Thursday, May 14, 2020

Any Planet Is Earth: Core Rules Draft

"Any planet is 'Earth' to those who live on it." 
Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky

I thought I wanted to set out to make a fantasy adventure game of my own design. I was wrong. I already held Into the Odd and (the tragically lesser known) MoldHammer up as near-perfect designs (the former with a bit more crunch than the latter [which sounds amusingly impossible]). After digging into the Electric Bastionland rules (not to mention already enjoying Mausritter, Maze Rats, and other venerable off-Odd derivative hacks), I realized that there is no fantasy design space I really care to fill. I will 100% always play or run or hack any title from that family of games.

So with few other strong contenders for genre, I turn to science fiction, which I've really always admired reading and exploring far more than fantasy literature and games of all stripes. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Jack Vance, Orson Scott Card, and William Gibson took up (and still take up) a great deal of my reading budget, among other similar contemporaries. 

Mothership is a masterful game, but my friends don't like horror. Mothership is a great engine even without playing horror sci-fi, but then you're ignoring a great element of its design. Classic Traveller is the quintessential sci-fi game, and leaves little to be desired or improved upon, but features more modifiers than I prefer. Into the Odd is the perfect fantasy game, and is streamlined into quicksilver, but not optimized for space adventure. Perhaps I can make these meet in the middle somehow?

Below is my first draft for Any Planet Is Earth. I have a few more pages written up, namely related tables and supporting thoughts, but the full rules take up a single page. I am aiming to keep everything to a total of four or six single pages (so 2-3 double-sided pages). It is Arnesonian in many respects, at least in intent. Adjudicate and rely on context and common sense. Keep things deliberately vague. What is a skill used for? I don't know, you figure it out. Etc.

----- Rules Draft Follows ------

Any Planet Is Earth is a (hard-ish) science fiction game which promotes fictional positioning and common sense narrative explanation of advantages and disadvantages. Numbers are essentially unimportant in terms of character attributes and encounters. The rules frame an improvisational crucible for drama and curious adventure.

Roll 2d6 in order.

STR - Strength: brawn and resilience
DEX - Dexterity: agility and reflex
SOC - Sociability: charisma and decorum

If any score is 9+, write “adept” next to it. If any score is 5-, write “lacking.” There are no modifiers, such as +1 or -1, etc. If any score is 6-8, write “typical” next to it.

You begin with 4 hits. You get +1 hit each if STR and/or DEX are adept, and -1 hit each if STR and/or DEX are lacking. “Hit Points” are simply “hits.” Normal people on solid ground are frail and vulnerable. Normal people in space are flirting with oblivion at all times.

Service and Terms
You begin as an 18-year-old, and roll 1d6 to determine an initial service, either military (1-2), expeditionary (3-4), or mercantile (5-6). Then roll 1d6 to determine how many consecutive four-year terms you work in said service. Terms of service provide potential skills, events, mishaps, and boons which shape you before entering play. Redundant skill results become “adept.”

Roll 2d6 against your service table and follow the results, adding, removing, or changing stats, skills, and items from your character sheet. If you roll an event, mishap, or boon, roll on the appropriate table.

When you finish rolling all terms for any given service you may either retire or roll 1d6 to join a new service, removing your previous service from the choice (so 1-3 for one and 4-6 for the other). Roll 1d6-X for new terms served, where X is the number of terms you’ve already served. You may continue until either you roll 0 or lower on the terms result or you are killed in the process.

Damage is dealt in straight hits automatically and without a dice contest, and is arbitrated by the fiction and referee’s discretion. General guidelines follow:

1 hit for simple or improvised weapons, 2 hits for heavy or bladed hand weapons, 3 hits for handguns or rifles, and 4 hits for shotguns, laser weapons, grenades, etc. You may add +1 hit for automatic fire, then immediately roll d6 (1-3 out of ammo, 4-6 business as usual). Armor typically reduces hits point per point.

It is of vital importance to consider context and positioning. This is where players and referee alike must be realistic and reasonable. If you are exposed and at great disadvantage, a dagger to your throat will kill you in short order, regardless of your expensive gear and impressive training. A frag grenade explosion behind cover will still crush your chest with concussive force. Item tags help to provide additional narrative context for damage and peripheral effects.

You are capable of handling all typical weapons, computers, and vehicles with baseline proficiency. Skills represent advanced understanding of any given category, and help to better frame success or failure for specific tasks and risks.

Rolling Dice
Good planning negates the need for dice. Things simply happen as you describe. Otherwise, roll 2d6 and aim for 8 or higher to succeed. Describe what you’re doing. Leveraging skills, preparation, and positioning allows for advantages (or disadvantages) which may result in mixed successes or failures with bonuses, etc.

----- End Draft -----

My hope is to wed a very narrative-first articulation of any given context with grounded danger and no single element over-explained so as to hard frame anyone's actions or assumptions in play. Yeah, you can die pretty easily. That's what happens when you're flying through space wearing magboots without gravity and someone points a shotgun at you. Try not to get into that situation.

We've got Traveller-esque careers and commerce, Into the Odd-esque combat and open problem solving, Mothership-esque vulnerability and worldbuilding (and in a later post, Apocalypse Engine-esque item/weapon/vehicle/ship tags, etc). It's a start. Hopefully it is Arnesonian--that's really my undercutting motivation... how to take the sci-fi concept and make it as brutally simple and table-interptetive as possible, while, perhaps, indulging a bit of the antecedent source material (such as a riff on Traveller).

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