Archive for February, 2011

Gaming: Swords, Guns and all that Jazz.

Ever since Snow Crash, a lot of futuristic world contain some silly cyberpunk antihero with a katana in one hand and a semi-auto in the other.

(This a big move from the older Gibson-style with a guy doing clearly criminal activities, working for a something much bigger than himself, and trying to find his was in a world reminiscent of a Hunter S. Thompson novel. Anyway, that is for another post down the line somewhere. So now back to your regularly scheduled post.)

Sword and Guns – are exceptionally polar styles of weapons, and I’m not thinking simply of the range. This applies to most Cyberpunk 2020 and similar, in which “classic” forms of fighting are rubbing shoulders with gunplay.

The classic styles have a much higher requirements in term of skill, training and body. A novice with a blade will be skewered by a master with the same weapon. He probably won’t even be able to land a single hit, and the fight would be over quickly. Now compare that to a bloke with an Uzi vs. a soldier with an Uzi. Chances are both people will hit each other, and its good odds that both would die. Anyone can pick up a gun and cause some serious havoc. If you try to do that with a knife, you will realise that a) range is useful; and b) the sheer stopping power of a firearm is fantastical. A single bullet wound is deadlier than a sword blow, because if you stab someone to deep with a blade, it sticks when you try to pull it back out, meaning his friend can revenge him. However, if you shoot someone in the chest, you don’t need to worry about that. Range and damage have always made ranged weapons better – just look at Agincourt. When a longbow can piece plate, and you are firing 10-20 a minute, 7500 longbowmen and small contingent of men-at-arms can defeat upwards of 50,000 swordsmen and knights.

Using a sword makes no sense, nor a kama, nor nunchucks, swordchucks or woodchuck-chucks. However, the unarmed martial arts do. High-tech society means high-tech weaponry. When a handcannon can shoot through 6 feet of concrete, it makes sense to have scanners in most places. Unless you have ceramic or plastic weapons, then hands, feet and foreheads are the way forward. Also they are just generally useful, even without some exceptionally keen x-ray police force. You don’t have to reach for a weapon, nor carry one, and you will have the element of surprise. And as long as your clothing doesn’t impair your movement, then it doesn’t matter what you wear at all.

However, if there are no scanners, then projectile weapons are probably the best bet. Stand 20m away and ventilate the idiot who comes running towards you with a bit of sharp metal. All those silly gamebooks that put swords at the same level as a sub-machinegun need to stop and look back at history.

Worldbin: Space. It’s Big.

One of the things that people don’t realise in sci-fi, is how big the universe is. It is 4.2 light-years to Proxima Centauri, our nearest solar system. That means that anything you send there will get there at least 4.2 years later. More so, for slower things, like ships. And at least 8.4 years for the return journey. Therefore, even if we could colonise other Solar Systems, they would really be on thier own.

So, just to stay intra-solar, which is probably the best bet to start off with – colonise the planets, make a Dyson Sphere and Solar Sails, create a post scarcity society – the usual stuff in SF. But even that is quite far away. Say, for example, that someone on Mercury wanted to talk to someone on Neptune, they would have a delay of 4 hours and 12 minutes. And if we could go at a 0.01c (which is still pretty quick – 10 million km/hour), it would take them 17 days to get there.

Therefore, if extra-solar civs are like islands in an ocean, with little or no contact, then intra-solar civs are like city-states – close enough to interact, trade, and talk, but far enough away to be independant.

If you do manage to get faster-than-light travel (which is possible, it just needs an implausible amount of energy), then you still don’t get around the communication problem. You would have to use physical messengers which would transmit the data. A more useful version would be to create a wormhole. Then the communications would be almost instantaneous, and bulk matter transmission would also be available. However, once you had created the wormhole then you would have to move it to your destination at realtivistic speeds, and if your only one breaks down, they you would have to wait for a replacement. I’m not even going to speculate what would happen if you moved a wormhole through a wormhole.

And as for people who imagine an entire galactic civilisation, and the communication system that that would entail, the distance from the Sun to the centre of the Milky Way is 26,400±1,600 light years. Unless you lived for an exceptionally long time, and/or your metabolic rate made rocks look like mayflies, then carrying out a communication over that distance is not worth thinking about. And don’t even get me started on all that pan-galactic stuff…..

Gaming: Rocks Fall, Everyone Respawns.

I play a lot of RPGs, and it is always annoying when a player dies unexpectedly, even more so than when anyone dies. So here is a little sliding scale that I put together a while ago dealing with death, becoming more realistic as you go down.

1. Hi, this is my identical twin brother, Renee 2.

Just respawn  them. Tada!

2. Damnit! 6 bodies gone already, only 3 left.

Instant(ish) respawn, full abilities, but only a limited number of uses. Sidequest option – get more.

3. Wait, I’m sure I backed up recently.

Time penalty, maybe a loss of abilities, as you are decanted.

4. It’s a bit draining.

Proper level loss.

5. It cost me how much?

Lose a limb or two.

6. It’s not a game any longer.

Kill the player.


I mainly use 2&3. 1 is best suited to quick games, and 4&5 for the more serious story-arc driven games. If you are ever asked to GM F.A.T.A.L., use 6.

Talking Shop #3 – Backstroke of the West

Ah well. Got my offers from my Universities, and have completed my January Modules. Might as well try to post some more something at all.