So here we are at the beginning of a new project. A blank canvas lies before us and we must ask ourselves why?
Why create another GURPS Space setting? Isn't Psi-Wars and Transhuman Space enough?
What a silly question. The short answer is "of course not!" but, as always there's more to it than that.
1. So where'd this come from?
There were two things that came together that gave me the idea for this setting. One was remembering an old character of mine and the other was re-watching Cowboy Bebop. This got the wheels in my head turning and lead to what I'm dubbing the Delta for reasons I'll get into in a moment. The key things that I'm starting with here are a tone and some bits of set dressing. I'm going to go from there and see where it takes me, so expect this to be more of an exploration than a concrete guide for the time being. I'll probably waffle on some things and change my mind on others as we go, but that's part of exploring the design. Anyway, let's get into what exactly is going into this.
1.1. Cowboy Bebop and Delta Blues
For those that don't know, Cowboy Bebop was an anime released in the late 90's and is generally considered one of the classic series that you need to watch at least once. Seriously, if you need something to binge on a weekend, you could certainly do worse than watching the crew of the Bebop get up to shenanigans. If you haven't seen it, be warned that there are potential spoilers ahead.
The world of Cowboy Bebop is one that used to be better. A catastrophic engineering failure has caused most of earth's population to move underground. Criminal syndicates rule from the shadows and things have this run-down/used-up feeling to them. Despite the tattered backdrop, most of the show has a somewhat goofy, if not zany, feel to it. There are certainly some dark and introspective moments, but these are contrasted by entertaining characters and moments that just make you snicker, and I think that's part of the appeal. There's certainly some heavy moments and times that make you want to cry, but there's also times that make you want to laugh and cheer. It's cathartic.
The bluesy tone of Cowboy Bebop was what lead me to dub the main location of the setting The Delta. I also did it for some symbolism, but mostly because it's a perfect description of the setting. It's old, battered, and rusty, but it's still ticking. Things may move slow, but they still move. Things may be bad, but there's a silver lining somewhere.
1.2. A Girl Named Nedora
The other part that inspired this was thinking about a character that I had played a couple of years ago. She didn't last long in the game, and to be honest, I don't think she was a good fit, but that was more that the GM had a different idea from what I had about the setting and had also left a lot of information out. That's a another topic for another day. Today I want to focus on Nedora and how she became the catalyst for the Delta.
Nedora was an escaped experiment. She was engineered to be a crack pilot that could do special forces type work. She got loose and escaped one day and fled to where she wound up meeting the other PCs. She was fun and I wish I could find another game to play her in, and it was that desire to have a place where she could run into the PCs while lying low that lead me to nail down some of the key characteristics of the Delta.
2. The Delta
So what is the Delta? Why call it that? The Delta is a buffer zone between several major galactic polities that has become a haven for criminals, fugitives, and people looking to just disappear. "Everything flows to the Delta," is the saying that I imagined for this place, so that's what it would up being. I think it's a fitting name at least.
The Delta is a cross between late 19th to early 20th Century China and Star Trek's Neutral Zone. Everyone wants to limit the influence everyone else has there. It's surrounded by polities that have been at war with each other and the Delta serves as a DMZ to help ease tensions and keep a lid on the mayhem that could happen if things get too tense. The desire to not antagonize the other polities too much while limiting their influence isolated the worlds in the Delta. Trade dried up and economic collapse caused the governments to fail. Criminal Syndicates that had moved their operations to the Delta filled the power vacuum left behind and, after some intense turf wars, formed the de facto government in the council known as the Faces. The Faces decided how the Delta would be divvied up among its members but they don't control everything. There are still many small gangs that run around and fight over the scraps left over by the Faces. Each of the Faces is also jealous of its sphere of influence and not eager to ask for help since that could be seen as a weakness to be exploited. This, combined with the political situation, make it difficult to use people that are connected to your organization to do jobs that cross over into other spheres of influence. Enter the Freelancers.
Freelancers typically don't have official ties to and of the Faces, and those that do have to be careful with dealing with people from the other Faces. Instead, they are free to move as they need through the Delta to accomplish their jobs. One of the unwritten rules of the Freelancers is that you don't turn a job down based on the client. Other than maintaining at least a veneer of impartiality, a Freelancer is free to choose which jobs they take. Jobs can be anything that requires moving through another Face's territory. The polities outside the Delta often post bounties on Freelancer job boards for fugitives that have fled to the Delta. The Faces need to have people and cargo moved in, through, or out of the Delta. They also need to have deniable/neutral muscle for security or a raid, bounties of their own caught, and information on rival Faces. This means that Freelancer work can involve a board range of skills, and there's plenty more that I haven't listed here.
In a nut shell the key characteristics of the Delta wound up being as follows:
- No official governments exist in the Delta. The polities that border the Delta don't want the others to have any more influence than they do, but they can't take the Delta outright without sparking a major incident. Without outside trade or exchange, any legitimate governments in the Delta failed.
- The show's run by criminal syndicates known as Faces. No taxes, no cops, and a power vacuum to fill mean the Delta is perfect for many of the larger families to set up shop in.
- Due to the touchiness of the situation, there needs to be a group of people that can do things, like grabbing a wanted criminal or ferrying some important package, without causing a ruckus for crossing territorial lines. This is the job of the Freelancers.
- Anything's available, for a price. Money is power here, moreso than many other places.
Imagine a Mos Eisley that spans lightyears. That's pretty much the Delta in a nutshell.
3. The Mechanics
With our frame of a setting, we need some rules for how to play in it. The first thing to answer here is what are our core activities? Freelancers are going to be the most likely choice for PCs, but it's not out of the question for players to choose members of one of the syndicates, rogue agents on the run or causing mayhem, or even agents from one of the surrounding polities trying to nab a person of interest. For now, we'll focus on the Freelancers since most of the other groups will be doing things that the Freelancers do. This leads us to what the Freelancers do in the Delta, and now we start cracking open the books.
The first book we'll be using beyond the GURPS core books is GURPS Space. Looking at the campaign types, there's not any one that fits the Freelancers perfectly. The closest would be the Criminal and Bounty Hunter campaigns, but there are shades of Agents of Terra, Selling the Moon - Wholesale, and Political SF in there as well. This means that I'm probably being too board for this iteration, so let's stick with the Criminal and Bounty Hunter campaign types.
With our narrower focus, we can start listing the things out PCs will be doing. These are:
- Gathering information that will help complete the job
- Fighting criminals and rival Freelancers
- Evading pursuit
- Capturing/Kidnapping people of interest
- Sneaking into secure locations
- Stealing important documents or items
That's still a good variety of activities, though there's still plenty that hasn't been covered here. This also lets us know what templates would be good for creating charcters for the Delta. Bounty Hunter, Con-Man, Detective, Secret Agent, Security Officer, and Thief templates all fit. The Soldier template would also work for more action oriented PCs.
As far as power levels are concerned, I think it partly depends on the tone of the game you want to run. The Delta can work in either a goofy absurdist campaign where everyone's just the wrong side of sane or a grim, gritty slog through the worst humanity has to offer. Personally, I'll be assuming that we're going for something in the middle. We want the lighter, funny moments to contrast with the grimmer moments. Yes, Cowboy Bebop has some dark moments and heavy hitting punches, but they are all the darker and harder hitting for the light moments of just plain goofiness that occur between them. We need to give the PCs enough room to be competent and quirky while also contrasting that with their weaknesses and personal struggles. A standard Action game is 200/-50, but I feel that doesn't fit the last requirement. Using 250/-100 or 200/-100 builds for PCs are the two options that I'd go with, and to be honest I'm learning towards 250/-100 or even 250/-125. I know the temptation is going to be making characters hypercompetent at their niche or spreading the points around to cover every skill, but I'm hoping that I can encourage more rounded and deep characters as I build out the Delta. For now, I think we'll stick with 200/-100 builds. It's plenty of points with enough disadvantages to give players room to play around.
Finally, there's gear. For the moment, Ultra-Tech will suffice, but I'm definitely going to be building out my own weapons and vehicles in later iterations. For a first pass, we'll say the Delta is TL 9-10. The goal here isn't to get it perfect, but to get it playable. To that end, I'll be pulling the BAD and mook rules from Action. This will help simplify making encounters and save time when it comes to the playtest. :D
Now that we have our rules, it's time to build some characters. That will have to wait until the next time. Until then, Take care and happy gaming.