Thursday, January 6, 2011

WEIRD SCIENCE FANTASY SYSTEM





Above are the preliminary covers for the three planned books that will comprise HUMANSPACE EMPIRES: Science Fantasy Adventures, Space Creatures, and Campaigns in Space and on Alien Planets.

Ultimately, I’d probably prefer original art for the covers but there is some really interesting public domain pulp sci-fi art around that conveys the setting well and I hope the books ultimately include a mix of new and vintage illustrations.  

At this point, I’ve compiled extensive notes on the setting and written portions of each book but only recently have I decided on a rules system.  There are several old school science fiction and science fantasy games now available and several more in design, see the recent discussions on Barking Alien, and BX/Blackrazor.

The rules system for HUMANSPACE EMPIRES will be very similar to that presented in Empire of the Petal Throne (1975); however, it will hew somewhat closer to the rules of the original fantasy RPG, than even EPT did.  As such, the mechanics of HUMANSPACE EMPIRES will be generally compatible with OE D & D, Swords and Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord.   

I'm aware that Tékumel’s creator, Professor M.A.R. Barker has disparagingly commented on the 1975 rules stating “the original Empire of the Petal Throne was about as realistic a simulation as Monopoly is of Atlantic City of the 1930’s."  The HUMANSPACE EMPIRES rules will be informed by the more recent Tékumel games, particularly Dave Morris' excellent unofficial rules, Tirikélu; however I feel that a minimalist old school approach will best serve my purposes. 

Consider these remarks from an  interview with Jeff Berry posted on the great Hill Cantons blog:


After that first three years, we knew Tekumel pretty well and didn't diddle with it. Phil did more story-telling then GMing, and went to the "you roll, I roll" system of adjudication. It worked very well with us, and seems to work well with my two groups.
I have players who have rolled up characters in EPT, S&G/Gardasiyal, and T:EPT. I do all the number-crunching “behind the scenes”, and I refuse to let the game mechanics get in the way of the story-telling.


There will be three character classes in HUMANSPACE EMPIRES

First, the Warrior represents those adventurers that live and die by the sword and/or raygun, like barbarian warlords from backward low tech worlds or the legionnaires of the star empires. Specific Professional Skills for Warrior characters will detail their weapon proficiencies and military training.

Next, the Astronaut.  Astronauts will, through the use of Specific Professional Skills, pilot and crew the ships of Humanspace and Beyond.  Due to their exposure to interplanar energies during space travel, astronauts with innate psychic potential become capable of tapping these energies to change reality with the power of their minds.  Astronauts tend to be very mystical or religious; many become devotees of ancient weird religions. Astronauts will be only slightly less effective in combat than Warriors, due to the many dangerous alien encounters that they routinely face.

The Scientists of Humanspace represent those whom have devoted their lives to scholarly pursuits, experimentation, research, and invention.  Like Astronauts, Scientists with psychic potential are capable of manipulating interplanar energies with their minds; however, unlike the Astronauts, they typically require technological devices to focus and direct these powers.  Specific Professional Skills for Scientist characters will detail their research interests and areas of scientific expertise.

Aliens, robots, and androids will conform to these classes or be presented as monsters.  

Finally, those unfamiliar with the Skills rules as presented in Empire of the Petal Throne (1975), the first implementation of such a system in a commercial RPG, should be made aware that this system was generally a loose framework to add detail to an individual character.  Characters begin with a few Background Skills learned earlier in life and gain Specific Professional Skills associated with their class.  Additional skills become available upon reaching a new experience level and skills can also be learned in game by spending the time and money necessary to do so.  No comprehensive skill resolution system was included; individual skills functioned in various specific ways, some involved a chance of success or failure and generally followed the mechanics of spell casting in the system.


The preliminary HUMANSPACE EMPIRES covers above are works derived from images believed to be in the public domain.   The illustration upon which the cover for Science Fantasy Adventures is based appeared as a promotional poster for the film Cyborg 2087 (1966).  The cover for Space Monsters is based on an illustration by Frank Kelly Freas that appeared on the cover of Planet Stories - January 1954.  The cover for Campaigns in Space and on Alien Planets is based on an illustration by Virgil Finlay that appeared on the cover of Planet Stories - November 1959. 

7 comments:

  1. Bravo.

    The art choices for those covers are wonderfully evocative. I would definitely keep rolling with public domain pulp work of that era if you can match these covers (or newer work that has a similar feel to it). One could almost imagine the professor as a child poring over these magazines and dreaming up his grand world-building experiment to come.

    It may ruffle feathers for the more canonically minded but what great fun as a project.

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  2. @ ckutalik: I have been a little worried that "the more canonically minded" Tekumel fans might be unhappy with this project. I hope they see it as intended, a tribute to that classic setting and a weird and fun space opera milieu.

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  3. Personally I wouldn't worry about it and just go for it.

    You have been pretty careful about saying it is a fan-based (and free) product that is non-canonical and it's such a fun and indirect way to explore Tekumel's "far future" past.

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  4. Those covers are absolutely perfect for this project--very evocative of the Pulp-Scifi sensibility and very compatible with the 'far future past' of Tekumel.

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  5. I'm one of those "'canonically minded' Tekumel fans" and I say... GO FOR IT! :) I'm looking forward to hearing and seeing more about this project.

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  6. BTW, if you need some outside playtesters, don't hesitate to drop me a line.

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  7. Sounds awesome! Can't wait to see it.

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