jedion357's picture

Sapience vs Sentience

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or Intelligence for Civilization

Sapience and sentience have been used, often interchangeably, in science fiction to describe alien species as being equal to humanity in intelligence and rights. The words however do not mean the same thing. Sapience comes from the Latin root for wisdom and means the ability to use judgment. Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive and have consciousness.  Animal rights activist often argue their cause based on the belief that animals have sentience. I would be inclined to agree that animals perceive and feel and have a consciousness but would question an assertion that they have the ability to exercise judgment.

Sapience would be an indicator of the ability to make moral judgments and decisions which is a building block to civilization. To put it another way it’s an ability to advance the cause of one’s species. Sentience is an indicator of an ability to intelligently advance the cause of one’s personal needs.

For science fiction I would use a categorization of sentience for intelligent animals with a scale of -, 0, and +. A minus would be a very intelligent breed of dogs, a zero would be a primate but a + would be an animal that is coming up against the sapience barrier. These plus animals are beginning to show signs of an ability to organize and transmit culture. The same would go for sapience -, 0, and +. Arbitrarily I rate humanity as a zero on this scale.

The concept of the sapience barrier is recognition of the fact that true sapience is a very rare thing. On Earth there are 2 million species identified by science of an estimated 5 million to 100 million species currently living and only one that registers as sapient.  The odds are fairly long for sapience. In a science fiction setting a sapient species ought to be rare.

However, if abundant life, like Earth’s ecosystem, arises on a planet then we should expect tremendous variety of that life. So any time a planet exists with abundant life we could expect 5-100 million species living on that planet. Thus the mere presence of abundant life skews the numbers to have at least one dominant “sentient plus” species or a full on sapient one.

Often as not we hear that the odds for the chance of life elsewhere in the universe are long odds but the counterpoint is that a barren universe would not be as interesting as a populated one. I’m betting on an interesting universe no matter what the odds are.

jedion357's picture

Dreams from Pain

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Note: I recently enrolled again in college and the following post is from a writing exercise.

In high school my ambition was to be an editor or writer for Dragon magazine, the monthly periodical by the publishers of Dungeons and Dragons game to promote their products. However, life happened and that dream was not realized.

Fast forward twenty four years and I was injured in construction and out of work for four years. After being able to just get out of bed I began to focus on child care and house work to stay busy. The children aged and started school and suddenly I experienced emptiness.

In the light of a computer screen I rediscovered my high school hobby on the internet, role playing games. Except now the hobby is made up of people world-wide chatting and blogging through the internet.

In particular I had been a fan of science fiction and had played such games as Car Wars and Star Frontiers. On the web I discovered a thriving community of devotees to the old Star Frontiers game. The heart of that community was a fan magazine, written and produced by fans of the game. It was not long before my creative urges, which had long laid dormant, found validation in the pages of that magazine.

Today, six years later, I've become a major producer of science fiction content both in the areas of fiction and role playing games. I edit and write for my own magazine, The Frontier Explorer, and I develop games for a modest (currently very modest) profit through an indie game company. In one sense I'm living my high school dream.

It is ironic that it only took an injury that put me in bed for two months straight to bring about the unrealized dream. The pain I suffered was at times intense and unrelenting but it actually gave birth to the forgotten dream. It makes me wonder what the pain would have been to get to the end of my life and realize that I had never lived any dreams?


I suppose this may be the point where I would say something preachy like, "live your dreams" but I don't think it’s required. If you're reading this I sure you get the moral of the story. Truly this post is for me, to remind me to keep the dream in front of me and to live it because living a dream is to know joy even in the midst of pain.

Tom Stephens's picture

Issue 3 Now Available

Issue 3 of the Frontier Explorer is now available.  We were really excited and honored to get permission from Ali Ries to use one of her images as the cover and couldn't pass up the opportunity to center the issue on the topic of her picture.  Accordingly this issue has a strong robotics theme with articles on new robots and robotics skills and a robot component to the included adventure.

This issue contains the final installment of the Mooks Without Numbers adventure and also a new creature file entry by explorer Jurak Hangna.  In addition we have a number of other articles containing useful background information for game masters, more locations, a pair of starships and a short story.  The issue is packed full of great articles.

This issues contents (article titles) are:

  • Robotics in the Frontier
  • Programming Robots for Dummies and Dralasites
  • Gorilian Carnivorous Wom
  • Eorna Lunar Defense Battery
  • E-1A Eorna Heavy Fighter
  • Dawn Trader Class Merchant Ship
  • Mooks Without Number - Part 3
  • Frontier Robots I
  • The "Tin Can" Robot
  • Stand Your Ground
  • Oort Clouds and Kuiper Belts
  • A Pirate By Any Other Name
  • For Lucco's Honor
  • Terran Fauna

Grab your copy and keep exploring new frontiers.

jedion357's picture

Why we do a magazine instead of a web site for new material

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Today I reviewed the Star Frontiersman #19 which had close to the last of the material I put together for that zine before leaving it to start the Frontier Explorer. It had a  bunch of materail I had painstakingly tracked down from lost internet sites where snapshots of those sites had  been preserved in the Waybackmachine internet archive. Many of these sites were from the late '90s and early 2000s but are now not on the internet. Its sad becasue they had great Star Frontiers content created by fans running those sites. I had combed through the best of the material and compiled it to be republished in a magazine so that it would be preserved. It was very gratifying to see that 7 months and two issues after leaving the Star Frontiersman that I'm still having a major impact on that magazine.

Now here is the thing a magazine is better than a web site because the web site can become unfunded and lost to the public. No one really saves complete copies of a website on their computer but they will save a copy of a magazine thus the content of the magazine is preserved in many places. A free fan magazine will get uploaded to a site like 4shared or scribd and then the copies of the zine will linger there for who knows how long. Plus with the Frontier Explorer being on a print on demand service it will be available for as long as the service is available.

Typically a fan website is the work of one individual (and it rises or falls on the will of that individual to keep it going) but a magazine accepts contributions and many people contribute and keep it going. Some of the community might enjoy a particular website but a magazine becomes a focal point for the community with actual community involvment.

For me this is why I invest my time in a magazine over a fan web site.

jedion357's picture

Major Goals of module/ campaign writing

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Major Goals for adventure/module/campaign writing.

Many times an adventure is written up and its largely the action areas where the crux of the adventure takes place. A good term for this is the "tactical environment" where action and tactics takes place. The word tactics immediately suggests that it's action and combat oriented but not neccessarily, role play may take place here as well. The point is that this is the central location of the adventure where the action is intended to be centered. If I compared it to a classic Basic D&D gaming module like B2 Keep on the Borderlands (also known informally as the Caves of Chaos) this would be the actual caves area.

However, Module B2 didn't just provide a tactical environment. It provided a region and a keep/town. The keep itself was a strategic environment, a place for rest, recovery, and resupply. This is important in a game for a number of reason:

1. Players need a place to convert their loot to coin

2. Players need a place to spend their coin- armor upgrades new equipment etc., repair broken equipment etc.

3. It offers a change of pace,

4. it offers a place to begin new adventures, plot hooks, jobs, contracts etc.

5. it offers a place to access information about loot, the setting, antagonistic NPCs, find clues to unravelling the current adventure etc.

So the strategic environment is important and its good to have some coverage of this in an adventure module/campaign


Also in B2 Keep on the Borderlands the region around the keep was given a cursory map with some details like a bandit camp and lizardman mound. This environment can stradle the line between strategic and tactical- its often a place for tactical encounters but does not have to be. The bandits can be overcome with negotiation and be turned into a strategic location for rest and recovery with a quid pro quo of the players fencing some of their ill gotten gains in the keep for them. By providing a bit of regional environment B2 allowed the players an option for more sand box style of play and not rail roading them directly to the caves. This creates options for referee and the players. In B2 it didn't take much to provide this other than a map and a few keyed locations. Ther referee was free to develop this thin material more at need.

NPC contacts are important as well. In B2 this was provided in embrionic fashion with a listing of stats for major NPCs like the priest. Clearly the go to NPC to ask questions about an evil artifact or cursed item at the keep was the priest. Having a couple or more go to NPCs for the players to interact with is always good as these characters can offer adventure hooks, information, clues, or offer a little be of help in their areas of expertise like healing or removing of curses.

Finally, a good goal of an adventure/ campaign could or perhaps should be to deepen the ties between the PCs and the setting. Gaining membership in a society within the setting as a adventure reward is good- if offers benefits but also carries some responsibilities. Developing relationships with key NPCs does this as well. (note developing key NPCs as contact is first required) If the players have asked named NPCs for help then those same NPCs could ask them for help. Non monetary rewards also help in this connection to the setting like gaining a conveyance (star ship), docking slip, title, fame etc.

To sum up, the major goals for a module/adventure or campaign should be to provide:

1. tactical environment (the focus of the adventure)

2. strategic environment (a place to rest, recover, and retool)

3. regional environment- for some flexibility in case the players go off script.

4. NPC contacts

5. possibilities to intergrate the PCs more deeply into the environment

jedion357's picture

New Setting Material in Development

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There has been some great development in the Star Frontiers setting concerning mega corp, the Frontier economy, and touching on matters involving space stations and star ships at the Star Frontiers community development site.

A hot new project has sprung up on the mega corps:

In depth analysis of the various mega corps can be found, as well as history discussion concerning the dramatic changes that Pan Galactic Corporation under went as a result of the corporate war fought on Laco. A new PGC company logo from pre Laco War is in development as well.

Look for some fascinating things to come out of this project.

Tom Stephens's picture

Print Version of Issue 2 Now Available

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If you are someone who likes to have physical copies of the magazine, the print edition of isse 2 is now available.  We had hoped to have it available at the same time as the PDF version but keep running into delays in getting the print media ready to go.  But it is available now and looks great.  If you want to grab a copy, jump on over to the Issue 2 product page on DriveThruRPG to order one.

Keep exploring!

jedion357's picture

RPG twist (fantasy?)

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This is probably more a twist for a fantasy adventure but could work for science fiction. The party of player characters are searching for the Tomb of Dude Rex and think they find it but it turns out to be his cenotaph. A cenotaph is an empty grave created to memorialize the dead individual and his real tomb is elsewhere. In the Old Kingdom Egypt the first dynasty rulers had a tomb and a cenotaph both; one in Upper or southern Egypt and one in Lower or Northern Egypt. This occured because the 1st dynasty rulers were the ones that unified Upper and Lower Egypt thus the ruler was represented in death in both lands. The modern controversy is which is the tomb and which is the cenotaph.

Its a twitst from the real world and cetainly one that I dont remember ever encountering in an RPG.

Another twist- the true treasure is hidden in the cenotaph but cannot be uncovered without clues from the tomb- as the dead king was worried about grave robbers. Perhaps the dead king rises as a liche and forgoes killing the player characters that disturbed his slumber being anxious about his hidden treasure back at his cenotaph.

Tom Stephens's picture

Issue 2 Now Available

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Issue 2 of the Frontier Explorer magazine is now available.  This issue is once again filled with system briefs, new ships, locations, creatures, and background material for use by GM's in their games.  This issue also includes several contributions from community members, a milestone we hadn't expected to reach for a couple more issues.  Needless to say we're excited.

Continuing with the 30th Anniversary of Star Frontiers theme, this issue delves into the archives and contains a summary of some Star Frontiers gaming conventions held back in 1999 that included interviews with some of the game's original developers.  These interviews provide insight to some of the philosophies that went into the design of the game.

We also have the next installment of the Mooks Without Numbers adventure and introduce a new series by explorer Jurak Hangna that will present a new alien creature in each article.

This issues contents (article titles) are:

  • The Family of One
  • Friend or Foe?
  • Sci Con I & II - 1999
  • Digging in the Dust of Laco
  • Mooks Without Number - Part 2
  • All We are is Dust in the Wind
  • Eorna Defense Installaion Ruins
  • Great Aquatic Sandworm of Moonworld
  • Grymz Guide Comic

Grab your copy and keep exploring new frontiers.

Tom Stephens's picture

Print Version of Issue 1 Now Available

I'm pleased to announce that the print version of issue 1 of the Frontier Explorer is now available. As this was our first attempt at this, it took us a little longer than we would have liked to work through the process.  For future issues the print edition will be available closer to, if not at the same time as, the public release of the electronic version.  (Remeber that by registering here at the magazine's website, you will get a sneak peak preview a week or two in advance of the public release).

The print edition is full color throughout, just like the PDF, and is bound saddle stitched (staple in the middle) so that it will lay open and flat on the table if you so desire.  The town map from the Mooks Without Number adventures (pages 22-23) was positioned to be on the center pages of the print edition and is printed as a single complete map.  As such it can be easily removed and placed on your gaming table for use while running the adventure or anywhere else you'd like to use it in your campaign. 

Our print editions will be available through the DriveThruRPG site (where you can also download the electronic version as well). If you're interested in having a physical copy, jump on over to the issue 1 product page and order one.



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