Growing up I was always fascinated by the idea of space travel. When asked, just a few weeks ago by a pupil at school, what I would most like to do in my life I found myself pausing only momentarily before replying, "Walk on Mars." People laugh at that... but it's true.
From when I started gaming the things that I remember most strongly are twofold:
1) Crash on Volturnus (yes, Star Frontiers)
2) Classic Traveller
Both of these things formed part of what I used to, before meeting my wife, refer to as "Sci-Fi". Nowadays, I know better.
Sci-Fi (or, "Skiffy")
I'm a huge fan of most things SF. That, for the uninitiated, stands for "Science Fiction", at least in my mind. Speculative, engaging, adventurous and based (however loosely) on the world as we measure and experience it.
When I was growing up I was a fan of Sci-Fi. Roleplaying has, on the whole, stuck with the quality usually associated with sci-fi ("skiffy"): hack work, usually space opera of the most simple form. The movies are guilty of this too. Nothing wrong with it per-se... but, perhaps, something that lacks the quality that it might.
Why was I such a fan of such gaming? Simple: it was (and remains) hugely fun. If you can get a game.
The challenge, of course, is just that: can you get a game these days? In the quest for quality SF it has become increasingly difficult to actually get a decent game. At least in my experience.
Stuck In Revival
There has been something of a revival of SF gaming over recent years. Depending on how "hard" you like your SF, there are certainly plenty of games out there.
Of heart-warming endurance, however, was the re-emergence of Traveller from the presses of Mongoose Publishing. For me, at the same time, I was getting my teeth stuck into Traveller5, soon to be released by Marc Miller. All along the way, though, I was stuck.
Why would I be stuck? There are countless modules and accessories to give a GM plenty to get a game going with. With Traveller alone there is the vast expanse of the Official Traveller Universe, through 35 years of gaming history and all republished and available. How could you be stuck? And yet I was.
Enter The Sandbox
The thing that was missing (at least for me) was that I wanted to play like we used to play. The word, I discovered this last week or so, to describe HOW we used to play is "sandbox".
Sandbox gaming, in simple terms, is the style where the players take the lead in driving the direction of the game. Instead of a tightly plotted story-based approach, in which the heroes take part as protagonists in a predetermined story arc, sandbox play emphasises the choices of the players.
Some people hate sandboxes. They say that sandboxes lack focus, feel artificial when done poorly, and are too much work for the GM. Fair enough. These people clearly haven't read "Stars Without Number".
Light dawned of me when I came across Sine Nomine Publishings' Stars Without Number
. This free game (yes, free) contains material which, for the first time, helped me to see what we were doing back in the early 1980s. We didn't know it but we had a sandbox.
What's My Point?
I'm not really sure why I keep coming back to SF but it probably has something to do with the fact that I really do want to walk on Mars. In terms of gaming, however, it has always been a pain to get a decent game.
With the guys at the school club asking to play Traveller in the new school year (September) I feel that, finally, I can get my head around making this happen. I think it's time to take a leaf out of Sine Nomine's book and run a game.
Why am I telling you this? Well, maybe you're like me and stuck. If you are... grab that free download
and, even you ignore the old-school rules and the background, flip to the section on setting up a sandbox game. It's a good read... a practical guide, even. And it might just spark something.
You never know... maybe we can walk on Mars after all.