This weekend I started designing some intriguing new technologies for two upcoming Aliens & Asteroids supplements. (Yes, they are on their way folks — just taking a little longer than I hoped!) But it really got me thinking about a few design questions around these technologies as we push forward with new game bits. What exactly do we need to detail?
Until now, I’ve been doing a simple approach: describe an item and figure out what it does in-game. But really I could break it down a bit further than that…
- Decide what we are creating — weapon, utility, etc. Let’s say we’re designing a tool, for example, that could be used to look for weak spots in alien structures.
- Describe it at a high-level – In this case, let’s say this “portable structural scanner” could be used to “reveal hidden weaknesses in smooth surfaces, and was designed to be used when validating the space-worthy qualities of older spacecraft.”
- And figure out what it does — This scanner would “grant +1 Awareness bonus when scanning an item’s surface for vulnerabilities.”
- Lastly, add weird uses for the item. For instance, “PCs could use this scanner in conjunction with the dropship’s sensors to enhance a surface scan of a derelict spaceship to find any potential weak spots to aid entry.” Or “PCs could use this in the field to possibly use explosives at weak points of alien construction to gain the advantage through an unexpected entry point.”
That actually worked really well. And I’m sure my players would come up with additional ways to use it that I wouldn’t have thought of.
Essentially it becomes a matter of just answering a series of questions:
- What is it?
- What does it do?
- How does it work in the rules?
- How might it be used in game?
Most of those questions become a matter of deciding what it might do in this fun science fiction setting we’ve created. There are many examples we could pull from, including Star Trek and Babylon-5, Battlestar Galactica or Firefly… And this isn’t even a weapon. Weapons actually get even more interesting.
As far as the rules go, I have gone with tools or utility items as enhancers to any attribute checks the players may be doing. Perhaps it helps them see things better (Awareness) or gives them an edge in hand-eye coordination (Athletics)? Or maybe it just gives them a bit more information at the right time (+1 Education) or a strength boost when moving a heavy item (+1 Toughness). I think of tools as providing a bit of an edge when trying to perform a specific action or skill. For instance — yes, you can probably turn a screw with the blade of a combat knife in a pinch, but it’s a lot easier when you have the right tool for the job (flat-bladed or Phillips-head anyone)?
For balance reasons, I try to keep tools simple and focused so they don’t go too overboard. Our “portable structural scanner” would be a great tool for the toolbox, but is likely only going to come in handy in very specific circumstances like trying to breach an alien spacecraft or simply find the most opportune place to put some shaped charges to make a new door in an abandoned structure.
Next time we’ll talk a bit about designing weapons or armor!