Thursday, April 28, 2022

Development Blog; Designing the Eternal Ocean


As I work on The Eternal Ocean , I intend to blog about the process here. And I wanted to start by talking about what my structure is going to be and my rationale for it.

To start with, what is The Eternal Ocean meant to be exactly, and how is my presentation going to reflect my ideas?

Because I am taking some pretty odd steps.

What Do I Want to Accomplish?

This is probably one of the most important questions you can ask yourself starting almost any project, and it is intimately tied with another question:

Who is this for?

The answer to that one is already in the dedication to Wreck to some degree: I made this game for my oldest son, who wants to be a marine biologist and study deep sea creatures. He loves anything to do with sea exploration from cartoons like Octonauts and The Deep to watching me play video games like Subnautica to just watching old Jaques Cousteau documentaries. 

He has already consumed an impressive amount of science fiction set in the deep sea, and I would love to help him explore the tropes of that particular brand of SF.

But I also wanted to create a world that reaches a little farther than Subnautica or even The Deep does. I wanted to create a setting where the kind of weird and wonderful stuff that you can see in classic science fiction works like 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Time Machine. So I want a world full of secrets and mysteries. Not just Traveller underwater.

Of course, this idea hasn't stayed just a game for my son. I wanted to create something that, after I had done the work, I could also play with grown-ups. I wanted to make something for fans of classic science fiction like my gaming buddy Thomas.

Accordingly, I decided to make a game that relied a lot on exploration, and a world that had a lot of secrets. And I also wanted to make sure that there would be an incentive for discovering those secrets.

IIn other words, I want to create a game world that is full of secrets that feels satisfying to discover, and that feels more like a classic science fiction story then cinematic sci-fi.

What This Mean for Writing

Rather than creating a mechanical incentive,, I wanted to create an overall narrative reward for making discoveries. To this end, I have created a huge collection of secrets that can reward the characters with rare and unique gear and abilities. More importantly, the game is set up so that if the players wish to leave the planet, they will have to discover one of several particularly complex secrets at the end of a chain of revelations.

This begs a particular structure for the way I write the game. I need both a book that describes the setting for players at least we'll enough to get them excited for the game. This will need to feel rather like my campaign primer documents. But it has to scrupulously avoid giving much away.

I decided that, while I am writing a simple game for this project, I want to let players decide which engine to use to explore the setting.

Which means creating a GM's guide with the secrets and history of the planet laid out, including ways the player characters might escape the planet, along with a stranger creatures and more advanced alien technology they might discover.

But more than a book of secrets,, it also has to offer some guidance as to how to run this game. Played with slight tweaks, the Eternal ocean could be a story of Man versus nature, a survival horror, a weird adventure, or a high concept science fiction experience. And I want to talk about it what to do to make each of those work best.

Because we are dealing with an unexplored planet, I also want to make sure to give GM's tools for randomly generating large chunks of planet, mysterious alien ruins, and bizarre experiences.

Detailing a number of biomes with their own creatures, random encounter tables, and other generators is probably in the cards for the secrets book, which I'm tentatively calling The Depths of the Eternal Ocean. Ideally these will be system -agnostic.

So What About the Game?

I chose to build a game based on Yochai Gal's Cairn with a handful of tweaks as an included game for several very particular reasons:

It is a true open culture game; I can mix and mod it to my heart's content with no fear of legal fracas.

With it's Dungeons & Dragons DNA it would be easy to create an OSR or even D&D5e conversion guide with relative ease. (Use Cairn hp for HD in an OSR game or CR in 5e, and derive statistics accordingly.)

As my primary playtester is a six year old boy who just wants to zip around in a talking sub, I need the rules to be light and easy to learn.

Light rules are also an easier sell to a gaming group if you want to try something new.

I need just enough crunch to make survival a meaningful and enjoyable challenge.

Cairn's particular brand of lethal will keep this setting from turning into DOOM underwater. Sea monsters should be genuinely terrifying when they show up.

My Current Stage

Wreck is ostensibly done. It can be downloaded as a pay-what-you-want title on my page. Most of the other content is better placed in The Depths of the Eternal Ocean.

As is, you could grab Wreck and get enough of the setting through the implications of it to design a pretty solid adventure.

I am currently focusing most of my energy on getting the setting right. I am working on a mix of the secrets of Rusalka in The Depths of the Eternal Ocean and the player background information in The Eternal Ocean setting book.

The campaigning tools are going to be the hardest work, and so I will hold off on jumping into that part of the project until I am solidly grounded.

Hopes and Dreams

Right now, I am aiming to create a simple bundle of PDFs for download as a start. Wreck will remain Pay What You want individually. Eternal Ocean will be, at least in the beginning, a pay what you want title as well. Once The Depths of the Eternal Ocean is complete, I will create demos of both The Depths of the Eternal Ocean and Eternal Ocean free for download, keep Wreck pay what you want, but offer an expanded version along with the two complete setting books will be available as a downloadable bundle for $10-ish dollars.

I would love to be able to make enough money during the development stage and after the complete trio is out to be able to commission or license art of some of the monsters, alien locations, vehicles, and images from the everyday life of Confederate citizens, and create bright, vibrant, and detailed versions of The books that could both be downloaded, or bought POD.

My absolute moonshot would be to have a boxed  version available in print that would include all four of these books plus a couple of modules.

If I can build the interest in The Eternal Ocean that I would like, I also wouldn't mind building conversion documents for a more conventional OSR game, 5e, or possibly make a Mothership-compatible version.

 I also hope to produce adventures for it as long as I can sustain an audience for the game.

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