Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Trouble With Sci-Fi Games...Picking One

I am having a bit of difficulty deciding which Sci-Fi game to run for my group. All I know is I want to create alien worlds, populate them with strange and wondrous life forms, enjoy epic space battles and explore the human condition (or its extraterrestrial equivalent in the case of alien PCs).

What game does that? Well in reality, all of them.

So how do I decide what's best for us? Honestly I am really not sure and could sure use some suggestions. But first...

I've ruled out Star Trek* because I kind of want something a bit more free-wheeling. I don't want to the PCs to have to work for Starfleet or any particular organization at the start of the game. I want them to do what they want to do and go where they want to go.

"But Adam, you can let them play smugglers, pirates and other non-Starfleet people in the Star Trek universe!"

Yes. Yes I could. I could also hammer in a nail with a shoe. It might work but its not the best tool for the job or the best use of my time. Also, the first time you play Star Wars, you want to be a Jedi or have the Force. Otherwise you want to be a Bounty Hunter or a Smuggler. Why? Because these are special features of the Star Wars setting. You'd want to be a Jedi because you can't be one in other Sci-Fi games which don't have Jedi.

To me, you play Star Trek so you can be part of Starfleet, operate Starfleet ships, use Starfleet equipment, etc. If you're going to not do these things, play Traveller or some other RPG where Starfleet isn't what's special.

Now, back to the issue at hand...system and to a much lesser extent, setting.

I just reread Stars Without Number and while there is a lot I like about it, I'm looking to play a different system, something a tad less old school. I want either a more innovative mechanic or just one that doesn't feel like D&D meets Traveller. Why? I'm odd in that I don't want to play the same system all the time. I want different games/campaigns to feel differently and even though it seems superficial on the surface, I've noticed that rolling the bones in a different manner then they're used to actually changes my players mind sets a bit. It's like, "Oh, in Champions you roll 3D6 and need to get under the target number? Wow, this isn't Mutants & Masterminds that's for sure." As I've said I'm big into atmosphere, style and feel and every little bit helps.

I am curious to see the new X-Plorers but I feel the same issue will be had there. It's too D&D like. I am running a vaguely D&D game with the kids at the Learning Center Sunday. I think my take is different enough but still, I want to avoid consuming the same taste too often less I get bored of it.

Traveller. It seems to be the 800 pound Altairian Gorilla in the room. I talk about running it, I reread it periodically, I look at articles and blog posts about it online but I haven't run it in forever. Why? Similar reasons to the above? Not quite. While very old school it's different enough from what we've been playing of late to seem new, especially to many of my current players who are unfamiliar with Traveller. It's a definite possibility. So why haven't I simply decided to go with it?

Well, part of it is that my last foray into running Traveller didn't go over well. I was out of practice and my group was...well I was running for a group I didn't know and who didn't know me and I don't think we quite managed to merge our styles into something cohesive. Pity. Nice bunch of guys. Still talk to one of them regularly, Doug, as he's a member of NerdNYC and just a hell of a nice fellow. Another used to visit here off and on. If you read this I hope all is well with you.

In the end, I know what's coming or at least I do now that I've written this (blogging can be very helpful that way). I'm very likely to go with Traveller, a bit houseruled to allow it to move a bit faster and smoother.

Suggestions are of course welcome. Let you know what I decide as soon as I figure it out.

Barking Alien

*To say I've ruled out running Star Trek is to say...OK, I haven't ruled out running Star Trek. I'd love to get back to Star Trek. I was hoping to try a more open ended, sandboxy thing first.

Traveller vs. Star Trek. Tonight, live on pay-per-view. :)

Also: Thanks to a comment by Luis M. Rebollar, I can identify the artist of the image above as Luca Oleastri. I highly recommend checking out his work. Awesome stuff.


  1. Adam, the image's name is Luca Oleastri, because that's the artist. :) You're getting a little old, pal. ;P

    Also, if you want a suggestion: I've been lately also looking for a new SF game, resisting to go thw Traveller way, and wishing to gamemaster Star Trek but not being able (there's never been a good base fandom in Spain for Star Trek, damnint). Recently I preordered Pelgrane's Ashen Stars because I wasn't sure the Gumshoe system could be used for SF, and really craved o see the great Robin D. Laws try to. I've already reading the pdf, and I'm having a BLAST. One of the best, and the most innovative, renditions of Space Opera in rpg form.

    Then again, it's only a humble suggestion that probably won't fully match what you feel are your needs. My two cents, though.

    Nice blog, by the way, keep the good work. :)

  2. Thanks man. Robin Laws involved in a Sci-Fi game? Robin Laws involved in anything? SOLD!

    Or at least curious enough to look into it.

    Thanks again and welcome.

  3. "I am having a bit of difficulty deciding which Sci-Fi game to run for..." Right there with you brother. I'm going to try to play at least one solid adventure in classic Trav and then look at reworking the X-Plorers default setting with one of my own, and probably adding some of my own classes. There's something about it being based on S&W:WB that appeals - easier to just tack stuff onto it when needed than have to totally rework it to my satisfaction. Plus there's no barely any rules to learn (or re-learn), it's just OD&D with lasers (and some thief like skills which hinge on your class). Simple.

  4. I say go LBB Traveller if you want simple, but I'm biased. Andy Slack, a writer and blogger I respect (he wrote a lot of Traveller articles for White Dwarf back in the day when it was a RPG mag) has been having a lot of fun with Stars without Number and says it reduces the GM's workload a great deal. Alternatively, run with the Star Wars mechanics, if you prefer them, but call the game 'Space Opera' or something similar so the players don't preload their expectations.

    Actually, if you use the mechanics you feel give the best fun and detail, yet call the game something spacey, but indistinct (Dark Star, Distant Frontiers, Light Speed, etc), your players will pay attention to your setting and not clutter the game up with "but the AT-AT 61 Mark 3 has dual turbo lasers" which pulls everyone out of the story and into the rivet counting.

    Hope this helps.

  5. Nice arguments here got me quite thinking for a while. As a player of these games I'm quite oblivious to these facts. Good food for the thought. buy aion accounts