the game’s rules can fit on four or less pages in an A5 format
the game uses a single dice type for all resolution mechanics
I interpreted these restrictions even more tightly, and decided that the rules, including the character sheet and character creation, were going to fit on 4 pages of A5. The game has a simple dice pool system and only uses D6 dice.
During playtesting, the players had fun with the ‘draw your Laserblade’ rules.
Laser Monks also includes an easy-to-run setting. I think it would take a GM about 15 minutes to read the setting and prepare a game session from it.
And I released the whole game under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license (except the front cover items).
If you play a session, let me know how it went via my twitter or in the comments here.
In the original Star Wars trilogy, and in the Prequel trilogy, there are no direct references to a light side of the Force.
The dark side is mentioned once in A New Hope, and several times in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
The closest we get is in Empire when Luke asks Yoda:
But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
The Prequel trilogy also has several references to a prophecy that states that Anikan will ‘bring balance to the force’.
But even though the dark side is explicitly referred to, there are no direct references to the light side.
The Sequel trilogy breaks with this.
Han refers to ‘the dark side and the light’. Kylo Ren says he feels a ‘pull to the light’. Maz tells Rey that the feeling of the light has always been there. Leia tells Han that there is still light in Kylo Ren. The Force Awakens’ trailer also mentions ‘the dark side and the light‘.
But if we ignore the mess that is VII-IX, and if we ignore the countless references to the light side of the force in video games, novels etc. then we reach a reasonable conclusion.
There is no light side of the Force.
How can there be a dark side and not be a light side?
The original alignment system in D&D was threefold
From the release of Basic D&D in 1977 (the same year that the first Star Wars movie was released), a two-axis system was preferred. Characters still fell on the lawful-chaotic axis, but now fell on another three part axis
Combining them leads inexorably to these alignment chart memes
I propose that the Star Wars Force alignment chart should look like this:
The light side of the Force
The dark side of the Force
The Force occupies a position of neutrality, maybe even true-neutral in dndspeak. This matches with the dialogue in movies I-VI and also fits with the way that the Jedi act in the prequel movies. Their dogma and rules get in the way of their ability to do good. And it fits with the idea that Anikan’s love (for his mother, and later for Padme) leads him to the dark side.
And, like rhyming poetry, it fits the ideas from Return of the Jedi, where the Emperor wants Luke to strike his enemies down. He wants him to stray from the neutral path of the Jedi. Killing in anger, even killing someone who has done bad things, really bad things, is not the Jedi way. Luke argues with Yoda in Empire – Good Luke wants to go and save his friends, even if it is a trap, whereas Neutral Yoda believes that fear-of-loss is a path to the dark side. In fact he told Anikan as much in Phantom Menace.
The challenging part of the ‘no-light-side’ interpretation of the Force is that it feels skewed and off-balance. We expect there to be a good/evil dichotomy (maybe with neutral in the middle).
I’m fine with that.
But what does that mean for D&D alignment?
What would a setting look like if it was devoid of certain cosmic alignments? Or if there were no Good deities? Or no Lawful ones?
Sidenote: The best alignment system
The Magic: The Gathering colour pie is the best alignment system.
In fact, excellent settings have been built just from tinkering with the colour combinations.
I want my game to be epic, spanning many years, with the potential for characters to grow old; for new generations to come to the fore and take up the mantle; and for nations to rise and fall.
Problem: Even with a game/system which is well designed for that kind of long-term view, everything takes about 2 to 4 times longer than I expected to play out.
Untested potential solution I have not seen touted before: Truncate the calendar year down to 112 days. (This could also serve as a worldbuilding spark.)
Stardew Valley is a Harvest Moon-like video game where you have run cute, artisanal farm. As its a farming game it wants the seasons to change so crops can rotate and you can experience the bountiful summer and fallow winter. However, it doesn’t want you to have to play out about 90 in-game days for the season to shift. That would be tedious.
Instead it uses a 28-day season. Four weeks of 7 days makes up a season. There are four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.
If my fantasy game is in a secondary world (not Earth), then I could truncate the world to have 4 seasons of 28 days – a 112 day year.
This would roughly third the number of days in the year, which is convenient since games take about 3 times longer than intended to play out.
How to manage a truncated year
We need to change the durations of everything in the setting to fit our new 112 day year.
Events on the day-scale should still take roughly the same number of days as usual
Cows can be milked once per day
You eat three meals a day
You can walk about 3 miles per hour for about 8 hours without exhausting yourself (though you will still be tired)
Chickens lay eggs every couple of days
Events on the year-scale should take roughly the same fraction of a year as usual
Human pregnancies last for about 3/4 of a year (roughly 3 seasons or 84 days)
Humans legally become adults after 18 years
Lambs are born in the Spring
There are some events whose new durations will have to be chosen by you (as a game-master or as a table of players). Everything in your game is levers, and you need to decide which setting these levers are on.
Does health and illnesses resolve on the day or year scale?
Year-scale means quicker healing but quicker deterioration times when unwell or injured.
Do weather phenomena change on the day or year scale?
Year-scale means volatile sudden rains and storms. However, day-scale means a dry spell or cold-snap could have a massive destabilising effect on the crop growth of that year, as there is a smaller band of days to plant and harvest within.
Are settlements 3 times closer together than normal?
A 30 day round trip takes a whole season now (rather than a third of a season).
Closer settlements facilitates better trade and a more in-contact world, with closer cultural ties. It also increases the ability for centres of power to project their influence (though tax collectors and military patrols)
Does learning occur at the day-scale or year-scale?
Year-scale means skills and knowledge will match our expectations for the age of a character. However it will mean that learners progress more quickly day-to-day, probably though improved memory/retention or through increased rates of comprehension.
Day-scale means that everyone learns at the same rate, but it takes longer to build up a knowledge base.
There are so many areas to consider that you would probably have to discuss them a the table as they arose.
A rule of thumb is that day-scale results in a grittier game and year-scale in a more epic game.
What’s the use of this?
A thought experiment to help you think about how parts of your game are connected to time (and each other)
A worldbuilding spark (ask yourself “if this is true, what else is true?”)
A sci-fi world (take this idea and stick it in your traveller/star trek game).
A design principle. Just as DMs have talked about attacking every part of the character sheet, worldbuilders and game designers should challenge every assumption of the setting.
I’ve run Star Trek Adventures a couple of times now. Its core system is feels like a bespoke mechanism for treknobabble and dealing with sci-fi problems, which is pretty much exactly what I need for a trek game.
It’s space combat system feels like playing FTL: Faster Than Light, where either you wipe your enemies or you engage in a manic struggle for survival. The ground combat system is similar, but without the threat of ejection into the void or a warp-core breach.
It’s relatively difficult to find the information you need when running the game, so much so that I created this google slides doc to ease the running of combat when I was prepping my second campaign. Even then, combat took a while.
The characters pick several beliefs and then receive meta-currency for engaging with them. I struggled to make that work in my games, just as I struggled with Burning Wheel‘s meta-currencies and belief system.
Star Trek Adventures has lots of material about the federation and trek-stuff in general, and I wonder what it’s for. I assume most people buying the core book know a reasonable amount about Trek already or they wouldn’t be buying it. But if you didn’t know much about Trek, the best way to find out is to watch a few episodes or movies, not read a dusty tome.
I’m assuming the use of a hexmap, and that each hex corresponds to a star system. Hexes can also be empty, and there are space features which span several hexes such as nebulae.
Your ship has two main actions when travelling: Scanning and Moving.
When your ship Scans, choose one option from below
Detailed Scan: receive detailed sensor information on any one adjacent hex (the star’s class; along with an estimate of how many space ships or other constructed space entities there are; and how many planetary bodies there are, divided into small (roughly Earth sized and smaller) and large (ice giants and gas giants))
Rudimentary Stellar Scan: receive sensor information about two adjacent hexes. Rudimentary sensor information just gives the class of the star (if there is one).
Detailed FLT trail Scan: receive detailed information about faster-than-light trails in any one adjacent hex. This might detail the number and direction of any trails, and information about the size and speed of those ships. The information may be up to a week old.
Rudimentary FTL trail Scan: receive information about faster-than-light trails in any two adjacent hexes. This is just an estimate of number and direction, and only pertaining to travel from the last day or so.
When you Scan you should make some sort of roll or check that will determine the quantity of information revealed.
When your ship Moves you go from your current hex to an adjacent one. Choose one option from below
Cruise: Travel at your ship’s standard speed. You can Move to one adjacent hex
Sneak: Travel at half your ship’s standard speed. You can Move half of a hex’s length and it is much harder for you to be spotted by FTL trail scans (get advantage or something)
Each day your ship can choose two actions from the above list.
If your ship will Cruise twice, you can go an additional hex. This is called Maximum FTL. Sustaining Maximum FTL for more than one day will require an engineering check.
If your ship will Scan twice, then you can scan not only adjacent hexes, but also hexes adjacent to those (ie not only the nearest 6 hexes but also the 12 hexes surrounding that.
Your ship can also spend its actions repairing but that is probably too system-specific to get into here.
Random Space Encounters
I would use a hexmap that’s about 10×10 with star systems no further than 4 hexes from each other.
Once per dey, roll on the Initial Encounter table. If you get an encounter as the result then also roll Complication table.
If you want to have less encounters, keep the table the same but use a larger dice (d8/d10) and make all results above 6 result in ‘No encounter’.
If you want to have more encounters, roll for an initial encounter twice per day instead of once.
A ripple in space-time: ship’s dog Rover is replaced with a cat from the mirror universe that acts like a dog, answers to the name Rover.
Beachball sized orb follows the ship: Whoever looks at it sees a minaturised version of their homeworld.
Ion storm causes a momentary lapse in holodeck safety protocols: A historical figure from a holodeck program is made material and sentient.
Gaseous mind-parasite sneaks in through an exhaust port and infiltrates replicators: Crew’s food becomes hallucinogenic.
A rapaciously hungry tar-like blob attaches itself to the hull causing minor damage: It will grow and devour the whole ship if left to itself. It is psychic and is very open about its desire to consume the entire universe.
Wormhole: Takes the crew back to stone-age earth where aliens are trying to mess up the future. The wormhole will collapse in 3 hours.
As I used up events on the Interior Encounter table below, I added more events based on the actions of the party. These are intended to mostly be short social encounters which emulate day-to-day life on the ship.
Cultural celebration for one of the less prominent species/cultures on the ship
Ship’s pilot is challenged to a simulation race
Physical poetry recital
Barcrawl of 20th century pop-culture bars and pubs on the holodeck
3rd grade’s production of the first ever FTL flight – Senior officers are invited to performance
Safety Drill – how to handle a virulent space-plague
A live-action production of The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, performed by engineering
An attempt to add obscure alien cuisine to the replicators has succeeded and the crew are invited to Exotic Food Night
Film night and munchies after
Chief historian interviews senior crewmembers
Security Chief puts senior officers through a hand-to-hand combat refresher course
Judging a contest to name a new species of space-whale
In the Exterior Encounters table below, roll d12 twice: the first result is the encountered ship, whilst the second is the mood/motivation of the ship. You may need to roll another ship to interact with the first one for it to make sense. I took inspiration from the random encounter tables in Hot Springs Islands which are fantastic.
The first 8 entries in the table were universal no matter which part of the hexmap the players were in. The last 4 entries changed depending on which inhabited star system they were nearest to.
Because the actual encounters were so closely related to the setting the players were exploring, I’ve genericised them below.
I also used the table below when players scanned a region of space and wanted information on the ships that were travelling through there (or had recently travelled there).
Archeological/Geological research vessel
Astronomical research vessel
Mind Vampire Psychological warfare frigate
Peacekeeper patrol cruiser
Local Merchant Vessel
It would be perfectly possible to re-order the Mood/Motivation column and use 2d6 instead of a d12, knowing that the middle results will be weighted towards much more than the outer results.
I designed the above system for encounters to make it the game feel like Star Trek TNG. Some great bits of sci-fi happen in the less action/diplomacy centered moments of the show, for instance: Data’s excellent poem about his cat, Spot; Worf discussing Klingon mating rituals; and Picard Day. Moments that let us see the characters in a more relaxed setting, or that illuminate and flesh out elements of their cultures.
In my own game the internal encounter table became radically different as play went on and it was increasingly influenced by past actions of the player characters. We had a simulated paintball deathmatch to settle a point of honour; a fashion show to introduce the new ships uniforms; and holographic Steve Irwin examining the ship’s cat, Rover. Our last session had that characters playing a holonovel where they played as their characters playing characters from Robin Hood. It was very meta, very hammy and a great send-off.