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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Skills and Skill Sets

a.k.a. Chapter 10 as it is now.

A Skill Set as used in the Cyborgs & Sorcerers game is a general area of knowledge. Within a particular Skill Set are a group of Aptitudes. It is these Aptitudes which will allow PCs to accomplish a wide array of tasks.

            A cursory review of Skill Sets and individual Aptitudes shows they are purposefully being left vague. Putting large numbers of stat blocks and onerous rule sets would place more boundaries and limits on games and take away much of the discussion, bartering, or dare I say it – role-playing out of the game. The capabilities, profession and backstory of each character (if clearly defined) will help the Game Master and the Player achieve a good working understanding of a character’s ability to resolve situations in a mutually satisfactory manner

            As an example: Noric the Sapien wishes to hack into his father’s personal files. He must have the Technical Knowledge – Electrical and the Spycraft – Hardware in order to make a successful hacking attempt.

If you have a set of skills, it follows that you understand the basics and have the ability to attain more knowledge and information, as well as an idea of who might be the best sources for what you may not know or have including training and support.

Now, how do these work in the game?

Determine Aptitude Points, and Aptitudes
Aptitude scores are determined by two things, the associated Capability score, and the number of points put into a particular aptitude. Those two numbers added equal the total amount of aptitude a player character has. In game play, a player would roll a D20, then add their aptitude score to find their total
            To determine available aptitude points to assign, refer to the appropriate Profession in later in this chapter to determine number of points available for distribution.
Aptitude points / Aptitudes chosen + Aptitude Specific Capability score = Aptitude Level

In order to see if a character’s attempt use an aptitude is successful, a player must roll a D20 then add their aptitude level to find the result. Upon reporting their result to the Game Master, if the result equals or exceeds the difficulty of the task, it is a success.
D20 + Aptitude Level = Aptitude attempt result
Note that general aptitude groups for each Profession are suggested within each individual Profession listing. The number of allowable points of any given aptitude is listed in the Level Advancement table below. Skill descriptions and rules are in Chapter 10: Skills. Please refer to that chapter when selecting skills, and note that any skill you do not want can be traded for a different one.

Please note: Attempts to gather information or acquire greater understanding of a subject is part of any skill set, and having an aptitude is even more specific, and will lead to greater understanding and depth of knowledge.

Skill Set:           Technical Knowledge
            Aptitudes:        Electrical:  computers, electrical devices, even cybernetics
Engineering: building and tearing down structures, including demolition and military applications
Mechanical: vehicles and machines without, or not primarily made with electronic components

Skill Set:           General Knowledge
Aptitudes:        General Scholarship: other subjects not covered within other skills. The subject of a character’s general scholarship should be decided upon and noted on their character sheet. If a player wishes to spend aptitude points on more than one general scholarship field, they may do so.
History: having factual knowledge of events and people known to be real and proven
Lore:  knowing history and stories of people, places and things which are not strictly factual, especially mythology, magical beasts, legends, etc.
            Please note: Lore and History may overlap in some areas
Skill Set:           Social
            Aptitudes:        Political:  having knowledge of current politics, governments and laws
Personal: being able to sympathize, empathize, find common ground with, persuade and understand motives
Forceful: bluff, intimidate, coerce, understanding motives, blackmail, etc.
                                                Please note: Personal, Forceful, and Political can overlap
Mercantile: buying, selling, appraising,

Skill Set:           Nature
Aptitudes:        Flora: plants and growing things (including sentient flora) including, but not limited to defining, identifying and using or controlling
Fauna: animals and natural creatures including, but not limited to defining, identifying and using, training and/or controlling
Magical: creatures and plants which are magical in nature
Other: knowledge of beings, creatures and monsters from other planes or existence and/or other universes

Skill Set:           Spycraft
Aptitudes:        Hardware: locks, traps, alarms, anti-theft measures, forgery, Hacking (see note below) including the ability to set up, or disable or discover such things
Note: If Technical Knowledge – Electrical and Spycraft – Hardware are both known skills, Hacking becomes possible
Physical: escape and evade, hiding, moving silently, effective disguise, sleight of hand

I am trying to make skills simpler, and easier to handle in-game, while encouraging player/GM interaction. I think this system will make it happen.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A short word on sickness…

I was out of pocket on a business trip, and got a horrific case of the flu. This happened after I had gotten my flu shot. It got me thinking that there may be a lesson there for me to consider.

In a game, if a person is poisoned, or sick, sometimes, we just play it as having only concrete, negative effects on stats and skill checks. How often is sickness, pardon the phrase, that clinical?

During the flu, I was exhausted. Walking to the bathroom tired me out beyond belief, not to mention the effort in deciding which end of me has to produce noxious liquid (which I strongly maintain could be weaponized). Sometimes I had no choice and became a dual fountain of wretchedness. Even walking elicited groans from me as it jostled my over-burdened and unstable stomach. Even the thought or faintest hint of food disgusted me and often led to retching or caused puking on a grand scale. I was a mess. Everything ached. I smelled bad. I was sweaty and cared about nothing other than trying not to move or breathe too much.

The paragraph above is s taste of what happened with the flu. Poisoning, wounds received, especially if they fester, are all things which could have that effect. Anyone who knows how it feels after even a minor operation knows you are just not the same for the next few days, even after being treated. These are the sort of things which game masters need to be able to convey to players if one of their characters gets sick in game. I am not suggesting anything be added to whatever the book says are statistic decreases. I am, however, suggesting that we as game masters can improve our storytelling by considering our descriptions, and making sure they really put our players in the correct mindset for playing an ill, poisoned, wounded, or diseased character.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mining Myth to Make Legends

Zecharia Sitchin brought the beliefs of a 12th planet to the general public when he published the “12th Planet” in 1976. Mr. Sitchin translated ancient texts to form the basis of his work. According to ancient civilizations, the 12th planet was a large red planet that was inhabited by the Anunnaki (also called the Nefilim by the Hebrews) that periodically returns to our solar system. The Anunnaki are supposed to be very human-like except that they are much larger. These humanoids are supposed to be between 10 and 15 feet tall. The 12th planet, Nibiru, only returns to our solar system every 3,600 years because it is in a binary orbit between two stars: our Sun and a cold, unlit star farther out in the galaxy.

According to Sitchin, the 3,600 year periodic cycle of Nibiru is called a Shar by Sumerian historians. A single shar lasts a little more than 3,600 years on Earth, but it is equivalent to one year on the Nibiru. According to ancient Sumerian clay tablets and cylinder seals the total period of occupation/visitation by the Anunnaki was over 124 Shars.

The Anunnaki’s original objective in coming to Earth was to mine for gold. They atomically dispersed it into their atmosphere in order to prevent core-produced heat from dissipating excessively into space. Since 99% of Nibiru’s orbital cycle is too far from our sun to benefit from its heat, it has to retain its internally generated heat in order to survive The Anunnaki first extracted gold from the waters of the Persian Gulf area, but later switched to land mining in South Africa and other locations due to greater abundance of gold ore.

In game terms, what does this have to do with anything?

First, ancient myths are often used for fodder of stories of all types. Everyone knows this, everyone is aware of the tropes and cliches. Given that most gamers are well read (kinda goes with the territory), it is ever harder to go to myth for story ideas. I’m not saying you or I are bereft of ideas, just that having a framework to build something new, or to use as a story generator can jump-start the mind.

In the case of the 12th planet, I found in it a seed of something I can use. In the history of Erealind, the planet upon which the Cyborgs & Sorcerers game plays out, the core and surface worlds went to war. The core won by literally blasting the surface of the planet out into space. While there are remnants of the surface  still orbiting the planet, and some which are still within the atmosphere, greater portions got pushed much further out.

It is my intention to make the largest landmass which was “lost” support survivors of the war. They and their descendants have had nothing but trial and tribulation, toil and trouble since that time. However, in the utterly unforgiving environment, they not only survived, but thrived. They have built a civilization, and while their technology was massively advanced when they left, their pursuit of technological and biological perfection and ability to withstand completely inhospitable conditions have made them strong. Determined to wreak havoc upon those who did literally destroy their world, they are returning. They are not alone.
This is, in fact going to be the second expansion of Cyborgs & Sorcerers. The first one I am keeping closer to the vest. However, in this nattering on you've perused, you can see, I think, how my imagination was fired to create a basis, not only for a different culture, but also a different race (Anunnaki), and a situation which will profoundly affect EVERY corner of my world.

What myth would you use to enhance or build upon your world? What effects would it have? Where will you take the players? What waiting legends exist for them to discover, and fear?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Myth and Storytelling tool

This is just a short note on an awesome site, while I am working on other content.

Mythical creatures rule, whether you use them as an actual monster, or merely as a seed for your own creation. They also serve as a study to see how myths change over time, and can thus inform your own storytelling and the creation of myth and legend in your own game. Also, they are just good reading. I found this link in some of my notes for Chapter 16: Bestiary & Agricultural Compendium, and hoped you might find it to be interesting and useful.

Encyclopedia Mythica


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Make Sure a Setting is Memorable

Are you having problems coming up with unique and interesting descriptions of the places your characters are traveling to? Are you wanting to follow the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words? Maybe you need some inspiration for a new chapter in your campaign’s continuing saga.

In any of those situations, remember what J. B. S. Haldane once said (in “Possible Worlds and Other Papers” (1927), p. 286) “Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

I have in the past written long and detailed descriptions of places and things normally unseen in this or any other world. I have used mana cards from Magic the Gathering to tap into the player’s mind (see what I did there? I should be ashamed) and get them to see exactly what I mean. However, some of the most awesome locales are right here on earth, or even other planets humans have explored.

Below are just a few examples.

The Giant's Causeway (known as Clochán an Aifir or Clochán na bhFomhórach in Irish and tha Giant's Causey in Ulster-Scots) is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles (4.8 km) northeast of the town of Bushmills. It is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.

Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

This place (wherever it is)

Dragon’s Blood trees

And yes, they “bleed” when cut

If these sorts of visuals don’t inspire you, then your imagination needs a serious rejuvenation.

Pixar's tips for good storytelling

Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats noted on twitter a while back the 22 rules of storytelling as she sees it.

The article I am getting these from (link at the bottom of this post) is older, but the information shared is no less valid (plus it's from Gnome Stew, and they rule over there).

Storytelling is, contrary to some weirdos beliefs, the greater portion of a Game Master's job. To make an interesting, even addicting story goes part and parcel with adjudicating, and managing the round by round decisions of being a game master.

Here is Emma's list:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

The website Gnome Stew ( has a rather awesome set of articles breaking this information down into what it means for we gamers. Please go here:

Thanks to Gnome Stew for letting me link to their article.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Character Sheet Preview

I wanted to share with you the alpha version of the character sheet for Cyborgs & Sorcerers