Outlands (Tabletop RPG)
March 20, 2008
I'm pleased to announce that after a decade of being out of print, my second tabletop RPG, Outlands (last published in 1995), is now available once again on the Discordia Incorporated website. You can find the PDF version of Outlands here. None of the illustrations are included, alas, but all of the text and tables are reproduced faithfully.
The purpose of Outlands was to take a variety of different classic science fiction sources - including Aliens, Angel Station, Blade Runner, Dune, Outland, Wetware and Blake's 7 - and merge them into a melange that would present a coherent science fiction setting, in the way that Dungeons & Dragons did with fantasy sources. Oddly, while D&D is usually not criticised for incorporated Orcs, Outlands was criticised at release for including the Fremen (from Dune) as a playable race, which makes me wonder if people are more open to amalgam backgrounds in fantasy than in science fiction.
Outlands is fairly mechanics heavy, and has a detailed character generation system that some players love (and play as a game in itself!) while others find it too complex and long. It's also the only game I know of which offers the possibility to play an animal species that has been artificially raised to sentience (with the possible exception of Paul Kidd's Albedo, but then, you can't play a human in Albedo!)
Some of the mechanics - such as those describing the singularity shots used to pilot from star system to star system - are effectively mini-games embedded within the larger framework. Perhaps the most interesting part of the background is the capacity for an individual to take a copy of their personality engrams via a wetdrive and upload them onto drones, or leave a copy at a Neozen temple so that they can still be spoken to after death. My favourite mechanics are those for generating stellar systems (p108-114), which I created while studying Astrophysics at Manchester University, and might be the most realistic rules of their kind.
My thanks to Peter Crowther for faithfully keeping the backup from which the game was rescued, Chris Keeling for an incredible repair job on the manuscript, and Neil for putting it up on the site.
"Oddly, while D&D is usually not criticised for incorporated Orcs, Outlands was criticised at release for including the Fremen (from Dune) as a playable race, which makes me wonder if people are more open to amalgam backgrounds in fantasy than in science fiction."
I have to say, Orcs and Orks are rather more generic than Fremen! I mean, I don't have to make a case for what one can find in Wikipedia anyway, but the former is an mythological archetype given fine detail by a few early fantasy writers, and the latter is a real people given a complete overhaul and new setting by one writer. Or...do we disagree? ;)
Posted by: zenBen | March 20, 2008 at 02:30 PM
Cool! I have informed my tabletop-RPG-lovin' friends.
Posted by: Darius K. | March 20, 2008 at 03:22 PM
Frankly, all orcs/orks and elves are stolen from Tolkein... he invented them in their current incarnation almost from whole cloth.
Fremen-like groups occur sparsely throughout sci-fi, but aren't as commonplace as orcs.
Things only become generic -after- they've been 'appropriated' enough times, apparently.
Posted by: B. Dewhirst | March 20, 2008 at 03:51 PM
Damn, did I not manage to keep the artwork? Thought I had.
Posted by: Peter Crowther | March 20, 2008 at 05:13 PM
Just printed this out, looking forward to reading it over the weekend. Thanks for making this available!
FYI its formatted slightly larger then A4 size. So, if you are in North America, its not going to quite fit on 8 1/2 x 11 - its actually ok, just the bottom edge gets pretty close to the page numbers.
Posted by: Jos Y. | March 20, 2008 at 07:57 PM
zenBen: of course, Orcs have *become* more generic... B. Dewhirst (no first name, B.?) hits the nail on the head here for me:
"Things only become generic -after- they've been 'appropriated' enough times, apparently."
So it seems!
B.: I totally agree with you here. Goblins and ogres have mythological roots, but Orcs are Tolkien's invention (they slot neatly between the two, though!)
It made sense to me that if D&D can borrow a race from Tolkien (two, actually, but only one of the names! ;> ) I should be able to borrow a race from Herbert for a sci fi amalgam. After all, D&D is the reason Orcs have become generic! It was the TSR versus the Estate of JRR Tolkein lawsuit that freed imaginary races from the usually tedious IP restrictions.
Peter: Sorry, didn't mean to startle you there - we have the art, we just haven't incorporated it into the manuscript because we didn't have a version of the manuscript with the images correctly imbedded. So the images do exist, we just haven't got them in this PDF version. Thanks once again for your faithful archivism!
Jos Y: whoops! Thanks for the warning Jos!
Posted by: Chris | March 21, 2008 at 01:05 PM
I appreciate your reasoning that people "shouldn't" complain about Fremen if they don't complain about Orcs.. but.. I find it jarring to read through and see Fremen there. Sorry, but I just can't accept it.
I guess I'm not a counterexample to your argument though, because I would complain if there were Orcs there as well. People need to stop ripping off bloody orcs and make up their own damn monsters.
I complained about the blatant Fremen-by-a-different-name in Wheel of Time too. So I guess I'm just a whiny bastard who likes to have new things.
Posted by: brog | March 25, 2008 at 12:05 PM
brog: at least you're honest. :) I hope, no matter how jarring you find it, you appreciate the intention behind this. And also, given the extent of this complaint, you'll note that I've never tried the same thing since!
Posted by: Chris | March 26, 2008 at 12:00 PM