Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From the Ground Up - Homebrewing a Near Future Sci Fi Setting : part 5 : Power

Power drives our civilisation. Without power our lives would be changed utterly; the dawn of civilisation was defined by the discovery of fire, most of it by the harnessing of beasts of burden, then our current age brought about by steam, coal, oil and nuclear power with solar and windpower nipping at their heels. With the current global power problems and global warming prowling in the shadows a change in power source would be a massive change for society.

I think I've decided on three...

1) An interim fuel source between now and near game time. I'm currently meandering through the GURPS Transhuman Space sourcebooks to steal borrow cool ideas and it's realistic use of helium-3 as the major power source of this century is something I'm going to keep for a while.

2) Plot-driven stellar-travel spaceship fuel. Caught by skimming solar winds and harvesting the matter expelled by stars. Really powerful but only viable in actual spacecraft.

3) A cool new fuel source to fight over. No nation would ever regard having too much fuel as a bad thing and if there's a new improved source on the block to fight over then you can bet that tensions will be high. As I ended up at a lecture on antimatter at last years British Science Festival that substance jumped to the top of my list. Certain isotopes are currently used in modern medical PET scanning because they decay and release antimatter - carbon-11, nitrogen-13, oxygen-15 and fluorine-18 - and this by itself lent itself to lots of fun possibilities for discovering antimatter on other planets. What happens if within a certain ecosystem one of these isotopes is bound in molecules which stabilise them until the molecule bonds are broken down? Antimatter is annoying to store for anything more than a few minutes without a penning trap, and even then the amount you can store in one is tiny but if you can ship out tons of the compound then separate the molecules...

Thursday, March 04, 2010

From the Ground Up - Homebrewing a Near Future Sci Fi Setting : part 4 : Skills

From a purely thematic viewpoint the skills in BtQ invoke wonderful images, after all just seeing the 'Skullduggery' skill brings to mind piratical exploits on the high seas and Dickensian urchins racing through the streets. While the insane part of my brain is screaming 'run Oliver Twist in Space!' at me I'm ignoring it and trying for a more modern feel to the setting.

First off I decided on the skills I was going to leave happily alone. 'Awareness', 'Command', 'Diplomacy', 'Gambling', 'Haggle', 'Intimidate', 'Profession' and 'Scavange' all seemed to be perfectly suited for the setting as is.

Leaving aside the wrestling match with linguistics for the moment I had to make a decision on new skills to reflect the changes in society, especially the importance of the sciences. With a bit of mulling over a few of the other space based games I decided to go for the three way split - 'Life Sciences', 'Technical Sciences' and 'Social Sciences'. I was tempted for a few minutes to add in the 'Theoretical Sciences' but that seemed like pushing the system a bit. Maths for the sake of maths is only a challenge if you're sitting an exam - somehow I don't think that wouldn't make a particularly fun session.

Now for the renaming. The non-military skills were less likely to break the mood than the military ones so I started with them. Firstly my beloved 'Skullduggery' had to go, 'Subterfuge' being the obvious choice to replace it. With the meshing of 'Music' and 'The Arts' was born 'Media' which more accurately reflected the current state of artistry. 'Romance' is a dirty word these days with 'Seduction' being closer to reality. 'Intrigue' was slightly more problematic but after having a good look at what the skill represented I decided on 'Investigation'. 'Courtesy' also led back to bygone days and it was a toss up between 'Charisma' and 'Presence' with 'Presence' winning afte a small tussle.

The military skills were what I was most dreading. So much of the atmosphere depended on getting these correct. 'Purser' was fairly straightforward and immediately went to 'Logistics'. Likewise, 'Gunnery' made perfect sense to go to 'Ordnance'. 'Soldiering' renaming to 'Military' and seemed to feel right. The others were less forthcoming. I had some reservations about combining 'Seamanship' and 'Maritime' but in the end compromised by replacing the two of those and 'Riding' with the combo of 'System Ops' and 'Pilot' - one for large vehicles, the other for personal/small scale craft.

Now I had to figure out if anything was missing. The only thing I could really see needing was some kind of skill to simulate the challenges of working in different gravity conditions. 'Athletics' was the first phrase of choice but it gave off too many allusions to sports so I opted for 'Agility' which didn't have the same type of overtones.

Now I have everything system-wise but traits and ships, however how they could manifest depends entirely on the setting and tech level so I'm off to get some research done.