Hey everyone who drops by and reads something from time to time…
So no official world building post or review this week. Not even a full on rant. My wife and I are celebrating our one year anniversary today and so I thought it would be much cooler to just tell you all I was not putting any effort into the blog today because I would rather be spending the day with her.
Yup, thats right. Wife wins.
Hope you all have a great time.
Now gimme the dice, I gotta see if I can make my save against getting her an odd anniversary gift.
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.
- 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.
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 –
- 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.
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 🙂
Wow, ok it was June last time I did a game review. And like I told you in the last post this is one that I have not played yet.
So how can I review a game I have not played yet? Well people on other sites do it all the time, but this time I have, I feel, enough experience with most of the material to make a few jumps in logic without an actual game session under my belt.
You see Starfinder is the latest game from Paizo, the company that created Pathfinder and kinda took over for the massive crowd of gamers that loved D&D 3.0 / 3.5 when Wizards of the Coast stopped supporting that product line. Since shortly after the initial release of Pathfinder there have been elements in the game community that have been begging Paizo to do a Pathfinder Modern like WOTC did with d20 Modern to put the d20 system that ran D&D 3.0 / 3.5 into modern and futuristic settings (look at the supplements list on the d20 Modern wiki and you can see d20 Future for sci-fi and other settings – you can also take a look at the d20 version of Star Wars [Not my favorite version of Star Wars RPG], in many ways these licensed products are why there was so little support for d20 Modern). Several fans have cooked up their own materials and published them online. I wont give links to those because half of them seem to have predatory adds and its a pain to keep up on who has what. Feel free to go looking but keep your security monitors up at full speed when you do.
So finally now Paizo took their Pathfinder rules and made a sci-fi game setting. Starfinder is it.
Here is where things get a little hairy. It is not a straight translation. There are a number of rules and mechanics changes that will make game play different. However they do have a section on how to play Starfinder with Pathfinder, and I could see from the get go that while there are changes the basic structure is so closely similar that it would be easy to just skip the difference in some of the mechanics and roll with it one way or another. In some respects I look at the engine and changes as being a possible Pathfinder 2.0 game engine. There are only two game engine changes that I do not really agree with, but it is easy enough to put those aside.
Paizo already has a few products planned to support the new setting. But it remains to be seen if this is going to be a long term, and well supported game. Looking at everything Paizo has done over the years to support Pathfinder, I have to say that I am kinda hoping that they will put just as much time and effort behind Starfinder. And I also hope they avoid the long term decline that we have seen in the quality of Pathfinder products… that is a rant for another time though, and considering how many people have already ranted about that online I would feel like I am in the middle of a ‘been there done that’ moment.
So what has Paizo changed in Starfinder? Well lets start with character generation. The primary format they suggest using (see its not the only way to do it but they call it out for game balance reasons) is that you use a point based stat generation system and that no stat should start above 18 after all the race and background modifications are in place. It is not a bad system overall, but when you compare it to the way you could roll an 18 and add race mods and so on to a Pathfinder character and start with a stat of 20 or more it seems a little out of place. Thankfully the roll option is still there for those who cant live without it. Next change is that players have three selections they need to make for their characters to get things started. Pathfinder has race and class. Starfinder adds Theme to that. Theme is an interesting new aspect that basically flavors your class in a number of ways. It provides level dependent benefits that can also shape your character. While you can multi-class still you cannot multi-theme. And for those who worry that adding a theme element might make you more restricted in how you can design or play your character, don’t worry they actually have a ‘theme-less’ theme so that you can free form it a bit. Next big changes come in the areas of combat. I want to start with something that comes up in character generation but is not really worked with much until you talk about combat. Characters in Starfinder have Stamina Points, and Hit Points. Stamina Points (SP) get burned quickly and recover quickly. Once your SP are gone you burn Hit Points (HP) and they are harder to recover. This mechanic reminds me of the Palladium Books SDC (Structural Damage Capacity) and HP set up. However I think the Starfinder version is better defined. The big challenge here is that by adding SP you make it harder to kill things. The sad part is that this mechanic is needed because the weapons in this setting do more damage than you may be used to if you have been playing Pathfinder. Next change is that you have two versions of Armor Class in Starfinder. Energy and Kinetic. I know that Kinetic is a type of energy, but… well… yeah ok just roll with it. Both are calculated from the same base, but one protects you better against some of the energy weapons and spells (yeah there is still magic here) and the other against ones that just use brute force. You will notice that there is nothing in my statement about ranged or melee attacks and that is on purpose. Next up is a modification to the Combat Maneuver system. One of the best innovations that Pathfinder did to improve on d20 was to simplify combat maneuvers. Things like tripping or tackling an opponent. Starfinder changes the way you calculate the values but nothing else really. It does not change much, but it does change the overall values a bit.
None of the changes are bad, they are just different.
Some of the cool adds that they have in the game include several new races, new classes (one of which reminds me more than a little of a leveled version of a Green Lantern or a Nova Corps member) and a ship design system that I wish I would have had ages ago playing d20 games. Yeah, its pretty cool even if it relies heavily on an initial template, after that you can smeggin go to town and make some really cool ships.
The setting for the game is tied in tightly with the Pathfinder solar system. They give a lot of tasty tidbits and history in the main book. For a core rule-book it is fleshed out pretty well, so it is really interesting to think where they will take it from there.
Now then my initial testing of the game (I do this with just about everything that I get that has related rules in another game… hence why I know so well the Palladium power creep) I made up a couple of Starfinder characters and pitted them against Pathfinder characters of the same level. First level characters in Pathfinder got mopped. Not because of higher skills or abilities, but due to gear and Stamina Points. Fifth level was actually a closer match but only when the Pathfinder characters thought ahead and used their skills. Tenth level if you have a Pathfinder mage you come out on top, monks also do some significant wiping up. Fighters and rouges have serious issues unless they have feats that allow them to get a-hold of Starfinder gear and weapons to turn them against the Starfinder characters. To my mind the rules changes do not make this a case of power creep though. Starfinder characters are in a world with more fire power, and slightly different mechanics. But take it as you will.
Ok to get down to the numbers so this does not turn into a really huge post.
Overall Fluff 5/5 – The art, the background, the flavor text. Yeah this is a quality publication when it comes to the fluff. Most of the book is very easy to read and can give you a ton of ideas. Not just for a Starfinder game, but there are some interesting things in there about relations between some of the races and cultures that just sort of sings.
Overall Crunch 2/5 – The rules in this game are mostly well placed. However I found myself diving into the index a lot to get more information about topics. In the exact opposite to the fluff the initial rules material is usually enough to tease you about something but not explain it well. So to really understand some of the rules you need to go to a couple of places to make sure you know what the changes from the Pathfinder system means. I have been told that if you are completely new to the game it is easier to follow than if you are experienced.
Overall Mod 4/5 – So yeah, it is a Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 product. If you know anything at all about the engine you can mod the hell out of it.
Overall Fun 2/5 – This one is just an estimate as I have not played any more than my power creep tests. I think it will be fun, but finding a crew to play a sci-fi pathfinder that has both tech and magic will not be fun. Yeah I know I did not really go into that but yeah there is magic and tech.
Total Score 13/20 – I do see a lot of potential here. And to be honest some of my scoring may be biased by the fact that I am currently looking at rules engines for my own sci-fi setting and want the perfect one. Also that I may be impacted by the slow decline in quality that I have been seeing in Pathfinder products for the last few years. So I will accept that I may be biased, but I am honestly looking forward to seeing what can come out of this game.
Allright so that covers the review… Usual disclaimer that this is all my personal thoughts and you will need to think for yourself to really figure out if this game is for you or not.
Now gimme the dice… I need to roll for dodging kitten claws while typing.
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.
- Humans in charge
- Humans are an equal part of everything
- 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.
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 🙂
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.
- Point based
- 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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 🙂