Monday, 23 February 2015

Rule Rethink: Willpower

Willpower is kind of Constitution of the Mind, to borrow a D&D metaphor. Unlike the other aptitudes there's very few skills it affects (none in fact except for the Psi skills, which we'll look at in a later edition), instead it serves three purposes:

  1. It defines a character's Lucidity, their ability to absorb mental stress and how much shit they can take before they lose it
  2. It defines a character's Composure(WILx3), how likely a character is to take stress damage from existential crises and extraterrestrial horrors
  3. It defines a character's Trauma Threshold, how much mental stress they can absorb before developing derangements
Ability to resist trauma grows linearly with Willpower; a character with 5 WIL a 15% chance to resist trauma, a character with 10 WIL has a 30% chance, a character with 15 WIL has a 45% chance and so on up to 90% at 30 WIL. This is all well and good.

Lucidity is defined as twice a character's Willpower, and thus also scales linearly - as does Trauma Threshold at one-fifth LUC. Witnessing a gruesome murder scene clocks in at 1d10 stress, or 5.5 on average. A character with 5 WIL and 10 LUC can't do that more than twice on average without going batty, and even once is likely to earn a Trauma. A character with the full 30 WIL, however, has 60 LUC and a TT of 12.

This is intuitive: if Willpower represents an ego's ability to keep hold of reality, then it follows that someone with high Willpower would be better able to deal with disturbing situations. The problem is that Willpower double-dips:
"Whenever a character encounters a situation that might impact their ego’s psyche, the gamemaster may call for a (Willpower × 3) Test. This test determines if the character is able to cope with the unnerving situa- tion or if the experience scars their mental landscape. If they succeed, the character is shaken but otherwise unaffected. If they fail, they suffer stress damage (and possibly trauma) as appropriate to the situation."  - Eclipse Phase Core Rulebook, pp. 214
A character with low Willpower has a small chance to shrug off mental stress, and will statistically fail their WIL x3 test and take stress damage more often. That same character has a lower Lucidity, and thus is able to absorb less mental stress before going insane.

At the other end of the spectrum, a character with high Willpower has a better chance of passing their test and not taking any stress. If they do fail a test, they can absorb more stress than other characters before insanity takes hold.

In essence Willpower has an exponential effect on a character's ability to keep hold of their sanity, as it affects both one's chance of taking mental stress and how much mental stress they can take. This is particularly egregious in the context of asyncs; in the setting lore asyncs, in particular the Lost Generation, vary from mildly disturbed to spree-killing insane. However, since Psi skills and sleight durations are based on Willpower a character with the Psi trait is encouraged to emphasise their WIL in order to optimize their psi abilities - the result is that characters who should have the most tenuous grasp on sanity are, mechanically, significantly more mentally stable than non-asyncs.

I've thought about this for a while, and I can think of four ways to address this dissonance between fluff and mechanics.

  1. Divorce Lucidity from Willpower and base it on some other aptitude - This would result in high-WIL characters who could shrug off stress most of the time, but whose minds would start to fracture if they let their guard down.
  2. Remove Composure, at least as a test to avoid taking stress damage. Stress damage is already a die-based variable, and Lucidity a measure of how much a character can take. Rolling extra dice is unnecessary complication.
  3. Divorce Composure/Resolve from Willpower and base it on another aptitude or aptitude spread - High-WIL characters would be better able to absorb and internalize trauma, though not necessarily brush it aside. I would suggest COG+INT+WIL as the alternative to WILx3.
  4. Make Composure/Resolve a skill rather than an Aptitude test. This is sort of an alternative to option 2, but divorces Composure from aptitudes entirely. It becomes a defensive skill analogous to Fray. Of course this also means it's easier to raise and easier to minmax so I'm not sure it's strictly better than option 2.
I'm not sure if any of these are strictly "better", but I'm sure there are alternatives I'm overlooking. What are your thoughts? Is it even a problem that Lucidity and Composure are derived from the same aptitude?

Change in Format - Yet Again

It's been a while since I updated this blog. My group still plays every week, but for various reasons I've had a hard time finding...well, time to do session write-ups.

I'd like to keep writing about Eclipse Phase, so instead I'm going to use this blog as a sort of dumping ground for related content. Content like homebrew gear, setting fluff, analysis and critique of game mechanics, that sort of thing. Just don't expect it with much regularity ;)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Cold Sweat, Warm Blood 2 - Survivors

So, there's a train in pieces all over the inside of a tunnel on the moon. That's a thing. Luckily we're cowering in the maintenance crawlspace, sword in tow, hoping the demon thing doesn't find us, when the door opens from the outside.

Somehow we manage not to unload every bullet we have through the door, and a regular (not demon) guy bleeding from the eyes falls into the crawlspace. Clavier pokes his head into the tunnel and there's bodies everywhere.

As we ascend the ladder to the lunar surface, mesh comms crash again and internal airlocks start closing inside the shaft. Fyodor whips out a spindle climber and Batman grapnels everybody to safety.

At the surface, we still can't reconnect to the mesh to call for help - even with the radio booster on Billy's vehicle. We take a moment to analyze the sword - nothing out of the ordinary. Billy considers pulling it out of the scabbard, but has a strong feeling that would be a bad idea. (Editor's Note: Billy West is the same player who ran Lee Xiang Zhou in the last campaign).

Vasili arrives in a short-range shuttle and lands next to us. We remark that the plan seems to have gone somewhat off-script. He's as much in the dark as we are, and initially thinks we blew up the train. The LLA, officially declaring a possible TITAN threat, has locked down Erato and the surrounding settlements. We take off to go lay low with one of Vasili's contacts.

Clavier pulls his lifelog to show Vasili what went down in the tunnel. Somehow all digital recordings after the time the demon appears are corrupted. The only records anyone has are their meatbrain memories. Quinn, whose memories are stored digitally on a cyberbrain, doesn't even have those - all he remembers is that something happened.

Anyway, we land at a prefab compound in the lunar highlands. Vasili's buddy, Kai or somesuch, was apparently the last person to see the sword and live. Clavier did a story on him one time, he's apparently superstitious, has a thing about ghosts. In fact he's so nuts that he sold all his posessions, retreated to a prefab hut in the lunar highlands, and had himself implanted with high-yield explosives that could randomly detonate at any time. He says the sword summons demons, specifically "the tengu". He asks if we're feeling "the itching"(we are) - that apparently means the demons are going to follow us and feed on our fear and pain and all that good stuff.

We figure, based on the Japanese stuff the demon yelled when it appeared(which we understand, despite none of us speaking Japanese), that we need to return or at least give away the sword. Kai suggests we go talk to someone named John Hall, who apparently hooked himself up to a medical nanofabber that replaces his blood and now spends his days constantly slitting his wrists. We decide to give him a visit.

Back on the shuttle, Fyodor notices the itching get worse. He looks outside. There's a red dude standing on the lunar plains staring back at him. Fyodor goes to point it out, but when he looks again it's gone.

We pull up to the asylum where John Hall is kept. Clavier gets us in using journalism. We find Hall's room, which is pretty nice apart from the ankle-deep partially-congealed blood. John Hall seems pretty calm and detached, considering, He clarifies how we get rid of the sword - we're not supposed to take it to someone, we're supposed to take it to a place. That place being Japan. On Earth.

Billy asks what happens if we just throw it into the sun. Hall says it "wouldn't make the tengu very happy". Apparently they trashed his habitat and slaughtered his family, so yeah. Also, Hall tells us that to deal with the itching we have to cause pain or fear to ourselves or others - Fyodor zaps him with eelware, and confirms that it does help.

So we leave, and start considering our options. Main topic of discussion: whether it's safer to go to Earth and return the sword, or try and destroy it.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Cold Sweat, Warm Blood 1 - Crazy Train

We begin on Luna in the cavern-city of Erato, where local fixer and middleman Vasili Yuren has invited our five characters to his humble residence to pitch a very special job. Billy arrives first, and finding the place empty he grabs a beer from the fridge and waits for Vasili to return. The rest of the party trickles in one-by-one, introductions are made, beers are had. Clavier plants a microbug.

Vasili finally arrives - he and Fyodor brohug it out. Pleasantries are exchanged, more beers are had, and Vasili finally gets down to business and starts telling us about the job.

It's your classic smash-and-grab. The target is a sword owned by a former Go-Nin, surrounding which are some pretty strange stories. A lead has recently surfaced as to the location of the sword: the previous owner buried it under the lunar surface during construction of a maglev train, and it's accessible from inside the train tunnel. All sorts of groups want to get their hands on it. but Vasili was one of the first to catch the lead so he figures we'll have a head start.

Since the maglev stations are pressurized and the tunnels aren't(and thus, there's little in the way of direct access), we figure the easiest way in is through a maintenance access on the lunar surface. We pile into Billy's car and, against the advice of the owner's manual, take it up onto the surface for some off-roading.

After kicking up some lunar regolith, we find the hatch we're looking for. There are bootprints nearby. We unseal the door and sneak into the maglev tunnel, and find that someone's beat us to the punch. An LLA excavation team is digging away at the wall, chattering over an unsecured wireless network like the scrubs they are. Kane gives himself admin rights and backdoors some AR illusions on their mesh inserts. Clavier notices footprints appearing in the dust around the platform.

Just as the LLA guys haul a crate out of the rockface, a squad of Ultimates comes knocking down the tunnel. They chastize the LLA team for being goddamn amateurs and not securing their comms - they lock them, but Kane already has admin rights. Kane overlays AR skins to make it look like the Ultimates are us and vice versa. Then a bunch of Go-Nin ninjas decloak and decapitate the Ultimate leader, and a gunfight starts.

In the chaos and confusion, Quinn books it over to the uncovered crate and picks it up - just as every sensor and detection device he has goes haywire, and suddenly there's horrific black red smoke falling out of time and space and we all take mental stress as a large red bird-man, blood dripping from its beak and the light of eternity shining from is eyes, appears in the tunnel. Comms go down. Bird-man starts shouting things in Japanese.

The tunnel starts rumbling as the train approaches. Quinn leaps across the tunnel, crate in tow, to safety as the rest of the party makes a fighting retreat - or tries to, but their guns fail to fire. Bird-demon stares down the train as it approaches. Seconds before it hits, he cleaves it in half with a sword.

Great place to end!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Cold Sweat, Warm Blood - The Cast

Meant to do this last week but...didn't. Anyway, meet the new campaign's band of misfits:

Billy West
Hyperelite trust-fund kiddie. Reasonably educated, good at schmoozing, networking and calling in favours. And has lots of money, obviously.
Hyperbright conspiracy blogger and freelance journalist(Actually, it's about ethics in hypercorp politics).
Fyodor Ilyich Osokin
Badass Ultimate merc with equally badass Russian accent. 'nuff said.
Kane Rizzle
The Rizzlest of Kanes. Emergent AGI with an Anarchist streak and a knack for infosec wizardry.
Quinn Westermark
Re-instantated Fall survivor, freelance spy and professional smartass. Synthmorph shell may have been inspired by Inspector Gadget.

Check back tomorrow for Session 1's write-up.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Thursday Begins With T

This week's timeslot was spent working out who'd be GMing the next adventure. Starting this Sunday Mike (War Games GM) will take the reigns once again.

God help us.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Think Before Asking 7 - Thus Spake The Oracle

Entering the Fornjot base's chapel, our Sentinels find another neotenic being cruficied. Lee Xiang tries to wake it by brain-scanning, which has a similar effect to football-tackling a man standing on the edge of a cliff. The neotenic goes catatonic and withdraws into an internal simspace, but not before Lee Xiang retrieves a massive cache of raw data forcibly installed into the ego's mind-state.

The data cache contains, essentially, a thousand-page report on advanced AI theory, and a suite of skillsoft-like programs that give the user a full and complete understanding of its contents. The report details a general theory of self-improving oracle seed AGIs, their capabilities and expected design challenges, and what amounts to mathematical proof that such a thing cannot be safely controlled. The underlying concepts are incredibly advanced, and clearly not written by a human intelligence. Since he essentially now has a copy of the Cyberpunk Necronomicon in his head, Lee Xiang picks up a healthy amount of mental stress.

That, and some of the neotenics recent memories, lead Mustafa to conclude that this base was used to study or create a bottled seed AI.

The team descends into the lower half of the central cylinder, looking for the mesh server room. They find yet another neotenic kneeling in front of a server node, who immediately springs to life and starts spouting pseudo-religious babble about the Archangel Metatron. She doesn't actually seem to know anything useful, and suggests that the party beseech the Archangel. Richmond decides to ask it, once and for all, to settle the question everyone's been wondering since the start of the campaign: "What is Lee Xiang's gender?"

Mesh activity surges; Richmond's firewalls get torn to shreds in seconds, and something starts playing through every memory he has involving Lee Xiang. It relents, then starts breaking into Lee Xiang's mesh inserts - but he shuts them off before it can break through. Speakers and monitors switch on and bombard the team with basilisks hacks, but no one is affected. A Reaper morph bursts in through the doors behind them, then stops when Lee Xiang yells "MALE OKAY JEEZE CALM DOWN".

The Archangel helpfully responds "Male."

The speakers and monitors go to standby, and the reaper turns around and leaves the way it came.

Everybody disables their mesh inserts as a precaution against more sudden brain hacking, and then we go through a few iterations of people asking questions, the GM asking if that is their exact phrasing, and the answer being "Nooooo...."

We finally settle on "Where is the graphene crate that arrived from Phelan's recourse this February?" This is a straightforward question, and the Archangel/Oracle highlights a storage area on a monitor.

Tempting fate(and forgetting the name of this campaign), the party asks some more questions:

  • Do you(the Archangel/Oracle) reside at this facility only? Yes.
  • Do you have the capacity to leave this facility? Yes.
  • Why haven't you left yet? Departing this location is not yet required.
  • By what means would you leave this station? Any.
  • Do you control the detonator for the antimatter warhead? Yes.
  • Would you stop an attempt to remove the warhead? Unnecessary.
Mustafa asks, and I quote "Are you infected?" Since the Oracle isn't sure what he means, the Reaper returns and attempts to directly connect to Mustafa's access ports. Vocal pleas to desist go unheeded, weapons are drawn and the team guns down a Reaper shell in short order(Palo wrestles with it). Then a stealthed saucer drone uses the distraction to fire a skinlink dart at Mustafa and brute-force his cyberbrain.

The Oracle shuffles Mustafa's brain trying to figure out what he meant by the question, then moves on to everything he knows about the TITANs and the exsurgent virus, then disconnects and answers "No". Unfortunately Mustafa's brain is not left as neat and tidy as it was when the Oracle broke in.

The group concludes that, in keeping with Niven's Fifth Law, they had better be really really clear if they're going to ask questions, because if they ask a question that is in any way vague or unclear the Oracle will try and brainhack them to find out what they mean.

Lee Xiang asks an open-ended question - "What would be your preferred method to leave this moon?" - so the Oracle uses a basilisk hack to upload an answer as precise and detailed as it can possibly give, using backdoor installed in Mustafa and Richmond when they were hacked to remotely reactivate their mesh inserts. Half the party now has minor derangements from mental stress, so Lee Xiang passes out the Comfurt bars he luckily brought along.

The group decides to leave and go find the crate before Lee Xiang asks any more dumb questions.

In the indicated cargo bay is, inside an airlock converted to a vacuum chamber, is a bizarre construction made of stacked, razor-sharp disks. Remotely scanning it indicates it's some kind of solid-state computation device well beyond the scope of transhuman science. Mustafa(his derangement involves babbling involuntarily) asks the Oracle what it is, and the Oracle crams everything it can about the device into his brain: It's a hyperturing computation device designed to test whether or not it exists in a finite(ie computer-simulated) universe. The device concluded that it existed in the "base" level of reality - or a simulation so advanced that there is no meaningful distinction.

The group turns to the stack of graphene crates in the corner and whips out the antimatter detector - finding no antimatter. They search the crates by hand and find one with a waybill indicating it came from Phelan's on the correct day - it's empty.

Only then does the team remember that they asked where the box is, not where the antimatter bomb is. They ask the right question, and the Oracle indicates a secure storage locker roughly in the centre of the base.

Lee Xiang asks if the Oracle can stop them from triggering the detonator - yes. Lee Xiang wonders how that is, then the entire party tries to shout him down before the Oracle interprets "How are you able to stop a quantum-entangled transmission" as a question. Lee Xiang decides he needs to know. He asks the question, re-enables his wireless access, and switches off his firewall.

The Oracle comes knocking. And it finds the exsurgent virus curled up in the dark corners of Lee Xiang's brain.

Astute readers will recall that the exsurgent virus is what turned seed AIs into the TITANs during The Fall.

The Oracle and the virus lock horns and clash, and the Oracle is losing handily. In the instant before it is completely rewritten by the virus, the Oracle - realizing what happens - does a quick outcome analysis. Its sole purpose is to answer questions. It knows a lot about the exsurgent virus, and it knows what will happen if the virus rewrites it - mainly, that it won't be able to fulfil its core function anymore. It considers, for a few microseconds, whether existence without purpose is preferable to nonexistence. It decides that it is not.

Lee Xiang realizes what's happening only too late. He, Raymond, Mustafa, Palo and Richmond don't even have time to consider their situation before the antimatter warhead detonates, vaporising them and the Fornjot facility instantly.

One week later the team is re-instanced by their insurance carriers as arranged, with memories intact all up to the moment they decided to leave for Fornjot. They're debriefed by Mr. Samedi, but all Firewall really knows is that there was an antimatter detonation at Fornjot shortly after the team arrived there. Firewall is looking into the explosion to confirm, but it's assumed that everything is under control. They did, after all, locate the antimatter bomb.