Why does it always have to be ladders?
The Ghost Monument had a lot to say about the way you play time-travelling adventures, about not setting barriers but, at the same time, creating alien environments from the familiar. It wasn’t necessarily subtle, but programmes like Star Trek and Doctor Who have been doing that since the 60s. When you play adventures in sci-fi, don’t make the challenge understanding the small stuff – make it grand and strange, weird and disconcerting.
We’re (Not) All Human
In truth, humanity costs less than alien. When you have an alien, you need effects – cosmetic or CGI. When you do human – perhaps with a little tweak to the nose or a daub of paint on the temples – you can still be alien bit without needing the audience – or the players – to make a leap in their understanding.
The Ghost Monument did that brilliantly here because Ryan, Yasmin and Graham desperately want to find an anchor, a solid foundation in the world of Desolation. If they can find something familiar they can work outward from their in quantifying the strange and the alien. Neither Epzo nor Angstrom offer that – they don’t know what Earth is or humans for that matter. The sense of connection that the companions seek refuses to manifest, like the Ghost Monument itself.
When you run a game of Renegade or Doctor Who don’t attempt to create aliens that stretch the imagination or demand lengthy description. When you opt for human-like aliens, you can achieve the sense of the alien by robbing the player characters of any common ground. Even in an alternate history adventure, you can achieve the same result when no one recognises Kennedy or Shakespeare, despite every certainty they should be known to everyone.
For a very long time the TARDIS has been the essential element that made the whole business of alien languages make sense. The telepathic link with the TARDIS meant that everything made sense – spoken or written. In The Ghost Monument, without a TARDIS to fall back on, we have medi-units that achieve the same result, injecting a sub-dermal universal translator chip on detecting the lack of one.
While it might be interesting to occasionally find the travellers unable to understand the world around them, it makes for a simpler game all together if you skip language and move on. In a game with many skills, even spending a few points on a language means not picking something cool. In Renegade, you only have a couple of Specials to start with, so why would you spend them on something like Linguistics or whatever.
The challenge of the adventures should be more than the simple barriers of language. If you want the incomprehensible, they consider a puzzle instead, a riddle or hidden cypher than can challenge the player to solve it. Language confounds the characters and makes the game harder to run, never mind play.
Oh… I Forgot I Put Stuff in these Pockets
“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” If you offer the player characters the basics, they can work out the rest and use their ingenuity and background to fill in the gaps. A spark of imagination and a half-abandoned warehouse full of tools sounds like an A-Team montage scene to me – and the same should apply when the player characters need to create a missing sonic multi-tool or cobble together a means to temporarily immobilise an enemy.
Give them string, sunglasses, a cricket ball, a transistor radio and a packet of jelly babies – because with that lot they have a world of potential. The path ahead shouldn’t be plain sailing, by any means, but dumping the characters in an alien jail every time they get captured with nothing to work with will just get tiresome. Make that jail a tool shed. Make that cell someone’s stationery cabinet. Or at least give the characters a tool they can chisel a message into a stone pillar with and discover it by chance three adventures earlier so they can organise an escape.
Don’t You See… I Got It Mostly Right
Human but alien. Comprehensible but puzzling. Most of the answers but without all the facts about the problem or the tools to get it resolved. Playing a game of Renegade or Doctor Who should be challenging for all the right reasons – filled with people, clues, puzzles, mystery, abandoned ruins, odd remnants and more than a scattering of ghosts and memories. In the midst of all that lies fun without frustration – and the promise of adventures yet to come.
Final victim of Tzim Sha’s trophy hunting spree, the Salad Man nevertheless can provide a handy new archetype to include in your Renegade games. If we’ve learned anything from the travels and adventures of The Doctor over the years it’s that those who die can still crop up later in another form – such are the benefits of time travel. And the occasional bout of Vortex induced amnesia.
Salad Man (2)
Confident Swagger, Strong Stomach, Eat My Salad Halloween, Too Wasted to Run, Know the Way
Roll 1d6, choose an option or just create your own
- Eldest child and a favourite role model at his school (when he attended), he left with 2 GCSEs and got into gardening, a surprisingly lucrative business – but little helped by his addiction to online gambling. He enjoys humiliating close friends – though, at heart, he throws insults out of an inability to articulate his appreciation.
- Only child and raised mostly by his grandparents, after his parents split, he enjoyed music and played several instruments. Most skilled with the harmonica, peer pressure at school made him give it up. He started studying long after school through Open University, but struggled to keep focus. His irritating personality seems more defence mechanism than genuine ill-will.
- Middle child of a good family, something about his character rubbed his teachers up the wrong way and meant more time in detention or outside the headteacher’s office than in class. Still, when he got out of school, he landed a decent job and a small inheritance from the passing of a favourite uncle. He has his own business, completing home renovations. He doesn’t really trust anyone who seems to know it all.
- Bought up well in a steady and dependable family, he struggled at school with dyslexia and ended up leaving before he took his exams. However, determination pushed him and he found varied employment – from retail and handy work, to background acting and cab driver. He struggled with discrimination, but constantly rose above it, bolstered by unswerving confidence in his potential.
- While his teachers respected him, his parents never did – favouring his older brother every time. Bullied by his family, he spent all the time he could out with mates on the street or reading books in the local library. He got tough from his home life and canny in the company of friends. He works an ordinary job and spends evenings in the pub, but he has aspirations to be more.
- Despite appearances, brash and no-nonsense as he might seem, he has been nervous and hesitant throughout his life. He lost his mother while still young and his busy father sent him off to boarding school; there, he found his best shield was a short fuse and a sharp tongue. Now, by day he writes copy for one of the few surviving local newspapers and by night he watches football and plays the slots down at the local.
As a continued expansion of the simple Renegade system, I’m happy to expand the PocketMod core with the revision and release of Brace for Impact, a broadly system-free supplement for creating sci-fi encounters which now includes a brand new Infinity Table.
The Infinity Table adds an essential temporal twist to your adventures, from sleeping menaces and lurking Lovecraftian horrors, to uncontrolled science experiments or utterly innocent actions that accidentally subvert the timeline.
And, to round the book off, an up-sized version of the Renegade rules – in glorious A5, with extra antagonists and a brief guide to both Structure and Motivation when running adventures.
Also available as a Chibnall-esque bundle with From Unformed Realms, to step up the behind-the-sofa quotient of your monsters!
Stenza Technology is really annoying and hard to decipher. One-hundred and thirty-nine wires, seven of which don’t make sense.