Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ad Astra

Keep that link in the back of your head for a minute.  We'll come back to it.  I've long been a fan of space opera.  And honestly, besides Star Wars, some of the best space opera in the last few decades has been in the comics.  I'm thinking specifically about the cosmic Marvel stuff; the Starjammers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Inhumans, etc.  Thanos.  Galactus.  The Shi'ar Empire.  The Skrulls.  The Kree.  Silver Freaking Surfer, even.  In fact, after watching Age of Ultron on opening Friday, my parents blew through town.  They mentioned that they had not ever seen the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.  I whipped it out on blu-ray and we watched it right then and there.

So, I'm feeling it again.  Time to dust one of my incipient setting designs off the shelf and see what life I can prompt into it.

My setting design goals are really more like the old Polyhedron mini-games; not really fully fledged games, but seeds that someone motivated enough to do so could take and turn into a fun game.  Not meant to be fleshed out enough to be publishable either; more like an executive summary of a game that a creative person can use, however.

(Seriously, check out those Polyhedron mini-games.  They were really quite brilliant.  I'll include a list and brief summary as an appendix to this post.)

I've decided that my Microlite minigame is going to be space opera, but comic book style, so its basically superheroes in space.

The link above is to the Microlite system, which is now at least, apparently only available as a big collection.  You'll have to browse through the Table of Contents, but here's a teaser--starting on page 741 through pages 751 you'll have the rules for Superlite; an m20 superhero system that is sufficiently light and handwavey to meet my needs and yet flexible and powerful enough to do pretty much anything.  Go ahead, and read (or at least skim) through the rules--they're only 11 pages after all, and one of those is an entire page of an easy chart.  I'll wait right here.

Got it?  Now, assuming that you've read it, I'm going to make some allusions to those rules, so if you haven't, you might want to go back and do it now.

Let's make some adjustments to the ranks.  I don't see the need for having any superpowers with 0 or below ranks.  If that's what you have, then you effectively don't have any superpowers.  So Feeble, Poor, and Typical are completely excised.  I'm also going to eliminate any ranks above Unearthly as simply too far beyond what I'm interested in to be available.  Also, I'm going to rename the ranks, because frankly the ranks as listed, with their cute little two-letter abbreviations don't mean anything to me.  They're too esoteric or vague to be useful.  Here's the new list of Beginning Ranks, as modified by me for this application.  (I imagine I'll eventually refit the entire rule set into what I need, rewriting and/or reprinting under the OGL so it's all in one place, combined with some setting info, as I've done for Star Wars.  Until then, this is just a note.)

Original Rank New Rank Bonus Examples
Typical None 0 Normal characters with no powers
Good Pulp +5 Dick Tracy, Rocketeer, Flash Gordon
Excellent Street +10 Daredevil, Rorschach
Remarkable Sidekick +15 Robin, Bucky, Speedy
Incredible Typical +20 Spider-man, Iron Fist, Flash
Amazing Advanced +25 Batman, Captain America
Monstrous Superior +30 Thor, Iron Man
Unearthly Godlike +35 Superman, Green Lantern, Thanos
Various ranks Supervillainous NPCs +40+ Galactus, the Celestials

Note 1: The first rank isn't really meant to be used.  If you're going to do that, stick with a system that doesn't have superheroes, because that's the rank for non-superhero NPCs.

Note 2: The final rank is also not meant to be used; it's a catch-all for anything more powerful than the starting level of Godlike, and would really only apply to threats that are meant to be faced by a full team, or even a team-up of multiple teams; kind of like how the Avengers and the Fantastic Four have to team up to take on Galactus or something like that.

Note 3: My examples aren't necessarily space-based superheroes, but rather commonly known and recognized superheroes.  Frankly, this system isn't necessarily geared towards reproducing space-based superheroes specifically; it's geared towards simplifying and constraining the superhero rules already in place in SuperLite.  If you want to use them with another setting, it'd be easy to do so.  I'm developing them sepcifically for use with my AD ASTRA setting, however, and I won't be presenting any other alternatives.  At least... not at this time.

Note 4: The rules don't include any provision for space ships, which is unfortunate, since I'll definitely need them.  Luckily, I've already got them available via my Star Wars m20 rules.  I'll just borrow them exactly as written there and apply them here.  All the more reason to create my all in one reorganization and collating of the rules at some point.  But first, let's design this thing, then we can make it pretty.

GMs playing an AD ASTRA game can pick the starting power level that they wish to, but clearly "Typical" is meant to be... well, "Typical" and probably the default.  Characters can, of course, advance over the course of their careers into more powerful characters.  I'd also redo the characterization of the teams as such:

Justice League: one broad power at Godlike, and 2 broad powers at Superior would be typical for a team member.

Avengers: slightly lower than Justice League; Godlike powers would be extremely rare and only for advanced characters; starting characters would most likely have one broad Superior power or two broad powers at Advanced.

X-Men: slightly lower yet; very rare Superior or higher characters, perhaps limited to NPC mentor roles (as in Professor X), while typical starting characters would have a broad power at Advanced with two broad powers at Typical.

Heroes for Hire: And slightly lower yet; starting characters would have two typical powers, or one typical power and two sidekick powers.

Power Pack: Sure, the game would work at even lower levels, but this is as far down as I'll go in describing; in the real world these guys would be amazing, but in a world of superheroes, these guys are rank beginners and not necessarily very impressive.  A broad sidekick level power, or two broader street level powers.

Characters can then use the rules for Buying Powers to tweak the characters; sometimes its fun to have characters that have more powers, even at a lower level.  I would suggest that the "default" mode for AD ASTRA would be X-men level, but that that could be tweaked to taste.

Next, we'll get started on the setting itself!

Appendix: As promised, here are the minigames and a brief summary of what each was about.

  • Pulp Heroes; as expected, it is Doc Savage and Raiders of the Lost Ark kinda stuff.
  • Shadow Chasers; Buffy the Vampire Slayer for d20 Modern.  This was later adapted into a campaign element for d20 Modern officially.
  • Spelljammer - an adaptation of the old 2e AD&D setting.
  • Thunderball Rallly - Every Which Way But Loose and Cannonball Run and The Dukes of Hazard.
  • Omega World - a riff on the Gamma World game by TSR, which wasn't in print at the time.
  • Mecha Crusade - Japanese anime giant robot pilots stuff. 
  • GeneTech - the "lost" d20 Modern campaign element; a kind of near-future Island of Dr. Moreau with spies and stuff.
  • V for Victory - WW2
  • Hi-Jinx - 70s teenage kids; Josie and the Pussycats, Scooby and the Gang, etc.
  • Knights of the Lich-Queen - a mini-setting that is modular and integratable into a D&D game.  Properly belongs in Greyhawk/Planescape, though.
  • Iron Lords of Jupiter - planetary Romance, not unlike the various Barsoom ripoffs that spread through pulp novels in waves in the 20s and 30s and then again in the 60s.
  • Pulp Heroes - an update of the earlier version.
Lots of fun in there, but as you'll see if you look at them, they're not really fully fledged campaigns.  For one thing, few of them are more than about twenty pages or so long.  They've got a few house-rules, a high concept, and some description of how to bring that high concept to ground.  That's what I've done so far with ODD D&D and what I'll do with AD ASTRA as well.

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