Sunday, November 26, 2023

Current Project

 When it comes to my hobbies I don't so much choose my project is they choose me. I come up with an idea and I chase it as far down the rabbit hole as I'm willing to go. Because of this, some projects get done very quickly, some get put on the back burner. I have several books I'm working on that I do in small doses because they are either such a huge project doing it all at once would be masochistic,, or because I don't feel any time crunch to do the . The ideas that capture my imagination usually get the Lion's share of my energy.

Over the Summer I spent a fair amount of time running a solo game. I used the Mythic GM Emulator, Alone Among the Stars, the Science Fiction Codex of Lists, and RPG Pundit Presents #100: Star Adventurer as the engine let me scratch my itch to explore space in a tiny spaceship with a small crew.

One of my goals was to discover a rich, and lore-filled campaign setting over time. I wanted the joy of discovery as a part of how I was playing. To that end, I use the 'Codex and some random online tables mixed with the Alone Among the Stars to create the worlds I would visit and the alien races I would encounter. Whenever I encountered an alien species or culture, I use the 'Codex to flesh it out until it at least felt like something you might read in a Star Wars is extended universe Wiki entry.

I even used AI to help me enhance the experience. And wrote computer software inspired by the random star system generation tools of Traveler, the Cepheus Engine, the random space jobs generator from Donjon, and the jobs and commodity generators from the 'Codex. Once I had a bare bones, I would let my imagination run wild for several hours to flash in more details until I had entire worlds and cultures built up for my characters to explore in.

It has been a really engaging experience that took up much of the copious free time I had while on vacation in July. Because I was using random alien species in a Sci-Fi setting rather than creatures with a folkloric basis like in Dungeons and Dragons, I was constantly surprised and rewarded by what I learned. And my notes can now comfortably fill a whole role-playing game or a TV series "setting bible."

I even taught myself to use some AI tools to help generate some of the content for myself.

As you can imagine, I have been dying to share more of it with you all. I have a blog of the individual adventures with some of the notes to cover my first five voyages in the setting before I lost my crew to a TPK.

But, as of late, much of my energy has been directed towards building a unique role-playing game that borrows elements from White Star, Star Adventurer, Cepheus Engine, the 'Codex, and far more.

As I've written in the past, one of the biggest obstacles to a good SF setting is its total lack of predefinition. Fantasy games have the benefit of several canons of folklore, pagan mythology, and established conventions to work on, science fiction does not. Science fiction has to put effort into building a world and informing the reader, the viewer, or the player about it well enough that they can immerse themselves in the setting. This is time consuming. The only shortcut that ttrpgs have to this is to build a game based on an existing franchise.

This is why, the majority of SF games are built on franchises such as The Expanse, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Generic science fiction role-playing games are not as common, nor are they usuallysuccessful. Where a science fiction game tries to build itself out of whole cloth, it generally has to do so by spending an immense amount of energy on lore. 

Some games have been quite successful at this. Traveler, Shadowrun, Rifts, Numenéra,, and the Strange have done a great job of building enough lore that players can dive in. In the case of Traveler, Rifts, and Shadowrun, they have done so through years of slowly building a sizable canonwith the help of fan engagement. In the case of Numenéra,, it has been done through very intelligent World design and conventions.

Some science fiction games suffer from over-development. For example, Shadowrun has so much lore now that a player who knows the ins and out of the setting has an even better advantage over a new player that it is even more important than mastery over the rules. The same is definitely true of Rifts

I find that sits in a sweet spot where there is enough to go on to run the game well, but it is flexible enough to allow you to put almost anything you want for your scenario in it. You can learn all you need to know by reading just the core book. That is the balance I strive for. Enough information on aliens, culture,and technology to let the players have a sense of what they might be able to accomplish, but, not so much that I am being prescriptive of how the game plays, or giving advantage to someone who memorizes the lore.

I also decided to build my game on PANZA, as the race / background / class  / subclass structure of PCs is actually pretty close to olde-school SF games like Traveler, and that 5e-style engine can actually a lot of fun for a grognard like me, if you throw out a few things. Personally,  I am making the following changes:

  • Characters are reduced to 4 attributes instead of 6: Wisdom has become conceptually meaningless, and STR and CON should be interlinked.
  • Pcs have randomized starting HP 
  • Death saves are gone
  • CHA serves as a measure of luck, as well as attractiveness and savoir-faire
  • RP inspiration is optional
  • B/X D&D morale & NPC reactions (modified slightly) are imported 
  • Diplomacy is now a skill governing protocol,  trade, and information gathering, it cannot simply change NPC reactions.
  • Doman level play is incorporated by adding rules for colonizing a Star System
  • A slot-based encumbrance system is added as non-optional
  • Sense Motive, Investigation, and Perception skills are removed; these can be handled by askimg questions from a high-info GM.
  • Formalized random encounters are imported to feel more like AD&D's Structure
  • Only a few character options grant psionics, rather than the widespreaf magic use of modern systems
  • XP system is simplified, CR is discarded
  • Monster stats are simplified
  • My own eight classes will replace the fantasy-themed ones, each with 2-3 subclasses .

I am hoping this offering will offer a new, original Sci-Fi game experience.  I ha e also built in a way that my game Eternal Ocean can take place in the setting. 

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