My NaGa DeMon diary #1

On Friday I announced my project for this year’s NaGa DeMon. It will be a near future hard science fiction roleplaying game called Astronauts. And after making that announcement I realized two things: a) a lot of people are quite excited about this and b) it’s going to be harder than I thought.


One major problem is that the way I imagined the game in the first place it’s extremely hard to actually run it. While being in space, exploring the surface the Mars etc. is extremely exciting a lot of the things astronauts do during those missions is terribly boring when played in a roleplaying game. As HyenaSpotz pointed out in a comment to my announcement post:

What sorts of conflicts would this game have? If there are no aliens, most of the immediate threat is environmental, the sweeping threats are politics back on Earth, and there’s always the “Why did you bring a gun into space?” scenario among the team…

I have been thinking about this over the weekend and I also checked out Paul Elliott’s game Mars which commenter rainswept recommended. And I realized that I can circumvent a lot of the major problems by moving the game from “First Mission to Mars” to the “First Colony on Mars” without having to abandon all of my initial ideas.

I already started working on a future history which spans from the early to mid 21st century. In my version of the future a new space race starts in the 2020s with a international mission to Mars led by the USA against a Chinese Mars project. The game will probably be set into the 2050s or later when a permanent research colony on Mars has been established and when private companies start looking into exploiting the natural resources of Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies.

When it comes to game rules I am currently torn between a dice pool mechanic and a 3d6-roll-under mechanic. But in either case I intend to use a system light on rules. The focus of the game should be the story, the characters and not the rules. Since I am still in an early design phase I am of still open to your ideas. What are your thoughts on the whole project? Please share your thoughts below.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

8 thoughts on “My NaGa DeMon diary #1”

  1. I would work backwards. What sort of things are going to make this game unique? What challenges are the characters going to face? Whatever they are, you might want a mechanic for them. What sort of mechanic best describes those things? So, what sort of dice would you roll to achieve that?

    For example:
    The challenge: I want the characters to affected by fear. If some sort of Fear check is failed then the character panics. I don’t want it to be a stat that gets pumped up, I want the character to get to a point where they can’t take any more and panic anyway.

    I imagine having a pool of resources that the player spends to avoid panic taking over. Perhaps they have a pool of D6s on their character sheet, which they spend each time they want to try and avoid panic.

    That is working back from the affect you want to achieve (character panics) to the mechanic to make it feel right (resource management with a spot of random). This can be a good way of getting a more interesting system that fits the game.

  2. Nice. My point is that it’s best to work out what sort of play you want and then work back to the mechanics and stats after. If you want a standard sort of system then reuse and perfectly good one, much better to do that than invent something that does the same job as every other system.

    “Hero, Scientist and Salaryman” perhaps?

  3. Hi Michael,

    I have been thinking about your game idea. Keeping it rules-light sounds like a good idea, especially for the purpose of this game writing project.

    I like your original idea, about colonists or astronauts landing on Mars-something with a very hard sci-fi feel which is also open to interpretation by the players.

    I’d be very tempted to try and emphasis the themes of exploration, resources and survival.
    To do this I’d try and create a character stat which is along the lines of ‘Technology’ or ‘Resources’.

    I would also try and include a way for the players to control the narrative of the game, whereby they determine the results of their exploration through success on dice rolls. This way players can be part of an astrological survey team from NASA (or some other space agency) and yet determine their own mission goal/parameters.
    Successes mean they get to further their own story objectives while failure may mean the narrator gets to throw in twists, conflicts, depleted resources and so on. I can try and think of some more detailed examples if this idea interests you? 🙂


  4. Hi Michael,

    I certainly don’t mind you using my ideas if they are of any use to your or your game. They’re not very concrete, more just a case of me brainstorming. 🙂 I may join the NagaDemon project one day when I have more experience!

    Here are some more random ideas:

    Rules: Definitely rules-light, look to games such as Inspectres, PDQ and Fate for inspiration. I think d6 would be the way to go.
    Anything that encourages players to lead the narrative of the game would be ideal.

    Themes: Exploration, conservation of resources, survival, teamwork, trust.
    Perhaps incorporate some kind of trust mechanic, or use it as a stat?
    I like the idea of the pc’s all being part of a single space exploration team or agency-but-each pc is from a seperate nation that has it’s own interests. The pc’s have to balance working as a team for a unified goal with the ulterior motives/interests of their nation.

    Goals/Story ideas: Obviously the main goal is to explore the planet safely, but each pc could have their own mission-possibly linked to the above idea about nationality.
    -search for evidence of alien life
    -check planet suitability for supporting a colony
    -test new technology
    -collect mineral samples
    -database new flaura and fauna
    -conduct a geological survey
    -set-up a monitoring site

    Individual goals are likely to be more personal and may even involve sabotage or conflict between pc’s

    Conflict/Twist idea: Some influence from Mouse Guard here. If the players succeed in their rolls, they get to influence the story and maybe enhance the groups overall trust or mission success level? If they fail then the narrator can throw in conflicts, or add stress to their mission. Examples:

    – Depleting resources
    -Tech failure
    -Environmental accident
    -Bad conditions
    -Rival astronauts
    -Aggressive inhabitants
    -Disrupted communications

    I do like the idea of including a team Trust score and a team Mission Success score. These can be added to or depleted as the pc’s explore and maybe add bonuses or penalties to dice rolls? Perhaps something happens if the score reaches a certain number? Maybe a pc’s individual goal/national interests can be compelled (ala Fate) if group trust falls? Perhaps a certain number of Mission Success points are required for victory?

    To summarize: These are just a few of my own crazy ideas but I hope they serve as some inspiration to your game.
    I have thought of joining NaGa Demon myself but I’m not sure where I’d begin!


    1. Thanks, Matt. I actually like the idea that each player character has individual goals determined by his nationality and incorporating a trust score into the game could be quite interesting. Perhaps it could work similar to the plot stress as presented in Starblazer Adventures.

  5. You’re welcome. 🙂 The plot stress system in Starblazer Adventures could work very well.
    Stress could be raised or lowered as a consequence of successful or failed actions. Perhaps the trust score could be shared amongst the group, like a pool?
    I’m trying to think of a way for individual goals to be incorporated.
    Perhaps they affect the trust score, while successes that relate to the group’s overall mission earn mission points?

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