The Heart of Adventure – Themes and Advice

Reign of Discordia is a setting that operates on a macro scale. That is to say that there is no single over-arching struggle that the characters must become involved with. Instead, there are a number of different approaches to running a game in this setting, beginning on a small scale where the characters do not own any form of space transport and must rely on others to provide them with their motivation and means for adventuring, all the way to commanding a large starship that may or may not be assigned to a specific mission. This is not to say that there are not any major plots or themes that span the setting, however, the setting operates on such a grand scale that the referee should be able to take even the smallest plot hook mentioned in this book and craft an entire campaign around it. The purpose of this chapter is to provide the referee with ideas and modes upon which to design a game in this setting.

One important factor to keep in mind about this setting is that it is space opera, in the purest form of the word. In other words, it is intended to be action oriented with numerous confrontations against enemies, whether they happen to be aliens, robots, Humans, or something else entirely. Characters almost always use energy weapons. Most of the action happens in space, whether it is aboard a starship, a space station, a planet or other astronomical body. When the characters look out their viewports or leave their ships, the view that awaits them should be impressive and detailed, whether it happens to be a massive gas giant with its multi-colored banded clouds, massive nearby starships engaged in a pitched battle with one another, space stations that are so large that one must wonder how such a large object could be assembled in space, or even just the emptiness of space stretching out infinitely in all directions.

This setting is also intended to be as open-ended as possible. If there are aliens from other settings or roleplaying game products that you feel would fit within the setting, you are encouraged to drop them in. In fact, one good way to do this is to introduce them as a species that is new to this region of space and then upgrade their status to that of a major player. Maybe they are looking for new worlds to conquer, maybe they have a previous grievance with one of the regular species from this setting and they’re back for revenge, or maybe they have been here all along but have only recently developed the technology to become a threat. The following are suggested campaign models that work well with this setting. Few campaigns will use only one of these models while most will combine elements from many. The important thing to remember is that there is not one single mode that is right for Reign of Discordia, although it bears mentioning that the default campaign for which existing adventures are written start with the Cargo Haulers campaign and progress into other modes. Virtually any published adventure can be easily modified to fit other campaign models.

Starting Small

Even though there are enormous plot lines set within the Reign of Discordia setting, the referee is not required to operate on such a grand scale. Many traditiona roleplaying games are centered around a single location, within which the characters can encounter the various powerful individuals, get caught up in the local intrigue, and rise to heroics through necessity. This setting is no different. Alien species from throughout the known galaxy are found in most worlds, space stations, and settlements, so it is entirely possible for any of the power groups mentioned in chapter 4 to maintain a presence on any world, no matter how small. By keeping things confined to a small area, the referee has the option to develop a campaign where the effects of the character’s actions can be measured by the gradual change in the setting. This approach can apply to any world detailed in chapter 2. The space station, Rover’s Beacon, would function perfectly as a base for this type of campaign. The station is home to raiders, who can function as enemies or allies, and they might become entangled in the affairs of competing raiders who are seeking dominance over one another. They might also be recognized for their combat skills and hired into a mercenary group that is headed to the nearest gas mining world to protect it against would-be conquerors. They might stumble upon a number of individuals who have been murdered and have to learn the identity of the killer(s) before they themselves are implicated. The reason a referee would keep a campaign confined to a relatively small area is simply that it allows her to create a story and maintain a consistent atmosphere without the complications of having the characters autonomously deciding which direction they might want to explore. The referee keeps control over the direction of the campaign, pre-determining which directions the characters will explore, while constructing the various over-arching storylines that the party will experience. This makes it easier to prepare for while developing a location into a memorable place over time.

Independent Cargo Haulers

A campaign built around characters who get into the cargo hauling trade can be a fun and exciting option for a Reign of Discordia campaign. The model is simple: find a job, do the job (often at great risk), get paid. Of course things can go wrong at any step in this process. Sometimes the only people willing to offer a job are disreputable, sometimes there are local complications that make it difficult to carry out the job, and still other times the people who offered the job have no intention of paying the cargo hauler (occasionally they send them into situations that are so dangerous that they do not expect them to return). The primary motivation of the characters is usually the accumulation of wealth, though under the right circumstances, it can also become one of simple survival as they are attacked by raiders and accumulate enemies. Building a campaign around this model can be intriguing. Perhaps one of the player characters is wanted by one of the major systems. Perhaps through their dealings the haulers run afoul of one of the major powers, which then vows to capture them or find a way to get even. Perhaps the characters come into possession of a technological artifact from an advanced species and others wish to take it from them. The number of complications that the referee can throw at the characters in this campaign model are nearly endless and they can make for excellent roleplaying. There are two main features that make this an attractive campaign model for the referee. First, it allows the characters to explore the galaxy. Rather than focusing on one single location, the characters are allowed to experience numerous exotic locations and cultures, so the campaign does not bog down in one area. The second feature is that since the referee decides who is offering the jobs and what they entail, the characters have little choice but to stick to the material that was prepared. This makes preparing for the game a relatively easy matter while giving the players the sense that they are acting autonomously.

Agents

Characters in this campaign model work for one of the major players in the setting; either one of the world powers, or one of the organizations. They tend are usually assigned to missions, but they are given a great deal of latitude in how to carry achieve their objectives. They are also provided with the money and equipment they need to be successful. They may or may not have their own starship, depending upon whether the organization or government can afford to provide them with one, and also depending upon how deep their cover is. The groups they infiltrate might be corporations, powerful organizations, criminal groups, or governments. Their mission might be to capture a person, steal an item or schematics, sabotage and impending attack, or discreetly deliver a message to another operative.

As the campaign progresses the characters will be sent one additional missions. Unlike the cargo hauler campaign, agents are likely to accumulate enemies by virtue of the services they provide. Old enemies who manage to survive may be primarily interested in advancing their own schemes, but they are also motivated by exacting revenge upon those who disrupted their operations in the past. In addition to memorable lasting enemies, another staple of this related genre is that every new situation should come complete with memorable unique adversaries.

Like the cargo haulers campaign model, this tends to be rewarding for the players because they are able to operate autonomously while sometimes making important differences in the galaxy. Meanwhile, the referee can predict what directions the game sessions will take and can prepare for them accordingly.

Exploration

Even in the troubled times after the Imperium, there is still a great deal of exploration to do, much of it in areas that are already considered settled. The truth of the matter is that while the former Imperium space is divided up between the various starfaring species, only about thirty percent of those areas have actually been surveyed. In addition to this, the “known galaxy,” which consists of all of the area mapped out, is only 640 X 440 light years while the Milky Way Galaxy is approximately 100,000 light years in diameter. In other words, characters need not explore the systems in their own backyard when most of the galaxy remains unknown.

Numerous intelligent species lie on worlds waiting to be discovered, and there is reason that the major powers want to find them. On one hand, all of the major races are interested in finding technology that would give them an advantage against the R’Tillek and againt each other. On the other hand, they are all looking for new worlds that they can align themselves with so that they are not as vulnerable. To advance these ends, most major worlds have dedicated more multiple large ships from their fleets towards the purpose of exploration. This subgenre can be exciting for the characters because they are in search of the unknown. They are going to come into contact with new species that they were previously unaware of and potentially make major discoveries that could tip the balance of power in the galaxy. There is one difficulty, which is that the referee is forced to create a great deal of new material for this type of campaign. This includes new alien races, new starships, and new worlds. Also, the material in this book is only marginally helpful since it deals only with what is known. If the referee has the time and imagination to generate this much material whole-cloth, then this is an exciting and fulfilling campaign to embark upon, and it can, over time, drastically change the power dynamic of the former Imperium worlds.

Military Campaign

Characters in a military campaign are in one of the armed forces within the military. They may be with the space marines and become involved mostly in ground assaults, they may fly fighters in defense of the ship, planet, or facility they are stationed on, or they may serve as officers aboard a starship. In all cases they are expected to follow orders, put the needs of their comrades above their own, and egage the enemy, whoever it might happen to be. This campaign style promises action and lots of it. Their mission might be to command a starship into hostile territory and destroy a starship of interest, or land on a planet to take an important enemy base, defend friendly spacecraft from raiders, or any number of other missions. Not all adventures need revolve around direct combat with the usual enemies; there is some potential for creating stories that operate within the military structure or while the characters are on leave.

This is an attractive campaign type for many players, particularly the type who prefer action, as well as referees because it tends to be fairly easy to prepare for. Its downside is that the referee needs to be creative in order to keep it from seeming repetitive, and players who prefer playing roles to combat might feel that this style does not cater to their preferences.

The Quest

A common trope in fantasy literature and gaming, the quest is where a group of individuals or larger group focus their efforts on a single enormous undertaking. This focus may be relevant only to an individual, or its outcome might have planetary or interplanetary consequences. The focus of a quest is usually very easy to define, for example: find out what happened to my little sister, get home, find a cure to an incurable virus, or overthrow an evil empire. The undertaking usually involves long odds, highly organized oppositions, and quite often, secrets that must be uncovered before the quest can be successful. Resolving a quest is rarely linear in nature. Characters are often faced with setbacks, red-herrings, and complications that are not directly related to the quest but serve as obstacles. The characters might stop at some location to gather information or resupply and become implicated in a crime they didn’t commit. They might befriend someone who is in trouble with the authorities or with a criminal organization and needs help. They might come upon an individual who offers them vital information needed for solving the quest, only to find out that the person is a con and is using the information obtained about them to manipulate them into doing something for them. The important thing to remember about a quest is that the journey is far more important than the destination. Also, if there are some important underlying secrets, it is vital that the referee figure out what it is before the start of the campaign and then reveal little bits at a time, as opposed to making it up as she goes along and hoping that the pieces will fit together by the end.

The advantage of a quest is that it gives the characters a reason for their adventures and it allows the referee to lead them from one adventure to the next by offering up key bits of information pointing them in the direction she wishes to explore next. The disadvantage of a quest is that the non-linear nature often becomes frustrating for players, who sometimes begin to sense that their quest is unsolvable, too large for them to ultimately do anything about, or that the information they have is too fragmented or convoluted to make sense of.

Major Conflicts

While Reign of Discordia is a wide open space opera setting, it is worth noting the specific conflicts that challenge everyone within the setting. R’Tillek vs. Everyone: The largest enemy to the former Imperium worlds is the R’Tillek. The Referee is free to make them as large or small of a threat as they would like without drastically altering the nature of the setting. At the fall of the Stellar Imperium, the R’Tillek proved their military advantage. Despite the fact that the war has ended, they remain aggressive and dangerous. Armed with tribe ships that rival the Imperium-Class Battlecruisers, they can enter most star systems uncontested and they have used a deadly viral agent to eliminate the populations of entire worlds. The R’Tillek can be a daunting species to use because if their presence is too strong, you risk overwhelming the shattered worlds of the former Imperium. On the other hand, if they are used and easily defeated, they run the risk of becoming a predictable and overrated foe. There are three ways to make stories using the R’Tillek work: run into them by happenstance, have the player characters work against them on their own terms, or build up to a climactic encounter.

Running into the R’Tillek allows them to enter the campaign in a way that they can more easily be defeated. Perhaps the characters encounter them aboard a small reconnaissance vessel that has run afoul of some special hazard that has crippled their ship. When the characters find their small ship, they must first overcome the R’Tillek threat and then try to figure out what happened to their ship so that they can avoid the same fate. Alternatively, the characters might be charting a world when they land, only to discover that this is a world that the R’Tillek have colonized. At that point, they might try to rid the place of the R’Tillek influence if it is small enough, or they might simply conduct their business and attempt to leave after they have made their discover, only to have the R’Tillek learn of their presence in time for an altercation to occur.

Characters actively working against the R’Tillek have a better chance of success for the simple reason that they are engaging them on their own terms and are better prepared. Eliminating the threat of the viral agent that the R’Tillek have been using against them is a vital first step in protecting themselves from their aggression. The adventure that appears in this book has the player characters protecting a scientist who is attempting to find a cure or a vaccine. Another approach the characters might take is to try to destroy the virus or find a vaccine at their production facilities. Another way that the characters might take a proactive approach towards the R’Tillek would be for them to attempt to infiltrate and sabotage a key military facility or tribe ship. Using a slow buildup to a conflict with the R’Tillek is another possible way to use them effectively. For instance, perhaps the player characters learn a month in advance that the R’Tillek plan to attack a planet. When this information becomes known, the characters might lead the push to prepare for the invasion. Preparation might involve diplomatic missions to other worlds where they must convince those worlds to lend their military resources towards the defence of the threatened planet. Another approach would be to travel to worlds where advanced societies once existed to see if they have any weapons that can be recovered and used to repell the invaders.

Some other factors come into play regarding the R’Tillek. First, they are not a unified group. While they supported one another during the war, that was largely due to the fact that their species was being threatened by outside species. Some factions might no longer sanction attacks on their former enemies. Others might have longstanding enmity towards the tribes that are making these attacks. With a little carefully-executed diplomacy, the characters might be able to avert an attack before it begins while exploring the R’Tillek society and answering some of the questions about the R’Tillek that this book leaves intentionally vague.

The Earth – Lamog Cold War

Relations between Earth and Lamog began with conflict and, due to the apparent need to find blame for the fall of the Stellar Imperium, they have soured once again. The Lamagos enjoy a complicated relationship with Humans. Not every Lamagos world stands opposed to every Human world. In addition to this, the two species have become heavily integrated on many worlds and spaceports. Primarily Human ships might have Lamagos captains and vice versa, members of the two species might have become partners in a business venture, or a love affair; despite the fact that their governments have told them that they are enemies, the people from both species largely ignore this fact and go on with their lives with each other as companions.

Many who are not loyal to Earth or Lamog consider both sides to be nearly equally aggressive and difficult to deal with. The Lamagos typically expand their influence through military action by force. They typically give little warning before dropping into the orbit of a weaker planet and threaten to surrender to them or face destruction. Planets without a defense capable of combating the invaders typically surrender without a fight. In such cases, the Lamagos usually leave the existing government structures in place while instituting a fifteen percent tax on trade or goods. The few worlds that resist find that they must put up a good fight or their government and, often, much of their citizenry, are destroyed as the Lamagos assert their dominance. Thus far the Lamagos have stayed away from worlds aligned with Earth, though many suspect that it is only a matter of time before they start moving on those worlds.

On the other end of the spectrum is Earth, which emphasizes aggressive diplomacy and engaging in battle only when necessary when trying to win allies. Rather than follow the Lamagos’ strategy of using force to gain allies, they instead try to negotiate alien governments into making capitulations that place it at an advantage, both militarily and in trade. If Earth is obviously more powerful militarily than the world, they offer protection against the Lamagos threat. In exchange for raw goods or a tax on transactions, they promise to defend the world should the Lamagos invade. Planets equally powerful as Earth typically decline the offer, preferring to retain their independence.

This strategy has effectively caused many of the known lesser worlds and spacefaring races along the border between Lamagos and Earth space,to be divided between the two major powers, Other systems, occupied by the other major species, represent fair game for either side. Their plan is not only to gain allies in the event that another war breaks, but also to act as proxies against the other in the event that one of them goes after a region of space the other wants. The goal on both sides is to contain the other’s influence. In addition to the battle for allies, Earth and Lamog are involved in an ongoing game of espionage. Since Humans and Lamagos are so mixed on a social level, this provides countless opportunities for each government to place spies close the other. Both governments have implemented rules keeping members of the other species away from their most valuable secrets. However, there are Lamagos serving aboard Earth Defense Force vessels, as well as Humans serving aboard Lamagos Star Navy vessels, and both sides have members from the other species serving at various levels throughout government. While Lamog enforces these restricitons, a public debate rages on Earth about how a supposedly enlightened government can enforce such obviously xenophobic policies.

Despite the restrictions, both sides have spies committed against the other, as well as long-range listening posts hidden in the other’s space, which use low-grade tachyon pulse equipment to study what the other side might be building. They engage in frequent fly-by missions in secret stealth craft to check out any potential threats they learn about from their spy netowork, and they occasionally send saboteurs in to interfere with programs the other is working on. In any event, both sides remain committed to not engaging the other directly at this time, though both sides worry that this could change if either side is able to break their military stalemate.

While Reign of Discordia is a space opera that is geared towards science fiction and action, becoming involved in the Earth/Lamog cold war allows narrators to take the game in a less combat-oriented struggle that focuses on skills, stealth, and taking risks. It is ideal for a party containing agents, drifters, citizens, entertainers, scholars, and nobility. The referee can also change this campaign mode over time, either by having the characters become involved in a shooting war between the two sides, either through allied proxies or directly between each other.