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Mix-O-Tronic: Creating Game Seeds

Space Truckin' on the Highway To Hell

by Brian Hollenbeck
Jun 12,2002

 

Mix-O-Tronic Result "space exploration/transport/assassin"

Crash Team

This is going to take some explanation. Sometimes the Mix-O-Tronic giveth, sometimes it taketh away. Mostly it taketh away, what with some hundred million possible combinations, they can't all inspire. Take this one for example. Space exploration, transport and assassin. Ok, so you're on the Good Ship Lollypop, and oops! There's an assassin on board. Blah blah blah.

So I'm about to hit the F9 key and then something kinda comes over me. It's kinda like a cup of warm honey with friendly worms in it running down my back. But enough about my personal life. The Mix-O-Tronic had givethed all over the place, and I had to write it down.

Space travel has gotten ridiculously easy.

Man was crawling towards the heavens on large generation ships, moving away from an Earth that had been poisoned to death. On the planet dubbed New Haven, circling Wolf 359, they found their salvation. The first Lifter. A Lifter is a tremendous stone and metal construction, a rotating column of floating machinery and titanic blocks of volcanic rock over a mile wide and three miles tall.

Inscribed into the base of the Lifter were instructions on its use. Millions upon millions of pages of instruction, actually, beginning with 1+1=2. After fifty years of hardscrabble existence on New Haven, the basic concept of the Lifter was discovered: it could transport a person or material from one planet with a Lifter to another. Instantaneously. The human race hasn't been the same since.

Lifters can transport one person, with whatever they are wearing or carrying, from one planet to another. The one hitch is that, in order for it to work, there must be another person on the other end, the receiver, who must "will" the person using the Lifter over. That, combined with the will of the person using the Lifter, causes the transference. Objects can also be Lifted, but the amount of matter that can be moved that way is incredibly small. A single person can Lift only about 2 or 3 cubic feet of material, and they have to go with it. In order to get back, the courier needs another receiver back on his world of origin to Lift him back.

A person can just Lift themselves, but it's exceedingly dangerous. Of the original New Haven colonists, over 100 died or vanished mysteriously into the night sky before one survived at another Lifter on another planet long enough to Lift themselves back. The Lifter Wall, the instruction manual on New Haven, contained a star map of other stars in the night sky which also have Lifter worlds. Without a receiving partner, however, Lifting is random to any planet in the heavens with another Lifter. More than that, if the person being Lifted loses their concentration, the landing site on the receiving planet is also random. A lifter (lower-case "lifter" means a person travelling by using an upper-case "Lifter", the installation) could wind up in the middle of a burning desert or an ocean, with only the lint in their pockets for gear, and no idea where the Lifter on that world is.

Fast forward 500 years from the first Lift off of New Haven. Not only has the human race spread like dandelion seeds across the worlds already connected by Lifters, it has learned how to build Lifters as well. Called Seeds, these are large natural crystals wrapped in dense technological cloaks that amplify thoughts and provide communication between worlds. Each seed is accompanied by a company of self-guiding robotic machinery and the human contingent that Lifts it there. These are the Crash Teams.

So called because they Lift onto their target worlds without the aid of a receiver, the Crash Team must set up camp, and find the best place on the world to set up a Lifter. They then build a nascent Lifter so that other equipment and people can come across, and colonization can begin.

There you have it, the world of Crash Team. You might be wondering where the whole "assassin" bit comes in. Well, I'll tell you. In a world where you have Lifters, assassins work in trios. First, a fixer Lifts over to a planet on some pretense. Then, after establishing themselves, the fixer then acts as a receiver for the assassin. After the job is complete, the fixer and assassin high-tail it back to the Lifter and a third party, on another world served by the Lifter, waiting on some other pretense, Lifts them both out.

Assassins and special forces operations of this kind are the only real form of interplanetary warfare that can be carried out. Lifters are well guarded, both internally and externally. Despite their size, only a small patch the size of a football field in the center of the Lifter is "active". Smuggling is incredibly hard to do, but not impossible. An "invasion" of any size would be impossible to pull off unless the entire Lifter was captured from the outside first. Since the receiver must be present in the Lifter active area, when an attack force or tank arrived, both the force and the person willing them over could be easily eliminated.

The characters in the game can be drawn from a host of different backgrounds: the assassin, bounty hunter or special ops crew or the Crash Team. Fusion-driven ships ply the space between planets within a solar system. For some reason, Lifting works from system to system, sometimes over vast distances, but not from one planet to another within the same system. Generally limited to the planets just inward or outward of the Lifter planet, space travel is actually more dangerous than most activities associated with Lifting.

And of course there's the final mystery: where did the Lifters come from, anyway? Hmmm...

So far as a system is concerned, Crash Team cries out as an alternate to Fading Suns. Any system would be fine, though, as the main driving force behind the Crash Team idea is 'space travel sans starships', which essentially means that the game would focus more on the lives and politics of the various worlds and less on technology and the whiz-bang factor. Even the best scientists of Crash Team don't know how the Lifter actually works, and barely have enough of a grip on the technology to created the Seeds. This uneasy balance with technology should be distributed throughout the culture of Crash Team - except for the chosen few who deal directly with the Lifters, most people will live much more self-sustaining lives. At any moment, the Lifters could stop working and the people of any world could be on their own.



Mix-O-Tronic Result "forsaken/road movie/hell"

DAMNATION

(RPG/boardgame)

This idea came to me at the same time that I was watching one of those 24-hour Twilight Zone marathons. The premise is so incredibly common on that show that I simply had to obey. The result is one of the very few Mix-O-Tronic ideas that I've actually played out. I had a few friends over along with a few pages defining literary tropes and allegorical symbols, and we were off to the races.

DAMNATION is a game about redemption. Not that it starts out that way. All of the characters at the beginning of Damnation have sold their souls to the Devil, for one thing or another, and payment has come due. Instead of waiting around to be taken to Hell, the characters are running for their eternal lives.

Play begins on a map of the United States, with each player starting in the city of their choice. By playing out the scenes leading up to their damnation, the players earn points from the other players based on how well they act out their scenes and how interesting the story of their tortured life is. Those points can be converted into miles, story points or other tools that the characters can use to run from the Devil.

The Devils that are chasing the characters get a random number of points per round, based on the roll of the Damned Die. The Damned Die is actually divided into several pools, which the Devil (played by the GM) keeps track of. When the characters are eventually run down by the Devil, and they inevitably will, a showdown begins.

The player must come up with a way, using the story points or other tools (which would be literary objects, like Sacrificial Lamb, which allows the player to send someone in their story to their death to avoid damnation) to trick, cajole or further bargain the Devil into not taking their souls. Then the pursuit begins again, or the player is eliminated. It's also possible that the players could wind up in the same city and meet. Players can band together, combining their story points, miles and other objects into a pool from which they can both draw. The only problem is that when they do that, they enter each other's stories and are subject to each other's actions. For instance, using the Sacrificial Lamb example, once the characters team up, Player A can make Player B their Sacrificial Lamb and vice versa.

In other words: the easiest way to get away from the Devil is also the fastest way to get screwed in the end.

Eliminated players begin work for the Devil, playing out scenes with the remaining players, until one person is left. That person receives Redemption and wins the game.

DAMNATION combines role-playing with coalition building (a la Survivor) to garner more points from the other players. Of course too much coalition building can be a bad thing - the object of the game is to find Redemption, not to make friends.

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What do you think?

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All Mix-O-Tronic columns by Brian Hollenbeck
  • The Grimm World by Brian Hollenbeck, 26jun02
  • Space Truckin' on the Highway To Hell by Brian Hollenbeck, 12jun02
  • Second Base April 17, 2002
  • First Steps March 12, 2002

    Other columns at RPGnet

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