PA Strategy Playtest #002: Welcome to the Frontier

The first hours of 2021 are a perfect time to generate the first Project Aphelion Campaign – because that’s what I do for fun. The first thing I want to test is the freeflow campaign – I wanna see how the game is going to handle itself without any constraints, narrative, structural, or otherwise. I’ll unleash the algorithm and see where it takes me. 

Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate

I’ll begin the game from a rather atypical point for a tabletop roleplaying game – I won’t be creating any characters. That’s right, I’ll be playing the game from a neutral standpoint, let it play itself out entirely using the in-built algorithm and rules to see what kind of a story will emerge.

We’re starting in a Hydra sector, around Pluto or the Kuiper Belt – the previously described large Factions are all background, but they may come into play if the game goes that way. If a Scenario is generated at any point in time, I will create specific Assets and detail them out as needed. In other words, I’m starting the game as zoomed out as possible, as a neutral observer. 

Dice Gonna Roll

First things first: let’s create the Campaign Rating, which will determine how strong the Factions created will be. I rolled a 3d10 and picked the middle result – Aphelion uses this method instead of simply rolling a d10, because it skews the results towards the mid-range, creating a probability curve instead of random chance. Normally we’d also add the Rating of the player Faction to the result, balancing the game to the difficulty agreed on by the players, but I’m David Attenborough-ing this game, so I’ll just roll with the dice result – a neat 5. 

We’re starting the game with five different Factions – I wonder who they are going to be! To do that, I’ll use the Campaign Rating and count marks – the standard difficulty for all rolls is 6. The Faction Rating determines how many dice it will roll on Projects and how many Assets (Crews of people, spaceships, Facilities, etc.) they have at their disposal. Every Faction begins the game with Asset ranks equal to their Rating – distributed depending on what the game calls for, and some resources to boot.

The first Faction is Rating 4, a big fish in a small pond, it seems. I decided to run a Faction Task to see how the Assets are divided, rolling 4 dice, and the number of marks scored is the Asset starting rank – it seems like they went with 4 R1 Assets. Strength in numbers it seems! We don’t know who they are yet, but we do know they like to diversify and earn their keep by following a large number of small Projects. Let’s call them First for now. That Faction has a whopping 40 Resources at their disposal.

The second Faction starts with a measly Rating of 1. I have a feeling we have an Underdog in the race already. The Second starts with 1 R1 Asset and 10 Resources.

The next contender is a R3 Faction. Neato! They have 2 separate Assets – a R1 and R2, as well as 30 Resources. I’ll call them Three for now!

The next one starts with R2, and one strong R2 Asset, plus 20 Resources. I’ll call them Four. 

And last but very much not least, we have another R4 potentate – I wonder who those guys will be! Faction Five landed one R2 Asset and 2 R1 Assets, as well as 40 Resources – interesting!

Show Me What You Got

There are six Focuses in the game – Technical, Warfare, Investigative, Social, Scientific, and Creative. They describe the area of expertise and interests for Factions, as well as their goals and modus operandi. Every Faction or character, is described by two Focuses and the “other” category, containing all the rest. When the game calls for a Project Task in the Focus, the Faction rolls the number of dice assigned to their specialties – the full set of Faction Dice for their primary one, half of that for the secondary, half of the secondary for all the rest. 

Since I’m taking a no-agency approach to the test, I’ll let fate decide who they are. 

I also determined the Factions’ Behaviors, and what the Assets are – truth be told, I did it after I was done with Focuses (following the CRB’s step-by-step guide), but I’ll put it in the same place in the blog because it’ll be easier to keep everything in one place. 

And so, the First Faction is an Investigative/Social one. They have 2 Investigative Assets, 1 Social, and 1 Other – which is fated to be a Scientific one. Their Investigative Behavior is Hostile Defense, meaning they will start projects at the expense of other Factions, and they will always prioritize their own Assets’ over getting the job done. The Social part is Exclusive Growth, so they will try to secure Resources they need to improve their own Faction and cut other Factions away from those Resources using Social means. For all the Other focuses, their Behavior is again Hostile Defense. The Faction Trait is Excessive, meaning they will always commit to scoring as big a prize they can. Armed with that knowledge, their Assets are as follows:

  • R1 Intelligence Center Facility, preferable for running Hostile and Defensive Projects
  • R1 Investigative Crew. Crews can be attached to any Projects or Fleets to make them more effective, as well as running Scenarios on Crew Layer.
  • R1 Faction Offices, perfect for the Behavior’s Projects – our Faction One is a corporate entity, it would seem!
  • Lastly, an R1 Scientific Fleet – a spaceship with a Field Lab should be perfect, allowing them to take advantage of other Factions’ progress.

Knowing all that, let me introduce you to our first Faction, Carver SciImp – a branch of a larger corporation intent on securing as much as they can from the Frontier, regardless of the damage caused to others, but keeping a nice PR front to the outside world.

The second Faction, the underdogs, are a Scientific/Warfare Faction, with 1 Warfare Asset. Whoever might they turn out to be? Their Scientific Behavior is Exclusive Defense; they will focus on keeping their own and cutting others from what they got. The Warfare Behavior is Exclusive Growth, meaning they aren’t going to shy away from violence to make ends meet, and again, try to establish a monopoly. Their Behavior for Other Focuses is going to be Hostile Growth. Their Trait will be Exploitative – the Faction will put more weight on acquiring Resources than anything else.

I think the best they can count on Asset wise is a R1 Fleet – an armed spaceship equipped with a Field Lab – it’s going to be interesting how they fare against Carver SciImp, since while smaller, they are more direct in their actions. Let me call them the Hooper Group, a small military science company determined to make a name for themselves.

It’s time for number Three. A Social/Investigative Faction with a R2 Social and R1 Investigative Assets. Their Social Behavior will be Exclusive Growth, quite the regular (it is one of the most probable options), and their Investigative and Other will be Hostile Growth – looks like we’re in for some cutthroat politics and espionage in store for us! Their Assets will be as follows: 

  • R2 Social Crew
  • R1 Assesment Facility

Let me dub them the K4 Conglomerate, a small but growing Asset acquisition firm. Did I mention they’re also Exploitative? Yeah, we’re looking at a quickly coalescing dumpster fire of hostility and backstabbing here, I suppose.

Number Four gets to be Warfare/Technical, with a strong R2 Warfare Asset. Their Warfare Behavior is Beneficial/Growth, and Technical is that of Hostile Defense, Others get Exclusive Growth, and their Trait is Conservative – they will only ever commit to low hanging and safe fruit – for now.

Their Asset is going to be a Warfare Fleet with a buff Spaceship, and here we go, Phoenix Inc., a mercenary company. 

And Finally, number Five rolled Investigative/Warfare with a strong R2 Investigative asset, and R1 Warfare and Social Assets. The probability curve seems to be working just fine, ’cause they are also an Exclusive/Growth Faction primarily. Their Warfare Focus is going to be an Exclusive/Defense one, and Other an Exclusive/Growth. They will be a Plundering Faction, meaning that they will prioritize growing off other Faction’s work. 

Because of that, I’ll give them a R1 ComSat Station, even though their Behavior would suggest I put in a Warfare Asset, because it will allow them to run Interference on other Factions’ Projects.

The R2 Faction is going to be a mixed Investigation/Warfare Crew – all the Assets are divided as they should, and the Fivers can now operate according to their Behaviors and Traits. Let me call them Hargrave & Co, a growing competitive outfit looking to exploit the weak.  

The Powers That Be

Aight, we have our contestants, who will shape the events during the campaign. Let’s see how they’re connected to each other. Let’s roll the Faction Ratings, and see how many relationships each Faction has, and what kind. Generally, the higher the Familiarity, the more the Factions like each other and are less likely to target them with nasty stuff.

Carver SciImp has three relations – I’m going to be neat about it and make them the Hooper Group with Familiarity of 5, the K4 Conglomerate with a 4, and the Phoenix Inc with a 5. 

Hooper Group can only have one relationship as an R1 Faction, and CarverSciImp already covers that with Familiarity of 5 – relations go both ways.

K4 Conglomerate rolled 2 relations – Carver SciImp already covers one, so I’ll connect them to Faction nr. 5 – Hargrave & Co, with Familiarity of 6.

The Phoenix Inc rolled one relation, and CarverSciImp already covers that with Familiarity of 4. 

Finally, the Hargrave & Co maintains relations with all the other Factions – and yes, that gives every previous one a bonus connection. They already have a connection with the K4C, at Familiarity of 6. Their relations with Carver SciImp is at 8, creating an unexpected plot twist of both biggest players in the pond being friendly with each other. Their relationships with the Hooper Group and the Phoenix are at 4.

And so, we have our little chunk of the Frontier mapped out – let’s place them around a relay station in the outskirts of Pluto itself, making a living both planetside and around the moons. More prominent Factions in the area, like the Guild or the Rangers, are all background and don’t play an active part in the game unless events activate them.

So far, the campaign generation took me around 30 minutes, not including writing it all down. I’ve done no preparation and plans ahead of time, and all the plot potential that surfaced is done entirely using the game’s mechanics; no arbitrary decisions were made, except randomly generated names for the Factions.

In the next blog, we’ll see how the plot emerges with the first round of Projects launched by our Factions; stay tuned!

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