A Look at the Future of Science Fiction Role Playing
Copyright Robert J Defendi 1999
In a universe composed of countless nuclear furnaces, in a volume of space containing over 400 inhabited worlds, the fierce glow of intellect burns in the minds of trillions of sapient beings. Passion aches in many beating hearts. Biological furnaces heat many bodies, giving these minds and hearts action to meet their purpose. They work together, build, create, invent and innovate. All for seemingly one purpose.
The Inter-Species Confederation has built a nation, over 300 worlds strong on the sweat and dreams of a dozen generations. They have created art and music and technology and children and a cooperative nation of which they are proud to belong. They have held off internal conflict and bought a gentle life for their inhabitants at the price of dedication and perseverance.
The Jeronan Empire has built its might on the blood and sweat of a trillion slaves. They believe in tyranny, oppression and the theory that Might makes Right. Only their own internal squabbling and hot-headed pettiness (fueled by ISC spies) has held back their engine of war.
But now that war has come, and the peaceful lives of the ISC are being devoured and burned in the crucible of battle and the voids of space. The blood of the dying bubbles and boils away into the unforgiving vacuum of the universe in the wake of the front.
The front has been moving steadily for two years, and not in the direction that the ISC would like. It seems that all may be lost.
There are millions of ships plying the star lanes of the ISC, an untapped resource of personnel and hardware that did not escape the President. He has instituted ancient Privateering laws in the hopes of turning the tide of battle.
If you have heart, passion, courage, and a healthy love of money, you too can take up arms with your comrades. The ISC needs every being it can get, whether it be amongst the ranks of the marines or in the gun stations of privateering vessels.
Do you have what it takes?
The purpose of this article is to give you, the reader, a glimpse of Spacemaster to come. This project is years in the making, and a small glimpse of the purpose and intent of the line might help whet your appetite and pique you interest.
This project has been stewing and building for quite sometime. At last, its first products are about to go to press, and it might be pleasant to share with you the nature and concepts behind the game, its design and its implementation.
Basic Design Approach
There are, of course, two main styles of role playing science fiction. The first is Space Opera, made popular by Star Wars and Star Trek. The second is Hard Science, made popular by such writers as Arthur C. Clarke and David Brin.
The Privateers universe takes the view that it is easier to ignore science than it is to add it after the fact. Therefore, the game takes a rigid hard science approach to its design. A GM can describe the mechanics of the universe as swoopy, Star Wars like combat or he can use more realistic ballistic trajectories and vectors. The universe is designed to conform easily to either form of play.
One of the difficulties this created was with the alien races. The joy of role playing is playing something different, yet not so different as to be incomprehensible. The problem with this is that in a truly hard science approach, aliens are actually alien. They are difficult, if not impossible to fathom, and only one role player in one hundred is truly up to the task.
Thus the Architects were invented.
The Architects rose long before the first glimmers of intelligence were in the eyes of man. No one knows their motivations. Perhaps they knew that no one race could survive forever. Maybe they needed a project spanning a billion years to hold their attention. Maybe they just wanted children.
From a game design standpoint, the invention of the Architects solved many problems. From the point of view in the universe, they are the gentle forefathers and creators to which all known beings owe their fragile lives. Through their works, all the races were created, and their basic forms are repeated, even to the fauna. Through them, the same seven races were built, from evolutionary roots, on hundreds, if not thousands of worlds.
This allowed huge roadblocks in game design to be leapt in one great jump. The Architects loved their basic forms of fauna. There are cats on nearly every world. There are wolves and monkeys and insects and lizards too. These allowed familiar forms and attitudes to be applied to "alien" races in approachable ways.
These races were built, from a game design standpoint, to play to certain easily understood animal roles. It’s hard in strict hard-core science fiction, to rationalize a cat evolving in a separate star system, but seeing as every bit of animal life in the Privateers universe was created purposely on a thousand separate worlds, this poses no problem there.
The Architects created seven races. These races were designed to be easily grasped and fun to play. They are:
The Falar: Giant predatory cats.
The Humans: Our monkey-like brothers on many worlds.
The Kagoth: Gentle bears.
The Oorts: Intelligent furballs.
The Tulgar: Noble wolves.
The Valiesiens: Emotionless lizards.
The Xatosians: Psychic insects.
These racial concepts were designed to be easy to play and, most of all, fun. Everyone knows how to play a cat, or a chivalric wolf. The existence of the Architects allow for familiar yet non-human forms to be given intelligence. They are alien to man, but not alien to Earth, and therefore easily grasped a fun to play for our Earth-Bound audience.
Another concept that was invented was psychic resonance. All things are connected on a psychic level. Just as twins or mother and child sometimes seem to posses an almost supernatural link, so are all members of a species connected on all worlds. This leads to commonalities. It allows a GM to approach a newly discovered planet realistically without having a Ph.D. in experimental sociology or a level of creativity bordering on the insane.
If the characters find a new planet of Falar, the GM can look up the racial descriptions of Falar to discover the social trends which seem to dominate their culture. He can then be as creative as he wants, knowing that he isn’t obliged to take into account the millions of environmental variables which effect the growth of a society born under an alien sun.
It is difficult to treat science fiction in hard terms in a role-playing game. A truly creative mind, one that might be able to invent an alien race that is absolutely alien, is rare, maybe completely unheard of (we won’t know unless we ever meet an alien). The odds of having a complete role-playing group of them is nearly impossible.
It is easy, when sitting on a high horse of science fiction writing (a sin of which many of us are often guilty), to decree that things are not alien enough, then make them more and more different until they are impossible to play in an enjoyable fashion. This is a trap we have fought hard to avoid.
The Shape of the Product Line
Spacemaster will have two basic types of books. The first, most typically "Law" books, will deal with the game from a rule standpoint. How do you handle vacuum and radiation? How do you deal with relativity and the speed of light? How about characters raised in powerful or weak gravitational fields? These are the types of subjects dealt with in the rule books.
The second types of books are aimed to be mostly source material. What are the cultures of the seven races? What are their marriage habits? How are they treated in the ISC? How are they treated in the Empire? What is the military structure of the two governments? What points of interest are found among nearly 400 civilized stars? These are the types of subjects brought to light in the source books.
The goal is to alternate the two. A rule book will be released, then a source book, then a rule book, etc. This way, neither type of product will be slighted or ignored.
The following are the list of planned products, in the order they are intended to be released. It should be noted that any of this information can change suddenly and without notice.
. . . And Beyond
There is great potential for future works. Where the line goes from here will depend greatly on the interests of the players and the sales of the line. Only the future knows where Spacemaster will go as we enter the next century. We can only wait and see.
Post your comments on this article on the Spacemaster Discussion Board. New fiction for the Spacemaster setting will be appearing on the ICE website from November 1999.