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  1. This week, we will be looking at the aliens of M-Space. I'm not going to lie; you're going to have to take notes. This chapter deals with the basic biological blueprints for creating real, strange aliens, rather than the bumpy-headed humanoids you know and love from TV and movie science fiction (or fantasy, for that matter). There's a lot to take in. What is your world's biosphere like? How and where did your alien species evolve, and why did they evolve? What makes your designed species unique? And how do these rules translate into being able to use the alien creation rules as chargen rules, the same way as Mythras just presents you with the tweaks for how to chargen an individual from a creature template? Strangeness The first universal factor is Strangeness. This imposes a penalty to interactions with members of that species. The higher the Strangeness, the harder it gets to interact with the aliens meaningfully. Strangeness: 1-100, where 1 represents Earth-like, 50 Alien and 100 Really strange. The Strangeness parameter adds a good overall picture when interpreting the dice rolls in the creation process. A low Strangeness value will indicate small variations on concepts well-known on Ear th (physiology, behaviour, culture). A high value means you should interpret many of the results as differing wildly from what’s common here. A later sidebar points out that it also affects First Aid and Medicine rolls, using alien technology and so on. Biosphere The next part of this chapter can appear daunting to the first time GM or player. Some might wonder whether it is necessary to generate the alien species' homeworld's biosphere, biodiversity, and other details. The greater the Strangeness, however, the weirder the biosphere. "My ancestors spawned in another ocean than yours," and so on. An example of Strangeness acting as a barrier to communication is Ursula K Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, and the Gethen. Another example of high Strangeness was Ted Chiang's "Story Of Your Life" which became the movie Arrival (2016). Strangeness, and the overcoming of it, was the theme of the story. Yet other authors such as N K Jemisin and Octavia Butler have approached alien contact in their own stories. The section details things such as the rough size of mature alien individuals, their Frame (endoskeleton, exoskeleton, or squidgy), their Symmetry, Limbs, Segmentation, and classifications such as Grazer, Pouncer or Trapper. Next are Habitat, Advantages, Disadvantages, Life Span, Communications, Natural Weapons, and then on to Characteristics. There's a section on how the aliens appear, and the difference between low-powered and high-powered aliens. Tech levels can be determined by average species INT. It takes a minimum level of INT to sustain a species' average Tech Level. Next to follow is Cultures, and the range of cultures available to the species; Law Level, Tech Level, cultural values, such as beliefs, taboos and so on; conflicts; population density; and a host of other details. This chapter is, at the very least, exhaustive. Seriously, it covers so much - right down to little things such as the aliens' foreign policy, and individual alien characters' Passions. It doesn't go as far as asking what cutlery they use and whether they pass the port to the left or the right, but the alien creation chapter leaves very little else out. My recommendation is to go to the part which describes the aliens' physical forms first - size, shape, behaviours - then characteristic ranges, INT range, corresponding TL. Leave much of the rest to later episodes, where you can run the equivalent of Amok TIme and Journey To Babel or similar Star Trek episodes. Or something out of Stargate SG-1, Farscape and so on. TL;DR: You don't need all of this if you just want the basics, like creating a psionic species which looks like sea urchins on pointy little legs, or a species of generic bumpy headed humanoids who speak perfect English but who are green skinned or have cybernetics and so on. Worldbuilding Here's where a lot of attention tends to focus, next to the ships and starship combat, and the physical combat between characters. Anyone who played Traveller will know how much fun it is to create solar systems. It's almost as much fun as designing starships, or playing the trade game, or designing alien species, or wait ... Okay, alien species building is a subgame in and of itself. Use the Worldbuilding chapter first to design your systems, and then conjure your biospheres and dominant sentient species. You do need your imagination. A lot of imagination. And perhaps a lot of borrowing from your library of SF books. Do you want a planet of all Odd Johns? A world which was successfully taken over by the species which chose Earth in John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos? Do you want a planet which is tearing itself apart because they have discovered a lichen which yields an immortality serum which only works on one marginalised segment of society, but which kills the affluent? Here's where you come in. If you're familiar with Traveller worldbuilding, you will find the process familiar. You begin with the star or stars in the system, then a number of planets. One of those worlds really should be in the habitable zone if it is to be suitable for native life, and for humanoid characters to be able to live on the surface of the world. Again, you can design your worlds' size, atmosphere, hydrographic percentage, and so on, just as if you were going through this process with Traveller. The next part is mapping out the star systems. You can use the Traveller system of subsector and sector hex grids, or find your own system. Hex grid maps are given in this core rulebook (as well as Odd Soot), and the short chapter ends with blank sheets for hex grids and systems, as well as a filled example. Wow The information in both these chapters is pretty dense. First timers might find it difficult to get through. M-Space really needs some examples of species creation to show the readers how it's all done. Let's start with the Pelacur, who are a humanoid species. Strangeness: Let's make this 20%. They are a little bit weird, but generally they look and act kind of like humans. Biosphere: Their world is a garden world, with a broad range of biomes, as diverse as old Terra. Maybe a little more so. More exotic jungles, not so many deserts. Mountains, rainforests, temperate inhabited regions. A great diversity of different Pelacur physical types. Frame and Symmetry: Endoskeletal, bipedal, bilateral symmetry. Classification: Omnivore Gatherer. Habitat: Like humans, these can be found everywhere. Advantages: Enhanced Senses (smell, taste, touch), Psionic, Poison (see below), Enhanced Charisma (see below) Disadvantages: Eggs, Hibernation Poison: Pelacur secrete a pheromone which befuddles most other species, increasing oxytocin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine levels. It makes most humanoid aliens become dopey in love with them. Enhanced Charisma: As for 95-00, Intelligence or High Intelligence, but for CHA. Appearance: They look roughly like this. These are the clearest pics I could get of Proteus, the Homo eximia antagonist of Bryan Talbot's graphic novel The Legend of Luther Arkwright. The Pelacur looked like this before The Legend of Luther Arkwright ever came to being. Sexes: Pelacur only really have the one gender. Binary genders confuse them, but they have adapted to the binary species from other worlds in the centuries they have been starfaring. Arts: Pelacur appreciation for art is as profound as that of humans. They adopt human styles and art, though they retain their own music and poetry. Behaviour: In Harmony, Social (small groups). Communication: Scent, Body Language, Language, Telepathy. Characteristics: Physically, slightly higher than human average CON; high POW; very high CHA. Appearance: Naturally hairless except for eyebrows, eyelashes. Slightly translucent skin; when irritated, you can see blood in individual capillaries in the face and body. Larger eyes in proportion to the head. Large irises, smaller pupils but more room for expansion (can see better in low light conditions). Tech Level: Actually higher than you would imagine. Pelacur do not have ships of their own. They travel on other species' ships, humans in particular. What is generally not known is that they invented their own FTL drives independently, but abandoned their own FTL in favour of becoming travellers and wanderers in other species' vessels. If pressed, they could resume shipbuilding - and their vessels would exceed the best TL humans could ever offer. Their homeworld is a TL 17 paradise, but no humans have ever been permitted to learn of its location, let alone visit. Technology Areas include Chemistry, Communication, Economics, Medicine, and an Unusual Technology (advanced teleportation capable of operating over thousands of light years). Details of their homeworld remain unknown, but Pelacur colonies are terraformed paradises, with vast green spaces growing between elegant, labyrinthine arcologies. Food: They can eat what humans eat, but once in a while they require a dietary supplement - a pill, taken monthly. Any human who takes that pill dies. Lifespan: Nobody has ever seen a Pelacur die of old age. Nobody even knows if Pelacur age at all. Perhaps it's those damned pills they take ... So that's it for the Alien Creation and Worldbuilding chapters. Next week, we look at Circles and Psionics - oh, and I'll be taking a sneak peek at the Circles rules for Odd Soot, with a promise to give them a much greater, in depth look when I get to that rulebook (hopefully, about the time of the release of the first Odd Soot campaign book, due out soon ...)
  2. Imagine a compelling game involving your character and a strange, motley crew of ragtag colonists, aliens, criminals on the run, psychics who are trying to kick the habit, and even a cyborg and an android. Maybe even a hologram character ... Your ship is massive. It's organic, like Tin Man or the Lexx. Its fuel is exotic particles absorbed from the local star. And the occasional asteroid and comet or small planetoid. Your adventures have you dropping in on some solar system, and you remain there for a week while your ship charges up for its next FTL transit. You're explorers, but you're not working for some paramilitary; nor are you some commercial endeavour, grubbing for money, negotiating with brokers for freight cargos and passengers. This is not Traveller. This is Frostbyte Books' M-Space. The stars you touch here are very different. Your ship sings to them. And some of them answer back. Welcome to part 3 of our look at M-Space. And in a packed blog post tonight, we will be looking further at the basic game systems, expanding upon the cursory scrutiny we gave the Game Systems chapter last week with a look at Extended Conflicts and Spot Rules. Game Systems Redux So you basically roll the target number or less on a d100. 01-05 is an automatic success; 96-00 is an automatic fail. That's basically it. You don't need criticals and fumbles, though the mechanics are described here for use only when the results are to be entertaining. The game can be very simple to play. The next part is the rules section for opposed rules, but hold that thought till you get to Extended Conflicts below. And differential rolls are used mainly in various kinds of combat - physical combat, psychic combat, social combat, danceoffs. You know the drill. Again, though, check out page 42, to which we will be coming shortly. Luck Points are contentious. Does science fiction need luck? SF really needs to be run on logic. Your characters should not rely on some deus ex machina dropping a pocket franistan on the road right in front of the characters. However, Luck Points are useful in mitigating poor player choices or lousy dice rolls, if the GM does not understand the fine art of fudging. And again, if a fumble is more entertaining, save the Luck Points, and go with the consequences of either a complete calamity or a win with a cost. The next two parts cover game time - see the sidebar on page 37 for examples - and a section on injuries and healing. I'm wondering whether or not there should be new sections here on social injuries and healing, and Tenacity injuries and healing, among other rules. Something to think on. Or just leave it to the Extended Conflicts. We're almost there. The section on character improvement rounds off this section. Here is where M-Space shines compared to Traveller - the latter game does not really reward characters with a lot of improvement. Your characters must spend weeks of in-Jump training to build themselves up; and there is a strict limit to how many skill levels they can have. M-Space uses the Mythras model for skill improvement, relying on Experience Rolls to build skills by increments. Since the increments are measured in percentiles, progression feels less granular, and one gets a sense of accomplishment with each adventure. So now you've familiarised yourself with the basic system rules, time to move on to the next section. Yaay, it's Extended Conflicts. Extended Conflicts This is the most versatile conflict resolution engine I have seen. This is something you can use for an extended haggling session with some store vendor (Commerce versus Commerce), for fast talking through red tape (Deceit versus Bureaucracy), for SERE (Track versus Evade), or for any kind of social conflict. There is an example of an extended conflict given - Nedra in a heated argument with Egil. But let's make things more interesting - Joanne and Alexandra in a conflict of mind versus mind, where Alexandra is attempting to hypnotise Joanne. Joanne has a Willpower of 67% and Alexandra's Influence skill is 76%. Joanne's INT is 13; Alexandra's CHA is 16. That gives them Conflict Pools of 13 and 16 respectively. Joanne is resisting Alexandra's hypnotic skills by sheer Willpower and intellect. So the basic rule is that both protagonist and antagonist roll their skills. If both succeed, the highest rolled success wins that round. Round 1, Joanne wins easily, rolling a 66 to Alexandra's 40. Joanne can take a bite out of Alexandra's magnetic charisma. Joanne's player rolls 3. Ouch. Alexandra's pool is now the same as Joanne's. Alexandra is outwardly unaffected, however, and presses on with her attempt to hypnotise Joanne. Round 2, both succeed again. Joanne's roll is 23, and Alexandra's 70. As the winner of the round, Alexandra carves 5 points off Joanne's pool, reducing it to 8 to her 13. Round 3, Joanne fails her roll, and so does Alexandra. Neither make any headway that round. Round 4, Joanne fails her roll, and Alexandra succeeds. Alexandra slices off a full 6 points from Joanne's pool, reducing it to 2. Since this is less than half of Joanne's full pool, her next Willpower check is at Hard - 47%. Round 5, both parties succeed again - but while Joanne's 37 roll is a healthy success, Alexandra wins the round with a 52 roll. Her attack yields 3 damage, which reduces Joanne's conflict pool to zero. With a blissful sigh, Joanne gives up and slumps into a hypnotic trance before the gloating Alexandra. Joanne will now carry out her new mistress' commands without question ... Example Extended Conflicts There are some really fun extended conflict examples given - cheating at poker, chase scenes, dinner party, persuading someone. I recommend you look at this whole section. It even gives an example of quick and dirty physical combat if you don't want to go mucking about with the whole combat section. Which, by the way, is coming up. Combat Ah, yes, the combat section. Pages 54 - 74. It should look, sound, and feel familiar to you. The rules can be found in Mythras Core Rulebook, after all. I'm not sure what percentage of gamers head straight to the combat sections of any game book nowadays. I guess it's still significant, because this chapter takes up two whole sections, between this bit and the Simplified Combat section following from pages 75 - 77. I must confess, I tend to gloss over the combat sections of every single roleplaying game I ever buy. There are plenty of ways to create conflict in a game other than deadly combat. Battles can have outcomes other than slaughtering or being slaughtered. I would love to see a combat section which focuses on objectives and Combat Styles other than maximising physical damage with the sole intention of killing the recipient of the character's hostilities. Between the Extended Conflicts section, the main combat section, and the Simplified Combat section, though, M-Space delivers on its promise to offer at least three different forms of combat in its pages. More, if you count Starship Combat (next week). Spot Rules This section covers everything else which is trying to kill your characters, such as falling, fatigue, fires, and Legal section: DO NOT complete that word! - inanimate objects. This last section's brief. It cannot cover everything - poisons, diseases, conditions, radiation, and so on. Basically, if it causes damage, work out the Intensity, which might as well be divided into Standard, Difficult, Formidable and so on, and have your characters make Endurance checks at that level of difficulty to avoid symptoms, fatigue, points of damage, or just plain old dropping dead. And that is it. All your personal combat needs are covered here, and a lot of other sources of damage. The rules cover an incredible diversity of situations, and it is well worth getting acquainted with them, in particular Extended Conflicts. Next week, we focus on the M-Space rules for starships: design, combat, and advanced combat. You know where to come. Hatches reopen in seven.
  3. Welcome to Part 2 of this review of Frostbyte Books' M-Space. Last week's blog introduced you to the game, and specifically to the core rulebook. Let's take our first look at the contents, starting with Characters and Game Systems. Characters M-SPACE characters can be everything from starship pilots and bounty hunters, to journalists and librarians! All depending on what type of scenarios you want to play. -- the core rulebook That's always promising. Characters in science fiction are so diverse. They can range from just ordinary, unskilled people (Gully Foyle from Bester's The Stars, My Destination) to diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers (Babylon 5). Do we really need to play more paramilitary types in army boots? That's a sad thing that Traveller is all about - its legendary character generation subgame was heavily skewed towards your characters coming from some sort of pseudomilitary or paramilitary, or plain old boots and ribbons military, force. This reflected game legend Marc Miller's (praise be unto him) life, but not all of us can claim to have gone through such regimented mills. The Characters chapter goes through the system, explaining calmly to newcomers about the crunch. This is a great way of bringing in the less experienced gamers, as well as anyone whose first roleplaying game is M-Space. Which would be so neat. Why do so many of these figures seem to have no faces? You're meant to imagine your face inside those helmets. So think of a character, one who's living a life that is so different to you. And here's the thing. They are living a life. Tabletop games always present your characters to be played like game pieces - but here, as you're going through the chargen process outlined from page 9, let your minds imagine who your character is, and what life they are living, and realise what their life is like, beyond the numbers. Character generation is fairly standardised from Mythras. You start with a character concept, roll your Characteristics, derive your Attributes, choose Standard SKills (including Combat Styles), Culture and Career, spread bonus skill points around, select your gear and equipment, and you can be good to go from there. The portraits put faces to your imaginations. They are reminiscent of the output from the Artflow website. Skills are clearly explained, pages 15 - 22. Go and pick out your character's favourite skills - the ones they are best at. They are based on your Culture and Career, and these are listed from page 23. Traveller players, please notice the huge difference between Traveller and M-Space chargen. No Lifepath. You don't start at age bupkhes and work your way up through the ranks while avoidng mishaps and praying for promotions, commissions, and Life Event 34 where you can go and roll your psionic talents. Here, if you want your characters to start off as a Rural farmboy on a desert planet and turn into the Galaxy's super psion saviour of the galaxy, be my guest, but be notified I find your lack of imagination ... disappointing ... Please check out those three Cultures, and all the Careers. You can choose a Career whose name is not on the list, but select the Skills spread from a Career which is - for instance, "Teacher" can use the Scientist skills set from page 225, emphasis on Teach; and your Assassin character from page 225 could replace Track with Demolitions and be more of a Terrorist type. Page 28 is where you can have fun. Passions have been described in this blog here. But you know how science fiction has traditionally steered well away from passions. Characters fight to save worlds, galaxies, entire universes - but they never struggle to find the right emotions to feel when something weird or disappointing happens. The Luther Arkwright series dealt with passions - Luther's despair, Anne's agony, Victoria's pain in the second book Heart of Empire, the fear of the natives of the Perfidious Albion parallel in The Legend of Luther Arkwright - and every character felt some sort of passion, from the huge libidos of the protagonists to the hatred of the antagonists, from Cromwell in Book 1 to Proteus in Book 3. Give your characters Passions. Give them a setting where they can express those Passions. Because these are how your characters can bring the setting, and the adventure, to vivid life at the table. Game Systems This next section covers the basic stuff - dice rolls, opposed dice rolls, differential rolls, injuries, game time, character improvement and development, and that's it for this chapter. Basically, everything you need to create a character and play an M-Space game are here, if all you want to do is to play a game where all you want to do is crunch some numbers. There is no Gamesmaster section in this book to describe how to roleplay, rather than rollplay - perhaps this is a weakness in the book, because Gamesmasters really should read the Gamesmastering chapter of Mythras Core Rulebook for that - but these two chapters are all that you need to create and run the characters you will be using in this game. Next week, we're looking at Extended Conflicts, Combat (including Simplified Combat), and the Spot Rules. The week after that, we'll be looking at everything that makes this a science fiction game - pages 86 to 155, covering Starship Design and Combat, Alien Creation, and World Building. Thought Of The Week M-Space is a game which presents you with the opportunity to create characters who are people, not just former soldiers and combat drones. Just after completing my look through of M-Space, I'll be looking at M-Space Companion with its expanded options for player characters - options which really open out options for your characters - but this game, as it is, presents you with a great opportunity to create characters whom you can look at as persons, rather than as collections of numbers on a sheet. Your characters are more than just "that schmoe running around shooting things with a big gun." This game allows you to create that schmoe who runs with a gang of people, putting on plays or running heists or solving scientific problems or debunking local ghosts as bad guys in rubber masks, getting into scrapes with the law, hopping from galaxy to galaxy, avoiding crooked cops and honourable crims, and carving out legends at every star they touch. Stay tuned. See you here next week.
  4. In the beginning was Traveller. Traveller was not the first science fiction roleplaying game, and it wasn't the last. It's just that Traveller eclipsed practically every other science fiction tabletop roleplaying game on the market; and in terms of its market share, it still does. I mean, Chaosium wanted to give us a d100 science fiction roleplaying game. It started so well. And we got RIngworld, and the mission failed at takeoff. Look at some of those names. Ralph McQuarrie was responsible for the look of Star Wars. Lawrence "Larry" DiTillio worked in the first two seasons of Babylon 5. We're not talking small potatoes here. This game could have taken off, but for the licensing issues at the time. A pity; it was enjoyable, if a little clunky in places. Speed things up. Let's have one of those calendar montages to indicate the passage of time. What we needed was a science fiction roleplaying game which comes without a setting. A game which allows you to pretty much create any science fiction style setting you like. Welcome to Frostbyte Books' M-Space. First of all, look at the cover illustration. A lone figure, on foot, walking along a snowy footpath, beyond which is an iced-over river, a couple of bridges, and some futuristic-looking buildings capped with landing pad shelves like fungus brackets, and smallish vehicles taking off and landing. M-Space is the brainchild of writer Clarence Redd, whose alternate history game Odd Soot will be reviewed in due course. M-Space is a game for those space opera aficionados who like their landscapes Cyclopean and looming, their cyberpunk streets rainy, shady, neon-lit and narrow, and their adventures operatic and thought-provoking. The following quote from the late Ursula K LeGuin more or less captures a feel which runs through M-Space. “I write science fiction, and science fiction isn’t about the future. I don’t know any more about the future than you do, and very likely less.” Ursula K Le Guin This roleplaying setting allows you to explore worlds of science fiction. You can capture the worlds of John Wyndham (The Day of The Triffids), Ursula K LeGuin (The Dispossessed), or modern writers such as Ted Chiang ("Story of Your Life" / Arrival) or N K Jemisin (the Broken Earth trilogy). M-Space allows for deep and soulful stories of alien first contact, exploration, and light-hearted adventure. The Introduction explains the ethos behind M-Space. This book is a modular toolkit for sci-fi. Use whichever parts you need and leave the rest – the game system will not break down because of this. I have also taken great care to write the rules to help you create your own universe; no ready-made setting is holding back your creativity. Just like roleplaying games were meant to be when invented in the 1970s. The stories are all yours here, and you can explore them in any way you want. You can create unique alien species, complex cultures and worlds. Let a planet orbit a binary star and put the star on a map. Chart ancient courses for traders and explorers; find out who’s a friend and who’s an enemy. And you have already started to play. I have not seen a more literally hypnotic intro in a roleplaying game. Core Rulebook The 240-page core rulebook is a square coffee table book. The cover is lavish, but the interior illustrations are both surreal and soulful, evoking lonely cityscapes or interplanetary romance. Images are almost dreamlike, drawing you into one surreal landscape after another. Images of the denizens of these worlds can range from the serene to the nightmarish. I've mentioned how hypnotic the contents of this book are. The whole book, from its magnificent art, which ranges from the near-abstract to the almost-photorealistic, to its plain, minimalist font which is used throughout, mesmerises the reader. An average reader can open a page and just let the illustrations draw you in, and you can experience the adventure yourself as if you're in the story, just from reading the pages and absorbing the words. You really should turn to page 85 and look at the pic, and you notice how you feel as you look at the lone figure in silhouette looking up at the floating behemoth overhead - and you can practically experience that as if you are inside the frame. Overview The book contains the following modular sections: Introduction, Characters, Game System, Extended Conflicts, Combat, Simplified Combat, Spot Rules, Starship Design, Starship Combat, Advanced Starship Combat, Alien Creation, World Building, Circles, Psionics, Vehicle Design, Technology, Life forms, and Appendices A – E. There is a lot to process in this book, and not all of it need be used in your games. After all, Clarence did design this book to reflect a modular approach. Beginning next week, this blog will take in a few of these chapters at a time, starting with Characters and the Game System.
  5. So yes, this post came out on the 20th, and it's still up. It's like an empty room in an apartment building, forgotten, only a few crates for furniture, and a big panoramic window overlooking the snowy landscape from the M-Space cover. Hi. Sit. I've got some Tanerian grappa. *pours you a glass* How are you?
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