Double Proficiency

By Anna Urbanek

Welcome back to my self-indulging project of changing Shadowrun into a strategy RPG, using the engine of our upcoming RPG, Project Aphelion. If you’ve missed it, in the previous post I went through some conversion notes and re-created my character, Tomorrow, according to PA’s chargen rules. What I’ve ended up with is:

Tomorrow
22-year-old elf, a magician
Attributes: Toughness 3, Fitness 2, Awareness 4, Resolve 3, Logic 5, Wit 4
Skills: Sorcery 3, Conjuring 2, Sciences 1, Investigation 2, Con 2, Stealth 2
Rep: +5 Outcasts, -5 Law Enforcement
Contacts: Citizen R1 (Mommy), Citizen R1 (Daddy), Citizen R1 (Friendly hacker), Outcast R1 (best friend, gang magician), Outcast R1 (boyfriend, gang lieutenant), Spirit R1 (Raven, mentor spirit). Note that ratings of contacts are neither loyalty nor connection – they’re both; they’re an approximation of how mechanically useful the contact can be, not whether they like the PC or are a big fish.

Traits: First Impression, Low-Light Adaptation, Fragile, Exceptional Talent (Logic), Lucky (1), Income (3), Low Expectations, Driven.

Gear: a basic jumpsuit, a commlink, a magical-research toolkit, a mini 3D printer, a lockpick set, survival gear, a stealth suit, a non-lethal gun, and a bound air elemental called Steven.

As far as other game stats go, this gives me:

  • Stamina Pool (Toughness + Fitness): 5. Or, in my case, (Toughness + Logic): 8, because Tomorrow’s a cheeky bastard with Mind over Matter adept power. Shadowrun is unbalanced. Still, this is a pool I’ll be using for physical actions
  • Morale Pool (Resolve + Logic): 8. This is a pool I’ll be using for mental actions.

Pools are points I spend to perform actions – eg. shooting a gun is a physical action that costs 1 point from Stamina Pool, while casting a spell is a mental action, using up Morale Pool. If any of the pools gets to 0, the character cannot take any actions. Pools are also your hit points, so one needs to manage their resources and take breaks, even in the middle of combat! Ever seen a person in a firefight catching their breath behind the cover? That’s exactly this mechanic. You won’t die if your Stamina Pool gets to zero – but you’ll be in a sticky situation if you cannot regain your balance quickly.

  • I also get Physical Initiative equal to Awareness (4) and Physical Actions per interval equal to half that (rounded up, as always) = 2.
  • I get Mental Initiative equal to Wit (4) and half that in Mental Actions (2 as well).

As I’ve mentioned, there are no dump stats.

Career Path

There’s one more thing left in chargen, and that’s the matter of the career. Normally in Project Aphelion, you just choose one of the 18 premade career paths, but the game gives you all you need to make custom ones, so that’s what I’m running with.

Careers are not “character classes.” While they do offer bonuses and special traits, they are not required for a character to be complete, and do not elevate the character above those who do not follow a Career.

That being said, they give you the fun of another direction of character advancement, and they’re plainly cool.

A magician, then. As decided previously, I’m making this a career in the scientific focus, based mostly on Logic, and with four primary skills: Sorcery, Conjuring, Sciences, and Investigation. Per rules, to start the game with a particular career, I need all my primary skills at least at rank 1 (and I do) and I need to achieve at least one other career Deed. Let’s see what that’s about. 

The closest PA has to a magician is the xenologist – the scientist on the cutting edge of science, investigating all things alien and transhumanist. Here’s the xenologist’s career advancement table:

Xenologist 

DeedRank 1Rank 2Rank 3Rank 4Rank 5
Primary skills
Biotech
Remote Control
Robotics
Sciences

/1
/1
/1
/1

/2
/2
/2
/2

/3
/3
/3
/3

/4
/4
/4
/4

/5
/5
/5
/5
Know Advanced Action Cards/1/2/3/4/5
Create biodrones/5/10/15/20/25
Control biodrones/5/10/15/20/25
Modify biodrones /5/10/15/20/25
Complete research projects/5/10/15/20/25
Solve mysteries /5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios entirely by running a biodrone through FSI /5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios entirely through Remote Control/5/10/15/20/25
Total ranks of Contacts related to your Career/5/10/15/20/25
Earn Rep/50/100/150/200/250

The career advancement goes across 5 Ranks – to progress, one must have all primary skills at an appropriate level (skill level 3 to get to rank 3 of the career) AND do at least one other Deed, which are just achievements specific to the career. As a pilot, you can progress your career by visiting sectors of the Solar System or winning races, as a musician you play gigs, as a xenologist you build and control biodrones, solve mysteries, and complete Scenarios using your little helpers, without putting yourself at risk.

The deeds of knowing advanced action cards, being well-connected, or building reputation are universal for all careers. The important thing, each Deed can be completed only once – so, as we’re now cashing in the Deed of “Know Advanced Action Cards” (we got one in Trial 5 in chargen, remember?), to progress further, I’ll need to do something more exciting.

Anyway, time to design the Deeds! As I’ve mentioned, biodrones and spirits are basically the same thing, and it definitely sounds like fun to run a whole Scenario through the use of spirits, without putting yourself at risk (if you do that in Shadowrun, the rest of the party is allowed to boo you out of the game, but it makes sense in the world – even if it makes the game session boring for other players). I want to add some deeds connected to magical research (spell research, maybe?). Let’s see…

Magician

DeedRank 1Rank 2Rank 3Rank 4Rank 5
Primary skills
Sorcery
Conjuring
Sciences
Investigation

/1
/1
/1
/1

/2
/2
/2
/2

/3
/3
/3
/3

/4
/4
/4
/4

/5
/5
/5
/5
Know Advanced Action Cards/1/2/3/4/5
Control spirits/5/10/15/20/25
Create new spells/5/10/15/20/25
Create magic items/5/10/15/20/25
Investigate magical phenomena/5/10/15/20/25
Solve mysteries /5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios entirely through spirits/5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios using nothing but magic/5/10/15/20/25
Total ranks of Contacts related to your Career/5/10/15/20/25
Earn Rep/50/100/150/200/250

Career Advancement

Sounds doable. Now, let’s fill the table with Tomorrow’s current status. She has the primary skills at levels 3, 2, 1, and 2, so while she’s passing the Rank 1 requirements, she doesn’t know enough yet to get to Rank 2 – will need to learn some more science for that! (Should have not drop out of high school, right?) She also has one Advanced Action Card from Trial 5. This counts as a Deed – with that, she has enough to call herself officially a magician

She also has 1 Rank of contact related to the career (her best friend is a gang magician and they often study together and talk shop), and a total of 10 Rep: 5 positive with the criminal world and 5 negative with the law enforcement – yes, bad rep is also useful. These two are not enough for even rank 1 – but they’re a start for future Deeds!

As Tomorrow hits Rank 1 in the career, she gets two rewards: a Career (1) trait (each rank of this Trait provides 1 Clout against all characters who know of their Rep and would be impressed by it) and a new Advanced Action Card that she can henceforth use without paying the pool cost. This is a big thing, because Stamina and Morale pool resource management is a core mechanic of the game, and having an option to just use a cool shiny new thing for free is awesome. 

Magician

DeedRank 1Rank 2Rank 3Rank 4Rank 5
Primary skills
Sorcery
Conjuring
Sciences
Investigation

1 /1
1 /1
1 /1
1 /1

2 /2
2 /2

/2
2 /2

3 /3
/3
/3
/3

/4
/4
/4
/4

/5
/5
/5
/5
Know Advanced Action Cards1 /1/2/3/4/5
Control spirits/5/10/15/20/25
Create new spells/5/10/15/20/25
Create magic items/5/10/15/20/25
Investigate magical phenomena/5/10/15/20/25
Solve mysteries /5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios entirely through spirits/5/10/15/20/25
Complete Scenarios using nothing but magic/5/10/15/20/25
Total ranks of Contacts related to your Career1 /5/10/15/20/25
Earn Rep10 /50/100/150/200/250

If you followed along, you know we now have 2 Advanced Action Cards. However, as we’ve already once used the number of cards known to advance in our career, this option is no longer available. You can’t progress much by doing the same thing over and over again.

Advanced Action Cards

Normally, each career gets pre-loaded with 10 Advanced Action Cards that are tricks and abilities unique to the career. For example, Infiltrator gets to quickly short-circuit electronics to mess up with cameras and drones, Sharpshooter has the option of all kinds of fancy tricks with the guns, and Agent can throw the opponents into a mess of circular reasoning until they start a bidding war against themselves. 

While the cards are unique to the careers, there are ways of learning them if you really want to – just find somebody who can and will teach you or research them yourself through hard work and practice. They will never be free for you, though.

As I’m making a custom career, I need to come up with the cards myself. I’ve already decided that the magican’s cards will be spells – but I also need a card for summoning spirits.

Action Cards have a simple and versatile structure: they have a name, a pool cost (Stamina or Morale), a type of action (instant or sustained), an associated attribute and skill, a description and possibly, a requirement (you can’t use Fire! Action Card if you don’t have a ranged weapon on you.)

Firstly, I need a card for summoning spirits. Tomorrow is a hermetic magician, so she deals with elementals, not ancestors, spirit animals, or generalized ideas of humanity. I want my skills to matter when it comes to the power of elementals summoned – in Shadowrun, this is regulated by Magic attribute which we scrapped, so we need a different limitation. This way, I’m treating spirits as drones and equipping Tomorrow with Rating 2 spirits, as she has Conjuration on level 2 – not very powerful, but she’s literally at the start of the game, so needs room to grow.

Name: Summon Elemental
Pool: Morale
Action: Instant
Attribute: Logic
Skill: Conjuring
Description: Summons an elemental (Air, Earth, Fire, or Water) at rating equal to Conjuring skill. Marks = the number of services the elemental can perform before dematerializing. Only one can be summoned at any given time.
Requirement: Magician

That was easy! Of course, I still need to come up with stats for the 4 types of elementals – but for that, I’ll just repurpose the rules for building and modding drones. Easy-peasy.

Now, the hard part: I need a spell. One spell. Just one. Out of 13 that Tomorrow knows in Shadowrun and another 10 that she had managed to research in downtime. What to do? What do I choose? So many great options…

I’m joking, it’s going to be Shapechange and there’s literally zero doubt about it. The amount of shenanigans one can pull off by changing herself into a bird can never be overestimated.

(By the way, you can find the custom spells I came up with in this post.)

Now, here’s the SR wording of the spell (I’m going with 20th Anniversary edition (4A), as that’s what we’ve played in the campaign):

Type: P • Range: LOS • Duration: S • DV: (F ÷ 2) + 2

Shapechange transforms a voluntary subject into a normal (non-paranormal) critter, though the subject retains human consciousness. The subject can only assume the form of a critter whose base Body rating is 2 points greater or less than her own. Consult the Critters section, p. 292, for the subject’s Physical attributes while in critter form. Add 1 to the critter’s Base attribute Ratings for every hit the caster generates. Her Mental attributes remain unchanged.

This spell does not transform clothing and equipment. Magicians in critter form can still cast spells, but cannot perform other tasks requiring speech.

It’s a Physical spell (irrelevant outside of narrative), requiring a line of sight, sustaining, and a voluntary subject. Drain Value is going to be skipped, as I’ve consulted with Jakub the Author and was informed there’s no need to add extra cost for spellcasting on top of pool cost and actions. Fair enough: while casting the spell will only cost me 1 Morale Point out of 8, sustaining it will eat one of my two available mental actions, already keeping the spell in check and preventing abuse.

(Seriously, the level of system abuse I got from this spell in SR is immoral.)

Now, as the attributes are close enough in SR and PA, and I already have a comprehensive table of non-paranormal critters from SR (as I said, I was using and abusing this spell, so I made myself a giant cheat sheet. Seriously, check it out, it’s my opus magnum). I will be converting the sheet as I go and need it, but the general approach of changing into animals with base Toughness 2 points greater or less is a good rule of thumb. In Shadowrun, it got me anything from a crow to a cheetah, and there’s no point in changing that. Adding points to Base attribute ratings works as well. 

Now, before somebody cries foul: we’ve always played ignoring the rule about transforming clothing and equipment. For many reasons:

  1. that’s not how shapechange works for shapeshifters,
  2. I don’t want my female character running naked when I play on the internet,
  3. it would just create weird scenes of one of the guys in the party having to carry spare clothes for her and forcing stupid cuts to getting dressed behind the dumpster.

Yes, it makes the spell more powerful and useful. Deal with it. So:

Name: Shapechange
Pool: Morale
Action: Sustained
Attribute: Logic
Skill: Sorcery
Description: Transforms a voluntary (non-resisting) living target into a non-paranormal animal. The target retains human consciousness and can only assume the form of a critter with Toughness +/-2 target’s Toughness. Add 1 to physical attributes of the animal per each mark scored. Affects clothing and carried light equipment. Magician in critter form can still cast spells, but cannot speak.
Requirement: Magician

Now, according to the backstory, Shapechange is the first spell Tomorrow has ever learnt. She was taught it by the Raven, her mentor spirit. Then she was taught how to summon elementals. I’ll keep it that way. This means that the Summon Elemental Advanced Action Card is going to be free – ie. I won’t have to pay the Morale Pool cost to summon it but it will still cost Tomorrow an action. Yes, I know in SR spirits are immensely powerful and a magician is always risking at least a headache when summoning one – but I’ve got an equivalent of Magic 6 conjurer with stacked bonuses from specialization and mentor spirit preferences summoning measly F2 air elementals. I think she can handle that without sweating.

And that’s it! From a magical perspective, a rather limited number of options – but we’re only just starting! Unlike in Shadowrun, learning new spells will be more about research, learning, finding teachers, and investing the time than spending the one metacurrency you need for all kinds of character advancement, so I expect it to grow quickly!

What’s next?

With the character more or less done (I expect there to be bits and pieces that will require rules made on the fly – but then, that’s what I’ve been doing so far), it’s high time to build the campaign, the main objectives, and the factions! Should take about an hour + about three of writing it all down.

Stay tuned!

About a year ago, we played a campaign of Shadowrun. It was delightful, even if the rules did what they could to make it annoying. The campaign came to an end of season one and we’ve never picked it up. But I am definitely not done with my character, Tomorrow: a Raven-mentored mystic adept with a head full of mischief and arcane research.

Resolved to not let Tomorrow move to the bleaker pastures of past characters, I’m taking her for a spin in solo play, using the rules of our upcoming strategy RPG, Project Aphelion. As Aphelion is a hard sci-fi game set in the 2280s and I need my character in the magical cyberpunk of 2055, we need to make some changes.

The campaign I want to play solo is going to have one main objective: finding Tomorrow’s missing sister, Chloe, who is hiding from Aztechnology in an undisclosed location.

Meet Tomorrow

Sarah James, better known as Tomorrow (I wrote quite a lot about her at some point), is an elf, which gives her low-light vision and theoretically increases her agility and charisma, if she ever cared about such things. Conveniently, there’s no charisma attribute in PA, which suits perfectly my character living on pure logic. She is a mystic adept, which gives her access to sorcery and conjuring; she has a specialization in manipulation magic and air elementals and is generally rather useless in other areas of the arcane but as PA has no specializations in skills nor through-the-roof dice pool stacking, I’ll keep this to narrative. Neither system has levels. SR is class-less but operates on archetypes: Tomorrow started as a breaking & entering specialist which would make her an infiltrator or investigator (Investigative focus) per PA’s careers, but as the game progressed, she was moving more and more into the area of arcane research and communing with spirits.

Unique aspects of the character will require mostly narrative padding. Tomorrow was built around the “Mind over Matter” adept power, allowing her to use her logic in place of agility – while no such trait exists in PA, it’s trivial to translate mechanically. Her mentor spirit of Raven provides extra dice for con and manipulation magic but its role is mostly narrative (although requires a daily allotment of 1 hour for communing with the spirit). Affinity for Air, Astral Perception, Voice Control and Facial Sculpt are narrative as well. Sustenance reduces the need for eating to one meal per day (will reduce the upkeep cost of the character) and sleeping to 3 hours per day, leaving more space for doing stuff. Multi-tasking allows for perception checks without paying the action cost plus gives 2 free actions per initiative pass when not directly involved in combat, which can be wrapped up into a free physical or mental action per interval  in the same circumstances. Heightened Concentration allows me to ignore up to -6 of a single negative modifier; I’ll cut it in half to adjust to the system that doesn’t go into -20 dice pool mods.

For the general idea about the type of a person Tomorrow is…

She’s fun to roleplay.

System changes

The biggest change is the addition of magic, both conjuring and sorcery (there’s nothing about enchanting that can’t be solved by generic crafting rules). Magic should have a cost higher than just pools and conveniently, both games have something called Drain. Conjuring can be treated similarly to (bio)drone control, just with no material cost and with a number of uses equal to marks on summoning task, maybe even a consumable item, with bound spirits being equivalent to drones.

Character Creation

Tomorrow’s story is written in her backstory and a rather short but intense campaign. To simulate it, I’ll use the standard PA character creation rules, then add some improvements based on karma expenditures from the campaign.

Step 1: Focus

As stated, the best focus for Tomorrow is scientific (the other five are: creative, investigative, social, technical, and warfare, as the game supports a variety of playstyles). This focus plays the role of an archetype. Quoting from the PA rulebook:

People born with a passion for discovery can choose the Scientific Focus. Characters following it reach out into the unknown to uncover new boundaries of cognition for the betterment of all mankind – or credits. Money is always good motivation. Whatever the reasons, scientifically motivated characters are at the forefront of discovery.

Characters following the Scientific Focus find employment as researchers, doctors, theoretical scientists, lab assistants, pioneers, explorers, engineers, and maintenance staff.

Perfect start for an arcane researcher. I need a custom career of a magician. The main attribute of Logic fits the character perfectly, and now I need four primary skills, preferably connected to the primary attribute. I’ll pick:

  • Sorcery (Logic),
  • Conjuring (Logic),
  • Sciences (Natural Sciences, Logic),
  • Investigation (Wit).

These aren’t the only skills Tomorrow will have, but they are the most important for the career progression.

Step 2: Attributes

There are six attributes in PA versus 10 in SR. Quick conversion looks like this:

Physical attributes
Toughness – Body & Strength
Fitness – Agility & Reaction
Awareness – Agility & Intuition

Mental attributes
Resolve – Willpower
Logic – Logic
Wit – Intuition & Charisma

Edge and Magic do not exist in PA, but as I’m completely fine dropping the luck element and using Magic as a type of science (sue me), so I’ll replace it with Logic. Nobody can tell me it’s not balanced: A) SR is not balanced, B) I’m playing solo, so whom exactly am I hurting?

Do I roll for the attributes or do I use the point allocation system? Tomorrow already has her stats, but she’s basically average at everything but Logic. For the sake of fun, I’ll roll.

In PA, you roll 3d10 for each attribute, then discard the lowest and highest. Divide the remaining one by 2 (rounding up) and assign it to the chosen attribute. Sounds complicated? It is not – it gives you values from 1-5, weighted towards the average of 3. Here’s the rolls:

3, 7, 9 => 7/2 = 3.5 => 4
4, 7, 9 => 7/2 = 3.5 => 4
5, 6, 9 => 6/2 = 3
2, 4, 6 => 4/2 = 2
3, 5, 10 => 5/2 = 2.5 =>3
1, 8, 10 => 8/2 = 4

Final list of attributes: 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4

There are no dump stats in PA, and each affects the pools, number of actions, and/or initiative. To stay true to my character, I need her skewed towards the mental attributes (we’re substituting Logic for Agility/Fitness, remember, because we’re playing Shadowrun and nobody can stop us.) For simplicity, here’s the conversion.

SR: BOD 3, AGI 2, REA 3, STR 2, CHA 3, INT 3, LOG 5, WIL 3, EDG 3, MAG 6

PA: Toughness 3, Fitness 2, Awareness 4, Resolve 3, Logic 4, Wit 4

Roughly similar – in both games, 3 is the ‘human average’. I need a higher Logic score, but I’ll take care of that later in chargen.

Step 3: Opportunities

Opportunities in PA are bits of luck, extra chances, lottery winnings, etc. – a metacurrency for buying extra stuff during chargen. I don’t have any yet, but I’ll be gathering them as I go through the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Trials of Life part of chargen. They let me switch trials, buy gear, skills, contacts and traits. At the moment, I’ll just keep track of them and remember that I can spend Opportunities at any stage of the chargen process.

Step 4: Traits

Positive, neutral, or negative, traits give the character more depth. I’ll be getting some in the chargen for free and I can buy others (paying with opportunities for positive and neutral ones or getting opportunities for picking up negative traits). I’ll leave them for now, keeping in mind that free traits aside, I can only buy one trait per each life trial passed.

Step 5: Story of your Life

Now we’re talking! Time to recreate the backstory. Which is, admittedly, not complicated: a highschool dropout who went ‘shadowrunning’, got caught at 17 and spent the next 5 years in prison, hooked up on drugs and magic, then got out, learnt about her sister’s disappearance and laser-focused on getting her back.

I got a playlist, even.

Origin

PA is a scifi game and comes with origins suited for the 2280s: Earther, Colonist, Outer, Lifter, or Spacer. What I need is a race/ancestry of an elf. Conveniently, origins are basically pre-packaged traitsö I’ll just pick one positive, one neutral, and one negative. As long as they’re elf-appropriate, I’ll be fine, so I’m going for the ‘charismatic, delicate, sees in the dark’ theme.

Positive: First Impression: the character is adept and instantly making friends. Receive 2 points of Clout for the first Social Task attempted with a newly met person.

Neutral: Low-Light Adaptation: the character is well adapted to darkness and sees perfectly well in conditions of obstructed visibility. Reduce all Awareness modifiers for that character by 1. Modifiers caused by light intensity are increased by 1. 

Negative: Fragile: the character’s frame isn’t made to withstand harsh treatment and beating. Whenever the character suffers physical Drain caused by impacts, they take an additional point of Drain. 

Upbringing

Tomorrow is a daughter of a Texas Ranger and an environmental lawyer, a mix of white collar, Sunday school, and shooting at the bottles behind the barn. As far as the system goes, I’m just going to embrace the middle-class Industrial upbringing, as it opens the path to standard education, gives me 2 Opportunities, two rank 1 Citizen contacts (I’ll make them the parents, why not), and a Job Well Done action card.

(The other available upbringings in PA are: Outcast, State, Nomadic, Military, and High Society – you can mix and match them with any origin.)

If you don’t know, action cards are playable abilities and/or actions you can use in the game. They cover anything from using items to complex special abilities and, in this case, they will also cover specific spells. It’s a handy and handout-y way of keeping track of all abilities of the character. Job Well Done gives us this:

It is a very good card for Tomorrow as it will allow her doing stuff she’s great at (so has the best chance at scoring maximum marks) without burning herself out, which works perfectly with the Sustenance and Heightened Concentration adept powers – and with her laser-focus, sleep-is-for-the-weak personality. Does it mean she will be able to regain Stamina and Morale (ie. rest) by doing what she’s excellent at? Yes. It’s this level of a workaholic. The potential burnout through Drain just adds the believability. 

Trials of Life

Welcome to CYOA part! As designed, each character receives 4 free trials and can buy more for Opportunities. Each represents 3 years of life, starting at 15, and ending at 27 years old. I’m gonna cheat a bit, because I need to do at least 3 trials (school, shadowrunning, prison) and end up at 22 to keep the backstory straight. It’s not going to matter much. Three trials would leave the character unfinished, so I’m going to do the fourth free trial as well, to emulate the ‘campaign’ part of the backstory.

Trial 1

Industrial upbringing lets Tomorrow start either at work with “I Hate Mondays” or at “First Day of School”. I’ll go with the second one. This first trial tests only attributes as I don’t have any skills. Each test (task) in PA looks similar: you roll the number of d10 equal to your attribute against the difficulty of 6, reduced by skill and influenced by various modifiers. The trial lets me pick a test depending on the attribute I want to use. Because it’s Tomorrow, I’m going with Logic. I roll 4 dice (4 Logic) against the difficulty of 6 (so I need to get 6 or above on a die to score a mark.) This means I have 50% of scoring a mark on each die.

Here’s the trial:

Scientific Method (Logic)

Your scientific aptitude allowed you a chance to become a part of a community collectively pushing the boundaries of knowledge. If you can keep up with your peers, chances are your name will be written in history forever.

I have rolled: 4, 5, 7, and 7, giving me 2 marks and a statistically correct 50% success rate. With 2 marks, I read the effect:

  • 1-2 marks: receive tier 1 field suit, HUD terminal, a toolkit or a bot, a personal printer, and 1 Opportunity. Improve your 2 Primary Skills by 1, up to 1.
    Move to: You’re Hired (T2); College Life (T2); Expedition (T2)

Translating scifi into cyberpunk, I’ve received:

  • a basic jumpsuit,
  • a commlink/smartphone,
  • a magical-research toolkit (think study materials, research database access, etc.),
  • a mini 3D printer (SR does not have them, but I don’t really care about the state of Year 2055 technology thought out in Year 1989).

I also get 1 Opportunity (3 total) and I get to raise two primary skills by 1. I’m raising Sciences and Investigation, as Tomorrow only learnt magic later in her life. One trial passed, I’m spending 2 Opportunities to buy a positive trait: Exceptional Talent, raising Logic from 4 to 5.

The effect of my task gives me three choices for the future of my character, but as I have a set backstory, I’ll just go with what I need. (It’s not against the rules of the game – you can pick and choose if you have a specific story in mind. ) Yes, logically, Tomorrow would go to college or get a job, but she decided to throw it all away and become a criminal. So…

Trial 2

The Life of Crime. Not the best life choice, but we also were 17 at some point.

You make a living by stealing, smuggling petty goods, and doing odd jobs for a local gang or syndicate. Your future prospects as a small fish in an even smaller pond are rather grim unless you manage to make enough waves to rise above. 

Just like the previous trial, this is technically a Tier 1 trial, which means I only get to use my attribute, no skills. Lucky for me, I now have 5 dice on Logic tests, and we’re going to do a heist.

First Heist (Fitness)

A chance presented itself to strike out on your own and score it big—if you can do it fast enough and avoid triggering an alarm.

As you’ve noticed, it’s a Fitness trial – and here’s where I’m being cheeky and substituting my Logic for Fitness because this is what Tomorrow would do. She’s a smartass B&E adept. (Also, the Science Fair Logic task doesn’t fit the vibe) Let’s roll!

3, 5, 6, 6, and 7 gives me 3 marks and the effect:

  • 3-4 marks: receive tier 1 electronic lockpicks, survival gear, Stealth Suit HUD terminal, a Bot, and 2 Opportunities. Improve 3 Primary Skills by 1, up to 1.
    Move to: I Fought the Law (T2); Rock and a Hard Place (T2); I Know How They Operate (T2) 

In cyberpunk terms: a lockpick set and survival gear are self-explanatory, stealth suit is a camo catsuit for messing up with sensors. I don’t need a second commlink, so I’m getting an Opportunity that I’ll trade later for some other tier 1 piece of gear. I don’t use bots but I can make it into a bound spirit. His name is Steven and he’s an air elemental.

Extra 2 Opportunities and the ability to raise 3 primary skills by 1 up to max 1 – that means Sorcery 1 and Conjuring 1. There’s no other primary skill I can raise to 1 (they’re all already there), so I’m getting a free Opportunity, which I will spend as 1 point of skill into Con (Wit), as it’s appropriate for the criminal lifestyle. Afterwards, even though our suggested path looks shining, we’re…

Trial 3

[Tier 2] Going to Jail (Enforcing, Perception, Stealth, Intimidation, Con, Commerce)

Circumstances conspired against you, and you ended up in a slammer. Whether it’s a penal colony, old-fashioned jail, or one of many corporate resocialization stations, you might want to consider busting out somehow or making good with the inmates and the guards.

Not the best place for a young arcane researcher, but that’s what you get for being a dumbass. Tier 2 trials let us use the skills – but they also require us to use the skills. From the ones listed, my best chances are with Con. With 4 Wit and Con 1, Tomorrow rolls 4 dice against the difficulty of 5 (6 minus skill), so every result of 5 and above is a mark!

1, 2, 5, and 8 – thanks to reduced difficulty, that 5 counts, and I end up with 2 marks and the following effect:

  • 1-2 marks: gain 1 Outcast Contact at rank 1, Improve a non-primary Skill by 1 up to 1. Gain +5 Outcast Rep and -5 Law.
    Move to: I Fought the Law (T2); Bounty on My Head (T3)

An Outcast contact is going to be a gang magician and Tomorrow’s best friend, Lillian Friese. I get to improve any non-primary skill by 1 up to 1, so let’s put that in Stealth (Fitness). It’s hard to snoop around without it, and Tomorrow does a lot of snooping. A better reputation with the criminal world and every cop looking at her with suspicion is basically the starting point for Tomorrow in our past campaign, so all good here! As I want to put Tomorrow on a path of do-whatever-you-want, and neither of those options for the lifepath fit, I’ll just go with:

Trial 4

[Tier 3] Life Is Your Oyster (any Skill)

Life gave you lemons, but it just so happens you heckin’ love lemons. You have an abundance of options to further your life, enjoying the gifts granted to you, or perhaps investing in yourself?

Here’s what happened: After leaving the prison, Tomorrow has spent several months frantically looking for her sister, then slowed down and realized she needs money, skills, allies, and power. She set out to gain just that, mostly using magic as her standard operation procedure. That’s why I’m going to just see how this worked out for her. 

Logic 5 = 5 dice. Sorcery 1 = difficulty 5

1, 7, 8, 8, and 9 (lovely roll, thank you, Google). With 4 marks, we’re cashing in:

  • 3-4 marks: raise the Skill used in this Task and 2 non-primary Skills by 1 up to 2. Receive 2 Opportunities. Receive 2 any Contacts at rank 1 or raise already known Contact’s rank by 1 up to 2. Receive a Lucky Trait rank.
    Move to: Yet Another Day (T4, XX)

That allows me to raise Sorcery up to 2. I can either raise my favorite non-Primary skills, Con and Stealth, to 2 or pick new skills. I’ll go with the first option – Tomorrow is a specialist, not a skill monkey. I’m getting 2 more Opportunities (5 total). I’ll pick up two new contacts – a wider net makes it easier to search for missing people:

  • Dash, an elven hacker
  • Adam Wheeler, a gang’s lieutenant (more or less Tomorrow’s boyfriend – they got together at the end of the campaign, so we’ll see how this story goes.)

A Lucky trait is just icing on the cake, giving me one reroll of a failed die once per day – Shadowrun’s edge has found itself, and the universe again is in balance.

We went through 4 trials of life spanning 3 tiers – there’s tier 4 which works as a balancing tool for chargen. I’ll pay 1 Opportunity to go there, and I’ll keep pretending it took no time whatsoever, because Tomorrow is an elf and she’s likely to live hundreds of years.

Trial 5

[Tier 4] Yet Another Day

You reached a point in your life where you’re able to enjoy the fruits of your labor and not worry too much about your stability. You don’t have to worry about your day to day survival, and perhaps ponder branching out, reaching for more? Things aren’t bad, but they could be better – and as they say, everything said before “but” doesn’t matter.

In Tier 4 trials, we don’t roll – just add up the number of total marks scored previously and get your result (it’s always the last step and can be taken only once.) In short, the better you went in previous trials, the smaller your final reward is going to be (though still substantial) – and if you did poorly, you get a nice package of stuff to round up your build.

With my total count of 11:

  • 10-14: Receive an Advanced Action Card for your Career, and raise any 2 Skills by 1 up to 3. Receive 3 Income Trait ranks

This is pretty sweet – Income is going to cover Tomorrow’s arcane research business (she is making solid money selling spell formulas in a digital store). I’ll raise Sorcery by 1 up to 3 and Investigation by 1 up to 2. As for Advanced Action Cards, they are abilities unique for your career but as I’m making a custom career of a magician, I’ll need to come up with one myself. It will be one of Tomorrow’s spells.

Wrapping up

With the backstory built and cashed in, I’m out of chargen with basic gear, some skills, and 4 Opportunities to spend on traits, contacts, skills, or gear. I also have one HUD terminal to swap for something else – because life is dangerous, I’ll swap it for a basic non-lethal weapon for personal protection. This one sounds perfect as Tomorrow’s usually trying to not kill people (although she’s deadly when she wants them dead):

  • WardenclyffeCorp Zmey. A staple in non-lethal weapons, the almost century-old Zmey remains an effective and popular solution for crew looking for cheap weapons legal everywhere in the System. This electric arc thrower can be quickly expanded from a pistol, into a PDW, providing additional stopping power.
    Rating 1: Cl:1, Ca:1(5 shots), A:1, Ma:1, S:1, H:1, Mo:0, D:1, Fuel: Power Cell
    Notes: Zmey comes with a Folding Stock modification by default. It deals electric damage and won’t cause Injuries.

With 4 Opportunities, I want to cover the bits and pieces I talked about in the beginning. Raven mentor spirit is going to become a Rank 1 Contact (1 Opportunity), Sustenance adept power will get packaged under Low Expectations positive trait, cutting living costs in half (2 Opportunities), and the general Tomorrowness of Tomorrow befits the Driven neutral trait (1 Opportunity, giving her 2 points of Clout when she’s actively pursuing her goals and forcing to score points in Conditioning task to drop them to do something unrelated. It’s a bit cheeky of me but again, nobody can stop me.) I’ll keep the rest of her abilities in the narrative and if something feels flaky in the game, I’ll just fix it on the fly. Aphelion’s engine can take it.

That wraps up the chargen! Took longer to type than to make – if I didn’t have to type it all up, I’d be done in 30 minutes.

What’s the next step?

What’s left is coming up with the details of the custom career of a magician, but as it will take some thinking, I’ll get to it the next time! I will be also creating the setting for the campaign, setting up factions and their interests.

Stay tuned!

Looking to scratch that hard sci-fi strategy itch? Well, the projectaphelion.com is up and running!

We’ve just added some basic world lore and the mechanics, including a nice and slick, fully laid out PDF of The Absolute Basics. It looks great, we’ve made it.


What’s gonna be there? Oh, let me just quote:

It’s been almost two years since the work on Project Aphelion has started. Now, after writing the rules, the setting, a novella, and a full-sized novel, the universe of Project Aphelion is ready to be explored.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be talking about the lore and the mechanics of this hard sci-fi strategy roleplaying game, sharing the science behind it (both the astronomy and the game design bits!), and making sure that the experience of Project Aphelion is as fun for the players as it is to us.

Project Aphelion: Phase 2 blog post

In short: go check it out, we’ll be doing tons of quality things over there, and we’d love to hear what you think!

We’ve been extremely busy in the past month. We’ve jump-started several projects, moved houses, wrote and designed a ton of things, started Aphelion’s playtests, set the ground for a couple of exciting new things, drew some plants, and cleared out a part of the garden. Not that the last one has any bearing on you, but it’s definitely keeping me happy and grounded.


Project Aphelion

Jakub is working on updating the alpha rules. We’ve had the first playtest already, and I have to admit, the core mechanics work like a charm! They cover social interactions, sneaking, hacking, combat – it’s all equally easy-to-learn but complex enough to motivate the players to employ tactics and thinking.

And the game comes complete with an interface. Yes, it’s a thing, and it saves a ton of time on tracking resources. And there are no hit points. It’s all sleek and glorious.

See the playtest here!

Jakub is now fleshing out the character creation – which is going to be a minigame all of its own! A narrative-based step-by-step process, establishing your character’s aspirations, background, attributes, skills, and resources. At the end of it, you’ll have a ready-to-play character with all the stats, backstory, and connections you will need to start the game. And it shouldn’t take you more than 15-30 minutes!


Herbalist’s Primer

My flagship is sailing. Far and wide. If it’s the first time you’re hearing about it, it’s a system-agnostic book on real-world magical plants, thought as an in-world guide for players, game masters, and characters. I write more about it on the project page.

I’ve been more writing than drawing lately (arthritis flaring up messes up the drawing process a bit) but I’m making progress and getting the hang of the digital watercolors. They are so much fun to use! I could never find enough patience to get properly into conventional painting but the digital seems to be working for me.

We have a Patreon now, and in early July our Patrons will get some more plant spreads from the book, as well as a second set of collectible reference cards. Here’s a sample of what they got in June!

In more news, I even got a publisher! Thanks to Exalted Funeral, Herbalist’s Primer is gonna have a professionally handled Kickstarter, print and distribution. It’s happening, y’all!


Incitatus

Incitatus is done! Or its first draft, at least. Jakub’s working on the second draft (and is, apparently, about 50% in), and then it’s pitch time! If you want to read this space horror ahead of time, I’d suggest joining our Patreon this month. You’ll be up for a treat! Megacorps, ghost ships, intrigue, biodrones, mercenaries, and a mummy that’s definitely not looking like a human.

Also, look at this absolutely glorious cover art by Holly Humphries.

Incitatus cover art by Holly Humphries

Other projects

I love Project Aphelion mechanics so much, I’m making a fantasy hack of it. Yes, Jakub is going to make his fantasy game but I need a generic fantasy ruleset to live my life to the fullest. With more things to do in a game than just go through combat encounters.

And this is all I’m gonna show you for now.


Graphic-design-wise, I’m working on a cool project with Hydra Cooperative, and I’ll let them dictate what I can say about the subject:

It’s an awesome project, and I can’t wait to actually play in the Hill Cantons.

There’s a couple of really exciting projects I’m on as a graphic designer too but I can’t tell you about them yet. But I will. SOON.


Jakub is writing a ton of things for Earthdawn, RPG Kitchen, and some secret projects – and we’ll share the details as soon as we can. But it’s all hush-hush for now.


Personal stuff

We’ve bought a house, y’all! This was probably the busiest we’ve been, finding the time to work between house-hunting, childcare (two preschoolers!), the move, some medical issues (I got officially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and started the chemo treatment, so I’m no longer in pain 24/7)…

But hey. Look at my home office view now.

I need to cut down that spruce at some point.


We’re looking at quickly approaching July with hope for some quieter time. It will not be quieter, though, as we’re soon to get back to our Shadowrun campaign, and the Aphelion playtests, and book writing, and design, and gardening, and new secret projects…

But busy is good. We like busy, as long as it leaves enough time for a coffee break.

Our hard sci-fi tabletop RPG is finally in the play-testing phase! Jakub has been hard at work for months writing and polishing the rules for Project Aphelion, and now they’re ready to see the light.

What is Project Aphelion?

If you haven’t heard about the project before, here are the basics. It’s an tabletop RPG introducing elements of a 4X strategy (EXplore, EXpand, EXploit, and EXterminate, see here). It’s clear, streamlined, efficient, and easy to learn.

We’ve play-tested it last Saturday in a team of four; some of us never played RPGs before, some mostly know D&D, some play RPGs for years, some (me) have been with Aphelion since its beginning. Nevertheless, it was the first time any of us played it, and it took barely any time to start using the system intuitively.

It’s based on d10 only and has zero exceptions, yet manages to stay easy and complex at the same time. Crunch? Yes. Three days of character creation? No. (I’m looking at you, Shadowrun).

The alpha rules and the recording of the first play-test (explaining exactly how to play the game and use the interface) are for now available for our Patrons. Why not join them?


The featured image is in Public Domain: The planet Jupiter from the Trouvelot astronomical drawings (1881-1882) by E. L. Trouvelot (1827-1895). Original from The New York Public Library.

Hello!
So far, we’ve talked about the general idea behind PA, and the technologies that made everyday life in the Solar System so vastly different than it is today. I decided to make those vlogs with a bi-weekly theme, swapping lore related topics with closer looks on the gameplay and rules each time. So, our today’s video will cover the gameplay of Project Aphelion, to give you an idea of how will the game function.

Gameplay

Gameplay in Project Aphelion happens on multiple platforms, both during the session and between them. I’m designing it to be a perfect game for a long, immersive campaign using more than one format of play, but also to fit nicely for a play-by-post, convention setting, or even as a board game without any classic TTRPG elements and character-based play. I think the best way to describe PA is a roleplaying game mixed with a 4X strategy game and games like Europa Universalis or Risk. How is that going to work? Well, this is where the fun begins.

The game will “run” on three interconnected playing fields, with a varying degree of focus and importance depending on how you want to play the game.

Read More

Hello! I’m Jakub Wisz, the author of Stars in Our Sails and Project Aphelion, and this is the next development blog for the upcoming TTRPG Project Aphelion.

We covered the basics in the first vlog, so now we can get to the good stuff.
In this vlog, we’re gonna go over what makes the world spin – technology.
To make the Solar System of Project Aphelion as immersive and realistic as possible, I did more than just put people in spaceships and go talk with people with weird eyebrows. I went over every layer of society and tech and figured out how the major scientific and economic shift would influence the world in every aspect.

Human society in Project Aphelion survived a revolution that could be compared; I think only with the invention of internal combustion engine and flight – and I did my best to reflect that thoroughly and indiscriminately throughout the entire of Project Aphelion.

Trade, warfare, communication, culture, religion – everything changed when humanity took the first serious steps into space.

Read More

Hello! I’m Jakub Wisz, the author of “Stars In Our Sails” and Project Aphelion, and in this first blog, I’m going to explain what the hell even is that I’m writing. This post is an introduction to the world of Project Aphelion and the setting, so I’ll keep it short – I’ll write about the details later.

Read More