Character and Storytelling Design

If you’ve taken the time to read through our Game Info section and its hilarious player scenarios, you know that the characters that make up your crew are not only what breathes life into this universe, but also serve as your main way of interacting with it.

Of the many sources of inspiration we draw from in making this game, we’ve focused on the lessons learned through years of playing pen-and-paper tabletop RPGS (D&D, Shadowrun, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu and many others) when it comes to designing meaningful characters.

Now, this isn’t groundbreaking in itself. Most video game RPGs throughout our industry’s relatively short history are still tied to their pen-and-paper roots. But, over the years, too many developers have forgotten what makes them truly special. There are plenty of digital number-crunching, combat-focused examples mimicking adolescent power fantasy D&D sessions that ensured no stat was below 12 and the entire campaign was about filling your bag-of-holding with vorpal swords and rings of regeneration.

But, the two things that make a tabletop RPG special are the presentation of characters as people with rich histories and personalities (not just bags-of-stats) and the improvisational nature of the storytelling.

So, how are we doing things in Astrobase Command? I’m glad you asked! First of all, our stats and skills are not combat-centric. They serve to determine how good someone is at their job on the Astrobase and to influence the outcomes of missions and events. Since the numbers required for these outcome changes are hidden from the player, there’s rarely call to define a character entirely by their stats. The numbers serve as an indicator, but don’t define the crew member entirely.

Traits are acquired when a character overcomes/fails/is subjected to a particular situation. While these provide gameplay bonuses to the character, their main function is to serve as a shorthand to tell the character’s story.

“Oh, Sergeant Vasquez has ‘Last Man Standing’ and ‘Perceptive’. Yeah, hitting those abandoned alien ruins without science officers to point out the alien fungus wasn’t a great idea. Surprising that despite her seeing her entire team dying, she still managed to find her way back to the shuttle. She was even willing to go back again with a proper team, pointing out those deadly things herself and getting everyone to the artifact.”

Furthermore, promotions are one form of character development. But, different tiers of promotions are gated by restrictions of a minimum number of traits. This allows characters with richer histories to be driven into the spotlight.

One of the most important parts for us, however, is simply the fact that you have no say on their identity outside of their race of origin. They have unique physical appearances that are only approximations of your ‘model’ from race creation and they have a name. Because these are people that exist independent of your input.

As for missions and events, these are shorts pieces of branching content created by the AI Storyteller when it deems it appropriate. While at first, missions may seem random, the Storyteller will remember the different components of that mission (the races encountered, locations discovered, outcomes reached) to inform later missions.

So, for example, if you encounter a new alien race in a diplomatic mission, success may mean a later mission where that race passes along intel for a planet rich in resources you need. Failure may mean you’ve offended them beyond any diplomatic recovery and they decide to attack your Astrobase or sabotage your missions. Locations that were once dangerous because they were unknown may become more favourable as you accomplish more missions there. In the same way as the traits create a history for characters, these missions will create these rich tapestries of history for your entire civilization.

So, why are these things important to us? Because we want it to be your story, not ours. And having these stories play out in and around an Astrobase you build in a chaotic universe where anything can happen was our idea of a good time. We hope you think so too!

We want to hear your gaming stories! Whether of the emotional significance of a video game/tabletop character or an adventure that took an unexpected turn, head over to our forums and share the laughs and the tears!

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