This weekend I started designing some intriguing new technologies for two upcoming Aliens & Asteroids supplements. (Yes, they are on their way folks — just taking a little longer than I hoped!) But it really got me thinking about a few design questions around these technologies as we push forward with new game bits. What exactly do we need to detail?

Until now, I’ve been doing a simple approach: describe an item and figure out what it does in-game. But really I could break it down a bit further than that…

  1. Decide what we are creating — weapon, utility, etc. Let’s say we’re designing a tool, for example, that could be used to look for weak spots in alien structures.
  2. Describe it at a high-level – In this case, let’s say this “portable structural scanner” could be used to “reveal hidden weaknesses in smooth surfaces, and was designed to be used when validating the space-worthy qualities of older spacecraft.”
  3. And figure out what it does — This scanner would “grant +1 Awareness bonus when scanning an item’s surface for vulnerabilities.”
  4. Lastly, add weird uses for the item. For instance, “PCs could use this scanner in conjunction with the dropship’s sensors to enhance a surface scan of a derelict spaceship to find any potential weak spots to aid entry.” Or “PCs could use this in the field to possibly use explosives at weak points of alien construction to gain the advantage through an unexpected entry point.”

That actually worked really well. And I’m sure my players would come up with additional ways to use it that I wouldn’t have thought of.

Essentially it becomes a matter of just answering a series of questions:

  • What is it?
  • What does it do?
  • How does it work in the rules?
  • How might it be used in game?

Most of those questions become a matter of deciding what it might do in this fun science fiction setting we’ve created. There are many examples we could pull from, including Star Trek and Babylon-5Battlestar Galactica or Firefly… And this isn’t even a weapon. Weapons actually get even more interesting.

As far as the rules go, I have gone with tools or utility items as enhancers to any attribute checks the players may be doing. Perhaps it helps them see things better (Awareness) or gives them an edge in hand-eye coordination (Athletics)? Or maybe it just gives them a bit more information at the right time (+1 Education) or a strength boost when moving a heavy item (+1 Toughness). I think of tools as providing a bit of an edge when trying to perform a specific action or skill. For instance — yes, you can probably turn a screw with the blade of a combat knife in a pinch, but it’s a lot easier when you have the right tool for the job (flat-bladed or Phillips-head anyone)?

For balance reasons, I try to keep tools simple and focused so they don’t go too overboard. Our “portable structural scanner” would be a great tool for the toolbox, but is likely only going to come in handy in very specific circumstances like trying to breach an alien spacecraft or simply find the most opportune place to put some shaped charges to make a new door in an abandoned structure.

Next time we’ll talk a bit about designing weapons or armor!

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So we’ve covered designing tools and weapons for Aliens & Asteroids, let’s talk about armor for a minute. In some ways, it’s a bit like the conversation we had about weapons. It’s important to know what it is and what it’s meant for, but the fiddly bits of the game mechanic has sometimes become a challenge.

The Armor Tech Tree

So in A&A, I deliberately put things together so we had a bit of a technology tree to deal with. It goes a bit like this:

  • Wearing armor gives you a better chance to survive in combat, but you don’t necessarily know how to use it before you put it on. It just works. But the heavier it is, the more of a Disadvantage you are at for any tasks requiring fine motor skills or movement. Working on a circuit board with any sort of bulky armored suit on your hands definitely requires a bit of training. Not all armors have this limitation — an Environment Suit (AR1/AP5) has no penalty —  but anything heavier (AR2 or above) puts the PC at a Disadvantage without the Armor trait.
  • Armor trait – Overcomes the Disadvantage for bulkier armors.
  • Exoskeleton trait – Grants training in using an exoskeleton to perform tasks or combat. An Exoskeleton (AR2/AP30) grants +2 Toughness and is useful for construction and moving heavy objects, though it has no built-in weaponry or armor. Imagine the heavy loader Ripley trains with in Aliens (1986) and you get a general idea of what this is like.
  • Mechanized Armor trait – Requires Armor & Exoskeleton traits, but gives the PC training in using a combat-ready mechanized suit of armor that is built for heavy combat with solid armor and weapon hardpoints built in. I always think about the BattleTech Clan’s Elemental armor or the armored suits from Fallout 4 when I ponder mechanized armor. In A&A, Mechanized armor is AR5/AP40, grants +1 Accuracy and +2 Toughness, and generally makes you pretty tough to take down without some serious firepower on the other side.

The idea is that armor can be as much a part of your games as you want. Turn it into a mechanized armor brawl if you want!

But there’s always room for more types of specialized armor in the field.

Design Considerations

As your PCs explore the universe, they’re going to find places, beings, and technology that they’re not sure what to do with. Maybe some aliens can control gravity. Perhaps others have psychic powers or even the ability to direct sound at opponents to achieve particular effects. For each type, they may need to design armor to combat it.

Let’s look at sonic weapons, for example. A Sonic Ray causes some physical damage (d6), but can also knock a target prone with a failed Save vs. Presence check.

An enterprising Armorer (yes, there’s a reason we included that trait) might go with any of these potential fixes:

  • Construct an external sonic emitter that analyzes incoming harmful frequencies and attempts to dampen them with active noise control, generating a second sound designed to cancel the first. This could be easily mounted on an Exoskeleton or Mechanized Armor to actively cancel sonic attacks or at least reduce their effectiveness. In such a suit of armor, the wearer would gain an Advantage to any sonic-based Save vs. Presence check and on a success, avoid being knocked prone and cut the damage in half.
  • Use mechanical struts to stabilize the base of an Exoskeleton or suit of Mechanized Armor to reduce the chance of being knocked over, essentially locking the armor in place as a more stationary weapons platform. It would still take damage from a sonic blast but be immune to being knocked prone.
  • Use noise-cancelling technology in the helmet of a suit of Standard Combat Armor to combat the balance-affecting qualities of such an effect at the cost of being able to communicate over standard channels with their team. They would still take damage, but with the noise cancelling engaged they would be immune to being knocked prone.

These are just some ideas, but a GM could suggest them or create other solutions as needed to be available through Purchase Rolls or standard supply channels depending on the situation at hand.

Common Sense

Again — use common sense. If your PCs have Mechanized Armor, their opponents are going to need to up their game to combat it. They might need their own specialized armor or to design drones that could withstand such abuse and might be used to swarm or dismantle such forces. Common sense options can establish a balance where the game is still playable and fun but also a challenge.

As a GM, I’m always shocked and amazed by the creative ways that my players try to foil their opponents’ plans.

That’s part of the game, to up the ante when the stakes need to be higher. There’s always something bigger and badder out there that can be used to knock them down a peg!

Looking for more ideas for your Aliens & Asteroids campaign? Check out the rest of the available articles!

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