Basic Concepts

  • 18 Replies
Basic Concepts
« on: July 04, 2010, 06:54:27 PM »
I'm porting a game I've been tinkering with off-and-on for years into being an AW hack.  This is the thread for talking about the concept and posting initial thoughts until I get a forum for it.


Firmament is a modern-day space fantasy, a space fantasy without spaceships.  People move through space by reaching out and touching the stars, pulling themselves to destinations millions of miles away.  But, because space is big, the biggest scarcity is human contact.  It is very easy to get lost amidst the stars and the infinite darkness and never see another human being ever again.  

Human civilization in space consists of less than 20 people clinging desperately to handful of memorized routes between stars.  You are gradually expanding this network in an effort to recover other lost people or stumble upon ruins of previous human settlements amidst the stars.

The biggest challenge facing your crew is that, with such a fragile community, everything could be snuffed out in a minute if you aren't careful... or if you choose to embrace The Darkness Between the Stars (the Psychic Maelstrom), the voice that talks to you and asks you questions when you're lost and alone out in the void.  If you allow the Darkness to get a hold of you, it could all end in an instant, leaving you all lost forever.

And perhaps, someone out there, there are ancient ruins that point towards home, towards the Sun and Earth.  Because the odds of you stumbling upon a way home, or even recognizing it if you did, are astronomical.
« Last Edit: July 06, 2010, 12:30:49 PM by J. Walton »

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2010, 07:26:01 PM »

There are only 3 splats in Firmament so far, though there's much greater diversity within splats because they each have many more moves than the standard AW splats and starting characters still get roughly the same number of moves.

The starting splats are based on the Three Sciences: Cartography, Archeology, and Astronomy.


Cartographers are dancers who map out routes between the stars through body memory and teach these dances to others.  They do not rely on the physical markers ("beacons") that the other Sciences prefer but instead trust themselves to their own bodies and impressive skills.  Consequently cartographers can be both useful and dangerous to keep around because they are good at leading groups into unmapped territory but are most frequently the sole survivors returning from travels in which the rest of the party was lost.

Cartographer's moves looks like Fingers in Every Pie from the Maestro'D book, the travel equivalent of NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH (Gunlugger) which makes them much more immune to becoming lost, Daredevil (Driver), and the Chopper sex move ("It's Not Like They Own You Or Nothin'"). They are a Skinner / Operator / Battlebabe combination, dangerous and headstrong, but extremely talented. They have new special moves for creating paths between the stars and teaching them to others.  Their special travel move may look a lot like the Flow With The City move from Dead Weight. They are really Cool and Hot, though the final stat list will probably be unique.


Archaeologists focus on finding lost secrets and deciphering the ruins and other artifacts left behind by previous human communities amidst the stars.  There is strong evidence that ancient starfaring communities marked roads with monuments and runes that contemporary people can uncover and use.  Additionally, some left behind treasures or tools that are far beyond what we currently understand about star travel, since the contemporary human community has only existed for a handful of years.

Archaeologists' moves look like Shreyas' "When you wield a thing of power" from Set Apart, Things Speak and Oftener Right from the Saavyhead book, and Fucking Thieves from the Chopper book.  They probably have a Workspace equivalent in the form of a particular set of ruins or ancient artifacts that they are in the process of deciphering.  They probably start with at least one "thing of power" that they have uncovered the workings of. In AW terms, they are Sharp and Weird.


Astronomers focus on the basis of starfaring: the stars themselves.  They commune with and channel the energy of the stars as a way of better understanding how the humans who live among the stars came to live this way and how we can make the best use of the strange powers we now possess. Unlike the other Sciences, Astronomy is based on actually forming relationships with stars, though Astronomers will be the first to tell you that communicating with the stars is like communicating with trees or humpback whales: theoretically possible but practically difficult. Astronomers can also feel the star energy that has been transfered from stars to human beings, the energy that is the basis of human travel and survival among the stars.

The Astronomers have moves like the Brainer, Angel, and Hocus. They lead the star cult, have the healing touch, and can Go Aggro on people with the light, burning them alive.  They are also really good at creating beacons, which is probably a new move. They may also have a Workspace equivilent, the star that they have developed the strongest relationship with. In AW terms, they are Hot and Weird.
« Last Edit: July 04, 2010, 07:28:02 PM by J. Walton »

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2010, 08:05:54 PM »
You know how I feel about this game.

What do the fronts look like? What are the extended moves like? Can you bring people up from your home planet? Can you even FIND your home planet again? Do the PCs hail from Earth, or were they born among the stars?

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2010, 10:17:14 PM »
Here's what I'm thinking so far:


Since there are very few NPCs for the GM to work with, Fronts typically take the form of locations or mysteries that the GM tracks the develop of, over the course of the PCs interactions with them. Most significant locations are probably Fronts and most significant things the players do in those locations can potentially develop them. I'm basing this a bit on how things work in Mare Caspium (PDF), but I'll think it'll get clearer once I actually start building Fronts for the first playtest.

I'm also thinking that maybe the players can spend advancements to unlock mysteries as well as buy new moves, but I haven't really thought through that concept yet. Or maybe "Do Mysteries" is a gig-like thing.

Extended Moves

Some of the extended moves enable players to basically make the Fronts/locations they want and pass them off to the GM to play.  Like, basically, you choose the features of the place you're going off a list, based on what your abilities tell you about what you should find there.  These may be splat specific, with Archaeologists creating ruins, Astronomers saying what the star system is like, and Cartographers stumbling upon ancient star roads.

There's another expanded Weird-style move where, if you roll a 10+ while the Darkness has Hold over you, you have to spend all that Hold instantly and there's a special list of ways in which you can spend that, the craziest one of which involves extinguishing a star.  Normally you can choose to intentionally spend the Darkness' Hold by extinguishing beacons, so the options here are probably just extreme versions of the normal ones.

Home + Origins

I don't think the game is usually about finding Earth.  If players want to do that, it's their own business and the game will have rules that let them do that, especially if they want to use extended moves to find signs of Earth (which could be a thing).

I think everyone is from Earth and still remembers Earth, though some folks came out to the stars at a fairly young age, like 6-7.  But some of that can be determined for individual campaigns, in the same way as the normally campaign set up of AW or Bliss Stage.  There might be a list of questions to ask at the beginning.  Is your crew the only known community of people or are there others?  What ruins have you discovered so far? Has anyone been born among the stars? If so, what's weird about them? Etc.

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2010, 12:14:43 PM »
Basic Moves: Part 1

When you embrace the darkness...

Make a move without rolling and choose the level of your success:

  • If you choose 7-9 or otherwise choose a tempered success, the darkness gets Hold 1 over you.
  • If you choose a 10+ or otherwise choose a total success, the darkness gets Hold 3 over you.
  • If you choose to make an extended move (if you have one to make), the darkness gets Hold 5 over you.

The PC can spend the darkness' Hold over them by:

  • making an offering to the darkness (MC's question: "So what are you offering it?")
  • performing a deed that the darkness would have done
  • destroying a beacon (a specific version of the above)
  • protect the darkness and/or its work

The Darkness Between the Stars can spend this Hold 1-for-1 to:

  • ask you a question that you must answer truthfully
  • demand repayment: you must spend the rest of its Hold right now
  • ask for a favor: refusing is Acting Under Fire
  • fill you with its dark power: you take +1 Forward

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2010, 02:13:29 PM »
There's another splat, that I was just thinking about, and a fourth Science, perhaps.


Architects are the Hardholder equivalent, focused on building and strengthening the human community in the stars: creating roads, lighting beacons, expanded the network so your crew can "catch" more lost people, rebuilding ruins rather than deciphering them, handling practical matters, keeping track of everyone, making rules, creating training programs and safety protocols for when people become lost, taking care of their own, leaving their mark and making sure that the community does not go gentle into that good night.  In AW terms they are Hard and Sharp.

They have moves like the Hardholder or other crew-related moves.  I'm thinking now that they are the beacon-lighters, rather than the Astronomers who just use the stars themselves and the light within individuals.  They have special moves that let them interact directly with Fronts/locations and adapt aspects of them for practical purposes.  Like building a child care facility in the former Temple of the Nameless Dark.  This changes the path of Fronts' development rather than pursuing the Fronts as they are. They probably have a really badass sex move and may even get a boon when other folks have sex, since they are community focused.

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2010, 02:30:15 PM »
Can the Darkness get hold over you without you making a move?

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2010, 02:42:12 PM »
You mean, can the darkness embrace you? Or invade you like a Brainer?  I don't think it can do that directly, but it's possible that those working on the darkness' behalf or handling ancient corrupted artifacts could do it.

The real temptation for embracing the darkness is when you've gotten yourself so lost that it's going to be nearly impossible to make the rolls necessary to become un-lost.  Because I think there are negative modifiers that accumulate as you roll failures during the recovery process, and recovery requires a series of moves unless you have some special or expanded move.  Like, you can dig yourself into such a pit that, when you finally emerge from being lost, the darkness has a whole bunch of Hold over you. Or maybe those searching for you have to ask the darkness where you are, because otherwise they have to roll a 12.  So everybody in the search party might end up with a little Hold.

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2010, 02:58:34 PM »
Just a quick note:

Principles of Starfaring

When traveling through familiar skies, on roads that are well marked by beacons or other signs, you only need to roll once for the entire journey and only need a 7-9 result to encounter few problems. Even a failure means that you're disoriented and misplaced but not completely lost.

When branching out into unmarked space from a well known location or series of locations, extending a road into the void, you need to roll for each step of the process, but the consequences of failure are not dire, with so many known stars close by. Surely, you can spot one or two of them and find your way back.

When you find yourself amidst unknown stars, because of brash action, a series of failures, or the neglect or maliciousness of your companions, you have to roll for every step of the process and every failure makes you more disoriented and harder for your companions to recover.

Cartographers have abilities that allow them to treat each of these categories as one step less dangerous than it would otherwise be.  They can travel marked roads without rolling and are hardly ever truly lost.  It takes great misfortune, hubris, or maliciousness for a cartographer to lose their way. They are the dancers in the dark and have the least fear of the infinite void.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2010, 03:00:14 PM by J. Walton »

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2010, 02:13:36 AM »

This sounds very cool. I am curious how you see NPCs working in this game, especially now that you have a 'hardholder' equivalent (fiction-wise, instead of just in terms of moves) -- the initial description suggests an extremely sparse population, but I feel like AW depends very heavily on its excellent NPC-related advice to spur action on the part of PCs and express/build on Fronts. I really like the idea of these semi-lost, semi-lonely adventurers, but my own experience with AW was super-focused around how our PCs interacted with and reacted to the choices of the people around them.

Is the idea here to maintain the importance of NPCs while drastically reducing their number, or to displace NPCs in favour of locations and stars and mysteries, or some other option altogether? And in either case, do you have any specific thoughts about how that will work, and how the rules will support it?

Re: Fingers on the Firmament
« Reply #10 on: July 06, 2010, 02:20:47 AM »
There are very few NPCs in Firmament, definitely.  There's probably a finite list of names that covers every PC and NPC you'll ever encounter, including ones you rescue from the void.  But, partially because there are so few people, you can't really ignore anyone.  Every single person is critical for the survival and growth of the community.  NPCs can certainly be Fronts, but there are a lot of Fronts that aren't people, unlike in standard AW.  Front are more like opportunities or situations that PCs or NPCs interact with and take advantage of.  In fact, I should probably stop calling them Fronts at some point because they're kinda different.

So, to answer your question, locations and mysteries don't displace NPCs, but instead supplement them.  However, locations and mysteries generally can't do anything by themselves. They need characters to visit them and explore them to fully come into their proper role.  And that requires PCs and NPCs.

Re: Basic Concepts
« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2010, 01:17:25 PM »
Thoughts on MCing Firmament are now in this other thread.

Re: Basic Concepts
« Reply #12 on: July 07, 2010, 02:15:17 PM »
I love that this game feels lonely. Making NPC interactions scare could be a very powerful tool. I want to run this!

Re: Basic Concepts
« Reply #13 on: July 07, 2010, 02:39:15 PM »
Yeah, definitely my impulse for the game originally was to make a game that felt lonely, which wasn't an emotion I'd often encountered in roleplaying.  Since then, though, we've had The Mountain Witch and My Life with Master and other games that feel lonely to me, but this is definitely heading in that direction.

Another sidenote:

Advancing While Lost

When a PC becomes lost early on in a session or at the beginning of a session in which one or more characters start out lost (carried over from a past session), the player of the lost character can choose to set that character aside for the session (or remainder of the session) and mark XP.  I'm not sure how much XP they mark.  Maybe an entire advancement worth, not sure.

This means that the character will not be recovered this session, even if other characters search for them.  They merely stumble upon clear signs of the character on a successful search roll, and not the character directly. There will be specific guidelines in recovery about how to spend these "Lost Advances" when the character returns to play.

Probably characters can also get this "lost XP" if their player misses a session in which they would normally play the character and chooses to have the character be lost in the meantime.

Re: Basic Concepts
« Reply #14 on: July 07, 2010, 02:59:06 PM »
A few other basic concepts.


Harm is replaced by Distance, which represents the physical and emotional separation between people. Violence can create Distance even though, as in AW, it can actually increase Hx.  Corrupted artifacts and dark ravings can give you Distance.  The MC can inflict it on you as an MC move, like Harm, often a consequence of travel and being alone in space.

12 o'clock either means being physically lost, becoming an instrument of the darkness, or -- in some rare cases -- dying.  Generally people become lost rather than getting killed.


Armor is replaced by Fetters which are the things that bind you to others.  These have to be big things: true love, children, projects that can't be completed without you, higher beauties.  These are critical to Cartographers and may even be related to their NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH-style trait.  Maybe that have a muse or secret treasure that keeps their heart safe while they spend so much time alone with the darkness.


Suggested by Elizabeth: In addition to marking traits, players can also choose to ask questions to ruminate (using "wonders") about specific characters.  Marking a trait is basically saying: "I wonder what would make this character violent" but you could also say "I wonder if X will rebuild the lost star road" or "I wonder if X is really in love with Y or just fucking scared."