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


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.