Exactly one week ago – and thus a scant few hours too late for our last editorial, unfortunately – there came the long awaited announcement about the How and When of the next edition of Blue Planet. According to RedBrick the first new (updated) books will arrive in the second and third quarter, while the first entirely new books, along with an official Savage Worlds version of Blue Planet, will be out late in 2012/early in 2013. The first and second editions will be kept available as Blue Planet Classic.
The first four books for v3, to be out this year, will combine the content of the seven v2 publications (with the possible exception of Frontier Justice?). Apart from presenting the established water world sci-fi setting, these initial books will also deliver an updated and streamlined version of the Synergy game system.
The core mechanics – die rolls and tests, basic premises of character creation, combat and skills – are to be kept. The devil’s going to be in the details – such as a radically shortened skill list, modified attributes, a new initiative system and redone character packages – aimed at speeding up gameplay and upping the flexibility of character creation (that last point saddens me a little – but that would be a topic all of its own).
New material, in the form of more background, new gear, additional biomods and further options, are to complete these initial books, adding value for current players beyond some rules changes.
Speaking of current players neatly brings up the question of what makes Blue Planet so great or special in the first place, that it provokes me to such an uncharacteristic display of public enthusiasm. This question, in turn, leads us to the actual topic of this editorial, but first things first:
Sun, sand and cyberpunk.
That’s what so great and special about Blue Planet.
At least, that’s my usual advertising/introductionary blurb when talking about the game.
Of course there is far more to it, and depending on personal preferences one or the other aspect may take precedence. Space western, of the rare Outland instead of the Firefly persuasion. (Relatively) hard science fiction. Ecopunk. Modern wildernes and exploration scenarios. Beaches. Submarine battles. Aliens meets Jaws. …
But what makes Blue Planet not just great and special, but especially great and even greatly special, that is something else entirely. Politics.
To my mind, Blue Planet is an exceptionally powerful game for political campaigns. That belief is also reflected in ourBlue Planet articles to date, half of which deal at least partially with political themes (GEOpards, the Grey Crusade, C. A. Nada).
It’s a fact that the published books do not recommend political gaming – far from it, I would say.
It’s also a fact, that the game does not sport any rules intended to support such a style of play. v1 or v2 did not even include any dedicated rules for social interaction or conflict beyond the universal skill mechanic (and I remain doubtful whether v3 will change anything about that).
Blue Planet has another thing going for it: Information. The right information, presented in the right way.
One way this information is delivered, is via the description of the setting. This deals a lot with history, background and relationships, but also with the political system and how it works. The factions of the setting thus acquire more depth and appear in strong and understandable context to one another and the rest of the world. Their actions can be seen and understood as the results of an internal logic.
Even the German corporate “villains”, who at first glance may appear like the typical Nazi cardboard cutouts (I mean, “Lebensraum” as the name of their primary base, really?), are actually a lot more three dimensional once you take a closer look. This also shows one of the problems in this area, though. While the necessary information is present, it is sometimes split over different sections in a somewhat haphazard fashion.
This is a non-issue for the second component besides setting descriptions. The so called character profile is used to describe player characters and npcs alike. It is compact, structured and based around a set of predefined, illustrative descriptors. This makes it easy to read and use, allowing to effortlessly project a comprehensible transparent picture of a character’s goals and motives.
The character profile allows me to understand who wants what and why.
The setting description allows me to understand where they fit in and how they operate.
This understanding – an the ability to arrive quickly at it, due tot he particulars of presentation – trumps any sort of rule, scenario outline or campaign hook when it comes to political gaming.
As the new edition will keep both the basic pillars of the setting as well as the character profile, I can happily look forward to Blue Politics v3.
While waiting for the release, we will thus keep a close eye on the game and continue to produce new fan material for it.
After the last of our Blue Planet articles came out just a few days ago, our 2 (on a d6) articles for the next week will deal with other topics.
On Thursday we once more ask the question “What is …?” and deliver a bunch of answers, too. The center of so much attention is a picture titled simply “Royal Games”.
Our Tuesday article presents a take on homebrewing – with cookies.