Friday, May 29, 2015
You really never know what players are going to think up, and Sunday's group was full of surprises. Two of the players took quite an interest in the drugs and poisons available, and they both selected the plant-like Erwani thorn pistol for injecting those toxins with a ranged attack. When boarding a starship full of criminals, the team quickly went to work: first, a flash grenade followed by a tear gas grenade blinded all of the criminals, then two of the criminals were cemented in place with globs from the amoebic Omul glob guns the characters had bought. Another criminal was dazed by a cyberweapon called a “Daze Orb,” and the captain himself was poisoned with a paralytic agent from a thorn pistol. In just seconds, the threat was almost immediately manageable, and the team quickly went about cuffing and tying up the bad guys, moving the captain into isolation for later interrogation. That poor captain got dragged around for quite a while before the players decided they no longer had a use for him, and sent him away with regional security to prison.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Sometimes team coordination and communication doesn't go well, especially with a large team of 6 players. In one situation, the team was at a starport trying to stop smugglers from loading their starship with the illegal military weapons they'd stolen. Two of the team rushed to a starship reserved for the Union Guard agents. Some of the team tried to pull off a disguise attempt to look like common civilians in the starport while two others attempted to look like they were part of the smuggling gang. Amazingly, the ruse worked and the smugglers were about to let the two onto their ship to “help” with loading the contraband. This all changed quickly when the first two agents showed up with the Union Guard starship, which panicked the smugglers. It didn't help that one of the smugglers, previously at the warehouse, then recognized one of the disguised agents, not to mention the warning shot fired from the starship. What might have been a perfect sting operation turned into a race into space that became a dangerous battle in between the starships, followed by an even riskier attempt to board the ship! Thankfully, some of the contraband was recovered, but the smugglers managed to get away.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
One of the missions that was played this weekend involved approaching a warehouse to apprehend a particular arms dealer. When the players' team approached the building, they noticed some security robots patrolling the area. One of the players had selected the “Robot ID” talent when building his character, and he succeeded on his check: he was able to determine the robot type, and in addition to knowing its weaponry and capabilities, he was also aware of its weakness—sensors that were over-sensitive to bright light. However, nobody had thought to buy a flashlight when outfitting their characters, so the team seemed as though they would be unable to exploit this small advantage. Somebody suddenly came up with the great idea to park their squad car facing the robots, and when the team was ready to attack, they powered up the car's bright headlights. It worked, and might have even saved a few lives because the robots rarely hit any of their targets with their guns.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
I spent my entire weekend at Balticon, most of it hosting Solar Echoes games in the game room. On Saturday, I was only able to acquire a table from 9am to 1pm, but Sunday was an all-day event, where the game started at 9am and went almost non-stop until 10pm! I was so busy running games as a Mission Controller that I forgot about dinner (and so did the players!) I had a lot of fun, though, and met lots of great people. Thanks to everyone who played, both those that jumped into the middle of a game and those that were dedicated to it the entire time. We had some really interesting approaches to achieving mission objectives, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of them with you this week...
Friday, May 22, 2015
The second reason for external story arcs in Solar Echoes is to provide Mission Controllers (MC's, the GM in Solar Echoes) with creative material to develop his own campaigns. When I was MC'ing a small campaign with characters once, I found myself tying information from external story arcs into current missions, and I even added (improvised) an encounter to a mission that related to an external story arc. It gave more depth to the situation, and made what seemed like an isolated operation feel like it was part of a larger plan. The players later told me that it made them feel that they were a part of something bigger, that their actions were affecting the story and the course of the universe—and they liked that, a lot.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
We'll be running Solar Echoes games all weekend at Balticon, Design your own character and jump into a mission in the Solar Echoes universe! Books will be on sale in the vendor area at Walt's Cards and Games.
These story arcs are included in Solar Echoes missions for two reasons. If the characters don't express interest in pursuing the outside story arcs, these external events still go a long way towards fleshing out the universe that the characters live in—the Interstellar Union is not without its problems, and governing the populations on the many planets, colonies, and space stations is a difficult task. The difficulties of maintaining multiple civilizations are really part of what the characters do as Union Guard agents, though on a much more specific and often covert level. External story arcs, even if only mentioned in passing, are a good reminder to players that the work of Union Guard agents will never be finished. Another reason exists for these external story arcs...
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
As characters in Solar Echoes progress through several missions, news reports about events in other parts of the universe update over time. For example, the initially benign demonstration on the planet Sofronio--similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement--begins to degenerate: “Growing protests on Sofronio today have erupted into rioting in some regions of the colony. Protestors are calling for the complete absolution of the demarchy, accusing the current administration of being influenced by special interest groups. Merchants on Sofronio have been suffering huge losses, as tourism to Sofronio's beautiful forests and shores has stopped completely. Efforts are being made to meet the demands of the protesters in hopes that the economy can begin to recover from the riots. Regional liaisons are meeting to discuss the resignation of current leaders within the administration.”
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Some of the stories in Solar Echoes mirror events that have happened in reality. For instance, over the course of several missions, there are news broadcasts detailing the development of a protest on the planet Sofronio. “Protesters are now emerging in great crowds outside Sofronio government and tourist buildings alike. Some protesters have even begun to set up small, portable homes for themselves in public areas, insisting that they aren't going home until their message is heard.” While this development begins like the Occupy Wall Street movement, over the course of several missions, another broadcast indicates that things have changed...
Monday, May 18, 2015
One of the things we try to do in Solar Echoes is have larger story arcs that affect the universe the characters live in. Though each mission the players undertake can stand alone and be run without any specific sequence, we do include characters that might be encountered again later, and events that slowly develop on the periphery which may become major events that must eventually be dealt with. Consider all that goes on in our current society, and across the world in other nations. Then multiply that by 7, to encompass the 7 races in Solar Echoes and their homeworlds. However, there is even more than that, with a number of colonized planets, moons, and even space stations with their own populations. There is no shortage of opportunity for story development in the Solar Echoes universe!
Friday, May 15, 2015
There are many things we do not understand about our universe, about dimensions, the flow of time, and reality itself. The Voidsea is a giant tear in the universe where things are out of phase and dimensions overlap. The relics found in the Voidsea are remnants of an ancient alien race, and many wonder if the technology of that race is what brought about the existence of the Voidsea. Much like the radiation left for hundreds of years after a nuclear accident, the Voidsea is thought to be the result of advanced alien weaponry. Many fear that tampering with the relics could bring about the same. Yet Reln historians speak of brief contact with another alien race--beings of pure energy. According to the Reln, these aliens claim responsibility for the creation of the Voidsea—a punishment exacted to wipe out an entire alien race that was using technology to alter the laws of physics and the boundaries of reality. If the Voidsea relics are remnants of that technology...
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Another side-effect of using some Voidsea relics is a linkage or experience with the Voidsea itself. Some have claimed that they have heard voices whispering in an unknown language, and others will swear that they are seeing ghosts. Whether these stories are true or not, anonymous reports have begun to correlate—the relics seem to have some kind of imprint from their past owners, the lost race wiped out by the Voidsea. Possessing a relic may mean a connection with the warped space of the Voidsea and a twisted reality that might infiltrate and eventually overwhelm the owner's mind. Despite these risks, however, some cannot overcome the desire for the obvious power the relics imbue, even if it means forfeiting safety and sanity.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Some Voidsea relics are much more powerful than others, and some relics merely augment an item when applied to it. Sometimes that “item,” however, could be an entire starship. With Voidsea relics, understanding their power usually helps you understand the downside. For instance, a relic that might add stealth to an entire starship and cloak it with invisibility could have the downside of wearing off unexpectedly while leaving the starship with a radiant signature easily noticeable by any nearby sensors. Or, a tiny relic that could be integrated into an energy pistol to produce icy blasts might have a chance to freeze the pistol itself for a while. Voidsea relics are anything but reliable, but understanding the nature of the gamble you make when using one can give you a distinct advantage.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
There is one particular black market dealer, a clever Reln known only as “Seppy,” who turns up in several of the Solar Echoes missions. No, he can't be trusted, and his half-truths have a way of worrying discerning customers, but there really are very few other opportunities to find Voidsea relics. Seppy focuses on what will intrigue you, and tells you what you want to hear. The risk is always what he doesn't mention about what you're buying—and it's honestly hard to be sure he even knows some of the risks. With any Voidsea relic, there is always a downside. The question to ask yourself, though, is this: Isn't possessing power that bends or violates the laws of physics still worth it?
Monday, May 11, 2015
The Voidsea is a deadly dimensional tear in space, a great scar left upon the universe by an ancient war. Only the mysterious Reln, one of the seven races in Solar Echoes, have been able to venture into and successfully return from the Voidsea. Most of what the Reln have discovered there is kept secret, as is their method for being able to safely travel into the dangerous expanse. Yet some of the items the Reln have discovered seem to have found their way to the black market, and these artifacts are being snatched up by others interested in the technology of the lost race that was destroyed when the Voidsea was formed. These relics sometimes seem to violate the very laws of physics, but their power, like the Voidsea itself, is unpredictable and not without serious consequence.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Yet many companies are built around this model of constant upgrades. Security concerns aside, it seems as if entire teams of programmers must meet regularly to completely overhaul existing designs. Are people complaining about things so much that all these patches are necessary to appease the supposed disgruntled consumer? And what about those of us that are happy with the way things are, do we not get a vote? I understand the difficulty of programming future software patches to address numerous iterations of different platforms—imagine how many bugs would show up—but cosmetic changes and interface alterations really shouldn’t affect core programming so much that the consumer should be without the option to choose his preferred aesthetic. Right?
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Security concerns definitely warrant many of these upgrades that our devices install. Hackers love to get their greedy or mischievous digital fingers into our stuff, so security programmers will probably always have a job. But beyond security upgrades for our devices, we are often forced into accepting entirely new adjustments to the user interface, functionality, and even aesthetics. Program shortcuts and key commands, sounds, colors, graphics, and other seemingly inconsequential aspects of our experience are altered, often without the option to revert back to the previous design. If we are even given the option to avoid the changes, we will be perpetually harassed by incessant, blinking reminders that there is a new update ready for installation. My phone has been telling me about an update for over two months now, and I’ve refused the install. I like the way things are!
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Thankfully, most companies give years of support to their old products—if they didn’t, those of us who don’t buy a new smartphone every year might become a little irate and would take our business elsewhere. Yet despite owning the same piece of technology for several years while new generations of that same technology are being paraded as sleeker and more desirable, our old technology is still in a state of flux. Almost all devices now find a way to insist on the installation of a nearly constant stream of updates, and often, we have no choice but to go along for the ride. If your device can access the internet, chances are it is auto-installing patches to “improve” functionality, with or sometimes even without your consent.
Monday, May 4, 2015
Technology is always advancing, and whether we intentionally pursue these advances or not, it will catch up to us. We can chase after the newest smartphone iterations, the latest computer hardware, or even the most innovative tablet, but within a year or less, our technological acquisitions will be on the way to obsolete. That’s not to say that these things will become useless—companies support their products for years after release, but the constantly changing technological environment does tend to put some devices out in the cold sometimes within merely a decade or less time. Staying current is, for some, a fashion-conscious decision, but for many of us, it is simply a necessity in order to stay functional.