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.
To kick off the new Doctor Who series — and, to be really clear right now, SPOILERS AHEAD! — we have a couple of additions to the Renegade RPG from The Woman Who Fell to Earth that could certainly find immediate use as the seed for an adventure or two.
The Stenza warrior-race, blue-skinned bipedal Conquerors of the Nine Systems, place the honour of the hunt above all else and value trophies as much as they value their lives. The heart of their society rests in the tradition of the hunt, the careful and methodical tracking of a single prey target to the exclusion of all others.
For the Stenza, the hunt matters sufficiently that they train and prepare ceaselessly, to the exclusion of all else, fasting and focusing themselves through rites and ritual. They carry the honour of their family-clan with them in their armour, an item handed down, renewed and maintained.
Stenza perceive status through the outward display of their trophies, a single tooth from every felled opponent embedded (painfully) into the flesh of their faces.
Stenza Warrior: Sub-Zero Touch, Peerless Tracker, Driven By Honour
Tim Shaw (Tzim Sha) represents the worst characteristics of youth in the Stenza warrior-race. With an attention span shorter than his muscular arms and an ego too large to carry far in battle without fatigue, he savours the prospect of leadership too much for tradition to matter.
To that end, the “big blue cheat” has done everything in his power to cut through to the conclusion, skipping the dull business of tracking by sneaking additional support onto the planet.
Tim Shaw: Sub-Zero Touch, Short-range Teleport, Driven Beyond Honour, Trophy Pause
To sidestep the tedium of the hunt, Tim Shaw smuggled a Gathering Coil on to Earth, an advanced hive-entity scouting module normally used in small numbers for reconnaissance. The enhanced Coil consists of hundreds of squirming modules contained within a spheroidal gravi-static induction shield, allowing it to glide and levitate within the atmosphere of a planet with a standard gravity range.
The Coil possesses scanning clusters and data nodules designed to handle a rapid absorption of a vast amount of information, drawing on sensory and signal based observation to build a complex database. Tim Shaw used this data to locate his quarry without needing to sully himself in the business of the hunt.
For those unlucky enough to meet the Coil, the visitation seemed harmless at first, but the Stenza leader-apparent had fitted it with DNA Bombs that embedded themselves painlessly into the geno-structure – and would, on activated, annihilate the target in a matter of moments.
Gathering Coil: Hive Sense, Gravi-Static Levitation, DNA Bombs, Unfiltered Total Data Transfer
Skeleton Key. The player characters must track down a long lost member of the royal family of Ixat, the only individual with the means to deactivate an ancient defence system on a rogue planet that threatens to collide with Earth. However, the family are long dead – the last of them wiped out by a disgraced one-time leader of the Stenza – but if they can find him they can access the royal Ixat DNA from a certain jealously guarded trophy.
Insider Dealing. Once a small start-up, Swarm has become a part of every day life with their life-changing search engine. Interacting and intersecting with everyone and everything, Swarm can deliver data with a rapidity no competitor can match. However, truth-be-told, they have the unfair advantage of access to a captured Gathering Coil hive – Swarm has tapped into the modules of the Coil’s quantum database using a crude reciprocal interface. However, the Coil already had a mission – and now the Stenza battle wave approaches with all the information they need to make the entire planet the ultimate trophy.