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Dread RPG – Game Aid (Player Tent Cards)

Last week a ran a fun horror game called Dread. Game went quite well and I was particularly impressed with how the JENGA mechanic worked in actual play.  One thing I noted is that there aren’t any real character sheets for players to make notes on so in preparing for the game I created a a simple design for player “tent” cards that display character names and provide a back side for individual players to take notes. Simply print on standard cardstock and enjoy!

Dread Tent Cards (Download PDF Here, sample image below)


Gaming with Background Music

I am a lover of music and more specifically I’m a lover of scores to cinema and more recently to video games. Music in movies helps to underline the emotions, heighten the tension and add beats to the action, which can make it a perfect companion to a role playing game. Key word here is “can”, used improperly it can add a layer of noise to your game and work against whatever narrative or role-playing is going on. I thought I’d try to share some thoughts and a healthy selection of scores you can’t go wrong with (depending on the theme you are going for in your game).

In my opinion the most important element to avoid is lyrics in your music, it’s like having constant cross talk at the table so unless its lighter choral notes (see LOTR) avoid conventional music. Remember just because the music is good, does not make it good for background music during an RPG.  I try to pick scores that have a common theme throughout them as I prefer not to have to construct distinct playlists. I also try to avoid classic recognizable scores ie Star Wars as I find it oddly derails the players from the reality you are trying to establish.

Scores generally come in 2 flavours, suites or scenes. Most older school composers (Williams, Horner, Zimmer) tend to employ suites of longer tracks and a recurring theme throughout the score. Scene based scores are a newer trend and focus on specific pieces for specific scenes (The Avengers comes to mind). Suite based scores are generally better for rpgs since they tend to natural build up and down throughout the score but there are some great scene based scores you just have to find them (ie Crysis 2).

I’ve provided below a detailed list of my favourite scores to use in different genres of games. I’ve provided links to Itunes so you can hear some samples as well as a few quick words on the music itself. And yes, I’m a huge Hans Zimmer fan. Hopefully you make some interesting discoveries, feel free to share your favourites in the comments!

Not Genre Specific – While the music may be from Scifi/Modern drama it would fit well anywhere.

Battlestar Gallactica (BSG) Season 1 By Bear McCreary
Original Soundtrack - Battlestar Galactica: Season One - Bear McCreary

BSG: Season 2 Battlestar Galactica: Season 2 (Original Soundtrack from the TV Series) - Bear McCreary , Season 3 Battlestar Galactica: Season 3 (Original Soundtrack from the TV Series) - Bear McCreary and Season 4 Battlestar Galactica: Season 4 (Original Soundtrack from the TV Series) - Bear McCreary

Batman Begins by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Batman Begins (Music from the Motion Picture) - James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer

The Dark Knight by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
The Dark Knight (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

The Dark Knight Rises by Hans Zimmer
The Dark Knight Rises (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [Deluxe Edition] - Hans Zimmer

Horror Settings – For When you want to keep everyone on edge
The Dark Knight Rises (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [Deluxe Edition] - Hans Zimmer

The Mothman Prophecies by Various
The Mothman Prophecies (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Various Artists The Best for Keeping the PC’s on Edge

The Ring 1 & 2 by Hans Zimmer
The Ring / The Ring 2 (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Hans Zimmer, Henning Lohner & Martin Tillman Creepy

The Pledge by Hans Zimmer
The Pledge (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Hans Zimmer Haunting Choral

Sunshine by Various
Sunshine (Music from the Motion Picture) - Various Artists Sci-Fi Creepy

Solaris by Cliff Martinez
Solaris - Original Motion Picture Score - Cliff Martinez Jamaican Sci-Fi (See that is Creepy)

Historical Settings – Fantasy Adventure

The Last Samurai by Hans Zimmer
The Last Samurai (Original Motion Picture Score) - Hans Zimmer Introspective Adventures

Gladiator by Hans Zimmer
Gladiator (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard Sweeping Epics

Assassins Creed 2 by Jesper Kyd
Assassin's Creed 2 (Original Game Soundtrack) - Jesper Kyd And now for something completely different

Assassins Creed Brotherhood by Jesper Kyd
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (Original Game Soundtrack) - Jesper Kyd And now for something completely different too

The Fountain by Clint Mansell
The Fountain (Music from the Motion Picture) - Clint Mansell Very Cool and Different

Conan the Barbarian by Basil Pouledouris
Conan the Barbarian (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Basil Poledouris Classic D&D

Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Howard Shore
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - Howard Shore All around best Fantasy Score

Princess Mononoke by Joe Hisaishi
Sweeping Fantasy Epic (not on Itunes, sample on YouTube )

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind by Joe Hisaishi
Classic Epic Score (not on Itunes, sample on YouTube )

Modern Settings – Political/Thriller/Spy Stories

This music has some great background elements with minimal action beats.

Patlabour 2 by Kenji Kawaii
Political thriller (not on Itunes, sample on YouTube )

Source Code by Chris Bacon
Source Code (Original Motion Picture Score) - Chris Bacon Spy Thriller

Moon by Clint Mansell
Moon (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture) - Clint Mansell

Syrianna by Alexandre Desplat
Syriana (Music from the Motion Picture) - Alexandre Desplat
Haunting Mid-Eastern

Inception by Hans Zimmer
Inception (Music from the Motion Picture) - Hans Zimmer Dreams and Nightmares

Prometheus by Marc Streitenfield
Prometheus (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Marc Streitenfeld Spooky with an alien vibe

Gears of War 3 by Steve Jablonsky
Gears of War 3 (The Soundtrack) - Steve Jablonsky Creepy War Stories

Blade Runner by Vangelis
Blade Runner Trilogy (Music from the Motion Picture) [25th Anniversary Edition] - Vangelis Invokes all things Cyber Punk

Limitless by Paul Leondard-Morgan
Limitless (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Paul Leonard-Morgan Getting High

Modern Settings – Action and Adventure/ Chase

These scores feature a lot more action beats.

Bourne Identity by John Powell
The Bourne Identity (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - John Powell Running Scared

Bourne Supremacy by John Powell
The Bourne Supremacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - John Powell Running and getting revenge

Bourne Ultimatum by John Powell
The Bourne Ultimatum (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - John Powell People are following the followers

Iron Man by Ramin Djawdi
Iron Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Ramin Djawadi Comic Book Action

Crysis 2 by Hanz Zimmer and Various
Crysis 2 (Original Videogame Soundtrack) - EA Games Soundtrack & Hans Zimmer Run and Gun with a side of Creep

Space Marine by Sasch Dikiciyan/Cris Velasco
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (The Soundtrack) - Sascha Dikiciyan & Cris Velasco Ass Kicking

Salt by James Newton Howard
Salt (Original Motion Picture Score) - James Newton Howard Great Chases

SOCOM 4 by Bear McGreary
SOCOM 4 (Original Soundtrack) - Bear McCreary BSG Score meets more Asian influences

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier by Hybrid & Tom Salta
Ghost Recon - Future Soldier (Original Game Soundtrack) - Hybrid & Tom Salta Action Satisfaction

5th Contact – Setting History

Today I’m providing the back story/setting history that was used in our Burning Empires: 5th Contact game. I also provide how some key concepts ie: Technology were dealt with regarding BE vs. Diaspora.

A New Age – The Rise of the Terran Imperium

Over 2000 years ago, Earth was in crisis.  Immense population growth coupled with waning resources led to devastating wars.  A small elite of military, corporate, and religious figures that had prepared for such an eventuality emerged as the only powers from these conflicts.  They unified the surviving population under a single planetary government.  The elite promptly adopted noble titles, elected a nominal Emperor, and the resulting planetary union became known as the Terran Imperium.

The Imperium rapidly expanded into the remainder of the solar system, seeking resources to rebuild Earth and sustain its growing population.  The strength of the Imperium was unquestioned, and a time of peace (the Pax Imperium) allowed for science and the arts to flourish.  Finally reaching the borders of the solar system, the means to traverse the distances between the stars was finally discovered.  The existence of so-called “slipstreams” (actually flaws in the fabric of space-time that are essentially wormholes) between various stars was discovered.   The race to fill the stars was on.

Full of Stars – Expansion of the Solar Imperium Humanitas

Humanity embraced what it saw as its manifest destiny to dominate the stars.  The now renamed Solar Imperium Humanitas exploded into the local cluster of systems linked together by the slipstreams.  Over the course of the last 750 years, exotic alien worlds have been discovered and populated.  Systems were at first governed entirely by scions of the Terran noble houses, but the relentless expansion made it clear that such direct rule was unsustainable.  New nobles were elevated from the general population on the basis of their wealth, achievements, military prowess, or cunning.

As time wore on, the discovery of new slipstreams (and thus new systems) grew less and less common.  The last discovery of a new slipstream path was almost 200 years ago.  The resulting drop off in expansion led to new difficulties.  The current nobility could no longer easily grow its wealth and influence, while the commoners no longer had any ready avenue to hopefully distinguish themselves and work their way into power.  The Pax Imperium was finally nearing an end.

End of an Empire – Foundation of the Commonwealth of Worlds

As the last worlds became settled in the terminal system 120 years ago, the nobility awoke to the fact that the only way to grow was to take that which other nobles possessed.  The Imperial Navy and Army had been reduced to minimal levels during the Pax Imperium.  The most powerful nobles conspired to see an incompetent Emperor elected to the throne, and promptly set about settling a variety of grudges and seized as much power as they could.

The nobility, however, failed to realize that the most ambitious and skilled commoners were now at loose ends.  With no further systems to seek out, explore, and populate, a legion of scientists, artists, bureaucrats, and professional military officers had lost their way to power.  As the nobles turned on themselves, these ambitious men and women realized they would be next.  It remains unclear who turned on who first, but history repeated itself in a series of resource driven civil wars.  The majority of the Outer and Fringe systems of the Imperium promptly disposed of Imperial overlords and were largely forgotten, as various factions vied for control of the truly rich systems.

Only after 60 years of conflict was any equilibrium reached in the eldest and most technologically advanced Core systems.  The surviving factions in the Core systems controlled most of the Imperial Navy and Army’s resources, and recognized that further conflict between themselves was not in their best interest.  They swore common cause against the failed Imperium and the Terran Nobles they saw as the cancer at its heart.  After a brief but bloody battle against the few remaining Imperial loyalists, the Emperor was deposed and executed.  The eldest Terran Noble houses that had instigated the end of the Pax Imperium were also dissolved.  The mixture of new powers (mostly made up of system nobles, high priests, and mercantile oligarchs) controlling the military, then declared the formation of a new Commonwealth of Worlds.  A nominal president from the Core systems was elected, and the new Commonwealth Navy promptly set out to re-establish order in the Outer and Fringe systems.  Faced with the best technology of humanity, the more remote systems promptly acceded to membership with the Commonwealth.

The Core systems remain tightly controlled by the Commonwealth to this day.  The Outer and Fringe systems have been more or less left to their own devices, each governed by the terms of the treaties under which they joined the Commonwealth.  Occasionally, a system or planet fails to pay their membership dues and service levies, prompting punitive action by the superior Commonwealth Navy.  The early examples set by the Commonwealth Armed Forces as to how such lapses in payment are dealt with ensure that such open dissent is rare.

Each system is responsible for raising its own Naval and Ground forces, and enforcing system law (as well as the very limited range of Commonwealth laws).  The only common element is that all systems must pay their fees, and provide personnel to serve with the Commonwealth Bureaucracy and Armed Forces.  The means by which the personnel levies are fulfilled are left up to the systems themselves.  In general, even in systems where the levies are decided by fiat, such service may be avoided for the right price.  However, the attention paid to potential or current electors of the Commonwealth Council makes Commonwealth service effectively mandatory for societies elite.  The compensation for such mandatory service is that the positions of such august personages are commensurate to their planetary rank, and that it offers the opportunity to possibly enter the ranks of the Core system nobility.

About Religion in the Commonwealth (Maintained from BE with colour accents)

Early in the reign of the Solar Imperium, a new religion emerged and was rapidly embraced as the state religion of the Imperium.  All other religions were brutally suppressed.  Founded by the charismatic Prophet Ahmilahk, the Church of the Mundus Humanitas is strictly hierarchical.  Even with the rise of the Commonwealth, admission into the higher ranks of the Church remains reserved for the nobility.   However, various cults and sects have emerged in the wake of the lessened central authority of the Commonwealth.

In BE See pages 30-31 (regarding the Kudus Theocracy), pg 43 (Theocracy Government form), pg 45 (Cult Churches), pg 50 (Theocratic Institutions), and the various traits tied to Theocratic lifepaths in the BE book for more information about the Mundus Humanitas and other religious movements.

About Technological Development (Tech scales for planetary systems use BE not Diaspora Definitions)

Technological development was rated in the Solar Imperium on a ten-point scale (pg 374 BE).  The Core systems were traditionally high index systems, while the Outer systems were borderline high to low index (pg 37-40BE).   Unfortunately, the civil war that preceded the formation of the Commonwealth resulted in the loss of most of this advanced technology.   Today, the Core systems only retain a vestige of high index technology, while the Outer systems range from low index to zero index.

Key Technology: The Crucis (Maintained this concept from BE)

Certain pieces of advanced technology in the Commonwealth (including the helms of Hammer vessels, and the powered armour known as Iron) are operated by way of a cybernetic interface.  The cross-shaped interface is known as the crucis, and is implanted at the back of the head so as to interface with the occipital lobe of the brain.  In accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth, only the nobility (the Lords-Pilot) are permitted to have a crucis.

About Psychology (Maintained with colour additions for our specific setting from BE)

Psychology as a skill is generally used to understand a person’s emotions and personality.  This includes discerning character traits.  However, Psychology is also used to refer to the abilities of a gifted few that are potent telepaths.  Through considerable training, they are able to use the Psychology skill to harness their power to read minds, influence others, and even control others thoughts under select circumstances.

For more information on how Psychology can be used to influence people, see pages 575-588 of the BE book.

About Slipstreams (Core Concepts from Diaspora adapted to allow the players to define the Outer and Fringe worlds)

 The systems that make up the Commonwealth are connected together by a series of wormhole like gateways known as slipstreams.  These flaws in the fabric of space-time allow for near instantaneous translation from system to system.  The systems connected by the slipstreams are scattered throughout the Milky Way, with the connections between two given systems being entirely independent of their actual physical proximity.

As a result, two systems that are close to together by slipstream may be quite distant spatially. This lack of correspondence between relative slipstream position and actual physical location has one important practical consequence.  The stellar sphere around each system is radically different, and no point of reference exists for comparison.  Therefore, determining the position of any given system relative to another would be extremely difficult.  Moreover, as such information is seen as having no practical benefit, virtually no effort is expended upon such research.

Making use of a slipstream requires a skilled pilot, advanced drive technology, and a means for dealing with massive amounts of waste heat.  Construction of slipstream capable ships is therefore only possible in systems with Low Index or higher technology (Adaptation from Diaspora to BE).  Low Index ships rely upon delicate drive systems and arrays of advanced heat sinks.  High Index ships have more robust drives, and can make use of energy shielding to deal with waste heat.  In either case, the complexity and bulk of such systems generally preclude them from being incorporated in fighter-craft/assault sled sized objects, such that slip-capable carriers must carry any small craft into battle.

The termini of slipstreams in each system are typically referred to as “slipknots”.  The distortions in space-time are readily observed using low index sensor technology.  Slipknots are typically found at the gravitationally stable points in a star system, with most being located either above or below the plane of the ecliptic poles of each system – a point on the axis of the barycentre (the point around which all bodies in the system revolve).   A ship relying upon Low Index technology must come to a complete halt in normal space relatively close to the knot before translating.  However, a High Index ship can make a translation at speed and at greater distances from the slipknot.

No one knows how to create slipstreams.  Even at the peak of the Imperium, the scientists of the High Index Core systems did not comprehend how such flaws in the fabric of space could exist or let alone be created.  In the Commonwealth, what limited research carried out to understand the alternative physics of these holes in space has largely become forgotten.  The Commonwealth by and large retains the technology to make use of the slipstream network (with the Commonwealth Navy itself occasionally making use of energy shielding rather than heat sinks), but no open research is conducted to comprehend the slipstreams.

Next entry, to discuss Planetary System creation as a Hybrid of Diaspora and Burning Empires (the setup crunch)

“Hacking” Burning Empires to Diaspora

Myself (Mark Richardson) and my best friend (Phil Brown) got together last summer (2011) to put together what could only be described as our dream RPG. Both fans of epic stories and science fiction we wanted to tell a sweeping epic of galactic human civilizations and alien first contact but not use a pre-canned setting. The problem we found was finding an RPG system that we were both interested in applying to our idea. We wanted a system that was detail oriented and we also wanted a system that allowed more empowerment to the players, a feature of the more recent “Indy” style games.

We came across at this time a great game called Burning Empires (BE) written by Luke Crane of Burning Wheel fame. We both fell in love with the core mechanics, detailed character life paths and how the game was centred around the movers and shakers of the game world. The problem was that for our purpose BE was very setting locked on a single planetary body using a GM vs. PC mechanic for alien invasion which were not elements we wanted to explore.  But what to do? BE seemed like the perfect solution, well almost.

Enter Diaspora, also a great stand alone game written by b.murray, c.w.marshall, t.dyke and b.kerr. Diaspora was a very open system that centred around a co-operative method of building systems to craft unique galaxies for the players to explore. It also gave a great idea of Slipstreams (wormholes) that allowed us to physically cap the “size” of our game universe.

What followed were a series of discussions and problem solving sessions where we cracked skulls to figure out how to “Hack” Burning Empires with Diaspora to create one unique game that would not only work but feel right. It took a staggering amount of time, neither of us had any idea what we were in for but in the end we succeeded in creating our own gigantic space opera universe with all the crunch of the Burning Wheel.

Our campaign is titled Burning Empires: 5th Contact and this blog is dedicated (for now) to showing how we “Hacked” two great games into our own little bastard. It’s my hope that in the following entries you will get some neat ideas that could easily be ported into your own Burning Empires or Diaspora games or even to use our “Hack” as it stands. To get things started my next post isn’t going to talk about the system but more the background we lashed together for our setting. The setting and the system are tied so intricately together it seems like the logical place to start this discussion.

As an aside core mechanics will not be copied into this blog  as I’d like to encourage you to check out these great rpgs, but I’ll place page references to the books so if you own them you can follow along.