Playthrough: Chiron’s Doom (Part 4)

This is Part 4 of the playthrough. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 can be found by following the links.

Arol Hernez (2 of hearts)

The presence of the Knights finally broke the silence between them as Arol turned to Varis, who was staring down at the encampment in dismay

“What the fuck are we meant to do now? Hey, are you even listening?”

She wasn’t, not really. It was only when he grabbed her suit by the arm that he got a response. With slick efficiency the former Initiate had him pinned to the closed airlock, dagger at his throat. It was his first time seeing the blade up close. Pitch black metal, etched with silver filaments that snaked their way up to the hilt with mathematical precision. The weapons had a fearsome reputation, capable of emitting gravity pulses that sliced effortlessly through armoured plating and scrambled organs.

“Hey,” he said, being careful to look her directly in the eyes, “I don’t know what your history with them is and frankly I don’t care but if you hadn’t noticed even if we could get back to the ship Layla had the command codes. Which means they might be our only way off…”

His suggestion was cut off as she flipped and pinned him onto the floor before he had even realised what was happening. If this was the level of ability of an Initiate then what were the Knights capable of? The train of thought was cut off as the dagger was pressed against his visor. Warning icons flashed across the HUD, the sensors protesting of a sudden reversal of external pressure.

“I am never going back!”

Varis (2 of clubs)

Instinct and fear had driven her reaction. That same combination had marked her out during training. Made her a target for the instructors. A Knight knows purpose. Begin with an Instinct, rapid and borne of experience. End with a Thought, logical and calculating.

React, Assess, Adapt.

She’d absconded from the academy before learning to control her instincts, which was why Arol almost died on the floor of the Array. Another soul lost to greed and the thrill of illicit exploration. It was the intervention of the Array that saved him. A drone, perhaps attracted by the distortion of the gravity field, set off her proximity alarm and once again she reacted. Without thought the dagger flew from her hand with an accuracy afforded only to those blessed with implants. It sliced through the drone with ease before the emitters reversed its direction, slinging it silently back to her waiting palm.

The achingly long second that it took was enough for her mind to finally catch up, to realise the danger she’d placed them in. Sliding off Arol she checked the hanger, her HUD re-assigning the pale grey dots of the drones to an angry red. Dots that were rapidly converging on their position.

This playthrough of Chiron’s Doom continues here.

Playthrough: Chiron’s Doom (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of the playthrough. Part 1, Part 2 can be found by following the links.

Arol Hernez (4 of diamonds)

Spooked by the approaching shuttle Varis pushed the group hard, into the superstructure of the Array where still functioning gravity plates negated the need for magboots and filament tethers. Having spent most of his life aboard ships Arol was the first to drop the pace set by the initiate, his suit barely managing to keep up with the sweat pouring down his face.

“We must be… half a click… deep by now,” was all he could manage between breaths, “there ain’t nobody… picking us out from here.”

It took the support of Layla but with no signs of pursuit he was able to convince Varis to slow the breakneck pace to one that allowed the expedition to properly take in their surroundings. They’d entered into a faintly lit tunnel, roughly twenty meters in diameter and lined with smooth, glass-like panelling that stretched endlessly into the distance. It was another twenty minutes before they same across the body, impaled on the curved wall by a broken panel only metres from another narrow entrance. While Varis helped aided him in cutting it free their patron explored further down the tunnel, hoping to come across anything the poor soul may have dropped.

The body was in poor condition and had clearly been exposed to the vacuum of the tunnel for some time. It was only once they had retrieved it that the scale of the injuries became truly apparent. Bones broken in multiple places while the suits control modules had crumpled in on themselves. Patching into the suit Arol was able to gather only the last few seconds of data, a silent video of individuals running towards the opening while the tunnel pulsed with a faint light. The perspective went haywire, as the fateful individual was thrown from their feet and met their end. The suit recorded a series of gravametric spikes, cycling between from weightlessness to 25g in a fraction of a second.

Beneath their feet the light pulsed without notice. A flash, then another, the separation between them closing with each repeat of the cycle.

Layla Saidi (King of Diamonds)

With the exception of the body it appeared that this section of the tunnel was empty. Whatever expedition they had been a part of was either unsuccessful or had chosen loot over the body of their companion. As she delved further it was the tunnel itself finally caught her eye.

“Did you see that? The light is getting stronger,” she voiced over the comm, kneeling down to inspect the surface more closely.

“What did you say,” came Arol, his voice only barely audible over a static that had suddenly swamped the channel.

“The light,” she shouted to ensure she was heard, “there’s a pattern and it’s getting stronger. The tech is active, there may be something to salvage here.”

It was only then that she looked up at her employees who were frantically waving, trying to get her attention. The static dominated the channel now, drowning out the words as the Navigator and Initiate ran for the nearby opening. Panicked by their actions she sprinted after them, getting mere metres before finding herself afloat, gravity having disappeared in an instant. As her hands fumbled for a filament line the gravity pulse hit, a fatal wave of acceleration that flung her from sight in an instant.

Varis (3 of Spades)

Varis and Arol had made it to the entrance with seconds to spare and could do nothing but watch as Layla was swept to her death. Death amongst Initiates was rare but not unheard of, the Knights were a martial force above all else, but the death of this woman she barely knew hit surprisingly hard. Without conscious thought she began to recite the Homeward Prayer, the words of return and rebirth that had comforted humanity through their long voyage to the stars.

“…you who have never known the soils of Earth yet yearns for its embrace. Find the beacon, your way home child of Sol. Walk the path, follow the Light and be at peace…”

The decision to turn their back on the tunnel required no words and the three that had become two continued on in silence. After only a few minutes they passed through an airlock and the passageway opened up onto a large, open space teeming with activity. Compact XenoTech drones buzzed through the air, working on an object at least the size of a small frigate. The noise would have been overwhelming without the suits, as materials were cut and welded into place with machine precision. At the base of the object was a small encampment. Human figures in stylised armour that mirrored the design of her own lightweight suit.

The Knights of Ceres had a foothold within the Array and there was no turning back.

This playthrough of Chiron’s Doom continues here.

New Release: Mission Packet 1 – N.E.O. for The Sprawl RPG

The Sprawl is built around missions – The Corporations have no shortage of Credits but if you want their money you had better be prepared to do the dirty work. Steal a prototype, extract an assets or trash the market value of a rival – all in a days work for the deniable, and disposable, teams that work outside the system.

Within this Mission Packet you will find three one page job outlines to offer up to your operatives. These three missions have been constructed around the core theme of N.E.O. – Near Earth Orbit.Each one page outline provides background, mission directives and advice on running the mission.

The remaining details? They’re up to you and your operatives.

Mission Packet 1: N.E.O. includes

The Geller Protocol – A liberated AI seeks a route to the stars while its corporate masters will do anything to return it to their private networks, including recruiting a synth bounty hunter to erase any evidence of the leak.

The Shynom Bombardment – Radicals have taken hold of an orbital refinery. Before the Corporations crush the rebellion they need you to ensure an appropriate rival is blamed for the uprising.

The Equatorial Ascension – An ailing King has summoned his successor to the orbital palace but it’s time for the dynasty to enter the modern age. Switch out the Crown Prince with a doppelgänger while they ascend towards the heavens and bring the family into the Corporate fold.

Mission Packet 1: N.E.O. is available now from Itch.io or drivethruRPG and for the duration of the Coronavirus epidemic is available as Pay What You Want download. Like what you see? Then check out The Synth Convergence, a full trilogy of missions for The Sprawl available from Itch.io and drivethruRPG.

Mission Packet 1: N.E.O. requires a copy of The Sprawl RPG, available from drivethruRPG. Links to drivethruRPG include the LunarShadow Designs affiliate ID and may earn me a small commission at no cost to yourself.

Playthrough: Chiron's Doom (Part 2)

You can find Part 1 – Setup of the playthrough here. This part covers the first round of cards, one for each of the characters.

Arol Hernez (8 of diamonds)

While Saidi may have acquired the discrete landing craft for the expedition there were no questions asked when Arol sat himself down in the command chair and began to work through the boot up procedure. Departure from the orbital hub was a routine and almost entirely automated process. They ran cold during the journey to minimise the chance of detection and Arol was asleep in the chair when the Array initiated its activation sequence. Plugged directly into the sensor suite his subconscious was submerged into the shifting flow of the gravity wells. Random fluctuations and inversions were revealed in their full glory and intuition overrode conscious thought and tunnelled a channel through the turbulence. By the time the klaxons dragged his mind to the waking world the shuttle had already achieved what should have been impossible – navigation through a gravity storm. As the craft drifted the final few kilometres to the landing site he struggled to hold on to what he had witness, but with each attempt to grasp onto it the vision only slipped further into the darkness of his mind.

Layla Saidi (6 of diamonds)

The shuttle had barely touched down on the surface of the Array before Layla was out of the airlock on the search for an entry point. Thanks to Arol’s apparent navigational prowess it didn’t take long to find one, a hole a dozen metres wide where the metal surface had been ripped back by an unknown force. The violence of whatever had occurred was severe, the Xenotech that powered the Arrays was renowned for its ability to repair itself yet the damage here was untouched.

Layla knelt down to inspect a piece that had attracted her attention, a small storage module. Her suit decrypted the data with surprising speed, identifying a repeating code segment that each and every child was familiar with – the transmission that the people of Earth had received many years ago. She recited the words silently as they played back in her earpiece,

“…as we fade into the dark we gift you this, our knowledge and our hope. Beware the Path of Light, which seduced our kin and will reach back…”

Wait no. That wasn’t right. The Transmission didn’t include a warning. Had the Builders changed their mind, omitted the mention of danger when they reached out to the Earth? What if the Transmission had been altered, the warning hidden? The possibilities were endless and if not for an untimely interruption by Varis on the intercom she might have taken the time to consider the potential consequences of holding onto the module. For now though, there were more immediate concerns.

“We need to get inside before they enter scanning range…” came Varis’ voice, cutting through the silence of space.

Varis (2 of Spades)

The proximity alert she’d programmed into the shuttles sensors was crude but did the trick. Under the protection of the XAP mandate the Knights flaunted laws and regulations in their search for the truth. Their agents had free access to each of the Arrays, regardless of threat or activity. Despite that knowledge, etched into mind while she endured the initiation the signal ping still surprised her. A small drive plume, likely a scout or squad carrier with active IFF was at the edge of their passive sensor range and closing. The Knights would have spotted the shuttle, of that she was certain, but detecting her implants would require face to face contact. Escape wasn’t an option so that left hiding within the Array. She checked her seals one last time before pushing through the barrier of the airlock. The pilot Arol was a scant few metres ahead, their untested employer further still.

She took a breath, activated comms,

“We need to get inside before they enter scanning range…”

This playthrough of Chiron’s Doom continues here.

New Release – Slice of Life: A Demonic Fiasco

Gods. Demons. Magic. The supernatural. It’s all real and the only thing that stands between it and the end of the world is the Brotherhood of the Celestial Torch. That and paperwork, because do you know how difficult it is to get a permit for the end of the world? #@&%ing difficult and more than one apocalypse has been averted because the resurrected avatar of Death failed to file the forms in triplicate before commencing their rampage.

So while the lawyers file another round of injunctions against infernal interference we need you! We need you out there on the front line, protecting the mortal realm from more mundane evils. Horny teenage werewolves, vampires with questionable personal hygiene, lactomancers. Jims.

Fight the good fight. Who knows, you might even survive the day.

Slice of Life: A Demonic Fiasco is a playset for the Fiasco RPG inspired by the Demon Hunters: Slice of Life episode Clean Up Crew. This playset requires a copy of the Fiasco RPG by Bully Pulpit Games. Knowledge of the Demon Hunters franchise by Dead Gentlemen Productions is recommended.

Slice of Life: A Demonic Fiasco is available now as a Pay What You Want download from Itch.io or DriveThruRPG (link includes the LunarShadow Designs affiliate ID).

Playthrough: Chiron's Doom by Nick Bate (Part 1)

For a variety of reasons I’ve never really explored solo RPGs in the past but with the current social distancing thought now was a good time to give them a try. I’m going to start with Chiron’s Doom by Nick Bate (@ickbat) with the aim of releasing a few short playthrough posts followed by a review of the game. I’m going to use it as a world building exercise for The Dyson Eclipse, the space opera setting that I am in the process of developing. In The Dyson Eclipse humanity received a set of instructions directing them to a nearby star surrounded by numerous Dyson Arrays, enormous mega-structures arranged in stable orbit around the star. Their purpose, and who constructed them, is unknown.

You can buy Chiron’s Doom at https://ickbat.itch.io/chirons-doom

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Chiron’s Doom from Nick in exchange for a copy of The Synth Convergence.

Playthrough, Part 1

There is a monument at the edge of civilisation, an enigmatic object known as Chiron’s Doom. Nobody knows what it does, or who made it, or why. It has defied all previous attempts at understanding. Countless expeditions have torn themselves apart trying to learn its secrets.

There’s no reason to think your expedition will be any different, but here you are. Three more explorers standing before the monument, driven to try where all others have failed. How much are you willing to sacrifice to solve the mystery of Chiron’s Doom?

Setup – What is Chiron’s Doom and who are the explorers?

What is Chiron’s Doom?

Array 03x65a has risen to infamy amongst the colonists after the loss of the XenoArchaeology Protectorate corvette AEV Chiron during one of the first inspection surveys of the outer circle. The vessel was lost with all hands after the array violently activated and warped the local gravity well. In the years since subsequent activation cycles have reconfigured the orbits of the outer circle in an erratic manner. Access to the circle is strictly prohibited, however, numerous scavengers and profiteers have breached the blockade in search of active xenotech for resale on the black market.

Known as Chiron’s Doom after it activated during a routine inspection by the XAP corvette AEV (Array Exploratory Vessel) Chiron. Warping of the local gravity well resulted in loss of the frigate with all hands on board. Since then the array has demonstrated erratic patterns of activity and access is strictly prohibited by XAP. Numerous scavengers and profiteers have breached the blockade in search of active xenotech for resale on the black market.

Who are the explorers?

Arol Hernez – A mercenary and former navigator for the Planetary Alliance. His ship was in direct contact with the Chiron during her final moment.

Varis – A former initiate of the Knights of Ceres, recognisable by the Gravimetric Dagger she carries at all times. She absconded from the Order after her first contact with the Interface and has vowed that she will never submit to its will.

Layla Saidi  – A black market profiteer seeking access to the lucrative xenotech market. She provided the seed funds for the expedition and reluctantly employed the desperate Varis after discovering her former allegiance to the Knights.

This playthrough of Chiron’s Doom continues here.

Quick Review: Goblin Quest by Grant Howitt

Goblin Quest pitches itself as a game about slapstick violence and fatal ineptitude that will tell the story of your goblins greatest ever adventure (co-incidentally it is usually their only ever adventure before an untimely death). To say that it achieves this would be an understatement – Goblin Quest and its tales of comic incompetence is a consistently hilarious game that is perfect for pick up and play sessions or twisted takes on established genres.

The premise of the game, like many that have emerged from the mind of designer Grant Howitt, is simple but evocative. You are a group of Goblins out to complete a legendary quest. You are also hideously incompetent, so it is fortunate that each player has spare Goblins ready to step up after an untimely death. Complete the quest and become a legend (for a day) or fail spectacularly and become the laughing stock of the camp. Either way you’ll be famous. I first encountered the game at BurritoCon 4 last year and made a beeline to the Indie League stall to grab a physical copy when I was at Dragonmeet. Since then I’ve run the core version of the game, reskinned it to a Christmas theme (drunken Elves trying to give Santa a day off at Christmas) and I’m even writing my own Slasher movie hack (Party! Drink! Be eviscerated by a depraved killer!).

That hackability is one of the great points of the game and with a simple system the core game takes up only a small fraction of the rulebook. The remainder is a series of system hacks, including Sean Bean Quest (can he survive to the end of the film?), Space Interns (please ensure your redshirt is dry cleaned and returned after your death) and even Regency Ladies (Fall in love, made snide remarks and bluntly turn down yet another marriage proposal). Filling the space between the hacks are both a series of quest ideas from a range of writers and full colour art pieces that help reinforce the cartoony nature of the game.

But how does a game like this support so many hacks? Well it sticks to a simple system that rewards creativity and pushing your luck. Bonuses are as likely to kill you off as help you succeed while progress towards goals are tracked through the number of successes you achieve. Hit the threshold, narrate your victory and move on to the next challenge. Just try and do so before you run out of goblins. The game also encourages player input – while it is possible to run with a GM directing the flow of play it works just as well without one, with players building on each others ideas while being supported by a small number of random rolls.

Goblin Quest was an instant add to my list of last minute, low prep games. It’s great as a spacer between serious campaigns or for those sessions where a few people can’t make it but you still want to play. You can purchase Goblin Quest at the following locations:
Direct from the publishers – Rowan, Rook & Decard
Itch.io
DrivethruRPG

Disclaimer: Links to driveThruRPG include the LunarShadow Designs affiliate ID. If you chose to purchase anything using these links I will earn a small commission from driveThruRPG at no cost to you.

All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations.

Design diary: Going backwards to go forwards

Getting into RPG publishing has involved quite a steep learning curve – from the basics of how to write a game (you just write a game) through to the intricacies of publishing that final product. Taking the dive right in approach I decided early on that I wanted to aim for a better layout than I could reasonably achieve with just a text document so I started to teach myself. Thanks to training in how to format academic posters I already had an understanding of the basics but dug deeper into the theory, guided by the The Non‑Designer’s Design Book.

Simultaneously I also dived into the software side in the form of Scribus, a free and open source desktop publishing program. While not as powerful or as intuitive (or as functional) as InDesign as a newbie doing this as a hobby it provided everything I needed and more. The difference between Channel Surfing, my first release using Scribus through to The Synth Convergence are a testament to the value of incremental improvements.

Last month though I made the switch from Scribus to Affinity Publisher, a vastly more powerful program and decided to go back to basics from the get go – everything from templates and style guides to page organisation and image assets. The difference was, once again, rather immediate even though I had yet to add anything beyond placeholder content.

This week though, after spending a number of hours just on setup and planning I made a rather hard decision. To start again. Why? Not because the template wasn’t working or because I’d abandoned the project but because of the slim possibility that I might want to submit these files for Print on Demand at some point in the future. It’s not the only thing I’ve thrown out this week – I’ve restarted a Sprawl mission draft three times because it wasn’t working. It’s only a small amount of text but it simply wasn’t working.

That willingness to throw material away, or even admit something wasn’t working has been a hard lesson to learn. A little over month into 2020 and happily going backwards. It’s not the position I’d planned to be in at this point but hopefully the extra work will pay off in the long run.

2020: Initial Projects

After a rush of activity at the end of 2019 I’ve started the year a little more sedately while I work out what I want to focus on. Right now that has involved a significant amount of jumping between ideas, making a little progress and then moving to the next one. I’ve completed a draft of The Geller Protocol, the first of my Sprawl mission packets (using a minimal one page format) and made headway with Say Aaargh, an expanded version of the very first Demon Hunters adventure I ever ran. Progress on Clean-Up Crew continues to evade me – the Fiasco format is harder to get my head around than I ever imagined but I would really like to get it completed so I can wrap up the Slice of Life material.

In typical fashion it is The Dyson Eclipse where my brain is firing on all cylinders. It probably helps here that I’m still at the ideas stage, so I can just jot down options and possibilities without needing to work them into a cohesive whole. What I’m still missing though is that central conceit.

What is the core focus of the game, what do the characters do.

Until I can get that solidified any real progress is going to be at a glacial pace as I can’t lock in mechanics without that aspect. So for now I’m researching – despite being a massive sci-fi fan my collection of sci-fi RPGs is relatively small. I’ve picked a few core systems to go over, to see how they work through the problem and what options they present for gameplay beyond the typical scoundrels in space.

The final thing I’ve been working on is learning to use Affinity Publisher after buying a new desktop computer for at home. That has been a lot of fun and I’ve been going back to basics as I get to grips with it. So far, so good and I think the fact that I have a much better appreciation of layout concepts than when I first opened up Scribus has been a massive help. I’ve started to put together a series of layout templates for Demon Hunters as once Clean-Up Crew is out I’d like to do a complete revamp of my layout. There isn’t anything explicitly wrong with my existing format but it could definitely be a lot better. The alternate badness table incorporated a number of new elements and going forward I’d like to have a template that would be useable for both PDF and print formats. Yes, that’s right. Print. DrivethruRPG offer print on demand options so I think it is worth exploring. It would be great if some day in the future I could offer material at a convention and this is one of the options that would facilitate that.

After saying that I’d started off sedately putting this together actually makes me realise that I am already making progress on projects even if it isn’t automatically apparent.

Reflecting on 2019 – Part 3: Earnings

As the hobby grows and diversifies there has been a growing trend amongst indie developers to talk about sales and earnings. While I am only a small hobby publisher I wanted to put my numbers out there, partially so the info is available but also as a point of reference for myself for next year.

DrivethruRPG

ProductRelease Date2019 Sales (Paid / Total)Total Sales since release2019 EarningsTotal Earnings
Towerfall05/2016– / 18207
Channel Surfing05/20173 / 20283$3.50$5.13
Missionary Opposition12/20172 / 24241$4.55$7.80
Lockdown08/20184 / 37162$3.75$5.77
Trick of the Light07/20196 / 106106$7.02$7.02
Talentless Hacks12/20192 / 7171$0.70$0.70
The Tannhauser Investment10/2019– / 299299
The Synth Convergence11/201917 / 1717$48.00$48.00
Earnings represent my personal take home after deduction of marketplace fees and automatic payments to collaborators.

Itch

ProductRelease Date2019 Paid Sales / Community copies / Total Downloads*2019 EarningsTotal Earnings
Channel Surfing05/20190 / 0 / 0$0$0
Missionary Opposition06/20190 / – / 1$0$0
Lockdown06/20190 / – / 1$0$0
Trick of the Light07/20190 / – / 4$0$0
Talentless Hacks12/20190 / – / 2$0$0
The Synth Convergence11/20192 / 3 / 39$10.72$10.72
*Itch reports the total downloads for a product as the sum of each individual file as opposed to number of individuals who have purchased the product. For The Synth Convergence this sums both downloads of the free demo and the two files in the full trilogy – what I don’t know is whether those are by the same users or unique users.
Earnings represent my personal take home after deduction of marketplace fees and automatic payments to collaborators.

Not listed in those tables is the £60 for Ghosts of Iron as part of the Crystal Heart kickstarter or a small amount of affiliate link earnings, adding those in brings my total earnings for 2019 to ~£110. Not exactly much but definitely better than nothing.

Thoughts

Looking at the tables there is quite a stark difference between the two platforms. DrivethruRPG is the dominant marketplace for RPGs and the number of downloads reflects this. It is impossible, however, to determine how many of those downloads represent active engagement with the product versus people scraping the site and downloading every free/PWYW release.

With the exception of Missionary Opposition, which started as PWYW before I switched it to a $1.50 paid product, each of my adventure starters for Demon Hunters have been released as PWYW. The main reason for this is because I originally pledged to produce them as a way of supporting the Slice of Life kickstarter. I said I would make them freely available and I have but going forward my plan is to switch over to a predominantly paid model. The overall sales will be smaller but I would like to price future adventures higher to reflect the work that has gone into them. The question here though is whether there is a market for more Demon Hunters material.

The big seller was obviously The Synth Convergence, which has quickly racked up a number of sales. I’d attribute this to two things – The Sprawl is quite a well know game and it received a number of promotional boosts thanks to people retweeting or mentioning it. Even with that though the number of sales on drivethruRPG were higher than on itch. I’ve seen people talking about itch being a better platform and getting more sales than on drivethruRPG but I think that is going to be very dependent on what you’re releasing, whether you’re a known entity and the circles you interact with. I’m not going to stop publishing there but clearly it will require more work going forward.