Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2004

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the sixty-seventh issue of The Guild Companion

TGC Modules

The Shadow World Master Atlas: d20 Edition is now being edited for consistency with Kulthean canon by Terry Amthor. I am also very pleased to announce that Terry has graciously accepted an assignment from us to undertake the layout of the d20 Edition for us as well.

The Proverbial Good Science-Fiction Role-playing Game

In last month's editorial, I made reference to "the proverbial good science-fiction role-playing game", a subtle twist on an apparently forgotten comment made by the film director Stanley Kubrick to (now Sir) Arthur C. Clarke. Kubrick wanted to make the "proverbial good science-fiction movie". Their collaboration resulted in "2001: A Space Odyssey", which to this sf enthusiast is a "proverbial good science-fiction movie".

The Name of the Game

As you may have already guessed from previous editorials or have read elsewhere, I am to be responsible for the science-fiction version of ICE's High Adventure Role Playing game. One problem that both ICE and I have been having is what should it be called. My first suggestion was "Worlds of Tomorrow", which in itself is (I think) quite reasonable. Until that is, you have to abbreviate it whereupon you get WoT and many fantasy aficionados will immediately read that as being Wheel of Time. My second suggestion was "Faster Than Light". Unfortunately a deep web search turned up a role-playing game called FTL:2448, published by Tri Tac Games in pdf form, killing that one stone dead too.

In an attempt to find a better name, ICE are running a competition where fans can suggest names for the game. (You can find it on ICE's HARP forum.) In return, the contributor of the winning entry will receive a copy of the book once it is published.

Which means I'll have to get a move on and write it!

Skills Maketh The Professions

Rolemaster, Spacemaster, and HARP are often (and justly) described as skill-based games. In my most recent back of the envelope musings, I've been slightly surprised at how important skills are at defining other areas of the game, especially HARP. I started out by trying to compile a list of the skills needed for futuristic settings. These included obvious additions to the HARP skill set in the realms of science, engineering, and vehicles. In HARP, skills can encompass subskills (where the character learns a parent skill such as Runes but suffers a modifier to perform specialist activities such as inscribing runes) and specialty skills (where the character has to learn effectively a separate skill for each specialization, e.g. Riding Horses and Riding Camels are distinct skills). The latter has the benefit of keeping character sheets mercifully short and allowing GMs to add new lore and craft skills as appropriate to the setting.

When it comes to scientific and technical skills, it is easy to imagine having an over-arching Science skill with specialties such as Biology, Physics, Planetology, etc. However, it has drawbacks as well. Firstly it hard-wires a certain level of detail into the game. If the specializations are broadly drawn, then GMs who believe that they cover too much ground have to throw out the written rules and come up with their own detailed list. If the specializations are narrowly drawn, i.e. Planetology is split up into geology, meteorology, and oceanography, say, then GMs preferring space opera over detailed hard sf have to rewrite the lists as well. Secondly, the number of skills (and/or specialties) determines the viability of a skill category. Too few skills, and the temptation becomes very strong to merge categories.

But in HARP, professions are defined by their favored categories and their professional abilities. If it isn't possible to distinguish different professional archetypes through differing favored categories (and skill rank assignments), then mechanically the variations are lost. So keeping archetypes such as the Academic, the Scientist and the Engineer as distinct professions requires some finessing of skills and categories to ensure that their individual foci can be represented in the game mechanics. Currently I have been able to preserve all ten of the science-fiction archetypes described in the July 2004 editorial.

In due course, playtesting will reveal whether or not I have achieved the correct balance.

Farewell for now ...

I hope to have a major announcement to make next month regarding certain stubbornly out-of-print ICE products.

Our next issue will be published in October 2004, but until then ...

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion