RPG Talk: The Game World's Satellite

It's still Moonshot Week here at the SBG, but how does that theme relate to role-playing games? Well, just as going to the Moon was a grand adventure, so can going to your game world's "satellite world". What that means depends entirely on you and your campaign.

The "Satellite World" is a world separate from your usual game world, but accessible from it, if only with difficulty. It may be another planet, a neighboring realm or something beyond the dimensional veil, but in any case, going there should seem like an at once daunting and exciting enterprise. When characters realize they have to go there, their minds should reel from both the adventure's potential and its difficulties. And indeed, getting there is half the challenge.

Where To?
More fantastical campaigns have an easier time of it. Whether its underpinnings are magical or scientific, every world can mount an expedition to another planet, a different plane of existence or even another time period. Without your feet having to leave the ground, there are still isolated lands that reputedly none of your countrymen have returned from or even reached. Think of Mordor or all those Lost Lands filled with dinosaurs, intact Incan cities and undersea realms that populate pulp fiction. In a straight, history-based campaign, like say a western, a country like France may seem so far away as to be another planet. And the GM can certainly make it seem that way to the hicks from Deadtown when they finally arrive after 8 weeks of sea-going hardship. More extreme yet, send them to Japan.

Of course, the GM has to "sell" his Satellite World to the players. Yes, sometimes it's clear. That Moon in the sky is just begging to be the "next frontier", for example. But you can't spring an expedition to Mordor on the players if none of them know that Mordor is this unattainable goal filled with bogeymen. Well, you can, but it won't feel like a Moonshot. Mordor has to be set up in advance, it's got to be the place everyone tells you not to go to, or that can't be found or reached. It's also possible to set things up more quickly, of course, like finding hints that the Earth is hollow and then making plans to visit its innards (Jules Verne remains an invaluable resource for this type of adventure).

Nomads Can Still Apply
So what if your campaign is already nomadic? You're already going places, exploring as a matter of course. Can there really be a "Satellite World" in that case? The expedition is never ending!

It's still possible. The Moon remains separate from the realms the characters travel, right? An expedition must still be mounted inside the present expedition if the goal is to be reached. What if the Satellite World is always around you, no matter where you go? The astral realm for example, or the microscopic world inside the atom or the human body, perhaps a wormhole to a crazy corner of the universe. Even just darkness. In your campaign world, no one goes out at night, until some clever adventurers decide to brave the shadows. Or just as in a more sedentary campaign, you can always have that chain of mountains that can't be climbed, with the Dark Realm behind it, always to be avoided or circumnavigated.

Why Go?
What would make the characters feel the need to visit the Satellite? Our own Moonshot was motivated by the fear another power would get there first. Certainly, the discovery of a MEANS (or partial means, make it an adventure, remember?) to get there is a trigger. Raise the stakes. It's hard to say if it would have mattered much if we had a "Red Moon" in the sky, but what if whoever breaks the time barrier first will be control the space-time continuum (or at least prevent the enemy from distorting history)? What if reaching Barsoom gives you first shot at an alliance with the Martians? And of course, you can use any carrot or stick that's worked for you in moving characters to other climes: kidnapped princesses, the promise of riches, an escaping villain, etc.

If you've hyped the Satellite World well, getting there will be a reward in and of itself... and then they have to find a way back! Or did you make them go for a more permanent change of venue? You sneaky devil...

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