How Orders Work • Player vs. Character Knowledge • Political Characters • Bax Badass Scale • Experience Points
As defined by Marcus Johnston, orders can be "anything that tells me what you character is doing this turn." The TI game is very free form, with no forms, no templates, and no real boundaries to what you can do, except your character's pain threshold. Simply read the previous story, see what situation your character is in, and go from there!
Okay, I lied, there two rules:
1) Turn in some sort of orders every week.
2) Your orders cannot exceed three pages.
If these sound ridiculous, let me explain. Rule One: I don't think it's that hard to send in a couple sentences over e-mail once a week. This is not a serious time constraint. Without stories, the game doesn't work. If you don't write orders, it's not your character any more, it's mine, and I can write my own novels thank you very much.
You do need to turn in SOME kind of orders, no matter how small, otherwise your character will die. Nothing personal, but this is a dark future, and people too often die... a few bloodied character corpses adds a spice to the game, plus inspires the other players to send in their orders on time. If you don't send in your orders on time one turn, don't worry, that's free; think of it as a sort of probationary term. Most likely your character will get wounded, but not much else. However, if you don't turn in orders the second time, he dies. If you try an "orders one week, none the next, orders, none" cycle, I'll probably kill off your character out of a principle. I'm not a vindictive man by nature, nor am I a killer GM. If you have a pre-arranged absence or reason why you can't use e-mail (say your computer got fried), I understand, and I won't kill off your character in the interim.
Otherwise, the only other reasons I would kill off your character is if A) another player tried to and beat your stats, B) you did something stupid, or C) you pissed me off. That's it!
As for Rule Two: experienced PBeM players will tell you that the more of your story you write, the greater control you have over your character. Why three pages? Because that's the limit of what other players are willing to read. All orders get published together and sent out to all players. You get to read what you and everyone else is doing. This may seem unfair to your character, because it limits how much you can "backstab" another player, but it creates an online gamer community. It's not the same as a group around a tabletop, but it's a lot more convenient for those players with busy schedules.
If you're still having trouble visualizing the orders, there are several examples of orders writing we have. These are named after the player who used them most frequently. Say, for instance, your character has to go to the bathroom. Fair enough, since nature is one call you can't put on hold. With that in mind, here are the methods for writing those orders from easiest to most complex:
The Paschal Method
"My character moves out of the line of fire, unzips his pants, and takes a whizz."
This method is noted by only a few short sentences and not very detailed. This is the "bare bones" of order writing and is the minimum you can use. It is simply enough to tell the storyteller what your character is doing. However, this method gives more control to the storyteller over your character. If you like he writes it, then maybe you should go that way. Otherwise, if you feel like getting more involved with your character...
The Wooden Method
"My character fires his gun, tells his friends to give him cover, then he rushes over to the burnt out column to take a whizz. As he does so, he cries out to the enemy gunners, 'Hey, buddy! Suck on this!'"
This method is slightly more complex, but still reduced down to a few sentences, with the noted addition of dialogue. If you want your character to say something, write it out, and the storyteller will find a place to put it somewhere. Often, due to story constraints, your conversation might not go as planned, but it's likely that your words will find its way somewhere on the page.
The Bax Method
"1. My character, realizing that he has to go to the bathroom, looks around for likely cover.
2. Seeing the burnt-out pillar beside me, he whispers over to his buddy next to him. 'Cover me, will ya? I gotta pee!'
3. My friends will provide cover fire, allowing me to dash over to the column.
4. If my friends DON'T provide cover fire, I will dash back down, and proceed to piss on my buddy.
5. If however, it works, once doing my business at the column, I shout out to the enemy, 'Hey, buddy! Suck on this!'"
This method is noted for its detailed orders, outlining every step which their character might do. Often times, it's laced with contingencies (if plan A doesn't work, go with plan B), and allows the storyteller a good idea on how to proceed.
The Hohner Method
"Josef had been pinned under fire for some time and the strain of the conditions had been getting to him. The cold, the mud, the dark stench. Finally, his body could take it no more, as he felt a push in his nether regions. The pain was unbelievable! Finally, turning to his trench mate, he called out over the shooting, "Cover me, will ya? I gotta pee!" His buddy nodded, instantly pouring a line of bloody fire into the trenches across from them, keeping their heads down. Josef only had one chance. Rushing from the trench, the bullets lapping at his heels, he reached the burnt-out pillar, unzipped his pants, and released the constraint inside him. It was like a waterfall of contentment; the steam rising from the phenomenal amount of piss. In his jubilation, Josef cried out, "Hey, buddy! Suck on this!" A few more stray shots zinged off the column, but the soldier smiled; they couldn't hurt him. Finally finished, he gave his trouser snake a little wiggle, then put it back in, zipping his pants tight. Now he was faced with a troubling question: How was he going to get back?"
This method is simply the player writing out his own story and handing it to the storyteller. Often times, as long as the player doesn't go too far, the storyteller will often send it out as is, meaning without changes. However, the player usually doesn't write the whole story, leaving the storyteller to fill in what happens next. This method makes the storyteller's job a lot easier, since he doesn't have as much to write, and gets a better feel for the player's character.
Now, these are only examples of what you can do! Many players use a combination of these methods, but you have to go with what works for you. If you have a lot of time, and you would like to showcase your writing skills, write out your story! (Don't worry, I'll edit it before it gets sent out.) If you don't feel as confident about your skills, but like to get involved with your character, send me detailed orders, plus some comments on how to write your character. If you don't have time to give orders this week, send a few sentences. The choice is up to you! That's why we call this free-form... you're free to do whatever you want!
Player Knowledge: All game information that is either published or told to you by other players.
Character Knowledge: Information that your character would know through his own methods.
So you're probably wondering,
why am I bothering to mention this? There will come situations in which
the player will know something will happen to his character but his
character will be oblivious to the terrible fate about to befall him.
Captain Von Shrakenberg had been skulking about the bridge, annoyed at what he saw. After all, where had that ship they were supposed to rendezvous with gone? Something was not right but he couldn't put his finger on what.
Sword Ramirez had been waiting for an opportunity like this. Once the EFS Schaumburg had reached the optimum firing range, the Hialeah moved out of the moon's shadow and opened its gun ports. "Die Federation scum," Ramirez muttered, and hit the fire key.
END OF ACT IV
Fifteen minutes after I publish that, I will get an angry e-mail from Martin (Von Shrakenberg's player) saying, "I scanned that system's moon! I can't be ambushed!" To which I would say, "It wasn't in your orders, Martin. Sorry." True, you had no idea that the ship you were about to rendezvous with had been destroyed. Now say he writes his next orders like this:
Captain von Shrakenberg passes by the sensor control and notices a fluctuation in the warp oscilloscope readings. This could mean only one thing... another ship! He quickly hit the GQ alarm and orders all batteries to open fire on the new reading.
To which I respond, "No, Martin, you didn't, because your character would not expect that possibility." Your character cannot do what your character doesn't know about. (So unless you have danger sense, forget it!)
So you want to be a political character? Fair enough... frankly, it's the way to go in this universe. You don't have to be a great strategist to be involved—after all, it's your character who's doing the leg work.
First off, you need to establish where exactly do you want your character to be at the end of the game. Does he want to be:
The big boss - President, Chairman, Generalissimo... You can pick what hat you want later.
The kingmaker - not actually running the show, but calling the shots from behind the scenes.
One of the ruling triumvirate - work out a deal with others to share power, so that you don't have to run the whole thing yourself.
High minister - Lord High Executioner, Minister of Security - not actually running the show, but still high enough that you can manipulate things around the universe, and have a lot of fun.
Lower minister - Governor, Senator - a title with some power, but more or less left alone.
None of the above - Underworld King, Factor (lesser kingmaker, political influence without the work), Duke (title with no responsibility).
A political character requires some ambition, so think BIG... Now, how to go about getting it:
You need to establish a power base. You can't expand your power on the universe without someone to back you up. Get connections with different groups, do favors for them; then they can do favors for you and so forth.
Climb the galactic ladder. With powerful forces on your side, you're in a position to get a lot of things done. Find people who are more powerful than you to do things for - get their support. Broaden your power and support base, and eventually, people will come to YOU for favors.
Make yourself indispensable. Right now, you're a Punk on the Bax Badass Scale - you've got the connections, but you can be eliminated rather easily, without too much fuss. In order to move up to Badass, you need to do things worthy of being called Badass - pull off political alliances, destroy opponent's power bases, and increase your power. The more power you get, the less likely an opponent will simply put a plasma revolver to your head and pull the trigger. He has to be made AFRAID of what might happen if he does.
Make and implement a plan. Once you've got the power and connections, and your opponents fear you, then you can proceed to make a run for whatever position you want. If you want to be Galactic President, then eventually you'll have to come up with a way to overthrow the present regime. If you want to be kingmaker, you need to find a figurehead who you can support to take power, and so on. It's really that simple!
The Bax Badass Scale is a good way of comparing relative strengths in a PBeM game like ours. It's based on Nathan Bax's comments regarding the classic anime "Fist of the North Star" which is a lot of fun, as compared to the utter piece of crap live-action version with Malcolm McDowell.
Gods: These characters cannot be killed because they are so insanely powerful as to see your feeble attempt five steps ahead of when you think about it. As a result, you don't see these character very often. There are only two at this point in the TI universe: Lwan Eddington (my old mage character from Season 1) and Mordred (Bax's old vampire character from a game before TI). They can make appearances, they can help or mess with you, but do NOT cross them - you will lose.
Demi-Gods: These are really powerful characters who currently manipulate the universe. For example, these include Vin Dane (Bax's uber-Horadrim, Holy Terran Emperor) and Andrea Treschi (Chris' last character in Season 4.3, uber-mage and political character). You can kill these characters, but only with a major effort over several acts.
Badasses: These characters are important, powerful, but can be toppled - although beware the consequences. Examples of these would be like Admiral Smythe (the leader of the Earth Federation remnant government).
Punks: This is currently where the player characters are. Tough, some connections, but nothing really substantial. Killed off all the time.
Peons: This is where the important named NPC or secondary player character is at. People with important duties in a character's storyline. As the player character rises, usually these NPC's rise as well, although survival is by no means certain.
Schmoes: If he or she has a name, they usually have a chance at survival in the TI universe, but don't count on it. If they survive the first act in which they are mentioned, they either disappear into oblivion or become peons.
Fodder: These guys die all the time. These are the unnamed NPC's of the TI universe, the InSec sergeant in the black suit, the secretary who smiles at you and is never seen again. Their chances to rise are very slim - if they don't start out with a name in the story, they're toast.
Gods-in-Training: This is a special category - in the TI universe, they usually fit in at Peon level. These are kids or teenagers who possess such amazing levels of power, but don't know how to use it yet. These guys usually need to be protected as part of the storyline or will guide you to the badass.
Experience is awarded at the end of every episode (every four turns or "acts"). How you spend these points is up to you. They can be put into any of the five stats (Combat, Strategy, Magic, Intelligence, Social) or into magical items or into special abilities. Merits cannot be bought by experience points after character generation.
Now pumping up stats is a little tricky, so let me explain it. We have a fixed 1-10 stat system; with 1 being a weakling in that field, to 10 being a legend in their own time. So in order to boost your stats from one point to the next highest, you need to pay that number of experience points. For example, if Bubba has a 5 in Combat, he needs to pay 5 points before moving it up to a six. So you can boost your levels in the lower stages easily, but once you get past master's and doctorate degrees, recognition becomes harder.
So how do you get experience points? Here goes:
Act Orders: Every time you write orders for an act, you gain 1 point. It doesn't matter if those orders are a single sentence or an entire opera, it's still only one. This is your basic participation bonus.
Early Turn-In: If you're really fast on the draw, and send your orders to the Storyteller early, this gives him time to think about what he's going to write, and therefore make a better story. This gains you one or two more points per episode if you are at least 2 days early with your act orders consistently.
Good Orders: You can write just a sentence for your orders, but if you really give good detailed orders, (giving me the ability to write a good story for you) then that gains you one point per episode.
Story: Instead of just writing detailed orders, you actually take the time and write a full story, you'll be rewarded (editing someone else's story is a LOT easier than writing an original story) with one or two points per episode.
Personality: If you really develop your character's personality in your orders, then that makes for good storytelling, and you'll be rewarded with one more point per episode.
Potential Total Experience = 10 points per episode. (Extra bonus points for other game-related writing, such as histories, web pages, technology explanations, alternate story lines, or anything that will help fill-out the Tech Infantry universe will be awarded at other times. There is a maximum bonus for 5 points per episode for these contributions.)