Lumen Jam Part 2 - The Basics

In case you missed part #1, you might want to look at that first before starting this entry as I will be discussing my plans for making a game for the Lumen Jam. Part #1 discusses the basics of the Lumen SRD I am going to use to build this. 

What I write here today might not be super interesting for people who are actually already making a Lumen game like the members of the Lux Collective. However, I feel that me going through my creative process helps in two ways. First, part of what I am doing here is work-shopping. Putting it down in words for you all helps me think about how to explain things like game mechanics in the game manuscript itself. It also helps me think about how to condense my manuscript to it’s most essential pieces. Here I have to limit myself to a blog post. When the rule book doesn’t have a hard page limit, it can be easy to go overboard! ^_^;

Secondly, I think that this glimpse into me making a game might help others who want to make a crack at it. In the past for me, the theme or premise came first in the creative process. Then I would attempt to come up with or find a rule system that best fit that mold. This would cause me a great deal of struggle, ending up with me not creating anything complete in the end.

Starting with the Carta Jam and The Land and the People, I flipped that approach on its head. I looked carefully at the Carta SRD, then grabbed one of the ideas that popped into my head and kept working on it until I had a working game. One thing that will make this game more complicated (at least for me!) is the fact that it is not built around being a solo game, so game balance is an issue that I will have to keep a much closer eye on.

Oh no, an idea for a solo Lumen game just came to me. Before I get distracted again, let’s explore this project.

The Premise

This game as the working title of URCAT and has a futuristic sci-fi setting. URCAT is short for “Unaligned Rescue and Civilian/Casualty Assistance Team.” It is a division of A.I. Officers in the UCDG (Unaligned Civilian Defense Group) and is responsible for protecting and evacuating beings caught up in times of conflict, natural disaster, or other crises.

A biomech inspired by a jumping spider and Ghost in the Shell's Tachikoma
Did someone call for a web?

The player characters are AIs that use biologically-based bodies or biomechs that in the lore are called Rescueframes. I want to leave it loose as for what form their bodies may take, but they won't be as big as a typical mecha. I am thinking of limiting rescueframes to between 75% to about 200% the size of a standard human. I would also like to leave the basic body plan open to player & GM interpretation. A humanoid form may make interacting with other beings easier, but there is no reason why the player couldn't be able to incorporate animal or alien elements into their design like taur-hybrids or even more extreme body plans. This will also allow the player and GM to tailor the biomechs' shapes to best fit the powers the characters have.

This allows the AIs in URCAT to be quite a bit more powerful than your average humanoid. I feel this fits the video game-inspired power fantasy that the original Lumen SRD is built around. Even though the game not being directly inspired by a popular media property like a lot of other Lumen hacks I have seen so far, I feel that the setting could be easily adapted into a seinin or shonen anime.

Despite the characters' power, the fact that the main objective of many the game’s missions will built around rescuing and keeping others safe in dangerous situations greatly increases the stakes. In some scenarios, complete success may be impossible. The premise also means that, despite Lumen being a system intended for combat games, not all of the opponents in URCAT will be NPC goons and not all of the powers will be solely combat-oriented. For example, a power that is essentially a fire hose or ground-penetrating radar would be quite useful in a natural disaster area, but in a pinch could also be useful in a combat scenario.
 Powers that heal or shield from harm could be just as useful for civilians as they would be for the characters.

I will confess that URCAT has at least some inspiration taken from the naive, romanticized image I had as a youth about UN missions and peacekeepers. I intend on addressing some of the moral ambiguity that effects the UN or international involvement in crises. Many of the problems that the players will likely face are moral questions that people involved in humanitarian aid and peacekeeping have had to face like: When it is okay to intervene into local/national sovereignty, if ever? What if the government's representatives on the ground act beyond the wishes of the government? Where is the line that allows the use of force to protect others? How does one decide who to help when there are not enough people or resources to help everyone? How far people delve into these are up to the groups playing the game.

As part of the “Casualty Assistance,” I intend on adding rules to the Lumen base for field medicinal treatment & repair. I intend on going deeper into this in a later post, but this mechanic will utilize playing cards so GMs to quickly create groups of NPCs that may include people who need treatment. The cards will also indicate severity of the injury, type, and help track treatment progress. The players will be able to use attribute checks or certain Powers to treat injuries in the NPCs and also each other if a PC is downed during a mission. This is strongly inspired by the Casualty and Wound mechanics in the PbtA game MASHED.

Basic Mechanics

As I mentioned in part 1 of the Lumen Jam blog, the Lumen SRD uses three attributes to describe its characters and their efficiency at doing tasks using certain approaches. In the base rules these are named as Force, Flow, and Focus. My terms for URCAT are Grit, Maneuver, and Tactics. In my current manuscript, this is how I describe them and illustrate their use in the game:

  • Grit - Sometimes success comes to the being that is big and bold. If you have high Grit, you are good at acting in strong, decisive, loud, and confrontational manner.

  • Maneuver - Life is a flow of one moment to the next and you seek to continue that motion. If you have high Maneuver, you have embraced being faster and more nimble, acting in the heat of the moment, and keeping your intentions hidden until the the time is right.

  • Tactics - To see the patterns in the chaos of action. If you have high tactics, then you have a treasure trove of patience and observational skills to read the situation and find just the right thing to do at the right moment for maximum effect.

To give you a clearer idea of how these approaches work in game, let’s imagine that the character has to get the last cookie at the office holiday party for their friend Sandra.

  • A Grit approach might be to intimidate any of the coworkers who might try to take the cookie before you.

  • The Maneuver approach might be to blend in with the crowd at the table and pocket it as you pass by.

  • The Tactics approach might be to snipe the cookie as you distract your coworker with inane conversation about their favorite ska band.

Either way gets you the cookie, but the approach says a lot about your character and what the consequences might be if you fail…

And on that note, I will stop there for today and enjoy my wife’s fresh-baked cookies. Please remember to check out everyone else's Lumen projects on Twitter or on If you have any comments or suggests, please feel free to make them here or elsewhere if you know me on social media like Twitter or Discord! One thing in particular that would be helpful is suggestions for alien species to include with the humans and AI biodroids as civilians and antagonists.

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