Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2004

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


"Excellent issue astounds readers with superb content. All TGC staff and contributors gain +10 bonus to all Influence-based maneuvers concerning interactions with readers."

Ah, if it were only as easy as rolling a 66 in a Rolemaster or Spacemaster game! Then again, considering how inconvenient a "66" can be for many maneuvers, perhaps it is just as well that I don't have to roll d100 open-ended for each issue.

Anyways, a warm welcome to all our readers for the sixty-sixth issue of The Guild Companion.

TGC Modules

We have made excellent progress with the Shadow World Master Atlas d20 Edition. Robert Defendi finished off the last remaining chapters. I've completed the editing of all the chapters, including working my way through pages upon pages of d20 statistics, checking the numbers. (Well, it is the d20 Edition after all.)

Now that we have a complete and edited manuscript, I'll be working with Terry to ensure that it receives his imprimatur as a worthy addition to the Shadow World canon, and to organise the necessary Open Gaming Content and Product Identity demarcations. We also have to arrange suitable artwork and undertake the layout process, so we are not yet finished, but we are getting there.

More Musings from the Back of the Envelope

Last month, we looked at possible HARP professional archetypes for science-fiction settings. In this issue, I would like to reflect on what ingredients might be required for "the proverbial good science-fiction role-playing game".

(SF enthusiasts will probably catch the reference above. If you think you know it, please post on our discussion boards.)

One of the major stumbling blocks to "the proverbial good science-fiction role-playing game" is that there isn't a single science-fiction genre. Rather there is a multiplicity of subgenres such as:

  • "Pulp"
  • : This encompasses "retro" settings, such as the early scientific romances of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as well as the fantastic stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and older science-fiction. The science may be hopelessly obsolescent or nonexistent, but such stories capture "What Might Have Been".
  • "Modern"
  • : Technothrillers such as Michael Crichton's "Prey", the Alias TV series, and of course, The X-Files, evoke possibilities of adventure in the present-day at the bleeding edge of science, conspiracies and the unknown.
  • "Near-Future"
  • : Hard science-fiction and interplanetary adventure in the optimistic spirit of Sir Arthur C Clarke and Robert A Heinlein.
  • "Cyberpunk"
  • : Dystopian near-futures such as William Gibson's Neuromancer, The Matrix trilogy, and Blade Runner where the surreal beauty of an immersive virtual reality contrasts with a polluted environment and collapsed society.
  • "Far Future"
  • : Frequently hard science-fiction settings, often with military or adventure themes, interstellar and even galactic in scope. Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Brian Stableford, and David Weber are only a handful of the "great names" of this genre.
  • "Space Opera"
  • : Star Wars, Frank Herbert's Dune, and E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen epitomise epic stories and highly imagined universes.
plus there are the alternate histories, the time travel subgenre, and science fantasy as well.

While the more literary critics of science-fiction may wish to argue about my back of the envelope divisions and author placements, the diversity of the different types of science-fiction should be clearly demonstrated. This variety is probably one of the main factors in the poorer sales of SF RPGs compared to fantasy RPGs (fantasy sells three times as well.) Like the fantasy genre, some gamers are attracted to playing in favorite settings (such as Star Wars, Babylon V, or Star Trek), though as many such settings are still "works in progress", new canonical material from the original creator can be even more troublesome to integrate than the latest fantasy module.

Perhaps the best solution to making a SF RPG with the widest possible appeal is to make it as modular as possible. A toolkit of setting and rule components which can be mixed and matched by individual GMs to create their own SF universes or emulate existing worlds.

So here is an abbreviated list of possible RPG components:

  • Aliens: While Frank Herbert's Dune saga and the Robot/Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov had no aliens, exotic civilisations and strange races are indispensible to many other universes. Poul Anderson's van Rijn/David Falkayn/Dominic Flandry stories include many instances of carefully sketched alien races and cultures. Larry Niven's Known Spaces includes the Puppeteers, a race of two-headed hyperintelligent cowards, and the fierce Kzin.
  • Augmentation: Advances in genetic engineering may create new subspecies of Homo sapiens, designed to live in space, on heavy-gravity worlds, and other equally hostile environments. Alternatively cybernetic implants may be wired into the nervous system to create cyborgs, man-machine hybrids.
  • Combat: Conflict is essential to many stories. Mankind may want to study war no more, but we may be denied a desire for universal peace. Failures of communication between human and aliens may lead to space wars (see Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War"), but human ambition and politics may also take future polities beyond the brink (see David Weber's Honor Harrington novels for military sf in the tradition of C.S. Forester's Hornblower sequence.)
  • Computers and Robots: Perhaps we will create artificial intelligences which rival or surpass our own. Perhaps robots will evolve out of the assembly-lines to become allies (like Star Wars' C3PO and R2D2) or our enemies (Terminator).
  • Psionics: Our minds give us rationality, understanding, and creativity, but they may have other hidden potentials. Weird powers such as telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and so forth may be real and the masters of psi (as in the Darkover series of Marion Zimmer Bradley) may create effects more astonishing than any magician.
  • Technology: Fusion power, practical nanotechnology, body regeneration and rejuvenation, antigravity reactionless drives, and even faster than light travel may be available in some worlds, shaping societies and potential role-playing campaigns.

As always, I'm interested in your thoughts on this proverbial good SF RPG - feel free to post them in our discussion boards.

Farewell (for now ...)

I'll leave you to read this month's issue while I return to my "back of the envelope" musings. Our next issue will be published in September 2004, but until then ...

Keep gaming, have fun and watch out for those 66s,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion