The great steel ship shuddered as a torpedo clanged off of the hull and detonated a moment later. "What's this, you're throwing Russian torpedoes at us?" Lieutenant Downing laughed out the conning glass and yanked on the ship's wheel. The starscape beyond tilted and wheeled, sending the crackling shock explosions and whizzing fighters spinning past their view. Finally, the other battleship appeared in the distance, the ether cannons along its line snapping back and forth like ants. "Little Jack Harkness, you'll need to throw more than that at a British ship to make her turn tail. Mister Hastings, direct the batteries to take aim on the battleship and inform the engine room we will need full light and full steam. It's time to show these pirates what for!"

Full Light, Full Steam is a steampunk space opera roleplaying game with a strong emphasis on character. The Solar Powers ply the ether of the Greatest Sea in steam-powered ships, protecting their colonies and trading posts on distant planets. None is greater than the British Empire -- and none has more to lose.

Join the Royal Astronomical Navy and protect the rights and prosperity of the greatest nation on earth! God save the Queen!


For the Atlantis Risen project, I've been doing a lot of reading and watching (more reading than watching) trying to get to the bottom of the steampunk genre. I've done a steampunk game before in Full Light, Full Steam, but that was when I was young and stupid. This time, I resolved to dig and find the roots of steampunk. Instead of doing a game that had steampunk trappings, I was going to do a game that hit on what steampunk was about. The more I dig, though, the more I just find sand that streams through my fingers.

Many hold up the Difference Engine as the foundational steampunk book, and that's a pretty fair assessment. At the time it was written, though, there was no steampunk. This book was simply speculative fiction in the alternate history vein. Turtledove material.

Going further back, people cite works like Morlock Night, which purports to be a sequel to Well's Time Machine. But this, as with many other "steampunk" works new and old, throw in all sorts of crazy shit along with gleaming brass levers. This actually fits pretty easily in the "weird fiction" genre that thrived in the heydey of the pulps.

It's also worth highlighting what might be the single greatest effort to make a steampunk anything, that being the band Abney Park. Which is… well, it's industrial rock with occasional lyrics about steam, soot, and airships.

You can scrape together a number of works (here, here, here, here, here) to try and assemble a set of steampunk exemplars, and these lists look pretty solid (and nearly all of those works are great reads). They all have fantastic steam technology, anachronistic social mores, and… very little else. The elements that knit these lists together are rather superficial — and I don't mean that disparagingly, but descriptively: the common elements are all surface details. You won't find common themes or narrative structures, just recurring motifs.

This is the best definition of steampunk I can come up with:

So one of the things I like to do to amuse myself is present my games in the medium of the day. For Full Light, Full Steam, this meant as excerpts from pamphlets, which were booming in the victorian era. For Sons of Liberty, this meant a newspaper-like format, although I decided not to cram everything down to 8pt like the colonial papers of the time. It's something that I doubt anybody notices, but it keeps me entertained.

One of the unforeseen advantages of my approach, though, was that it left me with a lot of steampunk "pamphlets" full of colorful descriptions of a fictional solar system and short-short stories of the people who call it home. Content I might be able to use in other ways. For instance, I've had a "Spirit of the Full Light Full Steam Century" project on my hard drive for years that I never quite complete. Recently, though, as I've been putting Stories from Rooksbridge onto Kindle, it occurred to me that this stuff might be of interest to folks all on their own: pamphlets of the digital age, as kindle minibooks.

There are three, and I fired them off into the intarwebs at 99 cents a piece:

And of course, I've got Rooksbridge available on Kindle, too, for the usual two-buck price:


This little project was a long time coming. Waaaay back when I first published Full Light, Full Steam, I put together demo materials: six "half-gen" characters and a handful of situations engineered for those characters. As a theme, I set each situation on a different planet: one on Mercury, one on Venus, one on Mars, and one in the Asteroid Belt. I also tried to diversify the situations as much as possible, so while one is all politics and social maneuvering, another one is all action-adventure, and another one is all scifi spaceships shooting ether cannons at each other. It was a nice little package and I was proud of it. It was, however, all in long hand and filled out cog cards. I always meant to fire up Illustrator and transfer all those characters, sets, props, and situations over into a pdf and publish it. Life intervened, of course.

As of a month ago, I actually thought I had lost the longhand originals, one or two drifting off at a time into the untold mess that is a Monday unpacking after a gaming convention. A couple weeks ago, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find three of the four situations in an old folder, and the fourth one filed away for safekeeping. The cog cards for all four situations were scattered all the hell over, but I managed to find them all and put all the pieces back together. In other words, I lucked out — it was all still there. Sensing that having all the pieces all in one place was not something I was lucky enough to have happen twice, I resolved to sit down and finally get the situations in a nice, safe, digital format.

Thus I present you Situation Report!, a free supplement for my three-year-old game Full Light, Full Steam. It includes six characters and four situations engineered for those characters, ideally suited to one-shot, short-form, or convention play. Hope you enjoy!


Serendipity, surely, but somebody's made some kickin' steampunky Beekeeper Goggles. I can just imagine Royal Astronomical Navy officers wearing these to the apiary...

You can read the full article here.

Full Light, Full Steam is now available as a PDF download through Indie Press Revolution. The Digital Edition includes the complete setting and rules, and also comes packaged with the character sheet, situation sheet, and cog cards in the same convenient download. If you've had a passing interest in FLFS but haven't got around to picking it up, it's now available in this format for just ten bucks. Hard to beat!

Check it out at IPR.

Paul Tevis is using Full Light, Full Steam to run Spelljammer. And they look like they're having fun.

Alrighty. After surprisingly little headache, I have proofs coming from Lulu for Full Light, Full Steam in hardcover and in softcover. Hardcovers will be going for $30 and come with the Full PDF Preview. Softcovers will be going for $20 -- a steal, I tell you!

With copies in stock in a couple weeks, I've set up preorders and all that jazz:

Preorder Full Light, Full Steam!

As of today, I am sold out of Full Light, Full Steam hardbacks.

We've blown through the last of my stock after the Have Games, Will Travel podcast. I figured the stock would hold out for another week or so, but I didn't count on folks buying multiple copies! I am rather happy, despite having zero on hand.

This weekend I'll be doing up a new pdf for Lulu (with a few typos fixed and errors repaired) and getting a proof ordered. With any luck, we'll have new Lulu hardbacks within a couple weeks!

At Gamex, I got interviewed for Have Games, Will Travel by the inestimable Paul Tevis. I would say that I sound funny and that I don't normally sound like that, but I think it's mostly just how you never sound like you think you do. So apparently I sound like a nebbish. Good thing to know.

Paul and I talk about Full Light, Full Steam, the Sons of Liberty playtest, NerdSoCal.com, and... a whole lot of other stuff.

Back in the day, dramatists used to write plays that had three "unities:" unity of time, unity of place, and unity of action. That is, the entire play took place within a single day, the stage represented one place throughout the play, and there was only one plotline with no subplots. This was, ultimately, a misinterpretation of Aristotle that got elaborated on for a few centuries until it was the unquestioned standard of The Way Things Are. You've gotta love European thought sometimes.

Now, there's this thing that can happen in Full Light, Full Steam that can totally bog down the game and paralyze the scrip system's scene pacing. In short form, the players get most or all of the characters into one scene and then each character goes off in a different direction to do a different thing. In response to this, the scrips scream in horror, shrivel up, and die on the table.

Fixing the Problem

A scene is just a display box for the cool stuff in your game. If you put too much cool stuff into one box, none of it is displayed well.

Much as the classical unities were a reductive idea overzealously imitated, they can be useful tools in fixing this problem. To put it simply, a 'scene' in Full Light, Full Steam should possess at least two of the three unities, and should probably start off with all three.

Hi, remember me? I used to post a lot. Now I don't; I have a job that actually requires my brain and a computer at home that's less than reliable. But do not mistake my lack of posting for lack of work. Here's a quick overview of what's on my plate:

Story Games Names Project - Jason Morningstar asked me to do up the layout of this project. Like so many projects of its kind, this started as a simple idea and has mushroomed to stupid proportions. At last count, the book is going to weigh in at a little under 300 pages and have like 800 lists.

Sons of Liberty - The rules chassis turned out to be surprisingly functional the first time out; I'm tweaking the situation creation ruleset, and then the system will be done. Then I just have lots and lots of writing to flesh out the figures and world that the game takes place in. Sure would be nice to have a functional computer for that (come on, tax return!). It will be released in early 2008, just in time for election year madness.

Agora: how shall we live? - This game is on the back burner, due out in 2009. It is not being quiet over there on the back burner, however. I have a little flurry of notes scribbled on Post-Its regarding improvements for the game. When it rolls around into active development and then to publication, I expect this to be a very strong design. Very much looking forward to it.

Full Light, Full Steam is a niche game with a lot of good writing and interesting mechanics. The Engineering the Situation chapter is, as I've said, one of the best advice sections I've ever seen. While there are other games (such as Space: 1889 and Forgotten Futures) that cover this same sort of genre, FLFS does it with more... well, more character.

Colin Fredericks of Valent Games has "swapped reviews" with me. While I'm reviewing his game Super Console, he's reviewed Full Light, Full Steam and posted it to RPGnet. He says some nice things, and I can't argue too much with that.

Perhaps you should put a pointer from here to NerdSoCal, so people know that you've picked a new home on the net.
-- ScottM

Hey there, folks. The above was left as a comment in the last post, which is, I'll admit, rather a long time ago. But I am not dead!

The holidays and the winter months with their meager sunlight devastate me and my freetime. But I am not dead!

I released Full Light, Full Steam at GenCon SoCal (my after-action report), which fell a little short of my expectations. But I am not dead!

I mailed out the 50 or so orders of the book, had all the international shipments returned to me, and shipped them out again correctly -- in the middle of Christmas post office lines. But I am not dead!

My new job has gone from "help out with our science curriculum" to "oh, did we mention, we've never done science before and could you handle, well, all of it?" But I am not dead!

In the few bits of freetime that I've had, I've been revamping kallistipress.com (new forums, all my microgames, and other stuff!) with the awesome code suite drupal, which I also used to build nerdsocal.com, both of which are giant time sinks. But I am not dead!

I have been playing mad amounts of RPGs, from the weekly playtests to Primetime Adventures to Nobilis. But I am not dead!

I have a half-baked essay on gaming and politics brewing. I'm going to do a "the whole process of publishing FLFS" post. I'm going to tell you about all the awesome that is piling up for Sons of Liberty. Really, I am. Any time, now. When I have half a second to breathe.

But I am not dead!

Hey, folks.

It has come to my attention that some folks who preordered have not got their Full PDF Preview. If you didn't specify another email address, the download link was sent to your paypal email account, which, it turns out, is usually an old address that people don't check any more. Go fig.

So if you're missing your PDF Preview, shoot me a mail at sales atta kallistipress dotter com and we'll try and get things straightened out.

It's finally time to run up the flag and see who salutes.

Full Light, Full Steam, a 192-page digest (6"x9") hardbound, is now available for preorder. When you preorder, you get both the book when it's released at GenCon SoCal in November as well as the PDF immediately ("immediately" being defined as "when I check my mail and send it to you"). If you're coming to GenCon SoCal, you can pick up your copy at the con.

If, for reasons beyond understanding, you've been reading this blog and you don't know what Full Light, Full Steam is, you can take a look at the webpage or click on the Full Light, Full Steam category to the right for design notes.

I'm kind of dizzy.

Final art for Full Light, Full Steam is in, thanks to Lemuel Pew (of Lethal Doses) and Kirk Mitchell. It's a perfectly awesome experience to see what has until now been only text and talk turn into such incredible images.

Here's three of the eight big illustrations in the book:

Figure 1.1 Lieutenant Hargrave occupies the attention of the pirate "Admiral" Black while HMS Chesterfield sees to his "fleet."

Figure 1.2 A saboteur wreaks havoc in the motor room of HMS Puncher.

Figure 4.1 Crewmen aboard HMS Aetherstone take a moment for tea.

Preorders begin later this week! Madness!

GenCon SoCal event registration is now up and running.

In addition to as many booth demos as I humanly can pull off, I'll be running four scheduled games of Full Light, Full Steam, one on each day at various times. I'll be using a set of six pregenerated characters and firing up the Situation Engineering rules to create four scenarios in different locations in the solar system -- Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt. Consider them episodes in a non-continuous series.

To my utter surprise, the Sunday game (Venus) is already full. Thursday and Friday (Mercury and Mars) are half-full. The first day of registration. Insanity.

Full Light, Full Steam is all laid out, sans art. So all I'm doing now is waiting for the art to come in... and fiddling with the design.

Fiddle fiddle fiddle.

Seriously, I should go do dishes or something.


Also, new title treatment:

It's been one of those surprisingly productive days today. I've been a Full Light, Full Steam Illustrator-ing madman, doing up some little bits and pieces of layout art and then moving in on some play aids that I've been meaning to add to the game.

Situation Engineering Sheet

Having run Dogs at con many times over, I've been struck by how indispensable the Town Creation sheet is. It's like a character sheet for the Game Master, with all the important bits right there and handy. So handy, in fact, I doubt I will ever put out a game that doesn't have a situation sheet.

For FLFS, it's sort of like a worksheet to guide players through Situation Engineering. You write in the inspirations you've gathered, create three conflicts off of the inspirations, build the individual conflicts with cogs, complicate the cogs together, and then write up the situation abstract that puts everything in an almost sensible order.

Click on the thumbnail to download a significantly more legible pdf version.

Cog Cards

FLFS uses some heavy delegation of running NPCs, and the situation's sets and props are more communal property than GM toys. This means that the details of characters, sets, and props -- called cogs in Situation Engineering -- need to be easily passed from player to player. I love me some 3x5 cards, so I set up individual cogs on separate cards -- easy to flip around the table as needed. Folks who might not share my love with the 3x5 card can just print up sheets of them. Cowards.

And needless to say, click on the picture to download the pdf document.

Decoder Ring

Situation - the “set of all significance.” Elements of the Setting which have been juxtaposed to form conflicts.

Conflict - a set of relationships comprising a character, something the character desires, and an obstacle that prevents the fulfillment of that desire; conflict is an essential structural characteristic of engaging situations.

Resolution - a contextualization interaction in which a player determines that a conflict has been untangled (obstacle removed, character acheiving desire, and/or character abandoning desire), usually complemented by a Fuel->Validation arc.

By now we're all quite familiar with how to set up a situation, a knot of conflicts that the players address to create story. What I haven't seen is a thorough explanation of how we determine when those conflicts have been resolved, and when enough of the conflicts of a situation have been resolved that the situation is no longer a situation. How do we gauge when a dynamic situation has been stabilized by the actions of the player characters?

Actual Play report from the final playtest of Full Light, Full Steam posted on the KP forums and on the Forge.

Now I wade into the post-playtest edit. Wish me luck!

The official playtest window for Full Light, Full Steam ends this weekend (although it looks like one final playtest will take place next week) so I will be returning to the FLFS manuscript with great trepidation to rake through it for one more editorial pass, correcting problems, and adding a couple more segments.

It also means that I'm arranging for art, and I've got three awesome folks lined up -- I'm really excited to see what they'll turn out. In order to make sure we're all on the same page, I've put together a little art guidelines package, part of which is some image files of solar steamers and their escorts and fighters. Since I was already doing these up, I thought I'd post them here so the likes of you can see my l33t threedee modeling skizillz using ten-year-old rendering software. This is why I'm getting other folks to do art for me.

The HMS Exemplar, a generic solar steamer
click the image for a compilation of four different views

A generic escort (technically, a Leo classification) -- no solar sails because they're battery-powered. Did I mention "batteries" are giant springs? Heh, that still amuses me.

A wing of fighters and an escort. The fighters are Rollickers, not that it matters in the least.

By this point everybody in the design blogosphere has read Vincent explaining how to create situation. If you haven't go do so, because that's some good shit, there.

Just One Today:

Situation - the “set of all significance.” Elements of the Setting which have been juxtaposed to form conflicts.

What interests me is that Vincent's procedure begins first with a set of elements that will become the situation and then assigns characters to players. The players then elaborate the situation to something playable, which entails adding new details to the characters. The details of the characters are dependent on what the situation requires. In this, the characters come from the situation.

In Full Light, Full Steam, the characters are created before the situation is. The situation is built out of the things that the players have flagged as elements that they are interested in and have embedded in their characters. The creation of the situation does not change the characters (except maybe slightly, to the extent of saying, "By the way, you have a brother named Joe."). Here, the situation comes from the characters.

Skipping back a generation or two, your basic prepackaged adventure has a situation that is created without any reference to the characters, and vice-versa. The characters have no effect on the situation, and the situation has no effect on the characters. Indeed, one of the parts of being a "good roleplayer" here is finding ways to relate your character to the situation that they are thrust into. So there the characters are, I dunno, installed into the situation.

I'm not sure where to go with this observation, though. My moral relativism tells me to say that none of these is necessarily better than the others, but I'm not even sure if that's the case. Consider:

The funny thing about designing games is that you really don't understand the full range of what they do and how they work until after you've finished writing and you play them a dozen times and then you go, "Oh, wow, look at that!"

I just realized that the Full Light, Full Steam character sheet is all flags. No, not just the bits that I was all, "Those are totally flags!" but the rest of it. The whole damn thing.

There are attributes and skills, right? Except you don't use them to accomplish tasks or even resolve conflicts; you use them to take control of the narration. Because you only roll dice when your character does something related to the Att-and-Skill that you rolled, the ensuing narration always has something to do with that Att-n-Skill. Two plus two is four, and thus the Atts and Skills that you pick reflect the kind of narration that you want to introduce into the fiction.

How the hell did I not see that?

Also, this is my 100th blogpost. Kind of fitting that it's me calling attention to my own stupidity.

The AP Report on Full Light, Full Steam's Second Playtest is up on the Actual Play forum. There's a couple rough spots highlighted that I'm still working on filing down, and I'm not above taking constructive criticism!

Prompted by my earlier BSG musings and by John's very neat schematic over at The Mighty Atom, I'm thinking about game structure, and pondering how I would implement a sort of 'guidance system' to a game design to forward engaging play.

Quickie Definitions

Situation - the “set of all significance;” elements of the Setting which have been juxtaposed in a way that generates action (hopefully action that the PCs can involve themselves in).

Scene - a sequential set of events involving fictional content that reveals or addresses the Situation. This usually includes one or more elements of the Situation, but is almost never composed exclusively of these elements (not everything in the scene can be freighted with significance).

Reveal - an articulation interaction, in fact a subset of narration, in which the statement introduces new fictional elements or a new relationship between fictional elements.

Address - a steering interaction in which a player proposes a stance or reaction to the situation which either comments on or attempts to change that situation.

Resolve - a contextualization interaction in which a player determines that the situation no longer presents any conflicts, usually complemented by a Fuel->Validation arc.

Prompted by my earlier BSG musings and by John's very neat schematic over at The Mighty Atom, I'm thinking about game structure, and pondering how I would implement a sort of 'guidance system' to a game design to forward engaging play.

So Mo finally updated Sin Aesthetics with an article by the name of Stance Crap and Authorial Intent. In the article and ensuing discussion, I think lots of folks are using Stance to mean a lot of related issues. I've been prone to do the same, myself. In the course of commenting, I tried to formulate a definition of "stance", because I'm all into defining stuff right now in the absence of writing Full Light, Full Steam. In any case, when I started picking it apart, it fell into way too many pieces, most of them assumptions, and this is why stance won't be making an appearance on the Terminology in Use page here. It's almost rhetorically useless.

This is what I came up with:
stance - the fictional information that a player is allowed to call upon, the fictional elements the player is allowed to affect, and whose priorities the player is expected to follow when proposing statements about the fiction.

This term is weighted with a ridiculous number of distinctions and switches, many of which are mired in irrelevant assumptions. The one little itty bitty term comprises (a) available information, (b) available targets, and (c) the proper decision-making protocol, combined with (d) tons of social contract stuff ('allowed to', 'expected'), and (e) the basic operating principle of roleplaying. I've removed the GM/Player assumption, but the in-character/out-of-character assumption is still pretty profoundly embedded in the definition I've got, and I can't figure out how to get it out. How did we ever use this term to meaningfully communicate with each other?

Battlestar Galactica is back for season three. I say this as literally and precisely as possible: this is the best television show I have ever seen. If you are not watching it, find a way to do so. It's on Fridays on Sci Fi Channel. The miniseries-pilot and both prior seasons are available on DVD, but the seasons are the genius bits. Genius, and directly applicable to gaming.

This is why BSG rocks the genre world: every episode, and I mean every episode, picks a couple characters and the issue or conflict that most applies to them, and proceeds to stomp on it, applying excrutiating pressure on it, then adds more pressure, and then more pressure. It starts this process before the opening credits roll. There is no downtime in BSG, there are no throwaway scenes. Every minute of every scene serves the purpose of the episode as a whole, forcing the characters to explore every corner of their humanity, no matter how recessed, dark, forgotten, or difficult. The result is some of the most beautiful and powerful expressions of what it is to be human that I have ever seen.

I was talking with a coworker yesterday about BSG, which she hasn't gotten to see, and she compared my capsule description of why it's so good (above) with the X-Files. Now, I never got into the X-Files, mostly because it didn't do what I described above. From my perspective, each episode of the X-Files presented the main characters with a situation to which the characters found a way to personally relate, there was some creepiness and bad camera angles, and then they resolved the situation by reinstating cultural norms (you're a bad man for doing X). The X-Files' slogan was "The Truth Is Out There" and indeed, the focus of the show was consistently out there and not, as in BSG, in here, in the hearts and souls of the characters.