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Author Topic: the Consequences of Geography  (Read 2250 times)
DevP
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« on: January 03, 2004, 01:58:59 AM »

It all began with my space opera: I didn't like the idea of making galactic maps from scratch, and disliked the book-keeping of determining distances and the like; I preferred more of a No Myth sort of ad hoc universe creation. So what did I do?

STRATEGY 1: I killed geography. I made up some fluff about how travel from any X to any Y was essentially random and nondeterministic: every world was essentailly and equally connected to every other world in an unreliable fashion. No more book-keeping.

Problems:

- player expectations: it makes "sense" that they can follow someone who just left X for Y by going to Y, and that they should get there with some delay after their quarry does; it makes "sense" that you can double-back to where you just where. And I'm concerned that pushing too hard here may shift focus onto the wierdness of this sort of travel, rather than using this as a tool of convenience.

- world-building problems: hundreds or thousands of worlds, equally connected: isn't that sort of wierd? There is an appeal: parts of my setting are pureposefully built to limit the ability of any big-empire to spring up; decentralized forms of power are the norm. A universe without any hierarchy derived from the geography creates a distributed map linking all worlds, and this seems to promote decentralization. Great.

However: my intuitions snag. It seems locality is pretty important to give locales color. You can say "gang Zigma is big around here", and "we're allied with Corticle III"; but what are the equivalents in this sort of glocalized world where every locality is totally and equally global?

Will this homogonize all of these worlds, as the Zigma gang has equal access to a hundred different worlds? There are inequalities - some worlds are more valuable or have more infrastructure to draw wandering types - and these can create a difference and creates it's own sort of localization but...... so I'm kind of conceptually stuck here on where to take the consequences.

STRATEGY 2: Growing out a world like a tree. My instructions would be:

(a) Begin with 1 dot in the middle. That's Earth.
(b) Draw a line, and a dot at the end. That's the nearest Core World. (Name it.)
(c) Draw a line, and a dot. That's the first Frontier world. (Name it.)
(d) Draw (1d6) lines out of this dot, pick one, and name it. That's where you're starting.

Add in some of these possible rules additions:
* there's an upper bound to how far any X is from any Y (so crossing the hole universe is practical)
* it's all subjective, and if you recalibrate the engine, it may change somewhat (a rule to account for what to do if you lose the map to your well-thought-out universe)
* all Core worlds are equidistant (if you imagine a sphere going outwards, these are points within the sphere), and connect to a large enough number of Frontier worlds

So instead of a totally decentralized. world, it's hierarchal (but decentralized), and there is the growing out of your own universe - with localized color - as you go. Of course, I worry about gaming groups losing their maps frequently, but hey.

* Does Strategy 1 put to much focus on the "wierd" method of travel?
* How can I wrap my head around the consequences of Strategy 1 (and what do you see in it)?
* Is locality important for players to relate to parts of the setting?
* What consequences are there of the tree-ish shape of the world as I've done in Strategy 2? Does it create common-sensical interpretation of jump-travel?
* Is there *too* much risk about players losing the all-important maps too frequently, and how can I coutner this?


Thanks,
Dev
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John Kim
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2004, 11:08:09 AM »

Quote from: Dev
* Does Strategy 1 put to much focus on the "wierd" method of travel?
* How can I wrap my head around the consequences of Strategy 1 (and what do you see in it)?
* Is locality important for players to relate to parts of the setting?
* What consequences are there of the tree-ish shape of the world as I've done in Strategy 2? Does it create common-sensical interpretation of jump-travel?
* Is there *too* much risk about players losing the all-important maps too frequently, and how can I coutner this?  

Before commenting, I'd suggest some alternate approaches:

3) Don't have so many inhabited worlds.  If you have a small number of worlds, you can detail them and their connections easily.  This might violate the sort of space opera which you're trying for, but I thought I should mention it.  

4) If you want a lot of worlds, instead of describing individual worlds, describe regions.  So you can say: "Here is the Spinward frontier territory.  Inhabited worlds here are few and far between, and they tend to be inhabited tough colonists who are well-armed to deal with their problems."  You can put individual worlds on the map as they become important.  

Basically, if you are going to have dozens and dozens of worlds, then you can't effectively describe them individually.  Unless there are a bigger abstractions that you can rely on (i.e. like territories/regions/etc.), then the players can't develop expectations, which can be bad.  The many worlds just become a huge pile of individual details to memorize.  If you have territories, then the players and you have something to get a handle on.  As individual planets come up in adventures and become important you can place them on the map in relation to the territories, but there isn't a need for them at the start.
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- John
Mark Johnson
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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2004, 11:36:15 AM »

May I suggest a synthesis?

Make space travel between worlds random whether it be through gates built by the "ancient ones" (always a favorite trope), wormholes or through hyperspace.  

Now allow that there are a very few Navigators (ala Dune) who can psychically create a mental map of the connects and either reduce or eliminate the randomness.  Maybe make the Navigators time sensative so that they can see a bit into the future and make this the source of power or somehow they can master the chaos based mathematics that can bend the fabric of reality and melts the brains of computers ala the block transfer computations  from Doctor Who.

Allow PCs to be navigators (even though they are very rare perhaps even regarded as simply legends).  Some campaigns may not even have a Navigator, randomly jumping from star system to star system in a picaresque manner.  Navigators are so rare that they are actively hunted.

Perhaps give the Navigator some directorial/authorial power.  Allow them to name a new location when arriving and one or two significant facts: "This is Zeta Prime, in the ancient times there existed an incorporeal race.  Legend is that their hives still exist buried deep in the planet."

Make it the Navigator's job (much like the mapper in old D&D) to keep track of the connections between worlds and the names of worlds.

But there are dangers: Navigatorial Amnesia.  The psychic powers that allow the Navigators to guide ships through space can be so powerful that the "mental map" used to guide the ship between worlds is lost.  Invoke Navigatorial Amnesia if the PLAYER playing the Navigator loses the map.  If ever they recover the map, it was simply a case of Temporary Navigatorial Amensia.

Variations on a theme:  

Let there be certain "routes" that everyone can use that are not random (maybe get to the closest neighboring star system).  

Make hyperspace travel random, but Gate/Wormhole travel non-random (but well hidden, only the Navigators know the whereabouts of the Gates).

I don't know what sort of game you are running, but you are free to use any of these ideas.

Talk Later,
Mark
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DevP
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« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2004, 06:56:46 PM »

It's been asked what works within the confines of my space opera, so for my own case: I like the idea of lots of *potential* worlds out there, so you can pull most any new plotline out of thin space. As in: "You jump into Carnaugh I, a world with racial tensions: the moral of this week's planet is that racism is bad!" And so on. I'd call this a "planet-of-the-week" thing. (I also prefer human-only opera, but that's not really an important difference.)

Quote
If you want a lot of worlds, instead of describing individual worlds, describe regions.


I do have a few coarse abstractions - Region and Culture - that can quickly give you reasonable expectations for a world, even details vary. (e.g. Corporate Democracy in the Industrial Sprawl - it's a good enough seed to build more details). I do believe individual worlds will be defined in more detail, but only ad-hoc, as you're landing on the soil. In my map scenario (Strategy 2), a world doesn't really exist until you actually go there and retcon it into existence.

Now here's the thing: do you need geography to have "regions"? What if these Spinward worlds are essentially distributed evenly throughout the universe, despite having some cultural solidarity? In such a scenario, having regions like this is still a useful codeword - say "Spinward", and the players are going to instantly get an idea of how they should react to that kind of place.

If all points are always equally close, then (a) players should be able to pick their destination at all times: if they have the power to jump, they'll never be stuck in the middle of hostile territory (although the hostile territory can always follow them). (b) relationships between worlds will have no geographical basis, only cultural and economic ones. You won't have to deal with anyone you don't like, because you only relate to them by voluntarily going to your world (or them voluntarily going to yours).

Mark's idea - nondeterministic travel anywhere, with individual Navigators mentally creating their own subjective universe map - is a good idea: players create their subjective geography relative to their characters' growth, but there is still no mandatory paperwork.

However, using this means I still need to be comfortable with a geography-free setting, and that players can handle such a concept, and that the wierdness won't overtake the important aspects of character development/exploration.
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DevP
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« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2004, 08:16:19 PM »

A few thoughts on how I'd think about Mark's idea in particular.

Quote
Now allow that there are a very few Navigators (ala Dune) who can psychically create a mental map of the connects and either reduce or eliminate the randomness.


This is one way; alternately, let Navigation be an academic skill (like Multivariate Calculus, just a lot harder). Navigating could be like solving a wicked-hard equation: a random jump is randomly guessing the answer, and usually failing, but training helps you make an educated guess; and once you have an answer, you can reliably use that answer again and again (until some universal constant changes and ruins your calculations, or you lose your notes).

This all makes Navigating more commonplace, but this is reasonable: every wandering ship has it's own subjective "neighborhood". As is, I'm making starhopping vessels a sort of legendary clique all their own. (They're all basically equivalent to PC parties of their own in prowess in temperment.)

Quote
Perhaps give the Navigator some directorial/authorial power.  Allow them to name a new location when arriving and one or two significant facts: "This is Zeta Prime, in the ancient times there existed an incorporeal race.  Legend is that their hives still exist buried deep in the planet."


As I mentioned above, in that the players have a choice to go to Zeta, they should all get some directorial power. (They wouldn't accidentally warp into known Evil territory.) So I don't think the Navigator has the sole authorial power, as they Crew would decide where they would try to go. Still, this authorial power is the general idea.

A problem here is: in which order does authorial content fit in? If there are thousands of the worlds, couldn't they put out some parameters ("Confederacy"+"open to trade"+"mangos") and see what the closest warpable world is (perhaps making the roll more difficult for more parameters to the search)? Or should these be defined once travel to a world is established? (i.e. there could be only two worlds you can access, so the Navigator/other mechanic defines those). This would depend on the kind of world/gameplay you're looking for. I would personally find favor with the crew huddling around the Galactic Search Engine, but YMMV.

Quote
But there are dangers: Navigatorial Amnesia.  The psychic powers that allow the Navigators to guide ships through space can be so powerful that the "mental map" used to guide the ship between worlds is lost.  Invoke Navigatorial Amnesia if the PLAYER playing the Navigator loses the map.  If ever they recover the map, it was simply a case of Temporary Navigatorial Amensia.


This just sounds fun, although I think I would clarify this as an issue that should be decided by group consensus, at risk of the most major of Social Contract squabbles! Should the GM keep a copy? Can the GM say his copy is "lost"? Can the in-game events or GM fiat ever make the map suddenly lost? What if the GM physically steals the map from a player?

Quote
Let there be certain "routes" that everyone can use that are not random (maybe get to the closest neighboring star system).


Perhaps the existence of such a route is a purely voluntary choice by the two planets (i.e. setting up synchronous ansibles to map such a route); the general lack of such "routes" is because of the high distrust between most worlds. There's some political fodder there.

I find this having interesting potentials, but my concern is still that it will look too complicated and take away focus from the play. I'm happy with players thinking of nothing more than "push a button and go!", but I need a consistent way of doing it.
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Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2004, 11:44:17 PM »

I think there are a few very simple technobabble explanations that you can use to make method 1 less wierd and more consistant yet still be convenient.

1) tie your hyperspace/faster than light/jumpspace whatever handwave into gravitational forces.  Simple easy to apply rules...say, the stronger the gravitational field effecting your ship the faster you go.  This makes planets, even unihabitable resourceless planets important.  Jupiter might be extremely important in our solar system because jumping while in orbit will send you alot faster to your destination than jumping direct from earth.  Thus you get excuses to make a series of jumps, and prime jump locations become targets for pirates or raiding.  Even further commonly used specific orbits could actually be mined as a form of hazard.  A common strategy might be to really slow the enemy down by forcing them to use less advantageous jump points.

2) Since travel time is related to gravitational fields a ship that is chasing another ship and jumps at roughly the same time and place as the ship its chasing will be traveling at about the same overall speed and so will reach the same destination after a slight delay as expected.  BUT traveling to a better (higher gravity) location to jump from would make its speed faster and potentially enable it to get to its destination first.

3) Throw in some feature about a ship having to be traveling a certain speed before making a jump.  This prevents jumps from inside planetary atmospheres (air friction would prevent the speed required) and would also give you that necessary "chase time" before a ship can jump while it accelerates to the required speed.  One could even go so far as to say the speed required is kind of like escape velocity...the higher gravity the faster you need to go.  Thus, only the fastest ships are capable of accelerating quickly enough to the speed necessary to take advantage of the highest gravity jump points.  This allows you to build differentiation by ship.  

4) one final handwave can throw in "eddies and currents" ala B5 into hyperspace which change from time to time and thus account for the occassions when one day you say the jump takes 3 days and a couple sessions later it takes a week and a half.  They don't change rapidly so that travel times remain relatively constant, but "over time or as a result of "jump storms" the FTL speed obtainable in a region changes, sometimes dramatically.  Over the course of many years this can cause jump routes to change, leaving formally busy starports now stranded in the "boonies" while other systems find their travel times improved and thus their traffic increases.  Shipping companies struggle to secure docking rights to a variety of worlds so that as currents shift they'll have facilities ready for whatever the new route is.  Small independents try to keep careful track of the shifts and, since they can respond quicker than a big company to changing a route, they can often shave a good bit of time by finding a slightly faster series of jumps.  Taking a jump into a region that just recently became faster, puts ships out in areas that haven't yet become highly traveled and thus don't yet have good security, so such "short cuts" can be dangerous and lead to all sorts of adventure potential.  Its even a great reason for a "merchant" crew to travel to some brand new never seen before planet.  They just want to use it as a jump point because travel times in the old route just increased dramatically, and the computer suggests this route is quicker.

5) of course it takes time between jumps so that ships are forced to stick around in these new locations where they can roped into the plot of the week before their engines are back online allowing for the next jump.


Something like that works really well, I think for a "space opera" type campaign.
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contracycle
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« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2004, 12:53:15 PM »

Possibly my favourite Weird travel theory is that of Melissa Scott in Five Twelfths of Heaven.

http://www.sfreviews.net/fivetwelfths.html

In this model, travel is essentially magical, having been invented by alchemists.  So the navigators use Tarot card like images to figure out a path.  The one that sticks in my mind as the easiest to conceptualise was a salamander-in-flames image in which the salamanders limbs corresponded to safe zones in an otherwise hostile region represented by the flames.  With hyperspace being an inherently hazardous environment, pilots would learn to master routes rather like in the age of sail, through personal experience.  

This is quite a practical limitation, but varies tremendously by the individual.  Equally, secret routes, risky routes, plain little-used routes can all be brought into play.  Maybe the only people who really know the routes to backwater places are the people who live there and travel to and from it; nobody else has much reason to go.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2004, 01:04:59 PM »

If you're going for a "planet of the week" thing, like Star Trek, why bother with an explanation at all?

Star Trek didn't need one. Narratively, they just skipped to where the story was interesting... at the start of an episode. Whether there were established route and maps was completely immaterial, though they did, in theory, exist. But it was sufficient to say "we're in the Neutral Zone" or "we're in Romulan space" or whatever and then go.

Instead of having a technobabble explanation, just have a bit in the game that says: "There's no map of the universe here. It's assumed the PCs have one, to a certain extent. That's all that's important. If you have a player who really cares how long it takes to get from System A to System B and wants to return to System C every so often, have HIM draw the map as things go along."

Hell, read E.E. Doc Smith's Lensman series. There's no map at all but plenty of what you're talking about, and plenty of narrative hand-waving of the type I'm talking about. The time to get places depends on dramatic neccessity, not on having a clearly defined map. There IS no clearly defined map of Smith's Two Galaxies, and yet the fiction works fine.
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Mark Johnson
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« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2004, 05:13:08 PM »

Xiombarg,  I agree, there is really no reason to explore "the consequences of geography" unless somehow it is important to the type of stories Dev wants his game to produce.  One session can be on the feudal ice planet, another on the tribal volcano world, and yet another on a Big Brotherish city world.  I suppose in a No Myth environment connections could be freely created; personally I like the idea of each planet (even in the same star system) being its own nation/state and the only alliances along species lines.  Unless, like I said, the game is really exploring what the real consequences of space opera assumptions might be like.

Regardless, Dev's game seems real interesting so far.  I would like to see more!
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DevP
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« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2004, 05:05:41 AM »

Quote from: xiombarg
Star Trek didn't need one. Narratively, they just skipped to where the story was interesting... at the start of an episode. Whether there were established route and maps was completely immaterial, though they did, in theory, exist. But it was sufficient to say "we're in the Neutral Zone" or "we're in Romulan space" or whatever and then go.


Almost totally convinced by this. Most space opera serials begin in media res like this, and it even feels like the aggressive scene framing that has served me well so far. This still has room for the structured "retconning into existence" of worlds: e.g. Zoom into the icy feudal world, and by characters arguing with each other ("Why did I let you talk me into going to a Confederate world?") they define further aspects, as necessary.

However, to be able to rely on that entirely, I'll need to be firmly committed to a more episodic play (i.e. that play from one week isn't necessarily contiguous with play in the next), and I'll need to be committed more to purely planet-of-the-week action. As I've currently played it, there are spots where characters have needed to do jumpspace in the middle of the action: e.g. they've just been told to "find a buyer in 24 hours", and are now about to go do it. If I can't push jumpspace concerns into the between-session periphery, I'm going to have to answer "Can I get there from here?" and "How long will it take?" in some way or another, and these questions are precisely those about geography again. I don't think I can prevent them from coming up.

Quote
"If you have a player who really cares how long it takes to get from System A to System B and wants to return to System C every so often, have HIM draw the map as things go along."


My players aren't quite at this level, but then again, one player who left the group (a HackMasteresqe simmer while everyone else was ok w/ my heavy retconning) may have preferred being able to define these more concretely. Perhaps this is a good dial to include in the game, and suggest the graphing method above for a middle ground between "no map necessary" and "full-detailed map from the get-go"

Quote
One session can be on the feudal ice planet, another on the tribal volcano world, and yet another on a Big Brotherish city world. I suppose in a No Myth environment connections could be freely created; personally I like the idea of each planet (even in the same star system) being its own nation/state and the only alliances along species lines. Unless, like I said, the game is really exploring what the real consequences of space opera assumptions might be like.


So far, my best approaches seem to be:
- subjective mapping / adept navigator method
- semirandom but certain places will more probably link to certain other places as the plot dictates
- make travel coarsely defined as geographic regions - short trips within a region/cluster, longer ones in between regions/clusters.

The second and third really do seem to be the ones of least confusion (the least amount of material getting in the way of play, and I have a semistrict definition of that), despite my like of the first; but I'll keep it in mind, as it can easily be an added level to the "mapping" dial.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2004, 12:07:08 PM »

Quote from: Dev
However, to be able to rely on that entirely, I'll need to be firmly committed to a more episodic play (i.e. that play from one week isn't necessarily contiguous with play in the next), and I'll need to be committed more to purely planet-of-the-week action. As I've currently played it, there are spots where characters have needed to do jumpspace in the middle of the action: e.g. they've just been told to "find a buyer in 24 hours", and are now about to go do it. If I can't push jumpspace concerns into the between-session periphery, I'm going to have to answer "Can I get there from here?" and "How long will it take?" in some way or another, and these questions are precisely those about geography again. I don't think I can prevent them from coming up.

Well, there are two ways to handle this.

The Star Trek method would be John's regional method. While there is no map in Star Trek, we do know that the Neutral Zone is between Federation and Klingon space, and that it takes a while to traverse, etc. So things like the above would come down to: "Can we get that in this region? No? Now long does it take to go the next region?"

The Lensman series method, which I think you see in things like Jared Sorensen's OctaNe, amounts to: "Well, how much time would it be interesting for it to take?" That is, only make it an issue if it's interesting to do so, otherwise just assume it can be done in a reasonable amount of time. In essence, when the player asks: "How long does it take?" you either answer "Who cares?" or "How long do you WANT it to take?"

Fact of the matter is, very little space opera -- as opposed to hard SF -- concentrates on travel at all. If it's convient for the plot, it's easy. If it's more interesting to make it hard, make it hard. Consider Star Wars: It's easy for Han Solo to escape a system or get somewhere when that's interesting, and the hyperdrive breaks down when it's more interesting for it to take a long time to escape.

When you don't care it all, just have a random travel time table or something. "Uh, yeah, it takes three weeks to get to a system that has an abundance of water."
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
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