RPG A Day: Day 18

I really have looked long and hard for a sci-fi RPG that suits precisely what I want and I have really struggled to find the perfect mix for me.  Most modern games are full into Trans-humanism, which is OK, I want a bit of that but not as full blown as it is now.  Other promising games are frustrating me as my FLGS has completely failed at getting them in (e.g. Mindjammer) and so I am a little bit backed into a corner.

RPG A Day 2015 list
RPG A Day 2015!

Day 18: Favourite Science Fiction RPG

Mark:

I love my science fiction games.  You may not think it as I rarely play them at the moment but the reason behind that is when I play them I want to get it right.  I want my games to have meaning and be delivered well.  I struggled to do that last year in my Classic Traveller campaign and so I have taken a year off science fiction to recharge the batteries and see what comes back at me.

A lot of the problem for me is I have not found the right game yet.  Classic Traveller is the medium that I use but it is not a system that supports the game I need.  What is my idea of science fiction that I want to portray?  It has to have:

  • living ships as a rarity that bond with the pilot;
  • Earth centric history where humanity spread out from the stars;
  • Transhumanism in the form of virtual reality worlds for the vastly rich who only appear in flesh form if something threatens their newly evolved life;
  • Sentient space stations;
  • Travelleresque merchanting going on throughout the Galaxy;
  • Unexplored vistas of space subject to pioneers;
  • Hi-tech advancements;
  • Psionics.

For those of you that are familiar with it – Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth series is essentially the place I would love to set my game.  It is the perfect balance of sci-fi that I am after and yet, no system seems to support it well.

covers of commonwealth saga books Peter F Hamilton
The Commonwealth Books of Peter F. Hamilton

Let me take you through the systems that I have considered using in this kind of setting.  The setting itself that I want to run is NOT the Commonwealth but a facsimile thereof.  I find that if I set something in an established space and attract fans of that space, they have preconceived ideas of what has and has not happened which I detest.  Let me start with Traveller as a system.

OK, there are multiple Traveller systems.  In my gaming career I have had exposure to Classic and MegaTraveller.  I own/owned copies of Mongoose Traveller and 2300 AD also.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages – and I have recently used Classic Traveller as the engine for all my games but there is one problem.  None of these systems really cater for the transhumanistic point of view and also a lot of the technology that is stock standard in the Commonwealth.  I found players in my Classic Traveller game were envisioning shows like Lost in Space and Blakes 7 from the 70’s because that is what Classic Traveller does well!  MegaTraveller provides a backdrop for a nice space opera but the system is less than agreeable and I just have not been able to come at Mongoose Traveller because the first copy of it really put me off with the images included.  Finally, 2300 was only with me a few short months as I gave it away as a present but not many people rave about that system at all so I am not sure I missed that much.

So, in the past three years I have been on a long hunt to find a game that would make me a happy man for the Commonwealth saga.  One of the games that I have investigated is Kevin Crawford’s Stars Without Number.  I have to say that I really like this system and it leaves itself almost a blank slate in background for the GM to deal with.  I am just not sure if I could entice a group of gamers to the table with it.  I know there is a lot of Kevin Crawford love in the Universe, and I am a convert too, but would the unabashed retro clone that is practically the same as red box D&D turn away players from the table?  It is a class based system, and I really am not fond of class based systems in a science fiction setting.  The one thing Traveller does do right is make it a skill based setting where you can build your character as you will (OK randomly but you get my drift).  One of the other problems about this system is it is based on a Universe that has taken a big setback technologically, and this does not really suit my needs.  That said, the system really does giant universe really, really well so it is always nagging at the back of my mind.

Diaspora, the FATE science fiction game that people often tout to me as “the answer” is not really my cup of tea.  First it is FATE with massive amounts of aspects per character.  I have trouble as a GM keeping up with 5 Aspects per character and these characters have 8-10 each from memory.  Secondly, Diaspora runs off the premise that there is enough gaming to be had in a Universe of 6 planets that it does not really support my ideal of a galactic civilisation that stretches as far as the mind can stretch.  It is also a hard book to read.  It is pretty and I know lots of people love it but it just does not do what I require it to do so I move onward.

Star Wars d20 Edition is a possibility also.  If you strip the Star Wars out of it the system could be used well.  But there are still a few things that it does not tick my boxes for.  Trans-humanism is not really a thing in Star Wars, except where the Force carries you on.  Plus I would need to get rid of light sabers and that is just a crime.  While it is a good idea for a system, I do have hopes that one day I may run a Star Wars game so I will save it for that.

Farscape is a pretty good game to use as well.  The system is pretty well a straight forward science fiction game.  It does have living ships that are bonded with their pilot (bonded is a polite way of saying it) but it does not, again, go too much into the trans-human idea.  It is assumed that you would be using the Farscape Universe too, so there is a lot of wasted space in the book in that regard.  It is a class based system though and this again is where I get a little annoyed with it.

People then espoused the great Eclipse Phase on to me.  I played a game run by Ken Kthulhu to get a feel for it and it seemed to work OK, though he did get me to make some choices where I had no idea what I was doing.  Regardless I bought a hard copy of the game thinking that this truly was going to be the saviour of my science fiction dilemma.  I got the book (it is a thing of beauty by the way) and voraciously consumed the first half.  And then I hit the trans-humanism stuff.  This book is all about trans-humanism at its heart and the complexity of the game due to this actually stopped me from finishing it.  Good luck to all those that love the ideals of the trans-human science fiction but a science fiction game with practically no starships is not for me.

Sarah Newton’s Mindjammer was also mentioned a lot to me.  From the blurb it seems like it might be the one.  At the time of its release I heard about how beautiful it was so I pre-ordered a copy from my FLGS who said it would be in January last and it still has not arrived.  I wanted this game so badly but now I will have to wait until I see a physical copy of it to purchase.  I just changed my pre-order that I paid for to two other books (FATE System Toolkit and Doctor Who 4th Doctor sourcebook) and they have been sent to me.  So disappointed that I did not get Mindjammer though.  I think even Sarah Newton herself tried to help out at one stage but obviously that did not sway the powers that be.

I even started working on my own system to fix this issue.  It currently is in a state of flux as I need to do some work on equipment and travel.  It is a system heavily based on Classic Traveller but removes the stigma attached to it of 1970’s styled science fiction.  If you want to look over what I have done then download it here – it is tentatively titled Infinity Drive and is not complete.  I do want it to be a rules lite game that offers a skeleton of a system that you can base any science fiction style on.

So, there you have it.  My investigation of science fiction games is by no far complete and I have actually not mentioned my favourite Science Fiction game in this post yet.  I have not mentioned it because, again, it would not fit with what I wanted to do.  But the game that is my favourite science fiction role playing game of all time is because it has been so much fun, each and every time I played it.  Of course, if you know me a little then you may know that the title that meets this high praise is Mr Matt Jacksons’ Edge of Space!  It is a fun romp with simple rules that has attracted some of the strongest role playing I have seen in a science fiction game that I have run!

Edge of Space and Incident at Intrepid Station covers
My favourite Science Fiction RPG

Please let me know what you think of the work I have done on Infinity Drive if you take a look at it.  Also, let me know in the comments if you think there is a science fiction game out there that will suit what I want to do down to the ground.  As it stands it is likely that I am going to run a new science fiction game next year and that game is going to be run through the Cypher System from Monte Cook Games, the Universal gaming system just released.  Until next time, keep rolling!

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