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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World Building 200c

Ok so this is to be the last one on the opening questions for world building.

To be perfectly honest this question may actually be the one you want to consider first when game building. However I like to keep it last due to the number of things that can come up with the first six questions.

7 – What game engine do you want to use?

Sometimes this question gets answered for you, as you only have one game system you can use. Or you might have a group of players who only likes one way of playing. The more flexible you are in regards to the rule set you use the more you can adapt to make things fit your game in unique ways.

As I have talked about in previous posts some game engines are better at some things than others. Some times level based game engines work well, sometimes point based work well. Some game engines make it really easy to work on things like vehicles and some make it easy to work on having the ‘magic’ you created. It is really rare to find a game engine that does everything well for what you want to see in your game. And that is where you need to develop the art of compromise.

Below I am going to list out a few of the game engines and some of their strong and weak points. Please remember as always these comments are from my experience, you may see things differently and may have a different history with the games which may give you a different point of view. And that POV is just as valid as mine. So make sure you think about what you want, and what you want to do when you have the option to set yourself up from the ground up.

Star Wars RPG – This is the original Star Wars RPG. Currently you can find the same system in the d6 RPG by West End Games and it is frequently free on RPG Now in PDF form. This engine is point based. Points that convert into numbers of dice for skills and abilities. The game engine works really well for building out alien races and for ‘magic’. The merits and flaws add flavor and can give special focus to abilities. However for vehicles and special gear it really kinda sucks. The use of such things is not too hard, but any customization you want to do is, well, unbalanced.

Star Hero – Sadly this link focus’ on the Fifth Edition hero system version of the game and really does not mention the older version. Now then while I am a staunch supporter of point based games, and especially Hero System, I have to actually draw a line here. Hero works great for building any kind of character you want, with any skills and abilities you want. However vehicle and base building quickly becomes unbalanced and can throw a game way off. I mean when I am building a 150 point character I can spend 30 of those points to build a ship with an AI that would finish the game for me with as much power as the character. And a lot less vulnerable. If I have five players who all put in 10 points each to the building of a vehicle and they play it smart, they can build a small Death Star.

Rifts – Rifts has a lot of problems for me. It is a class based game engine that you cannot really customize without contributing to power creep, and the game has enough of that already. Even though characters are limited by classes that they cannot combine or cross, the  game engine handles mixing magic and tech really well. Again when it comes to vehicles you have a hard time customizing anything without unbalancing things.

D20 Future – Ok so this is level based, but you can cross to your hearts content. It handles magic and tech fairly well. The only challenge I have here is that as with Rifts there is no real base system for vehicle creation. There are templates to modify them with, but if you want to create a new base you are left wondering how in the heck to balance it with the already existing ones without just duplicating what is already there. Vehicle combat in d20 Future is also a little hard to work with. It is like a second system has been slapped onto the game engine to really cover it completely.

Cyberpunk 2020 – Ok, so here we have a class/point mix going on. Focused but allows for a broader customization that most class systems. Combat system is exceptional. Vehicle combat is part of the core system. Vehicle design and any kind of ‘magic’ past technology is non existent though.

Mekton – Made by the same folks who made Cyberpunk, the original Mekton was a bit of a joke really. However when they did their third edition (yeah there was a Mekton II and I consider Mekton Zeta to be third edition) their vehicle design really shined. Their combat system is slimmed from Cyberpunk, and they no longer have classes in the engine but have templates. All in all the only weak spot here is that if you want to have a ‘magic’ that is not technology then you need to make some adaptations to the rules. In the expansion Mekton Zeta Plus they gave a few ideas, but did not really take things far enough to keep the character side of things completely balanced.

Heavy Gear – Another point based game system that handles both characters and vehicles really well. However just like Mekton and Cyberpunk if you have anything other than technology for your  ‘magic’ it does not handle it at all in the base rules. You need to home-brew something to cover it, unless you want to dive into some of the other products the publisher has created in the same game engine and try to fuse them in.

Ok so this is a small sample of a ton of sci-fi rpg engines. Are any of them perfect for everything. No. At least not in my mind. There are a couple of them that I have not had a chance to dissect yet, and more that I have not had a chance to play. So it may be that I have just not hit every possibility and have not found that one masterwork game that will do… everything.

Is there one out there that is perfect for your game and your world? I am sure there is. If you are limited to one game engine can you still make it work? Sure you can. Just be ready to mod the hell out of it should you need to, and make sure you work ahead of the game. Spend time well before the game starts to find flaws, weak points or missing elements in the engine you have decided to or need to use. Make sure you let your players in on the fixes you have created, or enlist them to help. That later idea is a great way to get the players to buy into the game because they are helping to make it fun and exciting from before they even create a character.

So the question of game engine really does become your anchor in all of this. But if you are ready and work on it, you can take a game engine that you have to/have chosen to  use, and make it one of the most memorable game series you have ever run.

Ok gimme the dice, I gotta take a look at the old Twilight 2000 and see if the .4 mph winds spoil this last shot.

Next week will either be a review, or a rant depending on time and how I feel, then back to the world building… or that is the plan anyway.

Enjoy the games folks and play nice.

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World Building 200a

Back again with more sci-fi world building. This is not going to be 201 because we are still on the starting questions. I have two more that you need to consider at the start of your world building and there are going to be a lot of links here because there are a vast number of potential answers.

Also if you have not answered the original four questions first, then these may seem really insurmountable… or not. 🙂

So what do you think could be so big that two questions could warrant a post all their own… heh

5 – Other than humans, how many races are there, and how diverse is their knowledge, species, and tech? You may first notice that this question does not ask how important these other races are, then again you may notice that it also does not ask how many worlds they control or how they relate to humans. It asks how diverse they are. This question is to get into the idea of what is out there. The very first sci-fi RPG that I got into (Star Frontiers) had a couple of very cool PC races and a somewhat alien villain race. But they all shared the same technology and in most cases their cultures came together without issue. Well except for the villains that is. The Dralasites from that setting are still one of my favorite races of all time in an RPG due to the fact that they are not humanoid in any real way but they shape themselves to try and fit in. With this question you want to look at how humanoid are the races in your universe. I mean even in the new version of BattleStar Galactica the Cylons are the aliens. Even though they were created by humans and can look just like them. But if you look at things like Star Wars  you have a few non-humanoid races but you also have species that are just farmers who do not embrace technology.

Personally I like to scale this question to the scale of my area of human knowledge question. If the human race is stuck in a solar system or two, then usually I will only scope out between one and three additional races. And I like to have the majority of them to be non-humanoid. This keeps the sense of being alien very strong. I think that in fiction we see that pretty well in settings like the Expanse where you dont see actual aliens but the residue of their technology (at least for the first five books). However if you are looking at a full galaxy to wander in then I will shoot for the Star Wars side of things where there are hundreds of races with tons of variety in tech and culture but strangely 90% of the races are humanoid.

There are of course exceptions to the standards I talk about for myself. I really enjoy things like the Babylon 5 setting where you have a limited area of the universe to play in, and major races are all over the place, but there are also tons of minor races. You can get really creative dumping just about any type of character you want into this from any race you want to create and folks will just have to suck it up and let it go because it is so open ended.

Now then all of the five previous questions lead us up to a single, big, ugly, painful question. Please pay very close attention to the phrasing here or you will scoff and miss the point.

6 – What is your worlds “magic”? Ok, do you see the quotes? Do you get the jist of the question? Let me break it out for you. Star Wars has both the Force, and technology. Star Trek and Babylon 5 have technology and genetics (psychic powers and unusual physical powers). CyberPunk has the matrix/net. And game settings like Rifts and ShadowRun have actual magic, with the tech, genetics and the net. The Expanse has hidden secrets in alien technology. And some game settings like Fading Suns and the new StarFinder game simply say screw it and have tech and magic. And then games like Eclipse Phase has technology that makes you question what it is to be human at all.

So why do I wrap it all up into a little package that I call “magic”? Well that is actually easier to me than saying something like, what makes your universe special? If you break down all of the other questions and then come to this one you will likely find that you have already answered it. Sure you can start with this question but if you do then everything else you are designing ends up revolving around this question. And sure Star Wars did a fairly good job of doing just that, but not every setting is going to be Star Wars. Hells, no setting other than Star Wars should be Star Wars.

I think now you see why I ordered the questions the way I did. If you are going to build a sci-fi setting you want to make sure you have something to draw the players in, and build it up from there. If you start with an element like the non-human races, or the things that give you a “magic” of sorts in your setting then you get stuck in those elements rather quickly and it becomes very easy (at least in my experience) to loose focus on the things that your players can relate to. And if you are running a game you need to have things that your players will relate to so that they can really get into the game and the characters they build. Even if they choose to play something that is not human. Actually in my honest opinion it is even more important to have the human relate-able items in place if players are going to play non-humans. That way they can capitalize on being alien. Not just humans with different features, but come from outside the human experience.

Anyway, relatively short post this week. But I wanted to make sure that readers had a chance to look at this and think it over before I bring up the 201 topic. Which may twist you a bit. 🙂

So gimme the dice. I need to see how many races I am going to use…

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World Building 200 – First steps

Ok so I know I have been non-posting, but hinting at the start of the 200 series of world building. So ya know what? Despite how much I know my friend over at Dan On Games is looking forward to a rant of some kind I am going to start here instead and categorize it as a rant 🙂 HAH!

So what the heck do I mean by First Steps? Well just like with building any other type of world or setting for any game or fiction you have a few things you need to know about your setting that can be summed up in a few questions. Once you get these down then you can really sort out the rest of it fairly quickly… well… as long as you have a little time, some imagination, a few other settings to steal from, oh and did I mention a little time… undisturbed… without other things going on… cause other wise this sort of thing takes forever. I mean if you have a job, and a life outside of gaming… well then…

Heh… see how I snuck the rant in there… 🙂

Anyway the questions that you need to ask to get to building a sci-fi setting/world are really similar to fantasy, or any other world really. The ones that I find the most important to answer go like this…

1 – Hard sci-fi, space opera, or pulp sci-fi? What you have here is the biggest aspect of sci-fi. Much like how much magic goes into a fantasy setting. Hard sci-ci is based on known science. Or even theoretical science that seems really plausible without a too much of a stretch. In hard sci-fi you will keep referring back to the science. A lot.. There are a lot of cyberpunk and a few hard sci-fi games out there that are good examples of this concept. Space Opera is more like Star Wars and Star Trek. You can mention the science but it is so advanced that you cant explain it so you don’t even try. You can use the science as color comments if you have a really good idea or want to make something dramatic, but it is not as important as in hard sci-fi. Pulp sci-fi is a category I may have made up for myself, but if you look back at the classic pulp sci-fi stories and the movies from the 40’s and 50’s that really got into the pulp style of sci-fi then you can see that they usually treated science with a mix of the space opera and the hard sci-fi at the same time. I mean that if you want to make a death ray out of a toaster to take on the 11th dimensional invading pumpkin people you better make sure you have three paperclips and a can opener… because SCIENCE!

Each one has something to recommend in it. Each one can be a heck of a lot of fun. All of them can be silly, or dramatic. Even with the little bit I put in there about pulp and science, it can be very dark and very serious for the characters, it is just the science itself that can seem, well, kinda like MacGyver on crack. There are a ton of other types of sci-fi but these three I find the easiest to start with.

2 – How important are humans? This is a very serious question to be asking in any sci-fi setting. You can find a lot of settings in which humans are the only sentient species. You can find even more in which humans are one of hundreds if not thousands of sentient species. You can find in the ones where there are hundreds of species that humans have been relegated to slave status in the universe, and others where they are the heads of empires. You can even find settings in which you question if humans are really human any more. The reason this is so important is because most sci-fi stories need a way to be relate-able to the players. And when you are dealing with technology that may seem like magic, and things that go outside of all current expectations of the future, a human being is going to be the way to tie things together and give you the most common point of reference.

In fantasy we look at how many races you want to have in a setting. And you will need to do that in sci-fi as well. But deciding the scope of human influence and impact will actually help you define that better.

3 – How big is the known universe? That question is going to seem to be a little misleading at first. But take it in the context of the previous question. What do humans know about what is out there? Are they still in their home solar system? Are they stuck to a single world? Do they roam the galaxy? This question is really just like the one for fantasy where we look at how big the world is. If you know the scope of your genre for the setting and you know how important humans are, you can give this a much needed look.

Now then unlike a fantasy setting where you need to have a really good idea of the primary environment (world/continents/nations) in sci-fi you can actually make up a lot of it as you need it a lot easier. You just have to take good notes as you go so you can call up worlds, or asteroid communities, or wandering groups of space stations as you go. You still will need to define your starting point rather well. But that goes for any type of game setting. It is just that this time the starting point is not limited to being a city or a nation, it can be just about anything.

4 – How far are we from today? This question will really lock in the flavor of your setting. I mean if we are in a galaxy hopping setting that is just next week… that is going to be completely different than a setting that is galaxy hopping a thousand years from now. It makes a big difference for what is human relate-able in regards to technology. And the sense of human achievement is going to be different. It will change the roles that people have in their lives regardless of race or gender. The jobs that can be done and even how trade and commerce are impacted.

You will notice that none of these questions actually try to define the technology. Talk about ships or how things move in space if you are even in space. These questions don’t ask what roles or classes of characters are going to be involved. They are all designed to get you thinking about scope. About how you want to define the realm you are creating.

Now then I have a setting mapped out and the following World Building 200 series will be answering these questions and adding some additional details to flesh out the world/s that are coming. Personally I am not trying to build a traditional sci-fi setting. So my answers to questions may seem a little weird. Then again this whole blog may seem a little weird. 🙂

Ok so that’s enough of a post for now.

Gimme the dice, I gotta give MacGyver a saving throw against science crack.

Play safe, and play well friends.

 

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Long time no post

Hey there readers.

Between my wife and I working on the room in our house we call the library… building custom home made book shelves and other fun work, I have been distracted on weekends. And over the last two weeks I have not even been able to get online on my main computer, so I may be looking at getting a new one… I mean this awesome little beast still runs on Vista so…

Anyway. World Building, the 200 series is still in the works, I just have a few more important things in life that I need to work on right at the moment. Dont worry, I have not forgotten. Oh and there are reviews pending as well for games and supplements and a couple of rants I want to articulate.

So yeah, Gimme The Dice is still here, still alive, and all that good stuff. Sorry to make you all wait, but, life… yeah 🙂

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Update on World Building and ‘That Guy’

Ok so to be totally honest last weekend I just had too much on my mind and wanted too badly to relax to even think about putting up a post.

So I have decided that for World Building 200 series I will be working on a Sci Fi world. A lot of people have tried to tell me that Sci Fi is the hardest of settings to work with. I disagree. There are a lot of options sure. And I will be walking through several of them. However there is a lot more to consider if you are going to build up a solid and sustainable Supers environment. Seriously. Supers will be the 300 series for world building and then you will see what I am talking about.

Ok so getting on to ‘That Guy’. Disclaimer – Yeah I know there are female gamers. Tons of them. And they fit the role of ‘That Gal’ but typing Guy/Gal or coming up with something witty like ‘Galuy’ just feels forced and non-conversational. Not trying to slight anyone or be a sexist ass. Because if I am truly being fair then I have to go beyond cisgender or transgender or non gender and that gets messy and so if I am going to play it neutral as hell I would have to say ‘That Person’ but someone would take offence to that too. So screw it I am using ‘That Guy’ and you will just have to roll with it.

Every gaming group has one. If they are a rules lawyer, a bad player overall, someone who just gets to bloody enthused about the game, the ultimate geek, the lucky roller… whatever stereo type they fit, whatever role they fill in your gaming group, they are unforgettable. The funny thing is that in almost every game group you will find that ‘That Guy’ is remembered by everyone. What they did wrong, how lucky they got when they got it right, how they must have cheated, and on and on.

Want to know a secret?

EVERY game player ever, is ‘That Guy’.

No joke. You may not figure it out until years later but everyone is memorable in their table top game groups. EVERYONE ends up having a signature move, an incredible event, a bad habit, or other feature that will make them stick in memory. Even the guy who just sat there an nodded and maybe smiled once in the three years they were at the game table.

The reason I am bringing this up is because I talked to someone recently who had no idea that they had ever been ‘That Guy’. They had thought that everyone else in their game group had a signature of some kind and that they had just gamed. None of the gamers they had associated with had ever told them they were ‘That Guy’, that they had done something memorable or had a pattern that everyone found predictable.

So why am I bringing this up?

I would just like my fellow gamers; male, female, trans, cis and every other option out there; to consider just what kind of ‘That Guy’ they want to be. If you know now that you will be remembered, that you will have an impact on others, how do you play that?

I am sure that every gamer out there has stories about ‘That Guy’ that made them want to play more, or quit gaming, or even go all stabby at the game table. I have met so many versions of ‘That Guy’ it is hard to say what ones have had the most impact. I mean I can tell you stories about ‘That Guy’ that almost made me quit playing LARP games. And the one that showed me not everyone was an asshole. I can tell you stories about ‘That Guy’ who made so many stupid errors in games that we thought he might have a hard time with basic thought, but damn he was enthusiastic about gaming and loved everything, even his mistakes. I can tell you about ‘That Guy’ who ruined a specific RPG for me. And I can tell you so many others it is ridiculous.

Are you getting the point?

To paraphrase DC Comics the Martian Manhunter (sorry but I cannot quote issue I just know it goes to him unless he stole it too) “Everyone is someones ‘That Guy'(alien).”

So really. Think about it before you sit down at your next game session. Know you will be remembered. You will have an affect on other gamers. You will leave a mark.

What do you want to be remembered for?

Ok gimme the dice, I gotta see if that warrants a dramatic exit crit or not… 🙂

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No review this week

Hey all readers. So I found there is a spam filter for the contents on the site… not sure how my bud over at DanOnGames got bumped over there but I had to unlock a few of his comments. Hopefully setting him as NOT SPAM, no really you freakin sock monkies he is not spam… sheesh.

Anyway that also got me looking over previous posts and what seemed to grab the most traffic. And low and behold it looks like more than the reviews folks seem to like the world building. So it looks like to help drive viewership I will get back to building worlds for everyone to steal a little faster than I planned.

However I will not go into building another fantasy world right off the bat. No no no. I am going to swing over to sci-fi or supers first. Not sure which yet, but I am building a soundtrack for… something… it will hopefully tell me what it is…

To give you a small idea of things that are going into the soundtrack check the following links… Some of these are a little explicit in language… well at least some will think so.

Ok so thats the teaser of whats to come. Hope everyone has a happy and safe fourth if you are in the states. And yes… cousins in the midwest… I am looking at you and your coolers and previously posted vids and pics… YOU BE CAREFUL too 🙂

All righty gimme the dice, I need a saving throw for Mondays….

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Game Review #16 – The Wheel of Time RPG

Ok so here I am hiding from the heat (yeah yeah I know its not all THAT hot, but I only really enjoy temps up to 65 degrees), and making sure my music keeps pumping. All so I could go over a couple of new game books my wife got me (she heard I was having a bad day during the week and picked up some great food and a couple of first ed D&D books on her way home. If that is not the definition of a loving wife there needs to to be a freakin update because that was just awesome). And also here comes a new review.

A few weeks ago I got a gift from a dear friend The Wheel of Time RPG. Now then this is an item that has been on my get list for a while. So while my main man over there at Dan On Games got me the gift, there is a serious history here. See my friend and I were in high school together when Robert Jordan‘s first book in the Wheel of Time was published. And as you can imagine, a couple of game geeks, with a strong new fantasy setting that starts with three teen male leads and a couple of female teen leads, written in a way that would make Tolkien go ‘Dayyyumnn!’, or at least in my mind it would, yeah we both got a little hooked.

Anyway, it took a while but Wizards of the Coast created a little system called d20 in 2000 that they put their latest version of D&D into. With that under their hat they created several licensed products using that game engine and the Wheel of Time RPG was one of them. And really no that is not the full story, that is why I put all the bloody links in these things these days so I don’t have to write all of history over and over again. So tell me how this all started… “Well first the earth cooled and then the dinosaurs came, and they got big and died and then” Yeah, no, I don’t have time for that.

Anyway, the Wheel of Time RPG came to us in 2001 amidst a flurry of other products that were all using the d20 open game license (no you don’t get a link for that one, you should know your way to Wikipedia by now). And to be totally honest at that time we were on book eight or so of the series and things seemed to be taking sooooooooo long that I really did not want to add the game to my collection at the time. Even to dissect yet another version of the d20 system. So instead interest on my side fades until about 2010 when I start rereading the series, and then the hunt began. Not in earnest mind you but if I would have found it I would have picked it up. Last year shortly after the wedding I started reading the series again while on the train back and forth to work (yea I have a regular job and have to commute… I have told you people this like a… no… no I am not going to get off track again.) and so I dropped it on my Amazon wish list just in case anyone could find it for the Yule/Xmas season. And then tahhh dahhh. Gift come round. So yeah, now I have it.

I have played plenty of d20 variants. And this one is not too bad. There are a few things I take issue with in the way they implemented the game mechanics to really reflect how the Wheel of Time world works. The reasons I have issue is… well I will go into that in a bit. Basically if you have ever played a d20 or D&D 3.0 game engine game you will be able to slip into this one with ease. Picking up and running with all the details, not as easy.

So what sort of set up do we have here. Well… let me just grab the good and bad I see to try and give you some of the details.

Good – Instead of giving all human characters (of which you should have 99% human characters in a WoT game) one extra feat, and four extra skill points, you take a background. In that background (all based on regions that your character came from) you have a choice of certain feats, and certain skills. You pick one of each. The feat counts as what you would usually see as the bonus feat for being human. The skill becomes a class skill (meaning it has a cheap cost to raise the level of for folks who don’t know the system) and gets four skill points in it. The background also gives you set languages, and also gives you some starting equipment that does not count against your starting monies (designated by your starting character class). They can also give you some serious restrictions when it comes to initial equipment, like no swords for an Aiel. Now some people would see this as limiting. I see it as a great way to establish solid role playing for whatever region your character comes from, and if you play a character that is even slightly perceptive they can pick up on this in game if someone is in disguise.

Good – Initial skill points are not going to be below 4+INT bonus x 4. There are in the base classes two that only offer 2+INT bonus x 4. And that really limits what a character can do outside of combat.

Good – They really try to fit all of the monsters they can from the books in (well up through book eight of the series anyway).

Good – They do a great job giving the feel of the world in the books. Region descriptions and details about the people are great. And some of the more magical things like The Ways (hidden paths created by magic (the One/True Power) that cross over space via a hidden dimension) get good write ups that help you feel how they could be used in a game.

Good – Equipment details help take all the terms that are used in the books by various cultures and give you something to look at directly and a slightly better description that Mr. Jordan did so that you can get into playing the items with your character.

Bad – While they include almost every human culture in the core rule book they leave out the Seanchan, the Tuatha’an, and the Shara.  While they are mentioned in Other Places, and a little about the Seanchan’s use of the One Power is discussed, they put nothing in place to allow you to play a member of those cultures directly. If they would have listed them as monsters (and in the case of the Seanchan I could believe that) I would understand it. But considering the fact they make the Sea Folk playable kinda takes any other valid reason they could present off the board. It would have added maybe twelve pages total to the book. But no. Not there. Even as bad guys.

Bad – Speaking of bad guys, there is no alignment in this game. The setting rather clearly defines good and evil on its own, however the axis of law versus chaos not so much. While it does not have a major impact on game play mechanics, I think it has an impact on role playing. In a game without a way to say a character has a code of behavior or other items to guide the play of good and evil you can roll anywhere at any time. And that can open up a whole realm of challenges a game master may not want to face.

Bad – Ta’veren. O k so in the stories this is the same as being “the One”, “Chosen”, “Destined for something greater” and so on. Instead of putting a solid mechanic of any kind into place they give a short side bar that says something along the lines of, you cant choose this and not all destines are great, a character may posses this trait for a short time. It usually comes with a stat boost to charisma, and whatever else the DM feels is needed. Ok I know that players want to be the heroes or villains of their own stories. But seriously. This is weak sauce. Personally I would have put a progressive mechanic in place. Based on the number of sessions or stories, how much bonus do you get. Or maybe based on impact on the world at large. And apparently the charisma bonus is supposed to simulate the ability of the Ta’veren seen in the books to gather people to them and influence how groups, not individuals but full on organizations or nations will react. Nah, its just weak. And its use on the NPC’s is… sigh…

Bad – The Source, making weaves, using the One Power. Ok I will give them this, they really tried. All in all the mechanic works. However it is clunky and unless you want to have a character who is totally focused on magic from day one and you are willing to wait until you have at least one Prestige class (advanced character classes for those not in the loop. They have requirements that you need to meet in a base class before you can take levels in them) and be at a fairly high level, the effect you are going to have in the game is minimal unless you are willing to risk burning out your powers every time you cast something, oh and if your character is male you will be going mad as you risk your power. To really make things worth while with this mechanic you need to burn every feat you can to make magic low enough impact to use regularly. Now then some people would say that this properly reflects the books. And to a degree it does and that is what makes it worth exploring. How ever the first character I made, a male who could channel burnt out his powers the very first time he tried to cast a weave. So, now I have a character who has a wasted level. All because I wanted to actually be able to affect the opponent I had set up (another first level character by the way). Because by the rules if you have burnt out, or been stilled your powers can be brought back (not easy at all), but you will be two levels lower in effect. So… I would have a -1 level caster if you count zero. Soooo yeah. I like some of the ideas they have for this, like a sliding level for weaves (spells) and how you can over channel (how I got into trouble because my first level weaves had no effect) but the way they are implemented means you have to make a very, very restricted character to make it work, and anyone I have played with will tell you that is sort of not my style.

Ok so that is a lot to take in, how about I simplify things and do my little rating bit?

Overall Fluff 4/5 – The detailing of everything in this book is great. I mean even the intro by Robert Jordan is totally cool. However they are missing a few essential cultures. If they are in the one supplemental book that was published that is great for that book. But in this one I gotta take a point off because to me it just hurt too much.

Overall Crunch 3/5 – Rules there are a plenty, but missing alignment and the way they made the One Power work… it just. I can’t say its better than a three because there is work to do here.

Overall Mod 4/5 – BWAHAHAHA, yeah its D&D 3.0 d20. I can mod this. I can mod the hell out of it. The amount of work I see to get the Channeling system working better though goes beyond what I normally consider fun in a mod kinda way.

Overall Fun 3/5 – Ok so the reason why fun is so low here is actually due to those missing cultures and the work I will be doing to make the magic/channeling system work better. I really wanted to play with those less common cultures, as friend and foe.

Total Score 14/20 – Ok so this seems like a low-ish score. It is not that bad really. And overall I think there is a LOT of great material here to work with. Plus the things they did explore in the setting have just enough flavor to get you running but not so over flavored that you cannot build on it and make it your own.

So as usual this is my opinion and if you dont like it… ask my wife before you bite me. 🙂 heh

But seriously if you can find a copy then you should look it over if you are a fan of d20 or a fan of Wheel of Time and make a choice for yourself if its the game you have been seeking.

Ok I am out. Time to beat the heat and start thinking about what I am gonna set up for my wife for dinner.

Gimme the dice, I gotta see if we have a random food encounter coming 🙂

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