PZ Myers on Alien Biology

Sean here. To get you ready for what I want to talk about this week, I’m going to have to take a page from biologist PZ Myers and show you a little porn. I’ve hidden it below the page break, so click through when you’re ready to get a little sexy.

Continue reading “PZ Myers on Alien Biology”

Vocabulary of the Orion Arm: The J’s and K’s

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

Acoes are one of two artificial species in the Orion Arm. However, unlike SADEs, they are organic, not electronic.

“Aco” is an acronym of Artificially Created Organism. They were originally designed to be toys and tutors for the children of wealthy human parents, but have since found their way into nearly every economic niche outside the Covenant.

Each aco consists of a “chassis” (the skeleton and organs) and a “skin” (which includes hair, fur, feathers, horns, and claws), both of which can be customized for a specific job. Most acoes are designed as toys or maintenance workers in spaceships and machinery and so are around 18 inches tall. Popular skins include ponies and unicorns for girls, soldiers and spacers for boys, and dinosaurs for pretty much everyone. However, more exotic models exist, including ones with more than four limbs and specialized organs.

The very first acoes, known as Generation One or Gen-1, were vat-grown and asexual. They were usually installed with cybernetics for specific jobs in vitro. These included brain implants that gave them skills and indoctrination as soon as they were decanted.

Acoes are not recognized as sapient beings or even as pets outside the Covenant, however, and many are horribly mistreated. There’s even a market in acoes designed specifically as sex toys. Life as an aco can get very dark very fast.

To give them greater control over their own destinies, an aco rights group developed Generation Two or Gen-2 acoes. These individuals reproduce sexually and have none of the implants – or conditioning – of their vat-grown peers.

Aco culture is marked by both resilience and resistance, as well as a thirst for freedom. Those who can’t make it to the Covenant escape into the countryside or the bowels of cities to create their own societies. They bring to Trade the language of marginalized human cultures, most notably the Polari from Britain’s homosexual and entertainment cultures and the slang of American slaves.

(Acoes are based on Richard Chwedyk‘s novella The Measure of All Things and Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH)

Read on to learn common Trade words that start with the English letters J and K.

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Covenant Game Design: Damage Types and Tech Levels

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

We said last time that we would talk about the types of damage that your character can face in Covenant. Let’s do that now.
Your character’s armor has a rating just like their weapons. If they are hit by a weapon or any other damage source, then you subtract your character’s armor defense rating from the damage rating of what hit them. Your character takes the rest. If their armor’s defense rating is higher than the damage rating, you don’t take any damage.
The problem is that different kinds of armor have different levels of protection from different damage sources.
For instance, a Kevlar vest might protect you from being shot with a gun, but only partial protection from a laser. In fact, your character’s armor rating drops by half if they’re struck by a damage source for which their armor isn’t designed. To keep track of these, both damage sources and armor have damage types:

  • Kinetic Damage: Caused by something striking your character, usually at high speed
  • Inertial Damage: Caused by your character falling or being tossed around a vehicle during a fight or a crash
  • Thermal Damage: Caused by thermal energy being added to your character, usually by something burning like a torch, flare, or flamethrower
  • Cold Damage: Caused by thermal energy being taken away from your character, usually by something cold like liquid nitrogen
  • Electrical Damage: Caused by high-amperage electricity, like lightning or an electrical generator
  • Chemical Damage: Caused by chemically active or corrosive compounds, like strong acids and bases
  • Biological Damage: Caused by poisons and disease
  • Radiant Damage: Caused by radioactive materials
  • Psychological Damage: Caused by loss, trauma, or stress

Thermal and cold damage can also come from environmental sources. For instance, environmental thermal damage could come from exposure to a desert, while environmental cold damage could come from a snowstorm. This is important, because a character’s gear might react differently to environmental damage. A heavy coat might protect your character from the environmental cold damage of a snowstorm, but not from the cold damage of being splashed with liquid nitrogen.
We are also working with the idea of tech levels (TLs) for character gear, including armor and weapons. The tech levels are:

  • Tech Level 1 (TL1): Muscle-powered. The period ranging from the Stone Age to the Iron Age is TL1.
  • Tech Level 2 (TL2): Chemical-powered. Much of modern-day Earth is currently TL2.
  • Tech Level 3 (TL3): Fusion or antimatter-powered. This includes lasers, rail guns, warp engines, and Lorentzian distorters. A TL3 civilization is approaching or at Type I on the Kardashev scale – that is, it can harness all the energy available on a planet.
  • Tech Level 4 (TL4): Highly advanced technology powered by black holes, neutron stars, and other stellar objects, including hard light, programmable materials (or “smart goo”), and effective nanotech. A TL4 civilization is approaching or at Type II on the Kardashev scale – that is, it can harness all the energy available from a star or other stellar object.
  • Tech Level 5 (TL5): Technology so advanced that it’s hard to distinguish from magic. A TL5 civilization is approaching or at Type III on the Kardashev scale – that is, it can harness all the energy available in a galaxy.

Armor is designed for a specific tech level. For instance, plate armor stops swords and arrows (TL1) but not bullets (TL2), while a Kevlar vest will stop bullets (TL2) but not knives or arrows (TL1). Armor and damage sources interact this way:

  • Same Tech Level and Damage Type: Armor provides full protection
  • Different Tech Level OR Damage Type: Armor provides half protection
  • Different Tech Level AND Damage Type: Armor provides no protection

As you can see, tech levels add another level of complexity to Covenant. Only time and playtesting can tell whether they’re worth it. If they aren’t, they’ll be removed.
That’s it for now. Join us next time for a discussion of gender in the game.

Radio Free Covenant: Episode 2 – Fascism and Noodles

Episode 2: Fascism and Noodles

So, we’re trying a shorter format that we hope we can get out on a more regular basis. I hope you bear with us through our birthing pangs. For now, join Sean and Sazzy as they talk about:

  • Why fascism and autocracy may be the inevitable outcome of our current politics and economics
  • Why it’s still important to portray fascism and autocracy correctly in fiction
  • How some works of art satirize fascists and autocrats or use them as the baddies, but still inadvertently make them look desirable
  • Ways Sean and Sazzy can make the democratic Covenant look more desirable, superficially and substantively, to its fascist rivals

The articles we talked about in this episode were:

Do you agree or disagree? Are you fans of the franchises we mentioned? Did we get it all wrong? Leave a comment, or let us know at radiofreecovenant@gmail.com. If you don’t tell us what we did wrong, we can’t fix it.


Don’t miss the previous episode of Radio Free Covenant, Hello World!


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 H’s and I’s

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

The calerre are the founders of both the Covenant and the Old Empire which, after the valka Matriarchy, are the two most ancient civilizations in the Orion Arm. They are vaguely reptilian-looking humanoids with functional wings on their backs and stubby tails. However, they share many traits with Earth mammals: they are warm-blooded, bear live young, and even suckle their children with specially adapted salivary glands.

Calerre tend to slender but tough. They also adapt to different worlds and cultures with surprising speed. Humans relate to them with ease.

This is despite the fact that calerre are probably the most alien of the sapient species in the Orion Arm. They stop aging physically sometime in early adulthood and are effectively immortal, though injury, hunger, and thirst can kill them. They also have conscious control over much of their own biochemistry, allowing them to edit their bodies, personalities, and even gender.

Calerre also seem have a different perception of time than humans, with some studies suggesting that they are in communication with both their past and future selves on a subconscious level. None of these studies are conclusive, though.

The calerre living in and defending the early Covenant created Trade so that they would have some way to communicate despite their disparate cultures. However, its barebones construction inadvertently let it absorb words and vocabulary from across Cadelle, their homeworld, and now it’s doing the same thing in the Orion Arm.

Read on to learn common Trade words that start with the English letters H and I.

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Covenant Game Design: Areas and Tactical Movement

Covenant Game Design - Game Mechanics - Areas and Tactical Movement

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

Last week, we promised that we’d talk about how Covenant handles tactical movement during scenes. Let’s do that now.

Before we start, though, let’s narrow down our subject. When I say “tactical movement”, I mean the kind of character movement that needs a map or battle mat, including fights or any other scene where you need to know where your character is with some precision. Covenant handles this kind of movement with areas.

Areas are somewhat abstract, in terms of game mechanics. They occupy a space somewhere between theater-of-the-mind and map-based combat.

In Covenant, areas are generally 10 meters square, but they can be smaller or larger. In fact, during spaceship fights, the areas can measure thousands and even millions of kilometers on a side.

There are two types of areas, which can exist side-by-side on the same scene map:

  • Areas that are walled off and accessible to each other only by doors or windows (e.g., the rooms in a building or spaceship, etc.)
  • Arbitrary sections of a larger space (e.g., a long corridor, a hangar, an outside field, etc.)

Areas are important, not just to show where characters are in relation to each other, but who they can attack and who can in turn attack them. Characters can make three kinds of attacks in Covenant:

  • Close Attacks: Characters can generally make close attacks (e.g., attacks with fists, swords, spears, etc.) against any other character in the same area. This is because characters are assumed to be constantly maneuvering and jockeying for position during a fight.
  • Ranged Attacks: Character can make ranged attacks (e.g., with bows, guns, throw weapons, etc.) against characters in other areas. The number of areas separating attacker and defender during a ranged attack is the attack’s range.
  • Area Attacks: Characters can make area attacks (e.g., with grenades, machine guns, etc.) against every character in 1 area. These type of attacks can potentially damage every character in 1 area, be they friend or foe. Generally speaking, characters can make area attacks into any area where they can make ranged attacks. However, specific area attacks may break this guideline; the attack will specify if it does and when in its description.

Read on for two examples of how areas are used in Covenant.

Continue reading “Covenant Game Design: Areas and Tactical Movement”

More on Failing Forward

Covenant Game Design - More on Failing Forward

We’ve talked about Covenant‘s fail forward mechanics, but I want to touch on something more fundamental here: how the Force Majeure (FM) can prevent failed bids from grinding their games to a halt.

This was inspired by a post on the RPGdesign subreddit from xxXKurtMuscleXxx entitled: “A new (?) kind of social mechanic“. The rule itself is interesting – I might even steal it later – but it’s also unimportant to this discussion. What I want to focus on is the top response, by remy_porter

The underlying problem here is the same as the lockpicking problem: how do you fail forward? If an NPC has vital information, having the NPC clam up derails the plot.

This touches upon the fundamental problem in RPG social systems: they tend to take the fundamental “winner/loser” logic of combat and apply it to social interaction, which isn’t how social interactions work.

… and the top response to that, by DastardlyCoxcomb:

This complaint is always so contrived. It’s not a system fault, it’s the GM’s fault for, in order:

– Hiding plot-vital information behind a fail state

– Not having more than one way of accessing vital information, fail state or not

– Lacking flexibility to introduce said other ways of accessing information even if not originally present

– Railroading players in such a way that the players missing one plot thread instantly derails the entire plot

– Not understanding that sometimes players just want to make a U-turn and turn the campaign into something else.

Your complaint applies to literally any system where players can fail a conversation in some fashion, from DnD to PbtA (ed.: Powered by the Apocalypse).

The best way to do handle these situations, of course, is to not gate vital information, items, or events behind bids. This is because even the easiest bids can be failed. If the players fail a bid that’s vital to the story, then the prize behind that bid is inaccessible, and the FM will have to scramble to either replace it or come up with an alternate way to get it into the players’ hands.

One way to handle this is to give the players anything that’s critical to the story, possibly through a cut scene-like bit of narration. Some FMs might feel this puts the game on rails, though. In addition, some players may not appreciate just being handed stuff. After all, they want to earn their shinies, dammit.

If you’re an FM, and you want to avoid railroading your characters, then there are a couple ways to handle story-critical bids. They’ll require you to do more work, of course, but they’ll give your players greater freedom while ensuring that they don’t dead-end the story:

  • Alternate Methods of Success: Make sure your players have more than one way to succeed at story-critical bids, and try to tailor them to their characters’ specializations. For instance, one PC might be good at fast-talking NPCs, while another is good at stealth. If the first PC can’t talk a piece of information out of a NPC, give the second a chance to, say, sneak into the NPC’s home or office to steal it.
  • Fail Conditions: Make sure your story isn’t a straight line from start to finish. When planning it, include forks at critical points, with one branch for the PC succeeding and another for if the PCs failing. Plot out both branches fully. After all, you won’t know which one the PCs will take until they get there.

That’s about it for now. I promised last week that we’d be talking about tactical movement during scenes, and I intend to deliver on that tomorrow. Stay tuned for that!

Vocabulary of the Orion Arm: The E’s through G’s

Vocabulary of the Orion Arm - The E's through G's

The chiroptim are some of the latest arrivals in the Orion Arm. They came here through a portal between our timeline and another where bats and humans evolved side-by-side on Earth. “The Crossing”, as they call it, occurred approximately 200 years ago. At that time, the Earth of their timeline was still deep in the Great Depression.

Most of the chiroptim who entered our timeline are from the Ya’os (literally “our people”), an ethnic group spread over Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. The portal to our timeline opened in Tayassam, a chiroptim neighborhood in New York City’s Lower Manhattan, and many chiroptim today retain some New Yawker attitude.

The Ya’os were among the lowest of the low in Europe. This brought them into frequent contact with Ashkenazi Jews, with whom they both cooperated and competed. Because of this, much of their slang is derived from Yiddish that they picked up from their Jewish neighbors.

As if living in a world dominated by humans wasn’t enough, chiroptim are blood drinkers and had to suffer literal blood libel in Europe and North America. To cope with this, the Ya’os developed the Machyefshef or feeding Code, which forbade feeding on humans except in extraordinary circumstances.

The situation for chiroptim appeared to be much better in other parts of “the Old World”, particularly in East Asia, where bats are seen as auspicious animals; in Central America, where bats were associated with the underworld; and in Egypt, where jackal-headed chiroptim were associated with the god Anpu. Chiroptim were much more integrated into these societies and often held prestigious positions, even up to the modern era. However, most of the chiroptim in the Orion Arm of Covenant are from the heavily persecuted Ya’os ethnic group.

The chiroptim don’t miss the Old World and aren’t particularly saddened about the portal there collapsing. Instead, they see the Orion Arm of the 28th century as a fresh start and the Covenant as the first society to welcome them with open arms.

Some “feral” chiroptim want to keep to “the old ways” that kept them alive in the Old World. Millennia of persecution leave deep scars, and the ferals are understandably suspicious of their new hosts. The rest of the chiroptim, however, are eager to integrate into this new world.

Read on to learn common Trade words that start with the English letters E through G.

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Episode 2 Is In Progress

Loading Bar Courtesy Brian McCumber.DeviantArt
Loading Bar Courtesy Brian McCumber/DeviantArt

Sean and Sazzy just finished recording the first half of Episode 2 tonight. We talked about how to portray the Covenant’s rivals in the game. These rivals are all either autocratic or fascistic, but there are reasons why they’re autocratic and fascistic, and we want to portray them in as empathetic a light as possible.

However, we also don’t want to sympathize with them. There’s a huge difference between empathy and sympathy. The former understands, while the latter endorses, and we don’t want to come off as supporting fascism.

In addition, we don’t want to make the mistake that franchises like Warhammer 40,000, Star Wars, Judge Dredd, and even Mad Max: Fury Road have made – that is, accidentally portraying “the bad guys” in a favorable light.

We think we’ve figured out how to walk this particular tightrope. However, Sazzy wanted more time to think about it, so we’re going to revisit it tomorrow. Stay tuned.