Friday, August 21, 2020

Implied Setting of Machinations of the Space Princess

Yeah, more about Machinations.  One of the things it does really, really well is implied setting.  There’s enough there to work with, but not so much there it’s going to feel like you’re guessing what the truth really is.

So, how does MotSP do implied setting?


Sometimes, it just out-and-out tells you.  There are a few short paragraphs about the fall of the Urlanth Matriarchy and the 99 space princesses battling for the throne.  The same page mentions mega-corps and guilds and criminal organizations rising to fill the void, while entire star systems go rogue or rebel.  It’s described as “a chaotic whirl of violence and opportunism.”

The next page mentions a few themes the game was designed around.  The first is that the universe is ridiculously huge.  Desborough throws around the numbers, and they’re the sort that make the mind of normal folk glaze over.  One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.  But the billions upon billions of stars, each with its attendant constellation of planets, moons, comets, meteors and what-not?  Even as statistics, they are too colossally huge to do anything useful with.  The universe isn’t infinite, but there’s room for just about anything you and the players want to stick in it.  Hell, our galaxy is probably big enough for that, with three-hundred billion stars in it, and there are another one-hundred-and-seventy billion galaxies that we’ve seen so far. 

In short, feeling crowded isn’t something the Machinations GM should feel.  You’ve got more than enough room to toss in everything, the kitchen sink, and whatever else the players come up with that might strike your fancy. 

This Machinations universe, like our own, isn’t just ridiculously big, it’s also ridiculously old at over 13 billion years.  Where Machinations might deviate from the real galaxy is in the amount of intelligent life.  Like the Star Wars universe, the universe of MotSP is teaming not just with life, but intelligent life, and this life isn’t so alien that the different species can’t communicate, trade, and come together in polyglot empires.  As Desborough says,

There is plenty of time and space for empires to rise and fall, for many different intelligent species to take their turn hauling ass out of the primordial muck and having a go at being interstellar traders and empire builders fora while and all without necessarily bumping into each other. The universe may be full of these kinds of goings on, but it’s also so massive as to allow for backwaters where primitive planets go unmolested and pocket empires of several stars cling on, thinking themselves to be masters of the universe.


There are also these little one or two sentence snippets at the bottom of every page.  These are things like:

The two-headed asp of Belton-3’s heads are actually antennae. Its brain is in the trunk. 

Evolution moves slower than technology. Get your instincts corrected surgically! 

Proot the Unkillable moves from planet to planet and slaughters their populations. 

Gamma ray bursts have increased on the fringes and seem to be coming inward. 

Far from any star the Dark Tower imprisons the ancient gods in a matrix of orgone. 

Xanak worker caste were biological robots, until some bastard uplifted them.

In short, a collection of local color, GM inspiration, and adventure hooks.  Nearly every page has one of these at the bottom.  Most of the topics referenced (like Proot the Unkillable) are never mentioned again.


But the technique I find most interesting is how the rules build the setting.  Unlike Yoon-suin, there are few random tables allowing you to build locations, organizations, or individuals.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t implied setting.  There’s actually a TON of implied setting in the rules. 

The most obvious place is the race creation rules.  This is a universe full of varied life.  Sure, humanoid is the default, but it’s not the only option.  We’ve got rules for ammonia-based floating bags that live in the cloud layers of gas giants; rock-encrusted, radiation-loving boron-based lifeforms; poison-guzzling chemosynthetic races; beings of pure energy; steamy metal-oxide based life; petro-swilling methane-based life; and two versions of silicon-based life.  You can be a parasite that lives in other organisms, a cyborg, an AI, an emergency medical hologram, or even deceased!  Plus, we’ve got all the classics: cat-people, dog-people, plant-people, bat-people, insect-people, gestalt swarm people, psionic space elves, fungus-people, octopus-people, noble warrior races, resolute pacifist races, spiritually enlightened races, barbaric races, and pretty much all the other sci-fi clichés you can think of.  

And with space being so ridiculously, impossibly big, your wonderfully bizarre snowflake of a race might be from some distant corner of this, or some other, galaxy. 

Or even another universe altogether!

But it actually starts with the stats.

MotSP adds Comeliness to the traditional six.  Now, on the face of it, this is the last game that should use a Comeliness stat.  Especially when you look at the race-creation rules.  Combine the two, and what you end up with is a universe where an ammonia-based lifeform that looks like a giant jellyfish can appreciate the beauty of Monica Bellucci.  And a universe where plain ol’ human you can appreciate the ammonia-based lifeform that looks like a giant jellyfish’s version of Monica Bellucci.

This is a universe where potent enough beauty crosses not just cultural but species lines, where Captain Jack Harkness is seducing everything with a pulse (and some things without) as he hip-thrusts his way across the galaxy. 

In a game that encourages everyone at the table to go absolutely gonzo with creating new and bizarre alien races, you’d be completely justified in questioning the idea of a universally applicable Charisma stat.  Machinations of the Space Princess scoffs at your pedantry and doubles down with Comeliness. 

The most blatant bit of rules-describing-setting is force fields.  They come in two flavors.  One basically increases the difficulty of hitting you while the other absorbs a certain amount of damage per combat (recharging basically at the end of each fight).  In either case, they only work against ranged attacks and do nothing against melee attacks.  And they’re cheap!  You can get a +1 to your Ranged Defense (effectively your AC vs. ranged attacks) for a mere 5 gp.  Money well spent!  Especially since they never run out of charge or the like.  Your forcefield defense is good forever.

This, of course, is why swashbuckling about with swords (lazer or otherwise) makes sense in the MotSP universe.  You can plink a lot of shots at someone from a distance and have them deflected harmlessly away, but that won’t happen when you poke them with a sharpened stick.  Ranged weapons also potentially suffer running out of ammo/charge/whatevers.  How often you need to reload is based on a saving throw you roll for the weapon at the end of every fight.  


There aren’t as many as you’d think.  They’re all big.  The first is a d100 table the Psion class characters roll on to generate their witch mark, some strangeness caused by the character’s deviant genetics or possibly the source of their unusual powers.  Some are baleful, others beneficial.  (Shockingly, there’s no “overcharge” mechanic that forces Psions to roll again for pushing their powers too far.)  The results range from eh to potential coolness.  The results are things like:

Mushtool: You are infested with a psychicfungal symbiote which covers you in faintly glowing growths and tendrils. -1 Com. 

Inedible: You are poisonous, anything biting you or tasting your blood or flesh must make a Toughness Save or suffer d6 damage. If you’re already poisonous step up the damage by a dice type. 

The Fog: Your body surrounded you with a fine mist that obscures you from direct view.+1 Ranged Defence. 

For the Birds: Instead of hair you havefeathers like a bird. -1 Charisma. 

Omnomnom: You are covered in tiny mouths that chatter and whisper blasphemies, lies and the occasional hard truth. -2 Cha and Com.

There’s also a d100 table of cool adventure hooks happening on a planet:

The planet produces a unique mineral/resource/drug. 

The planet is a suspiciously calm and gentle utopia. What’s going on? 

Look out! Space locusts! 

A postphysical entity on the world demands sacrifices. 

The planet is only just making first contact with greater galactic society. Hijinx ensure. 

The space navy is in ‘town’ with thousands of astronauts and space marines on leave on the planet. 


And finally, there’s a random table for planets that’s very Star Wars, as it includes: Desert World, Plains World, City World, etc. 

There’s a bit more set-dressing stuff about star colors, asteroid belts, moons, etc.  Basically, these things exist, as you’d expect.

It’s kind of interesting how little Machinations does with random tables, considering how much use they get in Lamentations’ stuff.  So many of the ideas in the unweighted d100 tables are never going to be seen, and so much of it is pretty standard sci-fi TV show fare, the sort you’d expect from an episode of Star Trek or the ‘80’s Buck Rogers, that it just reinforces what’s already there. 


Instead, the real world-building is in the rules that are going to come up repeatedly.  And I could discuss more, especially all the broad range of stuff that falls under the Scholar skills which is likely to make characters with what amounts to post-graduate skills extremely rare in the game (and how many of those skills are one-upped by psionic powers). 

The fun thing is all the handles this gives you when designing your campaign.  You can easily narrow down the options for races; you can remove personal shields to make guns more potent; you can replace space ships with star gates without breaking a thing.

Though I’m not sure why you’d want to, honestly.  As is, Machinations gives you a great little set-up for classic rollicking space opera shenanigans.  Much better, I think, to do a Session Zero and pick out the themes your players are most interested in and design characters and adventures that focus on those.


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Venger Satanis said...

Damn, that was comprehensive! I hope you do Alpha Blue next. ;)

trollsmyth said...

Venger Satanis: ask and you shall recieve!

Venger Satanis said...

Thank you, hoss.

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