Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Share it Please

In our gaming group we have more or less decided that the new 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay will be our default roleplaying game and something that we aim to keep alive for a long time. We haven’t actually tried the system yet, but barring some extreme misconceptions from reading about it I think it’ll suit our playstyle quite well.

However, there are many other games I’d like to try. In particular I’d like to have something that could be run as a backup when it turns out that someone can’t make it and also work as a kind of secondary campaign for when we want a change of pace for a while. And since we have the fantasy aspect covered I think this should be a sci-fi game. Specifically a sci-fi game where the characters have their own space ship…

I’ve wanted to run (or play in!) a campaign based around a space ship crew for as long as I can remember, but aside from a short stint a long, long time ago GMing WEG’s old Star Wars game I never have. I’m now determined to change this and am considering different game alternatives and their respective pros and cons. I've narrowed it down to these three:

Rogue Trader

Rogue Trader is the second roleplaying game taking place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe after the original Dark Heresy. In this game you take on the roles of the command crew on a rogue trader vessel, exploring space in the name of the Holy God-Emperor for huge profit!

  • Well established setting. The 40k universe has been around for a long time and I think most people in our group are fairly familiar with it. Although I’m not sure they’re familiar enough to really take initative within it.
  • Awesome scope! In RT you’re not portraying just some rag-tag bands of smugglers in a transport, but a multi-megaton starship with crews ranging in tens of thousands! There’s a whole meta-game built in called Endevours giving the players all kinds of opportunities or adventures as well as allowing them to shape their own fate.

  • Going clunk in the night. The game system of RT and its older brother Dark Heresy is rather old fashioned. It’s certainly not a bad system per se, but compared to many of the more modern alternatives (see below) it feels a bit clunky and formulaic.
  • Maybe too awesome. This is not really a con for Rogue Trader as a whole but more because of the kind of campaign I’ve had in mind. Originally I envisioned something smaller and more personal like like Han and Chewie on the Millenium Falcon, Spike and Jet on Cowboy Bebop or the crew on Serenity - and commanding 60,000 souls and row after row of macro cannon batteries might take away from that intimate underdog feeling...


Diaspora is a recently released independently produced hard sci-fi game using the Fate mechanics introduced in Spirit of the Century. I haven’t actually got the book quite yet (it’s being printed by Lulu as we speak) so I can’t go into much detail. But I think an apt description would be character driven hard sci-fi. (Note that the picture is from Atomic Rocket).

  • Aspects of characters! The Fate system is simply one of the coolest systems I’ve come across. It’s very elegant and really rewards roleplaying as well as getting more personally involved in creating the story from the players perspective. Yet, the makers of Diaspora has still managed to retain the feeling of a hard sci-fi universe (without getting bogged down in crunch I mean).
  • Shake and bake worlds. There is no default star system in Diaspora but instead this is rolled up as a part of character creation and the whole group collaborate to create an interesting solar system. It’s a very simple process, rolling FUDGE dice to determine a planet's characteristics as well as intra system relations, but also very elegant in how it provides you with a lot of ideas and hooks for future adventuring. Have a look at this or this for examples of generated systems.
  • Hard as wurtzite boron nitride! Like I said, I haven’t actually read the book yet, but as far as I can tell the authors really have gone to great lengths to try to keep the universe grounded in reality. For example, some one was wondering why ships werent bigger than they are and it turns out the authors have done extensive calculations which told them that the added reaction mass you’d need to lug around to propell larger and larger ships would outstrip the added storage space. Basically it’s a case of diminishing returns where ships over a certain size simply aren’t realistically viable. Anyway, this pro is more of a personal desire to play a physically realistic game.
  • Pick up and play. Yepp, one of the corner stones of Fate is that it’s designed for speed and idea generation. Just creating your character in and of itself suggests numerous adventuring hooks which makes pick up and play possible even if you’re completely unprepared as a GM. This is definitely an attractive prospect as what I’m looking for would partly be a backup for when we’re too few or I’m unprepared or whatever else could happen.

  • Aspects of characters! It’s a great system, but it’s also very different from anything my group has played before. Roleplaying games in Sweden (and Europe in general I believe) has traditionally had quite a heavy simulationist slant with a preference for the Basic Roleplaying (ie percentile) system. So it might feel unfamiliar to change to a system like Fate where things are much more fluid and almost anything can be done via Aspects. Now, the members of my group aren’t stupid (except for that one guy. You know who you are!) but it might be a jarring experience when starting up at least.
  • Shake and bake worlds. I’m personally looking forward to rolling up my very own star system and figure out its different quirks and secrets. But I can also see how, for some people, not having an established setting might make it more difficult to get into, at least in the beginning. This very much is connected to the system and way of play though. If the players get used to the new system and starts taking initative in storytelling as well as roleplaying I don’t think it’d be a problem.


The game based on Joss Whedons Firefly/Serenity-verse. The default mode of play is as a crew of a small vessel like a Firefly who try to eke out a living in the black. After waiting a long time after the initial release of the core book for more material, it now seems like the wheels are rolling steadily. Not to mention the enormous amount of fan material available!

  • Here’s how it is. The setting is well known and if someone is not familiar with it all you have to do is lend her or him your Firefly DVDs and you’re good to go. Being familiar with things I think will help the players take the initiative and feel more in “control” of their surroundings.
  • Just right. The Cortex system used (and originally created) for Serenity is maybe not as big a departure from traditional systems as Fate, but it is miles ahead of Rogue Trader. I think it might be a perfect middle of the road alternative that could also lead up to an introduction to Fate as both systems share some similare concepts, like being very much character driven and using plot/fate points.
  • Lots of consumables. In my group I’m usually the guy with the books and the idea that is common among many other groups for everyone to own a copy of the most critical books just didn’t take root with us. The problem with this is that whenever I try to introduce a gameworld that is unfamiliar to my players I have to explain everything about it and kind of “hold their hands” until they get more familiar with it. However, with the amount of commercial support available for Firefly in a non-gaming capacity I don’t think I’d ever have to do that, which is nice.

  • Hmm… I actually have a hard time coming up with something here.

There are of course other games I’ve been considering as well, from GURPS Transhuman Space to its darker cousin Eclipse Phase* to DP9’s Jovian Chronicles to the old classic Traveller. But in the end I think the three alternatives I’ve narrowed down best represents what I’m looking for: a crew and their ship. As an aside, I have an idea for a more militarily themed campaign in the vein of a Peter F Hamilton book for either Transhuman Space or Eclipse Phase and think that it might be more fun to actually play through the Odyssey in Jovian Chronicles.

I’m personally very keen to sink my teeth into Diaspora, especially as Fate was originally constructed with pick-up-and-play capability in mind, but maybe Serenity would be better as a first step. If we go the Serenity route there’s definitely some things from Fate that I will transplant over into the Cortex system (like compelling Complications etc).

So I suppose in the end I’m leaning towards Serenity, although naturally it’s not my decision alone but our gaming group as a whole. If you have played any of these games and have ideas, suggestions or comments feel free to fire away. Maybe I missed something, or missunderstood or maybe I’m simply plain wrong.

 * Catalyst Game Labs who made Eclipse Phase has been rather progressive and made the book available as a free PDF from various torrent sites (like here and here). It's perfectly legal and I really recommend it! Then if you like it why not get yourself a hard copy. I know I will.

5 kommentarer :

  1. Have you thought about Star Wars ? As much as I dislike Wizards, the recent saga edition is very decent.

  2. I did consider it actually, but I think there are several in our group who've become kind of allergic against Star Wars since the prequals came out.

    I've kind of come to terms with the whole debacle, but I can definitely understand their feelings. :)

    Recently I've also been very much in the mood for some hard (or hardish) sci-fi. Although saying that while still having Rogue Trader in my list of alternatives doesn't really make sense. Hehe!

  3. Prequels ? What do you mean ? I've never heard about such a thing... >.>
    Regardless, when I say Star Wars, it's obviously the old-school rebellion era. Watch A new Hope, or The Empire Strikes back, when it's about as dark, dirty and gritty as can be for some space opera, and tell me it's not *the* setting for some independant merchant/smugglers adventure ?

    I've never heard about Diaspora, so I can't really comment on it, I did browse the Firefly book a good bit though, which I found quite a disappointment. I mean, there's nothing in it that you can't learn directly from watching the series itself, so it doesn't really feel like you have a vast universe to explore from just reading the book, and then I found the rules themselves a bit light.
    Of course, having said that, playing in the Firefly universe with silhouette rules (Jovian Chronicles perhaps ?) might be a winner...

  4. Hehe! Well, of course I still enjoy the original trilogy but while it can be dark and gritty you never really have to pay much attention to reaction mass or correct transfer orbits. :)

    Actually, my original idea was to run a Firefly style campaign in Jovian Chronicles with the characters plying the trade routes in their Ebiru. Naturally with some interesting twists and turns and dark secrets among the crew. But when I came across the Odyssey Seed in Aurora I decided I'd run that instead (some time in the future).

    As for Serenity, yes you're right, I wouldn't have minded some more NEW info. But at the same time it feels like it's something that's easy to come up with as you go. And while I on one hand like the extensive background and information that (for example) DP9 creates for their game, sometimes I'm more in the mood for blank canvas, as it were.

    If you're curious about Diaspora I suggest you download the free Spirit of the Century design document. It's basically the basic Fate rulebook but without snazzy layout and pictures. I think it's a really cool system that, while definitely being on the light end of the spectrum, is very elegant and has the ability to model practically any situation (thanks to the use of Aspects).

    On the Diaspora site they also have the space combat chapter available for download. It plays like a minigame and it's also quite an interesting take on the subject. I actually thought I'd import it into Serenity.

    Are you playing and rpgs at the moment?

  5. Hehe! Well, of course I still enjoy the original trilogy but while it can be dark and gritty you never really have to pay much attention to reaction mass or correct transfer orbits. :)
    You say that as if it's a bad thing ? :op
    There's some free rules add-on you can find (I have a copy right there) that "simulate" the various cargo one can find/haul/sell. Given how much a ship is supposed to cost in maintenance and stuff, that should keep the PCs on edge. Of course, such details and tracking are ultimately trivial, as long as the ambiance is good. Ie. "Yes, the ship is old and crummy and falling into pieces, yes, this guy is definitely not honest, but how else are we going to pay the repairs otherwise ?"

    I'll check Diaspora a bit, right now I'm playing a little D&D and Dark Millenium, but it's not very frequent. I also played quite a bit of Star Wars D6 "back in the days" :op


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