Saturday, March 21, 2015

Trek to the Stars pt 7: The Inevitable Machine Uprising

In this post I am going to talk a bit more about the setting for Trek to the Stars, and all that. I am also going to talk about an area of design that I normally do not pay much attention to. I am going to talk about when you reach the point where you have to decide what to do with your game. Mostly, when I make a game for this site, I just go until the muse no longer strikes and then I let the idea lay fallow. After talking with some of my friends and fellow designers I have decided that I would be better served by finishing up these projects and putting them out all polished and gleaming. So that is what I am going to do. I will start with this project; my goal is to have a working beta document ready by mid April. From there I will start a fairly low key kickstarter to get editing, art, and layout done. Then I will release it to the world as a pay what you want pdf and also do some sort of print on demand bit. After that, I will move on to other projects that are near completion: Heartbreaker, Omnis Mundi, and Where the Antelope play. I also have a bunch of other ideas that keep springing into my head, so look for those in the future as well. Don't worry about Jadepunk, though. I will still be putting out books for that. It is just that I have spent so much time focusing on that single project that my other work has started to slide a bit. This is my attempt to get back in the saddle, to get designing the other stuff that I always wanted to do.

All that said lets get to the design bits, yeah? For those who haven't been following this project, or want to refamiliarize themselves with it, here are the previous posts:
The initial idea
Part 1 Influences and basic pitch
Part 2 Skill Roll Basics
Part 3 Campaign Frameworks
Part 4 History in brief and major technologies
Part 5 I talk about Keys and Secrets 
Part 6 The basic timeline and a description of the clades and uplifts

Last time I talked about the genetic engineering side of things. This time I would like to delve into the mechanical and technological side of the equation.

Computing
Quantum Computers: The advent of the quantum computer changed everything. For most folk in the system, it was just a faster and more reliable computer. To those into advanced mathematics, economics, or artificial intelligence research it the quantum computer opened the universe. When the quantum computer was first invented, those who had it used it to crash every market on earth for over ten years. Only when the nations and corporations changed over to quantum cryptography that things began to improve and even then it was the discovery of fusion that managed to pull the economy out a decade long slump.

The Internet
During the Last War the Internet was struck, and struck hard. It was a line of communication and could not be allowed. Satellites were destroyed, wires cut, severs were wiped out. By the end of the war the nature of computer networks had changed. Much information was lost or fragmented during the war, but a lot was taken outward in the second diaspora. Networks are now far more centralized and controlled. Server farms are hidden and guarded

Artificial Intelligence
During the first diaspora artificial intelligence came to be. Several labs managed the feat within months of each other. At the time few laws existed to deal with man made sapience. this was quickly rectified and within twenty years Artificial Intelligences were considered capable of being citizens like any human. That said there is still a great deal of distrust and prejudice against Constructed Intelligences(their preferred term). Some folks do not believe the results of the Ferrera-Tannous Test are accurate, that these beings are only mimicking sapience. Currently a Constructed Intelligence requires a massive quantum computer with massive constant power needs. Most are housed in satellites or space ships, interacting with the external world through drones.

Transportation
Transportation of the future is manifold. From Vactrains traversing the Atlantic and across multiple continents to Ground effect vehicles and vacuum balloons, there are more ways to get around now than at any time in the past. The biggest advance has been in the area of space travel. Cheep fusion reactors and mass drivers drove the race into space. Currently there are two main drives in use Solar Sails and Fusion Drive Rockets. Solar sails are cheep, but slow. One can increase one's speed by hiring a laser array to increase the ships speed. Fusion Drive Rockets(called "Rosies" in the engineering vernacular) are used primarily for military uses and other uses that require a fast burn. They are far to costly for most normal travel needs. Primarily ships are use for trade purposes, bringing He^3 and other materials out to, and back from, the edges of human occupied space.

Cybernetics
There are a great many ways to augment the human body. Possibly the most invasive is biomechtronic human enhancement, often called(erroneously) cybernetics. Most folks who get enhanced in this way are replacing damaged limbs or organs. The ones who do not are viewed with great distrust. People who remove parts of themselves to gain some perceived advantage are seen as somewhat unstable.
  • Spartan: the cyborgs who focus on enhancing their own bodies with prosthesis are known as Spartans, after the ancient Greek warriors. Their enhancements are the most varied of the human augmentations. They tend toward protections and combat enhancements, though there are stories of those given prosthesis as a form of control. 
  • Collectivites: They sit in the secret stations hidden throughout the system. They seek to transcend humanity. Using quantum computers and brain machine interfaces they have merged their minds(mostly). They interact with the outside world using remote controlled robot drones. However they are still connected to meat space. They have yet to transcend their bodies. They sit in armored shells filled with nutrients and a mild electric current to stimulate their muscles to prevent atrophy. Full mind upload is the dream, and it is still a long way off. Those who have tried managed to upload...something, but what remained within the quantum computer was not human. They were not safe. The transfer loses all but the darkest parts of the human soul(if there is such a thing).
Major Tech Corporations
W-Y Corp: Born of the merger between two mega-corporations W-Y Corp produces anything and everything that people need. They control 4% of every market in the system. That may not seem like much, but it makes them the largest corporation in the solar system. There have been many allegations of shady dealings and cover ups, but they hold such power that they are considered a sovereign entity when dealing with governments.
Omni Corp: The leading edge of the drone market, while also working to break into the field of mechanical augmentation. They have recently mad a deal with one of the moons of Uranus to build better soldiers in their near constant warfare with their neighbors.
Tai Rel Corp: Leading the field in genetic engineering. they are currently focused entirely on building better life forms to survive the harsh conditions in Venus' atmosphere.
Cyber Systems: They created the first quantum computers and still are leaders in the field. Recently they have been fighting an economic war against their chief rival HMI.
Hueristic Modeling Inc: An upstart computer company that made a splash recently by outbidding Cyber Systems for a military contract with the Saturnian Regency.

So that is what I have for this post. Let me know what you think.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trek to the Stars pt 6: The Inevitable Momentum of History

In this post I will be digging into the specifics of the timeline as well as talking about the genetically modified humans and the uplifts. I also bring up some issues I have run into with the previous posts. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, or any ideas you have for the setting or mechanics. Here are links to the previous posts in this project, should you wish to look through them:
The Original Idea
Part 1 Initial setting ideas and influences
Part 2 How skill rolls will work
Part 3 Campaign Frameworks
Part 4 History and Technology
Part 5 Discussion of Keys and Secrets

Timeline of the Future
2039 The first enhance combat prosthesis is fielded successfully. Mechanical human enhancement becomes more common as the century moves forward.

2045-2053 A worldwide depression begins and runs for nearly a decade.

2052 The fusion reactor is invented by engineers working for Lockheed Martin, within ten years they have revolutionized energy across the planet. The economy booms.

2060-2075 The First diaspora begins. The mass colonization of the inner solar system begins with the great scientists and explorers of the age. Mars terraforming begins and specialists flock to it. The beginnings of the flying cities of Venus also take shape. A science station is put in orbit around Mercury to study the sun.

2091 The African shipyards and mass driver. Three hundred kilometer long mass driver the spouts up through a mountain for launch.

2094-2145 The second diaspora begins as space craft reach a relatively low price. Many begin an exodus to the asteroid field and the moons of Saturn Jupiter and Uranus.

2110-2134 The Last War begins as tensions between colonies and the old powers. This is a war of surgical strikes and political maneuvering. Furious bouts of fighting last for moments and there are great stretches of tense ceasefires. The alpha mod for humans were created during the war, and they ended it when they utilized there natural abilities to wipe out several key leaders and cities taking control of most of central Africa. they were defeated, though several thousand made it into space before they could be taken out. This united hatred of the Alphas ended the war. Mars was ceded to two major colony powers, the neo fascists and compassionate communists(like the federation).

2134 Comet Halley makes it rounds through the inner system once again. A group of scientists tether a small probe to the comet to gather data, continuously.

2140 Oldest person in recorded history dies at age of 150. In the future this becomes more common as advances in medicine become more easily available. By the end of the century the average lifespan has become 110 years old.

2145-Now Saturnian Conflicts: after a generation of colonization the various colonies began to fight over the rights to mine He^3 several family run mines became massive corporations and began to issue letters of marque on the harvesters of the rival clans. It soon began to near open war, until the concord was reached. The families(as they became known) agreed to never use total war and the war they would practice had to follow several severe limits. This has led to a pseudo feudal state where all the families agree to operate as a united whole while fighting for power through ritualized warfare. In fact warfare is one of the few areas of upward mobility among the people of Saturn. Battles are either against the concord and hidden or with the concord and celebrated.

2175-Now The third Diaspora has begun. Ship and fusion generator prices reach an all time low. Colonists head for the outer planets in droves. Many fail and die in the black, but some make it and strike it rich. Stories of the expansion fill most of the output of the mass entertainment. Earth begins to empty as economic, religious, and political pressures drive people to take to the stars.

2199 The first Raccoon uplifts are discovered. They had been created by some genius with access to a highly advanced lab, yet no one took credit. The first Raccoon uplift remains a mystery to this day, and many a conspiracy theorist claims to know the truth. Examining the uplifts led to advances in the field, allowing for the Raven uplift program to succeed.

2206 The first cybernetic gestalt goes online in a station in orbit around Jupiter.

2209 the martian Space elevator is finally finished after a decade of delay.

2221 First colonist sets foot on Eris, which soon becomes the hub of trade in and around the Kuiper belt. Soon after Haumea and Makemake are also colonized.

2256 The first independent miners begin mining on Mercury. Through hard work, ingenuity, and luck they begin to make a profit. Soon corporations begin to form, as do unions, and conflict begins in earnest between all the forces seeking to control mining on Mercury.

2342 The Alcubierre Shunt is invented by W-Y Corp and within twenty years there will be at least one in orbit of seven of the eight planets, Neptune is still missing a shunt. There is still some fear among the populous about travelling by this method.

2356-2360 Neo fascist Mars has recently fallen to balkanization after a major civil war. The old government lost much territory in the north to several smaller break away nations. They have hunkered down and begun focusing on keeping control of the remaining territory.

2358-Now The Uranian colonies have begun selling cheap He^3 to the other colonies for fusion power. This has cut into the profit margin of the Saturnian regency, who had close to a monopoly on He^3 for nearly a hundred years. The regency has begun encouraging revolts within the various Uranian states. This region is incredibly politically dangerous.

2365 Now

The Clades
The clades are genetically modified humans who breed true. Currently there are four clades in existence: Alphas, Atavists, Angels, and Aewar. They have all existed as clades for over two hundred years. Some do not even consider themselves to be human anymore. They see themselves as separate from humans in all ways that matter. Most folk view those who believe such things as deluded in one form or another.
  • Alpha: physically and mentally superior in most ways(though not by a massive margin), though they have severe megalomania and paranoia. they rend to only live out past the belt, as their betrayal is still remembered in the inner system. Often are viewed as untrustworthy, crazy, and dangerous.
  • Atavists: physically stronger and faster, thicker bones and advanced healing. Downsides emotionally fragile and poor vision(colorblind and near sighted), their muscle density makes swimming very difficult. Folks tend to view them as slow and stupid, though they are not. 
  • Angels: Living in micro gravity or extreme low gravity environments they are the most common, and yet the most extreme, modified humans. They have modded themselves with lighter bone and muscles designed to resist atrophy in order to survive as well as bioluminescent patches of skin allowing them to work and communicate in the dark times in space. They have difficulty in any gravity over .5 Gs, and tend toward being tall and thin. They also have fairly heavy light sensitivity and must wear protective goggles in lighting designed for normal human comfort.
  • Aewar: They have enhanced senses and spatial understanding they can do many things that humans today would view impossible. They have live life on emotional mute and have difficulty making big decisions. Need to work on this.
Chimera
Folks who have had post utero modifications, have been modified in a new way that does not pass on to the next generation, or are singular in their modifications. They have real issues with diseases, their immune systems are shot. They can get very powerful, but they must take so many drugs and immuno-suppressants that even a simple cold can kill them.

Uplifts
There are currently two major species in the later stages of genetic uplift: Ravens and Raccoons. There had been serious attempts at uplifting great apes, by the time technology had reached that level very few ape remained in the wild or in captivity. The gene pool was too small. Whales and dolphins have gone through several uplift programs, but there seems to be some fundamental difference in thinking required for cetacean undersea life and communication that provides a divide that has yet to be crossed.

  • Raccoon: They stand between 3' and 4' tall(not counting the tail). Their skull size and brain capacity have been increased slightly more. No one is quite sure who did the first uplift procedure on raccoons initially, but it was brilliant work. There is a legend among them that they somehow uplifted themselves, most folk discount this theory.
  • Ravens: Have increased in size significantly, nearing 40lb with a wingspan of 8 feet or more, they are superlative communicators and excellent at non-linear abstract thought. There has been a recent surge in demand for Raven artwork throughout the inner system. Ravens are also excellent organizers and have been involved in much of the terraforming projects throughout the solar system. They are especially common on Mars, usually overseeing new construction or agriculture. 

Uplift specific technology
Waldoes: Ravens do not have hands and so they require a special mechanical frame to interact with devices designed for human uses. This frame allows for the raven to control a set of mechanical arms using its feet and beak.

I would like to explore this idea a bit more. The idea for technology that helps uplifts interact in human society. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

Some technical notes
Solar Sails and lasers: You can travel at a fairly sedate speed or you can hire a laser satellite from a nearby planet to launch you at greater velocities. These lasers serve a double purpose. They serve to enhance speed, and they serve to defend a planet or nation from orbital threats.

Alcubierre Bubble as transport without a shunt: I see the warp bubble as being something that can only be initiated and stopped by a shunt. Once you are in the warp bubble, you are in it until some external force breaks the bubble. Currently the only thing that can is the shunt. So you need a shunt at the starting point, and another shunt at the end point. You could send someone to Alpha Centauri, but they would end up slamming into the planet or star and dying, or flying right past forever. Perhaps normal ships cannot make the trip. Perhaps whet they do is take material and personnel to the shunt and they board massive cargo/passenger ships that travel to the next shunt in the line where they disembark onto various smaller craft to go to the various `planets/moons/dwarf planets/asteroids. I would really like these to work like a train system. You would have one in orbit around all the inner planets

Artificial Intelligence: I am leaning toward a suggestion by +Paul Mitchener in that AI should require a powerful "quantum computer" in order to function. This does bring in some problems though. It requires quite a lot of power that would not really be portable on a man size frame, and so would require a power satellite or the equivalent. This is problematic as it means that players either could not play them or would have really weird restrictions on playing them. I would love to hear any thoughts on reworking AI into something more playable while still fitting within the themes and tones for this setting as established so far. Basically I am extrapolating from current technology, or current theory to the next degree.

H'okay, so that is what I have so far. I would love to hear any comments, critiques or complaints.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Trek to the Stars pt 5: Keys and Secrets

Since last post I dealt with the setting, I figured that this post I would delve a bit further into the mechanics of the thing. Since I first heard about them, keys have fascinated me. It changed the way I looked at much of game design. Such a simple thing to have such a powerful effect. I found that merely adding keys to an existing game changed the state of play on a fundamental level.

I have also made a decision about the nature of skills. In a previous post I set down two separate thoughts on how to do roll and keep in the game. In this post I will go into the decision I made and how I see it playing out.

Should you wish to look through the previous posts related to this project, here they are:
The original idea for a system
Part 1 where I talk about my influences and a loose brainstorm for the setting
Part 2 where I put down the basics of dice rolling and the initial skill list
Part 3 where I discuss some ideas for potential campaign frameworks
Part 4 where I start giving some specifics of the setting

Keys
Keys are motivations, desires, problems, relationships, loyalties, and duties that cause your character to act. In a way they are a bit like aspects in Fate. They drive you to take action and grant you a reward for taking that action. In Shadow of Yesterday the bonus they get is experience points, in Fate the bonus is fate points. In Trek to the Stars they serve both functions. You gain character points by following your keys, and then you gain experience points when you spend character points on taking action.

The issue I have always had with Keys is the difficulty I have with constructing them. When you see a good Key, you know that it is indeed good. When you get a bad one though, or a mediocre one, you can feel it is bad, but not necessarily what went wrong with it. In this I will lay out the basics of Keys as it was set down in Shadow of Yesterday. In future posts I will try my best to set out some really solid examples(fingers crossed). Keep in mind that the numbers might change as we move forward in this project.
From original document
Keys are the motivations, problems, connections, duties, and loyalties that pull on your character. To the player, they're highly important because they generate experience points. Creating new Keys may be easier than new Abilities or Secrets - they follow very simple rules.
  • A Key must involve a motivation, problem, connection, duty, or loyalty.
  • Keys come in two types: * Motivations. When the motivation is fulfilled in play, gain an experience point. When the motivation is fulfilled against good odds, gain three experience points. * Everything else. When the Key comes up in play, gain an experience point. When the Key presents a minor problem, gain two experience points. When it presents a major problem, gain five experience points.
  • All Keys have a Buyoff, which is a reversal from the Key by the character. All Buyoffs give the character 10 experience points. This Buyoff occurs only when you, the player, wants it to happen: you can lose a battle with the Secret of Bloodlust and still keep the Secret. If you want your character to undergo a change in his personality, though, adding to the story, you can take this Buyoff by fulfilling it. If you do take the Buyoff, you can never take this Key again.
So that is the basics of Keys. I will be designing them along those lines, though I will definitely be manipulating the numbers. I see folks earning character points two ways for each Key. You gain one point when it comes up in play, and five points(ten points?) when you resolve it. It is generally resolution that I find most difficult to nail down. So any advice on Keys and how I should use them in this game would be greatly appreciated.

Secrets
I am rather fond of this name for a special ability within a skill. I had been vacillating between perk and technique for that name. Then I reread Shadow of Yesterday and saw secret. Such a fine name. It reminds me of the old classic Shaw Brothers films, everyone is all the time learning secrets of their given skill. Each skill has a number of secrets attached to it secrets can do a number of things. What follows are the rules for constructing secrets for the skills. I will probably build a bunch when I go back through and do a finishing run on the skill list.
  • Allow you to keep an extra die on a given roll(usually only in a given circumstance)
  • Give you a minor unique ability of some sort or permission to use your skill in a new way
  • Increase the scale of the skill in a specific circumstance 
  • Increase effect or damage of a skill after the roll
I think that will cover a lot of ground for secrets, though I would love to hear any ideas on ways to expand this list. I also need to sort out my skill list and how I would like to describe the skills. As they are important I am leaning toward giving each skill a larger description than they might normally get. I am currently trying to work through the skill list and make it work. I am trying to figure out knowledge skills and language/culture skills as I think they would be useful and interesting. That said, I am uncertain how best to use them in my game. Any thoughts on those would also be appreciated.

My next post will be on the future history, giving a nice long view of how the next couple centuries will go(in my setting at least, I am no Nostradamus). I will also talk about the uplifts, gene mods, cyborgs, and my problems with AI. Alright that is it for this post, let me know what you think. Comments, critiques, and suggestions are always welcome.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Trek to the Stars part 4: Future History and Advanced Technology

H'okay so today I will be working on the setting a bit more and laying down some possibilities of the setting. I have these thoughts rolling around in my head, they are not really coalescing though. I will lay out what I have and hopefully spur some discussion on what to do with them. This is all just kind of roughing out the setting and building a solid base for future developement. If you have any thoughts, please let me know.If you would like to look at what I have already worked out on for the game(system and setting) here are the links.
The initial Idea
Part 1 My influences and some thoughts on what I would like to see
Part 2 A tentative skill list and a fleshing out of the die mechanic
Part 3 My thoughts on campaign frameworks that fit within the setting and system

That out of the way, here goes. My ideas for the setting of Trek to the Stars:

Future History
350 years in the future, after the world fell and the sky opened up again, we have moved beyond our small blue sphere and have taken our place in the heavens.  Mars terraforming is nearing the end of phase two. Venus is going a different route. The game is set in the year 2365, and the frontiers of Man are limitless.

Mercury is split between two nations, several mining firms, the unions, and the independent miners trying to make a living. 

Venus has a great many cities in the sky(as oxygen is a lifting gas there) they harvest the gene modded plants that float in, and live off, the vast cloud cover while dispersing vast amounts of ice into the planetary atmosphere. These shining cities drift on the winds and help deflect some of the solar rays that bombard the planet.

On and around Earth the old nation states still cling to their power and history, though many new nations have risen. This is the heart of the old Lords of the System(basically the aristocracy that has lost much power lately, but still holds more influence than some would like). This is a hotbed of politics and money, as well as extreme political leanings. With so many folk leaving the planet the populations have been lowered significantly. 

Luna was once heavily populated, though now many folk have moved out to the new colonies and wide open spaces. Now it sits as backwater and historical site. Like a ghost town, but in space.

Mars has enough atmosphere that folks can breath unaided, and there are even some rivers and lakes. It is separated into three(or more, haven't decided yet) nations. There was a recent civil war has concluded over the southern portions of the planet, They seceded from, and were retaken by, a large neo-fascist regime. Their luxuries and education are currently being taxed punitively by their fascist overlords.

Ceres exists as the trade hub of much of the asteroid belt. Anything can be bought and traded here. It stands neutral in the dealings of the solar system at large. A great many asteroids have been moved near it so that miners can trade easier.

Europa has vast cities hanging from the ice down into the unlit depths. They have little to do with the outside system, the only access to their undersea realm is two surface stations over great elevators to the subsurface populations.  The remaining Jovian moons are also heavily colonized, though I still haven't worked out how it is all arranged.

The moons of Saturn are home to a pseudo-feudal society that controlled most trade of He^3 throughout the system. They are a rich and jealous of others power. They live lives of glorified violence as one of the only ways to advance beyond the serf/peasant/worker caste is to join the local military and distinguish yourself. Distinguished soldiers can be adopted into the ruling families. Military might and economic power are all that matter on the grand scheme. Each lord serves a higher lord and so on. All fall under the domain of the Saturn Emperor.

The independents around Uranus have begun to cut into the Saturn Baronies profits with their cheaper and easier to extract He^3. They are a disorganized and unruly bunch. Libertarian ideals founded the colonies, but soon thereafter the society almost collapsed and so a slightly stronger government was constructed, but the people are still independent and free wheeling.

Out beyond this lies the great frontier. The moons of Neptune, Pluto, the Kuiper belt, and Eris are all somewhat colonized. Many hermits, tribes, bands, micro-nations, and families have moved out to the region with nothing but a fusion plant, a ship, and a fabricator. Live is hard, but riches can be had with a bit of work and a bit of luck.

Major Important Technologies
Fusion Reactors: Invented in the mid twenty-first century its proliferation changed everything. Requires He^3 or Deuterium as fuel, depending on the model of reactor. A small one can power a habitat large enough for six for years with little complex maintenance.

Fabricators: A large machine that uses robotics and micro-robotics to construct anything it has the plans for. You must put the required material in the required amounts into the hopper. No household should be without one. You must purchase fabrication rights for the plans of any item you wish to construct and raw materials needed. Pirated plans and hacked fabricators are difficult to obtain, but not impossible. Laws regarding rights usage often change depending on which country you are in and from which the plans come. Basically advanced versions of 3D Printers.

Solar Sails: The cheep method of traveling (relatively)swiftly throughout the system. Solar sails are the preferred method for most colonists.

Ion Thruster: Using argon this engine provides steady thrust at a low cost. I am unsure if there isn't a better drive than this one, I do love the name of it though.

Mass Driver: An electromagnetic accelerator used to transport goods from ground to orbit. Used on Mercury, Luna, and several of the moons of the gas giants.

Alcubierre Shunt: A device like a beacon that allows a ship to travel faster than light for short periods. It bends space into a warp bubble around your ship and then fires that bubble of in a direction. In order to end the effect you must strike another beacon. Travel can take anywhere from a week(Earth to Venus) to a month and a half(Earth to Neptune)

Space Elevators: Mars and Titan have the only currently operational space elevators in the system. Though Earth has been working on constructing one for the last two years.

Vacuum Balloon: Recently materials science has advanced enough that this has become a possibility. Now there are several Vacuum Airships patrolling the skies of Venus. And recently a few such airships have been sent to Jupiter as a proof of concept toward building permanent cities in Jupiter's upper atmosphere.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Trek to the Stars Part 3: But what do they actually do?

I have been working on a new project for a little while now(her is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and I have been enjoying working through the ramifications of the rules and setting so far. I am now at the point where I need to start narrowing the field of play. Those who know anything about my design philosophy know that I am firm believer that play should be focused around a central conflict or theme. At heart I am always asking myself, "what do the player characters do in the game?" and, "how do the games rules help encourage that behavior?"

After I set out the mechanical basics of the game, in the last post, I got into a bit of a discussion about the emergent properties of play. During the discussion I came to a few conclusions about the setting and system. The system is heavily focused on choice(in the dice you choose to keep) and precision(you crit upon getting the exact target number). The system also focuses on pushing yourself beyond the normal limits(you can increase the difficulty to gain extra effect and you can spend character points to increase your number of rolled or kept dice) and seeking to do the impossible(failure grants bigger XP rewards than success). The way XP works also tends to lead to player proactivity and focus on choice(the only way to improve a skill is to find a legitimate use for the skill).

The setting, what there is of it, also has some implications. In discussing it, I realized that there were a couple of themes and genres running through the potential setting. There is big frontier feel to the setting so far. Humanity has spread beyond earth and have settled all throughout the solar system. This seems to indicate that in general populations of places will be lower per square mile than current populations. Also there are the ideas of exploration and expansion, with travel being somewhat slow and people living in the Kuiper belt and all. The expansion of the human form and ideas about what it means to be human(or sapient) leads to another area for expansion, exploration, and defining the frontier.  So I see several possible campaign frameworks that would work within  this setting(as it stands). I found this thread on rpg.net to be of much use in working out some basic campaign ides.

Potential campaign ideas:
  1. You play as frontiersmen who must stand between barbarity and civilization. I see this as anywhere from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to The Magnificent Seven, but in space. The focus would be on the nature of using force to protect the innocent. I could see things on the Martian frontier going this route, the miners on Mercury would also be a fine place for it, as could the tiny colonies out past Pluto. 
  2. A game where you play roving lawmen who deliver mail and justice. Think of it as Dogs in the Vineyard throughout the solar system, or like the second half of Tombstone where Wyatt Earp is hunting down Cowboys with fiery vengeance. You could play as members of a federal law enforcement service keeping the peace throughout the state, or as members of something like Interpol, but for the whole solar system. You would spend most of the game hunting fugitives, terrorists, and smugglers.
  3. the political game, where you are back in civilization and dealing with the players and movers and shakers. Whether it is the Genetically Enhanced rulers of the Saturn Baronies or the infighting within the libertarian Free Republic of Rand(still working on names), the idea of this game is to play the elite in their fight for control of power and influence. It is very Dune-esque in my mind. 
  4. Rebels still fighting the last war after it has been over for five years or more. I am unsure as to what the war was about, but my view of the setting as a western requires some sort of war to have ended recently. Basically during the war a number of states established a stronger power base and subsumed several smaller nations and rebel states. In this you would play the remnants of the armies that fought in the war. You may have lost nearly everything, but you still have your pride and your will not give up.
  5. You play settlers/miners out on the fringe, this would be mostly about dealing with a small community and the struggles of making a living on the edge of livability. The game would focus in interpersonal problems and dealing with unexpected problems. External threats would be meteor collisions, radiation leaks, bandits/pirates, and machinery failure. 
  6. Traders/performers/travelling scrap collectors and repair men(for big stuff that is hard for folks to repair on their own) travelling the routes across the solar system would be pretty fun as well. You would travel from place to place trying to make a living through your skills and wits. 
  7. Missionaries or travelling priests ministering to the masses throughout the system. I think this would be an interesting one to work with. Again it would be a bit like Dogs in the Vineyard, though with less shooting.  This is a campaign type that I have not seen much of in many games, so working on this would be kind of cutting a new path. That does appeal. Also it would allow for some interesting conflicts related to religion and its role in civilization.
  8. The love boat in space, seriously, think about it. It would be an awesome game. 
  9. Planetary surveyors on a mission to detail the lands and resources of a region, I think it would be neat to play interplanetary Luis and Clark. I have some ideas on how I would do it as well, so that is a thing. 
  10. Artifact investigation and recovery teams. After the last war there were many historical artifacts missing after raids and pillaging. Think The Monument's Men but in space. 
  11. Journalists seeking to get the scoop on various big incidents is another type of campaign you don't see all that much in games(or at least, I haven't seen it much). I am unsure how to go about doing it, but it would be a neat campaign framework, or at least a solid character concept.
So those are the basic campaign ideas I had for this project. What do you think? Is there an area you see that I didn't cover? Are there some ideas that you think would just be terrible in practice? I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and concerns.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Trek to the Stars: Beginnings part 2

In the last couple of posts I have written about the beginnings of some game ideas I have been tinkering with. The idea is kind of stuck in my head, and I am working through the basic ideas to alleviate this issue. If you are interested, here are links to the earlier posts:
The Beginnings of a Mechanical Idea
Part 1: setting basics

In this post I will be digging a bit further into the mechanics. Last time I talked about the basics of how the skills and die rolls will work, but it was all in generic terms. This time I would like to nail down some of the specifics of the system. I have a couple of ideas on how to do skills and I would like to discuss the possibility of both before making a decision. In fact I think I might be able to combine both, but lets get into it before I go further with ideas I have not described yet.

Both ideas work on the same basic idea. For each skill you roll a pool of six sided dice and then you can select a number of them to keep and try and overcome a target number. The target number is set by the GM, but you can increase it to add an effect to the roll(still working on the specifics of this). If you hit the exact target number that counts as a critical success(still working on what that means). The dice pool cannot go over ten(I have found that a dice pool of over ten dice tends to get unwieldy). As I am using d6s for this I feel like using the skill list(or at least some of the skill list) from the d6 System. So here it is.

Potential skill list
Acrobatics: Dodging, jumping, climbing, and maneuvering
Close Combat: Hand to hand with fists, kicks, weapons, and all things in between
Ranged Combat: Shooting and throwing in a fight over distance
Flying/0-G: Use for athletics and acrobatics in a zero g environment, or when flying(if you can fly)
Athletics: Swim, Run, lift
Navigation: Figuring out where you are, and how to get where you want to go
Pilot/ride: Controlling vehicles and riding beasts(maybe I should have two skills?)
Computer/communications: Using computers and communications gear
Sensors: Operating sensor systems(maybe combine with computers?)
Heavy Weapons: Using indirect fire weapons and vehicle weapons
Knowledge/wise/knowing stuff: This is a bunch of skills and I need to work out what should apply and how it should apply. I kind of want to do it like Burning wheel's wises.
Language/culture: This is important, but I am uncertain how to make it interesting without making the game about this.
Willpower: Strength of will
Craft: Making things
Perception: Noticing and investigating
Stealth/pickpocket/burglary: maybe more than one skill for all the underhanded and subtle skills
Persuade: Using emotional appeal
Bargain: Using material leverage(money, goods)
Con: Using false authority
Repair: fixing and diagnosing things
Medicine: Diagnosing and fixing people
Demolitions: Energetically deconstructing things on the macro scale

So that is the current list of skills I have. I am still on the fence on some of them and missing chunks of skills that need further extrapolation. I would love suggestions and any thoughts on this section.

Now to get to the two ideas I had.

Idea 1: Approaches
In Fate Accelerated there are no skills or attribute. There are approaches which describe how one goes about doing things rather than what one can do. The approaches are: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky. In this idea You roll a number of dice equal to your skill rating and keep a number of dice equal to the approach you are using for the skill. Any skill can be paired with any approach, based on how you describe the action.

Example time: You are in a running firefight with a group of bandits on a farmstead near Tharsis. You have a ranged combat rating of 6 and are trying to draw there fire. You have a flashy rating of 2. The difficulty to hit the bandit is 7. You roll six dice and get 4, 3, 5, 2, 2, 1. You must pick three of those and add them together to try and get over the target number. You take the 2, 2, and the three. This is a critical success. You do double damage(or whatever we end up letting critical success mean). You win this round and the game move forward.

I see this being interesting, but a bit fiddly. It does allow for giving in game actions an extra level of meaning and import. However, if I go this route, the approaches would need to top out at something like five or six. Any more and things get really complicated.

Idea 2: Level Based Perks
Another idea, rather than using approaches you have a series of perks or whatever. These are similar to Alternity's skill rank benefits. So you need a certain skill level and then can spend points to gain the benefit out of your skill xp that you have already placed into the skill. In this system you should start with the ability to only keep two dice per roll and then the rank benefits allow you to increase that, as well as removing penalties and allowing for normally impossible actions.

So that is my idea. I am currently leaning toward Idea 2, as it allows for more control and will help spread the skill xp around a bit once you have spent your character points. I could combine the two ideas and really get finicky, but I am unsure if that would work all that well. I would love to hear your thoughts, critiques, and suggestions.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Trek to the Stars: a begining

In my last post I put forth the skeleton of a game system that I thought was interesting. I want to manipulate this system and build something lasting out of it. In order for me to do that, I must build(or use) a setting to place within that system. While some designers can work on a system in a vacuum, I am just not wired that way. For me, I need fiction to give the mechanical system emotional meaning.

Keeping that in mind I need to start building a setting for the system. Possibly I should also come up with a title for the project. My first urge is to do a science fiction setting. I really love science fiction, no big surprise if you have watched the games I have run. I love engineering and science and I try and keep up on new technologies and new ideas for technologies. So I kind of decided on science fiction, but what type?

I asked around a bit and got back an answer of cyberpunk in a colonized Sol system. I dug parts of that, so I decided to use bits of it. I have already done my take on cyberpunk with the game Jadepunk. So I decided to go another way. I would do a solar system space game with some cyberpunk and some not. I find that what helps me design a game is to get down a list of influences and things I would like to see in the game, so here goes:

Influences

  • Star Trek: I am and have always been a fan of Star Trek. Next Generation was my first connection with science fiction and throughout my teenage years it was one of the few science fiction shows that showed me an optimistic future.
  • Dune: I love the high action mixed with high politics. I love the setting details and how the environment effects everything within. The book is just fun.
  • Farscape: I love this show, it is the best version of Buck Rogers ever filmed. Folks who are accidentally both awesome and helpless. It was never afraid to take risks and they let the story go where it needed to. Overall, one of the best science fiction shows of the last fifty years.
  • Transhuman Space: The setting that got me to buy GURPS, it even got me to play GURPS, and GURPS is not the kind of game I really enjoy. This setting was so deep and interesting and also so connected to the GURPS mechanics that it made everything come together into a mighty fine game.
  • Ben Bova's Grand Tour series: I really love these books, despite that they can sometimes get a bit preachy(Venus I am looking at you). The science is fun, the characters are interesting and much of the conflict is the conflict of personalities. 
With those influences lets see what I can come up with for a setting pitch. Each planet, dwarf planet, and asteroid of appropriate size has been colonized to some extent. Many of them have been terraformed and support there own offshoots of humanity. I am a fan of hard(ish) science fiction, but I am also a fan of the softer science fictions, so I want soft science fiction(it is easier to be loose with physics from a setting design standpoint) with a heavy dose of hard science fiction on the top. Basically I would expect to go with hard sci-fi except for a few areas of wonky tech that breaks the rules, but only in specific and controllable ways. Mostly where I will be making science soft is in the area of human augmentation, travel times between planets, and perhaps artificial gravity(perhaps, I am on the fence on how I want to do this). I want to avoid casual FTL(or FTL in general), though again I need some way to get from the earth to Pluto in less than a year. I love solar sails but they are slightly too slow for that. Maybe I will go with solar sails and then some sort of shunt that does short distance FTL, like a wormhole network that can only really work within a system, for reasons.

I already have some plans for the various planets. Mercury is a mining colony buried in the polar regions and orbiting in space stations. Venus is filled with cities in the clouds, aerostats of immense size launching genetically engineered plants and bacteria into the cloud layer while showering the planet with ice(for the hydrogen). Mars has an awesome space elevator. the asteroid belt has a bunch of tiny nations that are all seeking to control various economic interests. Jupiter and Saturn are a hive of activity, skimming He3 for fusion reactors and such. The further outreaches of the system are filled with nomads and hermits, people who wish to be left alone and explorers seeking new opportunities. I see a lot of political maneuvering and many small wars and conflicts. Its like the old west, where there is civilization, "back home," and there is the frontier where anything is possible, but the danger is greater.

I see humanity having multiple nations, worldviews, religions, and all that. I also see the future as introducing new ways of interacting with the world. Humanity will have three branches now: Baselines, Cyborgs, and Genetically Modified Humans(need a better name for each of these). Basically these would be three differing ways of looking at and dealing with problems. Baselines would look at a problem gather the right tools and then work at modifying the situation to suit there needs. Cyborgs would just alter their bodies to overcome the problem(sort of brute force through resleeving or modular design). Genetically modified humans would alter themselves and the environment through genetic engineering(basically they adapt to their environment). This all needs some deeper thought, for sure, but that is the basic idea.

 Humans will also have a few AIs and some uplifted species. True AIs will be rare as in my mind they would need both the correct hardware and software, and then they would need to be lucky. Sometimes the creation of AI doesn't work right, either there are serious emotional issues or the program self destruct as it nears sapience. I want there to be AIs, but I want them to be rare and special, and I want then to have limits like any being has. As for uplifts, I would love to come up with something really cool here, something that hasn't been done before but also something that makes sense. I am leaning toward Squid, Sea lions, Crows/pigeons, Raccoon, or parrots. I would love to hear any thoughts on which I should use, or if I should use them at all.

Alright so that sums up the bare bones of the setting. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Specifically any areas of the setting that seem off or inconsistent. Also any areas that you are super exited about. Let me know what you think.