What Don’t I Like About Sci-Fi RPG’s?

A couple of days I made a sort of guarded comment about focusing on a project to fix something in the Sci-Fi genre of Role Playing Games (RPGs).  It sprouted a minor amount of curiosity from my feed and a few +1’s for my Google+ comment.  I am not quite finished what I set out to do but I am far enough along to talk about what I have been doing.  Of course to do that I need to clarify what it is about the Sci-Fi RPG genre that I have a problem with.  It is a simple problem but, as I have found out over the past couple of days, a problem with a complex answer.

The Problem

The simple problem that I have with this genre RPG’s is I have never come across a system that I like wholeheartedly.  I told you it was a simple problem with a complex answer!  My favorite Sci-fi RPG system is Edge of Space which is Matt Jackson mini RPG (he would call it a zine I imagine) that I bought on a whim because I liked the look of the books in a G+ post.  The problem with this game is it is very focused on a particular style of game (you play a marine) and so the generalist style RPG that I prefer is not terribly conducive to it.  The style I prefer is a sandbox style adventure where any style character can be created and played.  This is why I have gone back to Classic Traveller (CT) to play my games as it caters to this generalist style.  But there are a few problems with CT:

  1. It is designed from a standpoint where Lost in SpaceBlakes 7Original Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica were probably the major focus for players at the time;
  2. It’s system is complicated and full of contradiction; and
  3. It is very dry to read.

People that like Traveller tell me that probably the most common solution is to combine CT with Mongoose Traveller (MgT) to get the version of Traveller I am looking for.  Nice idea but I just do not want to bridge two systems to come up with a hybrid one.  I get that this is a really good way to go for a lot of people but I really did get turned off MgT by the blatant misogyny demonstrated by the illustrations of one of the core rule books that was released as noted by my blog here.  I have looked at a number of different systems including popular games like Eclipse PhaseDiaspora, FATE Core,  Mechwarrior and Farscape!  By far and above most of these systems suffer in one way or another.  The systems I have read generally fit into the following categories for me;

  1. Too crunchy (Stuart McDermid, stop laughing);
  2. Too focused on a singular style/problem;
  3. Too simple; and
  4. Too hard to read!

Solution to my Sci-fi RPG Problem…

So, there can only be one answer for me I am afraid.  Instead of buying every Sci-fi RPG in the known Universe and reading for the next four years to find the same result I decided to write the system I wanted.

Sci-Fi RPG work
Me after two solid days of working on my Sci-fi RPG

That is what I have been up to for the past few days.  I have been writing the system, as briefly as I can, that I want to use for my science fiction games.  It is a funny thing to do because I started writing this for me but whenever I type/write I always do so from considering the perspective of others and how they would read it.  That means, although I know precisely what I want to achieve and I am only formalizing what is in my head that it is looking much more like text from an actual rule book.  It is peppered with examples of the rules and descriptions of some of the terms etc.  I keep going back and revisiting the writing of materials as I “play” test them and see that the writing is not as formed as it should be!

Regardless of all this what am I trying to achieve with this?  I am trying to make a Sci-fi RPG that:

  • is readable;
  • has a simple cohesive system with a centralized rule mechanic;
  • has no default setting;
  • can be used as an overlay system with any existing setting;
  •  gives a hat tip to the Edge of Space and CT

How is it going?

Now, obviously I am a little one eyed about this and can not give you an objective opinion from where I am sitting.  But I like what I am writing!  I can run this system and I feel that it is intuitive enough for players to pick up easily.  It focuses not only on system but on role playing as well, introducing history of a character as part of the character generation process.  That is not with tables and random histories BUT making the player think about their character as they are using statistics and building a skill set.

I am also writing the rules as I like to read them, and that is combining the generic system with the character generation so I learn the rules as I build the character.  This makes for it being a little longer in the writing than it should so when I tell you that I have not quite finished the character creation setting you will realize that this actually means that much of the rule set is complete and there is only a little more to go.

I am at the point now where I am approaching the equipment section and am realizing that this will be the penultimate section with only a small write up on combat, how damage is taken and the like to go after that.  The equipment section will also be far from a complete write up and I will have to add modular material once the base game is done as equipment in a sci-fi RPG is a huge thing for a lot of games and as I am trying to make it generic there needs to be a lot done in this space.  I have a unique idea on how I am going to handle weapons that will make for an interesting inclusion to the main rules but all the general equipment will likely come as modular additions to the main rule-set.

Do I have an ETA for the finished game?

I will be finished the first draft of the game (it has a working title of Infinity Drive) today or at the latest tomorrow.  I have several people that I have identified that I will get to take a look at it for me and tell me if I am drunk and bloody awful at writing the game or tell me that it is going along well and it interests them (hopefully get some good criticism anyway).  Once I have factored that in to the system there are a few different options that I am considering:

  1. Find some art, add it in and offer it up as a Pay What You Want ePub or PDF from this site; or
  2. Find some art, investigate printing costs and binding on a small scale by myself and offer it up for sale like Edge of Space did for a while; or
  3. I know a couple of RPG publishers, see if they are interested in doing some of the above and getting involved.

Depending on which way I go the game might be available to be looked at within a couple of weeks for everyone, or it could be a little longer than that.

Infinity Drive sci-fi rpg
A screenshot of the first two pages of Infinity Drive

Final thoughts?

I thought that this would be a short personal system that I could introduce to my regular CT players as a more consistent system.  I thought that I would be able to fit the rules on a single page.  I am at page 17 now and I am imagining it will come in around 30 – 40 page range without art.  This is a combination of me not be able to stick to writing just bare bone rule sets for the game and making sure it is written well.  The experience though has been worthwhile and I am impressed by its development.

For the longer term readers of my blog(s) you will realize that there is one other project I am working on called Detritus and yes, there is still ongoing work in that regard.  The difference between Detritus and Infinity Drive is that the former is a much larger project that is heavily invested in setting, and that means a lot of work.  It is continuing though and I do work on it weekly at the moment.

Anyhow, I hope that the people I ask to read this system decide that it is a worthwhile endeavor and that it sees some fruition at the end of my work.  If they tell me it sucks then I will stick it in a PDF and just hand it out to anyone who wants to see how I spent a few days in November once!  Thanks for taking the time to take a look at this and until next time, keep rolling!

2 Comments


  1. As a Eclipse Phase fan, This seems interesting. I’m still pondering how you might use efficiently Hex number instead of decimal but I’m intrigued. Good luck on your endeavour.

    Reply

    1. Thanks very much. The Hex number is as much a nod to Classic Traveller as anything else. Mind you, using this allows for a standardised stat block meaning that a character can be written out on as little as two to three lines of a notebook 🙂

      Reply

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