So, what I’ve been doing instead of blogging is cheating on my girlfriend with my ex.
I’ve been in an eighteen-month relationship with OD&D. It’s a pretty open relationship, but I’ve been led astray lately. During a trip back to my hometown, I bumped into my old Alternity game notes, and I can’t stop thinking about the game I haven’t thought about in four years.
I mean, it has some very obvious faults: it’s a mid-1990’s traditional role-playing game that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It keeps insisting that it’s not D&D in space–after Spelljammer, who can blame it for trying to avoid that reputation?–but all of the implementation strongly reinforces that misconception. (“You enter the Space-Dungeon and Giant Space-Spiders attack!”) But hey, I was a mess in the 1990’s too, so I’m not one to cast aspersions. Mainly what I’m curious about is to check the game out to see it for what it really is, and what it does well.
Broadly speaking Alternity’s about “being there.” It’s a universal mechanic, skill-system based game where all the skills have fiddly little pieces designed to interact with the fictional environment: “These characters are from another culture, so trying to haggle with them would be a 2-step penalty, except you know one of them pretty well which is a 1-step bonus, and you have several ranks in the appropriate Etiquette sub-skill, so I’m going to say that it all evens out. Go ahead and make your Bargain roll for the hyperdrive, no modifiers.” There’s a lot of attention to figuring out local planetary environments, along with rules for drowning and falling as well as rules for all kinds of jumping. (Those are links to different games.)
So I got to thinking about what kind of adventures would be interesting from this perspective, and before too long got wrapped up in describing a hard sci-fi colonization dystopia, wherein a nearby colonized world descends into chaos, and the players are on a humanitarian mission (of dubious integrity) to rebuild the place when ZAMMO! ADVENTURE OCCURS!
This led to a lot of hard work trying to figure out why you’d want to colonize another planet to begin with. And then I had to play around with some nifty 3-D rotating star maps and databases. And read stuff about atomic rocket ships and the habitable zone of the galaxy.
Once you get a planet, you’ve got to think about how to terraform it or (perhaps more plausibly) genetically engineer colonists to fit that environment. Alternity actually has decent-enough rules for genetic and cybernetic alterations to baseline humans, so it’s nice to create plausible mutants and cyber-soldiers.
And I tried to figure out, from the principle of mediocrity, how far away intelligent alien life must be from us (I’m guessing 2.6 out of every 100,000 star systems contain “intelligent” life.) And then worrying about the Fermi Paradox.
And obviously none of this shit is really very important, because it’s all about the Adventure and dealing as possible with the whole house of cards toppling down once the players arrive on the scene, which is where all the fun stuff really happens thanks to the verisimilitude and immersion-stuff.
But basically, for the last week or so I’ve been wallowing in all this science stuff and figuring out how to implement it in this silly old game. It’s kinda interesting but it’s also a huge headache: I’ve put just enough time into it to realize I still need to put in a lot more time, and the whole thing would play out in 4-6 hours anyway, and based on what I remember the game would be fun but not that much fun to justify the effort.
And then, when I’ve been doing this for about a week or so, Eric (who I haven’t told any of this to) says, “James, have you heard about Diaspora? It’s this brand new hard sci-fi game about renegade space colonies. It’s got a free SRD on the web. Shall we play sometime?”