Monday, June 25, 2012


I''ve been thinking for a long time now about the sci fi game I want to run. I'm inspired by transhumanism and the questions it poses. 'What is human' 'What is death' 'What is alive' 'What is valuable about experience' 'what gives existence meaning' of course these themes are by no way limited to scifi I just find trans-fic a great vehicle for this type of philosophic thought experiments. If you are thinking ..'ahhh yeah ...sure..whatever' go and read 'Blindsight' and have your mind blown.

Ive read a lot of sci fi fiction and in all of it I'm yet to read about the leap to FTL and a trans-light society and more then that a world approaching singularity. 'Rainbows End' goes somewhat in this direction as does 'This is not a Game' by my favorite old school c-punk author Walter Jon William yes he of 'Hardwired' and 'Voice of the Whirlwind' so I guess these titles are going some of the way towards what I want to explore. 

Here is the pitch I gave the players

"Its the future of Earth and a colonized solar system. Ecological instability in Earths biosphere has reached the point where heavy industry has had to move to orbit. Had to or we die. Period.
The beanstalk, the mass drivers, the Corporate Council and WorldGov made that possible. 
The corporate council paved the way for Mercury, Venus, Mars, the Belt and Jupiter all have city settlements and factory outposts.
There are corporate research labs around the Sun and in the outer system - Saturn and beyond.
Industrial espionage is rife. Corporates war over market share. The war is clandestine or bushfire. Some of it is essentially terrorism.
Uplifted animals, androids, genetically and technologically enhanced humans are common. Base-humans are fast disappearing or are out competed. Rampant Darwinism.    
Against this backdrop there are a number of technologies just starting to emerge. Making a complex environment even more so
  • Memory digitization and memory grafts
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Nano technology
  • Faster then light travel 
  • Faster then light communication
  • Time manipulation
  • Field theroy advances (higg's particle manipulation)
  • Exo-plantetology
  • Quantum computing

Yeah and against this backdrop your making a living."

The 'Theme' capital T is "change vs stasis".

Narrative mode would be Noir”: the protagonist is the perpetrator of crime, a victim, suspect or mercenary involved with crime.
Regardless he is someone tied directly to crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation.
There is an emphasis on sexual relationships and the self-destructive qualities of the characters
who manage to overcome their flaws and do good, despite themselves

So I've thought about system - most people wold be thinking Eclipse Phase and while I think its very good there is a lot about it I dont like. Chiefly the character generation which would bore my players to tears. The core system and its lack of a narrative focus is also a problem. So EP is out. NO it is out. 

So what else Traveler - nope. I like it for the OTU and the Imperium and all that but as a generic system even the black books dont really give me what I'm looking for. Mainly as I want to place some of the narrative freedom/responsibility back to the players. 

A little left of center I could use Shadowrun however for similar reasons to EP, SR fails to take the top place. Although thinking about it the world is close to the outline in many areas. It would need a hack even so.    

FATE in all its incarnations is not workable for our table. So its out. [long story. Trawl back through the blog if your interested. Essentially FATE is system heavy, rules heavy, core mechanic lite. Just look at any of the book all are really dense with system and subsystem]. "Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man"

The Cortex+ engine as seen in Marvel and even Leverage come very close to the type of framework I want. So I could do a hack of one of those. 

Very narrative games have my mind share for this. 'Dogs in the vineyard' and 'Apocalypse World' 'Mouse Guard'  and 'Burning Wheel' even 'Technoir' are all the type of thing I'm thinking about hacking to give me what I want. In some ways you would think Technoir comes closest but it has its challenges too.

Yes because I love the simplicity of old school and I've seen it work well something like David Bezio's X-plorers rpg or BRP cold be shoe horned. BRP more so when you add in the Pendragon like passions as an optional rule. 

So over the next bit I'll explore options for this game and post it all up here.

I want to play in this sci fi game world

Yep I want an explorer in this universe. These are all by MANCHU
who is super amazing.

In the deep dark jungels of far Raffic

This has just got to be a High Elven palace in the dark jungles of Raffic in our game world.

its not really but that is the first thing I thought of when I saw this awesome piece of art by

Tuomas Korpi

Friday, June 8, 2012

Are role playing games incomplete?

Normally when you pick up a boxed game, everything you need is in the box and the game is a very specific scenario. I think you can see where I'm going with this already. We could have had a complete D&D game under this model with just the basic set and the Caves of Chaos.

Not so for AD&D and many of the other games which followed. I was going to include Runequest in this but I would argue that Runequest was really the first non-D&D sandpit with the map of the maps on p108 and 109 as the implied sandpit and wilderness setting.

Anyway I have never in 30 years of gaming found adventure construction easy. I used to see this as my own short coming but in retrospect some of that was perfectionism and the other part was simple fact.

The structures provided in many games for adventure construction were really lacking. I see many of the contributions of the Old school movement being a codification of sandpit design. Sure nu-school is doing something similar too. Most notably the contributions of the story games crowd like Cam Banks, Jeremy Keller, Luke Crane and many others. 

So this brings me around to the systems which set the GM up for success. Leverage, Mouse Guard, Space Princes. they all include simple systems to put your game session on track and more or less keep it there.

It seems fairly simple to me now, so I'm going to break it down. I want to come out and state for the record that I'm a strong proponent of player agency however this does not mean the game should allow all actions to succeed so the player can simply play out a power fantasy. Quite the opposite actually - I think the games systems should respond in a very real way to the more fantastical wishes of the players and impose a bit or reality on those more fantastical wishes.

Think of your own life. Despite the best laid plans and preparation, things don't always work out the way we imagine. In a drama this is the very essence of the story. Action-reaction. Desire, impetus, consequence and the reverberating effects on the 'system': The, girlfriend, the family, the workplace, the bar, the vampire clan, the castle, the Imperial senate.

The point being the character needs to be acted on in the story to create drama. The player may not all ways get what they want. They can respond with any idea they have. That to me is player agency. To make choices and to impose those choices on the world - however the 'world' to has agency and is not passive. 

With that out of the way how do I plan for a game. Well I dont really even need to plan it per say.  I do all of this on the fly quite a bit. Mouse Guard is pure genius because it builds this into the game.  

You need a structure so lets not reinvent the wheel [heh]. You need to decide on a 3 or 5 scene session. Do a three scene session as its just less work. Often what will happen is additional scenes will organically/spontaneously emerge during play. Not fight this, just let it happen. As you see part of the session design will manages this too. Its critically important to let this happen as this a) gives the players 'agency" as we talked about above and b) levels the playing field - when the players come to the table they dont know the direction of play and as GM there are times you too should have to manage with this aspect of role playing gaming too.

We need to pick what our scenes are. I mean the location for the scene at this stage. To do this, think of great stories and great locations you remember from them. The cave behind the waterfall, the submarine base on the ocean floor, the luxury penthouse with expansive glass vistas. Brain storm a few ideas. jot down at lest five and pick the best three. You will start to see a patten in session design as everything will be done in threes and fives.  

We don't have to be concerned with dialogue but we do have to be concerned with the forward momentum of the session. I call this 'Impetus'. In a good game system the characters come preloaded with some existing Impetus in the form of setting related hooks, goals or relationships. For simplicities sake we are going to use just three forms of Impetus. You can think of more or refinements if you like but these will give you a session of play every time.
  • The Get (this includes find and explore and all those permutations) PC's need to get something or someone, for something or someone - Why? Why? Why?
  • The Stop- PC's need to stop something or someone or  maybe the PC's need to be stopped - Why? Why? Why?
  • The Give - Someone or something the PC's know will be given something or someone Why? Why? Why?
Use each one multiple times in a scene. but try to use them all each scene.  
As you can see to make this work you need some things and I well build game engine will provide these for you. You may need location maps so get them sorted or be prepared to wing it.
You will also need to identify objects - people and things which you can being to the table when the mechanics of the game demand them. Most 'monster' books will give you 'bads' to knock down. Good players will give you relevant NPC/GMC's to link into the story. If not invent them on the fly. How? every time the players want something they have to interact with people. Make those people relevant. To assist in this have name lists ready to use for these instant somebodies or prepare them in advance.

As your going make sure you can answer for this story "Who, What, Where, When, Why and How"

You now only need to add the PC's to the first scene and push them with impetus. If things slow down throw a 'contest' at them. This can be the proverbial smoking gun or some more subtle test but make it relevant to the players right now.

This is my off the cuff writing of how I do it. I'll give it a bit more thought over the weeks to come and try and codify it some more.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Iconic" Sci Fi game ideas

I've been reading about the work of Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo on '13th Age' and I'm really taken by the Icon idea they have incorporated in the game. So being a sci-fi aficionado I could not help but start thinking about the same type of 'Iconic' setting for sci fi.

For example Imperial Storm troops

and the list goes on
  • Prison Planet
  • Beanstalk 
  • Megacorp council 
  • Street Gangs 
  • Imperial Destroyer
  • Research Installation Alpha 
  • Jump Gates
  • Malevolent AI
  • Sector Governor
  • Underworld Boss
  • The Resistance
I could go on but you get the idea. There really is a set of 'tropes' which epitomize sci-fi. This also probably means this 'setting' is slightly more 'space opera' then 'hard' but that is not necessarily a bad thing. 'Newtons Wake' is subtitled as 'a space opera' for example.  

However the point of such a design artifice, is to make for a very accessible sci-fi setting. All too often sci-fi milieu are nigh inaccessible due to the voluminous nature of the material. For gaming I think it is a bad thing to have too much background. I also think that only a few of us really read the game background maybe a third of the market really reads the background. I have nothing to back up this claim players I've GM'd and often they dont bother to open the books of the game. The icons approach shows there are 'Archetypes' we can access, which imply or cast the sci-fi setting in much the same way as the Iconic high fantasy setting.

Yes you still need to make this linked intrinsically to "the character" so the PC needs hooks which draw on these elements easily.

This is in no way revolutionary, I think most pastiche settings do this in an unknown or unplanned way.   Again its not linked to character and its not done in a 'just-in-time' 'Lean' manner to minimize the amount of  background and to deliberately use the collective recognition of archetypes to power the game.


X-Plores  is just such a great game. Its a little over shadowed by 'Stars Without Number' and a minor quibble is its not exactly a retro-clone of the original game. Its a super great game and certainly a great retro-sci-fi of 60's-70's sci-fi.  

And the new cover really captures this. There is an old time Aussie author Bertram Chandler who I read as a young-takka whos sci fi really captures this feel go see if you can find some of this books for some really great reads.