Monday, March 30, 2015

Aliens In Spectacular Science Stories - The Haashek

As I work on the options available to players, one area that requires a bit of work is the selection of aliens that the players may choose to play. Some are more involved than others, of course, but a number of the options I have been considering require only a single alternate class. For instance, the Haashek (or Gorrans, I still haven't decided) have only a single class option, similar to the Human class of Adventurer. It is called, predictably, the Haashek Adventurer, and the class is based on the Swords & Wizardry monster stats for the Lizardman. I'll give the writeup as it currently exists, and then discuss some of the features.



Haashek are reptilian humanoids whose civilization is centered around the abundant wetlands of their homeworld. They are very pragmatic, perhaps even cold and calculating by Human standards.

Haashek Adventurer Advancement Table

Exp. Points
Hit Dice (d6)
Saving Throw
Defense Bonus

Haashek Adventurer Class Abilities

The Class Abilities of Haashek Adventurers are exactly the same as those of a Human Adventurer, except that the Haashek Adventurer may not choose a category of Weapon Specialization and the Haashek Adventurer has the following Class Abilities additionally:

Natural Armor: Because some of the Haashek Adventurer’s Defense Bonus comes from the alien’s natural armor, they retain a +4 bonus to Armor Class even while wearing other armor. As usual, though, the extra bonus for higher level goes away when armor is worn.

Breath Holding: A Haashek Adventurer, like all of the race, can hold its breath for a very long time in comparison to Humans. If the specific amount of time becomes important, count it as 10 rounds (of 10 seconds each) for each point of the Haashek Adventurer’s Constitution score. This gives a range of from 5 to 30 minutes before the Haashek has to take a breath.

Movement: Haashek are fairly ungainly and slow-moving on land, but swim quickly. On land, a Haashek Adventurer has a movement rating of 6, but they swim at a movement rating of 12.

Claws: Haashek Adventurers take no penalty for attacking unarmed, due to their sharp teeth and claws.


In many ways, this class is much like the Human Adventurer, as it notes. There is an additional 1+1 Hit Die at all levels, and the progression of the Defense Bonus is significantly different (Defense Bonus is a special bonus to Armor Class given to a character who is not wearing armor; this is to encourage genre conventions, and I took the idea from the WotC Star Wars RPG). On the other hand, the Haashek Saving Throw (single saving throw system) is significantly worse than the Human one, which starts at 14. Since I plan to use the Saving Throw as the basis of any technical skills like piloting spaceships and so forth, the Haashek is at a significant disadvantage in any situation other than combat, but in combat they are definitely superior in most ways (though the Human advantage of being able to choose a category of weapons with which they gain a +1 bonus to hit, and if hand-to-hand weapons a +1 bonus to damage, is pretty helpful too). The experience chart for the Haashek Adventurer is worse than the standard Human Adventurer, too, starting at 2000 xp for 2nd level, where the Human achieves 2nd level at 1500 xp. All classes in the game double the required xp at each level increase, with no level limit other than that geometric progression. The Haashek also gains a few minor benefits based on the monster writeup in Swords & Wizardry, mainly movement and breath holding, but also the natural weapons and armor.

I'm still not sure what the Haashek/Gorrans should look like. The picture above is one way to take it, but I'll probably leave it up to the artist I choose to illustrate them when I get to that point. Maybe they look more like Sleestak, or Gorns, or whatever.

Other aliens may have multiple class choices. For instance, the Koni ("coney", get it? I kill myself) will be able to choose from Adventurer, Seer, and Tinker in my current thinking. These classes somewhat parallel the Human options of Adventurer, Psychic Warrior, and Scientist, but will be somewhat different to adapt the specific details of the Koni race of course, such as generally reduced Hit Dice, sneakiness/unobtrusiveness, and so on. Mostly, I am thinking of ways to adapt some of the types from Bunnies & Burrows to that alien race and the needs of a raygun fantasy setting.

One other thing: I am thinking about changing the name of the game to Rockets & Rayguns, to keep the assonances of Dungeons & Dragons. Do you think that's too much? Is Spectacular Science Stories a better title?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Adventure Games, Goals, And Spectacular Science Stories

Adventure games are often presented, these days, in a manner that doesn't emphasize what you are supposed to do as a player. The first games were pretty straightforward and objective: collect whatever marker counted for points for your character (usually this was money, either as a means to get experience points or for the benefits that the money could produce directly in the game setting). Later, the objectivity dropped away and the goal became, basically, to guess what would please the Referee and have your character do that, because the Referee was effectively told to give out a number of these points on a purely subjective basis. Still later, there was no clear objective presented for games (by now universally called "roleplaying games" instead of "adventure games"), with the players expected to develop objectives for their characters in advance and pursue them without any real support from the game system.

Since I am basing Spectacular Science Stories on a set of rules (Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox) that is close to the earliest games, I want to try and stick to the objective method of giving out success points to the characters. Unfortunately, this presents a small problem, because there are three different sorts of raygun fantasy story that I am trying to emulate. I could probably make this simpler on me by getting rid of one or two of the three character classes, but I don't think that the game would be as enjoyable if I did.

First, there is the Adventurer. This can be dealt with just as in traditional adventure games, as the prototypes include such figures as Northwest Smith, who was just as much of a money-grubbing adventurer as any in D&D. Nothing needs to be done there. Next, there is the Scientist, for which I have found a great way to offer carrots that point them toward the sorts of behavior that you'd expect from that type of character (basically, they can get special benefits from exploring the mysteries of the universe).

What I'm left with, though, is the Psychic Warrior. This one is difficult, in no small part because they are portrayed in the source material (Star Wars and the Lensman stories, mainly) as above such venal matters as money. How do you give objective rewards to someone like that? Obviously, they could get experience points for "defeating foes", but that's entirely secondary in the rules to getting paid. I also want to make them, in some ways, like paladins, with few (and minor) technological items, relying on their psychic powers rather than worldly concerns in their pursuit of moral perfection. I've got some rules for "fallen" Psychic Warriors who fail in their moral pursuit, of course, but I'm still trying to work out how to make them advance properly. I don't want to just give them a set of experience point goals that are special to them and no one else. Maybe I should just add a set of "karma" experience point awards for performing specific objectively-determined actions. Not sure how I'd go about that, though, and there's the matter of what to do about villainous "fallen" Psychic Warriors.

My first thought was to let them donate their money and found items to the Psychic Warrior Temple and get extra experience points for that, but that doesn't seem quite right (though I probably will keep that, and also give Adventurers and Scientists a way to boost experience points by giving up money too). If you've got any ideas, I'd appreciate it.

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.