Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Space character backgrounds

I recently read White Star, a space opera game heavily based on (and completely compatible with) Sword & Wizardry Whitebox which postulates a space opera implied setting that is largely an ersatz Star Wars (as AD ASTRA itself has become) with a few popular space opera tropes from other sources thrown in to make it slightly less overtly Star Wars.  One thing that it did that I really liked was the character serials—an odd name that actually refers to what is essentially a chargen minigame not unlike what Traveller used to have in concept.  Now, the execution of if is quite different, but the concept is very similar.

I really liked it, and I liked that it was quite a bit simpler than what Traveller had done (as befits a rules-lite game based on S&W) but I couldn't quite use it as is for AD ASTRA for a few simple reasons: 1) I can rarely use anything as is without resisting the urge to tinker, and 2) m20 is just different enough that some changes are necessary to make it work.

This system uses a few simple tables to randomize some background elements for player characters (or even important NPCs, if desired.)  These cannot be picked as desired (unless, of course, the GM specifically allows it) this is meant to be a small minigame in its own right as part of chargen, and not all of these options are created equal.  There is an element of risk/reward in even doing this at all, and utilizing these tables as part of character generation should always be considered optional.  However, if you opt to do it, the results are binding—this is the risk reward.  It is possible (although unlikely) that your character may actually die from this, but more likely if you somehow get an unfavorable result, it'll just be weird; like an Arcturan hulk that's from a low-gravity homeworld and therefore cancels out much of his racial STR bonus or something like that.  All results stack with both other results on these tables as well as any other racial or class abilities.  If you end up with the same affinity more than once, that means you can reroll it as many times as you possess the affinity.  Using these optional tables should only be done at the end of character generation, after everything else has already been done.  If you really get results that don't make much sense work with your GM to find solutions, but mostly you can just stack those results together and still get a playable (albeit occasionally odd) result.

There are six elements to the character backgrounds approach.  You need to roll a d6 for each of the six elements, and then consult the table.  This is best done one at a time, so you don't mix up which roll belongs to which table.  The six elements are:
  1. Homeworld
  2. Childhood
  3. First Adventure
  4. Allies
  5. Nemesis
  6. Critical Event
A quick note: these are certainly meant to be highly optional, and maybe even unusual BETA rules; not the default for any AD ASTRA game.  While I think there's some fun in coming up with these backgrounds, I don't necessarily recommend them.  Not only can the results be very strange and hard to process, meaning that you may end up tossing out plenty of characters that just don't make any sense or even don't really work, but some of these benefits and penalties are written to specifically ignore any hint of balance.  For the most part, if a character gets any of these benefits, I'd prefer that they earn them through play rather than through a funky chargen minigame.  That said, here it is anyway, for those GMs and players who might occasionally want to gamble with some rules that might make your game more fun—or might blow it up.

1. Homeworld.  Everyone had to be born somewhere.  This chart doesn't try to assign a specific planet from the setting, but it does tell you something about where you were born and what effect that had on your development as a youngster.

Roll World Type Description Modifiers
1 Low Gravity Your homeworld has a lighter than standard gravity. As a result, you are quicker and more agile, but your muscles are underdeveloped. +1 DEX, -1 STR
2 High Gravity Your homeworld had a stronger than standard gravity, so your muscles are overdeveloped, and you are a borderline Hulk. However, this leads to a certain slowness and caution in your movement as you have to be more careful operating in a standard gravitational setting. +1 STR, -1 DEX
3 Between the Stars Your "homeworld" is actually a space ship, space station, fleet, or other non-planetary body, with a small, high trust population.  You are poor at dealing with subterfuge, but are used to being surrounded by technology.-2 to Subterfuge skill, but pick one affinity from the following: Vehicle Piloting, Vehicle Repair, Computers.
4 Cosmopolitan You were raised on a wealthy planet where politicians, wealthy businessmen and nobles rubbed shoulders. You know how to turn on the charm and get what you want, but easy living has made you soft. -2 Physical skill, but pick one affinity from the following: Nobility, Deception.
5 Primitive You come from a world where technology is either infrequently encountered, or even entirely absent. You learned to endure the wilderness, but had little time for academic pursuits. -2 to Knowledge Skill, but gain access to either the Wilderness Survival or Perception affinities.
6 Dangerous Your homeworld is a hostile environment, dominated by natural dangers such as lava flows, radiation clouds or extremely dangerous wildlife. You had to be keen and alert to survive, but had little time for social niceties. You gain the Perception affinity, but take a -1 penalty on all social interaction rolls.

2. Childhood
Everyone has formative experiences that influence their lives well into adulthood, and may even provide skills or knowledge that others do not necessarily have.

Roll Experience Modifier
1 Delinquent +2 to Subterfuge skill
2 Refugee You gain Wilderness Survival affinity
3 Hunted You gain the Stealth affinity
4 Swept into Adventure You can add +1 to any attribute
5 Military School You gain a +1 to Hit with either firearms or radium weapons (choose one)
6 Psionic Academy You gain a +2 to your Psionics skill

3. First Adventure
You aren't out here among the stars as a wet-behind-the-ears farmboy.  Something brought you here, and as a result, your experiences have taught you something.

Roll Event Benefit
1 Kidnapped by slavers+2 to Subterfuge skill
2 Stowed away on a ship You gain Stealth affinity
3 Home planet destroyed You gain a +2 bonus to any mind-affecting condition
4 Space battle with piratesYou gain the Vehicle Piloting affinity
5 Marooned on an abandoned planet You gain +1 Hit Point per level
6 Solved a murder mystery You gain the Investigation affinity

4. Allies
You aren't an island in the stars unto yourself.  Scattered throughout known space, you have contacts, friends, family, associates, old flames, etc. that can be called on in a pinch to provide modest assistance.  Usually, doing so costs Heroism points, with the GM determining how likely your ally is to be available to help you; if it's relatively likely, only 1, if not, up to 3 Heroism points to call in a favor.

This is rarely the kind of favor that can be called in in tense situations or combat, with the exception of the loyal robot.

Roll Ally Description Benefit
1 Hot Shot Pilot You know a skilled pilot who is both reckless and brave You can call on the aid of a pilot one level higher than you (max 7th).
2 Loyal Robot You own a robot who is loyal to you You own a 1st level Robot. This robot does not advance in levels like a PC, but will advance when you hit 4th level, and will always remain 2 levels behind you.
3 Street Rat You have spent considerable time in the criminal underworld, and know how to get the attention of the eyes and ears of local criminals. You can automatically find and identify (in broad strokes) what kind of criminal activity is common on a planet, and find out how to get into contact with criminals if you desire to.
4 Old Wizard A wise and weary retired psionic knight or warlock (any order, or none at all as you choose) looks on you with kind eyes, occasionally offering you his wisdom and experience. A retired Psionic Knight or Warlock of 7th level serves as your instructor of ally, but you must keep his location a secret.
5 Disgruntled Mercenary A grizzled old mercenary or pirate can sometimes be called on for aid in matters of tactics or combat. You can call on the aid of an old warrior one level higher than you (max 7th).
6 Corporate Benefactor You have a mysterious corporate benefactor with deep pockets and mysterious motives. You can call on the aid of your benefactor once per level. If successful, you receive resources up to 10,000 credits worth, but will owe your mysterious benefactor a serious favor (each time utilized) that he will call in eventually.

5. Nemesis
Sadly, your experiences have not just granted you friends and allies, but have also brought you to the attention of forces that either you have impeded, irked, or angered, who will turn up from time to time to thwart you in turn or destroy you if he can.  It is up to the GM to utilize these nemeses, although when he does, he should grant the player who's nemesis has arrived a bonus Heroism point for the session.

Roll Nemesis Details
1 Mercenary Captain You are hunted by a veteran mercenary captain and the soldiers of his company.
2 Jilted Lover An old flame that you left is out for revenge.
3 Intelligence Commander A spy-lord or criminal mastermind believes you know too much about his activities and is out to silence you forever.
4 Hostile Alien Hunter A dangerous non-human hunter of some kind has decided he wants you as a trophy or captive.
5 Insane A.I. You have come into contact with a fault Artificial Intelligence that now hunts you and wishes you dissect you. He may have other robotic "henchmen" or allies to aid in his hunt.
6 Psionic Knight A dark and terrible psionic knight is searching known space for you.

6. Critical Event
Everyone is the sum total of their experiences, but some experiences loom much larger and more important in our past than others.  These events often grant benefits that are rather significant, and your GM will need to make specific note of them and account for them in his adventure design.

Roll Critical Event Details
1 Won a ship in a game of chance You own a used but serviceable Large sized starship.
2 Suffered a critical injury, rebuild with cybernetic implantsYou start with up to 10,000 credits worth of cybernetic equipment for free.
3 Located a previously undiscovered hideout, known only to you You now have a secret base that no one else knows about, such as an abandoned space station or undiscovered and uncharted planet.
4 According to an alien mystic, you have a great destiny You gain two extra Heroism points every session.
5 You saved the life of an alien who now serves as your bodyguard You have the loyal service of a physically powerful alien who is one level lower than you (if you are first level, he is too, but will not advance to second until you advance to third.) He cannot be made to betray through any mundane means.
6 You died! Roll a new character! You suffered a horrible tragedy somewhere along the way and are dead. Roll up a new character.

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