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Wild Sphere

by George Chiu
Mar 09,2005


Wild Sphere - GlovE's First Guest Column

One of my ideas with my columns has always been to have, from time to time, guest columns. By this I mean columns by other people on issues related to my aims, in other words, rpg design. Finally I am able to materialize this idea. Through RPGnet I came into contact with George Chiu and his Wild Sphere project. One thing leads to the other and we discussed the possibility of him preseting his project in my column. For several reasons this got delayed but it finally is here. Hence, this month GlovE hosts a guest column on George's Wild Sphere project. I hope you enjoy it.

Wild Sphere: A Developmental and Conceptual History

By George Chiu, (c) 2005


Sergio asked me to put together a guest column discussing Wild Sphere, a multimedia project I'm working on. Wild Sphere is a science fiction setting set in an alternate future: In 1895 of WS' timeline, Nikola Tesla discovered a way to generate free, unlimited power, radically altering human development from our own timeline. Several centuries later, the WS universe is the result. Wild Sphere is primarily a space western with strong space opera themes, but as the setting has developed, I have also incorporated political thriller, cyberpunk, noir, and pulp elements.

With the design team, I am working on four major projects in various stages of development that share the same background universe: a roleplaying game, a gamebook (sharing the RPG's game mechanic, an original rules lite storytelling system named the Century System), a manga (to be released in serial as a web comic), and a series of novels. In coordinating these various projects, it's a balancing act where I try to divide our efforts in such a way that will be best for Wild Sphere's overall development: the RPG develops the core group of fans, the gamebook extends the use of the Century System, the manga greatly expands our audience to include manga/anime fans, and the novels provide a steady stream of content updates for the website.

This column will focus on the Century System, but first, it might be helpful to understand where this project came from.

Developing the Universe of Wild Sphere

With my friends Chris and Ammon, I started developing a space western universe back in October 2002 that has become Wild Sphere. Although it has grown to reference, homage, and satirize at many, many things, WS was originally inspired by two of my all-favorite anime: Cowboy Bebop (1998, for more info see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowboy_bebop) and Mobile Suit Gundam (1979, for more info see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_Suit_Gundam). Actually, WS' original working title was "Mobile Suit Century", which was quickly dropped because of obvious trademark issues. In my humble opinion, CB is the preeminent example of a Space Western in Japanese animation, just as MSG is the preeminent example of an anime Space Opera.

In developing a setting, I thought it would be fantastic if I could successfully wed the best elements of both series, while putting my own twist on things. So I got to thinking about why I liked Bebop and Gundam so much. In addition to stunning animation and mechanical design for their time, and compelling storytelling, CB and MSG are also similar in that both have detailed, relatively grounded and realistic near-future settings (i.e., they still use recognizable items like slug-throwers, and cars). Also, while both series take notable departures from generally accepted science, they also do use interesting and plausible ideas such as LaGrange Points. (see http://www.dyarstraights.com/msgundam/frontier.html)

Another element that both CB and MSG share is that the scope of the settings is just right. Many years ago, when Chris and I were discussing the relative merits of Gundam and Macross, the other epic, multi-series, mecha space opera anime, Chris mentioned that Gundam's setting had better scope because, by not having aliens, Gundam is able to focus more tightly on the human condition. That's why, even though this is a hotly debated topic, WS has followed MSG's lead in that there are no intelligent aliens.

Thus, the takeaway from this analysis was that WS would try to have a highly detailed and realized background and would have a near-future, relatively realistic setting that would emphasize plausible science, which only a few notable exceptions (e.g., mecha, hyperspace, Tesla Generators). Like Gundam, Wild Sphere has epic battles between massive star empires that change the course of history. Like Bebop, Wild Sphere also chronicles the adventures of lone or small handfuls of adventurers.

Chris was the one with the brilliant idea of putting Wild Sphere in an alternate timeline. In terms of creating the setting, the alternate timeline is fantastic, not only because it makes certain elements of setting more plausible, but it gave us a lot more freedom in terms of what a "realistic" 2150 might be like. Plus, we could have a lot of more fun with certain parts of the alternate history. This history covers the years between 1895 and 2150, with the bulk of the development to date concentrating on the period between 2075 and 2150.

Developing the Century System

The Wild Sphere roleplaying game and gamebook both use the Century System, which is an original game mechanic being developed for WS. This mechanic for the RPG and gamebook shares some qualities with Sergio's GlovEngine concept in that it is designed to be easy to learn and able to be ported to other games without too much effort. The latest draft of Core Mechanic is available on our website at http://www.wildsphere.com/rpg/centsystcoremech.pdf

To understand the Century System, a player just needs to grasp three key points:

1. Most of the game is storytelling/roleplaying, and the GM can skip the rules to go straight storyteller

2. Most key resolutions (e.g., To-Hit, Skill Rolls, Reaction Checks) are percentage-based

3. Players can use Fate Points, if available, to change dice rolls or to go beyond the rules

When I say that "[m]ost of the game is storytelling/roleplaying, and the GM can skip the rules to go straight storyteller", I mean that Wild Sphere, at least as I have GM'd it, is told as a story. If the action is going and furious, I will skip the rules (e.g., skipping To-Hit and Damage rolls, skipping the calculation of Movement Points, etc.) and just say what happens to speed up the pace of the story.

The following are some highlights from the development of the Century System:

Early on, the question came up whether to use the d20 system to power WS' RPG. From my point of view, the strongest arguments in favor of d20 were that, at the time, d20 was becoming an established brand, which potentially would help marketing the RPG, and that d20 was the market leader, which potentially would open the RPG up to more users (because there would be no learning curve, the game would be compatible with lots of other products, and so forth).

However, from the beginning, I wanted WS' game mechanic to be able to emulate the cinematic, high octane, free-form action in Cowboy Bebop. While d20 is good for various things, I felt that this was not one of them. By this I mean that, in my humble opinion, d20 has a great many rules that both limit the way that Player think about how their Characters can act and can sometimes slow the game down. On the other hand, I think that we have developed a simple, fast, and balanced way to replicate Bebopesque action with a system that only has a handful of rules for most task resolutions (including combat). In addition, where the rules are too restraining for a given situation, the both the GM (by skipping the rules) and the Players (by using Fate Points) can go beyond them to better simulate cinematic anime. Fewer rules does mean that the GM has to be able to think on his feet at times, but that we're happy with that compromise.

Another design goal was to create a mechanic that's fast but flexible, which are not necessarily compatible goals. The CS tackles this problem by only having a handful of Core Rules, but also having dozens of Optional and Alternate Rules. As a result, the default system is rules lite, but each gaming group is free to customize the mechanic to their tastes.

In designing the Century System, the goal wasn't to create anything revolutionary per se. Rather, we wanted a solid, simple, quick mechanic that would do enough to complement the storytelling and the unique background setting we created.

To help readers put the CS in context, a brief comparison between the CS and Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying (BRP), the mechanic that powers Call of Cthulthu and RuneQuest, shall be made. There are some similarities between the CS and BRP. For example, basic task resolution mechanics, both the CS and BRP use percentage rolls, setting a Target Number (TN) then roll under for success. However, in BRP, the TN is set by the Character's proficiency in the Skill used, whereas, in the CS, the GM tries to set the TN at what he believes is the Character's actual chance of success. For example, if a Player is making a Skill Roll to determine whether her Character is able to jump out of a helicopter on to a speeding training in order to prevent a mad scientist from releasing a deadly biological agent, in setting the TN not only does the GM consider the Character's Acrobat Skill Level, but also the relative speeds of the helicopter and train, the distance that must be traveled, how much light there is, whether it is raining, etc. This process is a quick and dirty analysis meant to yield a ballpark figure, and the Player is free to argue for additional or different modifiers.

Other differences between the systems include that the CS is generally simpler than BRP and has less "rules" (e.g., the CS has fewer dice (CS uses d10 and d6) v. (BRP uses d10, d8, and d6), and uses fewer Character stats, the GM can skip the rules and go straight storyteller, etc.) Additionally, the CS uses a point-build system for Character Generation, as opposed to rolling stats in BRP, that in the CS Skills cannot directly be improved through use like they can in BRP, and that the CS' combat is more lethal (e.g., a Character's hit points and the damage from weapons are scaled such that Character death is more likely, in the CS there is no First Aid skill that immediately restores 1d3 Hit Points, etc.)

Some of my other design goals included making a system that was as intuitive and easy to learn as possible. Like many others, I received my introduction to RPGs through Dungeons & Dragons over 20 years ago, and one thing that stands out about absorbing Basic and Advanced D&D was all the charts and terms I had learn. Then I thought, seems to me that the absolute easiest way to explain a resolution to someone is to state it in percentage terms. Everyone intuitively understands percentages (e.g., people know what you mean if you say, "You have a 50-50 chance of fixing your car.") Thus, the decision to make most key resolutions percentage-based was born.

I understand that these different designs goals are sometimes in opposition, and along the way I've made various choices to balance things. For the most part, things seem to work pretty well, but the Century System is still in development.


So there, in a few pages is an overview of main points from Wild Sphere's developmental and conceptual history. If you'd like to be a playtester or a beta tester for our Forum or have other comments, please feel free to drop us a line at wildsphere@xsmail.com. For more information about Wild Sphere, folks are also very welcome to visit our website at http://www.wildsphere.com/

George Chiu

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