It’s hard to know where to start when designing a setting. Usually I’d start with the very start of the world’s history, and move towards the present from there. If done perfectly, there’s the hope that you’ll end up with a picture of what the present looks like. However, this is hard to do perfectly, and often doesn’t lead to particularly interesting results, as there’s little to no “end goal”. I could instead work from one central location, (e.g., a planet) and work outwards, but this has its own issues – without the broader features of the setting, a number of questions are unanswerable. If instead I were to go from the universe-scale down, I face issues with knowing which details are important.
As said in earlier posts, this is why I’ve started with the characters first. No matter what, the characters will be central to the stories told in the setting, regardless of other variables. Whilst a central planet might be left unexplored, or history never touched on, characters will always be there.
To proceed with this step, I focussed on the sorts of games I’d want to run in the setting. I combined it with my preconceived notions on what consitutes a “Space Opera”, and used this as a foundation to build up from. The characters selected are critical to the feel of the game setting – a world where every player character is a Spartan warrior will feel very different to one where every player character is an animal.
To break this down, I’m going to borrow from the “class system” approach, taken by many other popular RPGs. I’ll broadly define characters in terms of “archetypes” (e.g., “Warrior”, “Mage”, “Theif”). I won’t be able to comprehensively cover every possible character archetype, because not everything works for a Space Opera. “Street Beggar” might be an archetype in an “Suburbia” setting, but won’t really strike at the heart of “Space Opera”, even if the galaxy features them.
To make sure I didn’t overburden player choice, I went with 10 different “archetypes” I most wanted to see – the rest of this post will go through each of them, before discussing the archetypes as a whole. The reasons for choosing each archetype will be discussed when I cover them each individually.
A wily, cunning, and charming rogue, the Scoundrel’s luck and guile never ceases to amaze. Using their wits, a cocky smile, and a quick quip for good measure, there isn’t a problem they can’t weasel their way out of. And when those fail, there’s always a concealed blaster and a quick trigger finger for backup.
When the action gets going and the adrenaline starts pumping, the Tactician stands firm and collected, a calm in the storms of battle. Clad in armour and equipped with military level technology, their presence and strategies are enough to turn the tides to victory. With plans for every situation, they prove a vital asset for any team looking to live another day.
When it comes to raw power, the Muscle has it in spades. Armed with oversized weaponry and oversized muscles, they’re the perfect solution to problems where brainpower doesn’t quite cut it. They don’t care so much about elegance or delicacy – often extreme violence can solve the problem (just more messily). It takes a lot to take them down, and their enemies are molten slurry long before they get the chance.
The Techie has an intuitive understanding of technology like no other. Not only can they repair broken machines, but they can make and enhance them as well – some of the gadgets at their disposal are their own inventions! Suited to the modern world, they’re the perfect person to have around when you’re looking for an upgrade, or need someone on comms to help operations run smoothly.
The Boffin has mastered the natural sciences, with all manner of chemical technologies at their disposal. When the action arrives, they put their knowledge to use, with nerve grenades, chemical sprayers and all manners of equipment only possible through the wonders of modern science. They’re vital for their allies too – there’s nobody better to stitch up wounds than someone with the right kit and the brains with which to use it.
In a galaxy of nigh-incomprehensible scale, the Hunter is one of the few who knows how to navigate it. Utterly dedicated in their mission, they track their quarries, whether criminal, creature, or innocent, willing to brave and adapt to the most dangerous environments and strangest cultures in the galaxy. They’re well equipped for this danger, and are often seen sporting all manner of personalised equipment, marks of their success.
Slinking quietly through both crowds and shadows alike, the Infiltrator is an expert of information extraction and sabotage, all without their targets suspecting a thing. They blend into any level of society with ease, donning disguises, working “marks”, and staying only long enough to gather the information they need before slipping away.
Rich, charismatic, and good looking, the Socialite thrives in places where they can best work their charms to their advantage. Their influence didn’t come from nowhere – much of their expertise stems from their ability to negotiate and manipulate their way up the ladder. When the action starts, they display their wealth with flashy, exotic weaponry and fashionable armour – marks of their status.
Tracking through exotic locations, ancient temples and long-forgotten sites, the Antiquarian is an explorer at heart. Their knowledge of the mysteries and histories of the galaxy are unrivalled. Driven by a strong desire to uncover ancient artefacts and civillisations, they act as living proof that it is unwise to forget the past, for it hides many treasues that remain relevant today.
With mystic techniques and ancient philosophies, the Traditionalist’s abilities are shrouded by long-forgotten mysteries. They don’t bear the advanced firearms of the modern era, but instead rely on blades, physical capabilities, and their sheer force of will. To underestimate their anachronisms them is to invite death itself.
SOME THINGS TO NOTE
When it came to defining the archetype choices, I realised that some common character-types in Space Opera didn’t fit as character choices.
For example, “Ace Pilot” feels like it should be up there somewhere – after all, travelling through Space is a crucial part of the setting! The reason it wasn’t included was twofold.
First, “Pilot” is plausibly something that could be applied to any of the archetypes. A Scoundrel might be an expert smuggling pilot, or the Hunter may focus on capturing space vessels. “Pilot” is closer to a skill many of the archetypes could have.
Second, though space is vital to the setting, most adventures will be on planets, with occasional travel between them. If one of the archetypes were to heavily specialise into piloting, they’d be “out-of-action” for the majority of the adventure.
There were a number of other “potential archetypes” that were scrapped for those reasons, especially the first. What this told me was that in addition to having “archetypes”, it may also be a good idea to allow players to pick a profession, or “background” of some kind, which would give them various skills. That way, players could choose, for example, whether they wanted to have their character be a pilot, criminal, etc. regardless of their archetype.
To avoid “archetypes” being confused with “backgrounds”, I made sure to name each archetype something general. Just to illustrate this, the names I had initially written down were changed, as follows:
- “Scoundrel” was renamed from “Smuggler”.
- “Tactician” was renamed from “Soldier”.
- “Techie” was renamed from “Mechanic”.
- “Boffin” was renamed from “Medic”.
- “Hunter” was renamed from “Bounty Hunter”.
- “Socialite” was renamed from “Aristocrat”.
- “Antiquarian” was renamed from “Historian Scavenger”.
- “Traditionalist” was renamed from “Monastic Ninja”.
- “Muscle” and “Infiltrator” remained the same.
As you can probably tell, the old names subconsciously narrowed the field of what an archetype could be. For example, difficulties would come up if a player wanted to be a “medic who served as a soldier”.
Initially, I also had “Robot” as an archetype. This wasn’t really a background, nor was it a “skill”, and I recognised that some players might want to play as a robot. The archetype was envisioned as a “helpful assistant” sort of role, but this felt too restrictive – it seemed plausible that “Robot Tacticians”, “Robot Techie”, “Robot Bounty Hunter” etc. could exist. I didn’t want to have “Robot” be a background, so it made more sense to also include it as a “Species” of sorts. This setting will have alien species, so giving players a choice of species makes sense. Robots don’t really have a “species”, so they fit right in as a potential option. When I later go on to write up the alien species, I’ll include them there.
Many RPGs stress the need for a variety of roles in an adventuring party, and I can’t say I disagree. If, for example, every player chose “Muscle” or “Tactician”, the party would likely struggle in social encounters. Thinking back to my experience with Extrayn, one issue I ran across was that pretty much all of my players were “scientists” of sorts, all with high IQs, mental scores, and the like. In any situation where the study of science didn’t help, they sucked. It seems wise, therefore, to at least offer a “strong recommendation” for GMs looking to structure a party appropriately. I did this by grouping the archetypes up, with the idea being that players should evenly distribute themselves between the various groups.
Given that most RPG groups have four players (from anecdotal experience), I divided the archetypes into four categories.
- “Combat”, for those that generally specialise heavily in hand-to-hand or ranged combat to some extent. This is similar to the “Fighter” group in other RPGs. This group contains the “Tactician”, “Muscle”, and “Traditionalist”.
- “Science” for the classes that interact with (modern) science and technology of the setting more directly. This is similar to the “Mage” group in other RPGs. This group contains the “Techie” and the “Boffin”.
- “Sneaky/Social” fit the characters who have at least some focus on social engineering and manipulation/stealth for their role. This is similar to the “Thief” role in other RPGs. This group contains the “Scoundrel”, the “Socialite”, and the “Infiltrator”.
- “Seeker” fits the remaining two archetypes, who track things down and travel through particularly dangerous and exotic terrain. This doesn’t quite have a matching role in other RPGs, but does fit the general “adventurer” type. This group contains the “Hunter” and the “Antiquarian”.
I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with the categories – I initially had “Hunter” and “Traditionalist” swapped, with the “Seeker” category being the “Esoteric” category, containing roles that used esoteric techniques and/or knowledge to accomplish their goals. I ended up swapping them to the current configuration after I realised that players who chose the “Traditionalist” archetype were likely to make them combat-centric.
HOW MANY POINTS?
One more thing to consider is the points level of our characters. Action 1: Heroes suggests 250 points per character, to emulate a “movie hero” style of character – the typical 150-point limit for “full time adventurers at the start of their career”, and anything above 300 starts to verge into “mortals who rub shoulders with gods”. This 250 points will be divided up, with 200 points allocated to the archetype, 25 points to the background, and 25 points to the species. This standardised points distribution will make it easier to swap between various templates and will remove a lot of extra work for players and GMs alike.
Another interesting suggestion by Action 1: Heroes is to make templates mandatory, as players “tend to create one-man-army PCs, defeating the purpose of a team”. The enforcement of templates also promotes “role variety” between the players, and makes sure that none of the core pillars of play (e.g. social, combat) are missed.
I imagine I’m bound to make mistakes when designing the templates, missing a key advantage or skill here and there, which might be suited to a given archetype. If a player finds one of these “missing features”, I’m more than happy to adjust the template as needed to include them for that game and all future games.
Now I’ve given each archetype a brief overview, it’s time to go into a little more detail. In the upcoming posts, I’ll go through each of them one by one, creating 200-point “archetype templates”. Everything is still “up in the air” as far as the specifics go – I don’t want to write myself into a corner, so if anything comes up that looks like it needs changing, I’ll adjust it as needed.