Wednesday, June 5, 2013

[Q&A] Kevin Crawford (Stars Without Number)

[19:01] <+KevinCrawford> I'm Kevin Crawford, the one man behind Sine Nomine Publishing and the author of the free sci-fi sandbox game Stars Without Number ((Link:
[19:01] <+KevinCrawford> I've also authored the post-apocalyptic game Other Dust and the African-inspired Spears of the Dawn, both of which use the SWN system.
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[19:02] <+KevinCrawford> Aside from that, I've also written the Red Tide Campaign Setting and Sandbox Toolkit, and its complementary books An Echo Resounding, for mass combat and domain management, and The Crimson Pandect for magic research, new arcana, sorcerous cults, and related hoodoory.
[19:03] <+Silverlion> (Yay intro)
[19:03] <+KevinCrawford> And today, at least, I just put up Suns of Gold, the merchant campaign supplement for Stars Without Number that covers far trade, building mercantile adventures, new world tags for trade games, and establishing new colony worlds.
[19:04] <+Silverlion> I saw that..
[19:04] <+KevinCrawford> To that you can tag on assorted supplements and freebies which I probably can't all remember at the moment.
[19:04] <+E_T_Smith> oooohhhh ... finally, ledgers & laserguns.
[19:04] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:04] <~Dan> Thanks, Kevin!
[19:04] <+GenoFoxx> so is Other Dust a separate setting or a side story of Star Without Number?
[19:04] <~Dan> Would anyone like to get us started with... oh, n/m. :)
[19:04] <+GenoFoxx> zing
[19:06] <+KevinCrawford> Other Dust shares the same setting as Stars Without Number, but it's set on Earth 200 years after the cataclysm that brought down the Terran Mandate, while SWN proper is set 600 years afterwards. They're both entirely cross-compatible, but standalone games.
[19:06] <+GenoFoxx> cool
[19:07] <+KevinCrawford> The Earth described in Other Dust is canonical, as it were, but the main reason I wrote it so was to have a worked example and specific post-apocalyptic setting for the book. Since the thing is as sandboxy as all my works are, it's assumed that the GM is going to reach in and screw around with things.
[19:07] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:07] <+M-Type> My friend and I are still trying to find ways to get all three games into one campaign ;)
[19:07] <~Dan> (Welcome to #rpgnet, M-Type!)
[19:07] <+M-Type> Thanks!
[19:07] <~Dan> KevinCrawford: Can you give us an overview of the SWN setting?
[19:08] <+KevinCrawford> I do what I can to make sure that's feasible with all my SWN games. As a one-man shop, it's easier to keep things mechanically coherent than it would be if I were farming this out to a group of authors.
[19:08] <+Silverlion> Would you suggest SNW for a game based on Star Trek Phoenix/Andromeda--that is an advanced and civilized society, builds a positive SF universe, then gets trapped for 1000 years and comes back to a primitive setting/shattered universe, they have higher tech, noble ideals and a dark universe to make better?
[19:08] <~Dan> (Question pause.)
[19:09] <+KevinCrawford> To blend an answer to both questions, I'd say yes- the basic system conflict that underlies the SWN setting is that of renewal-versus-barbarism, the basic conflict between what people want to make of their future versus the ruin they've inherited from their ancestors.
[19:09] <+E_T_Smith> Kevin, you've produced a huge amount of material in a short amount of time. Quality material, I should say. I gotta ask two questions of thudding inelegance but inescapable curiousity: How? Why?
[19:10] <+GenoFoxx> so in a way Ark II in SPAAAAACE!!!
[19:10] <+KevinCrawford> SWN hypothesizes FTL discovery around 2100, the gradual expanse of humanity in the First Wave of national and organization-based colonization, and the cohesion of Terran government into a Terran Mandate dedicated to keeping things calm and harmonious out among the stars.
[19:10] <+Silverlion> Yeah Geno :D
[19:10] <~Dan> (E_T_Smith: We have a question pause at the moment while Kevin catches up. Please wait until he gives us a "(done)". Thanks! :) )
[19:11] <+KevinCrawford> The Mandate developed AI and the psychic abilities produced by exposure to hyperdimensional drillspace, and used both to produce enormously advanced tech. The AIs effectively ran Earth, providing a sort of utopia-under-glass of stasis and cultural freeze, while the psychics developed "psitech".
[19:11] <+Silverlion> I was trying to find a system and I've a lulu copy of SNW thats demanding being run, I just don't know how it will work because of its tech system.
[19:11] <+E_T_Smith> Dan, sorry, didn't see the pause while I wastyping that.
[19:11] <~Dan> (No problem!)
[19:12] <+KevinCrawford> The most sophisticated psitech were the Jump Gates, massive interstellar teleporters that allowed the Mandate to keep a tight control over the core worlds. The ragged frontier was left to the remaining antiquated starships and substantial freedom.
[19:12] <+KevinCrawford> The Mandate decayed as all institutions do, and it was on the AIs that kept them from going full-on Decadent Tyranny. As it was, they shipped out huge numbers of convicts, undesirables, and excess types in the Second Wave of human expansion.
[19:13] <+KevinCrawford> Then a completely inexplicable pulse of metadimensional energy from somewhere out in the Veil nebula just happened to roast the brains of every psychic in human space. Only one-tenth survived, and those that did were hoplessly, violently insane. The Jump Gates went down with them.
[19:14] <+KevinCrawford> In the absence of the Jump Gates, the core worlds rapidly collapsed into tombs, starving with the lack of food shipments and other necessities. The frontier was also scourged by the "Scream", but their systems were so poor that they couldn't afford Jump Gates in the first place, and so were more self-sufficient
[19:15] <+KevinCrawford> It's been centuries since, and as SWN opens the frontier worlds are finally dragging themselves back into space on rebuilt, rickety industrial bases. PCs are in the position of contacting worlds that may have had no interstellar visitors for centuries.
[19:16] <+KevinCrawford> And as for your question, E_T_Smith, it's simply a matter of Never Stopping. I've spent today working on some new layout ideas for a supplement for my next game. I spend on average around 40 hours a week on this, in addition to my full-time job.
[19:16] <+KevinCrawford> I wake up, go to work, come home and eat, and then write until it's time to sleep.
[19:17] <+KevinCrawford> It leaves me very little time for anything else, but the payoff has been such that it's been worth it. And after all, there's a great pleasure in having written. It's just the _writing_ part that's less fun.
[19:17] <+GenoFoxx> so in a way like Traveller: The New Era?
[19:18] <+KevinCrawford> And a bit, GenoFoxx, though there's no active force keeping humanity down right now. I designed the setting to be as open as possible to GM insertions, since the whole point of the game is to be a sandbox toolkit for people.
[19:18] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:18] <+M-Type> What made you choose OD&D to work off of?
[19:18] <+E_T_Smith> Heh. Classy Dorthy Parker quote.
[19:19] <+KevinCrawford> Actually, it was B/X I took as the core. I chose it for several reasons, in no particular order of importance.
[19:19] <+M-Type> I actually picked up the B/X books because of SWN!
[19:19] <+M-Type> Felt it was right.
[19:19] <+GenoFoxx> B/X?
[19:19] <+M-Type> Basic/Expert D&D
[19:20] <+GenoFoxx> ah
[19:20] <+KevinCrawford> First, it worked. No system in the world has been playtested harder than old-school D&D, and while it doesn't work for everything, it works for a whole hell of a lot. Since I had no brilliant mechanical innovations to bring to the world, I didn't bother trying- I just used what worked.
[19:20] <+M-Type> I have to applaud you on keeping the combat. My friend died first round of combat once, but we didn't care. We couldn't stop laughing!
[19:21] <+KevinCrawford> Second, people understood it. Not everybody started with old-school D&D, but even those who didn't tend to understand it just fine. When you're running a sandbox, you're called on to make a lot of snap decisions. You don't have time to wrestle with a system- you want something that's practically a muscle reflex.
[19:21] <+GenoFoxx> So any in setting plans to explain the cause of 'The Scream' or is that up to individual GM's?
[19:22] <+Silverlion> I understand the writing thing..:D
[19:22] <+M-Type> In my game, the players are SURE that I
[19:22] <+KevinCrawford> I've always been fond of fairly lethal combat. It encourages players to consider all their other options. And as for the Scream, it will never be explained canonically. GMs will always be left to explain it- or not- in their own way.
[19:22] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:23] <+E_T_Smith> Did you come to the preference for old-school rules via the OSR, or was it an independent process that just happeed to slot into that audience?
[19:23] <+M-Type> *whoops I meant to say that my player's think I'm going to send them back in time, and they're going to be the cause of the Scream!
[19:23] <+Silverlion> Awesome Kevin...
[19:23] <&Le_Squide> I'm a big fan of your work! I've noticed that in a lot of SWN stuff, such as the remaining Perimeter agencies, the scavenger fleets, are largely hereditary organizations. Is there a reason you went in that direction for multiple post-Scream groups?
[19:23] <+KevinCrawford> Every really horrible thing is always the PCs' fault. It's a gaming tradition.
[19:23] <+M-Type> I'm quoting you on that!
[19:25] <+KevinCrawford> I avoid overt politicizing in my games, but they're inevitably informed by my own particular take on human nature and history, Le_Squide. And from my perspective, what happens when your cosmopolitan, high-trust society starts collapsing around you? You turn to your in-group.
[19:26] <+KevinCrawford> Your blood kindred, your religion, your ethnicity, your subgroup- these things become more important in chaotic situations because they're the ones you can trust. It's like the devolution to feudalism in the late first millenium Europe. When the Emperor is far away, you start relying on the people next to you.
[19:28] <+KevinCrawford> The Scream and the Silence that followed was, in many ways, simply an unraveling down to the raw basics- of survival, of affiliation, of functional society. What you often get in the end is something like the tribal confederacies or patchworks of the modern day, where you have extremely change-resistant but survivable social structures.
[19:28] <~Dan> What are the classes in SWN, and do you keep the race-as-class premise of B/X D&D?
[19:28] * &Le_Squide nods.
[19:29] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:29] <+KevinCrawford> And as for the classes, there are three- Warrior, Expert, and Psychic. No race-as-class, but the default assumption of SWN is human PCs. The purpose of the classes in SWN is to give a broad-brush distinction between PCs and give them each a particular trick and emphasis.
[19:30] <~Dan> How do you handle skills?
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[19:30] <~Dan> (Howdy, Logomachist!)
[19:30] <+KevinCrawford> Warriors can automatically negate one hit they suffer per fight, making them much more survivable. Experts can reroll a failed skill check once an hour, making them much better at performing some trick in the clutch. Psychics are the only ones who get access to psychic powers, though they're the most fragile and low-skilled.
[19:31] <+KevinCrawford> As for skills, I was inspired by Traveller. Skills range from level-0 for basic proficiency to level-5 for best-in-the-sector. You roll 2d6, add your skill, and add your most relevant attribute's modifier. If you equal or beat a difficulty number, you succeed in whatever you were trying to do.
[19:32] <+KevinCrawford> If you have absolutely no skill in a field, you either take a -1 penalty or just can't even try, if it's something really esoteric that would require some expertise to even try.
[19:32] <~Dan> Was there any hesitation on your part to adding skills to the system, given their lack in B/X D&D?
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[19:33] <+KevinCrawford> Nope. SWN includes a sidebar explaining how to run the game without skills, but I thought they were important given the setting. A certain degree of character differentiation is necessary to a lot of players. B/X is fine for a lot of people, where you're differentiated by class,  gear, and maybe some attribute differences.
[19:34] <+KevinCrawford> But it's a lot less differentiation than many people are used to these days, particularly in a genre like sci-fi, where a lot of characters are defined by the Thing They're Good At. So I plugged it in so people could have another way to distinguish their characters.
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[19:34] <&Le_Squide> How much playtesting do you do?
[19:34] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:34] <+M-Type> I like the way the Backgrounds/Training Packages allow for a healthy degree on 'uniqueness' for PCs.
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[19:35] <+Silverlion> How about Spears of Dawn? Were you behind that?
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[19:35] <+KevinCrawford> Yeah- if you don't use skills, then Backgrounds/Training Packages define What You're Good At. As for playtesting, I don't do as much as I'd like to. The most important things to playtest are the crunchy numbers bits of my homebrew addons- the Faction system, for example, or the trade system in Suns of Gold.
[19:35] <~Dan> (Question pause.)
[19:36] <~Dan> (Welcome, Mech_Pilot!)
[19:37] <+KevinCrawford> I've got some friends I run things with online to try out some systems, but I always wish I had more time and suitable guinea-pigs to run more elaborate checks. Fortunately, the base systems I took my inspiration from are rock-solid, so I only really risk screwing it up when I hare off into new systems.
[19:37] <+KevinCrawford> And as for your question, Silverlion, I wrote Spears of the Dawn, yes, in a fit of pique.
[19:37] <+Silverlion> I take it the pique was to do something unusual?
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[19:38] <+KevinCrawford> After reading one of the monthly "How Gaming Marginalizes <X>" threads on, I got altogether irascitated. It annoyed the hell out of me, all these people bemoaning how terribly mistreated and ignored <X> was in gaming, when 99 out of 100 hadn't put up so much as a damn blogpost with any actual _content_ related to what they were lamenting.
[19:38] <+Mech_Pilot> (Thank you!)
[19:39] <+KevinCrawford> Gaming is not the semiconductor industry. You do not need a Game Foundry to produce material. If you see a lack of something, you can go _do something_ about it. There are no gatekeepers, no bars, and no bans against producing the _exact kind of content you want to see_.
[19:39] <&Le_Squide> Spears is really cool. Have you had any feedback from people using Other Dust classes in Stars Without Number or visa versa, or even Spears of the Dawn in either of them?
[19:39] <+Silverlion> Indeed. I feel the same way.
[19:40] <+M-Type> I concur.
[19:40] <+KevinCrawford> And it made my teeth hurt to see all these people burnishing their moral halos, showing everyone how _enlightened_ and _conscious_ and _serious_ they were by the amount of whinging they were doing instead of picking up a damn keyboard and writing something. So I put aside two months and wrote Spears of the Dawn.
[19:41] <~Dan> Can you give us a quick overview of Spears of the Dawn?
[19:41] <+E_T_Smith> You'd think a hobby so actively dedicated to creating would be less driven by passsive consumerism.
[19:41] <+Silverlion> I agree, but I'm a slow writer :D
[19:41] <+KevinCrawford> Then I kickstarted it, got $10,000 for it, and spent most of it buying African-flavored art that I then put in the public domain. Including wiring money to Nigeria to get some illustrations from an actual, you know, _African artist_. One of those people they care so very much about, but don't actually care to pay.
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[19:42] <+Silverlion> I feel bad for artists, but I also feel bad for my poor pocket book
[19:43] <&Le_Squide> How has it sold apart from the kickstarter, might I ask?
[19:43] <+M-Type> I know I bought it after the Kickstarter :/
[19:43] <+KevinCrawford> As for an overview, Spears of the Dawn is my take on what B/X might've looked like if it was drawn from African medieval hashwork instead of European medieval hashwork. It uses African classes, settings, and cultures, and it's bundled with an African-inspired campaign setting and a sheaf of sandbox tools for GMs.
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[19:43] <+KevinCrawford> Sales have been respectable. Outside of the 10K I got for the Kickstarter, it's currently clocked in at... (checks DTRPG)
[19:44] <~Dan> (Welcome, Guest38! Please set your name with the /nick command. :) )
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[19:44] <+KevinCrawford> $1,700 profit so far. Not my biggest seller by any means, but it's worth a couple of months of effort.
[19:44] <~Dan> (Thanks, travellingmatt! :) )
[19:45] <&Le_Squide> Did you see my previous question about cross-game class usage, by the way?
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[19:45] <+KevinCrawford> It was a lot of fun digging up material for it, and there's a great deal more I found than I could actually put in the book. But it was really built to be something you could _play_ and not just something you could look at, so I had to emphasize the approachable, playable elements of things- much as B/X did with European pastiche.
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[19:46] <~Dan> (Hey there, Abstruse!)
[19:46] <+Silverlion> Indeed.
[19:46] <+Silverlion> I'm glad for that.
[19:46] <+Abstruse> Okay, did I make it in time for THIS one? :p
[19:46] <+KevinCrawford> Ah- and as for that Le_Squide, I've had some feedback on that- mostly Other Dust and SWN. The classes seem to be working fine cross-game, since they're all built on basically the same power assumptions. The difference between classes are a lot smaller than that between the Thief and the Elf, for example.
[19:46] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:47] <+Abstruse> Sweet!
[19:47] <~Dan> (Kevin, Abstruse here is the gaming columnist for Ain't It Cool News. :) )
[19:47] <+KevinCrawford> Howdy there, Abstruse.
[19:47] * &Le_Squide nods. "Is there a reason you went to a unified XP scale for Other Dust?"
[19:47] <+Abstruse> Hi Kevin. My name is Darryl and I write for Ain't It Cool News Tabletop under the handle Abstruse. So be warned - the press has shown up :p
[19:48] <+KevinCrawford> I'll try to avoid _boring_ gaffes, then. And as for that, Le_Squide, it has to do with skill progression. In an SWN game, an Expert will always be the first one to a new skill level, even if it's a skill that also is a class skill for another PC. So while both the Warrior and the Expert may have Stealth, the Expert will be the first to raise it.
[19:48] <~Dan> KevinCrawford: Are there intelligent alien races in the SWN universe, and if so, what are they like?
[19:49] <&Le_Squide> Ah! Neat.
[19:49] <+KevinCrawford> In an Other Dust game, that's not so important, since no class has "I'm skilled!" as its key trait. As for that, Dan, yes, there are. Three examples are in the main book, and there's a whole chapter devoted to brewing up more. I tend to leave the specifics loose in canon, however, as some GMs prefer to run human-only games.
[19:50] <+Silverlion> I just wish Other Dust weren't so expensive (poor gamer who likes print books) heh
[19:50] <+M-Type> All the generation systems in the SWN games is quite brilliant, and fun, to handle as a GM. I think it's half the fun!
[19:50] <+KevinCrawford> It's costly, it's true, but as economical as my artists were, it still ran a couple-three thousand bucks in production costs, so a full-scale hardback tends to require some cost recouping.
[19:50] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:51] <+M-Type> (As I look through the Suns of Gold stuff currently)
[19:51] <~Dan> What's the bleeding edge of tech in SWN? Are there man-portable energy weapons, for example? "Light saber" knock-offs?
[19:51] <+Abstruse> Not sure if this has been asked yet, but why are you releasing the core rulebook free as a PDF? What's the difference between the free version and the print version other than, you know, dead trees?
[19:51] <+Silverlion> Yeah, I understand. :D I do
[19:52] <+E_T_Smith> Will there be supplements for Spears o/t Dawn, or was that a doe-in-one project?
[19:52] <~Dan> (Question pause.)
[19:53] <+KevinCrawford> Baseline "postech" in SWN has laser pistols, limited antigrav and cyberware. "Pretech" from before the Scream has Clarkean-level super-tech, including AI, nanotech, and anything else the GM feels like giving it.
[19:54] <~Dan> Is there powered armor and/or mechs?
[19:54] <+KevinCrawford> As for that, Abstruse, the free SWN is my marketing budget, essentially. By making the core game free, I encourage people to pick it up and give it a look- and if they like it, well, they can go in on some of the stuff I'm actually selling. It's the same reason I try to get out a free supplement every couple of months, to keep tempting the cash-tight.
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[19:54] <+GenoFoxx> Sort of like what the Eldar in 40K have as an Example of Pretech, and what the Imperials regularly field for 'postech'
[19:54] <&Le_Squide> That really worked with my group; the free copy of the 'regular' core got one of them to dish out for the "core edition" book.
[19:54] <+KevinCrawford> The free edition is letter-identical to the pay edition, except for the addition of 40 more pages- pages that cover mechs, AI characters, and tools for creating planetary societies for the players to encounter.
[19:54] <+J_Arcane> Hey, it's that other guy who wrote a SF D&D!
[19:55] <~Dan> Heh. Kevin, meet John Berry, author of Hulks & Horrors. :)
[19:55] <+GenoFoxx> hiya J_Arcane
[19:55] <+Silverlion> I wish I had it--because I need AI for my ship...
[19:55] <+KevinCrawford> Yea, verily. As for that, Dan, powered armor exists for postech, but pretech suits are, unsurprisingly, a hell of a lot better.
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[19:55] <+KevinCrawford> (done)
[19:56] <+Abstruse> So the version online is the full game, no quick-start or beginner's rules or anything like that?
[19:56] <+M-Type> I don't know if it's me, but I play my AI like C-3PO, much to the chagrin of my players. :D
[19:56] <&Le_Squide> Oh, goofy specific question: If you're using the Martial Arts supplement, do ranks in Combat: Unarmed still add to damage?
[19:57] <~Dan> Speaking of armor, does armor reduce damage? If not, how do you account for the armor-penetrating effects of high-powered weapons?
[19:57] <+KevinCrawford> The version online is the full game, straight-up. The only thing the pay version adds is mechs, AIs, and society creation. The free version has PC generation, starships, alien creation, world creation, interstellar factions, a bestiary, equipment list, resource chapter, and notes on adjusting to your own group's tastes.
[19:57] <+KevinCrawford> And yes, Le_Squide.
[19:58] <+KevinCrawford> The system used is derived from B/X, so armor makes you less likely to be hurt by an attack rather than subtracting damage from a damage roll. High-tech weapons like guns and lasers ignore low-tech armor completely.
[19:58] <+GenoFoxx> Whoot Mecha!!!!
[19:58] <+Abstruse> Oh, so this is the flip-side of Barrier Peaks then?
[19:58] <+Silverlion> I need that version. Le sigh
[19:59] <+KevinCrawford> Essentially. Though you could run Barrier Peaks with SWN without changing any statistics. Last year I wrote a free Transhuman Tech supplement for SWN, mostly because I found it hilarious to run Keep on the Borderlands with a party of transhuman PCs.
[19:59] <+Silverlion> Hehe.
[20:00] <+Silverlion> Funny.
[20:00] <+Silverlion> Temple of Elemental Evil as a madman's starship
[20:00] <+M-Type> Oh man, I know what I gotta do next!
[20:00] <&Le_Squide> I think you once '+1'd' the livetweets one of my players puts up weekly, so you may have actually seen quotes from that game.
[20:00] <~Dan> Could you say a bit about the mutation system for Other Dust?
[20:01] <+Abstruse> Actually, I was thinking that you're playing as the captains of a crashed ship trying to defend it from the primitives that show up in their chain armor and mystical spells trying to raid the place.
[20:01] <+KevinCrawford> The mutation system for Other Dust is simple, really. Characters have three points they can either spend on boosting their stat modifiers, if they want to play an unchanged human, or they can use them to buy mutations.
[20:01] <~Dan> ("Listen up, you primitive screwheads!")
[20:01] <+Silverlion> Awesome KC...
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[20:01] * +Silverlion slides it onto his wishlist, again
[20:02] <~Dan> How "gonzo" are the mutations?
[20:02] <+KevinCrawford> When you buy a mutation, you get a Stigmata to mark you as a freak o' nature- one per mutant, rather than one per mtuation- and then you roll both a weakness and a mutated perk. The pieces are mix-and-match together, so you can get weird physical or mental alterations paired with the effects.
[20:03] <+KevinCrawford> They aren't as gonzo as Gamma World, but they can get strange. You might randomly roll "chitinous skin", and "you can turn invisible" as a weakness/ability pair. It's up to you to decide that it means that you've got chameleon-like chitin that lets you blend in perfectly.
[20:03] <+M-Type> My friend lost his mouth, then had one on his stomach!
[20:03] <~Dan> So he could make a real belly laugh?
[20:03] <+Silverlion> Cool
[20:04] <+KevinCrawford> I suppose you can also just _pick_ weakness/ability pairs, but that's no fun. But quite possible for those who want to do it that way.
[20:04] <+M-Type> Basically, yeah. Though the local enclaves hated him.
[20:04] <+KevinCrawford> A deplorable pun. (done)
[20:04] <~Dan> Now, do I recall correctly that mutations don't include psychic powers?
[20:04] <+M-Type> I think they were jealous.
[20:05] <+KevinCrawford> Correct. Mutations in Other Dust are the result of the Highshine, the twisted disaster recovery nanite system that had existed on Earth before the Scream. It was supposed to repair radiation damage and stabilize the injured in the case of a planetary disaster. It got... _altered_, shall we say.
[20:05] <&Le_Squide> You posted on Sine Nomiine's website a while back that you were fine with people using your system for free stuff, and outlined your thoughts on people using the mechanical bits for other things; has anyone ever approached you about that?
[20:05] <+M-Type> Altered is an understatement!
[20:06] <+KevinCrawford> People have approached me about making SWN-compatible stuff, and indeed, I'm quite fine with that. Anyone can smack "Works with SWN!" on anything they like, so long as they don't try to bill it as blessed canon. Really, anyone can come along and copy the mechanics completely as far as I'm concerned.
[20:07] <&Le_Squide> So you'd be OK if someone did a 'Pile o' Guns That Work With Stars Without Number' supplement on Drivethru?
[20:07] <+KevinCrawford> Entirely. It would be equal parts sad and hilarious if I were to object to someone ripping my mechanics, given the nature of the game.
[20:08] <~Dan> What aspects of the game do you think make SWN stand out from B/X D&D and other OSR games? (Use this as a "Why SWN?" question, if you like. :) )
[20:09] <+KevinCrawford> SWN knows what it's doing, in brief. B/X and other early D&D was a triumph of ingenuity, table-wise experience and creativity. But since it was defining a genre, it didn't really have a target the way that a later game could. SWN is a sci-fi sandbox game. That's the thing it does. It knows what it is, and it knows what it's _not_.
[20:10] * ~Dan nods
[20:10] <+E_T_Smith> Whats it not?
[20:10] <+KevinCrawford> It's not trying to be a dessert topping and a floor wax. It makes sandbox sci-fi campaigns. It's got tools for making uncharted sectors, quick-prep adventures, resource tables for fast inspiration, and a system light and smooth enough that you don't have to think about it during play. You don't even need the book at the table.
[20:11] <~Dan> Admirable goals, IMO.
[20:11] <+M-Type> Indeed
[20:12] <+KevinCrawford> What it's _not_ is mechanically innovative. This is no Jenga-tower-resolution, deck-of-cards, dice-trick game where you've got some really neat mechanic that impresses its presence on the rest of the game. Nobody's ever going to look at SWN and think "That's an amazingly creative system!" It just works, and that's all I ask of it.
[20:12] <~Dan> Now, I believe there was some discussion of a SWN-powered fantasy game? What do you see that bringing to the table as compared to other OSR games?
[20:12] <+M-Type> It sure works for me!
[20:12] <&Le_Squide> You mentioned working on a horror game soon; what sort of setting where you thinking of using for that?
[20:12] <~Dan> (Question pause.
[20:13] <~Dan> )
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[20:14] <+KevinCrawford> To take those in order, I've been working on an SWN-powered fantasy game for a year or so now. As Dan implies, I'm not bringing it out until it actually does something _new_, or at least something that other OSR games don't already cover in spades. Right now, the target is a kind of hyper-refined sandbox fantasy game designed to leverage GM effort.
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[20:14] <+M-Type> I'll start saving some money away then!
[20:14] <+KevinCrawford> It's not enough to just stick a stack of tables in front of a GM and call it a sandbox game. It's a start, but it's not enough. The game has to be designed and structured so as to give the maximum return on a GM's investment of creativity and time. He has to be able to get _use_ out of his choices and ideas, and it has to happen smoothly.
[20:15] <+KevinCrawford> Choices made during downtime and ideas established there have to be able to generate answers during play, organically and as a smooth consequence of established fact. It's like the world tags in SWN. They leverage choices. When you decide a world is an "Ocean World/Theocracy", you have a pretty good idea of what it's like
[20:16] <+KevinCrawford> Even if you haven't gone through and named the local rulers or established local detail, those two tropes combine to give you something you can use at the table if it suddenly becomes relevant.
[20:17] <+M-Type> I've actually used SWN planet generation for a B/X session. It took some tweaking, but it still worked out.
[20:17] <+KevinCrawford> With a fantasy game, I'm trying to figure out how to generalize that sort of thing into a smooth, fractal sort of table workflow where a GM can take his earlier choices and simply work them out to get the answers he needs right then and there.
[20:18] <+KevinCrawford> As for the horror game, it's actually a step toward that, as I'm experimenting with some campaign structuring in it. It's called "Silent Legions", and is going to be a modern-era Lovecraftian horror sandbox game.
[20:18] <~Dan> Another admirable goal, IMO! :)
[20:18] <+KevinCrawford> I want to see what happens when you take a horror game and turn it into a sandbox. Horror on the Orient Express and Masks of Nyarlathotep are great, but they're fundamentally- and sometimes literally- railroads. You have a story arc for your investigators to die in.
[20:18] <+M-Type> Oh man, can't tell my friend about that...he loves his Lovecraft.
[20:18] <&Le_Squide> re: The fantasy game, is it going to use some of the systems from An Echo Resounding?
[20:19] <~Dan> Literally Lovecraftian, or just stylistically?
[20:19] <&Le_Squide> (Sorry to keep bombarding you with questions)
[20:19] <~Dan> (Yeah, you'd think he's here for a Q&A or something...)
[20:19] <~Dan> ( ;) )
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[20:19] <+KevinCrawford> I want to see if I can design a framework where the GM can handle a more open, less directed table experience. And actually, that's something of a tweak, Dan. The game is Lovecraftian in flavor, but part of the campaign creation process are tools for creating your own Mythos.
[20:19] <+GenoFoxx> (*snrk*)
[20:20] <+KevinCrawford> I don't see any point in just reprinting Cthulhu. People've been writing Lovecraftian games for 30 years, and they don't need my take on the tentacled one. I want to give people the tools to make their _own_ Mythos, and if they want to use Cthulhu, well, they can just put him in. Lord knows he's documented well.
[20:21] <~Dan> What classes will you use for that game?
[20:21] <+E_T_Smith> That reminds me of 1st ed Chill. It was a suprisingly sandboxy game, in some ways.
[20:21] <+KevinCrawford> So as part of the campaign creation, you'll be building Elder Gods, establishing servitor races, making up dead wizards and their important books, and putting together your own cults and organizations.
[20:22] <+M-Type> Sounds excellent!
[20:22] <+KevinCrawford> As a side, Le_Squide, AER will inform the fantasy game, but I'll more take lessons from it than lift things directly. As for classes, there are four- Toughs, Scholars, Investigators, and Socialites. They differ in HP/saves/attack bonii/skills, but most significantly, they differ in how they can spend their innate Taint.
[20:23] <+KevinCrawford> You see, contacting the Black Dream and its Eidolons is toxic to the sanity and bodies of humans. They're too alien, and it leaves a Taint on those who get too involved with them.
[20:23] <+KevinCrawford> Most Tainted drink or drug themselves to death trying to get away from the nightmares and glimpses of awful things. Some of them become cultists, trying to appease the visions in their heads, getting a fragile sort of peace by submitting to what they think their gods want from them.
[20:24] <+KevinCrawford> And the PCs are among those that cope by fighting back, asserting their own will by resisting the Black Dream. But they're still Tainted, and they can still use that penumbra of contact with the alien outer dark to cause certain effects.
[20:24] <~Dan> Hmm. Interesting approach.
[20:24] <~Dan> Is that the basis for the magic system? Or are these effects distinct from magic?
[20:25] <+M-Type> It's definitely something I can get behind.
[20:25] <+KevinCrawford> The effects are subtle, usually. A Tough can avoid a Slaughtering hit, for example, while a Scholar can just happen to remember the fact he needs at the moment. If you learn the right rituals you can use Taint to perform outright magic, however, or use occult powers. Most of these things sap your Will, however.
[20:26] <~Dan> Ah... So at the baseline, they're like evil Fate Points?
[20:26] <+KevinCrawford> Will is your ability to cope with the Black Dream. It gradually ablates over the course of your character's career, spent on enduring horror, bloodshed, and madness, or spent in activating magic. Once you run out, you just can't take it any more and become an NPC, assuming you're not hopelessly crazed by then.
[20:27] <+KevinCrawford> You can get Will by going up in level, but it's a limited resource that will eventually run out. If you keep screwing around with the Black Dream, you're going to lose your head eventually. Of course, if you _don't_, you'll gradually go insane from the dreams.
[20:27] <+M-Type> And what is a game without a little insanity?
[20:28] <+KevinCrawford> It's an expectation of the genre. Of course, there are tweaks a GM can use if he wants a more heroic game and doesn't want the "You are all damned." trope of classic Lovecrafting gaming.
[20:29] <~Dan> Speaking of weird powers, can you describe the extent of psionics in SWN?
[20:30] <+KevinCrawford> Psionics in SWN tend to be weaker than classic magic-user spells or the like. Most of the lowest-level abilities are fairly modest, but all of them are designed to be useful. You can teleport short distances, for example, or stabilize mortally-wounded companions, or precognitively sense ambushes and traps.
[20:31] <+KevinCrawford> Psychics pick a primary psychic discipline at 1st level, gaining one new power from that list every time they go up in level. They also get a free point they can put in any other Discipline they choose, allowing them to generalize or specialize in another discipline.
[20:31] <~Dan> But I recall that the NPC psycho psionics in Other Dust are something on the level of Akira?
[20:31] <+KevinCrawford> They use their abilities by spending power points to represent the amount of metadimensional energy their brains can handle before toasting. If they're desperate, they can use powers even without the points, but they'll probably suffer permanent brain damage.
[20:32] <+KevinCrawford> Yep. Earth, unsurprisingly, had some of the most powerful psychics in human space on it at the time of the Scream. And about 1 in 10 survived as psychotic lunatics.
[20:32] <~Dan> Are they the Big Bads cooked into the Other Dust setting?
[20:32] <+GenoFoxx> Is there multiclassing in SWN?
[20:33] <+KevinCrawford> They're ridiculously powerful, and since the power's already burnt a hole in their heads they can channel their abilities freely. They're fairly well-cooked into the Other Dust setting, but if you want to come up with another reason for the collapse of society, you can trim them out without missing them.
[20:34] <~Dan> What are the classes in Other Dust, by the way? I'm told that there are no PC psychics?
[20:34] <+KevinCrawford> There's no default multiclassing, since each class is meant to be fairly niche-protected. There are optional rules in the designer's notes section for multiclassing, though- you just take a different class' level when you advance, gaining the best of the available scores.
[20:34] <+GenoFoxx> cool
[20:35] <+KevinCrawford> The OD classes are Scroungers (techs and sages), Survivors (tough wasteland wanderers), Slayers (murder machines), and Speakers (diplomats and leaders). You could use Psychics, Warriors, or Experts in there without changing anything if you liked.
[20:35] <+M-Type> I love th e
[20:35] <+KevinCrawford> I didn't include psionics in OD because it was already available free in SWN, and I didn't want to pad the page count.
[20:35] <+M-Type> *Man with No Name in OD
[20:36] <+GenoFoxx> Are there any upcoming Mandate Archive I should be on the lookout for?
[20:36] <+KevinCrawford> Yeah, everybody likes the Mysterious Drifter with the Revolver.
[20:36] <~Dan> What's the highest tech goodies that can be scrounged in OD?
[20:36] * +M-Type squints like Clint Eastwood
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[20:36] <+KevinCrawford> I've got a writeup for Solomon Nkwame, the Wraith of the OD setting coming along sometime, GenoFoxx. While it's written for OD, the material is easy enough to just plop on a SWN planet somewhere.
[20:37] <+GenoFoxx> I'm just waiting for the 2013 compilation :D
[20:38] <+KevinCrawford> And as for high-tech goodies? Well, somewhere out there are weapons based on chronal manipulation, stutterjump-teleporter defenses, precognitive economic matrices so accurate that they make communism workable, and nanotech capable of instantly rebuilding you into completely inhuman forms.
[20:39] <+M-Type> I also have to put in a good word for 'nuke launchers' in the new Suns of Gold supplement. Or just go with a simple Pocket Nuke.
[20:39] <~Dan> Wow.
[20:39] <+KevinCrawford> And if you find an unbraked AI somewhere, well, you've got Clarkean tech that can do just about anything the GM wants it to go. And it's true- with all the nuke snuffers down on Earth, a pocket nuke would actually work just fine to take out a problem.
[20:40] <~Dan> Are there any mutant monsters in OD?
[20:40] <+M-Type> "Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure."
[20:40] <+KevinCrawford> A big sheaf of them, most of them vicious. Highshine just keeps them alive, it doesn't make them comfortable. There are things out there that exist in a perpetual state of agony because the nanites just won't let them die.
[20:41] <~Dan> Damn. That's creepy.
[20:41] <~Dan> So... are there nano-zombies?
[20:41] <+KevinCrawford> The flaysnake, for one- a giant rattler with a malcoded skin genome. It spends its days crawling over gravel without the benefit of actual skin.
[20:42] <+KevinCrawford> Nano-zombies and worse. If you run into a patch of Black Dust, there's no telling what it's going to do to you. If you're lucky, it'll just melt you. And if not, it'll turn you into something that a psychotic precognitive nanocoder thought was right for you.
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[20:43] <~Dan> Oh, you mentioned that SWN PCs are all human but that there are intelligent aliens. Can you comment on that design decison?
[20:44] <~Dan> (Welcome to #rpgnet, Janana!)
[20:44] <+Janana> (thanks!)
[20:44] <+KevinCrawford> The robots aren't terribly friendly, either, though there are exceptions. The Imago Dei templar-bots can be downright heroic help if you can find them. And as for aliens, I decided to keep them peripheral because a lot of GMs prefer a humanocentric world. Better to give them the tools to brew their own than oblige them to focus on my own offerings.
[20:45] <~Dan> So is the universe human-dominated? Or are there any alien empires out there?
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[20:46] <+KevinCrawford> At the peak of the Terran Mandate, humanity was the unquestioned boss of its arm of the galaxy, though it had neighbors of varying degrees of friendliness. After the Scream.. well, nobody really knows. Communication has been cut off for about 600 years, and anything could be happening on the other side of the arm.
[20:46] <+KevinCrawford> For all the PCs know, their sector is the last outpost of humanity in the galaxy. It's for the GM to decide.
[20:46] <+M-Type> I see aliens as ready to get back at humans for being 'jerks' the first time around.
[20:46] <~Dan> I take it that intelligent aliens aren't very common as of the SWN status quo?
[20:48] <+KevinCrawford> They're uncommon, indeed. Not unknown, but a spacer can go a good long while before they ever encounter one. And yeah, not a lot of aliens really loved the Mandate Fleet. I'm sure plenty are ready to get back some of their own from the pink apes.
[20:48] <~Dan> How much of a bestiary does SWN feature?
[20:48] <+E_T_Smith> When I  roll up randomn sectors for SWN, I usually get one or two alien homeworlds, so they're at least that common mechanically.
[20:48] <+M-Type> In the sector I'm currently running, the insectile aliens are holding a planet hostage because they know the humans don't have the fleet to oppose them.
[20:49] <+KevinCrawford> A modest one- a half-dozen pages of actual beasts. Most of the chapter is in tools for building your own creatures, with different tables for physical elements and stats.
[20:49] * ~Dan nods
[20:49] <+M-Type> Unless my PCs decide to help :P
[20:49] <~Dan> Makes sense, given that we're talking about a game covering... well, Stars Without Number.
[20:49] <+KevinCrawford> Mmm. It's true- with the tags in the core book, you're likely to get one world with the Alien tag, if you use 2 tags on 20-30 worlds.
[20:50] <&Le_Squide> The statblock pages in your books are INCREDIBLY useful.
[20:50] <+M-Type> I usually only roll up alien species if I get Alien populace or Primitive Aliens, so sentient species are pretty rare for me.
[20:50] <~Dan> I should mention that you're welcome to hang out and field questions as long as you like, Kevin. That said, we're coming up on the end of the scheduled Q&A time, so is there anything you'd like to cover that we haven't brought up, Kevin?
[20:51] <+KevinCrawford> I try to make them handy. One of the advantages of the base system is that you don't need much space to fit a monster in, so there's no reason not to provide a sheet with lots of them preworked.
[20:52] <+KevinCrawford> Mmm. I think we've covered about the sum of things. I'll have more to say about Silent Legions as it gets settled, but that should be in about 2 months. Once I have the thing written, I'll be kickstarting it.
[20:52] <~Dan> You'll be welcome to come back for a Q&A focused on Silent Legions.
[20:52] <+GenoFoxx> M-type what your PC's have access to a Bruxelles Battle cruiser or two?
[20:52] <~Dan> Oh! That reminds me: What is space combat like in SWN?
[20:53] <+KevinCrawford> A good, solid cruiser can be all kinds of unhappiness to an undefended planet. Though then again, a tramp freighter with a nuke thrown out the airlock can be disastrous to a primitive world.
[20:53] <+M-Type> Funny you should mention that! They're trying to keep a madman who's been cryo-frozen from before the Scream from fixing one!
[20:53] <+M-Type> He wants to 'put humanity back on the pedestal' or something :P
[20:54] <+KevinCrawford> Space combat works the same as ground combat, really- ships have AC, hit points, and weapons, and go after each other. I wrote it to resolve quickly, since if you're not willing to make an entire mini-game out of space combat, it ends up pretty dang boring for non-pilots. It's the Decker Problem in space.
[20:54] <+GenoFoxx> with him as emperor of course
[20:54] <+M-Type> Oh, but of course!
[20:54] <~Dan> Are there stunt-flying fighters, or is it more realistic?
[20:55] <+M-Type> He's the only one that knows how the Terran Mandate worked, so he thinks it's in the bag.
[20:55] <&Le_Squide> Do you have actual rule for nukes and nuke dampers anywhere, by they way? Or is it just "Nuke: Kill 'em all. Nuke Damper: No Nukes."
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[20:55] <+KevinCrawford> Fighters have good AC, since they're so maneuverable, and enough armor to handle light weapons, but if they start winging at cruisers... well, they're meant to be disposable, to a degree.
[20:56] <+KevinCrawford> As for that, Le_Squide, when you get nuked, you make two Luck saves if you're under plausible cover. If you fail one, you're mortally wounded and dying. If you fail both, you're insta-dead.
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[20:56] <&Le_Squide> Yikes! Is that in one of the books?
[20:57] <+KevinCrawford> Yep. Suns of Gold covers nuclear weapons, for those far traders who really want to be _emphatic_ with primitive worlds.
[20:57] <+M-Type> I actually lost a PC to an ancient nuclear reactor. Man, my game sounds really intense when I talk about it...
[20:57] <+M-Type> Now that I know there are 'rules' rules...
[20:57] <&Le_Squide> Ah! Better keep reading it, then.
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[20:57] <+KevinCrawford> They're in the Tools of the Traders section.
[20:57] <&Le_Squide> Oh! Did you write up a cyborg for someone on a forum somewhere, or did I dream that? >.>
[20:58] <+KevinCrawford> Yeah- Celebrityomnipath was curious, I think, so I wrote up a fast Other Dust cyborg rule.
[20:59] <+E_T_Smith> Kevin, any particular genre influnces warant mentioning? And at that, any sly references to them hidden in your games?
[20:59] <+KevinCrawford> Well, I namecheck Frederic Bastiat in Suns of Gold.
[21:00] <+KevinCrawford> Actually, I'd have to say that noirs have been one of the strongest influence on the SWN material I've written. Hard Light, Grandfather's Rain, the House of Bone and Amber... all the adventures I've written actually are rather noir in a way, now that I think about it.
[21:01] <&Le_Squide> Especially House of Bone and Amber.
[21:01] <+KevinCrawford> Everybody needs something from you, and even the good guys are not excessively burdened by virtue. The world is unkind, choices are hard, and the person who's trying to kill you has a pretty good reason to do so by their lights.
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[21:02] <~Dan> So no Big Damn Heroes?
[21:02] <+KevinCrawford> Yeah- HoBaA runs rather heavy on that. There's a particular side that most PCs will ally with, but I can also see some PCs looking at the situation and deciding it's not one they want to make friends in.
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[21:03] <+E_T_Smith> Hrm. So I'd best read up on the Chandler as much as the Asimov before running SWN.
[21:03] <+KevinCrawford> Not so much. If you're lucky, you get to end the day with your self-image and moral code intact. If not, well, you've got to remember that you've only got 1d6 hit points.
[21:03] * ~Dan nods
[21:04] <+M-Type> Word
[21:04] <+KevinCrawford> I've got an SWN-based novel I'm working on that I want to get out this year, and I'll be playing a bit more with that in it.
[21:04] <~Dan> Nice!
[21:04] <+M-Type> Excellent,
[21:04] <+Silverlion> Cool.
[21:05] <+KevinCrawford> And there's this SWN choose-your-own adventure book I've got a quarter done that I really need to finish. It's built with Twine, so you can play it online.
[21:05] <+M-Type> Very cool!
[21:06] <+M-Type> I actually think someone pointed me to Twine once. Might have to give it a once over now!
[21:06] <~Dan> As you may know, I'm a reviewer. Just let me know if you'd like any of your books reviewed.
[21:06] <+GenoFoxx> Any chance of a SWN/OD supers setting like in Mai Otome?
[21:06] <+KevinCrawford> It's remarkably easy to use. And I'll have to keep that in mind, Dan- I've got your email, handily.
[21:07] <~Dan> Also, I'll be posting the log shortly and will email you the link.
[21:07] <+KevinCrawford> And actually, GenoFoxx, a sandbox near-future supers game is on the deck after Silent Legions, though I've never seen Mai Otome to compare.
[21:07] <+M-Type> (Downloading Twine now) :D
[21:07] <+KevinCrawford> I'll be keen to see it. It's been a lot of fun doing the Q&A.
[21:07] <+Silverlion> Any Polesotechnic League influence on Suns of Gold?
[21:07] <+GenoFoxx> think Magical girl only with nanotech
[21:07] <+M-Type> Nanogirl?
[21:08] <+KevinCrawford> Oh, yeah, Silverlion. Nicholas van Rijn was in the forefront for me. There are a lot of games that handle Space Truckers, but I wanted to write something that could handle "I own this world." type wealth, too.
[21:08] <+Silverlion> Awesome. Love those books
[21:08] <~Dan> I'm glad you've enjoyed it, Kevin! If I haven't mentioned it already, I should tell you that all game authors are welcome to hang out and promote their games at any time.
[21:08] <+Silverlion> Must run for a bit though
[21:08] <~Dan> (You just get the floor to yourself during a Q&A.)
[21:09] <&Le_Squide> Are there any other sandbox products you like or recommend?
[21:09] <+KevinCrawford> (waves to Silverlion) I'll have to keep that in mind. I don't have time for a lot but writing, but it's always a pleasure to chat betimes.
[21:09] <~Dan> (Silverlion and J_Arcane are a couple of our resident game authors. :) )
[21:09] <+Silverlion> No worries Kevin. I enjoy your games (that I own, so far...:D) So always cool to pick ones brain.
[21:10] <+GenoFoxx> (I'm one of the resident mecha junkies :D
[21:10] <+KevinCrawford> I can credit Vornheim as being an intriguingly creative city tool. Also, the IMPA photography and postcard archive at (Link:
[21:11] <+KevinCrawford> I got a lot of Africana visual info out of those postcards and old photos. The missionaries were often in there before anyone else was, and the photos they took of various lands and people are some of the earliest you're going to find,.
[21:12] <+M-Type> It was a blast talking with you, but I should probably go so I can wake up for work tomorrow! I feel like 'talking to the author of my favorite RPG' is a good excuse.
[21:12] <+M-Type> So, cheers to you Kevin! Keep up the good work!
[21:12] <~Dan> Come by any time, M-Type!
[21:12] <+KevinCrawford> But for now, I fear I must go and deal with this layout, anyway. I'm dying to use this Van de Graaf canon with something, but I can't figure out what byet.
[21:12] <+KevinCrawford> Have fun, M-Type.
[21:12] <~Dan> I need to head out as well. Thanks so much for coming by, Kevin!
[21:12] <+M-Type> Oh, I shall.
[21:13] <~Dan> I'll get you that log shortly.
[21:13] <&Le_Squide> Adios!
[21:13] <+KevinCrawford> It was great fun for me, and thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Very enjoyable read! Looking forward to Silent Legions and that sandbox supers game eventually!