Tuesday, February 23, 2010

From the Ground Up - Homebrewing a Near Future Sci Fi Setting : Part 3 : Measures

Linguistics, language and literature have always fascinated me, especially when trying to choose the right words to portray the correct theme. The idea that two words can technically mean exactly the same thing but invoke completely different moods has always endeared me to a love of the English language. With that in mind I knew I'd have to do a bit of tweaking with the skills and measures of D&H to portray a futuristic setting.

The measures were mostly kept as standard - 'discipline', 'influence' and 'charm' are as important a measure of a man as they ever were. 'Guts', however, gave me a bit of a problem. Having played Deadlands previously the term brought back memories of the wild west, mixed with some overtones of pirates on the high seas. While perfect for the Napoleonic era it was not giving the impression of a modernistic setting.

So, what felt right to replace it?

Going back to my old haunts 'Stamina' was always a good fit for general fitness and health but here it didn't seem right. It came across as too light a term for a weighty measure, more associated with gym fitness than the heat of battle.

'Endurance' was another possibility but came up against the same problem.

'Health' just didn't seem right.

Eventually, after messing about with various phrasings, I decided on 'Resilience'. Formal, impressive, modern and few preconceptions about its scope.

Happy with that I then turned my eye to the skills...


Friday, February 05, 2010

From the Ground Up - Homebrewing a Near Future Sci Fi Setting : Part 2 : The Basics

I have a system.

I have a vague genre.

Now I've just got to figure out the details.

SciFi (with apologies to Douglas Adams) is big. Really big. It covers everything from the beginnings of cybertech to the vastness of intergalactic empires so it's important to know what type of scifi to go for. With that in mind I had a number of ground rules I wanted to stick to:

1) All the pcs will be human.
This will ensure that all the characters will have an identity based on the pcs' outlook and experiences, rather than just having broad stokes of 'I'm an elf/dwarf/three-tenticled-Xzuka.' While I'm still undecided on whether to have alien beasties in the setting I'd want them to be properly alien, not just a human with a bumpy forehead.

2) The tech will be at least vaguely viable.
I'm a science geek. Most of my friends are science geeks. I go to the British Science Festival every year and pick up random weird and wonderful facts about new technologies. I know that some of the odder scientific theories out there are perfectly viable and it's far more interesting to have logic underpinning your tech. Without that it's just magic with a different name.

3) I will be able to have cool space battles.
Because they're cool. 'Nuff said.

4) The setting will still be recognisable.
I'll be aiming to get new blood in and infodumping a new, unrecognisable setting on people I don't know is usually a recipe for disaster. By keeping a recognisable set of governmental entities relating back to modern nations I can give a frame of reference while relying on the story to fill in the nuances of international relations. The general point that current levels of globalisation has led to a major resurgance of nationalism rather than decreasing it makes me think that it isn't going to be going away for a long time.

5) The pcs will have a noticeable effect on the universe they reside in.
The pcs are the most important people in that particular universe as far as the players are concerned. This is an undisputed fact. The players experience the universe via the pcs and if their actions mean nothing then there's no real reason for them to be playing. While these effects can start small when the players see that their pcs can make a difference to the universe around them it will immerse them more fully into the setting. It also means that they know that their actions have consequences and that if they screw up its not just themselves they have to worry about.

With these ground rules in mind I started to have an idea of the setting that would most fulfil them. A near future setting, just at the very dawn of FTL travel, would be ideal. There would be the opportunity for first contact with other species (or the opportunity for wholescale genocide depending on your view), there are enough current theories on FTL travel that I could pick a bunch and see which one feel the best, the human sphere won't have changed that much - though the rest of the solar system would be colonised and, of course, by being pioneers in the jump out to space the characters will be directly affecting the growth of human civilization in a tangible way.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

From the Ground Up - Homebrewing a Near Future Sci Fi Setting : Part1 : Stuff

I'm an engineer by trade and a scientist by mindset. Let me get that right out in the open from the start.

I love well thought-out rpg systems and the way certain systems or gaming processes lend themselves to different genres is something that I am always conscious of when deciding on a new campaign. There are certain games which epitomise this - the original Deadlands, with it's mix of dice, poker chips and cards, managed to enhance the feel of the Old West and, despite it's seeming complexity, improved the gaming experience. This always seemed to be the epitome of the system fitting the genre (especially when you played poker with the same cards after the session).

The original World of Darkness rules became my standard 'generic' system for modern day games when I was gaming at university, mostly because of their simplicity and ubiquity. There were always little touches that could be tweaked with the Storyteller system to give it that little bit more atmosphere.

Others are less successful. I've only really been happy with the various d20 systems when I've used them to send up the whole genre - XCrawl using the Iron Heroes rules is amazing fun and I've had a great time attempting to break the paradigm by subverting DnD stereotypes but that's only good if everyone in the group has ganged up to completely destroy the genre. At a different level GURPS is a brilliant series of sourcebooks but the system has always left me cold as it's too clinical for me.

Which brings me to my main problem at the moment - what happens when you find a beautifully elegant system but aren't comfortable with the setting that comes with it?

Yep, it doesn't happen often but it's happened to me a couple of times - the first was Fireborn, a short lived 'the PCs are shapeshifted dragons in modern day London' game from Fantasy Flight which had a lovely basic mechanic unfortunately backed up by an overly complicated combat system and a setting that never really jelled.

The second is my current favourite system of all time - the one created in Duty & Honour/Beat to Quarters by Neil Gow. It's very stylised but elegant in the way most systems couldn't even dream about. The pure card based system can rack up tension in a way that'd be difficult to attempt, let alone succeed with, using dice rolling. My only problem is that I wouldn't feel comfortable with running it with the setting it's designed for - the Napoleonic Wars. I'm not a Renaissance girl; my heart belongs to ancient times or to the unknown future. If something happened less than two or three hundred years ago it just doesn't seem like history - more like slightly old current events. Growing up down the road to a Neolithic dolmen that might be older than Stonehenge does seem to define your worldview and I know I just couldn't do justice to the era. In fact I've probably insulted a bunch of historians by mentioning the renaissance and the Napoleonic Wars in the same breath.

So what do I aim for? Duty and Honour is based around infantry which would be a fit for most eras, though I'd want it to be a time which fits with the cards. Pulp Noir would be interesting with the whole relationship based drive of the system so I spent some time trying to feel out how my players regarded that setting.

Shot down in flames.

Then Beat to Quarters came out. It is based around naval campaigns and the moment I saw the ship-to-ship combat rules I knew that this is what I wanted. My players had previously expressed a great deal of interest in playing a space-based military campaign and I realised that I held in my hands the perfect tool to run it. Now I just had to figure out the details...