Loved reading the inspiration behind Plerion, and now adding Becky Chambers to my (long) to-read list!
The inspirations of Plerion
As I said earlier Plerion started as a Cairn/Spacer mash-up.
Today, however, I would like to talk about the inspirations, which are not to be found in other games but elsewhere. With one notable expection.
I first heard about Traveller around 2001. A friend told me of it because he knew of my great passion for science fiction. I spoke scholastic English to say the least, so there was no hope that I could understand anything about it. Besides, the edition back then was GURPS. I tried – really tried – but I couldn’t penetrate the basic rules. I made a mental note that Traveller existed and had to do with a human civilization that did not come from Earth (!) and went back to my reading.
In Summer 2020, when I was starting to dip in the OSR, I remembered that promising game from my twenty years old memories and I bought Classic Traveller LLB in PDF. I think it was the vintage typographic appeal and the toolkit approach that attracted me. But it was the game’s deep love and respect for its sources (E.C. Tubb, H. Beam Piper) that build a derivative but powerful setting that made me fall in love with the whole thing. I will talk about this someday, but in the meantime read Chris Kubasik.
There is much of Traveller in Plerion of course: the equipment that is taken from Spacer is descended from Marc Miller’s game anyway. But especially the chapter on Worlds & Systems. In writing the random tables or thinking about how not to make maps as in Traveller, the debt is present and very strong.
Jack Vance and the Gaean Reach
One way or another Jack Vance is always involved. As if he were the alpha and omega of us role-players. Seriously, while it is known, Jack Vance inspired the magic of D&D, I was reading him decades before that was known to me. I used to read, however, his science fiction rather than fantasy or other works. Those came later for me.
But first of all came the Demon Princes. And it was not so much the story (not the best part, to be honest), but the imagery and the skillful, centered use of words. The Rigel Concourse, the galactic civilization… all evoked in very dense and succinct passages or descriptions.
Jack Vance was able to write a universe in a 200-page novel. He did not sketch it finely. He suggested it and used what the story needed, but that universe was there, ready to be explored.
And he did, with dozens of novels, often in clusters of cycles, such as that of the Alastor Custler, ending with the duet on Myron Tany.
And that of Gaean Reach, this super-cycle of novels and stories that was never meant to be monolithic and coherent, is rich in people (not just human), planets, situations. And of Vance’s language of course.
Plerion is largely based on this kind of imagery, and if you wanted to, I think it would not be difficult to repurpose some of our man’s adventures.
When Mass Effect burst onto the video game scene (and it did so on tiptoe before it became a hit) there were many successful IPs that presented a rich multifaceted universe, without bothering Star Wars and Star Trek.
Mass Effect did this in a clever way, using tropes from hard sci-fi and blending them with military science fiction and space opera.
In addition to the artistic merits of the work, I prefer to remember its emotional ones: in three video games, the story grows and develops with the player’s choices (while within the confines of the script, the tree is wide and varied) and really seems to give a personalized experience of the plot. I became attached to Shepard and crew right away and cherish wonderful memories of them.
Mass Effect is derivative, so it perfectly accommodates a number of tropes that sit comfortably in Plerion. With Mass Effect in mind, I made space travel relatively fast compared to the slowness of Traveller and introduced artifacts that would somehow recall Prothean relics as well.
Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was the first science fiction novel to show me that one could leave in the background not only the universe (which here is vast, beautifully frescoed and utterly fascinating), but even the story and focus directly on the characters.
Becky Chambers quickly established herself as a master of the space slice of life. She talks about life and feelings, she sets them out there in the universe aboard spaceships, habitats, she conflates them with the small issues that run in the big picture behind.
I could not aspire to bring those kinds of stories to life with Plerion, it would be a different system and style of play.
But something about the implied setting is indebted to the Wayfarer universe. If you want inspiration for Plerion read Becky Chambers. In fact do yourself a favor and read her anyway.
David Brin’s Uplift Series
When I was a sophomore in high school, the translation of Brightness Reef came out in Italy (a good five years late).
It was a nice gift from my parents for that Christmas (the volume was quite expensive), especially since it was my first attempt at challenging reading.
I loved Planet Jiijo, but most of all the galactic civilization outlined by Brin: a hierarchy of patron and uplifted races to sentience. With one notable exception: humans, here outcasts and emerginates.
Brin has taught me to think about nonhuman species with a biologist’s gaze, not a naive one. The five galaxies are a tribute to his work.