Alan Watches Star Trek: The Next Generation

TNG_headSo, horrible geek confession, but I’ve never watched all any Star Trek other than The Original Series in series chronological order. Not to mention movies or other tie-in media.  But hey, The Next Generation is on Netflix, and I have always have a hankering for science fiction, especially Star Trek.

So I decided to chronicle my feeble attempts to dig into a show older than I am, and see what I get. I will try to watch a chunk and post them as large blog-posts with my thoughts and impressions, and see what we get from that. Expect several episodes a blog-post.

bdbd12a07a0e022966f4cdbb864076f12a632d36Season 1, Episode 1 & 2: “Encounter at Farpoint”

Wow. Long episode. I was not prepared for this. Also, maybe it’s cuz I’m 30+ years behind the airing date, but there feels like there’s very little character development. I mea, I see this Geordi La Forge character wearing a visor thingy, and it seems to let him see other wavelengths? Also, Data is an android (ok, sure, I knew that), but why is he here? Why does he exist on this ship? Who the crap built him?

Also, Q shows up and just randomly decides he wants to mess with The Enterprise. Ok. Omnipotent being is swayed by Picard. Yeeah.

Oh. SPACE JELLY FISH! That can poop out a space station. Why isn’t this two episodes? I mean it basically could be split down the middle into two. No problem. But hey, Q, shows up to book end the episode, so I guess it’s one!

Rating: Meh. This wasn’t mindblowingly good in any way. Maybe a 2 of 5 stars. Turns out it’s two episodes when I check the episode guide. Whoops. There’s almost no real character here, you just kinda…crash headlong into behavior and tropes. It’s…kinda confusing.

Season 1, Episode 3: “The Naked Now”

Ah! Here we go. This feels like an episode of classic Trek. Collapsing stars, trapped science vessels, boldly going. Frozen people. Hey! It’s the helmsman with the visor. He caught a frozen person.

Oh. People are being weird, and there is a tie in to the original series now. But the tie-in is really only fan service. Cute.

Oh, awkward security chief and android romance scene.

Hey! Young Wil Wheton got infected. He’s like some techno-genius, and made a…tractor beam? That seems REALLY dangerous to let someone have in a ship. Especially a kid. I mean, what if he starts shoving people into bulkheads or throwing them around the ship.

Oh. Everyone is gonna die unless Super-Android, and Genius Boy can save the day, which they do. With (gasp), a tractor beam. And everyone is really cured.

Rating: Wtf. I literally have no idea what I watched. We met the chief engineer, and I feel like there was actual character development, which was sorely needed, but I suspect all the character development I saw is…false? Everyone was forced to act out of character, and I just don’t know.

Season 1, Episode 4: “Code of Honor”

Alright. So, we fly to a planet where they base their culture on customs similar to ancient Africa. This culture has a needed vaccine, and after we all meet, the leader decides to kidnap the impressive Chief of Security for the Enterprise…who…gets kidnapped. Thus not being very impressive as the chief of security. Hm.

Oh, now the chief wants to marry Tasha Yar, for some political shenanigans. Fight with poisoned weapons, and stuff, death, and legal jiggery-pokery. Picard goes full Kirk and does generic Starfleet captain trickery.

Rating: I don’t know what to think, but this episode felt crazy racist. Maybe I missed something key? But hey, we get more La Forge and Data character development. Which is far more than everyone else is getting.

Summary

Well, I’m only four episodes in, and there’s…22 more to go. Ok, how did this show MAKE it? Was it simply carrying on through nostalgia? Was there a dearth or good television at the time? Also, what the crap? Is character development not a thing on 80s TV? Do they not believe in establishing dialogue?

Oh man. I actually find myself dreading the rest of the show (I mean, I’ve seen it before out of order, so I know there’s good there, but I have to get there).

Mercenary Mondays: Defining Schlock

Ooof.

What a weekend. Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out. It rocked. Launched a new campaign with my “once a month on Friday group”. We settled on Iron Kingdoms. You can expect a write-up about that shortly, but I suppose that’s not why you’re here is it.

You wanna here me talk about the Schlock RPG.

Alright, alright. I’ll get to it.

When you set out to make anything new, roleplaying game, film, story, anything, you need to have a plan of attack. A idea of where you’re going. When making a new RPG, we need to decide what direction and goals the game needs to have.

There’s a lot of options. Some games just provide frameworks of rules (Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS, etc.) These rules are designed to be used in whatever setting, story or style of play you want. Their feel is up to the players. Other games, especially licensed games, have a very specific set of goals. A Song of Ice and Fire RPG is a very different animal then a generic fantasy framework. A Star Wars RPG has a very different tone then a Firefly RPG and the rules are often times constructed around that conceit.

So, in approaching Schlock, we really have to narrow down what makes Schlock unique among scifi, and how that should define our rules/approach to the game.

So, I sat down, and reread Schlock from the very start to (at the time) the current point in the story, which was 2/3 of the way through the Broken Wind storyarc. Here is what I took from my reread of the Schlockiverse.

1.) Schlock is grounded. Bear with me as I explain my thinking through this. Schlock is grounded in it’s characters and their struggles. Any RPG of Schlock needs compelling characters for it.

2.) Schlock is hard-(ish) sci fi. Unlike Star Trek or even Star Wars, Schlock takes it’s internal science very seriously and is very grounded in real science. I used the “-ish” above because I am not an astrophysicist and I don’t always know.

3.) Schlock is violent. Whoa…major characters die regularly in Schlock, and they rarely get to come back. Alright, so character death needs to be a real concern, but we also need to include the advanced science stuff.

4.) Funny. Schlock is funny (clearly, it’s a comedy after-all). Whew, funny is always hard to translate into RPGs. However, Schlock’s comedy is more dry humor then slap-stick. (We’ll come back to this in a full post on it’s own. It deserves it.).

5.) It’s about a group of people. This is different. Schlock very much thrives on the idea that this is a company of soldiers working together, and any game based on Schlock will need to grab that feeling and tone.

 


 

Alright, so that’s core to the Schlock RPG. It needs to be hard grounded SciFi that’s driven around characters. Easy enough from a design perspective, but then the rule set needs to fit with the idea of complications, good storytelling, and fun.

But the thing that make Schlock unique above all else, is being in a mercenary company. So, the biggest focus in Schlock is that your character, isn’t the most important thing to the game. That’d be the mercenary company you work for. Because that’s who pays you to be a trigger-jockey.

So how do we approach such a thing? Well, first off, making your merc company is an integral part of character creation, and  the company gets it’s own character sheet. It defines a lot, and your characters are somewhat defined by the roles they fulfill for the mercenary company.

Your character does not level in this game so much as your mercenary character levels and gains more benefits to impart to your characters. With the advent of soldier-boosts, cybernetics, and more, sophont potential has pretty much been capped or rendered effectively moot. Your character does improve, but it’s not via experience points. Experience is spent to gain more advantages for your charter.

So far, it’s been a lot of fun, and the focus on the group mechanics of the charter have allowed us to mitigate some of the difficult parts of many roleplaying games. New character integration, splitting the party and more, becomes rolled into the charter rules and usage.

It really is an exciting new game to play, and I can not wait to get a chance to show you all!

 

 

Mercenary Mondays: Dice!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

As any good roleplayer knows, dice are the key element of any game. The chance of randomness, failure and success is delivered, and interpreted through dice. The Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game uses 3 six-sided dice (abbreviated as 3d6). All rolls in the game use this particular combination of dice.

3d6

The particular color combination you see in the picture to your right is important. The odd color out is what we call “the complication dice”. It’s the dice that tells you when bad things happen! I’m not going to go into mechanical specifics, because that’s not important here. The important part is why did we chose this particular dice mechanic of 3d6 over the many other options. To do so, let’s look at the various options we have.

One of the classic dice options is the single dice roll. The most common iteration of this dice mechanic is found in the d20 system used by Wizards of the Coast for their Dungeons and Dragons products. You also find it in several Eden Studios games, and various offshoots of the d20 system (Mutants and Masterminds, any of the OSR revival products). The benefit of the d20 (and by proxy any single dice roll system) system is two-fold. The first is that every time you roll the dice, you have a 5% chance of any given number out of the 20. This provides a wide ranging level of effects and results.

The second is much simpler. You always roll the same dice. Never having to count, or pool your dice is easy. Never underestimate simple.

However, the d20 system has some pretty hefty drawbacks. The first is the same as a benefit. You generate a large number of with ranging effects. It’s possible to hit that 20 result, do great, or hit the 1 result, and do awful. You can have the same chance every time. The second is the reliance on one particular dice. That can be problematic occassional.

The next option is the dice pool system. West End Games, White Wolf, and Shadowrun are all examples of a dice pool system. The general idea is that you generate the number of dice you roll (either in d6, d10s or others), and roll the entire pool of dice, attempting to achieve success through either a target number, or looking for a set amount of results. The dice pool system has a major benefit in that you have a strong amount of averages. Check out the graph below: 
dice pool

As you can see on the graph, the multiple dice mechanic causes a bellcurve. A bellcurve provides more reliable results, and a greater chance of average success which is something we wanted in Schlock from day one.

However, we aren’t using a dice pool, instead, we’re using a fixed roll system, where in every roll in the game uses 3d6. This gives us the bellcurve of the dice pool, with the simplicity of the d20 roll. Several other games have used similar systems (Hero, the ill-fated Fuzion system) and the average curve of success allows encounters, stats, and characters to be balanced and built the same from the ground up.

I hope that helps you understand why we used the particular mechanics we did, and what they bring to the game! As usual, any questions? Throw ’em at us below.

Mercenary Mondays: Trust!

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

This is what my Google Drive is currently showing. Yes, that’s probably what you think it is…or what the title says in the picture below.

ImageIsn’t that just super exciting? I wanted to start off with a discussion of the underlying principles of my design theories behind the Schlock Mercenary RPG. Here is a link to Jeff Grubb’s theory of “high/low trust” roleplaying systems. To paraphrase for the tl;dr crowd,

   
“The idea of a “High Trust” game involves that the players are setting down with a general idea of what their purpose is – both from the idea of genre and the rules themselves. Yeah, the mechanics might be cheesed, but that’s not the point – you have a big ball of examples and different ways to resolve them. The GM has to think on his feet to resolve issues, as do the players, and often the GM and the players are teaming up to figure out the best way to resolve a situation. 
At the opposite end are “Low Trust” games, which try to map out all the possibilities and set down specific rules for handling different situations neatly and effectively. 4E is pretty solid on that, but we can also add Champions from back in the day and GURPs as well.”
  

The idea of high trust and low trust RPGs are simple in theory. High trust = generally less rules. Low trust = generally more rules. That’s a gross oversimplification, but one that is necessary. Here is why. When Howard came to me and brought up the idea of doing the Schlock Mercenary RPG, I leapt at the chance. Not only did I get to work with a good friend and man I respect, but I get to create my own system inside an established universe? What more could I want?

Well, let me tell you. Things are not always as they seem, and quickly, I could see the daunting task I had accepted. Howard had crafted an extensive universe with a very specific feel. Humor through violence, satire, and wordplay was the order of the day, all against a massive space opera backdrop. Not to mention, he had a very specific mechanic designed around roleplaying and complications that can arise. So suddenly, I’m working in someone else’s sandbox and I have to play inside these rules they’ve set me. Hm. When you say it that way, it sounds much less appealing.

However, salvation is near at hand, and in the first conversation with Howard regarding the ideas for the rules, I pitched some changes to his ideas to help it fit the game better, and suddenly, we’re playing in the sandbox as a team. How does this relate to “high trust/low trust”? In a collaborative effort, you have to have a high trust team. A team with less rules, and more conversation to help guide the flow.

So here we are, about five months later, and the Schlock Mercenary RPG is well under way. We’ve had a public alpha test for charity. We’ve done about three months of alpha play ourselves at this point, and we’ve made some pretty serious progress.

But there’s struggles, and it all comes down to the core concept of the game. The issue becomes one of science fiction. By nature, scifi is a genre that is bound by it’s rules. Science is a real thing, full of fabulous actions, reactions, consequences and explorations. And by nature, one would assume, that a science fiction roleplaying game, would be one bound by rules. How does FTL work? Armor? Weapons? Cybernetics? Hacking? AIs? These are all real questions and theories that impact the world of science. How does one approach this? By nature, my first inclination was to begin working on a mighty tome of theory and science, to lend itself to marauding mercenaries. Alas, who would buy such a thing? Surely fans of the Schlockiverse would, but what about gamers? What were we going to do that was different to make our RPG better then anything before us.

Science fiction is too broad. It’s too varied. Star Wars. Star Trek. Farscape. BSG. Stargate. Just in those alone, you approach hundreds of theories, and ideas, and some of them are very strongly based in reality (some, not so much. Looking at you Star Trek).

If any of you have ever played the seminal scifi rpg Traveller you might understand my approach to the theory of the game. Traveller is a hard science fiction game. Science fiction can be either hard or soft. Hard SciFi is low trust. Full of rules, and math, and calculations. Soft SciFi is low trust. Star Wars (before all that midichlorins bull crap). Jedi and the Force work, simply because. Traveller has finite rules. You can only travel so far. You can only fly so fast. You even have a mortgage on your spaceship. You can only carry so much cargo, and fuel, and you need living space, and there’s actual percentage profit tables.

That’s not how we wanted to do it. This game is for players to tell the stories they want. So how do we set them up for that? Modularity (new word, made it up). There are lots of rules, and moving parts, but by keeping the base mechanic simple (3d6 + one number), and creating the rest of the game around the concept of a modular game, you can keep it as high or low trust as you want. Think of a lego house. The base rules of the game form the base (the large green platform you build on). The rules for races are one block you attack. The rules for starships are another block. So on and so forth until you built a house. And suddenly, all these modular rules become the full complete game. But you can take some parts out, and the house doesn’t fall apart. Same with the game. You don’t wanna do the starship rules? Great. Pull ’em out. They stand on their own anyways. Same with cybernetics. Any part of the game can be removed if the players and GM decide they want to modify it. Schlock veers towards the high trust end of the spectrum (especially in the complication mechanic), but we’re using the ruleset to cover all the major parts you’d expect from a space opera.

I’ll be attempting to do a weekly update regarding the Schlock Design process as we go through. The game is still in early alpha, and things are changing frequently, but hey, it’s always fun to see.