Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.

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Hildy

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Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« on: August 02, 2016, 07:46:23 AM »
I'm still hard at work on Metroplex, which I've taken to just calling "The 'Plex" recently in an homage to The 'Hood, but I was binging science fiction movies the other day and I took note of a trope I enjoy. Civilized space farers stranded on a hostile planet. Unlike Planet of the Week (an idea I am ridiculously jealous of) this game wouldn't hop from world to world. Here are some thoughts.

No Playbooks, just Roles
You start character creation by choosing your primary and secondary roles from a list (e.g. command, science, pilot, trader, pirate, convict). Primary roles should be unique. Secondary roles can be duplicated. Your roles dictate your starting stats, as well as any equipment you were able to salvage from the wreck, and a number of NPC's who have survived (with the ability to detail a few of those closest to you).

Stats
There are nine stats: Weird, plus four pairs of opposing stats. The opposing pairs contain a Civil Stat which reflects how civilized space farers deal with conflict and a Native Stat which reflects how one deals with conflict on a hostile world with limited or no resources. To start, characters ONLY HAVE CIVIL STATS (unless otherwise notes as is the case for pirate and convict). All of the others are locked, and don't have any rating at all.

Going Native
One of the central themes of the game, though one that can be avoided in part or in total (at least for a while) is the act of going native. As you learn to survive; you sharpen the skills that keep you alive and relegate the trappings of civilization to the past.

When you gain an improvement, you may unlock a Native Stat. You gain that stat at -1, and you gain the ability to make moves associated with it. You still have the associated Civil Stat, but it becomes locked. You can't advance it any further.

Further improvements may be used to increase a native stat, but each increase also decreases the linked civil stat. When a civil stat reaches -3, or a native stat reaches +3, you can not increase that stat further though normal improvements.

There will likely be a secondary way to gain ratings in stats (i.e. moves), but I haven't considered it yet.

Weird is special in that, if there isn't anything weird on your world, it might never unlock. More details on that to come, but this is intended to cover those stranger stories where one might gain access to the power of a living world, alien hive mind, or such.

More to come...

Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2016, 08:27:35 PM »
So, basically, the Mysterious Island, in space, except not? Cool idea!


No Playbooks, just Roles
You start character creation by choosing your primary and secondary roles from a list (e.g. command, science, pilot, trader, pirate, convict). Primary roles should be unique. Secondary roles can be duplicated. Your roles dictate your starting stats, as well as any equipment you were able to salvage from the wreck, and a number of NPC's who have survived (with the ability to detail a few of those closest to you).


I have seen this done already in several different ways (Props to Uncharted Worlds) and I think it is fairly interesting that many space-themed PbtA games seem to go for that kind of solution. I am also trying my hand at a « split playbook » right now and I have some questions:

I wonder how you plan to deal with stats ? Do you split stat distribution evenly between roles ? Do you make one role distribute the stats ? Do you instead make a "free" stat distribution, decided upon by the player according to "how the stats balance"?

How many primary and secondary roles will you try to support ? A set number ? More than 5 (E.g, more than the usual "high" amount of players)? Do you want to see some roles be taken by some players every game or does it not matter ?

As an aside, I am intrigued by your decision to duplicate secondary roles. I think the « only one player for each playbook » really adds to the game. Any specific reason for that breach of protocol ?

Going Native
One of the central themes of the game, though one that can be avoided in part or in total (at least for a while) is the act of going native. As you learn to survive; you sharpen the skills that keep you alive and relegate the trappings of civilization to the past.

I also wonder about this. Do you wish for your players to be naturally inclined to go that path or do you plan to allow them to pull a "mysterious island" on the game? It is notable that in the book that, I think, inspired this trope, the characters do not ever actively adapt to their environment. Actually they do not change much at all. What they do is that they use their "civil" knowledge (Mathematics, Astronomy, Chemistry...) to transform the environment into a much more friendly one for them. Adapt, and not get adapted.

I think allowing this may create some interesting situations. You obviously want the balance between "civil" and "native" to play a large role, and as such the very possibility of an "all civil" approach may seem threatening to your design. Besides it may introduce a fair bit of "status quo mining". However I'd argue that an "all native" approach would be threatening to your design as well, and in much the same way. If the players are eventually all forced to go native, then there is not much struggle between "native" and "civil": Native is the only answer and the only question becomes "How do they get there and loose the bearings of civilization"? The new status quo players contend themselves to being "perfect adaptation".

Now say you have a limited class pool, in which less than four characters profit from being "civil" (Scientist, trader and captain, for the sake of example) and less than four characters profit from being "native" (Soldier, Pirate and Convict.). You now have a system in which, in a 4+ player game there is designed imbalance. There will always be at least one player that will try to push for the opposite of what the other players desire, which might just be the force you need to drive the game forward.

Granted, this has the obvious drawback that your game becomes designed for "4+" players, and may only have 6 playbooks total. Yet maybe this is something you can get around with your primary and secondary class system and some clever mathematicking. Ah well, just some thoughts.

At any rate the idea is very interesting and I'd be curious to hear more!

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Hildy

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Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2016, 10:44:57 AM »
Thanks! I have to admit. I only have a page of notes on this one, so a LOT of this probably subject to change as the idea fleshes out. I'm 75% done with my other hack and I still find myself writing something that requires me to go back to another chapter and rewrite or add a whole section to facilitate it.

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How many primary and secondary roles will you try to support ? A set number ?
My notes include 17, subject to change. You would use the same roles for both primary and secondary. The key difference is that the primary is unique, and your primary role provides most of your starting assets (NPCs, equipment, etc.)
  • Holy Man      +1 Duty, +1 Manner, -1 Sway
  • Courtesan      +1 Duty, +1 Manner, -1 Insight
  • Pilot         +1 Duty, +1 Sway, -1 Manner
  • Soldier      +1 Duty, +1 Sway, -1 Insight
  • Colonist      +1 Duty, +1 Insight, -1 Manner
  • Laborer      +1 Duty, +1 Insight, -1 Sway
  • Celebrity      +1 Manner, +1 Sway, -1 Duty
  • Aristocrat      +1 Manner, +1 Sway, -1 Insight
  • Doctor      +1 Manner, +1 Insight, -1 Duty
  • Scientist      +1 Manner, +1 Insight, -1 Sway
  • Trader      +1 Sway, +1 Insight, -1 Duty
  • Engineer      +1 Sway, +1 Insight, -1 Manner
  • Bounty Hunter   +1 Instinct, -1 Duty (locked)
  • Pirate      +1 Domain, -1 Manner (locked)
  • Convict      +1 Rage, -1 Sway (locked)
  • Smuggler      +1 Sense, -1 Insight (locked)
  • Mad Man      0 Weird
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I wonder how you plan to deal with stats ?
For now, each role includes a set of stat. You get both.
Characters only start with access to 4 stats (Duty, Manner, Sway, Insight). The other 5 stats (Instinct, Domain, Rage, Sense, Weird) have a nil value to start, except for in a few special cases. Weird may not be available at all in some campaigns.

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As an aside, I am intrigued by your decision to duplicate secondary roles.
It would probably be more useful to the group to not duplicate secondary roles, but I like the idea of leaving the option open. For instance, if you wanted to play a group of stranded marines: One character, probably the guy in charge, could have the primary role of Soldier. Everyone else, probably, has that as their secondary too though.

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Hildy

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Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2016, 11:01:59 AM »
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Do you wish for your players to be naturally inclined to go that path or do you plan to allow them to pull a "mysterious island" on the game? ... What they do is that they use their "civil" knowledge (Mathematics, Astronomy, Chemistry...) to transform the environment into a much more friendly one for them. Adapt, and not get adapted.
I'd love for that to be an option. I think the whole civil-native thing adds a wonderful opportunity for tension within a game, where more civil characters begin to become unsettled by more native ones. That might even be something worth exploring as a mechanic (e.g. NPCs get scared of you and strike off on their own.)

I think most characters will eventually want to unlock at least some native stats, but it should be designed in a way that they can maintain civil dominance. If a character with +3 Duty unlocks Instinct, they now have it at -1 also. They don't start to lose Duty unless they use improvements to increase Instinct. They might be able to take a move for +1 Instinct and get it to 0. Sure, they've become a little more comfortable with life in the wilderness.. but they still rely more on their expected function and training than their gut in most cases.

Everyone could go native, or everyone could stay civil. Ideally, I'd like for the game to be more challenging for anyone who attempts to be a purist in either direction and for "shades of grey" to be the norm.

"Janet has turned into quite a tracker, and Abraham has gotten pretty lethal with that bone sword of his. Wally is still back at camp fiddling with the generator and making sure everyone knows all hope is lost if we can't get it working, and Bill... we haven't seen Bill in weeks. Sometimes we hear someone whistling a funeral precession in the badlands though. Pretty sure Bill's never coming back."

Ohhhh... Maybe going full native is tantamount to character death? You want some of that juju, but you don't want too much!

Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2016, 05:29:12 AM »
Understood for the roles. I guess then that no moves are attached to them?

And I like the idea of character death for full natives, but I like the idea of them getting abandoned progressively by NPC's much more. However for that to work you'd obviously need some mechanics that make Pc's reliant on Npc's.

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Hildy

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Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2016, 09:38:43 AM »
Undecided on moves. Haven't gone that far down this road yet.

I absolutely want the NPCs to be critically important. I want them to be a source for tension (like how Monster of the Week uses bystanders), and the heart of the game. I'd like them to be a sort of shared resource that the player's characters can invest in. The players are dealing with problems, potential threats, trying to find a way off the planet, or whatever... it's the NPC's that are building things, preparing food, farming, and so on. The less of them you have, the harder things should be.

In theory. I haven't actually worked on any of that yet.

Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2016, 04:22:21 AM »
What can I say except, this looks awesome :-D

I play-tested a non-AW game last year about ordinary people being transported to a strange land, because I also like that theme of 'going native' and exploring how much 'civilisation' people will give up in order to survive, until it becomes a question of whether they can ever truly return to what they knew before or will their experience forever set them apart?

The role's system sounds great, I'd love to play a game that did that, and I like the split stats idea too: Dead of Night does something like that, but with more of an emphasis of having your character be weak half the time, as it is a horror movie emulator. Your thematic split between civilised & uncivilised actions should provide some really strong character motivations and hard choices.

Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #7 on: August 11, 2016, 06:38:50 PM »
Are the characters stranded forever, or are they trying to escape? I immediately thought of pitch black when I started reading your idea, but further in it sounds more like family Robinson in space.

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Hildy

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Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #8 on: August 11, 2016, 10:03:31 PM »
The game, as I currently envision it, is about being stranded on the planet. I would expect, particularly early on, that getting off the planet would be a primary driver for the characters. Doing so may well be the way a campaign ends.

Pitch Black absolutely fits the theme I'm going for, but they get off world relatively quickly. It would probably still be a good example of a one shot game.

Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #9 on: August 16, 2016, 12:59:38 PM »
I would say that moves rather than stats should be the way to go for what you're trying to achieve. Moves in AW are often already designed to create more drama as they are used, either as a result of a miss or just by the very nature of the move. Often its just that you're brain is open to the psychic maelstrom. I think there is a strong parallel opportunity here for the horrors of being stranded.

On the face of it going native doesn't sound too bad. Why not learn to thrive where you are? Now I know you are not necessarily going for a horror theme but I would propose a looking at the negative result as a kind of insanity, at least from the point of view you're typical civilized people. To me it actually has to be something you wouldn't want, Im talking lord of flies, cannibalism, erratic behavior, superstition, excessive violence.

To me that means it needs to come from the moves not the stats. A move is designed to represent some thematic action, or thematic aspect of a character (in the case of character moves). If you're dead set on getting rid of some kind of playbook I would say just have a set of basic moves with tantalizing rewards but dangerous consequences. I wouldn't bother so much with making moves for your civilized knowledge, just give the player character what would make sense for them to have and let them use it, BUT create obstacles which tempts them to take the "uncivilized" route.

One last thing, I would suggest looking at Dread the horror RPG played with a Jenga tower, for characters you pick a certain role and then the GM asks you a series of leading questions. These questions help define the character. Its stuff like "You're the engineer what engine type is you're specialty" but it also has stuff like "Someone you care about couldn't come along on this trip, who are they and why could they not come." Each role has an entirely different set of questions, but its very good at helping to tailor the characters to the particular setting in mind.


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Hildy

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Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2016, 07:12:14 AM »
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On the face of it going native doesn't sound too bad. Why not learn to thrive where you are? Now I know you are not necessarily going for a horror theme but I would propose a looking at the negative result as a kind of insanity, at least from the point of view you're typical civilized people. To me it actually has to be something you wouldn't want, Im talking lord of flies, cannibalism, erratic behavior, superstition, excessive violence.
That's it pretty much exactly. The more native you go, the more comfortable you become in this new environment.. and the more hostile and frightening you chance becoming.

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To me that means it needs to come from the moves not the stats.
I agree, that *is* where all of the fun happens. My approach of using stats (and this is all just theory until I actually get something on paper) is intended to open up those moves to you when you take the "native" stat, but also to hinder any sort of further advancement of a civil stat (thus you never get better at the civil moves attached to that stat). Essentially, I don't want you to be able to improve a stat to have a better chance of doing native things and also improve your chances of doing civil moves attached to that same stat too. It might not work. I'm not so attached to it that I won't change the approach if it turns out too clunky.

Re: Alien World - Stranded on a hostile planet.
« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2016, 11:45:26 AM »
Then how about making native a new resource? I think I like the idea of tying native to powerful or 7/9 moves as a "side effect" that gradually makes you unable to go on. Also, what about making native a side effect of losing loyalty with your crew, and making losing loyalty to your crew a side effect of some moves? This would cement the role of native in the fiction by actually making the caracter less "civilized", I.E, less tied to a group of people they were previously accountable to/could rely on.

I think this approach might be less clumsy than having a whole different stat system. But this would, obviously, be a matter of taste.