Sunday, June 4, 2023

ZSF Noodle Doodle Drop

The original Zoa Space Fantasy logo, c. 2008.

A long, rambly post about a game I'm working on.

Since the oughts, I've had this crazy space idea zipping around my brain. It's space, but it's not "normal" space. There are planets, but also potato-shaped worlds, worlds that look like castles, worlds that are domed, etc. Really just an anything goes fantasyland where you have vast oceans of space ichors, empty space, and rivers of phlogiston instead of fields and roads and seas between interesting locations.

I did a comic about it called Zoa Space Fantasy. I think I did around 20 pages or so before I petered out. The story was about a little robot guy called N9 who wakes up on a garbage planet without his memories. He fights a garbage creature and is rescued by a space pirate/salvage ship called The Workhorse, captained by Tyrrany Flack, a medusa space captain. The ship was powered by a demon.

Later, I revived the idea and published a Troika! RPG book called Supercalla, then a follow-up called Cozmic Metal Heads, which was all about robot PCs. I am super proud of these books. I think they rock. I worked on a third book to be called Hellion Cross, which was a den of scum and villainy. I actually did a ton of work on that one and I believe I finished all 36 character backgrounds and most of the art. But I didn't finish it up.

More recently, I ran a game in my Monday night Doomslakers group called Heat Death. It was an original system and was set, loosely, in the same universe. But Heat Death was more grounded, scaled back, less fantastical. It was intended to be something like "in the past" of the ZSF universe. It was more about down-and-out Earthlings working out in the armpit of the galaxy because of crimes they committed or something. It was fun, but the system ultimately didn't quite work for me.

Which brings us up to current times. For many months, perhaps a year or more, I've been noodling an entirely new game based on this crazy space fantasy idea. The game will be called ZSF, Zoa Space Fantasy. Or Zoa Space Frontier, if you like that better.

To create this game, I started with a character sheet idea. I wanted to narrow it down to what you will always need in order to run wild space adventures. I decided you need the following elements.


Fundamental to your PC... what kind of life form are you and what sort of job skills do you have? A list of these things will be given, with some minor detail. But making the shit up is an option. Monkey pirate? Blob scientist? Humanoid guru? You decide.


A Trait is any kind of characteristic that has any kind of mechanical impact on play, such as having a third arm or x-ray vision. You can make up some Traits when creating your PC and you can add more later. A Trait can also be an item. So if you really want to start the game with a kick ass laser rifle, make it a Trait. You damn sure won't be able to buy one with the skimpy funds you'll be starting with.


Everyone is a spacer, so they all should have some common basic skills. Not everyone is equally good at them, so the skills should have ranks. I decided you should randomly roll your ranks on a d6 per skill. It feels right. There are six skills. Not because six attributes is common, but because it makes sense. Trust me... I preferred to have less than six. But my image of how this game works just ended up requiring these six skills. I don't want more.

•Explore (perception, instinct, toughness, etc.)
•Drive (ships, cars, bikes, etc.)
•Fight (punch, kick, tackle, bash, etc.)
•Operate (machines, robots, computers, etc.)
•Shoot (load, aim, fire, reload, and duck)
•Talk (charisma, persuasion, negotiation, etc.)

The way I see it, every conceivable common task a fantasy spacer could engage in is covered by these six skills. Blasting robots, flying ships, kicking in teeth, negotiating with locals, etc. Now you may wonder immediately... this is a space fantasy game. There are wizards. So how does a PC interact with magic? There isn't a skill that is obviously magical. There are reasons for this. First, most things that appear to be magical may actually be tech. Super science! Sufficiently advanced, as it were.

If the PCs encounter a truly mystical, magical thing that is beyond technology... why would they have a skill for it? Those are special situations.


I thought about not having hit points. I thought about a wound levels system, or just ignoring this altogether. But honestly... this is an adventure game wherein you'll likely have fights with monsters and shit. I like hit point systems. They are quite reliable. So ZSF will have one. They are called Life Points to reinforce the fact that when you run out of them, you die. Or... probably... I will do a player choice: death or some kind of permanent drawback, akin to Death or Debasement from GOZR.


Lifted straight from GOZR, which came straight from Into the Odd and other similar systems. Defense is just armor, or anything that absorbs damage. By default, this is a zero. And having a point or two is a big deal.


I love exploding dice. I can't not have them. So in this game, under the current rule sketch, you roll a d6 to do shit and if you roll a 6, the die explodes. There's more to it than that, but there it is.


I also love meta points. In this game, they are Aces. I used that term because years ago I did a dry run for a space game and the term "aces" played into that system. Plus "space ace" is fun. Anyway, this is exactly like GOZR's GOOZ points. You spend Aces to make shit happen.


Way back in 2000, I wrote The Pool, which had a gambling element in the core mechanic. I wanted to bring that idea back because I do love the dynamic it provides. When players have a meaningful choice... to take a big risk and make big things happen. The idea here is you can literally roll as many dice as you want in any situation, thus increasing your chance of being wildly successful. But if you roll even a single 1, you have not only failed... you critically failed. I think this will be a fun game element.


Mostly, I'm going to use The Black Hack's elegant usage dice for keeping track of bullets and stuff. But money, in the form of STDs (Standard Trade Dollars), will be tracked carefully. You'll shop and buy shit. You'll get ripped off. You'll rip people off. You start with a low amount of cash and things are expensive. I like it when players have to go buy things, haggle for them, and so forth. Plus if the PCs have to think about money, it underscores one of the game's core themes: corporate greed.

Gear is super important too. I think this is me showing my influences right on my sleeve because Star Frontiers was the second game I ever owned and I spent copious amounts of time pouring over the equipment descriptions. I love that shit. This game will have a lot of fun gear you can purchase, if you can get some money.


I've already discussed this a bit. But to add to it, the galaxy is dominated by companies. Corporations have fully taken over as the real power. Governments exist, but are essentially fronts for corporations. Honestly... not very different than reality, huh?

The PCs will be adventuring mostly in the ZSF: the Zoa Space Frontier. This is basically the outer galaxy. Polite society is closer to the core of the galaxy, where streets are straight and the Law keeps things nice and neat. Out in the frontier it is a different story. Things are wild and wooly. Which can be good bad... the corporations reach out here to mine for resources, exploit natives, and so forth. The Law is their blunt tool. Many PCs may be outlaws. Fun.

Ok, so those are pretty much the important bits, in terms of what I wanted this game to emote. Let's talk system for a minute.

Currently, it's this:

•Roll a d6 to do a thing. A 6 explodes. Hit the Challenge Number and you succeed.
•Each skill level adds 1d6 to the roll. Traits can also add dice or add modifiers.
•Roll a 1 without a 6, and you failed. Roll the die again and if it's another 1, you crit fail. You describe what happens.
•Borrowing from GOZR, if you roll 1 under the target, you graze. Something beneficial might still happen.
•Spend Aces to do things like take extra actions, auto-explode a die, etc.
•Add dice to the roll as a gamble, as discussed above.
•Earn Space Points to build upon your character.

That's the gist of it. Work in progress, very much in the gestational phase. Even though, if you've seen any of my social media posts, I've been drawing tons of ZSF character sheets. I'm doing this because it's fun and because I want to lock myself into the bones of the system. I need to do this because I'm prone to change shit over and over and never get it done. How the fuck do you think I got GOZR finished? By literally drawing the rules I had a harder time changing them. If you knew how many iterations of Rabbits & Rangers exist and that game is still not written...


Holy fuck. This is a big deal. Because RPGs are for everyone, right? I want to be inclusive. I don't want to tell someone they can't play, either directly or indirectly. But at the same time, the tone of a work will invariably filter some people out. But this is a natural filter. It's ok.

For example, I don't line dance. Nobody tells me I can't do it. It's just not for me. In that respect, whatever tone this game ultimately strikes, it will filter out some players who just aren't into that tone. And that's a beautiful thing. Choice. Variety. The spice of life.

My inclination is to be a bit reckless and say naughty words. I could avoid that. I might avoid that. But I might just remove the training wheels on this one and let my raw imagination go nuts. It could be a galactic train wreck. We'll see.

An old Zoa banner, c. 2009.


  1. Love this! This is my kind of game! Everything so imaginative and really grants permission to go wild and be free. One thing I personally would do is have them roll a d6 for stats but have the results be modified. So that the end result is really 1-4 with granting advantage on the remaining rolls or something for a 1 and a 4 being the max starting stat. But then im also wanting to add some way to improve abilities with spend left over Aces after game for a chance to "Get Betta". Please give us more!

    1. I did change this a bit. Instead of rolling Basic Skills, they are all 1 and you have 6 points to distribute as you wish (but you can't put them all into one Skill). This keeps starting levels fairly low and gives PCs room to grow.

  2. Also please publish what you have of Hellion Cross! I mean I understand the agony of working on unfinished work once the muse has left the building don't. Just release it unfinished. You are awesome and I dig the Brainpan loot I get from your blog and products BIGTIME. Thanks!

    1. Hey, thanks! That material will end up somewhere. I might still polish it off as part of the Supercalla trilogy, using Troika! since that was the intention.

  3. This looks fabulous. Simple mechanics with a few twists and a bonkers universe to explore. I'm looking forward to it.

    1. Thanks, I'll keep you posted on progress right here and on FB and wherever. I try to post occasional updates with more meat here.