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!
Vote in the Twitter poll!
Vote in the Twitter poll!
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 :)