Archive for category CSIHC

World Building 207

Hello Readers

So a bit out of pace for me to be posting early, but with taking a couple days off to do holiday shopping and that sort of thing I thought I might squeeze the time in to do another post.

So where did we last leave off…

  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.
  6. There are two “magics”, technology and psychic powers. Psychic powers are used to stratify the over reaching galactic society and technology is used as a tool and extra lever over ‘lesser’ races. And humanity is one of the very lesser races.

So step seven in this mix is to try and find a game engine that really works well for the ideas I am using here. Now I totally understand that some folks may be limited in the game engines that they use. Sometimes you find that one game engine that really works well for you and you just have to run with it. Sometimes you can only really afford to buy into one game engine and have to pray you never run into anything it cant handle. If you are in a situation like that I really suggest you just apply the first six questions and build a background and go for it. There is no stopping you and you will still have a great game if you work to make it work. 🙂

For myself I love to look at all the game engines that are out there. I am sure that I could make my design work in just about any system going. What I want to use for this setting though is the d6 game engine.

Let me tell you why.

Just so you know a bit about it, the game engine is currently published by Nocturnal Media. And if you want to get into the game engine you can go over to Drive Thru RPG and buy a copy of the rules or get the d6 game engine bundle (at the time of this writing the game engine bundle is listed as being free and all you need to do is have an account at Drive Thru and down load it at no cost.) It is a venerable system that has been around since 1987 to the best of my knowledge. Not too complex, easy to mod, but a little rough on vehicles. (Previous post talking about it is here)

So why would I want something that does not work easily with the space ships that can be so important in a sci fi game? That really refers back to another question. Two of them actually. And the answers to those two questions are that Humans are trash (so they have not had the opportunity to get into the wondrous worlds of tech that are in the universe), and that tech is basically one of the magics. So if the game engine itself does not lend itself to making star ships easy to create, and some weapons tech seems a little inconsistent, that will actually reinforce the feeling I want to create for the game. Sure you can make an engineering role to fix something, do you know how you are fixing it, no not really you just read the book or were told to fix it that way. Do you know where you are piloting? No but the computer says to go this way to get where we want to go.

I am not saying that this is a bad game engine. I am not saying that this is a way to frustrate players on purpose. You can still do all the tech balancing and shipbuilding you want to do. It is just a little cookie cutter. All the real customizing and balancing will come mostly in role play. Which to me makes it a stronger choice.

The strength in the mechanics really shines in system for special abilities and powers. It breaks everything into three skills and makes it really well defined for what can be done and what cant be done by any given character.

For me this is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to run. Especially since I can just get a copy downloaded to my computer and play with six sided dice that I stole out of other board games. 🙂 heh

Since I kind of went over the strengths and weaknesses of other systems in the earlier post I linked to earlier in this post, I will just say that in the end you will need to come up with a system that is going to work well for you.

Ok so World Building 208 will have a bit of a write up on this game setting and then we move on with other things.

Hope everyone is staying safe out there.

Now gimme the dice, I need to roll to see if I have anything left to buy more gifts with…

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World Building 206

Hey all, special Black Friday special edition since I want my Sunday to spend relaxing with the wife and chilling. For those readers outside the US or who don’t care about the events in the US that much, Black Friday is the day after the Thanksgiving holiday that supposedly marks the start of Christmas shopping. However from the fact that you can find places putting up Christmas trees after Valentines Day and shops talking about pre-holiday sales so early any more… I don’t see why anyone bothers. But still there are huge sales on Black Friday, there is annual news about mob like behavior at stores and other bull crap going on, so my wife and I keep the same mind set. Find something to do at home and avoid the mess out there.

And now you know part of why I am posting a blog today. And knowing is half the story.

So what do we have in this little world so far?

  • The sci-fi style will be pulp sci-fi. So things can get weird.
  • Humans are trash. So at the very least they will be low class citizens, maybe worse.
  • 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.
  • Timeline is about 30 years in the future and there are older humans who remember ‘today’ as the good old days.
  • There are many alien races but humans currently only know five.

And the current question is… What is your worlds “magic”?

Now then just like I posted the first time, you will note the quotes there. “Magic” here means anything you cannot or will not explain with any ease. Usually it is something that just has to be accepted. Be it technology, the Force, psychic powers, actual magic or something else. You can find it in every sci-fi setting. Even hard sci-fi that is taking its queue from modern technology and trying not to go to far ahead. And also in every genre of sci-fi you can find it. Hard sci-fi, pulp, cyberpunk, steam punk, space opera, and on and on. There is always some kind of “magic”.

Now then one of the things that you will find when “magic” comes up is that somewhere in the story you will find someone who tries to explain it. At least a little. And in a game you will always have at least one player who wants to know how it works. The player will usually want to know how it works so they can circumvent it in the game to one degree or another. Now then this does not mean that you need to understand how virtual reality programs can allow one structure to alter another in one way or another to allow your virtual avatar to hack into a storage mainframe. Nor do you need to know how to circumvent the conversion of mass to allow a vessel to move faster than light in three dimensional space to have faster than light travel. You do have to be ready for the questions though. And when they come up there are three ways you can deal with it.

When it comes time to explain or define your “magic” for the players you can

  1. Tell them to shut up and accept it
  2. Research something similar or steal from other sci-fi so you can have talking points
  3. Create a game skill to cover it and just let them roll for it (kinda like shut up and accept it but it gives ya a little more wiggle room)

Technically there is a fourth way and that is to mix and match the other three in a way that works for you. Personally that is how I tend to approach things. If there is something I enjoy or want to play with I research it a bit so I can at least seem like I have half a clue. I also steal liberally from other settings and mix and match that with the things I have researched. Then I add in a couple of skills like ‘Science!’ I actually took that idea from Steve Jackson Games in their IOU GURPS supplement. When I originally read it I had to have it. They also have ‘Magic!’ in the same supplement and over the years I have taken that model and just made these massive overarching skills that allow you to do things like combining other skills together to somehow cover what you are doing in the name of the direction you are trying to run.  And I have to say that in a pulp setting like I have planned things like that really allow for mad scientists and for people who have no idea how something should work to say things like “Yeah I just picked up a little of this over time.”

Now then if your “magic” has some sort of power to it, like the Force or psychic powers you need more than a skill, you need to have people who use it. You might want to have a background for it. And if you are really over the top you could have an ultimate reason for it. I mean if you look into Babylon 5 you can see that they hint at but never clearly say that psychic powers are in many of the races in that setting because one elder race, the Vorlon, wanted to have a weapon against their enemy the Shadows. And so they did genetic tinkering all over the galaxy. A great many game engines support the use of something supernatural or preternatural or however you want to view the power.

Last thing you might want to think about is how many of these things should you mix together. I mean if you look at something like Star Wars, depending on your race, would depend on what you see as “magic”. I hate to use this example but if you take the (shuddering) Ewoks as an example. To them the Force and a lot of the high tech was all “magic”, but to most of the other races only the Force was “magic”. This is a difference in a game setting that can get you a lot of mileage in role playing. If you allow one player into a game with a character from an advanced race, to them everyone ohhing and ahhing over the tech is little more than a bumpkin or a hick. But even to them there is something that is still “magic”. And even in those cases you will find someone who ‘just has a knack for it’ and they really can change the dynamic.

To give you a personal example I was playing in a Star Wars game and as players we were allowed to make our own races. We had one player create a character that was quite strong in the force, but was not a Jedi. Their culture treated it differently and so he was always surprised by people treating the power with reverence and dividing everything into good and evil in response to the Force. Another player made a character that had a natural sense of technology, and even when she was exposed to something new she would just tinker with it for a moment and then make it work better. No formal education, no Force powers, just a natural talent that was really really helpful. While in the same group we had a formal Jedi, and a mechanic droid. It was very fun watching them banter back and forth about what could and could not be done. Each treating their opposite number as some kind of witch or heretic, or just a hick with no real knowledge what so ever who just needed to be educated.

So by now you have to be wondering what I intend to do in this setting.

My plan here is to actually do a mix. I want to have something that will stratify the setting. A reason why humans could be considered trash, that has nothing to do with the fact that humans are behind the rest of the setting in terms of technology. So I plan to use psychic powers. I am trying to see if I can come up with something that will explain the trait across multiple races with no physical similarities, but that one is going to be hard to pull off unless I can put a mutagenic element into multiple species DNA… hmmm, that might just work. Using the “magic to tier the society I can have a setting where if you do not have psychic powers you are not going to be a full citizen, and then if your race has low power levels you will be in the middle class. Judging by race this would allow them to have superior and lesser races, attitudes and all sorts of judgmental bull shit going on. Now we add technology to the mix too. If these racist races have an uplift policy then they might have something in place where taking a lesser race under your care allows you to treat them however you want until they get used to the modern society. And getting used to being a race without psychic powers and no native tech basically makes you slave labor and cannon fodder. Because in a setting like this you can be sure that somewhere out there a society like this has an enemy, and why would they use actual citizens as fighters when they can take entities that they see as little better than uncivilized animals and toss them into the war on their behalf. Ohh wait that sounds like an awesome meta plot.

Ok so lets put this in a brief for review…

  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.
  6. There are two “magics”, technology and psychic powers. Psychic powers are used to stratify the over reaching galactic society and technology is used as a tool and extra lever over ‘lesser’ races. And humanity is one of the very lesser races.

Ok so there is only one question left on my list. After that I will do a short write up of the setting I have in mind and you can see where it goes from there if you want to use it yourself or just use the questions to build your own setting.

Hope everyone out there is having fun, enjoying the holiday if you got one, and playing safe if you are in the mix for Black Friday.

Now gimme the dice, I have to make a saving throw against the siren song of left over pie.

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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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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 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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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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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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