Looking into the Well
By Aaron M. Pollyea
When the call went out for ideas for Strange New Worlds, Mission Compendium Vol. 2, I was excited. Right here was where Star Trek could be in its element: ‘…strange new worlds. To seek out new life, and new civilizations…’. What could I do to bring all of that into one adventure? What new world have we not seen, what type of lifeform and civilization is truly alien?
The setting of a gas giant came on fairly quickly as it is not something we have ever really seen explored in such a way in an episode of Star Trek in regards to complex life. I’ve read many articles, due to my interest in astrophysics and everything dealing with space, that life could exist in gas giants, but not likely complex life. Here was a chance to think about how life could evolve, what its stable environment should seem like, how they access to complex chemicals (i.e., food), how they would have technology, etc. I describe most of these ideas inside the adventure “Drawing Deeply From The Well,” and discuss how characters would discover much of that information.
How can you bring strange and new ideas into your game? My first recommendation, besides watching a lot of Star Trek, is to explore various astronomy magazines. Each one of these monthly publications provides ample photos of deep sky objects, information on current space missions, information about the coming months’ night sky and what could be seen there away from the glow of city lights. I recommend Astronomy as well as Sky and Telescope; both should provide ample images to stir your imagination. The idea for Purgatory itself came from an academic article I had read about the relative abundance of ‘hot Jupiters’ in the Galaxy. With so many out there, one was bound to have a little something more interesting about it.
Having a strange new world and the beings that live on or in them is only half the picture. You should develop a story that can be told, perhaps only be told, through the eyes or the presence of these new beings and their strange environment. What can humanity learn about itself through beings that never touch solid ground, or have no ‘spoken’ language due to their environment being too loud? What experiences can these beings have that will make the players pause, think, and perhaps even re-evaluate their own or their characters’ ideas?
The best advice I can give is to allow the characters and their players to develop an empathy even with the most bizarre life forms out there. Remember the feeling you had when Spock mind-melded with the Horta in “The Devil in the Dark?” When she burned into the rock, “NO KILL I”? This strange blob of rock and ooze is only a being that is afraid for its life, and the life of its unborn children. It may take some time to find the perfect story to tell with the beings you have created in the strange environment you wish to explore, but when you do, the payoff should be great!