Teaching a Spaceman to Spacefish

I’ve got maybe a year or so of my Insomniacs playtest campaign under my belt, but I’m struggling with how to put that into actionable content in the book. I don’t think I’ve ever used a setting or module verbatim, and I don’t know how other GMs adapt canned material for their own campaigns. I have a couple paths forward I can take, however, trails blazed by other designers that have inspired me.

The Example

Baxter

  • 308 Cygni
  • 124 light years from Earth
  • Atmosphere: Stormy
  • Temperature: Optimal
  • Water: Arid
  • Gravity: Optimal
  • Resources: Trace

308 Cygni-c is a young world, more tectonically active than Earth, wracked by lightning flashing red amidst dust storms. The thicker atmosphere provides a necessary blanket to trap more of its weaker orange sun’s energy. Multicellular life on Baxter never figured out how to divide into separate entities. Its primordial soup kept growing and expanding, absorbing its oceans and then most of its useful mineral content. Sea-size organisms traverse the surface, slowly killing their world.

Investigate the first away team

This might be the first the PCs hear about NOAH sending out other teams. The missing team might have been killed and consumed by one of the titanic organisms or there might be survivors in need of a daring rescue attempt.

Alien hunger

The organisms are ravenous and curious – a dangerous combination. They are blobs and slimes scaled up to beyond kaiju proportions. They’d be visible from space if the planet’s atmosphere didn’t obscure its surface so completely.

Caught in the storm

Baxter’s constant lightning and high winds pose a threat as the crew traverses the surface.

Its failed experiments

Some guiding intelligence in the organism, perhaps sparked by consuming the missing away team members, has started experimenting with grisly armatures and exoskeletal body horror mistakes.

Clash of titans

Two of the primordial giants do battle. Their slow but massive fight shatters mountains and carves new features into the storm-wracked surface.

Plan A: The Writeup

Simply providing a more-or-less canned exoplanet feels the most pretentious and most narrowly useful of my options. What I find inspiring may not bring you the same joy, but the greatest benefit of this approach is that there’d be examples that you could use as-is or use as a foundation to modify.

In Baxter’s case, I feel I’d need to flesh out a concrete reason why the away team needs to head down there. Detail some NPCs in need of rescue. Expand upon the potential for body horror as the great lifeforms attempt to mimic human remains, and offer some GM-facing strategies for storm dangers or collateral damage as the kaiju do battle.

Plan B: Evocative Prompts

Image result for fall of magic map

This approach pretty much encapsulates the entirety of the game Fall of Magic, and indeed there are some shipboard moves in Insomniacs that draw from that same well. I’d provide a place and some vaguely unsettling phrases to spark the imagination. This allows each exoplanet to rally around a theme in a way that random tables won’t, but a GM would have to do their own lifting. The prompt-based approach would speed development but overall it’s maybe not enough one way or the other.

While Baxter’s current writeup is wordier and bears similarities to this style, it’s designed for a single GM rather than Fall of Magic’s shared narrator approach.

Plan C: The Starcrawl

On the other end of the slider there’s using random tables to populate exoplanets and anomalies. Tables can be great GM lonely fun, but they do require some effort from the GM. The upside is once you’ve got good tables, you’ve got content for as long as you care to run the campaign.

I’m Not Your Dad

I don’t want to tell you how to have fun, but I also don’t want to leave you hanging. What’s your best module or game for communicating setting and inspiring/helping you to run it?

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