<+Ilya> Hello my name is Ilya Bossov, and I wrote, with the help and encouragement of many friends a game called Dust Bowl Galaxy, a space western inspired by Firefly, FTL and the Expanse series. You’re an alien crew aboard a junker you built yourself out of spare parts and you explore a randomly generated galaxy, welding on upgrades as you find them.
<+Ilya> The game is now released into the wild and can be purchased at (Link: http://feyhaven.com)http://feyhaven.com
<+Ilya> There’s a discord server and a subreddit and a mailing list, it’s all on that page.
<~Dan> Thanks, Ilya! The floor is open to questions!
<~Dan> Heh. 🙂
<~Dan> Can you go into some more detail about the setting?
<+Ilya> Alright, so it’s Milky Way, at an unspecified point in the future. There was a war between Humans+ (who aren’t all that nice, to be honest) and the Elders (who aren’t much better) and the galaxy is now rather empty. The players are descendants of the refugees who hid away from said war.
<+Ilya> There was a refugee fleet and cryogenic sleep and now they’re awake, and nobody really knows how the war ended (if at all) and who won, but there’s a lot of empty space now and you need a new place to live.
<+Jack> That’s very unique and fun art. Where/who does it come from?
<+Ilya> There are two artists, myself and Fabian Jastremski. He did all the tiny fun starships. I did the cover and the rest of the interior art.
<+Ilya> He also did one of the alien portraits.
<+Ilya> You can follow Fabian on twitter @vierbit
<+Jack> Is there an intro adventure?
<~Dan> Clearly there are sapient aliens in this setting. How many are available as PCs, and what are they?
<+Trug> … Would you happen to be the same Ilya that’s done several lovely redesigns over on Boardgame Geek?
<+Ilya> Trug: no, it’s a rather common name. Sorry.
<+Ilya> Jack: I want to say yes and no to the intro adventure question. The game is about exploration, so part of character creation (which is a group activity) is building your starship and rolling up the galaxy sector you’re exploring. The first sector, instead of being a ‘static’, set in stone place, is randomly generated so it doesn’t lend itself to a static
<+Ilya> storyline. What we offer instead, are several factions and loose ends that the game master can populate that random sector with.
<+Jack> That’s cool. I’ve launched some very successful campaigns from a similar springboard.
<+polyhedral> Firefly and FTL are two of my all-time favorite things. Are there any mechanics or lore in the game that have direct inspiration from either?
<+Ilya> I gave a lot of thought to the new player experience, and a lot of optimization went into making sure the whole group has fun with the sector creation and group dynamic… this session 0 process is not time consuming either.
<~Dan> (Howdy, polyhedral! I was wondering if you were around. 🙂 )
<+polyhedral> (Hiya Dan! Got back just in the nick of time, did not want to miss this!)
<+Ilya> Dan: there are infinite sapient aliens in this setting. The book has about 14 playable species and their variants which were all built using our awesome custom alien creation rules. I dare you to come up with a concept for an alien creature that this game cannot support.
<~Dan> Shapeshifting blobs?
<+Ilya> The way that works is that there is a deck of flash cards, each of them has an evolutionary trait, such as, mammal, egg layer, flyer, squishy, hive mind, etc. And you just pile them on until you’re happy.
<+Ilya> Shapeshifting blobs? Let’s see… squishy (no skeleton), chameleon (changing colors?), bioluminescence (fun!), maybe add echolocation for giggles.
<+Ilya> Ok I’m gonna ask for a hold on questions trying to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
<+Jack> How deep are the character v character vs starship v starship combat rules?
<~Dan> (Please hold questions until we get a (done) from our guest. Thanks! 🙂 )
<+Ilya> polyhedral: from FTL we’ve inherited a modular structure of ship construction, and ship damage targets specific modules. If you played FTL, you’ll find ship combat system to be very similar.
<+Ilya> From Firefly we inherited the freedom-loving little guys sticking it to the man in terms of the universe feel and factions presented in the book.
<+Ilya> There’s an oppressive Quarantine Authority in your home system and even though you’re working under them, you’re trying to find ways to oppose them and you know, stick it to them any chance you get.
<+Ilya> Jack: characters have hitpoints, so do ship modules. Bigger guns deal more damage, but have a harder time hitting smaller targets. Ships have more armor than people… unless you build your T-Rex-sized whale-octopus marine in a very special way and deck them out in power armor because why wouldn’t you.
* ~Dan turns on some synthwave to go along with the Q&A.
<+Ilya> Still, if you’re a marine trying to deal damage to a ship, there’s a question of scale and the system accounts for handheld weapons not being as powerful as navy-sized railguns.
<+Ilya> As a marine you’re better off carving through an airlock to get inside to the delicious cream filling.
<+Ilya> Also the majority of ships in this universe aren’t very big. Nuclear weapons are a thing, so if you make an aircraft carrier, it’ll die to a nuke just the same as a starfighter, but will cost more and dodge less.
<+Ilya> So most ships are Firefly-sized, and some carry additional shuttle-sized fighters for reasons.
<~Dan> (Questions may resume!)
<~Dan> Can you comment on Jack’s starship combat question?
<+Jack> They did. It sounds like ship and character combat is roughly equivalent in depth.
<+GravityWorks> The three IPs you mentioned as inspiration are fairly hard sci fi, does Space Magic/ Psionics make an appearance and how does it fit?
<+Ilya> My personal take on combat is to follow KISS principle. So the rules account for the scale (size) of the weapon vs scale of the target. There’s personal scale for handheld weapons, there’s vehicle scale for starfighters and tanks, then there’s ship scale for ships with amenities, then there’s architecture scale for large buildings, fortresses, skyscrapers,
<+Ilya> and bridges.
<~Dan> (Howdy, Lee!)
<+Ilya> When you use a small scale weapon to hit a big target you eat a penalty to damage, when you try to shoot a large weapon to hit a small target you eat a penalty to accuracy. Also, there’s a significant amount of teamwork and ship combat roles for ship-to-ship combat. There’s a distinct seat for a navigator, gunner, pilot and engineer on the team.
<+Ilya> On a smaller ship ( a starfighter) the limited crew has to multitask.
<+Ilya> Psionics rules are in a word, biblical. There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for their existence related to warp drive discovery, and they are entirely optional if you want to have a hard sci-fi campaign of high-g burns and sling shot maneuvers.
<~Dan> They are extradimensional in origin?
<+Ilya> But if you like space magic, there’s this otherworldly entity who will sell you a beautiful bridge. Sign on the dotted line and fire away.
<+Jack> How integral to the game are the supplemental cards? Do that add anything not in the core book?
<+Ilya> Yeah, ships jump from star to star by traveling through other dimensions. That’s how multi-dimensional beings noticed us and tried to make contact. They don’t know much about our universe we don’t know much about theirs, and both sides learn to interact with one another while physics is out taking a nervous smoke break.
<~Dan> (Howdy, EggEmbry!)
<+EggEmbry> (Howdy, Dan!)
<+Ilya> The text of the cards is written in the book. So if you get the book, you get the whole thing. What cards provide at the table though, is speed of play. Flipping through a book or rolling dice against the chart is orders of magnitude slower than drafting an enemy ship in seconds.
<+Ilya> I’m lazy. I don’t like to do math or homework. So I made this system to enable my laziness.
<+Ilya> Laziness, the engine of progress. (done)
<+Jack> You are a god among insects. =)
<+Ilya> I’m just being honest with myself.
<+Ilya> And thank you.
<~Dan> What sorts of things can psionics accomplish in this game? Wow me.
<~Dan> (Howdy, BenRogers!)
<+BenRogers> I have voice!
<~Dan> (BenRogers is working on a space game of his own. 🙂 )
<+Jack> Me too! Something must be going around.
<+Ilya> Alright Dan, you asked for it. There are two things psionics CAN’T do, unless, and I quote: “your game master is thinking five sessions ahead and explicitly permits them in writing, while sober: •Resurrection •Time travel to the past”
<+Ilya> Mostly for story reasons, to make sure death isn’t a revolving door.
<+Jack> That’s some next level psionics.
<+BenRogers> No force-ghosts. Got it. 😀
<~Dan> Huh. What Jack said.
<~Dan> I’m trying not to delve into the system yet, but does that mean that psionics are kind of open-ended? Freeform?
<+Jack> Do psionics have a resource system or is it just “you know it or you don’t”?
<+Ilya> Psionics don’t have any specific “spells”. They have skills, such as “Tychokinetic”, someone who manipulates luck, or “Biokinetic” who manipulates cells of living organisms. You can also come up with your own psionic skills. Pyrokinetic, Clairvoyant, etc.
<+Ilya> They are freeform af.
<~Dan> (Howdy, Nick_Zachariasen!)
<~Dan> Huh. So are they divided into disciplines of any sort, or is it just PSIONICS, and anyone with them can do anything (beyond those exceptions)?
<~Dan> Oh, wait… You answered that while I was typing. 😀
<+Ilya> The skills are the disciplines. Let me give you a sense of scale. Your difficulty to accomplish anything with psionics, is size of what you’re trying to affect. It starts with small device or animal at 4+, and goes up to entire multiverse at difficulty 42+.
<+Ilya> You could, for example, use Biokinetic to turn someone into a pile of rose petals.
<+Ilya> Or you could turn a moon into cheese.
<~Dan> That’s some serious space magic right there.
<~Dan> So what keeps psionicists from running the whole show?
<+Ilya> Well, the galaxy is empty, but in any civilized society psionicists are either recruited into some sort of black force or shot on sight with said black force. Just to keep, you know, functioning as a civilized society.
<+Ilya> There are three ways for psionicists to hack reality: the road of dreams ensures that there are no harmful side effects (and it can’t hurt living things), the road of nightmares does the opposite, and then there is the path less traveled.
<~Dan> Speaking of empty, how empty IS empty in this context? Clearly, there are a lot of different aliens running around. What are the odds of actually encountering them?
<~Dan> (Welcome to #randomworlds, Guest15! You can set your name with the /nick command; e.g., /nick Dan 🙂 )
<+Ilya> That’s up the game master. If you want to run a terrifying game of cosmic horror, you can make it deserted, punctuated by an episode of Alien!
<+Ilya> Or you could make it a comedy show with a bunch of misfits everywhere.
<~Dan> You mentioned organizations earlier. Can you give some examples?
<+Ilya> Also, psionic side effects range from hysterical to biblical. When you fail at a psionic task, it never just “fizzles”. Also you can summon daimons (make a spell effect sustain itself by granting it sentience – and run run run like hell)
<+Ilya> And then there are psionic circles where multiple psionicists who are in contact with the same otherworldly patron gather in one place to perform a ritual.
<+Ilya> Alright sorry organizations.
<~Dan> No worries! This is great stuff.
<+Ilya> The way a psion interacts with their patron is through a system of favors. You do this for me I do this for you. Oh you screwed up I can clean up but it’ll cost you.
<+Ilya> The same rules can be used to interact with organizations.
<+Ilya> You build up reputation you cash it in for favors of non-magical kind.
<+Ilya> The examples of organizations given are civilizations and their remnants that you can discover. I don’t want to spoil all of them, but here’s one, called Caretakers. They are cordial, cyborg/robotic life forms that would hail your ship and invite you to their home world to visit.
<+Ilya> They have no desire to travel and explore, but they aren’t isolationist either. If you visit their homeworld you discover that it was once a paradise that died out due to some sort of environmental disaster.
<+BenRogers> ….I just bought it, btw….
<~Dan> (Welcome to #randomworlds, galambo! 😀 )
<+galambo> do you guys know how I can play d&d on irc?
<+Ilya> The Caretakers’ creators are all dead. But they’re not buried. The caretakers pretend they’re alive and take care of them, drive them around, dress up corpses, and their programming is a bit flawed. Pointing out that they failed to protect their “people” will get them upset.
<~Dan> (galambo: We have a Q&A in progress at the moment. Join #randomworlds2 and we can discuss the matter. 🙂 )
<+Nick_Zachariasen> Aww. That’s kind of cute.
<+galambo> I apologise
<+Nick_Zachariasen> I mean, in a dark way, but heartwarming-ish.
<+Ilya> If any of the ship’s crew are organic and ALIVE, that might start a civil war on the planet for the right to serve and pamper them.
<~Dan> No worries at all, galambo. 🙂
<+Ilya> Then there’s Polafia family.
<+Ilya> Humans+, during the Great Evolutionary War, uplifted many animals for various purposes. One of the creatures they did well with was polar bears. The polar bears were genetically engineered to tolerate wider pressure and temperature changes to survive in vacuum (with an oxygen mask and goggles), making them great shock troops.
<+Ilya> Now that most humans+ are dead and gone, some of the polar bears ended up among the refugees. In your home system, they became the local mobsters.
<+Ilya> Polafia = polar bear mafia.
<~Dan> That’s hilarorious. 🙂
<~Dan> hilarious, even
<~Dan> I gather that this game is meant to be somewhat lighthearted?
<+Ilya> Couldn’t you tell by the artwork? Which brings me around to the effect and agency players have on the world. During session 0, most players (at least in my playtests) made their own species.
<+GravityWorks> Give players a toy…
<+Ilya> The game master is encouraged to incorporate those species as the major parts of the refugee fleet. By creating those aliens they also define what kind of fleet they were part of.
<+Ilya> Just because Dan decided to play a shapeshifting blob, well, now there’s a whole community, Blobtown.
<+Ilya> See what you did?
* ~Dan is ashamed
<~Dan> Do you have a character sheet available to view?
<+Ilya> Yes, hang on.
<+Ilya> I’ll just drop that from my google drive one sec.
<+Ilya> (Link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ZbttnFF-T5wYjv_xbFcIqbq7dSshckl_/view?usp=sharing)https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ZbttnFF-T5wYjv_xbFcIqbq7dSshckl_/view?usp=sharing
<~Dan> Let’s see here… What are Innate Abilities? Are they akin to attributes?
<+Ilya> That’s just a list of evolutionary traits you got like chameleon, burrower, binary fission…
<+Ilya> Traits is what the attributes are in this game. The attributes are also free form.
<~Dan> Free form attributes? How does that work?
<+Ilya> During the group character creation, each player defines their person’s defining personality trait. Like ‘honor’, ‘courage’, ‘patience’ or ‘cruelty’.
<+Ilya> Then you copy what the other players called out and prioritize them 1-5. 5 being the best, 1 being the worst.
<+Ilya> This defines the nature of your campaign.
<+Ilya> Because whenever you do anything in the game, you roll a number of dice equal to a trait and a skill.
<+Ilya> Add them together. The trait indicates your approach to the situation.
<~Dan> I’m thinking through the implications of that approach… Does that mean that if nobody calls out “strong”, nobody in the universe is any stronger than anyone else?
<+Ilya> No, it just means that this crew isn’t particularly strong or weak and competitions of strength aren’t what this game is about. For example, in one of my games, a player created a ‘marine marine’, an octopus boarding specialist. His defining characteristic was ‘honor’.
<+Ilya> He fought with honor.
<+Ilya> This influenced a lot of his decisions.
<+Ilya> He had to fight with honor.
<+Ilya> Think about it.
<+Ilya> Another person’s trait was ‘discretion’.
<~Dan> I’m assuming that this doesn’t affect the Traits of NPCs/
<+Ilya> Nah, NPCs can have whatever traits the game master needs them to have, but there’s also a 5/7 shortcut.
<+Ilya> That is, most NPCs have two numbers to their name: number of dice you roll for everything, and number of dice you roll for your specialty, what you’re really good at. 5/7.
<+Ilya> Laziness. Sheer laziness.
<~Dan> Every NPC either rolls 5 dice or 7 dice for everything?
<+Ilya> No, the gamemaster picks two numbers according to the challenge that NPC needs to provide. A narrow specialist might be 4/10, and a dread pirate Roberts might be 8/16.
<+Ilya> The game is about the players and their struggles, everyone else is a supporting character.
<~Dan> I see… And what is the actual dice rolling mechanic? What kinds of dice are you rolling, and are the pools additive or success-counting?
<+Ilya> You roll d6s. The dice rolling mechanic is a very special hell. Bear with me for a sec.
<+Ilya> You pick the highest die. You can pick any die, but higher is better. However, when 2 or more dice roll the same number you can “stack” them, counting them as a single die, by adding their values together.
<+Ilya> Three dice that rolled a 4 is a 12, if you need a 12.
<~Dan> Ah. That’s easy enough. Why is it a very special hell?
<+Ilya> Ones are “wildcards” or “bull’s eye”, they can be added to any stack. That makes probability curve slightly less spiky.
<+Ilya> Ones can also be spent on special maneuvers such as knocking someone over or doing a barrel roll to take damage on a different ship module.
<+Ilya> It’s a special hell because you don’t discard the dice you didn’t use. You keep them in front of you. Until your next action, you can use your remaining dice for defense, multitasking or anything else that comes up.
<+Ilya> So sometimes you don’t want to spend your highest dice.
<+Ilya> And it can be agonizing.
<+Ilya> The game master should announce what the difficulty is upfront, so that you can make an informed decision.
<~Dan> Are they the only dice you get to use for these things?
<+Ilya> Yeah, pretty much. The attention you can spend on anything else depends on your skill and approach with what you’re currently doing. It works out.
<+Ilya> It works because our skills are very general. For example, a “pilot” is a valid skill. Anything a pilot does, is covered by it. Skills are pretty much careers.
<+Ilya> A “marine” knows how to do marine things.
<+Ilya> An engineer can fix a toilet and code at the same time.
<+Ilya> And on damage control duty, sometimes that’s exactly what’s happening in real time.
<~Dan> I ask because I’m thinking in terms of, say, someone trying to hack a computer while under attack. If he’s a great hacker, he’d be a great defender, too. If I’m understanding you correctly, anyway.
<+Ilya> Sure. But that’s the thing. You rolled all those dice… are you going to sacrifice your professional integrity and perform less well just because you’re skittish under fire?
<+Ilya> You can split those stacks how you see fit. What’s it going to be? See? Special hell.
<+Ilya> Another example… you’re in a cockpit of a one man starfighter. You’re about to strafe the enemy ship. Are you going to go all out or are you going to save something for dodging return fire?
<~Dan> Sounds like something I’d have to see in action to really get a feel for it. but I get what you’re going for.
<+Ilya> Decisions are fun.
<~Dan> Hooray for decisions! \o/
<~Dan> So you’ve touched on this, but how does combat work, specifically?
<+Ilya> You have HP as a damage track based on your species, and also EP, which stands for energy points. That’s non-lethal damage you can take (certain weapons, exhaustion).
<+Ilya> You use your skills and weapons to hurt the other person or the other ship. The attack dice stack – defense dice stack – armor = lost HP or EP (depending on weapon).
<+Ilya> An armor penetrating hit also reduces armor by 1 on that module.
<~Dan> (Howdy, GrimmgardTodd!)
<+Ilya> Navigator can help the gunner by providing target locks and target solutions. The navigator can also jam enemy target locks.
<+Ilya> Target locks prevent barrel rolls.
<+Ilya> A pilot’s primary job is to make your ship harder to hit, however, a pilot can multitask to “chase” an enemy ship and make it easier to hit.
<+Ilya> A gunner’s job is to blow things up. However if the weapon is a point defense weapon it can also provide defense screens for the ship or for other ships in the vicinity, such as boarders you sent out on jet packs.
<~Dan> How does weapon damage factor in?
<+Ilya> So on the surface the system is really simple, and all refers to the same dice mechanic. But tactically, there are options.
<+Ilya> Weapons are viewed as tools to deal damage in a certain range. They don’t deal damage, a character’s skill does.
<+Ilya> However, when weapon and target are of different scales (big/small) then there may be damage reduction in play.
<~Dan> So at the same scale, no weapon is any more powerful than any other?
<+Ilya> Some weapons have different ranges, different modes of operation, and different specials that you can activate by spending a “bull’s eye” or two.
<+Ilya> Oh also, some weapons grant you advantage (bonus dice) under certain conditions.
<+Ilya> Oh and just like ships, you build your weapons, and other gadgets, out of components.
<+Ilya> Because cards are magic.
<~Dan> Heh. 🙂
<+Ilya> Slug Thrower (Q♣) Primary: this large firearm sprays slugs in a blast cone at ranges 0-1. The slugs are biomechanical drones that devour organics but leave robotics and other inorganic materials unharmed. Mod: spend a 1 to create a swarm with HP equal to your attack dice stack. It will continue to attack its primary target until destroyed.
<+Ilya> If you roll a 1 while shooting this thing, you just created a friend.
<+Ilya> For some definition of friend.
<+Ilya> However, you could also combine this card with this one: Psi Blade (7♣) Primary: this prehensile whip-like close combat weapon solidifies on command into a variety of very sharp shapes and has range 0. It grants Advantage 1 per card to attack otherworldly entities. Mod: spend a ! to cut off a limb. Spend !! to cut off a head. Spend !!! to cut off a ship
<+Ilya> The “!” here are symbols for 1.
<+Ilya> I use a special font in the book to represent dice.
<+Ilya> So if you combine a Slug Thrower with a Psi Blade you get a very special weapon. It has range 0-1, grants advantage 2 to attack otherworldly entities and your swarms can cut stuff up real good.
<~Dan> Does the game feature a bestiary?
<+Ilya> Mostly because of 5/7 rule.
* ~Dan nods
<+Ilya> You can whip out a monster by drafting these cards and assigning a dice pool really fast.
<+Ilya> As you can see the weapons in the deck are special.
<~Dan> That makes sense.
<~Dan> In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?
<+Ilya> At the end of the day, I made a game I enjoy playing with my friends. If it brings happiness to other folks and other tables, that’s the whole point of it.
<+Ilya> Be excellent to each other. 🙂
<~Dan> Thanks very much for joining us, Ilya!
<+BenRogers> Hasta luego. 🙂
<+Ilya> Thank you for making me feel like a rockstar, Dan. 🙂
<+BenRogers> Ilya, I bought your game.
<~Dan> Usual reminder: Tips are welcome at (Link: https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe)https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe 😀
<+Ilya> BenRogers, thank you! Once you have the time to take a look at it, I’d be very curious about your feedback.
<~Dan> If you’ll give me just a minute here, I’ll get the chat logged and will link you!