Friday, June 23, 2017
The mission is on schedule for a Saturday morning release. What is included in Operation: Void Hunter? You'll find fully detailed NPC hunters in addition to other NPC's you can interact with, including a couple that might be useful resources in future missions. Mechanics are included for several weapon options, there are menus with exotic food and drinks, and there is even a small shop with some unusual, modified weapons. There are full colored maps and map icons for all of the alien lifeforms, including the new and very dangerous Mokaru, illustrated by John Fell. Full-color art and great art design is peppered throughout the mission to enhance the experience, and to top it all off, the storyline of Operation: Void Hunter is the beginning of a larger story arc that will span across future missions. It can be played and completed as a separate mission, or played as part of a larger campaign. I hope you like what I've put together and enjoy the characters, battles, story, and everything else included in Operation: Void Hunter. Have fun!
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Players will have to make a lot of decisions in their investigation. After landing at a Hunter refuge a few hours from the coordinates of the Voidrunner landing, they may want to learn from the locals about the planet before plunging into the hostile wilderness. There are even NPC hunters that might be willing to join the team and guide them--for a fee. Gathering information will be easy with some NPC's, but others might require more from the characters. Playing a few gambling games, buying some drinks, or stroking a few egos might yield useful intel. Once they are ready to face the wilds, though, players will be up against the natural world of Sa'mesh. Survival will often depend on some of the choices they make more than the firearms they carry.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Why are the players' characters being sent to Sa'mesh? The Union Guard is acting on a tip that an unregistered Voidrunner starship was spotted landing somewhere in the forests of Sa'mesh. Voidrunners are unique Reln starships that can enter--and return from--the deadly dimensional rift in space known as the Voidsea. No other race has managed to survive the Voidsea, but the Reln have somehow figured it out, and have been collecting artifacts from an advanced alien civilization that was obliterated when the Voidsea was formed. These mysterious and powerful artifacts are classified secrets by the Reln government, but on rare occasions, smugglers and spies have managed to bring some of these artifacts to the black market. The unregistered Voidrunner landing on Sa'mesh is highly suspicious, so the Union Guard is sending you and your team to investigate and to stop any illegal activities.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
This mission takes place on the Krissethi planet, Sa'mesh. You may recall that earlier in the year, I released the "Explorer's Guide to Sa'mesh," which details the planet and culture, including a few NPC's, two new weapons, the details of local cuisine and a guild, plus a mission involving a new lifeform, the Green Jegu. The Explorer's Guide is actually a helpful supplement for fleshing out the world of Sa'mesh, and can be used as a great companion guide for creative GM's that want to detail the experience as much as possible. However, you don't need the Explorer's Guide to fully enjoy the Void Hunter mission. I wanted players to be able to visit Sa'mesh at earlier levels (the mission in the Explorer's Guide is level 8), so I designed the Void Hunter mission for characters of level 3-4. Players beware: though the Krissethi planet is officially labeled a wildlife preserve, it is actually a commercialized hunting ground full of deadly lifeforms. Do you think you can survive the wilds of Sa'mesh?
Monday, June 19, 2017
I am nearing completion of this exciting new mission for Solar Echoes, and hope to have it ready to purchase by Saturday this weekend. During the spring of 2017, I worked hard on the demo, "Operation: Flash Strike," and developed a lot of new techniques and standards for missions. The Void Hunter mission is looking really good, and is packed full of content, including lots of colorful artwork. I've added a lot of role-playing content to the mission as well, detailing a number of NPC's the characters can interact with. There are also some options included that are derived from opportunities detailed in the Mission Controllers Guide, so players will have a chance to try a few creative modifications. Tomorrow, I'll share a little about the mission setting...
Friday, June 16, 2017
I'm not a fan of Star Trek, but the Star Trek: Bridge Crew game had me really interested because it involves players working together to operate a starship (similar to the starship game system in Solar Echoes.) I bought the game and went through the training tutorial. It was very impressive: I could design my character's appearance a little and then look down at myself and see my hands, arms, and body in VR. After learning the different roles (Captain, Helm, Tactical, and Engineer) I tried the game with some AI-controlled crew. It was very impressive, but the true fun started when I tried it online with real people. It was like we were all in the same room together, talking, laughing, waving, and blowing up angry Klingons as we worked together as a team, each of us with our own crucial contributions toward the operation of the ship. This game shows me that the developers got it--they understood that designing a game for VR is largely about creating a gaming experience from a perspective that puts you into the character's shoes and allows you to actually physically do the things that character does. One of the coolest things about VR are my memories of playing the game: I have to remind myself that it wasn't actually reality, but my memories feel like I was really there!
Thursday, June 15, 2017
The problem I have with teleportation in VR games is that it totally ruins immersion, constantly reminding you that you're in a game. This is fine for some styles of games that are more arcade-like, but I think it totally spoils the experience of role-playing games, for instance. Supposedly, Bethesda Game Studios is going to update Fallout 4 with VR, but in their first reveal, they indicated they are only using teleportation (some say that has changed, though I've not found official confirmation). In my opinion, teleportation should always be an option for players, but free movement should be an option for those that don't get nausea and have developed their "VR legs." The recent release of first-person-shooter "Farpoint" allows free roaming movement, and though I don't have the game (yet), I've watched people playing it online and have read that the nausea-factor has somehow been minimized. An important thing to note, though, is that not all games need to involve free-roaming environments to be great in VR...
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Another major concern that you may have heard talked about is the nausea factor. I'll be totally honest: Yes, it is an issue. Several of the VR games I've played have made me nauseous, because there is a disconnect your brain experiences when your eyes tell it that you're moving but your body is not in motion. It depends on the game and each individual. Some people have no problems, but others have immediate reactions. One thing developers are doing to address this issue is they are increasing the frame-rate. This helps--Sony has been putting out suggested parameters for developers to adhere to, in order to reduce or eliminate dizziness and nausea. Another approach that has worked is including graphics on the perimeter of your view that are stationary, to sort-of "ground" you in a stationary spot, even if the rest of the screen is in motion. However, there is one solution a lot of developers are using that I don't like: point and click teleportation...
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
I want to address some of the issues with VR that still have some concerned. Price is one thing that deters a lot of people, and it is expensive. The Sony PSVR is $400 for the headset alone. You also need a camera, and the experience is seriously lacking without two "Move" controllers. You can get the headset and all this, plus a collection of games called "VR Worlds" for $500. It's obviously not a cheap entry fee into virtual reality, and many doubt it will be worth the experience--until they've tried it. The reason the system is selling well so far is because people have been blown away by the experience and the amazing potential of this new technology. The reason I haven't regretted buying it is because I, like so many others, have faith in the incredible possibilities that VR brings to gaming and entertainment in general. I can't wait to see what they do with it next! Update: At E3 it was just announced that Bethesda Game Studios is bringing "Skyrim" to VR! It looks amazing!
Monday, June 12, 2017
Some of you may remember my review of Sony's Virtual Reality system, the PSVR, when it released back in the fall. I haven't said anything about VR since then, mostly because of the games that released for it a few months after the big titles. A lot of indie developers were, in my opinion, trying to make a quick buck off of the early adopters of PSVR, putting out poorly designed games, if some of them could even be called "games." These early releases were over-priced and under-par in quality. Many people worried that PSVR was not going to see significant developer support, and hesitated to buy the device. Many developers watched and waited--they weren't willing to invest in game development for what might be an under-adopted device. Despite some hiccups along the way, though,I think PSVR has finally arrived...
Friday, June 9, 2017
Solar Echoes 3D-printed miniatures at Shapeways are now much more affordable! In the past, printing miniatures with high-detail in the “Frosted Ultra Detail” plastic was quite expensive: It was almost 3 times more expensive than the cost of printing in the lower detail, “White Strong and Flexible” material. For example, the low detail Omul figure costs $7.48 but the high-detail Omul used to cost $23! However, Shapeways has changed their printing process and upgraded their machines, so now the cost of printing a high detail Omul is only $11.86! That's just a little more than a $4 difference, which is really fantastic and much more approachable. Shapeways sets their prices by cubic volume and material, so the most expensive high-detail Solar Echoes miniatures are the Archaeloid and Chiraktis: $13.42 and $13.36 respectively. The cheapest high-detail Solar Echoes miniatures are the $9.70 Reln and the $10.24 Erwani. Still, the low-detail prints are great quality, too, with a price for the figures ranging from $6.07 (starship) to $8.11 (Chiraktis). I hope you enjoy the great figures sculpted by Jeremy Gosser (characters) and Charles Oines (starship), and that they help make your Solar Echoes games even more exciting!
Thursday, June 8, 2017
Skirmishes! I already have the cover art for another project--remember a while ago I shared the development of the Archaeloid vs. Omul fight scene? I haven't shared the final art because I still have a lot to do on this product, but I am planning to put together a small rulebook for conducting competitive games with Solar Echoes characters. This will involve a lot of maps, so it will take quite a lot of time, but I'm hoping to make more progress on this product over the summer. Considering that I'll be attending the Shorehammer convention for Warhammer gamers in December, it will be interesting to get the feedback of seasoned competitive wargamers on this new product!
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Speaking of more art, I'm hoping to involve artist John Fell in a bigger move to produce a lot more art work for Solar Echoes. If things work out, I have a number of plans that involve art pieces. One project I've been hoping to do is design a dossier of NPC's. This would provide information about a variety of characters that GM's can use in any game. The NPC's would each be illustrated and would include stat information, background stories, motivations, tactics, and possibly some mission seed ideas for GM's looking for a good way to fit them into a scenario. This archive of NPC's will include each character detailed on a full character sheet that can be printed out easily. The NPC's are also part of a larger story, too, and will give GM's a deeper glimpse into what is going on in the Solar Echoes universe. John Fell's civilian art already demonstrates his capacity to design a variety of NPC characters (see art below), so I can't wait to get started on this project with him soon!
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Another plan I have for this summer is to revisit past mission releases and give them a graphical overhaul to match the new format I've been using. If you haven't yet downloaded the free demo, Operation: Flash Strike, you might want to do so just so you can see what I'm talking about; full-color art, borders and highlighted areas, with other minor improvements such as better headings, nicer tables, and overall, better organization. It will be a lot of work and time to improve everything, but I think it will give everyone more value for their money and make the game even easier to follow and more exciting. Who doesn't like more art work?
Monday, June 5, 2017
Summer has arrived! Soon, classes will end and the summer will be underway. Sometimes summer is busier for me than the school year because my schedule is less consistent, but I'm looking forward to these three months with a bit more time available to invest towards Solar Echoes. I have a lot of plans, and I wanted to keep you updated about the future. One thing I plan to finish first is the new mission, Operation: Void Hunter. I tested it at the Balticon convention recently and the adventure was a success. There's something different about this particular mission, though: It's part of my plan for a larger, over-arcing story that will span several missions. I'm excited to continue the story, and my hope is to have part two of the series out before the end of the summer. Void Hunter should be available in a week or two--I'll let you know!
Friday, June 2, 2017
The mission I ran the most during the Balticon convention was Operation: Flash Strike, which you can download for free at RPGnow, or directly from my dropbox, here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rz093jqqf7f430i/AACAM64n8TPtFgzIzR9XI7C2a?dl=0
It was exciting to see how each group handled the situation differently. A few moments across all those games stick out in my mind, though—many times, people decided to use the overhead air ducts for recon before attacking the smugglers in the warehouse. This allowed them to get a view of part of the warehouse and help the rest of the team waiting outside to prepare for breach. However, once the signal was given and everyone attacked, the air-duct operatives all tried to open the air vent and jump down from the 15' drop. Only one out of the 5 people that tried this actually made the athletics check and landed safely. One dropped right in front of someone with an assault rifle, and three others fell and hurt themselves when they landed. One character was shot and immediately threw up a nanite wall to protect himself (see photo: the nanite hedge was represented by a red rubber-band). Another incident that sticks in memory is when two smugglers jumped into a car, preparing to speed away, but a female Reln character managed to run up to the car, open the door, and shoot the passenger. As he shot back at her, she dove for cover and avoided being hit while the passenger died from his wounds. There was some pretty amazing stuff that went on, including exciting car chases, aggressive interrogations of prisoners, and clever wordplay.
One of my very favorite moments was during an interrogation with the arms dealer: Each team member tried, using diplomacy, bluff, and intimidate, but the arms dealer managed to resist and shut down their attempts. After everyone had failed with him, the Omul character finally decided to try, and using his only Influence die, he actually rolled well each time! He managed to improve the dealer's posture enough that the group could extract the information they needed. The only failure of the Omul was near the end, when he failed his Discern Motive check and heartily agreed to the arms dealer's demands, promising him witness protection, a million credits, and his very own starship.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Another memorable moment during Balticon was when a very large team (7 players!) was heading into the deadly forests of the Krissethi planet, Sa'mesh. They were soon surrounded by a pack of reptilian, dog-like creatures with whip-like tails called “Snapwhippers.” As they fought the dodgy lifeforms that ran around and wore them down with tail strikes, the Archaeloid on the team decided to get away from the pack of creatures and approached a nearby river. He succeeded at his Awareness check and noticed some very odd fish with tentacles sprouting from their mouths, but decided to swim the river anyway—he's an Archaeloid, after all! Unfortunately, that did not go well for him, because as soon as he entered the water, the fish-creatures attacked. One fastened itself to his neck with its tentacles and started draining his blood. When he emerged from the water on the other side of the river, he grabbed the creature to remove it, but discovered it had venomous spines in its fins. Though he successfully pulled it from his neck and threw it back into the river, he began to bleed profusely because of the anti-coagulant venom in the creature's saliva, not to mention his muscular convulsions from the venom spines. The poor Archaeloid was in bad shape—and separated by the dangerous river from his friends, who were still fighting the snapwhipper pack. When he sent a signal for help, he added, “DON'T GO IN THE WATER!”
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
There are so many stories to tell about Solar Echoes missions this last week, I think I'm just going to touch on some of the memorable highlights. Even though I don't remember everything that happened, there were some moments that really stick out in my memory. My favorite moment of the weekend was during the “Egg Drop” mission, when the characters had to figure out what the final destination of an illegal shipment. They needed to board a public starliner, but because they were UG agents carrying tons of weapons, it was going to be very hard to do covertly. So, the team decided to hide their weapons in two ways: One of the team had risked buying a mysterious Voidsea artifact (illegal of course!) that was an extra dimensional space for smaller items. Naturally, smaller weapons were dropped in there. The larger weapons, however, went to the amoeba-like Omul. The plan was for him to be the only “overt” agent, and so as the others boarded the starliner as tourists, the Omul lugged everyone's large weapons around, showing his badge to officials confirm his UG agent status. The transparent bag of cytoplasm was clanking around with weapons sticking out and floating around in him, including a sniper rifle, assault rifle, and even a large hand axe!
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
I'm back from a busy weekend at Balticon! I ran Solar Echoes games on Friday from 3pm-11pm, Saturday from 9am to 11pm, and Sunday from 10am to 11pm. Except for a 1 hour break on Saturday around dinner time, the rest of the time I had people at the table and was either helping them build their characters or I was running a mission. That's around 35 hours of Solar Echoes! It was really fun to see so many different people try the game, and some people came back for a second mission. I met a lot of great people and it was exciting to see how the dynamic changed with every group that played. Even though I ran the demo mission, “Operation: Flash Strike” more than anything else, each time it was a different experience. I was also able to run several other missions during the weekend, such as “Egg Drop,” “The Novaburn Raid,” “The Tarball Run,” and my newest mission that's still somewhat in the works, “Operation: Void Hunter.” I'm excited to share details about everything that happened, so stay tuned this week! In the meantime, here are a few of the pictures of the game I took over the weekend at Balticon 51.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
I was looking over some photos from last year's Balticon 50 convention, and it struck me how different Solar Echoes looks on the game table in only 1 year! I've included a comparison between last year's Balticon and how things are going to look this weekend at Balticon 51—you'll see some cool changes. For one thing, the old black and white paper maps have been replaced by full color maps with improved artwork. There are also a few more props involved, such as the little Tonka shipping crates that characters can use for cover. The most noticeable improvement, of course, is the switch from stand-up, paper map icons to fully-painted, 3D-printed Solar Echoes miniatures! I'm excited to see how people respond to the new look—especially those that might be visiting again from last year's Balticon. See you tomorrow!
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
If you remember the Explorer's Guide to Sa'mesh released a few months ago, it detailed the Krissethi planet of Sa'mesh. This planet is owned by Krissethi clans, and though it is officially considered a wildlife preserve, the Krissethi use it as a tourist attraction for hunters seeking to make a name for themselves. Competitions, survival and hunting shows, and even annual syndicated tournaments among the Krissethi clans make Sa'mesh a very popular location for the reptilian warriors. In Operation: Void Hunter, the Union Guard is sending its agents to investigate an unregistered Reln Voidrunner landing mysteriously on the planet. This type of starship has an enigmatic reputation, known for its ability to travel into the dangerous dimensional rift in space known as the Voidsea. Can the agents get the information they need from the rough Krissethi hunter population? Will they manage to survive the deadly lifeforms on Sa'mesh during their search for the mysterious starship? What will the team of agents discover if they manage to find the Voidrunner? Find out the answers this weekend, at Balticon 51!
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
I don't always have the opportunity to playtest the missions I'm writing, but this weekend at Balticon will give me that opportunity. Plus, I'm excited to give gamers at Balticon the chance to be the very first players of something that hasn't yet been released to the public. Sometimes, events transpire during a new mission with players that I need to improvise around, and I often take those improvisations and add them into the product before its final release. One of the things I always try to keep in mind with missions is that they are merely a framework for a story—the non-player characters (NPC's) are essentially actors to help move the plot along in a general, but the players themselves will ultimately be driving the story through their characters. One of the things I like about Solar Echoes is that mission objectives given at the beginning usually keep players on a general plot line, though how they achieve those objectives is always unique and exciting. I can't wait to see what players will do this weekend in Operation: Void Hunter!
Monday, May 22, 2017
This weekend, from Friday through Sunday, Solar Echoes will be at the Balticon 51 convention! I'll be running missions for new and returning players, but this year there is a lot of new stuff! New character sheets, new 3d-printed miniatures, the new Operation: Flash Strike mission, and...I'll be running another new mission, Operation: Void Hunter, for the first time ever! Balticon gamers will be the first to try this mission, which takes place on the planet Sa'mesh. This week, I'll drop a little information about Operation: Void Hunter and share some sneak peeks. Hopefully, I'll see some of you this weekend at Balticon!
Friday, May 19, 2017
If you can imagine a future where people no longer talk but have gained the ability, through technology, to communicate by thought signals alone, perhaps Elon Musk is right after all. If we begin communicating like machines, are we not essentially cyborgs? I have often posited the science fiction scenario that the supposed “war with the machines” will not be fought upon a landscape filled with metal and lasers. Rather, it will be a more insidious and subtle battle that some will fight in the name of preserving humanity. Our fusion with technology already exists, but how far is too far? Where is the line, and should there be one? With concerns about monitoring by a futuristic government and high-tech hackers, will this technology lead us to an Orwellian 1984, where we can be punished for “thought crime?” The idea of a computer picking up anything I'm thinking bothers me, especially considering that our online and smartphone activity can already be archived and reviewed. Personally, I prefer we keep brain-computer interface at the hardware level, where we'd need to have neuro-prosthetics physically implanted. At least then we might be able to decide against it!
Thursday, May 18, 2017
What does telepathic word-recognition mean for us in the future? If this technology works and catches on, it is no doubt that further development will augment the technology to the point that we'll be thinking our words faster than we can say them. When this happens, will we decide to dispense with speaking altogether? It will be slow and cumbersome by comparison—imagine carrying around a device that captures your intended words and transmits them to the person standing across from you. The next step might be a conversion system that allows for us to quickly read these fast “thought texts.” Maybe a device will be invented that beams those words into our own brain so that we can assess them more quickly, rather than having to visually read them? Talk about speed-reading!
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Advanced Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technologies are being developed at Facebook's Building 8, and job opportunities are posted for a Neural Imaging Engineer. The job description indicates the work will be focused on the development of non-invasive neuroimaging technologies and designing and evaluating “novel neural imaging methods based on optical, RF, ultrasound, or other entirely non-invasive approaches.” Non-invasive BCI technologies are not only being pursued by Facebook; Elon Musk has also initiated a startup called Neuralink, with the intent to create brain interfaces. This technology is being seriously pursued, so it is quite possible that we may one day abandon keyboards entirely, simply thinking our words to our devices...
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Researches have already been developing a form of brain-computer interface that allows you to essentially type words directly with your mind. The technology currently exists so that paralyzed patients with neuro-implants can communicate through typing just by thinking about it. However, the people at a Facebook's R&D division, Building 8, want to do this without any brain implants. They have been working on a technology that is non-invasive and can scan your brain, picking up the words you intend to speak or write but haven't done so yet. The technology targets the speech part of your brain, and researchers insist that fears of other thoughts being captured are unfounded...
Monday, May 15, 2017
Technology is advancing in ways that are bringing us closer and closer to becoming cyborgs--man and machine as one. Rather than a clunky metal apparatus fused with our skull, however, the fusion looks like it will be much more subtle. Elon Musk, futuristic visionary and founder of Tesla and Space X, has said in the past that we are "already cyborgs." His point was that we communicate digitally, using texts or emails, often as a primary form of interaction. Considering a new technology that is being researched, Elon may be more right about this than we can imagine...
Friday, May 12, 2017
Another way to start building your character is to start with a back-story, rather than try to write one to fit your character's stats. Did your character grow up in an isolated moon colony? If so, that character probably learned to be resourceful to survive, so you'd likely have ranks in Resourcefulness and eventually get the “Ingenious Crafter” talent. Maybe your character grew up working in starship repair, so your engineering skills and ability to repair vehicles and armor are unusually well-developed. You can come at the process from any angle, and though the steps are there to help you keep it all straight, you can build your own character your way. In the meantime, though, try out the game itself and jump into the action with one of the pre-made characters in Operation: Flash Strike, and get to know those characters better with the Character Pack!
Thursday, May 11, 2017
Do you have a Solar Echoes character you'd like to create? Some details for character creation are included in the Character Pack, but you'll need the Player's Guide if you really want to fully design your character. For example, the optional physique and personality choices that are available allow you to add some interesting advantages to your character, though these advantages often have disadvantages associated with them, too. If you choose the “Nimble” physique, you can improve your movement speed, but the downside is you'll suffer a small penalty to melee combat. While these traits allow you to somewhat customize your character, the expansive list of over 270 talents in the Player's Guide really empowers you to build the kind of special-op's alien agent you've been dreaming up. Not all of the talents are available at level 1, however, but you can plan towards the skill and/or talent requirements necessary to open up some of the more advanced talent choices.
Where do you start when building a character in Solar Echoes? My best advice is to choose an alien race first, but you can really start from any angle. Do you have your heart set on being a sniper? Then use your character's money to buy a sniper rifle first and begin building your character around that, choosing stealth-related talents and then picking a character race that is well-suited for sneaking around. Sometimes the strengths of a particular race can help you better decide on the type of character you'd like to build. The Reln, for instance, has the highest Influence attribute score, so putting skill points in Persuasion and Discern Motive is a great start for a Reln character, followed by the selection of some Persuasion related talents such as “Convincing Lie” or “Fast Talker.”
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
All the character stories in the Character Pack are actually centered around a time in the Union Guard that pre-dates current UG practices. Back when these characters joined the UG, they actually were able to apply with a job application and had to go through a series of tests and interviews. Present-day UG hiring practices are shrouded in mystery, and there is no longer an option to apply. The UG seems to select people they are interested in rather than look over a list of applicants. Some wonder if the UG avoids these practices in order to dodge particular hiring standards that might be restrictive to their needs. Others theorize that it might have something to do with recent security concerns about UG infiltration. Whatever the reason, the UG continues to be representative of all of the races in the Union, so it is clear that the Interstellar Union (ISU) at least requires the UG to follow their standards of diversity.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
I was inspired a little by the guys over in the UK at the D20 Future Show podcast, because when we were starting the show, they each introduced their characters with a summary of their back-stories—this information was in the old Starter Kit that I sent them, which has now been replaced by the free demo, Operation: Flash Strike. Flash Strike didn't have enough room for the character bios, but I didn't want to lose those role-playing stories for each character. Updating the Character Pack gave me an excuse to keep those back-stories around, and that information can really help players connect with the pre-made characters and get into the game universe. I remember when one of the D20 Future Show players, George, introduced the sad back-story of his female Krissethi character, Satha. The other players all listened with interest and then seemed saddened and affected by the end, commenting that her story was “tragic.” Satha's family was lower-class than most Krissethi clans, and she went through her life treated as a servant. She became skilled at disguising herself to pass herself as different upper-class people, and even managed to impersonate someone else to try to get a job at the Union Guard—something Satha knew would bring honor and prestige to her family. Even though she was later caught as an imposter, the UG hired her because they needed someone with her disguise skills. The tragedy was that her position there was covert, so she couldn't tell anyone she worked at the UG, and was unable to help raise the status of her family.
Monday, May 8, 2017
The new Solar Echoes demo, Operation: Flash Strike, has seen a lot of downloads this weekend since it's release on Friday. As I was looking at the download statistics on RPGnow.com, I saw that someone also purchased the old “Character Pack” this weekend, and I suddenly remembered that the old supplement was outdated by the new demo! The new demo contains the same pre-made characters, plus much more, and it didn't seem right for me to keep charging $1 for the Character Pack in it's current form. So, this weekend I spent time updating the Character Pack, check it out here:
I've added in details about the history of the Union Guard (this info can't be found anywhere else!) plus character back-stories for each of the pre-made characters. I labeled these as “Agent Profiles,” and you can read about each character's unique story and how they ended up joining the Union Guard. I've also included the pre-made characters found in the free Flash Strike demo, but with alternate portrait art using the original Solar Echoes art of Jay Darnell. The included character map icons also feature Jay's original art, and though it's in black and white, I continue to use these icons for NPC's, printed with colored paper. I hope you like the look of the new Character Pack!
Friday, May 5, 2017
If skirmish rules aren't really your thing and you'd prefer to see the role-playing aspect of Solar Echoes developed more, I have a few other possible projects on the back-burner. I have artwork from John Fell of new alien lifeforms waiting to be used, and I've planned to include some of it in another Explorer's Guide. If you remember the recent release at the beginning of this year, “Explorer's Guide to Sa'mesh,” I detailed a planet, it's economy, society/culture, food, unique weapons, NPC's, and a new lifeform with a short mission that involved an encounter with that lifeform. Another Explorer's Guide would follow the same format, and would help GM's expand their universe with yet another exciting planet to visit and possibly develop into a full campaign. If you'd rather see something different than another Explorer's Guide, another plan of mine is to start a mission series, where several missions are all part of a larger, sequential story. That's an involved plan with a lot of writing and things to figure out, but it is something I've already set in motion with a few pages of ideas. So what is your vote? Skirmish rules, a new Explorer's Pack, or a mission series? Maybe you have another idea—feel free to share!
Thursday, May 4, 2017
There are a number of possible projects to work on for Solar Echoes, and because the summer is ahead, I may have a few extra hours to devote to a project. One idea that has been on my mind for quite some time is developing a book with skirmish rules. I already have pages of ideas and maps planned, so I wouldn't be starting from scratch—I could hit the ground running. The skirmish rules would take the combat of Solar Echoes and make it the game itself, which could be played cooperatively and competitively. There would be various goals and objectives, depending on the map and the scenario. I've already had John Fell design the artwork for the cover (the Archaeloid and Omul fight you may have seen detailed several months ago.) This book would be a bigger project than some of the others I've worked on, because it would also require a number of maps and the artwork on those takes time, even though I've been getting a little more efficient with the process in Photoshop. If you think this sounds like something you might be interested in, let me know!
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Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Now that the new rules and updates are online in the Player's Guide at RPGnow (see yesterday's post for a link and discount this week), you might be wondering, “What's next?” I always work tenaciously (maybe a little feverishly?) until I finish a project, so now that this project is complete, I need to prioritize the next goal. I've finished the free demo-kit, too, which will be available online soon for a free download. I'll share the link as soon as it's live. I have a number of projects to choose from, and though Indie Game Alliance and I are in talks about big plans for the future, I may have some time before I start heading down that road. So, I'll mention some of the project options over the next couple days, and maybe you all can let me know through comments or messages what you'd like to see next?
Vote in the Twitter poll!
Vote in the Twitter poll!
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
The new update for the Solar Echoes Player's Guide is now live! You can find it here at RPGnow.com through this discount link, which expires on Sunday:
* NEW AND IMPROVED DICE SYSTEM! As before, roll your attribute dice for a skill check and select the highest number rolled. However, any 6 rolled past the first adds 1 to the total, but if any 1's are rolled, subtract 1 from the total.
--Dice Probability Table Included—Your chance of rolling four 6's with four dice is very small (1/1296) but I've seen it done, and that gives you a 9, before even adding skill ranks!
* NEW INTERROGATION RULES! As before, when trying to raise an NPC's Posture to a target number, failing a Persuasion check lowers his Posture. However, the NPC can also “talk back” and make a Persuasion check against you! If he succeeds, he can lower his own Posture, too, which means, if he gets it down to 1, the interrogation is over—he has become totally uncooperative and has gone completely hostile!
* NEW RACIAL VULNERABILITIES! The reptilian Krissethi are more susceptible to being slowed by cold damage, the plant-like Erwani catch fire more easily, the insectoid Chiraktis are more sensitive to chemical attacks, the amoebic Omuls are more susceptible to irradiation from energy weapons, the large-eared Reln are more sensitive to sonic attacks, and the large-shelled Archaeloids are easier to hit with melee weapons when they've been knocked prone!
* NEW CHARACTER SHEETS! I re-designed the original character sheets, and artist John Fell added an amazing graphical polish. These are the coolest character sheets I've seen for an RPG!
* NEW CHARACTER SHEET PDF FORM! I designed a version of the new character sheet that has entry fields, so you can type in your details, save the form, print it out, and access it later when your character levels up or gains new items!
Monday, May 1, 2017
It's been a busy weekend for Solar Echoes. I was invited to be a guest GM on the D20FutureShow--a podcast in the UK--and I ran the new mission from the upcoming free demo-kit (I'll let you know as soon as it's online!) When the podcast is ready, I'll post a link to it here so you can hear how much fun the five of us had! The podcast group was a lot of fun to play with, and though it was a challenging mission, everyone survived and achieved their mission objectives! The group was also the third team of players to test the new character sheets, dice system, and interrogation system in the upcoming online update, and things went extremely well. I'm very happy with the new rules and I feel that they tested well. Tomorrow I will be releasing the updated Solar Echoes Player's Guide, which will include the new character sheets, a character sheet PDF Form, the new dice system rules with probability numbers for the new system, new rules for interrogation using the Persuasion skill, and new vulnerabilities for the character races! If you have already purchased the Player's Guide from RPGnow.com, you should also receive a notification from them when the update is live, and you can download the new version for free. Special thanks goes out to the guys at D20FutureShow for helping confirm that the new additions to Solar Echoes work great! I can't wait to tell you more about the show, but I'll wait until they have the podcast online :)
Friday, April 28, 2017
A month ago, I was interviewed for the D20 Future Show podcast in the UK. Tomorrow, I'll actually be playing Solar Echoes with the same group, using Skype to coordinate. They'll record the whole thing, so I'm excited to see how it goes! Everyone is selecting a pre-made character from the upcoming demo-kit release, which includes the new character sheet design. These characters are based on the pre-made characters in the Starter Kit. One of the players has elected to play a Chiraktis Worker Drone. They're great with hacking, cybertech, etc, but not great at fighting—that's why they fly their robotic cyberweapon drones around to fight for them! Another player selected the chaotic, amoebic Omul, and this particular character build is focused on being a great lookout, a stealthy trickster, and more of a ranged fighter. This Omul uses a glob pistol, a Phoenix blaster, and throwing knives. Its talents include: Watchful Eye, Sweep Kick, and Swift Hands (Pseudopods?) I have yet to hear about the other character choices, but I'm really looking forward to hanging out with the guys at D20 Future Show online this Saturday. I'll be sure to let you know when the podcast is edited and online so you can listen to the game!
Thursday, April 27, 2017
When John's computer finally arrived and he emailed me a greenlight on the project, I sent him what I had and also indicated that I'd like the overall graphical look of the page to be somewhat reminiscent of a sci-fi video game menu or user-interface. I suggested making “metal frames” around the boxed areas, and then making the interior of the boxes look like digital viewscreens suspended or positioned by those metal frames. We bounced ideas back and forth a few times, and John sent me at least one new update every day. Email became fun again! Seeing John's latest iteration and design progress was like getting a mystery package from a friend dropped off at my front door every day. What John produced felt like a sci-fi layering of desktop windows in a digital, high-tech landscape. His graphical polish to the character sheet really brought it to a new level—I admit that I might be biased, but I've not seen many character sheets this cool in a table-top RPG before, and I might even say it competes with the character sheets of some of the big boys on the market, like D&D and Pathfinder! What do you think?
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Happy Accidents! I had been intending to place the Union Guard “UG” logo at the upper left of the page near the “Agent Profile” title, but when I imported the logo, it was huge and almost covered the entire page. I looked at it, and thought, “Wait a minute, that's actually pretty cool!” I changed the opacity of the giant UG logo and it “faded” underneath the details of the character sheet, appearing in the background, like a giant Union Guard watermark. People at the con and friends I emailed my prototype page to really liked the look with the logo. As I continued to work on the design, I recalled that over the years, there were a few areas on the sheet that no one ever used, so I scrubbed those spots entirely. Another problem with the original sheet was the confusion around how the attribute dice and skills worked. In my redesign, I pushed everything over to the far, far left, with the boxes on the left column plus a vertical line separating them from the skill list. I also grouped Ranged and Melee Dodge with skills, because even though you can't add ranks to them like other skills, they are still affected by wound penalties just like all other skills. Seeing them positioned there was to remind players: yes, your Dodge is still a skill, so when you are wounded, you'll be less...dodgy. At JohnCon, the gamers totally got it, and one gamer also had a great suggestion—she said that the order of the attributes at the top of the page made her feel like the skills should be ordered in a manner similar to the progression of attributes. It made sense, and they weren't in any particular order originally, so I regrouped the skills into roughly the same order: skills associated with Strength and Reflexes were grouped first, and Influence skills were last, to mirror the attribute list at the top of the page.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
You may already be familiar with Solar Echoes artist John Fell—he's the guy behind the awesome color character art that you see at www.SolarEchoes.com. John's forte is character art, but he has been willing to work with me on other art projects as well, such as the cool emblems that are in the UG Handbook and also on the website. I recently asked John to help me re-design the character sheet, and though he indicated he'd do his best, he warned me that it might not be something he'll be very skilled at. There is a difference between a graphic artist (John) and a graphic designer; graphic designers draw graphical templates, border art, logos, etc. When we were ready to start, John sent me news of an unexpected delay—his computer totally crashed and he had to wait a week for the new one he'd ordered to arrive. During this time, I decided to get as much done on the character sheet as I could, so that John could focus on the artistic aspects of the redesign rather than go back and forth with me on formatting options. He's only somewhat familiar with the game rules, so I figured I was probably the best person to work on changing the format. Over that week of waiting for John's computer, I worked during every spare moment on reformatting the character sheet...
Monday, April 24, 2017
For the last few months, I've been re-working some of the rules and other details of the Solar Echoes game. I've changed and improved the dice system, the dialogue encounter system, added in character race vulnerabilities, and have been hard at work on a total re-design of the character sheet. All of the above has already been playtested, thanks to the college students at Johns Hopkins during their gaming convention, JohnCon, and some of the testers have confirmed that they are ok with me putting their names in the credits of the Player's Guide. Over the last two weeks, I've been focusing most of my time on the character sheet re-design. More than 5 years ago, when Solar Echoes was first released, our character sheet was done without any graphical design, and the format had some flaws. During the conventions I've attended over the past 5 years, I've gathered feedback from players and have begun to assemble ideas about how to re-organize and visually present the information on the character sheet. After all, Solar Echoes gamers will be spending a lot of time with their character, so I wanted the character sheet to be as easy to use as possible, and to look really cool at the same time...
Friday, April 21, 2017
The player wasn't convinced the npc was telling the truth, though, so he considered trying more intimidation. However, risking intimidation would have meant total failure if the npc succeeded at his next discern motive check. The player decided to approach the situation more delicately and promised the npc leniency regarding his crimes, if he cooperated and revealed the desired information. This last approach succeeded, and was just the right amount to get the npc to cooperate and reveal what he knew. The truth he admitted to was that he was actually the gang leader, and he revealed the names of his employers for the smuggling operation. The leads he provided were valuable pieces of intel the Union Guard needed. The player had succeeded at this part of the mission!
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Interrogation in Solar Echoes now has the feeling I was looking for. Thanks to a beta test at JohnCon using the new demo mission, I was able to get a sense of how the system felt and how players responded to it. During an interrogation in the mission, the player struggled to convince a gang leader to share what he knew. He made several attempts at bluffing and intimidation, but the NPC was resilient and didn't believe the threats and lies, perpetuating his own lies by insisting that he wasn't the gang leader. The NPC lied and told the player's character that he was just there to assist, that the gang leader always kept information compartmentalized and rarely told him much of anything. The player was losing the upper-hand in the interrogation, and was beginning to wonder if the NPC's words might be true--maybe he was only a "grunt," and the real gang leader was the one that had managed to escape in a car during the recent battle...
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Later on Saturday, I was able to run the new demo mission I've been designing and my target run-time of 1 hour was achieved. I was also very happy with the results of the new dialogue system--the recent changes in the rules now allow for an "opposed" persuasion check. This means that npc opponents can "fight back" with their words, adjusting their posture towards the characters negatively if they succeed at their persuasion check against them. The interrogation that occurred between a player and an npc ended up being much more calculated--the player had to more carefully consider what approach he would use each round. Diplomacy would play things safe, but not afford much of a boost if successful. The risk was much less, though, if he failed. Bluffing was a little riskier, and intimidation even more so...
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Another success at JohnCon was regarding the new character sheets I've been designing. I totally re-organized a lot of the information on the sheets, grouping it in a way that would hopefully make more sense and provide quicker access to the most frequently used character information during a game. The players at JohnCon gave me useful feedback, and it was also great to see that the new sheets helped them to easily understand how the game worked. With the old sheets in the past, I sometimes had to correct people and explain how to conduct skill checks, but with the new character sheet, that didn't happen once. The final step is for Solar Echoes artist, John Fell, to polish the graphical aesthetic of the sheets. I just got an email from him only minutes ago, and work is now underway! These new sheets will be added to the online updates coming soon to the digital versions of the Solar Echoes books.
Monday, April 17, 2017
This Saturday at JohnCon, I met a lot of nice people and really enjoyed trying out the new Solar Echoes rules with players. Despite a computer glitch with my wife's laptop that left me improvising some of the mission I was running, everyone was still able to get a good sense of the game. We spent the first hour building our characters together--even though I offered the pre-made characters as an option, two of the players opted to build their own. Another player brought his character from last year, and another that showed up after we'd started chose one of the pre-made characters so he could jump right in. I ran things with the new dice system, and it worked really well--there was a greater range of rolls, meaning a few more misses than the almost 50/50 chance of success with the old system. However, this didn't slow the fast-paced tempo of the game like I'd worried it might! Once I've officially confirmed with each of the players that they are ok with it, their names will be going into the beta-tester credits of the updated Players Guide!
Friday, April 14, 2017
A nice perk at JohnCon is the low vendor fee. This allows me to bring the prices down on everything for the students at the convention, and I also am offering a special benefit for those who buy the Players Guide (PG), Mission Controllers Guide (MCG), and/or Starter Kit (SK): if you buy any of these three and give me your email address, I will send you a free, updated digital copy of the book(s) you purchased. The printed versions of these three books were all done back in 2012, and since then (especially the PG!) there have been a lot of updates to the books in their digital form. This includes new rules, clarifications, error fixes, and more artwork. The few copies I have left of the original print run could be considered “collector's editions” now, because if I do another print run in the future (maybe through a Kickstarter campaign), the prints would be of the updated digital versions. I've been leaning my business model more towards digital, so these physical copies aren't going to be around for much longer—they are selling at every convention and my inventory is getting low. So, if you're interested in getting your hands on any of these books, don't miss your chance at JohnCon! Thanks for the support, and I literally can't wait to start playing Solar Echoes with everyone this weekend. See you there!
Thursday, April 13, 2017
If you play Solar Echoes at JohnCon, you'll be entered into a raffle to win some free stuff, like the Union Guard Handbook! I'll be bringing some game books for Solar Echoes to the convention at Hopkins this weekend, but this year, among those books will be the new Union Guard Handbook. This booklet contains setting and character info, lots of colorful art for each alien race in Solar Echoes, emblems for each race and other organizations, and color map icons for the characters. All artwork is done by artist John Fell. The UG Handbook showcases not just his character art, but his great emblem designs. Originally, I came up with the idea of emblems for each race because of the Overwatch video game, where each character has personal logo “sprays.” When I talked to Solar Echoes artist John Fell, he loved my idea, and we began brainstorming and passing ideas back and forth. I'm really happy with the emblems he put together, and I plan to do more with them in the future. If not for a JohnCon I attended in 2015, I never would have discovered this talented artist, because one of the convention organizers, Mike, gave me his information when we talked about my goals for the game. You never know who you will meet or what new connections you might make, and for me, making the connection to John through Mike has been a huge boost for the overall look of Solar Echoes. I can't wait to show everyone the UG Handbooks this weekend so they can enjoy John's awesome art!
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Another reason to stop by and play Solar Echoes at JohnCon this year is that I'll be using 3d-printed miniatures! In the past, I've had to use paper stand-ups for character icons, but now the game is even more immersive because these new mini's look fantastic! Last fall, I worked with 3d-sculpting artist Jeremy Gosser to design models for each alien race. They're available on Shapeways.com, and the mini's I'm bringing to JohnCon were printed at Shapeways and delivered to me in the mail. Seven of them were then painted by model hobbyist Saejin Park, so players will be able to use a painted miniature during the game to represent their chosen alien character. As a small bonus, I'll also be showing off my newest 3d-printed miniature: the Reln Voidrunner starship, sculpted by artist Charles Oines! I'm hoping to work with him in the future to make the starships of the 6 other alien character races (maybe through a Kickstarter campaign.) Check out the mini's online here:
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
I'm particularly excited about this weekend at JohnCon because the students there will be the very first to try the newest changes to the core Solar Echoes rules. If the players this weekend are willing, I plan to put each of their names into the credits as beta-testers in the Solar Echoes Players Guide update. The updated rulebook will be released online sometime near the end of April or at the beginning of May. At JohnCon, I will be using the new dice system I discussed last month, which involves a few twists to make die rolls more dynamic with greater risks and rewards. I'll also showcase the new rules for the dialogue system, which allows NPC's to "fight back" with their words during a dialogue encounter. Plus, all the alien characters now have a particular biological weakness, which should increase interest in the various weapons available. Gamers at JohnCon will be the first to play with these new systems and have their names immortalized as beta-testers in the credits of the updated Solar Echoes Player's Guide!