Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Maybe I'm Back, Plus Updates

Sorry for being away for a while. Burnout, self-criticism, and numerous projects sort of ate my interest in posting for a while. Still, I thought that it would be nice to update you lovely people.

The main project I've been working on, gaming related, is a game that I'm calling Spectacular Science Stories. It is a raygun fantasy game, inspired by the likes of Northwest Smith, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers, but also Commando Cody, Star Wars, Captain Video, Barbarella, Firefly/Serenity, Krull, Dune, Foundation, Cowboy Bebop, Lensman, and the Blue Öyster Cult song "Veteran of the Psychic Wars", among other things. I've discussed it a bit before, but I thought it would be worthwhile to give a brief description again.

The basic rules will be derived from Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox. Players will have several choices for their characters, selecting a class and a background. The classes will include (for human characters) Adventurer, Psychic Warrior, and Scientist, and non-human options will include Robots and Aliens or Genelines (with their own class options, usually one or two per alien race or human geneline).

Adventurers are typical action heroes in the Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers mold. Psychic Warriors are, obviously, inspired by Lensmen and Jedi (and Blue Öyster Cult!). Scientists are researchers and inventors, along the lines of Dr. Zarkov or Dr. Huer. These define the basic approach of the character toward the game: the Scientist will have rules relating to discovering the secrets of the universe and building superscience devices, Psychic Warriors will be pointed toward engaging with the moral dimensions of the setting, while Adventurers will be given the normal hustling and murderhobo activities traditional to adventure games.

I will be underscoring the non-physical nature of hit points by four means: the use of a "Death & Dismemberment" table for injury, greatly increasing recovery of hit points, causing Psychic Warriors to spend hit points to power their psychic abilities, and making use of the Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox method of determining damage (that is, everything does 1d6, with a +1 or -1 for particularly large or small attacks; artillery is another story, of course).

I'm planning to give Robot characters an entirely different approach, where they improve only by spending money to buy better body components or software, and giving them a starting budget. This will allow those players who demand the ability to design their characters a route to go, and also play along with the idea that Robots aren't the same as living beings.

I don't know for sure which Aliens I want to include with the basic game, but I am considering Draug (sort-of wolf-bear-men that I found in the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book), Giff (from Spelljammer), Haashek (Lizard Men, though I am not wedded to that name; I might change it to Gorrans, from Starships & Spacemen 2nd edition), Koni (basically humanoid bunnies; Bunnies & Burrows!), Moonspiders (intelligent giant spiders), and Tabaxi. I don't know if six aliens is too many, though, and I'm not sure which ones to cut if I do end up having fewer. I'm pretty sure I want to keep the Haashek and the Moonspiders for sure, and probably the Koni. That would give a tough warrior race (like Dwarves), possibly a subtle and wise race (like Elves, if that's the direction I take Moonspiders), and a small sneaky race (Halflings). Moonspiders and Koni (as Bunrabs) originally were inspired by intelligent races in Swordbearer, but I like them a lot. In the long run, I want to take the Flanaess Sector idea for the Aliens of the setting.

The setting itself will be centered on a Galactic Republic that has stood for a thousand years. Despite living with its old ideals, it has become a corrupted system, with overweening bureaucrats and self-interested politicians running matters for their own benefit. The Temples of the Psychic Warriors have become increasingly out of touch with the needs and situations of the common people, though some Psychic Warriors still try to live up to the spiritual and moral imperatives of their calling. Rocket Rangers with their special battle suits rub shoulders with the Space Patrol and small-time (or big-time) hustlers. Aliens who have transcended the need for physical bodies help and hinder curious humans in distant worlds. Meanwhile, unknown horrors from beyond spacetime threaten to break through and dissolve the minds of humans in backward colonies off the main spacelanes. In this tottering interstellar community, the players scramble to make an honest, or more likely dishonest, Credit.

I have some ideas for spaceship combat which will hopefully give the feel of science fantasy space combat. Well, I plan to adapt one of the abstract space combat systems I've seen. The main slowing point is coming up with inventions for Scientists to develop, but I hope to have at least a couple dozen examples.


  1. Looks great! I'm looking forward to what you come up with. Some rules-lite raygun sci-fi rules would be much appreciated. (Rocket Age was *almost* there but not quite...)

    1. I still need to get that one (it's on my list, probably next month). I'm going through old Flash Gordon strips and the serials as research (uh, and also because hello! awesome!), and I've ordered the Buck Rogers serial (can't afford the books of strips for that right now, though). I recently learned about the old Space Patrol TV show - which, I don't know why I had never even heard of it before; it's a bizarre oversight in my SF history education - and am considering getting some DVDs of that.

      Like Leigh Brackett, I plan to move a little with the times and have the action take place across the stars instead of among our nine… ten… eight… however many planets. Star Wars, Lensman, Dune, and Foundation sort of lead that way, too, so I feel that it's a reasonable design choice. The setting is going to be somewhat sketched out, though, in classic D&D style, so a Referee who prefers a smaller universe could easily do that instead.

      That reminds me, I'm going to include random tables for planets in the old-style SF mode. It'll be something like the tags of Stars Without Number, but less formalized. Plus, in a nod to the LBBs, a table of space stronghold inhabitants.

  2. Every time I hear Veteran of the Psychic Wars (I think I first saw Heavy Metal on HBO back in '82 or '83) it starts me daydreaming about potential sci-fi/fantasy game settings. I never have done anything with it though - interested to hear about your ideas. Funny, I always thought I was alone in thinking that song just begged to be exploited for gaming!

    1. I don't think that I ever saw the movie until the '90s, but I had constructed a single story out of the songs on the soundtrack album, taking the songs in linear order, and some vague hints I'd heard some people mention (for instance, someone mentioned a queen, presumably talking about the queen in the segment "Den", but which I connected to the song "Queen Bee" from the soundtrack). Someday, I want to use that as the basis of something.

      I think that many of the songs written by Moorcock, especially, for BÖC or Hawkwind would make good gaming, but there are also plenty of others that seem intensely gameable ("Astronomy" could make the basis of an entire Call of Cthulhu campaign, I think - or possibly for Spectacular Science Stories!)