Thursday, 16 January 2014

Filling the Galaxy - Phase 2: Assigning Categories

In the midst of this mighty vacuum is the potential for
thousands of unique aliens... but what are they like
as a people?
I am the Warden!!

The response we've received for Mercenary Breed 2.0 and Xenopedia has been outstanding and now the pressure is on us to keep that enthusiasm going and keep you pumped and anxious for the final release (scheduled for Spring 2014).

Personally, I was psyched when this fell into my lap too. I'd played some Savage Worlds in the past and really enjoyed the simplicity and well-rounded application of the system; it felt like D&D without the same feeling of strict limitations for character development. That's not what got my creative juices flowing when virtual hands shook and it was time to get started on Xenopedia. It was the idea of creating aliens from scratch.

I didn't want these aliens to feel like "game aliens." By that, I mean I wanted them to seem like real creatures - bipedal, four-legged, or slimy crawlers - discovered by NASA satellites and researched extensively before converted into Savage Worlds stats. They had to feel alive as a species before they could pop as individuals.

Think of humanity. As a whole, we are an incredibly diverse and ranged species capable of great deeds both pleasant and nefarious. As individuals, we may share genetic dispositions, traits, and habits based on geography and culture, but how would an alien culture view us as a species? Our culture defines our individuality as much as it explains our species as a whole, a crucial aspect I wanted to cover in Xenopedia when it seemed most others did not. Information such as how they ran their society, their tendency towards aggression and/or peace, and their grasp of technology could open so many doors for GMs looking to include them in their Mercenary Breed campaign (or any other SW campaign, seeing as Xenopedia is designed primarily as an open-source alien guide).

The trick was containing an entire species' potential within four pages in a 6x9 format with readable text. Plus there was the regular format set down by the publisher and Savage World standards. There was no extra room for the extra bits I wanted to add on, nor was it acceptable to shorten the details already required by the publisher. I needed a compromise.

Cue the categories.

The beginning of each entry starts with a shorthand description of the species' general scope of government, military, and technology. These three were chosen (with some helpful input from some G+ followers) as the dominant factors in understanding the species as a whole. For example, if an alien's home world is part of one massive empire, the alien is more inclined to share certain traits and habits (such as accents and dress) compared to an alien whose home world is divided into hundreds of different factions. An aggressive species with a full-blown military could mean an individual alien has military training and combat training versus a pacifist species with a focus on education and diplomacy. Finally, their use of technology dictates their frequency and reasons for being in the vacuum of space; a low-tech species may only be encountered on their home planet or been forced into servitude on other planets.

Every species begins with the following categories: Society, Military, and Technology. Each category is divided into four rankings numbered from 0 to 3, with zero indicating no connection whatsoever. For example, the cephlon is a solitary alien rarely encountered by mercenaries in their career and many other planets believe this species is a myth - they are ranked as Society 0 because they have no common government or communities. Compare that to the hokoth and their peacekeeping empire (Society 3) or the territorial jhet (Society 2) and you'll get a glance at the potential. Xenopedia's introduction contains a simplified explanation of each category's rank as a guideline for embellishing the alien's culture, practices, and home world.

Each category works as a cultural Trait, if you will. Much in the same way reading an alien's Strength at d12 tells you it is very strong, noticing a species' Technology category at 2 tells a GM it has a basic grasp of advanced technology, but has not developed its own means of interstellar travel. Just like regular Traits, categories are freely interpretative to whatever you need for your particular sci-fi campaign.

Next: Let's get to some aliens, shall we? In Phase 3 of Filling the Galaxy, I'll show you the early designs for one of the galaxy's fiercest threats - the crafty cephlon.