On Political Realignment

~2000 words, ~10 min read time

Note: nothing I say here is particularly original. I’m mostly distilling ideas that have come to me primarily through/from historian Steve Davies. But, it’s been on my mind the past few days, so I’m writing it up again.

The Four Inclinations

In the US, there are basically 4 political inclinations. One might be tempted to call these “philosophies”, but that’s claiming far more internal consistency than they deserve. So, I’m going with inclinations, as, for most people, political thought tends to be more instinctive and tribal than reasoned. In any case, here are the four:

Conservatives – These are the “God and Country” folks. As an inclination, this inclination generally dislikes change, particularly if it’s rapid.

Liberals – Here (and throughout this piece), I use the term in the older JS Mill sense rather than the newer FDR sense. In modern parlance, “libertarian” comes fairly close to what is meant here – though I think libertarian has a slightly different usage. In any case, liberals emphasize freedom – free thought and speech, free markets, and free expression of individuality.

Progressives – Often confused with liberals nowadays (especially by the political right). Progressives are defined largely by their sense of using social institutions to push society toward some fairly specific ideal. Generally favorable toward the idea of elites/professional bureaucrats running things.

Populists – not particularly well-defined philosophically, but, in general, believe that society is divided between “the people” and “the elites”, and that society should be made to serve the people.

Of course, very few individuals are PURELY motivated by just one of these inclinations, nor are they monolithic internally. But, these are the general inclinations you see in American politics.

[Aside on “libertarian”: I generally think “libertarian” is just a synonym for “anti-State”, and one can get there through lots of inclinations. There are libertarian conservatives – who see the State as a threat to traditional cultural institutions, and there are libertarian liberals – who see the State as a violator of rights, and there are libertarian populists – who see the State as the vehicle by which the elites exploit the common person. Libertarian progressives are possible, if one believes that the State stands in the way of progress more than being a vehicle for pushing it forward. I suspect that in the US today, there are few libertarian progressives, but this might just be in the circles I run in.]

The Fading Alliances

Of course, with four inclinations and two major parties, the parties are naturally alliances of the various inclinations. Now, technically, all parties contain all inclinations to SOME degree – but it tends to be the case that two of the inclinations dominate one party and the other two dominate the other party. Through most of the 20th century the division was something like this:

Democrats = Populists + Progressives

Republicans =Conservatives + Liberals

The reason for this division was that economic questions were paramount, and this division puts natural allies together. Both populists and progressives are distrustful of markets, and so want some kind of intervention from the government to protect the common person. Thus, for example, you have Democrats being very pro-labor-union. Meanwhile, both conservatives and liberals value relatively free markets and low tax burdens.

However, these alliances have been fading for the past 20-30 years. This has happened for two reasons:

(1) A moderately liberal consensus on economic issues. That is, in the early 1900s, there was genuine debate about major structural questions regarding the economy – should the government centrally plan the economy or should markets play a key role? But, as the 1900s came to an end, the conclusion was clear: widespread central planning was a failure. So, a consensus emerged that markets should be the primary organizing method in the economy, but they should be regulated and some level of income redistribution (safety nets, welfare) was desirable. The only debate left was in the details. This led to what I’m going to call “liberal drift”. That is, liberals started drifting away from the Republican party toward the Democrats as the Democrats became more acceptable on economic issues and social issues – with which the liberals generally agree with the progressives in many ways – became more important.

(2) Following from (1) – the Democrats’ gradual abandonment of the populists. Strategically, this makes perfect sense. The labor unions were largely populist, but labor unions were dying during the last couple decades of the 1900s. So, it didn’t make much sense to put many eggs in that particular basket. The area I spent my childhood in was staunchly Democrat – filled with “conservative Democrats” who were Democrats because of labor union membership. I now recognize that “conservative Democrat” actually means “populist”.

Both of these have fed into a realignment.

The Realignment

With the emergence of the moderately liberal economic policy consensus being adopted by both parties, those with liberal inclinations are now divided. One group started to focus more on social issues, and so shifted to the Democrats, who were generally more freedom-oriented on that front. Another group was convinced that more could be achieved on the economic front, and so generally stayed aligned with the Republicans.

Also, this meant that economic issues became matters of technocratic wrangling (should the top tax rate be 35% or 47.2%?) rather than real debate with significant clash (should the government own all the natural resources?).

The “liberal drift” freed the Democrats to cut loose a sinking ship: labor union populism. Labor unions were clearly dying (25% membership in 1980 to roughly 10% now), and would be quite difficult – perhaps impossible – to revive. So, don’t rely on them.

This allowed for social issues to be a bigger part of the Democratic program. Populists tended to be in favor of protectionist tariffs, social safety nets, and progressive taxes (much like the progressives), but fairly conservative on social and cultural issues – affirming the importance of a “traditional family”, and being nervous about the cultural impacts of immigration. But, it didn’t make sense to play to either of these to much degree, with the liberal drift happening. So, the Democrats leaned into trying to attract the liberals by placing more emphasis on social issues – where the progressives tend to be more rights-oriented – and becoming more market friendly (especially in the area of international trade). This left the populists abandoned, and voter participation plummeted. (See 1996 and 2000)

Then, the Republicans started making a play for the populists. For example: GW Bush and his support of steel tariffs. Not a free market policy – but it wasn’t intended to be. It was a conservative/populist policy. Conservative in the sense that it was protecting American industry – and one with strategic significance, and populist because, well, populists love tariffs because they protect very specific, easy to identify, jobs. Bush wasn’t particularly successful with the play for the populist vote, but laid the groundwork for someone who would be: Donald Trump.

Pres Trump – I suspect to some degree by accident – masterfully combined conservative and populist rhetoric. His “America First”/MAGA message was designed to play to these mindsets, and his presentation style was populist through-and-through. For a while, I’ve described him as “common” as a speaker. But this isn’t quite right. Rather, he’s “unrefined”. His speeches have a very un-practiced feel (perhaps genuinely so…), and populists LIKE that. Simply saying what you think (or feel) strikes populists as honest, even if any factual claims aren’t literally true.

Thus, Pres. Trump has solidified the Republican Party as a conservative/populist alliance.

This also helps explain what has happened in Ohio over the past few years. Not too long ago, Ohio was pretty purple. Now, it’s turning red. Look at a map of the 2020 election, and you can identify every major city – they’re in the blue counties (one exception: Ohio University dominates its county in Southern Ohio). Go back to 2008, and there are several non-urban blue counties. (Even moreso in 1992.) One that stands out to me: Belmont County, where I grew up

About 20 years ago, Ohio was the land of the conservative Democrat and liberal Republican. We pretty regularly had the most conservative Democrats in DC and the most liberal Republicans – and the Republicans we sent were often more liberal than the Democrats. Why? Well, Ohio is largely composed of conservatives and populists. When these were in two different parties, Ohio was a swing state, and the need to get elected meant our Democrats tended to be populists, not progressives, and our Republicans conservatives, not liberals. This gave a very pragmatic/centrist flavor to our politics.

But no more. These two inclinations are both now united in the Republican party. So, Ohio is going to swing a lot less. (It’s for this reason that I registered Republican in our primary this year, since I strongly suspect the Republicans are going to sweep the State-wide offices.)

The Democrats, though, are still stumbling their way toward a new alliance. What that alliance is going to have to be is a blend of progressives and liberals. At the moment, there’s a battle going on for which of these two have dominance, as that will determine a lot of the overall approach of this party. One of the issues that has the potential to cause the most harm are issues related to free expression. The progressive/”woke” wing is perfectly happy to stomp out speech they disagree with since they tend to equate disagreement or disapproval with violence. In fact, even “silence is violence.” Probably more than any other inclination, liberals respect and value disagreement – probably because JS Mill’s 2nd chapter of On Liberty is in liberals’ bones. So, the idea that speech itself (or the lack thereof!) should be equated with violence makes it *very* difficult to get liberals on board. The question is really whether the Democratic leadership is going to be able to reframe cultural issues in such a way that Democrats can be seen as embracing diversity rather than imposing it. A general attitude of tolerance – including tolerance for disagreement – is necessary for this to work, and there is a very loud progressive wing that is fighting against this kind of tolerance. (Note: I generally consider any reference to “The Paradox of Tolerance” to be a pretty clear signal that this is the kind of person you’re dealing with.) Democratic leadership has to be careful, because “well, at least we’re not Republicans” will only work for so long, and there’s a real possibility that those of liberal inclination may just not vote at all, once the Republicans are less threatening/more boring.

[Aside: it is certainly true that the GOP has its own problem – with the fringier elements declaring the more moderate members “RINOs” and the like. This would tend to speed the liberal drift, but if the Democrats embrace a full-woke “Paradox of Tolerance” approach, the liberals will have nowhere to go. The Republicans adopting free-speech rhetoric has slowed this, and they’ve been helped by the progressive wing of the Democrats treating speech as violence.]

A Personal Note

As a kid, I proudly considered myself a conservative Republican. But, in college, Pres. GW Bush convinced me that I wasn’t actually a Republican, and my exposure to more libertarian thought led me to call myself libertarian.

Over the past couple of years, and especially after being exposed to this 4 inclination hypothesis, I’ve come to realize that I am, like Strephon in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe, a “liberal conservative”. That is, I affirm the importance of individual liberty and traditional social institutions like faith and family. This meant that, during the 1990s, the Republican Party felt like home. It was a blend (though an imperfect one) of my major inclinations. However, now that populists are running the GOP and progressives the DNC, I have nowhere to go.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It might convince me to think about politics less, and I suspect we’d all be better off if we did that.

A Jobless-less Recession?

~500 words, ~ 3 min reading time

One of the strangest prospects we currently face: the jobless-less recession.

Q1 real GDP is supposed to be down – like literally down as opposed to “below trend”. (I say “supposed to be” because this is an “advance” estimate, which is going to be revised a couple of times.)
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate (those without jobs who are actively looking for work) is very low – under 4%. 2.4 million more people were employed in March 2022 vs. March 2021. (Of those, roughly half are people who weren’t even looking for work in March 2021.) Put another way – the “Great Resignation” doesn’t seem to be people leaving the workforce entirely (at least not at a macro level) – it’s people leaving one job to take another.

Even using the broadest measures, which add in those who want a job and looked for work in the past year even if they’re not actively looking for work recently, PLUS those who are working part time but want a full time job, that measure is almost as low as headline unemployment was a year ago.
Anyway, dropping production tied with rising employment suggests that labor productivity has dropped significantly. Why? Well, that’s an interesting question to which I don’t have a great answer. Some speculative thoughts:

(1) There’s been something of a “youngening” of the workforce over the past couple of years – with more 16-17 year olds working and fewer 45+ year olds working. Dropping productivity could reflect a loss of human capital (experience, training, etc.).

(2) Shortages for specific materials + labor hoarding. Example: there’s a chip shortage. While employers could lay workers off since they literally can’t produce at the moment (or at least can’t produce at typical levels), in this environment that’s a really dangerous choice since there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to hire people back. So, businesses are hoarding labor even if it’s not immediately productive so that they’ll have workers on hand when shortages resolve.

(3) The Great Resignation was, in part (perhaps mostly), people looking for jobs that had more flexibility rather than more pay. People are looking for a better “work/life balance” or better working conditions. These traits tend to decrease physical productivity (the kind GDP measures) even if they improve overall well-being (with which GDP is generally correlated – generally people with more stuff feel better off – but of which it is not a measure).

(4) Another part of the Great Resignation was people leaving a job for another with higher pay. However, it might be that these jobs “overpay” early in an employee’s career (relative to productivity) but underpay later. This is especially likely if the job requires significant employer-specific skills/knowledge which take some time to learn, and which don’t improve the employee’s likelihood of finding a higher paying job later after these skills/knowledge are acquired. So, productivity fell because people moved into jobs for which they don’t yet have the skills/knowledge needed to be very productive.

I may be missing something very important, since these are just quick first guesses. But, it is pretty fascinating to be in a world of rising employment, dropping GDP, and high inflation…

Missions of the USS Comstock (NCC-7204) (Star Trek Adventures Solo TTRPG Play) – Part I

~ 2100 words, ~11 min reading time

Background Information

Technical Matters

For this soloing experience, I decided to use Star Trek Adventures as my core ruleset and setting. I’m new to the ruleset, so I’m sure I made some mistakes. Also, while I enjoy Star Trek, I don’t know that I’d call myself a “Star Trek fan”/”Trekkie”, mostly because I know people who are way more in to Star Trek than I am. Example: I’ve not watched any of the latest Trek because I don’t want to pay for Paramount+ yet. This means I probably have (or will have) some inconsistencies between my game and the ST canon. I’m at peace with this, because I play for my own amusement, not to develop the ST canon. I am not, in fact, a screenwriter for Star Trek (even if Brannon Braga did take classes from the campus I teach at now), nor do I write Star Trek tie-in fiction (even if I did chat with Christopher Bennett pretty late into the night – 2am? – once). I’m the kind of fan who owns DVDs of the TOS, TNG, DS9, and VOY, as well as the TOS and TNG movies, but only the first of the JJ Abrams era movies, and has only ever been to one ST convention.

For GM Emulation, I’m using a combination of Tana Pigeon’s Mythic GM Emulator for oracle rolls and triggering interrupt scenes/random events. However, I’m using Pigeon’s Adventure Crafter for generating the opening scene and any interrupt scenes, as I like the structure it provides. If necessary, I’ll also use Pigeon’s Location Crafter for any locations that need that kind of development, though I don’t really anticipate that.

I’ve also decided that my write-ups are going to take the form of scripts. Probably more than in any other game I’ve played so far, this one is very much playing out as a video in my head, so a script feels like the appropriate way of communicating the story. Any metadata (rolls on oracle tables, scene setups, etc) will be put in italics if I bothered to make a note of them, as will some of my thinking. Plain font will be used for the scripts, with brackets for stage direction, background, etc.

Character Background

In Star Trek Adventures, character creation takes a “life path” approach. Those who have read my Cepheus posts will realize that Cepheus/Traveller/similar systems use the same broad concept. Character creation is a process of starting with a basic character and then developing their backstory simultaneously with their stats. So, let me introduce Capt. Michael Watson of the USS Comstock, a Nova class Scientific/Survey ship.

Capt. Watson – human – grew up on Andoria, the son of artists who had come from Earth to learn about Andorian artistic culture. He is proud of this heritage, and considers himself, in some ways, to be a “son”of Andoria.

Two major life events played a big role in his time in Star Fleet so far.

(1) On an away mission that he was leading, his friend Uq’aath – an Andorian – was killed by an animal after he stayed behind the away team to complete some readings on his own.

(2) When Watson was on assignment on a previous survey vessel, the Captain of that ship fell ill when exposed to some kind of xenovirus. This forced Watson to take command. His handling of that situation played a key role in his assignment to the Comstock.

Scene 1 – Capt. Watson’s Quarters

Mythic: set Chaos Factor to 5 to start. Using Adventure Crafter, I rolled up these plot elements for my first “turning point”: Frenetic Activity (surrounding Capt. Watson), Character Returns (New Character – “Ugly Leader” connected to current plotline), Run Away! (Capt. Watson), and Character is Diminished (Capt. Watson). My first thought was that this might be an “in media res” scene resulting in Capt. Watson being demoted, given the high level of action. But this didn’t feel right. Here’s what did.

[Watson’s Quarters, lights off. Watson sleeping, but restlessly.]

[Cut to jungle scene. Dense underbrush, clearly daytime, but upper canopy provides significant shade, so only dappled sunlight gets through. The sound of someone running. Young Watson runs into the scene.]

Young Watson: Uq’aath! Uq’aath! Where are you? [Comes to clearing. Looks slightly down, stunned.]

[Sound of communication “ringing” coming through to console in quarters. Watson wakes up, groggily walks to desk. Sits, presses button. Unnamed Admiral appears on screen.]

Admiral: Captain, I hope I didn’t disturb you.

Watson [still obviously tired]: Not at all, sir. Do you have a new mission for us?

Admiral: Yes, I do. We have some anomalous readings coming from a sector not too far from Bajor. You mission is to investigate these readings and report back to us.

Watson: Excellent. We’ll be on our way shortly.

Admiral: And one more thing. This is to be a joint mission. Holem Latha of Bajor’s science community will be leading the scientific side of the mission. His knowledge of spatial phenomena and xenobiology should be quite useful whether this is a living thing or not.

Watson [clearly a bit taken aback, but holding it together]: Are you sure that’s a good idea? Sir?

Admiral: We are well aware of your history with Latha. We are also confident that you can set that all aside for the sake of ensuring that we maintain friendly relations between the Federation and Bajor.

Watson [nods, not happy, but putting on the right “face”]: Of course, sir.

Admiral: We look forward to your report. [Screen goes black.]

This turning point introduced the first plotline “Investigate Anomaly”.

Scene 2 – Bridge

Chaos factor 6, since Watson clearly was not in control in the previous scene. Plan was to arrive at the anomaly to start studying it. Latha got on board off-screen. But, I rolled under the chaos factor – so this is an altered or interrupt scene. Turning to the Adventure Crafter, I rolled for plotline. Got “Investigate Anomaly” – okay, so not a new plotline, so probably just an altered scene. Plot points: Catastrophe, Wanted by Law (New Character – Not in this plotline, “Rough Rogue”), Fall from power (New Character – connected to existing Character – Holem Latha – “Heroic Guardian”), Conclusion(?!), Catastrophe. Okay, so I know the investigate anomaly plotline is going to end in this scene, and there’s *definitely* some kind of catastrophe, since that came up twice.

[Bridge, everyone at stations, everything seems fine]

Helm: Captain, we’re coming out of warp.

Security/Tactical: Captain, there’s phaser fire here. Two Bajoran vessels – a scout seems to be firing on a shuttle craft.

Latha [a Bajoran man, scars across his face, and with graying hair, sitting next to the Captain]: The scout is probably planetary security. That’s what we’ve been using those ships for recently.

Science: Sir, we’ve detected the anomaly. It seems to be some kind of dark energy – the phaser fire seems to be destabilizing whatever it is.

Watson: Hail the Scout.

[View screen shows a Bajoran man – middle aged – dressed in Bajoran military garb.]

Watson: I am Captain Michael Watson of the Federation ship Comstock. We have been sent to study a dark energy phenomenon.

Latha [cutting him off]: Which your phasers are in the midst of destabilizing, Ko.

Watson [annoyed]: Yes. So, if you wouldn’t mind calling of your attack, we would be much obliged.

Ko [on screen, very stoic demeanor]: Of course, Captain. However, the occupant of this shuttle is a terrorist that we will be taking back to Bajor to answer for his crimes. If I am correct, your ship should be equipped with a tractor beam. Perhaps you could assist us in apprehending this criminal.

Watson [looks at Latha next to him]: Would the tractor beam cause any problems with this phenomenon?

Latha: It’s impossible to say for sure, but I suspect we’ll be fine.

Watson: Very well. Tractor beam on the shuttle. Bring it into shuttle bay 1.

Ko: Thank you, Captain. I will see you shortly. [view screen switches to image of shuttle being tractored in]

Science: Sir, the anomaly seems to be destabilizing further.

[Quick shot to outside – explosion of black/purple energy hits the Comstock, and seems to deflect off of the Bajoran scout’s shields.]

[Back to the Bridge – people clearly shaken, lights mildly flickering]

Watson: Damage report!

Tactical: Hull breaches on Decks 2 and 7. Emergency forcefields are holding, and damage control crews are on their way. Significant structural damage, but we should be able to repair it.

Engineering station: A brief interruption to power supply, but it has mostly stabilized, sir. No ongoing concerns.

Science: Sir, the anomaly is gone. Space appears normal here.

Watson: And the shuttle?

Tactical: Safely in shuttle bay 1, sir.

Captain: Then I’m going to see what this is all about. [Walks to turbolift, doors open, he enters, and doors close behind him]

Scene 3 – Conference Room

Chaos factor up to 7. Previous scene was also clearly out of control. Getting ready for scene set up, roll against Chaos Factor – another interrupt or altered scene. No current plotlines, since “Investigate Anomaly” closed. So, we’ll use Adventure Crafter to roll up scene elements and figure out the plot from there. Plot points: Framed (Jelah Rin – shuttle pilot – framed by Ko Ret), Character attacked in lethal way (Ko Ret), Resource runs out (Capt. Watson), Character Upgrade (Ko Ret) – note: this plot points is a “meta” point. It means that Ko Ret gets added to the character list a couple more times, so his name is likely to show up involved with plot points. So, he’s moved over to become a more major character – Rural setting. I didn’t do much with “rural setting” except saying “We’re in the middle of nowhere in space. That counts.”

[Watson is sitting at the head of a small conference table. On one side is a Bajoran man we’ve not seen before. Clearly a bit worn down, clothes in bad shape, ex. Two security guards stand behind him.]

Watson: Care to tell me your story?

Rin: Ah, yes. I am Jelah Rin, and I have been framed for a crime I did not commit. I don’t know how much you pay attention to Bajor, Captain, but there has been a number of bombings recently. I was accused of being involved in these bombings, but I am innocent, Captain. I think Ko Ret just wants to hunt me down so people will think better of him again.

Watson: Better of him?

Rin: Oh, yes. Ret was a significant player in the Resistance during the Cardassian occupation. However, he has fallen out of favor with the current government for reasons I really don’t know. What I do know is that I am innocent, but that Rin is willing to take me in anyway. He’s in a position to really benefit from these bombings if he can slow them down or stop them.

[A couple more security walk in with Ko Ret, who is offered a seat opposite Rin. As Ret is sitting down, Jelah Rin pulls out a dagger and lunges across the table at Ret, managing to cut his arm.]

Watson: Not on my ship! [Rin is clearly intimidated by this, drops the dagger.] Take him to the brig. [Security escorts a defeated looking Rin out.] I apologize for that Mr. Ret. I’ll accompany you to sick bay.

Ret: Thank you, Captain. It’s no more than a flesh wound. I’ve had worse, but I certainly won’t refuse. I just hope that you now see the kind of man you have in your brig.

New plotline: Bombings on Bajor

Mini-scene – Captain’s Ready Room

I didn’t actually play out this scene. This was just resolved in a couple Fate Chart rolls about how Starfleet Command wanted the Comstock to respond to this plotline.

[Watson talking to Admiral on his console]

Watson: So, Admiral, the phenomenon is gone. My science officer says that there’s not even a sign that it was ever here. Scans all look normal. Would you like us to look into these bombings on Bajor?

Admiral: No. This is pretty clearly an internal matter for the Bajoran authorities to handle. However, given the claims that Mr. Rin made, you are not to hand him over to Ret. Rather, take him to Bajor yourself, and ensure that his claims are at least heard by the authorities. We’ll let Bajor take it from there.

I’m actually in an odd position now. With Ret’s character being upgraded, he’s very likely to show up again. Also, “Bombings on Bajor” is my only active plotline that I might randomly roll. So, despite these orders, Watson’s involvement in this plotline is clearly not over yet.

GM Emulation

~ 1600 words, ~ 8 min reading time

A question came up on Facebook about GM Emulation in the context of solo RPGs, so I thought it would be worth writing up an entry about this.

Traditional RPGs vs Solo RPGs vs Fiction Writing

To really understand solo RPGs, I think it best to think of what solo RPGs fall “between”.

On the one hand are traditional RPGs. Think: Dungeons and Dragons. The basic format of a traditional RPG is that you have three major roles collaborating. The “players” each control a single major character, while the Gamemaster (GM, or, in D&D, Dungeon Master or “DM”) controls the rest of the world – from the weather to villains, etc. However, there is a third role: the “system” – that is the set of rules & randomness that neither player nor GM controls. When putting this all together, you end up with a balance of logic and surprise, with players, GM, and rules & randomness all playing a part in providing both.

Contrast this with fiction writing. In fiction writing, you have a single author that controls everything about the world – the heroes, villains, weather, and so on. While anyone who has written fiction will tell you that sometimes there is some surprise in the process (characters seem to develop “minds of their own” at times!), it’s certainly not the same as having a different person controlling part of what’s happening, nor is it the same as total randomness introducing surprise elements.

Solo RPGs fall in between these two. There’s a combination of a human author/player with random elements provided by the game system. Because solo RPGs fall between traditional RPGs and fiction writing, there’s a wide spectrum that any soloist could choose. Closer to the fiction writing end, you have the soloist that simply divides their mind between player and GM, and uses the game system to resolve challenges. Experientially, this approach leans toward the “creative writing” side, but with some random elements tossed in, since the dice determine success or failure.

Many soloists, though, want to spend less time in “GM mode”, and more time in “player mode”. Basically, we want to increase the proportion of “surprise” vs. logic. This is where GM emulators come in. That is, we want to be surprised not just by the outcomes of challenges, but also by the kinds of challenges that present themselves. So, we need to have a system outside of our own heads that plays a big role in developing the world.

Enter GM Emulators

GM emulators are designed for those players who want to be surprised by the RPG world itself.

The “heart” of a GM Emulation system is the “Oracle”. Generally, the oracle is a randomized system for answering yes/no questions which players can use to build the world in which their characters are acting. A very simple oracle might be a simple coin flip. Heads means yes, tails means no.

Example: Suppose my character, Jim Stephenson, town marshal, walks into the saloon in downtown Pike Springs. I want to know if the saloon is busy this evening. So, I ask the oracle “Is the saloon busy?” *flips coin* *tails, no*. So, now I know that the saloon isn’t busy – the crowd is pretty sparse, though the place probably isn’t completely empty. I walk up to the barkeeper. I wonder if they’re in a bad mood. Are they in a bad mood? *flips coin* *heads, so yes* Makes sense – they’re probably annoyed at how little business they’re getting… and so on.

In effect, the coin flip is acting as a GM Emulator. As a player, the questions that I ask the oracle are questions that I’d normally ask a GM. Thinking of it this way narrows the kinds of questions I might ask. It would be silly to ask something like “Does this saloon serve alcohol?” (unless I suspect teetotalers are in charge of the town!) since the answer is obviously yes. And, given a Western setting, I probably wouldn’t ask “Is there a wizard riding a dragon flying around inside the saloon?” The answer is obviously no. I also wouldn’t ask either of these questions of a GM because it would be stupid to. Context is enough.

Now, while a coin flip can get us pretty far, it’s probably not quite enough. What if the odds aren’t 50/50? What if the event is “possible but not likely” or “likely but not certain”?

Or what if we need some other kind of inspiration for a more complex random event? Building a true “random event” from “yes” and “no” questions feels a bit clumsy. GM Emulators are often designed to include these other forms of inspiration as well. So, let’s get to a few specific ones.

Examples of GM Emulators

In recent years, there has been a rise in solo RPGs – Scarlet Heroes and Ironsworn leading the way. These games include GM Emulators for their specific contexts, so I’m not going to talk about them except to say that they take very different approaches to game design, though the emulators bear a striking similarity in many ways. Here, though, I’m going to focus on a few “generic” GM Emulators.

Mythic GM Emulator – this is probably one of the oldest and best known. The system can be summed up in 4 tables: the “Fate chart” – which provides Extreme Yes/Yes/No/Extreme No answers based on likelihood + a random roll + the “chaos factor” (a measure of how out of control things are), the “Event Focus Table” which tells you broadly what a random event is about (example: NPC action or PC positive), and two “Event Meaning Tables” – a verb table and a noun table. Add to these tables two lists that you create for your specific game: an NPC list and a “thread” (that is, plotline) list. When using Mythic, you start with your “scene setup” – figure out what your character is *trying* to do and where. Then, you roll to see if the scene sets up like expected or if there’s some kind of interruption (a random event!) or alteration (ex. turns out the villain wasn’t at home like you expected). Then, play it out, asking yes/no questions when needed. Tana Pigeon, author of Mythic, has also put together a few Variations on Mythic as well as a “Crafter” series – Adventure Crafter, Location Crafter, and Creature Crafter. All of these are designed to combine logic with randomness. You can get these for under $10 each from DriveThruRPG.com. There are also decks of cards that can replace the die rolls, and several issues of Mythic Magazine for those who are interested.

CRGE – A system very similar to Mythic in many ways, except that the Yes/No answers can contain surprises within them, as there is a “Yes, but unexpectedly….” option with “unexpectedly” tables. The odds of unexpected events depend on where you are in the story – as you move from heading “To Knowledge” (where lots of unexpected stuff happens) to “To Endings” (where unexpectedlys are rare) – and also how long it’s been since something unexpected has happened. Zach Best, author of CRGE, has also created several other supplements: UNE (for emulating NPCs), BOLD (for creating storylines and backstories). These are pay-what-you-want on DriveThruRPG.com

MUNE – Another Mythic-like system, but significantly simpler. Roll a d6. Answers are “No, and”/”No”/”No, but”/”Yes, but”/”Yes”/”Yes, and”. If the event is “likely” roll 2d6 and use the higher roll. Unlikely, use the lower roll. There’s also a system designed for providing surprise complications as well. Available for free online.

One page solo engine – This system is pretty cool, and fits on one page (front and back). It uses a combination of standard playing cards and 6-sided dice to answer questions. However, the maker suggests you should only use it if you’re already familiar with the basic concepts of GM Emulation. Free on DriveThruRPG.com.

Now, there are certainly others out there. These are just a few that I have on hand. There are significant similarities and differences between them.

Using a GM Emulator

One thing that takes some getting used to is figuring out *when* to appeal to a GM emulator and when to just let logic dictate what happens. This is very much a matter of taste, and I don’t think there’s any clear guideline I can give. The best guideline is probably this: ask yourself if the game is dragging. If the answer is “yes”, then change what you’re doing. If you’ve asked a bunch of oracular questions and feel like things are dragging, then you should probably just let logic take over for a bit. On the other hand, if you feel like the game has become overly predictable, then ask more questions.

Similarly the *style* of question is something that you can only really figure out by experience and experimentation. In any particular moment, do you want a sweeping “cutting” question that can have big impacts on the entire storyline? Or would a much smaller “chipping” question make more sense? Trial and error is the best way to learn how to balance these elements.

In any case, if you’d like to know more about solo RPGing, I highly recommend two Youtube channels. Geek gamers is one of my favorites, and has lots of material about solo GMing. The other – which is a more recent discovery – is Me, Myself, and Die where Trevor Devall plays through a few solo games.

The Taylor Principle and Fed Policy

~ 200 words, ~1 min reading time

John Taylor is a macroeconomist from Stanford, mostly known for his “Taylor Rule” – a rule describing both historically how the Fed has targeted interest rates and how it *should* target interest rates.

He is also known for the related “Taylor Principle”, which is a little bit broader. The idea is simple: the central bank should increase interest rates at least as much as any increase in inflation. This is necessary for monetary policy to have a stabilizing influence. If the central bank follows this principle, an increase in inflation causes an increase in real (that is, inflation adjusted) interest rates, which will discourage spending – keeping inflation in check. If we don’t follow this principle, then inflation tends to spiral out of control, as inflation leads to decreasing inflation-adjusted interest rates, which encourages spending – driving inflation further up.

Since April 2020, price inflation has risen from almost nothing to about 8% on a year-over-year basis. Meanwhile, the Fed’s interest rate target has risen from 0-0.25% to 0.25%-0.5%. All to say: there’s a lot of room for interest rates to rise.

Reactive v Proactive PCs

~850 words, ~4 min read time

My latest foray into solo gaming made me realize how much my player character (PC) was reacting to situations that we thrown at her rather than driving the action forward herself – until about the halfway point when I decided on a specific goal for her to pursue. This led me to reflect on the difference between reactive and proactive PCs and how they change the gaming experience in general – and the solo RPG experience in particular.

A “reactive” PC is one whose decisions are reacting to the world around them. For this type of game to work, the world must be dynamic and imposing itself on the PC. In contrast a “proactive” PC is the dynamic force imposing themselves on the world.

I realized that, much of the time, a story-driven game ends up with reactive PCs. At first I thought this might be some kind of personal pathology – something I was doing “wrong” – perhaps reflecting my own contentment with life as it is. But, then I realized, a lot of great main characters are largely reactive. In Star Wars: A New Hope, for example, Luke’s behavior in nearly every scene is a reaction to the world around him. The heroes in Lord of the Rings are reacting to Sauron’s return and aggression. And so on. It’s actually pretty rare, it seems, for main characters to go LOOKING for trouble – instead, trouble comes looking for them.

“Sandbox” style games, however, require proactive PCs – PCs with well-defined motivations, even if these motivations are a bit broad. Now, the world might put obstacles in their way, but, fundamentally, the game is about the PCs having goals and pursuing them. Because I just looked across the room at my son playing on his computer – Minecraft is a great case of a sandbox. No clear goal apart from what the player brings with them.

Putting this together and thinking about some of my solo gaming:

I think I need to decide ahead of time what kind of game I’m going to be playing – is it story-driven (where PCs are more reactive) or sandbox (where PCs must be proactive)? (Now, stories emerge out of sandboxes sometimes!)

In the case that I want to go story-driven, then it make sense to spend more time in GM-style prep. Not in as much detail as if I’m GMing for a group, but creating a situation that will impose itself on the character forcing a reaction is important. In this framework, my solo tools should also be aimed at moving the story forward. Ironsworn is designed for this, as is Mythic and the scene setup and play for One Page Solo Engine. I may even be ahead to design fronts and grim portents. Basically, if this is the route I want to go, I should spend more time on prepping the threats that are forcing the PC to act. Truly “random” encounters should be rare. Rather, if I have multiple fronts out there, randomness can be introduced in *which* of the fronts is progressing when.

But, if I want to go sandbox, then I should use a different set of tools. Travelling Alone, the random tables in Scarlet Heroes are good tools here (or any other random mapmaker). Game play should be composed largely of random encounters and reacting to them. Story, in a broad sense, emerges simply because random encounters create barriers between the character and their goals. But, it doesn’t exist by design.

Thinking in this more analytical way has made me realize something: as I’ve been playing Cepheus, I’ve been trying to merge the two styles of play – specifically, I’m trying to play story-based, but driven by random encounters. I think my most recent Cepheus game was a case in point here. The first part was largely story-driven, but kind of lame because there wasn’t much for the character I had to do, nor did I have a good sense of her motivation (making a stricter sandbox approach impossible). The second part was actually much better as a player experience, because I spent more time thinking about what the character wanted. Her motivation wasn’t particularly interesting. (Make a bunch of money and buy a ship so I can make even more money.) But, I used an appropriate tool (Travelling Alone from Cepheus Journal #8 paired with appropriate random encounter tables), and didn’t care much about story. Yet, narratively, the character died precisely because of previous decisions she had made. Mechanically, it was a random encounter where I rolled that there was a crew that was hostile to the PC because of history. So, totally random elements can be woven together into a light story.

So, part of my struggle at the moment is trying to decide if I want to play another sandboxy game (using appropriate tools), or if I want to prep a more story-based game to give that approach a shot. The first is something I can do right away, while the second would take some time developing a setting, villains, etc. So, that may wait until I’m not quite as sleep-deprived…

Allyson Carey of Nocho (Cepheus Solo Playthrough)

~ 1400 words, ~ 7 min read time

Prologue

Allyson Carey had been thrown into Noble life as soon as she became an adult. She had spent twenty years in the Assembly of Nocho, just to see her world continue to be basically lawless. She finally, after squandering most of her life in this pointless politics, decided it was time to opt out. She left the Assembly for the last time

Scene 1:

Ian Fischer pulled up on his hovercraft, and ordered Allyson to get in. The two of them had been friends for a while, and this was definitely unlike him. He was clearly worried about something. As they drove through the city, Ian described how he was working on a significant idea that could change jump drive technology – but one of the tech giants on Nocho wanted the tech, and he was unhappy with the price he was being offered. But, Durham Tech wasn’t known for taking no for an answer. So, Ian was fleeing the planet, and wanted Allyson to accompany him and help him find a fair buyer. He’s willing to pay her for her trouble.

Scene 2:

The two of them arrived in the starport dome, and found a ship that promised to take them to nearby Bestian. The starport is crowded, as always, and Ian and Allyson got bumped into by someone – a rather scruffy looking man. He apologized, seeming to recognize Allyson – which isn’t that unusual, given her long time serving in the Assembly. She shrugged it off, but checked her pockets as he walked away. He hadn’t stolen anything – in fact, he had left a note. It warned Allyson that the ship they were headed toward was a trap laid by Dunlap Tech. So Allyson and Ian changed their reservations, and boarded a ship for Bestian.

Scene 3-4:

Not much happened here, just flying to Bestian without incident.

Scene 5:

After arriving at Bestian, Allyson and Ian arranged to meet with an interested buyer at one of the city’s restaurants. They go, but are met by Chanel Pham, an employee of Dunlap Tech who followed them. Suddenly, the sound of rioting breaks out outside as protestors march by, condemning the ruling Church of Bestian, and the police state that it had set up. The police arrive and begin firing at the mob. Ian and Allison use this opportunity to dash out into the confusion, in hopes of losing Pham. While they manage to get away from Pham, Ian is also shot in the crossfire and seriously wounded.

Rumor has it that the protests have been sparked because the High Priest’s health is failing, so dissidents are taking advantage.

Ian and Allyson go to the hospital, and he has surgery to ensure that he doesn’t decline further. While the doctors recommend staying in the hospital longer, Ian and Allyson decide they need to leave the planet, so they seek passage to Hastrumi. Hastrumi is 3 parsecs away, which would be an expensive jump. So, they travel low passage – being placed into cold sleep for the trip. This is much less expensive than remaining conscious for the trip – though there is always the danger that you might not wake up. Despite Ian’s weakened state, they decide to risk it, just so they can get off the planet.

Scene 6:

They awake on Hastrumi, and spend a couple of weeks resting so that Ian can heal. They hear about a tech company that is expected to be interested in Ian’s tech. They make an offer, and Ian happily accepts. He and Allyson part ways.

Scene 7:

Recent events have convinced Allyson that politics is no match for wealth – both her home of Nocho and her current planet of Hastrumi have ineffective governments. Instead, businesses run the world. Also, her experiences on Bestian – where the government is generally much more successful at influencing people’s lives – showed that even a strong government can be resisted simply by a mob. Given these experiences, Allyson has decided that she wants to be a merchant. But, to do that, she’s going to need credits – a down payment is about 7 million credits – far more than she has on hand. She also could benefit from Broker training so that she can start making deals. She considers trying to Gamble her way to her wealth, but this path isn’t viable – she needs a job.

She hears of a debate brewing – Valentina Irwin, renowned scholar on Hastrumi, is planning an expedition to look for historical artifacts. When human settlers arrived on this planet, there was no civilization to speak of, but there were definitely signs of previous civilizations. However, others oppose her efforts – believing that these artifacts may disrupt the air supply in the domes – which protects the people from the unbreathable atmosphere outside. Allyson seeks out Irwin, and convinces them to take her on. They’ll cover her expenses, and she’ll get a cut if they find anything valuable.

They travel out of the domes toward some islands to the northeast. While exploring one of the islands, they find an animal – an enormous amphibious omnivore gathering food on the island. The expedition watches from a distance, when the group of 8 creatures sees them and chases after them, stingers glistening with venom, so the crew returns to their ships and continue their path.

Continuing northeast, they find more islands which they explore, and they found something. They find the ruins of what seems to be a temple. Allyson touches the entrance door, and everyone on the expedition passes out as they are hit by some kind of shock wave. They awake with a significant headache. Exploring the site a bit further, Irwin discovers that this area was a Psion training ground, and was likely brimming with latent psionic energy. While this wasn’t quite what Irwin had in mind, it’s certainly a valuable find! So, the expedition heads back home to sell the map to this location to whoever is interested in such a site – for example, a Psion School… they find a buyer, and Allyson gets quite a bit of money toward her ship.

Scene 8 – 16:

Allyson decided that now was a good time to get Broker training, and then to use her newfound abilities along with her high social standing to act as a broker for any merchants looking to sell here. Over the time of about 6 months, Allyson managed to learn some significant brokerage skills and put them to good use, earning over 4 million credits. These times were totally without incident, but very little happened. Some protests, news about the asteroid miners braching into providing protection for the system to protect their mining operations. Allyson was mostly excited about the fact that she had over half the credits she needed to acquire a merchant’s vessel.

Scene 17:

Allyson is approached in a bar by a pair of angry looking men. These men were upset about Irwin’s expedition and the fact that the land was recently sold to a group that plans to tear down the old temple and build a much more modern building there. These men have decided to hold Irwin’s team responsible for the destruction of this site.

One of the men grabs Allyson, and her energy rifle drops to the floor. The second man picks up the rifle. Despite her struggles, Allyson couldn’t break free of the grapple – two shots and less than 20 seconds later, Allyson dies – killed by a weapon that she had for her own protection.

Closing Thoughts:

My wife said she’s not sure if this is the game for me – after all, my characters all reach terrible ends. I suspect it’s far more to do with two things: (1) Cepheus combat is designed to be deadly, anyway. and (2) I’m playing solo, which means the character has no backup. Interestingly, the final scene would have ended very differently if Allyson was unarmed. While the attackers were armed, Allyson had very good armor – which would have been very difficult for their weapons to pierce. Even though Allyson was at a significant disadvantage in the grapple that got her disarmed, she eventually would have broken free and could have fled. But, her weapon was powerful enough to get through her armor, and that was the end of her.

I’m debating if I want to do more Cepheus, switch back to Scarlet Heroes, or try something else for the next game. We’ll see!

Two simple ways to make Cepheus NPCs

~200 words, ~1 min read time

One of the downsides of Cepheus Engine is that character creation is LONG – and that’s by design. Character creation *is* creating the character’s backstory, effectively. However, when you’re running solo and just want a quick NPC, this creates problems. Do you just hope that the character’s stats don’t come up? or do you stop the action and run through character creation? Here are two possible solutions:

#1 Do a quick Cepheus Light gen:

Assign the characteristics values of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 as appropriate for the character. Then, give them 1-12 points of skills depending on their experience.

#2 Even faster:

Assign all characteristics a “7”. Then, a 6 sided die and subtract 2. This is their dice modifier for doing anything relevant to that character’s role. If you prefer, pick a DM between -2 and 4. -2 indicates someone who is very inexperienced, -1 a trainee, 0 has basic competency in their field, then up to 4 being a serious professional – one of the best at what they do.

Last night I played some solo Cepheus using method #2 for generating an NPC, and using “Travelling Alone 2021” from Cepheus Journal #008. I really enjoyed the experience. I’ll provide a bigger write up when I’m further along with this character.

More Cepheus Character Creation Thoughts

~1000 words, ~ 5 min reading time

After my last Cepheus character ended up in prison for life, I decided to make a new one. And this character has me stumped.

This one had a career as a Noble for 20 years before becoming an adventurer. This reflected her very high Social Standing stat. Anyway, as part of character creation she ended up with 3 skill levels of Carousing. She has a few other skills with 1 point each, but carousing is definitely the high one.

And I have no clue what to do with her.

Now, part of this might be because I am awful at small talk myself, and, as such, I don’t understand how to make the “great at parties” skill actually useful in completing a mission.

This brings me to a broader point about Cepheus. Character creation in Cepheus is quite random, if you play by the book. Each characteristic has a random score. The player selects a career they think the character might be good at – but they can die or get fired pretty easily. Also, the specific skills you develop in that career are largely random. (You choose between a few lists, but you roll dice to determine which skill on that list you end up with.)

This is a big difference between Cepheus and most other systems, in my experience. With Dungeons and Dragons, for example, you decide on your concept, and then build the character to fit the concept. Thus, for example, you can find websites telling you how to build specific character (“Here’s how to build Lara Croft/Wolverine/Conan the Barbarian/etc. in D&D!”). The character comes first, and then you build the statistics to fit the character. With Cepheus, though, the statistics are basically random. Then, you have to figure out what kind of character you – or, more properly, the dice – created.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I’ll often introduce some randomization when I create a character in another system. Randomization can provide inspiration. However, relying too much on randomization can result in a character like this one, where I just don’t know how to play her.

Of course, this isn’t just a me thing. It’s the nature of this particular system. Reading adventures in Cepheus Journal (a free online Cepheus fanzine) have given me some ideas about how one can “fix” this. One adventure I read started with the characters being trained. In the Cepheus system, “leveling up” is really just training specific skills. It takes a few in-game weeks to do it, so you can’t train if you’re working on an urgent mission – but if you have a couple months of down time you can add a level in a skill of your choice. So, in this one adventure I read, the party was hired by a salvage company who really need them to have a Pilot, Navigator, and Engineer at least. There’s no systemic guarantee that any party would have these skills. So, the salvage company hires the group and trains them for 2 months (which should be enough for the characters to each get a level in a skill) before they take on their first job. This seems like a reasonable way around this. The trick is figuring out how to do it solo.

Which may sound weird. I mean, I’m playing SOLO – why don’t I just decide to add levels as needed? It’s not like there are other players that will be upset by this. It’s purely myself that is standing in the way. I think the issue is that, to me, with my play style, this feels like “cheating” – mostly because I have a hard time thinking of an in-character reason to do this.

Another complicating factor comes from my own style of play. RPG soloists all approach the process of soloing somewhat differently. For example, while some soloists like to play a party of 2-3 characters (maybe even 4), I tend to be a “true” soloist – in that I only want to have one player character be the focus that everything revolves around. Naturally, for a sci fi game like Cepheus this is a bit challenging. The system is designed with a “crew” in mind. (Example: there’s actually a Cepheus supplement called SOLO specifically designed for solo play – and, from what I gather, it involves the player controlling a *crew* rather than a *character*.) So, what can a crew of one do? (Note: by the book, a crew of one can’t actually fly an interstellar ship.) Or, alternatively, how can I introduce other crew members but keep them as side characters? I mean, I suppose I can keep them a bit faceless…

What I think it comes down to, ultimately, is that I need to do more character development for this character *before* I set her off on adventures. I think the previous characters I’ve played all had some set of skills that included enough “common” skills that I could basically draw up any adventure, and they’d at least be able to give it a shot. That just feels less like the case here.

Which I suppose may be a good thing. I often end up with player characters that are a bit directionless. So, their path tends to be more determined by their skills and what opportunities happen to show up than by any intentional *purpose* on their part. I think I’m going to have to reverse that, since the skills aren’t providing good inspiration. I need to get more into this character’s head and really try to come up with something she wants and will be working toward. This could justify things like acquiring new skills, for example. Naturally, I’ll let y’all know how things work out.

The Tale of Braydon Caldwell (Cepheus solo playthrough)

~1200 words, ~6 min reading time

Oh, you want to know how I, Baron Commander Braydon Caldwell, ended up here? Well, it’s not too long a story.

I was born on Schildes, and dreamed of being a physician. But, sometimes life has other plans. Schildes Medical Academy rejected my application, so I joined the Space Navy. Served 4 terms, and attained the rank of Commander. Learned some technical skills and some leadership skills along the way. Anyway, I had just retired – didn’t quite serve long enough for a pension, but my service was distinguished enough to be granted the title of Baron. Doesn’t mean much, really, though people do treat you a bit different.

Anyway, the day I got out I was eating outside my favorite restaurant on Schildes when I was approached by a man – Marcos Huff, he said his name was. Anyway, Marcos made a living as a mercenary of sorts – though pretty small-time – really, much closer to being private security. He had stumbled upon a plan by some thieves who were planning heists at one of the bigger cathedrals on Schildes. But, the Priests had no interest in hiring Marcos. After all, Schildes is a pretty orderly place – might take a while for the bureaucracy to do its thing, but you generally didn’t have to worry about crime much here. Anyway, Marcos thought I could help – you know, throw my newly acquired title around some – and convince the Priests to hire him to keep an eye on their relics. I told him I was a soldier – not an ambassador. He wouldn’t hear anything of that, so I decided to help him. That was a mistake.

Next day, I go to the cathedral – planning to talk to High Priest Ferrell. As I approach the cathedral, I hear there’s an argument happening inside. Marcos was already there. Man, why’d you hire me when you were just going to make my job harder like that?

Anyway, I went in and managed to calm Ferrell down. He still wasn’t interested in our help – he knew Schildes about as well as I do. It’s a law-abiding place. If anyone tried anything, they’d be thoroughly punished. Didn’t see a reason to hire security, but admitted he couldn’t really stop us if we decided to keep an eye on the cathedral on our own. So, we do.

Later that night, I’m on stakeout outside the cathedral. Turns out that, somehow, those thieves knew I would be there. To be fair, we weren’t really that quiet that morning when we were chatting with Ferrell, and it wouldn’t be that hard to figure out where we’d want to locate to watch the place. Anyway, one of them grabs me from behind. We fought a bit, and I knocked him out. I called Marcos to come get us, because that kind of violence isn’t really… acceptable… on Schildes, so we definitely need to relocate so we can interrogate the guy – and hope that no one saw us too well.

Apparently, the guy wasn’t alone, though. We’re on the way back to our HQ – well, Marcos’s motel room – when a car comes out of nowhere – filled with thieves, and they’re tailing us. I figure Marcos and I should probably get the police involved. I mean, the thieves are *right there*. The police do show up – but decide that we’re the bad guys – I guess makes sense since we were the ones with an unconscious guy in the back seat. Anyway, they didn’t believe me. Next morning, we were pretty quickly processed – found guilty of assault. 4 years in prison or exile from Schildes – our choice. We chose exile.

So, there we were, Marcos and me, booking high passage to Tigrissani nearby. Definitely a nice room, and pretty uneventful journey. Nice to be a Baron I guess, even if my severance pay couldn’t provide too many more trips like that.

Tigrissani’s a nasty place – covered in water, toxic atmosphere. But, people are amazing creatures, and we do what we have to – building domes over the waves, and sealing them to provide a nice cozy home. Well, we got of the ship and immediately sought out some weapons – got a sword and a snub piston. See, Schildes doesn’t allow weapon sales like that. Here on Tigrissani things are a bit looser. I guess the terrorists that control the government don’t mind a little competition.

Anyway, didn’t take long for us to find a job – an Agent of the government – no, I’m not telling you the name – hired us to get these terrorists of the government’s backs. We didn’t know much about the situation, but figured the pay would probably be good if we could pull it off.

This started off badly. Just asking around about who this group was turned up a guy – Cedric Shelton, I think. Apparently, some kind of religious guru that the locals love. He says if we don’t lay off, he’s going to have to denounce us. Apparently, he’s worried about what would happen if people started rocking the boat. A real concern when you’re floating over that much water, I guess. Anyway, Marcos and I thanked him and took our leave. Some more chats, and we found out that these terrorists apparently wanted to cut off Tigrissani from other systems. No clue why, but definitely not a good thing. Did some datanet searching about what these terrorists wanted, and I think we much have attracted some attention. I ran out to get some more supplies and came back to find that Marcos was kidnapped – well, that’s what I thought, anyway. Well, the news was calling it “arrested” instead. His face and mine plastered all over the net. On the other hand, at least I knew where he was.

Went to the jail that night. Even though the capital is reasonably sized – about a million people – the police station is pretty small. Makes me wonder if the station is small and the laws are light because they don’t have to be any more than that. Propaganda can work wonders. Anyway, the station is so small that I just waltz in gun blazing. That was a mistake – I get burned bad by the return fire. Only one guard in the building I’d guess, but well-armed. Still, a couple good shots and he’s down and out. That was probably a mistake, too.

I get Marcos out and we try to lay low. Turns out it’s hard to hide in a dome on a water world with a toxic atmo. 24 hours later, they’re on us. No way we were getting away from that one.

And that’s how I end up here. Life imprisonment for murder, serving it out under glass, with the waves and toxic air above.

(Thoughts: this was a fun playthrough, even if the end wasn’t great. This furthers my belief that Cepheus is just a HARD system. Now, to be fair, this playthrough had some pretty significant mistakes. But, the One-Page GM Emulator wasn’t exactly kind to me either. It just kept giving me “eliminate a threat” plotlines, and pointed toward people as adversaries. Not great for if you want to be a law-abiding citizen and avoid prison sentences. I need to read a bit more to get some inspiration for how to play Cepheus while not breaking the law and not owning a ship…)