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Sci-Fi Colony Design

Started by Dan R. Stevenson, February 11, 2006, 11:37:47 AM

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  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...
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

David "Czar Fnord" Artman

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!
If you liked this post, you'll love... GLASS: Generic Live Action Simulation System - System Test Document v1.1(beta)


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!


  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...
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo


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.


I've seen a couple of space opera games in development amid the Diaspora; you might want to check out Galactic and The World is Darkening if you haven't already!
Stefan Dirk Lahr, dreaming the impossible dream