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Archive => Indie Game Design => Topic started by: Dan R. Stevenson on February 11, 2006, 08:37:47 AM



Title: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: Dan R. Stevenson on February 11, 2006, 08:37:47 AM

I am working on rules for colony design for a science fiction game I am working on. I have set up prices on prefabricated buildings so the players know the cost of building a colony. What need is to come up with is random events that colonists would encounter on a new world.

I would also like to handle colony design like creating a character using archtypes such as mining colony, agricultural colony, manufacturing colony, colony hub, and military outpost. The colony would have life points that show if colony is thriving or on its way to becoming a futuristic ghost town. Colonies would have strengths and weaknesses for the players to add character and adventure seeds. So any suggestions would be very welcome.

Thanks,

Dan R. Stevenson


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: timopod on February 11, 2006, 09:06:45 AM
A good idea might be to look at what a real builder could run into here on earth. Theres always a variety of soil types, how the foundation will settle, maybe some environmental factors like marsh or flood zone or such. Make a list of things you can think of here on earth. You might have more then enough to work with then. Also try putting the word space in front of everything. So when you talk about a soil type you could say "space clay", which sounds better then just "clay" (only joking about that):P



Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: StefanDirkLahr on February 11, 2006, 09:09:09 AM
Cool Idea!

Now for a few questions:

Are you going for a Hard SF or a Social SF feel?

Do you intend for these colonies to be on planets much like earth - terraformed or otherwise - or are you also considering orbital and hostile environment habitats?

Have you looked into the real world history of colonization, such as the European colonies along the American & African seaboards, the Greek & Phoenician colonies in antiquity, and/or the American Westward Expansion? (Your mention of ghost towns makes me believe you are concentrating on the latter, which is good.)

Have you conjured up some examples from the Science Fiction literature? Robinson's Red Mars trilogy is probably a great example.

How does the game design look?
It seems you have a solid equipment list with all the relevant info for the players - you can actually think of those as "item cards" - and now you're working on putting together a deck of "event cards". We would probably have to know how you intend to use these event cards before we can really help.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: Dan R. Stevenson on February 11, 2006, 09:40:08 AM
Are you going for a Hard SF or a Social SF feel?

More of a sci-fiction fantasy setting. Colony design is an option the characters can run with.

Do you intend for these colonies to be on planets much like earth - terraformed or otherwise - or are you also considering orbital and hostile environment habitats?

There will be diffrent for bonuses for barren, Gaia, Toxic, ocean environment, near orbit belt miner colonies, partially terraformed, and newly terraformed.

Have you looked into the real world history of colonization, such as the European colonies along the American & African seaboards, the Greek & Phoenician colonies in antiquity, and/or the American Westward Expansion? (Your mention of ghost towns makes me believe you are concentrating on the latter, which is good.)

I would like to think of the colonizing of alien worlds as being like the westward expansion of the US with governments saying don't colonize worlds in other aliens boarders but doing nothing to stop the colonists from doing so. Just how the US government told its citizens to stay out of indian territory but did nothing to prevent them from setting up communities. I would also like to have relgious groups like the Mormons setting up their own little colonies tring to avoid their parent world's governmental control.

It seems you have a solid equipment list with all the relevant info for the players - you can actually think of those as "item cards" - and now you're working on putting together a deck of "event cards". We would probably have to know how you intend to use these event cards before we can really help.

Events could add or subtract from the colonies life points. Events will draw in new colonists or send them fleeing from the colony.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: StefanDirkLahr on February 11, 2006, 10:13:47 AM
k, some more questions:

I take it the players are playing the role of colony managers/governors/VIPs? Are they competing with each other, working together, or both?

Is the goal of the game to grow the best, or biggest, colony? Or are the colonies just setting elements that are built in play?

Do you have provision for colonizing alien planets - that is, planets with advanced native biospheres? Is that what "Gaia" colonies are like?

And i take it that each colony is equated with an entire planet (or equivalent orbital zone)?

Sci-fi fantasy - so like Star Trek, Babylon 5, Stargate, Master of Orion, Alpha Centauri, etc?


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: Dan R. Stevenson on February 11, 2006, 10:47:35 AM
Actually this a roleplaying game. The players can start a colony if they wish acting as managers or colonists. The game is mostly centered around espionage but I want options for mechant, colonial, archaelogical, and mining campaigns if the players want to run in that direction. I believe a colony campaign could allow the players to have the opertunity to create and run a colony providing them with addtional plot hooks. Not to mention a cover for their espionage operations.

Gaia worlds are planets with multiple environments like the one we are currently inhabiting. There will be worlds with with a only a single environment or just a couple useable environments. Do you have any ideas for advanced bio-spheres?

There will be rules for interaction with sentient primative natives and their reactions to the more advanced colonists. There will also be rules for the colonists coming into contact with aliens that are as advanced or more advanced as the colonists.

You are right on the money for sci-fi fantasy.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: StefanDirkLahr on February 11, 2006, 11:08:32 AM
Roleplaying games can be lots of things! ;)

(My personal working definition is that rpgs are games you play through the powers/situation of a character, but that is a school of thought being shaken up by the indie veterans.)

So you want to make the game about espionage. Don't worry much about the other stuff, until you have that down.

A couple of questions about the game itself:

What kind of play are you imagining by "espionage"?
Straight-forward data-retrieval & rumour mongering? Thrilling James Bond-style action? Or something more general & complex, like political intrigue & machination?

How does that style of play then fit into the idea of colony design & events? Do the events and colony elements serve as a structure upon which the game is played?

Environments:
I'm more of the Hard SF type - the idea i was toying with was that planets with "simple" alien life are (much) easier to terraform than planets without life, but also easier to terraform than planets with "complex" alien life. But i'm using a very limited definition of terraforming! You are probably thinking of something closer to the "Shake & Bake" terraformed colonies mentioned in the (excellent) movie Aliens.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: timopod on February 11, 2006, 11:10:00 AM
There is a series, or a book, I guess there is a book where the earth sent out probes to find worlds to colonize. But the probe only checked where it landed. S in one location it landed on the top of a mountain above the poisonous atmosphere. The colony showed up and couldn't return, so they had to inhabit the mountain peak. Maybe something like  this could be used. How large of an area the players survey before they set up the colony.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: Dan R. Stevenson on February 11, 2006, 11:45:09 AM
What kind of play are you imagining by "espionage"?
Straight-forward data-retrieval & rumour mongering? Thrilling James Bond-style action? Or something more general & complex, like political intrigue & machination?

The characters are part of a hastily put together group of trobleshooters that are kept mobile and used for any situation. Theft of technology, ship jacking, disinformation, assination, intimidation, disinformation, and terrorism are the tools used by the troubleshooters. Anything goes for the defense of the human race. The characters are voluteers or forced volunteers with the skills the troubleshooter teams need to pull off any operation.

How does that style of play then fit into the idea of colony design & events? Do the events and colony elements serve as a structure upon which the game is played?

The characters can use the colony as a cover for their espionage operations. If the players get bored of playing an espionage campaign they could switch to colony construction or anyother campaign style.

Environments:
I'm more of the Hard SF type - the idea i was toying with was that planets with "simple" alien life are (much) easier to terraform than planets without life, but also easier to terraform than planets with "complex" alien life. But i'm using a very limited definition of terraforming! You are probably thinking of something closer to the "Shake & Bake" terraformed colonies mentioned in the (excellent) movie Aliens.

Terraforming is a slow process even for the more advanced races in the game. Colonists move in when the colony is partially terraformed doing their best to adapt to newly created environment and its quirks. They have a breathable atmosphere but the planet will have unpredictable weather patterns. This also creates geological probles as well.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: Dan R. Stevenson on February 11, 2006, 11:49:16 AM
There is a series, or a book, I guess there is a book where the earth sent out probes to find worlds to colonize. But the probe only checked where it landed. S in one location it landed on the top of a mountain above the poisonous atmosphere. The colony showed up and couldn't return, so they had to inhabit the mountain peak. Maybe something like  this could be used. How large of an area the players survey before they set up the colony.

The humans have reached a level that unmaned probes are thing of the past. Scouts in faster than light ships locate a new world mark its location and sell its location to intrested colonists. Colonists can set up colonies in any environment even toxic.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: StefanDirkLahr on February 11, 2006, 12:13:13 PM
K. I'm still trying to figure out what you intend this game to be about, & what it is like to play it.

That second to last post makes it sound like you play a member of a one of those classic "emergency action teams", this one having set up shop out in the colonies, where the trouble is going to be. Play would consist of the GM crafting some situation, and then the characters having to ship out to resolve it. Is that close?

How do you intend the "setting up a colony/outpost for cover" aspect of the game to play out? You mentioned something about attracting and repelling colonists - is the idea of the game that you play the people charged with protecting a new colony, and how you perform that task determines whether the colony grows or fails?
So here play would conisist of colaboratively managing a colony - which would also be the play space - while also acting to resolve challenges that arrise from pressures to it - pirates, claim jumpers, embargoes, natural disasters, etc.

I like that second option better - it also seems to be what the design issues you've brought up are pointing toward, rather than the simpler "action team" style of game. 

You're designing the game here - you want to make it your mission to make sure your players don't get bored with your game! Don't worry about what happens if they do.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: StefanDirkLahr on February 11, 2006, 12:24:45 PM
I hope you don't mind if i steal that second idea for myself?

(It ties in with this city-game idea i've been toying with ever since reading this Ars Magica-esque (http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=86) design of Vincent's.)


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: Dan R. Stevenson on February 11, 2006, 12:55:28 PM
How do you intend the "setting up a colony/outpost for cover" aspect of the game to play out? You mentioned something about attracting and repelling colonists - is the idea of the game that you play the people charged with protecting a new colony, and how you perform that task determines whether the colony grows or fails?
So here play would conisist of colaboratively managing a colony - which would also be the play space - while also acting to resolve challenges that arrise from pressures to it - pirates, claim jumpers, embargoes, natural disasters, etc.

Well the troubleshooters can be planted as colonists, traveling merchants, security, or as scouts. This gives them a reason to be in the area not to mention an excuse to travel between other worlds in the area.

The rules for if the colony fails or prospers are needed if the palyers wish to run a colony campaign using the game rules in the book. Also if something does happen to the colony while the troubleshooters are embeded in the colony they will have to deal with it. This could provide more prop hooks other than "lets blow up the enemies command post" type scenario. I am sure if the C.I.A. had spies in some country and there was a natural disaster they would have to deal with it. That includes helping rescue the locals so as to blend in.


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: StefanDirkLahr on February 11, 2006, 01:39:42 PM
So, it seems what you are going for with this is more on the order of giving the GM-player a straight-forward way to create - and change - setting elements (colonies) in play.

I take it this is supposed to work both as part of the setup for the situation the PCs are challenged by, and as part of the fallout that occurs in response to their performance in the challenge. Not only are the PCs affected by their actions, but also the people in colony around them. Something like that?


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: tygertyger on February 15, 2006, 09:01:59 PM
Have you looked into the real world history of colonization, such as the European colonies along the American & African seaboards, the Greek & Phoenician colonies in antiquity, and/or the American Westward Expansion? (Your mention of ghost towns makes me believe you are concentrating on the latter, which is good.)

  I dunno... including the colonizations attempts by Europeans into Africa and South America brings up a whole new set of potential problems.  Disease is a biggie; the newcomers had no resistance to pathogens that the natives had been living with for centuries (contrast with Europeans' contact with Polynesians; it was the natives who had no resistance to the diseases that Europeans brought with them).

How about indigenous animals, if any?  Can the colonists eat them?  Can the animals eat the colonists, or the colonists' crops or livestock?  How do the food animals that the colonists bring fare with eating the native plants or meats?  Do imported food plants grow in the soil and/or climate of the new world (perhaps only some of them do...)?  Remember, diseases can also infect plants and animals -- an exotic form of blight or livestock disease is a good event to throw at players.

Weather is a reliable standby for random events, and the colonists won't know the weather of their new home like they do their birthworld.  If the new planet is less geologically active than Earth it will have fewer (and possibly smaller) mountain ranges.  No really high mountains might mean no rainshadow deserts.  That could also mean gigantic storms that can quickly sweep across an entire continent (as seen on some of the planets in the Solar system).

Then there are space-based events.  Solar flares are a possibility, especially if the colony world has no ozone layer or a thinner atmosphere than Earth does.  Even if the flares are no direct threat to life they can interfere with radio reception or use of electronics.  Does the colony world have rings, or is it situated near an asteroid belt?  If so, meteor showers (and therefore meteorite strikes) will be more common than on Earth.  Does the planet have a moon?  Then it will have tides.  More than one moon?  The tides will be interesting, indeed.

Hope this helps!


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: dindenver on February 15, 2006, 10:58:36 PM
Hi!
  I think I "get" what you are building. BUT, it can go many ways:
1) Dirty Pair - Comedic, over the top, interesting mysteries
2) Thunderbirds - Heroic, manufactured, head to head against evil
3) A-Team/McGuyver - Solving problems, helping others and Proving themselves
4) SEAL Team/Green Berets - Covert Operations, Foreign training programs, advance recon
5) James Bond - The final blow in a web of Espionage activity
6) CIA/KGB - Finding spies, handling drops, counter espionage
7) Something else..?
  What are you going for? What is the ideal theme of the perfect campaign?

 Good luck man! Seems like  a cool idea...


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: David "Czar Fnord" Artman on February 18, 2006, 07:53:32 AM
If you are looking for a laundry list of possible colony events, then you can pretty much have every possible event that could happen in an isolated Earth-based town or city with a similar population. Riots, epidemic, crime, factionalism, sociopathy, wonky cultism, you name it. And those are just bad events; isn't there possible RP fodder in the occassional happy event?

Add to that (HUGE) list things that can happen as a result of life support and environmental system failures. Algae blooms, low/bad air, radiation sickness, malnutrition, poisoning; anything that can screw with human biology, basically.

Add to that list things that can happen based on managing an extensive facility in a unique environment. Micrometeorite impacts, accretion of ices on solar panels, tectonic forces damaging foundations/caverns, stresses caused by huge temperature variances due to slow/complex day cycles; take any Earth-based builder's nightmares and compound them with each hostile environmental condition.

Add to that list (you see where I'm going?) the things that can happen based on all the aforementioned aboriginal conflicts, and you are talking about a seriously major section of the game rules, if codified.

That's where my suggestion takes over (yep, I got a point): Perhaps you should try to first develop a classification method for "events." In other words, a sort of "meta-events list" that could be codified for game mechanical impacts (population, cost of operations, other elements of your System). Rather than, say, an exhaustive table of all events with their commensurate System-impacting mechanics.

Look to systems like Hero, I say. They don't make a list of all powers a hero could have; they make a list of all game effects that could be had by a character, and provide means to weight them that are Color-independant.

So, for your colony event list, you'd have stuff like this:
Population Threat - An event that will decrease population by x per <insert cost mechanic> or per <insert randomizer>.
Support System Threat - For each <insert colony disadvantages system here> that the colony has, there is a <insert mechanic> decrease in efficiency/increase in cost of operations.
Biological Threat - The colony's <insert population needs mechanic> is unstable due to unbalanced management or infection: <insert pop needs cost mechanic>
Sociological Threat - Some percentage of the population is nonconformist with regards to a critical support system management requirement (varies by colony <insert colony disadvantage system>).
...and so forth.

In summary, try to abstract, out of the probably infinite variations of "events," those event types or categories which directly couple to the System that you want to make for colony creation, management, and conflict resolution. And as System stems from Agenda, you need to ask yourself now you see people "best" playing your colony elements. To use a computer game metaphor, are you seeing this as SimCity or Age of Empires? Hmmm, maybe that's not illuminating. Do you see this as a high-level management and strategy (being the mayor, sitting on the solar system council) style of play or more of a low-level politicking and tactics (repair team leading, defensive forces leading, bureaucrats versus workers) focus?

Keep it up, whatever you decide. The world needs more interesting sci fi source material and games!
David


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: TroyLovesRPG on February 19, 2006, 06:52:03 PM
Hello,
This is my first post to The Forge.
Based on your original idea and the replies, it seem that creating structured colonization rules in a hard sci-fi setting while keeping the RPG dynamics appears to be very tricky. I think the strategies and challenges for players can outweigh the RPG aspect, however fun it may be.

Before I give my opinions, I'll give some experiences with this kind of game.  I played in a "space-race" game many years ago where Earth was dying and we had to find other places to live. It involved high-level strategy, space combat and role-playing. Bob was the GM (Galaxy Master, no kidding) and liked all kind of games. The game had three arenas of interaction.
1) Explore the area of space given to all players, determine the value of the worlds encountered, assign security forces and build colonies. This part of the game was very quick, introducing random factors, relying on a limited fleet of ships and using resource points. This phase occurred at the beginning of each session and took about 10 minutes of player time. Each player had 4 actions to secretly plan for the game year--one per quarter. The quarter's actions were resolved, then the second, and so on. All players' actions occurred simultaneously. I can't remember all the actions but they were very broad: scout a system, analyze resources, move space ships, build an outpost, send a spy (able to read one action of another player), steal a resource point, set up colony, build a refinery, build a factory, attack another, etc. Each action used a number of resource points. Refineries give you resource points, Factories give you ships. Colonies give you people (security forces). Outposts let you meet an attacker with your own fleet.
2) Space combat occurred between players vying for the same planet. We used Full Thrust and had a great time. If you lost the battle or surrender then you withdraw and the winner takes the planet.
3) The RPG aspect was the most interesting of all. All the players had a Traveller character on the A-Team (Astro Team, still not kidding). To eliminate favoritism, the GM created scenarios (corporate espionage, indigenous aliens, chaotic factions, colony rescue, viral outbreaks, etc.) that would directly affect a player's strategic arena with an extra action, resource points, new technology (woo hoo), etc. However, none of the players knew who would benefit, and completing the mission would provide experience for the characters. So, even when I sucked at strategy and space combat, I had fun with the RPG portion.

I'm not sure what you want your players to achieve and how they will have fun doing it. Event cards are great, but as stated before in another post, you need good as well as bad events. Limit the bookkeeping you and the players need to perform. If you want to look at just the exploration/colonization aspect then look at the big picture and answer these questions:
Why are they going? Flee an enemy. Escape political/religious persecution. Make money. Looking for WMDs. Build a farm and raise jackalopes.
Who are going? All of mankind. The wealthy. The unemployed. Just Texas. Paris Hilton and friends.
What are they doing? All of the work. Build a factory. Mine for iron. Missionary work. Tweak the jump gate. Review and take the credit.
When will this happen? We have unlimited resources--maybe a month. We receive periodic shipments--a year. We're on our own--the next generation will benefit.
How will they do all this? FTL drives are ready and the terraformers are getting bored. Bring out the next batch of hard-working clones. The crews are having a hard time with the basalt. Oy, the instructions are in Chinese. Did you bring a shovel?

Before you start with the rules of colonization, write a story about what happens to these colonists, sponsor corporation and security forces over the course of a game year. Determine the relevant parts of the story, how the colonists survive, what the corporation gains (or loses) and what challenges are posed for security. See what existing rules you've designed can be reused and then identify other rules you absolutely need. Keep it fun!

Good luck and keep us posted!


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: dindenver on February 20, 2006, 09:13:24 AM
Hi!
  I think you might want to look at Dogs In The Vineyard. Supposedly the town creation system is REAL good. Seems like you adapt it for your colony creation system...


Title: Re: Sci-Fi Colony Design
Post by: StefanDirkLahr on February 20, 2006, 12:02:00 PM
Not to contradict you, D - Dogs is definately worth checking out - but i'd like to toss in a clarifying point:

With a lot of things, like this colony idea, you have to decide up-front whether you are making Setting or Situation. What's the difference there? Just that Setting is what gives rise to, & constrains Situation, while Situation is what you actually do (resolve) to play the game.

So Towns in Dogs are Situation, set with in a larger Setting of "the old west that never quite was".

Now i don't know whether the Colonies here are supposed to be Setting, Situation, or just Belongings (Character Traits), but i hope that helps paint in the borders of where the potential for design lays, a bit.

tygertyger:

I've seen a couple of space opera games in development amid the Diaspora; you might want to check out Galactic (http://dogdesign.blogspot.com/2006/02/because-i-want-to-be-like-cool-kids.html) and The World is Darkening (http://attacksofopportunity.blogspot.com/2006/02/world-is-darkening.html) if you haven't already!