Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Destruction of Vulcan

Some good came from the Destruction of Vulcan. A Unification of sorts occurred as some of the 10,000 space borne Vulcan survivors settled on worlds in the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Romulans proposed it; many of the Vulcans agreed; the Federation stood by and watched. A cross border trade emerged, with Vulcans as the intermediaries. This in time led to numerous intelligence breakthoughs for the Federation.

Some Vulcans even went to Romulus itself. It was an unpleasant surprise when the U.S.S. Intrepid and its almost entirely Vulcan crew defected to the Romulans. Negotiations dragged on for months, but the Federation never got that ship back. The few human crew were returned after months of subspace negotiations.

The Destruction of Vulcan freed many Vulcans from the oppressive Yoke of Logic, as some later called the old ways. The psychic pressure of billions of Vulcans sublimating their base drives was suddenly gone. Many Vulcans moderated their approach to logic; Vulcans were seen to smile again.  Pon farr disappeared, and Vulcan romantic patterns and mating habits soon harmonized with their more passionate Romulan brethren.

Vulcans of the Diaspora pursued many different ways of life. Some were traditional: teacher, trader, philosopher, scientist, monk. Some were new: prophet, courtesan, mercenary, smuggler, spy. A few forged the fearsome Trade Alliance with the Ferengi.

In the decades to come, no one ever took a Vulcan for granted again.

Here is a rendering of Sovak, a Vulcan smuggler-spy, 
using the current draft of FATE Core.

SOVAK, Vulcan smuggler-spy

High Concept 
  • I can get you anything you want
  • There's always extra room in my hold
The Phase Trio: Sovak was one of many Vulcans who sought new opportunities in the Romulan Neutral Zone. He gained a reputation for his ability to get anything for anyone, and soon both the Romulans and the Federation were trading with him - for both trade goods and secrets. A few bad deals made him a wanted man on both sides of the Neutral Zone. Fortunately he has friends like the human swindler Harvey Mudd, and the Romulan Subcommander Talina Shovaz to help him out of predicaments.
  • With friends like these
  • Know someone in the Tal Shiar?
  • Federation laws are notoriously lax
1 Great (+4): Contacting
2 Good (+3): Lore (Romulan Neutral Zone), Notice
3 Fair (+2): Deceit, Rapport, Resources
4 Average (+1): Drive (Starship), Empathy, Fighting, Shooting

  • My Own Ship (Resources skill) - Sovak owns a Mugato-class Free Trader.
  • The Weight of Reputation (Contacting skill) - Sovak is always ready with a well-placed counterthreat, such as to call down the Tal Shiar on someone who threatens him
  • Physical Stress: 1- and 2-point boxes
  • Mental Stress: 1- and 2-point boxes
Refresh/FATE Points: 2

FATE Core is copyright 2012 by Evil Hat Productions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Last Happy Vulcan

Remulek, or Romulus as the Terrans prefer to call him, was the first true Romulan. The Romulans see him as their all-father. They refer to him as The Last Happy Vulcan, because he escaped before the grey pall of logic descended over that red world and turned The Green Blood weak.

Remulek, his brother Rem'ez, and several hundred clan followers, commandeered a prototype starship belonging to one of Vulcan's city states.  They left their world behind precisely when it needed strong leaders who could forge peace and order out of war and chaos.  In a few short years, another leader would step forward to provide that leadership: Surak of Vulcan, father of the Awakening.

Remulek named his vessel the She-Wolf, because it would give birth to a new star-nation. He used one of the ship's experimental warp bottle torpedoes to take his followers on a one-way trip to a new world. In doing so, he and his brother founded the world of Romulus and set the stage for its future Star Empire.

Remulek's passions would drive the two brothers to greatness.

But only one of them would live long and prosper.

Here is a rendering of Remulek using the current draft of FATE Core.

REMULEK, Founder of the Romulan Star Empire

High Concept 
  • I have a great destiny
  • Ruled by passion
The Phase Trio: The flight from Vulcan and settlement of a new world brought with it conflicts from the old world. Remulek struggled with his brother for leadership of his followers. For a time after planetfall, Rem'ez took control of the clan. But with the help of clan-allies like Sevtar the Stealthy, and the Reman alien Am'rak the Mindful, Remulek overthrew his brother and cast him into the hell-world of Remus.
  • You can leave Vulcan behind...but not the civil war
  • Friends are better than brothers
  • The best allies come from hell
1 Great (+4): Rapport
2 Good (+3): Fighting, Will
3 Fair (+2): Deceit, Intimidation, Physique
4 Average (+1): Contacting, Lore, Notice, Shooting

  • Popular (Rapport skill)
  • Physical Stress: 1-, 2-, and 3-point boxes
  • Mental Stress: 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-point boxes
Refresh/FATE Points: 3

FATE Core is copyright 2012 by Evil Hat Productions.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

FATE Core Has Issues (but not in the way you think...)

Plasma Jets From Radio Galaxy Hercules A

I have read about half of the draft FATE Core rules now, and for the most part really like what I see. The FATE system has been simplified in ways that are helpful. Some of these reductions in complexity - such as reducing the number of PC aspects to 5, and describing a High Concept and Trouble aspect before moving to the collaborative phase of creating a triplet of shared-story aspects - can easily be ported over to other games like Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures.

I also like the very simple starting point of collaborative game/campaign design as presented in FATE Core. This precedes PC generation. You engage players in creating game/campaign aspects by engaging them in specifying a Current Issue and an Impending Issue for the game/campaign.

In this way, the PCs are telling you the kind of game they'd like to play. This can also be easily integrated with Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures' campaign-building systems.

In our recent Diaspora campaign, the Current Issue might have been written up as:
  •  The newly unified planet Juche receives the gift of an alien starship, and seeks to find its place in the Cobweb Cluster 
The Impending Issue might be:
  • The aliens are themselves divided, and the ship is stolen property 
Each of these then becomes a game/campaign aspect with further implications for play. The two issues also present "ways into the game" - ideas that help players come up with their own PCs aspects - and something new players often struggle with when they create characters. 

In Diaspora, this Issues step could take place right after Cluster generation, and right before PC generation. 

I can also think of a way to use this in Starblazer Adventures. If a GM is going to use the Collaborative Campaign Creation rules (Chapter 23) in Starblazer Adventures (rules which focus on creating and specifying some details of a sector of space), you could do a sequence like this:
  • Players/GM collaborate to create the sector (using the rules in Chapter 23)
  • Players/GM collaborate to create a Current Issue and an Impending Issue for the sector that could involve the PCs
  • Players create the PCs, developing PC aspects that inspired by the Issues where that sounds fun and makes sense
  • The GM then creates Plot Stress tracks tied to the Sector, the Issues, and the PCs (Chapter 24)
This could be a LOT of fun!  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FATE Library: Starblazer Adventures

Anubian Ambassador Conniption

This is the third post in our FATE Library series, in which I am looking at the FATE RPGs that I own, have read, and have used. The first post in the series was a review of Spirit of the Century. The second was a review of Diaspora.

Today, we are taking a look at Starblazer Adventures, a massive, lavishly illustrated tome of FATE-inspired rock and roll space opera.

(You can download a free 40 page preview of the game here.)

First, my rating system:
  • Book Condition? My copy is in excellent shape. It is a huge, very solid hardcover. The binding is  intact after being roughly 3.5 years in my possession. Slight corner rubs. Best of all, it did not kill the Anubian Ambassador when it slid onto her sleeping form. However, it certainly did get her attention!
  • Actually Read? Well, any tome that has 629 pages of text is going to be read-as-needed, rather than read-through from cover-to-cover. At least in my house. I have read A LOT of the book (it has 34 chapters and 6 appendices), but I am always discovering new worlds within; there is always more of Starblazer to read and learn. I am most familiar with the sections on character generation, careers, skills, stunts, equipment and gadgets, aliens and mutants, robots and vehicles, and starship design. Practically every time I use the book, I  also consult the Basic Scaling chapter, which is only one page of text, but an essential reference for this implementation of the FATE Fractal.
  • Ever Played? I have used Starblazer Adventures to run Fading Suns, and am currently using it to playtest my forthcoming generation ships supplement for Modiphius Entertainment, which is called Project Generations. I also use Starblazer Adventures for the FATE SF posts tagged with the Label "SBA". Many of these are for a sandbox space opera setting called "the Empire".
  • Science Fiction? It was the first FATE science fiction roleplaying game. The game's subtitle is The Rock and Roll Space Opera Adventure Game. The game takes its title not from the anime "Starblazers" (although, believe me, you could use Starblazer Adventures to run adventures in "Starblazers") but from the British comics magazine Starblazer - Science Fiction Adventure in Pictures published by DC Thomson & Co., Ltd., from 1979-1991. Grant Morrison wrote for Starblazer, which is enough for me!  The interior art is most definitely 70s-SFnal; it is all from the "Starblazer" comics and is certain to hit the sweet spot for fans of art in the same vein as Chris Foss and Terran Trade Authority books. So, a game based on SF comics of the late rock and roll era, as well as a rock and roll game in the sense that it is a perfect toolkit for running fast-paced sandbox space opera inspired by Perry Rhodan, original Star Trek, Star Wars, either Battlestar Galactica series, Babylon 5, or even Firefly. Hell. Planet of the Apes. Kamandi. Forbidden Planet. Planet of Vampires. Asimov, Heinlein, Frank Herbert's Dune - mix and match or anything of your own design. Rock and roll.
Some intellectual projects are very tightly focused on the exploration of the implications of a few key discoveries; this is what Diaspora is like. Other intellectual projects explode in every direction, exploring ever expanding chains of discoveries in multiple directions simultaneously; this is what Chris Birch and Stuart Newman's Starblazer Adventures is like. This was the first FATE game to explore the full potential of FATE for scalability at different levels. The FATE fractal they discovered can model anything from a human to a vehicle to a starship to a galactic empire to a galaxy.

That makes reviewing Starblazer Adventures a little bit like trying to review of the Bible. "In the beginning..." gets you started, but after that, there are so many different books and chapters, and numerous directions that one might explore.

But let's start at the beginning. 

Starblazer Adventures uses 1D6-1D6 as its core dice mechanic. It was the first implementation of FATE to do so. The resulting distribution for 1D6-1D6 extends one number higher and lower than the distribution for 4DF, and the amplitude of the curve isn't quite as high at and around zero. It's a bit swingier than 4DF but feels fine in play.

On to creation.

Characters in Starblazer Adventures are created in collaborative Aspect-generating phases similar to those in Spirit of the Century (SOTC). PCs have 10 Aspects. There are 32 skills, most of which are closely based on SOTC. There are a few new skills, including Starship Engineering, Starship Gunnery, Starship Pilot, and Starship Systems. However, there are also Alien/Mutant skills, and Psionic skills which expands the potential skills list by another 15. Dozens of Stunts fall under the specific "normal" skills. There are also Stunts associated with Alien/Mutant skills and Psionic skills, as well as special Stunts that are accessible for Aliens/Mutant characters based on novel uses of 8 normal skills. 

Players can create characters belonging to ten different science fictional careers ranging from Diplomat to Explorer to Pirate/Rebel to Sci-Tech. Each career also has unique Stunts that are outside the normal Skills-based Stunt menu. No one has to create PCs using the Career Types, however. You can create PCs completely without using them. Career Types just add a little more specialization and flavor Skill- and Stunt-wise, and provide a bit more directionality and inspiration for someone trying to select Aspects for their PC.

Characters have two stress tracks, one for physical Stress and one for Composure Stress. Weapons add to the shifts you do in a successful hit, while armor reduces hits and in some cases takes Consequences. 

As I mentioned before, there are rules for creating Aliens and Mutants, as well as robots, which are essentially only another variation in character type. Here is one of my creations, the Witchfinder-class Android. The book gives you a huge number of descriptions and stats for all sorts of creepy space overlords, aliens, mutants, monsters, robots, etc. from the Starblazer comics. You can use these out-of-the-box, or use them as benchmarks for creating your own aliens, robots, and creatures.

Starships have Aspects, Skills, Stunts, and Stress Tracks that are structured almost identically to those for characters. This is the FATE Fractal at work. There are 24 templates for space vehicles ranging from Scale 2 Sensor Probes and Scale 3 Fighters, all the way up to Scale 6 Fleet Carriers and Scale 7 Orbital Military Bases. There are rules for building your own space vehicles. I built the Flying Fist of Judah Heavy Fighter in about 15 minutes or so. The space combat rules give any player with a relevant starship skill a chance to do something interesting during space combat.

Additional variations on this theme of the "build X like you would a character" are found in the rules for statting up creatures, organizations (everything from space-chivalric orders to vast galactic empires), and planets. You can play out conflicts between different organizations and groups, just as you can with the Company rules in Greg Stolze's REIGN.

There is a very fun planet/system generator. Here is an example of the Prison Planet that I created using that tool. The book describes numerous worlds from the Starblazer comics.

There are rules for collaborative setting generation. They are more focused on creating distinct setting-zones in a solar system or in a larger region of space - places that the PCs can help develop bring to life by creating interesting names and Aspects for those parts of the map. These rules aren't as developed and tightly axiom-driven as Diaspora's Cluster generation system, but they point in directions that are equally interesting, especially for the creation of sandbox space opera settings.

Some of the ideas presented in the game haven't even been used elsewhere in FATE, such as the ideas of Campaign, Group, and Character Plot stress: "Essentially each one is a stress track that is affected by player character failures, specific player actions and trying to escape death. As the stress damage builds up various "plot events" happen which lead to change in the characters' lives or experiences" (p.387).

For me it's not a question of Starblazer Adventures OR Diaspora OR Bulldogs!  Each one is a unique implementation of FATE and they each fill a certain niche in SF gaming. 

Starblazer Adventures fills the niche of being FATE's space opera sandbox toolkit. It blows the niche wide-open into a swirling galactic vortex. So avoid the Space Sargasso! Watch out for THAT android! And get your blaster ready! There's more to come for Starblazer Adventures

Monday, December 17, 2012

Project Generations - More Details On The Publication

Over the weekend, the product page went live for Project Generations, my forthcoming FATE-based supplement on generation ships for Modiphius Entertainment.

It has a lot more details on the contents of the publication!

Once we iron out a few more details, Modiphius Entertainment should be putting up timeline information for the release as well.

Stay tuned to FATE SF this week! On Wednesday, we'll post our FATE Library review of Starblazer Adventures!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Project Generations

Project Generations is the working title for the generation ships supplement I am writing for Modiphius Entertainment

I have been wanting to do a generation ships RPG for two decades. Back in the mid-90s I took my first shot at it creating a space ark RPG called NOAH. Now after all these years I am finishing the writing for a generation ships supplement using my favorite game system, FATE!

 My love of space arks began as a result of Fall road trips to New England with my parents. I read my first two science fiction novels in the back of my Dad's Galaxie 500 on those trips: James Blish's Spock Must Die! and Robert A. Heinlein's Orphans of the Stars. The later novel is perhaps the classical generation ship story, with its humans and mutants struggling to survive on an out-of-control generation ship.

And I wasn't alone in claiming Heinlein as an influence. His book almost certainly influenced Jim Ward's classic generation ship RPG, Metamorphosis Alpha.

The Starlost was another major influence in my youth. Although the series was much derided by Harlan Ellison, who wrote the original screenplay and served as the science adviser to the show, the design of the Earthship Ark was elegant and beautiful.

I lived on that ship in the early 1970s.

So why Modiphius? That's the new gaming company led by Chris Birch, the lead author of the first FATE SF RPG, Starblazer Adventure! They have already made a big splash in roleplaying with the release of Sarah Newton's Zero Point adventures for Modiphius' WW II Call of Cthulhu series Achtung! Cthulhu. 

Project Generations is the first in a series of FATE-based SF products that we are planning.Whether you want to create generation ships, want off the shelf examples, or are looking for a scenario to run set on a space ark, we will have you covered.

The draft is currently dual statted for Starblazer Adventures and Diaspora, and makes the two game systems work together in some very interesting ways! Once I complete my current draft of the manuscript, I am going to go back in and do stats and conversion notes for Bulldogs! as well! There will be some particularly fun and interesting implications for the scenario included with the project for players of Bulldogs!

The most important journey for generations is about to begin!

Be sure to come aboard when we launch!

The manuscript is 90% completed, and I hope to wrap most things up this weekend. Stay tuned for more details on this exciting project!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

SHADO 2 Mobile

SHADO 2 Mobile Dinky toy
Photo c. 2012 by John Everett Till

Moonbase Central's post today on the SHADO Mobile 2 Dinky toy inspired me to do another Starblazer Adventures post. (Mine is green wheels and black treads, guys!) And that's the Starblazer Adventures storyteller's screen you see in the background of my photos!

The SHADO 2 Mobile was an armored ATV used by the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization (SHADO). There were different models of the vehicle used by SHADO to intercept UFOs that had breached Earth's Moon-based and airborne defenses. This version of the vehicle could be quickly deployed in an area near a UFO landing/close encounter site to scout for the alien vehicle and destroy it.

This SHADO 2 is armed with a missile launcher that is hidden under a rotating roof hatch. Below you can see the SHADO 2 Mobile's missile and launch rack deployed.

SHADO 2 Mobile: Missile Deployed!
Photo c. 2012 by John Everett Till

The vehicle has a machine gun over the driver's compartment. I am also making the assumption that the vehicle is amphibious - it can operate submerged for short periods of time, and cross streams and small bodies of water - as long as the treads have traction on a submerged surface such as a creek bottom.


Armored Missile ATV

Scale: Medium (2) Assault Platform
Speed: Fair (+2)
Structural Stress: 5
Systems Stress: 5
Fate Points/Refresh: 7

  • Not every movie studio has these!
  • Missile launcher ready!
  • Earth's last line of defense
  • 1 Good (+3): Armor  
  • 2 Fair (+2): Manoeuvre, Projectile Weapons (Missiles)*
  • 3 Average (+1): Projectile Weapons (Machine Guns), Troop Carrier Facilities**, Ship Systems
  • Guided Missiles - Projectile Weapon skill (p.328)
  • Anti-Fighter Barrage - Projectile Weapon skill (p.328)
  • Amphibious - Manoeuvre skill (NEW STUNT) - Vehicle may perform on land or in water.

*Vehicle has Out-of-Ammo temporary aspect after firing two missiles

**A crew of two in the driver and passenger seat, and up to 10 soldiers in back.

Monday, December 10, 2012

FATE Library: Diaspora

"Two Diasporas" photo c. 2012 by John Everett Till
This is the second post in my FATE Library series, in which I discuss the FATE RPGs in my personal library and what I have done with them. The first post was on Spirit of the Century.

Today we are looking at Diaspora.

First, my rating system:
  • Book Condition? Dog-eared cover, lamination starting to peel, spine very much intact, thoroughly page-flagged. I also have a PDF which is in perfect condition.
  • Actually Read? Numerous times.
  • Ever Played? Held the first Diaspora game in a public venue in MN - a six hour marathon in fact! I have run a campaign (the longest I have ever run, in fact) as well as a one-shot adaptation of  Hereticwerks' Rogue Space scenario: Quick Score on Xudriss II at The Source Comics and Games. Never a player. I am also using Diaspora for my FATE SF-specific blog posts for Sector I-5 of the Kepler 22-B collaborative world-building project (more on the project here).
  • Science Fiction? The game's subtitle is "Hard science fiction role-playing with fate." It manages that in refreshing, player and GM-empowering ways, dropping the math-kludge of many Hard SF games and jettisoning the libertarian baggage that the Hard SF field has been burdened with for decades. Diaspora was the second FATE-based SF game. (The first, Starblazer Adventures, will be the subject of my FATE Library post next week. That will be followed by its sister game, Legends of Anglerre, one week later.) 

This is a 4DF version of FATE. 

Characters start as very competent people. Their apex skill on the skill pyramid is +5, which is higher than the skill level of starting Heroic characters in Starblazer Adventures. There are 36 skills to choose from, and these skills are highly optimized for science fiction settings [i.e., Aircraft, Archaeology, Brokerage, EVA, MicroG (combat), and Navigation (space)] to name a few. There is differentiation of skill types and a specific subset of skills with the marker (space), which are used to operate spaceships. 

A very important aspect of skills is that your apex skill is the only one you may use to make a declaration. I like this; its a very elegant and simple way to create characters with a clear differentiation in specialties.

The game takes a very minimalist approach to Stunts, which operate by means of simple axioms such as military-grade versions of skills (for example enabling access to non-civilian weapons), skill substitution (for instance, using one skill in place of another in specific circumstances), or have a thing (access to special equipment, resources, technology), alter a track (extend or change the functionality of a stress track), or free form (in which case the player negotiates with the GM/table for a specific stunt that they create (this creates a lot of room for creating special powers and abilities).

There are three stress tracks: health, composure, and wealth. The latter comes in very handy if you want to run a game in which the PCs are engaging in commerce, and/or contributing to the maintenance costs of operating a space ship.

PCs have 10 Aspects, which are generated in a collaborative process with five phases running from Growing Up to On Your Own.

But the real heart of Diaspora is its cluster generation system. Diaspora comes out of the box with an elegant sub-system which allows players to create the setting in which they will play. The setting is called a cluster, and clusters typically consist of 5-6 solar systems that connect to each other by means of slipknot (essentially spatial discontinuities or jump points). 

The number of connections any given system has to the other systems in the cluster is determined randomly. Systems can be relatively connection poor (a link to one other system) or connection rich (with slipknot to multiple systems). This helps produce the physical relationships between systems that give rise to a range of political and economic scenarios. 

But these scenarios are far more than spatial, which becomes evident once the ratings for Technology, Environment, and Resources for each system are determined. Each of these three ratings range from -4 to +4. For example, the lowest rating for Technology is T-4 which is stone age levels of technology. The high end of the scale is T+4 which is described as on the verge of collapse. At T+4 a system is one the verge of one or more technological singularities which are both wonderful and terrifying. Disapora's view of the singularity is that it is often a precipice; civilizations often reach this point and unravel, implode, collapse. You need at least T+2 to have slipstream use (i.e., interstellar FTL travel). But be careful how high you reach...

The Environment and Resource scales operate similarly to Technology. Together, they create three parameters for a system. Of course, the very same ratings might be interpreted differently by two different people. This is where the table comes in. Each player interprets one system's ratings, specifying three Aspects and a brief description for one system in the cluster. An entire setting takes shape as people take turns.

In the setting we created for my Diaspora campaign, it took roughly two 2-hour sessions to generate the setting. We had a group of extremely intelligent and creative players who had very strong but divergent ideas about how to interpret the T-E-R ratings. It took a while to reconcile these divergent viewpoints into something interesting, plausible, and coherent. We eventually got there. On the other hand, I ran Diaspora with a group of complete strangers at a convention and we came up with a fun, interesting sector in about 45 minutes.

Diaspora also has subsystems for space combat (I have tried and enjoyed them), social combat (haven't tried them and don't quite grok them yet), and platoon combat (haven't tried them yet). It was designed to be a complete hard SF RPG in one small package. It provides GMs and players with simple frameworks for building clusters, characters, space ships and more. These frameworks are simple but carry within them significant complexity and richness.  I think it succeeds admirably in all these goals. 

As long as you buy into a few core axioms - the nature of clusters and space travel; playing very competent but specialized PCs; sticking to hard SF by excluding things like artificial gravity, transporters, and technomagic; and the ethos of empowering the table to make decisions about the setting - Diaspora can take you very, very far.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Very Preliminary Thoughts On FATE Core

We have been watching with great interest this week as FATE Core's Kickstarter blasted through numerous goal levels. As of the time of this post, there have been 645 new posts on the FATE RPG listserv in the last seven days: this is a tribute to how much interest and enthusiasm there has been for the new FATE Core system since the working draft was released on Tuesday for Kickstarter donors.

I have had a very busy week, so I have not gotten very far into the PDF. I'm about 15-16 pages in so far.

So far, so good, I'd say. Simplifying definitions and rules, and expanding the potential applications of the existing FATE system seems to be at the heart of this initiative.

That's healthy.

Hopefully FATE Core will support conversion of existing FATE products and campaigns to the new system, for people who want to move in that direction. Hopefully it will also inspire lots of other kinds of conversions.

For example, who doesn't get excited about fun ideas like playing FATE Core in Glorantha?

I hope FATE Core also opens up a number of simple ways to revise how one can modify already-published implementations of FATE at the gaming table. I hope there will be examples, and practical how-to's for all this in the FATE Core Toolkit and/or Worlds expansions. That will increase the value of the new system, and further demonstrate its adaptability.

But modifying what you already use may or may not even be necessary, depending on your appetites and interests. Each of the existing FATE games is interesting, fun, and playable in its own right. They aren't invalidated by what comes next, however much FATE Core inspires some of us to adopt the new system in its entirety, or tinker with using it to modify the versions of FATE that we are already using.

On that note, we'll be continuing our series called FATE Library this week with a review of Diaspora.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Yonada: A Look Inside The Creators' Design

Yonada Cutaway by Rachel Kronick

Today, we continue our mini-series on the generation ship Yonada, the main character and core mystery of  the original Star Trek series episode "For The Word Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky." Thanks to the Inkscape skills of my friend Rachel Kronick, FATE SF is pleased to share a Star Trek first:

We have here first diagram of the internal structure of the ancient Fabrini world-ship Yonada.

I have watched the episode numerous times (most recently, twice, last Sunday), and for years have pondered the true structure of Yonada. Shortly into the episode, the Enterprise crew discuss the fact that the Yonadans don't realize that they are living on the inside of a hollow ball.

Early in the episode we also meet an old man. He enters the Enterprise crew's guest quarters shortly after they have descended into Yonada's interior. The old man claims that when he was young, he climbed the mountains on the inside of the asteroid, "touched the sky." But if he were climbing mountains on the inside wall of a hollow ball (i.e., if Yonada really were just a hollow ball), that would clearly be impossible.

He'd be reaching upwards and grasping air. He wouldn't be touching sky at all.

So instead of this simple hollow ball theory, I have come-up with an internal structure that is consistent with what we see in the episode: a more or less solid sphere that is inside a spherical shell.  

People live underground, just as they did in the latter days of life on Fabrina, before their sun went nova. The little orange nubs in the diagram are the orange cylindrical accessways from which  the Yonadans emerge to ambush the Enterprise crew.

Accessways, Closed

Accessways, Open

There are indeed mountains capable of reaching and touching the sky in our diagram. These mountains are columnar structural supports which connect the "planetary surface" of the inner sphere (where the ambush occurred) with the inner surface of the surrounding (i.e., outer) shell - the "sky" being on the inside surface of this outer shell, and therefore "touchable" from the mountains.

So, can really someone climb the mountains that are shown in our diagram, and "touch the sky"?  Yes, in theory. Particularly if the mountains are either slightly less steep/hourglass-shaped than they are depicted in this rendering - and/or if the mountains are sufficiently worked that they have rather secure handholds, or a spiral staircase to facilitate climbing.

The columnar mountains are also a possible point of origin for the missiles that attack the Enterprise at the very beginning of the episode. If some of the mountains are hollow, they may serve a dual purpose as missile silos/launch tubes AND structural supports. One or more hollow columns could also serve as tubes to channel reaction mass from the ship's nuclear reactor to the exterior thrusters. We know that these thrusters exist because one of them is under-performing when the Enterprise arrives on the scene. That's what takes Yonada off-course.

In this scenario, the Yonadans spend most of their lives living underground; that is, they live below the surface of the ship's inner shell.  There is plenty of room down there for living space, hydroponics, a gravity generator, the reactors, and everything else you need to have a functioning generation ship. I think this model works.

So here's the question of the day: Why did the old man climb the mountains in his youth? The surface of the world looks very desolate. This seems a strange thing to do, considering how comfortable the world is below the ship's inner shell. Who would want to be on the surface at all? Does Yonada have some version of the Vulcan rite of passage known as the Kahs-wan Ordeal? Punishment-by-temporary-exile for asking too many questions? Anchorites? Wandervogel? Something else?

There is a story here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

FATE Core Today!

Today is the first day of the two-month FATE Core Kickstarter. Pledge even $1 and you get the draft of the new FATE Core rules.

Monday, December 3, 2012

"For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky"

These are, of course, famous last words. Sometimes, discovering that you are on a generation ship can be bad news - for you! It certainly was for the old man who in his youth had touched the sky of the shellworld generation ship, Yonada. The computer known as the Oracle killed the old man for revealing what he had learned: that the world was hollow, and he had touched the sky.

The Oracle is the caretaker of Yonada. It has the ability to speak to the people of Yonada when they are present within its Oracle Chamber. Its face is the stone monolith with the gold star symbol (see the image, below). The Oracle also communicates the will of The Creators  through its intermediary, the High Priestess of The People, Natira.

Oracle Room

Of course, we all know now that if you push the small button in the center of the star image, the monolith moves forward and reveals an accessway into the control bridge of the space ark. But this is more than just an Oz-like Big Reveal (although it very much is that!) because the crew of the Enterprise really need to find the control room of the ship. One of its thrusters is firing under capacity and the ship is off course. In less than a year, Yonada will collide with a Federation world. The world ship is on a collision course with Daran V, which has 3.724 million inhabitants, according to Memory Alpha.

Yonada was built by the ancient Fabrini when they realized that their world's sun was about to go nova. The space ark has been in transit for 10,000 years. During the last years of that doomed planet Fabrina, the people lived underground to protect themselves from their unstable and doomed sun. It is perhaps not surprising then that the religious icon of the Oracle is a multi-limbed sunburst.
The Fabrini built a generation ship that enabled their people to continue with a semblance of life on their home world. The good news is that the underground existence of the Yonadans actually looks very comfortable and relatively abundant. However, there are many rules to observe here, most of which are framed as religious precepts.

The presence of swords on Yonada, and particularly in Natira's personal retinue, is less likely due to the existence of cultural, political, and resource conflicts, and most likely due to the fact that the High Priestess has many religious rules to enforce.

Natira, High Priestess of The People
For example, it is mentioned that only the High Priestess of The People gets to choose her mate. Presumably that is because the computer that runs Yonada, in its religious guise as the Oracle, uses advanced population genetics modeling to make reproductive/marriage decisions for everyone else on the ship. The star-shaped Instrument of Obedience can't directly enforce marriage decrees. That requires someone who will if necessary forcibly move a person from one set of quarters to another.

So we apparently have arranged marriage. But is this all bad?

Here in the West, we consider any infringement on individuals' personal freedom and autonomy to be nearly a metaphysical evil. But on a generation ship with a limited gene pool, this kind of reproductive control is likely to be a necessity. While it is a bit implausible that medical geniuses like the Fabrini did not develop technologies that would have mitigated population staleness and concentration of lethal genes, perhaps they felt that simpler systems such as religious edicts were easier to sustain over thousands of years. Who knows?

One thing we did figure out from watching the episode twice this past weekend: it is easy to imagine that many of the early High Priestesses knew they were indeed on a generation ship. By guess is that they lived in quarters on the upstairs level of the space ark's control room. (We see Spock walk up these stairs to manually adjust the controls of the malfunctioning thruster.)

The High Priestess could have appeared in the Oracle Chamber as either a holographic projection, or - even more mysteriously - physically appeared as if from nowhere in the Oracle Chamber just prior to times of worship and religious decree-making. Perhaps it was only later that the High Priestess came to live completely within the midst of The People. There could be quite a story here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Marine Encounter Table for Kepler 22-B

The inimitable John M. Stater has just posted our Marine Encounter Table for New Manila Bay, which is in Sector I-5 of the Kepler 22-B Strange New World collaborative world building project.

The SNW project is system neutral  but on my own blog I post Diaspora-specific supplementary content for Sector I-5.

You can join this project and claim your own Sector of the real Big Planet. The details for joining SNW are here.