|Alderac Entertainment Q&A|
Conducted on 22nd May 2002
Recently Alderac Entertainment Group announced that the Official Farscape RPG would arrive in stores this coming July. Alderac have a long history of creating RPGs, and on hearing about their product we thought it would be interesting to find out why they chose Farscape as the license to base an RPG around, what the features of the product were and what goes in to creating an RPG.
As such, we headed straight to the source. Never having played an RPG myself (well, nothing but the videogame variety), and knowing that many other fans would probably be in a similar position, we also decided to take the opportunity to find out what features the RPG will offer to us RPG virgins, and to have explained exactly what an RPG is.
And that leads to this Q&A. Answering the questions was Alderac's Line Developer, Rob Vaux. Many thanks to Mr. Vaux for answering our questions.
Q: What attracted you to the Farscape license?
Rob Vaux: A lot of things. Obviously, it was a great show and has developed a strong fan base. Farscape was different from most other space operas; it had a unique flavor and style that meant we could do something distinct with it. Also, its much easier to develop a role-playing game around an ensemble show than a show based on a single character. Farscape has a great ensemble cast, which naturally facilitates good role-playing.
Q: Could you give us a brief overview on what exactly a book-based RPG is / what it entails?
RV: Role-playing games are essentially advanced forms of make-believe. Each player (save one, the Game Master) creates a fictitious character — complete with personality, history, skills, and equipment — and then plays that character out during an adventure or other scenario. Usually all of the player characters act as a group, working in concert to reach some goal or solve some problem… like Moya’s crew in Farscape. The Game Master presents the scenario to them. He oversees the whole thing.: a combination of narrator, referee, and supporting cast, describing what the characters see, playing out the people or creatures that they meet, and arbitrating fights or other encounters. While we have stats for the characters from the show (and people can play Crichton and the gang if they want), most of the game is focused on creating your own Farscape characters and running unique adventures with them.
An RPG book contains all the rules necessary to play such a scenario: combat mechanics, rules for skills (to see if you can pick that lock, for example), rules for creating characters, and the like. It also holds background information on the gaming world — in this case, the Uncharted Territories and Farscape species like the Nebari and Sheyang — and guidelines for running games set in it.
Q: When did you start work on the project, and how long has the creative process been?
RV: This has been a long project. We started two years ago and we’re just finishing up now. A lot of it has been the give and take between Henson, which makes for some delays, but we think it’s going to translate into a really excellent book. Personally, I’ve only been attached to the project for about nine months. My predecessor was Ken Carpenter, and facilitated the bulk of the writing and development. When he moved on, I stepped in to finish things up. I’m a big Farscape fan, so I didn’t need a lot of time to get up to speed.
Q: What goes into the process of creating an RPG based on a show like Farscape?
RV: Mostly, it’s filling in the blanks — covering the background material for the Farscape universe. We have to answer questions that the TV show simply can’t. A history of the Nebari. Different planets in the Uncharted Territories. Things like that. We develop new material that we feel matches the universe without stepping too closely on the creators’ toes. We got very specific direction from Henson on where to go, which was definitely helpful.
We also have to take elements from the show and develop them into viable mechanics for an RPG. That requires a lot of numbers balancing and playtesting to ensure that all of the rules mesh well. For example, Sheyang can breathe fire. Hynerians can’t. Theoretically, a Sheyang could just burn any Hynerian he fought to a crisp without breaking a sweat. But if we set up the rules that way, then no one will want to play a Hynerian: they’d be too weak. The trick is to balance those two races so that they have all of the unique qualities they exhibit on the show, and yet are still relatively equal mechanics-wise. So we make Hynerians generally smarter than the Sheyang (which matches the show), and stipulate that the Sheyangs’ fire-breathing ability causes problems when they get hurt (which also matches the show). That puts Hynerians on more of an equal footing: they’re more likely to fool a Sheyang into not attacking, and can cause more damage if they get a lucky shot. There’s a thousand other elements like that that need to be balanced against each other if the game is going to work.
Q: How closely have you worked with Henson on this product? Have they allowed a lot of creative freedom? Has everything had to receive their approval? How closely does it all relate to the show's timeline and continuity?
RV: We’ve worked very closely with Henson, which is one of the reasons why the game was so delayed. They’re very proud of the TV show, and we’ve had to work carefully to ensure that the game meets their vision. Everything in the game has to be approved, and it’s a fairly new process for both companies. This isn’t just a matter of putting Kermit the Frog’s face on a lunchbox, and we want to make sure we have a product that everyone is happy with.
At the same time, Henson has been very good about giving us a lot of creative leeway. The changes they’ve asked for have been fairly minor and we’ve had a very good working relationship with them. We’ve tried to return the favor by keeping our new stuff as close to the spirit of the show as we can. We’ve paid close attention to continuity and Henson has double-checked to make sure everything fits with what we’ve seen.
Most of our material is general stuff — species history and culture, planet backgrounds, and the luck — instead of specific details on Crichton and his friends. We have a lot of material on the show itself, but it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. Moya’s crew is definitely Henson’s territory, and while they get plenty of attention in the book, it all strictly adheres to the TV show. We weren’t allowed to give Rygel a secret love child or anything like that.
Q: What new elements (characters, races etc.) have you created for this project?
RV: New elements have focused mainly on planets and alien species. We provide details on some planets seen in the show (like Dam-ba-da and Sykar), but have inserted a lot of new ones as well, which makes things interesting for the players since they won’t necessarily know what to expect. Similarly, we’ve developed a number of new aliens and monsters for the players to encounter. We also have new spaceships and other pieces of equipment: Hynerian Battlearcs and Scarran warships. In every case, we’ve tried to match the spirit of the TV show as closely as possible, and we think the fans will be very happy with our new stuff.
Q: You have decided to use the d20 format as the mechanics system for this RPG; what is the purpose of the mechanics system, and why did you choose the d20 format?
RV: Rules in RPGs basically exist to prevent arguments of the “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!” “No I’m not!” variety. Players can consult them to figure out how to conduct a firefight, fool a canny politician, or any other task that depends upon variable factors. Ideally, they help facilitate creativity and let the players get a real feel for their characters and surroundings. We chose d20 because it’s an extremely popular and versatile system. Experience role-players can pick it up and dive right in without too much fuss, and new gamers should be able to grasp the basics fairly easily. The mechanics themselves are solid, and don’t require a lot of extra bells and whistles. In this case, it was really a no-brainer.
Q: For those fans who have never played an RPG before, what is there to attract them to this product?
RV: Farscape fans will find a lot to like about this book, regardless of whether they’ve role-played before or not. We’ve included a episode-by-episode synopsis of the first two seasons, plus details on most of the major characters — Crichton, Aeryn, Zhaan, D’Argo, Rygel, Chiana, Moya and Pilot, Crais, and Scorpius. There’s a host of information about various different species from the show, including the Peacekeepers, the Nebari, the Luxans, and more. The book also includes some truly gorgeous photos from the show, including stuff that has never been published anywhere. There’s plenty of appealing stuff here, even if you’ve never played an RPG in your life.
Q: Will the book contain real photos from the show, or will it all be drawings/artwork? (If the latter, who designed and created it?)
RV: Most of the book contains photos from the show: both publicity shots and images pulled from various episodes. They’re really stunning, and Henson was great about letting us use them.
A few sections (like the new aliens chapter) required artwork instead of photos. We used one artist throughout: the fabulously talented Cris Dornaus, whose style has a very Henson-esque quality to it that matches well with the rest of the book. Our layout artists also did a great job: Steve Hough and Mark Jelfo, who developed the overall look of the book, and ensured that it had that organic feel that makes the show so distinctive.
Q: Was there anything else you would have liked to include but couldn't due to cost or time restraints?
RV: We wanted to include a glossary of Farscape terms, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen. That’s one of the only things I really regret not getting in there.
Q: Are there any plans to release any supplements to the RPG at some point down the line?
RV: We’d like to, but we have to see how the core book does first. We tried to make this first book as self-sufficient as possible, so people won’t need to buy anything else. However, if demand is high enough, we’d certainly consider publishing additional material.
Q: Any final thoughts?
RV: Buy the game! Buy! Buy! Buy! It will make your lives complete! ;) Seriously, everyone here is a big Farscape fan, and we’ve worked very hard to make sure that the game meets everyone’s expectations. Hopefully, Farscape fans will find a lot to enjoy in the final product, and gamers will have a solid addition to their library.
Many thanks once again to Rob Vaux at Alderac for answering our questions.
Also thanks to Angie for some help with additional questions.
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