[19:34] <+SteveKenson> Thanks for inviting me to be on the chat. I’m Steve Kenson ((Link: http://www.stevekenson.com)www.stevekenson.com). I’m a staff designer with Green Ronin Publishing and lead designer for The Expanse RPG currently funding on Kickstarter. The Expanse RPG used the Adventure Gaming Engine (AGE) system and is based on the series of books by James S.A. Corey.
[19:35] <+SteveKenson> I’m happy to take questions or talk more about the game. (done)
[19:35] <+ShipyardLocked> Hi there!
[19:36] <~Dan> Thanks, SteveKenson! The floor is open to questions!
[19:36] <+ShipyardLocked> So, in the realm of SF tabletop games, what would you say were your key influences?
[19:36] <~Dan> I personally haven’t read the books but have seen the series; however, for those unfamiliar with the license, can you give a high-level overview?
[19:37] <+SteveKenson> Sure. Dan, let me start with high-level overview, and then on to the question of influences.
[19:37] <~Dan> (Welcome to #randomworlds, Guest95! Please set your name with the /nick command; e.g., /nick Dan 🙂 )
[19:38] <~Dan> (Howdy, Andy-C!)
[19:38] <+SteveKenson> For those unfamiliar, The Expanse is a series of SF novels set hundreds of years in the future, where humanity has spread out to colonize the solar system, particularly Mars, the asteroid belt, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
[19:39] <+SteveKenson> Now an independent Mars and an overcrowded Earth are in a state of cold war while both draw heavily from the resources of the Belt and the Outer Planets, leaving the Belters, descendants of the colonists there, often exploited by corporate or governmental interests.
[19:40] <+SteveKenson> Into this socio-political mix comes evidence of alien technology from outside the solar system, something with the potential to change the course of human history, which is of interest to all of the factions of the system. The first book, Leviathan Wakes, is largely about what happens due to that technology.
[19:41] <+SteveKenson> (I should mention by way of fair warning that spoilers involving the books and the SyFy series may potentially come up!)
[19:41] <~Dan> Fair enough!
[19:42] <+SteveKenson> So far as SF tabletop influences, I’ve played a number of them, from Traveller and TSR’s Star Frontiers through WEG’s Star Wars, d20 Modern/Future, Trinity (nee: Æon), and various others, and read quite a few more.
[19:43] <+SteveKenson> (done)
[19:43] <~Dan> Given your spoiler warning, I’m going to discuss the series freely and invite folks to do likewise regarding the books.
[19:44] <~Dan> With that out of the way…
[19:44] <+ShipyardLocked> Your personal top three of those SF RPGs?
[19:44] <~Dan> The series (on SyFy, anyway) ended with humanity apparently about to explore well outside the solar system. Where does the game fall in that regard?
[19:46] <+SteveKenson> Hmmm … I guess I’d say my personal top three SF RPGs are Traveller, WEG’s Star Wars (just got the anniversary edition reprint!), and Last Unicorn Games’ Star Trek, which I wrote a good deal for back in the day.
[19:46] <+SteveKenson> The answer kind of varies depending on my mood, however. = )
[19:47] <+SteveKenson> (done)
[19:48] <+ShipyardLocked> What’s a game that DIDN’T work for you and why?
[19:50] <+SteveKenson> I recall my very first SF RPG was “Universe” put out by … SPI, I think. I honestly could hardly make heads or tails of it at the time. = )
[19:50] <+SteveKenson> (Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universe_(role-playing_game))https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universe_(role-playing_game)
[19:50] <+ShipyardLocked> The one with the cardboard command console?
[19:51] <+SteveKenson> I don’t think my friends and I ever got past character creation. That said, I don’t have a great memory for games that didn’t work for me, since I tend to move right past them onto the next thing.
[19:51] <+SteveKenson> I don’t recall a command console, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. (done)
[19:51] <+ShipyardLocked> Are there mechanics that bug you every time you see them.
[19:52] <+ShipyardLocked> Question mark
[19:54] <+SteveKenson> No, not every time. I’m not a giant fan of, say, encumbrance rules, for example, but I can appreciate games that implement ways to model being encumbered that don’t involve constantly tracking everything your character is carrying or holding. (done)
[19:54] <~Dan> SteveKenson: Did you see my earlier question?
[19:56] <+SteveKenson> So, the core book for The Expanse RPG is set in the 18 month interim between “Leviathan Wakes” and “Caliban’s War” the first two books of the series. So, initially, things are confined to the Solar System as the ring that opens up the potential to travel to distant systems doesn’t exist yet.
[19:56] <~Dan> Ah, I see. Will that be covered in future books?
[19:57] <+SteveKenson> The Expanse series has a number of major “break points” where significant events shake up the status quo, effectively creating a whole new kind of setting. We feel like those “settings” are worth exploring in game books of their own.
[19:57] <+ShipyardLocked> I remember an approach like that in the Legend of the Five Rings line. I though it was pretty good.
[19:57] <+SteveKenson> So, yes, the plan is to cover things like the Ring (and the opportunities it literally opens) in a future book. (done)
[19:58] <+ShipyardLocked> So, what’s a mechanic you’re particularly proud of in the Expanse RPG?
[19:58] <~Dan> When you say “game books of their own”, do you mean supplements, or full-blown games of their own?
[19:58] <+SteveKenson> Dan: I mean supplements to the core game.
[19:59] <~Dan> Gotcha.
[19:59] <+SteveKenson> I’m fond of the shift from Health in the AGE system to Fortune in The Expanse, where characters have points that can both “deflect” or absorb damage (i.e. hit points) representing how fortunate or important to the story (high-level) they are, but that they can also use to shift die rolls in their favor…
[20:00] <~Dan> How would you describe the overall tech level of the setting? Can you compare it to other well-known scifi settings?
[20:00] <+SteveKenson> …except they need to use up the luck that might save them from some harm later on, so there’s a need to balance things there.
[20:01] <+SteveKenson> The tech level of The Expanse is relatively “hard” SF: Firearms are still the primary weapons, both for personal weapons and ships (which use self-guided torpedoes, railguns, and very high caliber cannons)…
[20:02] <+SteveKenson> Computer tech is ubiquitous, but still basically super-sophisticated mobile devices. There are things like replacement limbs and advanced in medicine, but overall there’s fairly little “miracle” technology.
[20:03] <+SteveKenson> Even the Epstein Drive, the advancement that overcomes the tyranny of mass equation in space travel, is still relatively hard tech in terms of things like acceleration and travel times throughout the Solar System.
[20:03] <~Dan> Can you give us some examples of common travel times?
[20:05] <+SteveKenson> Days, weeks, even months, for particularly long trips. We built out a table that looks at common travel times at several types of acceleration, along with lightspeed delays in communication between common points in the System for quick reference.
[20:05] <+ShipyardLocked> From your observations and experience, do you think hard SF is difficult to sell to RPG audiences compared to “psychics/cantina-scene/FTL” SF and can the right pitch overcome that?
[20:07] <+SteveKenson> Well, I think the tremendous interest in The Expanse Kickstarter says that it’s not as difficult a sell as some may suggest! Still, I’m sure some prefer SF with more miracle technology or unusual powers or aliens, all of which are fun in their own right.
[20:07] <+SteveKenson> I think in our case “the right pitch” is the universe of The Expanse, which is such an interesting world with so much potential.
[20:08] <+ShipyardLocked> Sort of a concession that generic space SF couldn’t stand on its own, it needed a property to serve as its spine.
[20:09] <+SteveKenson> Well, if not a property, a setting that’s more than just “in the future, we settle the solar system and don’t invent laser guns.”
[20:09] <~Dan> (Howdy, KJ!)
[20:10] <+SteveKenson> I think the Expanse provides that.
[20:10] <+ShipyardLocked> How many pages is the core book going to be?
[20:11] <+Ian> What about The Expanse most intrigues you or is of the most interest to you? Why will it make a good RPG setting?
[20:11] <+SteveKenson> That’s going to depend on how things finally shake out with the Kickstarter, but we’re at 224 right now, I believe.
[20:12] <+SteveKenson> The things I like most about The Expanse are the interplay between the vast, often impersonal forces of the factions (Earth, Mars, the Belt … eventually colonies and such) and individuals trying to live their lives, often in the midst of history unfolding around them, and even because of them.
[20:13] <+SteveKenson> I also really think the mystery of the protomolecule and everything that comes with it is a great story device that opens up huge potential.
[20:15] <+SteveKenson> We say a lot that it’s a big System, and an even bigger universe. There’s room for so many more stories than just the throughline of the novels, and a tabletop RPG enables players to create and tell them.
[20:15] <+ShipyardLocked> What percentage of the pagecount would you estimate is devoted to ship stuff?
[20:16] <+SteveKenson> Ships get their own chapter, so I’d guesstimate in the neighborhood of 10-15% of page-count, without having seen the book laid out as yet.
[20:17] <~Dan> How do you make space combat interesting for all concerned? That seems to be an issue for a lot of scifi games.
[20:18] <+ShipyardLocked> I feel that’s often something SF rpgs struggle with, ship rules and how much crunch is just right.
[20:19] <+SteveKenson> Balancing both ship design and space combat were definitely things we discussed, tested, and went over with the Expanse authors. The Expanse RPG is lighter than many SF RPGs in terms of ship design (I’d put it closer to WEG’s Star Wars) but has options that provide detail and places for further expansion.
[20:20] <+SteveKenson> Ship combat has a number of different roles to it in order to give different characters things to do, ranging from command to comms, weapons, piloting, and damage control/engineering.
[20:21] <~Dan> How does space combat play out, generally? Long-range torpedoes vs. countermeasures?
[20:21] <+SteveKenson> The example of play for the core book essentially takes the assault on Thoth Station from the novels and maps it out in the game system to show how it all works mechanically.
[20:21] <~Dan> (Howdy, Oneupmuffin!)
[20:21] <+Oneupmuffin> howdy
[20:22] <+ShipyardLocked> Is there anything you really wanted to get into the book but are unlikely to?
[20:22] <+SteveKenson> It tends to be a lot of maneuvering and countermeasures (including point-defense weapons). Space combat is pretty brutal, and a serious mismatch is going to end quickly, and NOT well for the lesser ship.
[20:23] <~Dan> Man, you’re just full of good questions, ShipyardLocked. 🙂
[20:23] <~Dan> (Howdy, Woo!)
[20:24] <+SteveKenson> I’m really looking forward to exploring the systems beyond the Ring gates and such, but it was also a clear reality that we had so much to cover in the core book that we couldn’t do that topic justice there.
[20:25] <~Dan> Again for those unfamiliar with the property, can you explain what the protomolecule is and how it’s exploited?
[20:26] <~Dan> (And brb — please continue)
[20:27] <+SteveKenson> So, essentially, the protomolecule is a kind of alien “virus” discovered in Saturn’s moon Phoebe, which turns out to be an extra-solar object “flung” at Earth’s solar system, but captured by Saturn’s gravity to orbit it.
[20:28] <+SteveKenson> It infects and purposes organic material. Initially, it’s let loose on Eros station, and transforms thousands of people into a kind of organic machine controlling the asteroid. Later, after crashing on Venus, it transforms again into a squid-like creature/vessel that flies out…
[20:29] <+SteveKenson> …around the orbit of Uranus, and transforms into the Ring structure, opening a gateway to some kind of “non-space” with gates leading to other star systems. It appears the tech was used to terraform and open up systems for colonization by an ancient alien culture.
[20:30] <+SteveKenson> That civilization is long gone, but a lot of their stuff is still around. By “Abbadon’s Gate” humanity has access to the abandoned playground of ancient giants, so to speak.
[20:31] <+SteveKenson> Like I said, the protomolecule and the gates open up a LOT of possibilities. They’re “sufficiently advanced” tech that might as well be magic from the perspective of humanity.
[20:31] * ~Dan-brb nods
[20:31] <+ShipyardLocked> Last one from me, gotta go soon: What’s an aspect of the setting you’re personally not fond of but had to deal with professionally.
[20:31] <~Dan> (back, sorry)
[20:31] <+ShipyardLocked> question mark (darn it)
[20:32] <+SteveKenson> I’m actually quite fond of most of the setting overall. The hardest thing for me was that, since our license is for the books and not the SyFy show, we had to carefully work around the show. So, for example, we can’t use elements of Belter patois created for the show that don’t appear in the books, which is too bad, because it’s really cool.
[20:33] <~Dan> Really? That’s a shame.
[20:34] <~Dan> Do the books get around to humans discovering alien life, sapient or otherwise?
[20:34] <+ShipyardLocked> Ah yes, licensing woes. So does not tangling yourself up with the show protect you from the sort of constant “yank the property” trouble that has afflicted Star Wars RPGs over the years?
[20:34] <+SteveKenson> Yeah. Licensing gets all kinds of complicated when you’re dealing with a property that is also licensed in other forms, such as novels made into a film or TV series. It was much the same working with A Song of Ice and Fire.
[20:35] <+SteveKenson> Well, since our license is for the books, we’re not tied to the fate of the show. I’m certainly glad (as a fan!) the show has been picked up and will continue, but it doesn’t affect the RPG beyond helping raise awareness of the Expanse overall.
[20:36] <+ShipyardLocked> Thank you for your patience in dealing with my questions. I must head off now.
[20:36] <+SteveKenson> Have a good night, ShipyardLocked!
[20:36] <~Dan> Sleep well!
[20:37] <~Dan> Darn. Too slow.
[20:38] <~Dan> (Did you see my aliens question, Steve?)
[20:40] <+SteveKenson> The books get around to humanity discovering a LOT of alien life, but none of it sapient. Turns out whoever built the gates liked worlds similar to Earth, so there are lots of planets they probably terraformed and colonized, some of which still hold billion year-old examples of their technology.
[20:41] <+SteveKenson> Thus far in the novels, what happened to the gate-builders remains a mystery, although it looks like they were attacked and wiped out. The question is, by who, and are THEY still around somewhere?
[20:42] <~Dan> So did the protomolecule arrive just on “auto-pilot”?
[20:43] <+SteveKenson> Pre-programmed, essentially. It expected to land on a primordial Earth with single-celled life and instead tried to work with what it got, only to discover it had overslept by 1,000,000,000 years and couldn’t figure out what happened to its programmers.
[20:44] <+SteveKenson> There are parts of the books where protomolecule tech displays something akin to intelligence, but whether it is or is just an amazing simulation running on a lot of repurposed human gray matter remains unclear.
[20:44] <~Dan> I can’t recall it being called this in the series, but is it essentially nanotechnology?
[20:46] <+SteveKenson> It is certainly capable of reordering matter at a very basic level, although it’s not really described as the classic “nano-assembler” type of machine. It has biological-like structures as well, making it like a virus in some regards. It’s weird stuff, to say the least.
[20:46] * ~Dan nods
[20:47] <~Dan> One common issue with licensed properties is with any pre-existing major characters in the setting. How do you handle that in this game?
[20:49] <+SteveKenson> Well, like I said, space is BIG. There are tens of billions of people in the System and the main characters of the novels are just a handful. So there’s room for a lot of other stories. What’s more, by starting things off where we do, once you have The Expanse in your hands, it’s up to you how closely you want to follow the continuity of the novels.
[20:49] <~Dan> That makes sense.
[20:50] <~Dan> On a related note, what sorts of adventures do you see characters having?
[20:50] <+SteveKenson> We talk some in the core book about handling existing continuity, and working around it, if you prefer. As to stories, they are, no pun intended, expansive. You can go with the “free agent” model of a crew with their own ship hiring out.
[20:51] <+SteveKenson> You can have agents of one or more of the faction governments. A military series working for the UN Navy or the Martian Congressional Navy, or even the burgeoning Outer Planets Alliance.
[20:53] <+SteveKenson> There are courier jobs, salvage, exploration, investigation (half of the first novel is essentially a film noir detective story), pirate hunting (or committing piracy)
[20:53] <+SteveKenson> Eventually, once things open up, there’s tremendous potential for exploration through the gates as well.
[20:55] <+SteveKenson> But you can do a lot with the core game as it is. We have four adventures already: a missing persons case on Ganymede, investigating scientists who have left Tycho Station, a Belter insurance scam tied to organized crime, and salvage of a derelict ship that is more than it seems.
[20:55] <+SteveKenson> …and we’re just getting started!
[20:55] <~Dan> Are those adventures in the core book, or are they to be sold individually?
[20:56] <+SteveKenson> One is in the Quickstart (available now), one in the core book, one in the GM’s Kit, and the fourth is a convention adventure I wrote for GenCon we might release at some point (venue undecided as yet).
[20:57] <+SteveKenson> Thanks to the Kickstarter, the game will have robust adventure support, since we’ve added a six-adventure series that will be release electronically (in PDF) as well.
[20:57] <~Dan> That’s good to hear!
[20:58] <~Dan> Let’s turn to the system for a bit… Is there a character sheet posted that we can see?
[21:00] <+SteveKenson> There are! The aforementioned Quickstart PDF has a set of six pre-generated characters, a set of essential game rules, and a complete adventure to play. It can be found on the Kickstarter page: (Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1780208966/the-expanse-roleplaying-game)https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1780208966/the-expanse-roleplaying-game
[21:01] <~Dan> Give me just a sec to pull that up…
[21:03] <~Dan> Okay! So first of all, I really like the attribute breakdown.
[21:04] <+SteveKenson> Yeah, it’s a good set and AGE is largely driven by attribute tests, so they cover a lot.
[21:04] <~Dan> I’d go so far as to say that that’s the breakdown I would use, were I to design a game.
[21:05] <~Dan> I particularly like the Fighting attribute and the distinction between Dexterity and Accuracy.
[21:05] <+MonkofLords> 0/
[21:05] <+SteveKenson> That, and most of the core of the system, is owed to Chris Pramas’ design work on Dragon Age and later Fantasy AGE.
[21:06] * ~Dan nods
[21:06] <~Dan> (Howdy, MonkofLords!)
[21:06] <~Dan> How do the attributes interact with skills?
[21:07] <+SteveKenson> So the Ability Focuses are AGE’s version of “skills” – they provide a +2 bonus on ability tests relevant to the focus (there’s a higher level version that provides a +3). So abilities encapsulate a lot of a character’s “general skill level” while focuses point out the “high points” or things they’re especially good at.
[21:08] <+SteveKenson> It keeps things pretty simple: You have an ability score, and you either have a relevant focus or you don’t.
[21:09] <~Dan> How broad are the Ability Focuses?
[21:11] <+SteveKenson> Fairly, as you can see from some of the examples, such as “Light Weapons” for fighting (one of two weapon focuses for that ability) or “Technology” for Intelligence (which deals primarily with using tech, as opposed to Engineering which is about building and repairing it).
[21:13] <~Dan> What is the game’s core mechanic?
[21:14] <+SteveKenson> It’s a 3d6 roll + the relevant ability score (and focus, if any) vs. a target number. The interesting bit comes into play with the stunt mechanic, where matching numbers on any two of the dice generate “stunt points” off the value shown on one die (which is always differentiated from the other two).
[21:14] <+SteveKenson> The Quickstart goes into the essentials of the stunt mechanic but, basically, on those rolls where you generate Stunt Points, you can spend them immediately to add some bonus, benefit, or new twist to your actions.
[21:15] <&Silverlion> Different kinds of benefits per type of action/element too. Different tables
[21:15] <+SteveKenson> Yes, there are action/combat stunts but also exploration and social stunts … even ship combat stunts!
[21:16] <~Dan> Nice!
[21:16] <~Dan> Speaking of combat, how does it work?
[21:18] <+SteveKenson> It makes use of the basic ability tests to resolve attacks and characters use their Fortune score (mentioned previously) to abate damage, or else acquire conditions due to damage, or even get taken out by it. Fortune recovers fairly quickly, but conditions can be harder to get rid of and usually need treatment, healing, etc.
[21:18] * ~Dan nods
[21:20] <~Dan> In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?
[21:21] <+SteveKenson> Well, I guess I would encourage folks to visit the Kickstarter page and both check out the Quickstart to get a feel for what the game is like, and take a look at the “Expanse Extras” we’re posting in some of the updates for additional peeks at the game (more forthcoming).
[21:22] <+SteveKenson> If you like what you see, consider backing us! The better the Kickstarter does, the better we can make the final product for everyone who is interested.
[21:22] <~Dan> Here’s that link to the KS again, for those interested: (Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1780208966/the-expanse-roleplaying-game)https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1780208966/the-expanse-roleplaying-game
[21:23] <+SteveKenson> I think that’s pretty much it, unless there’s a final question or two.
[21:23] <~Dan> And while we’re posting links, here’s the link to my tip jar, if anyone is so inclined. 🙂 (Link: https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/)https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/
[21:23] <~Dan> Oh, one minor question: Is the Martian armor featured on the series powered armor?
[21:23] <+SteveKenson> (… and we’re just 7 backers away from reaching 4,000! :D)
[21:23] <~Dan> (Wow!)
[21:25] <+SteveKenson> Yes, the Goliath class armor you see the Martian Marines wearing is power armor and is described in the core game.
[21:25] <~Dan> Cool. 🙂
[21:26] <~Dan> I think that’s it from me, at least!
[21:26] <~Dan> Thanks very much for joining us, SteveKenson!
[21:26] <~Dan> Please know that you’re always welcome to hang out with us as time permits!
[21:26] <+SteveKenson> My pleasure, Dan! Have a good night, all!
[21:26] <~Dan> Oh, give me just a minute, and I’ll get the log posted and link hyou. 🙂