Παρασκευή, 12 Ιουλίου 2013

Human Slaves of An Insect Nation, Part 14-Machinations of the Space Princess

 MotSP-making balls-to-the-wall space opera action sexy again.

Human Slaves of An Insect Nation-Machinations of the Space Princess or Faster than the speed of awesome.

It takes a lot to sell me on a science fiction role-playing game. Sure, I love science fiction as a genre; in fact, I find it to be the most thought-provocative and entertaining medium in all of fiction

Mostly because its best and greatest examples involve predicting the madcap world of tomorrow that’s just around the corner.

But its representatives in tabletop roleplaying have been-in my experience-inadequate at best. This could be because I live in a country where D&D and its clones are mostly the only games in town (with the exception of WoD, for which I do not care for) but also because most of the science fiction rpgs I have come across so far have been huge, convoluted disappointments.

It would take a long for a science fiction rpg to sell me (especially in my current, overworked, grumpy state). It’d have to be easy on the uptake, lighter than a feather rules-wise and above all, fun. Which is why when I first encountered Machinations of the Space Princess, I did so with considerable prejudice. 

About 40 pages into it, I was so glad James Desborough had made me feel like a dick over my (unfounded) preoccupation. I couldn’t put the book down and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself taking down notes, modifying my Stormtroopers On The Lam campaign idea to fit it into the overall universe and philosophy of Machinations.

I could go on explaining how this book felt so much like manna from heaven (after a decade of seeking a scifi rpg that wasn’t so far up its own ass in applied science that collapsed into a singularity of charts) but that’s not what you people came here for, is it? No, you people came here because you saw the tits on the cover, a friend of yours told you that this is the answer to all your problems but you wanna make sure before investing in it. So without further ado, here’s a point-by-point analysis on the pros and cons of MotSP:


Machinations ain’t here to waste your goddamn time:

Here’s a Universe, kid. Go crazy!

The writer makes it abundantly clear very early in the game book that the setting of this game is implicit, rather than explicit. I.e. there are a bunch of ideas you can mix and match and there are tons of these other things you can insert that are cool and interesting, but you don’t have to.
 Machinations has no setting, per se, which means that you don’t need to go through timelines, historical events or remember names and battles. You don’t have to know who had to make someone else go extinct to achieve galactic dominance or which race of poor schmucks invented the end-all-be-all FTL drive. Instead, it presents you with a straightforward premise (the fall of the Urlanth Matriarchy and the political dissolution that comes with it) and allows you to crank the ‘shit got real yo’ dial as far up as you will go.
There is no dominant spacefaring species (unless you assign one) there is no highest possible level of technological development achieved by any existing powers (unless you set one as such) and there are no over-developed factions to dominate the starways (unless you decide to add some into the mix, in which case, nobody’s gonna stop you).

To a guy like me, who has been playing roleplaying games for over a decade and has HATED established settings for vomiting background information into his eyeballs, this arrangement is downright magical.

Machinations has a downright genius way to allow you to generate alien races.

You can play as an intelligent swarm of bees. Or a fungal infection with opinions, growing on another character’s back. You can be a monkey, a bat or even a weird-ass jellyfish (or, in the case of my trial character, a robot that’s married to a piece of software that comprise the sentience of the space-cruiser What The Butler Saw).

Machinations allows you to play both as a boring-ass human being (with their hard limbs and their odd number of digits and eeeuugh) or you can just pick a wholly different species, with a radically different chemical composition and intelligence, hailing from a number of different civilizations, which you can then, in turn, flesh out and help your GM build the Universe you are adventuring in!

I’ll be honest: this was-to me-the game’s biggest and greatest selling point. Even if the system was terrible (which it isn’t) I’d still roll up a dozen characters just so I could introduce them and flesh them out and maybe even use them in the context of another campaign! Your imagination (and your willingness for the appropriate risk-taking) is the only limiting factor here and the entire process is 100% fun!

The corresponding adventure/system/setting generation system is just as good.

“So, uh, you guys remember how I dumped you at the bar for that death-cult-archpriestess last night and we got drunk and woke up in this tomb-world? I might have said yes as she produced that binding contract while we were having sex…”

Machinations is, first and foremost, a space opera game about adventure that focuses on the story more than the actual grind of rules-lawyering and the soul-crushing responsibility of managing combat, vehicle rules and character wealth.

Instead, it chooses to resolve these in a straightforward, no-bullshit manner that urges you to push the game forward. Hoarding that cash to buy power armor? So sorry buddy, you wasted them on bitches and blow. Now in the mood to look for an adventure hook? Well, apparently you got Venusian herpes from that comfort-bot and must now journey to the furthest stars for a cure! Looking for something to do? Well maybe that odd little jellyfish-man with the googly eyes that’s been checking you out all night might have a job just for you!
Are you a GM who hasn’t had time to prep an adventure setting? Then roll on the system-generation table! Did you get a totalitarian autocracy run by bigoted AIs in a world wreathed with an anti-tech field? Go for it! Would you rather make your characters go and steal all the peyote from the secular hippie cults of Flower-Power IX? Who’s gonna stop you?
Machinations’ primary goal is to keep the game moving at all costs and it has a ton of ways to achieve just that. From the (genius) little adventure hooks and setting information captions in the page footers to the pages upon pages of story resolutions and random shit that might befall your PCs, it makes sure that there’s never gonna be a dull day in your Universe!

But, as befits the laws of this terrible, uncaring Universe we live in, Machinations suffers from a number of flaws that need to be addressed and kept in mind for all of you prospective buyers:


Machinations is too lenient in providing setting information

Freedom without limits can be the worst form of tyranny.

MotSP is not a game for GMs or players who have just gotten into roleplaying in general. In fact, the freedoms it provides (both species and setting-wise) require considerable preparation before the beginning of the campaign and can prove debilitating to newbie groups of roleplayers.

While seasoned nerds and their GMs will enjoy knowing that they can create anything and allow it to adventure anywhere, new groups of gamers will instead see all this freedom as almost paralyzing. Hell, even I had trouble grasping it the first time I read through the book! And while the writer does not wish to create what he (rightly) considers to be unnecessary setting and race modules, these could be very much necessary to help new players to get into the game.

Machinations is relying heavily on the initiative of the groups that play it, which is sadly, not a given for most gamers. The idea of creative freedom is (mostly lost) to new gamers, who have trouble grasping at the idea of being able to do whatever the hell they want in any way they want and need to be eased into it. With that in mind…

  The How-to-set-up-a-game sections are, mostly, unnecessary:

While Machinations is a brilliantly made game that relies on the players and GMs building their own worlds and weaving their own tales of daring-do, this is not exactly a concept that new gamers are comfortable with. The degree of narrative freedom and world-building that Machinations asks for makes it an unlikely candidate for a group of newbies, but perfect for seasoned gamers.

Which is why I consider the segments of the book that introduce roleplaying gaming and explain the proper conduct of players and GMs to be mostly dead weight. Not because they are poorly written or inadequately presented, but because they serve no real purpose to the audience that MotSP is really targeting. And that is definitely not 15-year-olds who are looking to zap across the Universe.

Machinations, you see, is mostly a big boys’ game. And big boys know exactly where and how to run a game that is as bafflingly free and brilliant as this. However I can’t help but notice how it…

  Needs moar monsters:

Make no mistake, Mr. Layton: the Universe is not a very hospitable place

Making monsters or generating NPCs isn’t really a problem with MotSP, since it’s almost insultingly easy and requires a relatively small investment of time on the GM’s behalf. It is, however, a factor that will get to become a chore later on in the game, when the challenge will need to rise according to the PC’s capabilities and powers and will, oftentimes, force the GM to seek ready-made beasties and hazards to throw at his players.

I’m not a lazy man, but if I am honest, I cannot devote a lot of time in developing monsters and beasties to set upon my players beforehand. If anything, my schedule oftentimes forces me to resort to any existing threats that have been laid out to me in the books so I can cope with each session’s combat necessities. And while I could make up a monster on the fly, there’s only so many times I could improvise before the combat began to suffer for it.

MotSP desperately needs an alien race and monster bestiary. It doesn’t have to be a very extensive one and it does not necessarily have to cover every damn contingency that might come up in the game, but it will be a very, very useful tool for GMs who want to set up a long-running campaign of it with any degree of success.

So it all boils down to one question: Would I set up a campaign on it? Would I hazard buying it so I could play it ragged? Would it be worth my money?

The answer to all of the above questions is a big, fat YES. Because, despite its flaws, Machinations is just the kind of game I am looking for: it doesn’t bust my balls or get on my case with factoids and bullshit rules. It gives me narrative freedom and it lets me build a Universe from scratch so my sociopathic players can frolic in. And while I would not recommend it to newbie players, I would definitely suggest any seasoned GMs who are looking for a mature, action-packed and above all, fun rpg to pick it up right the hell now and play it.

Or, at the very least, build Universes and civilizations with, to toy with like malevolent gods.

You can buy Machinations of the Space Princess in PDF format here, through RPGNOW 

Or through Paizo's website, here

James 'Grim' Desborough was sent to Earth in an attempt to establish contact with our civilization and serve as an intermediary between us and the Unified Satrapies of the Known Universe. Upon discovering that we exist in a political gestalt of bickering nation-states, he abandoned his purpose and has sought to become a writer instead. He has his own rpg design company, Post Mortem Studios, which he uses to realize his life-long dream of developing the perfect tool for creative procrastination.

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