Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Transfinite: Humanspace Design Notes

Although the two Humanspace Empires PbP games, Ancient Astronauts and Spaceswords and Glory, are just barely underway, I’m finding them extremely useful as diagnostic tools for improving the game system ahead of the planned revision of the play test draft as the final Humanspace Empires Book 1: Science Fantasy Adventures.  I’m also thrilled to have a great batch of players and am already harvesting lots of good setting and design ideas  from them.
The recently published Spaceswords & Glory Technical Manual might be of broad interest as it contains numerous Imperial Navy NPC characters, various robots and androids, and semi-statted play test starship and vehicles.
Clearly the skills system needs some refinement, duplicated skills need to be consolidated or differentiated, many skills need to be defined, the explanation of skill acquisition in character generation needs to be much clearer; and most importantly the rules need to convey that the skill system exists primarily to stimulate the imagination of the players and the referee and should not be overemphasized in game play particularly if doing so proves limiting rather than expansive.  Overall, though, I’m pretty happy with the skills system and don’t anticipate a major overhaul being needed for the final rules.
I’m not completely happy with the Psychic and Super-Scientific Powers; however I think the current version needs expansion and refinement rather than substantial revision.  My problem with Powers is intertwined with an area of setting development that has been neglected and I hope to make some progress on this in the near future. 
I’m talking about the role of religion in Humanspace.  I have tried to follow known EPT canon as much as possible in designing the Humanspace setting and there are several canonical references that lead me to believe that religion was of great importance in the Humanspace era.  We have the star worshipping techno-priesthood in the Hierarchy of the Nóm but it is past time to crack open the Book of Ebon Bindings and begin detailing the theosophy of Humanspace; weird Astronaut cults and ancient mystical religions, Space Yoga, the Pariah Gods, VuhVedic Sunuzlām.
Psychic powers are a focal point of the game and in the spirit of EPT I feel these powers should be mystical.  I have envisioned the time period of the default Humanspace setting (about 60k years in the future and 50k years prior to the Cataclysm)  as an era when use of early primitive interfogulators had weakened the walls of reality sufficiently that humans and other species were able to tap into interplanar power with mental energy.  Inter-dimensional access goes both ways though, so n-dimensional demons are certainly slipping in.  Over time, improved inter-planar devices resulted in the re-thickening of the walls of the universe (sometime well before the 100th millenia) and a more scientific less mystical Humanspace .
I’m thinking of ways to further differentiate the Scientist and Super-Scientific Powers from the Astronaut and Psychic Powers.  Expanding or at least semi-defining Scientist skills and developing a system for the creation of Techno-artifacts by Scientists (similar to the creation of magic items by Magicians) might be interesting.  I also want to expand the idea that Scientists are often associated with one of several Institutes or Foundations that might be something like Interstellar- quasi -Wizard Guilds. 
Some recent rumination on minor and not so minor points of game design might affect the PbP players in the near future and I’d recommend that anyone actually running the game consider these rules changes:
The Disintegrator Rifle (sub-atomic) is pretty unbalanced as written and too cool, in my opinion, to keep out of the hands of players and NPCs.  I will be requiring a to hit roll for anyone using the weapon in the PbP games.
The Experience Rules as written award 1 x.p. for 1 CR worth of treasure.  Considering the ultra-post-modern economy of Humanspace, the costs of vehicles, starships, etc. and the relatively low amounts of x.p. needed to advance in low level play; I don’t see this rule working out.  I’m considering various revisions like maybe 1 x.p. per 10 CR treasure, or only awarding x.p. for credits squandered on Aldeberan brandy, Orion slave girls, and space age lounge music.  I’ll consider any suggestions on this one…
Posting here has been somewhat light during the germination of the PbP games but lots of awesome Humanspace data has been appearing at Netherwerks, the Expanse, Swords & Stitchery, and Planet Algol. The far far future's ancient past is so bright I gotta wear a visor...


  1. I'm already hearing some echoes from my group. The weapon definitions need refinement. There should be an optional set of character creation rules. Those are two opinions & their not mine mind you.

  2. Building nonhumans can be a bit difficult as things stand right now. That could be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on what your take on nonhuman PCs might be.

    Blair's Space Yoga is a great idea for HSE.

    Scientists might have the added advantage of refining or upgrading their gear, making it more accurate, more powerful, smaller, etc. They might also approach technological artifacts with a form of analysis that works like a rational version of the old Legend Lore from D&D.

    The Book of Ebon Bindings will certainly reveal a wealth of weird cults, strange beings, and new frontiers...

  3. There is a certain logic for XP being awarded for spending CRs, but then again there is just for holding, in the sense of the character's need to worry, protect, store or possibly defend in ways below the game radar.

    If you do go with spending, I'd suggest not putting a limit on what can be paid for to get the bonus. Any purchase could involve one or more of questioning, exploring, haggling, scuffling, complicated paperwork, avoidance of scams, transport of funds etc. and these would all develop the character.

  4. I have been a big proponent of the spend treasure for experience points model for a while now, so my vote definitely goes there.

    You get the best of the carrot of the old treasure=exp (emphasis on exploration and guile) without the steady accumulation of massive amounts of wealth. Plus if done well (such as Arneson's famous attempts) it helps spur the creation of in-character goals.

  5. @Porky @TheDrune Spending for XP also raises the spectre of 18xx style stock dumping: "Why, sure! I'll pay you three thousand quatloos for that bottle of ale! I won't even haggle! That sounds totally fair! (Astrophysics 4, here I come!)"

    Spending Gold == XP, to my mind, invokes the genre convention of the doughty sword&sorcery warrior who is profligate with his booty, who scorns cash as a thing of civilization, and throws it around on wine, women, and song.

    Is this the tone you want for a far-future science-fantasy setting? (It could be, or it could not.)

    On the other hand, spending recovered quatloo booty on an intergalactic equities portfolio and burgeoning shipping business is still /spending/, so... 8/

  6. Spending gold for XP might not be quite as much fun as having to either do the old-time Get Some Gold via looting or chicanery, or Make Some Gold by playing the market, building a portfolio, hiring a financial Mr. Haag suggests above. Think of Gully Foyle for a moment. Yeah...that'd be fun...

  7. I still haven't decided how to deal with the CR for x.p. Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions though.

    I considered doing away with it altogether and replacing with a per mission or per session reward.

    Maybe a formula that would factor in CR gained, sucess of mission, role-playing, etc. to calculate the earned the way to go? With this system the importance of cash accumulation in gaining experience could be diminished while offering players other ways to gain the points, the ratio of CR to x.p. would probably be reduced to a ratio of 1:10.

    I may, at least, experiment with this in the current games...


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