Fixing a Lop-Sided Triforce

October 7, 2008

In Fingers on the Firmament, the off-again on-again game I’m supposed to be co-developing with Justin D. Jacobson, my intent was to make a GM-less d20 game in which the minimum number of players was three, one for each of the main splats: cartographers, astronomers, archaeologists. The idea was basically to make a version of Polaris’ four player roles (Heart, Mistaken, and the two Moons) and use three players to cover all the bases I needed for Firmament play. If play groups ended up doubling up on one or more roles, that would be cool; players would just share responsibilities. And there could be interesting situations or even short campaigns based around groups with lop-sided assortments of splats: all cartographers, for example.

However, what I’ve come to realize is that my three splats are, themselves, lop-sided. I’m really interested in cartographers (mapping the universe through dance and craft) and archaeologists (Indiana Jones meets Lovecraftian investigators). But I’m not that excited about astronomy and never really have been, because I haven’t figured out what’s cool about what astronomers do (talk to stars, do star magic) and how to clearly distinguish it from cartography (which involves plotting routes between stars). I generally think magic users in most fantasy settings suck, aside from some cool exceptions like Earthsea and the stuff Spice does in Dune. So I need to spend some time rethinking astronomy and how it should work, perhaps borrowing from the 4E starlight and feywild warlocks for ideas. It needs to be more dangerous and alien, I think, to match up in coolness to the other sciences.

I also need to get clearer on what the in-play responsibilities of the various splats are.

My sense is that archaeologists, who know the most about ancient human ruins, are responsible for setting up the terrestrial maps (maybe even battlemap or dungeon style, complete with squares) when the characters are exploring the surface of a planet or asteroid or moon or whatever. They don’t pre-plan these maps, but actually generate them through their checks for exploring and understanding the ruins. So a roll to peer through the darkness might generate, y’know, 6 squares of heiroglyphic-encrusted walls and the outer couple squares of an immense sarcophagus, which would be drawn on the map by the archaeologist.

Choreographers basically do the same thing for space, generating the various routes between stars and the stars that make them up. Like archeology, this happens as you travel, though some initial routes are generated during character creation. I’m much less clear on what astronomers should do, which is partially why they’re more problematic.

Also, I may or may not need someone to generate what the local human communities in the area are like, but those could also be generated collectively, though interactions. For example, you make a roll to find some traces of people, then you track those traces to the people who made them, and your rolls generate how many people there are. And the rolls you make to interact with those people generate their character traits: are they friendly or hostile, what skills do they have, etc.

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