Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2005

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the eighty-first issue of The Guild Companion, and a wide-ranging editorial.

A Rolemaster Revision?

ICE has officially announced that they have been involved in negotiations with a computer games company. The intention is to use Rolemaster as the engine for a new massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. The contract has yet to be finalized, but things look set for a new Rolemaster computer game. The announcement also indicates that the computer license will give ICE the necessary cash flow to expand its resources and ramp up its product schedule. For Rolemaster fans, the announcement also suggests that a Rolemaster revision is now definitely on the cards and can be expected to occur in the next couple of years.

From discussions with ICE, it is clear that the next edition of Rolemaster will be a genuine revision, rather than a repackaging as RMFRP was of RMSS. ICE have been soliciting comments and opinion on their discussion boards and elsewhere on what gamers consider the essential ingredients of, and problems with, Rolemaster, and are likely to continue to do so.

TGC would encourage all Rolemaster GMs to consider writing up some of their house rules, rules variants, and the like as short articles for future TGC issues. We don't want you to send us your complete version of Rolemaster - rather we are interested in concise articles that take a fresh look at some facet of the game. It is time to share your experiences with the whole Rolemaster community.

The Toyman's Fair

I am very pleased to be able to announce that The Toyman's Fair, an adventure module for Rolemaster drawing upon the new material introduced in Construct Companion, is now available for purchase from RPGNow Edge. Priced at 4 USD, The Toyman's Fair was written by Andrew Ferguson. Rick Hansen created the cover, while Joel Lovell designed the maps and interior illustrations.

You can find the full details at http://edge.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=5736

City of Archendurn, our setting module with RMSS/FRP and d20 3.0 stats is also available from RPGNow Edge at http://edge.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=322

HARP Heroes

We are making excellent progress with "HARP Heroes", our collection of fully-statted fantasy characters for HARP. At the time of writing this editorial, the first sixteen characters have been submitted by a merry band of contributors. The descriptions have already been sent to Rick Hansen who will be drawing portraits of each character.

There are still a handful of characters not signed out, so if you want to get involved, hurry over to the Guild Companion Modules discussion board.

When is an alien not an alien?

Answer: When it is a player-character race in a science-fiction roleplaying game.

Let's back up for a bit. Aliens are one of the staples of science-fiction literature, television, and cinema. They are not an essential ingredient of science-fiction - there are science-fictional universes where there are only humans, such as Isaac Asimov's Robot and Foundation novels, Frank Herbert's Dune saga, or even Firefly / Serenity. However, a universe, which features original and believable aliens, has an extra dimension of interest. Think of the Puppeteers and kzinti from Larry Niven's Known Space, the genetically improved races of David Brin's Uplift universe, the habitués of cantinas and Jabba' palace in Star Wars, and so forth.

In creating an alien race, the science-fiction writer has a key problem. To the best of our knowledge (and despite the claims of UFOlogists), we have never encountered an alien intelligent species. Thus our ability to imagine aliens is limited by our human experience. We may be able to theorise plausible physical forms for aliens but their psychology and their motivations are strictly bounded in human terms. A science-fiction writer cannot create an alien race that is totally alien. Moreover the more "alien" a species is, the harder it is for the writer to enable the reader (or the viewer) to identify with an individual of the alien species. And of course unusual physiognomies are difficult for human actors to play without blowing the special effects budget on prosthetics and computer graphics. Consequently many TV science-fiction series, such as Star Trek and Babylon V, rely on very humanoid "aliens", or find a way to rationalise a significant interstellar human presence as in Stargate.

Although tabletop role-playing games have unlimited special effects budgets, players and GMs in science-fiction settings are still limited by their humanity in what they can role-play effectively. Indeed role-players have a more difficult time than writers and producers because players will have to improvise their character's reactions and motivations in unexpected situations.

Hence an alien in a role-playing game will not be a real alien.

Aliens in HARP SF

As there will be alien races available for player-character use in HARP SF, we have a problem. We need our aliens to be sufficiently alien that they aren't just humans with different abilities and face masks, but not too alien that they aren't playable.

We begin by deciding what sort of aliens we don't want to see in HARP SF. We don't want Space Elves, Space Dwarves, or indeed space versions of any "fantasy" race. HARP SF is so compatible with HARP Fantasy that a GM could interleave the two rulesets to run a technomagic setting without any issues, but that's not the point of the HARP SF rules.

We also don't want any furry anthropomorphic animal aliens. ICE already has the Privateers setting with a full complement of animal alien races; ICE does not need or want a second setting with similar races.

In consultation with my cadre of playtesters, I started work on alien races that would be suitably alien in appearance and have a plausible biology. The intersection of their biology and environment would in turn shape their culture, society, and general demeanour. From this process resulted five alien species. These included the avian Drawandera who are literally faceless - the front of their heads are tympanal membranes for ultrasound echolocation, they have breathing slits in their necks, and a mouth in their torso - and the invertebrate inquisitive Krakuren who can swim, climb, and swing from point to point with equal ease, but can only slither ungracefully on their tentacles when forced to walk.

The Drawandera and the Krakuren, along with the Elecoshu, Orodella, and Vorlass, are unlikely to appear in the HARP SF core rulebook as they are too different in body form for easy use in multi-species groups of characters. (My playtesters and I had outsmarted ourselves.) They will probably appear in the SysOp's Guide as examples of more exotic aliens that can be designed using the species creation rules in that work.

So it has been back to the drawing board to develop new races, who will still have a nonhuman appearance, plausible biology and consistent psychology. To make it much easier to integrate them into adventuring crews, the new sentient races will all be bipedal humanoids, broadly speaking. ICE, the playtesters and I are curently exchanging ideas on appropriate life forms. Once I have the aliens finalized and written up, the HARP SF manuscript will also be complete.

Farewell for now ...

While I return to my aliens, I'll leave you to enjoy this month's articles. Our next issue will be published in December 2005, but until then ...

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