Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dude, where's my L5 colony?

(Insert standard blogger apology for not posting more frequently... my teaching this semester is rewarding, but it's taking up a huge chunk of time.)

In the last post I began outlining a new game concept where players take on the roles of 1960s astronauts.  We follow both the missions and the personal lives of our intrepid sky pilots, and each success helps them "improve" in various ways.  They can spend their down time honing their technical skills, or they can choose to do things that may benefit them in other ways (who wants to go on Johnny Carson?).

But if one turn is one year, then players would reach the end of the Apollo period pretty quickly. We all know that things slowed down a bit after 1972.

What if they didn't?

In the comments on the last post, Porky predicted that this game could shift into alternate futures quite easily.  Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was entranced by the grand goals of the L5 Society...

In the last post I threw out the phrase "engineering positivism" about the gung-ho early NASA period. That was nothing in comparison to the L5 peoples' attitude!  They were planning for the evolution of humanity into a fully spacefaring, space-living race.  I'm overjoyed that their full collection of L5 News PDF files is online... I'm going to read a bunch of them as inspiration for where I'd like to go with the game.

(There's a lot one could say about the sense of disappointment felt by many that these imagined futures didn't come to pass.  That's a whole 'nother post in itself.  I feel it to some degree myself, but I also cringe when I hear people say, even in jest, things like "I was promised a flying car! Where's my flying car?"  Come on... does this really look like a societal contract to anyone?)  :-)

For the game, I'm leaning in the direction of having the players choose from a set of several possible "Event packages."  (I could call them "decks" if I was settled on the use of cards, or "tables" if I was sure the players would all be familiar with D&D-style lookup charts... we'll see!)  These events will contain the possible space missions -- and their progressions and prerequisites -- as well as the "worldly" events that may occur randomly.  I'd also like to include guidelines for players to make up their own packages.  I'm hoping these will get rid of the need for a human "Game Master" (GM) and allow everyone at the table to actually play a character.

Some sets of events will be more "out there" than others.  As I work on these packages, I'll certainly start by emulating history and tracking some of the "retro-future" paths not taken.  But there's nothing stopping the game from containing increasingly sci-fi-ish elements such as alien first contact, self-aware AIs, terraforming Mars, and having to save the Earth from being hit by an asteroid.  It's a cliche, but the sky is the limit!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Right Stuff RPG

A few months ago, I made a cryptic post about a new game idea I was starting to develop.  I didn't give any real details, since I wanted to give it some time to gel before releasing it into the world.  I admit that I still haven't done a huge amount of work on this thing, but I had a change of heart about discussing it.  I'm hoping that working through my ideas on the blog will be more helpful for (a) prodding me to accomplish some real work on it, and (b) improving it via either external feedback or my own process of just writing it down.  :-)

So, you've seen the working title above.  The idea is to have players play the roles of test pilots and astronauts at the dawn of the space age.

You know the 7, but do you know the 13 ?
There are other games with semi-related themes, but I haven't seen one that focuses on the test pilot culture, the friendly rivalries, and the overall sense of "We Can Do It" engineering positivism that Tom Wolfe famously wrote about.  (Of course, The Right Stuff is a copyrighted property, and my game will have a different name and will be based purely on our common public history and my own extrapolations!)

All of the games that I've seen that attempt to evoke or simulate this period of history focus mainly on the "Space Race" aspect -- i.e., one player is the Americans, another is the Russians, and they compete to see who can get to the Moon first, or whatever.  Fritz Bonner's Liftoff is one example.  Prolific DIY game designer Lloyd Krassner has another.

The overall idea, as it stands right now, is that each "turn" of the game will correspond to a time period of something like one year.  The big events are the space missions, of course -- which can go well or badly, depending on the roll of the dice.  But the astronauts can attempt to do other things in their "down time" to improve their lot, too -- training, publicity, research, and so on.  Semi-random "events" can happen to them in each year: some personal (divorce? broken leg while water skiing off Cocoa Beach?), and some worldly (what did those Russians just do?).

I'm still not clear on how the game is won.  Maybe there should be multiple options.  A clearly defined "victory condition" would be nice for a version that could be played out in just an hour or two -- a casual party game.  But I'd also like to enable people to be able to role-play an open ended long-term RPG-type campaign.  (I'm in awe of what Greg Stafford has done with the Great Pendragon Campaign, for example.)  To play John Glenn first going into space in 1962, then again in 1998, could be quite an experience!

Anyway, in future posts I hope to discuss more of the details that have been swirling around my brain about this game.  The next post, for example, will describe how this game may just be something MORE than nostalgic historical simulation...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why are we here, part deux

Okay, maybe not why, but more like when.

Earlier I splurged out some thoughts on some possible ways the Sun and Moon may have teamed up to help get life started in the tidal pools of young Earth.  But that's a separate issue from why WE are here -- we humans, who come pre-packaged (these days) with all this culture stuff piled up around us.

And we can also wonder "why now?"  There have been true homo sapiens walking around for something like 250,000 years, pretty much identical to us in terms of anatomy and brain size.  The Neolithic revolution could have happened at any time, but it waited until about 10,000-12,000 years ago. Agriculture, animal domestication, and the development of towns and cities took off like a rocket.  Other things like writing and commerce came not too long after.

It's probable that the end of the last ice age had something to do with it.  With more opportunities for movement and resettlement, formerly isolated peoples may have found new ways to interact with one another and share their cultural developments at a faster pace.

Or maybe the aliens came down to teach us?

No, I'm not really going there.  But I do want to bring up a kinda-sorta related idea proposed in the 1970s by archaeologist George Michanowsky.  He made note of the fact that there was a very bright supernova that exploded in the southern sky approximately 11,000 years ago.  It would have been much brighter than the planet Venus -- maybe almost as bright as the Moon -- and it would have shone for several weeks before fading.  There's no doubt that it would have been a shocker to ancient peoples.  Michanowsky wrote a book that described various ancient inscriptions that may be dim memories of people observing this event.

Michanowsky was also a bit of a mythmaker...
"The psychological and possibly environmental impact of the Vela starburst triggered a development in their culture that, in a short time span, made them something entirely different from what they had been before. For better or worse, humanity had thus quite suddenly bitten into the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge."

"My research indicates that this heavenly event became the source of the creation myths, the cosmological concepts, and the cultural traditions of much of our civilization."
Too far?  Maybe.  But it's still fun to think about, and a nice reminder that we're not isolated from what goes on out there in this huge, awe-some (literally!) universe.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bring the balance back

I suppose I don't have a HUGE amount of additional thoughts about clerics after getting that last post out of my system.  I've just always been a bit bothered by how they're often constrained to never stray far from their assumed supporting role to the rest of the party.  The 4th edition of D&D annoyingly codified official Roles for party members (Leader, Striker, Defender, etc.) to set these ideas in stone, but there's nothing new about calling for the ol' "medic:"

Click on image for bigger J. D. Webster goodness
Maybe it's the lack of easy-to-identify genre characters for fighting holy men.  Friar Tuck?  Non-magical.  Van Helsing?  He channeled powers from above, but he wasn't a "fighting priest."  Archbishop Turpin from the Song of Roland?  Maybe the closest match, but how many gamers (sad to say) even know about him?  :-(   So what was left for people to do but build the narrative trope around their most talked-about role as dispenser of the healing spells?

But come on... these are guys who channel the powers of their gods to do wondrous deeds in the world.  I think they need to interact more with that unseen world that swirls around them...

The sky is filled with good and bad that mortals never know.
Oh well, the night is long; the beads of time pass slow.
Tired eyes on the sunrise, waiting for the eastern glow.
The pain of war can not exceed the woe of aftermath,
The drums will shake the castle wall,
The ring wraiths ride in black... Ride on.

This was my motivation for Sister Rebecca's spiritual warfare.  Maybe it's something that all clerics should face as they test themselves for level advancement.  (Luke Skywalker seeing his own face in the cave on Dagobah.)  Maybe it's what DMs should make happen when clerics violate their alignment or codes of conduct.  I'm curious what kind of more psychological and introspective game that might produce.  If anyone knows of supplementary RPG resources that take clerics further in this general direction, I'd be curious to know about them.