Writing Mindjammer – Far Future Transhuman Science-Fiction Roleplaying With Fate Core
Just a week ago we launched the pre-order of Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game, my new far future transhuman science-fiction RPG for the awesome Fate Core system. Those of you who know me, have been following this blog or progress on the Mindjammer project, will know this has been a while coming…
First up – thank you everyone for your encouragement and support, both in the year or two of work on Mindjammer 2nd edition, and in the past week with pre-ordering the game and helping spread the word about this brand-new offering in the science-fiction roleplaying game space. All pre-order customers of Mindjammer receive an immediate download of the PDF Thoughtcast Edition of the game, and we’ve been getting some great feedback. The Thoughtcast Edition is a 99.x% complete version of the game, and we’re now finalising the text ready for going to print and issuing an updated PDF at the end of February. Preorders are still open and the Thoughtcast Edition available for immediate download if you want to grab a copy!
Mindjammer has undergone quite a transformation since winning a Judges Spotlight Award at the ENnies in 2010. I was first asked to produce a new edition just as we were about to go to print with Mindjammer Adventures; the delays which followed meant that by the time I started the rewrite again, it was with Mindjammer Press, and using the new Fate Core system from Evil Hat Productions.
That’s actually worked out very well; Fate Core is an amazing evolution of the Fate system, and absolutely perfect for Mindjammer. Why’s that? For me, it’s down to Fate Core‘s concept of extras. In some ways they remind me of the “sprites” which revolutionised computer games in the 1980s; small pseudo-genetic “pods” of roleplaying power, amazingly flexible and very easy to customise.
An extra is a discrete yet viable roleplaying “container”. It’s a bit like an NPC stat block, except it can contain just one element – maybe a skill, or an aspect. It can be much bigger than that, though; it can expand almost all the way up to a character in size, with skills, stunts, aspects, and even equipment and aspects of its own.
In play, an extra can represent all kinds of things. It can be a piece of equipment; it can be a special ability. More than that, it can be a sidekick, or a vehicle or starship you use. It can be a community you belong to, or an organisation, or a culture.
But here’s the key: an extra has no independent game existence. It isn’t an NPC. An extra only becomes functional when its appended to a character sheet, usually of a player character, but also potentially of an NPC. But when it is appended to a character sheet, it immediately provides all its own abilities (those skills, stunts, aspects, etc, it might have) to that character. In simple terms, if a laser rifle is statted as an extra, when you attach it to your character sheet, you get all kinds of “laser rifle” abilities.
Now, in many games, you might go “huh, so what?” A laser rifle just fires laser beams, right? Just does damage, has a range, maybe a penetration value and a number of shots you can fire? But in Mindjammer, one of the tropes of the setting is that intelligence is everywhere; artificial intelligence is so ancient and so ubiquitous that anything that needs to be intelligent, is intelligent. In Mindjammer, that laser rifle can have a mind.
Extras are perfect for this. Sure, you can have a laser rifle which just gives you a damage bonus and doesn’t recoil (well, perceptibly) if used in zero-G. But you can also have a sentient laser rifle with its own memories, skills, aspects, and stunts; and when you have such a rifle as an extra, it gives you all of its abilities to use.
Now let’s take it further. As I said above, organisations and cultures can be extras. Also, using the famed Fate Fractal, they can be statted as “characters” in their own right – enormous, abstract characters with thousands of members and maybe covering many worlds, but they have a character sheet all the same. Now, in many other games, it’d be damned difficult to imagine how a mere human being would be able to interact, say, with a culture – even if they both have character sheets. But, using extras, you can do this.
In Mindjammer, a character can take a culture as an extra. Maybe they just take an aspect – all characters do that by default, and it influences their behaviour. But if you’re a character who deals with cultures a lot – perhaps a psy-ops specialist, a culture agent, or a “memetic engineer” (yup, that’s a profession in Mindjammer), you can take a culture’s skills, stunts, and aspects as an extra, and then use them to affect other cultures.
Isn’t that cool? That’s a feature of the Fate Core rules; extras are powerful juju. Suddenly, using extras, it becomes possible to have a character who is a general of an army, a political leader, a culture agent, or starship captain, and for that character to have real, in-game ability to directly affect other armies, polities, cultures, or starships using his own abilities (including those gifted to him by his extra).
This was always something which was a little hard to simulate in 3rd edition Fate. The Fate Fractal was there, so you could have stat blocks for starships, organisations, and cultures, as we did in Starblazer Adventures, Legends of Anglerre, and Mindjammer 1st edition. But the crucial link which tied characters to these larger entities was not explicit. In Fate Core, the extras rules provide that link in a single, elegant, and quite revolutionary way.
And everything remains centred on your character. Even in a huge war between nations, it’s still your character who is at the heart of the action; he uses one of those nations as an extra, and it’s his action through that extra which affects the enemy nation.
There are so many places we can take this. Future scenarios in Mindjammer will explore some of them. But Mindjammer is very intentionally also a completely Fate Core game; it dials some of the rules settings for far future transhuman sci-fi, but it’s in no way a variant. All the way through development, we wanted to make sure that Mindjammer was a Fate Core game; this means that, even though Mindjammer itself is standalone, you can easily use other Fate Core products with it. Go out and grab the Fate System Toolkit, Fate Worlds, even Fate Accelerated, and know that they all work together. Equally, take what you like from Mindjammer and plug it directly into your Fate Core game, whatever the genre. The extras, constructs, organisations, and cultures rules will work seamlessly, out of the box.
I’ve had an absolute blast writing Mindjammer, and I’ve been helped, encouraged, and supported by some awesome people; playtesting, proofreading, editing, layout, publicity, promotion, and distribution. Now the game is yours, and its rules and ideas are out there in the Fate Core community. I can’t wait to see what everyone does with it.
Normandy, February 2014
You can preorder Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game from Modiphius Entertainment now, and receive the PDF “Thoughtcast Edition” for immediate download. The 496-page hardback ships to preorder customers at the end of March.
For more information about Mindjammer, check out the Mindjammer website, the Mindjammer forums, or the Mindjammer Google+ community. For info about the game, contact email@example.com; for publicity, promotion, and distribution information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.