Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2007

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"We don't want to risk the series going the way of Firefly!"


To the 105th issue of The Guild Companion.

All quiet on the playtesting front

The long awaited and almost certainly final beta version of HARP SF has now been available to the public beta testers for several weeks. There's been only a few very minor changes required and the manuscript seems to have evolved to its final state. This is just as well because I'm tired of having to keep my laptop on the gaming table whenever I run the game in case I need to check something that has changed since I had my original black books printed. I'd really like to have a new set printed but I've been holding off so far just in case someone spots some critical problem that absolutely must be fixed and would render the new hardbacks equally obsolescent.

The beta playtest will end on the 4th of November (2007); ICE are hoping to publish sometime around March 2008.

Manifest Destinies

"Manifest Destinies" is my name for the HARP SF campaign that I'm currently running. Looking at the character sheets of the players, it's also known as "Bughunters" (a Space Marine is always hopeful), HARP SFaffin', and "We're all going to die".

As it is a primary playtest campaign for HARP SF, the players occasionally find that the universe shifts on them as game mechanics have to be changed and they have to adjust their characters accordingly. We're due another round of that to cope with the subskill changes that came as part of 4g, but this may wait until there is a spreadsheet version that can cope with the final rules. It's been likened to a TV series:

"This is making a pretty good SciFi series, but honestly!, it's getting a bit serious - the number of times the characters have had significant rewrites and, in particular, the actors and actresses being changed and replaced with better looking ones between the pilot episodes and the series. I'm not sure the viewing public will be able to cope with the continuity problems. We don't want to risk the series going the way of Firefly!" (Dave Prince).

The "better looking" comment refers to the decision of two of the players to make their characters psi-capable which meant rejigging the stats so that the Presence stats were providing positive modifiers. Three of the players have resisted the temptation to join the psionic revolution, so we're not yet talking about the "Martini party" (as happened with Pilgrims' Progress, the playtest campaign for Mentalism Companion way back when).

The starting point in game terms for "Manifest Destinies" were the two unconnected "pilot episodes" - "Resident Aliens" and "Special Delivery". The latter was a simple "hunt the space pirates" as an excuse to try out the vehicle combat rules. The series proper has followed up on the story arc introduced in "Special Delivery", becoming a deadly cat-and-mouse game to uncover an interstellar conspiracy that threatens the Federation, perhaps even humanity as we know it. The appearance of rogue AIs as "bad guys" in the "Corporate Station" adventure has had my players scouring my shelves to see if I've been overdosing on dvds of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. They needn't worry on that front - the style, though not plot, of the campaign has drawn on literary science-fiction models such as the recent galaxy-spanning space operas of Peter F. Hamilton, the new cyberpunk and corporate dystopias of Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, and for layered conspiracies mixed with action adventure the ten-volume Family d'Alembert saga written by Stephen Goldin from an original novella by E.E. Doc Smith. (Those are some of the influences I can spot in the campaign so far anyway ...)

The PCs successfully completed "Corporate Station" and are now bringing "Headhunting" (the second adventure in the series) to a close. "Headhunting" should give the party sufficient leads in terms of other agents and tools of the conspiracy that they can get started on tracking them down and putting a stop to the various nefarious plots. This forms the basis of the next four adventures in the campaign. As I've thought more deeply on this quartet, it's clear that there is an escalation in the level of threat and drama. Consequently while I had originally intended to let the PCs pursue the conspiracy agents in any order, it will be better to steer the PCs into the more dramatic ordering (and give them a better chance of surviving the tougher threats of the later adventures). This obviously makes my life easier as I don't have to fully write up four scenarios right now, except for one slight snag, I'd come unstuck on Adventure 3 ("The Map is not the Territory") in terms of making it a different experience to "Corporate Station".

Location, Location, Location

"Corporate Station" was principally set on Infierno, a corporate hollowed-out bubbleworld in one of the asteroid belts of the El Doradan system. This was partly to make it clear to the players from the very start that this was a science-fiction campaign. Having the first adventure take place in an inside-out environment where "sunlight" is the result of a plasma tube running the longitudinal axis of the world and if you look up, you see green parkland and the roofs of houses on the other side of the cylinder's inner surface rather than sky, seemed a good way of achieving this. Partly it was because it made consistent sense in terms of the plot.

"Headhunting" has been set on El Dorado proper with a brief spaceship pursuit in low El Doradan orbit, so we've had investigations and interviews conducted in the leafy suburbs of Nueva Cadiz and a full-blown assault on the off-shore estate of a major megacorp leader. So far, so good.

The problem was the principal setting for "The Map is Not The Territory" where our heroes get a chance to nab Anna Huhtala, the computer hacker who is believed to be responsible for subverting the corporate AIs and the key lead from the end of "Headhunting". I had believed that it needed to be set on Ceres ( as in the asteroid {dwarf planet in new money} of our own solar system) as that was where I thought I had placed the headquarters of the megacorporation she was currently involved with. First adventure on an asteroid, second on a planet, third back to an asteroid is an unhappy repetition. Asteroidal settlements are very easy to control in terms of what and who can enter or exit the habitat. I don't want Adventure 3 to simply be "turn up, conduct some interviews, make an arrest, job done", particularly since the PCs could realistically expect significant cooperation from the local authorities. This is after all High Adventure Role Playing SF not a police procedural.

With the PCs coming to the end of adventure 2, this logjam was quite serious. While casting around for inspiration, I chanced to recheck the various entries in the Tintamar universe chapter of the manuscript. And discovered that I had become confused about where the various megacorporations had their headquarters. Ceres was the headquarters of a completelt different and uninvolved megacorporation. The actual location that I wanted was Mars, and suddenly everything fell into place and I had Adventure 3 fully written up and statted in a weekend.

The moral of the story - read the setting notes!

Farewell for now ...

Enough of my ramblings. We'll be back with Issue 106 in December, but until then …

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