10 August 2010: “Vortex” decisions

The Milky Way galaxy
The Milky Way galaxy

Fellow role-players, here are some notes from the Boston-area group’s “Vortex” planning session of Monday, 9 August 2010, which I hosted at my second duplex in Needham Heights, Massachusetts.

>>Favorite science fiction and expectations

I’ve already posted about influences on my homebrew space opera setting, including the novels of Isaac Asimov, movies such as The Fifth Element, television shows including the original Battlestar Galactica, and games like Star Frontiers. I asked everyone about their favorites and found interest in traditional pulp fiction.

Paul J. cited Star Trek: the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (“DS9”), the anime Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop, and Joss Whedon’s space Western Firefly/Serenity (which other people liked). Beruk A. added the British TV shows Red Dwarf and Doctor Who, which mix humor and surrealism.

Greg D.C. mentioned Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Mars/Barsoom books and the exploratory thrills of early 20th-century planetary romances. Sarah F. named the 1990s SeaQuest DSV, Lexx, and Farscape, which featured ship-based adventures and exotic environments. Josh C. added the interplanetary diplomacy and wars of Babylon 5 and DS9. Brian W. reached further back to the 1970s for Space 1999 and classic Doctor Who, which had shaky production values but strong characters and plots, not unlike the original 1960s Star Trek.

We only touched upon cyberpunk such as Blade Runner, transhumanist speculation such as David Brin’s Uplift stories, and retro steampunk like the works of Jules Verne. We missed Dave C. last night — what’s your favorite science fiction?

>>Initial Player Character concepts

Brian described his Trinoid, a trilateral amphibious alien xenobiologist and anthropologist sent to the Sol system around the time of open and official First Contact between Terrans and galactic societies. (See my earlier post regarding nonhumans.) The strange (to human eyes) being plans to observe and conserve Earth’s lifeforms.

Josh had two human proposals: an honorable sniper that’s a hybrid between an Army Ranger and a knight Templar, and a martial artist/freedom fighter similar to early Capoeira practitioners. I noted that he’d have to specify the soldier’s code of honor and organization, which he described as one that would defend humanity and seek its place in the stars. The rebel could be a colonist struggling against control of Mars or other places by Earth-based corporate or governmental authorities.

Sara designed a Tharian, an alien with wings (like a Star Frontiers Yazirian) and reptilian skin, similar to a gargoyle. Although the Tharians aren’t technologically advanced, her character’s home village was destroyed by interstellar pirates (possibly Ru’ulok). She stowed aboard the invading vessel and was subsequently found and trained as a mechanic with some larcenous skills.

Greg described “A.R.T.H.E.R.R.,” an artificial intelligence/robot probe designed by human mining conglomerate Vimeco about a century ago (in “game time”). After the megacorporation realized that it didn’t need robots to gather information from harsh environments but that it instead wanted to control access to information, the robot worked odd jobs but retained its desire and ability to explore.

Beruk created a former government operative with communications and piloting expertise. Perhaps he saw something related to First Contact on the frontier that he shouldn’t have, or maybe he made the wrong enemies (a la Outland). He’s trying to keep a low profile but find out more.

Paul, who had to leave early, talked about a Scoundrel or Jack of all trades who is actually a near-human psychic. He uses telepathy to help him persuade people to cooperate. Overall, the gamers agreed on an exploratory theme for the campaign, so the new party will probably get access to a ship sooner rather than later. Military, diplomatic, and trade missions will still be possible, but they won’t be the group’s shared focus. I’ll try to provide a mix of environments and challenges.

>>Rules systems

With help from Josh, Sara used BASH! Sci-Fi Edition for her Tharian, and she liked the relatively simple point-buy method of character building. The d6 multiplier was a turnoff to Paul and Greg, and the group agreed that since Basic Action Super Heroes was the least supported and the least familiar to everyone, the representative of rules-light and retro-clone games should be set aside.

Beruk and Josh noted that D6 Space (similar to West End Games’ old Star Wars RPG and Marvel Superheroes) and Mecha & Manga and Tomorrow Knights for D20 Mutants & Masterminds (about to have its third edition in combination with DC Adventures) were fairly simple, but the others were more interested in other games. We’ve looked at numerous science fiction systems over the past several months.

Brian and Josh used Steve Jackson Games’ Generic Universal Role-Playing System. Unfortunately, even the combination of GURPS 4e Lite and Space was complicated for character creation, especially for Brian’s Trinoid. While it might be good for “simulationist,” lethal games, GURPS also failed to get any strong support.

Beruk and Sara (and Dave, who was absent) had looked at Star Wars: Saga Edition. They noted that it was compatible with numerous other D20 science fiction games, used the familiar species/class/level system, and supported aliens and robots. However, reservations about the Force and Jedi as imbalancing and concerns about D20/Open Game License rules proliferation put Saga in second place of the games we considered.

Brian easily created his Trinoid with Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment, or FATE 3e. Greg and Paul eagerly looked at Brian’s hardcopy of the FATE-based Dresden Files RPG, which Josh ended up borrowing (in addition to my Pathfinder Campaign Setting). Ultimately, Brian, Paul, Greg, and Josh voted for FATE, which is the rules set we’ll be using for “Vortex!”

We’ll be using a few science fiction references for FATE. Diaspora has an online System Reference Document, brief and straightforward rules descriptions, and a “hard SF” edge. Starblazer Adventures lists numerous aspects, stunts, and pulpy tropes, but it isn’t as well organized. Mindjammer supports transhuman elements such as psionics.

In addition, we’ll be using the dice-rolling mechanic from the Icons superhero game (2d6-7), Starblazer Adventures’ “gritty” starting level (15 points for skills), and phased acquisition of aspects as part of group character/party design. Brian and I will try to post more information in the coming weeks.

Beruk, as you requested, here are some links about conversions from some space operas to FATE:

I look forward to talking with all of you about your characters’ species, occupations, motivations, and FATE 3e writeups soon! -Gene