Science-fiction. Long have I been a fan of SF. As long as I have been roleplaying there have been SF RPGs: Traveller was the first and, as a hobby, we have never looked back since. It's natural, then, that as I ponder what roleplaying dreams I might have nestling away in my heart, that my mind turns to SF.
What's your take on SF?
Everybody who roleplays seems to have a different take on SF gaming. Most are happy with the old staples, the space traders and the mercs of the universe being among the most popular. What's your favourite?
For me, SF has always been a mash-up. A bit of Aliens in one adventure, a bit of Trek in another... Star Wars was responsible for quite a lot of adventures too. Yet, strangely, I've never been too comfy with the pure adaptation of any one vision of SF. Just talking about Star Trek and Star Wars, my experience has been that these settings don't translate wonderfully into ongoing campaigns. They have, at least for me, tended to make for good one- or two-shot interludes. Hardly the satisfying outcome one might expect.
Does this mean that my experience of SF gaming is flawed? I don't think so. Growing up, we played Traveller a heck of a lot and never ran into the same limitations that so many movie or TV adaptations seem to find. Perhaps the open-ended setting with lots of creative space to play with helped. I'm not sure.
One thing is certain: since I was about 15 years old I have not been able to pull off a decent SF campaign. And it's not for want of trying. The nearest, if I remember correctly, was about 10 years ago when we played Alternity's Star*Drive setting. Thinking about it, placing the elements of the settings that have worked side-by-side, you get a pretty interesting picture.
SF that worked
In my experience, the SF that has worked has had these elements:
1. It was open-ended and not directly based on film or TV.
2. The universe was large and had lots of different worlds to explore.
3. It was the harder side of fantastic, incorporating scientific realism in all the major mundane activities.
4. It was the fantastic side of hard, allowing for FTL travel and some cool powers and schticks - eg. Psi.
5. It encouraged a consideration of trade and paying the bills, an activity that tended to drive adventure.
6. Authority was somewhat distant or aloof, allowing for roguishness and questionable behaviour.
7. It had aliens both weird and more familiar.
8. It emphasised conflict, whether through warfare or rivalry, commerce or crime.
9. It made the GM come up with cool setting details and interesting NPCs, while providing some quick-generation charts to help them along.
10. It had cool guns and gear, including a panoply of gadgets and gizmos which, ultimately, were useless without the hero's skills and technical know-how.
Traveller and Star*Drive are two good examples of this kind of SF setting. Interestingly, in recent years, it seems that very little else has been delivered that betters these settings... with the clear exception of the excellent Stellar Wind RPG from Higher Dimension Games.
Getting a game off the ground
Having mused about this I am now curious as to what it would take to get a decent SF game off the ground. Perhaps the biggest barrier, ever a problem with any roleplaying experience, would be to find some interested players. Following this, I guess you'd just need to posit some parameters for the characters and set-to. Perhaps, given that I am focusing on GURPS right now, the simplest solution would be to flick through the pages of GURPS: Space for some ideas.
While I am mentioning source material, it seems only fair that I mention the other major resource I have used over the years: Star Hero. Both the 2002 edition and the new 2011 edition of Star Hero are an excellent primer into the building of a cool SF campaign. Covering a study of the genre, links to other genres, suggestions on campaign foci, and lots of cool references to boot, this tome stands as a bit of an RPG 'holy book' in my own mind. I recommend it highly, even if you don't play Hero itself.
So, what's next?
For me, I'm not sure. I doubt I'll be rustling up any SF players anytime soon, so I guess my GURPS supplements can stay on the shelf a while yet.
That being said, I think I'd like to take what was great from Traveller and Star*Drive and blend them into something new... a kind of modernised vision of the future. My curse, of course, is that I always want to blend in the mystical and the magical, which not everyone agrees has a place in SF.
In the end, when I dream of the future, and think about playing some SF, I have to confess that it's as much Star Fantasy as it is Science Fiction.
Labels: GURPS, Hero System, musings, SF