Sorry, people who actually read this tripe. This has been an insanely busy year for me, and may yet have its own surprises to come. I won't wax nostalgic about games that have come and gone within the last seven months, and rather talk about something I decided to work on going ahead.
In the last week or so, it became clear that the people I game with online from time to time were pretty burnt out on fantasy stuff. I can't blame them. The tabletop RPG market (and arguably, other markets) is over-saturated with fantasy junk. With the coming of D&D Next, which Harbinger has blogged about at great length and with his usual analytical zeal, the collective tabletop gaming community is holding its breath to see if this will be a stinker or a breath of fresh air.
Back to the point, for many of us who need the occasional chicken dinner instead of steak, there's an unfortunate dearth of good standardized science-fiction RPG rule sets. Most of them are extremely specialized for particular settings, and rightfully so. In order to properly communicate and support a theme, the rules should be designed right alongside of the setting. This is largely why I consider the SIFRP system to be such a great system -- it feels like Song of Ice and Fire. I think that genericizing it for a Birthright conversion was actually a mistake in the long run; there were some fundamental problems that my conversion had in regards to properly supporting magic rules, and plugging in another system's domain management ended up being more trouble than it was worth in practice.
In exploring sci-fi RPG systems, I came across a couple of gems. Eclipse Phase and Traveller both looked great, but not quite what I was looking for in settings. Fading Suns, while also a near-sell, had certain setting overtones that I found unappealing. I felt that ripping out the systems and plugging them into a custom setting would be unfair, and lend itself to inconsistencies that would crop up like unpleasant cancers during play.
Rather, I've opted to do the unthinkable in the copious amounts of spare time that I have. Of course, you can't see my sarcasm-face right now.
That's right, I'm gonna make a system and a setting. Shoot me now.
So here we'll delve into what I think makes good science-fiction RPG material, and solicit the thoughts of you, my tiny audience of near-friends and occasional wanderers who blunder into this bizarre club scene and try not to laugh at the awkward geeky dancers.
Let's start with the bare bones. Here are initial thoughts on what I desire in a setting, and the system grows off of that.
- Scientific accuracy somewhere between Speculative Science and One Big Lie on Moh's Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.
- Space travel that is risky and scary with many potential dangers, but not so irritating or expensive that players would never experience it until a dozen or more sessions into a game.
- Some playable alien races that would not be disgustingly human-like for no real reason, unless I decided to go with some panspermia theory stuff. Additionally, the inclusion of a synthetic race -- whether this means robots or synthesized biological beings, I have not settled on.
- Space opera isn't really the goal, but nor is grimdark everything-in-space-murders-you.
- Varied political structures and entities, not a one-galaxy-government.
Which brings me to that particular thorn bush. For a while, I've been enjoying the way the Infinity tabletop wargame handles futuristic combat. A buddy of mine at work and I have mulled over conversions into tabletop RPGs, and the system lends itself really well to adaptation. I don't intend to just wholesale rip this, but I do like using its theories as a basis. It's slick, easy to understand after a few false starts (unlike other futuristic combat wargames where the rules are a quagmire). The concepts of firing lanes/suppressive fire, AROs, and orders are very appealing and make for some great tactical maneuvers (lay down suppressive fire so a guy peeking out from cover gets shot at, while you maneuver a T.A.G. or drone around the other side and engulf him in flamethrowery goodness).
In a future post, I will lay out the basis for a system and some more fleshed out concepts for the setting itself. I've got some reading and research to do in the meantime!