Sunday, July 10, 2011

Transfinite: Humanspace Design Notes - Responses to DHBoggs

More Humanspace design notes in the form of addressing some questions by DHBoggs from this post.
DHBoggs wrote:

Adventurer –
Should NOT be allowed any psychic ability; and conversely, should be allowed any skill level in other areas. This is going to be a very typical class type featuring a wide range of characters. As in real life, they should not be limited in how far they can progress in non psy, or non warrior areas of expertise. Anyone with PSY ability is (or should be) automatically either a magic user er, scientist, or they can join one of the mystic navigator/astronaut churches, er guilds.

There is no reason a person could not be an advanced geneticist or engineer or what have you and have no PSY ability. In fact I would assume most members of the scientific an academic community to have no psy ability.

Astronaught (cleric) – should be described as members of a guild or better, of competing guilds (churches whatever) where they receive their navigational and Psy training like in Dune or as the “pilgrims” in Wing Commander, and to some extent, the Jedi. Otherwise looks good so far. Pilgrims, if you are not familiar:

Scientist – please, please consider renaming – maybe Psytechs? Scientist does not work because it will be very confusing to talk about “regular” scientists, engineers and such, without getting them confused with the psy powered “magic user" type that make up the class.
The Adventurer class in Humanspace Empires was based on Glenn Rahman’s Adventurer class for EPT that appeared in Dragon Magazine #31.  Rahman intended that Adventurers would allow for the simulation of heroes of literary fantasy that like Moorcock’s Elric were wizards with warrior abilities or like Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane were warriors with some access to magic. The same philosophy applies to the Humanspace Adventurer and, as such, access to PSY powers seems a necessary part of the Adventurer class.  Further, the skills are not intended to be so vital to the game that access to a wider range of skills would justify the existence of the class.
As the rules are written in the playtest draft, a minimum PSY score of 9 is needed for the use of any PSY powers and a PSY score of at least 12 is needed for the more powerful (higher level) powers. This means that about 30% of all characters would have no PSY powers. I’ve considered raising the minimum PSY score to 10 or 11 which would limit PSY powers to around 50% of characters and revising the Scientist Skills/Powers table to further limit the number of Scientist characters with access to PSY or Super-Scientific powers.  I’ve also been looking at various schemes to give Scientists special abilities that are not PSY related.  Even without these changes, at least 30% of scientists would have no PSY ability. I suppose that my contention in the setting is that, during this period, the goal of science has focused, to a degree, on the use of the mind to tap into inter-planar power sources. 

Although it may be a bit of a stretch, the Humanspace Scientist was partially inspired by Dr. Morbius from Forbidden Planet. Although Morbius was a philologist by training, he was (in the grand space opera tradition) a brilliant multi-disciplinary scientist that embraced the idea that focusing mind powers to alter reality was the greatest goal of science.  Consider also the nexialists from Van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle.  The Nexialists sought to unify all the sciences and mental powers were an important aspect  of their training.
I definitely like the idea that Astronauts with PSY powers (like Scientists, at least 30% of Astronauts will have no PSY abilities) are members of competing cults or orders and this has been an area that I’ve intended to flesh out for some time.  The Pilgrims of Wing Commander are interesting and very similar to my original conception of PSY powered astronauts in Humanspace but I was not previously aware of them.
DHBoggs wrote:
Drune, are you aware of Dragons at Dawn? I'd be happy to hook you up with a pdf if you don't have one. I think there is a great deal on the Blackmoor boards you would find of interest too in terms of the Arneson/Barker context under which the EPT rules were birthed. AIF also, may be of particular use to you in developing your variant skill system.
I’m aware of Dragons at Dawn but haven’t read it.  Sounds very cool and I’d love a pdf copy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Russ Nicholson's Regulan

Russ Nicholson, one of my favorite illustrators,  has graciously contributed the above illustration for use in the forthcoming Humanspace Empires rules.  Pictured is a Regulan or Vleshgu, perhaps the most inimical of man’s intergalactic foes.  I have been waiting for a suitable illustration to complete an article detailing this race so look for that in the near future.
The Humanspace rules, like the playtest draft, will be primarily illustrated with public domain science fiction illustrations from the pulp era but I feel that it is very important that some illustrations of classic EPT aliens be included and I would love it if a few were done by artists that have previously illustrated Tékumel publications.  Although best known for his work in the Fighting Fantasy series, the original Fiend Folio and in various Warhammer books, Russ’ art was featured in several issues of the 1990s Tékumel  zine, the Eye of All-Seeing Wonder. 
I want to take this opportunity to ask for additional artistic contributions for this project.  I need illustrations of spaced out Ahoggyá, Hláka,  Hlüss,  Mihálli, Páchi Léi, Pé Chói, Pygmy Folk, Ssú, Swamp Folk, Tinalíya and Urunén or any of the various EPT monsters for the Humanspace Space Monsters book.  Netherwerks have the Shén covered…
As Humanspace is a free, not for profit fan project with no budget, I am not able to commission art but I will try to compensate artists in some way, perhaps with a bound copy of the Humanspace book(s) in which their art appears.
Thanks again Russ!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Digging Out

I've been struggling to find time to write, game, run the Humanspace PbPs, post, or comment on blogs lately.  This unfortunate situation has arisen out of a period of overwork at the day job (that's me excavating in the cellar of a 19th century house that served as a Union cavalry HQ and field hospital), several annoying annoyances on the homefront (like broken AC during a streak of 100 degree days), and a new addition to the family (a really cute but bloodthirsty killer kitten!).

Hopefully things will calm down soon and allow for a return to more weird science fantasy fun.  I'm still aiming for a release of the first Humanspace book this summer and the Space Monster and Campaign books by the end of the year.  Other projects are in the pipeline as well.

Sorry, especially to the PbP crowd for my lack of alacrity.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Transfinite: More Humanspace Empires Game Design Notes

In his Gamma World cover to cover series at Grognardia James Maliszewski  noted: "I can't help but notice both the vagueness and the ad hoc sub-systems created to patch over holes where D&D provided no rules or no model on which to make rules. I don't think this is a bad thing by any means. Indeed, I think I prefer this approach all things considered. However, it's definitely one that is alien to so much of contemporary game design and the culture of play that's grown up around it."

I definitely want to emulate this in Humanspace Empires...particularly the vagueness.  The lack of detail for many of the skills has been one of the major criticisms from playtesters and reviewers. Although I can see that a more thoughtful approach to skills and more clarification is needed, I don't want to lose vagueness and I don't want the importance of skills overstressed in the game.  I've started working on somewhat more detailed descriptions and a few changes in the Scientist skill set.  These will be posted in the near future.

I found one bit in Dungeon Crawl Classics that I liked quite a bit and plan to include in the final Humanspace rules to replace the somewhat artificial and arbitrary limits on the number of times that psychic and super-scientific powers can be used each day.  Excepting a few powers already noted in the Humanspace rules as being so draining that their use limits access to all psychic or superscientific powers for x days, there will be no limit on the number of times that an individual may attempt to use powers; however using any power will incur a  cumulative -1 penalty per use on subsequent power success rolls until the character is fully rested, typically after a period of at least 8 hours sleep.  I will begin using these rules in the PbP games immediately and see how it works. 

The Imperial Academy of Science

Founded on ancient Terra, the Academy of Science in the 621st century is represented by numerous Universities and Halls throughout Humanspace.  The most important centers include the massive pyramidal Ancient Academy on Terra, the towers of the Science University of Alpha Centauri on Zán, and the sprawling Institute on Tázkant, the planetary metropolis of Sirius 7.
Throughout Humanspace, the Academy operates as both an educational and social institution, acting to control the development and dissemination of technology. The organization has many detractors, who feel that Academy interference actually limits technological innovations and that a super scientific utopia would be possible without the Academy’s entrenched support for the status quo.  
The most brilliant offspring of the wealthiest and most powerful families of the Empire gather together in the Academy to unveil the deepest secrets of the universe.  Students and members of the Academy rise through a number of degrees or Phazes.  Any number of scientists may rise to degrees below the 14th, but there are only 64 Master Polymaths of the 14th Phaze, eight Arch-Viziks of the 15th Phaze and one Grand Vizik of the 16th Phaze.  Admission to the lower Phazes is proficiency-based; admission to the higher Phazes is much more politicized.   Typically, members of progressively higher Phazes are more aligned with the ideals and goals of the Academy.
Tuition for Academy training varies between the institutions but averages CR 100,000 per standard year.  Dues for post-graduate and other members are CR 1000 per standard year. Scholarships and grants are often awarded by planetary lords to qualified students unable to afford the tuition.  
The Academy will license a scientist within the disciplines he, she or it has qualified as long as dues are paid. Licenses may be suspended for ethical transgressions, criminality, and sometimes political reasons.   Practicing science without a license is illegal throughout Humanspace.
The Academy provides many services to its members including facilities, protection, education, and access to political power.  Such power is great though curtailed by byzantine and often vicious internal politics within the organization.   Within Humanspace, the Academy is authorized to manufacture and attune lenses, collect dues, discipline members, issue scientific edicts, and regulate super science and scientists.
The Academy offers a 20% discount to members on the prices stated in the Humanspace rules for instruction in technical and expert skills related to the sciences.   Additionally, instruction in super-scientific powers is available and, at great cost,  experimental hypnotic teaching devices may be used to greatly decrease the time necessary to learn such skills and powers.
Academy activities may also serve as the basis for an adventure or an entire campaign.  The Academy operates research centers on many strange alien worlds, controls a fleet of interstellar laboratory ships, and organizes expeditions to explore the weird mysteries of the galaxy.

Credit to Il Male™  for a vision of the Academy in his Junkyard Alpha Doom post which includes several other great ideas too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Roll percentile dice and let's see what you get

It's been said of Professor Barker's Tékumel games that he used a very rules light approach...basically "roll percentile dice and let's see what you get."

I've been experimenting with this  in the PbP Humanspace games and I'm thinking of writing it into the rules to handle unplanned WTF kind of situations.

Currently, in the Ancient Astronauts campaign, the party was on the run from a group of cold blooded Shen assassins. migellito came up with this plan:

"Quickly scanning above and around the shen as they step out of the dust, Sungam looks for a structural element to hit with his old disruptor. Will he find a way to bring down a bit of the Old Quarter on top of their pursuers? Perhaps he can at least put some rubble between them, buying the impromptu group some time to lose the shen in the bazaar."

I was a bit skeptical of this plan and wasn't clear on what Martian architectural elements might be overhanging the street so I left it up to the Professor's "roll percentile dice and let's see what you get" mechanic.

The roll was "02" so I decided something pretty favorable should happen.  It turns out the Shen were standing next to a parked standard utility marked "Abuzek's Best Liquid Oxygen."

Too much fiat? Does anyone use this or a similar method in their games? What about building this into the Humanspace rules for certain situations?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Rahmú

The Rahmú are a fierce and militaristic race of blue-skinned human mutants; descendents of a lost First Empire colony coreward of Aldeberan.  Their language is an ancient dialect of Sunuz.  
Although the original colony world is now unknown, they maintained an advanced, though fragmented and unstable,  civilization and controlled a small interstellar empire before being conquered and reassimilated into Humanspace in the early years of the Third Terran Empire.
The Rahmú are known as great warriors,  traders, mentaliks and artists and even by the standards of the Humanspace Empire, they are considered cruel and devious. Their sadistic sense of humor is legendary. They are hot tempered, nihilistic and place little value on life.  Rahmú traditions include the  zchivú- eh-zchiv, a complex code of honor that demands a duel to the death for even slight offenses.  On Rahmú controlled worlds, justice is harsh and punishments are often ironically linked to the crime.  Torture is considered a form of art.
Males and females are considered equals in  Rahmú society and they are, sexually, very libertine and engage in group marriages.  Sybaratic sects are popular and these are rumored to be amongst the most extreme in known space.   Sunuzlāmic mysticism and Astronaut cults are also quite common. 
They love  display and decoration and their devices are typically ornate and covered in complex geometric designs and grinning demonic faces. The effect is so disorienting than anyone unfamiliar with Rahmú technology suffers a -2 penalty when attempting to use their equipment. Rahmú art and architecture appears to have been influenced by the psionic alien Vrilú.  A population of degenerate Rahmú were found on Aldebaran 4, a Vrilú world.
The Rahmú Empire engaged in eugenics programs and genetic manipulation that, although crude in comparison to that of the Clone Masters of the Second Terran Empire, have resulted in the sub-species being somewhat stronger, hardier and more psychic than average humans; Rahmú characters must have STR, CON and PSY scores of at least 10.  They tend to be extremely self absorbed and abrasive; Rahmú characters will have a CHA no greater than 15.  They are not limited in choice of class or in advancement within any class.
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