Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Here's my homebrew Space Opera idea starters...

Sometimes when I'm racking my brain, trying to come up with adventure ideas, it helps to think about the basic elements of space opera--or at least, the elements that I believe are the biggest dramatic story turn-ons. So if I get stuck, I remind myself to start small and build up on bare bones. Here's the bare minimum that I try to work with.

FOUR
Players. Yeah, we do just fine with three or even two, but four is a magic number because real group dynamics come into play. No longer is it the dynamic duo or trio, it's a fully realized team. It's much easier to diversify skills with at least four participants (besides the GM).


Even if fewer players actually show up, I try to write each game with four different classes and skill sets in mind. Let the players figure out who does what, but give them some purpose by challenging them on four fronts.

THREE
I go by the acronym A.R.M., which stands for alien, robot, monster. That could mean there's one of each or three of the same--or some combination thereof. Doesn't matter if they're friend or foe, but weirder is always better.
These creatures don't need to be instrumental to the plot, they can be encountered incidentally or as foreshadowing for a later adventure. But space opera is nothing if not exotic, so this is where I can turn up the dial on "fantastic beasts."


Hopefully every game has at least one thing they've not encountered before or at least has a unique spin on an old trope.

TWO
At least two destinations are required--could be planets, space stations, etc. But space travel needs a Point A and Point B to be interesting. Doesn't matter what those two places are, but preferably they require travel in a spacecraft of some sort. I always have at least one scene/encounter in space. ALWAYS.


I tend to ping pong my players between highly contrasted worlds (high tech vs. primitive, utopian vs. lawless, paradise vs. unbreathable hellscape, etc.). 

ONE
A Big Bad Wolf! There's gotta' be at least one scheming maniac, super-powered warlord, evil space wizard, etc. This usually helps to not only give a climactic battle, but to flesh out some of the plot with motives and minions (henchmen/bounty hunters, etc.) that might be encountered by the PCs, as well as other story-centric elements that creatures in the A.R.M. category aren't always intended to exploit.

Honorable Mention:

At least one thing that's totally out of my control. For one game I gave the PCs a mutagen stim, with a random table of possible mutations. They were encouraged only to hold on to it until the last half of the game. It surpassed all expectations as they really went for it with roleplay and it became the best part of that game.

What about you?
Again, these are just the starting positions, but they generally get me off to the races brainstorming. What are your must-haves for your games?

Monday, December 8, 2014

VIDEO: Actual space combat should be done by drones



In space, inertia is a bitch. If you were to pilot a starfighter--and really expected to be an effective star warrior, blasting at bad guys--you'd need to move quickly and efficiently through the vacuum. There's just one problem: people aren't made to be whipped around by the jerky motions required to capitalize on the freedom of movement offered in an environment without atmosphere.

The solution? Droids! Or rather, drones. They could be R/C, but really this is the future, and you'd want a leg up on the other guy, so give 'em so A.I. and let them do the work. You'd likely build an armada of smallish fighters to do your dirty work, as this clip from The Universe: Space Wars depicts a swarm of box-shaped pirate fighters attacking a larger vessel.


I remember being really wowed by the ideas presented in this episode back in 2009, and the visual artists did a pretty good job representing the concepts. The action gets going quickly, so here's a bit of a rough lead in around the 34 minute and 13 second mark.

Friday, December 5, 2014

VIDEO: Orion launches new US space era!


NASA's back in the big rocket business! Today they launched the Orion mission's first test flight, which one day will (hopefully) put manned missions on Mars. Here's video of the launch in case you missed it:



Here's a nice infographic on the scale of the rocket, including comparison to the Apollo mission's once ubiquitous Saturn V (click to enlarge):


Orion uses the two-stage Delta IV rocket system for hoisting payloads into orbit (and beyond). Here's some specs taken right from NASA's data page:
Delta IV Heavy with extra rocket boosters

Main Engine
Design simplicity, demonstrated capability and cost-efficiency define the RS-68A, the main engine for the Delta IV. Designed and manufactured by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, the throttleable RS-68A engine is the largest existing hydrogen-burning engine. Conceived using a simplified design approach, the resulting engine requires 80 percent fewer parts than the Space Shuttle main engine, is lower risk, has reduced development and production costs and has inherently reliable operation.

Nominal Thrust (sea level): 702,000 lbs
Specific Impulse (sea level): 362 seconds
Length: 204 in
Weight: 14,876 lbs
Fuel/Oxidizer: Liquid Hydrogen/Liquid Oxygen

Solid Rocket Motors
For missions requiring additional thrust at liftoff, the Delta IV M+ configurations use either two or four Alliant Techsystems-manufactured solid rocket motors (SRM). Separation is accomplished by initiating ordnance thrusters that provide a radial thrust to jettison the expended SRMs away from the first stage.

Peak Vacuum Thrust: 280,000 lbf
Specific Impulse: 275.2 seconds
Length: 636 in
Maximum Diameter: 60 in
Weight: 74,500 lbs
Nominal Burn Time: 90 seconds

Second Stage
Both the Atlas and the Delta IV second stages rely on the RL10 propulsion system to power their second stages. Logging an impressive record of more than 385 successful flights and nearly 700 firings in space, RL10 engines, manufactured by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, harness the power of high-energy liquid hydrogen and boast a precision control system and restart capability to accurately place critical payloads into orbit.
The Delta IV employs the RL10B-2 with the world’s largest carbon-carbon extendible nozzle.

Nominal Thrust: 24,750 lbs
Specific Impulse: 465.5 seconds
Fuel/Oxidizer: Liquid Hydrogen/Liquid Oxygen
Length: 86.5 in (stowed); 163.5 in (deployed)
Diameter (nozzle extension): 84.5 in
Weight: 664 lbs

Fun fact: the habitable space aboard the Orion crew module is roughly equivalent to two minivans. That's pretty tight quarters for a long journey to Mars!

Learn more

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

VIDEO: Inspiring short films about "boldly going"

Here's a fantastic short film based on Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" speech that captures the energy and spirit of the late astronomer by setting it to some beautifully composed visuals. The film, Wanderers, is by Erik Wernquist, and it's candy for the eyes as well as the heart.


Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist from Erik Wernquist on Vimeo.


Love this still from the film:


Between this and October's Ambition short from the European Space Agency, we're riding a streak of really captivating shorts about space exploration.

The next was suggested by reader Graham. It's titled Man Conquers Space, and I'm afraid I don't know much about it, but looks to be an upcoming independent film. This is actually more of a trailer, but it makes good use of one of Wehrner Von Braun's finned rocket designs.

 


Monday, December 1, 2014

TEASER TRAILER: STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS!



Yup. If you live on planet Earth, you've seen this. You've read a million blog and/or news site breakdowns. You've ogled the frame-by-frame analysis.

So it's here if you want to see it again. And know that, yes, I enjoyed it immensely. It's a teaser, not a full trailer and it got my pulse going, which is all I care about.

A quick rebuttal on some of the naysayings orbiting the ugly side of the holonet:


1. Black stormtroopers

Seriously? This is a complaint? Here's a quick pic of the first stormtrooper:

C'mon, even clone troopers have better aim than some of those misguided pot shots.
...dude's a Maori badass. Not Caucasian. They made hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of him. How many precedents does one need to rebuff poorly thought out racism? (The answer is "zero.")


2. "Disneyfied" droids

Disney is even more insidious than you think. They made a time machine and cutsied up the wookies:


If you're 40+ years old (like me) and you even flinched when you saw cute lil' soccer-deetoo then you're having a serious "senior" moment. By now everyone knows that Lucas had intended the Battle of Endor to take place on the wookie homeworld. But somewhere between spiraling production costs and the Flanneled One having kids of his own, wookies went through the dryer and we ended up taking out the Empire with rocks and sticks.

And for those of you who grew up with the prequels, you've got even deeper Disneyfication issues to deal with, so I'm sure a rolling droid isn't going to derail your therapy any further. You have zero ground on which to protest.


3. Lightsaber crossbar

As soon as you manufacture your own handheld, self-contained, physics-defying plasma sword that doesn't require a containment tip at the end of the blade, you can complain about this. As far as plot points go, well, I think there may yet be justification for one:

"Obiwan never told you---you're supposed to have a crossbar on that thing!"
If it's still too much to handle (ha!) let this be a balm to your anxiety over lightsaber practicality:

If it's called the "protosaber" now, what did they call it back then?
Imagine getting a kink in your lightsaber power cord in the middle of a riposte. How embarrassing! "That guy just tried to run me through with his flashlight and an extension cord!"

Almost makes carrying a car battery on your back into swordplay worth it for the comedic effect. Hey, maybe the Ghostbusters are hiring?

UPDATE: Stephen Colbert has the definitive take on the lightsaber debate of 2014. "Amateur hour is OVER."

4. Yeah but...

RELAX. It's a space opera fantasy. It's all good. Remember that time, earlier this year, when you paid real cash money to go see a rascally raccoon with a machine gun and a talking tree? I heard that worked out just fine.


5. The Force is strong with this episode

Just to make sure we're still friendsies and such, here's a bonus video of that time Georgie totally asked his pal Mark if he'd be up for playing Luke in episode 7. Lucas postulated it would be out in 2011, so he was only off by 3 years!



We've been promised much less reliance on computer graphics, and Lucas has stepped back in an emeritus role. There are a lot of people working really hard to make sure you're not disappointed. So let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Search out with your feelings because...
 
STAR WARS IS BACK, BABY!