Monday, 6 April 2015

You're All in Space 1: Initial thoughts

My growing interest in astronautics history and too much time away from the GM screen over the past year have combined to get me thinking in odd new directions, all the crazy way into wanting to create my own setting. I have not done this before, successfully. I've barely doodled around the edges of it, always preferring to insert my own stories into pre-existing settings, with only some light customisation. Settings - the good ones, at least - look like a lot of hard work. This may end up going nowhere, but it may yet.

What pushed me into it now is that there doesn't seem to be a good roleplaying system or setting based around realistic, nearish-future space flight, with conventional rockets and conventional rocket science, and no super-tech cheats around the annoying (to some) but interesting (to me) problems of real spaceflight. I want a setting with travel analogous to early sailing ships - something as basic and fragile as Greek triremes or Viking longboats - in the interplanetary vacuum. Capturing the technical challenge and subsequent feeling of accomplishment, if not the fiddling detail, of Kerbal Space Program seems like a good sub-goal for me.

I have not yet found a good system or setting that I can steal for that, so I guess I'm making my own. I've got this rough idea for very simplified, boardgamish orbital mechanics that'll do for long-distance interplanetary travel, but not so much for small-scale spacecraft interaction. Then there's every other rule in the game. I do know that I want pretty lethal combat, especially with the very fragile spacecraft. Armour could be a thing, but physics will make that a very expensive addition to actually move around anywhere.

Second, I want a setting that focuses on the wrongs of imperialism, but again, in a realistic, historically-minded way, not the generic "bad guy because we say so" Star Wars-type caricature of empire. I don't like that, because lazy good-vs.-evil absolutism is inevitably just an excuse for unapologetic violence as the only solution, a la the stereotypical "good-aligned" D&D mass murderer. I want my empires to be a legitimate source of trouble for the players, but I want to make them believable, substantive empires. There have, of course, been historical examples of truly vile, evil imperialism, but it's simplistic to assume they're all bad in the same way all the time.

I also don't want to directly rip off specific historical cases of imperialism, partly to give me room for creativity, partly because it doesn't feel right. I'd like to apply some lessons learned from history (The Scramble for Africa is the single biggest foundation I have in this area, and Crash Course History is adding a lot), but any future scenario is bound to have its own unique wrinkles.

Asteroid with party hat
That said, I think it'd be fun to bring in some familiar local flavour, so for my "home town" entity, the presumed starting community the typical player character will come from, I'm thinking of an asteroid-mining colony originally populated mainly by Joburgers. We're not a bad source for people experienced with deep shaft mining, and the support systems around that. I have other ideas too, but those will be speckled with Joburgish bits.

I picture this colony as one of several of a first wave of technologically similar but culturally varied outposts set up on asteroids, moons, Mars, maybe further. Each would have its own flavour, it's own way of doing things, it's own strengths and weaknesses. Then the second wave arrives, a generation or two later, when a bunch of gravity-loving Earthicans with greater numbers, more advanced tech and little idea of the nature of colony life, start trying to compete with each other to take direct control of as many established colonies as possible, for their own purposes, trampling on first wave colonists' customs and rights and such.

I imagine the main focus for an adventuring party would be trying to get by in the way they were used to, with the threat of imperial interference or worse, escalating perhaps to falling under full, direct imperial control. The basic types of adventure for the party could include things like exploration for new resources (or if things get really bad, new homes), trade and negotiations with other colonies, investigation (there's always room for generic investigation of something or other), and eventually whatever resistance against second wave disruption comes up. Naturally, as with any good adventure in any setting, things won't always be as straightforward as those basic skeletons of ideas, but the specifics are not the sort of thing a GM should publicise. Also, I haven't yet thought the specifics through that much.

Finally, I want it to be an optimistic game, over all. Sure, there's this growing outside threat and it'll be a rough life to start with, but I'm done with grim, dark stories all the time. It's been done, and it doesn't really add anything I want. The players in this game will have a chance to make things better, by being better.