This will probably be my last ‘Cooler in Space’ post for a bit. I’m going to do my utmost to focus on a single major project at a time. Certainly, if something comes along for which I’ll be paid, I’ll shift my focus there, but the point is that I should take something from beginning to end without interruption or schizophrenic and sudden gear-changes.
But before I put the RPG project on one of my many back-burners and move something else to stand all alone on the front one, I want to touch on something I happened upon in my addled brain that might give more focus to the RPG.
I mentioned in a previous post that Saturn could be a potential source of conflict. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Saturn and, more specifically, its moons are very nearly a campaign setting in and of themselves. People would come from both Terran and Jovian walks of life to stake, protect, jump or outright steal claims to the mineral-rich moons, the vast open land for colonization or developmental space and the hydrogen stocked atmosphere. Like the unclaimed areas in the Forgotten Realms, the various small moons in Serenity and the Outer Rim in Star Wars, there’s plenty of blank canvas upon which a game master can paint a campaign.
The home worlds of the players, then, become origin points, places where stories begin and possibly end. The bulk of those stories, however, would play out in unknown and unmapped places, lending an air of mystery and exploration to the drama, suspense and combat. That’s what I’m thinking, at least.
More on why this is getting back-burnered in the days to come.
My work computer decided there was no point in being productive after the old UPS finally kicked the bucket. So, since I have very little time at the moment, here’s a look at some of the Perks I’ve dreamed up for the sci-fi tabletop RPG. Enjoy.
Perks are either passive or active. Passive Perks work automatically when they need to, Active Perks require spending Action Points.
Perks are either general or exclusive. General Perks are available to multiple professions, Exclusive Perks are only available to one profession and are lost if the player changes professions.
Some Perks add a skill or knowledge, and are neither passive nor active.
Discipline: The Moon is a harsh mistress, and life under the massive domes has taught you how to keep your cool. Any time you make a skill check that requires either concentration or maintaining your composure, after any attribute value(s) have been applied and points, perks and penalties are accounted for, you may spend a number of Action Points up to an amount equal to your level in order to pass. Beware, though, as keeping up a poker face can take a toll on you if done for too long. General, Active.
Hard Knocks: Life on Io has taught you how to take a punch. Either a family member sparred with you or the bullies used you for a punching bag… unless you were the bully. You do not apply damage penalties to your skill checks unless you are Exhausted. However, people see you as somewhat boorish. You can only apply one attribute to any skill check that includes Charisma. General, Passive.
Historian: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. You’ve dedicated yourself to studying the lessons of the past, and your knowledge has become somewhat encyclopeadic. Applying this knowledge to any situation you’re in, you may spend an Action Point to reduce the amount of Action Points necessary to pass a skill check by half (rounded up). History can’t teach you everything, however, and if you rely too much on your knowledge, it may betray you in the end. General, Active.
Humorless B______: You are unimpressed with the attempts people make to amuse, charm, intimidate or persuade you. When rolling an opposed skill check in a social situation, you may apply the value of the associated attribute(s) *twice* to your roll. However, when *you* attempt to charm or persuade someone, you do not apply the values of *any* attribute(s) to your roll. Rolls to intimidate are unaffected. General, Passive.
Infiltrator: You know how to slip into and out of areas without being noticed. When rolling a check for your Sneak skill, apply the values of both your Agility and Perception to your roll. General, Passive.
Lockpicking: You gain the Lockpicking skill. This is a combined skill requiring Intelligence and Agility.
Lucky B______: In situations where most people get themselves maimed or killed, you always seem to come out on top. Once per game, for half your total Action Points, you may *reverse* the dice in your skill check roll, rather than applying attribute values or other Perks. Thus, a roll of 61 becomes a 16. General, Active.
Martial Arts: On the red sands of Mars, the disciples of the ancient and deadly arts of Terra’s greatest martial arts masters maintain their secrets, and you are one of the chosen few with access to that knowledge. When you engage in Unarmed Combat, your hands and feet are considered deadly weapons, and deal double damage. You also meditate and practice several habits condusive to the discipline required for your training, which means you do not apply the values of *any* attribute(s) to rolls involving deception, intimidation or ranged weapons. This penalty does not apply to the MARS system – how exactly are you supposed to dropkick a battlecruiser? General, Passive.
On Your Feet: Blows that might drop people without your perseverance barely faze you. Once per combat, spend a number of Action Points equal to double your level to negate the result of a damage roll that would otherwise render you Unconscious. General, Active.
Silver Tongue: You talk fast and smooth, and are very good at telling people want they want to hear. In any social situation, you may apply the value of your Charisma twice to your skill check. General, Passive.
Stargazer: You have never forgotten the wonder the felt the first time you looked up at the sky and wondered at the scale and scope of outer space. When you are in deep space, which includes the surface of an unterraformed world, you do not apply fatigue penalties to any skill checks unless you are Wounded. However, all your studies of the stars didn’t leave you much time for sports or physical activity. You can only apply one attribute to any skill checks involving Strength. General, Passive.
Urbanite: The sprawling cities of Terra make you a versatile asset to any situation. You’ve seen it all, heard it all and are ready for just about anything. At the end of a turn in which you’ve spent Action Points, you regain an amount equal to your level. Unfortunately, your urban lifestyle makes you ill-prepared for life outside of a city. In any situation outside of a city, you can only apply one attribute to skill checks you make. General, Passive.
“All drama is conflict” according to an old saying. That’s why combat features so prominently in gaming situations – it’s easy to have something feel dramatic when the player’s getting shot at. However, the drama and combat should grow organically from the setting and story, rather than just happening when things get dull. To that end, I want to flesh out the sources of conflict within my embryonic sci-fi RPG which still doesn’t have a title.
Life on the frontier is rough. Given that the Jovian moons have people living in domes or underground, it’s even more rough. The colonies there were established not only to stem the growing population of the human race but also to mine Jupiter for hydrogen. Rather than simply ferrying it back to Earth, though, there are some Jovian colonists who believe they should be bartering the fuel for food and other niceties rather than just relying on the good faith of the Terran worlds – Earth & Mars. The colonists on Luna, by contrast, think the Jovians should suck it up & deal with it. The Ceres colony is somewhat indifferent to the conflict, as it has the smallest standing population and is little more than a way station between the inner worlds and the moons of Jupiter. This also lends it to being something of a “wretched hive of scum & villainy”. Anyway, some skirmishes have already been fought when armed transports from Jupiter refused to yield to Terran escorts or disable their weapons, since the Jovian colonies are not permitted to have active capital-grade weapons anywhere past Ceres. This flies in the face of the fact that the Jovians have already established a provisional government and military. The rules and regulations are chafing against the colonists’ sense of independence and all-out war seems inevitable.
On both sides of the debate are corporations. Some have been on Earth for a very long time, and some have been established recently to represent and promote the interest of the colonies. The corporation sponsoring the mining of hydrogen from Jupiter and the union of workers who undertake this dangerous task are both pushing for independence and leveraging their product for profit rather than being seen as another arm of Earth’s expanding territory. The manufacture of weapons on both sides is highly profitable, and a war would only cause production to rise to unprecedented levels. It’s possible that some involved in corporate espionage would seek ways to get the war started. On the other hand, corporations on both sides are likely interested in establishing peace, to foster good business relationships and expand the possibilities for everybody to profit without loss of life. I’m certain that there are some business owners out there who actually believe that life is worth preserving, provided that in the course of becoming business owners they haven’t lost their souls.
Beyond Jupiter and its moons is the next logical step in human expansion. Saturn’s atmosphere is also stocked with hydrogen, it has a plethora of moons and seeing the rings up close might be a draw for tourists. But who will stake a claim first, Earth or the Jovians? Has somebody staked a claim already? Even if the current tension between the home world and the colonies gets resolved without bloodshed, there’s every possibility that the mad rush to claim Saturn’s resources could lead to yet another conflict.
So what am I missing? Is this enough potential drama to draw people in? What else needs to be considered? Where should the project go from here?
Kicking around in the back of my head as I work on novels, video entries and freelance gaming submissions, the sci-fi tabletop project continues to slowly but surely take shape. Assisting that is a few pieces of music. I’ll list them for you, talk about their merits & nuances, and what they mean to this project.
Holst – “Mars, the Bringer of War” [audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/mars.mp3]
This is the opening movement to Gustav Holst’s famous suite on the planets. To me, there are few pieces of music that capture the excitement, pioneering attitude and downright scariness of true science fiction. It moves with a purpose, shifting between almost militaristic cadences and long, sweeping passages.
It fits this project for a variety of reasons. There’s the spectre of impending war that hangs over the interplanetary landscape, the feeling that mankind is teetering on the edge of something it doesn’t quite comprehend even as it quarrels with itself and the knowledge that the machinations of ambitious or even insane men are at work behind the scenes to drive the fate of humanity in one direction or another. “Mars” captures all of these feelings pretty well.
The first vocal track from their latest album, VNV Nation’s music has always captured a mood somewhere between revolutionary and soulful. Behind the strong beat and cascading note sequences, there’s a feeling of weariness. While there’s a desire for change, to better one’s self, there’s also the impression that a lot of time has been spent dreaming of a better tomorrow while greater forces in the world work against that goal.
In the future envisioned with this project, battles have been fought both great and small, with no clear victor in the end equation despite accolades and propaganda on both sides. The players, in a way, begin somewhere in the middle, where they can either move to an overarching view of the volatile situation or choose an allegiance with one side or the other. The reason for doing this, on any scale, is to usher in better days, be it for a particular faction or humanity as a whole.
Incorporating the Fibonacci sequence and featuring a refrains scored in a rotating 9/8,8/8,7/8 time signature, the title track from Tool’s third studio album talks of man’s desire to explore himself and his interpretation of the world around him. The idea is to be unafraid of the unknown, willing to explore beyond the boundaries of what we know and learning to accept the things we do not. If someone can do that, if they can move across the borders between the everyday and the singular, one just might “go where no one’s been.”
To me, this song encapsulates the mentality of the foolishly brave men and women willing to hurl themselves headlong into the void of space. It fits perfectly with the dark sci-fi nature of the project. Also, by seeking to be different and transcend the particulars of their origins, players can move into new territory for them, influencing struggles of power between entire planets and possible redefining the destiny of mankind itself.
It may sound a bit ambitious, but I’ve never been accused of thinking too small.
Okay, I lied. I mentioned last week I’d go over more skills and perks, but seriously, what good will it do me to expound upon those aspects of the game if nobody wants to play it? So the question I’m going to try and answer should be obvious: why would someone want to play it? Seems to be a somewhat straightforward question, and despite the subject matter, I shouldn’t need a degree in rocket science to figure it out.
It’s not a space opera.
The mood & themes of the game are somewhat operatic, since they’re born out of short stories that are inspired by Greek mythology, and the Greeks know their tragedies. Instead of the glitzy magic-fueled universe of Star Wars or the semi-utopian ideal envisioned by Gene Roddenberry for Star Trek, the solar system here has become something of an 1850s United States: fractured to the point of civil war due to divisive issues and a have/have-not atmosphere between the inner planets and Jupiter’s moons. It’s much more a space western than a space opera. If this were a space opera, you can expect it’d be scored by Wagner and most of the characters would be dead by the end. How does this appeal to players?
People like playing heroes & anti-heroes.
Role-playing is wish fulfillment. People want to feel important, heroic and/or badass. And here, much like in other RPGs, the player characters are there to make a difference. We’ve got two rival governments, one well-established and cloaked in propaganda (Terran) and one nascent and unrefined (Jovian), that are either going to find a way to coexist, ally or even merge, or go at each other like a couple of angry pit bulls. The player characters can tip the scales either way, or can even work to maintain the balance. The idea here is to give players who enjoy the sort of science fiction that’s been shown to be popular in forms like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica a somewhat familiar and somewhat feasible sandbox in which to play.
Science fiction doesn’t necessitate ray guns and warp drive.
There are plenty of games that feature high-energy weaponry and distant alien worlds if that’s what you’re after in a sci-fi fantasy. Rifts,Traveller and the aforementioned franchises all spring to mind. Even the grittier grimdark world of Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader have bumpy-headed aliens and guns that make people explode. This game goes more of the Serenity route with slower-than-light travel that’s still pretty fast by modern standards and a rich social-political setting with the added bonus of familiar place-names and well-documented and measurable distances. By removing some of the conventional sci-fi trappings, my hope is that more of the excitement will be generated by the characters rather than an alien disintegrator.
Grabbing a player’s attention.
So provided I can get this game past the concept stage and out into circulation, how will it be described? “A Storytelling Game of Personal Horror” tells you everything you need to know about Vampire: the Masquerade, outside of the title. All Flesh Must Be Eaten is exactly what it says on the tin. Traveller is described as “Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future”. So how do I describe this project of mine in a single, condensed sentence?
“Future Action, Intrigue and Exploration in our Solar System.”