Inscrit le: 19 Sep 2009
Dim 18 Oct - 13:13 (2009)
This section is intended to help GMs plan out missions and make their game more interesting. First we’re going to lay down some of the more typical ways that games of Sufficiently Advanced proceed, and then we’ll deal with ways to spice things up.
It’s important to have both of those things, by the way: the basics and the twists, the straight roads and the unexpected curves, the starch and the spice. Having just the first is boring; having nothing but the second is overwhelming. As much as we think we’d like to, we can’t have pure, unadulterated awesome on every front at once — it’s just too much to concentrate on. Sooner or later you end up saying, “Gee, yet another unexpected twist in the story that makes everything else seem unimportant. Yawn.” One of the keys to great stories is setting patterns and breaking them, and it’s easy to forget that you need both of these.
Every game has its own set of “fallback” stories. These are classic setups that are seen time and time again, in many different campaigns. Dungeons and Dragons has overland adventures, wars against vast faceless enemies, and the eponymous dungeon crawl. Star Trek games have tussles with various alien species, diplomatic operations, and first contact missions. Here we talk about some of the typical setups for a game of Sufficiently Advanced. Included are a lot of good questions that you as a GM might want to think about when you create a particular type of adventure.
Actual Patent Violations
Hey, they happen once in a while. Sometimes the most important part of your job actually comes down to enforcing the law and assuring that someone’s intellectual property is protected. These are the meat-and-potatoes of your Inspector’s job, even if most of the stories are skipped over inbetween the more interesting sessions.
Ethical dilemmas are often at the core of these stories. No one cares if someone’s making illegal bowling balls. What makes these stories compelling is when the inspectors have to act against what they believe. Patent violations involving medical equipement or procedures, or involving procedures that are legal in one civilization (especially their own) and not in another, are great places to start. If you can tie into the characters’ Core Values, so much the better.
Enforcement issues are often a problem as well, especially when it comes to self-replicating or intelligent devices. When does a factor computer become sentient enough that the law says it should start paying for the devices it creates? How does one handle the use of new nanophages cultivated from previous blooms? It’s a tricky question, and one that can trigger a lot of conversation between the right group of Inspectors.
These are often used as “setup” missions. If you’ve ever seen a TV cop drama where the case is apparently solved in the first twenty minutes, you know something strange is going to happen to completely derail the episode. You can use the same technique in your own game: let the players quickly and easily handle the patent violation, and then spring the real story on them. It helps to have a little foreshadowing that this is going to happen, and you don’t want to do it every time — remember: you have to set a pattern before you can break it — but it can be a lot of fun watching the players realize that the game can’t possibly be over already.
Sometimes the whole mission is a mistake. You show up and something has obviously been misreported, overestimated, or falsified. Alternatively, you could have two groups who are yelling at each other for no good reason, not realizing that they have a common cause after all.
The first step is typically diplomacy: those involved need to calm down and consider each other’s positions before someone vaporizes a mountain. This can be pretty simple in some cases, especially if your team has a strong Metatech advantage. Other times it requires careful work and some serious butt-kissing.
The second step is to figure out what’s really going on. If this was only a misunderstanding, you would have reported it to the Office, who would tell the Transcendentals, who would decide to never send your team on the mission in the first place. Obviously it’s still important that the characters are there, and it’s time to find out why. Who’s causing this problem, and how big is it going to get?
One step up from a plain misunderstanding is a total enigma. The Transcendentals have given the team some sort of utterly incomprehensible instructions and sent them to a place where nothing seems to be happening. Now what?
Enigmas are a nice way to start a session because they can drop the characters anywhere in the universe. Want to use the League of Independent Worlds as a backdrop, but don’t have a good reason? Plunk them down there with an enigma mission. Events may take them elsewhere, but you can start wherever you like.
Expect your players to figure out what’s going on pretty fast. The Comprehension Theme is designed for precisely this kind of thing, and Plot Immunity with the right descriptor will cut through this stalling in no time flat. Unless the players enjoy wandering around confused (unlikely), they’ll get into the heart of matters in under half an hour. As a result, starting with an enigma can be an excellent way to wring Twists out of your players, though it can sometimes be frustrating for them.
The Villain Problem
This is typical fodder for any RPG, and it makes a great way to start a high-tension session. The mission will typically start with the Transcendentals telling the team about an imminent disaster and what restrictions they’ll have in approaching it. Lives are at stake, so you can often expect a large number of Twists to be used if you have heroic characters on your team.
A key to this sort of mission is keeping the actual villain hidden until the end. If the characters can see the bad guy, he’s doomed immediately. Someone will create antimatter inside his brain, or talk him into surrendering, or drop a nanophage down his shorts. Even a Stardweller group-mind won’t be able to handle a concerted assault from most Inspector teams, and that’s before Twists come into play. A successful villain operates through others, from as remote a location as possible.
To make things more interesting, you can have a villain with some amount of connection to the PCs. Someone from their Civilizations or Societies may play on their loyalties, especially if they believe they’re acting in that group’s best interests. As a side note, Societies make great sources for well-funded villains if you’d rather not have an international incident. It’s practically what the Darwinians are in the game for.
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Motifs in S.A.
Every good story has, in addition to its plot, a motif — a set of themes or messages that appear throughout the story. These are the motifs of Sufficiently Advanced as it’s written:
The Effects of Technology on Society: How does the world change when you introduce something like conscious control over your reproductive system? Or replicators capable of recreating a human being? How does society change?
Choice over Capability: What you are capable of doing says very little about you as a human being. What you choose to do says much more, especially when your capabilities are unlimited.
Faith: Beyond a certain amount of faith that the characters must place in the Transcendentals, this game is very much about what characters believe in, and what they’re willing to fight for.
The Diversity of Humanity: And the importance of that diversity. That’s one of the many reasons that the Union is the standard “bad guy” culture: they want to not just control people, but homogenize them as well. The Stardwellers, despite their overall bizarreness, are “good guys” for their desire to spread and grow in a thousand different ways.
The Endless Nature of Knowledge: Even in this highly advanced setting, there are still some things that aren’t known, and no sign that things will ever stop being invented, discovered, or created.
Your own game will no doubt have its own messages. Never be afraid to trample these themes in favor of those you prefer.
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