Category Archives: Game Design

The New Alternity Game: An Interview with Richard Baker

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I’ve talked about Alternity here in the blog before. Both Stargazer and myself are fans, and have posted about it numerous times. We even had an April’s Fool post back in 2011 about a 2nd edition of the game coming out. Who knew we were not merely pranksters but we were predicting the future!

Well not quite… Like Michael wrote last year when the initial announcement came out, Sasquatch Game Studio is publishing a new version of the game. As a longtime fan, I was onboard as soon as the idea was put out there. When the Alpha play test came out I was lucky enough to be part of that.

I got together with some friends at out FLGS and we played the play test adventure. We tried to broadcast the experience via Facebook Live, and while that was not totally successful, it did inspire us to create a video blog for Spanish speaking gamers Desde la Fosa. (You can read more about that project on the post I linked to in that last hyperlink.)

As soon as the new Alternity Kickstarter was live I became a backer. Wanting to support the project and spread the word I reached out to Richard Baker to inquire about his availability for an interview. Richard was extremely graceful and not only did he answer a written interview, which makes up most this post, but he sat down to do an interview for the Desde la Fosa vlog via Google Hangout. So, we are doing a two-for-one, and the first collaboration between Desde la Fosa and Stargazer’s World! Continue reading The New Alternity Game: An Interview with Richard Baker

Traveller: No Hero’s Journey

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During the preparation of my upcoming Traveller campaign I realized something about Traveller: it’s different in one important aspect from most other roleplaying game. Characters don’t get new abilities over time. There’s no (mechanical) character advancement. The skill ratings you have at the end of character creation will be the skill rating your character will have at their demise. The only changes you can expect are because of aging.

In a way this actually makes sense. In Traveller (at least most of its editions) a skill rating of 1 is enough to get a job in that field. With a skill rating of 2 you might have a bachelor’s degree, with a rating of 3 your skill level is equal to someone with a master’s degree, and so on. In most other games a skill rating of one doesn’t mean much.

You acquired these skills during character creation which simulates several terms of service in one of the available careers. It often took 4, 8, 12, or more years to learn and practice those skill, so it doesn’t really make sense that you can easily improve on those skills during gameplay.

A lot of games, especially fantasy ones, tell the classic “hero’s journey”. Traveller doesn’t want to tell that story. In Traveller the character’s journey begins after they left their previous careers behind. Your character is not a spring chicken, but someone with perhaps 20 or more years of professional experience under their belt. You are also not playing superheroes, but common people.

I actually find it quite nice to play characters of my age from time to time. In games like D&D playing an older character always felt a bit weird. Even though your backstory said you’re an old veteran, your skills and abilities are basically on the same level as the ones of your 16-year-old comrades. Of course you could let older characters start at a higher level, but that opens another can of worms.

Aside from Traveller I don’t know that many games in which your characters don’t improve their skills and abilities during gameplay. It’s definitely one of the more common tropes in roleplaying games. Even games that boast “RPG elements” often just take the “levelling up” mechanics and disregards the other aspects.

In a game like Traveller not having skill advancement makes sense. It fits the kind of stories the game was designed to tell. What are your thoughts on the subject? Do you think mechanical character advancement is a must? Or can you live without it? Please share your thoughts below.

P.S.: The crew of the Nostromo (as seen in the image above), hasn’t been harmed during the making of this blog post. 😉

The Endless Quest For A Science Fiction Campaign Setting

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I think as long as I knew about roleplaying games I was looking for the “perfect” science fiction setting. Of course there’s no such thing. But there’s something close, a setting which I would love to run games in and which I can really make my own. During the last twenty years or so, I have created several homebrew SF campaign settings. But usually I am not perfectly happy with them. One reason for this is probably that I can’t make up my mind. I am always torn between the gritty hard science setting I’d love to play in and the space opera setting I could find players for.

The question quickly boils down to whether I want to put a lot of work in something I’d love even if I will never put it to use. Don’t get me wrong, I also love space opera settings. But when it comes to writing my own stuff, I always want to get things “right”. Even when I have some cool ideas for a light-hearted space opera setting, I usually end up on Atomic Rockets (a website I could peruse for days at a time!) and try to reconcile my pet theories with real-world physics. This ends with me throwing out half the stuff I’ve written so far, in order to make the technology more “real”.

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So I constantly try to walk the thin line between approachabilty and realism, and – trust me – I am not good at tightrope walking. The next problem is that I am often inspired by existing settings from books, movies, video games, but I don’t want my homebrew setting to look like some Frankensteinian nightmare. Most people I know would probably not care. A lot of people have successfully run or played in kitchen sink settings in which space marines from Warhammer 40,000 fought Borg from the Star Trek universe while being allied to the Jedi order from Star Wars. This just feels wrong to me.

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I think my mental health issues are partly to blame for this. Back in the day, before I had to deal with depression, anxiety, and all these other nice things, it was much easier to be creative. Nowadays I often overthink everything and turn activities that should be fun into a nightmare. Ok, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but I guess it helps to make a point. What I am now hoping for is advice from you guys. I am pretty sure I am not the only one having this problem. How have you dealt with something like this in the past? Please post your comments below!