Saturday, April 5, 2014

Campaigns A-To-Z: Cosmic Rhapsody

C is for Cosmic Rhapsody


Cosmic Rhapsody

Gamemaster's Commentary: The fellows over at the Play on Target podcast once noted how "cringe-worthy" it would be to go back in time and listen to recordings of the games of their youth. The inference is that they have learned so much from the mistakes they made in their earlier days in the hobby.

I often feel the opposite is true. I am missing something in my GMing skill set that I had when I was younger. I've lost a bit of my edge over the years. I'm too easy on my players. I'm too nice.

This campaign for example, in contrast to my current Traveller campaign, would be viewed as downright brutal.

Additionally, this game began as a traditional Science Fiction space adventure campaign in the vein of Poul Anderson, Alfred Bester, Gordon R. Dickson, and even E. E. Smith. A true 'Golden Age of Science Fiction' campaign with a strong feeling of 'Hard Science Space Opera' as I like to call it.

Somewhere just past mid-way through things started to change and become closer to the 'New Wave Science Fiction' of the 1960s and 70s, with a powerful undertone of influence from Heavy Metal magazine. Anderson and Smith gave way to Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg and Norman Spinrad.

System: Space Opera (Fantasy Games Unlimited - Possibly Modified)

Circa: 1983

Player Base: Five players, all male, 14-15 years of age.

Characters: Initially, the group consisted of the types of characters you'd expect to see in a Sci-Fi/Space Opera game by 15 year olds in the early 80s. You had your Han Solo-esque Smuggler/Pilot, his Co-Pilot/Engineer buddy, a Lizard Man Alien Mercenary, a mysterious Psychic/Mystic type, and an Alien Scientist/Explorer.

The game was kind of deadly and I recall we lost the Co-Pilot and the Scientist early on. The Co-Pilot was replaced by an Alien Engineer who couldn't pilot at all but was better at all things mechanical. The Scientist was eventually replaced by a Human Explorer/Scout type fellow.

Synopsis: On the brink of a war between...well...everybody, an invading armada consisting of the Klackons (cross a Klingon with this cool lobster dude), the Mertuns (War of The Worlds-esque alien tripods) and 'The Bugs' (Starship Troopers) threatened to conquer all of known space in the chaos.

Putting aside their differences in order to kick space invader butt, the nearly warring factions of the galaxy called a truce and teamed up to face their combined enemies. Afterward they called a more permanent cease fire to their own instellar hostilities. They weren't suddenly friends but they all agreed to hating the Mertuns, Klackons, and Bugs more than they did each other.

A neutral zone sector in the middle of the various interstellar government domains was created and it quickly became a hot bed of smuggling, piracy, corporate and military intrigue, and planetary exploration. Enter the PCs as your typical band of freelance troublemakers trying to strike it rich in volatile environment.

By the end of the campaign things had gotten very weird. As mentioned in the 'commentary' above, we left the classic space opera of the Golden Age of Sci-Fi and entered into a sort of Psychodelic-Heavy-Metal-Magazine type of Science Fiction.

The Explorer had merged with some female alien intelligence/spirit/anomaly thing that had killed the Mystic as he turned out to be both secretly evil (true) and overconfident in his ability to mentally communicate with the entity.

She/He/It/They became a new life form/cosmic entity, and decided to leave this plane of existence but not before teleporting the Pilot/Smuggler guy back to Earth. Literally, back to the middle of the small, midwestern town where he was born from a site half way across the galaxy.

The Lizard Merc left the ship and crew to fight off an incursion of the Klackons. He died in battle, taking hundreds of them with him thanks to an experimental explosive (a Quasar Bomb or something. I forget).

The Alien Engineer, left alone and unable to pilot the ship effectively, is last scene sending out a distress call and waiting in his quarters for someone to find and rescue him.

One of our sadder endings.

Appendix N: 2001: A Space Odyssey novel and film - author Arthur C. Clarke, Epic Magazine by Marvel Comics, Heavy Metal Magazine by Metal Mammoth, Inc., the Heavy Metal animated film, Solaris novel by Stanislaw Lem, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress novels by Robert Heinlein, Trader to the Stars novel by Poul Anderson and many other science fiction stories of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and early 80s.

Bonus Features: This campaign featured several firsts and unusual approaches for me.

I was the GM of this campaign for about 75% of the sessions. My friends Martin and Jerry GMed for about 25% of it. I ran of the ending of which I am quite proud. This was the second time I ran a co-GMed campaign and the first time with more than two GMs including myself.

Looking back at the rules for this games many times over the years since this campaign was run, I haven't the faintest idea how we played it. This has to be one of the most overworked, convoluted games ever made.

We used minis for characters and spaceships on occasion, something I have rarely ever done when playing RPGs.

This is one of the first campaigns I ever ran that I actually gave a title to.

Cosmic Rhapsody is the first campaign I ever ran to have a direct sequel. I ran a follow up campaign called 'A War in G-Minor' about a year and a half after this Cosmic Rhapsody ended.

Sometime later, a Superhero game with a sort of classic 'Guardians of the Galaxy' flavor was set in this same universe.

Barking Alien


  1. Do you play a character when someone else GMs the game?

    Also, since you said that you're too easy on your players now, why not make an effort to be harder on them?

    1. To the first point, yes, I do play a character when someone else GMs a campaign we are co-running. Usually I will take over a reoccurring NPC, as was the case here, where I played a maintenance robot similar to R2-D2 (but looking more like the robot from Lost in Space).

      To the second point, I am/do make an attempt to be tougher on them when I am aware I am doing otherwise. Sometimes I don't really realize I've gone soft until it's too late and the encounter or sequence in question is over.

  2. Sounds awesome! Love the campaign name. :)

    1. Thanks Jay! Funny, I was thinking of you while writing this post, lol.

  3. I like the sound of this one, but you're right about some of those old systems we used to play. I didn't like Space Opera much back when it was new - ideas, yes, mechanics, no.