Jeremiah McCoy

Geek For Hire

Tag: game design (page 3 of 3)

New Spells for new Spell Books

So, first let me welcome you to my new..ish blog address. I moved everything over to because I felt like that was a good way to consolidate my online presence. I owned the rights to the domain but had not been using it as much as I should. I also have more control over the site than the one on the free WordPress hosting. I will be doing all my future blog postings here, and I have moved all my past content here, as well. I hope you like the new digs.


That bit of business out of the way, let me show you some of what I have been working on of late. I talked a lot about spell books on my blog and different ways to handle them in your game. I figured if I was going to be talking about spell books, I should also write some spells to go in those books. Here are a few spells inspired by those books from previous posts. These are works in progress, and when I eventually publish my pdf on spell books, I may revise these. I am definitely looking for feedback. I should add the proviso, these are designed with the notion that learning new spells is not quite as easy as is presented in the 5th edition players handbook. These are meant to be rare or uncommon spells and might be a substitute for other rare or uncommon spells found in the world.

Continue reading

Stealing the Guild

Consider the thieves’ guild.

The thieves’ guild is an odd artifact of fantasy games. Once you accept that a hero can be a thief, you begin finding ways for the thief to belong to the world. Wizards have colleges and councils. Fighters become knights, become lords, and even become kings, ruling by this ax. Clerics have their religious hierarchies. The choirs of angels have nothing on the politics of churches. Thieves, though, are inherently outsiders. They prey upon the world. Yes, Hobbits get led astray by dirty road dwarves into being burglars, but that is not quite the same thing. A thief is more than just someone who sneaks around. Thieves’ have their own subculture. In fantasy games, it is called a guild.

Continue reading

Rules For Spell Books (Or how I learned to relax and hang out in libraries)

I think I have established I love spell books.  The spell book is an integral part of the wizardry motif.  The book, the object, is a needed part of what wizards do in D&D. The current rules do require you to record your spells, but I do think it could be even more emphasized.

Continue reading

Spell Books of Infamy


I love spell books.  I did a video about them and everything.  They are fascinating elements to magic in fantasy.  Wizards are supposed to be wise. They got that way because of what they learned. None of that is cutting deals with powers, thank you very much.  I am looking at you Warlocks. Books are where you store that knowledge.

Continue reading

More Scifi fifth edition, with more background

First post of the new year, and it isn’t a resolutions post?  What silliness is this? Nope, I am going to post another in my series on doing a scifi game in 5e. The first post can be found here.


Where was I? Ah, Backgrounds.


Backgrounds are awesome. It is one of the most interesting aspects to 5th editions is the idea of backgrounds. It adds more depth than just class and race. It adds variety to characters, flavor, and themes. Things like it had existed before, of course. In 2nd edition, there were the kits, which sort of tied to a background, and also added some subclass like features.

Continue reading

SciFi 5th edition experiment part 3 fun with Aliens

A few things.  First, you can find my earlier posts on this Science Fiction 5e thread here, and here.

Second, let me know if you like these.  I will keep writing them if people are getting anything out of them.

Third, sorry it took a day or two longer to get this out.  Writing races is not as exciting and writing classes. I also had some other issues going on, but real life is like that some times. I did briefly consider doing my own artwork for these, but remembered I am not a great artist.


Continue reading

Science Fiction Game in 5th edition part 2 The Problems of Setting

So, I started out with the notion of making a 5th edition Scifi game. This was spurred by the idea of exploring what you can do with the 5th edition system framework.  All fun and games, until you realize how much work it can be.  Oh well, we continue the madness.

The problems with setting

The question of game design is one of experience.  What stories are the players going to have here? What experiences do you want them to have?  The original role-playing games, proto-D&D and its ilk, were extensions of war games.  They were changed because the players wanted a different experience from what they were finding in the wargames. The rules grew out of that desire for a new experience.

Continue reading

White Star Cognates

Here is the idea.  This is a write up I did with an eye on publishing it as a pdf.  It is written for use with White Star, but a number of pieces could work in other scifi games.  It is an homage to the Mentat’s in Dune. As White Star is all about that old school scifi gaming, it seemed a good choice.

I never got around to publishing it to PDF.  Partly due to being too broke to pay for good art, and being way too hard on myself. Depression is counter to many a goal in life. I am posting it here to get some feedback. If it seems to interest people enough, I might still publish it in pdf format. This way I can get it out there and get people looking at it first.  It might help me keep the spice flowing.

Anyway, here is my write up of Cognates.




(Based on the mentat from Dune.)


The Order of Computational Truth have existed for centuries. They sprang from a war between men, and machines, centuries before. The war is long over, but Order continued. Their ethos revolved around learning to make the minds as efficient as any machines. Through centuries of learning they developed their regimes and disciplines. Member’s of the order are trained from early childhood to the point that they can rival almost any computer. The Cognates, as they are called, use a superior control over their own mind to aid in computation, pattern recognition, and uncanny memory.


Origins of the Order

The Canto sector was once the center of a sprawling, and powerful human empire, the Empire of the Desonian.  The Desonians were positioned on the end of a galactic spiral arm, and had within their borders, over a hundred populated worlds. The Empire traded with far off sectors, and attracted the interest of the entire galaxy.  


Then it came to an end.


The details are lost to time, but there are legends. The legends say a dead world was discovered drifting between the stars. The world was moved into a distant orbit around a star. Shortly thereafter, the world came to life. The Machine God awoke, and it’s robot minions nearly wiped out humanity in the empire.  


The Machine God’s biggest weapon was the ability to turn the Desonian’s technology back upon itself. It was able to take over any thinking machine that came within reach of it’s mechanical minions. Computers, which controlled much of human civilization, became the enemy. The Order for Computational Truth came from this time as a response to the Machine God’s war. The war ended, eventually, several centuries ago. The Desonian Empire was shattered and dozens of worlds remained with only a remnant of their former glory.


The Cognates still existed, but changed their focus over time.  There was a proscription against thinking machines for 200 years, and the Cognates were often called upon to serve the purpose of the computers.  Without computers, navigating space became almost impossible, so Cognates were needed for interstellar travel. Eventually, the proscription was relaxed in the Canto sector.  Now there are more thinking machines, though there is still a well ingrained fear of machines which seem too independent.  Cognates became less relevant. They persisted as a philosophical/religious order, and they still hold a position of respect in the Canto sector. As they are less needed, the Order has shrunk to a shadow of its former self. Now, a few hundred hundred of them operate in the Canto sector, and beyond.  


The Order of Computational Truth’s home

There is a geologically inactive moon orbiting the gas giant, Kristos.  The moon is call Prime, and it is the home order.  The world has been hollowed out, and made a temple to the mathematical constants. New initiates are sent there as a children and raised in the discipline. Prime can hold as many as a million or more, but it has long since lost those numbers.


Vast halls have small groups passing through them. Vaulted ceilings, high enough to park a ship in, are dusty reminders of the Order’s former glory. On every column, and surface, there are mathematical equations.


The catalogue of what the equations are may have been lost. The order still does not allow computers in their halls, and a portion of the written records were destroyed. While they were able to recover some from their prodigious memories, the order was not quite certain nothing was lost.


The equations do relate to various fields of studies.  The physical world is described in numbers, and notation. Human behavior is predicted, to some degree, by sociological mathematicians.  Those descriptions are found in the administrative areas.  


Every stone and metal surface is considered a place where permanent proofs should be placed.  In the heart of it all, is the Grand Computation.


The Grand Computation is the product of centuries.  It is a mathematica model to describe the future and the past.  It is the unifying work of the order for several centuries. There are mathematical formulas to describe many human group behaviors, stellar cartography, time, and thousands of other factors which would lead to a perfected understanding of the universe. It is mathematical model too vast for a single mind to comprehend. Studying it has lead to prophetic and oracular insights many times.


Cognates Class Features


Level XP HD BHB Saving Throw
1 0 1 +0 14
2 1,500 1+1 +0 13
3 3,000 2 +1 12
4 6,000 2+1 +1 11
5 12,000 3 +2 10
6 24,000 3+1 +2 9
7 48,000 4 +3 8
8 96,000 4+1 +3 7
9 192,000 5 +4 6
10 384,000 5+1 +4 6


WEAPON/ARMOR RESTRICTIONS: Cognates may use clubs, daggers, firearms, grenades, laser pistols, mono-daggers, mono-swords, staffs, and swords. They can wear Light Armor, but do not use shields


LORE: The Cognate has a vast level of knowledge. As a result of years of study, and disciplined mind, they can provide valuable insights to their allies. If they are are allowed to help their friends prepare(which takes at least 1 round), they grant their allies a +2 to any single saving throw or to hit in a single encounter.


THE LANGUAGE OF THE UNIVERSE: Language used by sentient beings tends to have certain quantifiable similarities. The cognate, with a round of concentration, can read directions, instructions, and similar notations written in unfamiliar languages. This also applies to any mathematical or scientific notations.   


SAVING THROW BONUS: for +2 to resist Gifts and Meditations


XP BONUS FOR INTELLIGENCE. Cognates with a Inteligence of 13 or 14 receive a 5% Experience Bonus, and those with 15 or higher get 10%.



The memory of a Cognate is truly nearly photographic.  They can remember in a level of detail that even some cameras might miss.  As a result, any time that there is a question of memory, related to something, or some time, that the cognate actually witnessed, then the player may ask the GM to provide the information as if they were still there.


Example: The Cognate was standing in front of a machine streaming reams of data past.  It is faster than any normal person could read.  In a later scene, the Cognate can recall it in perfect detail, and player asks the GM for relevant information.


FORESIGHT(5th level): At 5th level, the Cognates mind has become so perceptive and analytical that they can predict short term threats.  After  a moment of concentration(one round), they can enter a mental state that grants them a prescient sense. For the duration, they gain a +2 to Armor Class and Saving Throws, and they cannot be surprised. This is similar to the Meditation of the same name. The duration is the number of hours equal to their level, or until they are hit, which breaks concentration. They must reactivate it to get the benefits back.


THE GRAND COMPUTATIONAL ADEPT(8th level): The cognate has become a master in the order, and the Grand Computation is open to them.  They can access insights into any subject by spending time studying the equations.  At intervals set by the GM, the player may ask a single question which is normally outside the player’s knowledge. The time it takes is related to the importance of the information.


Example: The player decides it is important to learn the true location of the enemy homeworld, asks the GM and the GM tells him it will take a week of study. If the player wished to know the true origin of the bad guy npc’s powers it might take him months or years.


Also, as an adept is entitled to have upt three students.  These students can be set to any number of tasks, as part of their training.


Use in Campaigns

This class was deliberately written in such a manner that you could use it without having to use the setting info described in the main White Star rule book.  White Star is an excellent starting point, and many people like to make their own settings. That said, they would also fit nicely in the already published setting info.  


The Kelron Sector

The Cognates are strangers to this this sector of space. They have recently come across it and have quietly started sending members into the region to collect information. Only the most knowledgeable of scholars in the sector have even heard of The Order of Computational Truth, so they have been largely unnoticed by most.  


Most, but not all.


The Galactic Consortium has quietly been looking for the cognate agents, for reasons unknown. Perhaps they are simply trying to keep their influence out, or maybe the Cognates may hold some secret knowledge Supreme Lord Adlar wants. For whatever reason, the consortium is looking for them, and their home.


Most of the Cognates in the sector are keeping a low profile, but some have felt compelled to aid the resistance. Their ways may seem mysterious to many, but their effectiveness in a resistance cell is hard to overstate.


Star Knights and Void Knights


The Star Knights are an ancient and widespread order. The Canto sector has often had dealings with them, and the Empire of the Desonian often used them as keepers of the law and peace.  When the war against the Machine God began, the Star Knights were some of the greatest protectors of humanity.  Over the course of the war, however, their numbers dwindled.  By the end, they were just legends of heroes who were long gone.


Since then, they have slowly returned to the sector.  The Cognates have always welcomed them as allies, and offer them aid in the Canto sector whenever they can.  


Interestingly, the nature of the Cognate training makes them more resistant to Meditations and Empowerments. The Void and The Way seems incompatible with the mathematical precision of the Cognates training. This is also reflected in the Grand Computation, in that there are very few reliable mathematical models describing those powers.


The Void Knights have tried, unsuccessfully, to take Prime, the home of the order. The archives there have much to attract the power hungry, and the Void Knights are not fond of people who can resist them.




Assuming you are using the Psionics supplement for White Star(written by Mathew Skail), which you should be, there are a few things to keep in mind.


First, Psionics are not unheard of in the Canto Sector. They have been fairly widely accepted since the days of Desonian Empire. As a result, the Cognates are very familiar with them. There are a large number of Cognates attempting to study psionics. They have made significant headway in explaining the power, and quantifying it for their equations.


The Mental discipline of psionics is not dissimilar to the ones used by Cognates, so there is often a certain amount of comfort they find in each others company. The special saving throws bonus the Cognates have against Meditations and gifts, could be applied to psionics instead, if it makes more sense for your campaign.


There are several Akashic Artifacts kept in Prime, for study, and safekeeping. The Cognates hold several several ancient texts that discuss the Vren, and their fall. Most were written centuries after that fall, though.  




The cognates have a long, and hostile, relationship with thinking machines. They were founded during a time when machines were trying to wipe out humanity, and computers could not be trusted. As a result, there is some enmity in the order, even today. This is contrasted with their machine like minds, and a reverence for logic over emotions. In many ways, they often have a great deal in common with the robots of the galaxy.


In the Kelron sector, robots are fairly common. Cognates may distrust them, but going around and destroying them is not likely to make them any friends. As a result, they are advised by the order Elders to do little or nothing to harm machines.  It is, after all, inefficient to act out of hate, especially when it will damage relations with people who do not share your beliefs.


In the Canto sector, Robots might be tolerated, but only on a limited basis.  The most simple of computer controls are allowed, the most basic of programing. If the robot shows any sort of personality, there is a strong chance they will be disassembled for the public good.


Optional rule: As an optional rule, you might want to give the Cognates a +1 to all attack rolls and damage against robots, or machine opponents.  This could be a flat bonus, or you could trade it for another benefit of the class, such as Languages of the Universe.



Some people have already written some excellent skill rules for use in a White Star game.  Planetary Transmissions issue #1 has a fairly simple set.  Hyperspace messenger issue #4 also has a more detailed write up.  Whatever your source, if you are using a skill system, you will need to consider how it relates to Cognates unique training.  A good place to start would be to give +2 on any skill roles related to intelligence.  


You may need to adjust that, depending on what skill system you decide to use. The point being, the Cognates should always get an advantage when it comes to making a test on their reasoning or memory.

Star Treking

I have been thinking about Star Trek today. Specifically, I have been thinking about gaming in Star Trek. Star Trek has had a few RPG’s based on it. Fasa, Last Unicorn and Decipher have all done games based on the material, not to mention Prime Directive. They all had varying levels of success. Fasa, in particular, had an “interesting” time with the fact they came up with their own canon for the game world, only to have it directly contradicted later by the rights holder. Star Trek, in general, seems like a no brainer for a scifi game setting, that anyone would love. Unfortunately, i there may be a significant hurdle to making a satisfying RPG in that setting.


The Star Trek setting, on the face of things, has a lot to offer. It has a lot of room to operate, there is a big galaxy out there, with lots of races, settings, and superluminal travel to get around. You have ray guns and batleths. You have wars, political intrigue, and exploration. There are many themes you can play with and the show had a history of even some challenging notions popping up. The setting universe is pretty much a vast playground.

However, there is a catch. A lot of Star Trek’s appeal comes from the being the crew of a starship, that occasionally ends up in battles. In a TV show or movie, there is the exciting battle, where the captain gives orders, and the ship maneuvers and fires. In gaming practice, however, having a single captain who controls the ships movement, and actions, can be less fun if you are not the one playing the captain.

That is, of course, a little bit of an exaggeration. There are some things you can do in that ship battle scene, to give the other players something to do. You could allow people manning the individual stations have individual die rolls related to their ship officers area of expertise. This would still be much more constrained than a lot players might be unsatisfied. In particular, what would your ships counselor or doctor do in that scenario?

You could also say, why worry about it, because the space combat did not come up that often in the shows. Well, that may well be, but they came up often enough to be somewhat iconic. They have many more space battles in the movies, which is likely due to the increased effects budget. They are moments of supreme tension in the films. Star Trek 2, in particular, relied pretty heavily on the space battle scenes.

So, here you are with a situation where these scenes are important, but a lot of the traditional game design choices would make them less than satisfying. I think that this is a situation where there are a number of solutions.

The Star Trek universe is huge. It is spread over thousands of worlds, and not every interesting story in that space has to be in Starfleet, or a ship of the line. Deep Space 9 is held by many to be the best Star Trek series ever. While it eventually had the Defiant, it’s main action was based of the station. You have a range of options with a station as your setting, intrigue and murders on the station, to political conflicts, and maybe even repelling an invasion.

Beyond that, you could be playing as the crew of a merchant ship, scientific vessels, and other ships that don’t have a lot of combat capabilities. The only involvement in ship to ship combat at that point would be in running away. You would still run into danger when you got to destinations. You could have a lot of the same setting stories that one has on a station, but with more locals. Also the scientific vessel has away missions to different planets. Discovery and peril are on the table for every new world.

Another thing you could do, that maybe not everyone would think of, is a game set in the headquarters of the Federation. Imagine the political intrigue that goes on with a over a hundred worlds trying to coexist. Espionage takes on a whole new direction when you have psychics, shape shifters, and cloaking devices as part of the landscape.

These are all workarounds based on the notion you are working with a straightforward classic design game system. A lot of the older systems start with the notion of working out the war game based rules first, and then add in rules for other things. These days, there are other options available, other directions to take.


So games like Fate and other newer games take a more narrative direction. The idea is the games story is less beholden to miniature wargame structure, but to a story telling structure, with the players effecting the story in ways formerly reserved solely for game masters. This sort of structure makes the “captain problem” less evident. When switch to a ship to ship combat model, things become more abstract.

The players could maybe help shape the problems in the conflict, declaring the enemies cloaking device is being compromised by a neutrino leak, or they are in a nebula that interferes with the sensors.  They can affect the environment, and attempt less direct changes, like adding an aspect to the ships shields that they are cycling through the harmonic frequencies. The whole point being to allow the players more control of the scene overall, to feel less like the one guy has all the control and everyone else is a along for the ride.

“Narrative” games is a pretty broad range to use to describe a game, but they do have some common elements, and one of those elements is that the process for creating the story tends to be a bit more collaborative, which actually would work pretty well with a Star Trek game.

Songs of Stars and Trek

One system I have been threatening for a long time to convert Star Trek to, is Green Ronin’s Song of Ice and Fire rules system. This system is very much about maintaining the house your PC’s are part of. There are a lot of rules built around realm maintenance. Tehre are rules about managing the different aspects of the house, its military and financial resources.

It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to see how that could be converted to rules about maintaining a starship, or a space station. Shave the serial numbers off some of the warfare rules and suddenly they cover ship to ship combat. Instead of keeps, you use shield generators. Instead of towns folk, you might have a crew rating of some sort, and bio neural circuitry, or variable geometry warp nacelles. it is a doable conversion, and changes how the players approach the ship in the game.

Part of the rules involve the players creating the noble house as part of the character creation process. These rules would be converted to defining the starship instead.  Is it a pure research vessel with minimal weapons, or is it a frontline warship. Is it a Federation ship, or is it a Ferengi trading vessel. What makes this particular ship unique?  What role will each player take on the ship? Each role effects the qualities of ship. By making the ship creation a group effort, it makes it gives the players more of a feeling of ownership.

It is an idea I have poked at a few times in the past, but I have not actually sat down and made it a reality. Perhaps writing this little essay will drive me to actually do it. It will take a fair amount of effort to lay down the groundwork.


Anyway, those are my rambling thought on role playing in the world of Star Trek.  I would be interested if anyone reading this actually had a lot of experience in playing in a Star Trek setting. I did some back in the early 90’s but no actual campaigns.

the social problem of MMO’s

A thing that has occurred to me. I play a number of MMO’s. I play them for two reasons. One, my career path requires a certain amount of keeping on top of things, and more importantly, I want to play with my friends. That is the point of an MMO, to me.  MMO’s are rarely as much fun solo, as a good single player game.  I want to play with other people, preferably with ones I know.

The problem is, it is often hard to get that going.  Part of that is on the players. A lack of coordination in when and where to meet up is something that the players can work on their own, but part of it is also on the MMO’s.

So here is the thing that occurred to me.  Whatever the next big MMO is, they need to work on making it easier to find your friends. It is a fine line to walk, trying to preserve your privacy, but also making information searchable enough to make you easy to connect with.  Maybe they could on work integrating social networks or the like so when you look at your friends tab, you see people you potentially know, so you can connect with them.  Maybe integrate a calender function, so I could invite my friends to a game night, online and they can respond or not. I recognize that those are not perfect suggestions, but they might be starting places.

Currently, if I don’t know your character name, I cant find you a in a lot of games. That means if I log on to go play with my friends, I have another hoop to jump through.  If I spell it wrong, then I am still not seeing you.  Make it easier on me.  Allow me to share a button on line, and my friends can just click on it and when they log on, they have me listed on their friends list and vice versa.  Allow me to share all my characters at once, so when I share with my friends, it doesn’t matter what I am logged in as, my friends know.

There are problems with getting something like that in place, and I understand that, but they are resolvable.  One of the quickest ways for me to lose interest in an MMO is to find no one I know is playing. That is something that effects churn, and it is worth some time and effort to come up with a solution for it.

Just a thought.

Newer posts »

© 2019 Jeremiah McCoy

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑