Mindjammer

[Let’s Study] Mindjammer the Roleplaying Game, Part 10: Conclusions and Review

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Hello and welcome to the 10th and final part of the Let’s Study Mindjammer series I’ve been churning out for the past two weeks.

Mindjammer is both a complete game, and a universal toolkit for running science fiction games. As a FATE Core game, I feel that Mindjammer delivers the full FATE experience while adding no small amount of additional mechanics to simulate the special cases that matter in sci-fi. While the core mechanic is very simple, the game does run the risk of becoming very complicated very quickly and may take some FATE Core enthusiasts by surprise.

Character creation isn’t as quick as I’d imagined, but that’s offset by the benefits of having a large number of options for your character. The resulting experience resembles that of more mechanics-heavy games that may require a session devoted completely to making characters and hammering out the group.

The main draw of Mindjammer for me however, would be the concepts and ideas presented, all with significantly robust mechanics to follow through. Elements like Transhumanism, cybernetics, diverging evolution, cultural conflict are all heady ideas, but every single one is represented in the rules somehow. Mindjammer doesn’t just drop these concepts on you either, but introduces each one with the care and patience of a schoolteacher, ensuring that any GM who picks up the book and takes the time to study it will have the confidence necessary to run a game in any kind of modern sci-fi setting.

The layout of the book is well done, with proper sidebars and tables to help parse information, and non-distracting layout elements to facilitate easy reading. The artwork is universally good, but I’m afraid no one particular piece of work has stood out as truly breathtaking for me, a shame given the potential of the setting for being really open to high weirdness.

When I started this series, I was wondering just how much detail you could cram into a FATE Core game, and I’m pleasantly surprised by what Mindjammer has done. I would have no hesitation in recommending Mindjammer as a must buy for anyone interested in running a sci-fi game especially given what you get for the price.

Mindjammer is available in PDF format over at DriveThruRPG for only $26.99

 

[Let’s Study] Mindjammer the Roleplaying Game, Part 9 : Running the game

Hey everyone, today we’re looking at the GMing advice chapters of Mindjammer: Scenarios & Campaigns, and Themes, Genre and Styles.

I’ve always had a soft spot for these kind of chapters as even after so many years of running games, you’ll always find some nugget of wisdom that will come in handy not just in one game, but in others. In Mindjammer’s case, we’re looking at a gold mine of ideas, especially for FATE newbies like myself.

Mindjammer offers a framework for building scenarios to a new GM, a step-by-step process to help guide a GM’s efforts to come up with a thought-out scenario that will withstand the scrutiny of their players.

There’s a lot of good stuff here, and it would be a disservice to the book if I echoed them here, but I’ll call out a few that really came off as brilliant.

One example is the use of the game or character’s Aspects to generate hooks. It might seem like common sense to most veteran GMs, but this is the kind of approach that I like to see in other RPGs. Advice that assumes that the players are new, enthusiastic, and might need guidance.

In addition to hooks, there’s also discussion on the setting, the situation and the opposition, and advice on how to structure it so that the players are involved.

Moving past just scenario creation, the book also goes into detail on campaign creation. There’s a meta-subsystem here about Plot Stress, a neat mechanic to help in GM pacing that I find to be an elegant way of keeping track of escalation. I’ve always done escalation in my games based on gut feel, but having a system like this is definitely something to try out.

After the structure and mechanics of Scenarios and Campaigns, Mindjammer takes the time to tackle the daunting topic of Themes, Genre and Styles of Play. This chapter is perhaps the best evidence that Mindjammer is as much a universal sci-fi game as much as it is a specific setting.

It has been mentioned earlier on in the book, but by the time you get to this point in Mindjammer, you’ll likely be thinking of a dozen different sci-fi worlds you could run with the rules as presented, and Mindjammer embraces that.

The chapter opens up with a discussion of Themes, including Transhumanism and Cultural Conflict. Each one is given a short description and a handful of Aspects that help drive the theme home.

Styles of Play are also given attention, with the express permission for GMs to go out and make Mindjammer into the game they want to play. This tackles everything from Gritty to Epic and segues nicely to talking about the Tone of the game, which ranges from optimistic to symbolic / allegorical.

Genres and Tropes are also given a thorough treatment, with more than a few examples to help GMs cement the kind of game they’d like to run, and a few key tropes to help them with iconic scenes that players will associate with a given type of game.

One thing here that seems to be out of place though is the discussion on Posthuman character options. It feels like it had no other place in the book so they decided to put it here instead. The options are very interesting though and certainly advanced enough to give me pause.

Mindjammer’s GMing sections are beefy and full of good advice. The framework for building scenarios is a brilliant adition that many GMs will find useful in any game, and the discussion of Themes and Genres makes Mindjammer more than just a self-contained game as much as a handy resource for anyone playing a sci-fi game.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap up the Let’s Study series of Mindjammer with my conclusions and a review.

If you’d like to follow along, you can purchase a PDF copy of Mindjammer over at DriveThruRPG for only $26.99

 

[Let’s Study] Mindjammer the Roleplaying Game, Part 8 : Worlds, Star Systems and Commonality Space

This far into this series, I can safely say that Mindjammer is a remarkably thorough game. Today we’ll be talking about a subject matter covered by no less than three chapters in the book, detailing Worlds and Civilizations, Stellar Bodies and Star Systems and finally Commonality Space.

The Worlds and Civilizations chapter contains useful guidelines and mechanics for creating interesting worlds for Mindjammer characters to adventure in. I was particularly impressed by the statement that,
“…worlds are collections of issues and descriptive elements, providing situation aspects, interesting locations, motivated opposition and seed for scenarios and campaign arcs.”

It’s a beautiful summary to any setting in any game, but the way that it was put hammers home the kind of design thinking that should go into any GM’s brain when they’re working on a scale as grand as Mindjammer. The chapter itself is mechanically involved with enough tables in it to give flashbacks to any 80’s pen-and-paper RPG player.

What each of the creation steps does, however, is to lend definition to the worlds and the civilizations that inhabit them. It might seem tedious, but clearly the GM is meant to create only a few of these at a time, as there’s enough potential in a single world to last a full campaign.

The next chapter, Stellar Bodies and Star Systems, provides the mechanics and guidelines for creating Star Systems. This is an excellent chapter for creating new and unexplored star systems, and is perfect for exploration-based games. One thing I like about this chapter is the selection of strange things and phenomena you might encounter, from exotic stars to various hazards and anomalies that will make any starship crew worry.

Commonality Space on the other hand goes on to detail the default setting of Mindjammer. In addition to the basic layout of the system, there’s also a lot of information on the important locations in Commonality Space, including the Core Worlds and various Polities. Another point of interest is the discussion of Manhome, the cradle of the human species and heart of the New Commonality of Humankind. The mention of the various arcologies and settlements all over the planets and moons of Manhome are an interesting glimpse into the nature of the setting.

Mindjammer continues to impress me with the sheer amount of detail that the game can go into. Once again, FATE GMs will be spoiled by this game as they can take that subsystem and run an entirely different game with it and still get great use of it. Honestly, at this point I’m seriously considering a Mass Effect inspired Mindjammer game knowing full well that if I need detail, Mindjammer has my back.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the GMing advice chapters of Mindjammer: Scenarios and Campaigns, and Themes, Genre and Styles.

If you’d like to follow along, you can purchase a PDF copy of Mindjammer over at DriveThruRPG for only $26.99

[Let’s Study] Mindjammer the Roleplaying Game, Part 7 : Cultures

Culture is important. In a setting as expansive and technologically advanced as Mindjammer, being able to retain a single sense of identity as a civilization is key to the survival and continuation of the Commonality.

It’s no suprise then that the game itself has rules detailing conflict between cultures. Mechanics-wise Cultures are a form of Organization which use the same rules. That means that we’re looking at the usual suspects, Aspects, Skills, Stunts, Extras and Stress. The system allows for Cultures to evolve, changing Aspects to become like other Cultures. On the other hand, Cultures can also take actions to Assimilate or Provoke another culture, and engage in cultural contamination and psy-ops to achieve various objectives.

In addition to the mechanics, the chapter also goes into detail of the various Cultures of the setting, including the Commonality and the Venu Empire, but also a few others that are worth checking out. It’s a strong mechanical backbone to support the fun parts of the setting. I’m a big fan of interesting cultures in games, and Mindjammer’s has a pretty broad list of neat cultures.

Furthermore, Mindjammer also has mechanics that simulate large-scale change in the mindscape and thinking of entire populations. It’s not an easy task, and the time scale used for Cultural Actions aren’t exactly small, but it’s useful to track the evolution of Cultures in the setting. I don’t think I’ve actually run into something like this before that goes over the topic in such detail. While Exalted might have mass-combat social actions, Mindjammer raises it to the level of a science and subsystems that all tie in neatly with what you already know with FATE.

The fun part of this is the Cultures module is something that you can actually take out of Mindjammer and apply elsewhere. Definitely worth considering if you’re ever looking at a FATE based Mage: the Ascension game and mechanics to stat out and fight for the Consensus.

If you’d like to follow along, you can purchase a PDF copy of Mindjammer over at DriveThruRPG for only $26.99

[Let’s Study] Mindjammer the Roleplaying Game, Part 6 : The New Commonality Era

It’s Monday, and if there’s one thing for me to look forward to, it would be checking out the meat of Minjammer’s default setting in today’s article.

The New Commonality Era presents the events that led to the Mindjammer universe. It’s a surprisingly compact chapter, conveying the key points in the history of the setting that gave birth to the Commonality, and the various worlds of humanity waiting to be re-discovered.

When I first ran into the idea in the earilier chapters of the book, it seemed rather strange to me to have worlds full of colonists, and to lose track of them, but the way that it’s presented in Mindjammer is a surprisingly human account of how such a thing could very well happen. As with real history, Mindjammer’s setting is rife with high hopes, great hubris and at times, stunning apathy, all of which led mankind forward into the current status quo.

The chapter also gives a look at two key Polities, vast interstellar empires, as it were: The New Commonality of Humankind, and The Venu Empire. The Commonality, being the default faction of players is given more detail.

Between the two, it’s hard to choose a “good” faction vs. a “bad” faction, something that I definitely enjoy in many RPGs. I come from the school of thought that while some atrocities are abhorrent across the board, sometimes, history is a matter of perspective. Good and bad are judgments made in hindsight, but in the heat of the moment, everyone believes that they’re doing the right thing.

That said, the Venu Empire seem to be an interesting reference to a faction from a different sci-fi universe, as they share more than a passing similarity to the Imperium of Man from Warhammer 40k. It’s a nice touch, and may be rather too obvious to some people, but I figured that they’ll make for an interesting opposition. Perhaps in further sourcebooks they’ll be able to shine more light to the Venu and differentiate them further.

This isn’t to say that the Commonality is all sunshine and rainbows. If there’s anything that this chapter achieves, it’s to paint the setting in shades of gray. Cultural manipulation, propaganda, and indoctrination are all tools used by various polities (and even corporations) leaving mankind even more prone to being abused by people in power.

Tomorrow, we check out Cultures in Mindjammer, and how Cultural actions and conflict are handled. This might seem like a strange thing to model, but given the focus of the game on keeping mankind united through a singular Uber-culture, it definitely has a place.

If you’d like to follow along, you can purchase a PDF copy of Mindjammer over at DriveThruRPG for only $26.99

[Let’s Study] Mindjammer the Roleplaying Game, Part 5 : Organizations

I’ve always been a fan of adding various factions into a game. Having multiple conflicting interests over the outcome of a central event always adds a measure of intrigue into any game.

It’s because of this that I was more than happy to find Organization rules in Mindjammer. Mindjammer is a game that specifically mentioned a focus towards issues of conflicting cultures, so it only made sense to find these here.

Organizations, much like Constructs can be built like a character. They have (say it with me) Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Extras. It’s an elegant solution, and one that is starting to grow on me at this point.

The chapter goes on to detail Organization creation and conflict, which will come in handy when players start their own organizations and begin to take actions on that scale. It’s an intriguing possibility, and one that is open to a lot more stories than just agent-level play. If anything, you can start out with just a band of mercenaries that found their own organization and grow it to become a key player in the Commonality. Definitely the kind of long-term goal that would be great to play through.

Overall, I’ms tarting to get quite an appreciation for the sense of scale of the Mindjammer universe. Not only can you run stories centered on specific types of sci-fi and there will always be some measure of mechanical support for it. It’s a comforting realization, and one that certainly opens up a lot of campaign possibilities in this GM’s head.

Next week, we’ll take a peek at the setting a little more with a discussion of The New Commonality Era and take a peek at the history, the various factions, corporations and other points of interest

If you’d like to follow along, you can purchase a PDF copy of Mindjammer over at DriveThruRPG for only $26.99

[Let’s Study] Mindjammer the Roleplaying Game, Part 4 : Constructs

Welcome back to Let’s Study: Mindjammer. Today we’re looking at Constructs, an ever-present element in the setting.

Given the technological advances of the Mindjammer setting, it’s not difficult to imagine that the universe is full of Constructs: manufactured entities that are essentially characters in and of themselves.

A construct can be non-sentient, but the most memorable ones are. Constructs are spaceships, space stations, vehicles and installations that possess their own skills, aspects, stunts and extras, just like a regular character would.

Of course, being something other than “human” constructs have access to their own form of character creation one often involving things of a much larger scale.

The appeal of Constructs is one that is not lost to me. I’ve been a big fan of Mass Effect and one of the more amusing characters in the series is EDI, an Artificial Intelligence that serves as the computer in the main character’s ship. In the 3rd game of the series, she joins you in a Humanoid form, a robot that is remotely controlled by the ship, so seeing that as a potential character option in Mindjammer is definitely a plus for me.

The Construct rules for Mindjammer go through different scales from smaller starships to space stations, and also include various options and equipment. Gun fans will be happy to see all sorts of vehicle weaponry here and the presence of Construct Drones.

In addition to just building them, combat and damage applying to constructs is also tackled, with rules to handle systems damage as Consequences ranging from “Wildly Sparking Consoles” to “Raging Fire on Deck Three”

Constructs add another layer of playable character types and interesting NPCs for people to interact with. It’s a neat idea, and one that I’m glad to see implemented in Mindjammer in such an elegant fashion. I’m a fan of trying to keep things simple, and while Mindjammer is not exactly on the low-complexity side of the FATE spectrum, the mechanics of the game play off one another to make for a cohesive whole, similar to how Fantasy Craft does it with D20.

If you’d like to follow along, you can purchase a PDF copy of Mindjammer over at DriveThruRPG for only $26.99

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