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Drift RPG

Started by Wormwood, November 07, 2002, 06:08:40 PM

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I figured since there was discussion in RPG Theory about narrative space opera, I should toss in my version. Of course it's also a game design in progress, to eventually be web-posted. It's a variation on my Techno-Babble system, the main idea being the only two things that matter to advances civilizations are philosophy and technology, the Star Trek TV series are excellent examples of this.

Lost Oppurtunities


The night closes around and the next day slowly approaches.

Nine months until we see the daylight again, whatever colour it may be, it cannot be soon enough for me. The dusk is politics, the world we've abandoned. The dawn is politics, the world we shall save, if we only had the wherewithal, the purpose clear, but we never seem to get things quite right. It's only around midnight when I can settle down and get work done, make some small advancement that may save a hundred or a million, all doomed to die before we return any way. A blink of the eye. And we are the lucky souls who can blink and see a generation pass, and see all those chances lost to us. Still I prefer the daylight.

We failed this time, and I'm sure they will speak of it for years, years of argument and debate, all to solve a problem that ceased to have any meaning only an hour ago. It's too late, we can't save them. They have the time, but we do not.

Meteors are funny things, they tend to be hardly noticeable in the grand design. But sometimes they are more, a message a touch in space. On Tiradi 4 they were the harbingers of destruction. A collision on a sister world, alien and uninhabitable, millenia ago was all it took. A sliver of that hostilty began to take root, and the colony will die.

Ultimately it was just an analog of algea, but one whose chemistry for the most part ignored ours. But not quite enough, and now the women of Tiradi 4 cannot bear children who can out live the year.

And we failed them. We should have been able to save them, or at least move them somewhere safe, but we lacked the desire, the drive to save a generation who would be buried on our return.

Someday politics will be all we have left, and then we may finally regret our inaction, our stance of superiority. But by then it will be too late.

    --From the Journal of Dr. Hedsi Baker

Upon a Dreary Star

Imagine how your world will look in a hundred years. How will the people and the culture change? And what would you be if you suddenly found yourself there, as you are now? A hero, a nostalgia, a alien?

Travelling between the stars brings this to the fore. A journey may take but a few years to the traveller, but two centuries may pass until returning. It is a hard road, but it is the only one that leads to the stars.

Almost a millenia after humanity left their home, giant ships navigate the void between systems. Huge and powerful, even the most peacful capable of anihilating life on a planet, these ships have become the gods of the colony worlds. Passing through their traditional routes bringing new technology and occasionally colonists, take with them new ideas and talented individuals, their arrival is a sudden and rare change to the colonists. And the ship's masters? They look out upon their protectorates knowing full well that the man they drink with tonight is the great grandson of their last drinking partner on this world. It is a difficult life, in ways different from the colonists. But it is necessary for humanity to keep what it has taken.

The worlds beyond earth have a dual threat. They are places of alien natures, biologies incompatible with humanity, some downright hostile. In the midst of this the colonists fight a never ending war, solving the problems of living on a new world one at a time, a endless stream of specialized innovation and cultural development. The ships pass through the empty and not so empty void between stars, bringing authority, news, and advancement to the worlds they serve. Ultimately it is time that is the greatest barrier, as each world and each ship performs is necessary function they drift apart, their cultures as alien as their lives, and they risk losing sight of the one thing that holds them together, their humanity.

The Myriad Truths

A culture can be defined in various ways. But the most telling is the truths of the society. Those things which are so basic as to be unquestioned except by outsiders and outcasts. In Drift, these are Truths, which define a character's perspective and methods of life. Each character has taken something from, his or her culture, and these elements comprise their truths.

Sample Truths

Aspiration: Chaos - The structure of the world requires shaking, in the very least to prevent stagnation. Pure energetic action and disorder provide the fertile ground for life at it's best.

Law and Order - Society exists because of the rules that must be obeyed. Following those rules provides the necessary structure for humans to grow beyond their humble beginnings.

Sin: Lust - Reckless carnality is wasteful, regardless of the target of the desires, giving in to them causes the people around you to suffer, and likely yourself when you return to your sense. Keep those desires firmly in check, or you will regret it in the long run.

Virtue: Hope - When the world turns darkest, it is time to shine through. Hope is a great power and it can guide you through the most horrible events.

Pictures of the World: Insights

The development of technology and the discoveries that allow it's use in every day life, stem from understanding some of the basic ideas that pervade the scientific world. Each idea is simple at it's core, but the full understanding of the insights involved can take a lifetime.

Sample Insights:

Equal and Opposite - The world works with a constant dynamism of forces, each creating equilibrium with their opposition. Technologies: Drive Systems, Trajectories, Interrogation

In a Long Enough Time Span - Patience allows meaningless data to take on a more structured form, as the irregularities pass away, only the true nature of the system remains. Technologies: Subtle Genengineering, Astrogation, Experimental Sociology

Turtles All the Way - The structures of the universe are in a never ending pattern, deciphering each new stage depends out reinterpreting the previous stages. Technologies: Particle Physics, Investigative Genetics, Psychotherapy

Characters consist of five truths and insights, with a minimum of one of each.

So what do you think?

   -Mendel S.


Wow...thats all I really have to say.
I'd have to see what you can come up with for mechanics that emulate the images...but very evocative as a setting.

I even found myself reading the fiction interested in trying to find out what problem it was that they tried to fix and failed, and why they left rather than try again...

Patrick Boutin

I will go with Valamir on this one: wow

I think that you've got something here. I would really like to see a "finished" character with some insights on the mechanics. Can you tell more about the "game" motivations for the characters: exploration? or do you have something else in mind?

Keep the good work!



No kidding.

Imagine what it would be like to miss your ship out.  You've seen worlds develop in fast-forward, and now you're stuck on one, for the rest of your life, at its pace.



Mendel S.

Hey, I really like what you have come up with here. The idea of Truth and insights really appeals to me. Essentially the characters gain the wisdom of science as physical law. Meaning they meditate upon the idea of physical laws summarizing the truth of our observations over time. Which ties into the Light Speed Time Dilation.

I can really see how each game would present a dillemma to the characters about the world as it is when they arrive. How do they help, can they help, do they want to help. I am reminded of Joe Haldeman's Forever War in the way the characters had to deal with a home world that became increasingly alien to them with each campaign they fought. So much so that they began to wonder if they truly wanted to fight to protect it anymore. (At least that is the theme I remember:) ).

I would have to say that this is the idea for a Narrativist game if the first to truly grab me and want to play it, but that's just because I have a heavy preference for sim.

I love the tone and feel you have established so far.

Looking forward to seeing more about it.
Rob Muadib --  Kwisatz Haderach Of Wild Muse Games --   
"But How Can This Be? For He Is the Kwisatz Haderach!" --Alyia - Dune (The Movie - 1980)



Well the problem in question was a protien generated by an alien lifeform, which vaguely fits the niche of algea on earth. The protein was causing widespread birth defects.

One of the basic ideas of the mechanics is that all characters only ever have five truths and insights, they can slowly change gaining or losing them. The insights are why the person was chosen to join the ship's crew, the initial truths are based on the culture of their homeworld / region. But by the time they return only some of those truths are likely to have remained. And over time they must face the choice to change or stagnate.

There is a second element to the mechanics which is called, at the moment, flavours. The idea being that each insight or truth has a tint, which makes it more applicable to one application than another. Several of these may be gained and they act as 'specialties' in a way.

I'm debating what the list of flavours should be like though.

Ultimately the mechanics are simple, roll a 1d4+ if no insight or truth applied, 1d8+ if one does, 1d10+ if one of it's flavours applies, and 1d12+ if two (or more) of it's flavours does. The + indicates and exploding die. The difficulties are all odd numbers (as a simple analysis of exploding dice indicates).


The main motivation for the game is as a research team, (or another kind of team, but I'll get to that) working in the Byzantine politics of a scientific 1 G ship. They are assigned problems, either on location or between, but different projects can take various amounts of time.

I'm really thinking of a Star Trek style episode plotline, but with more continuity, and less of the unbridled optimism and purity of the show.

Of course besides scientific ships, there are also political and military ships, but for most variants the same approach still applies.

Thanks for your questions,

   -Mendel S.

Emily Care

As all said above,  excellent, intriguing, evocative.  I definitely want to see more.  Thanks for sharing it.

The universe reminds me of Ursula K. LeGuin's Hamish worlds.  Where many worlds have been colonized but few remember this but the colonizers themselves.  The fiction and the sample truths give it a very gothic sound. The ennui of relative immortality is quite a contrast with the "Humanity, Ho!" optimism of series like Trek.  

Personal relationships between colonists and ship-dwellers would also be a place of much angst and drama/trauma.  How will the forms of technology interact with the narrative and mechanics?

Are you using your self-opposed trait mechanics for this game, or another?  

--Emily Care
Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games



The way I see it, every action comes down to two avenues: technology or history. A character draws on her insights to make a technological solution to a problem, and her truths to find a solution in her experience and background. Technology is sufficiently present that most things aren't really an issue. The general sense is that of the programmer's dilemma. We have the machine that will do this correctly, but we need to give it the correct instructions. Except apply this to navigation and biotech.

As far as the oppositional mechanics, no those are for several other games I have in the mix. One of which is going in my RPGnet column sometime soon. I've put in a little more on that in my column at actionroll:

Thanks for you interest, and thank you Rob as well, I'll make a point to post my progress as I get going on this one.

  -Mendel S.

Mike Holmes

OK, that last post really cleared some stuff up, and I am now on the "Cool stuff" bandwagon.

When can we see more?

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.


Yes, wow.

It seems to me this could be either exploration of setting, or character.  Both?

Fascinating anyway.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci



Good to hear I'm making some sense.

As far as more elements of the game, I actually have the majority of the insights and the truths figured for the game. The next element I need is the flavours. As it stands I see two real options.


Go with the almost pun of naming the flavours after flavours:


I like the idea of a Bitter Sweet action myself, but I'm not sure if that will provide too much conflicting imagery.


Go with more generic approaches,

for example,


Which do you think is better? Which fits the themes of the setting more?

I'm also considering making eight rather than six flavours, but I'm not sure which to add, especially in the first option.

Regardless, characters can acquire up to half of the flavours per insight or truth, but that's the limit of total character growth, I'm far more concerned with faciliating character change, perhaps even requiring it, but more on that when I get to the growth / change mechanics.


The way I've been seeing it, it's an exploration of the themes of isolation and the drifting that people do when they leave a place. I'm reminded of the boxmaker in Count Zero (by Gibson) who is asked why the boxes it makes are so sad, it replies (I paraphrase) 'They are not sad, they are of distance and time, it is you who sees this as sad.'

Of course that's the most fundamental level, the game is also meant to be about exploration, and even elements of classic space opera, but everytime you leave somewhere you've left it forever, and that is the central sense of the setting and the game.

Thank you for your time,

  -Mendel S.

Mike Holmes

Go with actual flavors. More evocative, and no less potentially confusing than the other titles you chose.

Don't forget to include Savory, which means, essentially, MSG, and scientists have admitted works just like any other flavor does.


Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.



Savory looks like a reasonable idea, perhaps it becomes the most social flavour. Hard to say. If I include it, what would be a valid eighth flavour. I'd like to keep them even, so as to permit up to half on any insight or truth.

I can see what you mean about the directness of the flavours as flavours. I just worry that it is too silly as an approach.

Of course the other aspect of this is making intuitive and yet balanced interpretations for each flavour.

Thanks for your input,

  -Mendel S.


Personally I do think the flavors cross the line between clever and corny.  I'd call them Tints and go with your second list.  Or if you like the word play idea go with a ROYGBIV spectrum (you can ditch indigo to keep it even) and go with the interpretation of Blue = cold, cool, calm where Red = hot, angry, agressive.  

So I might have Law and Order Red and you might have Law and Order Blue and we are very different in how we perceive the very nature of Law and Order.



That's what I was afraid of. The tints idea makes just as much sense, and should be at least as accesible. On the otherhand the colour scheme seems almost as risky. I suspect that it would detract, unless there was some in game story element associated with it. In general, I'm trying to make the setting fairly fluid, i.e. the ships themselves have drifted apart significantly, I don't see a colour scheme surviving that.  I suppose I'm trying to find a reasonable catagory scheme, that would be consistent. Perhaps that's just something that should be made to vary.

Well, for that purpose it's useful to approach the question from the angle of what things do I want to be catagorized:

Attacking or directing
Defending or resisting
Explaining or relating

From that I see:


Perhaps those could be cleaned up a bit. I'm not sure if making them less accessible is worth the added setting link.

Thanks for your suggestions,

  -Mendel S.