Back in 1999, I met a curious fellow by the name of Jared Sorensen. We met at a game convention, spending a few hours just chatting about games. This is when Jared introduced me to the concept of “the three questions.”

Jared used his questions as a kind of compass to keep himself on track when designing games. It was at that time I started designing what I call my “Little Games.” Games like Cat, Yesterday’s Tomorrow and Wield were games with a single theme, razor focused and rarely over fifty pages long. Jared’s three questions proved very useful. Even when I began design on a Big Game such as Houses of the Blooded, the questions kept me headed in the same direction as when I started. Trust me, it’s easy to get lost in 400+ pages of game design. Very easy.

I have started every new project with the three questions in mind. Except this one. I can’t tell you exactly why but…

I think I got distracted by the boobs.

Galaxy XXX began as an idea tossed around by Jessica Kauspedas and myself in a restaurant called Fuddruckers. (A name that practically begs to be mispronounced and stagger into an overt sexual innuendo.) I stumbled across a couple podcasters saying they wanted to play a game where, “The only resolutions to conflict were epic space battles and sex!” I told Jessica, “I want to design that game.” So, we started talking about it.

The film Barbarella had a profound impact on my youthful libido and when I heard that line, a mostly naked Jane Fonda popped into my head. The film’s absurd nonsense stuck with me and still amuses me to no end. Now, make no mistake, it’s an awful film, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it. I know the whole thing almost line-by-line. But the one thing that struck me about the film is that only one person actually dies in the film (Durand Durand) and it’s not from a gun or a sword or any kind of weapon.

And that got me thinking.

In most RPGs, a ten second fight scene takes four hours of real time to resolve, but seducing the bar maid is just a single roll. (This is where I make the obvious joke: “A game designed by virgins with sword fetishes.”)

Could I design a game that did the opposite? Where fight scenes are completely incidental to the plot and sex is the main resolution mechanic?

This is how Galaxy XXX started. But, it hit a few boobs. I mean, bumps. Stumbling blocks. Aw, you know what I mean.

My main problem? I forgot to ask the three questions.

I got so distracted by the goal, I forgot to lay the groundwork. I started walking without a map. I knew where I wanted to go, but I had no idea how to get there. And it wasn’t until late in the process—when I had a playtest document—that I realized I ended up someplace completely different than where I wanted to be.

So, like the Boy Scouts trained me, I turned around and went back the way I came. I started from scratch. And when I got to the beginning, I asked myself the first question…

What is Your Game About?

Galaxy XXX is about exploring ideas that are different from your normal experience, learning from that exploration, and how important it is to recognize that beyond the superficial differences, we’re all really the same.

As you’ll find out, the 40th Century is filled with alien species with very different ideas than our own. Ideas about violence, sexuality, freedom, heroism and love. But if you look under the surface of these ideas, you’ll discover there are more similarities than differences. Too often, we get distracted by cultural differences. We see foreign customs that seem different. Culture is a mask. If you look under the mask, you’ll always find a human face.

Most roleplaying game fetishize violence. With initiative, speed factors, damage values, bleeding rules, fire damage, acid damage, poison damage… all of this is obsession over details. But if the issue of sex comes up… well, that’s taboo, fella. We don’t talk about sex at this table.

This game is a little different. Keeping with the first question, we want to explore a game that focuses on sex and de-emphasizes violence to the point of triviality. But we also wanted players to have the option of playing characters who were not just aliens from another world, but different in an all-together human way. Thus, we made gender presentation and orientation mechanics in the game. You can choose to make your character a different gender than your own and a different orientation than your own. After all, isn’t one of the things that makes an RPG different from a table top board game is that your playing piece can be different than you?

So, that’s what my game is about: putting players in a safe situation where they can play outside their comfort zones. Explore something different. Trying on someone else’s shoes and walking for a mile. Someone said you should do that. I’m forgetting his name…

Finally, Galaxy XXX is a science fiction game. And part of the genre of science fiction I love the most is this idea: “We’re going to get better. We’re going to solve problems. We’re gonna sort this stuff out.”

The game takes place in the 40th Century and keeping with that theme, mankind has indeed “sorted this stuff out.” We’ve come a long way since the time of constant warfare, bigotry, slavery and greed. Forgive me for getting political for a moment, and it’ll only be for a moment, but right now—right now—in the 21st Century, in the wealthiest country in the world, a significant percentage of our citizens go without food or shelter. In the wealthiest country in the world.

Needless to say, that’s a problem. Fortunately, by the 40th Century, we’ve recognized that’s a problem and we took care of it. We’ve created technology that fixes those problems. We’ve created technology that fixes illness and injury. And we’ve bumped into alien species who have done the same thing. In fact, they got the tech to do so from the same source we did.

More on that later.

But the galaxy still has problems. Yes, we’ve sorted out illness and hunger and poverty, but there are still issues we have to deal with.

That’s where the players come in. They’re going to be playing the roles of people who solve the galaxy’s problems. They’re “voyeurs” who have special authority granted by the intergalactic government. They travel around the stars dealing with pirates and slavers and smugglers and evil people who want to revert the galaxy back to the old ways of doing things.

You see, in Star Wars, the heroes are trying to overthrow evil ideas. In Galaxy XXX, the heroes are protecting good ones.

The galaxy is a great and wonderful place that cares about you. And the players represent that. They are agents of hope. They are good people looking out for others. Not for money or glory or fame. But because when you have super powers, that’s what you do. You help out wherever you can.

When you get the awesome, you gotta share the awesome.

And maybe that’s what Galaxy XXX is about, too.

How Does Your Game Do That?

Designing a roleplaying game is a lot like designing a philosophy. When you design a philosophy, you’re saying, “I think this is how the world works.” Well, when you design an RPG, you’re doing the same thing. Except in an RPG, you aren’t speculating. You actually get to be the person who decides how the world works.

Jessica and I thought about how the setting of Galaxy XXX works and we came to a few conclusions.

Remember the old GI Joe cartoon from the ’80’s? How about The A-Team? You need something more modern? How about the Fast & Furious franchise? Well, all these things have something in common.

Violence is background noise.

The shootout scenes in GI Joe and the A-Team were full of sound and fury but really never amounted to anything. They usually ended when one side ran out of bullets. Nobody got shot, or if they did, it didn’t really matter.

And injury? Hah! I remember watching Furious 7…

… wait a second. I should pause for a moment.

Before I saw Furious 7, I had never seen a Fast & Furious movie before. My first time. When I walked out, it was clear to me this franchise takes place in an alternate universe where white males are not in charge of things, physics don’t work the same, 9/11 never happened, people have actual character classes (the soldier, the clown, the bad ass, etc.), being an officer of the law or a criminal gives you mystical healing and fighting powers, federal governments have no real authority and have to operate clandestinely, and street shamans summon the power inside of magical cars.

I also discovered I may be alone in this interpretation. But Vin Diesel is a gamer, so I’m maintaining my hypothesis.

Okay, digression over.

I remember watching Furious 7 and Dwayne Johnson’s character—who’s been sitting in a hospital for weeks with broken limbs—suddenly decides his injuries don’t matter anymore. He breaks his casts, flexes his muscles and his broken bones suddenly mend with the sound of cracking knuckles. It was at that moment I figured out how to do violence in our game.

Injury and violence are incidental. In fact, players choose when their characters get injured. Not from the result of a roll, but because it makes the story more interesting. And when the injury doesn’t matter anymore… it just goes away.

Violence is incidental. It’s the sex that matters. And it can take a long time to resolve it.

What Behaviors Does Your Game Reward?

Sex.

No, I mean it. We reward you for having lots and lots of sex.

There’s this mechanic called “Sex Energy” that gives you tons of bonus dice. You get Sex Energy by having sex with other people. Well, specifically, you give people Sex Energy by having sex with them. The better the sex, the more Sex Energy you give. So, if you’ve got two people who have amazing chemistry and are great in the sack, they’re going to give each other a ton of Sex Energy. And you want Sex Energy because it gives you bonus dice. Like, a lot of them.

The game also rewards you for being a hero. We’ve got these things called “Hero Points.” The more hero you are, the more Hero Points you get. And you’ll want Hero Points. Trust me.

Of course, if you choose to be an evil bastard, you lose your character. Straight up. She becomes an NPC. Don’t do that.

With Your Consent…

So, with all that in mind, let’s get on with the game. It’s a game about sex and love and blind heroics. A game about seeing yourself in strange faces, a game about looking beyond the superficial to something deeper. And it’s a game about sex. A science fiction game that boldly predicts that we’re going to fix all these problems we have now and finally get along with each other. And, it’s a game about sex. A game about how technology may change us in the future, about the fluidity of gender and how mortality may just be an engineering problem. And, it’s about sex.

By the way, did we mention the sex?

Galaxy XXX: Three Questions

5 thoughts on “Galaxy XXX: Three Questions

  • John, I think you may be obsessing a bit about the sex part of it. I would sure like to hear Jessica’s description of what the game is about and how it should be played.

  • It looks like you’re on the right track. Very promising. The subject I would like you to adress is BDSM and I don’t mean the leather fetish or the 50 shades… nonsense but the idea that some people like to dominate or be dominated. It can create problems. On one hand in a game like this it can lead to abuse and on the other it is a sexual route some players might want to explore. How to deal with that? Will you say ‘just don’t go there or you’ll lose your character’ or will there be some rules like safe words etc.?

  • I am not sure I will play this game regularly, but I am sure it will be an entertaining read. Keep going!

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