We have just adopted a new cat, as a companion for Valentine. She’s a petite, black domestic short-hair little lady formerly known as Macy, but renamed Gato-ichi because we weren’t enamoured with calling our cat for a department store. As the new name suggests, she is blind and probably has been for most of her life. Despite this, she is one of the most fearless, confident cat we have ever invited into our home. She’s very good at finding edges and measuring height of furniture; and she’s been following Valentine around to get the lay of the land.
We got her from SNAP Cats in Santa Rosa, where they do wonders for senior and special needs cats.
This week’s terrorist attack on the Washington Capitol Complex by white supremacists is also a dress rehearsal, a stress test. The terrorists came with weapons, body armor, Confederate flags, neo-Nazi regalia, and zip ties to take prisoners. If decisive action is not taken, policy enacted, and lessons learned, in a few years we will see another far more effective decapitation attack on the U.S. Government and more importantly on the institution of democracy itself.
Right now, we progressive are laughing nervously because trump finally lost his social media access with less than two weeks to go in his presidency, and because an idiot tasered himself in the balls while looting the Capitol. And yes, it’s worth a giggle of relief, but we’d better get back to the business of securing democracy pronto.
This was a joint session of Congress, where every elected representative and the Vice President are in one place. The terrorists won’t miss twice.
Even in a year of pandemic, there was gaming. I probably played as often as I did in normal times, but fewer titles and with fewer people. I did not attend any conventions; I tried, signed up for online cons, but it didn’t pan out for me.
I played a total of 20 different titles, the lowest number in six years; this included only 3 board games, 14 role-playing games, and 3 story games. Only 6 of these (30%) were new to me, i.e., I had never played them before, including one playtest. The board games were sadly curtailed because my husband has been wrestling with vision problems that made it frustrating for him to deal with small writing and game components.
But I still played at least once weekly thanks to a variety of recurring RPG campaigns conducted online. Frankly, I had not had this much satisfying long-term role-playing in years: with few options for leisure and social activities, many more people could be counted on to meet regularly.
With six years of data, here is what the game type breakdown looks like:
For the last five years I’ve also been keeping track of who I play with. It looks like this:
Player diversity was disappointing in 2020, particularly when I was a player in other people’s games. The majority of players who were not cis men were players in games I or my husband ran, and somehow I did not play with any people of colour (that I am aware of), a sad performance. Despite this, I think it’s not too bad that I played with 41 different people.
Here is what my list of games looked like in 2020:
Fall is a rough time for cats in our household, making it hard to be properly thankful on Thanksgiving: Benjamin Black died on October 30, 2010; Eurekatous on November 8, 2011; Phantom on October 27, 2018. And now we had to say goodbye to Ubaid on Monday November 23, 2020, ten years almost to the day since he came to live with us.
Ubaid was born in California’s northernmost county, Del Norte, in 2003. He was found abandoned in Klamath after the December 2005 flood of the Klamath River forced the evacuation of the Redwood RV Park, along with many other cats and dogs left behind. Later that winter he was caught in an operation to spay and neuter feral animals, where he was marked by clipping the tip of his right ear (standard procedure to avoid recapturing an animal already neutered or spayed.)
There were no animal shelters in this poor rural county but a sweet local woman went in and spent weeks catching as many orphaned pets as she could, bringing them back to her ranch, and finding their owners or putting them up for adoption. Ubaid lived there until we saw his photo and read his story nearly five years later. The fact that he also had a bit of an old injury to his lower back, and his beautiful black fur, had made him hard to find a home for. We’re grateful he waited for us that long.
He arrived just before Thanksgiving 2010. We got him as a companion for Valentine after Benjamin died and Val was clearly lonely. The two became fast friends and until a couple of months ago when Ubaid got too sick, they played and slept together. I referred to them as the Taiji Two because they so often looked like a yin-yang symbol.
His fur was velvety soft. In fact, when he came to live with us he was called “Fuzzy” but we felt it didn’t fit him. Instead we renamed him for a character in one of Edmund’s games, Ubaid (the name means “faithful”) who was apparently the abandoned familiar of a sorcerer but claimed to really be an ancient god, diminished in the God Wars. That fit our new friend to a T!
He loved belly rubs, sleeping on the bed, standing above us and looking down, and hanging out with us. He loved to play with cat toys but you could tell he had been feral and had had to survive on his own: he hunted to kill, not to play with the prey. He would jump on that toy, wham! and hold it for keeps.
Back in early fall of 2017, he started being sick and was diagnosed with a thyroid condition. It was managed with medication, but that was the beginning of his decline. In early 2018 he also developed a cyst on his chest that started filling with fluid and choking him; the vet drained it but it kept refilling. It was too close to Ubaid’s jugular to safely operate so all we could do was keep having it drained. For a while, we had weekly visits and we really though it was the end. But gradually the cyst stopped filling.
Throughout all the health scares, Ubaid would rally and fiercely hold on to life. But this year, he started losing weight and even though we fed him anything he wanted whenever he wanted it, he kept wasting away. We kept an eye on him; as long as he was happy and engaging with the world around him, as long as his quality of life was good, we would do everything we could to keep him.
But on Monday morning it was different. His back legs could no longer support him but he still insisted on trying to jump up and down between the floor and his favourite chair. He couldn’t fully stand up, he was just skin and bones and we had been unable to stop the weight loss. He wasn’t going to get his strength back. We called our vet and were fortunate enough to get an appointment that same day. He fell to sleep for the last time as we were petting him.
We had an extensive brainstorming session for our group concept, and settled on a small periodical/alternate weekly newspaper, The Black Cat’s Meow. Our team of Hunters are not the owners but they are the heart and soul of the newspaper.
Using the Expert playbook, Blanchard is an aspiring playwright and novelist. He started his career as a black vaudeville actor on the Chitlin’ Circuit, where he was involved in a play derived from a heavily redacted version of The King in Yellow. This changed him in subtle ways, and he found himself driven to uncover the truth behind the supernatural which he now realizes is everywhere around him. He’s the archivist and a senior writer at the newspaper.
Based on the Spooky playbook, Delia is the up-and-coming society page editor and advice column writer. Her polished appearance hides another facet: she is the grand-daughter and apprentice to a successful if discreet conjure-woman (grandma has not yet been named). She doesn’t yet fully control her powers and as a result, struggles with side effects of occasional hallucinations, lust, and poor impulse control.
The Big Whammy
Built on the Flake playbook, Persephone is a young conspiracy theorist who happens to be right more often that not. She is also Blanchard’s niece. Although few people take her seriously (aside from the other Hunters), Persephone sees all. and has a finely honed talent for investigation.
Connect the Dots
See? It All Fits Together
Based on the Hard Case playbook (2020 version), Whales is the workman of all odd jobs at the newspaper, a job he got thanks to Blanchard; before that he was a dockworker and day laborer. He served in France with the 369th Infantry “Harlem Hellfighters” and came back a changed man, now driven more by willpower than anger. If you need the printing press moved or the delivery truck loaded, Whales is your man.
My bi-weekly campaign Ariadne’s Spindle, which explores the universe of The Expanse using the Fate system, is going swimmingly. Dead of Night, my weekly series of City of Mist, is reaching the Season 1 finale after about 25 episodes and very satisfying gaming. So here I am, planning another limited series, which will be set in Darker Hue Studios’ Harlem Unbound.
This award-winning book offers Lovecraftian mythos investigations amidst the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s-30s. I have the original edition, which was statted for both the GUMSHOE (Pelgrane Press) and Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium) systems. A second edition has just been released under the auspices of Chaosium, statted only for CoC but offering four new scenarios; the contents otherwise look substantially the same. I may eventually purchase the PDF version to get these scenarios when I have a bit of spare change; however, neither of these systems floats my boat as GM.
Instead, I decided to use Monster of the Week (Generic Games/Evil Hat Productions), a game Powered by the Apocalypse with which I am very comfortable: I playtested the Revised Edition, I wrote a scenario for the Tome of Mysteries supplement, and along with Sean Nittner and Fred Hicks, I put together the five adventure compilations on Roll20. It’s like taking off my steel-toed boots and getting into my slippers.
I had never thought about using the Stylish app (an extension for Firefox, Chrome, etc., see the respective stores) to modify how Roll20 displays. It turns out that people have created many such stylesheets! I’ve just found two that are quite useful to me.
One lets you add rows to the map tab, i.e., the list of pages (maps) wraps instead of extending off to the right of the visible area:
The important thing to remember is that in all cases, the modifications will only be visible to the person using the stylesheet. So if you pick one of the many pretty themes, you’re the only one benefiting from it unless others in your group also add the Stylish extension and this specific stylesheet.
In some cases a stylesheet can interfere with a particular character sheet or API. In that case, it’s easy to disable the stylesheet in the app controls.
I just wanted to share what the playmat looks like right now.
Edit: To answer questions I received, the blank character card was made with the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) 2.10. The original dimensions are 1000×700 but I place the card at 50% size, 500×350, so it will look good even zoomed in. If you would like to use them, here is an archive with .xcf, .psd, and .png format files. The fonts used are Alenia by shanayastudio and Spotnik demo by Alexatype.
I place copies of the blank card on the Map & Background layer on Roll20. The character info is filled on the Objects & Tokens layer in Contrail font.
The Fate bookmark is available from Evil Hat Productions as a free download. And I discuss the aspect tokens in a how-to post on Evil Hat’s website here.
We had our Session 0 for our Fate adaptation of The Expanse, leaving me with scribbled notes for adventure- and world-building.
Focus and Sub-Genre
Our strawpoll on themes and genre resulted in the following votes from four players:
Political intrigue: 3 Action and suspense: 2 Character drama: 2 Spaceship combat: 0 Mystery and investigation: 3 Horror: 0 Espionage: 3 Wacky hijinks and banter: 2
At the moment I’m going with the following issues:
The Truth About Eros
The Churn Throws Unlikely People Together
Faces and Places
Some of the movers and shakers at the UN and their extended network will probably feature in the backdrop. We discussed the following characters from canon:
In addition, we have a new NPC, Thomas Marshall III, the CEO of Marshall LifeTech and father to one of the PCs. He moves in rarefied circles and has some pull with the UN.
Players also mentioned Tycho Station as a place they would like to check into, and Camina Drummer as someone to interact with.
Venus, with possibly old half-built orbital staging platforms meant for the abandoned cloud cities project.
The rings/gates have not yet made their appearance at the start of our campaign. (In other words, we’re aiming more for Outland than Stargate.)
The Main Cast
Our four main characters:
Thomas Marshall the Fourth
Tom is a young man of 22 and he’s the only son of Thomas Marshall the Third, the CEO of Marshall LifeTech, a big player in life support systems. Tom has a lot of crazy conspiracy theories and his father indulges his little “journalistic” endeavors, but Tom lacks experience with the hard edges of the real world. Tom has managed to convince his family to fund a “fact-finding expedition” to Venus to follow one of his many flaky theories, but Thomas Marshall III made sure to add one trusted member to the crew, a young diplomatic attaché called…
Gabriel-Adan Zhao Cantador
Sometimes familiarly called Gaz, Gabriel-Adan Zhao-Cantador is an independent consultant, formerly affiliated with the United Nations Diplomatic Service. Zhao-Cantador was raised in a family on Basic in one of the Earth-Moon LaGrange-4 point. During school, [TBD] inspired Zhao-Cantador to push for a space at the Lower University. Zhao-Cantador studied political science at university and then accepted a position at the United Nations Diplomatic Service before being seconded to the Diplomatic Intelligence Directorate for further training.
While posted as a legal attache at a small station in the Belt, Zhao-Cantador exceeded his authority in authorizing refugee visas for Belters in need of relocation to Earth-jurisdiction, setting them up on Basic Assistance without prior clearance. Had this been a matter of simple corruption, the right people would have been paid, and the situation would have been ignored.
As a result, Zhao-Cantador was summarily recalled to Earth, and placed on paid administrative leave. While awaiting disposition of his career, Zhao-Cantador was referred to a meeting with Thomas Marshall.
A proficient if quirky xenobiochemist and the first (and possibly only) child born on Triton. Their parents were also xenobiochemists, sent to examine exoplanets with the big Triton arrays for signs of life. Extra mouths were unwanted so everyone was on some form of birth control, but mom and dad were on a timetable so they smuggled a fertilized embryo up with the rat and monkey embryos. Hilarity ensued. Born and raised Triton among a great community of science nerds.
Born on Eros, from a proletarian family. Her dad was a union representative on a drydock of Eros. Her mom worked menial jobs like cook, EVA suits repairs, whatever she could do to feed her kids.
Self-made woman who had to get her education through work and apprenticeship. She started working when she was 12 on small ships tasked to remove dangerous debris from stations vicinity. Tough jobs that involved EVA, piloting drones, heavy machinery. Later she got also involved in the commercial aspect of the trade: negotiating price of scrap or removal of hazardous material. When she reached her twenties, realizing that she’d be stuck in dead-end job if she didn’t switch career, Cécile got involved with smugglers and low grade criminals which opened her horizon to more profitable job opportunities. Now she wants to know the whole truth about Eros and everyone she lost there.
Cécile is a tall lanky woman. She sports very short hair usually by habit. It’s cleaner and you don’t get Belter lice this way.
On with our adaptation of The Expanse to Fate! Along with character creation and ship combat, spaceship construction is one of the most important pieces in this system conversion. Compared to character creation, however, we don’t have as good an internal blueprint for how ships should be modeled in a role-playing game.
As I explained in my interlude, how detailed the ship rules should be in a specific campaign depends on how interested your group is in directly controlling ships and how often this element will show up in the story. At the most basic, ships may be a backdrop, important but more of a scenery aspect the way space stations or planet-side locations may be. At the other end of the spectrum, ship-to-ship combat may be a your characters’ bread and butter.
I gave my players a mini-survey to see where their interest lie: Political intrigue, Action and suspense, Character drama, Spaceship combat, Mystery and investigation; Horror, Espionage, or Other. The two options that go no votes were horror, which didn’t surpris me, and spaceship combat, which did. I had my answer: keep the spaceship combat rules light for my players, don’t burden them with detailed mechanics they’re not interested in using. (Good thing I asked first!)
Therefore, I will use the lightest version possible in my own campaign; in essence, I will treat the AGE System ship profiles as narrative descriptions. Does it say the ship has a med bay? OK, your PC gets a bonus for recovering from appropriate conditions such as Injured or Wounded. Does it have an advanced sensor package? You’ll see other ships coming a little earlier in the fiction.
However, I promised you a more detailed version and here it is. I largely based it on Tachyon Squadron and its supplement, the Spaceship Construction Toolkit, but I do follow The Expanse RPG as closely as I can, especially in the technology lingo.