A Note from Sean about the Blog and Podcast

Sean here. I’m going to slow our roll a bit on both the blog and podcast:

  • Blog: Posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Fridat
  • Podcast: Every other Tuesday

Thanks for being patient with us as we sort things out here. Hopefully, slowing things down will allow us to put out a better podcast and blog, as well as better novel and game.

Cecilia D’Anastasio on Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and Dungeons and Dragons’ Origins

Covenant Game Design - Cecilia D'Anastasio on Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and Dungeons and Dragons' Origins

Sean here. While researching Covenant, I decided that I needed, for whatever reason, to figure out what a roleplaying game is and how the differ from other types of games, like computer games. I put that to my gaming friends, and one of them (I think it was John, Roll20 has apparently eaten the message) gave me this interesting scenario.

Imagine a rope bridge spanning a deep gorge and separating your character from the monsters. My friend John said that, in a roleplaying game, you could tell the Dungeon Master (DM) that you want to burn the ropes holding up the bridge with a fireball spell, and the DM would decide whether the ropes would burn and if the bridge would fall into the gorge. The DM could even decide to have the monsters walking across the bridge when you cast your fireball because, well, he’d almost have to.

I mean, come on. It’s a rope bridge. What else are those things good for in a game, if not for pitching mooks into a bottomless pit?

You can’t do that in a computer game, though, said John – not unless the game developers programmed the bridge’s ropes to burn. That’s not necessarily a detail that the devs would think of or have the time to program.

That’s the main difference between roleplaying games and most other types of games: a referee who can make it up on the fly.


Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is considered the first roleplaying game. It was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, both wargamers. Gygax brought his Chainmail wargame, which had a fantasy supplement for elves and fireballs, and Arneson brought the Braunstein-style wargames that he was playing the Twin Cities area, and somehow out of that Gygax created D&D.

That’s the official story, at least.

While I was researching my roleplaying game, I decided to do some casual research into the first roleplaying game. What I found ran against D&D’s official story.

Gygax’s Chainmail was just a wargame. It was skinned for fantasy wargame, but in the end it was a fairly standard wargame without roleplaying elements.

Arneson was a different story. His Braunstein games had everything I’d associate with a roleplaying game, including:

  • Persistent characters that players could take from game session to game session
  • “Theatre of the mind” game play
  • A referee who could make judgments on rules and even new rules on the fly

Keep in mind, this wasn’t some kind of Bernstein-and-Woodward investigation. There was no man-on-the-inside, no Deep Throat, no midnight meetings in vacant lots and parking garages with a pistol in my pocket. Instead, I used Google when I had the time, and sometimes not even then.
But it did nag at me.

This recent article in Kotaku by Cecilia D’Anastasio, Dungeons & Deceptions: The First D&D Players Push Back On The Legend Of Gary Gygax, crystallized those dobuts in my mind. Here’s a long quote from D’Anastasio’s article:

Chainmail, or more specifically its fantasy supplement, is widely considered to be the prototype of D&D. This is stated in all the books: in the Gygax biography Empire of the Imagination, in the graphic novel Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D, and in Playing at the World. It’s stated in the articles, the forum posts, the oral histories. Despite all of this, Chainmail was decidedly not a role-playing game. It wasn’t structured around campaigns. There were no experience points. Characters weren’t acted out, or represented as being anyone other than the player.

In his Minnesota basement games incubator, Arneson ran a game of Chainmail. He loved the medieval setting and the fantasy trappings in the supplement, and played the game consistently for about a month. One day after the game of Chainmail had wound down, Arneson was at rest, binging five monster movies on Creature Feature weekend, gobbling down fistfuls of popcorn, playing with some graph paper, flipping through a Conan book.
Chainmail, he thought, could make for a solid combat ruleset for a more expansive sort of game, an ongoing one like Braunstein. That restful day, Arneson idly considered bringing Gygax’s new combat ruleset into the developing game tradition he and his friends were carving out: role-playing.

“There will be a medieval ‘Braunstein’ April 17, 1971, at the home of Dave Arneson from 1300 hrs to 2400 hrs with refreshments being available on the usual basis,” Arneson advertised in his wargaming group’s small-circulation newsletter, Corner of the Table Top. “It will feature mythical creatures and a Poker game under the Troll’s bridge between sunup and sundown.”

Players took novice characters—“flunkies” in their terms—and implanted them in Blackmoor, a medieval setting of Arneson’s own invention. Arneson’s map of the town perfectly resembles an early Dungeons & Dragons map, with roads and wilderness that eventually give way to a central, barricaded town. Giants roaming the land would send the players scrambling for the safety of the town. Later, there would be evil wizards and castles and gold, dungeon exploration mechanics. Chainmail’s armor class and hit point mechanics, Stormberg says, Arneson expanded on to fit Blackmoor’s gameplay.

According to Secrets of Blackmoor, on that April day in 1971, Arneson gathered his friends around his ping-pong table, on which he often taped down a layer of brown paper maps. What transpired there, three years before the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, could very well have been the first-ever session of a fantasy tabletop role-playing game. There were no complicated miniature armies, no rulers, no graph paper. It was dice and imagination. Arneson played the “referee,” like the one in the rules of Braunstein, who conjured descriptions of what the players saw. For the most part, the game existed in Arneson’s head.

I’m not saying that Gygax was the Steve Jobs to Arneson’s Steve Wozniak. Gygax was capable of designing games, and you could argue that Arneson’s game would never have made it to a wider audience without Gygax’s drive.

You could even say that these aren’t Arneson’s ideas. Braunstein was invented by David Wesely, one of Arneson’s friends, and the idea of refereed wargames goes back at least to Charles Totten’s 1880 book Strategos: The American Game of War.

Arneson does deserve more credit, though. Maybe he didn’t invent D&D out of whole cloth, but his innovations were critical to its development.


I’m not sure why I posted this. Maybe it was to take advantage of something that’s currently in the gaming zetigeist.

However, it is good to know that my hunches about one of my favorite hobbies was correct, too.

Meet the Acoes – Part 2

Covenant Game Design - Meet the Acoes: Part 2

(Having trouble with the pronouns? Check out this post, and be sure to tune in to the latest episode of the podcast while you’re reading it!)

Sean again. Yesterday, I told you about acoes. Now let’s look at some of the traits that you’ll use to make them in Covenant.

Keep in mind, by way, that these traits, like everything else on this blog, are subject to frequent and massive change. Take a look at this post on how character traits are classified, in case you forgot.

Species Trait: Aco
Acoes are about 18 inches tall or so (size 3). Their small size makes them both athletic and agile. This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving athletics – like running, climbing, or swimming – and agility.

Gender Traits: Depends on Generation

  • Generation One: Gen-1 acoes are vat-grown and asexual. They have cybernetic brain implants that both give them useful skills as well as indoctrinate them. This trait is worth 1 advantage for non-fighting tasks, but 1 disadvantage to resist orders from other sapients. These implants also increase their vulnerability to electrical attacks and are worth 1 disadvantage to resist electrical damage.
  • Generation Two: Gen-2 acoes are either male or female. Neither of these gender traits have game effects on their own, though they may give you 1 disadvantage to social or purchase bids if your character is in the wrong part of the Orion Arm. Nonbinary genders are also available.

Outlooks:

  • Separatist: Separatist acoes are obsessed with freedom, both for themselves and other acoes. They blame other species, especially humans, for their misfortunes. Therefore, acoes should have their own communities, governed by acoes, where they can develop their own culture. They think integrationist acoes are naive at best and species traitors at worst. This trait is worth 1 advantage to stealth and deception.
  • Integrationist: Integrationist acoes want the same rights as other sapient species. They may have radical methods to get there, but in the end they think that they should be integrated with other species. The Covenant is the gold standard for this, and many integrationists want to live there. However, many prefer to gain these rights in their current homes instead of becoming refugees. Integrationists see separatists as troublemakers at best and terrorists at worst. This trait is worth 1 advantage to technology bids and bids to deal with other species.
  • Neutral: You don’t have strong opinions about aco rights or other species. If you live outside the Covenant, you’re probably too busy keeping your head down to care. Choose 1 general trait or 1 ability.

Domains:

  • Old Empire: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Old Empire. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your station:
    • Retainer: You are a commoner or a member of a minor noble house working for a Great House. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two bids of your choice (e.g., fighting, investigation, bodyguarding, medicine, etc.) that would be useful to a Great House.
    • Merchant: You are a business-owner and a provider of goods and/or services. This trait is work 1 advantage to social and purchase bids.
    • Machinist: You are a skilled worker and one of the essential freemen that keeps the Old Empire running. This trait is worth 1 advantage to building and repair bids.
    • Conscript: You are a peasant who was conscripted to serve the Old Empire. This trait is worth 1 advantage to fighting and defense bids
    • Peasant: You are a farmer or a factory worker employed by a merchant or noble. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids of your choice: farming, operation, repair, building, athletics.
    • Outlaw: You are a criminal, beggar, or anyone else that has fallen through the cracks of society. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, social, intimidation, deception.
  • Covenant: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Old Empire. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on the region of Cadelle that you came from:
    • Rethenne Lowlands: Home to a number of major schools, universities, and research facilities, as well as commonwealths serving refugees. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: social, education, medicine, technology.
    • Star’s End: A major mining and manufacturing region with a thriving music scene. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, repair, operation, entertainment.
    • The Land of Sun and Stone: Mountainous, sparsely populated region with philosophical, inward-looking inhabitants. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: education, survival, defense, resist.
    • The Shashenne: Densely urban region where much of the business on Cadelle gets done. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: social, purchase, building, repair, technology, medicine.
    • Qoros: The breadbasket of Cadelle, supplmented by a growing manufacturing sector. Major passtimes for kids here are cars and making homemade explosives out of fertilizer. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, repair, farming, operation, demolition.
    • The Green-and-Gold: Heavily forested area. Home of the very thick and very dangerous Cathedral Forest, as well as calerre trides that want nothing to do with modern life or outsiders. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: medicine, education, survival, stealth.
    • Seventh Continent: A huge habitat ring orbiting Cadelle and connected to the surface by massive orbital elevators. So-called because it is large enough to be a continent in its own right. The citizens of Seventh Continet constantly experiment with both their society and their own bodies. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: medicine, education, operation, social.
    • The Islands of Steel and Fear: The remnants of a defensive Dyson sphere that the calerre built against a thk’kok invasion that never came. It has since been colonized by various weirdos, loners, and misanthropes who have a single common cause – to be left alone. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: survival, operation, repair, defense.
  • Archimedean Confederation: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Confederation. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Confederation:
    • Executive: You have a fairly high position in one of the Confederation’s company-states. This trait is worth 1 advantage to social and purchase bids.
    • Corporate: You are a scientist, engineer, or manager employed by a company-state. This trait is worth 1 advantage to building and education.
    • Security: You are either a freelance security contractor, or you do security and military work for one of the company-states. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: investigation, fighting, intimidation.
    • Contractor: You are part of the army of poorly paid contractors that keeps the company-states going. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, operation, repair, medicine.
    • Unclassified: You are someone who doesn’t fit into the company-state’s neat classifications of corporate citizens. You may be homeless, a pirate, an escaped slave, or simply unemployed. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.
  • Terran Federation: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Terran Federation. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Confederation:
    • Trooper: You were bought as a living weapon for the Terran Federation’s military. This trait is worth 1 advantage to fighting and intimidation.
    • Criminal: You don’t have any rights as an aco. You might have an owner who will fee and protect you, but they can also do whatever they want to you. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.
  • Dominion: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Dominion. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Dominion:
    • Proscribed: The fundamentalist humans of the Dominion blame the calerre for the destruction of Earth. It’s almost impossible for you to have any other kind of role here besides a criminal and exile. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.

Species Traits: Chassis and Skins
Acoes have two unique types of body mods: body configurations or chassis covered by skins. Each chassis and skins gives an aco character abilities unavailable to other species. The type and number of chassis and skins available depends on whether an aco character is Generation One or Two.

  • Generation One: Gen-1 acoes can choose from the widest variety of chassis, including chassis with multiple limbs, snakelike or fishlike chassis, heavy-duty chassis with stronger bones, and even chassis with tentacles. They can place one skin over their chassis.
  • Generation Two: Gen-2 acoes are limited to a standard chassis with two hands and two legs. However, they can spend as many character development traits on skins as they want. It’s assumed that a Gen-2 aco has ancestors with wildly different skins, allowing them to choose from more than one.

That’s about it for the acoes. Come back next week for the four-armed, four-legged thk’kok of Slice o’Heaven!

Meet the Acoes – Part 1

(Having trouble with the pronouns? Check out this post, and be sure to tune in to the latest episode of the podcast while you’re reading it!)

Sean again. We’ve introduced you to the calerre (part 1 and part 2) and the chiroptim (part 1 and part 2). Now it’s time to meet the acoes!

As always, remember that everything on this blog is subject to frequent and massive change.

Appearance: The thing to remember about acoes is that they are artificial organisms, or rather Artificially Created Organisms. They were developed by humans about 750 years ago as “biological toys” for children and “biological tools” for industry, and thus have a wide variety of appearances. None are larger than 18 inches tall or long.

Toy acoes are designed to be companions, teachers, and medical assistance for children. Acoes for boys look like soldiers, dragons, cowboys, or knights, while acoes for girls look like fairies, mermaids, unicorns, or ponies. There are also dinosaur models popular with both boys and girls.

Tool acoes, on the other hand, have bodies that are designed for specific jobs. Thus, they may have extra limbs or bodies designed for specific environments, like water or poisonous atmospheres. There’s also a market in acoes designed specifically as sex toys.

Reproduction: Generation One or “Gen-1” acoes are asexual. They can only reproduce by being grown from artificial embryos. Gen-1s typically have cybernetics implanted before they are “decanted” or born. These include brain implants programmed with useful skills and indoctrination to increase their loyalty to their purchasers. Gen-1 acoes are still grown, especially outside the Covenant.

Generation Two or “Gen-2” acoes are viviparous and sexually dimorphic. Men and women have some differences, but they’re mostly cultural (especially in feral communities) and insignificant from the perspective of game mechanics. Acoes and aco rightists developed the Gen-2s to give acoes what they consider to be a fundamental right of any sapient species: the ability to reproduce independently.

Biology: All acoes – even scaly models like dragons and dinosaurs – are mammals, much like humans.

Their anatomies have two parts: a “chassis” and a “skin”. The chassis includes the skeleton, internal organs, and muscles, while the skin is mostly just that – the epidermis. A Gen-1 chassis can technically have any configuration the customer wants. A Gen-2 chassis, on the other hand, is confined to two arms and two legs from genetics.

Both Gen-1 and Gen-2 acoes can have wildly different appearances from individual to individual. Gen-1 acoes can have more or less than four limbs, specialized limbs, and even snakelike, fishlike, or mollusk-like bodies. Gen-2s, on the other hand, can have skins with multiple qualities from their parentage, including scales, fur, subdermal plating, enhanced musculatures, prehensile tails, and claws.

Psychology: It’s important to keep in mind that acoes are not robots. They’re flesh and blood, and they’re sapient.

Nevertheless, acoes have no rights outside of the Covenant. They were designed to be disposable – expensive, but disposable – and their owners tend to treat them that way. All giving acoes rights does is increase their short-term cost, and if an aco runs away to escape being mistreated, then hir owner has to buy another aco. Aco rights just don’t make business sense.

For this reason, acoes dream of escaping their owners, either to the Covenant or to one of thousands of underground aco communities scattered throughout the Orion Arm. Those who can’t try to support each other as best they can, then try to sneak off to blow off steam while their owners sleep.

Lifespan: Gen-1s have “suicide genes” that limit their lifespan to about 20 years. If they can get these genes de-activated, they can live for up to 100 years. Gen-2s, on the other hand, have a maximum lifespan of 50 years outside the Covenant or 500 years within the Covenant, due to the Covenant’s better quality-of-life and medical care.

History: Acoes have no history, at least not in the traditional sense. Even the chiroptim can point to the Old World as their homeworld. Acoes, on the other hand, have no homeworld and no shared history or traditions.

They are trying to change that, though. They have their own networks of sharing information and culture, from encrypted communications to messengers and “bards” to literature. Free acoes create their own hidden communities where they can continue to be free. Slave acoes sneak away from their charges to decompress at their own underground clubs and theaters, all while dreaming of the day that they can finally escape to freedom.

Abilities: Acoes have two abilities.

  • Variable Anatomies: Acoes have their own unique body mods. Gen-1 characters can pick from a wide variety of chassis, while Gen-2 characters can choose one or more skins. Gen-1s also receive brain implants that give them advantages to certain bids but increase their vulnerability to electrical attacks. In addition, acoes can have more genetic and cybernetic body mods than other species.
  • Intelligence Network: Acoes can get into places and see things that other species can’t. This information is distributed through an informal web of high and low tech communication that is the largest intelligence network in the Orion Arm. Aco characters can gain species abilities that give them access to information and contacts from this network. Advanced characters can even blackmail opponents into losing fights or attacking their own allies.

Handles: These are single words that I use to try to get a handle on the acoes.

  • Resistance: Acoes will either die for their freedom, die to keep their freedom, or die to give someone else their freedom. They will never stop fighting or resisting.
  • Cute: Acoes are products. They’re made to be appealing, usually to children, so they tend to look cute and adorable. Their smiles might be forced, and they may smell of old cigarettes and cheap whiskey, but they’re at least superficially cute. (This GIF of My Little Pony’s Twilight Sparkle having a normal day is a fair approximation)
  • Caring: No matter how much their charges hurt them, acoes do care about them, at least on some level. They were designed to care. They might fight it, but they still care. Acoes also see how humans treat their children, and they know how that cruelty can be visited on them in turn.

Radio Free Covenant: Episode 4 – Meet the Valka, Part 1

Radio Free Covenant - Episode 4 - Meet the Valka, Part 1
Episode 4 – Meet the Valka, Part 1

We’re a week and a day late, but Radio Free Covenant is back on the air! Sean had his hands full with a three-year-old niece last weekend, when he normally edits the podcast. That’s why it’s late.

We have a treat to make up for it, though: one of the playable species in Covenant, the valka! There’s so much here that Sazzy had to split this into two episodes to fit it all.

Find out:

  • What the valka are
  • Where they’re from
  • What they’re like
  • Why you shouldn’t piss them off

Also, a correction: the valka had converted their entire species from hemoglobin-based blood to hemocyanin-based blood in 15 years, not 10. So they’re slightly less hardcore than we let on.

So, what did you think? Would you play a valka? Leave a message here or drop us a line at radiofreecovenant@gmail.com, and if we like it, we’ll respond on air. Remember, 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, We Get Letters.


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.

Meet the Chiroptim – Part 2

(Having trouble with the pronouns? Check out this post, and be sure to tune in to the latest episode of the podcast while you’re reading it!)

Sean again. Yesterday, I told you a little bit about the chiroptim. Now let’s see how they look in the Covenant game system.

Keep in mind, by way, that these traits, like everything else on this blog, are subject to frequent and massive change. Take a look at this post on how character traits are classified, in case you forgot.

Species Trait: Chiroptim
Adult chiroptim are slightly smaller than human-sized (size 5). They are predatory and agile. This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving fighting or agility.

Gender Traits: Male or Female
None of these gender traits have game effects on their own, though they may give you 1 disadvantage to social or purchase bids if your character is in the wrong part of the Orion Arm. Nonbinary genders are also available.

Outlooks:

  • Feral: Feral chiroptim are traditionalists. They follow the “old ways” that kept the Ya’os alive in the Old World and hold such values as honor and community very highly. They also tend be xenophobic and distrustful of non-chiroptim or hakallas, especially humans, and they think separate roles for men and women are natural. Ferals think cosmo chiroptim are endangering, not just themselves, but all chiroptim by trusting the hakallas and abandoning their ways. This trait is worth 1 advantage to defense and survival bids.
  • Cosmo: Cosmo chiroptim are cosmopolitan, hence their name. They feel that, if the hakallas had wanted to do something nasty to them, they would have done it by now. On the contrary, they have been embraced by the Covenant, so they think that maybe it’s time to loosen up on the old ways. Cosmos think that feral chiroptim are stuck in the past, and that their xenophobia is going to ruin everything good that the chiroptim have gained in the Covenant. This trait is worth 1 advantage to technology bids and bids to deal with other species.
  • Neutral: You aren’t too traditional or too modern. Choose 1 general trait or 1 ability.

Domains:

  • Old Empire: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Old Empire. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your station:
    • Retainer: You are a commoner or a member of a minor noble house working for a Great House. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two bids of your choice (e.g., fighting, investigation, bodyguarding, medicine, etc.) that would be useful to a Great House.
    • Merchant: You are a business-owner and a provider of goods and/or services. This trait is work 1 advantage to social and purchase bids.
    • Machinist: You are a skilled worker and one of the essential freemen that keeps the Old Empire running. This trait is worth 1 advantage to building and repair bids.
    • Conscript: You are a peasant who was conscripted to serve the Old Empire. This trait is worth 1 advantage to fighting and defense bids
    • Peasant: You are a farmer or a factory worker employed by a merchant or noble. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids of your choice: farming, operation, repair, building, athletics.
    • Outlaw: You are a criminal, beggar, or anyone else that has fallen through the cracks of society. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, social, intimidation, deception.
  • Covenant: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Old Empire. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on the region of Cadelle that you came from:
    • Rethenne Lowlands: Home to a number of major schools, universities, and research facilities, as well as commonwealths serving refugees. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: social, education, medicine, technology.
    • Star’s End: A major mining and manufacturing region with a thriving music scene. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, repair, operation, entertainment.
    • The Land of Sun and Stone: Mountainous, sparsely populated region with philosophical, inward-looking inhabitants. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: education, survival, defense, resist.
    • The Shashenne: Densely urban region where much of the business on Cadelle gets done. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: social, purchase, building, repair, technology, medicine.
    • Qoros: The breadbasket of Cadelle, supplmented by a growing manufacturing sector. Major passtimes for kids here are cars and making homemade explosives out of fertilizer. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, repair, farming, operation, demolition.
    • The Green-and-Gold: Heavily forested area. Home of the very thick and very dangerous Cathedral Forest, as well as calerre trides that want nothing to do with modern life or outsiders. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: medicine, education, survival, stealth.
    • Seventh Continent: A huge habitat ring orbiting Cadelle and connected to the surface by massive orbital elevators. So-called because it is large enough to be a continent in its own right. The citizens of Seventh Continet constantly experiment with both their society and their own bodies. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: medicine, education, operation, social.
    • The Islands of Steel and Fear: The remnants of a defensive Dyson sphere that the calerre built against a thk’kok invasion that never came. It has since been colonized by various weirdos, loners, and misanthropes who have a single common cause – to be left alone. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: survival, operation, repair, defense.
  • Archimedean Confederation: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Confederation. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Confederation:
    • Executive: You have a fairly high position in one of the Confederation’s company-states. This trait is worth 1 advantage to social and purchase bids.
    • Corporate: You are a scientist, engineer, or manager employed by a company-state. This trait is worth 1 advantage to building and education.
    • Security: You are either a freelance security contractor, or you do security and military work for one of the company-states. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: investigation, fighting, intimidation.
    • Contractor: You are part of the army of poorly paid contractors that keeps the company-states going. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, operation, repair, medicine.
    • Unclassified: You are someone who doesn’t fit into the company-state’s neat classifications of corporate citizens. You may be homeless, a pirate, an escaped slave, or simply unemployed. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.
  • Terran Federation: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Terran Federation. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Confederation:
    • Citizen: Somehow, you have gained the Federation’s grudging trust, though you are still the target of anti-chiroptim bigotry on a daily basis. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: education, medicine, building, repair.
    • Trooper: You have decided that the best way to gain the Federation’s acceptance is to join the military. This trait is worth 1 advantage to fighting and intimidation.
    • Criminal: You are homeless, unemployed, a pacifist, or anything else that the Federation has criminalized. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.
  • Dominion: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Dominion. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Dominion:
    • Proscribed: Aliens like you don’t appear in the Bible, so your very existence is an affront to God. It’s almost impossible for you to have any other kind of role here besides a criminal and exile. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.

That’s about it for the chiroptim. Come back on Thursday for those swashbuckling, freedom-fighting biological toys, the acoes.

Meet the Chiroptim – Part 1

Covenant Game Design - Meet the Chiroptim: Part 1

(Having trouble with the pronouns? Check out this post, and be sure to tune in to the latest episode of the podcast while you’re reading it!)

Sean again. Last week, we introduced you to the calerre (part 1 and part 2). Now it’s the chiroptim’s turn!

As always, remember that everything on this blog is subject to frequent and massive change.

Appearance: The chiroptim evolved from vampire bats on an alternate-timeline Earth, which they call the “Old World”. They are thinner and shorter than humans and covered in short fur ranging from blonde to jet black. The skin is usually colored the same as their fur, and many will trim or shave their fur to show off tattoos. Chiroptim also have human-like hair on the top of their heads, which both men and women typically wear long.

Their eyes are similar to a flying fox’s eyes, which large colored irises that cover the entire eye and white sclera that are only visible when they are afraid or open their eyes wide.

Chiroptim have two membranous wings covered in thin hairs like peach fuzz that stretch from waist to wrist. Each wing has five thin “fingers” that they use to shape their wings during flight. Chiroptim wings are loose and flexible enough to be stuffed into coat or spacesuit sleeves.

Chiroptim have large bat-like ears that they take great pride in. Many will pierce and even tattoo them. Some have chiroptim lose pieces of their ears during fights; this marks you as a fighter in Ya’os culture.

Reproduction: Chiroptim are viviparous and sexually dimorphic. Men and women have some differences, but they’re mostly cultural (especially in feral communities) and insignificant from ther perspective of game mechanics.

Biology: Chiroptim are mammals, much like humans. The big difference – aside from the ears, wings, and fur – are their diet.

Chiroptim are strictly blood drinkers. They can drink other liquids and chew the juice out of fruit – chiroptim love honey and apples, preferably both – but derive most of their nourishment from ingested blood, known as “heme”. They concentrate heme proteins by urinating out the excess water, something chiroptim call “blood piss” or “dinner piss”. Chiroptim gastrointestinal tracts are specialized to hold several pints worth of heme proteins.

Much of chiroptim behavior is governed by their stomachs. They get more and more short-tempered and emotional the hungrier that they get. Opponents can tap a hungry chiroptim’s species trait to give him 1 disadvanatage to all bids until he eats. Starving chiroptim have even been known to attack friends and family for their blood.

Psychology: Chiroptim evolved alongside humans, so their psychology is surprisingly similar. The main difference between them is the chiroptim predatory instincts. They have to derive their nourishment from living animals. They don’t have to kill them, and most subsist on livestock blood or even cloned blood. But they evolved with the need to hunt other animals. That skewed their perception in surprising ways. Now everyone, even friend and lovers, are potential meals. They may not think it consciously or act on it, but it’s always there just under the surface.

Their predatory instincts also force them to go armed at all times. They are convinced – again, on a subconscious level – that they may need to run down and kill their prey in order to feed, and so they always need some lethal weapon, and sometimes two or three, on them at all times. A unarmed chiroptim who feels naked and vulnerable and will suffer from anxiety until ze can get his hands on a weapon, any weapon.

The Ya’os ethnic group, from which many chiroptim in the Covenant universe are drawn, have a “separate but equal” view of the sexes. Men and women have equal responsibility for child rearing, household duties, breadwinning, and community defense. However, men take care of their own business in a semi-formal “men’s council”, while women have a “women’s council”. The man’s council and woman’s council overlap only in affairs of government and defense. Nonbinary chiroptim, as well as chiroptim who don’t hold these beliefs, can become “contraries” or sacred clowns who exist outside this system. These attitudes are dying off in the Covenant but still hold sway both outside the Covenant and in “feral” or traditionalist societies.

Families are far more fluid in Ya’os culture than in Western human culture. Children are raised within large extended families by grandparents, which give the parents the time and energy to work. Children are gnerally kicked out of the house at 15 or so, and many young adults band together into temporary “packs” to share housing and food costs.

Chiroptim are obsessed with ancient Egypt. In the Old World, Anubis is a chiroptim-headed god, not a jackal-headed one. Because of this, Egyptians revered the chiroptim right up to the time of the Crossing. The Ya’os still consider dynastic Egypt to be a golden age.

Chiroptim tend to be more fragile than humans and thus prefer ranged combat, preferably with guns. Few ages revered the gun quite like the Wild West, so the Ya’os are also obsessed with all things cowboy and western-related.

Lifespan: Maximum lifespan in the Old World was 150 years, though few ever reached that point. Anyone who lived past 50 was considered a wise old man or woman. This has been extended to a theoretical 1,000 years in the Covenant, but remains approximately 150 outside of it.

History: The chiroptim evolved from vampire bats on an alternate timeline Earth. They were able to enter the Covenant universe during an interdimensional event about 400 years ago that they call the “Crossing”. The Earth in that timeline, which they call the “Old World”, had a similar history to the Earth of the Covenant universe, but had only advanced to the 1930s at the time of the Crossing.

Most of the chiroptim in the Covenant universe came from Tayassam, a chiroptim neighborhood in the Five Points area of Lower Manhattan. Most of these chiroptim, in turn, are from the Ya’os ethnic group, which was stretched most of Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa. The Ya’os were often the lowest of the low and, during the time of the Crossing, were suffering under the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany alongside the Jews. They survived by clustering together into armed ghettos filled with hidden weapon caches, bunkerized buildings, and traps for unwary invaders.

The interdimensional bridge has since collapsed, but the chiroptim don’t miss the Old World. If anything, they’re trying to re-open it so that they can bring over more of their people. The Covenant has embraced them and benefitted from their undying endurance and fierce sense of resistance.

Abilities: The chiroptim have three abilities.

  • Flight: The chirtoptim use their wings for flight. They are more maneuverable in the air than the heavier chiroptim, but aren’t as powerful.
  • Predatory: Chiroptim are predators. This gives them species abilities like doing extra damage or gaining advantages to fighting bids, and advanced characters can drink blood from enemies to regain Discipline. They only feel comfortable when they’re armed, because their instincts tell them that they may need to hunt at any time. If they are unarmed, then their opponents can tap their Chiroptim trait to give them 1 disadvantage until they can arm themselves again.
  • Organization: Chiroptim, especially the Ya’os, are pack hunters. Perpetually outnumbered and outgunned, they fight back by banding together and organizing, whether through unions, crime organizations, or partisan groups. They can gain abilities that give their allies bonsues to weapon damage, advantages to bids, and access to black market gear.

Handles: These are single words that I use to try to get a handle on the chiroptim.

  • Endurance: The Ya’os have outlasted the world’s greatest civilizations as a people. They have suffered, and terribly, and they will probably continue to suffer. But they will also survive.
  • Predatory: Chiroptim can’t get their food from anything but living animals. Everyone who isn’t a chiroptim is a potential meal on some level.
  • Librarian: The Ya’os gather knowledge and techniques deemed heretical or criminal by other civilizations. This “forbidden knowledge” is jealously guarded and has turned the tide of more than one battle in their favor.
  • Humor: Sometimes the only way to deal with the tragedies that the Ya’os face is to laugh at it. They are consummate pranksters and comedians. Anyone who does fit in their society can become a “contrary”, a sacred clown who trades cultural power for the ability to speak truth to power (and not be killed for speaking it).

Meet the Calerre – Part 2

(Having trouble with the pronouns? Check out this post, and be sure to tune in to the latest episode of the podcast while you’re reading it!)

Sean again. Yesterday, I told you a little bit about the calerre. Now let’s see how they look in the Covenant game system.

Keep in mind, by way, that these traits, like everything else on this blog, are subject to massive change. Take a look at Wednesday’s post for a refresher on how these traits are classified.

Species Trait: Calerre
Adult calerre are approximately human-sized (size 5). They are agile and tough. This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving agility or resisting damage.

Gender Traits: Male or Female
None of these gender traits have game effects on their own, though they may give you 1 disadvantage to social or purchase bids if your character is in the wrong part of the Orion Arm. Nonbinary genders are also available.

Outlooks:

  • Children of the Storm: Children of the Storm tend be more grim and serious and have attitudes that are better suited to Cadelle’s violent pre-Covenant era. Their relationship with Children of the Sun is more protective than antagonistic, and they consider Children of the Sun to be lovable but dangerously naive. Children of the Storm can be found throughout the Orion Arm. This trait is worth 1 advantage to perception bids to sense danger and defense bids.
  • Children of the Sun: Children of the Sun are curious and light-hearted, and they love new experiences and new toys. They are citizens of the gentler and more idealistic Covenant, and it’s their mission to make the Children of the Storm lighten up and have a little fun. Children of the Sun are most often found in or working for the Covenant. This trait is worth 1 advantage to technology and education bids.
  • Neutral: You aren’t too optimistic or pessimistic or too cheery or humorless. Choose 1 general trait or 1 ability.

Domains:

  • Old Empire: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Old Empire. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your station:
    • Noble: You are a member of one of the Old Empire’s noble houses. This trait is worth 1 advantage to social and fighting bids.
    • Retainer: You are a commoner or a member of a minor noble house working for a Great House. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two bids of your choice (e.g., fighting, investigation, bodyguarding, medicine, etc.) that would be useful to a Great House.
    • Merchant: You are a business-owner and a provider of goods and/or services. This trait is work 1 advantage to social and purchase bids.
    • Machinist: You are a skilled worker and one of the essential freemen that keeps the Old Empire running. This trait is worth 1 advantage to building and repair bids.
    • Conscript: You are a peasant who was conscripted to serve the Old Empire. This trait is worth 1 advantage to fighting and defense bids
    • Peasant: You are a farmer or a factory worker employed by a merchant or noble. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids of your choice: farming, operation, repair, building, athletics.
    • Outlaw: You are a criminal, beggar, or anyone else that has fallen through the cracks of society. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, social, intimidation, deception.
  • Covenant: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Old Empire. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on the region of Cadelle that you came from:
    • Rethenne Lowlands: Home to a number of major schools, universities, and research facilities, as well as commonwealths serving refugees. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: social, education, medicine, technology.
    • Star’s End: A major mining and manufacturing region with a thriving music scene. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, repair, operation, entertainment.
    • The Land of Sun and Stone: Mountainous, sparsely populated region with philosophical, inward-looking inhabitants. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: education, survival, defense, resist.
    • The Shashenne: Densely urban region where much of the business on Cadelle gets done. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: social, purchase, building, repair, technology, medicine.
    • Qoros: The breadbasket of Cadelle, supplmented by a growing manufacturing sector. Major passtimes for kids here are cars and making homemade explosives out of fertilizer. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, repair, farming, operation, demolition.
    • The Green-and-Gold: Heavily forested area. Home of the very thick and very dangerous Cathedral Forest, as well as calerre trides that want nothing to do with modern life or outsiders. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: medicine, education, survival, stealth.
    • Seventh Continent: A huge habitat ring orbiting Cadelle and connected to the surface by massive orbital elevators. So-called because it is large enough to be a continent in its own right. The citizens of Seventh Continet constantly experiment with both their society and their own bodies. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: medicine, education, operation, social.
    • The Islands of Steel and Fear: The remnants of a defensive Dyson sphere that the calerre built against a thk’kok invasion that never came. It has since been colonized by various weirdos, loners, and misanthropes who have a single common cause – to be left alone. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: survival, operation, repair, defense.
  • Archimedean Confederation: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Confederation. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Confederation:
    • Executive: You have a fairly high position in one of the Confederation’s company-states. This trait is worth 1 advantage to social and purchase bids.
    • Corporate: You are a scientist, engineer, or manager employed by a company-state. This trait is worth 1 advantage to building and education.
    • Security: You are either a freelance security contractor, or you do security and military work for one of the company-states. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: investigation, fighting, intimidation.
    • Contractor: You are part of the army of poorly paid contractors that keeps the company-states going. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: building, operation, repair, medicine.
    • Unclassified: You are someone who doesn’t fit into the company-state’s neat classifications of corporate citizens. You may be homeless, a pirate, an escaped slave, or simply unemployed. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.
  • Terran Federation: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Terran Federation. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Confederation:
    • Citizen: Somehow, you have gained the Federation’s grudging trust, though you are still the target of anti-calerre bigotry on a daily basis. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: education, medicine, building, repair.
    • Trooper: You have decided that the best way to gain the Federation’s acceptance is to join the military. This trait is worth 1 advantage to fighting and intimidation.
    • Criminal: You are homeless, unemployed, a pacifist, or anything else that the Federation has criminalized. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.
  • Dominion: This trait is worth 1 advantage to bids involving the history, law, and politics of the Dominion. In addition, chose 1 of the following traits, based on your role in the Dominion:
    • Proscribed: The fundamentalist humans of the Dominion blame the calerre for the destruction of Earth. It’s almost impossible for you to have any other kind of role here besides a criminal and exile. This trait is worth 1 advantage to two of the following bids: stealth, deception, intimidation, sabotage.

That’s about it for the calerre. Come back next week for the blood-drinking, Ancient-Egypt-and-Wild-West-obsessed chiroptim.

Meet the Calerre – Part 1

Covenant Game Design - Meet the Calerre: Part 1

(Having trouble with the pronouns? Check out this post, and be sure to tune in to the latest episode of the podcast while you’re reading it!)

Sean again. Now that we’ve shown you how Covenant’s playable species will get their “racial bonuses”, let’s introduce you to them! The first up are the calerre.

Appearance: The calerre look reptilian, but they’re not. They have smooth yellowish skin, stubby tails, wide, powerful wings and heads with long, tapering muzzles. Their eyes are superficially similar to human eyes, but have no pupils.

Reproduction: Calerre are viviparous and sexually dimorphic. Men and women have some differences, but they’re mostly cultural (especially in the Old Empire) and insignificant from the perspective of game mechanics.

Biology: Calerre are warm-blooded, give birth to live young, and suckle their children with specialized saliva glands. In fact, the only effective difference between them and Earth mammals are a lack of hair or fur and a lack of mammary glands.

They do not have bones in their wings. Instead, they use hydraulic pressure to support and shape them during flight. This allows them to fold their wings under cloaks or coats during cold weather.

They are thinner than humans and lighter and have more efficient muscles, giving them them greater-than-human agility.

They experience pain and pleasure differently than humans. Their experience of pain is more clinical – more like a damage report than debilitating sensory input. Pleasure, on the other hand, is heightened. Therefore, they have a reputation for being both very sensual and very, very tough.

They have a distributed autonomic system and redundant organs. Their neurological system is also distributed throughout their bodies, giving them both conscious awareness of their bodily functions and, with practice, conscious control of their biochemistry.

Psychology: Their memories are encoded on the quantum level on the water in their body fluids, giving them perfect recall. This isn’t as desirable as it sounds, though, and much of their psychology is dedicated to dealing with unpleasant memories that they can never forget.

There is anecdotal evidence that calerre maintain some form of direct but subconscious communication with both their past and future selves. This has not been proved, however, and the mechanism behind it is unknown.

Lifespan: Calerre stop aging between 25 and 35. Their maximum lifespan is unknown, and possibly unlimited. However, they can die from almost everything else that humans can, including hunger, thirst, injury, and suffocation.

History: The calerre founded the Covenant approximately 120,000 years ago. It was one of the first democracies in the Orion Arm.

The more conservative and reactionary calerre left Cadelle as soon as they developed starflight. They are the ancestors of the Old Empire, which was founded approximately 10,000 years ago.

The Covenant and the Old Empire have a complicated relationship: often hostile, yet always yearning for re-unification.

Abilities: The calerre have three main species abilities.

  • Flight: The calerre use their wings for flight. They aren’t as maneuverable as the lighter chiroptim, but they are more powerful fliers.
  • Biochemistry: Calerre have access to their own list of body modifications, which include increases to their senses and resistances. They can even change their genders. Calerre can add, change, and remove these mods between chapters and, by choosing the right abilities, even during them.
  • Tanking: Calerre are probably the second best tanks in the game after a valka Battle Matriarch. They can either dodge-tank with their phenomenal agility or absorb damage that would take other species out of the game.

Handles*: These are single words that I use to try to get a handle on the calerre, hence their name.

  • Civilization: The calerre represent civilization spreading across the galaxy, both in its positive aspects (the Covenant) and negative aspects (the Old Empire).
  • Hope: If you can make it to the Covenant, you’re a citizen, and the calerre will fight to rescue and protect you.
  • Inclusive: The calerre in the Covenant bring in refugees from across the galaxy and from every species.
  • Idealism: The calerre in the Covenant deal with their long memories by not doing bad stuff that they’ll regret later.
  • Evergreeen: The calerre in the Covenant have an ever-changing culture and love new ideas and experiences. It’s a good way to avoid stagnation when you’re immortal.
  • Conservative: The calerre of the Old Empire deal with their long memories by freezing society in place. Change can force you to do things that you’ll regret later.
  • Honorable: The calerre in the Old Empire have a strong sense of honor. If someone loses hir honor, then you have an excuse to do whatever is necessary to deal with hir, which may help you deal with the memory of it later.

This post is getting pretty long , so I’m going to split it into two parts. Tune in for Part 2 tomorrow.

* Wait, didn’t I say yesterday that it’s bad to reduce a species to one word? Yeah, I did, but this is a starting point, not an end. Also, some these handles may seem contradictory. That’s a feature, in my opinion, not a bug. People and societies are contradictory. Anyway, contradiction produces tension, and stories need tension.

Character Creation Traits: Build a Better Alien

Covenant Game Design - Character Creation Traits: Build a Better Alien

(Having trouble with the pronouns? Check out this post, and be sure to tune in to the latest episode of the podcast while you’re reading it!)

Sean again. Yesterday, I told you that the playable species in Covenant to have more depth than the “all X are Y” trope prevalent in science fiction and fantasy. Here’s how we plan to do it.

A player will build hir character from the ground up, starting with hir species and adding other details, like gender and the empire or “domain” in which they live. Each of these details is a trait that provides the player with advantages and disadvantages on bids during the game, as well as backstory and roleplaying hooks.
Here are the traits that a player can choose at character creation:

  • Species Trait: The character’s species (e.g., a human would have the Human species trait, a calerre would have the Calerre species trait, etc.). Hir species trait gives hir advantages for at least two kinds of bids. For instance, a calerre is agile and tough, so ze can spend hir Calerre trait on bids requiring agility or to resist damage. Note that ze can take traits for other species later. For instance, a calerre who has lived among or studied humans can take the Human trait, which will help hir when interacting with humans. However, hir species trait never changes.
  • Gender Trait: The character’s gender, including male, female, or nonbinary. Gender differences in most species, including humans, aren’t big enough to provide advantages or disadvantages for most bids. However, they can influence how ze is treated in different parts of the galaxy, like the fundamentalist Dominion and traditionalist Old Empire.
  • Outlook Traits: Each species has at least two competing outlooks, as well as a neutral outlook. A character’s outlook represents hir overall philosophy and how ze generally perceives the world, and it affects both what ze chooses to learn and how ze reacts to the world. A character can have up to two outlook traits: an outlook ze used to have and an outlook ze has now.
  • Domain Traits: The part of the galaxy that the character calls home. This trait gives hir 1 advantage to bids to know the politics and history of that domain. Hir domain may also give her access to other traits, like hir social station or the region in which ze lived, that provide their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. A character can have up to two domain traits: where ze used to live and where ze lives now.
  • Environment Trait: The environment in which a character grew up, such as a world with heavy or light gravity, a marginally inhabitable world, or on a spaceship.
  • Species-Specific Trait: Some species, like the thk’kok and valka, have traits to which only they have access. A thk’kok can choose hir nation, which is an ethnically and culturally similar group of tribes and villages, while a valka can choose hir caste or role in hir hive.

Now you know how to build a better alien in Covenant. Tune in tomorrow, when we introduce you to the architects of both the Covenant and the Old Empire, the calerre.