust, and some wildlife so far. I think there’s a landscape, too.