Chapter 4: Creating a Story Edit
Trinity presents some unusual challenges to a Storyteller — as can any particular series he creates, or any particular group of players she joins.
Let’s say you want to run a Trinity series, and you have some potentially interested players. Where are you going to set it? When? What will the characters be doing? Will you provide missions for the players’ characters to deal with, or will you react to their ideas for plot lines and schemes for their characters? Do the history books cover the timeline of our world, or of Adventure! and Aberrant? Are the stories you create together going to be exciting, dramatic, funny or frightening?
You have a universe of possibilities with Trinity and you can use them all, or you can focus on some salient details, and either extreme or any point along the line can produce a great game — but you have to make some decisions in advance of the first session, as well as more during it and still more afterwards.
Getting Started Edit
Before you begin a series, it helps to consider its format, the kinds of characters available and kids of stories that can be told within it. This can be done in consultation with your players or by yourself, depending on your circumstances.
The Series Bible Edit
When creating the format for a series, with the involvement of the players, there are some essential decisions to be made:
Where and when is the series set? What are the characters’ roles in the setting? Will it be a straightforward mission-based game, or will it revolve around the characters’ actions? How long is the series intended to last? How can new characters be introduced if new players join the game or original characters are removed?
Once these basics have been decided upon, further detail can be added. If a game is set in a particular location, important areas and recurring NPCs can be detailed. If it involves an ongoing storyline, a timeline can be sketched out, subject to change by the players’ characters, and so on.
Mission and Character Edit
To generalize very broadly, there are two basic categories of stories: mission-based and character-based. How many of each type you plan can determine the format of a series.
Mission-based stories are very simple — the characters find out about a situation and do something about it. Whether this involves investigation or combat depends on the story, but the basic structure is always external to the characters. The vast majority of pre-written roleplaying scenarios are mission-based, even for games with a heavier character focus, simply because of the differing practicalities of preparing mission- and character-based games. Many have advice on adapting them for different kinds of characters, and introducing subplots that could fit specific individuals, but most could be run with any team of characters.
Character-based stories are derived from the lives and backgrounds of the players’ characters and the various non-player characters they associate with. They can be tied to specific factors in a person’s past, details such as Backgrounds, Merits and Flaws, or drawn from previous stories concerning those involved. Pre-written roleplaying scenarios based on character do exist, but they naturally require that the players’ characters fit the scenario. The amount of each kind of story, and the mix of character subplots into mission stories and vice versa, reflects on the series, and should be discussed with the players beforehand.
At one extreme, a game could play like the James Bond films, where every session is a new mission that has nothing to do with the last or next, and they could easily be played out of order. At the other, a series based entirely on character could be more like a weekly soap opera, where everything connects to the characters’ actions and reactions. Most games, of course, will fall somewhere between these two models. For one thing, continuity will generally be maintained in most games better than in the Bond films, if only because the players’ characters acquire experience and equipment as they progress from mission to mission.
For examples of that, look at Star Trek. The original series is made up of mission-based stories with a small number of character episodes, while Deep Space Nine more resembles a soap while still trying to feature some standalone element in most episodes, with ongoing character threads interspersed with new “missions” in some episodes and a fair number of sessions based entirely on characters’ actions.
Bear in mind that the setup can evolve as the series continues. Characters’ lives can become significantly more detailed in play, with plotlines developing as they go along. What starts as a simple mission-based game could develop into a series all about the specific characters. Consider Star Wars: what started as the story of a farm boy helping an acquaintance with a mission became the saga of a man dealing with his unknown birthright.
Involving the Players Edit
One absolute essential to every series is the players’ characters, and ensuring that they get involved in the story is vital. This can be as simple as ordering a squad of troops into combat, but things are rarely that simple in character-based games.
A structure for missions should be in place from the beginning of a series, since the characters need a way to learn about new problems that they have to deal with. This can be quite simple, of course. A Proteus Division team has a superior officer handing them files, a starship crew has a remit to explore strange new worlds, a smuggling gang needs some cash right away...
This also applies to more character-centered series, with the added complication that every character may need a different motivation for each specific storyline. While you can have the corporate president of Absolute Zero order a Legion security officer, Æsculapian paramedic and neutral bartender to investigate a murder, it stretches credibility.
A repeated problem with character-based series is that the players become so involved in their own characters’ plotlines that they hardly interact with one another. While some personal or even secret storylines can add greatly to a game, too many of them can lead to a point where there is really no reason for the players to meet for a session, since their characters never do. A balance has to be struck, and this depends on the enthusiasm and patience of all players involved.
While by no means essential, it helps if the players’ characters get along well in an informal group, so that they would be willing to call each other for help. A group with no reason to work together, or reason to work against one another, is a group that will fragment a series.
Discuss secret plotlines outside of the regular session if at all possible — leaving the other players while you talk outside should be a last resort used only when something must be covered immediately.
Another method of involving the players is to bring them in on brainstorming for future developments and stories. Some players (often those with some experience as Storytellers) are glad to offer suggestions for plotlines involving their or other players’ characters. In fact, many of them are especially happy to suggest problems and dangers for the Storyteller to throw at their characters, since they thrive on drama and conflict.
A series should also have some means of introducing new players and their characters. While this can be as simple as a new team member being assigned by a superior, it can be complicated in a very insular location or with a select or secretive group. Again, it depends on the circumstances of the specific game, but the players and storyteller should at least consider the potential problems of a particular series setup.
One of the unique features of Trinity is its sheer scale — from a vividly-imagined future Earth through the solar system and on to the other side of the galaxy. It can be intimidating to players and storytellers, as they wonder what to do, what to include or exclude. A decision should be agreed upon before any major creative work is put into a specific location.
While this is not a hard-and-fast rule, mission series tend to feature a broad view of the setting and regular travel, while character series focus in more detail on specific locations.
Looking at Star Trek again, the original series spanned the galaxy but never looked at any one locale in great detail, while Deep Space Nine centered on a specific location with occasional stories taking members of the main cast to other areas of the setting. A series could also follow the example of The Next Generation, somewhere between the two, with new star systems for new missions combined with episodes concerning the characters’ lives aboard the Enterprise.
Duration is also a factor of scope. A series intended to run for an academic year should be planned differently than one meant to last for a summer, since both should ideally come to some sort of definite conclusion at the end of that period. An ongoing series needs multiple plot threads and various routes to introduce new ones, while a “mini-series” could revolve entirely around a single plotline. The Lord of the Rings is essentially one “mission” with multiple subplots all at least tangentially related to it, for example, as is the Darkness Revealed series of published adventures for Trinity.
Example: Leviathan is an ongoing series set aboard the Leviathan-class jumpship L’woe’n, traveling between a number of established extrasolar colonies while also exploring star systems in between, investigating stellar phenomena and dealing with crises that arise. Essentially, it is designed to have a very wide scope, as wide as Star Trek: The Next Generation, which ran for seven years on television as well as films, books, comics and games.
It is essentially mission-based, as the L’woe’n moves from system to system and problem to problem, with space for character-based stories due to the large crew of the ship and the possibility of new arrivals in every port. The ship is the central location of the series. It is crewed by the Æon Trinity and the Orders, so that a diverse supporting cast of non-player characters can be found aboard. A secondary location would be the ship’s home port in lunar orbit, and by extension Earth. Other locations will be detailed less thoroughly — the colonies on its patrol route can be visited repeatedly and should be the basis of multiple plotlines, while the settings of “side trips” such as vessels sending distress calls might only be visited once.
The players’ characters are members of a Proteus Division team, assigned as troubleshooters. This means that characters from any Order, and neutrals, have a reason to work together. New characters can be introduced by transferring from other teams aboard the ship, assigned when the ship reaches its home port or another Trinity-run location, or brought in from the local populace.
Begin at the Beginning: The Players Edit
The players, and their characters’ position in the setting, are vital to any game.
Some games start with a fairly solid framework in place, and an obvious place for the main characters to fill. Others start with the players’ interests in the setting and build from there. It’s all a question of who came up with the idea for the game.
Because Trinity has such a broad setting, it is often a good idea to focus on some specific feature. If you don’t discuss this with the players first, you might find that each of them has focused on a different specific feature, and they arrive with characters who live on different planets.
Example: I started out with an idea for a series set aboard a Leviathan-class jumpship, traveling between solar and extrasolar colonies, troubleshooting and exploring — a Trinity variant of the classic science fiction “ship series” concept. Since I wanted the players’ characters to be a “landing party,” I decided early on that they would be members of a Proteus Division mission team — the classic “player character group” for Trinity games. A variety of psions and neutral characters would therefore be available, along with a mixture of roles within the team.
Talking Things Through Edit
The beginning of a game is a negotiation between all the players and the Storyteller. The amount of negotiation involved varies, of course. If a group has come together to play a game based on the Storyteller’s pitch for a series idea, the negotiation will largely focus on forming a cohesive team during character creation. If a group has nothing to go on beyond an agreement to play Trinity, the negotiation will cover possible series concepts and styles as well.
The Contract Edit
Once a premise has been agreed upon, some groups produce a “contract” laying out the concepts of the series and the place of the players and their characters in it. In a game as involved as Trinity, this can be helpful for ensuring that everyone is in agreement as to the focus and limits of the game.
A contract might include a paragraph outlining the central concept of the series, a paragraph concerning how the game is intended to work, and a paragraph discussing possible future developments.
The Leviathan Contract Edit
Leviathan is a Trinity series set aboard an Æon Trinity-run jumpship traveling throughout colonized space. The central characters will be members of a newly-assigned Proteus Division mission team assigned to the ship to deal with problems on land.
The series will have a mixture of action, intrigue, and character interaction. Not all of the characters need be skilled in combat, but everyone should have a useful skill to bring to the team. While they need not be the best of friends, the players’ characters should be able to work as a team, having been assigned together for this purpose. The series is intended to follow a television model, with a regular ensemble cast dealing with new situations and new populations in each adventure. The basic structure of the game is mission-based, but character-based storylines will be featured as well, particularly if they involve shipboard situations. We will have to discuss these, of course. I would also like to feature some ongoing storylines which the characters can play important roles in. Friendships, enmities, rivalries and romances will all begin, develop and end on-board.
Things to consider:
How does your character feel about the Æon Trinity? The Psion Orders? Psions? Neutrals? Their own psionic abilities, or lack thereof? Aberrants? The Qin? The Chromatics? Other aliens?
Where does the character call home? Who does he or she care about there? Who could the character know on-board? Is the character involved with someone (a player or Storyteller character)? Would you like them to be at some point?
Character Creation Edit
Once you have a working premise agreed upon, character creation can begin. The Storyteller has to ensure that a group that will function for the purposes of the series is the result. This may seem like an unfair burden, since the players should take this into consideration as well, but not everyone does.
Possible Problem Characters Edit
Look out for potential conflicts and other problems. If you know your players from previous games, you can predict and prevent some difficulties, but if not, it helps to know what to watch for.
The Lone Wolf Edit
Solitary, self-sufficient characters can be attractive to many players, but can often be a source of problems in the group context of a storytelling game. They can be difficult to bring into storylines, and often go off alone, splitting the group and the Storyteller’s attention more frequently than is desirable. If you are running a game for a group that meets to play, the characters need a reason to come together as well as the players. So if a character looks like she might be a Lone Wolf, ask the player about it, and be prepared to offer suggestions to shift the focus onto the group.
The Backstabber Edit
In one of the groups I play in, there’s a standing joke that one of the players always includes “Betray the party!” when considering his options. The joke is only funny because he hardly ever goes through with it. While interpersonal conflict between characters can be interesting, it takes skill and discretion to ensure that it does not lead to actual conflict between the players, or derail the plot of the game. If a player has an idea for an intentionally adversarial character, talk it through with her, and see if this is a dynamic that will add to the game rather than detract from it.
The Sore Thumb Edit
Most of us have seen this one at some point. A player creates a character that circumvents most if not all of the guidelines for the team, or that seems entirely at odds with the rest of the players’ characters even if there are no specific guidelines. This can be subtle and easily resolved in play (a rookie in an experienced Proteus team) or it could be so extreme that it could ruin the game if mishandled (an Edenic Nova in a game about neutrals causes a huge power balance, while a major difference in character ideology can make roleplaying more adversarial). While this can be interesting if handled well, it more often leads to the character going along with actions that they would avoid for the sake of the player having something to do, being marginalized as the rest of the group carries on without them, or arguing with the others in or out of character.
It may a shame to have to turn down or revise character concepts which may in themselves be interesting, but not every game is the right venue for every character. It is a good idea to make the basic structure of a game fairly flexible, but it can only stretch so far. Hopefully, the player in question will see this. After all, most of us are here to have fun in a communal environment, rather than to disrupt the game and spoil everyone’s fun.
Steering The Game Edit
“Who’s flying this thing?”
All Storytellers have different styles, which hopefully adapt to the interests of their players. Some direct the flow of the story closely, while others sit back and let the players wander where their interests take them. Most Storytellers fall between these extremes, of course, depending on their preferences and those of their players. Any style can be problematic when the preferences of a group do not agree, however.
A “director” style of Storytelling involves a large amount of preparation on the part of the Storyteller, and the players being essentially reactive. For example, if the characters are members of a Trinity mission team sent to deal with specific issues as they arise, a director will prepare briefings, detail the problem and sketch out possible solutions. How the players react to the situation is in their hands.
The most common problem with a directorial style is that it can lead to “railroading” — the sense that the actions of the players’ characters do not actually matter because the story will play out as the Storyteller intends, no matter what they try. In extreme cases, any attempt to deviate from the Storyteller’s plan is punished. Some players are perfectly happy to go with the flow as long as their characters are able to do something useful or entertaining regularly, but most will chafe at extreme examples of railroading.
A way to avoid this is to prepare several contingencies for the session, and be prepared to consider any curve balls the players might throw you. If need be, take a moment to think about it. If their idea seems viable, let it work. If not, discuss your issues fairly and allow further thought.
At the other extreme, the players create the plot and the Storyteller reacts to what they want to do. While they might sometimes make suggestions and requests in advance, this normally means that the laissez-faire Storyteller has little time to prepare, and has to improvise all responses. Not everyone can do this well, let alone do it week in and week out.
The main problem with a laissez-faire style is that games often drift along if the Storyteller does not respond quickly enough to the players’ ideas. It is best to discuss this honestly with your players. The game might also slow down if the players lack initiative in a particular session. In this case, it is a good idea to have a few story hooks of your own. Another problem is that players can usurp more than their share of the narrative control on offer, and a particular player can effectively start directing the story, regardless of the other players’ wishes. Here, the best thing you can do is to discuss this with the players involved. Maybe one of the players in question wants a shot at running a game himself.
As noted, most Storytellers and players fall between these extremes, often shifting from game to game and even subplot to subplot. Even the most directorial Storyteller should respond to an enthusiastic player’s concepts for character-related storylines, and the most laissez-faire Storyteller occasionally has an idea she wants to surprise her players with. Often, a Storyteller will provide prepared ‘missions’ for the players to react to however they see fit, while the players provide the personal subplots that also run through the same sessions.
Genre, Mood and Theme Edit
One of the key features of the Trinity Universe is the diverse selection of science fiction sub-genres included in a single setting, ranging from heroic space exploration to cyberpunk thrillers by way of war stories and transhumanist speculation. Characters can be drawn from a variety of sources and milieus, working together and interacting with a unique crossover of genres.
Action-adventure science fiction is the ‘default’ style of Trinity, and indeed of most roleplaying games. The characters are generally combat-capable, and their assorted missions often bring them into physical conflict with opposing forces. They might be explorers, investigators or soldiers, but above all they are adventurers. Their lives are dangerous and exciting. Since it is so common, it needs the least discussion.
Space Opera and Space Fantasy Edit
In some ways an extension of action-adventure SF, space opera uses the future as a backdrop for larger-than-life heroes and villains. Its science often shades into science-fantasy, with humanoid alien races being common and psychic abilities more resembling magic. Star Trek is space opera with a lot of suspension of disbelief required for some improbable science, while Star Wars is space fantasy and really doesn’t care about suspension of disbelief at all.
Trinity does not, by default, stretch into space opera. It certainly can, since it contains psionic and other superhuman powers, faster-than-light travel, and aliens capable of communicating with us, but it is generally less spectacular, its characters less epic in power. Space opera or space fantasy games could borrow from Adventure! for over-the-top heroics.
Psions are superhumans, generally using their powers for the good of others. Together with neutrals using highly advanced technology, aliens, cyborgs, Edenic novas, psychomorphs and returning daredevils, mesmerists and stalwarts from Adventure!, there are a variety of ways in which one can play a ”superhero” in the Trinity Era. Science fiction tends to examine the effects superhuman beings would have on their setting, but superhero stories set in the future can also simply use it as a colorful backdrop for action.
Psions by default rank fairly low on the scale of superpowers — they are capable of some amazing things, particularly if they concentrate on a particular Mode, but they lack all-round power. This can be increased with extra Bonus Points and experience, but there is still plenty of excitement to be had at lower levels.
Exploration and Discovery Edit
This is an activity rather than a sub-genre, but is such a key part of much science fiction that it deserves its own heading. One of the driving forces of SF is the human desire to explore, to see what’s out there. Trinity gives players a future solar system to explore, and further stars to visit. Humanity in the 2120s has achieved demonstrable psionic ability, faster-than-light travel and first contact with alien intelligence, and new vistas are just ahead.
The cyberpunk movement was a catchy title given to the work of a group of SF writers in the 1970s and 1980s who looked at the possibilities of the future cynically. They suggested that cybernetics would be used for fashion, that space travel would be commercialized and that artificial intelligence would become another weapon in battles between multinational corporations who would be more powerful than governments. It was a reaction to the optimism found in a large segment of science fiction, a reminder that human nature is unlikely to change significantly in the space of a few decades.
Since Trinity presents a fairly optimistic view of the future, cyberpunk stories inform only part of the setting. The setting suggests that there will still be greed and corruption; that the mass media will continue to include a healthy dose of sleaze; and that there will still be haves and have-nots. The FSA, Britain and the bowels of Luna are among the areas where graft, oppression and cynicism are rife within the setting.
Transhuman SF Edit
Transhuman SF is a ”flipside” of cyberpunk, examining the ramifications of nanotechnology, biotechnology and cybernetics with a view to the positive as well as the negative. It suggests that we have a wide variety of interesting options ahead of us. This appears in the Trinity setting most notably with the Norça and in their home in Sudamérica, where bodies are changed as casually as clothes by some subcultures and smart drugs are commonplace. It allows Storytellers to explore the ramifications of advanced technology that affects the human mind and body even-handedly.
Military Science Fiction Edit
<n>Military SF is a sub-genre that focuses on scientific advances in conflict. From stories of ground troops on distant planets to sagas of starship captains in interstellar wars, the sub-genre combines SF with the war story on a variety of fields. In gaming, this is more often a backdrop for war games rather than roleplaying series — for example, there is no book devoted to setting Storytelling games on Khantze Lu Ge and most information on that setting can be found in Trinity: Battleground. However, the dangerous lives of combatants, from grunts to generals, can form a solid basis for a series, or for a storyline within a series, as seen in Alien Encounter: Invasion.
One notable subset of Military SF is the Mecha subgenre, where powered armor is extended to walking tanks, as seen in Trinity with VARGs. Entire roleplaying games have been written about these settings.
A common concern with military games is that a strong hierarchy can limit player freedom, and making everyone a member of the same mission group can lead to similarity of characters. This may appeal to some groups, possibly as a change of pace from the more typical freebooters and rogue adventurers found in most roleplaying games, but can discourage other players. Thus, players’ characters in military organizations are often ‘special forces’ or ‘irregulars’ existing outside the normal chain of command, or mercenaries. Trinity includes a variety of groups that can fit this structure, from the Orders onward, as well as more traditional military bodies.
Horror is a separate genre to science fiction, but it often creeps into SF and other genres. While the horror ‘genre’ has certain rules and tropes, fear-inducing effects can be found far away from it. Science fiction horror stories are marked out by their settings and the rationales behind their storylines.
Science fiction horror often covers the disastrous results of scientific experiments and advancements, from Frankenstein’s monster to Skynet in the Terminator series. These cautionary tales are a counterpoint to the stories of scientific advancement and exploration seen elsewhere in SF. While the Trinity Universe concentrates on many neutral or positive developments of science, there is room to consider its abuses and the dangers of misuse. Without giving too much away, the Darkness Revealed trilogy concerns an experiment gone horribly wrong.
Another strand of SF horror has nothing to do with experimentation, being a pure horror story that uses the trapping of SF to provide a rationale. For instance, the Alien movie series focuses on alien life forms encountered in space, even though it features a lot of the same tricks as a haunted-house story set on Earth.
Atmosphere, uncertainty and a sense of danger are keys to unsettling adventures. As Howard Philips Lovecraft put it, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” If the players know that their characters are being hunted by a mid-level Aberrant, they will be less concerned than if they suspect this is the case but have no way of being sure. Atmosphere is discussed in the section on description, and danger is covered in the section on ground rules.
Drama is a catchall term for stories centering on human (or humanoid) emotions, including romances and ”slice of life” stories. These are most often found in character-based games, but can serve as subplots for adventures in a more mission-based series. Pure drama SF deals with the social ramifications of scientific advancements, first contacts, and other developments. For example, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy examines the politics and practicalities of colonizing another planet in great detail. The Trinity Field Report guidebooks on Psi Law and Media, as well as much of the setting information in the combination sourcebooks, reflect the concerns and possibilities that can result from the changes between now and the 2120s.
It would be possible to run a pure Drama game in the Trinity Universe — human life has enough diversity and variety to fill hours of television every week without the addition of speculative fiction. Look at how long-running series such as Star Trek: the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine mix together “down to earth” storylines with more spectacular events. A straight examination of the practical, political and social issues of an isolated extrasolar colony could make for an intriguing series. However, most games will tend to involve drama as one strand among several, combined with action-adventure, a central conflict or the thrill of exploration.
Region, Order and Genre Edit
Trinity contains such a diversity of sub-genres because different power groups and regions within the setting reflect different styles of story and gameplay.
For example, the megacities of the Federated States are the ideal backdrop for hardboiled cyberpunk and dystopian urban SF, complete with the technological Order playing a central role. Meanwhile, the Blight is a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of danger, horror and surrealism: you could export large amounts of Sword & Sorcery Studios’ Gamma World setting directly into the Blight zone. And that’s just continental North America. Sudamérica is a post-cyberpunk transhumanist setting, Europe is severely Balkanized and a suitable home for smuggling adventures and political intrigue alike, and Khantze Lu Ge is tailor-made for military SF and body horror.
Likewise, the Orders each bring specific genres to the game as well as roles in a team. The Legions are at home in military and mercenary games, Orgotek in corporate politicking as well as scientific exploration and the Ministry suggest a Thought Police akin to the antagonists of George Orwell’s 1984, although they are far less brutal and extreme. The Æsculapians fit into the small medical SF sub-genre, as well as scientific exploration and the “medical officer” slot in many series’ ensemble cast.
That said, the predominant genre of each setting and Order is not set in stone. The regions are not as clearly divided as Tomorrowland and Adventureland at Disneyland. People travel, ideas are exchanged, threats move unnoticed and some concepts roll over all artificial boundaries.
In its continuous run of almost thirty years, the 2000AD comic strip Judge Dredd has sometimes left the oppressive police state of Mega-City One to travel into the Blight-like Cursed Earth, other cities and planets, and even other times and realities, but Mega-City One itself has been a setting for satire, horror, warfare, knockabout comedy and personal drama as well as the more stock-in-trade action thrillers and battles with SF supervillains. This one city serves as a backdrop to suit almost any kind of story its writers and artists have thought up.
Khantze Lu Ge can be home to a heroic rescue team bringing civilians to safety as easily as a desperate group of neutral Legionnaires running low on ammunition as they fight a monstrous Aberrant cult. The Legions, meanwhile, include public relations agents and engineers as well as combatants, while Orgotek and the Æsculapians have their share of combat-trained psions and neutrals who regularly see action in a variety of fields.
Consider the example of John Carpenter’s film The Thing, based on John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?”. A science fiction horror story, it concerns a shapeshifting organism infiltrating an isolated research facility on Earth. This could be adapted to Trinity in a variety of ways. The most obvious would be an Aberrant striking at a Legion base on Khantze Lu Ge, but it could work equally well with a true AI ”possessing” people through nanotechnology in an Orgotek research station orbiting Europa, or a Doyen literally possessing members of the crew of an exploration vessel like the L’woe’n in an attempt to redirect it to attack a Coalition scout vessel.
Non-Player Characters in the setting Edit
One of the central features of most settings is the NPC population. This may be a large cast of recurring characters in a series based in a fixed location, or an ever-changing gallery of new faces in a more mobile series.
Firstly, look at the setting. What kind of NPCs are essential? A game without NPCs is technically possible, either with a very large cast of players and their characters to provide conflict or an isolated characters-against-nature setting, but in most games it is a useful tool to have NPCs at least available. What roles do these NPCs fill — friends, enemies, rivals, contacts, obstructions, “scenery?” How do they fulfill their purposes?
Then, look at them in relation to the players’ characters. How do they view them as the series begins, and how can that change as the plotlines develop?
Further, consider how various NPCs view each other. While it is generally a good idea to keep NPC-to-NPC dialogue and scenes to a minimum, various characters will know of and sometimes meet each other. Their relationships should also change as the series progresses.
While creating a series, organizing a roster of NPCs, and keeping it updated, can prove very helpful. Include details such as the character’s position in the setting, allies and enemies, powers and resources both personal and political, and some memorable personality traits which can be demonstrated in play. Updates should occur whenever something affects them, “on screen” or not. An enemy who loses an eye to a team member’s attack will be affected, but so will a space station bartender who hears second-hand that the team helped a dockworker.
In a game set in a fixed location, the roster can grow quite substantial. Setting sourcebooks such as the “By Night” series for Vampire: The Masquerade organize NPCs by faction and power bloc, and include relationship diagrams to track how NPCs view each other as play begins.
The roster of long-term NPCs will probably be larger for a location-based series, but even a strictly mission-based game with no NPCs in the team can feature a recurring “supporting cast.” As an example, James Bond is assigned missions by M and equipment by Q, and pauses to flirt with Moneypenny en route. They rarely have any direct impact on the mission once he leaves MI6 headquarters, although they have been known to show up in the field and, in The World Is Not Enough, M was kidnapped. Bond also occasionally meets up with the same contact more than once, and crossed paths with his archenemy Blofeld repeatedly.
NPCs in the Team, the Dread Spectres of the Redshirt, and the GMPC Edit
One option if you have a small group of players, or a notable gap in the team skill set, is to include an NPC or NPCs in the team. They come along on missions, have their own personal issues (although these should be given less screen time than those of the players’ characters) and allow you to take part in in-character dialog.
Of course, there are dangers with this approach. One of the most notable is the GMPC. The “Gamemaster’s Player Character” is a NPC who doesn’t tag along with the team — he lets the team tag along with him. He is essentially a player character, not an NPC, but he has the advantage of having the game’s de facto God on his side. GMPCs hog the spotlight, fight better than the fighters, come up with great plans (because, hey, they know what the clues mean) and generally can do no wrong. Players generally complain about this, and quickly, and yet it still happens.
The other risk is Redshirt Syndrome, named for the anonymous security personnel in Star Trek who were there to show how dangerous the monster of the week was. Too many Storytellers include friendly NPCs, helpful party members and even characters from the players’ backgrounds just so that they can (a) be killed for the sake of a plot development or (b) betray the party likewise. As a result, you’ve probably met players who have a hard time trusting any and all NPCs.
Fortunately, there are ways to encourage trust.
- Don’t make the PCs jealous. This is the GMPC problem in a nutshell. GMPCs take up too much “screen time,” are too good at too many things and, in what many players regard as a cardinal sin, step into their characters’ niches. While having two pilots might be useful, for example, if the player’s character is intended to be a hotshot pilot who does a lot of fancy flying, it had better be her behind the controls when an alien fighter chases the team’s ship through an asteroid field, and not the NPC.
- Don’t make the NPC perfect or useless. A party NPC should be suitably capable at their role unless they’re there as a liability or comic relief, but should also have failings and flaws that serve to humanize them, even if they aren’t human. Use their weaknesses sparingly, because overuse can make them into running jokes.
- Make friendly NPCs actually friendly. They don’t have to love everyone in the party unconditionally, but they should be willing to help out, offer advice, get a round in at the bar occasionally, laugh at some of the players’ in-character jokes... the kinds of things we appreciate from our friends.
- Make the NPCs change in relation to the players’ characters and the setting. Note how characters react to each other, how party members treat the NPCs around them, who knows whom and what. NPCs should develop as well as PCs.
- Don’t kill them or have them betray the party just for shock value. This is not to say that they can never be hurt, or never turn away from the team, but there should be good reasons for both, the betrayal should be foreshadowed (unless the NPC in question is a criminal genius or subject to sudden Doyen possession or something) and the PCs should be able to do something about it.
Player-Defined NPCs Edit
An important subset of friendly NPCs and a smaller number of antagonistic ones are defined at least partially by the players. They appear on character sheets as Allies, Contacts and the like, and in backgrounds as friends, family and, for that matter, rivals and enemies. You should discuss how to use them with the players in question. These are “bought and paid for” and should be used essentially as the player intends, and so the intent has to be understood and agreed upon by both player and Storyteller. The player probably has a particular kind of NPC and relationship in mind, and this should be honored. The NPC has to fit the agreed-upon tone and style of the series, but such is the case with everything.
Equally, this agreement should be honored by both sides — if a player says an Ally is a friend but she treats him like a disposable bodyguard, you should definitely raise this issue with her.
Example: Leviathan has a recurring NPC cast drawn from the ship’s crew. Since the team is not in charge, there must be a captain and a command crew. There may also be other survey teams, as well as a medical staff, pilots for the attached fighters, technicians and a support crew. The roster could be rather large, so I decide to concentrate on the “major supporting cast” that the players will be likely to interact with regularly.
The captain of the L’woe’n, Demyan Kamenev, is a former Legion naval officer seconded to the Leviathan by the Æon Trinity. With a large crew, he tends to delegate dealing with the survey team to his executive officer.
Since Captain Kamenev is going to be fairly distant, I detail the XO more thoroughly. Commander Monika Hayes is a psion herself, an electrokinetic, and a long-term Trinity member. Recently divorced with no children, she is happy to be off-world for a possibly extended period. She will assign missions and pass on intel to the team, and possibly trade sarcastic barbs with the team leader.
The leader of the Locust fighter wing, Lieutenant Andre Davalos, belies the “cocky young pilot” stereotype, being a quiet, thoughtful man dedicated to the protection of his team. A clairsentient, he can also provide clues and story hooks through his powers if there are no clears among the players’ characters.
A possible team NPC, Legionnaire dropship pilot Ken Maher, shuttles the team to and from planetside missions, occasionally finds himself in danger, and can provide running commentary while covering the team’s position with sensors. His partner Melissa Chan, a technician in the geology lab, resents him being assigned a relatively high-threat duty.
Further characters (the ship’s Upeo wa Macho navigator, the chief medical officer, another Proteus team) are sketched in, to be detailed more thoroughly when needed.
Ground Rules Edit
The Golden Rule in the Storyteller System has always been to change what you dislike about the rules and the setting. Of course, changes should be made with the knowledge of the players, so along with an agreement on the style of the game, there should be agreement on house rules and interpretations.
Consider the optional rule for “Extras.” Using this implies a fast-moving action game where combat may occur frequently or not, but is generally not life-threatening to the players’ characters. Disallowing it indicates that physical conflict will be dangerous. This could suggest a game where combat is best avoided and this can generally be achieved, or a series where fighting occurs regularly and the characters will frequently find themselves in mortal danger.
Each of these possibilities influences the tone of the game being played. A session tackling raiders threatening a Blight treatment facility will seem less dangerous if the raiders are expected to be Extras, and this might encourage the players to consider combat as a first resort.
Start as You Mean to Go On Edit
Having agreed on a format, designed the basic structure of the setting, reviewed the players’ characters and the non-player characters they will interact with one a regular basis, the time has come to decide on the events the players must deal with in the first session of the series.
Think of your first session as your pilot episode — you have to hook the audience right away, or you’ll lose them. Your players, of course, are your primary audience, and by this point you should have a reasonably good idea of what they want.
You may also need to introduce some or all of the players to the basics of the system. You can try to do this during the character creation process, or you can include it in the pilot. Give the Legionnaire a session of combat training, give the ISRAn a chance to try out her clairvoyance. Concentrate on systems that will be used frequently. A series about Legionnaires fighting on Khantze Lu Ge will probably feature the combat system more often than a game about members of the Triton Division press corps.
Look at the characters you have, as well as what the players say they want to do. Allow them to interact with what engages them about the setting, and to establish what their characters are like from the outset. In fact, give them a chance to show off.
If the Legionnaire has a notably high Martial Arts skill and zero-g combat abilities, give him a jujitsu fight in freefall as well as chances to shoot blasters and throw flames around. If the clairsentient detective can see around corners, give her a suspect to pursue through labyrinthine corridors. If the player of a telepathic diplomat particularly wants to explore the relationship between humanity and the Qin, include the Qinshui ambassador on an assassin’s hit list.
Example: For Leviathan, I’ve decided to commence the series with the L’woe’n setting off from Luna on its maiden voyage, ahead of schedule due to a clairsentient sensing a (purposely vague) threat to one of the extrasolar colonies. This starts the series with a mystery and an immediate purpose for exploration, gives a reason for the players’ characters not to know each other well beforehand while allowing them to do so, and leads in to a plotline that will test all of the characters.
Ideally, you should have a straightforward plotline of some kind which can be resolved, at least to some extent, by the end of the session. Unless your individual sessions are very short (or spread out through time, as in a play-by-email game) aim for a plotline that you can finish in the few hours you have. That said, be sure to introduce some elements that can be left dangling for future episodes.
After the session, look at the notes you took during it, and see what happened, who did what, which players engaged with which game elements, and what the fallout should be. These are the first notes towards the second episode.
Involving Psi Edit
One particular issue with adventure planning in Trinity is the involvement of noetic Aptitudes. You have to consider the characters’ abilities, and those of their available allies, when preparing adventures for any game, but in Trinity these often include some powers that can derail a variety of storylines. A murder mystery can be unraveled in seconds by a skilled telepath, and a clairsentient can literally look around corners for ambushes.
The simplest method is to curtail the characters’ powers for the sake of a particular storyline — the murder suspect is a telepath himself, or the entire facility is covered by an anti-psionic dampener. This is acceptable in small doses (after all, if such technology exists it will be abused) but overuse can annoy players, since they are effectively being shortchanged on their characters’ abilities.
One way of making this less unfair is to involve it in the plotline itself. Who knew about the psionic dampeners in the lab? Compare that to the list of suspects and it becomes an important clue.
A fairer method is to have the opposition consider the possibility of psionic involvement and plan against it. If you want to ambush a team of psions, you have to bet on the presence of telepaths and clairsentients even if there are actually none in the team. Rather than lying in wait yourself, send a doll with a gun and packed with explosives. If you know you will be fighting a pyrokinetic, try to lure her into a pressurized environment with harsh countermeasures in case of fire. To make sure that this is done fairly, you can provide hints. If the player or her character notices the signs she can find another route rather than having the countermeasures start without warning.
Of course, to balance all of these methods, use them sparingly. Allow the characters plenty of opportunities to use their abilities, psionic and not, without specially prepared defenses against them. Reserve these tricks for real experts. It is perfectly reasonable for a team of FSA assassins on a mission to kill a Legion commander to have anti-psionic alpha wave helmets, but not for a gang of looters riding the Blight Zone on jury-rigged motorbikes. Equally, sending psions to deal with a problem that involves psionic blocking of any kind is a measure of its rarity and importance. For example, a psychomorph cult leader who can render her followers invisible to psionic senses is a significant threat, not to be taken lightly.
Another way of limiting over-reliance on psionics is to consider the ramifications of their detection. In some regions, undeclared psionic use is illegal, and there are various ways to prove it beyond eyewitness testimony. In areas with a high presence of psions, Aptitude use will be sensed and often queried. This should discourage casual psionics.
Go On as You Mean to Go On Edit
Following the pilot is the first regular episode. The players’ characters have been introduced, the background has been sketched in, and the basic form of the game has been defined. It may look a little different than your original design, of course, but games evolve as they go, and actually playing for the first time is a major point of their evolution. Ideally, it adds to what was prepared and suggests new ideas, but sometimes it closes off options and forces new developments. How much of this happens depends on a variety of factors, some of them beyond your control such as a player’s mood on the night, but some foreseeable depending on your preparation. If you prepared well, discussed the intended format and agreed on it, your basic plans for the second episode should still be workable. Take stock of what happened, what didn’t, what worked, what fell flat, new ideas suggested by the players and prompted by their reactions to your plans, and start preparing for your next session.
Now that the characters are on the road and introductions have been made, you can introduce new elements of the setting, and base the session on the format of the series.
At this point, you can more easily afford to have ongoing adventures that take multiple sessions, the beginnings of interweaving plotlines, more depth to character interactions and a general slowing of the pace. You have already provided a snapshot of the series. Now you provide the series itself.
Example: Leviathan will regularly feature the ship arriving at a new destination, to explore it or for some other purpose, in the classic ”spaceship show” format. Since the players’ characters do not have the run of the ship, they cannot normally point it in the direction that most interests them. This will happen sometimes, as the players have more storylines they want their characters to follow, but initially the game will work as a ”spaceship show” while the players find their feet.
For the second episode, I decided to delay the Vision storyline in favor of a ”format” episode, in which the L’woe’n finds an automated freighter adrift in the Asteroid Belt and the Proteus team investigate. The main storyline really has nothing to do with the progression of the series, but it demonstrates that the team and the crew will deal with a variety of problems and threats as a matter of course. As well as the ”A story” about the freighter, the characters will also get to interact with, and see some of the interactions among, the L’woe’n crew (the “B story”).
Keeping Things Moving Edit
Plan and pace sessions depending on their frequency and length. Everyone should have something to do in every session, even if a major plotline focuses on only one or two of the characters, and every session should include some important event. If there is not enough time for a complete episode, there should at least be a major break between “acts.” A faster pace is a good idea in a short session. Every session should be easily summed up and described, at least in retrospect.
Discuss your plans with others, including your players and also other Storytellers you know. Read mailing lists and online forums — as well as Storytellers talking about their plans, you can often find brainstorming topics where suggestions are offered and these can be very helpful in prompting new ideas for everyone involved.
Look over the players’ characters and prominent Storyteller characters again. Story hooks and other background elements might suggest new ideas as the series progresses. Introduce the team of Legionnaires that the telekinetic rescue worker trained with as they head out to Chrome-Prime, or bring on the Ministry agent’s bureaucrat parents who want her to settle down in a safe diplomatic position.
Also, consider how each character’s storylines will affect the other characters. When introducing a crew of amoral smugglers to combat the Fuyoushi marshal, consider how they will relate to the slightly dishonest shipping merchant, and also whether they would regard the vitakinetic doctor as a danger or a valuable asset to be kidnapped.
Further Adventures Edit
<n>Once you and your players have established your characters well, you can focus on more personal storylines. Of course, everyone needs something to do in the session and a reason to come to the game, but a turn in the spotlight can be a lot of fun as long as everyone gets to make an appearance.
Involved and enthusiastic players will often come up with new suggestions and ideas, and these will often be ideas you would never have thought up. Not all of them can or will work with every series, but they should all be taken on board, along with those concepts and ideas that were agreed upon before the series launched. Take a look at them, and see what you can work into a forthcoming session.
Likewise, you might have ideas involving a specific character that did not arise from anything the character’s player actually said. In this case, it is best to check with the player in advance, since your idea might jar with his concept of the character, or might not interest her as something to play. Equally, she might approve wholeheartedly and offer suggestions.
Once a few sessions have passed, you will all know how the ‘format’ of the game works. So you can bend it a little, or break it entirely for an adventure or two. If you have an idea that could fit into the entire scope of the series but not the format, go for it.
Example: After several missions, some of them related to the Vision storyline and all investigating new areas of the Trinity setting, I decide to run a ”bottle episode” set entirely on board the L’woe’n as it travels between stars. This in itself is nothing terribly radical. So how about a light-hearted episode in which the characters and a fellow Proteus team, engaged in a little friendly rivalry which has been established in previous episodes, wager some of their work details on some form of competition?
Of course, if you continue to break the format, eventually you will lose it entirely. This may not be a bad thing, necessarily, but if the players signed on for a particular style of game and you change it into another, without their asking, they may reasonably be displeased.
Shaking Things Up in the Long Term Edit
Formats can be changed occasionally in isolated storylines, but if everyone involved approves, they can also be altered for extended periods. The change can be as simple as removing a recurring Storyteller character or adding a new one, or as complete and permanent as propelling the players’ characters centuries into the future.
This can happen for any number of reasons. The developing plotline could require the change, the players could desire it or their characters could cause it, a player’s departure or arrival could affect the series setup, a new source of inspiration could influence the Storyteller’s plans or a new idea might strike during play.
The more radical the idea, the more the players should be consulted. Surprise developments can be entertaining, but can also upset players’ ideas about and intentions for the game. If you plan on occasionally dropping bombshells on the players unannounced, you should probably at least mention this from the outset.
This is another reason to talk with the players about their plans and preferences as the game continues — you can surprise them without removing their favorite elements of the series or derailing any plans they might have had. For a particularly significant change, it’s often wise to have an “escape clause” in mind, as a way of bringing the game back to something approaching the status quo. After all, the new situation might prove unpopular.
Example: After more than twenty sessions of missions, plot developments, personal storylines and a few format-breaking episodes, the L’woe’n reaches Averiguas. One of the original mission parameters was to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the dispute there. Since this could easily take months to resolve, Leviathan could shift to a planet-based game for several sessions. A new recurring cast is introduced and the game’s focus shifts. Of course, there are plenty of “escape clauses” available — priority missions can curtail the peace process, the political situation could change radically overnight — but for the time being this is a chance to run a ”mini-series” with a different format, while still hopefully entertaining the players.
Things Shaking Up Around You Edit
Other changes will happen to a series beyond your ability to predict or influence them. Even the most skilled Storyteller cannot stop a player having to move out of town.
This is another area where communication within the group is very helpful. A few days’ warning can make all the difference between a well-focused Storyteller bringing a particular chapter of a series to a finale and sending the player’s character off in style, and a distracted Storyteller wondering what to say after “um... when are you going?” On a smaller scale, individual sessions can be derailed, often with little or no warning, for myriad reasons. The Storyteller has a migraine, a player misses his bus and the game has to start an hour late, someone gets an important phone call at just the wrong moment, everyone is snowed in by a sudden blizzard... If the session cannot go ahead at all, apologize to everyone involved. Assuming it does, take a moment to consider the options available for running the session differently than the original plan.
It’s a good idea to have a second episode idea ”on file” in case the lack of a particular player, players or other element will completely wreck the idea you had in mind. This works well if you have a single-session episode planned, or the start of a multiple-session plotline, but is less viable if you are starting from a cliffhanger. In that case, delaying the session might be the best idea, but you can also introduce a subplot.
Sometimes, instead of an unexpected loss, you have an unexpected gain, such as new players who would like to join the ongoing series. They should be treated much like the players at the start of the game, with the addition of being able to talk to current players and review material such as adventure logs. Character generation takes time, especially if the new players have never played Trinity (or any roleplaying games) before, and if you cannot arrange to create a character between sessions handing over a template (or a selection of templates) and temporarily assigning those characters to the team can be more effective. Make sure that the new players understand the rules as they are used, if they are unfamiliar with the system. This is effectively the pilot episode for this player. Afterwards, you can discuss the introduction of their own characters in the next session.
Closing Time Edit
Eventually, the time will come to bring a game to a close. This more often happens by accident than design, and a game peters out — in effect, a series is canceled without warning. The Storyteller or the most active players have to leave, time constraints change, or numerous small reasons build up to discourage further sessions. It’s unfortunate, and it can sometimes be avoided. At the very least, a properly final storyline can be planned and run for the last few sessions.
Discuss how you and your players would like the series to end, after looking back on the series as a whole. Perhaps a specific storyline will occur to you — perhaps several will, and you can combine them if you have enough room.
Description and Atmosphere Edit
When everyone in the game has to rely on you for descriptions of how they perceive the world, your methods are vitally important. Fortunately, you have five, and in some cases six, senses at your disposal, as well as a variety of methods you can employ.
Description as Tone Edit
“As you approach, you see what the sensors have picked up. It’s easily fifteen feet tall, mottled a livid purple color, with a roughly humanoid abdomen and a recognizable head with round black eyes and a fanged maw. In place of legs it has a tail, lined with short legs like a caterpillar’s, and instead of arms it has two ropy tentacles on each side. It sees you and crawls towards you quickly.”
“As you approach, you see what the sensors have picked up. Black eyes narrow in its head and a mouthful of fangs glitter, its torso flexes as it rears up, looming more than twice as tall as the tallest of you. The whole thing is mottled purple, like a fresh bruise. Two muscular tentacles grip the walls on each side as it pushes itself towards you, dragging a misshapen tail supported by caterpillar legs.”
How you describe things immediately influences the tone of the scene. A Legionnaire’s casual in-character classification of an Aberrant as “a class three, probably a Yogger judging by all the tentacles” will provoke a different response than the out-of-character description pointing out that the thing is fifteen feet tall and a livid purple color. It puts the ”facts” of the situation across straightforwardly and provides enough data for a mental picture.
A more nervous reaction can be achieved by replacing “fifteen feet tall” with “looming more than twice as tall as the tallest of you,” emphasizing how small the characters are compared to it, and describing its coloring as “like a fresh bruise” connects the idea of pain to it. The facts haven’t changed, but the players are likely to see it rather differently. This will probably affect their immediate reaction to the threat.
In less urgent scene-setting, description still affects tone. Consider a corporate space station with white walls. Refer to them as ”plain” and the players will treat the location more neutrally than if you describe them as ”featureless” or ”austere.”
Detail Informs, Brevity Allows Invention Edit
The more detail you put into a description, the more the players have to react to. However, there are limits. Every added detail risks being forgotten. Include three or four salient details, and put something vital at the end — or something that you want to appear vital. In the descriptions of the Aberrant above, one ends with the rather important fact that it’s approaching the characters, while the other ends by pointing out how. In the latter case, it could serve to draw fire towards the monster’s limbs, away from the head and torso, since it leaves them freshest in the players’ minds.
Of course, players wanting additional detail or clarification can and will ask questions. In some cases, a question suggests a character reaction and you should point that out. If the team enters a corridor and find a robotic assassin waiting for them, one of the players might ask if there’s a fire extinguisher in the area. Ask whether her character is actually looking, since that would be an action.
Another player reaction is to invent minor details themselves. In this case, the player announces that her character is grabbing the fire extinguisher by the door. Whether you should allow this kind of invention or not depends on the tone of the game, and should be established. Players adding details suggests a more adventurous game, where the characters’ stunts and tricks with the scenery and props of a scene increase the players’ involvement in the game. There are limits, of course. Trinity’s sister game Adventure! contains rules for just such player additions, and to use their examples having a fire extinguisher conveniently located is less of a stretch than having a car turn out to be submersible when it falls into the water. Some players will use or abuse this freedom more than others, so be prepared to negotiate on any ideas which would really change the tone of the scene.
It should be noted that asking and inventing imply different feelings from the player involved. If she asks about something, she is more ready to take ”no” for an answer than if she states that it is so. In the latter case, she is probably enthusiastic about the idea, and will be more disappointed if it is disallowed. This is another case where “yes, but...” can be a better answer than “no”.
Describing Psi Edit
<n>One of the unique elements of Trinity is the prevalence of psionic abilities, often among players’ characters, and there are a variety of ways to visualize these phenomena. What does it feel like to read minds, to see a past event, to pick up an object with a thought? And what do witnesses sense when a Mode is in use? How you answer these questions can affect the mood and style of your series.
When characters have a literal, rules-defined sixth sense, it can help to describe their sensations in terms of the other five. Clairvoyance and clairaudience literally mean clear seeing and clear hearing, but do they also pick up other senses on the way — the smell of gas as a psychometrist examines an explosion, for example? Likewise, a ”danger sense” could reflect the actual sensation of someone standing too close behind you when nervous, but focused and targeted in a definable direction.
How sharp are these sensations? Do clairsentients’ visions seem hazy or entirely real? This could be defined by the immediacy of the vision or the roll of the dice, but it could also be a story factor. For example, a vision might normally be described as washed-out colors and echoing sounds, but a particularly intense one might seem entirely real to the psion, leaving him — and his player — unsure as to what was reality and what was precognition.
Another question is the appearance of psionic Modes as witnessed from the outside. While some are obviously ‘flashy’ and others are defined as being subtle by the rules, others are open to interpretation. If pyrokinetic characters are wreathed in flame whenever using that Mode and clairsentients’ eyes glow as they activate their powers, this suggests a more superheroic or anime version of Trinity. If a Psion simply appears to be looking at something in the middle distance when she empowers a Mode, that indicates a more low-key approach. Each fits a certain style of game.
You can also mix and match the approaches depending on the characters involved. Perhaps a showoff Legionnaire on Khantze Lu Ge always brings up a shield of fire when going into combat in a low-key game, or an untrained psychomorph might be unable to use cryokinesis without the nearby area turning cold. Equally, a character who does not make their powers obvious in a superheroic game might indicate that she has an unusual level of control — perhaps most of the Legions signal their attacks with unconscious displays of power, but the Order’s assassins never do.
Handouts, Miniatures and More Edit
One trick to influencing tone is the use of handouts. If you can show them a picture of a character or location, it can help to ground your descriptions. This may not always be helpful (for example, a horror story might work better without a depiction of the barely-glimpsed monster) and can be distracting, but it can be useful as well.
As well as illustrating things the characters see, handouts can also take the role of visual data in-game. If you hand the players a satellite photo of the location they are about to enter, they can study it in depth.
Handouts can also include props such as documents that the players can read in full as their characters do. This can make the setting more detailed and allow players to draw their own conclusions as to which information is significant, but can also lead to a pause in the game as everyone reads over the same sheets of paper.
Beyond handouts, other props can also be used. One common form of prop is the miniature figure (as seen in Trinity: Battleground). This can be of great assistance in determining range, line of sight and other tactical features in combat, but this can often make combat more tactical and less involving, turning action scenes into short wargame scenarios.
Music can also be used to create mood or set the scene. This can be distracting, however, especially when it involves a lot of juggling CDs and skipping inappropriate tracks. Music with lyrics can also distract from the Storyteller and players speaking, as well.
Changing the World: Altering Canon, Replacing Elements and Rewiring the Setting Edit
The Trinity Universe is a huge and complex setting, incorporating our entire solar system and locations in several others and in-between, home to multiple sentient species including two variant strains of humanity, and with a timeline that stretches out for over a century before and after the present day. It’s a brave Storyteller that would even consider using it all in one game, and there are parts of the setting that will not fit into every series. And, of course, you are free to alter whatever you choose.
Pure Science Fiction Trinity Edit
The Trinity setting is almost one hundred and twenty years ahead of us, and has seen remarkable progress and terrible tragedy, but much of it is possible, assuming the possibility of psionic ability and sentient alien life. Some of it, however, is based on an alternate timeline where the world has already changed dramatically by the present day. This variation removes that. It retains the original premise of Trinity alone, divorcing it from both Aberrant and Adventure!. The human race survived a century of turmoil, conflict and upheaval, harnessed psionic power, and begun to spread among the stars. The main difference is that it extrapolates from our present rather than an already-changed world. The history of the setting is the modern world, rather than the present as depicted in Aberrant, and before that our history, rather than the alternate world of Adventure!.
If the Aberrants appeared at all, they did so decades later than 1998, and their effect on the world before the Aberrant War was relatively low-key. They would be the relatively dangerous Aberrants seen in Trinity rather than the far more powerful novas of Aberrant.
The Æon Trinity develops from a medical research organization, an international crisis aid charity and an educational project brought together during the fallout of the Aberrant War — or another major conflict of the mid-21st century. It could easily resemble the 22nd-century Trinity, simply lacking the storied history of its standard equivalent, or perhaps be less centrally powerful. The setting already has a number of different groups that could take its place entirely if need be.
Still Further Changes Edit
The Aberrant threat could be removed entirely, replaced by more mundane forms of conflict and disaster, or for that matter by rogue psychomorphs. Technology advances relatively steadily until a major war in the mid-21st Century, and then begins to advance again until first contact provides a major advance. Since the Aberrants are significant in Trinity history but play a relatively minor role in the present, this change could be relatively straightforward. The Æon Trinity could also be written out, replaced by agencies of the United Nations, independent watchdogs and other oversight groups. Losing the name of the game would be the most notable effect.
The Orders could be deleted as well, replaced entirely with a sudden increase in psychomorphs. The freeform psionics system would be suggested for character creation, although simply offering anyone any Mode could also work. General groupings of psions demonstrating a particular Mode or following a particular leader could still happen — some or all of the leaders could even be the Proxies of the standard setting — but without the Prometheus Chambers, they are far less centralized and powerful.
Equally, the Orders could be increased. Perhaps the Chitra Bhanu were never destroyed, the Upeo wa Macho stayed in the system and prevented the Paris catastrophe, another Prometheus Chamber is constructed, or a schism in one of the Orders has lead the two sides to separate entirely. This can add further complexity to the setting, and drive new story ideas.
Likewise, the Orders could be rearranged, spearheaded by different personalities. Imagine a combative Order of electrokinetics lead by Larssen, or Herzog’s philosophical telepaths.
A radical alternative could remove sentient alien contact, so that the Prometheus Chambers are a marvel of human ingenuity, and biotechnology could take a few steps backward in development. Renegade superhumans provide a continuing spaceborne threat, with different human governments and corporate bodies clashing on the borders of the solar system and the UN struggling to keep the peace.
More radical still, we could remove the psions. When the Aberrants return they are beaten back by baseline human technology and ingenuity, and perhaps a little alien assistance. Characters could be generated using the neutral template, perhaps with the higher points spread of psion characters to represent more initial experience. Free attunement for biotechnology would make it central to many characters.
The removal and replacement of all of these elements would leave a vanilla science fiction game with a diverse earthly culture, the beginnings of extraterrestrial colonization and extrasolar exploration, and humanity alone on the frontier. It would be a very different game, but could still put much of the source material, such as the Earth governments and other power groups, to good use in it.
Alternative Histories of the Trinity Universe Edit
Having offered ideas for shifting the Trinity setting into our own future by rewriting its history, we could go further back and change history as much as the other Trinity Universe games do, but in rather different ways. As this is a Trinity supplement, each of the following suggestions focuses on the possibility of playing psions in different time periods.
First Orders Edit
In Trinity as presented, the Orders have been active in public for several years, and in secret before that. Pulling the timeline back a few decades, the players’ characters could be among their founding members. They work closely with the Proxies to establish networks of communication and supply, help to protect the Prometheus Chambers, establish links with other organizations, and prepare for the moment they are ready to reveal themselves to humanity — until the Aberrants attack and force their hand.
Psion 2008 Edit
Instead of novas manifesting in 1998, psychomorphs appear instead. Whether they develop naturally (perhaps using the freeform psi system from the Trinity Players Guide for character creation, or simply allowing a mixture of Modes) or the Orders arrive a century ahead of the canonical schedule, they are greeted much as the novas are in Aberrant, begin to change the world in remarkable ways, and make a number of enemies as they do. The resulting game could resemble the modern reaction to superhumans seen in Aberrant.
For a modern psion game with an entirely different tone, psychomorphs could appear in small numbers and find that they have very good cause not to reveal their powers to the general public. Their effect on the world would be far less radical as the game takes the form of a modern conspiracy series. Scattered groups of psychics, sought by governments and conspiracies as living weapons, fighting one another as some try to use their powers responsibly while others run amok.
A game about psychics on the run, trying to keep their powers secret from the world at large, could draw from White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting for inspiration. Characters could be fugitives trying to stay free, conspirators attempting to harness this new force for good or ill, investigators looking for the truth behind a sudden rash of seemingly-paranormal events, or psychics trying to make a difference in a world that denies their existence. For an example, see David Cronenberg’s Scanners, in which people exposed to a particular drug in their mother’s wombs develop telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis, an underground movement forms, and the most powerful Scanner tries to extort political power.
This particular variant could also be included in the established setting with no major changes to it. A small number of psychomorphs appear at the height of the Nova Age, as a reaction to the increase in taint levels. Give them a reason to stay undercover, with a secretive group called Project Pandora helping or chasing them, and keep the novas themselves largely offstage and out of their conflicts.
Mystery! Tales Of The Æon Society Edit
In the established setting, the first significant appearance of psychomorphs, as well as paramorphs and eximorphs, takes place in the early 20th Century, leading to an alternate history of the kind our world only saw in pulp magazines and Saturday morning serials. If we assume that only psionics exist, consider the removal of daredevils and stalwarts from Adventure!, making some of their particular knacks available to the remaining mesmerists. Changing the setting still further, these early psions could be the result of the Orders forming almost two centuries early, operating in secret.
Of course, these are just examples following the styles of Aberrant and Adventure! and one quite different idea firmly rooted in the present. This could be carried further, with an explosion of psychic activity during the 1960s or resulting from the Victorian and Edwardian Spiritualist movement, Rasputin’s influence on the Russian court, or psychics being hailed as living saints or accused of witchcraft in the Middle Ages. The occasional appearance of psychomorphs and other superhumans before 1922 is strongly hinted at in the Trinity Universe. Equally, you can go forward, further into the future.
But we leave the future in your hands.