Friday, June 2, 2017

Solo Gaming Using Mythras Part 3: The Blood Money of Yahina

Here it is, the actual solo adventure where I teach myself how to play Mythras and how to do a solo game. It'll be complete with story, mechanics in italics, and my thoughts on how I did, what I liked, and what I'd change. If you want to know the set up, here are the first two parts here and here that detail the setup.

The Cast

Mucario: The main solo character, a Sulano fisherman with some fighting and casting skill
Ana: One of the pregen characters, she's a tan Okulek warrior trained in the spear and shield
Kara: Another pregen, she is the sister of Ana and a priestess of Amuzencab, goddess of medicine and community
Kju: The last pregen, he is a nomadic brave from the plains of the northern continent looking to make his fortune
Captain Abraham Spalding: The captain of the ship Kayaben, looking to break the Curse of 65 Coins

Act 1: Revelations and Superstitions

Day 13 of Alexan of Her Holiness's Course

We begin aboard the Kayaben, a large carrack cutting through the clear blue sea, sailing towards the island of Yahina. The island has a cursed past, where the village on it was raised to the ground years ago during the Great Island War. Most of the natives and colonists believe that the spirits of those murdered years ago haunt the land, hunting and devouring any that land on the shores. Most boats avoid the island at all costs, wishing not to anger the ghosts or be reminded of the terrible war.

I rolled a Locale on this and got a critical. Mucario has heard of the stories behind Yahina and is rightfully nervous, yet excited, about going to the island.

While Mucario and his compatriots were told of the destination by Captain Spalding, the rest of the crew were kept in the dark about it. Spalding finally reveals the destination of the Kayaben about three days out, and the crew are none too pleased. Whispers of cannibalism and angry spirits fill the decks until three sailors decide they have had enough and try to stage a mutiny.

The bodyguards are near Abraham when three sailors approach him with clubs. "We are turning this boat around, whether you like it or not cap'n," one of the wind beaten shiphands says.

Mucario tries his best to reason with the mutineers, but the older and exhausted sailors brush past the naive boy and attack the captain.

Mucario tried to roll Influence to dissuade the mutineers from fighting, but with only an 18%, he fails it spectacularly and is ignored for not knowing what he's talking about.

The first two sailors try to beat down on the captain, but only one is able to land a solid hit on Spalding's right arm. Mucario, frustrated with being ignored, loses his temper and strikes at one of the soldiers. His spear lands true and slices the shiphands's ear clean off. The pain is unyielding and the blood gushes from the wound as the sailor cries out.

"Back away from Abraham, or it'll be your other ear next!" Mucario shouts, hoping the sailor finally takes him seriously. The man balls up, clutching his severed ear, and yields to the adolescent.

Mucario got a lucky critical against a failed parry. Mucario went for Scar Foe and Compel Surrender, and did enough damage against the head to bring it to a Serious Wound. The sailor can't attack for 3 rounds and further more, he failed his Willpower Roll and now capitulates against the teen warrior.

Kju joins in the fight, firing an arrow at another sailor, but his bolt flies passed the man's shoulder and into the mast. 

"Dammit!", the proud brave mutters under his breath. He can't let the younger fisherman outshine him.

The remaining two sailors become furious at the maiming of their friend, and realizing the youth meant business. turn their attention to Mucario, They try to get past the range of the spear and within reach of Mucario, but are unable to keep up with Mucario.

"You'll have to do better than that if you want to hit me!" Mucario taunts the men

The two sailors flat out fail their Close Range action and Mucario doesn't spend an Action Point to press the advantage.

Ana moves up to one of the sailors and prepares to strike. Mucario finds a great energy from the adrenaline rush and presses his luck, attacking the next sailor. His spear lands on the chest of the second sailor, but the blow was softened enough that it only bruised the hardened sailor.

"You don't know what you are doing, kid!" The sailor shouts at the fisherboy. "This island will kill us all if we land there! No amount of money is worth that!"

Mucario landed another spear blow, but this time the sailor was able to succeed in blocking it. He parries it for half damage, then his armor brings the damage down from 4 to 1.

With the melee slowing becoming a bloodbath, Captain Spalding tries to talk some sense into his crew.

"You may or may not lose your lives on the island lads, but you will surely lose it here if you keep fighting. Lay your arms down and you will be spared a mutineer's death!"

Seeing no other course of action, the sailors drop their clubs and capitulate, not wanting to be keelhauled.

"Old man, you know nothing of the old ways," one of the sailors shouts as he is being shackled by Ana and Mucario. "Your greed will be the death of us all, mark my words!"

"I know of the cruelty and terror of your old ways... more than you'll ever know," Abraham's mind wanders for a brief moment before he shouts at the rest of the crew. "Take these traitors down below and keep them there until we leave Yahina. Anyone else that has a problem with this can join them in the brig!"

After dealing with the three traitors, Captain Spalding turns to Mucario.

"I'm grateful I didn't make a poor decision in hiring you," the captain chuckles a bit. "You're not half bad with the spear, though I hope to see it done to the ghosts on Yahina next time..."

"I hope we don't end up running into any of the dark spirits there," Mucario says with a nervous laugh. "Why are we going to Yahina? There hasn't been anything there in decades."

Captain Spalding's demeanor becomes more serious, "It is not the shield's place to ask why, but to protect. I am grateful for your service, but you need to remember your place in this world, boy." Abraham storms off, leaving behind a bewildered Mucario.

End of Act 1

My thoughts

This was my first combat in Mythras, despite running M Space. A bit more complicated since I am using melee weapons with Size and Reach, rather than ranged weapons that don't really need to worry about such things. It took me a bit to get through this first combat, though I'm happy to say that it gets faster as the adventure continues. At least until I get to magic.

Writing these are turning out to be another hard task all together. Between my inability to focus and people interrupting me at every chance, it definitely took me longer to get this written up than I had hoped. Ended up having to break it up into different acts, so I'll be sure to post more of this in the coming weekend.




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Solo Gaming Using Mythras Part 2: The Character and the Oracle

Yesterday was all about the setting and system. Today, you'll get to see the character and the oracle, as well as get some good background on some of the cultures in Anacaona.

Mucario, the Young Fisherman

Mucario is the character I'm running in my solo Mythras game. He fifteen years old and is a short, lithe young man at 5'4" and 103 pounds. His skin and eyes are a dark brown and his wind beaten hair is wavy and wild, covering his ears but not quite to his shoulders. Personality-wise, he was born under the Bat star sign with an ascendant Carrack sign, so Mucario is clever and wary, but has the demeanor of a driven and reckless youth. The personality chart I use is one I've made, linking the world's zodiac to different personalities. You roll twice, once for the main personality traits (the sign you were born under) and once for their demeanor (the ascendant sign on the east horizon), the mask they put on for the outside world. I'll have to post these one day.

One thing veterans of Mythras will notice is that despite Mucario being a sorcerer, he doesn't have the Shaping skill. I decided that since he is still a teenager, he hasn't quite mastered all of the ins and outs of sorcery. So while he learned two spells, he has no idea how to master them and change them. One of the rewards I plan for him is to find a tutor to teach him more about shaping. Maybe even join the ranks of the legendary mages in the Bulgaoya, an ancient college of sorcerers in the floating capital of Locanigua, Uraya.

Here is his bio:

"Mucario is a young Sulano native from the shattered island chain of Locanigua. Like his forefathers, he is a nomadic fisherman that travels between the small islands, trawling for sea creatures aboard small canoes and living in semi-permanent shelters on the islands during the hurricane season. Mucario is an only child, living with a single father named Guabano, but a huge extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. His mother was killed by the Blood Phage at the end of the war 6 years ago, so he has been raised by his father and his mother's eldest brother, Suyono. While Guabano has shown Mucario the family trade of fishing, Suyono has taught the lad about fighting with a fishing spear and shield to defend against pirates and slavers, an all too common hazard in Anacaona. 
When Mucario was 11, he fished up a set of protected scrolls. Instead of discarding them, curiosity took over and the young fisherman opened them. He revealed them to be a series of sorcery scrolls that showed how to cast two spells in the Spirit of the Ocean School of Magic. It took months of learning, but Mucario learned to cast Might of Waves and Call Lak-Lak, a friendly water elemental that can heal and entertain the lonely trawler. Despite knowing basic magic, Mucario never learned how to shape and enhance his cantrips and hopes to find a tutor that can show him how. 
Mucario enters his fifteenth year and passed through his rites into manhood. Tired of life as a fisherman and consumed with a desire to both fight barbary and learn more magic, Mucario took his canoe, some of his uncle's old armor, and left to make a name for himself as an adventurer. Patient and thoughtful, but naive and innocent, Mucario sailed to the harbor city of Puerto Oro and took a job as a bodyguard to a Captain Abraham Spalding of the carrrack Fortune. The pay seems good and a merchant like Spalding should have some good connections to the arcane tutors of the islands."

And his stats

Mucario

Nomadic Free Fisherman

                                                                                      AP/HP
STR: 12       Action Points: 3                 1–3 Right Leg 0/4
CON: 10      Damage Modifier: +0        4–6 Left Leg 0/4
SIZ: 10        Magic Points: 13                7–9 Abdomen 0/5
DEX: 13      Movement: 6 metres         10–12 Chest 3/6
INT: 13        Initiative: +13                   13–15 Right Arm 0/3
POW: 13      Armour: Linen Armor      16–18 Left Arm 0/3
CHA: 9                                                  19–20 Head 3/4

Skills:
Standard
Athletics 45%, Boating 42%, Brawn 32%, Conceal 26%, Customs 26%, Dance 22%, Deceit 22%, Drive 26%, Endurance 50%, Evade 36%, First Aid 31%, Influence 18%, Insight 26%, Locale 31%, Perception 56%, Ride 26%, Sing 22%, Stealth 41%, Swim 32%, Unarmed 25%, Willpower 36%

Professional:
Lore (Trawling) 41%, Musician (Wind) 27%, Navigation 61%, Seamanship 33%, Survival 43%

Magic:
Sorcery: Invocation 36%; Spells (Enhance Strength, Summon Water Elemental)

Combat Style: Locinaguan Sea Reaver 45% (Spear/Harpoon, Shield, Dagger, Bow; Excellent Footwork)

Passions:
Hates Injustice 56%, Desires Arcane Knowledge 56%

Weapons:
Spear
Knife
Buckler Shield

Armor:
Linen breastplate and brass helmet

The Oracle

The Oracle I am using is a modified version of the one found at Tiny Solitary Solider's website. I roll 2d6 and 1d3, all different colors. The first d6 is simply Yes and No. Generally it's 50/50, but I change the odds depending on whether I have a good or bad chance of the answer. So sometimes, I'll have a 2/3 chance of a yes or a 1/6 chance of a no. The d3 is And, But, and Neutral. That one stays simple. The last is a twist die, where if I roll a 6, a twist in the scene happens. I either roll for it on his table, or use a tarot card or Tangent Zero's image dice for the twist. Every time I don't roll a 6 on this, I add a cumulative plus 1 to the Twist die until I eventually roll a 6 or higher.

Beyond that, since I'm running a canned adventure, I probably won't edit it too much with twists from tarot cards and Tangent Zero's story cubes. I am looking forward to sharing the adventure later this week.







Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Solo Gaming Using Mythras Part 1: The Adventure and Setting

So for awhile now, I've been doing practice games with solo gaming to help grok it better. It's been an unusual experience, especially with my inability to sit down for more than an hour to do anything. But, I feel like I've finally got the hang of pulling double duty as PC/GM while also using a good oracle. I've been using Tiny Solitary Soldier's simple oracle, with the caveat that for good/bad chances of a question, I change the probability of Yes or No. So if there is a good chance of something happening, then rolling a 1d6 will yield a Yes on 1-4, while the reverse is true for a bad chance of something happening. Adds a bit more nuance and variety to rolls I feel.

The System

After playing all kinds of game systems out there from FATE and Dungeon World to Savage Worlds and D&D/Pathfinder, I've come to settle down on Mythras. While it is certainly a more complex ruleset than much of the OSR games I've been reading in the last year or so, I've found the rules to be fairly intuitive and easy to understand, as well as fairly deep. And truthfully, I've always leaned to skill-based classless systems the likes of HERO and GURPS. I'd probably still be playing HERO if they hadn't locked me out of the pdfs I bought years ago.

So I will be using Mythras in my campaign setting of Anacaona, one that has seen at least three rules shifts since I started it years ago with Pathfinder, then Savage Worlds, then ACKS, and now Mythras. 

The Setting

I'm not sure I've ever gone over my home setting, but here it is in a nutshell. The setting takes place in a high fantasy world much like the Americas. Folklore and traditions from the different tribes and civilizations of the New World (both Pre and Post Columbian) as well as stories I grew up with as a child are used as inspiration with my own ideas and twists. There are two continents, Thivola to the south and Kivira to the north. In between is a giant chain of islands like Indonesia called Anacaona. This place has a lot of themes from Caribbean natives, as well as inspiration from things like Pirates of the Caribbean, Treasure Island, Age of Sail Caribbean tales, and even some modern day Caribbean folklore and trends.

The islands host a variety of peoples. There are the native civilizations of several island-states that are in a constant cold war among themselves and the new groups of colonists, who themselves fight among each other. The setting begins five years after a terrible series of endemic wars between the natives and colonists that ended with a terrible plague wiping out a great deal of everyone on both sides. Now people have to live in a tense peace, all the while magical zones of arcane energies are popping up.

It is a highly magical place, but not in the sense of something like Warcraft where everyone seems to have world shattering magic. Rather, magic is a part of the world. There are spirits everywhere and demons that roam the islands looking for souls to harvest. Entering a cave can lead you into the underworld, another plane of existence, or even to a completely different time. Besides the magic, you also have to deal with the people. Distrusting natives, paranoid colonists, slave trade, piracy, disease, famine, and the remnants of the great war, and you have a setting rife with conflict.


The Adventure

With all that, I will be running a modified version of Sariniya's Curse, available at the website of The Design Mechanism for free. Only setting stuff is changed, but the main adventure conceit remains.

"Venture-Captain Abraham Spalding is an aging merchant that has spent the last forty years of his life creating a prosperous trade company in the Anacaona Sea. He is a rich man whose name is known throughout the wharves of the islands, and he is able to ply coin from the normally insular native Sulano and Okulek peoples. However, his family houses a dark secret. His father was a Devian soldier and a terrible man, looking to make his fortune in the tropical paradise of Anacaona. Searching for the famed Cities of the Gods, he instead found a smaller village of Sulano with a chest of 65 precious gold coins. Seeing opportunity, the man razed the village, killed the village spirit leader, and took all of the coins and women for himself. In the shaman's dying breath, however, he cursed the man and his kin to die a terrible and gruesome death at the age of 65, one year for each coin stolen. Abraham himself took no heed of this curse, until his father was dismembered by sharks. And then his uncle died painfully from chikungunya. And his mother was found partially eaten alive from a band of ghouls. With his 65th birthday approaching in mere months, Abraham has spent years collecting all 65 coins and has hired the PCs to protect him while he goes to the island of his father's sin to make things right. But what awaits the PCs there may be more than they bargained for..."

That's the basic gist of it. I will be playing with three of the pregenerated characters as well as one that I have made myself. I'll post that for tomorrow. Until then!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Stellar System Orbit Chart

So recently I've been running an M Space/SWN mashup (don't ask how), and since it is going to eventually open up to multiple star systems, I decided that I should have a worksheet that can help me visualize the system being visited.

Here is a small version of the worksheet
After 40 minutes in GIMP, I created something useful. So here is the link to my Stellar System Worksheet. This is a system neutral chart I made to help GMs and players keep track of the celestial bodies in any given system that they visit. They can plot out the planets or asteroids out on the orbit bands and write in whatever information they have for it in the lines below. The orbital bands are somewhat based on Mindjammer's orbital bands, but I've found good usage in Traveller and M-Space. You have Starward (like a torch orbit with Mercury orbit), Habitable Zone (Earth, Mars), and Rimward (Gas Giants and TNO). The last area is for things you may find out in the heliopause/Oort Cloud/Kuiper Belt areas of a system if you choose that they have one.

I'm currently using it in my M Space game, but I can see it used in anything from Stars Without Number, Traveller/Cepheus Engine, Mindjammer, White Star... give it a try and tell me how it works for you! Share it with your friends! Go crazy with it.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sci Fi Game Starting Sunday

So for the last couple of months, I've been building a sci fi game that I have been wanting to run eventually. I was waffling around with different gaming systems and have finally settled on what I want to use. I recently picked up M-Space, which looks to be a really cool system for doing some science fiction gaming. So this Sunday, I will be running my first M-Space game with my girlfriend and some mutual friends. Should be interesting.

The Game

So for this, the game is going to start fairly simply. The players are all crew members aboard a bulk freighter that runs cargo between Earth and its colonies on Mars, Luna, Venus, Ceres & Vesta, and the various orbital habitats. There is a cold war brewing that is pushing everything to the brink. The Earth is still a fragmented group of nations that all are trying desperately to hold onto their colonial outposts, while the colonies are trying to wring free from their distant masters. Things are getting heated and the players will get drawn into a terrible and dangerous conspiracy.

The Players

So far, I have my girlfriend playing a fist fighting space engineer, one friend playing the pilot, and a third friend who hasn't quite decided yet. I made a character just to get a good feel for the system. He's an ex Army combat medic that now is the crew's doctor/body guard. 

M-Space looks like a lot of fun. Took a little reading to grok it, but I think it's a fairly intuitive system so far. We're doing the simplified combat for now, though I'm sure once we are used to the system, we can graduate to the more advanced stuff.

I'm curious to see what other's opinions and experiences with M-Space and Mythras have been. Especially when it comes to designing encounters for players, since this will be my first ever d100 GMing experience.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Science Fiction and Monocultures

Despite my constant fantasy gaming, I've always had a special place in my heart for science fiction. A lot of it stems from watching and reading about Star Trek as a kid, and from there, I've read different science fiction books. However, there has always been something I was never a fan of in sci fi. Monocultures. Mostly found in space operas, it tends to take an alien race and oversimplify them to a couple of traits. Klingons are the honorable warrior race. Vulcans are the logical scientist race. Romulans are super imperialistic and machiavellian. Ferengi are space merchants. And so on.

The diverse cast of Deep Space 9
In a way, it simplifies the races for the viewer to be able to understand and makes it easier to differentiate between them. And when you have 5+ alien species in your universe, it can be tiring to consistently add different factions and nations for every single alien race. However, I've always felt a disconnect in monolithic world governments with a single culture. I feels like it pigeonholes an alien group into a certain niche and can make it difficult or even jarring to add differing characteristics to someone of the same race. Try imagining a pacifist Klingon. It's a bit weird. It also doesn't feel very realistic. If you look at humanity, there are so many different governments and idiosyncrasies between different nations that it can be weird just to have everyone on one planet the same.

In the game I'm going to run with Stars Without Number, I am endeavoring to have at least 3 factions for each alien race to give the races more depth and complexity. This will make first contact and continued diplomacy more nuanced with the players. Here is how I want to do the different cultures. Much of it is inspired by rudimentary knowledge of politics as well as the video game Stellaris, a grand strategy sci fi game which I have really enjoyed. Since this blog is talking about politics, I'd like to stress that nothing down below is meant to push any agenda or offend anyone of a particular political bloc. This is just for entertainment purposes only.

Nature and Nurture

Since I'm working with aliens, the first thing I start with is their biology. Making aliens mean you can really go crazy with how their biology works. Looking at Earth creatures is a great way to make some truly alien-feeling sophonts. How do your aliens eat? Are they carnivores, herbivores or omnivores? How do they reproduce? Are they like humans, with XY chromosomes? Is it something more akin to asexual reproduction, or something like parthenogenesis? Can their genders shift, like some amphibians? Do they have more than four limbs, or multiple eyes? Maybe they have alternate ways of certain biological functions, like using antennae for smell and hearing, or spiracles down their sides for breathing, or organs that can sense bioelectricity. How are their family units set up? Or communities? These are all good questions to ask yourself when developing an alien race for your setting. What I generally do is pick an animal and do some light research on their biology. Then, I use that to extrapolate how a society of sapient creatures of that biology would function.

I was always a huge fan of the 2005 War of the World aliens (Credit to Adam O'Donnell)
Of course, biology is only part of the equation here. A creature's surroundings play a huge part in their cultural ethics. Terrain and climate are two of the largest factors in this. If their surroundings are harsh with terrible weather, you can bet that their communities would be smaller and more insular. They may be nomadic, moving to better areas. They could also be raiders, attacking other civilizations that have more resources to supply their own tribes. Aliens living in arable land would be able to support larger cities and boast walls and armies to protect them from raids. Religion and culture can be affected by one's surroundings. A nation of peoples that live in pastures and steppes may revere a god of the great sky, while those living in mountainous areas would venerate the peaks themselves as gods. People living along the oceans would have festivals celebrating fish caught, or those living on pastures would have harvest festivals come autumn. Just look at Earth cultures to see different cultures and try and work them with the biology of the creature.

Surroundings don't just include the terrain and climate. Look at the people and animals that your race has around it. Are their neighbors fairly friendly, or is there a sort of rivalry going on? Is warfare endemic or more structured? What about the animals? Are there any animals that the race hate and fear? Or hunt and revere? Or keep as pets or livestock? The relationships with other creatures can go a long way to making your aliens feel real.

Ethics

Ethics are the core principles and beliefs of the alien race. Whenever I describe a government, settlement, or faction, I like to use a set of ethic tags to describe the organization. I find that doing so can organize and show what the different ethics are for a group of people or aliens. I have a set of seven categories, each with two opposite tags to describe a group of sapient creatures. They are purposefully vague to incorporate a variety of sub-ethics under one tag. Just remember that there is a wide spectrum of beliefs that could fit under one tag. They are inspired by the ethics of Stellaris, with some more added or renamed for more clarity and depth.
  • Insular/Cosmopolitan: This category is how well a group of aliens deals with outsiders and foreign ideas. An insular group tends to not trust outsiders and will shun beliefs that are different from their own. Some are friendly but want outsiders to assimilate into their beliefs to maintain a tightly-knit community. Others can be cruel and petty and will drive deviants out by force if necessary. A cosmopolitan group has a wide variety of cultures and differing beliefs are simply a way of life. Most places tend to be large cities or trade hubs that see different aliens. While there is a general integration and acceptance of different peoples, sometimes cultural friction can happen between two or more groups. This can make it hard to let go of old grudges.
  • Authoritarian/Libertarian: This is the category on how a species may prefer to be ruled. Some may want a more decisive rule by a singular autocracy or a group of elite oligarchs. Others may prefer a bottom-up democratic or anarchist rule where everyone has a say. Some may want the government to intervene and regulate things, while others want the bureaucracy to stay out of their way of life.
  • Spiritual/Secular: This is how much religion and spiritualism affects the every day lives of an alien. Spiritual aliens may place an importance on religion and worship in their personal lives, or perhaps they make it more of a part of the government and culture (like a theocracy). Secular aliens may simply have some spiritual beliefs but leave it in private, keeping it away from their public lives and society. Others may believe spirituality to be harmful to the individual and to society and will outright shun religion.
  • Militaristic/Pacifist: This is how aliens approach warfare and peace. Militaristic aliens may be imperialistic hawks that wish to spread their control over other countries for their resources. Or, they may instead be more casual with warfare as a good option against enemies, but remain relatively peaceful with allies. Pacifists tend more towards diplomatic solutions, but may still have a good military for defensive wars only, or may only engage in wars of liberation. On the extreme end, they may simply eschew a military, both formal or paramilitary, and instead focus on peaceful and diplomatic solutions.
  • Collectivist/Individualist: This is how sophonts view themselves as a part of a whole. Collectivists see themselves as a cog in the machine, or their society as a sum of its parts. Many can focus on the greater good and can vary in limited individual freedoms (or outright ban them). Individualists place an importance on individual rights and abilities. They see it as something to be celebrated and use individual talents to better the community. They can vary on altruism to their peers, or simply focus on their own goals and happiness (sometimes at the expense of others).
  • Isolationist/Expansionist: This is how aliens view themselves in the Great Game of interstate diplomacy. Isolationist species want to be left alone. They generally do a policy of unilateralism, keeping a safe distance even from their allies. Some may simply close their borders to some or all trade and immigration. Expansionists keep up with the political scene and remain big players in it. Some may expand via more diplomatic and economic means, saving military action for proxy wars. Others may go full military imperialist, ruling over entire planets.
  • Ascetic/Materialist: This is how much importance a race places on material things and wealth. An ascetic race of aliens believe that life is fleeting and 'stuff' isn't as important as people. Many eschew material goods for a lifestyle of self-improvement, or for community bonding. Materialists love their wealth and living the good life. Many see wealth as a way of improving living standards and technology for the betterment of their society. Some may also have a love of seemingly trite things, like lifestyles of celebrities.
From these ethics, you can start building a culture based on them. How would a race of spiritual materialists work out? Or militaristic isolationists? Mix and match two or more of them and try and build how a culture would form around those tenets.

Government

Star Wars Galactic Senate
Once you get ethics, you can look at the styles of government. I use the Wikipedia listing here to look at what could fit for a race. Governments vary a great deal, so it's hard to really categorize them. Below is a super simplified list for the sake of RPGs, not for actual political discourse. Generally I look at the following categories (again, credit to Stellaris for this)

  • Who rules the state: This is probably the first question I ask. Is it a rule by an elite class of people (aristocracy), or ruled by a singular group or person (despotism)?
  • Who empowers the leader: This is the second question. Who empowers the mantle of leadership for a state? Is is a democracy, where the leader is elected? Is it authoritarian, where the leader claims the title through might? Is it oligarchic, where a select group of people choose to run things?
  • The power structure: How is power distributed? Is it a highly centralized unitary state, a more open federation, a decentralized confederation, or a casual alliance of like-minded states? Maybe they are fragmented nation-states in a never-ending cold war. Is it a republic, where political matters are public, or are legislative and executive matters private? 
  • How the state handle certain processes: There are categories that a civilization has under control. Things like economics, social issues, class stratification, foreign and domestic policies, citizenship, immigration and emigration, military and security, law enforcement, jobs, resources, and means of production are all good examples of what a state needs to handle. Using the ethics from above, you can figure much of this out. 
  • Control of the state: How much authority does the state have over the above processes? Is it anarchy, where the authority is light and comes directly from the people? A minarchy with minimal control? A lighter, more libertarian touch? Is is more centralized like a unitary state, or more decentralized like a federation or confederation? Is it authoritarian, where the people have few individual freedoms, or totalitarian, where the government have full control of every aspect of their peoples' lives? Does the government only handle matters of security and defense, or do they also control economics and social policies?
  • Relations with other: No state exists in a vacuum. What do other governments think about your alien race? Are they seen as true friends, allies of convenience, or enemies? What do your alien government's own people think of their masters? Do they see them as a benevolent force, or a coercive and malevolent entity?
Those are the questions I ask myself when building an alien society. When making governments, it's always good to have conflict that can add story ideas for your adventure. One thing I stress for making a believable government that is foreign to one's beliefs is to try and look up both the positive and negative aspects of it, then apply it. It's really easy to insert your own political bias when coming up with a group. Remember that these are aliens with their own way of think. Of course, if you want your aliens to be the bad guys, or you are just tired of politics in general, then you can certainly simplify their government. Sometimes you just want to topple an evil military dictatorship and free their people. That's fine for an adventure I feel.


Deviants

Of course, even with everything above, there are always bound to be those that do not conform to ethics based on anything from above. Just by looking at humans, there is a huge variety of cultures, sub-cultures, governments, ethics, philosophies, and communities. This is where making an alien species can get really hard. Generally, after I've done the above, I then treat sub-cultures as a sort of spectrum of the above beliefs. For example, if I've made a race of aliens that lived in colonies not unlike ants, I would have them tend to more autocratic or oligarchic societies. This represents their collective community ruled by a queen or a group of breeding drones. However, I could have sub cultures and factions that want to enact change. Maybe they desire less authoritative rule and want a more republic government with individual freedoms. Or alternatively, maybe they want to centralize their government more to an autocratic rule with a focus on the greater good and stratification. Some may want a less insular society while others demand to remain isolationists. Really, I'll take the above ethics and see how I can fit the opposite with a society. So if a culture is more secular, I try and see what would make some more spiritual while sticking to several of the factors that made their culture who they are.

That's my thought process when I'm fleshing out alien races. While it seems like a lot to do, once you get used to it, it's a fairly intuitive process. Everything leads to the next, and the more that you detail your creatures, the more life you truly breath into them. Next post, I want to show and example or two that puts this method into practice.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

To Vesper Skies: The Setting

As I work more on the sci fi game I eventually will run, I've been building up the setting and how it will work.

The Basics

So the game will start on a dying Earth. Humanity made it to the stars, but were only able to extensively colonize Luna and the L4 and 5 points of orbit, with only outposts on Mars. Digital consciousness uploading has become a thing and humans are slowly making the jump to transhumanity. Things were looking great for the United Nations of Earth. Until humanity broke the moon. A terrible mining incident on Luna went horribly wrong and it shattered the moon. The falling rocks devastated the Earth and destroyed all of the lunar colonies. Now the Earth is covered in a permanent cloud of moon dust that blocks the sun. The world is cold, the ocean has swallowed most of the large cities, and humanity is dying. A global last ditch effort using all of their remaining resources has been put into a wormhole generator and ark ship that will get humanity to a habitable planet found in the New Earth Sky Survey on the other side of the galaxy. This is a one way trip for the millions of humans uploaded to the ark. Your mission is to make it to the Cape Atlanta Space Center, launch to the Tevat in the asteroid belt, traverse the wormhole, and colonize onto NESS 89-03, ensuring the future of humanity.

The Trip

The players will spend a couple of sessions (no more than four) getting to the new planet. They'll have to deal with those that would sabotage the mission or usurp it for their own agenda. Once they make it to the planet NESS 89-03 from the wormhole, they'll be focused on that planet and possibly the other celestial bodies in their newly claimed system. There is no FTL drive (yet) nor aliens (yet), but there are plenty of ruins of such in the area for the players to explore while they continue to grow their colony. Eventually, there will be discoveries that will lead to the invention of the warp drive and open up the entire sector to the players.

The New Earth Sky Survey & the Tevat

This ship was the result of the great superpowers of Earth uniting their resources and scientists to ensure that humanity will live on once the Earth finally succumbs to its unending Ice Age. This initiative was met with resistance, as there were many people that objected to shipping the last of Earth's resources to an unknown system and abandoning Earth and the billions of people suffering on the planet. A minority of politicians and scientists felt the Earth could still be saved, but support for the Tevat ultimately prevailed.

The Tevat is several hundreds of meters long. It has some of the last remaining resources available on it and hundreds of millions of people uploaded onto the memory archives of the ship. These people were uploaded for a variety of reasons, all depending on the country they came from. Some had skills that would be useful out in the unknown. Others had medical reasons (universal donor). And some were simply picked via a lottery. It has starship fabrication facilities and a colonization protocol to send compilers and pre-fabricated shuttle-houses that will be the starting homes for the first to land on NESS 89-03. The Tevat also has a great deal of weaponry to protect it and the colony from any intelligence that would attack it. The ship is run by Noah, the braked AI that controls all of the systems. Its mission is to protect humanity and ensure that the colonies survive and thrive on the new world.

NESS 89-03 and its Neighbors 

This is the third planet in the 89th system analyzed by the New Earth Sky Survey. This is where scientists have found conclusive evidence of plant life and an atmosphere that may be conductive to human colonization. The planet hasn't been given a proper name, but rather one reminiscent of the Kepler and TrES surveys. I'm letting the players name the planet that they will be colonizing on. The planet is similar to Earth to be familiar to the players, but just different enough to feel alien and foreign to them. Days are a little short, and the year is only 81 days. The atmosphere is breathable chemically, but fungal spores permeate the air like a gray-green fog. These are poisonous and will make life difficult for the colonists. There is a great variety of fauna and flora for the players to encounter, and for the most part, it's Earth analogous.

What's interesting are two main anomalies. The first are several ruined sites that are distinctly Earth like. There are humans on this planet somehow, and what's more, they are a bit more technologically advanced than the players. This will be the main overarching mystery as the players expand and explore.

The second will come a bit later, as the players find out that they are not alone on this world. There are native insectoid creatures that call the planet their home. They are in their Stone Age and capable of tool usage and tribal government structures. Encountering a technologically inferior species will have some interesting adventures and scenarios for the players to contend with.

There are other planets for the players to explore in their spaceship (hell yeah, level 1 spaceship). The two preceding orbits have a hot jovian gas giant closest to the star, followed by a hot, barren rocky world. After NESS 89-03 lies a large asteroid belt with two dwarf planets, two cold jovians, one cold neptunian, and a small ice ball planet at the edge of the system. Despite not having habitable life (or at least, life as we know it), there will be plenty of adventures and anomalies for the players to explore and deal with, especially if they wish to expand their reach to these planets. Alien ruins, hostile exoplanets, irradiated moons... That's the interesting and challenging thing about this campaign, is that the players can go to any planet and attempt to colonize it or mine it for resources.

The Sector

Once FTL is discovered by the players' efforts, they will be able to traverse the sector and explore beyond their simple world. Here is where the discovery of aliens will appear, with the players suddenly thrust into the conflicts, grudges, and history of several alien species. For a while, I want to play up the Fermi Paradox and make it seem like there were aliens, but they all died. So meeting a fellow spacefaring sophont will be a BIG deal to the players and ultimately shape the future of their colony.

Discovering FTL will also reveal something terrible about the universe; the Great Filter exists. Unbeknownst to humanity and all of the alien species in this sector, the galaxy is owned by an advanced, borderline Type III extra terrestrial intelligence. These ETIs use the Milky Way to exploit the resources (stars, black holes, planets, people) that keep their civilization running. No one has ever seen an ETI or even know of their homeworld, but we see signs of them in the galaxy via their megastructures. Dyson spheres, Matrioshka brains, stellar engines, Penrose extractors... these are scattered about the galaxy.

While the ETI have no interest in meeting the players or other aliens, they do want to stay the apex civilization and protect their megastructures from the locals. So seeded across the galaxy are highly advanced self replicating nanomachines. These are programmed to attack any ship capable of FTL travel, locate the homeworld, and assimilate the civilization before they can become too powerful. However, millions of years of being out in the galaxy have caused the nanomachines to malfunction somewhat. While they still attack FTL ships, they do so blindly, without hunting down the homeworld. The aliens call it the Gray Beast, since it is a large gray goo in space. They are still a dangerous encounter to the players, so players will have to be careful.

At some point, as the years go by, I do plan on advancing the technology in their setting. Interstellar ansibles, wormhole travel, megastructures... all things the players can have access to eventually.

Adventures and Mysteries

- On the day of the launch, the facilities are under attack by a mob of people being left behind. This is a distraction for the Earth Reclamation Front, a terrorist organization against the New Earth Initiative and abandoning humanity to its doom. They wish to kill the NEI operatives and spread the resources from the Tevat to the people.
- Surveying NESS 89-03 has shown that there are some starship remnants on the planet. When those are explored, it's revealed that these are from Earth and are considerably advanced. What technologies can they get from this and more importantly, how did Earthlings come here before the Tevat?
- The players awake from their hibernation after exiting the wormhole, only to find that a previously planned insurrection is underway to take over the colony and unite it under a faction. Noah the AI is actively trying to stop them, but because of his Third Law protocols, he cannot harm them. Will the players stop them, or join them?
- After discovering FTL, the players have their first encounter with the Gray Beast. It will take some investigating to realize that it only appears occasionally when one travels at superluminal speeds. Will the players find their weakness?