Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Psi-Wars: First Steps to a Setting

I claim that that’s how you design a novel — you start small, then build stuff up until it looks like a story. Part of this is creative work, and I can’t teach you how to do that. Not here, anyway. But part of the work is just managing your creativity — getting it organized into a well-structured novel. That’s what I’d like to teach you here.
-Randy Ingermanson, The Snowflake Method for Novel Design

(Thanks to Justin Aquino of Game in the Brain for pointing that out to me)

Yesterday, I gave you my setting design manifesto.  Now, I should be clear, when I design a setting, I'm not nearly so rigid and systematic (as you can see from Psi-Wars itself), nor should you be.  The idea is to get a feel for how things go, so I'm much more obvious in my design here so that you can more clearly see the strokes.

In the spirit of that, let me lay out what the rest of this iteration is going to look like.  I'm going to build the setting by going from less detail to more detail, just as described in Randy Ingermason's Snowflake Method, or really how I've been working this from the beginning. I'll start with what I know, create a framework, and dig deeper into the fractal, bit by bit.

First, I'll outline the entire setting as simply as I can.  From that, I'll derive additional points worth working on (beginning my fractal), and justify each point that I add against my target audience.  Then I'll use a loose framework, which I'll set up here, to give me an overall picture of how things will look, and then I'll spill out everything I already know/want and look at the sources I want to include.  Then I'll pick a single point of the above, and do it again, more deeply, then step back and integrate it with what I have, and again and again until I'm satisfied with the results.

Today is the first step into the setting.  This is the broadest outline, the "iteration 1" of setting design.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Psi-Wars: A Manifesto on Setting Design

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
-Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
As I promised before, Iteration 6 is as much about how to build a setting as it's about the actual setting I'll build throughout it.  In principle, nothing in this post explicitly addresses a sci-fi setting set in a galaxy far, far away, because the rules for good setting design apply to all settings.  I want to outline those rules, which I've personally picked up from years of building my own settings, watching some crash and burn and others soar into the imaginations of my players, and from collecting nuggets of wisdom from various GM guides, the experiences of other players, and self-help books with catchy slogans.

Setting design is, of course, an art and there's no "one right way" to build it, and that's not really what I'm proposing here.  However, there are lots of ways for them to go horribly wrong.  A few examples:

  • The Epic Setting: Your GM has spent literally years building his setting.  It's exquisitely intricate in its detail, epic in scope and magnificent in its realism.  He's also printed it all out, the document is heavy enough to kill you if it fell on you, and it's required reading. Nobody reads it. Nobody knows what's going on.  The GM rails at his players for being "lazy."  Campaign crashes and burns.  No matter how good your setting is, it won't matter if nobody can figure it out.
  • The Window Dressing Setting: The GM has spent no time at all building his setting.  As you play the setting, you begin to get the impression that whatever you say, he'll just use, or if a TV show came out with something interesting yesterday, the setting will suddenly incorporate it today.  And, of course, vital elements from yesterday's session mysteriously vanish, as though forgotten by God, in today's session.  The game works, more or less, but you might be left with a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction.  At least this game gets run!  But wouldn't it be nicer if the campaign had some internal consistency?
  • The Unfinished Setting: The GM has a grand and amazing idea, and he can see it in his head, but he has no idea how to get it out.  He's done some writing, but got caught up on a snag somewhere that he just can't resolve.  There's some document with hastily scribbled notes somewhere on his computer, slowly rotting from neglect.  Can a setting truly live without players seeing it, or breathing life into it?

The intent of my rules is less to tell you how to build your setting, and more a series of guidelines and best practices that will act as a framework for avoiding the worst of the pitfalls.  Within those guidelines, you should be fairly safe to build whatever you like.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The State of the Patreon: March

Last month, I gave everyone a heads up on what they could expect in February, and I'd like to do the same, now, for March, as well as make an announcement at the end of this post, so stay tuned!

Last month, Psi-Wars doubled its pledges and achieved its first goal! Thank you, my dear patrons, for your support, and for your feedback! The next goalpost means I can afford to fund one piece of art per month.

Next month, I'll be diving into Psi-Wars as a setting, and we'll start, first, with a discussion of how I go about building settings, then with the setting "as a whole" and then we'll dive into history and then, most crucially, the Empire.

For Dreamers ($1+) I have two Patron-Only posts.

First will be Building Grav Cars, where I offer up my notes on my struggles in coming up with vehicles without having access to GURPS Vehicles, and I show the benefits and drawbacks of a few different approaches, and then show you how I used Vehices 3e in GURPS 4e.

Next, I have an all new template, the Security Agent! As I unveil Imperial Security, you'll also recieve a template you can use to play as one.

For Fellow Travellers ($3+), In the beginning of March, you'll receive my first draft material for the Empire of Psi-Wars.

For Companions ($5+), I have a new poll coming up, where we'll decide on the Emperor himself.

For Disciples ($7+), I'm going to extend an offer to add signature characters to the Empire: Your own senators, admirals and ministerss, built right into the setting.

Introducing Orphans of the Stars

The big announcement! Alright, so, it turns out my blog has turned a few heads, and I've been approached to write a treatise on running politics in a setting inspired by Dune, and paid handsomely up front. This means two things.

First, it means I have to slow down Psi-Wars for a bit. I've already wrapped up the Empire, which runs into the middle of April, and after that, we'll have to see when I can get back to it. The rest of my energy has been directed towards collating existing material (the Empire is huge!) and handling feedback/polls. If we get to mid April and I haven't finished my work on Orphan of the Stars, then we'll see less Psi-Wars content for time.

Here's the bright side, though. After setting aside a responsible amount for real-life things, I've saved the rest and I'm going to use it to pick up some artwork for Psi-Wars. You've already enjoyed Michelle Kuster's sketches for the Traders. She's also agreed to help me build a vision for the rest of Psi-Wars, so that as the work continues, I can begin to show you with art as well as with words my vision for Psi-Wars.

This doesn't mean Mailanka's Musings will slow or stop, however. Part of the deal is that my written material is mine, so once we get to April, I'll be posting some of my thoughts and design work for my material for Orphan of the Stars. This should prove interesting to anyone who wants to inject some politics, planetary domain management, organizational infighting or ideological struggle into their games. Psi-Wars may or may not see a slow down, but either way, I'll have plenty of material for you.

See you in March!
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Ending Iteration 5... and Beginning Iteration 6

I'm going to tell you what I should do.  I should take all of the stuff I've just given you, and then offer some worked examples.  For example, perhaps I could fully detail the Dun Beltain's homeworld, the World of Grist: I could show you the culture, the terrain, a few strange critters lurking in the bowels of the sewers, some of the races that frequent the world, etc.  Why not do that? Because if I'm going to do that, I might as well build the entire setting!

As always, when I end an iteration, I explain why we can just stop here, and Iteration 5 is no different.  With this iteration, I created the tools we need to build our own planets, organizations, cultures, etc, which means that if our players need to visit some Random New World, we can build one with a little bit of work.  There's no explicit need to create a cohesive setting, since we can just keep making up stuff as we go (which is precisely what I've been doing up until now).  After all, each piece can stand on its own.

But if I'm going to show you how to create a world, or an organization (say, the Empire), why not go all the way and make it official and part of my completed setting?  Setting elements might interrelate in some way (How does the history of Grist interact with the history of the setting?  How does it feel about the Empire?  Does it house sites sacred to a widespread faith?), and when building a setting, it's often easiest to create a great framework and then begin to plugin the holes.  If I'm going to think of the details of a specific world (its history and its religion and how it relates to the larger setting), I might as well go ahead and detail those other parts of the setting along with it. That's not the intention of Iteration 5, of course.  We should be able to get away with not doing that, but it kills two birds with one stone, and I'm beginning to tire of Psi-Wars.  I want to finish it sooner than later.  So, I'm going to do it this way.

Iteration 6 thus becomes Psi-Wars as a Specific Setting and doubles as "the playtest/worked example of Iteration 5."

Oh, and are you here for the downloads?  You can find them here (and in the Primer).  Note to my Patrons: This material includes the most up-to-date stuff, including your feedback.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Traders Part 2: Culture

Last week, I introduced a series of polls for my Patrons for the creation of a new alien race known as "the Traders."  An ancient race, the Traders had once warred with humanity for control of the galactic center and lost, the Carthage to humanity's Rome.  I wanted them to be a clever "mastermind" race, but without a focus on psionic abilities, but beyond that, I had no idea what they should be.

The poll proved to be a hit, and I realized I had more room for user input.  I intended to use Part 1 to illustrate the precepts of alien design: We need to know what they're like, we need to give them an obvious visual ("Weird-Pretty") and narrative signature ("They trade"), a mechanical schtick (ETS, Hyperdimensional Meditation, physical frailty), and then bind them into the setting (They look out for themselves).  The result is a nice and trim template, but with lots of flavor, which is ideal.

But what I missed still was culture.  If you hang out with Traders, what do you see?  How do they dress?  What do they eat?  They're alien because they're physically alien, sure, but are they culturally alien? That's an open question, of course.  Some aliens will just integrate with the local populace and loose any sense of unique identity, but others retain a deeply unique culture, and based on the polls, it seemed clear that the Traders were a unique culture that retained a sense of identity.

So that brings us to step 2: Trader Culture.  Using the cultural checklist, I picked out a variety of values that I found potentially appropriate, a few distancing mechanisms (I have a couple more in mind: Trader language is very unique, for example, as is their life on starships), a question about how Traders organize themselves, and what cool additional secret techniques and arts they get.  With that complete, we should know not just what they look like, but what life with them is like, at least enough to have space adventures with them, which is what matters.

If your a Companion-level Patron ($5+), come over and vote.  If you're not, we'd love to have you, and the eventual results will be in the final setting document.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Patron Post: The Traders (First Draft)

Last week, I put together a poll for the $5+ patrons to help me design the first Psi-Wars race, named "the Traders," an ancient race of wandering space merchants that once warred with humanity over dominion of the galactic center.  Now, I offer the results of the poll, with a few edits where I had to best interpret what my voters wanted.  This material is available to all $3+ patrons!

If you're a patron, check it out!  If you're not a patron, I'd love to have you.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Patron Post: Power-Up Previews

A lot of my work lately has been on organizational power, and I think some players will really want to embrace that beyond what the Officer and the Diplomat can do.  They'll want to be more than action heroes, and become the movers and shakers of the setting who happen to also be action heroes.  In that line, I've worked on a few new power-ups, one associated with the Spy and the Diplomat, which you may have already seen, and an entirely new power-up anyone can take for 50 points: the Conspirator and the Magnate.

If you want to look at the design notes and get a deeper look at the logic of them, become a $1+ patron!

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Psi-Wars: Extreme Aliens!

Hmmm, a little outside of your point budget
For the most part, alien templates work perfectly fine in Psi-Wars: Kendra is a bounty-hunter first and foremost, and she just happens to be felinoid.  This works like in Star Wars where the "jedi" part of "twi'lek jedi" matters more than the "twi'lek" part.  But, for some aliens, this isn't so.  Chewbacca isn't a smuggler who happens to be a wookie, he's, you know, just a wookie who happens to be a smuggler.  All you have to say about Chewbacca is that he's a wookie.  Likewise, Hutts are Hutts.  If you introduce a Hutt into your game, players don't stop and ask "Hutt what?  A Hutt security agent?  A Hutt Jedi?  A Hutt Bounty Hunter?"  No, it's just a Hutt.  And this sort of makes sense.  A twi'lek is just a human with tentacles on her head, but a Hutt's huttness, or a Wookie's wookienss is so dominant that it occupies our attention.  I'm not saying they never have variation, I'm arguing that the central element of these characters isn't their occupation, it's their race.

On a related note, some of the templates I pointed you to back on Monday were too expensive for a mere 50 point template.  None of the racial templates from Monster Hunters 5, for example, are remotely affordable on a 50-point budget, and your horrific Things Man Was Not Meant To Know certainly don't fit on that level of a budget. And, in a sense, that's fine, because they don't really need to fit into 50 points because, like Hutts and Wookies, their race is obviously their dominant trait.  One does not introduce a Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know knowing you'll have to field questions like "What? Like a Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know Cop?  Or maybe a Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know Scientist?").  But if they don't fit in our current model of character design, how do we play them?

We need a way to handle both of these problems, which are clearly interconnected.  Fortunately, we have an answer and, as before in this iteration, it's Dungeon Fantasy that rides to our rescue.  Specifically, Pyramid #3-50 Dungeon Fantasy II, with its article "Races as Professions."  Here, Sean Punch rewrites Elves and Dwarves as occupational templates worth 250 points.  For our extreme races, we can do the same.  We don't have Hutt Bounty Hunters, we just have Hutts, because a Hutt costs 250 points, and he's a self-contained template.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Patreon Post: Building the Traders

I am, of course, knee deep in Iteration 6 as of this writing and already hard at work on the Psi-Wars setting.  I've wanted user input on the Psi-Wars setting for awhile, and one of my favorite gaming companies, Amplitude, uses polls for user-content in its games, and I thought I'd follow suit.  Polls allow me to direct your attention in a useful way and allow me to offer snippets of inspiration.  Naturally, the end result will likely be a blend of interests and approaches, a compromise between me and my readers, but that's just how RPGs work, right?

So, today, I have the first of these, available to all my $5+ Patrons.  This regards "the Traders," an ancient race of mastermind aliens that competed with humanity for dominion over the galactic center, and lost.  The design uses the lessons offered in the Aliens series, including themes and niches, including:
  If you're already a $5+ patron, check it out!  If you're not but want to join, I'd be happy to have you.
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Psi-Wars: Building Aliens Part 2: Mechanics and Templates

The beating heart of a race is its template, even if that template is constructed only of 0-point features.  Yesterday, we worked guidelines and a framework for building a context for our race, what the race means for the narrative.  Now, we need to work out what the race means for the mechanics of the game.

Building a template is more art than science and is ultimately subjective, but I personally think that, when designing racial templates, you should consider at least three things:

  • How the mechanics of the template interact with the fluff of the race's narrative
  • How the template shapes development and play for the PC
  • How the template sets the race apart, and makes it a unique experience for the player.
If you want an example of someone giving a thorough fisking to racial templates, check out Psuedonym's review of the DF 3 races.  He does a pretty good job of pointing out which templates are interesting and which are boring.  It's our job to figure out why.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Psi-Wars: Building Aliens part 1: Concept and Theme

Yesterday, we discussed aliens in Psi-Wars and where to get them if you need something immediately.  In a sense, that makes a good "first step" for Psi-Wars, but players will almost certainly want something more original and the GM will want something better tailored to his setting.  In that case, we need to make our own aliens.

Building aliens is "just" a matter of building a template.  This is simple enough, and discussed in detail in GURPS Campaigns on page 450.  But I wouldn't write an entire post, just to tell you that, would I?  Everyone already knows that bit.  What they struggle with is how to come up with a good concept, and how to come up with a good design.  Alas, we don't really have additional details in any GURPS book I can find, though I will note that Template Toolkit 1 does have some essentially good advice on templates in general despite a focus on occupational templates.

At its core, designing a racial template is no different than any other RPG mechanic, in that you need both context ("fluff") and mechanic ("crunch") and they need to complement each other well.  Players who see the template need to immediately grasp what it is, what purpose it serves in the setting, and why it would be interesting to play.  Star Wars, in particular, needs cinematic shorthand for its aliens.  The movies never stopped to explained that Gamorreans are dumb muscle, for example, it's just obvious from the very first time you see one.  Given the huge volumes of aliens that will likely fill our setting, we should follow suit.

Remember "Who Gives a Sh*t?" from the beginning of this iteration?  This definitely applies to alien creation.  For players who aren't deeply involved with the alien race, we don't want them to have to do homework to understand our new alien, thus we need our cinematic shorthand: the alien and its purpose should be instantly identifiable from the first description in the game, but if someone is going to play one, they'll want, at a minimum, a social context to know how to play them (what is their culture?  How do they relate to the rest of the setting?) and a mechanical context (their template) and ideally enough detail that, while entirely optional, means you have plenty of story hooks and information you can feed the players should the race become increasingly important in the game.

Today, I'm going to focus on building up a good and instantly recognizable concept.  Tomorrow, I'll work out the deeper mechanics, like the template.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Aliens in Psi-Wars: Who they are and Where to find them

Alien Heads Concept 1 by Zarnala
Star Wars brims with aliens, but the aliens of Star Wars work in a very specific way.  As I continuously harp on, Star Wars is pulp space opera.  Pulp stories take common stories and just redress them over and over again, and space opera just redresses its stories in space.  The roles of suspicious foreigners or noble savage or strange outsider was recast as alien in most of these stories (and given that these stories were written in the late 19th and early 20th century, much of them ring racist to our modern ears).

When Star Wars isn't using aliens to tell a specific story, it simply populates scenes with them, to remind you that the story is set in space and not in the wild west or Edo-era Japan.  We often don't even get any details about the aliens shown.  For example, it took the West End Star Wars RPG before we got the name "Twi'lek."  This makes sense, after a fashion, as a movie just needs some crazy costumes, but a role-playing game needs additional detail, especially if a player wants to play one.  If a player says "I want to play a member of that tentacle-head species from Return of the Jedi!" then the GM needs access to details on their race, what their stats are, what they're called, etc.  We need to do our homework before players can play.

Star Wars is a very cosmopolitan setting, as is the Action genre.  In the latter, a Chinese businessman might dine with his African business partner somewhere in Paris, and that makes perfect sense, and in the former, we never find Twi'leks just on Ryloth, but all over the galaxy.  There's no reason not to expect to find one on Coruscant or on Tatooine, or even as a Jedi.  Given the fact that we have an entire galaxy worth of aliens we'd expect to meet countless aliens, far more than we can possibly stat.  See "Aliens Everywhere" from GURPS Space, page 21.

This week, I'm going to discuss how to write our own aliens, but given the sheer volume of aliens we might need to sprinkle through our setting, I want to stop and take a look where you can find existing aliens to populate Psi-Wars with as little effort as possible.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Patreon Post: Rethinking Communion

It's another Patreon post, and this time, I look at Communion.  I've collected all of this material into the Iteration 5 final documents (available already to my $3+ patrons), but if you want a preview, or you want to see the design rules behind them, check out my patreon! This material is available for $1+

Space Ghost! Psionic Space Monsters in Psi-Wars

I've already touched on psionic space monsters this week but I want to address ghosts.  Star Wars definitely features ghosts, as seen above, though they're rarely of the spooky sort found in GURPS Horror.  However, I hadn't bothered with them thus far because without unique skills, the typical action hero can't deal well with ghosts.  This isn't Monster Hunters!

But the more I've dealt with Communion, the more obvious it is to me that ghosts and broken communion go hand-in-hand.  Broken communion seeps into places and haunts them, turning them into monstrous places full of spookiness.  Communion itself not only bears an imprint of all human minds, but it resonates with the powerful legends of people who embody archetypes.  If you find the tomb of an undying Mystic Tyrant, it seems highly appropriate that he would still haunt his tomb, if only because people would expect it to be true, and their expectation will make that true.

But how to do I handle space ghosts when Psi-Wars characters lack any skills necessary to deal with them?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Tiniest Space Monster: Space Disease

Star Wars draws its inspiration from the sort of stories where one can always punch ones opponents in the face.  That would seem to preclude disease, but Star Wars also draws a great deal of inspiration from history, and plague has always been a major mover and shaker in the annals of history.  Furthermore, Action has an entire section on dealing with major breakouts.  Of course, Action features a medic while Psi-Wars doesn't, but Psi-Wars does have Psionic healing and mystics who can easily specialize in it.  Furthermore, disease is definitely an issue when wandering around in jungles, so disease already has a presence in Psi-Wars, and thus it might be worth exploring further.

Star Wars actually features one disease already (at least, in the Old Republic): Rakghoul Plague.  The Expanded Universe makes references to a variety of diseases, including imperial bioweapons. It also has a great list of possible diseases on wookiepedia, most of which I've never heard of, but this is illustrative: Star Wars tends to treat disease as either a plot device, or a bit of color.

I think we should follow suite.  The point of Psi-Wars isn't to solve the mystery of the disease, as it might be in Heroes of the Galactic Frontier, but to deal with the fallout. Heroes will do one of the following:
  • Show compassion to the afflicted
  • Race against the clock to prevent a major breakout from occurring
  • Deal with a minor, inconvenient disease in a location appropriate to disease.
Thus, we can break diseases down into three broad categories:
  • Troublesome afflictions that do not kill the victim but nonetheless result in his misery and social isolation, like Leprosy.
  • A spectacularly lethal weapon that, should be it be unleashed, will doom an entire world (like weaponized Ebola or other nightmare-inducing thriller bioweapons)
  • Inconvenient background flavor (like "Swamp fever").

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

BYOSM: Bring Your Own Space Monsters: the Psi-Wars Edition

Pyramid #3-27: Monsters in Space has a fantastic article called "Aliens on Hand."  The idea behind the article is that with a quick shuffling of deck of cards, you can randomly generate a monster at the drop of a hat.  This is perfect for Psi-Wars, as the problem we face right now is not knowing what random craziness to throw against our heroes.  However, we run into the problem described yesterday, which is that these space monsters are calibrated for substantially less competent heroes, and less technological heroes, than the characters in Psi-Wars.  This works fine for creating relatively mundane threats, but will not adequately oppose a fully trained Space Knight, or a well-armed Commando.

The intention in this article isn't necessarily to rewrite the ideas in "Aliens on Hand," but to re-calibrate them.  If we know what sorts of threats will reasonably phase our heroes, we can rewrite a few key elements of the article to create monsters that will appropriately challenge them.  This has the added benefit of focusing our minds on what sorts of threats our heroes should face.  So far we've "balanced" the game on technological considerations and skill level, but how do you balance an opponent who uses no technology at all?

When this article his finished, we'll have an updated version of "Aliens on Hand" to generate our monsters randomly, and that's good, but the real benefit will be the thought we put into the process.  After all, while randomly generated monsters might be useful if you're in a pinch, ideally you'd want tightly focused and well-designed creatures in your final setting. "Aliens on Hand," and any work we do to improve it, will ultimately serve as a guidelines on how to create appropriate and interesting threats for your heroes.

I want to re-iterate that this article is not going to cover realistic space monsters, but threatening space monsters.  Presumably there are space-tigers and space hyenas and whatever and they're scary to other animals or to toddlers who wander out into the wild, but they're not the sorts of threats that keep a Psi-Wars PC up at night.  The intent of this article is to write monsters that will make a PC sweat, and that will interest him tactically, rather than ecologically (though bonus points if you can do that too!)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Space Monsters. Alien Beasts and Psi-Wars

Star Wars is loaded to the gills with space monsters.  A New Hope features whatever tendril thing that was in the Death Star trash compactor, The Empire Strikes Back features the wampa beast and some great swamp creature that spits out R2-D2.  The Return of the Jedi features the Great Sarlacc and the Rancor, which is probably the epitome of a Star Wars space-monster.

Star Wars isn't alone.  People have been fighting space monsters in movies since they were first put to film.  John Carter fought crazed plant-men and 4-armed white gorillas on Barsoom. Doctor Who has fought countless weird space creatures over his many travels.  Flash Gordon had to deal with lion-men and constrictor plants.  Quite a bit of sci-fi, especially after Lovecraft, turned towards horror elements, treating space monsters as monsters, and the works of H.R. Giger have left an indelible mark on what people expect a space monster to look like.

Heroes in adventure fiction have been fighting crazy monsters since the dawn of adventure fiction.  The Odyssey and the Epic of Gilgamesh, two tales from the dawn of their respective literary traditions, both feature heroes battling monsters, and some mythologies start with the death of a great monster, at the hands of a celebrated god, as the creation of the world.  Thus monsters and their defeat at the hands of heroes have a definite resonance with the human psyche, and thus has a place in our heroic Psi-Wars.

So, where do we get started?  GURPS already has a few resources for Space Monsters, including GURPS Space, the GURPS Space Bestiary, GURPS Horror, GURPS Monster Hunters 5, and Pyramid #3-27, Monsters in Space.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Patron Post: Rethinking Dreadnoughts

As I work and write, I often find that I need bits and pieces that don't really fit in the flow of my blogging.  None the less, these are often very broadly useful topics that I certainly return to again and again, and they do end up in my final material. Recently, I've also started a Patreon, at the request of some of my readers.  That seems like a natural place to put my "design notes," and today, I have the first set of design notes. All of this material make it into my final iteration 5 documentation (Available now to my $3-a-month patrons!), but if you want to see the material now, or see the thought process behind it, all $1+ Patrons will be able to see it right now on my Patreon.

Planetary Terrains: Swampland

Swampland environments are another interface, where land and water (or whatever the local fluid is) meet, but there is protection from the mechanical force of waves on the shore. They support abundant life, especially amphibious life.
-GURPS Space, page 142
Swamps don't feature as strongly as jungles in the sort of pulp serials that Star Wars drew much of its inspiration from, but they do feature rather strongly in Star Wars itself, from the marshlands of Naboo, to Mimban from the expanded universe, to the whole of Dagobah.  For the most part, Star Wars seems to treat swamps, thematically, as very wet jungles with quicksand everywhere.  If we broaden our net, though, we find that swamps are often homes to unusual and interesting peoples and to ghost stories.

Planetary Terrain: Woodlands

The Forest Moon of Endor

Woodlands, like jungles, are mature “climax” environments of large, slow growing primary producers. Unlike jungles, woodlands are subject to greater climate variation, usually tied to the seasons. Food is abundant at certain times of the year, but scarce at other times, and everything in the environment must be able to cope with the cycle. On planets with extreme climate variation, there may be no jungles, only woodlands. By contrast, on a planet with little climate change, woodlands would be rare (replaced by something akin to a temperate or cool jungle-like, high-altitude tropical forests)
-GURPS Space, Page 143
 Forests, like plains, tend to suffer from lacking a real exotic flavor.  We're more familiar with forests than we are with a variety of other terrains.  Even so, forests feature strongly in our stories, from secret, underground forests, to the forests of fairy tales to the exotic forests of alien worlds.  Forests represent the core "man against nature" story, as its the first such story most westerners personally encounter.  To us, "wilderness" means forest, and when one "goes camping" one goes to a forest.  Our image of forests as idyllic is even shaped by our desire to preserve a sense of wilderness by cultivating forests, which are closer to parks to than to truly overgrown wilderness.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Planetary Terrains: Plains

Dantooine, old Dantooine
Plains are wide-open regions with fairly abundant life, dominated by small area producers (grass, on Earth) and the grazers that feed on them. Because plains are so open, the things that live there are often highly mobile.
-GURPS Space, page 142
Pulp stories set on plains tend to typically set themselves either on the prairies of the American Midwest, home to showdowns between horse-riding "Cowboys and Indians," while those set in more exotic locals tend to reach for the African Savannah, full of "bushmen" and exotic animals. However, plains present a difficulty for our purposes, not because they represent something so exotic, but because they represent something so mundane.  Plains are the homelands of civilization, especially a particularly technological civilization.  They offer prime real estate for roaming horseman tribes, for endless fields of grain and farms, and for starports.  I can find you an interesting, exotic picture of every terrain type from an actual Star Wars movie except for plains, precisely because plains tend to be so civilized.

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