Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Challenge of the Star Knights: Ever Expanding Horizon

While working through the mechanical issues with the game(Part 1 and Part 2) I realized I needed to lay down a bit more on my thoughts on the setting ideas and possible issues and solutions. The initial pitch is solid, I think, but it does not lay out some of the core themes and ideas of the setting. So in this I will be laying out some of the details and maybe talking about the setting as a whole and the issues that cropped up when I sat down to do this post. 

With this game world I am aiming for a kind of classic space opera feel(though hopefully with enough plausibility to not break verisimilitude) so I wanted a bunch of alien species and faster than light travel to be fairly common. I also wanted a sort of operatic and epic feel to it, I have always been heavily influence by Jack Kirby's Fourth World and I love the visuals and ideas of the MCU's Asgard and Jupiter Ascending. So I wanted something with a feel of Mythic Significance and  also to be a coming of age story set in a school for Space Knights. I am not sure if that will be doable, but I am going to give it a go.

 Firstly lets get started on the various Sophonts of the setting. Now, I want there to be lots of them so I think I will just focus on the ones who are most important/influential in the setting. No here comes the difficult part. ready? In a game world when building characters you want to give the players enough information on the species/race/culture that they can understand it, but not so much that it gets bogged down with details. I have written on this topi before for a different project, if you want to see my thoughts there. However in this i want to look at the potential solutions and maybe analyze those(as much as I am capable of analyzing anything). Mostly in this I will be focusing on statements I have read elsewhere and seeing if they might be of use here.

 First I want to dig into a statement made in a post on the Walking Eye, specifically Lesson #3, "Complexity Should Emerge from Play, not Setting." I think that this is a fascinating insight and could be of use when working forward on this project. I also think the rest of the lessons in that series are quite interesting and could foster whole discussions of their own. The thing I like about this is the idea that clarity is important and that you should start with stark and simple designs. However the issue comes down to avoiding stereotyping and constraining player agency through setting design. However, stereotypes can be very useful to players when starting out as it gives everyone a solid starting point off of which they can riff and push against. I think there is a lot of interesting insight packed into this Lesson, I am not sure I completely agree with it, but that may be a knee-jerk reaction on my part as a world builder. Were I working on this for fiction or for some other purpose I would definitely want to have loads of nuance and such in my world, but this is for a game. One of my core beliefs is the idea that in games you should endeavor to make as much of the game as possible(all if you can) player facing(and yes to me the GM counts as a player).

On a similar note I have been digging into Dungeon World and Fellowship a bit. They are both fantastic games Powered By The Apocalypse.  they also both deal with similar ideas to the one presented above. In Dungeon World there is a principle of, " Draw Maps, Leave Blanks." Basically it is the idea that the game's setting should be a framework rather than a straitjacket. It should inform the players on the type of world they are in, while allowing for them to change things and add to it. I think the same idea could be applied to character species. Each Every statement of truth should be surrounded by blanks for the Players(GM included) to define as play goes forward. Blanks are questions to be answered. If you make a pacifist Klingon or a war like Vulcan you have added a deeper question to the nature of these species. Are Vulcan normally pacifistic or is a war like nature more likely than not? Are Klingon all pacifists or is this unusual? Each question adds a another truth to the universe and adds further questions. The best part is that you can leave those blank if they don't matter to the players, or you can delve as deeply as you like. this leads to a sense of ownership for the players and a sense of investment in the setting.

In Fellowship this idea is tied directly into the game mechanics, one of the player jobs is to tell stories about the chosen type and to define their people as the game goes on. You can start out with elves who are space aliens or elves who are fairy nobles. You can define the technology and magic as you go along, and the GM gets to define the Dark Lord and what that means to the setting. It is a really marvelous set of gaming principles. When I read through it I kind of want to steal it for every game I design. However it does depend on a series of stereotypes to work within or against. Everyone kind of has a similar idea of what elves are now(thanks to Tolkien and Jackson) and everyone has a similar idea on wizards, dwarfs, and so on. So once again we are back to starting with a very simple idea and allowing the players to build outward from their.

I am not sure if I have done proper analysis or critical thought on these ideas, so much as built a cumulative case that supports the direction I want to go. I am perfectly willing to be wrong on these thoughts, but for now I will work with the simple and we will see how this goes as I build further outward. 

The Current Dominant Species
One of the central conceits of the setting is that a long time ago there were three great species. I am currently calling those species the Elders, but I am not really solid on that as the term for them. These Elders fought a series of wars with the Maggedon, also and elder species. The Maggedon sought to wipe out all life in the universe and had the technology and numbers to do it. the three groups of Elders won the war but were wiped out in the process. Now lets expand on that a bit. the elders saw that they would not survive the war in any recognizable way, so they sought to create hidden enclaves of beings that were different enough from them as not to draw the attention of the Maggedon directly and yet similar enough so that something of the Elders would be passed on to the future. All of the sophonts who exist in the now of the setting are related to or responding to the meddling of the ancients. I think that is an interesting idea, like David Brin's uplift universe, but without the patronage of an elder species. So there is a lot more chaos and less stagnation. How people view the Elders is as varied as how they view anything else. There are those who have records dating back to the War and there are those who only have the barest hints of meddling in their past. So, with that said lets do a bit of species design!

Chashi: Short, squat, turtle like technicians and philosophers. Few become Star Knights as they view combat as wasteful and those who seek to become Star Knights are seen as the honorable insane. Though many do become technical and logistical officers in the Knight Support Corps. They claim to have been out in the galaxy the longest of the Younger Species. The were directly uplifted by the Elder Peoples before the fourth extinction war. Their histories hold much knowledge of the ways of the Elders, though much of it is in pseudo-mystical poetry and is open to interpretation.

Imdar: Hyperactive species of Soldiers, scholars, and scientists. One of the early species to gain access to the wider galaxy. They see themselves as the children of the elder races, as they were uplifted by them toward the end of the Fourth Extinction War though they have no records of that time. They maintain the Grand Archive, a collection of all archeological and scientific knowledge their species has ever recorded. Many in the wider galactic society believe them to a divergent sub species of the Humani, due to some similar genetic markers.

Glass Walkers: Energy Beings, seeded among the Nuetron Stars by the elders. They live a listless life of purposeless existence. They have few needs and impressive intellects. Many become bored with a life of deep thought and seek danger and adventure in the wider galaxy. While incredibly passionate they tend to see nothing as mattering to any degree. They interact with the rest of the universe through their environment suits which allow them to make contact with non energy beings. They are the youngest of the Created people. They are gravity based rather than electromagnetic based like most life(though I am not sure what that means, it was just something I saw that was interesting when doing research). They gain energy from gravity...somehow...they communicate through light pulses and use those to control the suits. they were initially quite dependent on outsiders to create their contact suits that allow them to talk and interact with material beings.

Esiksina: Robot descendants of the elders. There name means First Born. One of the few who still have members who remember what the ancients were like. They worship the ancients as gods.Probably will add a little more to this.

Pallasi: Warrior race who focus on tactics and strategy, they see everything in terms of wins and losses, often seen as emotionless and cruel, they see themselves as pragmatic and focused. Emotions are for private experience, not for others to see. The follow a set of philosophies based around warfare and tactics, either Clauswitz, Jomini, or other more esoteric disciplines. They are not necessarily warlike or violent, they just view everything as a problem to be solved through the application of tactic and logistics.  

The Ashrl-Kral: A newcomer to the galaxy, they have less political power than the other sophonts by far. However they are the most warlike and vicious race yet encountered. Focused on external honor and personal glory. Those who seek to become Star Knights have become some of the greatest heroes in the order. Those who seek to dominate have become some of the worst villains in history. Descended from some sort of super predator, it is thought they may have been uplifted by an as yet unknown species.There is a rumor that they were uplifted by the Maggedon.

Mugg: Small, cute, and cuddly, the Mugg exist nearly everywhere. They are some of the premier negotiators, pilots, and traders in the galaxy. They also have a very strong sense of individuality and freedom so many have become Star Knights. Amphibious species, probably based off of seals or something like that. Graceful in the water, they are still fairly swift and skilled on land.

Elder Peoples
Humani: Their name is thought to mean the Children of Wrath and their deeds spread far beyond the time and place of their origin, a small planet called Dirt. Masters of biotech and materials sciences capable of making the great symbiotech weapons and armor. Also creators of the five master martial forms. Martial arts that stand as the standard to this day. Unlike the other warrior races in history the humans seemed to have a strong sense of empathy for their enemies. They have the uncanny ability to understand others and still be able to kill them. They even were known to actively kill each other for reasons beyond mere momentary passion.
The Kha-Li:  Energy beings. Masters of the mind and the energy that lies within. No one quite knows if they discovered and developed Ikhai abilities, or if they created Ikhai whole cloth as a tool and weapon. Much has been lost. Master Ikhai Users with technologies that could enhance Ikhai powers to do things impossible even for a master.
The Bashro: Masters of stealth and energy storage. The only race to ever make stealth star ships work, no one knows how they did it. Almost nothing is known of them save for their name. Their are always rumors that the Bashro survived and live in hidden exile somewhere out in the back of beyond.

So there are the basics of the Intelligent species of the Galaxy and a brief bit about the history. What do you think? Am I right in going the direction I am going, or is there a better way? Maybe I am way off, let me know.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Challenge Of the Star Knights: The Breath Of Eternity

Before the Fourth Extinction War was a time of unprecedented growth and advancement in the universe. The Elders, now long gone, created wonders beyond imagining and their understanding of the universe stretched the very notion of what was possible. One such discovery was Ikhai, the Breath of Eternity. To many it seemed a perfect combination of the Known and the Unknowable, the Sublime channeled through the mundane technology. None now know whether the Elders grafted the ability to channel Ikhai into the younger peoples, or if it was somehow innate within all life, but to this day Ikhai is a powerful tool and a weapon against the forces of the Unmaker.

I was originally going to focus this post on creating Sophonts and history as well as digging a bit into technology and how that will work in the game. I still plan on doing that post, so no worries in that regard. However as I was working on that I started having a lot of different thought on how to make Ikhai work and how that would work in the setting. So this post is going to focus on the metaphysical and supernatural mechanics and abilities of the game. Many of the influences I mentioned in the first post have supernatural power of one sort or another. Mass Effect has biotics(as well as some sort of telepathy), Hunter x Hunter has nen abilities, Harry Potter has magic, Star Wars has the force, and the Legion of Superheroes has full on super powers. So when setting out to do my version of mystic abilities in space, I needed to focus a bit on what feel I was trying to go for. Did I want a more mystical feel, like in star wars, or a more formulaic and well defined route like in Harry Potter? When I started this I was unsure the route I wanted to go, but as I dug into the mechanics I started to see the direction that would work best for me.

When I started to look at the mechanical aspects of the game(here and here) I had only the very roughest of ideas on how I wanted Ikhai to work. I wanted cool powers like in Star Wars and such, so I put a line in the pitch about having cool powers and techniques that allowed one to be awesome. I didn't have a firm sense of how awesome or what that might mean.

Usually when I approach a project like this I start with the world and work toward mechanics. In this case I had already set out to make a game that fit within the D6 System paradigm and so I had a solid mechanical foundation to start from. In looking at the mechanics and the possibilities within it I saw some of the edges of the game and how I could use that to help me deal with my world building problem.  So in this case I started with the mechanics and built the world out from there.

First I needed to nail down some ideas for using Ikhai in game. I started with D6 Space as that seemed like a very good place to tart when dealing with science fantasy space opera. From there I moved outward and came up with a number of different ways I might go when doing these sorts of powers.

Method One: Use the standard Metaphysics rules as they exist. The system is workable as is, however it has a couple of problems I do not care for. The first problem is the complexity of using Metaphysics powers. It is too difficult to easily do it on the fly, and the complexity seems to serve no purpose other than to exist on its own. The second problem is, in my opinion, much more difficult. Metaphysics is hard to be good at early on, and so is kind of useless. However later on it takes on a primacy in play and anyone without it cannot seem to match a dedicated Metaphysics practitioner. That second one won"t be a huge issue in my game as the assumption is that everyone will have Ikhai abilities and so will have equal ability to do cool supernatural stuff. It is something to keep in mind though.

Method Two: Every skill has powers built into it. Basically what I would do is take the existing power building rules for metaphysics and apply it to every skill. This would allow for a lot of flexibility and a lot of interesting builds. you could have two people with identical skills have very different feeling characters in play. However this does have a major downside. It would ramp up the complexity of the game significantly. I am not sure if that would be worth the end result, It also could cause major indecision in the players when making a character as they would have so many options available to them.

Method Three: Rather than dedicating a new set of rules for the Ikhai abilities I could use this solution I found on +Raymond McVay's website .  Using this method there are no powers laid out in the mechanics specifically. Instead you use force/hero/fate points to indicate use of powers. Basically anytime you want to something crazy you spend a point and double your pool in an existing pool. The hard part would be increasing the difficulty level to an appropriate amount in order use a skill to do the impossible. How difficult should it be to walk up walls or jump over eighty feet? This would require a fair but of testing and such, but I do like its simplicity. It also allows the powers to fit what the table wants rather than what some unknown writer wants. You can ask the players to define the power and its limits. This one is what led me to the direction I am currently leaning which is...

Method Four: In this method you roll your Ikhai skill at the beginning of a scene in which you intend to use the abilities. From that roll you gain a number of points(probably a set number and you gain extra for every three you gain above the difficulty). These points can only be spent during the scene in which you rolled for them. You spend these points on enhancing actions beyond what is possible. You may spend more than one point per action if you want(though there may be a cost for doing that, I haven't quite decided yet.  You spend the points one for one on any of the following enhancements: No Tools(lets you create tools out of soul stuff), Increase Scale(which could let a normal person attack a on a star ship scale or greater), Use at a range(point blank, close, far, extreme), or adding dice to a roll(these do not count toward XP like character points). I figure there might be more uses you could put these to, but I think that is a solid start.

By and large, when looking through these options I really like method four, however I could see some problems with it. I would love to hear any thoughts on how to improve on it, or if I should try and use one of the other methods, or even another method entirely I have not thought of.