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January 5th, 2007


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03:58 pm - Musings on RPG campaigns I'd like to run & play in
Here a . One of my periodic dilemmas is that I regularly have many ideas for RPG campaigns, but I am considerably more interested in playing than GMing. I'll happily co-GM a campaign with someone (where each person alternates playing and GMing from one scenario or story arc to the next), but being the sole GM of a campaign, especially the sorts of lengthy campaigns I prefer, is very much not to my taste. In any case, here is where my ideas are currently taking me. I think the only remotely likely options for the people I game with are 1 & 3 – with a small possibility of 5.

1) Star Trek: Transcendence
Using this amazing analysis of technology and society in Star Trek as a starting point, and have the PC group be composed solely of the sorts of exception/outsider characters found in the various series: Spock, Odo, Seven-of-Nine, Dr. Miranda Jones, Dr. Bashir... Then, play them either on a small and remote Starbase, largely because they are too odd for anyplace else. The focus would be on fun adventures mixed in with a variety of odd encounters that allow or push some or all of these characters towards some form of transcendence.

Alternately, I could go for something more like a mixture of Star Trek and Firefly have the same campaign set on a small tramp trader ala Cyrano Jones or Harry Mudd, and let the characters stumble into transcendence, possibly at the behest of a mysterious patron. The setting would be Movie Era, which has both the coolest-looking tech and uniforms and avoids the many problems that replicators and holodecks introduce. Naturally, the primary focus of the game would be exploration and personal transformation. For system, I'd use Cinematic Unisystem.

2) Transhuman Space Opera
Start with a base that looks like a somewhat toned down GURPS: Transhuman Space (specifically, make uploading anything other than Shadows impossible) or an expanded version of Centauri Knights (for Big Eyes Small Mouth). Then, add a few centuries to the timeline and throw in interstellar travel. I'd love to try a game with only relativistic travel, but it sounds like it would be quite demanding to deal with jumps of several decades everything the crew revisited a planet. So, I'd likely instead go with some sort of wormhole-based FTL travel, using some ancient wormhole network.

I'd put in a goodly number of extinct alien species (as well as an abundance of enigmatic alien ruins to explore), a few living alien species (most of which are fairly odd and deeply alien, the Xiang from 2300 being a good example) and many dozens of human colonies, some of which have become rather inhuman due to various technological alterations. This setting would draw heavily from Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series and R. Garcia y Robertson's Eridani stories. I'd use something like this as the background for the setting, but advance the timeline 200 or so years, to around 2500, with tech only somewhat higher than what is available in that kit-bashed setting, because going higher tech than this is both very difficult and quite risky, and there would be a few failed singularities around to provide suitable warnings. This would likely work best as a somewhat episodic campaign with each scenario taking place in a different star system, with occasional ones taking place aboard a starship. This campaign would focus on exploration, discovery, and adventure. For this setting, I'd use Unisystem or possibly nWoD.

3) Mage: The Ascension Revisited
I've been thinking about how well Mage: the Ascension could be run using the Awakening/nWoD rules, and how much simpler these rules might make the game. The few necessary rule mods can be gleamed by borrowing from the various conversion notes found in these three posts (post one and post two, and post three). There's also a lot to love about the nWoD, and so my idea is to keep all that coolness.

Inspiration: I love much of the nWoD, and find it incredibly evocative. The spirits and spirit-ridden in Predators are exceedingly creepy, Second Sight (especially the Reality Bending Horrors chapter) is marvelous, as is the soon-to-be released Intruders: Encounters With the Abyss. The nWoD is a world of multifold oddities and horrors, rather than one dominated by a few powerful entities and eternal conflicts (which was very much the structure of the oWoD), and I like it far better. However, while I like new Mage, I love old Mage, and like the idea of using it in this setting.

Basic Premise: Before "The Disaster" The Technocracy is clearly neither free nor altruistic, but it does real good in the world (as well as perpetuating horrors). A good analogy (used extensively in the Guide to the Technocracy) is Section One in the TV show La Femme Nikita, except that the (now mostly dead) leadership is somewhat more self-serving. Also, vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are all based on nWoD, not oWoD. In addition, I definitely think the inhabitants of the Abyss are even niftier than the inhuman Nephandi Lords, see the upcoming book Intruders: Encounters With the Abyss for just how cool they can be.

The Disaster: Some unknown (at least to all sleepers and most mages) supernatural event rips holes in the Gauntlet and kills a whole lot of mages – almost exclusively those with Gnosis of 6+ and/or various degree of Permanent Paradox. In other words, the leaders of the Conventions and the Traditions are dead, and everyone else is on their own. Also, borrowing one of my favorite bits from my work on Convention Book: Iteration: X, Autochtonia is now largely cut off and semi-functional and so that Convention is finally free of the domination of an inhuman umbrood, and has begin exploring Dimensional Science. Naturally, finding the causes of The Disaster would be one possible campaign goal.

In addition to several hundred of the most powerful mages being suddenly killed, ghosts and spirits now have far more access to the world. The Gauntlet is still in place, but Shallowings where it temporarily (often quite briefly) falls to zero, allowing ghosts and spirits to access the Twilight world are now considerably more common and can happen almost anywhere. Belief in hauntings is starting to become widespread because all but the most skeptical, the spirits inside more objects are now awake, and the spirit-ridden are also considerably more common. None of this stuff is so obvious that everyone believes in it, but most people do and the dangers of an ordinary mortal experiencing spiritual or ghostly attack are far greater than before. Simultaneously, mortal thaumaturgy and psychic powers (both from the nWoD book Second Sight) are also somewhat less subject to disbelief. As a result, while civilization continues on, the world is a far stranger place. In addition, intrusions by Abyssal Entities and the Reality Bending Horrors from Second Sight are also somewhat more common. I'd borrow heavily from the Sean Stewart novel Resurrection Man and create a world where the reality of the supernatural is obvious to anyone who chooses not to deliberately ignore it and society must adjust to this fact. While it might be interesting to start the campaign shortly after the Disaster, I'd likely prefer to set it 2-5 years afterwards, so that the panic and denials have quieted down and Sleepers have at least somewhat adjust to their new world.

In this world, both the Conventions and the Traditions are attempting to rebuild themselves. The old Ascension War between the Traditions and the Conventions is considerably less relevant, both because the major proponents on both sides are now dead, and because the world faces all manner of threats and strangeness that have absolutely nothing to do with either the Traditions or the Conventions. Also, some of the younger and more idealistic mages within the Conventions now have an actual chance to create lasting reform. Ideally, the campaign would involve PCs from both the Conventions and the Traditions, or possibly just from the Conventions. If it worked well, the campaign would contain everything from monster-hunting action ala Angel or Torchwood to explorations of the nature of reality, free will, and consciousness.

4) Trinity Revisited
I recently used Printfu to acquire print copies of the unpublished Asia/Ministry book I co-wrote for White Wolf's SF game Trinity (basic back-story here) as well as the PDF-published South America/Norca book, and the excellent fan-written India/Chitra Bhanu book. Reading through them rekindled my love of this setting. I no longer like the original rule system all that much, but I managed a fairly good conversion to the nWoD rules the basics are here, and here are some Mode revisions. Given the complex and fascinating history of the Trinity Universe, I'd want to have a campaign the involved exploring various mysteries on Earth and in space. My preference would be to eliminate the Venezuela phenomena described in the Asia and South America books and instead have a campaign focused on uncovering hidden secrets on Earth, with a style similar to Warren Ellis' comic Planetary, followed by some revelations that indicate that further answers and strange wonders can be found out among the stars, wherein the PCs head out in the galaxy. I'd start things off with slowly unraveling the mysteries of the events surrounding the destruction of the Chitra Bhanu Order (and the fact that some of them survived) and then dive into the true history of the 21st century, with revelations about how much the various governments are limiting various technologies like genetic engineering, while claiming that such knowledge was lost during the Aberrant War. Ultimately, this would be a campaign about revealing long-hidden secrets and using these revelations to transform the world into a better place and to help humanity better expand outward into the galaxy, in short a whole lot like Elli's Planetary, except that the (human) villains would actually have fairly good, and perhaps even compelling reasons for their actions. This would very much be classic SF of the overthrowing oppression and technophobia and allowing humanity to takes its place in the galaxy, except with more nuance and complexity and no cardboard villains.

Adventures On A Very Large World
I reread Ringworld a while back and while it's fairly dubious in many ways, it's also a very cool setting. One idea I've had for quite a while is to use the information in the books and excellent Chaosium Ringworld RPG to set a campaign on Ringworld, involving only the Ringworld hominids, and ignoring Pak Protectors, hyperspace travel, and the entire rest of Known Space. Even better, since the scale of Ringworld is so daunting, I like the idea of going for something more like an orbital of the sort Iain M. Banks describes in his Culture novels – in this case a ring-like world 3,000,000 in diameter and 100,000 km wide, which provides a surface area equal to 1,800 Earth's and even traveling at the speed of sound would require almost a year to circumnavigate, or a artificial supramundane planet 600,000 km in diameter.

Essentially, either option provides a setting where you can have both near-future tech and exploration w/o requiring any space travel. Even members of an advanced society won't have explored a world that is either several thousand or several million times the surface area of the Earth, which allows for an interestingly pulpy feel w/o requiring pre-WWII tech. I'd still use the city-builders, hanging people, grass giants, and most of the other non-goofy hominids and would definitely include low-level psychic powers. However, regardless of which setting I used, the feel of the campaign I'm thinking of is much like the various 70s SF movies like Genesis II, and to a lesser extent Poul Anderson's early Mauri stories "The Sky People" & Progress.

In the back-story, a large local region (perhaps 5-10 times the size of the Earth) was home to several highly expansionist civilizations. Around 150-200 years ago, there was a catastrophic nuclear war, and the area has now rebuilt on a more peaceful and self-sustaining model. Now, one of the major cultures is sending out teams to explore the rest of the world that they lost touch with a century or more before (and never came close to fully exploring). The PCs go out to trade, spread knowledge and encourage pacifism and an avoidance of dangerous technologies like nuclear weapons. The campaign would be optimistic and non-grim, but there would also be some exploration of the ends justifying the means when dealing with particularly problematic situations and societies. . For this setting, I'd use Cinematic Unisystem or nWoD.
Current Mood: busybusy

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:johnaegard
Date:January 6th, 2007 05:48 am (UTC)
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The setting would be Movie Era, which has both the coolest-looking tech and uniforms and avoids the many problems that replicators and holodecks introduce.


But don't replicators and holodecks provide interesting stepping-stones to transcendence -- or could they even be transcendence themselves?
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 6th, 2007 06:58 am (UTC)
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True, but in terms of adventures they are also massive amounts of trouble. Trek of TOS and later already runs into problems with tech solving most problems too easily and replicator/holodeck tech makes this an even more difficult problem. Also, the Federation seems just too decadent for my tastes in the TNG+ era - the transition from Movie Era to TNG era in Generations made this point in an impressive, if also perhaps unintentional fashion (cutting from a shipboard emergency on one Enterprise to Whorf's promotion on the holodeck, with the TNG crew playing Mutiny on the Bounty pretty much says it all.
[User Picture]
From:johnaegard
Date:January 8th, 2007 04:55 am (UTC)
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I agree on the decadence -- the Enterprise-D always felt like a big stupid Hilton in space.

But I have to wonder, how would transcendance be different than being a holodeck entity with limitless power to create and to know?

Once the PCs have transcended, is the adventure over for good?
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 8th, 2007 05:19 am (UTC)
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Once the PCs have transcended, is the adventure over for good?

That would be my assumption - I have no idea what god-like PCs could do other than take part in scenarios about the politics and personal rivalries of the Q continuum, or something similarly dull sounding.

Of course, there are definitely different levels of transcendence - ending up like Gary Mitchell or Elizabeth Dehner from Where No Man Has Gone Before (hopefully minus the megalomania) is more comparable to being Magneto or Thor from Marvel comics, than it is to being a truly god-like being like Q or the Squire of Gothos, and so might be playable, at least for a while.
[User Picture]
From:athenian_abroad
Date:January 9th, 2007 12:34 am (UTC)
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I have no idea what god-like PCs could do other than take part in scenarios about the politics and personal rivalries of the Q continuum, or something similarly dull sounding.

Does this mean that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from playing Amber?

[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 9th, 2007 03:34 am (UTC)
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Likely so - this certainly seems to be true in the Trekverse.
[User Picture]
From:johnaegard
Date:January 13th, 2007 01:07 pm (UTC)
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I finally figured out what was bothering me about the Trek transcendence game, so I hope you won't mind me performing threadomancy to tell you about it.

I think that Star Trek, played straight, is already a game about transcendence. Consider how the Feds appear to lesser-advanced civilizations: they can make things appear out of thin air, they can wreck entire cities, they can kill people effortlessly, they can heal nearly any sickness, they can come and go as they please...

To the aliens on the Private Little War planet, Kirk and the Klingons are Q.

So, I think that there's huge potential for post-transcendence play, because after your characters go seriously posthuman, how are they going to relate to the Federation? How will the ties that bind survive transcendence?

damn, now I want to play that game.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:January 14th, 2007 08:18 am (UTC)
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After thinking about this for a while, I'm inclined to agree. I'd want most of the game to be about some combination of being an outsider in the Federation and learning about becoming more than human (or Vulcan, or whatever...), but once the tone and the feel of everything is down, I can also see the last 3rd of the game being about what happens after the characters are significantly posthuman and how they relate to the Federation. That could make for some seriously nifty roleplaying.

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