Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Weird Tales punt...

I have been completely slammed both at work and in my personal life, and don't expect that to clear up for at least another week and a half or so.  So, rather than simply not post anything at all because I didn't have time to write up something meaningful, I'm going to highlight three blog posts on another blog that give one a great place to start exploring the corpus of Weird Tales beyond the basic collections of Lovecraft, Smith and Howard that are readily available.

And I should note that despite a superficial similarity of sorts between our surnames, I am no relation at all to Nictzin Dyalhis.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sigh. v. 1.3.2

I'm not sure why I keep saying that I'm "done" because no sooner do I say that, but I find errors and big editing needs.  I'm updated the file again, from 1.3.1 to 1.3.2.  I've also gotten rid of the graphics and no-graphics split; I only have a no-graphics version now.  So, there's three files:

When this becomes AD ASTRA, I'll take out some of the setting information, or adapt it to my setting, and change the names of things like Jedi, Sith, lightsabers, droids, etc. but otherwise, the rules will be exactly the same.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Final(?) Star Wars m20 updates

Well, my "context" post took a lot longer than I expected.  Mostly because I got carried away with too many details, which near the end I ended up chopping a bit.  But now it's done, and I'm ready to move in to some other aspect of AD ASTRA; such as adapting the STAR WARS REMIXED rules into the setting.  With one final review of the rules, I realized that my last update was a little sloppy.  There were a number of minor errors of various other kinds of things; so I made an update from v. 1.3 to v. 1.3.1.

Here's the final version of the rules, put into a zip file which includes the final version of the document, a no-graphics version of the document, and the character sheet.

These rules will end up being used almost exactly as is for AD ASTRA; I'll obviously change some of the races and I'll remake the Jedi and other knights as psionic knights.

Ad Astra historical context

Although I'm not sure exactly in what format I'll eventually be presenting this formally, I'm using this post to "noodle" a bit with some setting Bible  concepts, mostly for the purpose of establishing context.  I don't want to go all "Wookiepedia" on this, though.  Keep in mind that during the first Star Wars movie, pretty much all of the context that we get is that 1) there used to be a Republic served by the Jedi order as some type of peacekeeper or somewhat.  2) Now there's an Empire, and a resistance that attempts to overthrow them.  3) There's an Imperial Senate, yet also ranks and nobility like princesses and stuff.  4) The Empire disbands the Senate.  5) Darth Vader was a Jedi knight, but he betrayed and murdered the Jedi Knights.

Now, granted, you can glean a handful more details out of the movie than just that, but not many.  That's really kinda it.  Much of the context around Star Wars was either developed in the Expanded Universe, or during the prequels.  There's less context than you need.  This is especially true for folks coming out of the RPG hobby, where big time-lines and detailed campaign settings are the norm.  In reality, most of that is completely unnecessary.  Maybe even detrimental.

But I want to create a little context.

c. 10,000 B.C. through c. 2050 A.D.  Gray aliens abduct numerous people from Earth and resettle them on various planets throughout much of the galaxy, in an inscrutable experiment that lasts millennia. Because of this, genetically pure humans are the largest species throughout the Known Sectors by far, outnumbering everyone else combined at least four to one.  However, the long separation combined with responses to alien environments, climates, food sources, etc. have caused a proliferation into an extremely wide array of distinct ethnic groups, many of which now feature exotic (from the perspective of an Earthman) features such as skin, hair and eye color, and even other features.

2060 A.D. Following the recovery of a crashed Gray spacecraft, a team of European and American scientists manage to reverse engineer some of the technology that will become the core of space travel; artificial gravity and primitive bulk drives, which allow the piecing of the "skin" of the brane, allowing temporary travel through the bulk before reentering the brane at another point in space.  These early bulk drives allow only relatively small bulk jumps which take several days, but over the next millennia, these are improved somewhat.  Bulk jumps that allow the travel of tens of light-years over only about a week's worth of time and a single refueling are now common.  (Keep in mind that this is still quite limited. Unlike in Star Wars, where you can travel to hyperspace and end up on the other side of the galaxy in just a few minutes, bulk jumps allow crossing the Local Bubble over the course of many months.  The entirety of the Known Sectors is only about 2,500 light years across by 800 light years wide, making up a significant portion of the Orion Spur and a portion of the Sagittarius Arm adjacent to it, with a number of filaments and bridges that connect the otherwise vast and uncrossable gulf between the arms.  If one were to travel as quickly as he were able, doing nothing but travel, from one end to the other of the Known Sectors, it would still take almost the entirety of an average lifetime to do so.

c. 2075 through 2125 A.D. As political and economic conditions continue a several century long slide, large numbers of settlers from America and northern Europe in particular left Earth in bulk drive arks to seek their fortunes elsewhere.  Upwards of 15% of the entire population of these areas eventually leave Earth as conditions deteriorate into increasingly unstable banana republics caused by the rule of totalitarian globalists who dilute and degrade the physical and human capital of the nations that they rule.  Near the end of this period, Russia and China also attain bulk drive technology and send some settler arks of their own.  At the end of the period, conditions on Earth have deteriorated so badly that nobody else is able to marshal the resources to send any more arks, and Earth degrades into a stagnant, technologically impoverished backwater.  Over the next few centuries, Earth is declared a quarantine zone by nearly every major interstellar colony, and some even forget their origin from Sol.  As for the inhabitants of Earth itself, they soon forget that millions of people left to seek their fortunes in the stars.

Starting from this point on, Earth completely ceases to play any role in the setting as it evolves.  It's location is hidden or lost, it becomes uncharted, and the colonists who originated there do not look back.

2125 through c. 2500 A.D.  The various settler arks arrive at their destinations and establish colonies.  In the beginning, some were supplemented by further arks, but those soon tapered off.  Most, however, grew organically very quickly, as large families meant more hands to help with the large quantity of work that needed to be done.  While more than half of the colonies were made up of culturally aligned Anglophone Americans and Europeans, the Sinophone and Russophone colonies grew as well.  Some of the colonies maintained contact with others, while others grew more insular and less likely to interact with others.  All of them, due to strong founder population forces grew to be culturally monolithic, and the possibility for the boil off effect; those who didn't fit into the society could go found small little Utopian communities, or do whatever they wanted to, on their own.

2511 A.D. First contact with a non-Earth alien; a human of the Altairan variety.  By now, the post-Terran colonials have multiplied into being nearly a billion strong across nearly a dozen worlds, but this is a major sea-change in their perception.  The Terran colonists start to pull together and organize themselves into Federations and Confederacies, paving the way towards the eventual organization into pseudo-Imperial coalitions that evolve by 3000 A.D.  The genetic similarities between the Terrans and the Altairans led to the origin of the Gray Hypothesis.  Indeed, as ruins found on Altair's moons supplemented and bolstered this theory, purporting to be ruins of Grays themselves sent to monitor the Altairans, presumably after their relocation from Earth to Altair.

2564 A.D. The first discovery of non-human aliens, the humanoid Hulks.  Within the next three centuries several more non-human species are encountered.  To date; no first contacts are with interstellar societies.

2628 A.D.  Contact with the Ubrai Empire, the first truly interstellar society other than that of the expatriate Earthmen.  Although exotic, with a gracile build, a pale white skin tinted with blue, and wispy hair the color of wheat, the Ubrai are obviously human.

2669 A.D. The first Ubrai-Federation War starts.  Due to logistical challenges with regard to space travel, the war lasts for more than fifty years, although it is only "hot" on occasion.

2701 A.D.  An anonymous Ubrai scientist, experimenting with the concepts of the bulk drives ability to pierce the known universe/brane to try and develop a weapon for use in the war, accidentally creates an energy wave emanating from the bulk.  Although exactly what happened is still very unclear, either some kind of parasitic element came from the bulk, or some existing element was mutated and corrupted by the energy leaking from the bulk.  Taskin, the world on which this happened was completely depopulated due to plague, and declared a permanent quarantine world.  The plague spread from there, although weaker, and eventually affected nearly all of the Known Sectors.  Population fell across the entire area by as much as 50%.  The war came to an end as everyone hunkered down and focused on local affairs.  The centralized governments almost completely disappeared.

c. 2850 A.D.  After several generations, interstellar travel and expansion was able to start back up again, as population booms following the plague affected many worlds.  One interesting side effect of the plague is that through a combination of anti-bodies and symbiosis between the extra-dimensional virus and the people who managed to survive the plague as carriers is that small changes to the genetic code of a handful of people, relatively speaking.  Those affected by this change have the genetic predisposition to access energy from the bulk.

c. 2925 A.D. The first traditions of using psionic energy; this energy from the bulk, become established.  These are the very early Psionic Knights.

2945 A.D. The second Ubrai-Federation War.  The end result, after several years of conflict is a new polity that incorporates citizens of both as the Interstellar Republic.

c. 3000 A.D.  While the exact date is uncertain, around here there was a tipping point where the Republic as an actual republic that cared about the will of the people became a Potemkin Republic that was an actual Empire, although not one in name.  It wasn't until nearly 3100 A.D. that it openly embraced it's identity, when the Chancellor officially declared himself Emperor.

3009 A.D. Contact with the growing alien-human Idachar civilization.  Within a few years, a long-term Cold War starts which lasts for centuries.

c. 3100 A.D. A violent order of psionic Knights with a zealous Manifest Destiny doctrine attempts a coup of the government.  Although defeated, they do a significant amount of damage to the Empire, then flee to uncharted space, where they establish the Shadow Empire.

3387 A.D.  After many centuries of cosmopolitanism between the various ethnicities, the Empire is no longer heavily populated by any one single population core (although various regions within it are.)  The government, in a need to maintain control, has gradually eroded much of the freedoms that its citizens once enjoyed.  Resistance and rebellions have been inevitable for years, but in this year, open rebellion starting in the New Texas system.

3407 A.D.  The Shadow Empire and its Rampage Knights invade the Interstellar Empire during its ongoing civil war.  This state of near constant war persists for centuries.  At the end of it, vast populations have been wiped out and/or displaced, and the demographics of many systems across the Known Sectors are changed.  The Interstellar Empire has been overthrown, and in its place are two new polities; the Interstellar Republic (2.0) and the Monarchy.  The Shadow Empire has also expanded into many areas that were formally part of the Interstellar Empire.

3766 A.D.  The current King of the Monarchy calls a Crusade against the Republic to free its capital.  Both polities claim the mantle of heir of the old Empire, and the bitterness of the Monarchy that the former capital belongs to the Republic is deep.  The Republic is almost completely overthrown, and the Capital world is in possessed by the Monarchy for more than twenty years.

3811 A.D. After decades of war, many groups have formed splinter states of much smaller size than the traditional Empires or mega-state polities.  This is especially common on the "frontiers" but sometimes even in the geographical center of the Known Sectors.  The Republic, after retaking the Capital and a few other worlds, officially embraces a Revanchist policy and becomes the Revanchist Republic.

3984 A.D. The present day.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Star Wars and Ad Astra

I spent at least a little bit of time this weekend reviewing my Star Wars m20 document for suitability to being ported as the rules for AD ASTRA and what I'd have to change.  While the good news is that the answer to that is "hardly anything other than some proper names and labels" I also discovered a few minor inconsistencies or other things that were ripe for change, partly due to the fact that the rules were a little old.  They preceded some of the play-testing changes made to my own DARK•HERITAGE version of the m20 rules and they preceded the release of either the Star Wars: Rebels TV show or The Force Awakens theatrical release.

I've taken the opportunity to update the document from v. 1.2 to v. 1.3 therefore as part of that exercise.  It's located here:

And don't forget the character sheet:

And then, the final section, with a few minor updates, I think deserves to be reprinted on the blog.  These two sections actually originally started off as blog posts here, but they've gone through a few minor tweaks since then.  Because this is equally important to a game of AD ASTRA as it is to my STAR WARS REMIXED setting, I've tagged both.   For AD ASTRA there won't be The Force, of course, but the same concept applies to characters who can use psionics.

The Force vs. Normals: How to Strike a Playable Balance
Star Wars has often been very much about the Jedi and the Sith. Luke's discovery of his heritage as the son and later apprentice of a Jedi, and his grand finale battle with the Sith Master Palpatine, can be seen as the over-arching story of the entire Original Trilogy. The prequels and The Force Awakens even more overtly deal with the Jedi—hardly a major character exists who isn't a Force-using Knight of some kind or another, and the story is designed to be told from the perspective of the Jedi, or at least a specific Jedi. The Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows are also primarily told from the perspective of the Jedi, and are about their doings.

This focus partially obscures some things, though. In the Original Trilogy, Luke, Vader, the Emperor, and to a lesser extent Ben Kenobi and Yoda are the only knights that make any appearance at all. Many other characters are significant characters, like Han, Leia, the droids, etc. What's important here is that non-Force using characters can be pretty darn important to Star Wars, and in fact should be. You can see this in many episodes of the Clone Wars too—while overall the series is about the Jedi— especially Ahsoka and Anakin, many episodes barely feature them, or even don't feature any Jedi, Sith or otherwise at all. Star Wars: Rebels focuses on them somewhat less although it’s as much the story of Kanan and Ezra reiterating the relationships of Obiwan and Luke to a great degree, and Ahsoka and the Inquisitors play a large role as well.

Sometimes the writers (including George Lucas himself) lose sight of this, and make the Jedi both too good, too capable, and too important for anyone to stand up to them in any meaningful sense. But other times, it's quite clear that non-Force using characters can be the equal to a Jedi when they need to be. Jango Fett fought Obiwan to a standstill in Attack of the Clones. Highly skilled bounty hunters like Sugi, Embo, Cad Bane, and others showed themselves equal to the Jedi (or Sith) when they needed to be. Pre Viszla's duel with Darth Maul showed him to be highly capable, and he might have won, even though Maul was one of the most dangerous combatants in the galaxy.

Of course, in order to do this, these characters almost become superheroes themselves. It's actually easy to see Embo as an alien Captain America, and Sugi as an alien Black Widow. The Mandalorians, with their tricked out supercommando battle armor, almost seem to be Iron Man like at times.

But maybe this is the lesson in how to run Star Wars. The action is over-the-top. It is extremely swashbucklery, and borders on overt comic book like in tone and feel, quite frequently, even. It's easy to justify this superheroic action with the Jedi, because after all, they have the Force with them, which makes them superheroes. But when the plot dictates, anyone else can be just about as capable, either through intense training, fancy equipment, or a combination of the two. In reality, that means that highly capable non-Force users should be like Batman, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, or other characters, who while lacking overt superpowers, routinely are able to go toe-to-toe with actual superheroes as needed by the demands of the plot of the stories that they're in.

And aside from any meta reasons to make characters be equal, it's only good fun for everyone involved if everyone is more or less balanced with everyone else. If one character is just so much more capable than everyone else that he ends up doing everything, and the rest of the players are relegated to being his sidekicks, that's not likely to be very fun for very long (ahem, Rey.) But, the tendency can be to bring knights down to a regular character's level, when what usually works better is to bring the other characters up to the knight's level, in terms of swashbuckling action. Let your scoundrels and fighters and whatnot be Embos, Sukis, Boba Fetts and the like—the Captain Americas and Batmans of the Star Wars setting—rather than making everyone feel an "action tax" dictated by your sense of what is more reasonable for real people to do. This isn't about real people. This is about Star Wars characters. Forgetting that and making things too difficult to accomplish, or penalizing those who want to attempt them, is at odds with the source material.  Star Wars is kind of wild, swashbucklery action in lieu of a more conservative, cautious approach. The latter may be some other game, including many people's idea of D&D, for instance. But it’s not Star Wars.

When in doubt, and since it's now in Free-To-Play mode, check out The Old Republic. (Or watch some youtube videos to get a summary of the stories)  Only half of the character classes are Force users, and the bounty hunters, scoundrels, Imperial agents and Republic troopers don't suffer because of their lack of the Force. Rather, they're great examples of what Star Wars can be when knights aren't around.

And, to add to this, Star Wars is filled with mooks. By this, I mean antagonists who aren't really meant to be terribly threatening, especially not on an individual level. From battle droids to stormtroopers, part of what makes the heroes seem so cool is the fact that they can mow through mooks with relative ease. Not impunity, but relative ease. Mooks don't have any hit points. Any hit at all and they go down. They slow down the heroes. They can threaten the heroes in large numbers. But to some degree, the whole point of mooks is to make sure that the heroes feel heroic.

Monty Haul vs. Mr. Scrooge GM: Challenges and Equipment in Star Wars
Dungeon Magazine may have warned us against the Monty Haul style of GMing, which has influenced countless games of D&D (no doubt for the better.) But keep in mind this thought...

At no point in Star Wars do I recall a character ever really needing some piece of equipment and not having it. When Luke and Ben need to fly to Alderaan, they divest themselves of their old landspeeder, and it's enough to get them there on the Millennium Falcon. When Luke suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of a chasm in the Death Star, well, voila!, he's got a rope to swing on in his belt (this isn't quite as cheesy as having bat-shark repellent handy just when you find yourself being attacked by a shark, but nearly so). When Luke needs to attack the Death Star, there's an X-wing there for him to fly. And apparently the Rebel Alliance just gives those things away to people that they like, since he continues to use it throughout the series.

The landspeeder is also an interesting case in point. At no point do the characters bog themselves down with equipment either. In a game like D&D, resource management and logistics is part of the fun (for some players. Not me, actually.) Worrying about actually having all the right equipment is important. Worrying about how much you can carry so you can make sure that you actually have what you need when you need it is important. Making the hard decisions on what to carry to keep your weight at a point where it doesn't bog you down is important.

I can't ever remember anything like this ever being a consideration in any Star Wars movie or Clone Wars episode that I've ever seen. It is a concern sometimes in Old Republic or Knights of the Old Republic because those are games that are, to some degree or another, based on the D&D paradigm. And it is in many of the Star Wars campaigns in various RPG settings that I've played in the past. Although, again, this is mostly because the D&D paradigm is hard to shake for folks who've grown up on it. But in my Star Wars d20 game, worrying excessively about equipment and money has clearly been one of those things, when we've allowed it to take over our game, has significantly hurt its ability to feel like Star Wars.

Although at times characters have been on the lookout for a ship, they never had to do anything too extraordinary to eventually procure one, or at least the services of one. This is the biggest single expense item that a character can have, but a character really needs to have a ship. Going from planet to planet, and engaging in space combat is part and parcel of playing Star Wars.

That said, you don't need a bunch of individual ships for your entire group. For most of the movies, the Millennium Falcon plus Luke's X-wing (so he can split up from the group and do his own stuff) are sufficient, with only the occasional other ship (shuttle Tyderium). Characters shouldn't be carrying around backpacks full of stuff, or need to hire a porter to bring all of the things that they might have in their ship. They don't need swoops or speeder-bikes or land-speeders or anything else on a regular basis. Let them have some money to spend on stuff from time to time, and make sure that stuff is available for them to purchase. And then don't worry too much about it. The equipment list isn't extensive enough that having nearly everything on it buried in the cargo hold somewhere would be a problem even, and realistically, characters can't use everything all at once either.

Some classes, such as soldiers, also benefit from having tricked out equipment. Especially at higher level, it's assumed that they'll have it. The Mandalorians wouldn't be nearly as cool without their armor, for instance. How would they stand up to the typical Jedi without their jetpacks, missiles, and whatever else? What's Cad Bane without all his gear?

Encourage your players not to get into gear-hoarding mode. That's not Star Wars. And then err on the side of gratuitousness with equipment. If it ends up being a problem, there are ways to bleed that off as needed. Equipment can get stolen, or broken or whatever. It's usually considered "cheap" to do this, so don't do it unless you really need to bleed off an excess of equipment. But honestly, given the limited equipment list presented here, that's not likely to be an issue. You can also bleed off excess money or loot by having players need to repair battle damage to their vehicles or droids, by wastage caused by using disposable items (like thermal detonators) or allowing them to pick up a droid cohort (start at 3-4,000 credits for a base level 1 droid, let them spend more to equip him with more stuff, and force the cohort to level up by gaining levels the same as any other player character.) Let your players have the equipment that they want, for the most part. That's part of the setting's conceit. While characters aren't rich, challenging them with resource management isn't very heroic, swashbucklery, or Star Wars like.

And the characters may need to come into money fairly quickly. If it's the character's conceit that he's got armor equivalent to a Mandalorian battle-suit, well that thing costs out to over 18,000 credits. If he can't get it until near the end of his career, that kind of sucks for him as a player too. He can't wait to afford a starship and an astromech at 7-8th level in a 10 level game. That doesn't mean that your fighter needs a full-fledged Mandalorian battle-suit at 1st level either.

As a rough guideline, I think characters should get between 5-10,000 credits worth of money (or stuff of equivalent value) per level, mostly. And they should spend 20-30% of that on maintenance of stuff. The fighter that wants the equivalent of a Mandalorian battle-suit should have to piece it together bit by bit over the course of a few levels, getting stuff and then upgrading it as time goes on. By 3-4th level, he should have most of what he wants.

And at some point, characters should get out of the game of worrying much about equipment or money at all. There is no wealth/level guideline. Once the characters have what they want, you should focus on maintenance with your money rewards. As always, keep in mind that logistics, accounting, and shopping are not at the heart of any Star Wars game. Use scarcity (especially at lower levels) to be a bit of a motivator, but don't be a Mr. Scrooge GM. But if your players are concerned about getting monetary rewards for their characters (unless it's in character—i.e., Han Solo) then they're missing the point and you need to recalibrate your game somewhat.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Dire Corby

I had high hopes for posting a bunch of stuff today, but work has been... well, a lot of work, so I haven't had the opportunity that sometimes I do to put together a post bit by bit a little here a little there on the side.

But rather than not post, here's a pretty cool punt for you to read today.  If you haven't seen this (and the rest of the series, although this one is the best) then you really should.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Rogue One

We interrupt this ongoing AD ASTRA series of posts to bring you this breaking news: the first Star Wars: Rogue One trailer just dropped today.  In spite of my concerns about the trajectory of the franchise overall, and this movie in particular I have to say—this is a really good trailer.

And apparently all new Star Wars movies will be about teenaged grrl power pixie-ninjas beating up men.  That's not going to get old or annoying anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Ad Astra introduction

Author’s Note:  AD ASTRA is a role-playing game designed to replicate old-fashioned space opera.  Have you read the John Carter of Mars or Carson Napier of Venus stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs?  Have you watched the old Republic serials (or read the old comic strips) of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers?  Have you read the Planet Stories of Leigh Brackett, C. L. Moore, Edmond Hamilton or E. E. “Doc” Smith?  Have you watched Star Wars or the Guardians of the Galaxy movies?  Have you played games such as Traveller, Star*Drive or Star Frontiers?

I’m not talking about scientific rigor here.  We’ve got handwavy attempts to make artificial gravity and faster-than-light travel between the stars, and the fact that everybody looks a little bit like a man in (good) rubber mask or face-paint if they’re not just human.  We’ve got protagonists who fight with swords on spaceships.  If this is the kind of setting and game that you think you’d like, this is for you.

AD ASTRA is meant to be swashbuckling, larger than life, borderline super-heroic action.  Realism isn’t really meant to be more of an issue than it is in your average Captain America or Batman story.

Rather than tell anyone  at this point what a role-playing game is, or any of that jazz, I’m going to assume that this game is meant for a market that is already familiar with the notion.  The system I’m using is a variant of m20; a very rules-lite, stripped down variant of the d20 game, but one that relies heavily on GM interpretation, because there ain’t much in the way of formal rules.  It’s meant to be a game that relies on a few simple basics, the details of which are heavily dependent on rulings in game.  That said, the game is also meant to be fairly balanced and consistent, so that players know what to expect from it.  It does, however, specifically reject the implicit notion in d20 that the game had to be built to withstand abuse by bad GMs.  If you want to have a good game, try to find a good GM and a good group and handle it like adults at the social contract level; the system doesn’t address this at all.

The particular iteration of m20 were initially designed by me (and by designed, I mostly mean kit-bashed from existing elements designed by someone else) to be used in a custom Star Wars setting of my own design, set 1,000 years after the end of Return of the Jedi.  For various reasons, rather than continue with this particular exercise (which was mostly played out anyway) I decided to convert the whole thing into a custom setting, file the Star Wars serial numbers off, and graft some other classic space opera stuff into it as well.  Keep in mind, though, that since the system was originally designed to run Star Wars specifically, well, obviously that tells you a few things about what kind of aesthetic it’s meant to have.  The setting was meant to be more varied; my “Jedi” order was broken into multiple competing orders, and rather than Empire vs. Viet Cong-esque freedom fighters, I had a balkanized galaxy.  Many of these elements will translate into the revised system and setting.  I’ve toned down the “Jedi” as well, and made them a slightly more generic psionic warrior type that has a completely different kind of origin.  But that’s really neither here nor there—importantly, I’ve gone deliberately in the direction of minimizing their importance, or at least making sure that they’re not any more important than any other type of character.  If a typical scoundrel or soldier has absolutely no chance of ever taking on a “Jedi” in a fair fight, then something is seriously out of whack with your system, and you’re catering to the “look at me, aren’t I the most special snowflake ever?” escapism fantasy of your potential audience.  To be blunt, I’m not writing this for that audience.  I’m writing it for the audience that is made up of psychologically and socially healthy people that happen to like space opera.

It’s also not meant to be specifically original.  It’s meant to be a generic homage to various well-known and well-loved tropes.  As Vox Day once said about Star Wars, “It occurs to me that there is probably a market for books, and even films, that 'continue' the story of SJW-infested properties in a traditionalist manner. What should the Star Wars prequels have looked like? How should the post-Jedi story actually [have] proceeded? I shall have to think on this further... about Star Lords battling for power in a galaxy far, far away.”  In many ways, that’s exactly the point, but hey, if you’re going to do that, why not add in all kinds of other stuff while you’re at it?  It’s not exactly like Star Wars wasn’t just pilfering pretty much everything that they could; there are episodes of the Clone Wars that are literally carbon copies of Godzilla movies, samurai and western movies, noir movies, etc.  And, y’know what?  It actually works well for it.  That breadth of influence hasn’t made the setting any less workable; it’s actually made it moreso.

A few other notes: I’m using a system to map a part of a subsector of the galaxy that is borrowed almost entirely from the Traveller game, except where I’ve dropped detail.  This is a 2-D representation of a part of the galaxy using classic hex-maps (I'll add that attachment later); specifically a relatively tiny spur in the region where the Sagittarius Arm and Orion Spur grow close together, which makes crossing from one arm to the other possible (otherwise crossing the vast gulf between arms would be beyond the capabilities of any ship).  Rather than taking place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, this takes place a long time from now in our own Milky Way… but the galaxy is still a vast place, and most of it is comfortably out of reach forever.  The bulk drives that enable travel to distances that cannot be reached by conventional travel are still limited, and traveling more than a few light-years at a time is still unfeasible and theoretically impossible, even.  The Kalingrane subsector, which I’m detailing, is within the red circle on the map below (enlarged so you can actually see it; the red circle is way too big to be a mere subsector) and the green amorphous blob that you can see surrounding a portion of the Sagittarious Arm and the Orion Spur is the entirety of semi-known space.  The galaxy is a big place, folks!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Update to Ad Astra

I've been wondering what exactly to do with my AD ASTRA campaign seed... although I was sure that I wanted to do something with it.  For AD ASTRA I had a high concept, for my "1,000 years after Jedi" Star Wars setting, on the other hand, I had some details.  But the Star Wars game was so far removed from the actual events of Star Wars, as understood in the movies, etc. that it was effectively a completely different setting that just used the same "mechanics."

Let me take a step back for a moment before I reach my conclusion here.  I have two younger sons who are respectively, a young teenager and a tween (in the modern sense, not the one coined by Tolkien.)  Both are Star Wars fans, but both approach the franchise differently.  Alexander; the older of the two, enjoys the original trilogy and the Clone Wars.  He's the one who's much more likely to be the trivia buff, who knows all about all kinds of minor characters, locations, droids, etc.  However, he despises the Prequel trilogy, only very reluctantly admitting that any aspect of them at all was redeeming.  He thinks the Rebels show is wrong-footed compared to Clone Wars, and he's generally fairly negative about The Force Awakens as well.  The younger of the two, Logan, loves The Force Awakens.  He was really excited leading up to it, and he easily calls it his favorite movie of 2015, and one of his favorite movies ever.  Despite that, he doesn't go very deep into the franchise.  He doesn't know a lot of the details of the other movies, and probably doesn't even remember them all that well.  Although he likes the new movie better than his brother, he's much less invested in the franchise overall.  A more laid-back easy-to-please approach, vs. a die-hard fan of the franchise who can't be pleased with much of anything that it's done since Empire Strikes Back.  It's innate to them, though—even if I didn't know what they thought about Star Wars in particular, I'd have thought that that would be the way that they break just based on their personalities.

Anyway, because of that, we talk Star Wars a fair bit at home.  We've even been listening to the soundtracks straight through in chunks for some time.  And, of course, how can you talk about Star Wars without frequently waxing both lyrical and nostalgic about where it's gone wrong?  Our conclusions are, more or less, as follows:

  • The prequels went wrong technically.  The stories themselves are salvageable, and the visual design is sure nice.  Mostly it's the pacing and the dialogue that sink these movies.  They're just technically poorly made movies.  But another screenwriter to clean it up and another director to get it to snap and get some chemistry out of the actors, and the movies wouldn't have been half-bad.  The Clone Wars cartoon shows to some degree what they could have been.  It also really rehabilitated the franchise to a great degree, setting it up for the honest to goodness sequels that started late last year.
  • The Force Awakens had different issues.  All of the problems with the prequels were, luckily, fixed.  Good dialogue, good pacing; the first time I watched it, I felt like I was watching Star Wars again.  The problems it faces are structural and somewhat meta—and are likely to get worse with time as the series progresses.  It's actually quite offensive that every white male (excepting Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, who they could hardly recast) they're only allowed to be the villain (Oscar Isaac is actually Óscar Isaac Hernández Estrada and he's a Cuban-Guatemalan).  And the character of Rey shows the feminist imperative in a cold light—for no good reason at all she's a better pilot and mechanic for the Millennium Falcon than Han Solo is, a better hand-to-hand combatant than Finn is, and with literally no training whatsoever she's a better Jedi and lightsaber combatant that... anyone in any movie ever, including Kylo Ren who's been training for years.  She's such an egregious Mary Sue that she literally made every other character in the movie superfluous.  This wasn't sufficient to completely ruin this movie, but it is sufficient to set the series off with a rocky start that's unlikely to improve (have you seen the cast photo for Rogue One?)  And it didn't help that the plot was basically recycled; this is now the third time that the Rebel Alliance has had to sneak on board a "death star" while a space battle rages outside to pinpoint the weakness in the super-weapon and blow it up.  Get a new plot already.  It was so similar to the plot specifically for the original Star Wars that it probably qualifies more as a remake than a sequel.  Except now with more Diversity, Inc.
As one reviewer contemptuously said of it, "The Farce Awakens gives girls what they want, superiority to men in all things without having to put in the effort men put in to be the best they can be."

And as Vox Day said about it: "It occurs to me that there is probably a market for books, and even films, that 'continue' the story of SJW-infested properties in a traditionalist manner. What should the Star Wars prequels have looked like? How should the post-Jedi story actually [have] proceeded?

I shall have to think on this further... about Star Lords battling for power in a galaxy far, far away."

I think the complaint is over-wrought.  As I tell my son Alexander, no—The Force Awakens isn't a terrible movie.  Actually, it's a rather fun one.  It's hardly perfect, and it's not nearly as memorable as the original trilogy, though.  It's merely a place-holder in the franchise, not an entry that really does anything really significant.  And that's OK.  But the idea of doing Star Wars the way it "should" or at least "could" have been?  That's intriguing.  Dennis McKiernan wrote the Iron Tower trilogy as a deliberate rip-off of Lord of the Rings not because he was particularly interesting in ripping off Lord of the Rings, but because he wanted to establish a similar baseline so he could write sequels to it without getting tangled up in IP violations and stuff like that.  File the serial numbers off, basically, but then go your own way with the stories.  That's what Vox Day is suggesting, kinda, for Star Wars.

A few years ago, I read The Secret History of Star Wars, which is actually a fascinating and extremely entertaining work (moreso than the prequel movies, certainly.)  It's quite interesting that a little bit of research into already published quotes, remarks, articles, etc. from the 70s and 80s can easily debunk the myth that George Lucas allowed to grow about his "master plan" for the series; it's quite clear that he had no master plan, or at least not one that resembled how the movies actually turned out.  Reading about some of the admittedly half-baked ideas that Lucas had after the success of the first movie, but before serious work was started on Empire really made me sit up and think to myself; "man, I would really have loved to have seen those movies!"  We get just a tiny glimpse of what they could have been like with the original Star Wars spin-off story, Splinter of the Minds' Eye by Alan Dean Foster.

That's what I'd like to explore more; an alternate version of what Star Wars—or at least a similar analog to Star Wars—might have been like had it diverged after the first movie into something more similar to Lucas' original swashbuckling serial-inspired plan, rather than becoming more tedious, more on message, more dark... in other words, if it had remained more of a Flash Gordon meets the Lensman and Dune.

And then, of course, I thought to myself, "Hey, I have this whole AD ASTRA campaign thingy that I'm not doing anything with, and I don't know for sure what to do with anyway."  And it clicked.  I could combine my concept for AD ASTRA, and my "1,000 years later" Star Wars setting, and even modify my Star Wars m20 rules instead of trying to adapt some kind of superhero version of m20 as the rules-base, and I'd be off and running.  Yeah, that means that I don't actually do anything new much—but it puts me in a place where I can actually use AD ASTRA immediately.  

I'm not actually looking to run anything anytime soon... but I'm thinking about trying my hand at writing again.  I'm always thinking of that and I've said as much many times here over the last few years, but I've actually got a plan and something that I can do with this now—it looks more promising than the vague ideas that I've had in the past.
Potential AD ASTRA characters?
So... next up, I'll give some brief backstory as to how my Jedi analogs came to be, what they are all about, and how the galaxy ended up looking like it does.  Because I like borrowing a good idea as much as the next guy, and let's face it; Star Wars was basically just a salad of pre-existing space opera elements all thrown together anyway along with some samurai movies, some Westerns, and a few other elements that were hardly original, I'll probably borrow from some other "generic"sources to some degree to add to that.

Stay tuned.  After several weeks without having anything really meaningful to talk about that motivated me to write a blog post, I've actually got a series that I think I can run with.

And, of course, it just wouldn't be "me" if I didn't add a potentially Lovecraftian element at least in the background.  Oh, snap.  I don't know what I'll do with that yet, but it'll not wander in grimdark Warhammer 40k territory, just have a bit of a taste.