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[Oxygen] First playtest of my SF RPG

Started by brianbloodaxe, July 01, 2009, 10:41:26 AM

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Seeing as Gregor's AD 316 playtest finished up I snatched up the group and subjected then to the musings of my own game last night. My GMing skills were a little rusty, it's been five years since I last ran a game but everyone had fun and the general consensus seems to be that the system needs polished rather than binned so I'm happy with that.

Anyway, I haven't mentioned Oxygen in here before so here is the pitch:
QuoteOxygen, a space opera RPG about responsibility and need, profit and greed.

Players take control of one of too-few spaceships in a broken galaxy where  the survival of a family, community or planet can depend on just one shipment. Characters are created together, as a crew, and their ship is generated to match. Their crew, their ship. Their responsibility.
And here is a overview of my system
QuoteCharacters are defined by four Attributes (Physique, Reflexes, Wits, Willpower) and a few Traits chosen by the player which detail the character's areas of expertise (Pilot, Medic, Soldier, Scientist, etc). Characters are rounded out with a few side skills to cover things he needs that aren't covered by his Traits (Stunner, First Aid, Hovercar), one or two flaws and a Goal. Traits, Attributes and Skills are all rated from 1D to 4D with 2D being the norm.

Task Resolution involves rolling the dice for the appropriate characteristic. If it is a simple stat check (say a perception check or you are diving through an airlock before it closes) you roll those dice and any that roll a 5 or a 6 are successes. If the task is something that you should really have training in but you don't (maybe shooting a gun or flying a ship) them you roll the same pool but the dice are 'Half Dice' which only pass on a 6. When rolling on a Skill or a Trait you roll Full Dice equal to the Skill or Trait and Half Dice equal to the relevant Attribute.

The session opened with the cargo vessel Moonwalk en route to a gas mining station in a backwater system. It was attacked and critically damaged and the players got to choose which of the survivors they wanted to play. I then made them personalise them a little by selecting a flaw. So we had:
Phil playing a worldly ex-military Medic with the flaw Really Unsympathetic.
Myles took a passenger Navigator, a decided Control Freak.
Iain took a Nervous Scientist.
Gregor took a pilot with a drink problem,
and Gordon arrived late and got the only character left, the ship's Technician and highest ranking crewman, therefor the Acting Captain.

From there three hours of chaos ensued. I would occasionally tell them about new distress signals they were receiving as every ship in the system was attacked by these strange sleek metallic green ships. The players were more concerned with their own antics on board ship though. An NPC sales rep who was in charge of the vast cargo the Moonwalk was carrying started acting wierd. Later Phil, playing the medic, found he had OD'ed on the drugs he was smuggling and would soon die without medical intervention. Phil and Gordon had a quick chat, decided he was too much of a liability and left him to die.

Up in the cockpit Gregor and Miles had decided that they would do their own thing and when Gordon asked the Security Officer (Roman, the only other NPC on board) to remove them we had our first fight. Gregor tried to punch him but then got sedated by Phil. Myles tried a swift incantatory kick but seeing as Myles' Navigator had no combat traits and Roman is a Security guard it didn't go so well. Roman just stepped back and shot him, filling up half his damage track. Myles, maybe too used to the gung-ho nature of 316 tried again but Roman had his gun trained on him already and so got a hefty bonus to initiative. The second shot effectively took Myles out of the fight.

The rest of the session was spent fixing up the Moonwalk so that even if it couldn't jump out of the system it could at least speed around in system and debating what they should be doing with the vast quantity of food in their hold. By the end of the session the whole system had been attacked and seriously damaged leaving the players with a lot of supplies that most of the system want.

So my original goals of exploring the ethics and options of being in control of a spaceship were realised although we had some discussion about whether that should be modeled in the system somehow. Both Miles and Phil got a bit of a shock when they realised how useless their characters would be in combat. This was intentional on my part, I wanted the characters to have very broad Traits covering everything within their areas of expertise but very little ability when they moved away from that.I guess I should have communicated that better at the start of the session.

The dice mechanics proved to be a bit fiddly. Even with two sizes and colors of dice the full dice/half dice thing just didn't quite flow which was a shame because as the game got going the ease of adding various characteristics together at full or half value was a definite benefit. I am considering other options now, the most similar would be to replace the full dice (D6 which pass on a 5 or a 6) with D8s passing on a 6, 7 or 8. The probabilities don't change much and you would always be looking for the same numbers. Also D8s and D6s are easier to tell apart than big and small D6s.

So a big thank you to all my players last night and also to anyone who read all that! I think that I can declare my first play of Oxygen a success. It has certainly given me a lot to think about.

Anyone who is reading this, your thoughts are appreciated.

Gregor Hutton

Great to see you posting here about it Brian. I was pretty happy to see it getting an airing -- I like SF, and I like especially the characters we've put into these pre-genned templates. I have no problem thinking we have our own characters within the parameters of the pre-gen stats and rough pencilled outlines.

You can tell that Phil and I were torn about the dice. I like the idea of having "Big" dice and "Little" dice, where one thing contributes more significantly to a test. But it did add to the handling time. As I said last night I thought I had two successes, but then realised that I only had the one on my full dice as the half dice had come up a 5. Thinking today I realised that we could get blank dice and put symbols on them for "success". (Or maybe I'm just reaching for something tactile in the spirit of Shatterzone's cards, etc.) I don't want it to be just another pool of similar sized dice (which is ironic since I have a game in development that it just that. damn! but i shouldn't change my game to be like yours! or vice versa)

Anyway, I felt that the rules allowed us to roll for things, but I'm not sure they resolved situations as well as I'd have liked. For example, when I punched Roman and Phil drugged me with his syringe. As it was, it was kinda clunky. We rolled Initiative and I got the green light with a great roll, then I punched Roman (success, but weakly, how does damage work? I had a Physique of 3 and thinking on it this morning that maybe means I should have cleaned Roman's clock?! or at least been more effectual), then Phil rolled to stab me with the syringe and it doped me out. As it was I was fine with that, but I could see it being a pain in the ass for Phil if the situation had been reversed, to be honest.

There are quite a lot of decisions weighing on the GM hidden in there (about Phil having his syringe ready, why he could sneak that up on me when I got the drop on him and Roman with my intiative roll, etc.) that I think we could have left to the dice. What if... we all say what we're doing (and at that point the player's know what our intents are -- I want to punch Roman, Phil wants to dope me if I punch Roman, and for sure that might change my action and Phil's too in response) and we then roll for Initiative or whatever and resolve things that way. I think Phil would have felt cheap shotted if I'd bottled him with my empty Vodka bottle after he did something to Myles, say.

Anyway, I think we resolved these things fine, but by kind of climbing over and around the back-and-forth of the dice rather than through them.

I do like the characters, and as I said I think we have something driving the characters that aren't quite the Goals you had in mind. Phil definitely has some purposeful stuff going on, but I'd hesitate to say it's as big as a long-arcing goal. I thought he should have been rewarded somehow for his playing to his flaw. He really was unsympathetic in a way that made interesting complications to the story.


I must admit, I had a really good time at the game last night. GMing didn't seem rusty to me at all :-)

I should warn you that all my roleplaying recently has been currency rather than fate based, so this my colour my comments :-)

I love the concept of the big and small dice, but I managed to avoid rolling for the whole game. So I'm afraid I can't really comment on how fiddly they were. I think you could be on to something with the D8 for big dice and D6 for small dice and always making the target a 6. That could be a nice solution to the problem.

The rules that we used seemed to be ok. But to be honest, I think there may have been either to much or too little dice rolling. With such a small number of abilities, we were going to be defaulting back to stats on almost anything outside of our focus. So I pretty much avoided anything that was too difficult and instead focussed on helping other people. To be honest it felt like the dice rolls we had to make could have been handled by almost any Sci-Fi system and none of them were really tied into the "difficult choice" thing.

I also think it was a little odd to play in a game that was about choices when there were almost no ways for a Player to influence the outcome of a dice roll. The system is awfully chancy, and there's not much we could do to control that.

I must admit, I got on OK with the character, but I didn't really connect. It's kinda hard to connect to a character who is only 7 words on a piece of paper. Might have been a different story if we had gone through character creation. It's just a pity that I didn't manage to do more with my Flaw, although it was the deciding factor in the death of Toby.

I think the real gold in your system was something that no-one even touched upon and only got mentioned in passing. I really love the reward system tied into your goal. The whole idea of each session you work towards a goal earning you a tick and when you complete the goal you get a reward equal to the number of ticks. That's something you could build the whole rest of your system around if you wanted to.

I don't think you have enough goals though. 5 feels like it would be about right to keep things moving. That way the player can keep them fluid and moving and not be too afraid to drop them off when they make a "choice" that goes against it. You could also rework the flaws over to something more like "crosses to bear" or something and work it the same way. That would also mean you could ditch your whole damage system if your wanted to as injury could just be another flaw.

If you wanted to get really funky, you could look at something that moves all your dice up to big dice when it's tied to a goal and success earns you a tick and failure gains you a tick on the cross to bear. That way people are more likely to try riskier things when they are tied into their goals.

Hope that kinda made sense.

I can see a lot of potential in this system, so hopefully I'll be able to make another session. 


Gregor: I agree that you all took to your characters fantastically well. Possibly that is an unforeseen benefit in the fairly vague character traits?

Well I think I have solved the dice problem. By changing to two different dice with the same target number we get to keep the satisfying physical representation of what you are rolling while simplifying the reading of successes. So I have been playing around in Excel trying out various combinations and finally found that D12s for big dice and D10s for little dice, each passing on a 9+ gives us the results we want. Actually, since the little dice will be passing slightly more often now it will possibly also help the players who felt their characters were slightly underpowered.

The fight wasn't great because I wasn't ready for it. Partly because I have never run the game before and partly because I forgot to set the scene adequately for a fight. Phil did have a syringe prepared, but I understand that it may have been a surprise to you that he was there in the room. Damage for your punch would have been Your PHYS+ Your Successes - His PHYS. So if it was a poor hit then 2D? Each dice would have done a point of stun damage on a 4 or 5 and a point of lethal damage on a 6. I couldn't remember that at the time and didn't want to look it up, so I guessed that he would take a point of stun. I'll do combat properly next week.

The Goals are intended more for campaign play, I have a few ideas for how I want to use them. I only included them here as an extra element for you to personalise your characters with. You are right though, there was a lot going on that had no backup from the rules, it was pure roleplay. In the past I would be fine with that, a good bit of roleplay is both goal and reward for everyone at the table. That is not to say though that I am not interested in finding ways in the system to further encourage and promote that kind of play, but it would have to be something that wouldn't unbalance the rest of the game.


Gordon: I was great to see you again and have you join in, and thanks for not noticing my nerves!

D8s&D6s were considered but I feel the D12s and D10s fit better. Same concept though.

I see what you are saying about the system seeming interchangeable with any other, the dice mechanics were built around the character gen that I wanted so they may be a little generic, but as long as they work then I am happy as they will allow me to use the characters I want in the setting I want. As for it being a risky system, most of the tasks would have been at about 50-70%, so risky? Yea. Too low? I'm not sure. Anyway, that's just my thinking, if you have any other ideas or think I'm missing something say so.

I'm glad you like the concept of the Goals. I am dieing to test them out in an extended campaign. Can you imagine the fun a GM could have when friendly PCs have conflicting goals? I figured probably about three goals per character and maybe another three group goals tagged to their ship.

You could be right about simply adding wounds in as Flaws. Instead of ticking off a few boxes you gain Shot In The Leg, -2D. I would need to rething the way the penalties are derived from the damage roll though...

Again, thanks for the input. Keep it coming!


I think the whole thing of it feeling like a risky system probably comes down to me playing a lot off stuff where you just decide if your character succedes or fails rather than going to a dice roll. The percentages you are looking at sound about right, so it should be fine.

I think 3 goals per character sounds good. Is there any particular reason that you would have seperate goals for the ship? I'm not sure that our crew is quite unified enough for that :-)

You could change the way the system works slightly if you want to play about with the goals thing during our playtest. If you changed the Goals to get a tick after 1 scene working towards it rather than 1 session you could work with much shorter term goals. Of course you'd probably want to change over to it giving extra dice for use on tests rather than advancing skills if you are going to work on the short term.


That could work well.

Short term goals get a tick for every scene you spend working towards them, these ticks can then give a bonus dice on a related task (either due to the characters added incentive or because the work put into completing the goal helps with the task).
Long term goals get a tick for every session in which you work towards your goal. The ticks are turned into experience upon completion of your goal.

So each character will have one or two short term goals relating to the immediate situation. So your character in the current game might have "Find a new base of operations," having just completed "Get this MY ship working again." Meanwhile Gregor could have the long term goal of "Show everyone how awesome I am so that they give me the respect I deserve," and the related short-term goal of, "Get myself a really nice kipper neck-tie!"

Actually, I can have them both function the same way but on different scales. The ticks on your short term goals can be saved up to provide experience points for bumping up skills/specialisations or they can be spent whenever to add a small dice to any roll. Long term goal checks can be saved up to provide experience points for bumping up stats and traits or they can be spent to add a large dice to any roll.

So as long as the players are coming up with goals that will lead the plot in the direction that the GM wants then the players will be getting positive feedback from the types of scenes that the GM wants and the specific goals that the players choose within the GM's remit ensure that the players are getting rewarded for the activities that they want to do.

The Ship goals that I was referring to are goals that apply to the entire crew. If the PCs are the crew of a military vessel then the crew's current orders will be one of the ship's goals. In the same way as personal goals, any checks against the goal when it is completed can be spent improving the ship. I want the stories told in Oxygen to be about the whole crew, rather than about PCs as individuals so I see details like this for the ship being very important. And you are right, your crew isn't unified enough for Ship Goals, that's fine, you don't have any. If you do manage to unify the crew though and get them to agree on a goal then you might be able to start benefiting from having a common goal.


Session 2

Again, positive results from the playtest. The setting developed well and the story progressed well. Both remained consistent where I added in details and either mysterious or unimportant where I left things vague so that is good. I have been looking forward to running stories in this setting since I was inspired over a year ago so I am glad that it is realising it's potential.

As for the system, this week I replaced the big&small D6s with D12s&D10s as I mentioned above and that solved most of the problems. They maintain the weighty, physical representation of exactly what you are rolling and are now a lot simpler to read the results. One of my players felt that he didn't quite get how the dice pool is formed from your traits and stats and while there are simpler resolution mechanics out there I don't feel that mine is over-complex. Importantly I feel that the different ways in which the pools are formed and a depth to the system that is more valuable than simplifying the system would be. The complexity has purpose. I suspect my player would get his head around it in a couple more sessions anyway but his initial is reservation is a potentially important one so it is noted.

Gordon couldn't make this session and Myles was, erm, having trouble concentrating (always a danger when running in a pub...) so it was down to Phil (Medic, acting captain), Gregor (Pilot, wannabee captain) and Iain (Scientist, useful passenger) to carry the group forward. They did admirably. Their plan was to find a uninhabited gas mining station which they could use as a base of operations. A likely station was quickly found however all did not quite go to plan for Captain Phil.

Without going into too much detail we ended up with Phil's character stranded on the station as twelve gas-mining operators rose up in elevators from rigs within the gas giant. Technically the players had just saved their lives by turning the power back on but Phil was worried that the miners would be looking for someone to blame for the rest of the station's crew who had died in the attacks two days before (see post 1 above). Meanwhile Gregor, in an hilarious and in-character fit of madness had subdued the ship's NPC security guard and stolen the ship. Phil had ordered the rest of the crew to chase him in one of the station's shuttles. Oh and a couple of shuttles full of people thinking they could try being pirates were trying to reach the group's ship to steal their food.

So the first of the key scenes of the session was between Gregor's character and Roman, the NPC security guard as Gregor realises that he may have made a mistake and Roman talks him into untying him. It was a lovely bit of negotiation with the two coming to a middle ground where they could work together. They then waited for the rest of the crew to catch up and they dropped the ship around the far side of the gas giant leaving Phil to deal with the pirates and the miners himself!

Next up was Phil twisting his Military Background and Medic traits to make a homemade gas grenade to deal with some of the amateur pirates. The Moonwalk then returned and with some good rolls in a tricky situation managed to take out the rest of the pirates with their broken laser turret. Phil and Gregor's reconcilliation was nicely played out, like the earlier scene with Roman it was all role-played out but it ended well. Finally Phil managed to talk down the angry miners and gain their trust and friendship.

So I was happy. The session organically lead to the sorts of negotiations, intra-party conflicts and dilemmas that I hoped it would and all with minimal input from the GM (me). The system coped well enough with the various tasks that my crazy players wanted to attempt although I will need to tighten up some of those rules a little as I was winging bits of it.

Post-game Greggor mentioned that none of the negotiations, the focal points of the session, were backed up by the system and asked if that was how I wanted it. Discussing it I realised that if I gave the NPCs Goals like the players have then negotiations could be handled simply through Roleplay like we did as the involved players try to find a solution that accommodates both character goals. If such a compromise can't be found then a social conflict is initiated with both players taking their goals either as their resistance to the conflict or as bonus dice for their side of the conflict. Something like that anyway.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated. We will be playing again in two weeks. I for one can't wait!