Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Aliens & Asteroids: DSF Chaplain Corps

I've been out of the abbey two days, I've beaten a lawman senseless, I've fallen in with criminals. I watched the captain shoot the man I swore to protect. And I'm not even sure if I think he was wrong...
– Shepherd Book
I've been intrigued by alien-light SF recently – Aliens, The Expanse, Outland and so on – the kind of grimy, industrial SF that looks like humanity is well out of its league. It's got a rough-edged appeal that I find lacking in most incarnations of Star Wars or Trek (there are some exceptions, typically when the focus is on the grimy underbelly of the settings).

It's had me looking at a number of cool RPGs, and one to which I've really taken a fancy is Brian Fitzpatrick's Aliens & Asteroids. A PWYW quick-start is available from DriveThruRPG here, and the full rulebook here. To sum it up briefly (doing it something of a disservice), it's a military-focused game with PCs all coming from Humanity's Dominion Space Forces (DSF) – though that's really easy to change if you prefer, say, a more exploration- or crime-driven game. It's got me thinking, so this might be the first of a few pieces outlining some ideas for tweaking the game to suit my own vision.

The DSF offers several career paths – grunt, commander, medic, scientist, etc. – already, but a post on the official Facebook group got me thinking about a military unit that could really bring something a bit different to the table: chaplains. There's a strong thread of counselors and preachers in SF series – TNG's Deanna Troi, Firefly's Shepherd Book, Captain Martens from The Expanse – and in a setting where alien horrors are in addition to the isolation and fingertip survival of life at the fringes of space, they'd be a much-valued addition to a crew.
DSF Chaplain Corps
A member of the DSF's Chaplain Corps is a commissioned military officer as well as an officiant or minister representing a religion, faith group, or philosophy. Their primary focus is on troop welfare and the provision of counseling and moral support to DSF personnel, but they may also find themselves tasked to act as advisors and negotiators when the DSF (or other Dominion agencies) encounters religious groups or similar organizations.

Profession: Chaplain
Prime Attribute: Education
Traits: Counseling, Leadership, Meditation, Psychology, Religion
The chaplain can fit into most stories with this kind of varied role. Accompanying DSF teams on particularly long or taxing operations is a natural fit, where they can use their counseling and morale role to maintain operational effectiveness. They can adopt an investigatory role, especially where fringe religions, alien fetishists, or apocalyptic cults may be involved.

Their trait options border both those of the existing Commander and Medic, without rendering either one of the other redundant. It also lends itself to a varied character – while Education is the default Prime Attribute (i.e. the one that will see most use) due to Counseling and Religion being the 'default' traits, Presence could be subbed in if the chaplain wants to focus on a negotiation or liaison role (or just be a bit more 'fire and brimstone').

There's just one more thing... something that I'd offer as an option because it won't be for every player or Referee:
Non-Combatant: The chaplain does not bear arms and has dedicated more time to non-military pursuits – select a second Trait from those available to the profession. Combat experience has been neglected, however – attack actions are made at a Disadvantage (unless other traits or situational factors apply) and hitting an opponent with an attack action (whether or not it causes damage) counts as a triggering situation for the chaplain, who must make a Save vs. Morale.
This is a pretty hefty disadvantage in a military-themed game, but I do think it's an important element to attempt to reflect – military chaplains tend to be unarmed non-combatants (there are some historical cases to the contrary), but then they never had to face the possibility of encountering alien monstrosities. Some Referees might deem the Disadvantage to attack actions sufficient and drop the Save vs. Morale element (though it seems like that's the perfect use for that mechanic!) or might rule that it only applies when facing humans (aliens being fair game). Another option might be to waive it for non-lethal options such as fist-fighting (as I almost certainly would), batons, and/or stun guns.


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