HOSTILE - an upcoming setting book for Cepheus Engine and other 2D6 SF RPGs. Released at the end of the year, 2017.
By ZOZER Games; Paul Elliott (text/art) and Ian Stead (art).
By ZOZER Games; Paul Elliott (text/art) and Ian Stead (art).
The six main themes of HOSTILE are found in those late 1970s and early 1980s movies. They are:
The heroes are workers. They don’t just inhabit the setting, they make it work; they are the blue-collar grunts who want to make a living. The scientists, tourists, military tacticians, corporate executives and wealthy playboys can kiss their behinds. This is a setting for skilled people doing dangerous jobs. Don’t get in their way, threaten to withhold their bonus pay, or swap the beer for that cheap Korean brand.
Near future technology is ubiquitous, large-scale and over-powering. There are vast cities, massive production facilities, floating refineries, orbital pipelines, drilling platforms, airlocks and colony facilities. Everything looks used, greasy, worn – just as it would in real life. There is a nod to the future, but for the most part this technology looks like it jumped right out of the late-20th century. There are warning decals plastered on the walls, there are operators’ handbooks on the tables, familiar black and yellow warning stripes warn of danger areas, while yellow flashing lights and klaxons familiar to every building site in modern North America tell us we are in an active working area. This theme tries to downplay the ‘futuristic’ aspect of the future, and populate it, instead, with the familiar.
Nothing is easy. There are no pleasure planets. There are no resorts or space tourists. There are no bountiful Earth-like colonies where humans can ‘begin again’ in a far-away Eden. First World War soldiers sometimes described warfare as “months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror”, and in a similar vein the player character inhabitants of HOSTILE describe their working lives as mostly “drudgery punctuated by extreme danger”. You could say that these are player characters: of course their lives are dangerous! But these characters have dangerous jobs as a matter of course. Miners, spacers, marines, rover drivers, oil drillers and others all command good wages for difficult and dangerous working conditions. And this colours the personalities and characters that will crop up in this setting. Watch James Cameron’s The Abyss, or watch Ice Road Truckers, Deadly Catch, Gold Divers or a dozen of other job-orientated reality shows to take a peek at some of the personalities and problems that these high threat, high pressure jobs feature.
No aliens. Well, no intelligent aliens at least. The focus is on the human struggle to survive in space and the expansion of human settlement in to neighbouring star systems. The political wrangling and cultural confusion coming from alien contact would detract from that main theme. It is a human universe – at least superficially. Alien animals abound, however. It is a hostile universe and so the so-called habitable planets are all teeming with exotic alien creatures that are able to successfully digest a human being. Keep advanced alien races out of the setting.
This theme is a matter of taste, and could easily be left out and ignored. Retro-Futurism is the future as predicted by people in the past. It is inevitably wrong, just as our own 2017 attempts to predict what life will be like in 100 years will be way off the mark. There is another term, zeerust, coined by Douglas Adams no-less, to describe some super-cool futuristic element of an old novel or film, that now just looks amusing, quaint and dated. The giant oil refinery in the 1979 movie Alien is a good example of this. Yet movie makers and novelists aren’t always interested in trying to create a realistic vision of life in the future. And neither does this role-playing game. Director Peter Hyams swapped laser guns for shotguns in his movie Outland, as a reaction against the laser-light show of Star Wars a few years earlier. Ridley Scott had seen the flat-screen technology used in 2001- A Space Odyssey, but opted to fit out the spaceship Nostromo with ‘old-fashioned’ cathode-ray tube TV screens to create a used, battered, work-a-day atmosphere. These were design choices.
HOSTILE makes the same choices, looking into the future, but not too far. The further you go, the less familiar the landscape. American industrialization, projected into the stars, is a setting with almost no learning curve. Players and referee alike are all on the same page: there will be dollars, fork-lifts and labor unions, there will be coffee and muesli for breakfast, there will be Reebok high-tops and air force flight suits.
The 1970s were a time of cynicism and a growth of conspiracy theories. There were lies told and cover-ups made about the war in Vietnam, there were the embarrassing revelations of Watergate and of course the House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations which published its findings in 1979, announcing that there had been a conspiracy to murder President John F. Kennedy back in 1963. And it was in 1976 that Bill Kaysing published accusations that NASA had faked the Apollo Moon landings, opening the flood-gates for a torrent of similar Moon-conspiracy theories.
It was this climate of conspiracy that inspired the screenwriters of Alien to ear-mark ‘The Company’ as an agent of subterfuge and manipulation. The employer could not be trusted. In Outland, too, the company managers are on the take – they are part of the problem. This theme is not all about conspiracy, however, but more often a cynicism about the lives of the men and women doing their jobs that are being ignored by, abused by or exploited by, those at the top-end of the company.
Heroics aren’t rewarded with media attention and silver stars, heroics simply keep you alive. This is a small scale universe, with a perverse, cynical, down-trodden vibe.
“I don’t trust anybody. And I don’t ask questions because the answer's always: 'don't ask!’”