The Risk of Plot

There's an epidemic of chug behavior in America's railways.

There’s an epidemic of chug behavior in America’s railways.

I’ve heard this several times before from GMs: “I’ve got this great plot for my game. I’m really hoping the players enjoy it.”

My next response is typically something murmured under my breath so that I appear as a crazy person and don’t accidentally get invited to play in this game. If I was invited to play, I might actually accidentally say “Yes” and then I’m going to be stuck.

Stuck in your terrible personal fan fiction.

There is a strong myth about the “storytelling” that a GM must do in an RPG. It might be the second-most persistent myth about RPG games. And time after time I’ve seen GMs create these elaborate plotlines, with linked adventures and combats and happenings. And here’s what happens: They never work out.

If you want to write a fan fiction about a troupe of adventurers that combat the darkness encroaching upon the kingdom by unraveling the corruption inside the system, narrowly saving the lands from disaster, go ahead and write that fan fiction. Go look at all the terrible novel posts I’ve made. There’s where you should be. Sit down, put (virtual) pen to (virtual) paper and go to town. The characters and plots and events are yours to control, and the end result will be exactly what you hope.

When you’re running an RPG, you’re not doing that. Your job as a GM is to provide a universe, provide a conflict, and let your players and their characters deal with that situation. Sure, they might go ahead and unravel the corruption. But they might not. And suddenly, your carefully crafted chain of plot events looks to be under imminent collapse because the characters didn’t find the Prince of Ambiguous Designs all that compelling, and you as a GM drag them onto the SS Railroad, in order to keep all your hard work from evaporating.

Don’t do that.

Instead, build a setting. From that setting, build encounters. Each encounter needs to have a purpose, with a conflict driver, and once that driver is resolved, the encounter is over. Watch how your players interact with the world, what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy, and tailor the experience so that everything begins to drift toward a common middle ground. You also don’t need to always be reacting to your players: Two of the hallmarks of a living, breathing world is that events are going to happen “offscreen,” and can come crashing into the characters’ sphere of influence without them seeing the beginning or the end of the event, and that not everything happens as planned. Just because the normal response by the Prince of Ambiguous Designs to the characters’ insolence is to probably turn the Court of Things Happening against them and make live in the Kingdom of Dark Undercurrents difficult, maybe he’ll instead abdicate his position and throw everything into chaos.

At the end of the day, you’re probably not going to end up with the story you’d initially envisioned. Just as no plan survives contact with the enemy, no plot survives contact with the players. But by building settings and encounters, and letting the world live and breath instead of wrapping it in the chains of plot and desired outcomes, you’ll end up providing a better game, and the final product will be far better than any fan fiction you could ever write.

Out of Your Element

Zoltar’s Revenge

In a reversal of Big, the Tom Hanks classic from the 80s, your adult self is suddenly locked in the body of a 12-year-old kid. How do you survive your first day back in school?

You're out of your element, Donny.

You’re out of your element, Donny.

That’s creepy as hell.

No, seriously. There’s a steady progression in our lives: We learn, we mature, and we grow. There’s also a message that you can “never go home again.”

Think of the damage a 24-year old can do with the knowledge and experience cloaked in the body of a 12-year old. That 24 year old is most likely finishing or finished with college, probably in a committed relationship if not married, and most likely not a virgin. They’ve most likely experienced one or two life-changing events, traumatic or otherwise. Meanwhile, that 12-year old is just starting the hormone-induced dual hells of puberty and middle school, but still years away from having to make any sort of life-directing decisions.

You want to mingle those two groups together? Zoltar’s Revenge is one of horror.

Oh, sure, you could come up with some stupid navel-gazing about how the 24-year old can provide wisdom and guidance, but that would require, in addition to Zoltar’s magical body changing ray, a ray that also changed human nature. 12-year olds don’t care about wisdom. They’ll ignore it like you ignored it 12 years before, only remembering it as a wistful echo 12 years later when they’re stuck in a dead end job with their first child on the way. All of the posts you’ll see on this that state anything other than the horror and worthlessness of this change also requires human nature to change dramatically.

That’s the problem with these Daily Post prompts: They’re specifically designed for people who don’t live in our reality-based world. On a large enough scale, human nature is a remarkably predictable thing, and many of these prompts require you to completely ignore reality. What would you do if you’re given infinite money and a broken down country home? Umm… anything, since I have infinite money. What would you do if you woke up tomorrow morning 200 years in the future? Umm… kill myself, because the human mind would be unable to cope. What would you do if you were suddenly a 12-year old? Umm… nothing.

Then again, perhaps that’s indicative of the audience that the Daily Post prompts are reaching out to: People who are readily able to ignore reality and talk to their own echo chambers.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of typing that on a blog no one reads.

A Novel New Plan

Some of you (note, this is no one, since no one reads this blog) might have noticed that my usual habit of posting Flash Fiction on Monday’s has tapered off. There is actually a reason for this: I’ve been spending a lot of time formulating a plan for a new novel. I’m not quite to the point where I can announce details—I might never be—but it’s been an interesting action nonetheless.

Ammatar MandateWhat I can tell you right now is that it’s going to be set in New Eden, the setting of EVE Online. I haven’t yet decided how much I’ll play nice with EVE’s Prime Fiction, in part because I’m not required to align with it but also because EVE’s Prime Fiction has stagnated badly. What I will promise is that—barring CCP buying it, which isn’t going t happen—I’ll eventually publish it in its entirety. Promises are also meant to be broken.

Some of you might be questioning why I’m working on something new, when I’ve got so much more material outstanding. For those who care about such things, I’ve got one complete novel that I’m working on revising, and two “stub” novels that need to be fleshed out. Nothing has been accepted by an editor, publisher, agent, or the Lord. Why, then, would I create more content that will just rot on the vine?

A wise man once said, “Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.”

That’s where I’m headed right now. That’s one of the reasons I’ve resurrected this blog: To simply be able to create content. Not necessarily good content. Not necessarily publishable content. But just to create content. That fire hose of creativity that allows ideas, concepts, characters, and settings to flow. I can’t stop creating art because business isn’t keeping up.

Let Me Tell You About My Sword

We're fighting giants, y'all, in an encounter that doesn't actually function given standard combat rules.

We’re fighting giants, y’all.

The Angry DM put up a good post regarding combat in role-playing games. You should read it. I’ll wait.


Pretty much all of his points are spot-on. I’m very much looking forward to his followup article.

I learned much of what he talks about in the crucible of GURPS, due to the nature and flow of GURPS combat. I learned, through necessity, that your game will not suffer if you allow your players to look for ways around and out of combat, and that you don’t need to let everything go on to the bitter end, taking full combat turns the entire time. Your players will have more fun, you’ll have more fun, and things are generally improved.

Let me tell you about GURPS combat: In D&D, if a goblin hits you in the arm with a sword, you take damage. If you take 5 damage, and you have 20 hit points, you now have 15 hit points. In GURPS, if a goblin hits you in the arm with a sword, you take damage. You might also have that arm crippled or severed. You might still be down to 15 hit points, but your sword arm might also now be useless for the rest of your life. It gets even worse when you play games with firearms and lasers. Being out in the open is pretty much a death sentence against trained marksmen.

The end result is that, in GURPS, even winning a combat means people on your side are wounded, maimed, crippled, or dead. And since in roleplaying games your side is typically made up of your players, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

What it did do for me, as both a GM and a player, is to drive home the fact that combat needed to be the resolution to a conflict, not the conflict itself. Because of the sheer lethality of that combat, a natural flow in the game developed. As the game matured, it became natural for players to question, first, the purpose of combat, strongly weighing the potential risks against the rewards. Should combat be chosen, it was then to the players’ advantage to setup a battle in which they’d have an advantage against their opponents. This forced me, as a GM, to work hard at developing encounters as opposed to developing combats. I could never count on combat breaking out, but if it did, my players always wanted it to break out on their terms.

The other characteristic of GURPS combat is that it’s mind-numbingly complex, meaning that it’s mind-numingly slow. There’s a spreadsheet developed by The Mook that helps guide you through the combat process. While it was originally developed as a playaid, it’s also a useful humor device at the overly-complex combat system. It’s 53 tabs worth of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style pathing (that is, you don’t use all 53, but they’re there!), and you’d run through that for every character’s combat turn. Oh, and it doesn’t even include sourcebook rules such as the quite-popular GURPS Martial Arts or the amazing GURPS High-Tech. That’s frankly absurd.

Because the combat is mind-numbingly complex and slow, it becomes mind-numbingly boring for the other 5 people at the gaming table. It’s even worse when GM-controlled characters are acting, since a huge amount of the time doesn’t involve actually interfacing with the players. As a GM, you need to have a great feel for this. All the complexity is somewhat subsumed when the combat is in doubt, and laser beams are cutting back and forth across a battlefield, and players are hoping a lucky (or unlucky) die roll doesn’t result in their head getting blasted off while they secure the shuttle landing spot. But as soon as combat becomes uninteresting, as the players are mopping up stragglers, that complexity will lose to cell phones with Twitter.

Again, what it did for me, as a GM and a player, is to understand when combat had ceased to be a meaningful driver for conflict. Wading through a 53 tab combat spreadsheet in order to mop up injured and retreating goblins that just watched a bunch of their comrades die isn’t fun for anyone involved. Yes, technically one of those goblins might score a lucky hit on the players as they mop them up, but actually that’s stupid. Recognition when the conflict has been resolved and moving on with your game helps keep things moving.

None of what The Angry DM said, or what I’ve affirmed above, is system specific. I learned my lessons from my experiences with GURPS because it was necessary for survival. A game where characters wade into every situation swinging swords and shooting arrows is a game where you’ve got a constant carousel of new characters, because the old ones are retiring maimed or dead. And if that game also includes the tedium of “complete combat resolution,” you’re not even going to have to worry about that problem, since your players will have long since moved on to more fun endeavors, like stabbing themselves in the thigh with a knife.

The problem is that “modern” roleplaying games don’t encourage such variation. D&D 3.5e, 4e, and Pathfinder are all notorious for their “crunch” when it comes to combat rules, but they never reach the level of absurdity that will train people to use those rules sparingly. Rolling initiative becomes a Pavlovian response when miniatures are placed on the board, everything is hacked at until it’s dead, and if that accomplishes whatever it was that was supposed to be accomplished, good. If not, well, we get XP for it anyway because we killed things, right?

Complimentary

Why, Thank You?

What’s the best (or rather, worst) backhanded compliment you’ve ever received? If you can’t think of any — when’s the last time someone paid you a compliment you didn’t actually deserve?

Great Job

Great job! You did at least as well as a creepy disembodied head with floating glove hands could have done!

I’m terrible at accepting compliments. Absolutely terrible. So I tend to view every compliment as being either backhanded or the beginning of a joke.

For example, “Hey nice shirt,” will immediately be followed up with, “did you get dressed in the dark this morning?”

I come by it honestly, though. There’s an amazing dearth of self-esteem welded to a grandmother who was the master of backhanded compliments. Any time you visited grandma, you were sure to come away wondering if she loved you deeply or despised the interruption in her day. In truth, it was probably both, which is okay.

Writing When You Don’t Want To

We all go through moments of writer’s block. Either lack of ideas, lack of time, lack of motivation, or whatever bugs you will slowly creep into your life and prevent you from making the progress you need to make. This can be especially devastating when you’ve got an upcoming gaming session that requires your attention and brain, and all you can think about is how great a nap could be.

First off, take stock of what the upcoming session means to your campaign at large. I’m never a fan of outright cancelling a session. Cancelled games tend to be deadly infections. You cancel one game, and suddenly you’re cancelling two, and suddenly, you don’t play that game anymore. People will naturally find other things to do, and you’re suddenly not at the top of the priority. That being said, not all game sessions are created equal. The session where the party confronts the paladin of Torm who has been secretly aiding research into the creation of demonspawn is more important than a session where they’re mopping up the last of an isolated band of cultists who were hired for extra muscle.

Once you’ve determined how important the session is to your game, you can react accordingly. Combat encounters will fill more time with less GM prep than non-combat activities. In a typical game session, you can expect each of your players to take no less than 30 minutes to decide which action their character will take for the next 6 seconds, so with a typical party of five, you actually don’t have to write much, and might even get a nap in. If the session really is filler, having a set of stock combat encounters that you can use is handy: Just pull the card with the group of cultists on it, send them hurtling toward your party, and enjoy.

If that doesn’t fit your needs, however, you’ve got to find other ways to get around your writer’s block. One of my most popular adages is to remember that, “something doesn’t always have to happen.” There’s a tendency to consider the characters in your game somewhat like a virus: Whenever they enter an area, infecting it with their very presence, things start to happen. This is not only the hallmark of bad campaigns—I’ve played in several campaigns where actual, notable events never happened unless the PCs were there to see it—but difficult on you as the GM. Sometimes, it really is a quiet day in the city, and its up to the party to figure out what to do next.

Which leads into the second point of easing your tension: Exploration and discovery. These take remarkably little preparation, as you can simply create locations on the fly using your knowledge of the world and environment. Forcing the players to take the reigns to figure out where the next interesting piece of content is not only gives them strong feelings of agency and empowerment, but also prevents your world from feeling like a stage they’re playing on.

My final and worst option then, is the dreaded premade adventure. Let’s face it: Most premade adventures are pretty bad. And by “most” I mean “all” and by “bad” I mean “terrible.” But when you’ve not the time to write your own, they’re a safety net and an inspiration. As you gain experience as a GM, you should, without having to break through your own writer’s block, be able to avoid the long stretches of box text, railroading, uninspired and restrictive combat encounters, and contrived endings that most premade adventures feature, but again, all of these are still preferable to cancelling a game outright.

In the end, writer’s block strikes us all, but it doesn’t need to endanger the future of your campaign. With some practice and ingenuity and some player agency, you should be able to still hold a passable session, keep the game rolling, and hopefully find some inspiration to pick up your pen once more!

Santa Claus is Dungeon Crawling

There are two universal truths.

The first is that players are terrible when it comes to putting together equipment “wishlists.” Regardless if your game has a formalized wishlist, like the type that you’d push into a stocking in the hopes that your parents would really get you that 450,000 piece LEGO set that represented the DMV, or if you have a game where your characters’ equipment wants and needs are built into their characters, their players are never going to be good at creating that.

For example, I was recently asked to create a wishlist. I never got to it, because—like all players—I’m terrible at it. And for reasons I’ll later elaborate on, I should be better at it, thanks to the effects that it causes.

The second is that I’m a terrible giftgiver. In the context of being a GM, this means that I’m terrible at doling out loot. Even in the rare event that a player puts together a wishlist, I’m still dangerously bad at it. It’s a combination of being overly sensitive—will they like what I give them?—and wanting to make sure those items fit both the character’s goals and the theme of the campaign.

So I’ll agonize for, sometimes literally, hours over creating treasure handouts for upcoming game sessions.

I should note, as an aside, that I hate random loot. I know that the law of averages state that it’ll average out and be functionally the same as tabled loot. But I don’t trust those laws of averages, especially when you’re getting so few dice rolls for each level. And I like being able to tailor my loot distribution both to the scene and to the characters’ need.

So how to overcome my foibles when it comes to giving away loot? It’s hard, but it kind of ties into all the things that make a GM good.

First off all, make sure you’ve defined, between yourself and your players, how loot is going to be included, tracked, and used in your game. For example, in my games, I tend to regard and reward proper inventory management. If you head off to the Dark Cave of Many Sheer Drops, you’re going to have a bad time if you don’t think to bring torches and ropes. In return for that, I willingly take on the burden of tracking my characters’ inventory habits. I feel that it’s a fair tradeoff for not handwaving ropes and pitons in a case that matters.

Second, know that as a GM, you can set the flavor of how items, especially magical items, affect your campaign. If you allow your characters to craft and upgrade their own equipment, that flavor will produce a different dynamic than if they’re finding items you’ve provided for them. As a GM, you need to either be prepared or accept that the campaign might drift away from your initial vision.

Lastly, remember that you can always use magic items to create tension and drama in the game. Modern GMs are typically strongly averse to intra-party conflict. It’s baked into modern RPGs that you shouldn’t fight, explicitly or otherwise, your own party. Generally, that’s good advice, but a few nuggets of conflict can help things along. A magic item that might be good for two players creates tensions that, when properly fanned, can actually work to the party’s benefit.

The key, then, to playing Santa Claus is giving with purpose. Don’t simply pick items out of a hat, but make the items an integral part of your games. Your characters will enjoy it, your game will benefit, and it might make it easier for you to select items to be found in a dark corner of the dungeon.

Edge of Disappointment

Matters of Taste

When was the last time a movie, a book, or a television show left you cold despite all your friends (and/or all the critics) raving about it? What was it that made you go against the critical consensus?

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow

Oh, how I hated Edge of Tomorrow.

General consensus between critics and people I know ranged from “good” to “really good” to “great.” They hailed it as “exciting” and “unexpected” and “interesting.”

I’m going to admit, I liked 95% of Edge of Tomorrow. I don’t have a problem with time loop stories as long as they avoid the campiness that plagues most of their ilk. For example, Groundhog Day is a bad movie, because it’s just cheesy and dumb and the reason for the time loop other than, “LOL Bill Murray,” is never explained. Edge of Tomorrow actually built in a smart, sexy, and decidedly alien reason into its movie for its protagonist’s looping ability. Heck, they even made it very clear that the ability was not only transient, but helped the enemy as much as it helped our heroes.

That’s smart. The movie also plays on a few of the natural black comedy cases that can occur when you’re effectively immortal, but trapped in a hell of repeating days. When you know you’ll just wake up after dying, you can get very dark. That was also very well done.

Then, of course, there was the ending. Spoiler alert. I suppose you don’t really have a choice at this point: If you ever want to get to the point of this post, you’ll have to eat a few spoilers.

The end of the movie has one final reset. All of our heroes, many of which died, are resurrected by this last, bigger, reset. It’s an enormous cop-out, one that stripped the rest of the movie of the sacrifices and heroism that marked the final act. And until that moment, I have to admit, the final act was staggering in both its stakes and its execution. But all of that meant… nothing.

Hollywood loves a happy ending, but the fact of the matter is, not everything needs a happy ending. This was a perfect example of that. What made the movie poignant and tense at the end was that, through evolution of character and sacrifice, soldiers were willing to die—forever—for our hero, who had also become mortal. In the end, they sacrificed themselves for something noble. In the end, the world is still almost completely destroyed, but at least the hero and heroine get to have an awkward reunion. It’s funny because they’ve never actually met, but they have, before the time loops, and, oh, for fuck’s sake. It’s just maudlin bullshit.

And it completely ruined the sharp, witty, exciting movie that had come before. Apparently the critics left early to beat traffic.

The Challenge of Skill Challenges

I like the concept of skill challenges in role-playing games.

For those unaware, skill challenges were an encounter “type” that rose to some prominence in D&D 4th edition. It pits the characters against some task, requiring them to achieve a number of successful skill check rolls before a number of unsuccessful skill check rolls.

The problem, then, with skill challenges is in their execution, hampered by a lack of rules clarity, a lack of narrative structure, and general human nature. First off, it’s never explicitly stated if skill challenges are supposed to be run like combat, with each player taking a turn, or if they’re supposed to be freeform. And it’s never really explicitly said if you’re supposed to tell the players the list of skills relevant to the skill challenge. While I supposed any constellation of options is possible, there is a severe lack of creative freedom when you tell your characters flat out what skills to use. Heck, at that point, why not just roll the dice for them; they’re no longer active participants in the session anyway.

The second problem is that the majority of skill challenges in published adventures are horribly written. Continuing on their efforts to reduce “imagination” and “active participation,” most skill challenges seem to assume that the skill check result tells the player what they did, not the other way around. This just adds to the horrible nature of skill challenges, as many GMs will use published adventures as their “training wheels,” leading to them learning badly.

Lastly, human nature makes skill challenges a decidedly bad proposition. If you succeed on a check, you progress. If you fail, you regress. If you do nothing… nothing happens. As such, players, being human beings that are risk-averse, will do everything in their power to not fail the check. Again, this limits creativity and interaction.

So how do we fix skill challenges? You integrate them better in the game. You make better win conditions. You use a smarter skill check system (in this, I’ll admit I cribbed liberally from some smarter GMs than me, such as Angry DM).

First, the skill check system. There are a lot of good ways to modify the default skill check system, but one of the best ideas I’ve ever come across is to force players to stop thinking of skills as this discreet list of actions they can perform. I don’t want to hear you say, “I make a Stealth check to sneak into the tent,” I want to hear you say, “I quietly slip around the back of the tent,” to which I’ll respond, “Make a Stealth check.” See the difference? “I make an Intimidate check,” is different than, “I remind the guard that we’re duly appointed members of the Order of Torm.” The hidden added benefit of this is that it drags players, kicking and screaming sometimes, away from sorting their skill list by the size of the check bonus number and only using the top 3 skills. If the situation demands stealth instead of Stealth, even the chainmail wearing Cleric who would (and can) wake the dead might try it.

Once you’ve got a better skill check system, you need better win conditions. This is in terms of individual checks and the challenge in general. Consider that, in the rules-as-written implementation, a failed Diplomacy check with a guard would count the same as a failed Diplomacy check with a king. That’s madness. There also have to be degrees of success and failure: Flawlessly finding the hidden temple to Bhaal might not allow the enemy any time for reinforcements. Completely botching the search, alerting the cultists, would allow that time. But a few missteps along the way may or may not substantially change the outcome.

Which goes to a minor point: Not every skill check has to add to the success or failure counter. Not every action is relevant to the skill challenge, and if it’s irrelevant, it shouldn’t count. Note that I’m not advocating rolling irrelevant skill checks, I’m just saying irrelevant to the skill challenge. If it’s relevant to the game world at large, then yes, by all means, roll those bones. But it might not progress toward your goal; heck, it might hurt, since it’ll take time you might not have. Those cultists have Amazon Prime, and their new zombies are being delivered soon.

Lastly, and the biggest change, is how to integrate skill challenges into the narrative. Instead of having this awkward, check-based exercise, you might think about better options. And one of the options that might seem good is the developement of “arena” or “levels.” If the players successfully make checks in the first arena, they move onto the second. If they make certain choices and succeed in the second, they go to the third, or maybe the fourth, since we can create branching paths. That’s a staple of dungeon and adventure design, so why not just apply it to skill challenges, right?

Wrong.

Players are stupid unpredictable. Your carefully crafted tree of investigation and skill check locations will be burned to the ground faster than a pine tree on a pagan midwinter holiday. Players will take a look at the dead body, with the mayor’s personal sword stuck through it, and the bloody footprints leading 10 feet to the door of the mayor’s house, and decide to head to the tavern to see if anyone had a problem with the victim. But as a GM, we don’t want to limit players’ creativity. Because for every set of bloody footprints they don’t follow, they’ll think to just pull down the mindblasting statue with a rope instead of destroying or disarming it, since it’s a freakin’ statue and isn’t going to change the aim point on its blasting attack.

So, instead, populate your skill challenges with what I’ll call “nodes.” Each node is a piece of information that you want the characters to have (and may or may not be required to win or progress the skill challenge), why it’s important, and where the characters might be able to obtain it. Use the classic journalism questions of “Who, what, etc.” with the addition of who has that information. Keep the answers simple. One node from the last skill challenge I had read like this:

What: Disappearances.
Who: Merchants and orphan children.
When: Over the past 3 months.
Where: Bridge camp.
Why:
How:
From: Merchants or orphans. NOT paladins.

Note that a few of those things aren’t filled in. That’s okay; in fact, that might be the whole point of the adventure. And it’s okay to have a few curveballs in there, as long as you justify them. In this case, the paladins are completely oblivious to the disappearances because they don’t like the merchants and orphans to begin with, so fewer of them is a-ok with them. They’re not great paladins.

Now, you start making your skill checks. Let the players’ natural exploration and creativity come out, and when they get to somewhere where a node might be in play, such as speaking with a merchant, they have the opportunity to get the information on that node. If they stray off your map of nodes, that’s okay. Let them continue to explore, with consequences. If there’s a ticking clock, make sure it’s ticking loudly as they get drunk in the tavern instead of investigating the disappearances. Once they have all the nodes you’ve created for a skill challenge, or that ticking clock stops ticking, end the challenge and move on.

What you have, then, is a far more organic and creative experience in a part of the game that’s notorious for bogging things down and causing players and GMs frustration and angst. Information is achieved, effects on the world are resolved, and your players can get on with the adventure at hand!

Ganked 127: We Are Legion

This past weekend I had the opportunity to take part in Ganked 127: We Are Legion. The theme for this week was Beam Lasers, with various fittings of Amarr ship suggested. I decided to roll into town with the provided Zealot fitting. While not my “standard” Zealot fitting—which is somewhat misleading, since the Zealot is no longer the ultimate Heavy Assault Cruiser—it brought back some good feels. The Zealot was the reason I trained up for HACs in the first place!

[Zealot, Ganked 127 Beams]
Damage Control II
Adaptive Nano Plating II
Armor Thermic Hardener II
Armor EM Hardener II
Energized Adaptive Nano Membrane II
Power Diagnostic System II
1600mm Reinforced Rolled Tungsten Plates I

10MN Afterburner II
Tracking Computer II, Optimal Range Script
Sensor Booster II, Targeting Range Script

Heavy Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Standard M
Heavy Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Standard M
Heavy Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Standard M
Heavy Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Standard M
Heavy Beam Laser II, Imperial Navy Standard M

Medium Ancillary Current Router II
Medium Energy Collision Accelerator I

Gleam M x5
Imperial Navy Standard M x5
Imperial Navy Radio M x5
Aurora M x5
Nanite Repair Paste x100
Optimal Range Script x1
Tracking Speed Script x1
Targeting Range Script x1
Scan Resolution Script x1

(Yes, I’m a SeBo whore. But in larger fleets, locking time becomes more important than improved tracking.)

Despite the doctrine being one of engaging at range due to the tracking issues of beam lasers and afterburners, we found ourselves brawling quite a bit on the roam. Luckily, Gleam-fitted beam lasers don’t track horribly, but you’re still engaging outside of the preferred engagement envelope. We exploded a gatecamp, and then got run down by fleets of Harpies and Proteuses. My shiny Zealot went boom when the Proteus fleet turned its railguns on me, but not before I’d had a fantastic time.