Friday, February 18, 2011

I Need My Space - Part 1

Blacksteel of the Tower of Zenopus must have been on the same psychic wavelength as I was when considering the subject of our next posts. It seems he beat me to the punch but nonetheless I am still interested in talking about this subject and each person's take is unique so I feel it's worth exploring.

A word of warning...this one is long. I have actually broken it up into multiple parts, the first installment of which begins below. Enjoy.

I need my Space.

Superhero comic books most assuredly lead me into gaming and the Superhero genre remains my second favorite subject for RPG campaigns.

My first love is, as has been noted many times, Star Trek and Science Fiction.

It feels like it's been forever since I've run a really good, long term Science Fiction/Space Adventure campaign.

As I've discussed before, I grew up in a time and place where Dungeons & Dragons was the accessible game but the subject matter it focused on was not really accessible enough for me to really embrace.

While television, movies and comic books were full of Science Fiction elements, fantasy was to be found in fairy tales, Disney movies, the works of L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll but not really in any form similar to the way it was presented in D&D. I started gaming early remember, at the age of 8. The Hobbit would not be animated until a year after I started playing D&D and I was a bit young to have read Michael Moorcock or Fritz Leiber. I understood the ideas of Wizards, Knights, Castles and Dragons but I did not 'know' them.

My best analogy would be...

I'm at a party, event or similar gathering with my best friend, Star Trek. We are surrounded by its relatives and my closest friends, various Science Fiction stories, comics, TV shows and movies.

My other good friends and old pals are Superhero comics, especially DC, Marvel and Charlton, who all come over, say Hi and we slap each other on the back.

On the far side of the room I spot Medieval Fantasy. Fantasy and I are acquaintances. We know each other but not well. We've passed each other at the comic shop and bookstore. I am pretty familiar with its cousin Folklore. I understand Conan is a comic book and married into the Fantasy family. In the end though, Medieval Fantasy and I just nod politely to each other and go our separate ways. We just don't have that much to talk about.

I played my first Science Fiction RPG in 1979 (I believe), when a friend of mine brought Traveller over. I was very excited by the prospect that there was a Science Fiction game like D&D (actually just the fact that other RPGs existed was pretty damn exciting). My buddy decided to run a quick adventure just to show us how to play. For the most part I'd played D&D and little else by the summer of 79'. It's possible we had tried Boot Hill and Gamma World by then but I'm never as good as I wish I was with exact dates. An experienced gamer I am, a RPG historian I am not.

Anyway, we sat down to create characters and knowing this was a Science Fiction game I asked the GM, "What kind of aliens are there?", eager to play some pointed eared, purple skinned, antenna headed something or other. The conversation that followed went something like this...

GM: "There are no aliens. Everyone is Human."

Me: "...?..Huh? No aliens?"

GM: "Right. Everyone is Human."

Me: "I thought you said this is a Sci-Fi game."

GM: "It is. It takes place in the future."

Strike one in my 10 year old mind. Aliens are one of my favorite things about Science Fiction. No Aliens meant not Sci-Fi.

As I grudgingly make up a Human character I noticed he could die while I was creating him. One of the elements I love today (albeit houseruled and expanded), I thought was absolutely the dumbest thing I had ever heard back then. Strike Two. Finally, I look at the weapons and equipment section for the ray guns and notice that the vast majority of the weapons shoot bullets. No significant energy weapons. Wait...there are lasers. OK. That was close.

The scenario seemed simple and straightforward. The party was a team of mercenaries hired to extract researchers from an archeological site on the surface of a nearby planet. The science team had failed to report in and we were on a search and rescue mission to get them off the planet safely or in lieu of that (say, if they were all dead) retrieve their equipment and findings.

It would take us two weeks to reach the planet and...

Me: "What?"

GM: "It will take two weeks to get there."

Me: "Don't we go Faster-Than-Light?"

GM: "Yeah. We have Jump Drive. It's like Hyperdrive in Star Wars. The planet is two parsecs away. That's six light years."

Me: "Oh...ok."(Still thinking it seemed really slow).

Anyway...and when we get there I decided to use the ship's communications to let our employers know we arrived safely.

GM: "You can't. There is no Faster-Than-Light radio."

Strike Three.

Me: "So let me get this straight...we're playing a Science Fiction game with no Aliens, no Faster-Than-Light communications, slow Faster-Than-Light engines, almost no energy weapons and your character can die while making him up?"

GM: "Well...not exact...I mean...yeah I guess."

Needless to say I finished that session and didn't go anywhere near Traveller until MegaTraveller came out in 1987. By then I was mature enough to comprehend and appreciate what Marc Miller and company were trying to do and I went back and purchased a massive amount of the old stuff. At 10 years old however, I desperately wanted to zoom through space meeting aliens, shooting lasers and discovering crazy, high tech devices. Traveller, at least as presented to me by that first experience, was not the game I was looking for.

I wouldn't find that for another three years. In 1982, I went where no one, had gamed before...

Barking Alien


  1. Star Frontiers came out the same year as FASA Trek. You have exactly one post on your blog with a throwaway mention of it, and I was intrigued when I saw this post on Grognardia recently while going through the archives:

    Retrospective: Star Frontiers .

    It would seem to be right up your alley!(Other than the lack of much in the way of starship[perhaps you invented your own?] rules in the base set perhaps.) I was kinda curious as to your take on it, as my friends(and those I knew at the time) didn't play this, and only noticed it due to the ads in DC/Marvel comics at the time. Of course, the lack of a license seemed to affect some people's willingness to play games.(And unfortunately still does, another of your Grognardia posts covers that, IIRC.) Perhaps a future post touching on this?

    Looking forward to more 'coverage' of FASA Trek!

  2. Thanks as always Velaran. My next posts will cover FASA Star Trek, Star Frontiers, Space Opera (another near obsession of James' at Grognardia) and all the other Sci-Fi RPGs I've run. There's been a lot.

    In the end, the default go-to game for Science Fiction adventure for me has always been and probably will always be some form of Star Trek,

  3. looking forward to your posts about this.

  4. That's pretty much my experience with Traveller, too. I can appreciate it now, but I never really got into it back in the day.

  5. "So let me get this straight...we're playing a Science Fiction game with no Aliens, no Faster-Than-Light communications, slow Faster-Than-Light engines, almost no energy weapons and your character can die while making him up?"

    ...and that's why the apprentices are playing Star Wars instead of Traveller. It's a little more grown up about things than they are really interested in. I remember being a little surprised too about the guns and the lack of aliens - shotguns and cutlasses was not what I was expecting to on the space marine career table. It was the only game in town back then so I muddled through but SF and Trek were more what I was looking for too.

    Looking forward to the rest.