Monday, August 24, 2020

The Implied Setting of Alpha Blue


By popular demand: an analysis of the implied setting for Alpha Blue.

Well, ok, Venger demanded it. 

Just remember, as you read this, that he literally asked for it.  In just about every sense of that phrase. 😉

Unlike Machinations of the Space Princess, Alpha Blue has a pretty thoroughly described setting: the mobile space station (wait, doesn’t that make it a ship?) Alpha Blue itself.  However, there are some comments about the larger universe I want to touch on, primarily as they differ from Machinations.  Largely because, in many ways, Alpha Blue is the anti-Machinations. 

For instance, where the universe of Machinations is ridiculously (and accurately) huge, the universe of Alpha Blue is fairly small.  Galaxies are treated as roughly analogous to continents.  On page 39 we’re told, “The vast majority of this universe has been explored - some of it quite thoroughly.”

This is reinforced by two other facts.  The first is that humans (and humans with face bumps) make up the vast majority of sentients in this universe.  Where Machinations looks very much like the cantina scene in the first Star Wars movie, Alpha Blue looks like everywhere else in the Star Wars universe: humans and human-like beings as far as the eye can see.  There are aliens, but they’re very much in the minority, and don’t come in nearly the variety or volume of aliens in Machinations. 

The second thing of note in this universe is that it is dominate by tyrannical jerks.  Again, in direct contrast to Machinations’ universe, where chaos is the norm and order is limited to (relatively) small pockets that wax in wane like mayflies against the backdrop of deep time on an astronomical scale, the Alpha Blue universe is gripped in the neurotic and up-tight control of a number of intergalactic factions.  Some are religious (the principle religion of the universe appears to be apocalyptic), others are simply autocratic.  There are mind-controlling Brain Bugs, cyborg legions chanting “Servitude or Death,” and the mega-corp conglomerate Micro McDonald Disney Walmart Cola “which owns approximately one-tenth of the known universe.”

This makes the Alpha Blue not-a-station (It moves around!  It’s a very big spaceship!) an oasis of chaos in an uptight, prune-faced, abusive universe.  Being a rare example of a place where people can let off steam, it’s metastasized into a carnival of prurient excess. 

So that’s what Venger has given us overtly or casually alluded to in the text.  I’m more interested in picking at what the rules tell us about this universe. 

First off, Venger’s original intention was not to provide rules for Alpha Blue.  Instead, it was supposed to be a system-neutral setting to drop into whatever sci-fi game you were playing.  About halfway through the project, Venger shifted gears on that and created a system to go with it.  His intention was to craft a character creation process that set the tone. 

I’m not going to comment on how well he accomplished his goal here.  I’m only after what the system he devised implies about the setting.

First of all, this is an insanely rules-lite system.  So rules-lite, your character doesn’t even have stats.

No, I’m serious, no stats.  Not even a sort of half-assed Skill, Stamina, and Luck thing you’d expect from a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-with-a-Combat-System-Glued-On sort of thing we used to see all the time in the ‘70s. 

Your Alpha Blue character is defined more by what they know than who they are.  Normal human characters get to roll (or pick) two careers, which define their areas of expertise and knowledge.

Careers come in two flavors: Respectable and Scoundrel.  Already, the uptightness of this universe is making itself known.  The Respectable careers include: Scientist, Technician, Pilot, Explorer, Medic, Diplomat, Interior Designer, and Space Priest (aka Templar). 

The Scoundrel careers are: Bounty Hunter, Mercenary, Pirate, Gambler, Con Man, Assassin, Pimp, and Smuggler.  You potentially get more starting cash with each Scoundrel career, but you also have to roll on a table which dictates how much trouble you’re in with the law.    

You can forego one of your careers to pursue one of three other options.  These are playing a mutant, playing an alien, or having a “Special.”  The Specials are: psionics, being a Zedi Master of the Way, being a noble, or being insanely lucky. 

I find it interesting that these are mutually exclusive.  There’s a strong implication that psionics is weird, as rare as becoming a Master of the Way or being born a noble.  Also, that nobility is tied to neither of the other two.  The Federation might sound like Star Trek, but it operates more like Star Wars with its princesses, counts, and gran mofs. 

Or, instead of rolling once on the Special table, you can roll three times on the Mutation table and play a mutant.  Mutations include things like letting your spirit roam about, spying on people while you sleep, having brittle bones that doubles the damage you take, eidetic memory, sterility, recovering all hit points when you eat a brain, being invisible to machines and robots, being unable to digest solid food, and being able to magically enhance objects and people. 

And using the word “magically” is not me being snarky.  Venger uses the word a few times in the mutations table. 

Finally, if none of those options appeal, you can be an alien.

The alien options are, well, pretty out there.  While you’ve got your “Humanlike, but a strange color” there’s also a lot of stuff like “incorporeal, like a shadow,” “geometric shapes,” “flame,” “thought-form,” and “something totally bizarre that human beings can’t conceptualize.” 

While some of the aliens you can create might be the stuff of the Star Fleet Academy graduating class of 2265, honestly, this is more the stuff of a fever dream.  There’s no attempt to make these things make sense or suggest how a player might actually play “something totally bizarre that human beings can’t conceptualize.”

But we’re not done generating our alien yet, because you also get to roll on the alien’s size (from as small as a rat to as large as an elephant, plus the chance that size might change “depending on stress, food, sex, intoxication, etc.”).  And then you roll on the Alien Mannerisms, Customs, and Quirks table.  This gives us a range of results from the physical (“Molting, shedding, constantly peeling skin.”) to the moral (“The sacrifice of another cannot be greater than
one's own.”) to the social (“Carry their coffins around with them wherever
they go (usually by chains). 'If I didn't, where would you put my body when I die?'”) to the just plain quirky (“Intentionally mispronounces words that he finds distasteful.”)  There are options on this table that might also make your alien more physically distinctive, such as having eyes in the back of their head, extra appendages, or a protective shell. 

So you can totally roll up a gaseous alien the size of a dog who is certain “that even numbers are unlucky and will go out of their way to avoid them.”

And has a foot fetish (because of course there’s a table for fetishes you can roll on as well.)

This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the setting for Alpha Blue: that it’s a nonsensical dreamscape.  It’s not intended to make sense.  Try to understand this universe and it will break your brain.  There’s a strong implication that these horrible, uptight, controlling factions are correct and proper because if people had to deal with the reality of the universe in its raw form, they’d probably go mad. 

And there are little dribs and drabs of setting detail that reinforce this.  Remember those Templar space-priests I mentioned being an apocalyptic faith? 

Yet, all have agreed that this 23rd century represents the seventh age. Prophecies state the seventh age is when spiritual turbulence will split the universe into seven pieces and each shall, in its turn, be devoured by some nameless and all-powerful divinity from beyond the stars.

Throw in some direct references to Cthulhu and Co, and you end up with the Alpha Blue universe being the shiny Brave New World to 40k’s 1984. If you find yourself living in this universe, pray the sleeper never wakens. ;)

21 comments:

Dick McGee said...

This gives me a strong Subverse (the upcoming PC game - very NSFW to search for) vibe with a bit of Lexx blended in.

trollsmyth said...

Dick McGee: Yeah, if the Lexx was a combo bordello/casino and one of the waifus was the sentient thought-form of the Keynesian multiplier effect.

Venger Satanis said...

Venger approves! Now, do Cha'alt.

trollsmyth said...

Venger Satanis: Dude! Get your own blog! ;D

I'll take it under advisement, but I've actually got a lot of other stuff I still need to get to. ;p So no promises.

Venger Satanis said...

Sounds good, hoss. You've got one week! Let me know if you need the PDF.



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