LL and I kicked off our sci-fi Microscope game with the idea that we would be building a setting that we could explore in depth with a more traditional role-playing game system. Tonight we talked through some of the material we have created so far and how we might bring that content into an RPG setting.
As we played through the first four sessions (which you can read here, here, here, and here), creating the history of our setting with Microscope, we had a stack of Alternity books sitting beside our play area. Alternity is a generic sci-fi RPG published by TSR in 1998, prior to its merger with Wizards of the Coast. The game was innovative for its time and includes some interesting and playable mechanics. Though out of print it is still supported by an active fan community, headquartered at Alternityrpg.net. I’ve had the Alternity books sitting on my shelves for years but have never played the game, though I’ve wanted to do so for some time now. LL recently picked up a used set (in pristine condition, I might add) for a song. We both think the system might be a good match for our setting.
Characters in Alternity belong to one of several generic character professions (similar to classes in D20) that determine what skills they’re good at and how they progress as they gain experience. The basic professions can be used to build just about any normal character you’d expect to see in a sci-fi story: Combat Spec, Diplomat, Free Agent, and Tech Op.
The game also includes rules for integrating psionic powers, using a specialty profession called the Mindwalker and several “broad” and “specialty” skills devoted to psionic specialties. The psionic broad skills include Biokinesis, ESP, Telekinesis, and Telepathy. Each broad skill contains several speciality skills; e.g. ESP includes Clairaudience, Empathy, Navcognition, and several others. If you have a broad skill you can use its associated specialty skills at a default level, provided they don’t require training. A character with the ESP broad skill can use Empathy untrained but not Navcognition, for instance. If you also purchase a specialty skill you can use it more proficiently than the default level.
In our Microscope history we determined that certain humans gain psionic powers after travelling through jump space. We don’t know why, they just do. Alternity has a great way to implement that: any normal character (i.e. non-Mindwalker) can be declared a “talent” and purchase one psionic broad skill and two psionic specialty skills. They won’t be as adept at psionics as a Mindwalker, but they’ll have some ability with it. So, where do Mindwalkers fit in? Well, we’re pretty sure that humans won’t be able to be Mindwalkers until the Retreat era, when they have the opportunity to get together with other psis to train and study. We’re not sure yet if the TWSBG or amoth have any Mindwalkers.
We didn’t do any work on defining our setting’s three main species in Alternity. I think, however, that we might be able to file the serial numbers off of the T’sa and use them for TWSBG. As described in the Star*Drive campaign setting, they’re a pretty close match. No idea about the amoth at this point.
Alternity uses “Progress Levels” to denote a campaign setting’s predominant level of advancement: PL5 is the “Information Age”, PL6 adds fusion power and more advanced space exploration, PL7 adds more advanced power generation and gravitic manipulation (and FTL travel). The progression continues through to the indefinite PL10 “Far Future”. It seems likely that our setting is somewhere in PL7, perhaps with PL8 power (as defined in our Microscope Palette).
We’re not yet sure about technology in our setting, because we really haven’t delved deeply into technological specifics. We haven’t even really touched on things like medical technology, personal weapons, computer technology, and a host of other specialties that make an advanced civilization tick. Here’s what we *do* know about our setting’s technological level so far:
- Starship propulsion
- Slow STL: We assume that all of the major species can move around at reasonable non-relativistic velocities, but we don’t yet know any details about how they’re doing it, how fast they can go, etc.
- Fast STL: We know that the TWSBG had accomplished near-lightspeed space travel, through their use of the kind of generation ship that destroyed the amoth home-sphere. Humans may have used similar technologies to settle their first colonies. The amoth did not have, or did not employ this technology.
- FTL: Humans definitely had the ability to travel at some multiple of c, and used that ability to expand to colonies some distance from Earth. The TWSBG may also have this capability as well, though we have not seen this in our history yet.
- Jump: Humans and TWSBG both use natural jump points to travel instantaneously from system to system. The amoth have acquired this technology from the TWSBG. We don’t know how this works yet but we think:
- Jump points are naturally occurring weak points in space, leading to some sort of higher-order dimension that can be traversed by a starship that can “activate” the jump point. We are assuming that passage between jump points is bi-directional, though this hasn’t been firmly established by our history.
- There may be any number of jump points within a system. We don’t know if jump points can occur in deep space. We don’t know if it’s possible to tell where a jump point emerges without traveling through it.
- Starship weaponry
- We don’t know much about this topic at this point except that a fleet of light cruisers is well-armed enough to destroy a pretty large mega-structure (as the Omega Fleet did at the Retreat).
- We think FTL communications is impossible without psionics. That limitation would also seem to preclude FTL sensors.
And that’s about it, really. One of the reasons we didn’t play tonight was my growing-but-vaguely-formed fear of “overworking” the setting. After talking over how to bring it into Alternity, however, I realize that there’s an awful lot we don’t know yet. Looks like we need to play a few more sessions to go back in and explore some of these missing details. Interestingly, LL and I were loathe to speculate much about things we hadn’t specifically covered either in the history itself or the Palette. We could certainly just make stuff up…but it seems somehow more fun to discover it with Microscope.