Session Start: Sun Apr 02 06:40:30 2006
Session Ident: #Alternity
* Now talking in #Alternity
* Topic is 'Alternity Game Day was great! see the chat log on our site
http://alternityrpg.net (write persons nickname to get their attention).'
* Set by TerroX on Wed Mar 08 14:27:19
<Spicer> Run with it however you enjoy, Lars.
<Spicer> Hey, Jim.
<Shadow> Thank you!
<Jim_C> Hi all
<Spicer> We're still gathering and waiting for Mr. Butler.
* RogueMorgan is now known as RogueMorgan_afk
<Jim_C> It's early morning here, I'll just catch up on messages
<Spicer> Sure thing, Jim.
<Shadow> It's 21:06 here
<Spicer> I'm hoping Jim Butler will get here soon.
<Shadow> (Still have to get used to a new keyboard :-) )
<Starbrat> -And an hour earlier in Blighty.
<Spicer> I was just mentioning that I had an email from him yesterday evening
asking to make sure we were still on. I informed him we were and gave him the
list of questions to preapre himself ahead of time. Haven't heard from since,
<Shadow> Yeah, I've gotten used to it while watching British television (until
most of it was coded, anyway)
<Starbrat> He's probably still cramming for the exam!
<Spicer> The questions were quite lengthy...
<Spicer> More than JD's list, in fact.
<Spicer> But Jim had his hand in more Alternity products and planning overall.
<Jim_C> Very much so.
<Spicer> It was interesting to go back and read through Jim's old chat session.
<Spicer> I wonder what his thoughts are now...
<Starbrat> We've all passed a lot of water since then.
<Botuu> Hopefully we'll find out.
<Spicer> That's the word that comes to mind at the moment...
<Starbrat> Anticipation? Optimism? Hippopotamus?
<Spicer> It was easier for me to keep track of JD's participation last time. I
can view him via my AOL buddy list when he's online. But no such luck with Jim
<Starbrat> Great; now I've got "The Sloop John B" going through my head...
<Spicer> Hey...while we're waiting...anyone want to comment on Alternity Game
Day? How did it go for everybody?
<Botuu> I enjoyed it.
<Starbrat> I think it went pretty well, even though I was knackered from work.
<Starbrat> It gave me the impetus to carry on with Electric Dreams which was
flagging at the time.
<Botuu> that's a good thing
<Spicer> Yep. Stirred me to go back and blow the dust off of System Check, too.
And an adventure or two...
<Starbrat> That project has made me look at Dataware with new and respectful eyes.
<Spicer> Same with me and System Check.
<Jim_C> It went well, I thought, quite a few people contributed one thing or
another and generally put some thought towards the game
<Spicer> At some point, it might more useful for the two of us to put our heads
together on the Dataware revision, SB.
<Starbrat> System Check? Do elaborate...
<Starbrat> I think you're right.
<Spicer> System Check is about halfway finished. It was meant to take a Warships
approach to robot design. I substituted Frame Points for Hull Points...so that
a robot's chassis becomes much like a warship
<Spicer> 's hull.
<Starbrat> Ahhh, like Airships.
<Spicer> And all of the onboard systems for robots become very similar to the
onboard systems for a warship.
<Spicer> The only part that diverges from Warships is the fact that the end
product is a character and not simply a ship. A robot still has to define its
attributes and skills like a character...but there are limitations to them
based on which systems were used to build the machien.
<Starbrat> How will it handle different software suites?
<Spicer> I got bogged down in the mathematical portion of the resource. Juggling
all the numbers and making them mesh as well as the ones for Warships do.
<Spicer> Software suites ultimately get examined one PL at a time.
<Starbrat> That's a thorny problem for robots, especially ones that hope to be
<Spicer> The earlier robot models follow one method for skill software. And the
higher up you get on the PL ladder, the more they become just another species.
<Spicer> It is...but no less workable than Dataware's examination in the long
run. I'm confident with where I'm taking things.
<Starbrat> Sounds good.
<Spicer> Probably the best way to actually finish System Check would be to start
a new thread and just start posting excerpts from each section for folks to
<Starbrat> I'd go with that. Even if it just confirms your own conclusions, it's
<Spicer> I definitely could use help and encouragement on it. It's easily the
most complicated thing I've tried to do for Alternity.
<Starbrat> I can imagine.
<Botuu> I'd be willing to comment, even though robots are not my strong point.
<Jim_C> Could be. I wouldn't expect a coherent system, or agreement, to emerge
from group discussion, but you'd get other perspectives on what you'd drafted.
<Shadow> I'd certainly appreaciate a new approach to Robot design, I had to
design most of the robots for my campaign completely outside to rules. If I can
help, I will.
<Spicer> But much like you, the further I've gone through the exercise, the more
respect I have for Dataware and what it tried to accomplish.
<Shadow> (Though my concepts go more along the line of Cybrids :-) )
<Spicer> Cool. I'll see what I can do to pull portions of my notes into posts
and start soliciting feedback. I agree with Jim, though. I'm not looking to
make this a group project. The Stellar Ring Netbook has languished for years
under that design model. And I'd rather polish this one off a bit faster. ;)
<Starbrat> I ended up fudging the hell out of robots and just created each model
as a different species. ED works OK on biocore AIs and sub-intelligent robots,
but there's a distinct breakeage where programmable smart AIs are concerned.
<Spicer> Actually, SB, I toyed around with the idea of expanding System Check to
explore a simpler method of designing robots under the model you're
describing...i.e., turn each robot into its own species, with robot systems a
little more like cybernetics to a degree.
<Jim_C> I was actually just thinking along cybrid lines - a robot system ought to
mesh with the cyberware system in more or less a continuum.
<Spicer> Warships had both a simple and a complex method for defining combat
between ships. So maybe System Check could present more than one option for
how to run robots as heroes.
<Starbrat> Well, that's how I used to do it. However, the frustrated scientist
within me prefers to see a set of "master rules".
<Shadow> I also had a problem with the fact that for most PLs the cybernetic
implants (smaller versions for sentients) were better than the robot systems...
<Jim_C> When they should be more limited, because they have more interface
<Starbrat> Well, I've always preferred cyborgs to robots, so that's OK by me.
<Shadow> Indeed, as well as size issues.
<Spicer> Ah...the size issue.
<Spicer> That's something I looked at for robots, too.
<Jim_C> Humans, or biologicals, can interact with software too, just to
<Shadow> So I've given the androids in my campaign cyber-equipment mostly.
<Spicer> With Warships giving you larger "sizes" of ships to explore...I touch on
the same subject where it concerns robots, too.
<Spicer> And that means I have to concern myself with the size of robotic
<Spicer> And the whole comparison of them to cybertech.
<Shadow> Kind of the D&D (I know, "Eeww!" :-) ) size system (tiny, small, medium,
<Spicer> Yes. Something like that. Only I don't overdo it. I followed
Dataware's lead in that regard.
<Spicer> Dataware defined certain sizes of robots from a chassis standpoint.
<Starbrat> I found it better to concentrate on functions rather than actual
<Spicer> For heroic purposes, robot characters don't go any larger than 3m.
<Shadow> The issue also came up when we looked up the sizes of A-Eyes and T-Kats
in the books, we quickly disregarded that info.
<Shadow> Sounds good (ceiling :-) )
<Starbrat> What?! No 100m Stompybots?!!
<Jim_C> I dunno, there are a lot of stories to tell about robot tanks and AI
<Spicer> I don't plan to worry too much about what's been done before with robots
in Alternity when writing System Check. I'm looking for a workable resource
for robots going forward...that makes sense and plays well.
<Starbrat> Thank heavens.
<Shadow> I'd still use the Dreadnought-design, but not for an PC, for example.
<Spicer> Robot tanks and AI ships will ultimately fall under a Vehicle resource
or Warships, as far as I'm concerned.
<Starbrat> Indeed, Jim; something I want to explore in Electric Dreams.
<Spicer> You can have starfighters and destroyers operated by AIs.
<Spicer> But AIs are a different category than robot heroes.
<Botuu> or even Warhulks...
<Shadow> And indeed, at times it would seem like the more prudent course of
action (see Starmech Collective)
<Starbrat> Some of the other Orphan Soldiers species use "robotoic" weapoins
<Spicer> I'm planning on examing that difference in System Check, too.
<Shadow> Differeneciating between AIs and robots? ... What about remotes, then?
<Starbrat> I saw AIs as just another control mexhanism for robots.
<Spicer> Remotes will be explained.
<Spicer> For the sake of game balance (from a player's perspective), there has to
be a line drawn between all-powerful AIs and how far robots can actually go up
the AI scale.
<Shadow> I'm planning to include a cybrid in an upcoming adventure, that is
linked to ships AI, I've already tried to tinker with it, but with Dataware
alone, nothing good comes to mind.
<Spicer> AIs for robots will eventually border on the capabilities of a Grid Lord
AI, but they won't surpass them.
<Jim_C> You're talking about something like Orion's Arm's S levels? Posthuman AIs?
<Botuu> Neil, that sounds reasonable.
<Spicer> I'm not familiar with Orion's Arm's S levels.
<Shadow> Right, in the "Big Ideas, Grand Vision" campaign setting, they gave
cyberchips the power of an AI, that was bound to create problems :-)
<Starbrat> Absolutely. I'm thinking of using a set of "executive suites" that
form an AI's core operating system; it's "mind" and "personality" which would
be different from its skillset. Redjack made some good comments about the
game-breaking dangers of overcompetent robots.
<Spicer> I'm just going with what feels "right" to me in terms of the Alternity
system. Where possible, I'm really leaning heavily on what's been done before
in Warships and Dataware.
<Botuu> there's nothing wrong with using other Alternity resources to build upon.
<Spicer> Yep. I'm going that route, too. A robot's software will comprise its
INT, WIL, and PER attributes. Its chassis, actuators, etc. will form the basis
for its STR, DEX, and CON limitations.
<Starbrat> And plenty right about it; people generally find it easier to adapt
than start again from scratch.
<Spicer> It's not only easier to adapt.
<Spicer> It's absolutely vital to ensure the end product fits.
<Spicer> Well, that's the goal.
<Spicer> So...according to my clock, we're 40 minutes into this thing and no Jim
<Spicer> That's not good.
<Starbrat> I'm using Airships as a sort of practice-run, since electric Dreams is
the more complex project.
<Starbrat> More than fashionably late; it's true.
<Spicer> I made sure he understood it was 2PM ET and 11AM PT...but maybe he
crossed up the start times?
<Shadow> (I see that I have to read up on a lot of thinks :-) )
<Shadow> Perhaps he has been delayed.
<Spicer> But he emailed me last night to ensure it was still on. And I replied
that it was...
<Spicer> If he checked his mail today, he should know we're waiting for him.
<Starbrat> A delay is the most likely option, I think.
<Botuu> Maybe he can't tell time. ;)
<Spicer> Aside from being waylaid by something, I can only imagine that he might
have regarded the start time as 2PM his time...and if he's West Coast, which I
think he is...that would mean 5PM ET...or a little over 2 hours away from now.
<Spicer> I may have to check back then...or hang out here until then...just to be
sure. Either way, I'm leaving my mailbox up so I can see if he sends me
<Shadow> Or perhaps he has another matter delaying him (esp. private life has a
tendency to suprise people...)
<Spicer> It's possible, of course.
<Spicer> The good thing is that I sent him all of the questions. If he
preferred, he could type a response to each one...though I hoped he'd make an
appearance here so folks could ask follow-up questions and have some live
interaction with him.
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<Spicer> You made it!
<Starbrat> Speak of the devil.
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<BPress_Jim> With 15 minutes to spare. :-P
<Spicer> Better late than never, man...
<Starbrat> -Hmm, my ISP is about to kick me, so I'll see you all in a couple of
<Spicer> Thank you for coming!
* Starbrat has quit IRC (Quit: Alternity?.... YES!!.)
<Spicer> Did you get my earlier emails with the list of questions? I apologize
if I didn't get it to you with much time to prepare.
<BPress_Jim> Crap! I guess I am late. Sorry about that, gang...
<Jim_C> Hello! I like that quit message, by the way.
<Botuu> Thanks for coming, Jim.
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<Starbrat> -And back!
<Shadow> Welcome back!
<Spicer> Are you ready to dive straight in Jim?
<BPress_Jim> I just got back from vacation...not remembering time zones very well
I guess. :-(
<Spicer> Do you have any time constraints we need to be aware of?
* Jim_C is now known as uncle_jimbo
<BPress_Jim> Ready when you are...
<Spicer> Okay. Welcome to another hosted chat event here on www.alternity.net.
Throughout the past few weeks, I've been gathering a list of questions from
everyone that I'll be posing to our guest, Jim Butler. If anyone would like to
ask something else, please send me an instant message and I'll work it into the
discussion for you.
<Spicer> Before we get started, I just want to remind everyone of a few ground
rules. To keep things organized, we want to make sure that we keep side
chatter down to a minimum. Follow-up questions are okay, as well as the
occasional comment, but try to give everyone a chance to participate and hold
back on filling the chat stream with stuff that doesn't further the current
question posed to our guest.
<Spicer> Use the instant messaging feature between individuals to hold those
types of discussions outside of the chatroom itself. Above all, be courteous
and be patient.
<Botuu> Yes sir.
<Spicer> Our guest is here primarily to reminisce about Alternity's roots and
comment on its current longevity. This is your chance to ask him questions
about how Alternity was designed and why things work the way they do within the
system. You can also ask about specific campaign settings related to Alternity
and his own experiences with the game we all enjoy playing.
<Spicer> For those who may not know, Jim Butler served for quite some time as the
Brand Manager for the entire Alternity line at TSR and Wizards of the Coast. He
contributed in a number of small ways to virtually every major Alternity
product, holding various roles as Creative Director, Editor, Researcher,
Designer, and eventually Brand Manager.
<Spicer> His contributions include the: Alternity Player's Handbook, Alternity
Gamemaster's Guide, Dark?Matter Campaign Setting, Star*Drive Campaign Setting,
Star*Drive Arms & Equipment Guide, Alien Compendium, Threats From Beyond, The
Lighthouse, Dataware, and Starships.
<Spicer> Jim also served as the primary voice for Wizards of the Coast on the
Alternity mailing lists virtually from their very inception. He solicited and
approved the designation of the two fansites for Alternity.net and
TequilaStarrise.net so fans could provide ongoing support for the game and
settings they enjoyed.
<Spicer> Eventually, Jim went on to become Director of RPG Licensing at Wizards
of the Coast where he began an effort to scan a lot of WotC's older
out-of-print products into a PDF format...some for free downloading and others
for resale online.
<Spicer> Even after Jim left Wizards of the Coast to found Bastion Press, his own
D20 publishing company, he continued to produce these PDFs under license from
his former employers. This has allowed websites such as RPGNow and DriveThruRPG
to provide many of the Alternity supplements and sourcebooks for purchase by
<Spicer> Essentially, one can make the claim that Jim's efforts have gone a long
way towards preserving and ensuring everyone's continued interest in all things
Alternity. He is ultimately the guy who had to deliver much of the bad news
regarding Alternity's "retirement" as an actively supported system at Wizards
of the Coast.
<Spicer> He has a ton of insight into the origins of the game system, its various
campaign settings, as well as the internal workings of the company and
designers who produced it. So without any further ado...let's welcome Jim
* Spicer takes a deep breath.
<Spicer> Welcome, Jim.
* Shadow applauds
<Botuu> You're our hero, Jim!
<BPress_Jim> Thanks, Neil.
<Spicer> ? Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into
the professional game design business?
<BPress_Jim> Well, I grew up in the wilds of Wyoming. I started playing D&D in
1976 and found a real love for roleplaying.
<BPress_Jim> The more I wrote my own world and adventures, the more I decided
that I wanted to be involved in RPGs as a career.
<BPress_Jim> I started going to Gen Con, and cornered Bruce Heard one year. Bruce
was the freelance coordinator for TSR, and he had just had an editor bail on
<BPress_Jim> So, I took over on my very first product (Black Spine Mountain for
<BPress_Jim> After that, I started working on products like Elminster's
Ecologies. Eventually, they offered me my own writing gig (Sword of the Dales
<BPress_Jim> As I started writing that, they looked to expand their team and
offered me a job.
<BPress_Jim> Thus, my old gaming group cried and wailed as I packed up and moved
from Wyoming to Lake Geneva, WI.
<BPress_Jim> The rest is history. ;-)
<Spicer> ?What made you decide to get involved in Alternity?
<BPress_Jim> We had started working on Alternity back before WotC bought TSR.
<BPress_Jim> It had a very rocky beginning, with our team fighting to get the
book put on the schedule at every step. At that time, I was just one of the
editors on the product.
<BPress_Jim> By the time we finally got the product on the schedule, WotC had
come in and bought us.
<Spicer> ?What are your favorite SF genres, and how did they influence the design
<BPress_Jim> When that happened, we had to start fighting for everything all over
again. WotC wanted to delay the product for quite a while. We compromised with
the Limited Edition book we released at Gen Con that year.
* Bynw has one of those :o)
<BPress_Jim> Space opera is indeed a favorite. Traveller (as an RPG) shaped my
expectations quite a bit. I wanted to make sure no character ever died during
character generation. LOL
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<BPress_Jim> Bill Slavicsek was a huge influence on everything Alternity-related.
He had some very specific things he wanted to see with the project.
<LastMaxim> Howdy boys...
<Spicer> Just let me know when you're ready for the next question. I don't want
to interrupt while you're in mid-answer... :)
<BPress_Jim> As for other influences, I played this really old Apple IIgs game
called Reach for the Stars or somesuch. Lots and lots of RPG (and again, space
opera themed). My friends and I used to gather round the computer and play
again and again...
<BPress_Jim> It had all of these little booklets that wove together a story. At
the end, all the players had to gather together and fight the big pirate to
have any chance of victory.
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<Spicer> Sounds a little like Star*Drive's Externals storyline. :)
<BPress_Jim> I had the common SF influences as well (Star Wars, Star Trek, B5,
Aliens, and others).
<BPress_Jim> Amazing how all that works, eh Neil? LOL
<Spicer> The circle is now complete...
<BPress_Jim> Next question. :-)
<Spicer> ?How did your work on Alternity influence your development as a game
designer? The system and the campaigns seem to be well thought out. Did they
help you "grow" in your profession?
<BPress_Jim> When Bill, Rich, and the rest of the team started designing the
rules, they put in a lot of work to make sure that the progression was
mathematically sound. That was a huge change from previous products at TSR,
where we relied on the DM/GM to make things flow together. Now, we had taken
this responsibility ourselves from the beginning.
<BPress_Jim> This was also the first real attempt to craft a game that mirrored
D&D in its completeness. We made some real mistakes there as well, but
decisions had to be made to make the core books flow.
<BPress_Jim> For instance, we put in Star*Drive races into the core book...but
those races on't fit real well into a Dark Matter or Gamma World setting.
<BPress_Jim> David Eckelberry and I fought to remove those references, but it was
too late in the design process.
<BPress_Jim> Ironically, one of the big battles for me was convincing Bill to
include swimming rules. But I won that one...
<Spicer> Might prove important on a world like Bluefall... ;)
<Spicer> Or an expedition to Atlantis...
<BPress_Jim> Precisely. ;-)
<Starbrat> Glad it got in there.
<Botuu> Me too!
<BPress_Jim> Next question.
<Spicer> ?You once indicated that game designing is a learning process and that
you learned many lessons from Alternity. Can you share a few of them?
<BPress_Jim> Well, the first is that rules must be mathematically sound, and that
gamers pay us as designers to give them complete systems that work with one
<BPress_Jim> TSR was notorious for delivering lots of add-ons that didn't work
<BPress_Jim> Another was that it's important to have a driving vision behind a
project. We didn't always agree with Bill Slavicsek on his design decisions,
but it did keep the product line together.
<BPress_Jim> For those of you who play D&D (v3.0 or v3.5), you can see a lot of
Alternity in the game.
<BPress_Jim> Next question.
<Spicer> ?Do you prefer D20 over the Alternity game system?
<Spicer> ?And how "complete" do you view the Alternity mechanics to be?
<BPress_Jim> I think d20 was a better fit from a business model standpoint for
WotC. But you'll notice that Bastion hasn't come out with a SF setting yet...
<BPress_Jim> I haven't played in a SF RPG in a while now, but the last one was
<Spicer> ?How long ago was that?
<BPress_Jim> A little over a year ago...
<Spicer> Not so long then...
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<Botuu> You seem to be saying that d20 Modern/Future don't work for you.
<BPress_Jim> Not that they don't work for me, just thsat my heart is still with
<Botuu> Good answer1
<BPress_Jim> I think we could probably craft a really good SF RPG under d20
* Spicer chalks up points for Jim with the Alternity faithful.
<Spicer> I'd have to agree with you for sure on that, Jim.
<Spicer> It is possible.
<BPress_Jim> Bastion might move in that direction at some point in the future.
<Botuu> I for one would love to see it. I think it's okay to have more than one
system at your disposal.
<BPress_Jim> We even bandied about the idea of releasing Oathbound and a d20
Futures campaign world.
<uncle_jimbo> I think it's fair to say that WotC have left the field open with
their level of support for d20 Future.
<Spicer> So how satisfied are you with Alternity's mechanics? How complete do
you feel you guys made them?
<BPress_Jim> Mechanics wise, I think Alternity is fairly solid.
<BPress_Jim> I might tweak down some of the weapons damage to make it more
heroic, but that's just my preference, not a design flaw.
<Spicer> Previous guests have commented on the weapons vs. armor component of
Alternity's mechanics as a likely place for revisions if Alternity 2.0 had
<BPress_Jim> One of the big dangers with SF games is that weapons and equipment
make all the difference in the world. That's realistic, but not very much fun
when this punk with 38 skill points wipes out your character with 380....
<BPress_Jim> True. It just depends on how you like your fantasy. Armor is always
<Spicer> Time to spend your Last Resort points... :)
<BPress_Jim> LOL True.
<Spicer> ?So why was the basic Alternity system marketed as only a "Sci-Fi"
<BPress_Jim> Well, Sci Fi included a lot of genres. At the time, of course, TSR
was ruled by the woman who owned Buck Rogers, so that was always crawling
around at the backs of our minds.
<BPress_Jim> It was a running joke: What would Buck do?
<uncle_jimbo> That's not necessarily a bad thing.
<BPress_Jim> Inside TSR, being assigned a Buck project meant that you had angered
<Starbrat> Heheh; that bad?
<Spicer> So was Alternity viewed as a Buck project?
<Spicer> Since it was sci-fi...
<BPress_Jim> It just meant that the 'eye of Sauron" would be upon you for the
<Spicer> Ah. That's both enlightening and worrisome at the same time. :)
<BPress_Jim> And Buck didn't sell very well. We released products for it to keep
the trademark alive...
<Spicer> ?Many folks that come from D20 to Alternity get stuck at the whole "low
numbers = good" on the D20 roll, and have difficulty getting past that. How do
you think this affected Alternity's success/failure?
<BPress_Jim> In hindsight, we should have standardized everything to mirror the
D&D experience. Gamers are used to parying for high numbers....
<BPress_Jim> I don't think that was a huge negative for the game though.
<Spicer> ?Common complaints about Alternity often gripe about the "roll under"
system. Did you ever try a "roll over" variation (Stat base+D20+mod)?
<Starbrat> I never understood why this was a big deal...
<BPress_Jim> The biggest challenge for Alternity was that SF is a much smaller
audience than fantasy. There's no common lexicon.
<BPress_Jim> When you talk about fantasy, everyone understands swords and
sorcery. Everyone uses the same words. But if you take out Star Trek and Star
Wars terms (which largely can't be used), then it's a lot harder to hook people
<BPress_Jim> I think we finally settled on low=good as a way to be completely
different from D&D.
<Spicer> Well, Star*Drive certainly hooked me...line and sinker...primarily
because it avoided drawing upon Star Trek and Star Wars. It gave a new
universe that didn't feel like you were walking in someone else's shoes.
<BPress_Jim> I'm glad to hear that. ;-)
<Spicer> ?So how was the die mechanic developed for Alternity? Whose idea was
<BPress_Jim> The die mechanic was a complex development that went through a lot
of iterations. Rich Baker and Bill Slavicsek worked on that a lot. Our big dear
was that the steps up and down to different dice was too confusing (and for new
players, it was).
<BPress_Jim> Mathematically, I think it was pretty sound. But it wasn't something
a new player would understand very well.
<Spicer> ?Was it intentional to have the difficulty steps scale non-linearly? As
in an exponential curve of increasing ease or difficulty...
<BPress_Jim> That was intentional. We wanted hard actions to be truly difficult
<Spicer> ?Alternity has always seemed like a point-based skill system with a
class/level framework like a scaffold around it...which makes it easy to
discard, if GMs so choose. Was that also deliberate?
<BPress_Jim> Yes. Playtesting revealed that people *really* like the class/level
system because it was familiar.
<BPress_Jim> It was still all about skill points. But by the time players
realized that, they discovered they didn't need class/level anyway. ;-)
<Spicer> And yet, you also seem to have hooked those who prefer class-less and
level-less games as well. So you got two birds with one stone...
<Spicer> ?What mechanical tweaks do you think you would have eventually done to
Alternity and why?
<BPress_Jim> I think a new version would have taken out all Star*Drive references
and made it a "space opera" SF rules set.
-> *Spicer* To follow up an earlier question, was there a lot of influence on
Alternity from 2300AD?
<BPress_Jim> That action would have forced us to make some significant changes,
but it would have served as a better launch pad...like d20 Futures does.
<BPress_Jim> Trying to pack SF and modern RPGs together was a mistake.
<Spicer> ?What would you do if you could produce a new edition of a particular
campaign setting that was associated with Alternity (e.g., Star*Drive,
<BPress_Jim> I'd have released Dark Matter 18 months earlier. lol
<BPress_Jim> By the time we battled our way through the internal politics of
WotC, we'd missed our window. X-Files was cancelled, and the gamers had moved
on to other things.
<Spicer> Just missed that X-Files craze, did you?
<uncle_jimbo> I've often thought it should have been the first Alternity setting.
<BPress_Jim> Dark Matter really scared some people at WotC, but Wolf did a
*GREAT* job with it.
<BPress_Jim> We talked about it, but ultimately it came down to the simple fact
that space opera is a larger audience pool than modern games.
<Spicer> Wolfgang Bauer...
<BPress_Jim> That's him. ;-)
<Spicer> Same guy who wrote Dataware...which is a sore subject for many Alternity
<BPress_Jim> If we would have launched Dark Matter first, it might have doomed
future campaigns. They were disappointed with Star*Drive's numbers...Dark
Matter is just a smaller pool.
<Spicer> Speaking of which, was there any material that didn't make it into
Dataware that should have? How happy was everyone with the final Dataware
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<BPress_Jim> Dataware was hard because some of the core elements of that book should have been part of the core rules. The core rules really limited what we could do to make eveything truly seemless.
<Starbrat> I can imagine.
<BPress_Jim> That became a common theme as we moved forward. There's so many rule systems that need to be 100% complete, that the design time is immense.
<Spicer> ?So what works of Alternity were unwritten? Was there any ground left uncovered?
<BPress_Jim> And since they all had to be complete when the core books were published, that put us at a big disadvantage as we tried to move things forward.
<BPress_Jim> I think most of what needed to be covered could have been done in future setting books. Nothing really leaps out at me.
<Spicer> ?Were there any ideas for Star*Drive supplements at the time WotC cancelled Alternity that were never published? If so, what were those ideas?
<BPress_Jim> Well, there was this little alien invasion thing...
<Spicer> ?How would you have liked to see the Star*Drive campaign setting develop, had products continued to be published after the Externals?
<BPress_Jim> I wanted to see things move to a more dynamic format; having a cool Star*Drive website that we could make the world seem alive would have been very cool. VoidCorp updates, clips of war footage, etc.
<Spicer> Sounds cool. Have you visited TequilaStarrise.net in the past? :)
<BPress_Jim> SF, unlike fantasy, is a really good fit for website content.
<BPress_Jim> A few times, yeah. ;-)
<Spicer> ?Rich Baker once mentioned you and Dave Eckelberry picked up on a small reference involving the StarMech name in a playtest adventure and turned it into a full-fledged stellar nation for Star*Drive. Are there any other interesting origins to background material we should know about?
<BPress_Jim> Nothing really leaps to mind. When we were deep in the throes of designing, stuff like that happened all the time. Hard for me to remember all of them now...lol
<Spicer> ?Rich Baker also described you as "absolutely grooving on VoidCorp"...care to explain why? And what's your personal interpretation of that monolithic megacorporation?
<BPress_Jim> VoidCorp is very cool because it can be used as a modern-day mirror. We can show today's issues in VC's visage and let players explore greatly exaggerated versions of them...
<BPress_Jim> Lawful Evil is wonderful, and that's VC.
<BPress_Jim> It's rare that we get to explore evil as designers...normally it's just light window dressing.
<Spicer> That's an interesting bit of insight. Did you by chance associate general D&D alignments with all of the various stellar nations from Star*Drive?
<BPress_Jim> Nope. Just VC...
<Spicer> ?What can you tell us about any of your one-shot or Alternity campaigns that you ran or played within?
<BPress_Jim> And even that was kind of an afterthought.
<Spicer> Anything to inspire us?
<BPress_Jim> I played in a number of one-shot campaigns, ranging from one in which our characters died each night and were reborn (with no memories) the next morning.
<uncle_jimbo> I think I played that one in Shadowrun..
<BPress_Jim> to one where we battled against impossible odds and saved the universe. Sentient ships, deadly weapons, a land destroyed, type of thing.
<Spicer> ?Shifting gears a little. How do you feel about the effort and stewardship of the remaining community of Alternity fans so many years after the product-line has been discontinued? Any words of wisdom or encouragement?
<BPress_Jim> Gamma World was fun...but its history was a bit too wonky for me. I prefer gritty to crazy. ;-)
<BPress_Jim> You guys have all done a tremendous thing in keeping the game alive. The big words are the same ones I gave you when I announced the cancellation: You've got everything you need to craft fantastic new universes.
<BPress_Jim> Share your ideas; give each other your adventures and world outlines so that the community doesn't dry up. Share...
<Spicer> ?Have you ever read any of the various fan books produced since the cancellation of Alternity? If so, what did you think of them?
<BPress_Jim> I haven't read any of the books...might have to dig for them when I get some spare time.
<Spicer> I can help you there. ;)
<Spicer> ?Back when Action Check first got started, its publisher, Jeff Ibach, mentioned your exact words were "good luck getting submissions" because the Wizards Alternity site had received only meager fan support at the time. So, with that e-zine running for almost 2 full years with 16 issues and several support publications...and another e-zine called Last Resort picking up its banner, how'd everyone do?
<BPress_Jim> Again, you guys have done a great job in energizing the fan base. At WotC, there was always the fear about making sure we did everything 100% legally. That meant we did things very slowly, and lots of the ideas we came up with got the legal department too nervous to continue.
<BPress_Jim> Ezines and such are great vehicles to keep things running.
<Spicer> ?When you championed the sanctioning of fansites for Alternity and its various campaign settings, you indicated it would let the fans put as much support into the game as they desired. So, in your opinion, what are Alternity, Star*Drive, and Dark.Matter fans free to produce on their own...without violating Wizards' copyright, trademark, etc.?
<BPress_Jim> That's really hard to say.
<BPress_Jim> Ultimately, don't copy text from existing products and you should be fine.
<BPress_Jim> The official websites are free to expand upon the base materials, as I recall our agreements with them. Just don't charge for it, and you should continue to be blissfully below WotC's legal radar.
<Spicer> ?What do you see as the future of the Alternity license? Does the continuing interest seen on the internet for the Alternity system and its associated campaign settings suggest that Wizards may have squandered a money-making opportunity?
<Spicer> ?To your knowledge, has any other game company offered to buy the license to the Alternity system or any of its campaign settings? Do you think Wizards would ever part with them?
<BPress_Jim> Someone with deep pockets could probably step up to WotC and offer to buy Alternity and its related setting from them...or perhaps just liecnes them. From a business strategy standpoint, that's a bad idea for WotC..but money talks.
<BPress_Jim> With d20 Futures and Modern, there's not much incentive to do that. In fact, it might be a better idea to take Star*Drive and license that out, promising to release it as a d20 product. That would support WotC's strategy.
<BPress_Jim> It depends on where your love lies: With Alternity or with the settings.
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<BPress_Jim> VoidCorp agents have entered the building. ;-)
<Shadow> He'll be back :-)
<BPress_Jim> afk a sec
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* Spicer sets mode: +o Spicer
* Spicer apologizes for his ISPs crappy connection.
<BPress_Jim> Welcome back
<Starbrat> Welcome back.
<Botuu> We were worried about you, Neil. Jim is afk right now.
<Botuu> NO, he's back too
<Spicer> Where were we...?
<Botuu> hiding from the VC agents
<BPress_Jim> Just finished up the Alternity license question
<Spicer> They must have detected our little Inseer gathering and tried to pull the plug on us.
<Spicer> Okay. Next...
<Spicer> ?You spent a tremendous effort converting old TSR/Wizards products into PDF format. Some of the scans didn't come out that well and people have often wondered why there aren't simply electronic text documents that could have been directly converted to PDF rather than relying on scans. Can you explain the process used for those PDFs?
<Spicer> Maybe shed some light on how and why they came out the way they did?
<BPress_Jim> The short answer is that WotC was largely illiterate regarding converting products to PDF. I couldn't get the original files to do the full digital conversion.
<Spicer> Ah...well...there ya go. ;)
<BPress_Jim> Instead, they gave me printed copies. And scanning those pages isn't that efficient.
<BPress_Jim> Toward the end of our scanning, Adobe came out with some upgrades that greatly increased the quality of the scans...but WotC didn't want to invest any more money down it.
<BPress_Jim> Lots of bad corporate decisions were made.
<Spicer> Say no more. That explains everything.
<Spicer> ?Many Alternity fans really appreciate the efforts you and the rest of the A-team made to finish out the product line before Wizards dropped support. Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced for ensuring products like the Externals, Warships, and Final Church saw the light of day?
<BPress_Jim> Well, I went to bat saying that we needed to end product lines as cleanly as possible--that just cancelling a product line makes fans less likely to support some new venture.
<BPress_Jim> I stepped forward agreeing to be the bearer of bad news and handle all the bad PR associated with the cancellation.
<BPress_Jim> Basically, because we needed to stand up for the reasons we did things.
<Spicer> How are the bullet wounds healing? ;)
<BPress_Jim> I lost limbs...lol
<Spicer> You were a consummate professional in how you handled the cancellation and PR, Jim.
<Spicer> Thanks for everything you did for the fans.
<Botuu> I agree.
<BPress_Jim> Thanks... :-)
<Spicer> ?Are there any Alternity products you didn't get a chance to work on...that you wished you had?
<BPress_Jim> When I moved from Editor/Designer to management, I left all of the game design behind me. I missed that, but we really needed someone to go to battle on the business end.
<BPress_Jim> I was supposed to write half of Star*Drive for instance, but just ended up writing a few chapters.
<BPress_Jim> Rich took over for me when I took over the management helm of the line.
<Spicer> ?What are you doing now? What kinds of products are you developing at Bastion Press? Anything slightly related setting-wise?
<BPress_Jim> The RPG industry has really been suffering the past few years. Sales are way down on the d20 side (and even on the core side, if the reports I hear are true). There's just a lot of demand for the entertainment dollar these days...
<BPress_Jim> Bastion continues to slowly product material. We just released Wildwood (an Oathbound world expansion) as a PDF, and we'll be releasing it as a printed book soon.
<BPress_Jim> We've got Lore of the Gods, the Book of Curses, and another Oathbound book coming up.
<BPress_Jim> While I used to work on Bastion full time, I had to go back to the "real" world, so Bastion is a part-time gig for me these days.
<Spicer> You mentioned previously that Bastion hasn't done an SF setting. Is that something you might pursue sometime? Say a D20 Future setting that duplicates some of Star*Drive or Dark.Matter's background?
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<BPress_Jim> I suspect you'll see a SF setting from Bastion one of these years. It's not something we're working on now, though, so it wouldn't be ready for a good 18 months even if we started tomorrow.
<BPress_Jim> I doubt you'd see me duplicate anything related to S*D or DM unless we somehow got the license.
<BPress_Jim> But the themes would still be there. I like the social impact of gaming... ;-)
<Spicer> Is that something Bastion would be interested in doing...i.e., acquiring those licenses? In a perfect world, of course...
<BPress_Jim> I'd love to get S*D...
<BPress_Jim> I fear that DMs time has come and gone.
<Spicer> ?If Wizards hadn't canceled the Alternity line, where do you think it could have gone? With more patience from WotC/Hasbro, do you think it would have flourished...or still received the same lukewarm reception among gamers?
<BPress_Jim> I think you would have seen us do the Serenity license, and Star Wars probably would have gone the Alternity way as well.
<BPress_Jim> Star Wars is tough, though, because it doesn't fit in well with the core books' reliance on S*D.
<BPress_Jim> I think you'd be seeing a Battlestar Galactica licnese as well.
<Spicer> Hence, the need to separate the S*D stuff from the core books.
<BPress_Jim> Right now, smaller companies went out and got those licenses. But I think WotC could have done so easily...
<Spicer> ?Why were there so many different "introductory" and standalone products with modified rules created for Alternity ("Fast Play Rules", Incident at Exile, the boxed set, Future's Edge, Gamma World, Starcraft)? How did the presence of these products affect marketing and sales of the core material and the overall success of the line?
<BPress_Jim> They were all targeted at different groups in an attempt to grow Alternity. Fast-play rules were designed to get someone hooked in just a few minutes. StarCraft was designed to bring in those computer players to our world, etc.
<Spicer> ?What about StarCraft? Why didn't it ever become a "full" game?
<BPress_Jim> Alternity in general, and those products in particular, made the game a huge success. Well, to anyone except WotC/Hasbro, of course. We just couldn't generate the sales numbers they wanted. Of course, Star Wars can't either, but they're locked into that.
<BPress_Jim> With StarCraft, I think it was a matter of just getting the license for the intro game.
<Spicer> ?Do you believe the "One System To Rule Them All" aspect of D20 is overly limiting for some settings, particularly sci-fi, and if not, how isn't it? In particular, the inherent high danger, hyper-realism of the Alternity system versus the "Get another 25 hp at 15th level" fantasy feeling of D20...
<BPress_Jim> I think with SF in particular, there are things that don't work well under a single system. Heroic vs. gritty fantasy, for instance; level vs. skill as another.
<BPress_Jim> If were were to redo the system again, I think we would release a core book that took gritty and heroic and presented them as separate options. Then, each new campaign setting would present its own needed rules (like radiation for Gamma World).
<Spicer> Okay. Jim...you've been an absolute trooper hanging with us for so long. I didn't think we'd take quite this much time to go through the questions. If you've made your Stamina-endurance check, are you ready to open the floor up to general questions?
<BPress_Jim> Sure thing!
<Spicer> Okay, everyone. The floor is now open...
<Botuu> What parts of S*D were written by you?
<BPress_Jim> Penates, primarily. That was the first system I started working on.
<BPress_Jim> Lots of smaller bits and pieces throughout as well, but that was definitely my chapter. ;-)
<uncle_jimbo> I had a follow up to an earlier question: was there a lot of influence from 2300AD on Alternity? Apart from dice mechanics there seem to be a lot of similarities in skill breakdown and how certain systems work.
<BPress_Jim> I've never actually played 2300AD. But I know that Rich and Bill took a look at a lot of different systems as they designed Alternity, taking what worked well and redoing parts that didn't work.
<Spicer> Anyone else have a question for Jim while we've got him locked into our 121 hour starfall?
<LastMaxim> (when you're through with that one :)) I was just curious if you had seen the Serenity RPG, and if so had noticed any similarities with Alternity? Personally I have, but just wanted to hear your take on it...;)
<BPress_Jim> Looks like I've outlasted the questions. :-)
<uncle_jimbo> not hardly
<BPress_Jim> I haven't even got a copy of it yet. I need to make a new swag roll...
<LastMaxim> (I'm slow typing today, after helping a fried move in record time, lol)
<uncle_jimbo> The Dark Matter novel By Dust Consumed was briefly available from WotC as a PDF, do you know the status of this and whether it might be released elsewhere?
<BPress_Jim> Alternity impacted the entire industry, though, so it wouldn't surprise me to see other publishers take the parts they really liked.
<BPress_Jim> I'm not sure what's going on with the book department at WotC. They're very fearful of PDF downloads of their books, though
<Spicer> What can you tell us about any of the playtest characters you created for Star*Drive or Dark.Matter?
<BPress_Jim> They need to exert more influence on their authors to get older books available as electronic downloads, but that's a whole other battle.
<BPress_Jim> I can tell you that I created a lot of very short-lived characters...LOL
<Spicer> Heh. :)
<Botuu> Yea, are any of the characters in the S*D setting actually characters that started as playtest characters?
<BPress_Jim> There are quite a few that started out as playtest characters and ended up as NPCs. A lot.
<BPress_Jim> Since we already did the work in designing them, it seemed like a waste not to use them., :-)
<BPress_Jim> I'd have to thumb through S*D to find them all, though...
<Shadow> So, when our players interact with NPs in official adventures, that might be old PCs of your's?
<BPress_Jim> A very good possibility.
<Spicer> At one point, Steven Schend hooked up with Bastion and I've heard that he and Duane Maxwell safeguarded much of the S*D background lore...particular the Externals and Precursors material. Any chance you could hookwink Steven into doing one of these chats with us?
<Shadow> (I instantly think of a few :-) )
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<BPress_Jim> I'll drop him a line and ask him...
<Spicer> Please do.
<Spicer> Give him my mail address.
<BPress_Jim> Duane and I talk every now and then as well...
<BPress_Jim> I'll see if I can get them. And David Eckelberry.
<Spicer> He's the one that let me know about Steven.
<BPress_Jim> Very cool.
<Spicer> David works with the D&D Online gaming company now, right?
<BPress_Jim> Yeah. Turbine Games.
<Spicer> I wanted to invite him to Alternity Game Day, but couldn't find a contact for him.
<BPress_Jim> Thanks for the great time, everyone! Sorry I was late...
<Spicer> He would be a good one, too.
<Spicer> And I think Rich Baker is a shoe-in for our next chat session.
<BPress_Jim> Grill him good. ;-)
<Botuu> No problem, Jim. Thanks for coming.
<lordkrath> its been a pleasure Jim
<Spicer> Will do. I just need to get Jake/Apoc to catch again at WotC.
<Spicer> So, Jim. One last question for you.
<Spicer> I saved it from the list.
<dblade> Thanks Jim
<Spicer> ?Looking back do you have any additional thoughts, comments, or final words on Alternity?
<BPress_Jim> Thanks for not beating me up again over Alternity cancellation. :-)
<Starbrat> I think we did that enough the first time!
<BPress_Jim> Just keep up the good work! You guys have everything you need to create fantastic universes...
<BPress_Jim> I'm off to lunch. Safe travels, all...
<Starbrat> Thanks, Jim.
<Spicer> Thanks again, Jim.
<LastMaxim> Much appreciated
<Shadow> Thank you and a healthy appetite to you! :-)
<Spicer> Much appreciated for ALL you've done.
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<Botuu> that was quite good. Thanks for setting it up, Neil.
<Starbrat> I'll be getting kicked in the nect forty seconds, so I'll bid everyone a hasty goodnight.
<Spicer> I'm just glad we got to hold the session.
<LastMaxim> aye...I was wondering if I'd actually get here...record typing on your part there Neil :)
<Starbrat> Bye, all.
<uncle_jimbo> We've certainly spun out the time.
* lordkrath waves to SB
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<Spicer> Thanks, Gary. I cut and pasted a lot of stuff I had prepared in advance.
<Shadow> Thought so :-)
<Spicer> Apologies to everyone for the late hour.
<LastMaxim> hehe...I take it back then :)
<Spicer> Darn. I never should have revealed my secrets. ;)
<uncle_jimbo> I'll send a log to TerroX.
<Botuu> I'm not surprised Lars is still awake. I don't think he sleeps. ;)
<Spicer> Thanks, Jim.
* lordkrath bows out
<Bynw> keep in mind this is the middle of the afternoon in the western hemesphere ...
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<Spicer> If necessary, ask TerroX to trim it down to just contain the interview portion with Jim.
<Shadow> I'll have to, thruth be told, I am really tired...
<Spicer> Well. I'm just glad we had a good showing for Jim while he was here. Thanks to all of you for showing up and supporting the chat session.
<uncle_jimbo> Can do - maybe we should have a full version with the robot discussion also.
<Spicer> Let's save the robot discussion for that new thread I'll start...
<Spicer> That was filler to keep you guys occupied while I fretted over whether Jim would be here. :D
<Shadow> Well, my Trillian has also made a complete log (I think), just in case there are any problems with the other logs.
Session Close: Sun Apr 02 07:49:43 2006
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