Finding Helion

Today I’d like to take a moment to talk about the Helion Triptych, a collection of three games. Each can be played as a stand-alone game. However, when combined the triptych gives players the tool to create a rich science-fiction universe.

Helion, Our Home, the first game in the triptych, takes players along on the first extrasolar voyage to Helion. It’s a storytelling game, and it gives players a chance to define the planet’s landscape, its flora and fauna, and the explorers’ first days on-world.

Helion, Our Domain is the second game. It’s based on Breathless, but turns the rules into a strategic resource management game. Rather than taking on the roles of individual players, characters manage the colony in a more strategic way, playing against a GM or the randomness of a deck of cards.

Helion, Our Mother, which I’m still working on, will be the Initiated-based traditional roleplaying experience to round out the triptych.

The idea is that you can play the same colonists from start to finish, or the descendants of those colonists, or the rescue crew sent to figure out what happened on Helion. This just depends on what happened until this point.

Helion as a Linked Setting

One of the major difficulties I expect to encounter with Helion, Our Mother is drawing on Helion developed across its two precursor games. My idea is to basically offer three options:

  1. Pre-packaged
  2. Hybrid
  3. Full import

This basically represents a sliding scale of how people wanted to play. The pre-packaged option involves a selection of factions, ideals, and biosphere elements that are entirely pre-written. It’s meant for people who didn’t play the first two games of the triptych and who prefer character-driven roleplaying in the classic sci-fi feel of the Helion universe.

The hybrid system is for people who have played the earlier games but didn’t come up with a full universe. Since we provide options for creating your own entities, you can simply take from the pre-packaged options and layer your imported elements on top. This involves a little hand-waving by saying that these emerged in the time gap between the games–Our Home shows the arrival and the month that follows, Our Domain follows the first years following landing, and Our Mother is canonically set two decades after landing–or that they were in the background during the story.

Then the full import involves having the players go back to what they did in the first two games and identify the factions, ideals, and biosphere elements they want to create using mechanics-driven tools to give them life in the colony.

Initiated and Helion

Helion is going to be part of our “little” lineup, but should still feel satisfying. It builds on Initiated from an alternative perspective to the original Hammercalled and more crunchy Kenoma-style play.

Helion will use a motif and threat mechanic. These motifs and threats provide benefits and penalties. Tying in naturally to Initiated’s Setbacks system, there are a few benefits to explore.

Helion, Our Mother has a goal of mechanical interoperability between central game elements. Factions, defining ethics, and Helion’s natural forces will each offer benefits and risks to characters.

Each has motifs, which represent a quality that can be naturally harnessed by anyone, and threats, which usually harm characters.

For instance, a security-minded faction might give bonuses to awareness and perception (which could apply to a member of the faction, their technology and living spaces, etc.), but have a threat of paranoia (which would apply penalties in social interactions, for instance).

Or the ethic of “Helion, Our Mother” gives a bonus to settlement and exploration, but has a hazard of forgetting ties to human culture from Earth.

Meanwhile, an example from the native fauna might have the motif “dust storm” and the threat “eats metal.”

These threats and motifs allow players to build characters that play into the universe and add a simple layer to the Initiated system that doesn’t involve too much pain. It also lets us use a round-robin storytelling method to define the elements that came up in play later.

Why Motifs and Threats

The obvious reasoning behind this system is that it’s relatively fluffy. It ties play to the world. That’s always important.

It also means that whatever players came up with in the other sections of the triptych can be port in effortlessly. The GM doesn’t even have to be involved (and HoM will require a GM). All that’s necessary is defining motifs and threats. This makes it easy to slot in stuff from the earlier parts of the Helion triptych.

It also opens up some room to have on-the-fly generation of content, either by a GM or through some sort of oracle. You could even ask players about what things are, if you really want immersive shared storytelling, though I’d typically do such things ahead of time.

Degrees and Interactions

It’s fairly obvious that characters will have faction alignments and other things, and my idea is this:

Characters have a faction and ethic (or maybe even more than one) that they align with. This gives them all the motifs and threats. Further, when relevant, these scale up or down.

So a Security character in a Security setting is especially aware, but also doubly keen to avoid betrayal. A character with the “Helion, Our Mother” philosophy flourishes on the planet surface, but has nothing tying them to history.

A character can develop to reduce the degree of a hazard (or even turn it into a motif!). They can also boost the degree of a motif. This gives another avenue for character creation and advancement, beyond the normal specializations and attributes.

Perhaps characters can even have motifs of their own, which increase in degree over time.

The degrees are basically four-fold: background (no effect, but can be boosted), minor (+/-5), defining (+/-10), extreme (+/-15).

Of course, since Initiated is player-focused, these numbers may invert. A faction prone to paranoia gives players seeking to manipulate them with a fake plot a bonus: in this case, the threat is a flaw for the faction members.

Additional Game Element Interactions

Beyond the basic motifs and threats, each game element may also offer unique setbacks. This could represent a toxin, a social stigma, or a psionic hazard, depending on the element and the mood of the game. This opens the door to a little more complexity without making things seriously complicated.

One thing about the motif and threat system is that the GM determines how they function in the game. There’s no formal combat in Helion, since I want to make it flow in a more narrative fashion. This is probably a somewhat controversial decision, given that HoM is going to be a little larger than most games that don’t pay more than a passing reference to combat.

But it’s also something that gives more opportunity to focus on all the other parts of the game, and it simplifies the playtest and iteration process. Since HoM is one of our “small” projects, this is ideal.

Another opportunity here is, of course, the use of an affinity system, the aforementioned thing that lets players improve or mitigate a game element’s effects.

While this is rather simple overall, I think it will work well in practice and offer lots of avenues for a longer style of play. While I’m open to playing games over multiple sessions even without character advancement mechanics, my goal with HoM is that it needs to be something that you can play multiple times (either in sequence or separate times with multiple groups/Helions).

World-Level Tweaks

This gives more flexibility in its thematic and narrative range. Adding lots of threatening game elements gives GMs room to make things riskier without playing with arbitrary number balance. I do that a little with the stats in Initiated, since you can play high-power or low-power games. However, doing that more than once or twice gets slow quickly.

Plus, this way you actually customize your Helion, not your game, to certain levels of danger. This will tie in with the import mechanics, where you’ll have room to make a world that ranges from a paradise to a barren hellscape.

There will be tie-ins that you can use to guide this. For instance, did Helion re-establish contact with Earth in Helion, Our Home? Did the early settlement process go well in Helion, Our Domain?

Each of these can be used as an inflection point for the GM or for players during character creation, at least if everything goes as planned.

Our Schedule

I’ve mentioned that we’re shifting to a little/big project schedule at Loreshaper Games, and part of that is to let me have a little more flexibility on projects. My laptop has been in the shop, which means that there are certain things I can’t currently do. This is generally the late stage of project development, so certain things still progressed normally over the last few weeks.

The next things you’re going to see from us are:

Initiated SRD Update

An Initiated SRD 0.2 update. Initiated is a streamlined version of the core that powers Kenoma and several of our one-page or one-day games. The 0.2 update involves streamlined rules language, more hacking advice, and some minor format tweaks.

If you’re totally unfamiliar with Initiated, you can check out the overview video by Hessan’s County on YouTube:

0.2 will probably be the last pre-official release of Initiated, barring any small fixes that wind up in a 0.2a or something like that. It’s a relatively mature system, being the product of the Hammercalled development cycle, which has been ongoing for more than a half-dozen years, and I think it makes for an excellent core on which to build.

My goal with 0.2 is to release the Motif and Threat systems from Helion, Our Mother as part of the Initiated SRD, giving more options for hacking the game. Previously all the hacking guide stuff has been on how to make your own changes to Initiated, but it might be nice to include a few plug-and-play modules.

Tali Nova SRD

I’ve been working on Jovia and hitting walls, but they’re related to handling ancient Rome and not the mechanics.

To get around this, I’ve been working on the Tali Nova SRD. The core rules are “done” barring a final editing pass.

Tali Nova is basically the one-page Jovia expanded out to have more coherent rules. As with the Initiated SRD, it has a ready-to-play game section, and then added thoughts on hacking the game. Technically, the core for Tali Nova was used in both the one-page Jovia and in Alter Data, so it’s a good option.

The big blocker on Tali Nova is just getting the actual graphic design stuff done. It doesn’t really need a character sheet, but I plan on doing one and also getting a hand-drawn image/cover done once my laptop comes back.

One-Page-Game Director’s Cuts

My plan is to do Jovia, Helion, Our Mother, and Xenogeny as expansions to one-page game stuff. They’re each in varying states. Helion, Our Mother is probably the most ambitious, rules-speaking, while Jovia is the most ambitious in setting. Xenogeny is going to be an experiment in getting hyper-professional look and feel from Midjourney-derived renders, and I think it’s going to be fantastic.

Once I have my laptop back, my goal is to release one of these a week, which I think is a feasible goal given that they’re all in varying stages of production. I’ve been giving myself a semi-vacation while my good laptop has been in the shop, in part because it’s just harder to coordinate projects while my normal production rig isn’t here.

These will each have a small price-tag, from $2-$4 depending on the final amount of product I wind up with.

Jovia’s in trouble because I’m just struggling to pin down the feeling I’m going for, but I’ve decided to be firm and go for a pre-Punic Wars Rome. It’s a little lighter on historical content than the later days of Rome, especially since I’m aiming for late kings/early Republic (e.g. before good records). Since Jovia is a fictionalization, I’m not too worried.

In fact, I’ve moved it a little more toward fantasy than pure historical setting content. Jovia always had that element with the “demigod” stuff. Now it will be explicitly mythic Rome.

Carrion Birds

Work continues. Editing is a pain. The combat system is something I have a love-hate relationship with. It’s hard to explain. That means that the rules text may be bad. I don’t have issues with it when I test it, but that’s when I test it. Considering streamlining at the expense of being interesting and novel.

Oasis Roads

Oasis Roads has been very close to release, and I’m not working on it as much as I should. However, it’s one of our big projects, alongside Carrion Birds and Kenoma, and it’s getting pretty close to an early access release.

I’m going for early access to give myself a less closed development process. I want it out and available for people, whether or not it brings in money.

There are about 45000 words of Oasis Roads right now, which puts it on par with Carrion Birds. Its ruleset is easier to work with, since it’s Breathless derived. The big issue is nailing the tone as the setting expands, given its post-apocalyptic setting. It’s less grim than most of the comp titles, but still definitively blown apart.

Oasis Roads takes place in an original universe. This gives us lots of liberties, and I’m trying to create a vivid and living world for it. I think I’m succeeding. It’s just a larger task than one assumes when getting into it, and I’m no slouch on that front.

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