Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Aliens of Terran Space: Froguloids

Appearance and Biology
Froguloids appear as humanoid frogs roughly 1m in height.  They typically have green skin, though males often possess more exotic colors.  Sexual dimorphism is fairly subtle in Froguloids, but there are enough differences to tell one gender from another.  Froguloids require a larger amount of food - especially protein - and moisture than humans, though they can usually exist in the same environments.

Froguloids were originally created by humans as an experiment in uplifting.  It was thought that the process would be fairly easy since the anatomy - as opposed to the physiology - of a frog is not that dissimilar from a human.  Froguloids have long been employed by Imperial scientists in order to jump start the terraforming process on prospective planets.  It was thought that their fast metabolism as well as their propensity for mutation would help scientists identify potential atmospheric hazards undetectable by the Imperium's equipment.  This history has made Froglings somewhat paranoid, though not enough to damage their relationship with other species.

Froguloids now have their own systems and colonies, with a capital known as Frogulon.  They are still technically part of the Terran Imperium, but they enjoy a great deal of autonomy.  Their social structures are more or less the same as human society except as noted below.  There is also a splinter state known as the Bullywug Star Empire, but this is fairly small and acts more as a base for piracy than an actual state.

Froguloids are fairly gregarious and adventurous, though they have a habit of distrusting humans.  They make excellent traders, scientists, and explorers, a fact that both humans and Froguloids take credit for.  

They enjoy diversions of all sorts, but often tire of things very quickly.  Forguloids often become frustrated with humans, whom they accuse of being "slow." They are also known for their propensity for drink and mind altering substances, though these are usually very strong by human standards to account for the differences in Froguloid biology.

Froguloid society largely resembles its human counter part, including both noble titles and dress; however, they possess strongly entrenched "houses," or large family units, that act as the major political players on both Frogulon and in the Bullywug Star Empire.

Froguloids as Player Characters
1d6 Strength, 3d6 Dexterity, +2 DN to Initiative, double life support costs, can survive underwater 10x as long as human characters, can enter the Scout, Merchant, and Other careers as well as any career in Citizens of the Imperium


This might seem a bit out of place in a galaxy of terror, but I tend to mix comedy and horror rather uncomfortably in anything I run.  Plus I just like frog people.

Friday, April 27, 2012

No One Can Hear You Scream

I'm a big fan of horror, both in fiction and in gaming.  When I was growing up in the mid to late 90s, there was quite a bit of horror fiction aimed at children such as Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and Eerie Indiana, and I think those books and shows had a great impact on me.  Today I still watch more horror movies than I do sci fi and fantasy ones, and the fantasy authors I prefer tend to be the ones that cleave closer to horror such as Clark Ashton Smith.  

When I run fantasy RPGs, I tend to weave in a lot of horror elements.  This should be obvious to anyone who knows about my Dark Country setting, but it's also true of my other ideas. Even my recent musings on campaign set during the Genpei War had a large number of horror elements. So why not do that with Terran Space?  Alien is one of the greatest horror movies of all time and it's pretty damn close to Traveller.  Plus, Clark Ashton Smith wrote some sci fi stories as well.

While it's unlikely I'll have much time to work on it soon, when I do begin working on Terran Space again I'll definitely be adding more horrific things to my little sandbox.  Some might wonder why I'd use Traveller for such a game, and I played in a pretty rad space horror game using Call of Cthulhu with Zak S. as the keeper.  However, I think I'll be sticking to Traveller for a number of reasons.  The most important one is that I like the system.  In my opinion it has the best character generation of any RPG I've played.  

The fact that I like it is really enough to make me run it, but it isn't the only reason.  If I'm using Traveller, the players will be less likely to expect the horrific elements and therefore be more surprised - and possibly frightened - when they do appear.*  I'm not talking about a complete bait and switch here, the game would still essentially be about the same things Traveller is always about.  I'll just be adding some elements of horror in order to make the setting more uniquely mine.  This can easily be done by making the hooks that patrons give and the encounters had during space adventures have a distinctly sinister character.

The way I see it, there would be three sources of horror in Terran Space: the Precursors, Human/Alien Action, and Nature itself.  The Precursors, whose exact nature I'll probably attempt to leave as vague as possible for as long as possible, are built in to the assumed setting of Traveller.  It's easy enough to give them   horrific implications.  They could have been immensely powerful, quasi-Lovecraftian entities that ruled both the stars and the Earth itself before humankind's ascent.  And even they were destroyed by something.  What could have caused a galaxy-wide extinction event?  Something that will terrorize the PCs, that's what.

Humans can also be horrifying.  The technologies wielded by an inter-stellar empire are far and away more advanced than our own, and those technologies can be applied to evil ends as well as good.  Imagine the sort of Frankenstein-like horrors one could create with gene splicing.  I can easily picture the PCs boarding a lab ship only to discover that its inhabitants have become creatures straight out of a zombie movie.  Of course, intelligent aliens could also engage in these same sick practices or be victimized by the same engineered viruses.  

The last option is of course Nature.  By this I mean something like Alien where the terror comes from a biological organism stalking it's prey, which is of course the PCs.  It doesn't have to be a quasi-immortal space bug.  It could also be a space-virus, a patch of cosmic radiation, a time loop in space, or any number of Star Trek-like scenarios.  

When I ran the few sessions of Traveller on Skype about a year ago, one of the most memorable moments was probably the one that comes closest to what I'm talking about.  The PCs misjumped into an area of empty space.  For a whole parsec there was nothing at which they could refuel, and thus they were essentially stranded and doomed to die a horrible death.  They desperately scanned for anything that might help them, and they found what appeared to be a derelict ship.  They managed to get close enough to to get on board, and so they did.  The away team found that all life support systems had failed, and also found a number of frozen corpses floating in the weightless vacuum that existed in the interior of the ship.  The ship was a large cargo hauler, and it had quite a bit of fuel left over so they couldn't figure out what had killed them.  This seemed to genuinely creep the players out.

They eventually decided that the ship's jump bubble must have "popped" and that had caused them to become stranded in this empty parsec.  But what if that isn't what happened?  What if it was something that could still get the characters while they're siphoning fuel out of the broken down vessel?  That's the kind of thing I want to do with Terran Space.

*Well I guess now they won't be since I posted this on my blog, but whatever.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Goals for 2012

Aaron over at A Paladin in Citadel noted that it looks like 2012 is going to be a good year for OS Sci Fi gaming.  I wholeheartedly agree, and as such I hope to do a lot more with Terran Space in the coming year.

My current plan is to generate a Sector using the information in the Mongoose corebook, and then letting that determine the nature of the setting.  I'm a big proponent of random generation, and it seems like the best method to get my creative juices flowing.  I'll do a series of posts where I use Rob Conley's method of generating a Traveller sandbox and detail the results I get step-by-step.

I hope to get some art for the various aliens I'll be making, such as the [click].  When I do, I'll post them here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Aliens of the Periphery: The [Click]

Appearance and Biology
Male [click] aliens appear as furry creatures slightly larger than a human in stature.  From their furry faces peer a set of compound eyes and mandibles.  Their actual skin is a carapace designed to insulate their bodies from their planet’s notoriously harsh days and nights, as well as to protect them from predators.  Females are little more than mobile bloated egg sacks.  Similar organisms exist on the [click]’s home planet, though their fur is usually hidden beneath an outer carapace.  It is theorized that these creatures are to the [click] what gorillas are to humans.

The [click] were once the proprietors of a massive empire that included several other species.  They ruled through fear and grand displays of extravagance that both terrorized and mesmerized their various slave species.  However, their natural propensity for infighting eventually led to the rapid collapse of their empire about the time humankind first discovered the Jump drive.  Their handiwork can be seen in the [slave race].

Today the [Click] Empire is a relatively small state, but it is flanked by domains controlled by petty [click] warlords and clans.  The Terran Imperium has in some instances filled in the vacuum created by the previous state’s demise, but for the most part the coreward stretch of the galaxy known to Terrans is controlled by [click] successor states.

[Click] culture is largely patriarchal.  Unlike other species, this is due to a strong biological imperative.  Female [click] are essentially non-sapient, and the males treat them as a commodity.  Fierce competition exists between males for who possess the most females, and war leaders will often lead raids on enemy worlds to capture women.  Oddly, this practice has also led to the kidnapping of the females of other species to display as trophies, despite the fact that the [click] cannot mate with them.

The largest class of the [click] is infertile males.  These males have usually been sterilized at birth in order to keep them in a submissive state to be used as work horses for the bureaucratic and military functions of the successor states.  A thin upper echelon maintains their fertility, but they must constantly protect it from up and coming fertile males.

Most other races view the [click] as decadent.   Their clothing vaguely resembles that of the various desert peoples of Earth, with robes designed to insulate the wearer against harsh climatic conditions.  However, since the [click] have left their desert home world, the rarely need such clothing.  Today it serves a primarily decorative function and is usually bestudded with jewels and rare materials in order to show the prestige of the wearer.

The [click] are more or less space-stag beetles, and spend much of their time competing with each other for position, rank, and females. Since they are intelligent, this usually take the form of more subtle contests and schemes, though physical violence is quite common among them.  They take slights to their prestige very seriously.  [Click] consider themselves superior to other species, and they do not tend to treat with them on equal terms.  This does not mean they do not enter into negotiations when necessary, simply that they only do so begrudgingly.

[Click] as player characters
Armored; Natural Weapon (claws);  Notable Endurance; Weak Dexterity
All [click] characters are male.  Any with a Social Standing less than 11 are infertile.


I was waiting to post this until my wife got done with the concept sketch for these guys.  Hopefully that will come in the not to distant future.

The format comes entirely from Stars Without Number, even though I plan on using these aliens for Traveller.

References to the [slave race] will be replaced once I have a better name for them.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Sorry it's been awhile since I posted.  My free time had winnowed significantly in recent weeks and so I've been focusing more on D&D, which I run more regularly.  I'll try to get back to my Traveller stuff sometime in the future.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another Model

On Monday I discussed what the Mongoose Traveller tells us about the "Imperium."  Today I will discuss another setting possibility hinted at in the core rules.  It advises using the bases present in a system to define the various polities and states that exist in your sector.  This method obviously requires the GM to be a bit more flexible with his or her setting design.  One doesn't know what it'll look like until everything is generated.

While some might dislike this method, I think it relies on one of Traveller's greatest strengths: random generation. I'm a firm believer in oracular dice, and I've commented before on the fact that Traveller takes full advantage of that aspect of RPGs.  In the case of Mongoose Traveller, not only are there systems for random encounters, patrons, and worlds, but even character generation is based on this concept.  You build the story of your character by seeing the events he or she goes through throughout their prior career(s), as determined by the dice.

Since this is one of my favorite things about Traveller, I'm very tempted to use it to define my Traveller setting. Still, I do have some reservations.  I have a few ideas for the alien and human states in Terran Space, and I would like those to be preserved in the final product.  I have not squared this yet with my philosophical preference for random generation, but I'll continue to think it over.

It may ultimately depend on the star map I use.  If I use the one that is more concentrated in the upper right, I'll stick to my original plans for the Terran Imperium and its neighbors.  If I go with the second one, which was generated a bit more randomly, I'll use the dice to tell me where the borders are.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dissecting the Imperium

I have decided to adopt the term "Imperium," from the official Traveller setting, for use in my Terran Space setting.  In this incarnation, it will be more specifically refereed to as the Terran Imperium, but will resemble its more official cousin in a number of ways.  As Rob Conley notes in his post about the Imperium, there are numerous ways one can interpret it.  In this post I will seek to find out what I can about the Imperium from the Mongoose Traveller core book and attempt to bring these aspects together into a cohesive whole.

The first thing one notices about Traveller's setting assumptions is that the setting possesses forms of nobility.  One's social standing stat decides whether or not one is a member of the noble or working classes.  The titles, which are ones one would normally associate with European forms of nobility, hint at a roughly feudal structure.  It could be that this future state merely adopted them due to some form of cultural memory.  For the time being, I will leave the question of feudalism up in the air.

Second, we see by that the Imperium has a standing military, due to the fact that a character can have served in it before mustering out.  Such institutions are usually signs of highly nationalized groups.  It is quite difficult to maintain a standing army without some sense of common identity.  One would not expect to see a standing military in the feudal system hinted at above, but the two can be brought together as discussed below.

Now for two more subtle clues.  We can see from the world generation system that worlds within the Imperium can have a number of different forms of government.  A participating democracy is just as likely to have a Consulate present as a religious dictatorship.  One can assume then that these polities enjoy a large degree of autonomy.  It is worth noting that some of these worlds might be independent, since the subsector generation rules suggest that multiple states can exist within a single subsector.  Still, I think it's fair to assume that the Imperium usually lets a system decide its own internal forms of government.

The other subtle clue comes, once again, from character creation.  It appears that the Imperium was recently at war.  Events for naval characters reveal that they could have participated in a major battle, and similar hints may be found in other careers.  For my purposes, this war was with an external alien empire whose exact nature is still being determined.  Such a threat would be enough to cause some fairly dramatic social change within the Imperium.

For the sake of argument, let us say that the Imperium was formerly a more or less feudal organization.  Power filtered down from Terra, but due to the problems of ruling an interstellar state without FTL communication the Emperor (or perhaps the Senate) delegated administrative duties among a class of people loyal to him (it).  These independent servants of the Imperium were more or less allowed to govern as they wished, assuming they provided monetary and military support when needed.  Such a system would overcome some of the difficulties created by the large amounts of space between star systems, but would be too decentralized to respond to major threats to Imperial safety.

A major war with an alien civilization could have forced the Imperium's hand.  The ineffectiveness of certain barons may have necessitated the creation of a standing military to better respond to the alien threat.  While benefiting the general welfare of the citizens of the Imperium, this change would have come at the cost of some of the autonomy of the nobility and/or the various planets.

One might think of the Imperium as a society in the midst of change.  Nobles still exist and exert an immense amount of control on the governmental system, even as the methods of organization and mustering that once made them a necessity are now becoming obsolete.  The underclass is increasingly becoming important since the nobility no longer monopolizes the use of force.  Also the stability created by a standing military and scout patrol increases the opportunities for interstellar trade, increasing the power of the mercantile class further.

I'm not entirely sold on this version yet, especially in light of the core rulebooks suggestion to let the results of sector generation define the polities of the setting.  Still, I think this is a workable model and one I find extremely attractive.