Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the eighty-fourth issue of The Guild Companion.

Status Report

In last month's editorial, I talked about TGC's New Year resolutions. As readers who keep an eye on our Project Blog will be aware, we have made substantial progress on two of our projects. Fourteen fantastic character portraits have arrived for HARP Heroes, so only ten more and the cover artwork still to come. I've also been hard at work on the Construct Toolkit (the HARP conversion guide for Rolemaster's Construct Companion) . I now have a complete conversion chapter for Automata, a nearly complete chapter on Constructs and Golems, and most of the associated spells written up. In addition to spells for creating magical intelligence and binding the essences of unfortunate creatures, there are auxiliary spells for dealing with Demons and Elementals. So we're still on course to fulfill our resolutions.

Life, the universe, and everything else?

The manuscript still known as "HARP SF" awaits its formal entry into ICE's editing pass. However, it is complete and so I can turn my attention to the next project, namely SysOp's Guide. In HARP SF, GMs have the alternate title of System Operators or SysOps for short. SysOp's Guide is intended as the GM's companion to the HARP SF rulebook and follows on from its final chapter (SysOp's Guidelines). Or rather it will do once I actually start writing the Guide.

At the moment, however, SysOp's Guide is a collection of notional chapter headings and various scribblings in my notebooks hastily written down as the inspiration struck me. There are currently seven principal chapters envisaged for the SysOp's Guide - remember that this is all subject to change as I may come up with a better organisation or different topics or the Guide may have to accommodate sections cut from the core HARP SF for space reasons, so do NOT assume that this will be how the final book will look. I reserve the right to change anything if it suits my purposes.

SF Genres and Themes

One of the major distinctions between fantasy and science-fiction is that there are many different flavors and subgenres. Science-fiction varies in how closely it adheres to science fact. It can be "hard" if it stays within the accepted laws of physics; it can be soft if it relies on discoveries and inventions that we believe to be impossible (like faster-than-light travel). For reference, HARP SF is a "firm" science-fiction game in that the rules become soft scifi to allow for FTL travel and psionics but go hard to allow advances in biotechnology and cybernetics. The milieux of science-fiction can vary from a conspiratorial "secret present" in the style of the X-Files through cyberpunk dystopias to distant futures, centuries or millennia hence, with asides such as post-apocalyptic settings and anachronistic retro-sf in keeping with the early scientific romances or the pulp magazines. A third axis by which science-fiction RPGs can be divided is by scope. Is the campaign limited to a single world or a solar system or does it transcend the interstellar gulfs of space?

Campaign Design

SF RPGs can choose to emphasise a single type of campaign or can support a multitude of options. In some cases, the setting is predisposed to support a particular style such as exploration in Star Trek or military conflict in Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Colonisation, intrigue (as in Poul Anderson's Flandry novels or Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series) and trade (perhaps in the spirit of Firefly/Serenity) are all viable options. Temporal milieu and spatial scope will make for further variations - an exploration game on an interplanetary scope will be different from one with an interstellar scope, just as a near-future single-planet military campaign (alien invasion in the style of The War Against the Chtorr) will have distinct flavor and options to far future galaxy spanning wars (such as Star Wars or the Honor Harrington series). It is still an open question as to whether Campaign Design can be sensibly written as a distinct chapter or whether it will become so interwoven with the preceding chapter that the two must be combined.

World Creation

For a campaign set beyond our own solar system, SysOps will need to be able to create plausible stellar systems. Given what we have already discovered concerning extrasolar planets and recent work in modelling Earthlike environments in extreme conditions, a significant fraction of habitable worlds generated by the eventual rules mechanics will not be standard planets but oversized moons orbiting gas giants and tidally locked planets close in to red dwarf stars. The recent discovery of a planet merely five Earth masses in size is a good sign that the universe is not just uncounted stars circled by attendant gas giants. Additionally the rules will have to account for asteroidal and artificial habitats.

Species and Culture Evolution

If the previous chapter emphasized the physical universe, this chapter will focus on "Life" in at least some of its myriad forms. It will present rules for generating sentient races and provide detailed examples of new species. Some of these will be suitable for player-characters; others will be more outre and be "Life As We Do Not Know It". Although most opponents in a sf rpg will normally be sentients, explorers and travellers will encounter animals that have yet to learn the folly of attacking strange beings carrying modern weapons. Thus this chapter will include mechanisms to generate alien animals and a set of predefined creatures.

Technology Toolkit

The HARP SF manuscript has an extensive Equipment chapter as well as rules for understanding, using, breaking, repairing and improving equipment. This chapter of the SysOp's Guide will take technology to the next level by presenting rules and SysOp guidance for creating new equipment and vehicles. Space permitting, it will also look at different technological paradigms (such as advanced biotechnology) and how to handle primitive technology.

Adventure Development

"Every saga has a beginning". Every saga also has a middle and an end. My intention for this chapter is to cover the tricky issues of designing the individual scenarios in an sf campaign, whether it be ensuring an episodic peregrination around the galaxy (New Session, New Star System) stays fresh or the unfolding of one or more epic story arcs that will affect the destinies of many civilisations. This chapter might join forces with "Campaign Design" - I won't know what is best until I actually get deep into the writing.

Integration with HARP Fantasy

The HARP SF manuscript has been designed to be as compatible as possible with the fantasy rules presented in HARP (Revised) and its various supplements. This last chapter will bridge the gap between sf and fantasy and will explain how to use both sets of rules in combination.

And the Catch is ...?

I only have 128 pages to cover all of the above material! So that may make things even more interesting.

Readers are encouraged to post any comments or suggestions on either our HARP discussion board or the ICE forums.

Farewell for now ...

Time for me to depart, so I'll leave you to enjoy this month's issue. We'll be back in March, but until then...

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