The Tau Station Universe: Gameplay
In last week’s post, we explored Tau Station’s setting. This week we’re looking at some of the gameplay and mechanics we have in place. We’ll have posts in the future that look at each of these topics more in depth, but this will give you an idea of how all the components work together to create a rich, deep universe.
Who do you want to be? There are plenty of things to do from the first moment you set foot in the Tau Station Universe. Everything is there to help you create the person you want to be and achieve the goals you set for yourself. If you want to become a wealthy trader and start your own syndicate, then you’ll want to pay attention to what’s doing well in the markets and get your hands on some to sell. Someone else might want to become a mercenary and fight for a living. Right away they’ll want to improve their physical stats in the gym and start scavenging for weapons and armor in the ruins. Of course, these are only a few of the options available. A sly trader could start their career by mugging a few people and using those stolen credits to finance their market purchases. Similarly, the mercenary might start a medical career to save up enough to buy choice weapons and armor from the market. It’s all up to you.
While you’re moving through the Tau Station Universe accomplishing your own goals other people are out there doing the same, and you might come into conflict with them. Combat, bounty hunting, bribing guards and doctors, targeting rival organizations — there are plenty of ways to try to get ahead if you don’t mind stepping on a few toes and making some enemies. There’s even a handy friend/foe feature so you can keep track of who’s earned your gratitude or deserves your revenge. It might go something like this: you’re on Nouveau Limoges looking for work and you notice that someone you’ve flagged as a foe is in the employment center with you. You remember that they jumped you a couple days ago while you were scavenging, but now they’re not wearing the nice armor or carrying the big gun they had last time. You pick up a few stims to help in combat and then attack. You win, and then quickly loot his credits so you can go about your business before station security shows up.
I mentioned stats when I was talking about the mercenary earlier, so let’s take a closer look at them. Every time you take an action you’ll temporarily reduce the relevant stat. So each time the mercenary attacks someone or is hit in combat, they’ll use up some of their strength, stamina, or agility. But combat isn’t the only time that you’ll need to be in good shape, and it’s a smart idea to pay attention to your intelligence and social stats for all those moments when fighting isn’t the best option. Bribing a foolish guard might only reduce your social stat by a small amount, while carefully hacking a station’s security enforcement camera uses a large chunk of your intelligence. When a stat gets too low, you won’t be able to take actions with it until you’ve rested and it’s had time to replenish.
Whether you’re hacking a computer or trying to persuade a non-player character (NPC) to let you into a restricted area, the success of your actions will depend in large part on your stats. The higher your relevant stat is the more likely you are to succeed, and it’s worth it to invest time in training them.
You can visit the gym to train your strength, agility and stamina. Working out counts as an action and depletes these stats, so if you’re planning a busy day you can pick up a boost that will quickly replenish them. To improve your social stat you’ll want to head to the bar and spend time chatting with the locals. Your intelligence can be trained by studying in the station’s archives. Focus, which represents your ability to concentrate, can’t be increased by training, but some items and skills may affect it.
One way to help your depleted stats regenerate faster is to eat something, but that’s not quite as easy as it might seem. With food and water in such short supply in the stations, governments issue rations. Gene-modded grasshoppers and algae make for a nutrient rich meal bar — wash it down with the little water you’re also given and you can almost get the taste of it out of your mouth. After you eat your rations your stats will replenish at a faster rate for a while, meaning you can take more actions as you go about your daily business. If you’re not in a hurry you can stockpile your rations to sell on the black market instead.
The mercenary’s weapons and the trader’s commodities certainly aren’t free, and jobs are a quick way to start earning some credits. There’s always something that needs doing, even on the best maintained stations. You won’t earn a ton of credits mopping out the cloning vats or throwing freight in the port, but the jobs can be done pretty quickly and usually use up only a portion of your stats. Better yet, you can do the same jobs repeatedly so you can keep adding to your stash of credits.
If you really want to start building a future for yourself, though, you’ll also sign up for a career. Careers pay you a daily salary for your skilled labor, and you’ll earn special perks and favors that you can only get from working in your field. The longer you stay in your career the closer you get to your next promotion, which comes with a higher salary and more benefits.
- Special Services
Each career field has multiple paths you can follow, with different perks and favors. For example, you could explore a career in Medicine by becoming a Cloning Specialist and get discounts when you gestate a new clone for yourself. Or maybe you’ll decide to be a Trader in the Business field, and get special deals on the commodities you buy and sell between stations. Whether your long-term goal is to make enough money to explore the galaxy in your own ship, or to gain enough political power to influence the workings of a space station, there’s a career that will help you reach it.
Careers require more than just time and hard work; you’ll also need a specific set of skills to advance. To gain those you’ll need to find a university. These locations are rare, as knowledge was one of the first casualties of the Catastrophe. What survived the information purges, server fires, and station destruction has been gathered and guarded jealously. Universities make their courses available to anyone with enough credits, and there is no shortage of students.
Promotion in each career is based on skill. Without the correct skill, your progress will halt. You might need to learn introductory medicine to start working in a sick bay, but you’ll need more than that to become a surgeon. Skills aren’t simply gatekeepers for a job title; each one provides unique advantages to those who have taken the time to learn them. As you plan your future you’ll find that skills might just give you that edge you need to succeed.
As you travel from station to station you’ll meet NPCs who want to hire you to undertake missions for them. These missions can be challenging but they can also open up new options, explore sub-plots relating to the different stations and government affiliations or even give you clues about what caused the Catastrophe. Whether the request is for a seemingly straightforward delivery, or something that involves spying, sabotage, or even murder, the missions in Tau Station are complex, non-linear explorations of the history and culture of the universe.
Missions offer different ways to accomplish the goal at hand, allowing you to choose an approach that fits with your abilities and how you see yourself in the universe. Many will also ask you to make more difficult moral and existential choices about how to resolve the situation, and your actions may have unintended consequences.
Here are a couple sample mission scenarios:
The head of security on a station might want you to track down the person who’s illegally siphoning off the water supply, but when you investigate you find that the “criminals” are living in the ruins of the station and using a small amount of water to grow food to feed their children. Do you turn them in?
A woman, desperate to get away from her abusive, powerful husband, commits suicide and resurrects in a clone he was unaware of. She hires you to find out why the latest news feeds still show her with him at charity events. After extensive investigation you learn that the husband used an illegal pre-Catastrophe medical technology to repair and resurrect his original wife’s corpse. She’s still alive, but somewhat brain-damaged and doesn’t remember her illicit clone. Who, legally, has this person’s identity? And should you rescue the new wife?
Many missions have more than one potential outcome. Your decisions will determine how the mission ends as well as what rewards you receive when you complete it. One path might garner you a big credit reward or a cool inventory item, while another could raise or lower your reputation with the station’s government.
Here’s where our trader from earlier gets excited and brings in their friends, each with different skills and goals but willing to work together to create something larger. Syndicates are powerful groups of people who have banded together to make their mark on Tau Station’s universe. A syndicate’s intent could be to find and repair abandoned space stations and jump gates, or it could set up a trading empire to try and corner the market on a particular commodity. Whether the goal is to help rebuild after the Catastrophe or to profit from its aftermath, a successful syndicate will need high-ranking members from different career paths, members with a variety of skills, a solid funding base, and the ability to coordinate the efforts of everyone involved. It will also need to be able to protect itself from its rivals.
When a syndicate forms they’ll need to build a headquarters on one of the stations to use as a base of operations. Over time they can make additions to provide their members with private sick bays, storage areas, and other benefits. Anyone who visits the station will be able to see the headquarters, making it a prime target for those who want to interfere with the syndicate’s business. They’ll need the means to guard it themselves or perhaps hire that mercenary they met when they were both just starting out.
Orwellian and Law Levels
Before you start attacking your enemies or smuggling illegal commodities, it’s important to understand that each station’s security force keeps tabs on the population through Security Enforcement Cameras (SECs) and guard patrols. Exactly how closely they keep track depends on that station’s Orwellian level. The higher the Orwellian level, the more likely it is that you’ll be noticed when you do something illegal. Some areas are monitored more closely than others. Security always pays less attention to what’s going on in the ruins than to they do to the banks or embassies, for example. Depending on your skills, you might be able to dodge the guards by disabling the SECs while you commit your crime. More civic-minded people might see that and repair the cameras before you’re done, though, so it pays to keep an eye on what’s going on around you.
The station’s Law level represents its attitude toward punishment and determines how much time you’ll spend in the brig if you are caught doing something illegal. This varies from station to station, so what might only earn you a slap on the wrist in one place could earn you more confinement time elsewhere. A few factors go into determining the length of your sentence: The station’s Law level, your current reputation with the government in charge, and the severity of your crime.
Word travels quickly within the small population left after the Catastrophe, and your reputation can mean everything. The choices you make and actions you take can raise or lower your reputation with each of the four affiliations, which can impact your life in a variety of ways. Some Consortium NPCs may refuse to deal with someone who has too high of a reputation with their rival, the Gaule Protectorate, for example. Or you might need a high rep with the Freebooters to make that illegal black market commodities trade you want to negotiate. If you’re caught doing something illegal on a station, your rep with its government will be a factor in how long you’ll be spending in the brig. Make your choices wisely, and if your rep with one of the affiliations falls too low you may want to consider doing some volunteer work on one of its stations to get back into their good graces. Exploration
There’s a universe out there to explore. Each solar system you enter has its own stations, and each of those stations is full of people to meet, stories to investigate, and markets with commodities to buy and sell. There are more than 500 stations to visit, each with its own unique history and culture. You’ll meet NPCs from all kinds of backgrounds, with their own motivations and goals. Different stations will have also have access to different resources, allowing many opportunities for trade.
At first you’ll be limited to the stations that are serviced by public shuttles, but once you’re able to afford your own ship the galaxy will open up for you and you can start moving outward to explore it. Travel is only restricted by your fuel, navigation ability, and courage. If you survive and prosper, you’ll be able to push the limits of known space and search for derelict stations to rebuild or even lost jump gates, which could allow access to solar systems untouched since the Catastrophe. Who knows what treasures and secrets might be found there?
If you’re looking for some quick credits, you can sell items to an NPC in the market. If you’re in it for the long game you can start picking up commodities cheap on one station and transporting them to stations where you can sell them for a profit. The Tau Station economy is designed to give you options so you can choose what works best for you.
The open economy aspect of Tau Station is driven both by players and by NPC merchants with complex artificial intelligence. You’ll be able to buy, sell, and trade goods with one another for whatever prices you can negotiate. When you’re interacting with an NPC merchant, they’ll determine how much they’re willing to pay for a resource based on market conditions and their own beliefs. You can, of course, shop around with other NPC merchants for better deals, and those merchants will adjust their beliefs over time based upon how many people accept or reject their offers.
When you buy from or sell to a vendor in the market you’ll be interacting with our closed economy, where prices and supply are not determined by the broader market forces at play in the universe. This is often faster than placing items up for auction or consignment, and the supply of a given resource could be more consistent, but the prices probably won’t be as good.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the Tau Station Universe and what it has to offer. Next week we’ll have a post from Curtis on the technical work that goes into developing the software needed to make all this possible.
Other posts in this series:
Tau Station: It’s More Than a Game, It’s a Universe
The Tau Station Universe: Setting
Originally published at taustation.space on December 7, 2016.