Vocabulary of the Orion Arm: The D’s

Vocabulary of the Orion Arm: The D's

The thk’kok are, after the valka, the most numerous sapient species in the Orion Arm. They are also unique in the sense that they did not evolve any kind of vocal cords. Instead, they communicate via clicks and glottal stops. As a result, they have a hard time communicating with other species.

Some thk’kok receive laryngeal implants to help them speak with other sapients. Others, however, either have religious restrictions against these implants or don’t want to cut their own throats open just to be able to talk to other species.

Trade has adapted to the thk’kok by developing a sign language. The thk’kok have three fingers on each hand, so other species usually use their first three fingers to utilize this sign language. These gestures have become so popular that many Trade speakers use them even when they aren’t speaking to thk’kok, to the point that it often resembles spoken Italian.

Read on to learn common Trade words that start with the English letter D.

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Covenant Game Design: Damage

Covenant Game Design - Game Mechanics - Damage

(Don’t forget to tune in to this week’s episode of the Radio Free Covenant podcast!)

So, your character can spend their Discipline on Covenant to make bids and accomplish tasks. How do they regain that spent Discipline, though? And if Discipline represents (at least in part) their physical and mental health, then how do they heal?

To answer that, we have to talk about how Covenant handles damage.

Damage in represents a loss of Discipline from a variety of sources, including:

  • Being struck by a weapon
  • Trying to accomplish a task
  • Losing social status or standing
  • Expending ammunition, fuel, and other resources
  • Suffering mental stress and trauma

There are three kinds of damage that a character can suffer: scene damage, chapter damage, and long-term damage. (See yesterday’s post on how Covenant handles time for more) Each one differs in when it’s restored or recharged to a character’s pool of free Discipline. They are defined as follows:

  • Scene Damage: Represents a less-serious loss of Discipline to bruising, exhaustion, and non-lethal or stun weapons. It can also represents a minor or easily replaced loss of resources. Scene damage is recharged as soon the scene ends or, if your character takes this damage during an interstitial, at the end of the next scene.
  • Chapter Damage: Represents more serious wounds, loss of resources, and damage from lethal weapons like knives and guns. It also represents a longer-term loss of resources. Chapter damage is recharged as soon as the chapter ends or, if your character takes this damage during an intermission, at the end of the next chapter.
  • Long-Term Damage: Represents scarring, limb loss, mental trauma, and a permanent loss of resources. Long-term damage can only be restored through roleplay, by accomplishing character goals, or with cybernetic implants.

One way to think of damage is as a series of buckets. Whenever your character takes damage, they pours some of their free Discipline into the appropriate bucket. When they regain Discipline, either by recharging or by some other means (i.e., healing, etc.), then they pours the contents of the appropriate bucket back into their free Discipline. This lets them use that regained Discipline again.

Let’s look at an example. Your character has 300 Discipline at the start of a scene. That means they have 300 Discipline in their free Discipline “bucket” and zero in their other buckets.

Damage Example - 300 Free Discipline, 0 Scene Damage, 0 Chapter Damage, 0 Long-Term Damage

You spend 30 Discipline on a bid. Bids usually count as scene damage, so 30 of your Discipline goes from your free Discipline to your scene damage. This leaves you with 270 free Discipline.

Damage Example - 270 Free Discipline, 30 Scene Damage, 0 Chapter Damage, 0 Long-Term Damage

Then you’re hit by a weapon that does 50 damage. Weapons usually deal chapter damage, so 50 of your Discipline goes from your free Discipline to your chapter damage. This leaves you with 220 free Discipline.

Damage Example - 220 Free Discipline, 30 Scene Damage, 50 Chapter Damage, 0 Long-Term Damage

You manage to survive to the end of the scene, so the 30 scene damage gets poured from your scene damage bucket back into your free Discipline bucket. However, the chapter hasn’t ended yet, so the 50 Discipline in your chapter damage bucket stays there, leaving you with only 250 of your original 300 Discipline to make bids, withstand weapon damage, and so on.

Damage Example - 250 Free Discipline, 0 Scene Damage, 50 Chapter Damage, 0 Long-Term Damage

That’s it for now. Tune in next week when we discuss how Covenant handles your character being incapacitated.

Covenant Game Design: Game Time

Covenant Game Design - Game Mechanics - Game Time

(Don’t forget to tune in to this week’s episode of the Radio Free Covenant podcast!)

I said yesterday that I’d talk about how Covenant measures game time – that is, the time experienced by the PCs within the game. Game time is important, because it governs how often characters can use their abilities and regain their Discipline.

Covenant campaigns are broken up into:

  • Scene: A single fight, confrontation, chase, or puzzle. The scenes ends when the action ends or the confrontation or puzzle is resolved. Scenes are separated into rounds. During each round, each character participating gets to take a turn.
  • Interstitials: The time between scenes. Characters usually have a limited number of things that they can do during an interstitial, like gathering information, sneaking into an enemy base, or healing allies.
  • Chapter: A series of related scenes, usually leading to a climax where some plot threads are resolved. You should be able to resolve a chapter during a single gaming session. A one-shot campaign or story usually encompasses a single chapter.
  • Intermissions: The time between chapters. Characters usually have a limited number of things that they can do during an intermission. However, the actions that they can accomplish during intermissions are more complicated than the ones they can accomplish during interstitials, like learning new abilities and crafting or upgrade new gear.
  • Story: A series of related chapters, usually leader to a climactic scene where most or all of the plot threads are resolved.

Your character has four attributes that are affected by these:

  • Discipline: Spent on bids, which is how your character accomplishes tasks. Affected by advantages and disadvantages.
  • Traits: Spent on bids, but more often. Not affected by advantages and disadvantages.
  • Abilities: Gives characters special abilities, storytelling control, or ways to bend the game’s rules
  • Gear: Includes armor, weapons, and other equipment

Traits, abilities, and gear can all be utilized only so often. In addition, abilities and gear can be utilized in more than one way — the more powerful the application, the less often it can be utilized. After being used, they must “cool down” until they recharge, much like your character’s discipline. (And yes, this was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, and thank you for noticing)

All three of these character attributes can be either used, tapped, exhausted, burned, or destroyed.

  • Use: Recharges immediately after use
  • Tap: Recharged when the character’s next turn in a scene starts
  • Exhaust: Recharges at the end of the scene (or if exhausted between scenes, at the end of the next scene)
  • Burn: Recharges at the end of the chapter (or if burned between chapters, at the end of the next chapter)
  • Destroy: Destroys the affected trait, ability, or piece of gear. Your character permanently loses this attribute.

That’s it for now. We’ll look at damage and how it affects a character’s Discipline tomorrow.

Covenant Game Design: Advantages and Disadvantages

Covenant Game Design - Game Mechanics - Advantages and Disadvantages

(Don’t forget to tune in to this week’s episode of the Radio Free Covenant podcast!)

So, in Covenant, your character has Discipline and traits, and you can use these to make bids and accomplish tasks. However, you also need to keep track of the circumstances surrounding your bid, too.

Most roleplaying games keep track of these circumstances with numerical modifiers like bonuses and penalties. The problem with this method, though – at least in my opinion – is that there has to be a different modifier for every circumstance, and often several to represent different levels of severity. This creates modifier bloat: long lists and tables of modifiers that are difficult to memorize and can slow down a game. The game master can make up modifiers on the fly to speed things up, of course, but that just increases the GM’s workload, and they have enough work to do as is.

We wanted to do something different. So, after a lot of thought, we came up with advantages and disadvantages.

An advantage in Covenant is anything that benefits a character during a bid or makes that bid easier to accomplish. This could include:

  • Having an advantageous position
  • Holding the high ground
  • Attacking from concealment
  • Using superior weapons, tools, or parts
  • Having plenty of time to accomplish a task
  • Interacting with a friendly NPC

A disadvantage, on the other hand, is anything that hinders a character during a bid or makes that bid harder to accomplish. This could include:

  • Being outflanked or outmaneuvered in a fight
  • Attacking or defending from a lower position
  • Being attacked from concealment
  • Using inferior weapons, tools, or parts
  • Performing a task quickly or cutting corners
  • Interacting with a hostile NPC or an NPC from a different species

Each circumstance affecting a bid adds either 1 advantage or 1 disadvantage to the bid. Some specific circumstances, like an attacker’s relative size to its target, may contribute more, but this is rare.

Unlike traditional modifiers like bonuses and penalties, advantages and disadvantages don’t directly affect your bid. Instead, you count up the number of advantages and disadvantages affecting your bid. This affects the cost to raise your bid.

  • More Advantages than Disadvantages: Your bid is at half cost. Every 1 Discipline you spend raises your bid by 2.
  • More Disadvantages than Advantages: Your bid is at double cost. Every 2 Discipline you spend raises your bid by 1.
  • Equal Advantages and Disadvantages: Your bid is at normal cost. Every 1 Discipline you spend raises your bid by 1.

Advantages and disadvantages don’t affect traits, though. Traits always add 1 to your bids, no matter the circumstances. They each represent a level of expertise and training in a field or subject that you can always call on, no matter what.

That’s it for now. Visit tomorrow to see how game time is measured during a game of Covenant.

Radio Free Covenant: Episode 1 – Hello World!

Radio Free Covenant: Episode 1: Hello World!
Episode 1: Hello World!

It took longer than we thought it would, but Radio Free Covenant is finally on the air. Join Sean and Sazzy as they talk about:

  • The Covenant and Matriarchy from their tabletop roleplaying game Covenant
  • Idealism vs. pragmatism in science fiction
  • Sean’s elevator pitch for his novel Crossing the Line, to be published soon by Black Opal Books

The articles we talked about in this episode were:

How did we do with this first episode? How was the sound quality? Let us know! If you don’t tell us what we did wrong, we can’t fix it.


Our announcer was the dulcet-toned voice actor Markus Phoenix. You can reach him at Markankhamen@yahoo.com.

Interstitial music was Worst Sound by Gowler Music at https://gowlermusic.com/ and https://gowlermusic.bandcamp.com/. Used with permission.

Outro music was Speed of Light by Lyvo at https://www.facebook.com/LyvoOfficial/ and https://lyvomusic.bandcamp.com/. Used with permission.

Vocabulary of the Orion Arm: The C’s

Vocabulary of the Orion Arm: The C's

Trade was originally developed over 120,000 years ago during the founding of the Covenant on the calerre homeworld of Cadelle. The Covenant at that time was comprised of refugees, adventurers, mercenaries, and other ne’er-do-wells, many of who didn’t speak each other’s language.

Trade was originally a stripped-down, easily taught and learned mercantile language. It was designed for trading, defending the Covenant from military attack, conveying the most basic of needs, and nothing else. It eventually became the de facto common tongue of the Covenant and began to pick up phrases and vocabulary from across Cadelle, and eventually from across the Orion Arm.

Read on to learn common Trade words that start with the English letter C.

Continue reading “Vocabulary of the Orion Arm: The C’s”

Covenant Game Design: Traits

Covenant Game Design - Game Mechanics - Traits

Traits in Covenant are anything that your character is, knows, or knows how to do. Their species and gender are traits. So are where they come from. So are their jobs, careers, hobbies, and any random skills that they’ve picked up along the way.

Whenever you spend a trait on bid, you add one to your bid. That’s one less Discipline that you have to spend on your bid. Best of all, you can spend any trait that applies to your current bid on that bid. It doesn’t matter how off-the-wall the connection is. As long as you can convince the FM that a trait has something to do with your bid, you can spend it on that bid.

Say you have the Rifles trait. You could spend this trait on bids when you:

  • Shoot a rifle (you know how to aim a rifle and line up a shot)
  • Defend yourself from a rifle attack (you know how people fight with rifles and can use that to your advantage)
  • Repair a rifle (you know the inner workings of rifles)
  • Buy a rifle (you know how to recognize a good rifle from a shoddy or inaccurate one)
  • Talk to people who use rifles, like soldiers and mercenaries (you can talk shop)

And so on.

Many other roleplaying systems, like Dungeons and Dragons, have something similar to traits in skills. They works, but we decided that they were a little too restrictive for Covenant. They tend to have a small number of well-defined uses. If you try to use them for something unconventional, you either can’t or must come up with a house rule on the spot. The Discipline game mechanic, on the other hand, implies that you can use any and all of your character’s resources in any way you can imagine, or at least in any way that fits the current situation. Covenant’s traits had to have that flexibility, as well.

That’s about it on traits for now. Tune in next week for advantages and disadvantages.

Covenant Game Design: Bids

Covenant Game Design - Game Mechanics - Bids

Yesterday, I told you about Discipline. I told you how everyone has it in Covenant, whether you’re a PC or an NPC. Now I’m going to tell you how to use it.

If you want your character to do something, you spend some of your Discipline to make a bid. You always make a bid to either overcome something in the environment or against another character.

You make fixed bids to overcome something in the environment. Examples include hacking a computer or performing a difficult spaceship maneuver. Your bid must exceed the target of the task, which is a fixed number determined by the Force Majeure (FM). If your bid exceeds the task’s target, you succeed at accomplishing the task. If not, you fail and possibly suffer penalties, like being detected by the computer’s security or crashing your spaceship.

You make opposed bids to overcome another character. Examples include hitting someone with a weapon or bluffing your way past a guard. Opposed bids always have an attacker, who is trying to make some change in the world, and a defender, who is trying to prevent that change. If the attacker’s bid is higher than the defender’s, then that player accomplishes what they want. Otherwise, they don’t.
Remember that your character’s Discipline represents all of their available resources. This means you can roleplay or skin your bid any way you want. For instance, if you’re trying to talk your way past a guard, you could skin it by:

  • Showing a forged pass that you got from a contact
  • Spending money to bribe the guard
  • Use your speaking skills to convince him that you belong there
  • Intimidate him so that he’s too scared to stop you

The winner of a bid also gains storytelling control – that is, the ability to describe the bid’s outcome. If the player wins a fixed bid, then they describe the bid’s outcome. Otherwise, the FM does. If the bid is an opposed bid, then the bid’s winner describes its outcome.

Discipline isn’t the only thing you can spend on a bid, though. Tune in tomorrow when we talk about your character’s traits.

Covenant Game Design: Discipline

Covenant Game Design - Game Mechanics - Discipline

Well, I told you yesterday that Covenant has some strange rules – so strange, in fact, that new players would need transcripts from a full play session to get their head around them. I should elaborate, huh?

Covenant is a tabletop roleplaying game, similar to Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. The players control characters (known as player characters or PCs) in the game. One player is the game runner or game master, called the Force Majeure or FM in Covenant. The FM controls nonplayer characters or NPCs, which represent everyone with whom the PCs interact – enemies, allies, monsters, robots, etc. So far, so good, so vanilla.

However, players and the FM don’t roll dice to accomplish tasks. Instead, they spend a highly abstract, finite resource called Discipline that periodically renews itself. (Vehicles and robots have something similar called Endurance that works the same way) Discipline represents all of a character’s resources, including:

  • Physical Resources: The character’s strength, endurance and agility, as well as their ability to dodge attacks and take hits
  • Intellectual Resources: Training, education, life experience, resourcefulness, logic, and intuition
  • Mental Resources: Mental endurance, grit, and the ability to keep going no matter what
  • Material Resources: Ammunition, money, fuel, energy for technological gadgets, and specialized resources, like bandages, antidotes, and medicine for healing injuries
  • Social Resources: Political capital, contacts, good will, and the ability to persuade and/or threaten people into doing what you want
  • Financial Resources: Money, trade goods, assets, and the ability to take out loans

This isn’t as unusual or innovative as it seems at first. There are other diceless RPGs, like Amber, and some of these have a measure of resource management, like Nobilis. Discipline was inspired by a number of Wizards of the Coast mechanics, including the d20 Modern’s wealth bonus.

We think that Discipline is a logical progression from the “hero points” or “brownie points” used in other games. In fact – early in Covenant ‘s development, when it still used dice – characters only used Discipline as hero points and story control.

However, Discipline’s roles expanded until players were able to spend it on bonuses to their rolls on a 1-to-1 basis. It was at that point that we decided to get rid of the dice and make Covenant diceless. That one change opened up a lot of possibilities, as well as created a lot of headaches.
So how do players use Discipline? Tune in tomorrow, when we talk about bids.

Andy Kitkowski: Teaching Rules with Replays

Kotodama Heavy Industries – Japanese TRPG Replays : What are they? How are they different from Actual Plays?

They do things differently in Japan.

For instance: replays. You know those corny one-page sample games that most western RPGs stick at the start of their rulebooks? Japan goes way beyond that, selling recordings and transcripts of entire game sessions in book or audio format. I never understood the idea of reading or listening someone else’s game, but they’re not made for me. They’re made for a Japanese audience, and apparently they sell like hotcakes over there.

It was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea of using RPG replays, not just as entertainment, but as a teaching tool – specifically Toichiro Kawashima at Adventure Planning Service for the game Shinobigami.

According to Andy Kitkowski of Kotodama Heavy Industries, which translated Shinobigami into English, doing so makes sense in Japan. Players there prefer one-shots to long drawn-out campaigns. Including a replay in your rulebook that teaches players how to play your game makes it easier for players with busy schedules to learn it. It also benefits games with weird rules or play methods, because a replay lets players see a successful example of play. Shinobigami has been so successful, in fact, that other RPGs have adopted teaching replays, as well.

It’s definitely something I want to try with Covenant. I’ll never say that Covenant is !!!GROUNDBREAKING!!! or !!!INNOVATIVE!!!, but it is unusual (more on that tomorrow). Including an actual example of play will should lower player frustration when learning it, if nothing else.