TSoY in space: The inhuman

22 October, 2009 at 9:27 pm (Solar system) (, , , , , )

This post contains thoughts about the inhuman elements of the game world: psionics, aliens, robots and androids, cyborgs and whatnot.

My experience in balancing secrets and keys is not great, so all commentary is gladly accepted. Few of the secrets are intentionally powerful; steel and wires, in particular.


Everyone knows psionics exist. Very few have met anybody capable of manifesting them or controlling their power. There are rumours of gifted children simply disappearing and of secret government programs and corporate assassins and so on. Rumours, nothing more.

Secret of psionics: The character can contact others with her mind. This requires a successful psionics (instinct) test, possibly resisted with resist or psionics. Using a skill through the psionic contact is taxing and costs 1 instinct. Other secrets in this chapter require the secret of psionics. Only those with the secret can take the psionics skill.

Secret of disciplined psionicist: Psionics (reason), not (instinct). Using skills through the connection has no extra cost. The character has been trained by some facility dedicated for this purpose, and is almost certain to either be an employee or a very hunted rogue operative.

Secret of [freaky exotic psionic ability]: The character can use [freaky exotic psionic ability], which may cost reason or instinct, in addition to requiring dice to be rolled. Telekinesis, making the heads of people explode, invisibility, illusions, that sort of stuff.

Secret of the electromancer: Psionics affects androids.

Secret of psionic storm: Pay up to six points from insinct or reason, whichever governs the psionics ability. Roll psionics. On failure, take reason harm equal to the resource spent. On success, deal that much harm to all characters in the great area affected by the power and take half that in reason damage. Named characters get to resist; others die, are in pain, or whatever was at stake. This ability is not fast to use and any psions in the affected area may resist, hence making this a risky proposition. Still utterly powerful.

The following keys, aside from the first one, only make sense for characters with (latent) psionic ability.

Key of shattered mind: Some psionicist has violently invaded the character’s mind. 1 experience for being hostile to such vile mind-rapers, 3 for losing control in public when something important is happening (and sobbing incoherently or going berserk, say). Buy-off: Forgive and accept.

Key of the empath: The character can sense the emotions, particularly strong emotions and pain, of others. 1 xp for revealing this in play, 3 for suffering due to the talent. Buy-off: Silence the pain by becoming inured to the suffering of others.

Key of the wilder: The character has uncontrolled or poorly controlled psionic ability. It manifests at inopportunate times, particularly when the character is stressed. 1 xp for uncontrolled manifestations, 3 for major destruction or set-back by wild psionics. (Note: this could manifest whenever the character fails a roll, particularly psionics roll, or when the story guide or players feel like it. Up to group negotiation.) Buy-off: Characters gets rid of unintended psionic effects (by iron will or removing the ability).

Steel and wires

Our game has thus far not seen detailed robotic player characters. We do know that proper robots and androids are (almost) immune to psionics.

Secret of steel among the flesh: Character can accomplish deeds requiring superhuman strength or endurance. One point of vigour gives 2 bonus dice to such and makes them possible.

Secrets of wires in the head: Character can compute and analyse with great speed. One point of reason gives 2 bonus dice for analysis (not limited to epsilon-delta proofs) and calculations.

Fancy cybernetic gadgets are also secrets. Heat-vision, cleverly hidden needle guns, hidden containers, armoured skin, things out of Cyberpunk books.

Key of programmed mind: Those who built or fixed the character added some unwanted orders. 1 xp when the character acts upon the programmed orders, 3 xp when he does so against his will. Buy-off: Remove the programming.

Key of lost humanity: Some go mad when great parts of their body are replaced with inorganic materials. 1 xp for showing the cold, aloof and cruel nature that is now character’s; 3 xp for murdering or slaughter of humans in cold blood. Buy-off: Become completely human or completely machine.

Key of malfunctioning component: Some component of character is constantly malfunctioning and in need of repair. 1 xp for maintaining it, 3xp for getting in trouble when it breaks anyways. Buy-off: Fix or replace it.

The hive cluster

Just recently there have been aliens discovered. Inspirations are the zerg of Starcraft and the aliens in series of movies with alien in the name. They are not public knowledge, and whether they will ever be is up to gaming. They have a hive mind; all are connected to the collective consciousness and it commands them all, much like a player in an RTS game. The aliens encountered thus far have been somewhat insectile in appearance.

Skill: Hive mind (instinct): The character is in contact with the hive mind, willingly or not. The skill can be used to communicate and command other aliens, but they can also command back. It works by telepathy. The collective has 4 skill, takes penalty dice for distance (1 for orbit, 2 for solar system, 3 for galaxy, 4 for outside it) and can command the character; resist with hive mind, telepathy or resist. The collective can also lend its knowledge and help for the character, in which case the character gets to help almost any skill roll with the hive mind skill, though failure at the roll inflicts a penalty die. Other keys and secrets of this chapter require this skill.

Key of slave to the brood: The character is unwilling servant of the swarm, yet has little power against it. 1 experience for obeying its orders, 3 for doing so in spite of one’s will. Buy-off: Be rid of the influence.

Key of corrupted monster: Requires some visible mutations. The character looks horrible and inhuman. 1 experience for being shunned and despised for it, 3 when someone’s actively hunting the character for such taint. Buy-off: Mask your true nature.

Secret of contaminated talent: Requires hive mind and psionics. Whenever character touches the mind of another, the brood widens its influence. Pay one instinct to inflict the slave to the brood-key upon any contacted via psionics. Upon first contact they also learn hive mind at skill level mediocre.

Secret of vast knowledge: The character can scan the collective memory for information pertaining to whatever subject; pay as much instinct as desired to get bonus dice for any attempt already aided by hive mind skill, 1 die per point of instinct. This is an awfully big deal.

Secret of regeneration: At the start of a session, or when significat time in the fiction is glossed over, roll endure are heal on level of vigour harm, up to the endure result. Further, given sufficient time, the character can heal from the most severe of wounds.

Secret of [random mutation]: Character has [random mutation]. Claws like knives! Acid spit! Tentacles! Using it may or may not cost vigour. Spitting acid does, for the record.


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TSoY in space – skills

16 October, 2009 at 7:57 pm (Solar system) (, , , , )

This post contains the skill list for the scifi version of the Shadow of Yesterday that I’ve been running.


These are copied from the tSoY wiki, with removed and added entries.

Innate Abilities

Every character in this game has three innate abilities: natural reactions and quantifications of the character’s physical and mental stability.

Ability Name Uses Pool Summary
Endure Vigor This is your character’s ability to push on and persevere though pain and fatigue. It is used to test the limits of a character’s physicality and fitness.
React Instinct This measures the quickness of a character’s body and mind. It is as much “how quick the character notices something” as “how quick the character moves.”
Resist Reason “Resist” is the strength of a character’s will, and is used to prevent compulsion of a natural or supernatural type. This includes physical compulsion: “Resist” would be used for a character to keep her cool under torture, for example, while “Endure” would be used to see how long she could stay conscious under the same torture.

Other Abilities

Open abilities follow a few guidelines:

  • They are either innate abilities to a person (Athletics) or things that can be easily learned. Usually, they’re both, as in the aforementioned case of Athletics, or Scrapping.
  • They are rather wide in scope, encompassing a field of actions, without being overly broad. Movement is too broad; Climbing Fences is too narrow. Fighting is too broad; Broad-sword Usage is too narrow.
  • They are not specialized knowledge that applies only to a certain people or culture. These are the Species and Cultural Abilities, which are much more narrow in scope. Do note that academic skills are open: Internet and various projects for the freedom of information did pay off to significant degree.
  • They often overlap with other abilities, which is great. Two abilities may describe different styles of performing similar tasks.

The pre-made open abilities are below. Examine them to get ideas for your own. They’ve been organized by category. Any character can take abilities from any category, but it may be easier to choose a category or two that define your character and take most of the abilities from them.

Artistic Abilities

Freeload (Instinct)
Freeload is used to get free meals and shelter. Your character can’t really get wealthy using Freeload, but you can manage to survive even if broke, which isn’t bad.
Create (Instinct)
Create is used for painting, sculpting, and other arts where a concrete item is created.
Story-tell (Reason)
Story-tell is used for creating or telling stories, including ballads.
Music (Instinct)
Music is used for singing and playing instruments, and represents musical talent, not lyrical talent. Music and Story-tell are often used together to make an effective song.
Sports (Vigour)
Athletic activities for keeping in shape, as a job, or impressing others. Specialisation is common.

Technical Abilities

Mechanics and electronics (Reason)
Mechanics and electronics is used in building and maintaining various gadgets, equipment and vehicles.
Pilot (Instinct)
Operating vehicles. Everything between motorcycles and huge spaceships, the extreme cases included.
Hacking (Reason)
Operating and manipulating a computer effectively. Programming and gaining access where one should not have it are notable activities.

Military Abilities

First Aid (Reason)
First Aid is simple medicine: bandaging cuts, binding broken bones, and washing out wounds. If someone’s been physically hurt, this can be used to heal them.
Melee (Vigor)
Killing and surviving in close quarters combat with or without weapons. Weapons are highly recommended, though. Also, using exoskeletons and such in melee combat.
Sense Danger (Instinct)
This ability is used to perceive anything that might physically harm your character. It is not a “sixth sense”: the danger must be somehow perceivable, if only barely. Here’s where you get those cat-like reflexes.
Tactics (Reason)
Tactics is the basic skills and techniques known by any military commander. It is used for giving orders in combat and planning attacks, including ambushes.
Shooting (Vigour)
Using and taking care of weapons that shoot targets from a range. Includes weapons installed in various vehicles.
Military training (Vigour)
The daily routines, etiquette, basic combat and technical skills, rough knowledge of organisation. Can be used when fighting in orderly situations. Generally useful as an auxiliary skill.
Explosives (Reason)
Controlled and precise use of explosives. Timed explosives, mines, excavation and sabotage. Nuking it from the orbit just to be sure.

Black ops Abilities

Stealth (Instinct)
Stealth is used to sneak up on people, hide from other characters, and conceal objects on your character’s body.
Theft (Instinct)
Theft is used for picking pockets, cutting purses, lockpicking, breaking and entering without being noticed, and safecracking, as well as any other theft-related activity.
Deceit (Reason)
Deceit is used to fool other characters, including pretending to be someone else, forge a document, or straight-out lie well.
Underworld (Reason)
Underworld is used to know information about the illegal underground, including where to buy illegal things, sell stolen goods, or know who controls organized crime.
Security (Reason)
Security is used for building, recognising, analysing, avoiding and disabling various electronic security implements, such as cameras and locks.
Assassination (Instinct)
The art of killing someone unaware of the menace. Common equipment includes poisons, long-range weaponry, discreet explosives and various fancy gadgets.

Outdoor Abilities

Surival (Reason)
Survival is used to track people or animals, know what sorts of plants and animals are present in an area and their properties, as well as set traps.
Animal Ken (Instinct)
Animal Ken is the social skill for dealing with animals, and is used to deal with domesticated animals or wild ones. Domesticated animals are much easier to control, of course, and this may be used to give them commands. For wild animals, on the other hand, this works about as far as scaring them off, or convincing them not to eat you.
Outer planets (Reason)
Measure of the character’s familiarity with strange, unexplored and hostile planets, asteroids and moons. Settling them, using them and surviving therein to the extent possible.

Academic Abilities

Psychology (Reason)
Psychology can be used to bring peace to someone via private conversation. It is the spiritual equivalent of First Aid. It also is the academic knowledge of mind and workings thereof.
Rhetorics (Reason)
Rhetorics is used to sway opinion with speech or demagoguery, and is generally used with crowds. Media makes it an effective tool for crowd manipulation.
Biochemistry (Reason)
Biology and chemistry. Knowledge and research of nature (of several worlds) and processes happening therein.
Physics (Reason)
Knowledge of space, relativity, quantum mechanics and various less exotic fields of physics. Used for surviving the process of gating.
Research (Reason)
Research is the valued skill of finding and interpreting highly specific and useful information to solve a particular problem.
Diplomacy (Instinct)
Diplomacy is used for negotiating treaties between corporations, nations and other large groups.
Politics (Reason)
Knowledge of the various political parties, shadowy or influential organisations, military establishments and important people. Manipulating the aforementioned for one’s selfish benefit.

Social Abilities

Sway (Instinct)
Sway is used to affect individuals through conversation. Unlike Orate, this works better one-on-one, and the character being swayed may not even realize your character’s intentions.
Savoir-Faire (Instinct)
Savoir-Faire is used to act smooth, dance, get a kiss from a lady, and get another character into your character’s bedchambers.
Etiquette (Reason)
Etiquette is used to know your way around a society, including knowing who is important and where to get favors. It is the non-illegal society equivalent of Streetwise.
Pray (Vigor)
Pray is used for meditation, blessing actions, and performing religious rituals. It involves the character’s belief that she is connected to something better than her.
Discern Truth (Instinct)
Discern Truth is used to tell if someone is being honest, or read a person’s intentions.
Athletics (Vigor)
This is a measure of raw physicality and fitness. It is used for running, jumping, swimming, climbing, or any other strength-based task not listed as a separate ability.
Finances (Reason)
Investments, stock markets, accounting, keeping one’s finances in order, finding items of quality at affordable prices.

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Burning death frost doom

4 October, 2009 at 11:40 am (Burning Wheel, dungeon crawling) (, , )

We did indeed play Burning Wheel old school style. I had a number of pregenerated characters, seven I think, and there were five players. I had built the characters so that a number of them had specific drives; locations or non-player characters. There was a duel of wits to determine where to go and the result was, as the fate had it, death frost doom.

First, I’ll describe our play a bit; then, some of what happened in and under the cabin.


The player characters were a knowledge-seeking sorcerer, a haughty knight, a ranger whose family had been killed by orcs (traditional D&D character if there ever was one), an overconfident and mad monster hunter from the wastes and a doctor who could talk to birds and insects. They started in a tavern (the name of which I recall no more; maybe Broken boot?) and, after talking about where to head next (we used duel of wits; there were preciously few dueling skills around the table, so untrained duel of wits)  consulted the skies to see if this was the proper time for such traveling and tried recruiting some people; indeed, they managed to find one guardsman willing to travel with them. The circles roll was a failure, so I decided this NPC is a traitor. This NPC was, to some amusement, named Regdar. Onwards, then.

Since the DoW was a major compromise, they decided to travel to the Whitecap mountain, but first check out where the goblin hideout was. The orienteering was an abject failure: seven or eight dice, obstacle three, two successes. So there was getting lost and a bandit ambush. Here I chickened out, having only two bandits in the woods and Regdar make the attempt to rob the characters. It did not end well.

Lesson learned: Use credible threats. They can take it; else, they will perish. Now I have pretty much forced myself to create an incompetent bandit leader as a NPC. Too bad. Regdar lived and will have his revenge. Or make a fair attempt at it, at least.

With one bandit as a prisoner and another dead, and one mage now armoured in leather and plated leather breastplate, the party continued onwards. This my complication of choice for that failed orienteering roll, so I let it ride and had them reach the mountain. There they encountered the strange guy living in the woods. Some talk and dinner later they continued onwards, after punching the old geezer. (I did not get to deliver the tasty line, since death was not at line. A pity.)

The cabin and the underground complex of doom (and death and frost)

Inside the cabin they, in no particular order, made a fire, burned a tapestry/painting, destroyed a clock, the sorcerer stole the book of names (but did not read it, just snatched the damn thing, as per his instinct) and finally moved down to the temple. Again, in no particular order, there was walking on faces of stone, messing with doors, grabbing a skeletal hand or two, playing with the organ and stealing something from the altar. Three characters died, two lived. I refer any who own the adventure to read the back cover.

The atmosphere was quite good, though one player did not help the matter. One player actually commented that he was expecting more monsters, so, Jim, your design works as intended.

To do

I will try to organise more of these sessions, as this I count as success, even though few, if any, of the players had played together before this.

I will need to start naming things and drawing my map on paper; as is, it is firmly located in my head, but not drawn anywhere. Further, I will need to name places and things. The city, in particular, needs a name.

To transfer the characters to BW wiki or forums would also be useful.

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Burning sandbox

1 October, 2009 at 7:01 pm (Burning Wheel, dungeon crawling) (, , , )

This is a game I want to run some day. Maybe next Saturday, but probably later.


There is a bunch of kingdoms, fighting as they ever do, but also occasionally financing explorers to distant lands. There is a great waste west of the known kingdoms; there are few barbarians, some stunted people, a number of ancient ruins and scores of monsters there (or say the rumours). Some explorers discovered ways through the waste: An oasis here, a deserted town with a well there, easy passage through rocky wasteland somewhere else.

The remarkable things is what was found on the other side: There’s more waste, of course, but there is also a great sea, rolling hills and steppes, a range of mountains that separates the waste from the great forest further to west. Further, a walled city of no small proportions was found, deserted and with no sign of where the original residents are.

Rumours of the discovered new land quickly spread and across the waste many traveled. Now the once-dead city has plenty of life and the surrounding wilderness is slowly tamed. Yet there are tales of monsters, of ancient tombs and caverns, of unexplained vanishings of children in the streets and of strange foreign cults to vile gods. Many claim to have witnessed some or much of these mysteries. Furthermore, there are visitors from the sea: people of foreign appearance and language who trade in goods and slaves, sometimes even settling in the city born anew. They bring rumours of the past: A curse and deadly diseases.

Enter player characters. For whatever reason, they are in the city born anew. They are desperate for money, noble and idealistic, seeking power, or simply curious. They will brave the dangers that threaten the city from without and within. Maybe they will live to list their deeds and boast.


System of choice for this game is Burning Wheel, as the quick-witted and cultured among my readers might have already guessed. No experience with the rules is necessary; there will even be pre-generated characters. If you are not familiar with the rules, you may wish to skip to the game-wise section.

Three lifepath characters, exponent cap of 5 (four for sorcery, faith, etc.). Should stat or attribute exceed this, -5 and make it grey (in particular, faith B4 or G1; I heartily recommend B4). Available lifepaths are those in the red book, waste wanderers from the wiki and LPs in Magic Burner when and only when the book is brought to the game; I don’t own it, at least yet. Human characters only (for now; other stocks may be encountered by adventuring and be made available as PC races thereby). Gifted separately for different schools of magic (alchemy included in any) and separate magical skill for art magic, practical magic and standard sorcery with abstractions. Death art is a skill. The faithful should have some idiom and some deity corresponding to it; player’s responsibility, though I keep veto power in case of inappropriateness.

For beliefs, I recommend having one that motivates general adventuring; earning lots of money, arcane power, ancient secrets, or maybe glory and fame. One should be about specific monster, NPC, item or adventuring location; feel free to name the monster, NPC, item or adventuring location; I will cope. The third one can be about whatever; do keep in mind that the cast of player characters will not be static.

The rules for finding the path are in use; basically, locations are handled as relationships and finding them is similar to rolling circles.


This won’t be standard Burning Wheel. West Marches of Ben Robbins are an inspiration, as is Burning Thac0 and various old school luminaries around the Network. So, in no particular order:

This game does not require a stationary set of players or characters. Participate when you feel like it. I am willing to run the game whenever I have some time and some players (one or more); I may initiate a game as may any players; simply tell me the time and what you intend to do, so that I can prepare the location, if necessary, or create/convert monsters or NPCs.

I will have pre-generated characters that are somewhat capable of adventuring, if not outright optimised, but you are encouraged to bring a pre-burned character if you have the books. You can, the entire group willing, focus on adventuring outside, within, or below the city, or even in the nearby islands; Duels of Wits (social resolution system of BW) about adventuring locations are a fine means of solving the issue, but do inform me ahead of time where you intend to go. Getting to adventure locations is nontrivial; orienteering, sailing/navigation, or streetwise are useful skills. Moving in a party is recommended, but not a required.

I will prepare the adventuring locations to some detail; likely as not, this means using stuff found on the ‘net interpreted through BW lens. If I am not given suitable information on the plans of the party, then I will not prepare and the quality of the game is likely to decrease, as sandbox play requires some preparation to feel authentic and rooted. Note that players may use wises, circles and other relevant mechanics as normal: If I have decided why an NPC died and you want to roll murder-wise to know that it was the butler but it was not, then I will let you know that I have decided who the killer is and you may roll the wise to find out.

Players are encouraged to draw maps, write game reports, and generally communicate with each other. You can keep your characters or I can keep them; if me, than I will try to transfer into electronic format, probably on the BW wiki.

Burning Wheel is not a simple game and is very character-focused, so this is very much an experiment, but one that I am eager to try.

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