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Author Topic: Crystal Spheres: Would this game interest you?  (Read 7809 times)
Kester Pelagius
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Posts: 508


« on: March 24, 2003, 01:11:35 PM »

Greetings All,

Meant to post something about this awhile ago. . .

So I am working on something, like most of us here are, and was wondering what your thoughts might be.  I mentioned this game (vaguely and ever so briefly) over in RPG Theory.  But here's the basic overview:


What the game is:  Adventures in Ptolemaic Space

What the game isn't: Science Fiction

What?


Crystal Sphere's direct spiritual predecessor is Spelljammer, and I plainly mention the fact in the work I have done.  Too, many of the world mechanics and 'idea' conventions are similar.  Similar, but rooted in real world descriptions of them.  In fact you could probably use it with your Spelljammer campaign.  But it's not Spelljammer, nor is it even Space 1889 or Skyrealms of Jorune.  (Yeah, yeah.  I'm old.  It's not Dragonstar, either, ya whippursnappers!  *smirks*)

I know what you're probably thinking:  'What?  You're just redoing Spelljammer, what's the point?'

That's not exactly it either.

Crystal Spheres takes the basic cosmological elements and runs with them.  Still, as I am presenting it, the unkind and cynical could probably call it a 'homebrew fan-boy' game, not that anyone here at The Forge would say such a thing.  But, based on the premise I've thus far described, what do you think?

Oh, the rules, they are minimal.  A 'rules lite' system strictly using six-siders.  IOW: you can raid your favorite board game for dice to play the game.

Also I am working in a tactical 'table top' element for space travel and ship-to-ship, or rather I am trying to figure out how to do that in under two or so pages.

That said, unless you think the game idea uber sucks and is the penultimate worst game idea you have ever laid eyes on, what do you think?


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
szilard
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« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2003, 01:49:09 PM »

Saying that the cosmology is kinda like Spelljammer doesn't give us much to go on. What are the characters like? What do they do? Why do they do it?

Stuart
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2003, 02:27:06 PM »

What Stuart said.

My game, Fingers on the Firmament, is also "Adventures in Ptolemaic Space," but it doesn't sound anything like Crystal Spheres or Spelljammer (the latter of which I know nothing about).  Fingers is about people exploring the mind-bogglingly big, empty void that is the universe, through a tactile relationship with the stars, and trying not to go insane with loneliness, starblindness, or suicidal feelings of insignificance.  What's Crystal Spheres about?
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2003, 03:24:28 PM »

Heh, Jonathan's looking for a way to win Andie's newest category the coveted "Most Depressing Game of the Year" award :-)
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dalek_of_god
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Posts: 29


« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2003, 04:21:20 PM »

I wonder if you've read Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle. It's a (rather brief) novel that begins with the premise that Aristotelian science and cosmology is actually real. Ancient Chinese alchemical theories involving Chi are also real, and there is a sort of cold war between East and West. I found myself drawn into this alternate universe, and I can easily imagine using it as a RPG setting. This may be due to how pervasive Garfinkle makes the effects of the alternate reality. Technologies work according to elemental or chi based methods. For example, the "ship" in Celestial Matters is basically a large chunk of moon rock which is propelled through the natural circular motion of heavenly bodies postulated by Aristotle. Of course, the existance of a cold war analogue and analogues of other real world events provides a lot of gaming potential as well.

I think that a Ptolomaic universe RPG is a decent idea, so long as it provides sufficient incentive for a game. That said, I haven't had any exposure to Spelljammer, so I may not have the right idea about what you're trying to do.


Dwayne
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Dwayne Kristjanson
Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2003, 04:33:17 PM »

Greetings,

I was working on this post online earlier and, apparently, something happened with The Forge.  Not sure what, but  luckily I was able to go back and save the content of the post.  Apologies for the delay in responding.  (Heh, site is fine now.  So it wasnít really all that long.  *shrug*)  That said, in regards to szilard, Jonathan Walton, and Valamir's questions:


Crystal Spheres presents a number of Sentient Races, from send-ups of old Spelljammer races, their DNA twisted and distorted, to a few exotic races liberally borrowed from "UFO Folklore".  The setting allows for a diverse number and types of adventure, from exploring, swashbuckling, to engaging in full fledged trade wars.

The 'cosmology' is organized in such a way that there are "Crystal Spheres" containing solar systems, systems that are more or less based upon the Ptolemaic model.  Think of the the Crystal Sphere as a giant crystalline shell located roughly in the same position that a Ort cloud would be.  Access to it, and through it into the 'great beyond', is purely by advanced magical means.

For the 'great beyond' I have retained the term 'phlogiston' since there is less to explain with it that if I used the alternatives like Pleroma, though it is functionally a version of 'hyperspace' wherein bob other Crystal Spheres, each being a 'bubble reality' accessble, again, only by advanced magical means.

Essentially each Crystal Sphere represents an different reality centered upon a local star system.

Some of the races presented will be para-dimensional, meaning they are able to sort of phase in and out of a reality by means unknown.  (IOW: These will represent the main malavolent races, or are they just misunderstood?)  The reasons for adventuring will be the same as why you adventure in any RPG, myriad and based upon what the GM and players have decided they want to do for the evening.

At present the starter setting for Crystal Spheres contains six thumb nailed spheres, one port of interest in the 'Flow' (still a good term), though the map I've created actually shows seventeen spheres.  The point being to provide a 'starter kit' that provides primer material for a GM to set up a campaign, or merely use the material to run a few adventures to get a feel for the setting and then adapt the game to suit.  Also, for those curious about obtaining material for use with the game, Iíve written the basic game intro in such a way that, if you are familiar with Spelljammer, or games like it, Crystal Spheres should feel like a distant cousin.  Also I provide links to resources easily found online that can be easily adapted for use with Crystal Spheres.

But that says very little about the characters, does it?

At present there are a few Ďspecialí character archetypes available.  In all likelihood these will be templates, in so far as you will pick a archetype, apply the modifiers to your base scores, and that will be the bulk of character generation.  So it will be: roll scores (random) -> choose a race and add modifiers, if any ->choose a archetype/template and add modifiers/skills -> begin adventuring.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2003, 04:39:10 PM »

Greetings dalek_of_god,

I see you continue to elude the C.I.A.*, the Timelord council can't be pleased.  ;)

Quote from: dalek_of_god
I think that a Ptolomaic universe RPG is a decent idea, so long as it provides sufficient incentive for a game. That said, I haven't had any exposure to Spelljammer, so I may not have the right idea about what you're trying to do.


Not a bad start.

As I envision it every 'sphere' will literally contain it's own reality.  Thus one could find anything from heliocentric to geocentric solar system, with vimanas and flying chariots floating in ether, or just about anything else you can imagine.

Though, for the time being, I am restricting myself to established cosmological models.




Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


* Celestial Interventian Agency
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2003, 08:19:08 AM »

Well, in answering your original question, "What do you think?"... I have to say that the game concept doesn't excite me terribly much, because it seems to be a a retread of things we've seen before.  Not so much in your setting, which sounds interesting and original, but in the type of play that you seem to be anticipating.  The majority of rpgs that are out there are simply different settings, with rules that all encourage similar types of play.  When you said, "The reasons for adventuring will be the same as why you adventure in any RPG," that kind of put me off.  Obviously, all rpgs (especially indie ones) don't use the same reasons for adventuring (or even have "adventuring" be the purpose of play) so it sounds like you mean that Crystal Sphere's won't offer anything that I couldn't find somewhere else.

Now, that might not be the case.  Of, if it is the case, that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with that.  A new and interesting setting can be its own reward.  I was just hoping that you'd offer interesting possibilities for play as well.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2003, 09:28:58 AM »

I agree with Jonathan. I'm seeing a somewhat unique universe, and a premise to explore it generally. Not too compelling. Why shouldn't I play Blue Planet instead? In that, at least I'm aware that I'll be embroiled in political machinations.

You're trusting to the setting's special features to attract people along with a promise that the setting with be handled by the system better than D&D does it.

How is this game not Sci-fi? It's "speculative fiction" at the very least. Denying that it's sci-fi is tantamount to admitting that it is, but you want it to be something more unique than what sci-fi would imply. Well instead of telling us what it's not, tell us what it is.

Mike
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Kester Pelagius
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Posts: 508


« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2003, 10:38:49 AM »

Greetings Jonathan,

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Now, that might not be the case.  Of, if it is the case, that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with that.  A new and interesting setting can be its own reward.  I was just hoping that you'd offer interesting possibilities for play as well.


When I say that play will be just like in any other RPG, I am stressing the fact that, quite literally, Crystal Spheres can provide the same impetus for play as any RPG.

This means you can have gangsters, modern firearms, space aliens, brain leeches, extradimensional time bandits, anything that you can find in any other RPG.

How?

The premise for Crystal Spheres is that each Sphere is literally a 'bubble reality', thus you can start in, say, a world based on Gamma World, Ironclaw, Ar Magica, or a favorite fantasy novel.

However there will be a stock setting.  That setting may sound a bit bland as described, then again I am trying to design it to be as familiar and easy to use as possible so that even Game Masters new to RPGs can run it.  That means using standard tropes.

What I am ultimatly aiming for is a game witht he feel of a plug-and-play set of cosmological rules that you can use with any game, while being self contained in and of itself.  Something that many of the spiritual predecessors of Crystal Spheres was not.

Too, keep in mind that what I am discussing is essentially the core rules and stock setting, not adventures, and much remains to be detailed.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
szilard
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« Reply #10 on: March 25, 2003, 11:04:12 AM »

Quote from: Kester Pelagius
When I say that play will be just like in any other RPG, I am stressing the fact that, quite literally, Crystal Spheres can provide the same impetus for play as any RPG.

This means you can have gangsters, modern firearms, space aliens, brain leeches, extradimensional time bandits, anything that you can find in any other RPG.


To me, there is a big disconnect between the two paragraphs above.

"Gangsters, modern firearms, space aliens, brain leeches," and whatever do not provide an impetus for play. They don't tell me what the game is about. They are elements of setting and color. I can run a game that is about, say, the responsibility of power in with any, all, or none of those.

You still haven't answered my questions:

What do the characters do and why do they do it?

If the answer is, "Ummm... they, ummm, adventure because they each have some reason to and they are thrown together by agreement or circumstance," then I'm not really interested.

Why?

"They adventure" is really an insufficient answer to me. This generally means that they wander around and things happen to them. Sometimes I might be interested in this sort of game as a one-shot or if the GM is really, truly amazing, but mostly I am over it.

Moreover, I'm much more interested these days with games that explore a theme or have some focus. You have a potentially neat setting. If you wanted, your game could easily have a theme centering on (for example) Exploration and the price of knowledge. Characters, whether due to a deep inner curiousity or necessity could be explorers of the celestial void, charged (whether by themselves or another) to seek out the mysteries of the ether. The big difference here is a shared motivation/mission and the ability to choose whether or not to pursue it. There may well be Things Not Meant To Be Known in celestial space. Do you pursue knowledge of them as your mission demands? If so, at what cost? If not, at what cost?

Stuart
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Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2003, 11:06:13 AM »

Greetings Mike,

Quote from: Mike Holmes
I agree with Jonathan. I'm seeing a somewhat unique universe, and a premise to explore it generally. Not too compelling. Why shouldn't I play Blue Planet instead? In that, at least I'm aware that I'll be embroiled in political machinations.


No reason at all, if you really enjoy that game's setting and milieu.  (See my above post.)

Quote from: Mike Holmes
You're trusting to the setting's special features to attract people along with a promise that the setting with be handled by the system better than D&D does it.


First, it's nothing at all like Spelljammer, and yet it is.  Only because Spelljammer liberally borrowed from various cosmological models.  As do I.  That's the conundrum, I'm using many of the same cosmological concepts, however I am detailing them as they were originally presented.

True, mostly I am using Ptolemaic and Medieval models to explain things since they are the most familiar.  Then there's a lot out there to consider.

For instance: I've not yet decided how to best approach the "shells within shells" model, yet feel it needs inclusion.  Problem is that that model is essentially identical to one of the 19th century "Hollow Earth" models.  And I want to use the Hollow Earth premise, yet don't want to confuse the reader.  Which is part of what my question (vague as it was) over in RPG Theory was all about.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
How is this game not Sci-fi? It's "speculative fiction" at the very least.[/quite]

Speculative Fiction, yes.  Science Fiction, no.

To be science fiction the world being detailed by the author would have to rely on current scientific trends, or a projection of possibly future trends.  I am relying on past scientific models.  Ergo: it's pure fantasy.  Moorcock did a series of books in which he postulates an alternate history in which Zeppelins took the place of airplanes.  Very good speculative "science" fiction.  I am attempting to detail a multiverse that uses magic to propel sky ships and vimanas.

There is a difference between speculative ficiton and science fiction.  A novel can be speculative fiction without any hard science fact (or fiction) elements in it.  To say that Crystal Spheres is science fiction would be tantamount to building an expectation in the reader that says the game will rely upon the standard science fiction tropes, which to most translated into forms of 'technology', and other color that we have come to expect in science fiction novels.

Take the Dragonriders of Pern.  Reading it you can call it "science fantasy" because their are starships and telescopes mixed in with the dragons.  AND (very important) the dragons were genetically engineered!  Genetics.  A modern science.

In pure fantasy there is no genetic engineering.  Rather there is alchemy, golems, imps in a bottle, and the like.


Quote from: Mike Holmes
Denying that it's sci-fi is tantamount to admitting that it is, but you want it to be something more unique than what sci-fi would imply. Well instead of telling us what it's not, tell us what it is.


If I had to describe it with standard genre labels I'd say that Crystal Spheres is a stiff shot of Historical melodrama, two jiggers of Heroic Fantasy, a twist of Space Opera, and a tangy dash of folkore and myth all liberally spiced with a smooth smokey mystic flavoring.

Now who wouldn't want some of that?   ;)


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2003, 11:50:34 AM »

See what we were missing previously is the detail that the PCs will be involved in the dealings of different worlds that may represent different genres.

I had a vision of PCs sailing from one world to another all aware of each other.

That's an important question you've not answered. Are the inhabitants aware of the nature of the universe?

Who makes the ships? Who sails the ships? Are the PCs likely to be amongst them? Or will the muliverse element be mostly a background thing? How often are journeys made? How difficult are they? Do the reality principles of one shpere bleed over into other spheres? That is, do guns work in all spheres? Or just some? Magic?

See, in Multiverser, you are, well, you (the character is just like the player to start), going from universe to universe. That's pretty grabby. In TORG, your characters are fighting the effect that's causing all these universes to come together. In Rifts your characters are trying to promote your own realities agenda over the others (mostly). In Nine Worlds the characters create the realities.

What are the characters in your game doing? Why should I care, and want to play? Anything? I'll play one of the above games which seem to have better defined PC goals.

Sure I can make my own goals. But then these games will suffice as well. Or I can just use GURPS or FUDGE or something generic. What about your game makes it superior to any of these? The simple cross-breeding of the Multiverse concept with the Ptolmaic Spheres thing just isn't going to do it all by itself.

If you were to do a tremendous job on the setting, then maybe. But how can we know that heading into design? I think you ought to work on it a bit more, and see what does develop in terms of a unique gaming experience.

Mike
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2003, 12:00:56 PM »

Quote from: Kester Pelagius
When I say that play will be just like in any other RPG, I am stressing the fact that, quite literally, Crystal Spheres can provide the same impetus for play as any RPG.


Okay, it sounds like you're on the edge of the Please-Everyone Trap.  It seems like you want to put your setting out there and let people use it to play whatever kind of game they prefer.  If they like Space Opera, they can play Space Opera games.  If they like Gunfights & Gangsters, they can play a Gunfights & Gangsters game.

To me, this makes your game ignorable.  There are plenty of games and settings out there that I could use to play "whatever I want."  If you give me the setting and make me, the GM, go to the trouble of coming up with a plot and reasons why the characters are adventuring together, you're not doing too much to help me out.  If you give me a tone and direction and a specific type of play that you're selling, it might be my thing or it might not, but your game wouldn't be ignorable.  Even if I didn't like X, I could tell my friend, "Oh, yeah, that game Crystal Spheres is a great example of X-style roleplaying.  If you like that, you should really pick it up."  And if its not my thing right now, there may come some day where I say, "Gee, I haven't played a good X game in a while.  Maybe I should pull out Crystal Spheres and find some people to play with."

So my vote would be to narrow your focus.  Go for a specific type of play instead of making your game so broad that everything blurs into an uninteresting grey.  Commercial settings produced by major publishers tend to be general because they have a ton of people with different play styles to support (whether this is really necessary is a completely different issue).  With indie games, we have a small enough audience that we can afford to be focused.

Edit: Cross-posted with Mike, who said some pretty similar things.  I agree with him completely.
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #14 on: March 25, 2003, 12:10:07 PM »

I, too, don't think it's a good idea to make this a cross-genre game, for a different reason.

You have this great Ptolemaic world.  Why waste this great bit of color on yet another generalist game?  If the thing is going to be called Crystal Spheres, then it dang well better do something interesting and cool with those crystal spheres; the name of the game should tell me what's going on.  Basically, I think you're doing the color a disservice by setting it into the background.
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