Monday, August 31, 2020

The Curtain Gets Really Pulled Back

 Art by Masterpiece Lost 

By Christopher Robin Negelein

Welcome, my peeps.

In this business things happen and you have to be adaptive and sometimes step back and reconsider your options -- and your pride.

I’m hoping that Shattered Reaches would be a cool, fresh Fantasy/Weird Western mash up that would “make it.” It’s an idea that has been tried in the past, but not with much staying power. (Deadlands is just straight up Weird West and if you don’t see the difference, you can buy me a meal and a cider and I’ll be happy to explain.)

But I’ve found, the “stealth” Western approach is a hard sell in a world of 140 characters, especially as my AAE teammates are showing more support for me to fully develop a setting, especially for an old fiction worship piece of mine that a fantastical steampunk puppet-state Poland that comes with mouse-kin prodigies as a racial option. (No, I don’t do drugs to come up with this level of imagination. And, yes, it still sounds cool - also more food and booze will have me chatting about the fertile RPG ground of historical Poland being a pawn between three superpowers.)

But as I tried to review why Shattered Reaches would be better, I remembered my first original home Cypher setting, Solar Sails. A place where the fantasy “Urth” was mysteriously blown up and now life clung to these floating space islands called bastions and trade was sailing ships among the stars. 

The reactions to mentioning high concept was much quicker than any for Shattered Reaches. Even better, Shattered Reaches could even fit into this larger concept as a new planet or as inspiration for things we need in a new setting.

And like that, things have pivoted. 

Still tentatively called Solar Sails, we’ll see how things go as we ramp up.

First, though, we need to find a personal touch stones for the theme and direction of the game. Because even if things change, having a direction will keep your ideas flowing much more than a blank page. 

For the Shattered Reaches, I had Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country to start the ground rules. The road is not so clear here, so some reading may be in play such as The Enceladus Crisis (Martinez) or the Death Gate Cycle (Hickman and Weis). 

Off the top of my head ship-based rpgs are pulled in three different directions; Merchant, Master & Commander (M&C) and Swashbuckler. The best balance all three to some degree.

Merchant. This genre focuses on the economics of the game. Making profit and spending profit on more fun ways to make even more profit. It complements the other two well, providing resources to enhance the military needs of M&C (and there’s a small leap from buying more cannons to protect your ship to buying cannons so you can hunt other ships.) And Merchants can assist Swashbuckling in the money and prestige and the motivations to acquire more of the same. There’s also fodder for politics that can feed a Swashbuckling game.

Master & Commander. A military campaign where eventually the crew will have a fleet of their own and strategy is the name of the game. The subtext of the game is puzzle solving and solution finding to such questions as “What sort of trouble can I make with a flying boat,” with a critical eye. While some of those answers, like “Flying boats make great springboard onto the second story of a castle,” others are more like, “Why don't we fly out of arrow range and just drop rocks on every problem we have?” 

The real problem to that question is “Why hadn’t someone already thought of that,” barring that we have 21 Century minds judging things out of historical context. Remember kids, the parachute is mandatory and mustard gas is illegal nowadays, quite the opposite of their uses in World War I.

So in a setting that is already way out there, M&C might be downplayed quite a bit or perhaps trotted out for cool set pieces. 

Swashbuckling. Action! Adventure! Politics and pulpy drama all aim to tell a story that supports the rule of cool and one-liners. It’s a place where our collective unconscious mashes up Zorro, Pirates of the Caribbean and Dark Waters.  For most players, this is most familiar flavor of genre. 

Personal preference? I’d like to focus on Swashing first, followed by merchandise and then use M&C for special encounters. We’ll see if it stays that way.

But how does that translate into actual building blocks? Good question.

Let’s roll back to the whole tossing rocks on castles, something we not a fan of in a more swashbuckling game. That means keeping ships in arrow and spell ranges. One could set an arbitrary ceiling where the ships can’t go any higher, which from a “mental eye” viewpoint of having more sky above for a ship that travels the stars.

So then, lower the sky, which is easier than you think.

Honestly, in many space opera movies, your “planets” are little more than one meta-island with the same ecology and two, maybe three locations. Effectively no different, really. In the USA, we have states that have two or more biomes than that.

So this the bastions fit perfectly in this paradigm. They already are obviously artificial in some fashion. Are they held up by magical plinth or science fantasy plates? That’s more for later, but to add to our flavor of game it’s not that much of a stretch to say the byproduct of this effect is hurricane winds that cocoon the land except for one wind “tunnel” that offers access to the port. So now you can see how one lays down the girders for the suspension bridge of disbelief. This not only caps the flight ceiling but also tamps down on indiscriminate landings, so bonus game designer achievement unlocked!

All of this creates your lone island floating in space, looking like a small seed in the black vastness until a distant speck shoots closer. It grows bigger as its outline sprouts details of being unmistakably an approaching ship.

But that’s for another time. 

Go, Ganza! Go. 

 I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical. 

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Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein


I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that pledge button.

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