4 Aug 2016

Cortext+ BattleTech - ComStar Technician - Commentary

Gasp!  A second commentary in as many weeks?  Sure!  Why not?

First, the past three characters show one of my approaches to creating them for both gaming and writing.  With ensemble casts, I need to keep in mind the roles I need filled.  With the BattleTech concept test, the first two characters I needed were MechWarriors.  I then had to find a way to distinguish the two.  The third character, Frankie, needed to be different from both but still needed to be useful.  Thus, a ComStar technician.  The Cortex+ rules as seen in the Firefly RPG have broad skills.  Fix covers everything from toasters to BattleMechs.  Neither Victor nor Rahela have that skill; they're better at breaking 'Mechs, not repairing them.  Frankie, thus, gets that role.

However, role doesn't lead to personality.  So, knowing I need a technician, I still have to figure out who Frankie is.  The use of distinctions in Cortex+ helps define Frankie, not just in her role but in her personality and outlook on life.  Technologist reflects her affinity towards technology.  Know It All shows she's smart but has problems not lording her intellect over others.  Wet Behind the Ears means she's relatively inexperienced; she's going to make mistakes.  Broad strokes, but the more I work with her, the more I'll get to know her.

I went through a similar process with By the Numbers.  I had a ensemble cast, with certain roles that needed to be filled.  Numbers was an idea I had already was playing with as a player character, so placing her into the hacker role was easy enough.  Charles was another idea that kept coming to mind, the troll wall of muscle.  Treehugger, though, came from the rigger archetype in the Fourth Edition Shadowrun rules, with me interpreting the character sheet's list of qualities.  Oswald started as a generic mage, then slowly morphed into being a former law enforcement detective as planning began.  Know what roles I needed meant I could begin filling in details about the plot without having to worry too much about who was filling the position.  Once writing begins, I can see how the character behaves relative to the others.

The process is different when there is just one central character.  Usually, the plot depends heavily on that character to the point where I need to know who that person is before I can figure out key scenes, including the ending.  This may have been the biggest problem with Digital Magic.  I just didn't know enough about Jackie when I started writing that the story couldn't continue because it didn't suit her.

With an ensemble or just one main character, what I do find helps is substituting my characters in the place of another in a work similar to what I'm writing.  The change of character lets me work out what that person would do in the situation.  This comes from my RPG experience more than anything else.  It's easy to say that a different character would fare better, but would the dice agree?  Take Caitlin from Unruly.  Replacing John McClane from either of the first two Die Hard movies with her changes the tone of the movie.  Caitlin doesn't have the training John does; instead, she'd be organizing her own resistance force.  Or, maybe, trying to take over Hans' gang and make it her own personal army.

Second, I am taking some liberties with the BattleTech setting.  While I am trying to keep to the source books as much as possible, my interpretation may not be the same as anyone else's despite referring to the same books.  Traveller players have two acronyms for this - OTU, or Original Traveller Universe, and IMTU, In My Traveller Universe.  The OTU is the Third Imperium as seen in the various books released over five editions and at least three licensed spin-offs of the RPG.  Due to the sheer size of the Third Imperium, there are a number of valid interpretations of the setting.  The Universal World Profiles are shorthand descriptions of the planets, encompassing a wide variety into an eight character string.  How a world looks in play depends very much on the GM, and two worlds with Government Code 4, Representative Democracy, could have vastly different ways of electing a representative, from a parliamentary system to a tiered system where each level elects a rep to go up to the next level.  Similarily, the culture of a planet also depends on the GM and players; while there are details about Regina in the Spinward Marches Sector, the details about Sorel in the same sector aren't as defined.

Thus, I have a Lyran pilot on a world that is, in 3067, held by the Federated Suns with a Capellan peacekeeping force made up of a Canopian unit.  My interpretation placed a Lyran force on the world at the end of the FedCom Civil War, still evacuating the planet because space travel isn't easy to coordinate.  The Capellans have the peacekeeping force there because the nation's  Chancellor not only is the First Lord of the revived Star League but is also looking to reclaim the world, using the Trinity Alliance with the Canopians and the Taurans to hide his ambition.  I may be pushing the interpretation, but I can point out each element if needed.

Finally, all this is an exercise to see if Cortex+ can be hacked for another setting.  Originally, I was adapting the Firefly RPG for Traveller.  The catch there is that there may not be enough of a difference to be a proper test.  It's been said that Firefly was based on a campaign Joss Whedon ran in university, and speculation is that the game was Traveller*.  It's easy enough to find the links.  In terms of prior careers, Mal and Zoe were in the Army, Wash was a Scout, complete with faded Hawaiian shirt, Kayleigh was a Merchant, Simon was a Doctor, either from Classic Traveller Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium or from the core MegaTraveller rules, Inara was either a Noble, from the same books as Simon, or from the Other career in the original rules, Book was either an Agent from Supplement 4 or the Other career, and Jayne used the Mercenary character generation.  If true, than testing a hack for Traveller wouldn't be as robust as possible.  Adding giant death machines, treating them as ships?  That does test the system, and the system can handle it.  The 'Mech battle featuring Rahela and Victor showed that it is possible, though placing a d12 into any attribute may be too much.

For what was meant to be a simple test, the result became far more involved than expected.  I wasn't planning on having micro-fiction, but the characters insisted.  There's no guarantee that the story will continue, but now that I've started it, it's going to be something that I return to.

Tomorrow, introducing the third character for this extended example.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Transformers.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Good...

* The other possible game is /Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game/ from West End Games, modified for a custom setting with River using modification of the Force rules.  The archetypes in the game cover the same range of characters as /Firefly/ has.

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