Thursday, December 6, 2012

Top Ten Things I Want In My Next Science Fiction Game

Since I very much have Science Fiction on the brain lately and plan to turn that preoccupation toward a new campaign in 2013, I thought I would take a moment and indulge myself by listing the Top Ten Things I Want In My Next Science Fiction Game (Inspired by this post by long time ally in the fight for SF gaming, Jay of EXONAUTS!).

#1. A Bunch of Aliens

I want aliens. As PCs, NPCs, allies, enemies and inexplicible god-like entities beyond our understanding. I want a good amount. Almost alot. Not too many. Dune has too few. Star Wars too many. I liked the Original Series and Movie Era Star Trek periods when there were a a few dozen of varying types and levels of advancement spread across a wide area. Post Next Gen the galaxy is too crowded with uninteresting aliens.

#2. Starships With Flavor

Different kinds. Not just different classes and types (but that too), I want vessels of different governments and alien species to have distinct appearances, design aesthetics and special features. Babylon 5 didn't always have the most awesome starship designs ever (though many were pretty neat) but it often looked like one concept artist design some of them while a completely different concept artist came up with others.

#3. Weird Planets That Are Plausible

Planets that make you go, "WTF Science?!" Remember when we were kids and our science teachers and science books said, "That planet you read about in that Science Fiction book is fun to think about but in reality we'll never find a planet completely covered in water." BAM! Suck it high school science teachers and your lack of vision.

#4. A Lot Of Travel

My love/obsession with different environments and locale settings means I want the situations and the PCs to move around a lot. A different world every week! OK, maybe every few sessions. It depends on which game I go with and how the Players perceive that universe.

#5. A Homebase To Go Back To

As much as I want to see the characters travel from world to world, I want them to have a central location to go back to in order to access what happened and what to do next. This could be a starship, a space station, one planet in particular or whatever. The point is there will be a familiar safehouse or port of call (port in a storm) from which to set out into the unknown.

#6. An Enemy of Grandeur

I want a bad guy, a villain, an antagonist, who is not a species but also not a single person. That is, I don't want Klingons (or only Klingons) but I don't want Khan either. I am thinking criminal or terrorist organization. A space version of Cobra or Hydra. Big, wide spread but still finite.

#7. People Matter More Than Tech

I've got some gearhead players but what I really have it guys who want the advantage Sci-Fi tech gives you to not have to walk over and check things out for yourself. They also like the idea of killing things from far away where things can't reach and kill them.

I like it when either the tech doesn't help the PC as much as the Player's innovative use of it does or when the enemy's got the same tech they do.

Player skill over PC equipment is what I am looking for.

#8. A Big Plot...or Three

I intend the game to seem Sandbox-y but there will definitely be an overarching story, perhaps several. I plan on placing the story elements out there in the Sandbox of Space and if the PCs come across one or more pieces they may or may not get involved. The plot however will continue to develop with or without their interference and may end up a nusiance to them somewhere down the road.

#9. A Mystery As Large As Space

I may not be able to pull this one off but not for any lack of ability on my part. Rather, I may not have any Players or PCs as into checking out the mysterious and unexplained as I am into including it. I will put in a handful of 'Secrets of the Universe' and see if anyone bites and wants to know more. Otherwise, I won't push. It'll just be there for me.

#10. Massive, World(s)-Shattering Explosions

I haven't blown up an entire planet in forever. Now where did I leave that Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?

Barking Alien

Oh yeah, almost forgot...there's this.


  1. I like your list, BA. The Redshirts campaign I'm running has a lot of your points, though on #1, I don't let the PCs be aliens. I'm not too fond of PCs being dwarves and elves either, so maybe I'm just old and cranky. :) I don't really have 'an enemy of grandeur.' I have a lot of enemies that could wipes the PCs civilization off the map - if they got around to it. Keeps the players on their toes. :) there is this one guy who's purpose in life is to violate #7. It gets old. On of my favorites is #9, but I've mishandled the mysteries often. I just need to leave them as mysteries. :)

    - Ark

    1. If aliens fit a setting, players should get to be aliens in my book. I also just love aliens. Exobiology is definitely a field of interest for me.

      I may have entities or groups who will wipe the PCs and their respective species out if pissed off enough but I rarely set those up as enemies right off the bat. They exist. Handle them with care or be vaporized.

      Number 7 is basically the bane of my existance. I never have an issue with it in the old days or with my Jersey crew but my current NY groups want to defeat the galaxy via remote control.

      I love 9. 9 is a big part of why I run Sci-Fi and love it. 9 is also something that doesn't even register with most of my current group. Seriously. It's like that scene in Monty Python's 'The Meaning of Life'.

      "Didn't you ever want to know what it was all about?"

      "No. No really."


  2. Nice list. I like the way you define the parameters of your game before zooming in on the details.

    If your "universe" uses some form of Warp Drive or Jump Drive to get from world to world, having something like Stargate Technology could be the big mystery, and drive a lot of the character/character conflict as people try to get their hands on it, or bury it, or exploit it.

    If the game setup has current research on Stargates failing or looking like fringe science, but then the players hear rumours or find evidence that Stargate Technology may once have worked, then the PCs may find themselves getting dragged into something they weren't expecting, and then the fun begins in earnest ;)

  3. I have a suggestion for you to flesh out your science fiction setting ideas. Run a few sessions of the game Microscope.
    Read our blog entries about our sci-fi setting we created.
    We (two seasoned GMs) were shocked at how much it inspired our creativity. The game took us down avenues we wouldn't have considered. It may inspire you too.


  4. Good list. I tried the same thing for a Traveller campaign, which sadly, never got off the ground. Life. *sigh* My approach was likes/ dislikes, but I kept coming back to classic Trek, and "Forbidden Planet", especially on points 1, 2 and 9.

  5. 1,2,3,4 - Space is big, Really Big - so let's go see some of it! We might fight it, we might make friends with it, but the first step is to see it!

    I get 5 & 6, no problem there

    #7 - I find this is driven by the intersection of players and game system. Pick the right game for that group of players and you should be fine. If you're thinking Traveller, well, it's pretty gearhead-friendly so you may have to emphasize this within the campaign somehow.

    #8 & #9 - yeah those are so hard to predict up front, at least for me. Drop in some breadcrumbs about the legendary ancients and sometimes it becomes the focus of the campaign as of Session #2, sometimes it gets ignored completely for a year or for ever.

    #10 - Well of course - blow their ship up in session #2 and they'll think they've seen your most shocking move. Blow their planet up in session #3 and now they know it's a new game. That last Trek movie got that much right, issues of physics aside. It's even better if you make it their fault.

    (Special shout-out to #2 - the first time I saw the Vorlon ships - oh my, and the Narns - oooh! Ships with Paint Jobs! Not just Battleship Grey Wedge #16! Make the universe visually interesting, especially the parts the players are interacting with the most!)

  6. im going to post some art work on my facebook site. i would like to show you an idea i have....syd mead style lineart and all other crazy gadgets...

  7. If you're thinking of having a home base that isn't the starship, but still want to jump around with planets, then "gates" might be the way to go.

    Alternatively I remember one of the Dark Horse Star Wars comic book mini-series featured explorers right after the "light speed" engines were created who would just plug in coordinates and see what was there (hopefully not the heart of a star). With no galactic infrastructure, they had to continually come back to re-stock. Also I'm pretty sure the main characters owed a crime syndicate a lot of money.

    1. This second idea is sort of in the ball park of what I have in mind.

      I just noticed...When I say I haven't decided on a game I mean system and setting. Regardless of whether I run Star Trek, Star Frontiers, Stars Without Number or Traveller, I have the campaign concept. For me generating the story is easy. Where it is set and what the approach to it will be takes time to consider.