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How to represent difficulties surviving on an alien world

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  • How to represent difficulties surviving on an alien world

    I am planning a campaign set entirely on a human colony on a planet with primitive civilizations of intelligent aliens (a lot like the movie Avatar, but hopefully not as bad). The human colonists barely know even the most basic things about this new world, so I wish there to be quite a lot of disparity and difficulty for the player characters to understand the aliens and communicate with them. I am planning to give human characters a blanket -2 to Academics, Common Knowledge and Survival from the start to represent the immense difficulties of handling how to understand and survive on a completely alien planet. I am also giving them the Outsider (minor) Hindrance to represent the complications of dealing with the alien cultures on the planet.

    So my question is this: seeing as I really want to drive home the difficulties of surviving on an alien world and the disparities of handling aliens should I WORSEN these penalties further for human characters to really feel the desperation or is -2 bad enough?
    Last edited by Aristarkos; 06-15-2020, 07:55 AM.

  • #2
    Leave the penalties at -2, that's enough to make the point. Do note that they are limited to local knowledge - if it comes up, humans should be good at human versions of all those skills.

    What will really drive home the danger is frequent use of Hazards.
    Look over the Hazards section to find what are concerns for everyone, and then insert some additional concerns for travelers.
    • Local flora and fauna may not be chemically or biologically compatible, so most of them probably function as a Poison when ingested (usually Mild, possibly Lethal for some extreme divergence).
    • Microbes in the local water supplies may function as Diseases (Debilitating) to humans. Easily countered by filtration and boiling, but still a serious concern.
    • Possibly several species have noteworthy bio-electric glands, making Electricity hazards a frequent problem.
    • Burning the local flora may release chemicals that are especially harmful to humans, acting as inhaled Mild Poison.
    • The atmosphere may have an unhealthy (though non-toxic) mixture, inflicting a -2 on rolls to perform sustained physical activity, like long distance travel or lengthy periods of moving supplies.

    There a lots of ways to make life difficult for travelers without giving them a bunch of penalties.
    I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.

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    • #3
      Are the humans shipwrecked or something? Because I find it extremely odd they know so little about the planet they are on if they are colonists.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Deskepticon View Post
        Are the humans shipwrecked or something? Because I find it extremely odd they know so little about the planet they are on if they are colonists.
        They are the first pioneers to settle on the world. All information they have comes from satellite data so they know the surface geography, climate zones and meteorological data but they must explore and categorize the world's flora and fauna themselves, as well as establish diplomacy with the cultures of the native species.

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        • #5
          As long as the laws of physics stay the same, it sounds like my kinda game! I wanna play!

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Aristarkos View Post

            They are the first pioneers to settle on the world. All information they have comes from satellite data so they know the surface geography, climate zones and meteorological data but they must explore and categorize the world's flora and fauna themselves, as well as establish diplomacy with the cultures of the native species.
            Cool, cool. My point is that if they are intentionally on the planet, they should be much better prepared, with hazmat suits, MREs, pre-fab housing structures, testing /purification equipment, etc. Furthermore, most fiction about spacefaring societies contains, as part of its world-building, rules about interferring with the development of indigenous civilizations.

            Now, you can subvert expectations and throw half of that stuff away, making for a rather dystopian view of the future, and that sounds pretty fun to play too, where players can perhaps unleash a bit of their dark side. Maybe some corporation or government entity sent the colonists to this planet (perhaps under threat of violence) with very little supplies as guinea pigs before a larger incursion. Or the colonists are small, private outfit (explaining their lack of preparedness) that are escaping an oppressive regime elsewhere in the galaxy.

            I mean, ValhallaGH did an excellent job detailing the dangers of exploring alien worlds... I'm just exploring the reason why the people are there in the first place. Establishing the backstory helps to set the tone of what the players actions are going to be. If they are there to mine "unobtainium", then the tone of the setting will determine if the characters try to negotiate with the natives, or simply blast them into meaty chunks with their superior firepower.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Deskepticon View Post

              Cool, cool. My point is that if they are intentionally on the planet, they should be much better prepared, with hazmat suits, MREs, pre-fab housing structures, testing /purification equipment, etc. Furthermore, most fiction about spacefaring societies contains, as part of its world-building, rules about interfering with the development of indigenous civilizations.
              .
              Part of the "fun" of dealing with this type of genre is that while you do have MRE's and Equipment and such what, they are in limited amounts and they do fail.
              You may have:
              • 489 Man Days of MRE's, but what then?
              • 500 Days of Testing and Purification kits. Do you have a full time, dedicated Water processing system? Spare parts? Does it need assembling?
              • Are they Hazmat Suits or low leveled powered armor with Full environmental?
              • And all these things are created to Government specifications and made by the lowest bidder. And the sub-assemblies are done by subcontractors who subcontracted out even small bits to other companies. SO the chance of failure is there. IF the things work at all once they get to the planet. IF they get to the planet.
              I have enjoyed many years of playing the Sid Meyers Game ALPHA CENTAURI. In the prolog, the ship's crew was deciding up along ideological lines just before a crisis made them have to abandon the ship and not all shuttles made it down. So, :
              • You could have resources scattered all over the place, even some still in orbit.
              • There might be hostile factions somewhere else on the planet.
              IF you want the characters to out and explore and gather resources, you might explain it like this.
              "The Sythisisers can either make enough food for everyone and enough clothing for 1/2 the people and next to no testing or filtration replacements. OR we can have full testing and Filtration, 1/2 the needed clothing, and everyone on 1/4 rations. (Or some such Math) SO we need to find out what out there we can eat, drink and turn into textiles. Let's Go Exploring!"

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              • #8
                Click image for larger version

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ID:	40210 My Take on Synthesizers or Fabricators.

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                • #9
                  I had a sick Idea.
                  What if Someone WANTED the Colony to fail? Sabotaged some of the equipment, virused the computers, put in saboteurs into the system?

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                  • Sitting Duck
                    Sitting Duck commented
                    Editing a comment
                    There's a Doctor Who serial from the Pertwee era entitled Colony in Space which features such a premise.

                • #10
                  Maybe they ran out of gas by accident, and had to crashland on a "good enough" planet they knew next to nothing about.

                  If space travel and communication is through sublight speed, it could be decades if not more before help arrives.

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                  • ValhallaGH
                    ValhallaGH commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Maybe magical space whales did it.

                  • dentris
                    dentris commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Other options include: Negative Space Wedgies, a dumb error by Wesley, an holodeck malfunction or a writer's strike.

                • #11
                  Originally posted by dentris View Post
                  Maybe they ran out of gas by accident and had to crashland on a "good enough" planet they knew next to nothing about.

                  If space travel and communication are through sublight speed, it could be decades if not more before help arrives.
                  We Made It, orbiting Procyon A, got its name because the first colony ship crash-landed. Gravity is about three-fifths Earth's. The planet's axis is pointed along the plane of its ecliptic (like Uranus), creating ferocious winds on the order of 500 mph (800 km/h)[2] during half of the planet's year, forcing the people to live underground. Natives are known as "Crashlanders", tend to be very tall, and many are albinos. Their capital, which was the site of their colony ship's landing, is called Crashlanding City. We Made It also has vicious, algae-choked "oceans" and a big icy moon, ironically named Desert Isle.
                  from Niven's Known Universe

                  Got to watch out for those Insidious Alien Space Bats.
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                  • Deskepticon
                    Deskepticon commented
                    Editing a comment
                    An icy moon can unironically be named Desert Island, since precipitation is what designates something as a desert. For instance, the driest place on earth is a ice field in Antarctica.

                • #12
                  Originally posted by Deskepticon View Post

                  Cool, cool. My point is that if they are intentionally on the planet, they should be much better prepared, with hazmat suits, MREs, pre-fab housing structures, testing /purification equipment, etc. Furthermore, most fiction about spacefaring societies contains, as part of its world-building, rules about interferring with the development of indigenous civilizations.
                  First you were talking about being uninformed and now you are talking about preparedness, they are two different things. The colonists are well-equipped with as much state of the art equipment that the spaceships could carry, which aren't grand quantities seeing as this game takes place in 1987. The planet itself is unknown and unexplored and can only be known with actual expeditions going there.

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                  • Deskepticon
                    Deskepticon commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Being informed influences how you prepare. Only superficially are these different things; they are very much related.

                    I tend to think of humans as being smarter than the demands of the setting. Unless the ship needed to make an emergency landing, I imagine the colonists would spend some time in orbit, sending probes and collecting data, long before they go tralloping amongst poisonous floura and fauna. If their sole mission is to setup a colony, I would think they'd bring pre-fab structures for housing, have hydroponics labs with vegetables from earth, a science lab for studying indigenous species in a controlled environment, etc.

                    So if you want the setting to deal heavily with environmental dangers, then the setup needs to reflect that the players had very little time to inform themselves of the planet, and thus very little time to prepare... or perhaps they had prepared and disaster befalls the colony early in the campaign. Something uproots them. That's all I was getting at.

                  • ValhallaGH
                    ValhallaGH commented
                    Editing a comment
                    I find myself agreeing with Deskepticon . YOLO to jump off a bridge into a body of water you believe to be sufficiently deep is very human - especially as a mating display. Even if that water is only twenty centimeters deep.
                    YOLO to blindly land on a planet and live there is ... unprecedented. Even colonists in the 15th and 16th centuries waited until the first explorers came back from the destination before launching the colony. The ships may have landed in the wrong location, the colonists themselves may not have been briefed on the location, and the supplies may have been wildly inadequate, but there was an attempt to be informed.

                • #13
                  Originally posted by Aristarkos View Post

                  First, you were talking about being uninformed and now you are talking about preparedness, they are two different things. The colonists are well-equipped with as much state of the art equipment that the spaceships could carry, which aren't grand quantities seeing as this game takes place in 1987. The planet itself is unknown and unexplored and can only be known with actual expeditions going there.
                  If you are willingly going into a situation, you will be PREPARED as best as possible. You will always be UNINFORMED as to what exactly is out there.
                  MRE's, Solar Distillation Units, Aquaponics for Veggies and Meat.

                  If this is 1987, then you will be using era1987 equipment. This means you DON'T have State of the Art / Bleeding Edge tech equipment to do all the stuff from orbit. You are gonna need to get down and dirty. Get hip deep in mud, infected by the local bugs, and attacked by the Snozwanger because you ate its eggs 3 months ago and still smell of them.

                  Last edited by zero mostel; 06-19-2020, 02:51 AM.

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