World Building 205

Welcome back to scifi world building. So far we have looked at four questions and got the following answers…

  1. The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  2. Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
  3. Players will not know how big the universe is, and I will sketch out a couple of places in advance but otherwise let the players drive things so the universe will become as big as it needs to be.
  4. Timeline is about 30 years in the future and there are older humans who remember ‘today’ as the good old days.

The fifth question is “Other than humans how many races are present in the setting?”

When I first posted the question in the World Building 200a post I mentioned that there are a ton of options. Everything from no aliens to, well, all the aliens, can work in a setting. So you really need to consider this in the context of your other questions.

For the example I have been building you can see the following setting up.

  • Pulp setting – This is going to mean that just about anything is possible. We can see examples from everything that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote and that H.P. Lovecraft created. You can get as alien as you want, but there will always be at least one race that ‘seems’ human. In the end they could be something completely different, but they will be able to pass for human most of the time.
  • Humans are Trash – So with this sort of thing you have to consider that there is at least one alien race. And that they have something that makes them seem more powerful than humans at the very least. When I read this though I think a lot about how humans have their own prejudice. How we quickly put certain ethnic groups, religions, sexual preferences, and just about any little reason we can find to stratify our world. Haves and have nots and everything in between based on the models that fit best in our little region of life. So why not have that on a huge scale. It fits the pulp model of taking something humans can relate to and making it writ large on the canvas of your words. (Sounds like poetic bull s#it I know)
  • Players will know a little bit of the universe – Ok so this right here gives me the ok to put whatever I want in the universe. Add new aliens whenever it suits me and just keep running. However I will have to have at least one at the start. I think at least three so players can see the stratification in things, and see that alien can be human like, and can be really really ALIEN.
  • We are only 30 years in the future – So this one does not have much impact on the number of aliens, but it has to do with what the humans will understand of alien tech and cultures. Someone born after the ‘event’ would likely know more culture and language  and be more comfortable with things alien than someone born before. So the impact here is during character creation and not world building.

So stumbling though all that I am thinking that I should actually go with five alien races. And that I should make about three of them playable races at the start of the game.

That decision tells me a few things. First is that I am planning on letting players play non-humans. That there will be other races that are ‘trash’ like humans. And that I have something in mind, even if I dont know what yet, that will allow other races to become playable over time. And now my list looks like this…

  1. The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  2. Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
  3. Players will not know how big the universe is, and I will sketch out a couple of places in advance but otherwise let the players drive things so the universe will become as big as it needs to be.
  4. Timeline is about 30 years in the future and there are older humans who remember ‘today’ as the good old days.
  5. There are many alien races but humans currently only know five.

So you can really see how answering each question and keeping them all in mind when you answer the next and the one after that and so on, that things build. You dont have to have all the answers at once. I have been asked more than once if worlds spring full into my mind, and to be honest I usually have bits and pieces and then need to do a lot of the Q&A stuff to get to where I can really see the setting that I have been thinking about.

You will notice that I have not been asking questions about the state of the universe, or what is going on out there in the worlds. That is because those elements are the key note of the setting you are creating. I am just trying to help you put a place together that will be a good setting for you to play out whatever stories you want. I do have a specific campaign world planned for the example setting. And I will go over that in the last part of this series. Just to show how I brought all of these things together.

Ok well that should be enough rambling and trying to fill space in the blog for now.

So gimme the dice, I have to see if my reflexes are high enough to get Nerf darts away from cats.

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Gaming accessories… not really a review

Ok so this is sort of a rant sort of a review…

See I have been going to Half Price Books a lot, gotta keep eyes open for cool stuff ya know, and there has been an item in their little locked collectible cabinet that I have been thinking about picking up. Finally did it yesterday and found it was incomplete. Not the worst thing that could happen as it was mostly for the flashback value that I picked it up.

It was a set of trading cards from 1993. Supposedly a complete factory set. Missing about 30 cards but still not a bad grab. Now then you will notice that there is no link to a product or wiki page here. That is not on accident as these cards are not really mentioned in any of the posts that I have found. 1991, 92 and 93 saw these cards come out. The cards predate Magic The Gathering, and they are not cards that play a game on their own like MTG. Much like current products by companies like Piazo, they are there to supplement game play. Monsters, treasures, NPCs and more. All on cards so that you could whip them out and show your players what the hell was going on the game without relying on miniatures or props.

To be honest I have loved this idea for a long time. When R Talsorian Games produced the Dream Park RPG in 1992 they included punch-out cards in the main game and in the supplements that would allow you to do the same thing. Strangely though when Piazo started doing them in the 2000’s people reacted like it was a totally new idea. Now then I will admit that the Piazo art team usually put out higher quality art and used a more modern card stock for their materials, but it was far from new.

There are a lot of things that will help make games a little more visual and help people get more into the game, but I really think the trading card idea is something that games could use… well… forever. Even in the market today with all the digital maps and encounters that are on the market, it can be nice to have something like these on hand so that you can hand players a prop for the super special equipment they found, or to slip them a little more information on an ally they can call on.

If I have to put a review score to tools like this I would rate them as follows…

Fluff 5/5 – It adds color and flavor to the game no mater what you are doing.

Crunch 2/5 – Not a lot of space so some important things can get missed.

Mod 4/5 – Most of these kinds of tools come with blank cards so you can make up anything you might need.

Fun 5/5 – Makes it easier to prep for a game, and lets the GM and the players have something on hand to add to the environment. Actually ran a game with these back before 2000 where players would actually try to steal the cards to take important items for themselves. Got messy when someone stole an ally card instead of the equipment they wanted.

Total score 16/20 – Something that I highly recommend you look into using.

Seriously these things are fun to use and I really suggest looking into them for yourself. However before you go lipping off that something is a new and unique idea, check into it. And if you are a seller of used items, look over the damned cards and make sure you are selling a complete set. No one likes to get home and find things missing, just take a few minutes to go through them… they are numbered rather obviously.

Ok so time to peace out and enjoy the extra hour of the day… yay for daylight savings time.

Now gimme the dice, I need to make a reflex save against leaping cats.

 

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World Building 204 – Suplimental

So it was pointed out to me that I forgot a really important part about setting up the timeline for the story. It was kind of reflexive for me but might not have been obvious for everyone else.

There is a common trope in sci-fi that if the jump to other worlds or the change to something more technologically advanced happens during the current recorded history, then there will be an Event. This is the day everything changes. Whether it is an invasion by aliens, the invention of a faster than light means of travel, the ascension of AI, or that big meteor that everyone worries about ending the world. There comes a point that everyone remembers as the day everything changed.

Now then the further you go from the event the more it goes from being historical, and then into mythical and eventually will be completely forgotten. In Star Trek it was the first use of a warp engine by humans. In Starship Troopers it was the first encounter with the Bugs. In Robotech/Macross it was the crash of the SDF-1 into Earth. When you look at worlds like Star Wars, and even Fading Suns, the Event is so far back in history that it is at best a historical footnote if it is not completely forgotten.

The big Event (note that I do capitalize it to stress its importance) can be positive, it can be negative, but it is never really seen as neutral. At least not initially. If you get to the point where it is a historical footnote, or a myth, then many will see it as neutral or a parable. But the closer you are, historically, to the Event, the more emotions will be tied to it. You can see examples of that in some of the versions of Star Trek. If you see the original series or Next Generation the creation of the warp drive and the impact of its development is just a historical footnote. But if you look at the series Enterprise you see a lot of people tied to the first engine, the first encounter with an alien race, and the resentment that the alien race will not help bootstrap them to the next level of tech.

So in a setting with a human focus, you need to consider your timeline and your distance from your Event.

I had been thinking about my Event when I decided to make the human race a trash culture. I wanted to know what might cause that, and then I tied it into my timeline so that I could keep emotions high about it. Because it is not just a historical footnote, it is a part of recent history.

Now then the funny thing is you can get away without an Event as well. You just have to be able to describe it. And that can be an Event all its own. Such as why do none of the humans on Earth remember the year 2040 even though it is 2045 and why in their memories of 2039 are there no aliens, but in 2041 we work for them. What the hell happened in 2040, and what could affect billions of people all at once? So now your lack of Event has become not only an Event but a major plot point and gives you a lot of time to sort it out as you begin play. Personally I dont mind single character amnesia but a whole world missing a year, that might be a bit too much for me to have fun with.

So when you are asking question 4 on the list and trying to decide just how far from modern day you are going to have your setting. Make sure you also look into your distance from your Event as well. If it is just a footnote in history or if it is a driving element in how you are pushing things forward. It is a key part of your timeline.

And even though I put out an Event idea dont be afraid to experiment and see if you might want a bunch of smaller events that tie together, or if maybe you just see things as a long term evolution. Or some combination.

And just like I said about myself the Event is not something that is really tied to any one of the questions. It can have an impact on many of them. So dont worry about having it in mind specifically at any given time, just remember the impact it will have in the world you are building. Your timeline will tell you how much emotional impact it has on the characters in the setting.

Ok thats it for today, short post I know…

Now gimme the dice, I have to try to make a saving throw vs emotional blackmail by a cat.

Game on folks 🙂

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World Building 204

So yes todays post is going to be looking at another one of the world building questions. However before I get there someone asked me why I had gone from putting links to specific game websites, movies or books to using  almost all wiki pages. The answer to that is easy. The answer is that wiki has a ton of info on it and a ton of links to other associated websites for many of their topics. I actually feel like I am giving people more resources by connecting them to wiki and letting them roam than by dropping them into a specific companies marketing tool.

So as a quick recap on the real topic of the post…

  1. The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  2. Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
  3. Players will not know how big the universe is, and I will sketch out a couple of places in advance but otherwise let the players drive things so the universe will become as big as it needs to be.

Question number four is ‘How far from today is this happening?’

So there are a lot of elements to this question, but in the end they break down to one really interesting idea. How much of the world will players be able to recognize based on what they currently know? If you look at things like Star Wars and Star Trek, you get an idea of what I am talking about. In both of them the relationships between people and some of their roles in life, like being a mechanic or a pilot or a soldier, are really all that you can say is familiar. The languages and technology are all things we can dream about and wish for, but they are not things we can just go to the store and pick up. So they seem kinda fantastical. If you look at a sci-fi like Stranger Things, all of the main things that the characters can do is something that you can work with right now, except for the psychic powers and the fantastical inter dimensional horror/tech bits. But since Stranger Things is actually set to be in the 80’s then the tech does not seem completely far fetched. If you look at RPG’s you end up with some of the same stuff. In Fading Suns the biggest tech changes are in the star ships and some of the guns. Even though it is far future it has a fantasy kind of feel to most of it as society is falling backwards. Space 1889 had that feeling that this all would make for a great pulp novel setting or even steampunk. That all stemmed from most of the technology being from our past, but tricked out with a bit of sci-fi magic. But when you look at things like the Star Wars rpg’s no mater what you do you are still not going to know how the X-wing’s engines work. So you just have to suspend your disbelief and run with it.

Since we are looking at all of these questions from the human centered position, we also have to look at what NPCs or even the characters will be ‘remembering’ about the past. I mean will there be flashbacks to happy people with iPhones fighting over who has the best apps? People talking about the first electric cars to be mass produced? Or would things like that be ancient history? I mean if you think about it, right now there are people who have never seen a corded phone except in pictures on Facebook. Twenty years from now personal communications may have changed so much that even posting pics on Facebook of a corded phone will seem so antiquated that no one would understand even what Facebook was.

Another aspect of that is how much history do you want to invent. Unless you take the easy way out and put in a few world wars that wipe out most of the historical time lines and folks just dont remember, you are going to have to explain what the hell happened between now, and whenever your story gets going. And not everyone has a great staff of writers like the folks who created Shadowrun. I mean when they published the first core rule book they had a very concise history that took them up to 2050 when the game started. It hit on politics, technology, social movements and a ton of other things to give you a really deep feel for how we got to that point. That takes time, effort and a great attention to detail because you know there are going to be people who try and rip something like that apart, just because they can.

The last aspect that you have to think about is, just how much wonder do you want the characters to have? This is different from the players knowledge. I mean if you think about it from a movie stand point lets go to things like say The Last Starfighter or The Flight of the Navigator. Here you have characters with a totally one world mindset and they get tossed into something far more vast than themselves. Compared to say Star Wars where even the most extreme worlds or tools are just every day things.

Here comes the hard part. Do you want the characters and the players to have the same experience? Are they both going to be in a sense of wonder, dealing with the familiar, jaded because they have seen it all before, or wondering if they might be able to get college credits for studying history? Or will the player see things one way and the character sees them another? This is why you need to know how far things are from today.

My personal rule is that if you can keep things inside a thirty year gap then everything will be familiar in the terms of the world. It will be all of the alien/strange/mystical whatever stuff that you are adding to make it sci-fi that will impact both the players and the characters. You get outside of that window and unless you have players that are science/history/engineering/anthropology (depending on which way you go be it future or past) buffs then you will start to get a separation from the players and their characters. Either way can be a good thing. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The closer you keep things to now the more times you will have to be careful of modern facts and media that players will likely be aware of. The more you space things out the more you can play with the development of, well everything.

So how do I tie this into the decisions I have already made?

  • The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
    • This is not going to really impact how far we are from now. This will be more of a style thing.
  • Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
    • Ok so human characters will not have access to the best of things. That means that they are going to have a sense of wonder already when they run into the really cool stuff. And maybe a sense that they should have it too. Non human characters are going to be more jaded, and possibly see human things in a ‘retro’ kind of light.
  • Players will not know how big the universe is, and I will sketch out a couple of places in advance but otherwise let the players drive things so the universe will become as big as it needs to be.
    • Players are going to have a sense of wonder, and so are the characters unless they come from a non human culture. And that sort of interaction will lead to some very interesting conversations.

Alright, I know that I want humans to be the main race in this setting. That actually jumps ahead a little bit but I am rather sure you had already figured that out. I don’t want to take the world war history removal option, and I want that sense of discovery to be something that the players will share with their characters. Help drive for a little better role play I think.

So I am going to try and keep things in that thirty year gap. Since I like the idea of having some crusty humans who want to remember the old days I think that thirty years in the future will be the best bet. So I am going to be looking at 2048 and I need to figure out what happened in that time to fill in all three of the above questions.

So now we have

  1. The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  2. Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
  3. Players will not know how big the universe is, and I will sketch out a couple of places in advance but otherwise let the players drive things so the universe will become as big as it needs to be.
  4. Timeline is about 30 years in the future and there are older humans who remember ‘today’ as the good old days.

All righty then. Coming soon we have a look at question 5, how many races and how diverse. Another review. And likely another rant or three. Just to give you an idea of what is out there.

I hope folks are finding this all very entertaining, and now gimme the dice, I have to go and check on the cats vs human reaction table. Is there any use in actually speaking to cats or do they just have such a negative reaction modifier that they will say screw you no mater what.

Have fun and play nice folks.

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Not really an update

Hey everyone who drops by and reads something from time to time…

So no official world building post or review this week. Not even a full on rant. My wife and I are celebrating our one year anniversary today and so I thought it would be much cooler to just tell you all I was not putting any effort into the blog today because I would rather be spending the day with her.

Yup, thats right. Wife wins.

Hope you all have a great time.

Now gimme the dice, I gotta see if I can make my save against getting her an odd anniversary gift.

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World Building 203

Ok so here we come into Question 3.

Just as a refresher we are looking at the following elements in this world I am building.

  1. The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  2. Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.

Question three is “How big is the known universe?”

Taking this from the human perspective we can get an idea of how intimidating things are in known space. We can also play with the idea that no one really knows. The real key is going to be tying the answer to this question into the answers for the previous ones.

Ok so what sort of universe settings are Pulp Sci-Fi known for? Well you have a lot of extremes actually. You have settings like John Carter of Mars where everything takes place on one world. You also have settings like Flash Gordon (yeah I consider it to be pulp sci-fi even with the actual origin of the setting being in a news paper comic strip) where you have multiple worlds that are all in contact with each other. And then if you go all the way back to the original Buck Rodgers it all takes place on Earth. So that really does not narrow it down. But there is one thing they all have in common. The main hero needs to have local allies because they dont really know jack about the technology and cultures around them. So it seems pretty common to have the heroes not really know how big anything is until they get hit in the face with it.

That gives me a great idea to keep the total scope of the universe the players are going to be involved with unknown to them. That way I can take advantage of the opportunity to build a little mystery into the game and give them tons of chances to role-play to find out information, and to figure out who might be taking advantage of them or lying to them outright. There would be things that I need to answer in later questions about the number of races and how humanoid and all that, however at this point I dont really need to worry about that.

Ok so since I have decided that I dont want the players to really know right off the bat how big everything is, I need to decide for myself how big things can be… or do I?

This is where you need to know yourself and how you want to play, and tell a story. I can break down things into really detailed info so that I can drive the players to specific things. I can sketch out a few ideas and give myself a feeling for the overall scope but let the details get built on the fly. OR I could do the whole bloody thing on the fly except for a few specifics, like alien home worlds and the like. But that is still not going to define the scope of the universe. The technique is important, but do I want to have the game and stories focus on just one world, maybe a whole solar system, a part of or even a full galaxy or just say screw it and run with a series of galaxies?

So this may seem a little rambly, but I want to talk about the game Star Frontiers for just a moment here. When the game was first published (Alpha Dawn) the original module/adventure in the game was on a planet that was new to the different powers in the game setting. The next two modules continued the story on that world. Introducing the games main villain race, and giving the players the chance to make first contact with some new sentient species. The following modules brought the players more into the worlds that made up the federation the game was set in. When the second part of the rules was published (Knight Hawks) players got the chance to expand their influence, and not only pilot ships (something that was not really even possible in the base game) but to command fleets. The scale grew as more material was published and the universe expanded. I really liked this way of getting players and GM’s into the game world. Sure you had to keep buying product, or you could come up with your own materials.

So what does all that have to do with the scale of the game environment? Well it tells me that even if I am going to build things out I really don’t need much more than names for some alien worlds, home worlds in particular, and a starting point. I can make things as big as I want, or need to as things go on. I mean something in the game can go completely Lilo and Stitch (yeah I went Disney on ya) and players get dumped into the middle of no where (so to speak in galactic terms) and that is what you get for hitting the candy stripped button (or lever or whatever) not really knowing what you are doing.

Hmmm I am liking this.

Ok so now we have, for my setting anyway –

  1. The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  2. Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
  3. Players will not know how big the universe is, and I will sketch out a couple of places in advance but otherwise let the players drive things so the universe will become as big as it needs to be.

Now for those that think I am copping out, you have never let a group of players run anything in your lives. You cant predict where they will take things or what they will want to do next. That’s right ERIC… save the freaking dragon… I remember! Sheesh. Its like herding cats. To make this effective I will likely need more notes and stacks of ideas that I can flesh out on the fly than with any other option. It may be some serious work on my part but I think it will make the most playable environment for the players. I can set up some sort of over arching story, but not have to railroad them into it just because that is the only ting I built up in advance.

Ok well thats it for the moment… next post… who knows where I will go with it 🙂

So gimme the dice, I gotta see if I can make the roll for finding lunch.

Play well and play often folks 🙂

 

 

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Review # 17 Starfinder

Wow, ok it was June last time I did a game review. And like I told you in the last post this is one that I have not played yet.

So how can I review a game I have not played yet? Well people on other sites do it all the time, but this time I have, I feel, enough experience with most of the material to make a few jumps in logic without an actual game session under my belt.

You see Starfinder is the latest game from Paizo, the company that created Pathfinder and kinda took over for the massive crowd of gamers that loved D&D 3.0 / 3.5 when Wizards of the Coast stopped supporting that product line.  Since shortly after the initial release of Pathfinder there have been elements in the game community that have been begging Paizo to do a Pathfinder Modern like WOTC did with d20 Modern to put the d20 system that ran D&D 3.0 / 3.5 into modern and futuristic settings (look at the supplements list on the d20 Modern wiki and you can see d20 Future for sci-fi and other settings – you can also take a look at the d20 version of Star Wars [Not my favorite version of Star Wars RPG], in many ways these licensed products are why there was so little support for d20 Modern). Several fans have cooked up their own materials and published them online. I wont give links to those because half of them seem to have predatory adds and its a pain to keep up on who has what. Feel free to go looking but keep your security monitors up at full speed when you do.

So finally now Paizo took their Pathfinder rules and made a sci-fi game setting. Starfinder is it.

Here is where things get a little hairy. It is not a straight translation. There are a number of rules and mechanics changes that will make game play different. However they do have a section on how to play Starfinder with Pathfinder, and I could see from the get go that while there are changes the basic structure is so closely similar that it would be easy to just skip the difference in some of the mechanics and roll with it one way or another. In some respects I look at the engine and changes as being a possible Pathfinder 2.0 game engine. There are only two game engine changes that I do not really agree with, but it is easy enough to put those aside.

Paizo already has a few products planned to support the new setting. But it remains to be seen if this is going to be a long term, and well supported game. Looking at everything Paizo has done over the years to support Pathfinder, I have to say that I am kinda hoping that they will put just as much time and effort behind Starfinder. And I also hope they avoid the long term decline that we have seen in the quality of Pathfinder products… that is a rant for another time though, and considering how many people have already ranted about that online I would feel like I am in the middle of a ‘been there done that’ moment.

So what has Paizo changed in Starfinder? Well lets start with character generation. The primary format they suggest using (see its not the only way to do it but they call it out for game balance reasons) is that you use a point based stat generation system and that no stat should start above 18 after all the race and background modifications are in place. It is not a bad system overall, but when you compare it to the way you could roll an 18 and add race mods and so on to a Pathfinder character and start with a stat of 20 or more it seems a little out of place. Thankfully the roll option is still there for those who cant live without it. Next change is that players have three selections they need to make for their characters to get things started. Pathfinder has race and class. Starfinder adds Theme to that. Theme is an interesting new aspect that basically flavors your class in a number of ways. It provides level dependent benefits that can also shape your character. While you can multi-class still you cannot multi-theme. And for those who worry that adding a theme element might make you more restricted in how you can design or play your character, don’t worry they actually have a ‘theme-less’ theme so that you can free form it a bit. Next big changes come in the areas of combat. I want to start with something that comes up in character generation but is not really worked with much until you talk about combat. Characters in Starfinder have Stamina Points, and Hit Points. Stamina Points (SP) get burned quickly and recover quickly. Once your SP are gone you burn Hit Points (HP) and they are harder to recover. This mechanic reminds me of the Palladium Books SDC (Structural Damage Capacity) and HP set up. However I think the Starfinder version is better defined. The big challenge here is that by adding SP you make it harder to kill things. The sad part is that this mechanic is needed because the weapons in this setting do more damage than you may be used to if you have been playing Pathfinder. Next change is that you have two versions of Armor Class in Starfinder. Energy and Kinetic.  I know that Kinetic is a type of energy, but… well… yeah ok just roll with it. Both are calculated from the same base, but one protects you better against some of the energy weapons and spells (yeah there is still magic here) and the other against ones that just use brute force. You will notice that there is nothing in my statement about ranged or melee attacks and that is on purpose. Next up is a modification to the Combat Maneuver system. One of the best innovations that Pathfinder did to improve on d20 was to simplify combat maneuvers. Things like tripping or tackling an opponent. Starfinder changes the way you calculate the values but nothing else really. It does not change much, but it does change the overall values a bit.

None of the changes are bad, they are just different.

Some of the cool adds that they have in the game include several new races, new classes (one of which reminds me more than a little of a leveled version of a Green Lantern or a Nova Corps member) and a ship design system that I wish I would have had ages ago playing d20 games. Yeah, its pretty cool even if it relies heavily on an initial template, after that you can smeggin go to town and make some really cool ships.

The setting for the game is tied in tightly with the Pathfinder solar system. They give a lot of tasty tidbits and history in the main book. For a core rule-book it is fleshed out pretty well, so it is really interesting to think where they will take it from there.

Now then my initial testing of the game (I do this with just about everything that I get that has related rules in another game… hence why I know so well the Palladium power creep) I made up a couple of Starfinder characters and pitted them against Pathfinder characters of the same level. First level characters in Pathfinder got mopped. Not because of higher skills or abilities, but due to gear and Stamina Points. Fifth level was actually a closer match but only when the Pathfinder characters thought ahead and used their skills. Tenth level if you have a Pathfinder mage you come out on top, monks also do some significant wiping up. Fighters and rouges have serious issues unless they have feats that allow them to get a-hold of Starfinder gear and weapons to turn them against the Starfinder characters. To my mind the rules changes do not make this a case of power creep though. Starfinder characters are in a world with more fire power, and slightly different mechanics. But take it as you will.

Ok to get down to the numbers so this does not turn into a really huge post.

Overall Fluff 5/5 – The art, the background, the flavor text. Yeah this is a quality publication when it comes to the fluff. Most of the book is very easy to read and can give you a ton of ideas. Not just for a Starfinder game, but there are some interesting things in there about relations between some of the races and cultures that just sort of sings.

Overall Crunch 2/5 – The rules in this game are mostly well placed. However I found myself diving into the index a lot to get more information about topics. In the exact opposite to the fluff the initial rules material is usually enough to tease you about something but not explain it well. So to really understand some of the rules you need to go to a couple of places to make sure you know what the changes from the Pathfinder system means. I have been told that if you are completely new to the game it is easier to follow than if you are experienced.

Overall Mod 4/5 – So yeah, it is a Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 product. If you know anything at all about the engine you can mod the hell out of it.

Overall Fun 2/5 – This one is just an estimate as I have not played any more than my power creep tests. I think it will be fun, but finding a crew to play a sci-fi pathfinder that has both tech and magic will not be fun. Yeah I know I did not really go into that but yeah there is magic and tech.

Total Score 13/20 – I do see a lot of potential here. And to be honest some of my scoring may be biased by the fact that I am currently looking at rules engines for my own sci-fi setting and want the perfect one. Also that I may be impacted by the slow decline in quality that I have been seeing in Pathfinder products for the last few years. So I will accept that I may be biased, but I am honestly looking forward to seeing what can come out of this game.

Allright so that covers the review… Usual disclaimer that this is all my personal thoughts and you will need to think for yourself to really figure out if this game is for you or not.

Now gimme the dice… I need to roll for dodging kitten claws while typing.

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World Building 202

Ok so next week I am planning on giving a basic review for a sci-fi game that I have not played. But for the moment I want to take a look at the next question on my building a sci-fi game setting list.

How Important are Humans?

This is a really serious question. Humans are the most relate-able characters in sci-fi settings. While you may see humanoids (Wookie, Vulcan, and Centauri to name a few) in great numbers, they always have a culture or feature that makes them obviously not human. Then you also have non-humans that will have some small characteristic you can relate to as a human, but by their very nature they become very alien to your natural mind set. The Hive oriented Thranx, the parasitic predators the Brood, the vaguely humanoid Adipose, and the Leviathan Pilots to name just a few. While races that are humanoid dominate fantasy realms and make it fairly easy to find something to relate to, only some sci-fi, well ok a lot of the space opera sci-fi, gives you that relate-able feature.

So how do you create a setting that still gives players an option of playing something they can relate to fairly quickly? Easy. You make humans part of the setting. And you leave yourself free to bring in anything alien that you want to. You can even go completely alien in some of the things you create and you will know that your players will still have a foothold.

So now that we have the why even have humans, we need to look at how important they are. I mean if I have the option to try and play something that is going to relate to humans with confusion because my culture and upbringing make human lifestyle choices seem alien,  I am going to want to play it. Unless there is a compelling reason to play a human. Like if humans are the only playable race in the setting, like in Dark Conspiracy. Or you can make humans the most prolific race and the leaders of empires like in Fading Suns.

Now then if you do not make humans very important, or prolific you end up with settings where you will have people who play everything. Like Rifts, or Star Wars. Not that this is a bad thing. But if you take a look at those settings you will see they fall back on the Fantasy formula of making everything that is not human, human like so you and your players can relate to it. It takes away some of the truly alien feel of the game.

There are very few settings in sci-fi, fiction or gaming in which humans don’t really mean a sodding thing. They are tiny, minuscule, and expendable. I really tried to find a couple of examples to put into this category but I could not find anything that really worked. What I find interesting though in a setting like this is that you and the players get to make humans important. Or you can make them extinct.

Now then as with the overall type of setting you create, the importance of humans is going to be totally up to you. I tend to break this down into three major settings ideas.

  1. Humans in charge
  2. Humans are an equal part of everything
  3. Humans are trash

When I was building this new setting I immediately tossed out humans in charge. I wanted more diversity and I wanted to give the players more of a sense of wonder than entitlement.

Humans being equal. You know there are so many settings that do this today I have a hard time coming up with a way of making something that I think players would find memorable. I also have a hard time figuring out how I could get most players to play humans in something like this, and to be honest I want to encourage players to play human.

Humans are trash. Ok so this is going to be a challenge. I want to get my players to play humans, but I don’t want humans to start out with all the advantages. That means I am going to have to be on top of my game to create a Pulp sci-fi setting where humans don’t really mean anything to the universe at large. But the players can change that. Maybe they need to change it.

Ok, so I think I am seeing more in the whole pulp sci-fi thing here. I mean Flash Gordon had three humans and a lot of humanoids. But by the end of the story it was the human Flash who was the most important person in the stories. John Carter Warlord of Mars was also technically the only human, with several humanoids (I mean the human looking people on Mars laid eggs in that setting, so you cant call them human no mater how the cover artists drew them), and he ended up being the most important person in the story.

All right. Getting some ideas and some flow going.

Pulp sci-fi and humans (at the start at least) are trash. I think I can build on this.

Ok I am going to let you all think about this for a while and I am gonna go do something else…

So gimme the dice, I need to consult my d87 table of random things to do.

Play nice and play often folks.

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World Building 201

So I have decided that in this series of world building I will actually answer the starting questions in order and then present some conclusions at the end. It may make it a little easier for others to follow and to see just what I am building out as I go.

So question 1 – Hard sci-fi, space opera, or pulp sci-fi?

This one actually took the the longest time to answer. I had to look at the concept I was trying to get across with the setting. Do I want science to play a pivotal role in the setting? Do I want the players to be able to grab a physics book or an engineering manual and go “AH HA!”? Do I want to be able to get past the science and drive more of the plot?

Well in thinking about all of this I looked at the hard sci-fi first. I am not the worlds best when it comes to hard science. I love talking about and looking into the theoretical stuff but when it comes to the actual mechanics, I could not tell you why the Bussard ram scoop works without going to wiki and looking it up. I cannot tell you why some radioactive isotopes are more harmful in the radiation they emit than others. I don’t really want to look up the latest innovations in cybernetics and neural computing. It takes time and enthusiasm for hard science that I just don’t have to really run good hard sci-fi. Especially if you are going to have a player or two that could really know their stuff and call you on it when you get it wrong or implement something in a way that science wont support. Closest I would be able to do is something like GDW’s Twilight 2000. And to be honest that is an apocalypse I don’t want to play with.

Ok so hard sci-fi is out. I have to say though that if someone were to run a good hard sci-fi I would want in. There is no telling what I could learn about actual science.

So now we look at space opera. Big, epic, huge. Good space opera seems to take a lot of, well… space. Space opera also seems to leave the science completely behind in favor of the settings and the drama. I mean looking at Star Wars and Star Trek, I can see the hint of technology, and a few mentions of science. But the science has so many work arounds that even things like black holes are not an issue. Or at least much of one. Planet killing doomsday weapons are relatively easy to come by, and it seems like without the heroes the entire setting would go down the toilet. That puts a lot of weight on the players if they know it is them or the universe is doomed, or the solar system or any other area of known space. But it does do a really good job of looking into the unknown and not flinching.

Ok lets back burner space opera for a moment and move on.

Pulp Sci-fi. All right, we still have drama, but the science can be put either on the back burner or brought into the spotlight. You can get a little odd with the science and get into the point of ‘SCIENCE!’ but that does not have to be bad. The situations get almost as out there drama wise as the space opera, but when you look at the overall story you usually know that even if the characters/heroes fail then someone else has a back up play. Things may not work out as well as if the heroes succeed but they will still to some degree work out. You also have a tendency to limit the scope of things a bit more. A solar system or three instead of a galaxy or galaxies. And adding in a little humor if not downright camp is seen with a better light than in either space opera or hard sci-fi. A little humor is actually kind of required because you can go so far over the top with the dram or the SCIENCE!

Ok so I have to say that pulp sci-fi gives me most of what I want to work with. A little science that could be real and I can play with more if I want bu I don’t really need to because I can just SCIENCE! my way out of it if I need to. I can bring drama and character building to the forefront and can even drop in a McGuffin or three to move the plot along. And if I decide a story element is too important to let it slip, like say a victory here or there I can Deus Ex Machina without it seeming like I am steam rolling the players into something or forcing an issue.

I could do a lot of that with space opera as well, but I really enjoy the idea of players having the chance to use an odd skill at an odd time to come up with a really out of the ball park way of pulling something off… like using a cooking skill to negotiate a cease fire arrangement or something equally unusual that if you play in space opera settings you really cant do and keep the flavor of the setting.

Ok so due to the flexibility of the pulp sci-fi style I will be going with that one for the world that I build. Focusing on the drama though more than the SCIENCE!, the humor or the McGuffin/Deus Ex type stuff. Kinda hoping for a Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars kinda feel I think. The books mind you and not the movie. Or even the tribute stories by Michael Moorcock Kane of Mars. A few exceptional people doing things that others would see as impossible in a place they do not really understand but work their butts off to be successful there… yeah that is what I am looking for.

Ok so gimme the dice I need to roll up a few new ideas while these concepts sink in for the rest of you.

Remember to keep thinking for yourself and enjoy what you game 🙂

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Creativity Engines

Ok so to take a short break from the world building materials, I waffled back and forth between doing a review and a rant, and in the end I think the rant is what I crave more.

So I have talked a number of times about differences between two major game engine types. Point based, like what you can see in Hero Games or GURPS. And level based games like D&D and the Palladium game engine. Now then if you look with a wide enough lens you can wrap up nearly every table top role playing game into those two categories. Notice that I say nearly. Let me give you a couple of examples of how my lens looks at some of the game systems.

  1. Point based
    1. Hero Games
    2. GURPS
    3. Tri-Stat
    4. d6 system (even though the points are dice)
    5. Cardinal by Sanguine (another dice type but a rather unique application of it)
    6. Amber Diceless (a unique way of spending some of the points to be sure)
  2. Level based
    1. D&D
    2. Palladium
    3. True20 – a D&D 3.0/3.5 variant
    4. Pathfinder – like True20
    5. Cyberpunk 2020 – I signal this one out because the Interlock system overall can be used more as a point based than level based

I am sure that for experienced gamers there will be those who try to say I have the idea wrong, and that there are a bunch of games that blur the lines like Mutants and Masterminds. To which I say, yeah sure. But the point of the rant is not those games at all. That’s background so you can see where my point of view comes from.

What really gets me is how few totally creative game set ups are out there. These two background concepts are really common. They make things so easy to get a hold of and run with. But what about exercising the gamers, and writers, creativity to come up with things that are more unique? Is it really that hard? Or are there no big ideas? I mean I have seen several other ideas that work… but…

  • FASERIP/Marvel SuperHeroes(the old TSR one)/4Color – This game engine, like Villains and Vigilantes, is completely random roll. If you play this one by the rules as written, everything from character generation to interaction with others comes out to a die roll. You are in the hands of fate from the beginning and you just cant stop. House and alternate rules allow you a choice in some things but not complete control by any means.
  • Chaosium – Fate plus choice. Roll your stats and they determine how many skill points you have to spend, plus a base so no one is totally hosed. From that point on though the more you do the more you can grow, and they have a growth mechanic too.
  • Pantheon – small press that never took off but the fact it is just narrative roleplay. You design a character with nothing but words and then try to out talk the other players. There is not even a DM type position unless the group wants to have some sort of editor.
  • Cypher System – Descriptive narrative brings skills and abilities. This is sort of like crossing Pantheon with FASERIP. Its a really good cross though.

So here is my big challenge. Why is it so hard to get the more original ideas to take with people?

Is it lack of marketing? I mean without in print game mags like Dragon and White Wolf  around any more, White Dwarf is almost totally subscription only and rarely prints anything that might support other games, and Pyramid… well yeah, and Space Gamer or Fantasy Gamer… Yeah there are online sources to find out and review sites and so on, but there is little to no promotion. I mean if you go to a convention you might see business cards or fliers scattered about, but that’s it. Back in the hey day you would see game companies taking out adds in each others magazines, dropping in adds in comic books and really trying to push the edge.

Is it lack of sales venue? Back in the day game companies had sections in national chain stores like Toys R Us. Today you are lucky to see anything other than the top two or three sellers in Barnes and Noble, and local game stores are disappearing thanks to online sales companies like Amazon. You used to be able to go into your local mom and pop and find some of the weirdest and most innovative games that had ever been printed.

Is it low quality? You can still find some rather innovative ideas in games online. But without the glossy print pics and driving background stories written by high end fiction writers there is so little to grab someones attention that you end up with a book that is just rules printed in a text size you can get into place. Or if you are selling them independently in PDF format online most of the time the buyers cant get a good look at the product if there is anything they can preview.

Could it be that we are all broke now when it comes to games? Or maybe the big publishers are having so much of a hard time with costs that in the last 15 years a hard cover rule book has gone from 20 to 60 dollars? Are they pricing us all out of reach?

Or maybe, just maybe, and yes I expect hate mail for this one, have gamers just gotten lazy? Do they not want to experiment any more? Have they just found their one little nitch and that’s all they ever want to do? Because its a system or a setting or whatever. And because gamers have gotten lazy, when they teach others about games they dont say, ‘There is a lot of stuff out there, experiment and find the stuff you like.” Instead they say, “This is the best game ever and if you wont play it then you are not a real gamer and fuck you and the dice your rolled in here on.”

To be totally honest I have encountered all of it. All of it sucks. And all of it seems to be killing innovation in games.

I mean look at D&D 4th edition. That was just trying to make MMO’s into a freaking table top game. It sucked for me because I had seen the innovation and growth from 2nd edition to 3rd and 3.5 and had been thinking, ‘Holy shit if they did this much to improve things last time they are going to blow my mind, I know it.’ Yeah. No. But there are tons of people I know who loved it. It bridged that gap between the MMO games they had been playing and the RPG’s that others had played around them. So in a way it was just another step in innovation. In terms of game mechanics it was also sort of a step back. But D&D and all its changes are another rant.

Palladium games has not really had a change in their game system in, well, decades. Other than Power Creep. Champions by Hero had a small jump from 3rd to 4th edition and then from 5th to 6th. Is that the problem? Are the big companies failing to innovate themselves? And so no one else follows suit?

Sigh….

Ok so the point that I was trying to make here is that there seems to be very little innovation in gaming. There seems to be a few methods and no one gets past them. I am concerned that if nothing happens we may see the same thing we currently have in Hollywood when it comes to movies happen in games. Everyone spending all of their time and money regurgitating all of the same old things hoping that by pasting a new face on the front of it they can make money on the same thing all over again. Only to have folks tell them the new version is crap.

The only way I see to pull the industry out of that kind of loop is to get people online and purchasing the small press games that have new ideas. If they are great or if they suck. Just to let bigger companies see innovation, and I mean real innovation not just repackaged and repainted yesterday, pays.

Ok before I wander futher down any rabbit holes and turn this into some kind of omni rant, I need to step away from the keyboard.

Gimme the dice, I need to make a sanity check to see if this makes any sense.

Peace out and game on.

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