Life in a Wormhole: Still Doing it Wrong #eveonline

We’ve spent the last couple nights chasing after looters out of high-sec without being able to actually catch them — in response to this frustration, CB has put all other training on hold in favor of getting into warp-disrupting Sabre-class interdictors, but that’s still a long way off, and in the meantime these PvP shenanigans feel more like shooing pigeons away from statues we just got clean.

I am determined to make a bit of cash this evening, and EVE’s random number generator acquiesces; our previously barren system now boasts several sleeper anomalies and a tasty-looking radar signature that indicates a rarer site from which ancient technologies can be retrieved.

Tonight, however, my eyes are set further afield. The class one system we’re connected to boasts a persistent connection to nullsec (whose inhabitants are – collectively – shockingly uninformed/uninterested regarding wormhole space and thus less likely to drop in for a visit), two abandoned and offline towers, and a shaggy garden full of good-if-not-great sleeper anomalies to run. Could I make a bit more money in our home system? Probably, but if I take the fight into the C1 instead, I can make decent ISK and let our system continue to recover from recent predations. Win-win.

Bre and Ty slip into a Drake battlecruiser and Gila cruiser, respectively, warp to the C1 wormhole, jump through, and warm up the guns for some money-making funtime.

Except there’s a Drake on d-scan, and it isn’t Bre’s Fatbottom Girl. It seems our sleeper shooting will have to wait. Again.

Ty reships into his Cheetah-class cov-ops frigate and slips back into the C1 to take stock of the situation, while Bre stays put at the tower to see what ship choice is going to be most indicated.

I get back into the system to see the starry sky festooned with scanner probes — I already know the pilot isn’t a local to the system, and the probes seem to indicate that he’s not looking to tangle with sleepers. What is he looking for? Apparently, the answer is “the wormhole leading back to our system.”

Oh goody.

The probes continue to close in on the wormhole, so I slip back into our system and make preparations. A Myrmidion-class battlecruiser designed for up-close brawling seems like a good choice for drake-wrestling; Bre supplements this with a Blackbird-class cruiser loaded to the gills with electronic countermeasures that should nicely castrate the Drake’s offensive capabilities, and we both head off to safespots in the system to stay clear of the Drake’s directional scan while Tira watches the C1 connection in a covert ops frigate.

Eventually — after perhaps a bit longer than I’d expected — the Drake emerges from the wormhole, takes stock of the situation, launches a handful of scanning probes, and cloaks.

Again, the probes are an interesting choice; if the pilot were looking to hit more valuable sites than those in the C1, they are easily located with a quick pulse of the on-board ship scanner. The fact that he’s using probes indicates that he’s looking for something else, and my guess is it’s an exit to high-security space.

That tells me what I need to do.

Ty warps back to the tower, moving somewhat brazenly due to the fact that it’s actually quite difficult for a pilot to both control the triangulation of the scanner probes while remaining diligent on directional scan. Odds are very good that a cloaked battlecruiser will simply ignore d-scan entirely while it searches for the exit, and that gives me a chance to set things up.

I grab a mobile warp disruption generator out of the corp hangar and warp to our current wormhole exit to highsec. The “bubble” is a tried and true tool that I’m fairly familiar with from my time in OUCH — once anchored and activated, it creates a five kilometer wide bubble in space that yanks ships out of warp and drops them (hopefully) into your waiting grasp.

The main problem with the bubble is placement. Five kilometers seems like a lot, but it’s something of a pinprick when set in open space (which is somewhat bigger). The two main ways to set it up are either between point A and point B (where it will act as a roadblock) or actually behind point B, along the same trajectory as A-to-B, where it will actually drag the victim past their destination and (hopefully) disorient them.

I opt for the “drag” placement, and burn 25 kilometers “behind” the wormhole to anchor the device. I could and in fact should set it up two or three times further back from the wormhole, to ensure that the Drake will be too far from the wormhole to realistically make a run for it, but I can see that the probes are closing in, and a Bubble that’s a bit too close is, to my mind, better than one that isn’t set up at all. Moving as quickly as I can, I drop the bubble, anchor it, and warp back to my safe spot.

Bre, on the other hand, warps in to within visual distance of the wormhole, and cloaks up. She’ll be working this fight from comfortably long range, and the targeting delay that comes from decloaking won’t affect her for long enough to matter.

Then it’s just waiting. I shoot an out of game email off to Gor and CB to let them know there’s violence in the offing.

More waiting…

And waiting…

And waiting…

It occurs to me that a Drake isn’t really a very good exploration ship.

Or that the pilot isn’t a very good scanner.

More waiting…

Finally, the probes vanish, and the Drake appears on scan, presumably warping to his newly discovered exit. Ty enters warp en route to the bubble to greet him.

Unbelievably, everything actually works as intended. The Drake overshoots the wormhole and drops out of warp just inside the wobbling warp-disruption field of our little tarbaby. Bre bravely holds her cloak until Ty can provide a beefier alternative target, and the Drake wheels, fires up afterburners, and starts burning back for the wormhole just as Ty lands and turns to pursue.

Keeping up is no problem, and the Myrmidon is fit with a single-target warp scrambler that keeps the Drake from warping away even after it escapes the bubble; the Myrmidon releases drones, sets them to attack, and starts chewing through the Drake’s massive shield tank with a half-dozen 425mm autocannons, firing at all-but point blank range. The Drake starts to counterattack, but Bre decloaks and starts cycling ECM modules against the target, preventing a target lock.

There’s only one problem.

We’re too damn close to the wormhole, and the Drake is too damn tough to take down in the limited space we have to work with. Despite overheating everything worth overheating, the battlecruiser makes it to the wormhole and slips out into high security empire space.

Crap.

Now, the casual observer might wonder why I even care about this guy. He’s clearly on a road to somewhere else, and if all he wants to do is use a couple of wormholes to get from points A to point Z, who cares? I could just shoot sleepers and leave him be, right?

Probably not — or at least, I have to assume not. Maybe he’d leave us alone as he ferries things back and forth, yes. On the other hand, maybe he calls in six to sixty of his best mates and they drop on us like a ton of bricks while we’re getting our sleeper-shoot on. Given that that is a possibility, I have to assume it’s the likely possibility, and react accordingly. Ideally, this would mean blowing up both his ship and his pod, then collapsing the wormhole so that he has no way of getting back here.

This result is fairly suboptimal. At this point I might as well–

The wormhole warbles, and the Drake reappears.

I’ll be honest: I just sit there for a second. I mean… dude, you just got away from a bubble trap, and you came back? What are you, me?

My immobility is short-lived. I reestablish my target lock, Bre resumes her jamming, and my guns begin their comforting chatter. I don’t know what he’s up to, but —

He jumps back out to highsec again.

Okay. No. This is — No. I don’t have time for this kind of cr–

I’m getting a private comms request.

From the pilot of the Drake.

You know what? I’ll take it; it’s certainly not the first time I decided to talk to someone that EVE logic says I should be shooting at. I hop out into high-sec so I don’t get jumped by fifty Drake-buddies and open comms, noting that the Drake itself is only a few kilometers away.

“Evening.”

“Hi there. I was wondering if you would mind it if I ported some supplies through the wormhole here. I don’t want any trouble, but I really need to finish the supply run, and I’d appreciate it.”

I ponder this, and as I do, CB logs in.

For most EVE players, there are only a few options in this situation:

  • Say no, and spend the evening harassing the guy, possibly killing one or more of his ships.
  • Say yes, on condition of payment, and then spend all evening attacking him anyway, possibly killing one or more of his ships, and cackling about how you managed to get him to pay a fake toll.
  • Say yes, take the toll, then collapse the wormhole on him and log out.

All of these options are built on a basic assumption: “If this guy gets what he wants, it will in some way make the game worse for me.” Some players will tell you that the assumption is “If he gets what he wants, he’ll take advantage of you somehow,” and while that may be true, I don’t believe it’s the main reason, which is that many players will screw with other players simply because the option exists. Maybe that’s fun for them, I don’t know.

Personally? I think that’s an exhausting way to think — I can be careful without being a complete asshole.

“What’s going on? Who’s dying?” CB asks.

“One sec,” I reply, and flip back to the private comms.

“Here’s the deal,” I say, “personally, I don’t really want to hunt you all night — I’ve got other stuff to do — but all this business just got my corpmate online when he was going to take a night off, and that is a real hassle for him. I feel bad about pulling him online for no reason. I want to make it up to him.”

“Okay.”

“Specifically,” I continue, “I want you to make it up to him, by paying us a reasonable fee for passage.”

“That…” he replies, “sounds reasonable, provided you aren’t just going to kill me anyway.”

I take a breath. “You don’t know me, obviously,” I type, “but let me assure you (for what it’s worth) that I don’t do things like that. Ever.”

Time will tell.

I hit enter, then stare and screen and add. “Ultimately, you can either pay me and hope I’m telling the truth, or not pay me and know for certain I’ll harass you all night. Up to you. Keep in mind I need to trust you not to be pulling some kind of doublecross as well by bringing in a fleet to wipe me out while I’m about my business.”

He wires the money to me a few seconds later, with a bonus.

“Excellent,” I reply. “You have free passage. I’ll go take down the bubble so you can move around easily.

And that’s what I do.

“What happened?” CB asks.

“Some guy is hauling supplies back to his hole, and we’re the best route for him. He paid us a toll, here’s your cut.” I wire him most of the money. “Sound good?”

“I just got paid for logging in for two minutes,” CB replies. “Sounds fine by me. Later.”

“Later.”

He logs out, and I return to my original sleeper shooting plans. Four sites drop in quick succession — fewer than I’d planned on, thanks to the interruption, but still decent — and I proceed with looting while Bre goes back to the tower.

In mid-salvage-operation,  I get another message request from the Drake pilot.

Could be a trap.

Could be a lot of things. Could be pie, for all you know. Answer it.

I do. There aren’t so many people in our home system that I have a surplus of conversation opportunities, and in any case, this is another wormhole dweller — a different breed from a lot of EVE players — the odds of them being someone I respect are generally higher (even when they’re trying to kill me).

“Hello again.”

“Hello. This is going to sound weird.”

“I’m ready for anything. Shoot.”

“I just have a really long, really boring supply run to do, and you’re the only person I know who’s logged in.”

I laugh, almost loud enough to wake up my kid. “We do have to find our EVE-friends where we can, even if it’s someone that was shooting at us an hour ago.”

“Indeed. Feel like chatting about wormholes while I fly?”

“Sounds good. How long have you been out here?…”

And that was the evening. I wrapped up the salvage, hauled it to the nearest market, sold it off for a solid profit, and kept chatting with the lone Drake pilot, who lives somewhere out in wormhole space in a tiny little C1 system with a nullsec connection (like the one I’d just looted, but somewhere else). He’d been unable to do a supply run for almost a month, and was getting a bit desperate when he found tonight’s route out.

I was also the first person he’d seen in almost two weeks — he lived in his system solo; just him and his alts. Before he set up a tower, he’d lived out of his ships, roaming wormholes, and didn’t ‘touch ground’ in known space for almost two months. I whistle softly.

“That’s pretty impressive.”

“It’s what I enjoy.”

“That, I understand.”

I’ll probably never talk to the guy again. I’ll almost definitely never see him again in our wormhole — the odds of getting that kind of connection between our systems again are vanishingly slim — but I have a good chat during a slow part of the game with a guy who happens to share many of the same interests as I do.

And none of that would have happened if I’d done things “right” when the opportunity for betrayal and extortion presented itself.

Playing the way I choose to play is wrong, by many player’s lights, and it will undoubtedly cost me at some future point when someone plays me for a sucker — I will lose a ship, or ships, or maybe something even bigger.

But in the meantime (and probably even afterwards), as long as things like this evening continue to happen, as far as I’m concerned, I’m winning.

Life in a Wormhole: Kicking the Anthill #eveonline

It’s an early Saturday morning, and the cupboard (by which I mean “our home system”) is bare. The random number generator hasn’t been particularly kind the last few days, and there’s nothing interesting to shoot as far as the eye and my on-board scanner can see.

However, my scanner can’t reach into our neighboring system, so I’ll head over for a bit of a shufti. The local class one system is empty and boring, but we have an inbound connection from a class two system like our own, and that looks a bit more promising.

My first directional and on-board scan is a bit odd. I don’t see any towers or ships, and there are a fair number of Sleeper anomalies showing up on my overview, but not the several dozen or so that you tend to see in an overgrown, uninhabited system. So: someone has been active here, but not in the last few days. Interesting.

I jet around the system in my Cheetah cov-ops frigate and after a bit more searching I’m able to find the local residents’ tower, anchored at one of the twenty or so moons orbiting a gas giant. No ships, piloted or otherwise, float in the tower shields, though at least some of that can be explained by the time of day — the corporation is German, and I happen to be quite familiar with the play schedule of pilots from that part of the world; they generally wouldn’t be on right now. Also, a quick check of Wormnav and a few other info sites shows a very distinctive pattern — every five to seven days, there’s a huge spike in Sleeper ship kills with deep valleys of almost no activity in between. This would seem to indicate that we are GO for sleeper killing, except for the somewhat troublesome fact that the last Sleeper-killing binge was about six days ago, which means I’m poking around the home of some weekend star-warriors who might wake up to find me eating their porridge.

This doesn’t prove to be much of a deterrent.

I wake up Bre, and she and Ty strap into pointy ships for a bit of internet spaceship mayhem. Once back in the neighboring system, I review the anomalies available and notice that there is a very nice group of high-profit sites in a convenient cluster that’s within the 14 AU directional scanning range of the local tower. Perfect: I can shoot sleepers with the most lunch money in their pockets and still watch the tower for any change in activity.

The combat proves to be fairly easy — maybe the sleepers don’t like the hour of the day either — but in any case I have to deal with very little target-switching nonsense taking out my poor helpless combat drones. We’re able to mop up a half-dozen sites in less than an hour and bookmark the location of the wrecks left behind so I can come back afterwards with a salvaging ship.

The timing of this is important — given an hour to decant, the elements of the sleeper site that make it incredibly easy to locate with a simple onboard ship scanner will have vanished (postmortem decay?), but the wrecks with all their lovely candy innards will still be floating in open space — this means that it will be that much more difficult for anyone to find me while I’m poking around with a fragile salvaging ship.

Which is exactly what Ty does. Bre jumps into a Buzzard covert-ops ship simply because she’s more comfortable in that than her drake, and I’m off to my bookmarked wreckage in a Catalyst-class destroyer with tractor beams and salvaging modules bolted on in place of railguns.

Two sites go down in quick succession and I’m on to the third when Tira pokes her head in to see how it’s going.

“Just shooting sleepers and taking their stuff in the system next door.”

“I see,” she says. “Don’t you get angry when people do that to you?”

“Well, yeah…” I reply, “but… this is EVE.”

I can hear her roll her eyes. “Do unto others and then shoot them when they try to do unto you?”

“I guess.” I continue to suck wrecks into the hold of the Catalyst. “But the thing is this: I might like it if folks didn’t wildcat our system, and if not doing it to other people meant that other people couldn’t do it to us? That would be great.”

“But it doesn’t.”

“Definitely. So if I’m going to get done-to…”

“You might as well do unto. Gotcha.”

I nod, and check d-scan again.

I spy with my little eye… Germans, logging on for a little bit of evening Sleeper shooting.

Heh. Oops.

The first couple ships that show up are haulers and other non-combat types, but that doesn’t last for long. I can only imagine the bustle of activity as their first d-scan shows them dozens of sleeper wrecks and a salvaging ship.

Artist's approximation of their directional scan results.

Industrial haulers and mining ships are swapped for battleships, which don’t actually worry me since they won’t be able to determine my location. New pilots keep connecting, however, and one of them switches to a scanning ship, which is somewhat more worrisome. A few seconds later, my d-scan is showing scanning probes in the system, and I know that my time is running out.

A smart man would have already left.

A more reckless but still smart man would have left as soon as the scanning ship showed up.

Me? I keep salvaging.

Why? It looks like they aren’t going to be able to find me directly, because the scanning probes in the system are those designed for finding wormholes and other anomalies, not the combat scanning probes used to locate ships. This isn’t that unusual — the combat scanning probes are bloody huge, and require an expanded probe launcher that is an absolute pain in the neck to fit on most ships. These guys don’t seem to have them, which means that they’ll have to find our wormhole connection and wait for me there.

I figure I’ve got a least a few minutes before —

That’s about when Bre tells me that she’s watching the home-side of our wormhole, and a battleship just jumped through and went into close orbit.

Hrm.

Well, at this point, I can launch my own probes and scan for the other exit out of the system (just as likely, if not moreso, to be covered), or I can make a run for our wormhole and hope for the best.

Or, I could keep salvaging wrecks.

I decide to keep salvaging wrecks.

I’ve just got to the final anomaly, and I set about collecting the most valuable stuff while I consider the situation.

I have a riled group of pilots who seem to think I have shot their Sleepers and am currently packing all the loot into a giant red bag, like a spacesuit-clad Grinch. No idea where they would get that impression.

Said pilots are parked on both the home side and, let me check… yes, also THIS side of the wormhole leading home. Said ships include a couple of battleships and — far more worrisome — a small stealth bomber on the this side of the connection; a ship that’s actually small enough to get a lock and jam my engines before I can warp away.

I can imagine them right now: sitting on the wormhole, weapons hot, pounding the d-scan for everything they’ve got, watching the list of sleeper wrecks on the overview dwindle, one by one.

“Bald,” they mutter. “Bald wird er mit seiner Bergung durchgeführt werden, und wenn das letzte Wrack weg ist, werden wir bereit sein für ihn.”

Which of course gives me an idea.

Since they are very likely watching d-scan for their cue as to when to expect me, I grab only the wrecks most likely to have valuable resources and, with a lot of loot still on the field of battle (and still filling up d-scan), I warp to the wormhole.

I think it’s fair to say that I catch them with their lederhosen down.

The Manticore-class stealth bomber not only doesn’t try to lock me, but is actually a few thousand meters too far away from the wormhole to follow me when I drop out of warp and slide into the wobbling distortion that will take me home. A Dominix-class battleship follows, but it’s far from likely he’ll be able to lock me before I’m gone.

I don’t wait for my session change timer to elapse on the other side before I move — in some cases, it’s smarter to do that, because it gives me the chance to use the wormhole to escape back the way I came, but in a ship like the one I’m in, I couldn’t take the pounding such a move would require — if I can’t warp away, I’m as good as dead, and successfully warping away comes down to the simple question “did I surprise the bomber pilot enough?”

I initiate warp, and the destroyer slowly wheels in the direction of our tower. The battleships (two) start to lock me, but my eyes are on the wormhole, which shudders as the Manticore slips through. I can see the ship fade into view, can imagine the pilot getting his bearings, find me on the overview, and start his target lock. He will need only seconds.

He doesn’t get them. I’m gone.

Safe in the tower, I tally up the loot while Bre watches the activity around the hole. 75 million isk and a healthy shot of adrenaline to start off the day — not bad for ninety minutes of work.

Tim and Kim are waiting, and it’s time for us to head out for the day, so I sign out and shoot a quick message over to my other corpmates.

Exercise caution in the system today. It’s possible I riled up our neighbors.

Possible.

Very possible.

About a half-hour later, my phone rings. It’s CB. The conversation that followed was weirdly familiar.

Life in a Wormhole: What are the Odds? #eveonline

It’s been a few days since the Rattlesnake/Orca Debacle of Aught-leven, and things have been quiet around the home system — not only a lack of violence, but a lack of anything to do violence against — we’re depressingly low on Sleeper sites to hit, and the class1 systems we connect have also been pretty picked over.

In a system with a persistent connection to something other than a class one, this wouldn’t be as much of a hindrance as it is, because it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to collapse the connection over and over until the random number generator gives you a more attractive destination — it takes about fifteen minutes and (basically) one pilot per ‘reboot’.

The small C1 connection, ironically, is far more hassle to bring down, because it has limits on the size of ship it will admit. Specifically, you can’t take a battleship or an Orca through, and those are our two main hole-crashing tools. In fact, the biggest ships it will allow through is a Drake-class battlecruiser — a fine ship that would need something like fourteen round trips (with a 4-minute break between each) to close the hole.

We *can* crash if we really need to — Gor, me, Bre, and CB (all in battlecruisers) only need about 3 round trips, plus change — but most evenings the effort isn’t worth it.

So, we don’t have much to fight right now.

What we *do* have are extra wormholes. In addition to our static connection to empire space (near Jita – eww), we have an inbound connection from Amarr space (again, eww) and yet another connection from… that’s another high-sec connection. Sheesh. Maybe this one will be more useful than the other two.

Useful? Why yes. It is in fact a direct connection to our highsec home system.

I laugh out loud over voice comms, because the odds against our little system randomly connecting to our other little system in the whole of New Eden space is — if you’ll pardon the pun — astronomical.

The shock doesn’t last for long, though — there too much we can to do to take advantage. It’s the perfect opportunity to (finally) take some ships out of the wormhole that we don’t really need, and even sneak in a few we’d like to try out; CB and I waste very little time marveling at our good fortune.

Gor returns while we’re scurrying about — back from a two-day trip abroad. While we consolidate our resources, he works quietly in the hangars of our highsec base, saying very little.

Finally, he posts a link to a ship schematic in our corp channel. “Ty, can you take a look at this for wormhole work?”

I peer at the tiny screen, then export the whole thing into my ship building program, because I figure I can’t be seeing it right. “That’s a Proteus.”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know you had a Proteus,” I comment, trying not to drool over the high-tech strategic cruiser built on reverse-engineered Sleeper technology.

“I have three,” Gor replies. “I don’t fly them very often.”

“So I gathered.” I don’t comment further on this massive understatement. “You want to bring this in for sleepers?”

“I’m considering,” Gor replies. “Just considering. If we can find a build that works.”

What neither of us are saying is that this little cruiser — something that can be configured to do anything from stealth recon, fleet reinforcement, or facemelting combat — costs, easily, as much as the Rattlesnake that he lost less than a week ago.

It basically looks like this, but even more awesome.

“How’s the tank?”

“Well…” I look over the numbers. “Actually, it’s kind of terrible.”

“It’s currently configured to be a blockade runner.”

“Gotcha.” I tap the screen. “Which subsystems do you have?”

“All of them,” Gor says, “Go crazy.”

I do so. I’ve never messed with a strategic cruiser in the Eve Fitting Tool (no point in pining for something I can’t fly), and it takes me a bit to get used to the many subsystems available, but once I figure out what goes where…

“Wow. Holy… wow.”

“Good?”

“Yeah.” I send him the schematics. “Put it together like so.”

A few minutes pass. “Done.” There’s a pause. “Ty, this looks really good.”

“Cool.”

“CB, are you back from your supply run?”

“Yup. What’s up?”

“I want to try out my new ship on some Sleepers.”

And that’s exactly what we do.

When Gor decides to jump back in the saddle, he doesn’t do it by half-steps.

Life in a Wormhole: Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight #eveonline

Daruma. Our corporation's patron spirit.

“New rule,” says Gor. “When one of use loses over a half-billion isk in ships in one go, everyone gets to take the rest of the night off.”

“That’s a pretty good rule.”

It’s the day after the Day that Will Live in Infamy, and we are Standing Back Up, each in our own way. Berke is flying the new Orca over to the Sinq Laison region when CB messages me.

“I don’t have a PvP ship in the ‘hole. What should I get?”

CB’s never been one for preambles.

“You have the Marie Celeste,” I reply.

“Good ship,” he comments. “Really good. But it’ll pop if B isn’t around. Need something heavier. Brutix? Another Dominix?”

I start running comparisons using his skill set and various PvP builds I’ve saved.

“Ultimately, the Dominix is probably the best for face melting,” I eventually say, “but right at this moment, for you, the Brutix is going to be more effective.” I send him a configuration for the Brutix that plays to his strengths as an armor-tanking Gallente. “Something like that.”

“Lotta guns.”

“It’s a Brutix,” I say, scanning the battlecruiser’s loadout. “Guns are what it does.” I frown, and flip open another screen. “Alternately, if you want something that’s almost as dangerous, but way cheaper to lose if things go pear-shaped, check out this Thorax.” I shoot him the schematic.

“Cruiser?” I can almost hear him peering at the screen. “Like a big tackling ship?”

“Yeah. It won’t be as tough as a Brutix, but the whole fit’ll cost about half as much as a naked Brutix hull. You could damn near buy those things in six-packs.”

“I like six-packs,” he murmurs. Then: “Okay, I’m going to go pick one of those up.”

“Cool.”

Gor has been been quietly hopping in and out of the system, and asks me how much longer I think we’ve got before the current wormhole collapses of old age.

“Probably about an hour. How much time do you need?”

“That should do. I’m taking my battleships out of here.”

“You sure?”

“They don’t work well against sleepers, and even if they work, they’re clearly too slow when we get jumped.”

“You taking the Dominix out too?”

“No, that’s fit for PvP. It stays.”

“Whatever you need, man, it’s all good.” I know not to press Gor on this move. He’s been playing EVE four or five times longer than CB and I combined, and knows what he wants. I met him on another MMO, in which he might be called “reckless” or more charitably (and accurately), “bold”, but his approach to EVE is different — he’s more careful, more (some would say “sufficiently”) paranoid, and doesn’t like to see his time investment (embodied in the ships he owns) wasted for no good reason. The loss of one of his Rattlesnakes stings. The fact that he even undocked in the ‘snake is a testament to how comfortable we’ve grown in our new home. No doubt a bit too comfortable.

I take a different approach to ship loss, trying as hard as I can to see each ship as a tool, more expensive but ultimately just as disposable as the ammunition it uses. I refuse to refer to losing a ship as ‘dying’, so long as I get my capsuleer pod away, and if a ship will cost me so much that I start acting like Cameron’s dad, I don’t buy it.

To be fair, I can indulge that kind of attitude because I simply can’t fly some of the awesome ships Gor can; a Rattlesnake would be completely safe in my hands, simply because I don’t have the skills necessary to undock the thing.

Except for the Orca, of course, which is roughly five times more expensive than any other hull I own. Nice job throwing that one into a fight you’d already gotten away from, moron.

CB is back in the home system, storing his new Thorax cruiser, and wants to know if we’re going to hit any Sleepers tonight. Gor opts out of the action, preferring to get a bit of distance from a major ship loss before putting another one at risk.

CB and Ty hop into pointier ships, now that Berke is docked in the official corp offices, and B stays in her covops boat to play watchdog — a single combat scanning probe covers our small system, and I pulse it regularly, watching for any new signatures on scan. This should tell us immediately if anyone comes in through our preexisting entrances (the way Berke’s assailants did), or if a new wormhole opens unexpectedly (which is what happened with Gor).

In short, we do what we should have already been doing. Fiery explosions are the best teacher, I suppose.

The sleeper shooting goes well, and we net a fair profit that pales slightly in the shadow of recent losses, but I’m glad to be back to our normal activities.

Ultimately, I can kick myself over the mistakes we made in losing the Rattlesnake, but I can’t hold a grudge against the guys who blew it up. The fact of the matter is we live in a wormhole, which connects randomly to folks able and willing to throw handfuls of violence our direction. To an extent, that’s why we’re here. Too much hand-wringing over losing a ship is a bit like going on the log ride at the amusement park and then complaining when you get wet.

“Wet” is kind of the point.

I just wish like hell it hadn’t been such a pricey ship.

Come to that, I’m not even mad about losing the Orca, especially since it was pretty much entirely my fault — the only thing that really gets me steamed is the defaulted ransom agreement, which strikes me as really poor business practice on the part of my attackers. You want to capture and ransom people as a way to make money? Fine. You want to capture and offer ransom, and then kill your captive anyway? Long-term, that’s just stupid; not a display of any particular skill as much as a demonstration of the Greater Internet Dickwad Theory.

But that, too, is the game, and if New Eden is full of folks like that, then I’ll feel that much better when (next time), they don’t get the best of us.

We learn by falling down.

Just have to keep standing back up.

Life in a Wormhole: “Don’t Go After the Frisbee” #eveonline

This is one of those stories that makes people who don’t play EVE swear that they’re never going to play EVE.

The corp members have had, collectively, kind of a crappy day, and that has crept into the emails that have gone back and forth talking about Worst Case Scenario planning. In short, I’m already grumpy when I log in, and rather than scanning the system straight off, as I usually do, I wander through the corp hangars spray-painting red Xs on the hulls of ships I’ve earmarked for removal from the system.

CB logs in and, seeing a lack of fresh bookmarks, takes a scanning frigate out into the void and scatters probes across the system. I finish my culling as he zooms in on one of the current wormhole exits and lighten his load by scanning for the other — a highsec exit to Amarr space; not exactly the best option for taking our dust-collecting hulls back to our home in high sec, which lies in far-distant Gallente space. Maybe another night.

Gor arrives as we wrap up scanning. His time is short, but he’s in the mood to shoot things — I imagine we all are, given the day we’ve had, but CB surprises me by making his excuses and taking off for the night. Gor only has about an hour to with which to enact some violence, but “luckily” our system remains only sparsely populated by cosmic signatures of note — there are only two sleeper anomalies to smite. (It’s been so long since we’ve seen a mine-able asteroid field in the system that it’s starting to bother me, and I don’t like mining.)

Gor hops into his Harbinger battlecruiser, I grab Ty’s Gila and we’re off to anomaly number one. The fight goes smoothly enough, but it’s one of the more annoying sites: the ships are spread out, refuse to close to more civilized ranges, and “feature” a pile of energy-draining frigates that all seem to think Gor’s harby has been dipped in some kind of intoxicating syrup — normally sleepers switch targets with annoying frequency, but these ships flat out refuse to leave the laser-toting battlecruiser alone, and Gor’s left unable to run most of his lasers or any of the active shield resistance modules on his ship. The passive shield holds up under concentrated fire, but as I’ve said in the past, such “we won’t know if it’s going to hold until it’s down to 33%” defenses are nerve-wracking for Gor, who prefers the comforting pulse of an active shield booster or a couple armor repairers.

We finish up the site, loot the wrecks, and see that we have just a bit less than a half-hour remaining before Gor turns into a pumpkin.

“Do you want to run the other site?”

“Do you have time?”

“… yes, but let me get a different ship.”

What Gor pulls out of the hangar is a Rattlesnake-class battleship — an impressive piece of Gurista pirate engineering that melds all the best parts of two different ship design philosophies; it’s a massive thing — a slow and powerful missile and drone platform that (unlike most larger ships) performs extremely well with the ‘fast-regen’ shield builds that work so well against sleepers. I don’t particularly like battleships, but I like the Rattlesnake — it’s essentially the big brother to my Gila (another Gurista design), and a whole lot prettier.

It’s also an extremely expensive ship, and not one that Gor pulls out for sleeper combat very often.

“The harbinger’s shield held,” he comments, “but I like it better when it doesn’t move at all. The Rattlesnake’s doesn’t move at all. Plus it ignores the energy draining.”

He makes a good point. I decide to speed things up as well, and get Bree into one of her Drake battlecruisers to bring her leet target painting skills in and buff up all the missiles we’re going to hitting the sleepers with. I tend to avoid running two pilots in a combat site at the same time unless CB is along to keep an eye on the directional scanner, but needs must when you’re trying to move fast.

Sure enough, the three missile-hurling, drone-dispensing ships start tearing through the sleepers with laughable ease, though I do have to scramble more than I like to keep my drones out of harm’s way — the sleepers seem to think they are the ships we’ve dipped in honey this time around.

I’m in the midst of another drone rescue when Gor says, “What are those Tengu’s doing on?… get out. Get out!

To my shame, I don’t hesitate. The tiny Gila pivots toward out tower and enters warp in seconds — the Drake takes only slightly longer; Bree has time to see several Tengu strategic cruisers, two Drakes, a Buzzard covert ops ship, a Blackbird electronic warfare cruiser, and several other pointy ships… all burning straight at Gor’s Rattlesnake.

“Can you get out?”

“I’m trying — nope, they’ve got a scrambler on me. And jammed: I can’t target anyone. I’m screwed. Dammit.”

Against NPC ships, even truly tough ones like Sleepers, the Rattlesnake’s defenses are impervious; the simple fact is that those ships can’t do enough damage to ‘break’ his tank. Player-flown ships can mass in greater and greater numbers or simply overheat their weapons, however, pushing hard enough to overcome the inherent regen of the Rattlesnake’s shields. Like a surfer, once you’ve gotten past the crest of that wave, it’s all downhill — just a matter of simple subtraction.

It’s all over surprisingly quickly; too quickly, really, for a ship that cost roughly half a billion isk.

Gor manages to escape in his capsuleer pod and get back to the tower, which I count as a small victory, but the mood that stayed with us throughout the day has stained our evening as well. A few minutes later he needs to log out for the evening anyway, and I send him off with several more heartfelt apolo-dolences.

I’m left alone in the system.

I wish I could say the bad news stopped there.

Left to my own devices, I get into my Cheetah-class covert ops frigate and quickly locate the wormhole Gor’s assailants came in from — a new wormhole connection from their system into our own; one that it seems they discovered and opened while we were running the first site; it simply wasn’t there to find when CB and I had scanned earlier. I poke around their system to see if I can determine their plans, but they seem content to bask in their victory and float inside their tower shields.

I return to our system and reconsider the exit to highsec that I found earlier. Amarr space is (as I said) far from our Gallente stomping grounds, but at this point I just want to do something productive, so I get Berke to start loading our dustier hulls into his Orca and hauling them out to the nearest highsec station — I’ll worry about getting them home once they’re not here.

This goes well; Berke drops off three loads of ships and heads back in for what should be his final trip of the evening — any more jumps than that and the wormhole will collapse.

Sometimes, timing is everything. The massive Orca slides up to the wormhole and jumps through just as a small fleet of very pointy ships drops out of warp and follows it into the wormhole.

To my credit, I don’t panic. The orca is a big ship, and can take a hit. It’s slow, but unless I am very unluckly, I don’t actually need to move to escape — I should be within jumping range of the wormhole on our side, and just need to wait on the “session change” timer to let me go right back out into high security space.

The timer lapses, and I’m free to jump. I drop my session change cloak and watch as two Harbinger battlecruisers, a Proteus strategic cruiser, and an Arazu force-recon cruiser decloak and go weapons hot. Can I take that kind of punishment?

It doesn’t matter, because I’m not sticking around to find out. I let the cool warble of the wormhole whisk me away, and I’m back in the safety of high-security space, where I am absolutely sure I can survive anything that set of ships can dish out long enough for CONCORD to arrive and turn them into tinier bits of space trash.

I’m safe.

This is where I make a whole new set of mistakes. As with many of the major screw-ups I’ve been party to in my life, this cascade of failure can be traced back to a single point of ignition where I decide to do math. Don’t try this at home.

It occurs to me that the repeated passage of Berke’s Eclipse has heavily stressed the wormhole. I know to a nicety how much Orca-love this class of wormhole can take, because I’ve collapsed a fair number of them in the past with this very ship.

I run the numbers, and I realize that if I jump through the wormhole one more time, hold my session change cloak and then jump back (as I just did), I will collapse the wormhole and leave my attackers stranded inside.

WHY I would want to do this never occurs to me; all that matters is that I can. The hour is late, we’d lost Gor’s Rattlesnake and I’d now run from a fight (albeit successfully, and in an Orca, which anyone with sense would call a major win), and all I can think is that I want to beat them somehow: not just escape, but win. Outmaneuver them. Shame them. Something.

So I jump back in.

Yeah: After I got away, I went back. I’m not as smart as I look, sometimes.

They see the wormhole activity, of course — it’s not a subtle thing, when you hurl a 250 million kilogram ship through a rift in space — I start counting the seconds until my session timer elapses. Five… Ten…

Then a Maelstrom-class battleship that had not decloaked during their first attack does so, and jumps through the wormhole, it’s mass more than enough to bring the overstressed exit crashing down, leaving me stranded with no way out, next to four very pointy ships.

Could I sustain that kind of damage and escape?

The answer was no.

Once they have ripped the Orca’s shields and armor away, their leader opens comms and offers to release my ship in exchange for a ransom. It’s a not uncommon occurrence; there are many in New Eden who actually make a living via this kind of ‘catch and release’ approach to PvP. I’ve had reasonably good luck on the receiving end of such things in the past — I successfully negotiated a ransom to save CB’s pod several months back, in fact, and Bree was, until recently, part of a corporation that frequently practices that kind of gentleman’s brigandry in nullsec.

He names his price (which, at 200 million isk, was less than half the price of a new Orca hull), and I agree. Ty wires the sum to the spokesman.

Then they blow up the ship anyway.

“Really?” I ask the leader, as I watch the structure of the ship disintegrate and prepare to get my capsuleer pod to safety.

His first response is little more than sputtered epithets, uttered in all caps — a kind of text-based ejaculate that doesn’t do much for my opinion of the group.

“Whatever you say, mate,” I respond. “Just seems like a pretty poor way to conduct business.” The ship explodes and I warp my little pod away.

“I will sleep well,” he cackles. “Resting on the pile of stuff your ransom will buy me.”

“Split five ways,” I counter, “that’s a pretty small pile.” I think for a second. “And in any case, you’d have gotten than money whether you blew up the ship or not, so all this gets you is a non-combat ship kill and…” I check the combat log that the game had just sent me. “A large afterburner? That’s it? Wow.”

“ARE THOSE TEARS I HEAR?”

“Hardly. I’ll just buy another ship. But you need to think next time: this is EVE, and you’re conducting bad business. How can you get expect repeat customers when everyone knows your product is crap?”

He has no reply to that, and I don’t bother pursuing it. I’m busy contemplating our corp’s second half-billion isk ship-loss of the evening. It never rains, but it pours.

Ty scans the new exit, only a few jumps from the old one, and I wrap up what can generously be termed a sub-optimal evening by picking up a new Orca (thank goodness we had the old ship fully insured) and leaving it under contract for Berke to pick up. Tomorrow, he can pick it up, fit it out, and haul those empty hulls back to their new/old storage hangar in Sinq Laison– I think it’ll be okay if the new command ship stays in highsec for a few days.

“I had a bad feeling,” CB tells me the next morning in an email. “That’s why I logged out; just had a bad feeling. A ‘Don’t Go After that Frisbee in Old Man Yaeger’s Yard’ kind of feeling. I should have said something. Next time, I will.”

Next time?

Oh yes, there will definitely be a next time. Otherwise, how will be apply what we’ve learned?

  • We didn’t scan diligently or often enough.
  • I was distracted, trying to run two pilots at the same time, both of whom had to additionally micromanage drones against opponents who frequently switch targets, meaning that I was simply too busy to maintain situational awareness beyond the immediate Sleeper threat.
  • Gor and I were rushing.
  • With all those things going on, we just shouldn’t have undocked the Rattlesnake; that kind of ship is like a beacon for opportunistic hunters, and requires heads-up play if it’s going to be put on the field.
  • I’d got back to the tower and had no real options available for getting Gor out of trouble. Bree has pretty decent ECM skills, but no appropriately-equipped ships in system. Ty has PvP brawlers, but as I’ve mentioned before, it takes ages before their shields are back up to combat readiness once I undock. There just wasn’t much I could do with the ships I had.

And from the Orca Incident, let’s add:

  • If you get away, don’t fucking go back in, you moron.
  • Ransom deals sometimes work, but never when you’re dealing with scumbags based out of lowsec.

An educational night. Let’s hope we were paying attention in class.

Life in a Wormhole: Worst Case Scenarios #eveonline

Gor really shouldn’t feel bad about struggling with fittings for his ships in the wormhole; sleeper combat is a bit of a cold-water shock for lots of players — I remember the very first time we snuck into an unoccupied wormhole and tried out a combat site: three of us, in what we thought were the best ships we could bring, and we barely – barely – made it out the other end in one piece.

That same type of sleeper site is one that, only a few months later, any of us can handle solo; a combination of better skills, better intel on the site, and better ship builds.

I’m reminded of this when I log in today and go poking around the system. According to CB, when I logged out the night before, the Megathron-class battleship and a Drake-class battlecruiser we’d spotted earlier had decloaked and started running one of the combat sites — on his own, there was little CB could do to stop them — but when I check the system, the Sleeper population seems unaffected. Maybe the sites already respawned?

I’m able to piece together what actually happened a little while later when I take a Gila-class cruiser out to test a different flight of drones — the sleeper enclave I warp into is missing a few of the ships I’m used to seeing in the welcoming committee, and as combat progresses, I’m able to verify that the first (easiest) wave of Sleepers has already been eliminated from the site — presumably by the Megathron and Drake — but in such a way as to activate not one but both of the following reinforcement waves, leaving the high-sec tourists facing a pair of Sleeper battleships as well as a double handful of cruiser-class ships in support. I can easily imagine that that much concentrated firepower would send an unprepared pair of pilots back to known space in a hurry, and I have to be honest — the thought makes me smile: the fleeing ships are who we once were, not so very long ago.

My Gila will not be dismissed so easily; the crooked frame of the tiny cruiser strains a bit under the welcoming missile assault from two simultaneous waves of ancient enemy ships, but my shields prove more than equal to the task and the new flights of sentry drones acquit themselves admirably. I stow the Gila and clean up the wrecks as though it’s all second nature, and I suppose it is.

Once that’s done, I do a bit more rearranging of tower modules and ponder the inventory of ships we currently have packed away in case of emergency. We’ve been sending quite a few emails back and forth today, trying to decide if we want to haul some of our excess ‘backup’ ships out to high-sec when the opportunity presents itself, simply to make it easier to move or downsize in the future.

Part of this is due to the Germans’ departure; the sharp drop of allies in the wormhole has all of us feeling a bit exposed, wondering what we could save if we come under concentrated attack by some other wormhole corp — but it’s also basic preparation for some future point when our other time commitments cut into our ability to be online and maintaining things. Summer is ending, and all of us have a lot more work to do when higher ed sessions kick back into high gear.

We’re not talking about moving anything out that sees regular use, but at this point we could keep every pilot’s regular-rotation ships (for pve, pvp, mining, scouting, hauling, et cetera) plus two backup ships for each major role, per pilot, and we’d still have well over a dozen hulls gathering dust in the hangar. That’s an excessive level of redundancy even for us.

I don’t know that I accomplish much more than a basic sorting of ships into high-use and no-use piles, but it feels a bit like progress, and by then my cohorts are online and ready to shoot some sleepers. We clear the sentient drones out of our system, then use a series of battlecruiser jumps to collapse the connection to a boring class 1 system next door and clear out sites in the new system as well — our luck with loot remains pretty poor, but even so we net about 135 million isk for the evening; a solid step toward refilling our corporate coffers after a recent refueling run. Despite all the gloomy mood that comes from Worst Case Scenario planning, it ends up a pretty productive evening.

Life in a Wormhole: All Alone #eveonline

The Germans, it appears, are moving out of the system we’ve been sharing for the last month.

One of their best English-speaking members emails me to let me know of their impending departure, saying only that they’ve enjoyed their time and that they (the player) don’t even know where everyone’s going yet, just that they’re going.

And I’d never tell anyone else in the group, but it makes me a little sad. Within the corp, we made more than a few jokes during our co-mutual habitation about “sudden yet inevitable betrayal”, but the fact of the matter is, it was great to have them around. There aren’t that many of us in our little corp, and it was nice to log in at odd times and see some other faces in our shared channel, even when none of ‘my’ people were on. They’ve helped us with intel, with shared system scanning duties, even with taking out troublesome vagrants. It’ll be a shame to see them gone.

And, indeed, by the time I log in that day, they already are gone; the “Tourist Information” tower no longer on my directional scanner out by the eighth planet in the system. I forward the email on to the rest of the corp and do a bit of scouting while I have the system – truly – to myself.

Gor logs in a bit later and heads out to highsec to pick up a new purchase: a Harbinger-class battlecruiser that he’s planning to bring along for sleeper-shooting activities. Gor’s struggled with the fitting necessities of the wormhole — a long-time veteran of running high-level missions in high security space with big, trundling battleships optimized to deal with one or two incoming damage types, he’s seen many of his best PvE ship builds sent scurrying back to the tower, drained of power and unable to run his armor repair modules to compensate for the skittle-like rainbow of incoming damage types. His frustration is compounded, I suspect, by the fact that CB and I have been soloing the sites in smaller, shield-tanked battlecruisers and psuedo-assault cruisers like the Gila, using “passive” builds (no repair units, but a very high natural regen) that make Gor a bit nervous — like a trained stock car driver stuck in a smartcar with an automatic transmission.

We discuss different fitting options for the laser-equipped battlecruiser and come up with a solution that leaves both of us feeling pretty good — I’m as motivated as Gor to find something that works, because if he doesn’t want to fly anything in the Sleeper sites, that’s yet another person who won’t be around.

“And with the Germans gone, there should be plenty of Sleeper-shooting options,” I mutter.

“Yeah…” Gor replies. There’s a long pause. “You know, it may sound weird, but I’m really sorry to see them go.”

“Yeah.”

“I know we joked about them,” he adds, “but the fact of the matter is…”

“Yeah.”

We don’t say much more about it. Gor gets back to the system and we try out his Harby in a couple combat sites, and then a couple more when CB logs in. The salvage and loot from the sites is… wow. Absolutely terrible. But at least we got a good shakedown run of the Harbinger, which it passed with flying colors. It’s nice to see lasers on the battlefield as well — it’s not a weapon either CB or Ty have any kind of training with. The ship isn’t completely immune to the energy drain that the Sleepers use (I favor projectile cannons and missile launchers to avoid the problem), but it generally kills things so fast that the problem doesn’t come up.

Gor bids his farewells for the night, and CB and I are left to do a little cleanup and rearranging at the tower.

“I’m going to move the mailbox.” I’m referring to the shared storage container that lies just outside the shields. “I think it’ll work better a little bit further away from the tower, where we can warp to it, and it doesn’t matter if I move it, now that the Germans are gone.”

“Sounds good,” murmurs CB. He’s buried up to his eyebrows in parts, working on different fittings for the Marie Celeste, which has quickly become his go-to ship for scouting and warping around the system. The two of us work in silence for awhile. I’m about halfway through a reorganization and reconfig on the tower modules when he announces a new arrival in the system. A Probe-class scouting frigate is on d-scan, as is (intermittently) a Megathron-class battleship and Drake battlecruiser. The two larger ships don’t seem interested in tangling, but he manages to get his guns on the Probe in at least one instance — several shots from the Marie Celeste’s autocannons peel the other frigate’s shields back before the pilot jumps through the wormhole back to the safety of highsec. We play cat-and-mouse with the encroaching ships until a bit past my normal point of departure, and I find it necessary to make my excuses and log out.

“Talk to you later.”

“Later,” he responds, but there’s a pause that makes me wait for a moment.

Finally: “It’s weird not to see their tower on scan.”

“Yeah,” I say. There’s no point in asking who he’s talking about. “Kinda sucks.”

“It kinda does. Gonna make everything harder.” He clears his throat. “Anyway. Later.”

I log out, leaving him in our empty system.

In space, no one can hear you sigh.

Life in a Wormhole: Windfalls #eveonline

I return from South Dakota to find our tower brimming with loot. None of it’s mine, but that doesn’t mean I can’t abscond with it! Arrrrgh! Space-pirate booty, ahoy!

Let’s see if I can find a…

No...

Hmm. That’s not quite right. Need more sci-fi…

Umm…

This?

Close enough.

(Pro tip: Do not Google Image Search for “Pirate Booty” in a public place. N.S.F.W. Moving on…)

Anyway, I scan out the (very few) signatures in the system, find an exit to high sec, notice that’s quite near a good market system, and load up everything into a ship to take out and sell. Prices are good, and I divvy up the proceeds between the corp wallet (which buys all our tower fuel) and the folks who actually did all the work of acquiring the loot, without even charging a “courier fee”.

I be a very poor pirate. Yarr.

Not much besides random Sleeper-sniping went on while I was away; Gor mentions good relations continuing with our local German neighbors, and also mentions scanning out the wormholes a couple times while I was gone! Am I crutch for my corpmates? An unnecessary set of training wheels that they don’t really need? It seems so, because they do just fine when I’m not around.

On my last day away, I did get a few emails from CB (who thought I was back already) about his failed attempts to mug a heron-class frigate that was poking around our system. By his accounts, he and some of the Germans “almost had him” on several occasions, but CB just couldn’t get a target lock in time with the ship he was flying.

“I need a good tackling ship,” he writes. “What should I get?”

“Well, a Rifter or an Incursus are the easy, go-to answers,” I reply, “or, if you want something good-but-weird, get a Vigil.” I’m a big fan of the rarely-seen frigate — I think it’s one of the most under-appreciated ships in the game.

It's also one of the ugliest, most ungainly ships -- it looks like a repurposed science vessel and goes like a bat out of hell; all good reasons for me to like it.

When I log in the next day, CB says “Hey, you know that Vigil you suggested?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, there’s one of them in the system, right now.”

There’s a flurry of activity while I figure out where the ship is located and we prepare to jump it, but when we actually get within visual range, we realize that the frigate is unpiloted. It’s been abandoned — left floating in space about 180 kilometers away from the Germans’ tower.

“What do you think we should do?”

“I dunno,” I’m still trying to figure out what happened to cause a pilot to leave his ship behind.

“I’m gonna take it.”

“That works.”

So CB warps back to our tower, stows his current ship, and flies in his capsuleer pod back to the drifting Vigil. The pod and the derelict ship make acquaintances, and pretty soon CB is reporting on the state of the vessel from the interior HUD.

“Jesus, this thing is shot up,” he reports. “Armor’s at 10%. Stucture’s at about half. What happened to this thing?”

I gauge the distance to the Germans’ base, check the optimal ranges for their defensive guns, and nod to myself. “He dropped out of warp too close to that tower, started getting shot up, and ejected.”

“You think?”

I nod. “Saved himself and the ship, actually. Really quick thinking. AI-controlled guns won’t shoot at a capsuleer pod, and they won’t shoot at an unmanned hull.” I look out at the starry expanse around us. “I wonder where he went.”

“I’ll sent him a thank-you note for the new ship,” CB says. I know him too well to imagine he’s joking. “Registration papers say he’s been flying since 2006.”

“What the hell’s he doing piloting a Vigil?”

“Technically, he’s not piloting a Vigil,” CB points out. “Not anymore.”

“True.” I take one last look around and head back to the tower to pull out the Lassiter and repair our new asset. “What’re you going to name it?”

“Oh, that’s obvious,” CB replies. “Marie Celeste.”

Life in a Wormhole: Making room and Settling In

Bree is back in the wormhole, albeit only with one of her Buzzard cov-ops ships and not her entire fleet, which is still awaiting a closer connection. That’s fine, since Ty has a number of ships she can fly if we decide to celebrate her return with violence.

That’s of course what we do; the neighboring class one is thick with sleeper sites, so I and CB and she set out to prune things down to more manageable levels. The loot isn’t great, because we selected sites based on proximity rather than wealth, but it feels good to blow stuff up after a day involving hundreds of jumps and lots and lots of scanning.

After we finish our shooting and salvaging, I rearrange the base a bit and we all take a break.

When I return, I want to do a bit of shopping, but our persistent highsec connection is a bit useless, so down it goes! Berke starts crashing his Orca back and forth through the wormhole, and CB conveniently logs in just when we need a battleship to safely seal the deal.

Well, not entirely safely. Either my math is off or our luck is poor — CB gets stranded out in highsec when the wormhole comes down, and twiddles his thumbs while B locates our new exit.

We’re now connected to the Essence region of Gallente space, which is useful for a number of reasons — close to Dodixie (my preferred market system) for one thing, so Ty heads off to buy stuff. CB, stranded in the wilds of Amarr space, takes a risky but very effective shortcut through lowsec with his pointy Dominix battleship, but finds no one interested in bothering him as he warps through the lawless regions.

Meanwhile, Bree checks the exit and finds it not too horribly far away from where she stashed all the ships she brought back from Curse. A little wheedling from Berke is all it takes to get his Orca jumping to her stash. There and Back Again takes a pretty long time in the massive ship, but Berke is able to pack in everything except for one Iteron IV industrial hauler (which she pilots back) and a Ferox-class battlecruiser that I come to retrieve (having finished his shopping).

The evening ends with Bree well and truly moved into the wormhole; only a few of her assets still remain in known space at all; socked away in the rusty corners of Minmatar space, where our wormhole rarely connects.

Ships are stowed, skill queues are double checked, and I’m off to South Dakota for a few days, where I believe the state motto is “you can’t get an internet connection here.” Hopefully everything will be roughly where I left it when I get back.

Life in a Wormhole: Escape from Nullsec #eveonline

The home system is quiet the day after the destruction of the Drake, and even two days later the sleepers still seems to be reeling under the onslaught that netted us some nice profit. Given that things are quiet here, our camera turns to Bre, alone in Curse, to see what kind of excitement see can drum up.

And the answer is… not much. She just can’t take another slog through boring starter missions with the Angel Cartel and (once again) no one from her corp is doing anything within fourteen jumps of their alleged home system.

With either low-grade missions or ‘nothing’ as our options of what to do today, the habits born of wormhole living kick in, and I move Bre out of her Ishkur assault frigate and into Rorshach, one of her buzzard-class covert-ops recon ships for a little scanning.

I’m not entirely sure what I’ll find, if I’ll find anything out in nullsec, or what if anything I can do with a combat site if one happens to present itself, because all the combat sites in Curse are populated by npc members of the Angel corporation, and I suspect my Angel agents would frown if I blow up their poker buddies.

Still, I scan, because that’s what I’m in the habit of doing, and after several systems with nothing of note, I finally get a hit from my probes and quickly resolve the familiar signature of a wormhole.

The gentle, reality-distorting wobble of the wormhole taunts me so...

Successful scanning doesn’t make me any happier, however; finding a wormhole just reminds me of where I’d rather Bre was at, full time. I mean, it’s not as though I can pack up my stuff and just fly it all into the first wormhole I find.

Actually…

Well, no, obviously I can’t do that, but… wormhole systems are connected. This particular wormhole leads to a high-end, class 5 wormhole, which means that I’ll probably be able to find another connection somewhere within that system, and then another one within the next system, and so on and so forth until…

Just maybe…

I might find a route out of nullsec and back to somewhere that’s… else.

So begins the Great Route Scanning of ’11. I won’t lie — I spend close to four hours exploring every possible route in and out of the wormhole constellation I had discovered. Eventually, I manage to string together a long series of wormhole jumps that will dump me out in a slightly less objectionable area of New Eden. It’s not *great* by any means — it’s still lowsec, but it’s closer to highsec by quite a bit, so I’ll just fly back to where I started and —

Oh. Bugger, one of the wormholes in my tenuous chain collapsed. Dammit.

Right. Back to the wrong end of the path, then a long, long, LONG flight back through lowsec, highsec, and nullsec to my starting location.

It feels like a failure, except that I did actually succeed in finding a path out of null, and while I wasn’t able to use it, it gives me hope that I’ll eventually be able to get Bre out of Curse without begging help from the corporation I’d then be leaving.

But not today. I’m fried from all the scanning, and then the many dozens of jumps to get back to where I started, and I just want to park my ship and take a break.

Just…

Well, maybe one more system scan.

My probes go out, scouring the system next door to my nullsec bivouac (even though I already scanned the system earlier today and found nothing), and I come up with yet another wormhole. I’m in no mood to scan another long chain of wormhole system, but I check it out to at least see where it’s going.

Huh. It’s not going to wormhole space. This particular wormhole exits null straight into lowsec.

How iiiiinteresting.

I hop through the wormhole and take a look at the constellation map. I’m only two stargate jumps from highsec space and a station. CONCORD reports little activity in the systems I’d be flying through — no ship kills in the last 24 hours, that’s promising…

Yes. I can do this.

I race back to the stations in Curse where I’ve stored my stuff, and begin packing, repacking, and finally moving ships and equipment, selling anything that isn’t worth the effort to bring along. My route is only six jumps, which isn’t far, until you multiply it eight or night times, both directions. My eyes start to blur from the repeated jump gate flashes and wormhole warbles, but with success so close at hand, I press on.

Finally, almost everything Bre owns is actually all in the same system, and in highsec, where it can be easily moved into our home system the next time the exit opens in this neighborhood.

That reminds me: where is the neighborhood? I was so busy moving stuff that I didn’t even bother to look around and see where I’m at.

Until now.

Oh.

After all that, I take my bearings and realize I’m only three jumps away from Jita — for all intents and purposes, a system that functions as both the Coruscant and Mos Eisley of New Eden space; for better or worse, the effective center of what passes for civilization in EVE (and what a revealing fact that is).

Had I tried to come here from my original location via normal space routes, it would have taken me fifty-six jumps, both ways: roughly four hours for a single round trip.

I did the same distance in about 10 minutes.

I’m tired, I didn’t make any isk today, but I’m beyond pleased that my nullsec problem was, in the end, solved by a wormhole.

I’d call that a good omen for things to come.

Life in a Wormhole: Parasite EVE #eveonline

This picture has nothing to do with the post. I don't really care.

Sean wakes me up right after the daily downtime; I log in to email both the corp and our German neighbors, explaining why I suspect we have a pilot lurking around our system, then head off to work. I get a few acknowledgments throughout the day but no new intel, and when I log in that evening I see no emoticon-named ships, and all but one of the four wormhole connections from yesterday are gone, so it’s time to scan.

My, but there are a lot of signatures in the system. Eliminating the ones with which I’m already familiar (the two Radar sites beckon enticingly) still leaves five to resolve. One turns out to be another rare combat site — one requiring archaeological skills to plunder properly, but with the promise of some exciting loot to be found. I bookmark that for later.

The other four unfamiliar signatures turn out to all be wormholes — we seem to be a magnet for traffic the last couple days, and not in a good way: by the time I’m done scanning I can see two separate pairs of ships in our system, running the easier-to-locate combat sites. Grr.

Given the size and number of the ships and the fact that I’m currently on my own, the best I can do it make the pilots’ lives a bit more interesting — by which I mean “annoying”: while they run their (our) combat sites, I call up an alt piloting a gigantic Orca industrial command ship and, with a little help from me in a battleship, quietly collapse all of the exits big enough to admit the ships I currently see in the system. Sorry guys, you’re going to have a lot harder time getting home.

They notice my shenanigans a few minutes later, it seems. I get one “goddammit” in the local comms channel, the system is filled with scanning probes, and a few minutes later the interlopers are gone to Highsec, presumably to beg their corpmates to scan some new path back to the wormhole homes I cut them off from. I don’t bother replying; for one thing, I too am scanning for the new exit from the system (the collapsed one having only been live for a few hours before I squished it with the orca), and chatting with one of the German players who happens to be online.

“Oh,’ he says, “I saw the pilot you mentioned in your email.”

“Really?” I reply. “When was that?”

“I mean…” he corrects his English, “I *see* him. He’s here. I’m looking at him.”

Suffice it to say, I cut my scanning short and get back to the tower to transfer to a pointier ship.

While I wait for my shields to recharge, my German friend fills me in: not knowing that I had already collapsed the new wormhole out to Empire space, he had warped to within about 30 kilometers from its presumed location to check on its stability.

When he dropped out of warp, he found not wormhole, but a Drake battlecruiser floating bemusedly in space where the wormhole had been. Luckily, his cruiser was fit with a cloaking device, and he quickly concealed himself. The drake had not reacted — too busy trying to decide what to do next to pay proper attention to his surroundings.

“Get in close,” I request, “and I’ll warp to your location and say hello.”

“I’m in a little cruiser,” he says, “I’m afraid I can’t take on a drake.”

“Have you anything bigger?”

“Not here,” he replies.

“I’ll see if I can’t keep his attention, then,” I say. “Warping now.”

As before, I land further away from my target then I’d like, and need to burn toward him with a microwarpdrive. My companion holds his drones, though, so the target doesn’t hear the “you’ve got mail… and bullets” warning too soon.

The myrmidon I’m piloting gets in so close I actually bump the other ship a few seconds after I lock him and disable his warp drive, scraping paint off the hulls as I settle in a close orbit and open fire.

We clearly catch the pilot completely unawares; the Drake’s armor is half gone by the time he begins targeting me, and I have to deal with only one flight of missiles before his ship’s hull dissolves around him. The explosion must have disoriented him as well, because I’m able to lock and hold the escape pod as well. A few seconds later, the pilot is waking up in a clone vat back in high security space and, with no intel on our current wormhole exit, shouldn’t be bothering us anymore.

My German cohort and I chat a bit more and he logs for the evening, just as Gor connects. I catch him up on events, then we proceed to exploit the resources of the suddenly-much-quieter system for ourselves, for a change. Two radar sites, one magnometric signature site, and three more… pedestrian anomalies later, and we’re up 300 million isk in profit; a fine ending to a pretty good day in the wormhole.

Life in a Wormhole: the Tapeworm #eveonline

The interesting and wonderful thing about wormholes is that situation changes constantly. The day after Gor and I blew up a Cyclone in our system, the connections to our neighboring systems are terribly boring, the home system itself is completely cleared of any interesting sleeper sites, and I spend the evening slogging through Bre’s climb into the good graces of the Angel Cartel and her own corporation.

Today, however, there are a half-dozen sleeper sites immediately visible on scan, additional anomalies promising some more fun for anyone who can resolve the signatures, and fresh new connections to New Eden and wormhole space.

And many connections, at that. Rather than the requisite two wormholes, we have four: two outbound and two inbound. After resolving those four, I’m willing to bet I’ve located all the fire exits but I press on to at least identify if not resolve the other signatures in the system, so I know what’s here.

My persistence is rewarded with several asteroid fields and a much rare Sleeper site, its presence revealed by the strange radar signal leading from the Unsecured Perimeter Comms Relay.

And then I find another one. Weird. I decide to leave those until others can join me in the fun and, checking directional scan as I return to the tower, realize I’m not alone. A Drake-class battlecruiser waves at me in my scanning overview (sort of: the ship’s name is a wave emoticon), and I think such a friendly greeting deserves a response in kind — perhaps with a half-dozen autocannons.

The problem is locating him. Although I see a combat capable ship, I don’t see any sleeper wrecks, which means he’s engaged in some subtle or possibly more nefarious activity. I hop into a scanning frigate and jump to the very edge of the system, out of immediate direct scanning range, so I can launch probes and take a look at things in a bit more detail.

What I see surprises me, because the probes pick up not one ship, but two. Either the second ship just arrived from one of the many many wormholes currently open in the system, or was sitting cloaked while I was visible on their directional scan.

Still, odds are fairly good I can at least identify the type of ship with my scanning probes before he spots them and cloaks again, and I do exactly that.

I’m surprised to see not a second pointy battlecruiser, but a hulk-class mining ship. I don’t know if he’s working with the Drake (seems likely), but if so, I don’t really need the combat probes to locate them: Hulks are really only good for one thing, and I happen to know exactly where every mineable asteroid in the system is at; all I need to do is warp back into range of my directional scanner and figure out which asteroid belt they’re in, then send over the welcome wagon.

I’m forced into a delay, however, when I switch ships back at the tower. My ship of choice has a hefty shield array, but it’s only at half-strength when it comes out of the storage hangar. The ship’s designed for short and violent disaggreements with other players, rather than somewhat lengthier sleeper engagements, so while the shields are mighty, they are also mighty slow to recharge, and I’m forced to sit at the tower for several minutes, planning (and second guessing) my attack.

As I do, I can see that the Drake and Hulk are both on d-scan — obviously controlled by the same player, as they have identical emoticon names. I also see a couple wrecks as well — smaller sleeper ships that showed up in the asteroid belt and failed to drive the interlopers off. Let’s hope I have more luck.

It is not to be.

My shields fully charged, I enter warp and drop into the asteroid belt ready to flip on an afterburner and pursue, but the ships are gone. Clearly, I stayed on their scanner overview for too long, and they decided to leave just in time.

So fast was their departure, in fact, that they left the unlooted sleeper wrecks behind. I see no need to leave the spoils of battle (even if the battle wasn’t my own), and I quickly loot the wrecks and do a bit of research.

Each wreck in EVE is stamped with the Corporate ID of the person who destroyed the ship, and leaving those wrecks behind lets me backtrack to figure out who was eating our porridge. From that stamp, I can search for the corporation, and from there possibly determine who among that corp’s membership might have a penchant for wildcat wormhole mining.

The good news: My sleuthing is made considerably easier by the fact that the corporation in question only has one member.

The bad news: That sole member is none other than the cyclone pilot we fought two days previous. That’s more than a small problem, because since then our connection to known space has changed twice. Said connection is random: it could come out in any of thousands of systems in New Eden; it’s all but impossible for someone to find an entrance to the same wormhole just by randomly scanning from Empire space. The only possible explanation is that this pilot, after getting his ship blown up, exited the wormhole, grabbed not only another ship but an alt character with another ship, returned to the system before the connection failed, and has since been living here — hiding out in the corners of the system and leeching off our resources when no one’s around.

In short, we have a parasite living in our communal body.

Police artist's rendering of our visitor, based on my description.

Life in a Wormhole: “Want to Ruin His Day?” #eveonline

Enough moping about nullsec dissatisfaction! Yes, Bre is somewhat stuck in Curse. Yes, the rest of our alliance is moving to Catch and wants to know why we don’t want to fly out there and kowtow to the current landlords along with the rest of them.

That doesn’t matter.

What matters is that there are Sleepers waking up and I have some time on my hands (and piles of missiles at my fingertips).

Our German neighbors are also active when I log on, and we share exploration duties, poking around our neighboring systems to determine the opportunities that awake. (Err… “await”, that is. Or awake, I guess: they are sleepers, after all…) The Class1 system connected to our home has several towers set up, but it appears the inhabiting corp only uses it to process moon-minerals, and doesn’t actually live there — the system is clogged to overflowing with sleeper sites. The Germans are leery of so many towers nearby, but I am undeterred and hop into a Gila, clearing out a couple sites in our home system before proceeding to the C1 for somewhat less challenging but enticingly profitable carnage.

Another ruined sleeper hangar, cleared of its infestation.

I can’t help but notice a lot more activity in the home system as I jump back into a salvager ship and head out to pick apart the sleeper wrecks, however. I don’t put off the cleanup, but as soon as I have the loot collected and stored, I hop into a scanning frigate and take stock of the situation — it looks as though another wormhole opened up in our system while I was out and about — this one inbound from another Class 2.

The class 2 is completely uninhabited, however, and doesn’t immediately explain the clusters of ships I’ve seen on local d-scan, until I throw some scanning probes into the system for a better look. What the C2 lacks in inhabitants it more than makes up in connectivity: I count no less than four wormholes in the system: one to us, one to nullsec known space, and two connections (one inbound, one outbound) to class 5 wormholes: systems that are far more dangerous and generally far more removed from known space. I have no doubt that one or both of the class 5 systems’ inhabitants are using this class 2 (and by extension, our own) as a highway out to the trade hubs of highsec. I don’t fancy my chances at collapsing these connections without some kind of interference, especially on my own, so it looks like I’ll just have to let it go and avoid the high traffic.

Honestly, I have no beef with pilots tearing through our system on the way to somewhere else. What I do object to, however, is when someone decides to stick around and shoot *my* sleepers. That seems to be what’s happening back in the home system, because I see sleeper wrecks, a Cyclone battlecruiser, and scanning probes on d-scan when I return to our tower.

Unfortunately, my skills with covert-ops frigates still have a few days to cook, so once again I am missing Bre and bemoaning the fact that I don’t have a good way to fly around the system while remaining cloaked.

Luckily, I’m a fair hand with directional scanning, and our visiting Cyclone pilot is making it easy by – as near as I can tell – flying somewhere near the central star of the system.

Gor logs in as I get the basic location of the ship.

“Someone seems to be shooting our sleepers,” I say. “Want to ruin his day?”

“Against my better judgement,” replies Gor (who’s spent many years honing his EVE risk-aversion skills), “I’m going to say yes.”

Without Bre to provide ECM support, I opt for a heavy tackling ship — really heavy: a Ferox battlecruiser with a warp disruptor should be enough to keep the Cyclone from getting away, while still being tough enough to survive the encounter.

Gor refits a Dominix battleship with a couple bits of electronic warfare as well, and while he does so we discuss the possibility that this is a trap: a bit of low-hanging fruit that will leave us outside the protection of the tower when 14 of the cyclone’s closest friends decloak and turn the tables.

“I have the bookmarks that will get us back here,” I say, “and if we never screw up, we’ll never learn anything.”

I warp both of us to where I think the Cyclone is at, and see the ship drop into my overview… 170 kilometers away. That’s a bit far for the drones in Gor’s ship, and much much too far for the Ferox, which is fitted for close-up brawling.

“He’s scanning,” I tell Gor. “And he’s slow at it, which means he probably sucks. That takes attention. Let’s see if we can get close before he notices.”

Gor agrees, and starts the Dom on a slow crawl toward the enemy.

“Don’t lock him until I’m in range,” I add as I flip on the Ferox’s microwarpdrive for a fast burn toward the ship. “The warning will alert him.”

The plan seems to work, as the Cyclone, while moving at cruising speed into open space, doesn’t react to our arrival. I watch the range to the target shrink and, just as I’m about to lock the ship, I heard the warning chirps that indicate he’s locking me as well.

“Get him,” I say in voicechat, starting a tight orbit and flipping on every pointy module the Ferox comes fitted with, watching Gor’s cloud of drones streak towards us.

The first volley of return fire from the Cyclone puts a smile on my face; it’s the resounding boom of artillery cannons, designed for solid long-range damage, but considerably less effective when your target is orbiting so close you can read the registration codes painted on the hull. The Ferox’s shields barely move.

Pro tip: don't hang out next to the most visible celestial body in the system.

In only a few seconds, the ship goes up in a very satisfying burst of hot metal, and Ty marks his first-ever PvP kill (unlikely he’ll ever catch up with Bre, thanks to her time in OUCH, but it still feels good). My big Ferox is unable to lock the pilot’s pod before he warps off, but we loot the wreck (and the sleepers he killed) and examine the remains, trying to figure out what such a senior pilot was doing in such a terribly fit ship. It could almost have been some kind of bait ship, designed to survive until the pilot’s friends show up to help out, but that sort of thing only works if you have friends, and this guy clearly did not. We just can’t figure it out.

But that’s a mystery for another night. Gor logs out after our successful system defense, and a few minutes later the through-traffic from the Class5 travelers picks up again. I poke around in a scanning boat, noting that the traffic remains threateningly high pretty much throughout our constellation; I don’t like my own survival odds for either Sleeper shooting or hunting more-careful pilots, traveling in packs, so I log out within the safety of the tower shields and call it a night.

Life in a Wormhole: A Miner’s Tale

The next week is a whirlwind of activity, and very little of it involves EVE. We’re in Orlando for a working vacation, and while I’m online a fair amount at least one day of the week (for work), and on some of the evenings (watching the kids while Kate meets with her publishing peers), I’m never quite comfortable enough with the shaky-yet-expensive internet connection at the hotel to tuck into a Gila and kill sleepers.

The first evening, after discovering that almost all of the ‘easy’ mining and gas harvesting sites have despawned, I decide to “open” one of the harder-to-locate mining sites, so I can do some mining during the week (or at least for the next 3 days, until the site disappears). I’m not much of a miner, but it’s a lower key, less intensive activity that I won’t feel weird about abandoning ‘right in the middle’, the way I would for a combat site. That makes it perfect for desultory evenings where I’m killing time in a darkened hotel room and interruptions in the form of hungry infants are likely.

And that’s pretty much what happens for the next week; check in, make sure my planetary colonies are still functioning, shoot mining lasers at rocks if there’s time, check my evemail, notice that the Germans have set up a pair of  ‘mailboxes’ outside our towers so we can share bookmarks more easily, and that’s about it. Knowing that this away-time was coming, and that CB was going to be gone for a stretch as well, we prepared ahead of time and stocked up well over a month of spare fuel for the tower (thanks to the 200 million ISK sleeper site run just before we left), and Gor handles the refueling logistics easily.

After the vacation, I check in on my characters (who have been training ‘long’ skills in my absence) and celebrate some skill completions by going shopping for a Cheetah covert-operations frigate for Ty: no more whining that I can’t sneak around the system without Bre around. I’m very pleased by this new purchase, as it’s going to make scouting work much easier: honestly, I think that being able to fly a cov-ops ship might be the second most important ‘utility’ skill set in a wormhole, right after scanning.

And mining?

Well, it was a fine way to pass the time, but in all seriousness the only way that mining can compete (in terms of financial benefit) with salvaging sleeper wrecks is if you’re working through the asteroid belt with 2 or 3 other folks, all boosted by a proper mining foreman with all the skills to go with it. That is something we *can* do, and something we’re equipped to do, but not something we’re actually currently doing at all — bottom line, mining is always going to be a last-resort kind of activity for me.

That’s EVE: end-game starts right away, and is exactly what you decide you want it to be.

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple with my family

I grew up in central South Dakota and, as a gamer from an early age (I convinced my folks to buy me the DnD redbox from a Sears catalog when I was nine), had to deal with a lot of flak, thanks largely to SUPER-informative publications like the Chick Tract “Dark Dungeons“, an upbeat little piece that I would find in my locker at school or see in my Sunday School mailbox with fair regularity.

I sometimes voice a fair amount of disdain for living in South Dakota, and you should understand: a lot of my bitterness comes from being the subject of a sort of passive-aggressive, community-wide intervention for about eight years. It got old.

With that said, my parents tended to take a pretty understanding view of the whole thing. I was involved in what I think is commonly known in academic circles as a “shit ton” of extracurricular activities, and my grades were good… in short, hauling around two gigantic, overstuffed gym bags full of DnD hardbacks wasn’t having any detrimental affects on anything other than my overburdened spine, so they general left it alone. (They took a similar approach to my voracious consumption of fantasy and science fiction, to the exclusion of almost all other literature, figuring “it doesn’t really matter what he’s reading, so long as he’s reading.”)

Still, it’s always been a bit of a sticking point with me; a sour note, if you will. It’s one thing (and a good thing) for your parents and extended family to “leave you be” to pursue your own interests, but it’s another thing entirely for them to join you from time to time in this thing that you really enjoy. I certainly knew what that kind of thing felt like, thanks to my time in band, and sports, and theatre productions, but I’d never got my family to sit down with me and help me slay a dragon.

Apparently, that’s always bothered me at least a little bit, because I keep trying to find “my kind” of games that my family might also enjoy; I mean, I know they like games, because we play a lot of them, and always have — my parents’ collection of board games, decks of cards, and domino sets is quite impressive.

Generally, this effort falls far short of success (I don’t even pull the game out, let alone try to play it), but there have been a few bright spots here and there: my dad took to Shadows Over Camelot like a pro, for example: fire gleaming in his eyes as he undertook the destruction of catapults that dared threaten the castle.

There was always the tantalizing opportunity for  success, is what I’m saying.

That opportunity has gotten a lot better as my sister’s kids get older, because they are brilliant and funny and happen to think their uncle is somewhat cool. I’ve played very short games of Shadows and Otherkind with them before, but as I packed for one of my far-too-infrequent visits back home, there was really only one game I considered worth sticking in my backpack.

That game was the shiny new hardback copy of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple that I’d just gotten in the mail days before, written by Daniel Solis and inspired in part by animated series like Avatar: the Last Airbender (a big hit with the preteen crowd in my family).

“I brought a game along for us to play,” I told my twelve-year old nephew.

“What kind of game?” he asked.

“Kind of a story-telling game,” I said.

(Now, I’ve gotten a little tired of the “storygame” label that gets slapped on any indie-published game these days, but I want to be clear about this point — Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is very definitely a story-telling game in the purest, non-jargony sense — in fact, I would call it a story-telling game far more readily than I would call it a roleplaying game, and I don’t think that would upset the author very much; certainly, I intend it as a compliment.)

“But we need a couple people to play,” I said.

‘How many?” he asked.

“A few,” I repled. “We need to get your mom and Grandma to play.”

“Coooooool,” he said.

Getting my nephew on board was the easy part, however, because our limited schedule and (literally) dozens of relatives coming by to visit, hold the new baby, and get caught up meant that we didn’t really have a large window of opportunity.

In fact, it wasn’t until Saturday evening, with our departure looming the next afternoon, that I decided that if the game was going to happen at all, it had to happen Now.

I won’t lie: I pretty much used guilt to get people to participate. In short, my nephew wanted to play, my nephew is awesome and kind of adorable, and anyone who said no would not be disappointing me, but him… which is basically like kicking a puppy.

No one wants to kick a puppy.

So, thanks to that bit of leverage, we got the smaller kids to bed (I’d intended for them to play, but it had just gotten too late) and sat down with my nephew, my wife (a gamer), and my sister and mom, both of whom took their seats protesting that (a) they didn’t get these kinds of games (b) they were absolutely crap at coming up with stories and (c) they were way too tired to think.

I would not be deterred. Passports (character sheets) were handed out, and the super-simple process of character creation began. I explained the process of coming with a pilgrim name, gratefully read example names from the beautiful book, used my own character (whom I’d played while the game was still being playtested) as an example, and in a few minutes we had our pilgrims assembled and ready to deal with the requests for aid being sent to the Flying Temple.

D, my nephew, presented us with Pilgrim Punching Fox, who gets into trouble by trying to solve problems with his lightning fast kung-fu, and who helps people by being clever, fast, nimble, and generally fox-like.

B, his mom and my sister, came up with Pilgrim Stinking Sherpa, who get into trouble because of the overwhelming stench that surrounds her, and helps people by leading them to the best course of action.

J, my mom, eventually worked out Pilgrim Curious Dog, who gets into trouble by poking around in things she shouldn’t, and helps people by being loyal.

K, my wife, introduced Pilgrim Warm House, who gets into trouble by believing unswervingly in True Love, and who helps people by providing shelter.

I brought back Pilgrim Broken Bear (formerly Broken Stone), who gets into trouble by breaking things accidentally, and who helps people by being protective.

The exciting thing: we hadn’t even gotten through character generation before my nephew and sister were kicking in ideas, brainstorming different ways the pilgrims’ Banners (bad points) and Avatars (good points) would work in play, and even making suggestions to J for her character’s name — she’s a literal person, and the metaphors that lie behind most Pilgrim names were a bit too much for her at 10pm, but once we focused on what she wanted (loyalty, for example), and then found a word to go with that, it was easy.

Here’s how play went.

Continue reading “Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple with my family”

Life in a Wormhole: Germans, Planets, and Gilas

Our relations with our German neighbors continue to improve from our original neutral baseline. We started off with an agreement of mutual non-aggression, moved onto a shared intelligence channel that has actually proven to be the source of a number of pleasant chats despite the language barrier, and have moved on to a third stage: increased activity in the system on the part of our neighbors.

This may sound like a bad thing, but what it indicates is that the Germans see our presence as a benefit. They are actually active in two different wormholes, and the one they comutually habitate with us is their secondary — an idle playground for a few neglected alts, apparently.

Or at least that was the case. We’re told that a number of their alliance members have been favorably impressed by the benefits of having many eyes in many timezones protecting the system, and have decided to move their mains into our zip code. This move seems to be taking place this weekend, since a second tower is going up and there are quite a few heavy haulers in system, dropping off supplies.

Or is it a second tower? It seems not, because as soon as the new one is up, the second one starts coming down. Although our own tower is (finally) functioning as intended and not blowing up friendly ships, it’s possible I don’t fully understand the nuances of Player-Owned Structures in EVE, because I simply don’t get why you would put up a tower identical to the one you already have up, then take the first one down.

That seems like the sort of question best saved for one of the fluent linguists in their group, and none are on, so I shelve my curiosity and (with few combat sites available in our system at the moment, and our Class 1 system empty as well) touroughly scan the home system to take stock of the mining and gas-harvesting sites we have at our disposal. There’s been some talk of a joint mining operation between our two corporations, so I want to make sure we have our options laid out. (Plus I plan to do a bit of mining during the next week.)

The joint mining op won’t happen this weekend in any case, because the Germans are doing a lot of moving and set up, so I take the opportunity to set up a few Planetary Interaction “colonies” in our system using automated command centers. All of our active members working on that kind of production should cut the cost of fueling our tower by at least half, per month, which is a pretty major cost and a good one to defray.

I’m set up fairly well by the end of the weekend, and celebrate by shooting some sleepers in the home system with a Gila-class cruiser, which has proven to be a very effective small ship for PvE wormhole operations — excellent shields and a positively cavernous drone bay give me lots of options to play with.

In fact, I like it so much I decide to get another one. The current wormhole exit to known space dumps us out only a few jumps from a major trading hub, and I happen to have a Gila blueprint wasting away in storage, so with the cash made from that single combat site, I buy all the materials necessary to assemble a ship, plus all the fittings needed to make it fully operational, and I still have a 10 million isk surplus I drop into the corporate account. I take “Monster” out for a shakedown run of a sleepers’ Perimeter Hangar, pull in another 20 million in profit for the corp, and call it a weekend; we’re off to Orlanda for a week, and it’s time to get some packing done.

Life in a Wormhole: Exploiting the Neighbors #eveonline

Wormhole systems are categorized into six classes. The differences between these classes is primarily in the relative strength of the Sleepers that inhabit the lost enclaves of the system, the value of the ores and other resources found in the system, and the persistent wormhole connections that each system is guaranteed to have at all times. Randomly generated wormholes might (and do) appear throughout both wormhole and known space (connnecting wormholes to other wormholes, wormholes to known space, known space to wormholes, and even known space to other areas of known space), but in a wormhole system, there must always be certain types of wormholes present at all times.

For instance, Class 1 systems — the least dangerous and least profitable (both those being relative) — always have some kind of connection to known space, though whether it’s a persistent connection to highsec, nullsec, or lowsec varies.

Class 2 systems are notable in that they have two static connections, one to known space and one to a specific class of wormhole. This is particularly important to us, because we live in a class 2 system with a persistent connection to highsec and another to Class 1 wormhole space. It’s possible this might be the most ‘softball’ kind of class 2 system, with an always-open route to (allegedly) the safest parts of known space, and a connection to the easiest sleeper combat sites (the Class 1) when there’s nothing to shoot in our own system.

That said, I don’t really care if it’s an relatively easy wormhole to live in, because it’s our first one and we don’t have any wormhole veterans along for the ride to show us the ropes. You have to start somewhere, and we’re enjoying the hell out of the whole experience already.

It is the static connection to class 1 space that I’m pondering today, because our current neighboring system is completely uninhabited and appears to have a static connection to the barren, unpopulated expanses of nullsec, which means it gets about as much tourist traffic as the world’s second largest ball of twine.

Cawker City, Kansas Welcomes You.

It also means that system is positively cluttered with sleeper-infested cosmic anomalies. Now, none of these anomalies are that profitable individually, but when a solo pilot can grab a battlecruiser and wipe out a half dozen at his leisure, it starts looking pretty attractive. Since I’m alone in the tower at the moment, I decide to do a little yardwork on my neighbor’s property.

I’m just a giver in that way.

An hour passes in quiet comtemplation and explosions, and while I sacrifice a few brave drones to the Sleepers’ random target-switching algorhythm. CB logs in while I’m wrapping up a site and hops into a myrmidon to join me in the carnage. I’ve left enough wrecks in my wake that I’m about at the point where I need to hop into a salvaging ship and clean up my mess, and I show him the way to the class 1 by the simply expediency of jumping through the wormhole and waiting on our side until he can warp to my location. Once he does so, I warp down to our tower and he jumps through the wormhole.

Just as that tag-in takes place, CB asks me if I have scanning probes out in our home system – a question he probably already knows the answer to, since the names of the probes are using a cyrillic alphabet. Eve’s regional localization sometimes make gathering intel about visitors to our system quite easy; we have a russian tourists in our wormhole — one flying a Vagabond heavy assault cruiser and the other an Anathema covert operations frigate — the rest of our plans are put on hold while we deal with that.

Ty can’t (yet) fly covert operations frigates, and Bre has returned to her nullsec stomping grounds in Curse, so I don’t have the ability to warp around the system while cloaked, which makes pinpointing the interlopers more difficult. Still, I scanned the system quite thoroughly earlier in the day, and I know there are only a few ‘combat’ anomalies, so I use directional scanner set to a narrow beam to determine which one of the sites Vagabond heavy assault cruiser is in, grab a ferox-class battlecruiser, and jump in to say hello.

Unfortunately, no one’s there.

Well, not entirely true — no one’s there but a bunch of now-awakened Sleepers, and I retreat from their querelous greetings in a bit of confusion. I double-check d-scan and the two ships are still showing up in the direction I originally determined, and that’s the only thing out in the direction from the tower, so what —

Oh. Hmm.

Actually, there ARE two sites out in that direction. One of them is the very common cosmic anomaly, and the other is the far less common, potentially far more valuable sleeper site that can be located only after extensive scanning, thanks to it’s weak radar signature, and it’s clear that that’s where our visitors are.

Before, I was intrigued by the chance to jump the interlopers, but now I’m annoyed.

I prepare to jump to the radar site, instructing CB (who has been lurking in the neighboring system and thus conveniently off enemy d-scan) to jump through the wormhole and then warp to my location as I swoop down on the unsuspecting victims.

Well, allegedly unsuspecting. It turns out that while the russians may not have been too worried about my solo ship, they’re more than willing to bug out as soon as two battlecruisers show up on scan, and I’ve no sooner landed than both the Vagabon and Anathema are warping away, leaving behind a site in which all the sleepers have been killed but… ah ha! none have been looted or salvaged.

Still, this isn’t the time to switch to a salvaging boat — our visitors are very likely still in-system — they warped to distant moons, and not the current wormhole exit to highsec. CB, robbed of the opportunity for carnage, drops into his accustomed role on d-scan, while I warp to the wormhole exit in question. I won’t be able to stop anyone from leaving, but at least I can verify their exit as they go, and that’s exactly what happens: just as I drop out of warp near the wormhole, I see the vagabond swallowed by the wormhole and vanish from my overview. Perhaps they’ve all aready left.

Not so, says CB, as cyryllic probes are back on directional scan. Just three, though, which is a hard way to scan. That’s odd.

So we sit, and wait, and watch.

The probes stay out for a bit, and are then recalled, though at no point do they come very near to me, where I am sitting on the wormhole, so I have no idea what the Anathema is scanning. I check the exit to the C1 system, and they aren’t anywhere near there either.

A little bit later, the probes go back out, wander aimlessly around the system, are recalled, deployed, wander… et cetera.

This goes on for a bit. CB starts to wonder if the Anathema pilot is drunk or baiting us in some way. I am starting to wonder if the wrecks and loot in the C1 are going to disappear before I get a chance to get back there — the clock is ticking.

But not for much longer. After about another five minutes, the pilot of the Anathema speaks up in local, confessing in broken English that only the Vagabond pilot remembered to make a bookmark to the location of the wormhole in our system, when they first arrived, so while the Vagabond left, the Anathema will have to scan the location out manually, and for some reason, he currently only has three probes on his boat, and he can’t resolve the signature successfully.

Fail, as the kids say.

CB and I have a pretty good laugh over this and then, contrary to all known standard operating procedures for EVE, I offer to help him leave our system.

Now, before I lose my Wormhole Occupancy membership card, let me explain why.

1. I had sites to loot in the next system over that were worth far more than any gear a tiny covops frigate wreck would have.
2. The russians were leaving behind a lucrative site as well, probably worth more by itself than all the sites I’d already run, combined.
3. We could collapse the wormhole behind them, removing the chance of their return, if we so chose.
4. There was basically a snowball’s chance in hell I’d ever catch the bloody frigate in any case, even if I wanted to do it violence.

Basically, I didn’t want to arse around with the guy all night.

So dropped a bookmark in a neutral location, had him leave the system uncloaked so I could see him depart, and we went back to our original plans, satisfied that we had defended our territory, if not killed any ships along the way. CB ran overwatch while I cleared out the radar site as well as the sites I’d hit in the C1, and by the time that was over, Gor had logged in.

We got him caught up on recent events, and the three of us decided to hit more of the C1 systems, simply because our own system was (with the exception of the radar site) looking pretty barren. To speed things up, Gor and I did the shooting while CB cleaned up the wrecks in a dedicated salvage boat.

Things went pretty fast. I lost track of how many sites we did, but when we wrapped up for the night, we’d had collectively netted close to 200 million ISK. There are ways to make more money in a wormhole, but considering we’d basically just done Class One sites, that was a very good profit for a few hours’ worth of shooting, with a little Vagabond hunting thrown in to keep things interesting.

All in all, a pretty good evening.

Life in a Wormhole: If you’re going to be a Criminal, be a Smart Criminal #eveonline

Over emails the next day, CB points out that instead of a floating tower in space with guns, e-warfare modules, shield hardeners, portable factories, and room for dozens upon dozens of ships… we could have instead invested that same 1.5 billion isk and bought a single monocle from EVE’s new online vanity clothing store.

Jeez, when you put it THAT way, the price of the monocle starts to seem kind of ridiculous.

Luckily, it seems that we have overcome our shame at foolishly spending our hard-earned fauxcash on useful stuff; CB has been trying his hand at scanning the system, and when I log in he gleefully announces he found a number of Gravimetric signatures (signifying uncharted asteroid belts full of lovely rare ores) to plunder.

“If you’ve already found the sites, don’t tell me,” he says, before I can congratulate him, “I’m riding the high of actually scanning something down.”

At this point, I am the defacto scanner for corp, having spent a lot of time practicing the use of multiple scanning probes to triangulate (well, in my case, quintangulate) the location of various uncharted phenomena in space. In known space, this is handy skill to have, as it will show you the location of hidden asteroid belts, valuable gas clouds, and even ancient ruins and hidden smuggler bases.

In wormholes, however, scanning graduates from “handy” to “absolutely vital”, because you basically can’t DO anything in a wormhole system until you scan down its location… including leave — so I’m really pleased to see my corpmates trying their hand at it. All of their characters have the requisite skills for scanning (we wouldn’t have come out here, otherwise), but it’s another thing entirely to successfully manipulate the interface and actually find anything.

Gor, in fact, is still struggling with that part of the equation; despite the fact that his character, gear, and ships are, numerically speaking, actually better at scanning than mine, I can usually resolve the cosmic locations of every signature in the system before he manages to find one. Given that, I think there must simply be something he’s doing wrong with the interface, making triangulation impossible, but that kind of thing is very hard to coach over voicechat. I resolve to find some good training videos on the subject.

In any case, Gor seems perfectly happy to make use of CB’s scanning success, and the two of them are currently mining to their hearts’ content in one of the aforementioned gravimetric sites. As always, CB is diligently watching his d-scan, dumping ore into a jettisoned storage canister, while Gor practices a bit more paranoia by flying back to the tower and emptying his ship after every load.

I’m not much of a miner (don’t have the skills to make it super-profitable, or the patience to make it sustainable), so I decide to jump out of the wormhole and run back to our distant highsec home to pick up another ship I realize I want to have around. Gor calls it a night while I’m still on my return trip, and I get back to the tower to find CB filling his fourth jet-can.

“It’s full of stars,” he says. “Actually, it’s full of rocks, but they’re really pretty rocks.”

I jump out to the asteroid belt to look around, agree that some of the rocks are, in fact, quite pretty, then return to the tower to do a bit more post-move maintenance work, chatting with CB over voice as we both keep ourselves busy.

“I’ve got –” CB cuts off the conversation “Missiles. I’m getting hit with missiles. I’m getting frakking bombed.”

There’s a very short pause. “They got the ship. There’s two of em.”

I’ve barely had time to ask a question. “Are they –”

“They’re in local,” CB says. “Asking for ransom for my escape pod.”

Kryaa > 200mil or your dead
Kryaa > you have 15 seconds
TyD > Kryaa, that’s an unwired clone belonging to a relatively young pilot. You’ve already blown up the ship, which was the most valuable thing out there, and we have a static connection to highsec, so getting back here is easy. Be reasonable.
Kryaa > 5 seconds
TyD > Then no. You want to be paid, ask for something reasonable. 200 million is stupid.
TyDy > We’ll happily pay a reasonable sum, but that’s silly.

“Yeah,” says CB, “they popped me.”

“Sorry man.” I was in entirely the wrong ship to fly to his rescue, and if I’d switched ships as I typed, they would have popped him immediately.

“S’alright,” CB mutters. There’s silence on the line for a bit, then: “DAMN I should have hauled that ore back in more often.”

He’s doing exactly what I do after a fight — analyzing the mistakes, and what could have been done better. It’s our first time in a wormhole, and we’re new to how things work — we expected to lose ships, which is why we brought so many. But it still sucks.

“You want to fly back tonight?”

“Nah,” he says, “you know my rule.”

I nod. If you lose a ship, log out before you lose another one. Come back later. Come back calmer. It’s a good rule, even if I almost never follow it myself.

I reach into the corp accounts and wire a chunk of isk his direction. “Pick up some skill wires for your new head, and don’t forget to update your clone.”

“That’s too much money,” he comments.

“Eh,” I shrug. “Put together something fun to fly back in. I’ll assemble a new miner for you, and we’ll tag team the site next time.”

“You hate mining,” he comments.

“I hate lots of things,” I reply. “I get over it.”

He logs, and I jump into a covert scanning boat to take a look around the system. CB’s jettisoned canisters are gone, no doubt destroyed in a fit of pique by the idiot ransomeers flying stealth bombers far too small to haul the ore home, and it looks like we have new visitors to the system; a trio of tech-level-3 cruisers slumming in a class 2 system and shooting Sleeper ships that they hopelessly outmatch. That behavior alone makes me suspect they’re the same pilots as the ones that bombed a lone miner and asked for a 200 million isk bounty.

One of my characters happens to be a member of a group of folks who actually make a fairly decent income via ransoms. In highsec, I deplore the practice, but it doesn’t bother me in lawless areas like nullsec and wormhole space, because the folks that live out there know the risks and (sometimes) pay the price. C’est la EVE. I don’t engage in the practice, personally, but I have studied the after action reports of the members of that corp, and in general I like how they operate:

  • Always honor the deal, no exceptions. A pirate who doesn’t honor his agreements will never get paid.
  • Adjust your ransom based on the target. 6 year old character with 54 million skill points can afford (and will be willing to pay) a damn sight  more to save their clone than a six-month-old character.
  • Be professional.

I actually like how my old training-corp (Open University of Celestial Hardship) does it even more: no bounties. They’re “running military ops, not toll booths”, in the words of one instructor.

But I think about how that professional pirate group manages these sorts of things, and my opinion of CB’s ambushers drops another notch. They rushed — probably because they were scared that they’d get jumped by backup — but most of all they just asked for too much; like a professional hitman beating up a first-grader for his lunch money and then demanding a thousand dollars, it’s stupid: you won’t get paid, and the only thing you’ll have to show for it is scuffed knuckles. It’s not like you can really even brag about the fight that much: it was just a first-grader, after all.

So, that’s our third night in the wormhole. Up a lot of ore, even with some lost, down a quite cheap ship, and out some cash to help a corpmate rebound.

Most importantly, a learning experience.

In the end, I think we made out better than the would-be pirates.

Time will tell.

Life in a Wormhole: The Moving-day Hangover

It’s one of those days you remember from college; everyone’s moving a bit slowly, trying to make as little noise as possible, and talking in subdued tones — sometimes even whispering.

It’s Hangover Day in the wormhole, following our all-nighter getting the tower set up and making diplomatic arrangements with our unexpected German neighbors.

I’m online and doing things many many hours ahead of anyone else, “thanks” to my status as the father of a five-month old; Sean doesn’t give a damn whether I got any sleep the night before, so I’m blearily feeding the boy and checking through our to-do list after not nearly enough hours asleep. There are a few modules we didn’t have time to bring online the night before, and one that we left floating unanchored inside the tower’s bubble as an experiment (to see if the schedule downtime to make it disappear — it didn’t), so I take care of that and make a (very short) list of stuff we need to pick up from outside that it seems we forgot.

Some of the Germans are online as well, and while I’m thinking of it, I set up a communication channel to share between our two corporations and send the particulars out to the folks I’ve already spoken with. No sooner have I done so than folks start popping into the channel. Luckily for me, the person doing most of the talking is part of an international business concern and as such has very strong written English skills — it keeps me from having to toggle over to Google translate too often.

(That said, I really can’t sing the praises of Google Translate enough — it’s nice on websites, but for this kind of situation I think it’s safe to say that any kind of serious, peaceful agreement between our two groups would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.)

We keep the chatter on the channel nice and neutral — just talking generalities and making introductions — everyone is still kind of approaching this situation with their hands resting none-too-subtly on the butts of their pistols, but it’s a start.

I’m hopeful.

Wary, but hopeful.

Life in a Wormhole: … if it is possible to avoid hitting. #eveonline

I drafted my evemail, aiming for a mix of “we’re all just trying to get along” and “we have no intention of slinking on home”, copied the whole thing into Google translate, and included both the English and German versions in the body of the message. When I hit send (directing it toward the CEO of the corp that seemed to own the local tower), I also CC’d it to Gor and CB, then let them know I had done so while we all continued to haul equipment into the system and bring them online.

“I like it,” commented Gor, several minutes later. “It may not do anything, but it couldn’t have been said much better.”

“Reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt,” murmured CB.

I thought about that while I manhandled another ECM module into place. “I think I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You should,” he said.

Don't hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.

With that done, and knowing that we were timeshifted from the other corporation by anywhere from 9 to 12 hours and wouldn’t hear anything back anytime soon, we returned our focus fully back to the tasks at hand, trying to rub the sleep from bleary eyes and taking periodic breaks to fetch another soda (me) or more tea (CB and Gor).

By this point, I’d gotten my orca-flying alt into the delivery chain and had started to haul assembled ships and other gear while the others focused on tower fuel and consumables. We were working well, but the mood had gotten considerably more grim, thanks to the looming threat of some kind of showdown with the other corp.

Now, to be fair, it’s not as though PvP isn’t a constant possibility in wormhole space. Like the unsettled west of colonial America, there are no rules of engagement and no security forces to hide behind. However, unless a particular corp takes a serious dislike to you, any PvP combat you encounter is much more likely to be short-term and somewhat limited in scope, thanks to the temporary nature of the wormholes that connect you with other systems (both in wormhole space and known space), and their mass limitations precluding both very large fleets or very large ships. We were all acclimated to the idea of potential violence, and had certainly brought in enough hulls to stay completely functional even if we lost ships, but the possibility of a long engagement with an entrenched enemy was simply not the specific kind of fun we’d signed up for.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I at least was pretty bummed at the turn of events.

CB (who had maintained a very healthy level of paranoid monitoring of d-scan) was the first to notice that there was now a ship at the other tower, quite a few hours sooner than I’d expected. There was very little doubt that he’d noticed us as well — aside from the tower, multiple storage facilities, and armed tower defenses, I had just unceremoniously dumped well over a dozen ships into the space inside the the tower’s shields, because my alt didn’t yet have clearance to the ship hangar we’d set up, I didn’t want to futz around with the labyrinthine corporate permissions menus on top of everything else I was doing, and the character (a dedicated non-combatant) couldn’t fly most of the large ‘pointy’ ships himself to dock them properly.

All of that stuff was, I imagined, crowding our new neighbor’s directional scan in a rather noticeable way.

So, knowing that he clearly knew we were there, and that he’d had time to see my evemail,  I decided to say hello in the local comms channel.

This, like starting up impromptu diplomatic negotiations, is something that Simply Is Not Done in wormhole space, but I figured I’d already broken a few taboos, so what were a few more. By doing this, I would be giving him easy access to intel on me, my corp, and my alliance — all the stuff that had taken us quite a bit of time to dredge up earlier on his corp — but again, I actually thought that having that information might encourage open negotiations.

After 20 minutes, it was clear that he had no intention of replying in kind.

So I opened up a direct, private line of communication. This, he eventually answered.

I don’t have the exact log of the conversation handy, but it didn’t last terribly long, in part because he didn’t think his English was very good, and I knew my German was terrible. Also, at that point, there wasn’t much to say.

“Well,” I closed up the private channel. “He’s not thrilled with the turn of events, and his plan for the wormhole is pretty much exactly the same as ours, so he’s concerned that we’re all going to be after the same resources.”

“That’s unfortunate,” murmured Gor.

“He didn’t say no,” I continued, “he wanted to say no, I could tell, but he said he was going to talk to the rest of his alliance first, to see what they’ll say.”

“To see how fast they can get battleships here,” CB said.

“Maybe,” I said. “Obviously, that’s what we plan for. How long until the scheduled downtime?”

“Two hours,” Gor answered.

I looked over everything I still had to get functional in that time, one module at a time. “I should be able to get almost everything running,” I said. “He’s staying in his scanning boat, so we’re not going to get jumped at this exact second, and we can see if he puts a warp bubble up on the wormhole or something, so let’s keep moving.”

Which is what we did, the grim situation now looking even darker.

While we worked, our neighbor put his own scanning probes into the system, no doubt trying to determine exactly where in the system we were located and what he was dealing with. We saw no reason to interfere with this, because trying to hide our numbers and material resources would only slow our own effort down.

By my estimate, he probably found our base and warped a stealthy covert ops boat within visual range of the tower right about when we dumped our third load of ships into the tower space and started storing them in the hangar.

“Let him look,” I thought, “let him count up the piles of pointy ships and see if that’s more convincing than the evemail.”

I got no further communications from him, and we kept working on the tower, growling at the never-diminishing to-do list and the periodic warning messages now popping up on hour screen, telling us that the daily reboot of the Tranquility server would be happening in 1 hour… 45 minutes… and we should try to get somewhere safe.

“We’re in a wormhole,” someone muttered. “There isn’t anywhere safe anymore.”

Fifteen minutes before the downtime, as we were storing the few modules we’d decided could wait until the next day, I got a private comms request from someone I didn’t recognize, a member of a corp from the same German alliance. I accepted.

We talked. His English was a lot better, we had a lot to say, and I was still trying to bring the Tower’s last defenses online, so I was very silent on voice comms until we wrapped up.

“Well?” CB asked. “Are they sending battlecruisers or battleships?”

“Apparently,” I drawled, “after talking things over, and hearing from the guy in our system about — and I quote — ‘How organized you all are,’ they have decided to agree to mutual non-aggression, and have in fact suggested we have a shared comms channel to use for mutual sharing of intel, to keep both of us a bit safer in here.”

“They went for it.” Gor sounded as though he wasn’t sure if I was joking.

“They went for it,” I confirmed. “And I suspect that it was at least in part because of this huge, scary-looking, pain-in-the-ass of a tower we’ve put together.”

“I bet you’re right,” said Gor. “Which reminds me: are we online?”

I checked the readouts, looking for anything that was anchored but not powered up. “The board is green,” I said. “We’re online.”

The warning for “Five minutes to reboot” popped up. I ignored it, trying to think of anything we’d forgotten.

“Pull your camera way back,” said CB.

I did. Our tower hung in orbit around a barren moon, circling an invitingly temperate world. The tower’s forcefield — the wall of our little town — undulated in the foreground of our starry backdrop like a jellyfish, wrapped around storage facilities and defenses; offensive modules jutting outward in every direction just outside the barrier.

“Quite the fortress,” said Gor.

“Jesus it’s pretty,” CB — not the most sentimental of our crew — murmured. “I’m going to bed.”

“Me too.”

“Me too.”

I signed off just as the “30 seconds to downtime” message came up, and headed for bed.

According to my clock, it was 5:29am.

A long damned night.

But we were home.

Life in a Wormhole: What do you mean, “Neighbors?”

There was a moment of stunned disbelief following CB’s question. I hit d-scan several times on several characters and got nothing at all that looked like some other tower in the system. Questions shot back and forth, and after a few tweaks to my settings, I scanned again and saw it, plain as day.

Some other corp’s tower, already set up. In OUR wormhole.

My first reaction was anger at whoever had set up the tower. Our alliance mate who’d first gotten me the location of the system had verified that it was clear of any habitation, and that was less than three days ago. Worse, the tower had been renamed from it’s default, and that name began with specific ascii character — one that Tira had seen the day before in this system, prepended to the name of a couple ships visible for few minutes while scanning, but which had later vanished — I’d assumed they were explorers or tourists from known space and forgotten about them.  My initial thought on making this connection was that this tower was being set up by some kind of wormhole griefer — a guy with a couple alts who waited in empty systems until some new group started setting up, then set up and harassed the newcomers for fun.

Secondly, I was angry at myself for not noticing the tower — I had been using a very specific filter for my directional scan: one optimized for PvP activity (for obvious reasons). It was a set up that I’d gotten while working as part of pvp training with OUCH  (Open University of Celestial Hardship), and while it was great for spotting incoming ships, it didn’t show towers at all, so while Tira and Bre had been diligently scanning for interlopers while Ty and Gor and CB assembled supplies, I’d completely missed the tower going up, which it seems have to been happening for the last day or so.

This impression was confirmed as soon as I located the tower, orbiting one of the many moons surrounding the gas giant at the outskirts of the system. Knowing what I now knew about the time it took to set up a tower, and seeing that there was no one online within the tower defenses at the moment, it was clear that this thing had gone up at least a day previous, and that I should have seen it.  While the tower wasn’t as large as our own, guns and other defenses were definitely online and armed.

So Now What?

At this point, our situation was such that it would take more time to undo everything than it would to finish putting the base together, and quite frankly we were emotionally invested in the project now, not just invested in terms of time and faux money. A quick show of hands was all it took to make it clear that not even the most conflict-adverse wanted to leave; to be blunt we were ready to take the opposing tower down “manually”, and we put out a call to allies throughout known space to see who was near the front door of the system and interested in a little violence.

Truly, we were fearsome.

While potential forces assembled, we continued to bring tower modules online as quickly as we could (the new neighbor certainly provided motivation) and did some research. A bunch of digging both inside and outside the game told us a few things about the corporation behind our neighboring tower.

  • They were relatively small.
  • They were closely integrated with a somewhat larger (but still smallish) alliance, all of whom seemed to be primarily interested in industry and some mission running.
  • They were German. (This was good, or at least better than some other options, from our point of view. Russians players, for example, have a reputation for ready violence.
  • On the possible-plus-side, they seemed to have a bit of a sense of humor (judging by the names of their ships and the tower), and the names in their membership roster were generally “In Character” and blessedly free of “xxXDeathXLordXxx”s and “Killxor”s.

By comparison, our own corp was larger, and part of a considerably larger alliance that, while it included a number of ‘carebear’ corps, also counted no less than three mercenary-for-hire and nullsec corps among it’s membership. (And it didn’t hurt that one of my characters was friends with a fair number of… “PvP Enthusiasts” in the Curse region.) Also, thanks to all the stuff we’d decided to bring in the way of tower defense, we were better defended in the system itself.

I looked this information over, reviewed the number of folks wiling to drop everything and come out here to blow up a tower (not that many on a late late Friday night leading into a holiday weekend), and keyed the voice comms.

“I’ve got a radical suggestion,” I said, “it’s stupid, but it just might work.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m going to talk to them,” I replied, “and suggest we share the wormhole.”

“Share…” they said, “in Eve?”

“It can’t really hurt,” I said, “and dammit, no one EVER tries talking. It’s irritating. They’re wormhole runners and industrialists — they’re like us — they probably aren’t going to really want a long, drawn-out fight any more than *we* do. They aren’t that big, *we* aren’t that big — and there’s more than enough stuff to do in here that we can all have fun and turn a profit.”

I opened up my in-game email client and started putting together a message in as straightforward and easily-translatable vocabulary as possible.

“You think they’ll listen?” CB asked. “They wake up and log in and see a new tower on their doorstep, and the new guys want to share?”

He had a point. It wasn’t exactly fair. That said, we weren’t terribly interested in fair at that point, or at least not “100% fair as agreed upon by a neutral third party”; we’d put a lot of work into this in a very short period of time and as far as we were concerned “fair” involved us realizing some benefit from our effort. Yes, they were here first, but we had a deeper well of potential allies in the event of violence, and we were negotiating from what would be (once the damned GUNS were online) a stronger position.

Besides, this was EVE, after all.

It’s not like you get to call Dibs.

Life in a Wormhole: Time to Get Lost

Gor has advocated for starting the trip further into the evening, so as to avoid the prime hours of activity for the sorts of players who might find it amusing to blow up an Obelisk to see what’s inside, and that seemed like a pretty good idea.

Friday afternoon came, and it was all hands on deck to make the move to wormhole space.

The only problem was, the wormhole wasn’t cooperating. Tira had scanned it down and discovered that it was nearing the end of its lifetime (a wormhole will collapse for several reasons, one of which being old age), so we were stuck waiting for the thing to die and be replaced by the new persistent exit to known space.

We waited…

And waited…

Several hours passed (during which we made even MORE last minute impulse purchases), and still the old, feeble wormhole lingered. We were stuck; given how long it would take us to travel to the current exit system, the odds were very good that there would BE no exit by the time we got there, or (even worse) that it would collapse after we started the process of moving into the system, leaving some or most of our stuff stranded who-knows-how-many jumps away from the new front door.

We’d just about decided to fly a large ship over to the dying wormhole to try to get it to collapse manually when, wonder of wonders, the thing finally vanished on its own. Tira started scanning and we all crossed our fingers in the hope that our new entrance would be much closer to our current location.

No such luck. 27 jumps to make in a freighter. Ouch.

Still, the whole trip could be managed without leaving the relative safety of highsec empire space, so we called it a win and got flying. All in all, the trip was fairly uneventful — potential pirates were inexplicably nonplussed by the Obelisk flying past them, even though they showed a remarkable (albeit nonlethal) interest in CB’s industrial hauler and my battlecruiser.

Once we got to the ‘front door’ system, Gor docked the Obelisk and started unpacking the massive ship so that we could start moving things into the system.

That was our first hurdle: the Obelisk freighter was far too massive to fit through the wormhole itself, so everything had to moved into smaller, nimbler industrial haulers and taken into the system over the course of many trips.

How many?

Well, the haulers we were using were all configured to carry roughly twenty thousand cubic meters of cargo at a time. The Obelisk was packed to the gills, every bit of its over 800 thousand cubic meters put to use. You do the math — it was like unloading a cargo ship into a series of moving vans.

What Goes in First

It didn’t make much sense to bring anything into the system unless there was someplace to put it, so the first thing to go into the wormhole was our Tower — a miniature space station that would form the core of our base of operations. Gor did the honors for this, with CB hauling in the fuel that the tower would need to power both its shields and all the other modules we planned to bring online. Everyone else was busy flying overwatch for this critical operation.

Critical and SLOW operation, I should mention. Once launched into space from the hauler, the tower had to be anchored to a static location in orbit around one of the system’s many moons (a process that took a half an hour), and then fueled and brought online (another half hour). Our expectation was that once the tower was up, we could bring the support modules online much more quickly, simply because there were so many of us around to make that happen. (We would later get that expectation crushed like a delicate butterfly.)

After some initial confusion, we decided on a more central location for the tower; given the size of the system, it would be possible for our directional scanners to reach every celestial body, which maximized the chance that we’d spot any unwelcome visitors and unpleasant surprises.

Speaking of Unpleasant Surprises…

So let’s do a little bit of math.

We’ve already spent almost three hours waiting for a brand-new wormhole to coalesce, roughly two hours to fly to the ‘front door’ and unload the Obelisk at the nearest station in known space, and well over an hour to get inside the wormhole, figure out where we wanted the tower to go, and get it anchored and online.  On any normal night, we probably would have been close to the point in the evening where we’d start making preparations to log out.

But this wasn’t a normal night. In this case, we were just getting started, but we were committed to the endeavor at this point and, even knowing we’d be up for many more hours, we were pretty excited about how things were going.

“Okay,” Gor said, “the tower’s up, and the shield is recharging. What should be online next?”

“Guns,” came the unanimous reply.

Gor didn’t argue, and we started our second supply run for more tower modules. He managed to get the first gun anchored and coming online before announcing two frustrating facts:

1) Placing the tower modules was a huge pain in the ass, and took twice as long as actually onlining the module once it was in place.

2) Only one module could be brought online at a time, regardless of how many people were there to help, because it was the tower, not the characters, that was doing the onlining.

Point #1 was handled easily enough by putting me in charge of the placement and anchoring process, since it was an interface cosmetically similar to other portions of the game I was quite familiar with. Point #2 was bad: it effectively tripled the amount of time we’d estimated it was going to take us to get from zero to “fully armed and operational battle station”.

This was going to require the special java.

Still, we persevered. Weapons and shield hardeners slowly started humming to life, followed by warp scramblers and a pile of ECM modules guaranteed to ruin pretty much anyone’s day. We had poured somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion isk into this undertaking; we definitely wanted to protect our investment, and we didn’t want anything going wrong.

So, when CB said (somewhere about halfway through our defenses coming online) “Does anyone ELSE see the Minmatar tower on D-scan?” You can bet I was not happy.

(More soon…)

Life in a Wormhole: The Adventure Begins… with shopping.

A flurry of communications followed my initial email about the empty wormhole. Questions. Queries. Calculations.

A whoooole lot of calculations.

The response surprised me a little bit, because we hadn’t talked about moving into a wormhole system for quite some time and had, until VERY recently (read: the day before) been making plans to join the rest of our alliance in the nullsec Catch region.

My first visit to the Catch system in question had left a pretty bad taste in my mouth, however, so when I heard about this other opportunity, I thought I’d at least ‘squat’ in the system for a few days or weeks — something I was personally well-equipped to do, thanks to already living a pretty nomadic lifestyle. One of my alts follows my main character around in an Orca-class industrial command ship (originally designed to lead mining operations) that I’ve repurposed to function as a mobile, stealth-capable space station, stocked with all the ships I was most likely to need and the ability repair and refit everything on the fly.  With a setup like that I figured it would be pretty simple to hop through the wormhole the next time it connected to a convenient system and basically live out of a suitcase until I got tired of it, got blown up, or the hold of the Orca filled up with too much loot to carry.

What my ‘mates were talking about, however, was a full-blown move: setting up a stationary tower with formidable defenses, storage, manufacturing facilities, and a supply of ships sufficient to keep us operable without support for a very long while indeed.

In the end, that’s what we decided to do — largely because it was the coolest possible option available.

The next couple of days leading up to the weekend involved a lot of prep work. Gor (the corp’s CEO and the most veteran EVE player by five years or so) unlimbered a few of his assets that he didn’t often have much need to fly — specifically, he pulled an Obelisk-class freighter out of drydock — a ship so massive that it could haul virtually everything we needed or wanted to bring with us in one trip, with quite a lot of room to spare.  Gor and I dumped most of our liquid assets into the corp wallet, and it was time to go shopping.

Clearly, we were ready for anything.

(The only problem with the shopping was that once we got the essentials into the Obelisk, we felt compelled to fill up the REST of the space in the ship with ‘nice to haves’ that, in hindsight, we maybe didn’t exactly need. Ahh well.)

Every day, I had Tira scan the system, make sure it was still unoccupied, locate the current wormhole connection to known space, and poke Smilin’ Jack’s head out to see where the system’s connection was — all of which gave us a pretty good idea of where we’d have to fly to reach the system and how long it would take.

The answer?

“Pretty far” and “a damn long time.” The Obelisk is a hell of a hauler, but one thing it isn’t is fast.  Conservatively, just getting to the wormhole entrance was going to take us well over an hour. Maybe two.

Little did we know that that would be the quickest and easiest part of the move.

“My name is John Crichton…”

I haven’t been compelled to write about the sorts of things going on with my time in-game with EVE up to this point.

Yes, I’ve written about EVE as an MMO, because I find it interesting both how different and how VERY SIMILAR it is to other MMOs, but as far as writing posts on ‘this is what I’ve done in the last week — well, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to do that in any game, let alone EVE — the fact of the matter is, I’m basically running missions, making money, buying ships, and basically breaking even without a tremendous amount of risk involved. I’m having FUN — let there be no doubt about that — but none of it felt like something I wanted to record in any kind of journal.

That changed a week ago.

A week ago, someone on our Alliance channel said “Hey, I just found this completely uninhabited Class 2 wormhole system — does anyone want access to it? It’s got a persistant exit to high security Empire space, and another persistent exit to a random Class 1 wormhole system.”

Now, I should explain. Wormhole systems are, from the point of view of the average EVE player, weird. There are no stargates connecting them to other systems. In fact, there are no empire-supported communication networks in the systems, no obvious means of either getting in or getting out… no structures associated with civilization (such as space stations) of any kind, and if you aren’t skilled with survey probes, you’ll never ever get in or out.  What exits you CAN find are unstable wormholes that last less than 24 hours, connecting randomly to other systems in the universe, only to be replaced tomorrow by a new wormhole, somewhere else in the system, connecting somewhere else in the universe.

And oh yeah, these lost wormhole systems are inhabited by sentient AI ships — remnant watchdog ships that hate all human lifeforms.

They’re like living in a solar-system-sized Tardis that you don’t know how to drive, with Daleks wandering the hallways.

I kinda love em.

Perhaps it’s because of the wild rules surrounding them, or perhaps it’s because those ancient drone AI ships have components that sell for a LOT of money. Either way, one of the main reasons I learned how to use scanner probes and do exploration early on in the game was to find these wormholes and check them out.

But I’d never lived in one. Partly this was because when I found a good system to inhabit, I didn’t yet have the means to do so, and partly because since then, I’d never found one that didn’t have some corporation already set up inside; Wormhole living (based out of a player owned and operated (and constructed) tower)  is quite popular with a certain subset of Eve players who are a little more independent; who don’t mind be fairly isolated from the rest of New Eden, and who are damned territorial.

So when this alliance member mentioned the unoccupied wormhole of a class that wasn’t so horrible that I could probably live there, I shouted “Me me me!”

Since our first forays into wormholes, Gor and CB and I had talked about going back in and settling one semi-permanently, but the upshot of that planning was that we’d decided we needed a certain amount (read: a lot) of money and resources to make it work, and somewhat better training in certain areas.

But that discussion had taken place months ago, and I suspected we might be close to where we could make it work. I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least get the location of the wormholes current entrance just in case.

So I contacted the alliance member, checked out the current wormhole’s entrance location… and found out was nowhere near me; not “inconveniently” far; too far..

What it was, though, was really close to a character that Kate had made up to try out the game — one that I knew had most of the skills necessary to survive in the wormhole as a stealthy forward scout — someone who could play forward recon while we decided if this wormhole thing was going to work.

So, with Kate’s permission, I got Tira over to the highsec empire entrance, sent her and her trusty cruiser “Smilin’ Jack” into the wormhole, checked to make sure it really was as empty of other player habitation as my alliance-mate had claimed, and shot a message off to Gor and CB entitled

“I think this is what I’m going to be doing this weekend.”

After that, things got a little crazy.

(More soon…)

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple — “Swallowed Whole”

Despite crazy schedules and a newborn to deal with, Chris and Tim and I managed to get together last night to for a little gaming. We were looking for something one-shot-like, and *I* was looking for something requiring minimal prep (and possibly minimal brain function; I’m a little short on sleep). After looking at a few options (Annalise, Dead of Night) we settled on Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, written by Daniel Solis with some heartfelt bows in the direction of animated series like Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Local friends will know Daniel’s work through Happy Birthday Robot — a game that I introduced at a local food and fun day at the Consortium back when it was a charmingly illustrated webpage, and have since given as Christmas gifts. Do is a game somewhat in that vein, though a bit less strict in terms of how much everyone’s allows to contribute on each move; on your turn, constrained somewhat by which color (and how many) stones you draw from a bag, you write a sentence about your character’s actions, and everyone else then counters your heroics with some appropriate troubles and problems.

I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with the ”storygame” label for the indie-published games that I’ve mostly been playing for the past <mumble> years, but I want to be clear about this point — Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is very definitely a story-telling game in the purest, non-jargony sense — in fact, I would call it a story-telling game far more readily than I would call it a roleplaying game, and I don’t think that would upset the author very much; certainly, I intend it as a compliment.

On to the Game!

Tim and Chris showed up promptly at six pm, and after a quick game of Yikerz and a discussion of its potential uses as a resolution mechanic in an RPG, we got started with Do by creating pilgrims. The game has no GM (or rather, that role is both shared and rotating), so I made up one as well!

Chris presented us with Pilgrim Yawning Porcupine. Yawning Porcupine gets into trouble by being lazy, and helps people by browbeating them into doing the right thing.

Tim came up with Pilgrim Loquacious Heart (earning him the first acronym designation in my journal). PLH gets into trouble by talking too much, and helps people by showing them how to love. (Awww…)

I made up Broken Stone. Pilgrim Broken Stone gets into trouble by shattering things accidentally, and helps people by being steadfast.

Here’s how play went.

Continue reading “Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple — “Swallowed Whole””

Burning Wheel, in Review

With holiday schedules, an incoming bearcub, and all the other insanity that seems to surround the end of the year (I’m looking at you, NaNoWriMo), the automatic assumption is that no one will get any face to face gaming done in November and December. I was aiming to buck this trend this year, so I talked to the ‘absolute regulars’ for the Wednesday group and we agreed to switch our biweekly schedule to a weekly schedule, the idea being “if we try to play every week, we might get in almost as much gaming as we would if we played biweekly during normal parts of the year.”

On the whole? It basically worked. We managed to pull off four sessions of Burning Wheel during November and December (if you count the session we spent doing character generation and figuring out our setting). I’m reasonably proud of us for squeezing in that much between everything else going on, and I’m really quite happy with Burning Wheel as a game system.

In October, we’d tried out a little two-session test run that included Randy and De, and it went quite well (albeit with some narrator-summation at the end). When we decided to set the new game in the Pratchett-esque “Wiki World” that a group of us had collectively created in 2008, I was pretty jazzed.

The resulting mini-campaign is the introductory story of a group of semi-famous/semi-notorious members of society in Bodea-Lotnikk, the capitol of the Grand Duchy of Kroon, all of whom had agreed to join a newly created “Ducal Guard” that was in charge of investigating any crimes that might somehow involve more than one of the eighty-six burroughs of the city. Such cross-jurisdictional cases were a real nightmare, due to the varying, contradictory, and often incomprehensible laws of each burrough.

Our three protagonists were an elven historian who wanted to spread the order and clarity of elven law to the other areas of the city, a dwarven noblewoman (now outcast) looking to make such a name for herself that she could return to Sniffleheim draped in glory, and a human… ahh… entrepreneur who’d used his… financial gains… to buy a noble title (and who really can’t help but expose all the many weaknesses in the city’s current law enforcement system).

Their first case involved the murder of a famous dwarven full-contact nine-pins player, the investigation of which took us through three sessions of play and brought us in contact with the city’s nobility, sports hooligans, various nine-pins teams (including the Little Sniffleheim Molerats, Bodean Mudferthings, and the Lotnikk Sandmites), and many of the Burning Wheel sub-systems that I’ve been itching to try out. The tone of the sessions ran somewhere between Terry Prachett’s Night Watch books and an episode of Castle, which is pretty much what we were aiming for.

Can Burning Wheel Even Do Funny?
In short, yes. A slightly longer answer is that Burning Wheel takes the setting completely seriously, even if the setting itself involves crooning molerats, an earring-sized battle axe known as the Wee Prick, bar brawls with gangs of nine-pin hooligans, and extra-dimensional brain-tearing missle weapons that can blow holes in buildings.

Another way to put it is that life can be really funny, but falling off your roof still hurts. Burning Wheel is kind of like that.

Was I satisfied with how the story of the investigation came out? Yes. Would I like to do a lot more with those characters in that setting? Yes (and there’s lots of room for new guards to be introduced). Did we get a nice overview of the system? Yes: we got a couple Duel of Wits in, ended things with a short Fight!, and generally touched most of the systems in the game.

Did we really wring the system out? Not by a country mile. First and most importantly, although they pursued them, none of the character achieved any of the goals associated with their Beliefs — I chalk this up to rookie GM and player mistakes and too much time just learning the rules. Also, our characters started out fairly skilled (a mix of four and five lifepath characters) — as such, three sessions wasn’t really enough to see a ton of change with their characters in terms of skills — the stuff they’re quite good at takes a lot of challenge to improve (we didn’t quite get there in three sessions), and the skills they were learning for the first time (three guardsmen, none of whom had Observation!) didn’t quite get enough of a work out in that period of time to graduate to ‘full’ skills, either.

We were really CLOSE though; I expect that a couple more sessions would have seen several skill improvements and new skills opened up for everyone. The Belief thing just takes practice — and belief-goals that the players really can really push toward actively.

So what’s Burning Wheel like?
It’s not a Story Game. Or it’s the quintessential, fully-functional, armed-and-opertational Story Game. In short, it is exactly what it is, with no apologies for being five years old and often updated and evolved via its later texts. Crunchy combat (yet with no battlemat), highly-tactical social conflicts, SUPER-granual character advancement that basically guarantees you’ll won’t have the skill you need every single time and that the player will ALWAYS have some ‘improvement project’ they’re working on for their character… yet for all that the stuff that really matters — the stuff that informs almost every decision you make when the GM asks “what do you do next?” — is on the very first page of the character sheet — the page where there aren’t any numbers at all.

I kinda love it.

It’s not a perfect game, and it absolutely requires buy-in from everyone at the table (I mean literal buy-in — everyone should have their own copy of the core rules), but it is a game that – by turns – scratches almost every itch I get as a player and GM. Tactics, crunchy dice stuff, story-driven play, and the kind of game where you can actually envision playing the same characters for a long, long time (definitely not a design goal for most story-games).

To say it it supplants my need for traditional RPGs like DnD should go entirely without saying, but it also takes care of a lot of the stuff I’m looking for when I want to play something like Dogs in the Vineyard or The Shadow of Yesterday. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every type of situation (I can’t see pulling it out for one-shots unless it was a sort of con-game scenario like the Library of Worlds), but if I had an idea for a system-agnostic campaign, I think Burning Wheel would be the system I would have to eliminate from the running first, before I considered something else.

A long time coming.

Back in 2006, I wrote this short post:

You know what I’d like to do?

I’d like to make up a really rough sketch background against which to play a Lexicon Game. Like: “The Wose War and Scandal of Eddings Barony”, “The Atomic Apotheosis”, or “The Parliamentary Assassinations of 2128″.

Get a group of people together and just… you know. Go to town. Play the game.

Then, when it’s all laid out, set a game in the setting everyone just created.

I think that would be fun.

Nothing came of that post, at least not immediately.

Then, in October of 2008, I had the PHENOMENALLY FOOLISH idea to play exactly that sort of lexicon game from start to finish from October 15th to October 31st, just in time to get everyone’s creative juices primed for NaNoWriMo that year.

Here were the guidelines we used:

  • Basically Fantasy – more low fantasy and sword and sorcery in tone – with other fun bits bolted on. “A fantasy RPG, as GMd by John Cleese.”
  • No specific rules of magic at a macro level, with many insular rules of magic at the micro level.
  • Lots of different races.
  • Anything that might qualify as science-fiction or the like should be of a clockwork/steampunk/Jules Verne bent; this would include any theories about how the world exists in the solar system, the universe, and everything.
  • Other dimensions for weird crap to come from or leak out of.
  • A long and storied history.
  • Puns.
  • At least slightly humorous, in the style of Pratchett/Discworld, keeping in mind that most of the humor of the books comes from wry, pun-loving voice of the NARRATOR and snarky comments by the main characters… not because the entire population is half-knowingly running a Monty Python sketch.

I don’t remember everyone I snagged to participate in the thing, but there were probably at least eight that made it through to the end.

And… unbelievably, it worked. I even set my story for NaNoWriMo in that setting.

But I never ran a game there. Bodea-Lotnikk, the Charnel Road, the Jugular Way, and the Grand Duchy of Kroon have never been the stomping grounds for a group of my players.

That’s all about to change.

I wasn’t sure if we’d meet this week, but last night a couple folks got together and worked out what we’d like to do for a proper Burning Wheel campaign. Close to a dozen possibilities were proposed by yours truly, and as a footnote to one of those ideas, I’d added “we could even set the whole thing in Bodea-Lotnikk”.

Bodea-Lotnikk is the most populous urban area in Grand Duchy Of Kroon, comprised of no less than 86 distinct boroughs, assimilated townships, long-vanished villages, and subsumed hunting grounds. It boasts narrow streets laid out irregularly, clannish neighborhoods, and a vast collection of architecture marking the dying moments of any number of design eras best forgotten.

Oh my, but they liked that idea.

That provided a setting (and WHAT a setting), but it didn’t address the situation. I flipped to page 90 of the Adventure Burner and read this question:

What’s the Big Picture? What’s going on in this setting the makes it ripe for adventure? What’s changing?

What we decided on was this: the Grand Duke, as part of his continual effort to exercise some manner of order over the city, had established a City Guard, meant to investigate any ‘cross-borough’ crimes and enforce the laws of the city.

All of em.

For all 86 boroughs.

Simultaneously.

Complications will include stuff like contradictory laws between boroughs, hopelessly labyrinthine legal messes, questions of jurisdiction, and local law enforcement in each borough that just plain didn’t like the City Guard sticking their noses where they weren’t wanted.

The first session will (of course) open with a very public murder that will threaten the stability of the whole city.

We didn’t entirely finish characters, but we know that Kate’s playing a exiled dwarven noble by the name of Mika Harildsdottir, Tim’s playing an elven legal expert who’s positively thrilled to be out of the elvish Citadels and doing things with real people, and I think Chris is doing some kind of human criminal-turned-courtier. The Grand Duke’s decided they’re the ‘face’ of the City Guard, since they’re so multicultural and… *distracted hand wave* you know… things like that.

One of the other upsides to this concept is that it’s going to be dead simple to bring in other players on either a short- or long-term basis.

Another upside? It should be awesome.

I believe I’m going to call the campaign Burning Molerats.

The Library of Worlds, Part One

[Full disclosure: about 80% of this was designed by Alexander Newman for 10.10.10.  He was a great helped while I worked out how to to run the thing.]

Legends tell of a vast library buried in the shifting sands of al’Wadi al’Aqbar — the Great Desert — where any scroll may be found, where all secrets are revealed, and where knowledge flows free and clear like water from a spring.

Some tall tales tell of prices to be paid that cost too much, some speak of bargains made that should never have been sealed, and some of fools who sought riches and found only death.

But all the tales of this Library of Worlds speak of its librarian: a mighty Prince of the Djinn. The Djinn will grant three wishes, the story goes, but is silent on how he may be compelled to do so.

Still, what matter the tales? You have trekked deep into the desert, and now the Library is before you.


Princess Leisha — Heir Potential to the Empress (She Who is Alm, Bless Her Name) — is on a quest to find a cure for the disease that is killing her mother and, in doing so, become Heir Apparent. Aided by her companion (the preistess Fatima, Imamiyyah of the Faith), her bodyguard Suleiman (a slave, as are all men in the Empire), and Nejat their desert guide, the Princess has arrived at the foot of a minaret, deep in the Great Desert. This must be the entrance to the fabled Library of Libraries, where surely a cure… and much else besides… can be found.


Chris couldn’t make the game, but I asked De and she and Rachel came up. Cool. Here’s who played who.

Tim played Princess Leisha:

Beliefs:

  • I will find a cure for my mother, She Who Is Alm, and become Heir Apparent.
  • There is great knowledge in the Library: I will learn all that I can, for the glory of the Empire.
  • It breaks all the laws of Man and God, but I love Suleiman; I will consummate our love for all time.

Instincts:

  • Make a decision, then command.
  • Trust my advisor, Fatima.
  • Always study tomes carefully, you never know what lies between the pages.

De played Imamiyyah Fatima

Beliefs:

  • The Djinn in the Library heard the Prophet’s words from her own mouth: I shall obtain a true transcript and thereby rise in the Faith.
  • The social order of the Empire is ordained by God: I will preserve its ways.
  • Leisha’s feelings for her slave are obvious, and must be dealt with; I will expose Suleiman as unfaithful.

Instincts:

  • Let a slave do the labor.
  • Lead prayer at the appointed hours.
  • Always help other through my skill with Astrology.

Kate played Najat

Beliefs:

  • This quest is the opportunity I have been waiting for: I will exploit every advantage these pampered palace women offer.
  • Fool priests should keep their dogma to the palaces: it has no place coming between women and their men.
  • My fortunes change here: The Djinn must free all the Men of Alm, so that no one will suffer as I suffered.

Instincts:

  • Check for tracks.
  • Conserve water.
  • Speak my mind.

Randy played Suleiman the harem-slave/bodyguard

Beliefs:

  • I would live free: if this is truly the Library of Worlds, I shall escape to where I can thrive as a free man.
  • The Princess will be a better Empress than most: I will protect her interests as well as her life.
  • Fatima is more lovely in spirit than any palace woman; I will try to take her with me, if I can.

Instincts:

  • Trust the twitch in my left eye (Sixth Sense)
  • Never surrender my blade.
  • Protect the Princess with my life.

So the four (plus the princess’s drover and a bunch of camels) stood outside the minaret, pondering entrance. Suleiman finally fashioned a hook and line from some traveling gear and got it up through the archway at the top of the minaret. (Beginner’s Luck Throwing test.) Najat scrambled up into the minaret and used a second rope to help Suleiman up (she had climbing, and helped him get up with another beginner’s luck test, this time of climbing).

Fatima and the princes weren’t interested in learning how to climb — they order Suleiman to pull them up, so what would have been climbing checks for them became routine Forte tests for Suleiman.

Once everyone was up in the minaret, they descended the stairs within the tower and into a circular room, the walls covered in glowing script. A crystalline orb about the size of a softball stood on a pedestal in the center of the room. The only exit was an archway ‘curtained’ in golden light.

The text on the walls was legible, but hard to decipher, as it was ancient, verbose, and somewhat poetic. (Think translating Chaucer into modern english.) Eventually, she was able to work out that these verses were the Library rules:

Take no tome, and mark none,
If you would your homeworld see,
Bring no flame, and make none,
Lest you too would burnèd be.

Free in body, free in mind,
Freely share the knowledge ’round.
If you would your fellows bind,
What you seek shall ne’er be found.

The way was opened when you sought,
The way remains for gifts you’ve brought.
Find what you seek and then, begone!
The way will not remain for long.

The inscription above the arch read “That Which is Written Remains”. The veil seemed to be woven from the same soft golden light as the verses on the walls and the inscription above the arch.

Sul and Najat went through the arch, immediately noticing that the air was cooler and more humid (the Library has climate control). When they looked back, they saw the veil over the arch was is utterly black, shot with red — when Sul approached it, his left eye twitched (sixth sense for danger).

The Tower (GM notes)

The center of the tower is a pillar with an interior spiral staircase that leads only down. The N/E/S/W bridges from the center shaft to the outer walkway also lead to other parallel towers that ‘belong’ to other worlds. The NW bridge leads to and from the shaft to archway out. The ‘rim’ walkway gives easy access to a larger collection of scrolls than anyone present has seen, as well as rare bound books like those from the keeps of the recently subjugated Western Lands. There are also arches at NE, SE, and SW that lead outwards into concentric circles of yet more scrolls and books that should–but do not–overlap neighboring world-towers. Farther ‘out’ in those sub-towers, the collection expands to objects that are inscribed in some way (like Suleiman’s sword). Pretty much anything written upon can be found here… the trick is getting it out again.

The pattern of walkways is repeated overhead, apparently inaccessible, and leaning over the side shows that the same structure extends downwards further than anyone can see. At the level of the entrance are roughly contemporary works, below are works from the past, above (theoretically) are works from the future. The collection is not complete, though, for contemporary stuff, and definitely not complete for the future (also, the stairs in the column don’t go upward — you’ve have to use a hook and line (Throwing test) — and climbing tests (with the potential of falling into the infinite past), to get up to a higher level).

The shelves are all made of the same smooth stone as the minaret, and ornately inscribed with strange glyphs that, again, give off a golden light, sufficient to read by.

Need a Map for the walkways? It’s the Burning Wheel logo

A robed and hooded figure waits silently at the entrance to the central pillar and spiral stair.

The other two held back in the entry room, and couldn’t hear what the others were shouting back, which meant that when the princess and priestess finally did go through, Sul and Nejat were already confronting the Servitor.

The Whosiwhatsit?

So Sul and Nejat approached the figure by the stairs. They see that instead of a face it has a smooth mask of something like paper, covered in symbols and text. Its robes and all its visible ‘flesh’ are the same material and similarly marked. It’s basically humanoid, but apart from the text, featureless.

As they approach, the servitor bows and touches where its heart, lips, and forehead once were with its right hand. Then it holds its hand out as if expecting to be given something. The servitor will wait until given something with meaningful writing (Princess and Priestess both have scrolls, Sul has his sword, Nejat’s bow).

The Princess and Priestess both gave over their written works (Fatima, her copy of the Faith; Leisha, a 364 line love poem about Suleiman). Najat pretended ignorance of what the Servitor wanted, and Suleiman understood what was being asked and flat out refused.

The Servitor didn’t press their refusal and bowed to the both of them again, then reached out to touch their cheek in a mirror of a priest’s blessing.

They both accepted the Servitor’s touch. The servitor then bursts into a swirling dervish of paper bits and bears the visitors gifts off into the recesses of the library.

And I called for Forte tests. They both failed.

Both of them get a black symbol on their cheek where they were touched. The skin under and immediately around the mark tingles, and feels dry and… papery. Fatima made a  Symbology roll to figure out that the central character on their cheek meant “Birth” is surrounded by an indication of the date of the character’s birth.

The Forte test determined how fast the ‘blessing’ was spreading. Sul really blew the Forte test, so he had hours — the symbols on his cheek were visibly spreading. Najat barely missed it, so she’s got 22 months.

So Sul’s was growing visibly – Naj’s wasn’t (“obviously: a man is weaker”). Sul immediately whipped out his sword and GOUGED THE TEXT OUT OF HIS CHEEK. Blood everywhere, and the hunk of his face turned entirely to paper and blew away.

However, he DID get the ‘blessing’ out.

While the princess tended to her wounded bodyguard, Fatima went back and snagged the crystal that no one had touched in the entrance (as soon as any character got rid of their printed materials, the veil turned ‘harmless’ for them — Sul still sees the scary black and red veil, and Najat… doesn’t see any veil at all, anymore).

Right when she picked it up, I gave De the chance to either avoid ‘contact’ with the orb or to try to master it. She attempted to master it and REALLY blew the roll, so she mastered it, but it taxed her Will down to 1, almost knocking her unconscious. The orb exposed her to a full, multi-dimensional, fractal map of the infinite library of worlds. Handy for Orienteering, but hell on the sanity.  She came back to their Library looking haggard, and with a crone-like grip on the crystal.

Once Sul was kind-sorta patched up (wounds take a long time to heal in BW compared to stuff like DnD), Orienteering rolls were made to find the princess’s desired knowledge

They got to that part of the Library with the complication of meeting the almost-turned-servitor-but-not-quite male scholar from another world. His near-transformation creeped Najat out (Steel test: passed), but she showed no sign of it. Suleiman was EXTREMELY interested in which tower that man had come through in the first place, because in that world, men weren’t slaves.

Fatima: “Some worlds have more difficult trials than our own.”

The not-quite servitor talked a bit with his ‘sister’ Najat (he still had a mouth, kind of), and said Najat could call on him if she needed help.

For the first Research test, I had Leisha make Ob 3 for compiling obscure knowledge from many sources.

Then I had her making a “learning all this stuff roll” by using the Learning/Teaching rules from the BWR. I gave the Library’s Knowledge an effect Will of 5, so the duration of her Studying was [Days of Study = 5 + (10 – Her Will) + OB of Difficult Apothecary Test = 13 days. She had to succeed at an Ob3 Apothecary test to learn the material, and if she missed it, she’d have to start all over for another 13 days. Tim made the roll by one, and squeezed the time on the test down to 11 and a half days.

While the princess studied, Fatima and Najat decided to go look for the Djinn. (Sul wanted to go to, but wouldn’t leave the princess.) They made the roll, even with a penalty +1 Ob from Fatima’s linked Djinn-wise failure.

GM Notes:

The Prince was trapped the moment he entered the Library: his people were created from smokeless flame, as Man is made from clay, and he inherently breaks the rules of the Library simply by existing; rules formulated by a higher power even than that which governs his wish-granting. Far from being the Librarian, he is a prisoner, now bound to punish those who kindle flame inside its precincts.

He has been granted a huge chamber in the Library, in which he has created over the ages a beautiful ornamental garden of paths and streams, scents and breezes, glades where the rattle of reeds syncopates with the falling of water to whisper lewd secrets to an uncaring universe.

In the middle of the garden is a lake, and in the lake an island. A single tree has been painstakingly trained to arc over the lake in a slender, graceful, thorny bridge leading to a many-layered pavilion of pillars and veils

Once they got there, Fatima and Najat had a pleasant conversation with the Djinn, who offered them both quite a lot in exchange for a favor: for Najat — a cure for the Blessing; for Fatima, the exact words of the Prophet (after he dropped the Bomb that it was a Prophet, not a Prophetess, once upon a time).

He said he’d do both those things for them happily, if only they’d bear him out of this Library that he’d accidentally gotten caught in ages before. Fatima readily agreed. Najat said that she wanted the Men of Alm freed more than she wanted to be cured of the blessing, and the Djinn (though surprised) agreed to that instead.

He told Najat to take his vessel with her back to their ‘camp’ (the princess’s study location), so she could call him if need be, and they said they looked forward to leaving with him in a week or two.

[When they were talking, he’d said “If you need me, simply call my n– call for me.” And De said “Hey, do I know his name?” So I explained how the Djinn had many names and had her roll Djinn-wise. She got a crazy number of successes, so not only does she know that the Djinn can actually be compelled to grant three wishes by invoking any of his ‘unused’ names, she KNOWS she’s got a name of his no one’s used, and that she can MAKE him grant her three wishes, rather than paying him off by taking him out of the Library.

And De claims she has a “Horrible” way to get a complete, perfect, accurate copy of the Prophet’s words out of the Library, on paper.

We’ll find out if she’s right on Wednesday.]

That was the end. Leisha and Sul’s players are VERY interested in the fact that the Djinn’s vessel is coming back to their camp — they both want to talk to him too.

Burning Wheel (finally)

I got a copy of The Burning Wheel… hmm. My first mention of it on the blog was early 2004, and I know it was the first edition of the rules, so that probably means sometime in 2003.

I read some of it. It intimidated the hell out of me (and turned me off — I was NOT in a good place to read about a super-crunchy rules system back then). I let the pair of books accumulate dust for a long time.

Sometime around 2006 or 2007, I started reading a lot of good things about the revised version of the rules (BW-R), so I ordered the shiny new version.

And tried to read it.

Too much. I let that pair of books accumulate dust alongside their older brothers.

But I kept reading those interesting actual play posts while I ran other games. If it came up in conversation, I mentioned that I really wanted to play the game with some people that understood it before I tried to run it myself. My gaming was taken up with other things — limited gaming time and ever-shrinking schedules meant I was more likely to choose games with a lower level of required brain-investment than BW. The thing with Burning Wheel is that it really requires system familiarity — it is through system knowledge that one achieves nominal – rather than exceptional – performance from one’s character. That’s a little daunting.

I never quite abandoned my interest in the game. Everything I heard about the game sounded – to my tactical-loving side – quite cool, and the raves and praise heaped on the “story” elements of the game (Beliefs and Instincts especially) were just as effusive. But despite all that, it was still a game that took too much time to learn, too much time to prep.

Then came Mouse Guard. A streamlined version of the Burning Wheel engine. The sparest, most elegant iteration of the rules, to date. It was, by all accounts:

  • Accessible to new players.
  • Still a true and excellent representation of the Good Things That Are Burning Wheel.
  • As with BW, strong player-centered focus of play that’s built directly into the rules in numerous ways.
  • As with BW, lots of situation-generating hooks built right into the characters, making running the game easy.
  • Several procedural innovations that make the elements of play that are problematic in other games (high crunch = high prep time) very fast and easy.

I’ve since run MG quite a bit. I’ve enjoyed almost every session immensely, but it’s been hard for me to get my ‘regulars’ to dive into an MG game, basically because of the setting.

But I really wanted to get into that system with them.

So…

Burning Wheel. I felt like MG had been a good primer on the system — I felt like maybe I was ready to understand Burning Wheel. Thus emboldened, I dove into the system. Once the main books were read and grokked, I ordered the rest of the Burning Wheel books: Monster Burner, Magic Burner, and finally the new Adventure Burner, which is basically a 350 page collection of engaging epistles on running Burning Wheel, compiling years of experience and discussion.

On the second page, I read this (paraphrased):

Burning Wheel asks only for an open, honest desire to try it out and see how it works. You may be reluctant, or you may be skeptical — that’s natural, but for the game to have a hope of working, everyone at the table has to say “Let’s give this a fair shot.”

Last night, we finally got to give it a fair shot.

Burning Wheel is a weird critter

On one hand, it is far more character focused and player-driven than a traditional fantasy game, but it uses FAR more intense rules than the nontraditional, “lighter” RPGs I’ve played before, like In a Wicked Age or Shadow of Yesterday or Heroquest or… hell, anything. I’ve mentioned that the rules are crunchy, but they’re crunchy in odd places. For example, there’s no battlemat or miniature rules (honestly, I think they’d confuse things), but there is SUPER HIGHLY DETAILED rules for positioning in combat, weapon length, weapon speed, armor penetration, and all that stuff.

And of course all the major conflicts are resolved through double-blind action scripting, which can be… harrowing.

My Impressions

I loved the way Beliefs and instincts worked. We played a one-shot (that we decided to stretch into a second session next week) with pre-gen characters lacking only a few player-selected items to be finished, but given the Beliefs and Instincts right at the front of the (seven page!) character sheet, everyone had an immediate grasp on their character and started moving things toward the stuff their guy wanted.

Implied Details. Burning Wheel characters are like the game itself — detailed through hints. Burning Wheel has no setting, but the lifepaths (NONE of which have actual descriptions or explanations) very strongly imply a culture and perspective through the skills that are available and the Traits that one gets. The characters are like that — you look at three Instincts like “Always lead prayer at the appropriate hours” and “Always speak my mind” and “Let the slave do the work”, and you have a pretty clear picture of a character — a picture you’ve deduced only via the things they do.

Modular Rules. Burning Wheel rules and the Characters are alike in other ways. The system itself is modular; whole chunks of it can be ignored or simply kept on the side until needed. Likewise, I mentioned the seven page character sheets, but in play we only really looked at the first page (Beliefs and Instincts and Traits (and stats)), and the fourth (skills). Randy had to look at the combat and injury page once, and De had to look at the page where her Faith stuff was at, but they’re outliers: yeah, it’s seven pages. The rules are thousands of pages in total… but most of the time you only need the first chapter.

Color through mechanics. There is very little ‘color fiction’ in the books — almost none, actually. The culture and setting is conveyed through the skills and traits. Likewise, there is very little space on the character sheet for the ‘character concept’ (and that little entry is largely ignored once play starts), but the character’s Beliefs and Instincts and Traits and skills speak volumes  — they are vitally important to play and constantly referenced. Like all good characters in fiction, Burning Wheel characters are best understood by what they do and why.

The game is deep. Not like water is deep, or a philosopher is deep, but like a cave is deep. There are rules in there that won’t get touched for months if not in fact years of continual play. You can do one-shots in Burning Wheel, and short-arc adventures, but this is a game optimally designed for long term play. In fact, I think it would play *best* as a weekly, weeknight game (two and a half to three focused hours) that went on for at least six months.

I also think it would play as well with six players as with one player and one GM. Differently, but just as well. That’s pretty remarkable in itself.

How did the game go?

I’m going to recount the game itself in a second post, but in short I thought it went well. There was a lot of page flipping, and I wussed out on damaging a character at one point, and I feel like Tim was kind of thumb-twiddling for too long during the session, but on the whole it was good, and there was a lot of interesting stuff.

At the end of the night we could have called it complete: we had the shape of the thing in our minds, though no one’s Beliefs/Goals had been resolved.

But the players unanimously decided to come back next week and find out what happens. Plans are being planned — I can see it in their eyes — stuff is going to happen; beliefs are going to be fought for.

I think we have a winner.

(Took me long enough.)

A funny thing happened on the way to the Ruins

So I’m on my little loremaster last night, just poking at a few quests, and find myself in the Chetwood, seeking out brigands and punishing them for their misdeeds (as one does).

And I notice this elf is following me.

That’s… interesting.

Level… 51? Okay.

A level 51 elvish minstrel, following me around the Chetwood.

Not doing anything, just following me. Closely. ‘Right up in your personal space’ close, but not “I have you on autofollow” close.

Right. Whatever. I have brigands to punish. (As one does.)

So I keep moving, find a brigand, and begin the Parade of Debuffs and Fiery Burning.

And the elf?

The elf whips out his lute and…

… get this …

Plays a fight song.

I don’t mean “plays some kind of minstrel ballad that does anything mechanically significant.”

I mean (s)he [1] played some kind of ‘background fight music’ using the /music command. Like something from a Capcom game.

“So,” I thought. “That’s… weird.”

I continued forward and engaged another brigand.

My high-level shadow whipped out its lute again and, again, played the fight music.

Throughout the Chetwood, various NPCs and 1-morale critters looked up, glanced at once another, and murmured. “Was that… Street Fighter?”

I tried to ignore it. It was late, and I pretty much just wanted to hit level 12, see what new skills I got, and call it a night.

I took down another brigand, another, and another. With each fight, the skirling notes of a digitally rendered lute mixed with the raucous calls of my raven (Quothe) and the “why does it burn?” queries from my brigand foes.

On my fifth fallen foe, I dinged.

The elf tucked away her lute, shouted “Pikachu leveled up!”, and mapped back home.

The end.

Quite possibly the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen happen in LotRO.


[1] — I can never tell the difference. It’s like dwarves, but in reverse.

Wrapping up Diaspora, Shakespeare-Style

So quite a little while ago, we started out a Diaspora game. Our schedules have been a little crazy — we did character generation in mid-January and played the seventh and final session last night — and as per normal, playing into the fourth and fifth sessions prompted a few system hacks, but on the whole it’s an entirely enjoyable system. But I’ve talked about the system before, and I’m not going to do that today.

I just want to talk a little bit about synchronicity and constraints and the kinds of fun that comes out of that.

When we did the character and star system creation lo those many months ago, we decided we needed some kind of theme or something to tie things together. I’d been writing a sci-fi novel at the time (still am, actually) and I’d enjoyed naming planets from one section of space after characters in Shakespeare plays — no particular reason, I just liked how they sounded — so I suggested we do something like that. Everyone agreed, so we went with that, plus “the system should start with the same letter as the name (first or middle) of the person who thought it up, and no systems starting with the same letter.”

So…
– Keepdown (Kate)
– Trinculo (Tim)
– Caliban (Chris)
– Dauphine (Doyce)
– Shylock (Kate again)
– Lear (Tim again)
– Achilles (Chris again)
– Orpheus (Me, and I don’t know how I got “O”, except that A was taken already)

Then we came up with personalities for these systems. Keepdown was struggling as an abandoned terraforming colony on a world wracked by hurricane-force storms. Trinculo was luxurious and opulent and self-satisfied. Caliban was privateers and pirate nobility raiding other systems for the resources they’d long since exhausted in their own. Dauphine was the poor exploited system Caliban mostly raided. Shylock was connivers and meddlers and diplomats. Lear was a blasted, nigh-uninhabitable, often betrayed wasteland of ancient ruins. Achilles was a world of science gone awry and angry, carnivorous plantlife. And Orpheus was a world of idealists and dreamers, trying to get back to the imagined ideals of Earth-Long-Past.

Then we came up with characters, and the Shakespeare thing continued.

Miranda was the daughter of the pirate lords of Caliban whose father (we find out MUCH later) died suspiciously. She fled the family and the family business when her uncle took over the family. She changed her name and started a mostly-legitimate business. When they found her again, she liquidated her assets, bought a ship, and hired a crew of misfits and the suspiciously secretive.

The ship’s name was the Tempest. It’s A.I. (helpful and communicative, but otherwise invisible) was named Ariel.

Tim came up with Titus Belliago, the president for life of Trinculo who became over bored with his continued, nigh-immortal existence (and more than a bit annoyed by the occasional assassination attempts). He arranged for a body double to impersonate him, pauper and the prince style, and snuck off to have adventures with one of his would-be assassins. (Phyll, from Achilles, played by Chris.) He took on the name Iago.

It wasn’t all Shakespeare themes. The AI played Settlers of Catan with Miranda on the long interstellar hauls. The ship’s log-software was named as “Spacebook”, in which the crew could comment on and Like/Dislike various updates from other members of the crew. (There were at least a half-dozen NPCs on the ship as well, from the “a bit jumpy” gunnery mate, to the “twitch gamer” comms officer who gave the crew bonuses to intimidation, but only when it wasn’t face to face.)

Things progressed, as they do.

I don’t know if I can explain the tangled mess of the final session without explaining the entire campaign (which I’m not going to do), but I’ll give it a try.

There’s a space station in Shylock system. Many different factions are meeting here for various reasons, and the crew of the Tempest have delivered a Dauphine diplomat there and are acting as liaison and body guard for him while he tries to acquire allies against Caliban predations.

In the course of events… Iago gets fatally wounded (which means, in his case, that he’ll need about a week of bed rest), Miranda is spotted by her uncle and his thugs try to take the Tempest by force (leaving at least half the crew too injured to do anything this session), the Dauphine diplomat is framed for intersystem biological terrorism and murder, and Iago’s pseudo-twin docks with the station on a slow-boat tour of the cluster.

That was the mess waiting for them as we started the session last night.

The players wrapped things up in about two hours of play. Maybe less.

In short:
– Iago discovered that Miranda – his Captain – was actually from the Caliban elite, and thus a pirate — a group he despised.
– Miranda discovered that Iago was actually the President For Life of Trinculo (she met his gone-somewhat-to-fat body double).

Armed with this information, and racing against a (player-invented and self-inforced) 45 minute deadline before Iago (who was getting no bed rest at all) bled out, our heroes:
– Snuck onto the Trinculo cruiser.
– Subdued Iago’s body double.
– “Revealed” to the Trinculo cruiser’s crew that the body-double touring the cluster had actually been a diversion so that the REAL Titus Belliago could have a quiet honeymoon with his new bride, Miranda Lafitte, of the Caliban Lafittes.
– Announced this marriage to the public.
– Demanded the release of the Dauphine diplomat (and extended diplomat alliances to Dauphine in general, in solidarity against Caliban).
– Explained that, clearly, the Shylock people the diplomat had been accused of killing had accidentally killed themselves by misusing the (Trinculo-designed) biochemical compounds they’d probably been trying to use on the diplomat in the first place.
– Established ties-by-marriage to the pirate lord families of Caliban, making it very difficult for Caliban to… you know… DO anything about any of it.

In short, they solved the whole problem by revealing their true identities and getting married.

Shakespeare.

(Luckily for them, one of the comedies.)

I call it As you Like it… Whether you Like it or Not.

The End. And a good end it was.

Diaspora Hacks, by way of Dresden Files

After a series of scheduling problems, we finally got back to the Diaspora game last night for the first time in… oh, six weeks or something. Been awhile.

In retrospect, I’m glad for the delay, because it gave me time to think about a few problems I felt like we were having with the game, mechanically. As I said over in this post, I’ve been pondering how to tweak the Diaspora system — it felt like we had a few too many get of jail free cards in play (in the form of Fate points), and a little too much cruft on the character sheet that wasn’t getting used.

As I’ve also said before, the designers behind Diaspora have built a hell of a game — they have my admiration for, if nothing else, their free-form stunt construction — but while they are fluent in FATE, it is the fluency of someone speaking a second language. The author’s themselves have said that even now they aren’t wholly comfortable with the way FATE does some things.

Enter Dresden Files.

This is a big, beautiful game from Evil Hat, and while I still don’t feel as though I completely grok everything they’re doing in character generation, there ARE a few things that I saw and immediately wanted to implement in the Diaspora game — solutions to my problems far more elegant than anything I’d come up with. Which makes sense: these are guys who (obviously) grok FATE at an atomic level.

Hack One: Reducing the number of Aspects on Characters

In Spirit of the Century and Diaspora, each of the five phases of character generation yield two character Aspects, for a total of ten. That’s fine in the SotC, which is kind of crazy and over the top and creates characters that are sort of swiss army knives of awesome, but in Diaspora it feels like too much.

Dresden files does it differently. Basically, your character has a “High Concept Aspect” that sort of sums up your character’s idea in a few words. Then they have a “Trouble” aspect that is basically “the thing that’s screwing up your High Concept”. Finally, you get only one aspect for each of the five phases of character generation.

Looking at the hard numbers, it doesn’t seem like THAT much of a change: seven aspects instead of ten, right? In practice, the combination of getting fewer aspects and giving two of those seven aspect specific “jobs” really, really helps tighten up the characters and clarify how they’re envisioned in play. Instead of having more money than you know what to do with, you’re on a budget — constraints are good.  We pared down the Diaspora characters to follow these guidelines (which was easy – the dead wood, unused aspects were easy to spot), and (for me, at least) the result was like walking into the optometrist, getting in the chair, and having him drop that first lens in place that shows you no, you really haven’t been seeing things that clearly until Right Now. The characters came into proper focus, is what I’m saying.

Hack Two: Reducing the number of Fate Points floating around

I’d toyed around with a few changes to the normal system in that previous post, but a little bit before the game I decided to try out — again — something from Dresden Files.

Normally, everyone gets 5 Fate points at the start of every session. It’s too many. Aside from any other consideration, we play on weeknights for three hours — we simply don’t NEED that many Fate points. Anyway.

Dresden’s method, super-simplified, is: “take the basic refresh (5, in this case) and subtract however many Stunt Abilities your character has (2 or 3, in this case), and the remainder is how many Fate points you get to start each session.”  (Unless you ended last session with more points than that refresh, in which case, keep that higher total.)

So rather than everyone starting with 5 Fate points, Tim and Kate started with 2 and Chris started with 3. This did a BUNCH of stuff during the session last night that I liked a lot.

  • More compels. Compels become a much more attractive and desirable option in play, because you’re more likely to need more Fate points.
  • A bit more hording of points. Fate Point totals higher than the refresh actually remain for next session — Kate’s had more Fate points at the end of the session than the beginning.
  • More struggle. With fewer Fate Points around, people weren’t piling on as many Aspects on during conflicts. This gave my poor mooks in a gunfight the chance to actually do some damage, and we started to see people actually take a consequence or two, rather than use up all their Fate points.
  • More invention. With Fate points in short supply, it actually became much more attractive to take a round “off” during a fight and set up some ‘free taggable’ aspects to use during the next actual attack. Tim did this a couple times, and it worked out well for him. This makes for more interesting, more textured conflicts. (Typing this out, I realize that that’s what I should have had the NPC crew members doing: rather than whiffing attacks at the enemy, they could have been hitting much easier target numbers to give Tim some help. Ahh well — hindsight.)

In short, the Fate points became more valuable, play became more dynamic, and the use of Aspects as fate point generators rose as well. Basically, the FATE core — the economy and mechanics of the system — actually got engaged a lot more. Since it’s a system I like, this was a big win from my point of view.

How about the play itself?

The net result of this was a session that – to my mind – had more clarity. The characters were in better focus. The game system gears were turning and grinding and chugging away and just generally much more present — more able to do what they were meant to do in the game.

Aspects (permanent and temporary alike) are the Killer App of the FATE system.

Somehow, by having fewer Aspects and giving people fewer points with which to invoke them, we actually made them MORE important.

Weird, but true.

Good game.

In a Wicked Amber

I don’t listen very well, even to myself.

Short version of that post — following a session of In a Wicked Age, I came to the conclusion that there’s a certain approach to play that Amber encourages in its long-time players that isn’t exactly what IaWA is designed for, or necessarily rewards.

What do I do with that information?

Obviously, I decide to run an Amber game, using In a Wicked Age.

On the face of it, there’s a lot of fruitful overlap; Amber’s got some pulp weirdness elements to it — looking over the Oracles that are part of the ‘vanilla’ game, almost all the elements included fit into an Amber setting really well. Finally, one of the things I find most interesting about a well-known setting is (re)interpreting it through the lens of a different game. In this case, the six ‘forms’ that define each character in IaWA are consistently fascinating to me — when you act in a conflict, you don’t say “I use my ranged combat skill” or “I use persuasion” — you make decisions like “I act ‘With Love'” or “I act ‘For Others'” or “For Myself” — to me, that’s such a consistently compelling filter through which to see a story.

So, given the opportunity to run a one-shot yesterday, I cobbled together some notes on a more Amberized Oracle and ran a game.

The Good
The Oracle – As I said before, the basic IAWA oracles are remarkably ‘on theme’ for an Amber game. “A minor insult, spoken casually, but striking very, very deep?” Oh yeah. The oracle gave us some fun stuff to work with, and as per usual also took things in a some unexpected directions. The end result of our Oracle draw was an abandoned stone tower – the source of some great power – now home to many unsavory birds filled with blood-craving ‘uncouth spirits’. There was another more friendly spirit in the tower as well, and mixed into that was the young man who’d been sent to reclaim the tower as his property, the conjurer who was working with/summoning the spirits inside the birds… and a full-on princess of Amber, involved in the whole mess somewhat parenthetically.

Best Interests – I did better this time with encouraging everyone to make best interests that were all things the characters didn’t have — things they need to take action in order to get, not react to in order to keep. I failed a bit at that in the last session, and it came out better here.

The Bad
The Oracle – Yeah, yeah, I know I had that under ‘the good’, but as useful as it was, my cobbled-together version lacked the kind of focus and clarity I’d have liked. To use it seriously, it would need a lot of work on focus.

The I-Dunno
Between a late start, a couple scheduled interruptions, some wrestling with the oracle results, and my (bad) habit of stopping to explain the rules before/during/after every bloody step, we didn’t get a tremendous amount done. Everyone got at least one scene in, but we didn’t resolve anything significant in that time.

Also, poor Dave ended up needing to throw himself against a bit of a wall with his conflicts — facing off against “The Birds” in an area in which they were particularly strong (direct conflict where their Swarm particlar strength was most valuable, on their home territory). This lead to three series of conflicts against the birds in which – if they managed to get the advantage initially, they really, really kept it. I dunno if that was actually a problem-problem, except that I should have been better about setting up more interesting consequences for failure.

Finally, I jumped into a conflict involving multiple people without having a clear handle on how it should work (sue me: it’s been more than a year since I last ran it), and it got a little wierd. I think it wouldn’t *stay* weird, given familiarity, and it all worked out okay, but it was weird at the time.

The Hmm
In a Wicked Age wants you to throw yourself into the action right away. I don’t mean that every scene should include someone saying “I attack this guy”, but basically the game system doesn’t really care what you’re doing until someone does something that someone else doesn’t want to see happen. (The PG name of this is “the Oh No You Don’t rule”.) To be fair to the game, things are set up during character generation to help ensure you’re being proactive – so long as you’re working toward your best interests.

Amber (the old RPG, not the fiction it’s based on), on the other hand, encourages an intelligence gathering mindset. Let’s see what’s going on. Let’s touch base with our allies. Let’s ascertain the lay of the land. This doesn’t entirely gel with the “get in there and start acting” desires of IaWA. Rather than nag players about that, I just kept going until I got to some kind of concrete action… supply the information they wanted, then asked “now what”, and kept going until someone said something that someone else didn’t want to see happen.

Some of that was people being new to the system, and not having any clue about “this version of Amber”, and so forth. I’d like to go back and play again and see if some time-to-assimilate and the uses of the rules would help this at all.

The D’oh
There’s a rule in In a Wicked Age that gets overlooked too often. Basically, it says that whenever you narrate anything, you also need to introduce some concrete fact into the world — some sort of detail that lends more weight and reality to the setting. This is especially important in vanilla IaWA, because you’re really totally starting from scratch in your setting, but even in this game it would have been tremendously helpful — hell, it’s a good rule of thumb in any game, but it’s NOT a rule of thumb in IaWA, it’s a rule, and I didn’t observe it.

Why’s that matter? Well, say I back Dave’s character up against a big tree outside the tower. In my head, that tree is big, but dead; the bark’s been stripped away, and the wood beneath is the pale gray of driftwood — a mix of bone-dry and swamp-rotted.

But I never said. All Dave hears is “tree”, so that’s all he’s got to work with it. More detail — more concrete realization of the world around the characters — means more stuff to work with in terms of describing the action or investment and understanding of the scene.

Also, Dave should have been on the We Owe list one more time than I counted, and that would have helped him during later conflicts. Grr.

Again?
We didn’t finish the story for the Oracles we drew, and I very much hope we get a chance to do so. IaWA is an interesting game, designed to build a series of (potentially) out-of-sequence short stories. (People call the system the Anthology Engine.) From session to session, it’s possible to play the same character but, as/more interestingly, it’s also possible to come into the next story playing someone else entirely — to explore the setting from multiple points of view over the course of a longer game and, in fact, to swap GMs around every three or four sessions, should the desire exist.

I’d like doing that, provided the system is something people got comfortable with.

In any case, I really do like the IaWA system – there’s a lot more (western, anyone?) I’d like to do with it — it’s a neat lens to look at the world through.

Diaspora, Session 3: Heat up the Iridium, it’s Shootin’ Time

It had been my intention to introduce everyone to the Ship, Personal, and Social combat mini-games in Diaspora during the first three sessions — basically in that order.

Didn’t work out that way. As I mentioned at the time, the first session took a bit of an odd turn when Kate flipped the space combat setup on its ear and turned it into a Social Conflict (for which I was wholly unprepared). Fun stuff.

So, with that taken care of, and personal conflict introduced in the last session, I made it clear that session three was to be SPAAAACE COMBAAAT. Period.

Unless, you know, something came up. Chris joked about flipping it into a cutthroat game of checkers, but such was not to be — ships faced off, and lo and behold, actually shot at each other.

There are fifteen enemy missile boats in this picture. Can you find them?
There are fifteen enemy missile boats in this picture. Can you find them?

At the end of the last session, the crew of the Tempest had agreed to take a ‘follow-up’ job with the pro-science Dauphine collective they’d sort of accidentally saved from an assassination attempt — in short, to escort the collective’s ship from the soon-to-be-abandoned, not-as-secret-as-they-thought base to a destination elsewhere in the system.

This presented a few problems.

  1. The collective’s ship had no pilot. It HAD had a pilot – the lead engineer, by the name of Darrec – but he’d come down with a bad case of silencer-to-the-temple during the attack, and was no longer an option.
  2. The ship was… sub-optimal. That’s not entirely fair: for Dauphine, it’s a GREAT ship. Not slip-capable, but certainly viable for moving around a single system at something like .1 Gs. It, like everything else in the base, was constructed modularly from materials that could be shipped in-system as something else.
  3. Suspicions abound within the collective. Specifically, a young hothead scientist by the name of Anton pulled Miranda aside and had a lot to say about no one could have known about the Tempest shipment OR about the base unless someone on the Inside had told them. His Culprit-Of-Choice was Eugene Felix, the group’s administrator (whom the heroes had found hiding in the comms chamber inside his office, with is executive assistant, Isabelle).  On the other side of the coin, there’s Terese, the mousy fuel engineer who thinks sleezy Isabelle had something to do with it.  The fact that she has a crush on Anton has nothing to do with it, of course.

The whole thing was giving Miranda a headache.

While the collective loaded up the Intrepid (and Phyll “tweaked it” with a few new Aspects that could be used if needed), Miranda tried to figure out who could help man the other ship.  Eventually, they decided to keep their ‘main’ crew on the Tempest and sent over Maric to keep an eye on the engine, Chance to fly the thing, and Anjela to man the one gun battery.

You know, just in case.

Finally, they got flying, and started the slow crawl toward the outer system.

The Diaspora guys love hard science — everything they do in this game, with the sole exception of the FTL travel (which pretty much has to be made out of Handwavium in order to work in ANY remotely realistic setting), is the kind of stuff that folks at Atomic Rockets would find plausible and supportable.

That makes space combat interesting and different from what you’d expect. Here’s a few key bits.

  • Properly-represented space combat would require some pretty wicked math and a three-dimensional ‘map’ that would take up my whole basement. Cool, but ultimately more work than the pay-off would justify.
  • There’s no anti-gravity, so there’s no dogfighting.
  • The ship and its hardware is going to be much more significant than the skills of the crew, whose impact is really going to be to in asking the ship to do things at the right time, rather than perform the actions themselves. In short, the ships are the characters.

There’s other stuff, but that’s the big parts that inform the combat.

Diaspora deals with the first point by boiling all the four-dimensional vector stuff into a one dimensional map. Yeah. ONE dimensional. Somehow — and I have to say it’s elegant how they manage it — they came up with a combat map where all you’re tracking is where your ship is on a LINE, and yet the location imparts not only location relative to other ships, but also relative velocity, acceleration, AND vector. It’s kind of brilliant.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is because the next thing that happened in the game was a space combat. I know, right? Who’d have expected THAT?

The Intrepid and the Tempest were set on pretty quickly by three missile boats looking to blow the Intrepid out of the sky. Now, if it had just been the Tempest, Iago could have gunned it and been gone before they ever got in range, but while the boats weren’t up to par with the Tempest, they were MUCH faster than the Intrepid.

The first phase in space combat is placement of the ships on the map, which is done by the players, following an opposed Navigation roll. I tried to get Kate to “take an automatic failure” here by offering her a Fate point and compelling her “A little bit Rusty” Aspect, but Kate decided that, while that was cool, she wanted to play the first combat ‘straight’, before we started mucking it up with compels.

So rolls were made, and Kate got to place the Intrepid and Tempest about as far away from the bad guys as she could and still leave them on the map.

The next phase of combat had to do with maneuvering, so Iago and Chance tried to get away. In this, the bad guys seemed more than competent enough to keep the two ships from escaping immediately, despite flying in formation.

The next phase were the weapons that worked at the speed of light — to whit, electronic warfare. This was a pretty one-sided battle, since only the Tempest had the hardware necessary to go on the offensive in this arena, and the enemy ships were hampered by a weak Data ‘health bar’ and Aspects like “Too Stupid to Know We’ve Been Hacked”.  Kaetlyn got into the systems of one of the gun boats and gave it a Major Consequence of “Friend or Foe Fire Control Recognition is Frelled”.

The next phase was Beam weapons, so energy beams started … beaming. This was interesting, because you don’t really want to use the full power of your beam weapons, because you may need to use them again in the torpedo phase for defense, and if you fired them a lot, it would cause some significant heat problems for the ship.  Kate played it safe but still managed to score a hit on one of the ships.

During the Torpedo phase that immediately followed, both Kate and Anjela (on the Intrepid) managed to defend from too much damage (the Tempest took a minor hit), and someone compelled the Hacked enemy ship to shoot one of its allies instead of them. That was cool. Also, explodey.

Then it was Repair phase, and Phyll went to work on patching the minor damage, which he did handily.

Then you start again at the top.  Each “round” probably takes about an hour inside the fiction of the game… it’s not Star Wars, but I find that I don’t mind – it feels like naval warfare, kind of.

In short, we played about three full rounds of all the phases before two of the three enemy ships were destroyed and the Intrepid escaped from the combat by working its way off the edge of the map.  The Tempest decided to stick it out and make sure there were  no enemy survivors, which took something like one or one-and-a-half more rounds, and then turned itself around and radioed the Intrepid for its location and vector so they could catch up.

There is no answer.

Dun dun DUNNNNNN.

Tune in next session to see what the heck happened to the ship the Tempest is supposed to be guarding.

—–

Once again, we had that weirdly ‘traditional gaming’ experience, where the combat scene took up most of the night.

However, the stuff in combat that takes up the time is different.

In a game like DnD, there’s a lot of time agonizing over the pieces on the board, trying to decided between 10 to 100 different bad-to-less-bad moves. It’s like chess without what I’ve realized is the pure genius of using a turn-clock.

Now, to be sure, the stuff in DnD that causes this kind of behavior is there for a reason — with all those tactical options/threats, there’s plenty of good reasons not to remain static in a fight and just plug away: “Roll to hit, roll damage, next guy…”

But there are lots of ways to solve that problem, and Fate keeps things interesting by seeding the play area with a constantly expanding and shifting list of Aspects — free-floating bonuses that you can use to buff up both your attacks and defenses if you can just think of a cool way your guy takes advantage of them.  Rather than reviewing your many chess-like options, you’re looking at the things happening in a fight and asking “what is out there that I can take advantage of?”  It’s kind of the role-playing combat version of what Jackie Chan does when you try to attack him with a stepladder.

((There are other ways to solve the problem of static, boring combats, by the way, and I’m going to talk about how Dragon Age RPG does it in some other post, but not today.))

The problem is, while it’s a more aggressive, active, and generally more inventive way of getting the players to interact with the ‘story’ of a conflict, it’s kind of… different, and it does increase processing time when, during every person’s turn, you have to stop to remind yourself to DO it.

Anyway.

My impression of the game – any game – has to be informed somewhat by what I see at the table and how I feel afterwards.

What I see at the table is that we’re having fun, and that some of that fun – perhaps a higher percentage than usual – is coming from the system. Kudos to the system.

More than any other ‘indie’ game I’ve played recently, Diaspora strikes me as a game that would work well in a longer-form game. This isn’t surprising; it’s a game designed by a group of guys inspired by Traveller, who come to Aspects and a lot of the Fate kung-fu a little uncomfortably, even after all this time — there’s is a mindset that assumes the 20-session campaign, and they built a game that supports that kind of play.

Moreover, they built a game that makes me support that kind of play, which is quite the accomplishment. Again, kudos.

I don’t know how long this game will run — I continue to muse about what game we’ll play next — but I’m in no hurry to wrap up and move on to the next thing. For now, I’m more than happy to stick around and – now that we’ve got system and all the sub-systems introduced – see what happens.

Because, best of all, there’s some stuff going on, and it’s pretty cool.

Diaspora, Session 2: Fight!

When we last left our space-faring heroes, they were delivering a cargo bay full of “mining equipment” to a (one assumes) secret base on Sebastus, a moon orbiting the main planet of the Dauphine system.

I say “one assumes” because, culturally, Dauphine is pretty anti-space — they tried it once, their attempt failed miserably (from their point of view — the scientists and settlers they stranded on Keepdown feel otherwise), and since then the highly insular conservatives have pretty much controlled the planet.

The conservatives don’t control their system, though — quite the contrary — since they’ve largely rejected any exploration of space-faring technology, the resource-rich system of Dauphine is pretty much defenseless and ripe for plucking, which the “indentured privateers” funded by resource-starved Caliban are more than willing to do.

So, when the crew is told that they’re delivering “mining equipment” (yes, it could be configured as mining equipment — it could also be configured to be a LOT of other stuff) to a base relatively close to Dauphine, on the spaceward-side of a tidally locked moon, they assume it’s for some kind of secret pro-tech Dauphine organization.

They’d be right.

Anyway, after their run in with some privateers/wildcat mining poachers when they arrived in system — three ships who’d apparently been informed they were coming, which begs the question of how anyone knew — they proceed in-system and radio the base to let them know their delivery is almost home.

No answer.

They continue inbound, discussing the radio silence, allow that that might be perfectly normal for a secret base, and simply try to raise the base every six hours or so as they fly (it’s a six-days-plus trip, so they have a lot of time).

They get one ‘normal’ reply once they get about two days out, very brief and a little too enthusiastically ‘covert’, and then nothing.

Until they pull into orbit and prepare to take the Squall (the Tempest’s shuttle) down to the base to finalize delivery plans; that’s when they get one very brief call for help.

Right. Lovely.

So the group suits up and prepares to land. Miranda, Phyll, Iago, and Kaetlyn are all going, and Miranda decides to bring Anjela (no-nonsense gunnery mate) along for a little extra firepower (Anjela’s an Orpheus native, and lovingly totes along a pack-powered personal laser).

The Short Version of What Happens

The group sneaks into the base, discovers via the security cameras that most of the personnel in the base are barricaded in one of the crew quarters, which are being cut through with plasma welders by a group of… well, they look like ninjas. Sort of burqa-wearing ninjas, but ninjas.

The ninjas and our heroes come to blows — guns are fired, swords are swung, a mining laser (and a smaller kind) are fired, and while the base is a little worse for wear afterwards, everyone is safe.

Once things settle down, the scientists in the base say they were attacked by a particularly militant fringe faction within the Dauphine conservative movement — a group that would rather see them dead than move into space any further. Since they sent assassins to end them, it’s clear this base location is compromised, so they need to move out to another base that’s much further away from Dauphine.

The question: can you carry our delivery just a little bit further… and… if it’s not too much trouble… could you escort our pathetic excuse for an intra-system cargo-hauler as we f l y v e r y s l o w l y to the other base?

Please?

How about if we pay you?

“Pay us? Why didn’t you say so?”

And that was the session.

The Long(er) Version

Well, it’s actually not that much longer in terms of relating what happened, but I didn’t want to talk a bit about the mechanics of the personal combat, and how it played out during the session, as well as note some of the cool and not-so-cool products of play.

The Base... well, a map of the base, anyway.

As you can see from the picture of the map, I laid out the base as a sort of series of pre-fab modules. As I was sketching the thing out, I read through the personal combat section to get an idea of the various kinds of things one normally does with these personal combat settings in this system.

See, while there’s definitely a story going on here (factions, politics, sides to pick, et cetera), the first three or four sessions of the game are very specifically “there” to introduce the various mini-games within Diaspora (with the exception – for now – of platoon combat). In this session, my goal was personal combat, so I wanted to explore and introduce as many of the relevant bells and whistles as possible.

To that end, I set up the bad guys to use various maneuvers, to be good at the sorts of things that one is good at in combat, and then messed around with the map a lot.

S’possible I messed around with the map a little TOO much.

What I WANTED was an over-crowded, super-cluttered base — stuff stacked along the walls, no truly straight path to anywhere, and kind of hard to get around. The nice thing about the way this expresses itself in this iteration of FATE is that you can create such things really easily, WITHOUT mapping some kind of crazy, maze-like environment — it’s enough to just draw in a really big room, break it into a couple zones, and give each zone “Stunts” like “Complicated” or “Cluttered” to limit the range of fire and things like that.

Truly difficult rooms, like those those circular ones with a central ‘core’ that you have to walk around anyway, which are then additionally filled with clutter, boxes, crates, desks, partitions, et cetera, I’d break into multiple zones, which means it would simply take more “movement” actions to get through them. And oh yeah: put in those hissing automatic doors that don’t really stop you but which do keep you from really tearing along at full speed.

Looked good in theory.

In practice, I started the bad guys on the opposite end of the base from Our Heroes, and it took us like… I dunno, six or seven rounds of just… moving to get anywhere close enough to DO anything.

And in that time, the players had managed to move like… I dunno. Two rooms. (One, for Tim, who didn’t have any levels in the requisite ‘moving quickly’ skill.)

So, that was that bad, most of which I could have totally fixed by breaking those smaller rooms up into two diagonal zones instead of one.

The good was… well, everything else.

The computer-hacker person actually had lots to do every round — she entrenched herself in the security station and proceeded to put Aspects on various zones that people would then tag for bonuses left and right: sprinkler systems flipped on and off, lights cut out, doors locked in front of a guy about to run through them (wham!), or right behind him, so he couldn’t retreat from a bad situation.

The gun-loving character got to shoot a lot of stuff, which worked out well. I feel like he was plenty effective.

The swashbuckling pirate’s daughter got into a nice little sword fight with one of the assassins, which included a lot of leaping around and also some sliding around on the sprinkler-system-slicked floor.

And we got to try out Iago’s stunt “Applied Biology”, which (a la the most recent Sherlock Holmes flick) lets him use a large chunk of his Scientist skill in lieu of Brawling — this led an exchange where one of the bad guys was left standing right in front of the mining laser that Iago had been pushing around on a cargo cart, just as Phyl flipped it on, remotely.

The bad guy grabbed the front of the laser, shoved it to the side just as it fired, and LIVED… although he sustained a Severe Consequence of “Amputated AND Cauterized” — the mostly wince- and chuckle-inducing consequence of the evening.

All in all, it was a pretty dynamic fight with a lot of good stuff going on, some nice tactical stuff happening, where one player was setting up another one or taking advantage of something someone else had just done — it felt like synergies were happening all over.

The weird part?

The weird part was that I set up a really big fight on a really big map and it took pretty much the whole game session just to do that one fight.

I haven’t had that happen since… well, DnD, honestly. I don’t think it’s every happened in any kind of “indie” game in, well, ever. Some of those games are plenty deadly (Dogs, for example), but even then, fights are nasty, brutish, and short.

FATE does a lot of wonderful, character-driven, evocative stuff — using Aspects in all their various permutations are THE Killer App of the game, without a doubt, even in spin-offs like Diaspora — but to a certain degree SotC and Diaspora and all the “Version 3.0” FATE games are still very traditional in a lot of ways. The detailed play of session two’s combat reminded me of that.

That’s not a BAD thing, at all. Or good, really. It just is. A feature (in the landscape, not software, sense).

Anyway, the fight wrapped up, deals were made, and session three (which I’ll write up next) involved the crew of the Tempest splitting up a bit to pilot/escort the Dauphine collective’s “Intrepid” to a new base elsewhere in the system.

And, finally, some space combat. Heat up the iridium, Phyl, it’s Shootin’ Time…

Mass Effect 2 (spoileriffic)

Okay, after I posted about ME1, Dave linked to this super-spoilleriffic post that really ripped into some of the story choice made in ME2. I’m going to talk about his points below (after the cut, because they are extensive), but first I want to address my own first impressions of the game, which I posted last week. They are:

  • I need to keep the ME2 disk in the drive to play? Really?

Yeah, this didn’t end up being a huge problem, because really who uses their drive for anything but installations anymore? Still, it strikes me as really … well, retro. Not in a good way.

  • I have to keep track of ammo? You considered that a critical need for improving the gameplay experience over ME1?

I realize it really isn’t a huge deal in the game, because they work pretty hard to hit that sweet spot where you’re not out of ammo but not leaving any ammo behind. Still, playing as an infiltrator, my two main weapons are a sniper rifle and a heavy pistol, so I was dealing with small clips constantly. (Especially until about halfway through the game when I realized that my tech “incinerate” didn’t suck anymore.)

Did it ruin the fun? Not at all? Did it increase fun? Ehhhhhh…

  • I’m working for the evilest group of humans I ever encountered in the first game? Really?

In a game balanced between playing a “Paragon” and a “Renegade”, I actually found it easy to play a hardcore Paragon while working ‘with’ Cerberus. Ever chance I had to tell my ‘partners’ to fuck off, I did so. I gave anyone who asked for it access to their private data, made the least advantageous-to-them choices, and eventually made off with not only their biggest financial investment (me), but also an advanced starship and… oh yeah, I’d say about 25 to 30% of their employees.

I feel as though my time with them was well spent.

  • From what I saw of the skills table, there is very little customization/choice available during the leveling process, and I didn’t see anything like the Charm/Intimidation pair from ME1 that expanded my dialog options. This makes me sad simply because those options and what I did with them made my ME1 experience really memorable.

There are fewer skills, but they ‘branch’ at the top, once you max them out, and that actually made for a lot of different kinds of customization.

Continue reading “Mass Effect 2 (spoileriffic)”

In which I give in and talk about Mass Effect

Yeah yeah, I know: the game’s been out for two or three years — it’s old news.

Well, not to me. A few weeks ago (after reinstalling my home system), I was redownloading games I’d bought through Steam, and I got a ‘suggestion’ (read: ad) to pick up Mass Effect 2, which is the current hotness in the gaming world.

And honestly, I had reservations. Yeah, I know it’s a great game, and it’s getting a lot of geek love, but it’s something like 50+ bucks, so… eh. I’ll wait.

But then I noticed Mass Effect was up on Steam, also. It *also* got a lot of gamer love when it came out.

And it was a damn sight cheaper.

… and that’s where I’ve been for the last week or so. Flying around the galaxy, fighting AI robots, pirates, smugglers, things that want to destroy all life…

And trying to hook up with other members of the crew. As one does. Of course.

It has been, not to overstate it, a blast. A few thoughts.

Gameplay

  • I’d read some thoughts from people about the combat system and the inventory system and the hacking system — nitpicky complaints, largely, but complaints — and I’m just not seeing the problem.
  • I believe this is because I’m playing on a PC, not a console — I’ve never been much of a console RPG gamer (Fight games? Sure. Lego Star Wars? Heck yeah. RPGs? No.)
  • The hacking “maze” remains fun without cock-blocking what I’m trying to accomplish. The combat controls (once I figured out the magic behind the spacebar-driven menue) is pretty slick, and the inventory… well, yeah, okay: the inventory system is pretty stupid, but now that I understand it, it’s not that bad.

Character Customization

  • I like that I can make up my own “look” for the protagonist, and specialize his skill set. Said skill set choices basically consist of:
    • All-combat.
    • Finesse Combat (sniper rifles and pistols) with some tech abilities.
    • Finesse Combat with some psychic abilities.
    • All-tech.
    • Tech + psychic.
    • All-psychic.
  • I think that’s about it. I opted for the sniper-rifle/pistols option (which should surprise precisely no-one) and the tech option, because I don’t like not being able to open ‘special’ doors in games of this nature.  I am very happy with the result, as he feels like a very space-age commado, and in order to cover my gaps, I need to bring my two favorite NPC crew members along on missions. (Wrex (combat and psychic) and Liara (pure psychic)).
  • I love having the point-buy freedom in customizing my guy; focusing the elements of play I found interesting and pretty much ignoring the stuff that bored em. I ALSO loved that I could choose to level up the NPC crew members as well, if I wanted — it let me vicariously play all the various character options.
  • In hindsight, I feel the Tech options are a little weak, and I might have likes to do some of the cool-ass “biotic” powers, but if I’d gone that route I’d have been been completely hamstrung with regard to tech problems like locked doors and encrypted macguffins, so it’s just as well.

Story Customization: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

I went a particular route with my character; I pictured a considerate, do-the-right-thing-even-if-it-sucks, Humanity has to Earn Respect character — Malcolm Reynolds, if his stand in Serenity Valley had led to a costly victory for the Independents and eventual concession from the Alliance — and selected my responses during play based on that. The result was someone with very little “renegade” rating and a nearly maxed out “Paragon”. Moreover, the further I get into the game, the easier and more obvious those choices become for me — I’m entirely in the right mindset for this guy, even when that mindset leads me to some REALLY CRAPPY, PAINFUL decisions.

(Seriously: this game had me agonizing over some of the choices I had to make before I could move forward. A. GON. IZ. ING.)

But I have to tell you: I’d love to play this whole thing again as a real rogue. It would be a pretty different game.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to, but who knows?  Kaylee bought Daddy Mass Effect 2 for his birthday, and it’s waiting for me to conclude it predecessor and show me how far the game’s creators have come in three years. Smirking, is what it’s doing.

(It’ll have to wait: I’m using it as my carrot-reward for doing some revisions before I let myself install it. Maybe someday I’ll even get Dragon Age and play it too.)

And honestly? That’s just a little bit sad — I know ME2 is a good game, and will probably make me love it more than the original, which means I might not feel the need to go back and really do the game up right, now that I understand how it all WORKS right from the start. (I don’t read manuals and I only use a single save-point during these games, so there’s no “go back to before I fucked everything up on Tuesday” option for me.)

I hope, at some point, I get the chance, cuz it’s a good game.

Diaspora: Cluster and Character generation (ridiculously TL;DR)

Exactly one year after our first gathering, the Wednesday night group got together for our first session of the new year, and we decided to get started in 2010 with Diaspora, the world’s softest hard sci-fi game.

Counting myself, there were four players, and we opted to each create two worlds in “the cluster” (a series of different star systems, connected by ‘slip points’ located above and below the barycenter of each system), for a total of eight.

The “theme” that we used for the system cluster was this:

  • Your first system starts with the same letter as your first name.
  • Your second system starts with the same letter as your middle name.
  • All system names are derived from characters in Shakespeare.

This worked pretty well, and gave us some pretty evocative setting elements, especially when the players took things a bit further and wrote out some of the Aspects on the systems, their characters, and even their ship as quotes from various works of Shakespeare.

Due to scheduling problems, we won’t be able to play for a couple more weeks months, but we’re all looking forward to it.

Anyway, we did the whole Cluster and character generation the first night, then posted the results to a Google Wave where we’ve since fleshed things out a bit. Here are the results.

Continue reading “Diaspora: Cluster and Character generation (ridiculously TL;DR)”

2009: The Year In Gaming

Well, the year in *my* gaming, anyway.

Last year, during the holidays, Tim (I’m pretty sure it was Tim) suggested that we set up a regular gaming schedule for:

  • A small group.
  • On weeknights.

This coincided well with my long-time desire to get a regularly scheduled game night going again. The small group also meant that we wouldn’t have (as many) problems with not being able to play because some significant percentage of the group couldn’t make it.

By and large, it worked. Since January 14th of last year, this is (to the best of my recollection) what I’ve played:

  • Don’t Rest Your Head – We did this as a one-shot with Tim and Chris and Kate, and while I think it would have been better with two sessions, it worked as a single session thanks to the players really pushing the story hard, and it was quite fun. I daresay it was perhaps the first really successful game I’ve run with Kate as a player. I remember this one fondly. That it was the first game of the ‘new’ schedule augured well for the future.
  • Dogs in the Vineyard – a kind-of wrap up for an on-again, off-again story we’d played in 2008.
  • Inspectres, thanks to a request from Bianca.
  • In a Wicked Age – we revisited this system a couple times during the year, and Tim and Chris as a sort of desert-rat Laurel and Hardy rarely fails to entertain. I’d like to take this game out for another spin in the future, if only to see how The Wedding comes out. (Where did I put that Oracle?…)
  • The Mountain Witch – this actually wasn’t a Wednesday Night game, but a weekend one-shot I ran for Kate, De, Lee, and their visiting brother Dale. The ending was something like: De killed Lee, Kate killed De, the Witch killed Kate, and Dale (saved the child and) killed himself. Glorious, bloody fun, hampered only by my misunderstanding of one ability Lee wrote down.
  • Shadows Over Camelot – Not an RPG as such, but it gave us a number of good games, and not just with my gamer friends: our first win came while playing with Kate’s mom, and I personally had a fantastic time playing with my own mom and dad. Dad really got into the game.
  • Primetime Adventure: Ironwall – A real milestone for me: we pitched a series and, from March to November, managed to run all six sessions in the first Season. That may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but when you consider we were coordinating the schedules of five adults, and had to postpone several times when the ‘spotlight’ player couldn’t show, I will happily dislocate my shoulder while patting my own back.  It’s worth noting that we all want to revisit this setting and the storyline in the future… but with a different system — very likely the Dresden Files, which will have just the mix we’re looking for. PTA is great for high-concept, but a little light on ground-level mechanics.

While we were ostensibly playing PTA, we squeezed in a couple other games as well.

  • Mouse Guard, more Mouse Guard, and yet more Mouse Guard. I love this game, pure and simple. I love it enough to try Burning Wheel.
  • 3:16 – A one-shot story of genocidal space marines. Good times. Would not mind going back to this game again at all.
  • Danger Patrol – I enjoyed this session so much. I’d LOVE to play a short series of serials in this madcap, space opera, radio drama universe.

Give or take, that’s about 19 games over the course of the year. Call it 23 if you count Shadows over Camelot. Not quite two games every month, but damn close; I’ll take it and say thankee sai.

What I’d love to play in the coming year:

Longer stuff

  • Burning Wheel or Burning Empires (probably Burning Wheel: I suspect that Diaspora might give me my spacey-sci-fi fix for 2010.)
  • Diaspora – an excellent game built on the Fate 3.0 engine. I’ve had time to go over the rules now, and the social combat sub-system makes me shivery, to say nothing about ship to ship combat. Fun stuff. God I love Aspects.

Shorter Stuff

  • Time & Temp – A game of time travel and underemployment. You travel through the ages actualizing solutions for the anomalies and paradoxes that threaten all of existence. You are reality’s only line of defense in the war between the rigidity of causality and freewill. Your reward: the hard earned satisfaction of a job well done. (Plus $11.50 an hour and a modest health package including comprehensive immunizations for history’s most prolific diseases.)
  • Annalise is a game about making Vampire stories. Each player characters are the victims, hunters and tools of the Vampire. The best example is that you are playing the story of Dracula with one person (for example) in the role of Mina Harker, one as Van Helsing, one as Renfield. The Vampire in your game, like Dracula, is what drives the plot, but it is not a protagonist.
  • Some more In a Wicked Age.
  • Some more Mouse Guard.
  • A little Ghost Echo, if I’m feeling cyberpunky.

What about playing? Hmm.

  • I think I should hook Chris up with a copy of Trail of Cthulu and see if he wants to run it. I’ve heard good things.
  • Fiasco, which doesn’t need a GM.
  • Ooh, someone run some Shotgun Diaries, please.

And whatever other shiny bit of metal gets my attention.

What about you?

Danger Patrol: Zombie Kong and Plan 8 from Planet X

Two of the players couldn’t make it to our PTA game last night, and since they were our spotlight character and NEXT session’s spotlight character, it seemed a good idea to run something else.  I settled on…

dp_logo

Danger Patrol is an action/adventure retro scifi game. The aim of the game is to (re)create the feel of episodes of a 50s-style TV show in the vein of the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials (with a dash of the Venture Bros., Star Wars, and Indiana Jones).  You play members of the elite Danger Patrol — special super-powered crime fighters who protect Rocket City from the evil Stygian Adepts of Pluto, the nefarious agents of Jupiter’s Crimson Republic, rampaging monsters set loose by mad scientists, and other crazy threats.

A while back, DP became a blazingly cool-kids thing to playtest (yes, playtest: the game only exists as an alpha playtest document at this time, albeit one that’s very well-done), but I was a bit leery of the excitement, simply because I’d gotten excited by such things in the past, and it had come to naught in the long run.  The DP love seemed to be holding into the long-term, however, so I gave it a look a few months ago and enjoyed what I was seeing.

It wasn’t until Tim and I got to talking a month or so ago that I really gave DP a hard look.  He was looking for a gaming experience where players who weren’t directly involved in a specific action in the game were still encouraged to participate, specifically by adding challenges to the current player’s actions — doing so in such a way as to both make the scene more interesting and also help out the player in some way.  I heard that and thought “damn, I’ve SEEN that… where have I seen that?”

Well, you can guess where.

To make your Danger Patrol hero, you’re pick a Style and a Role. Your style tells us what kind of being you are: A Robot, a Mystic, an Atomic cyborg, or something else. Your role tells us what your job is on the team: an super-spy Agent, an elite Commando, a wiley Detective, etc.

In play, this is done via the entertaining simplicity of having each style and each role take up half of one sheet of paper.  You pick your style, then your role, select which of the powers you’re going to start out with, tape the two halves together, and you have a finished character sheet, complete with a damage track that flows across the bottom of both halves.

This is what we ended up with:

Tim played Dr. Ramjet, Robot Professor (and host of a popular children's science videoshow program); Randy played Sebastian Darke, Mystic Detective; and Kate played Cassie Colt, Two-fisted Commando.
Tim played Dr. Ramjet, Robot Professor (and host of a popular children's science videoshow program); Randy played Sebastian Darke, Mystic Detective; and Kate played Cassie Colt, Two-fisted Commando.

Once character creation is complete, I drop the team into the action in media res — I wasn’t sure what I should do — there was an opening scene suggested in the text of the game, and a number of decent-sounding ideas on Story-Games, but when I wondered aloud about it on Twitter, I got this message:

Judd_of_Kryos @doycet chanting: ZOMBIE KONG! ZOMBIE KONG!

Right. Giant undead ape. Good plan. We’ll go with that.

So the team was doing a milk-run patrol in the skies over Rocket City when the dashboard video screen of their Hawkwing 5000 lit up with the following wireless telegram:

Rocket City Rocketport under attack. *STOP* Building unstable, collapse imminent. *STOP* We need you, Danger Patrol.*STOP*

They flew straight to the Rocketport, and saw a horde of what appeared to be recently reanimated corpses swarming the sides of the slim rocketport tower, led by the massive form of a giant zombie gorilla.  Zombie Kong.

Then the Danger Patrol logo flashed on the screen of our little serial drama and a deep voice said “Previously, on Danger Patrol…”

… at which point, each player is supposed to come up with a brief moment from the episode of Danger Patrol immediately preceding this one, including elements that foreshadowed things that the players want to see in THIS episode.  We see:

  • Dr. Ramjet, in his lab, examining a vial of liquid. “My god… this virus would animate dead tissue!”
  • Cassie Colt, at the Rocket City zoo with her niece, in the section of the zoo labeled “animals of Earth”, and looking up, up, and up at an enormous gorilla in a too-small enclosure, and the neice asking why it isn’t white. (The primary sentient species on Mars is a race of white apes.)
  • … and I can’t remember what Randy did with his flashback, except to indicate that the Stygian Adepts were involved in whatever was going on.

Then we jumped back to the action, and I laid out the “battle board” (I think we were calling it something like the DANGER ROOM last night) with the various threats.  I’d already written out markers for Zombie Kong and some packs of Zombies (one of whom was closing in on a little girl), but after everyone’s flashbacks, I created a “Stygian Adepts!” Danger to incorporate later in the fight, and changed “Zombies closing in on little girl” to “Zombies closing in on Cassie’s Niece” and attacked Dr. Ramjet with a very specific Danger all his own…

Danger! (Including Dr. Ramjets worry that all this was happening because of something HE created...)
Danger! (Including Dr. Ramjets worry that all this was happening because of something HE created...)

You’ll notice that there’s also a Danger that the Rocketport tower will collapse, and it has a “timer” on it: (4) — in four rounds, that’ll happen. Finally, WAY up in the corner, there’s a “Plan 8” Danger with a really long timer on it, ticking down from (8).  This wasn’t really a danger that the Danger Patrol could ‘get to’ in this fight, but I wanted it up there, ticking down, all the same, because it meant that when I got results like “a danger becomes MORE DANGEROUS”, I could start accumulating additional Danger Dice on Plan 8.

Anyway, the heroes leapt into action.  Cassie jumped out of the flying car, fired up her rocket pack, and blasted through the pack of zombies around her niece, guns blazing, swooped the girl up, and flew her to safety before blasting back into the fight.  Sebastian leapt onto one of the observation decks below Zombie Kong, and was set on by some zombie minions. He dealt with them via a hail of bullets, but I was able to bring two dangers into play as a result – Stygian adepts appeared to stop him, and the spray of zombie fluids put a group of Innocent Bystanders at risk of infection with the zombie plaque (Dr. Ramjets Z1B1 Virus.)

Speaking of Dr. Ramjet, he spent the first round goading himself into action (dealing with the Danger of his own self-doubt) and was just about to leap into action when Zombie Kong grabbed the front end of the Hawkwing and started swing it around like a club.

Cassie started buzzing around Zombie Kong, unloading a veritable blaze of blaster fire at the big undead ape. Kong managed to clip her with the Hawkwing-club, but she regained control of her jetpack a few blocks away and came zooming back… and Ramjet was able to pull the car free from the thing’s grasp.

Sebastian coated the Bystanders with the cold foam from a fire extinguisher to combat the zombie goo, ignoring the Stygians for the moment.  Meanwhile, Dr. Ramjet told his body to charge the Hawkwing straight at Zombie Kong’s face, then he DETACHED HIS OWN HEAD, which flew off to help Sebastian, flying over the bystanders and urging them to retreat inside and douse themselves with sparkling soda water from the bar.

The car rammed itself right into Zombie Kong’s mouth, finally finishing off the creature, and Sebastian summoned up the Black Mists of something-or-other which, when combined with his training and various esoteric fighting arts, made short work of the hapless Stygians.

The body of the ape tumbled down the side of the tower, doing yet more damage, and Ramjet flew down to the corpse, where Cassie was already pulling his body from the wreckage of the car. He reattached himself and they both turned at the ominous cracking all along the tower’s height.

Ramjet: I’ve got just the thing. (Player checks off Experimental Device #1 from his sheet.) I just need to get up there…
Cassie: Then hold on. *grabs him around the chest and fires off the jetpack*

Ramjet fires off his Stabilizing Ray (or maybe it was actually a “Rocketport Stabilizing Ray”) and the building is saved!

… and their jetpacks give out and they plummet to the ground below. Oof.

Okay, we then did interludes scenes in which Cassie’s sister came and picked up Cassie’s niece (blaming both Cassie and Ramjet for the whole thing), and Sebastian interrogated one of the Stygian Cultists. (Not even a REAL Stygian!) During this, he learned that the whole attack on the Rocket City Rocketport was just a diversion for a theft at the Rocket City Museum, and that the Cultists were getting their orders via strange crystals they had at their secret base in some martian ruins outside the city.

Once the interludes were done, the Patrol had three question to answer:

Mysteries Abound!
Mysteries Abound!

Sebastian went out to the Ruins to check out the Stygian Cultist base and see about these odd crystals.  Dr. Ramjet investigated the control mechanism for the ape, and Cassie checked out the Museum burglary. Everyone got the answers they were looking for, and Sebastian actually made off with the Stygian Crystals, but he was followed back to the City by more Cultists.

Back at the professor’s university lab, the heroes exchanged notes, realized they needed to get to a Danger Jet to get to Pluto as fast as possible, and were then attacked by Cultists.  During the fight, one of the Dangers was “The Pulsing Crystals will suck you into the 5th Dimension!”

Guess what?

Oops.
Oops.

Sebastian was able to pull them out of the 5th Dimension, using the crystals’ psychic link to the Stygian Adepts to pull them out AT PLUTO.  From there, they were able to start the final Show Down with a bunch of Stygian Adepts, a Stygian Master, the Planet X Liaison and Planet X Assassin, and the ticking-down Plan 8 (which, by this point, had accumulated 5 danger dice to drop on the first person who tried to stop it, and which was down to (2) on the counter).

Sebastian distracted the Stygians, giving Cassie time to get a shot at the Stygian Master, but it wasn’t enough to stop him from creating a new Disaster: “All of Rocket City Zombified!”, via a massive gate from planet to planet, via the fifth dimension.  Sebastian leapt in to stop that from happening, and intercepted the energy of the gate with his own Mists of something-or-other, putting him in a head-to-head contest of wills with the unstable gate itself, which was now going to “Suck Pluto Into The Fifth Dimension!”

Ramjet again detached his head, and sent his body to charge the last clump of Stygian mooks while his head jetted toward the ancient ruins that housed the device that would bring Plan 8 to fruition — a vast, intricate, crystal and glass matrix that would bring all the planets under the control of Planet X, ultimately blotting out the Sun.

Ramjet nodded (easy to do when you’re all head), and flew straight into the matrix, smashing it (and knocking himself out).

Sebastian did all he could to the close the gate (5 successes out of the 6 he needed), before collapsing (KO’d).

Which left Cassie, a dark portal to the 5th dimension, and two Planet X agents, fleeing to their ship and stranding them all on Pluto.

She pulled out a frag grenade, and saved the planet. (Did some kind of Commando thing that let her split her attack between multiple targets, got EIGHT SUCCESSES on NINE dice. The explosion took out both agents AND destabilized the gate just enough to take it down.)

Victory! The Danger Patrol saved the Solar System!

Again.

All in all, a pretty awesome game.  More thoughts as I have em.