Thursday, January 13, 2011

Games of Tomorrow!

Well potential games at my game table any way.

In previous posts I commented that I'm more innately a Sci-fi fan. I'm not sure exactly why except I'm amazed about the potential for technology to really take us to fantastic places in some way. I guess its the plausibility of science vs magic that I find appealing.  I know empirically magic does not work. Likewise I know science does. Hence the idea of one day there being robots, space stations and aliens is tantalizing. Even if highly unlikely during my lifetime. This goes so far as making Science fantasy less of a draw card for me too. I like Star Trek more then Star Wars, Caprica over Far Scape thats just how I roll. However I like Barsoom over Greyhawk too if it comes to it.

So when it comes to RPG's I'm interested in the sci-fi games in a similar flavor my taste in novels. However Fantasy rpg's are much more popular then Sci-Fi and if I were to be a Sci-fi teetotaler then I would have had huge chunks of no gaming as many of my gaming buddies were not even into Traveller based on the sense that the game was less ..directed/focused. Essentially they where lost in the breadth of the game and what to do. I'm sure like me you have heard of many a Traveller game breaking down into a TPK as the players take on the local starport. Hah. Or worse they get away on such a spree and the game degenerates. This is a pity and is both a failure of the game and the game table (players and GM) however its not unique to Sci-fi it just seems to be the way more people write sci-fi off as a genre.

However lots of people love sci-fi games and in the last couple of years we have seen a small boom-bubble of sci-fi gaming material.

So, along with fantasy games - see the other recent posts - I'm contemplating Sci-fi, Super Hero, Pulp and Horror options.

Lets break these down before a go into little capsule reviews about all of them. 

  • Sci-fi
    • Shadowrun
    • Eclipse Phase
    • Starblazer Adventures
    • Traveller 
    • Stars Without Numbers
    • Thousand Suns
    • Cthulutech/Cthulhu Rising 
    • Firefly
    • Star-blade Battalion 

Right now I'm running a Shadowrun game for my players. Its not really a game that "floats my boat" I keep wishing it was but it fails to get me over the line. Funny thing is I love playing it as a player. Even GM'ing it we have a great time strangely enough. But "waiter there is a Dorf in my cyberpunk/transhuman lit" keeps droning my internal monologue. We are playing it because we were struggling picking up FATE.3.0. - Fair enough too [see below].  So we changed over to SR4. But its just not engaged me on that deep level. As a result I cant see longevity in this game.

Eclipse Phase - This game was exactly what the doctor ordered. Or so I thought. Its unfortunately quite the simulations rule set. I have found in the past that stimulationist rule sets encourages rule lawyer'ing which I don't want at the game table. However I find this game is exactly the game I had in my mind since White Wolf announced Trinity nee Aeon.
I have always wanted to do a game where "Aberrant" (read "Titans") fled Earth and took to the galaxy and were lurking in the deep as man explored the unknown. Trinity turned out to not be that game but a game about well having "Ub3r k00lz pwrz" [yeah I'm not generally a fan of psionics either - only Stars my destination did it well and everyone who wants to can jaunt in that. Otherwise its just magic and if you try to throw Clarks law at me _you_ will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes]. So anyway you can do my idea above with the background they posit, which is a lot like the future posited in Ken MacLeod's    Newton's Wake: A Space Opera. [Go get it now!] However a detailed reading of the game's combat rules left me quite cold they are just needlessly complex and fixing them isn't really an option. Like I said very simulationist. It also has quite a number of subsytems to have to learn as well. Even so this game is very much the game I'm thinking of turning to. It just does great things to my brain.

Starblazers Fate3.0 is not a "lite" game and in many ways its core systems are lite but its subsystems are really heavy and it was a lot of me playing the games mini-games of FATE point activation and the players looking on in bemused. So while I do think this is a great game and would be worth an outing I'm not sure it's ready for its time yet. Also I think my Transhumanist hack of the rules, so we could use them for an Eclipse Phase type game was simply a misguided effort on my behalf. I will give credit where credit is due - Neil one of my good buddies really "got" both the transhuman and FATE part. So the chances of going back to this are low right now. So low its out for now even though its a great game - Same for Diaspora and Strands of Fate too 8(

Traveller This is to me like OD&D is to others. I really do like this game. Especially fond of the old Imperium and I do love the elegant simplicity of the rules. I've done the Traveller Adventure two times right the way through both times and its a cracker. I find it works better with out Imperium Grognards around the table. I prefer a more fast and lose MTU. Mongoose having this property is a mixed blessing. I like the new material and that its coming out and being supported. I HATE the stupid on Travller-esque stuff that gets in their source books. I'm sorry but Power Fists and Chain Swords do not belong in the Imperium. Period. The  production values for the mongoose game also leave a lot to be desired. I can tell you now if Catalyst game labs or Circle 7 had this game it would look amazing. 
We recently kicked off the Traveller Adventure again   and I ended up putting it on hold mainly due to two players in the group I felt I couldn't control. One went way overboard with psionics and used them way too much in game. The other guy had accounting spread sheets for the traveller trading which honestly was just really intimidating. I would be happy to do Traveller either as a rule set or a setting and both work for me happily the only caveat is I will police the Mongoose rules and rule out the stuff I don't want in MTU and put a lid on Psionic characters and munchkins.  All of this may prove to be a no-problem with the arival some time this year of the 2300 AD redux from Mongoose. If there is a game I like more then core Imperium Traveler its 2300. Why? The survivor/horror aspects of this game. The Kaffer's disruption of the french arm and their occupation of the worlds makes for a specialy fun type of aftermath game. This has me thinking now that I do Fantasy this year and follow on with  2300-Trav once its here...huuumm.

Stars Without Numbers Wow what a great free game. This really feels like a redux of both Traveller, Universe and Star Frontiers. Only maybe better. I was more impressed with the core rule book then I was with the dungeon crawling HardLight supplement for the game (think sort of Babylon5 meets Outland meets tomb of horrors). If I had players who just had to do retro-clone stuff then this would be my go to for space retro clone or even retro planetary romance. As it is I think Traveller is just barley superior in that it has no classes or levels, a more comparative skill system, more support material for the GM and is essentially the same game otherwise. Seriously this game is so well done I think if it were not for the Goose-Trav rules update of Traveller this rule set would have challenged Traveller, its extremely solid. I'm still very influenced by it in many ways and I'm interested enough to want to give it a go. Actually what I like most about it is the freedom it gives me as a GM. It has a DIY ethos. It encourages and supports the GM in constructing a Sandbox and stocking it to their own and the players taste. There is very meager background detail to which you can either hove or depart, so the setting can be truly your own with out any need for a distinction such as MTU/YTU/OTU and I find that wonderful. It somehow really captured the same sense of wonder and joy old Traveller and Universe did and even to some extent FASA Trek. Sweet game. I have a feeling this one may get legs. Dont just take my word for it read   He wrote the next game so he knows what he is talking about. As a retro clone it has most of the things you know and love from your Old Uncle Underground - the worlds first rpg. Stats, HP's polydice, three classes essentially a fighter, Magic user and a Thief, levels, spells (psionics - similar in some ways to Traveller), Skills etc. The biggest compliment I can give this game is that it feels like Dragon Warriors in Space to me. 
Thousand Suns  More goodness here. This game has grabbed a lot of interest. Its essentially a rule set usable to run sci-fi and is usable as a tool kit however the basic setting is the eponymous Thousand Suns an Imperium of man across the stars. Its run on the regular Rogue Games 12 degrees system which is Roll 2d12 and if the result is equal to or less than your Target Number, the action succeeds. Your TN is a number based on two associated Abilities or skills plus or minus any modiļ¬ers. For example, if your character wants to shoot a blaster and has a Agility 6 and Shoot 6, your TN is 12. Thus, rolling a 2d12 and getting a result of 11 results in a success; rolling 2d12 and getting a 23 results in a failure. It has a good overview of the core setting and you can do some great stuff with it and still fit in the milieu of the Thousand Suns. As James Maliszewski says "Thousand Suns is an attempt to marry the best of the past to the best of the present to create
exciting space opera roleplaying adventures in the imperial SF tradition"
Its very inclusive everything from The Night’s Dawn trilogy to ; Tschai, Planet of Adventure series ; to the Dorsai are listed in the biography. Technology is still mostly recognizable - there are reasons for this in the setting and it makes game preparation a breeze as the game does not degenerate into "deus-ex-sonic-screwdriver " personally I'm a big fan of this approach (no uber tech). The game also uses a Hooks mechanic which is like aspects in Fate3.0. If you "hook" is relevant then you can then get more-bang-for-your-action-point-buck. Its a neat way of adding aspects to a very traditional game design and coming up with something original in the process. Interestingly in a joint development type coincident, Diaspora and Thousand Suns both only allow the use of one hook for the same situation.  I really like this rule. Actually I really like the whole game. In some ways it gives the GM and players a bit more then Traveller due to the Hook mechanic. Some of the other parts of the game are more cohesive then Goose-Trav and more elegant then Original Traveller. It openly states it pedigree as a toolkit for Imperial Sci-fi so you could easily build your own Sandbox which I think would be nice (its OGL so you can develop the rules to your own liking). So this game too has me thinking its a nice middle ground between Goose-Trav and Stars Without Number (although I find it less inspiring then SWN for some reason).

Firefly - the cortext system is a neat poly-dice-as-the rating-of-attributes-and-skills-system, forming an ascending scale of ability. The poly-dice are assigned to Attributes, Skills, and Traits. Each die type, from two-sided (d2) up through twelve-sided (d12), represents a “step” on this scale. Higher steps, in general, represent greater ability, skill, damage, or whatever; a d6 is better than a d4, and a d8 is better than a d6. This scale can even extend above d12. At that point, a second die is added, making the next step “d12 + d2.” Most actions call for an Attribute die and a Skill die to be rolled and the results added together. If your character doesn’t have the right Skill (but is still allowed to try it—some actions require the proper training), roll only the Attribute. The character might have a Trait that helps out, or even more than one Trait. And if that doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough, there are ways to influence the outcome by spending Plot Points to gain a bonus die. Its a neat system and the setting information is sort of fun too. There is not a heck of a lot of "cannon" to be concerned with and it combines two things I love Sci-fi and Westerns (we got both types at Bob's Country Bunker) so this could be a grand option in many ways. It is otherwise quite close to the three games above, although in some ways the sandbox has some toys in it already. So the reason for this game would be the cortex system, and Joss Wledon's 'Verse such as it is. Oh and siting around singing the "Man called Jane". hehe. but I don't love the verse the same way as I love New BSG or Babylon 5.

This game is a huge mish mash and lots of it I dont care for even the name of the game is stupid IMHO. but a lot of the subject matter is just grand. I dont like the giant robots _but_ I do like the man sized mech's/power armour. Some of the other stuff leaves me a bit cold too. Taggers - read Lovecraft were-beasts just don't fit in my head. They are not horrific enough. They are too much like a toy or a power fantasy to have any place in the mythos IMHO. But much of this game is just inspired. My concern though is it doesn't hang together well.  I do really want to try it or play in it to just see if I like it or not. Despite myself I want to do this game.

Star-blade Battalion.
Now this is a game that really just works great. The Mekton Zeta rules are solid . The setting very cool and the level of tech fun. Think Bladerunner, meets Avatar meets Aliens. Whats not to like. System is straight forward basically  d20 but only with a d10. You get Sci-fi inspired battles (vs Anime inspired giant mech battles) think Avatar not Evengelion. There is in essence a whole sandbox in this game and therefore a heck of a lot of fun to be had.

I'll get to the other games in further posts for now a aside ...

This is a player pack Johnathan Tweet cooked up for his players the game was Obsidian.All rights a Mr Tweets. I include it here for interest and as an example for a great way to get things going in the right way for a game. Johnathan played a trick on the players as the game was all about cults and monsters sort of a lot like Cthulutech.

Friday Night
You might die tomorrow, so you might as well party tonight.
The city is a big, bad place. Terrorists from half a dozen fanatic groups wage an endless, pointless campaign of bombings and massacres. In response, the government has cracked down. The president calls for "extraordinary measures" in combating terrorism, and civilians dread "investigative detention." To make matters worse, the terrorist groups all have political, social, and religious groups affiliated with them. Many civilians have some connection to one terrorist group or another, usually through these technically legal "paraterrorist" organizations.
Throughout all this, civilians are trying to get by and lead "normal" lives. They have jobs, and they have weekends. It's Friday night, and you're going to meet your friends at a club downtown. Who knows where the night will lead?
I'd like you each to show up with some sort of concept, and we'll wing the stats at the table.
To create an outline of your concept, describe five items from the following list in terms of how they relate to your character.
A name, maybe a nick-name, or your real name that none of your friends know.
A job, a career (probably not a family).
A dirty little secret
A hidden weapon
A bad thing that's happened to you recently
A criminal record
Someone that you might just out and out kill if you saw them.
A way to have some chance of surviving having a hand grenade rolled under your chair.
A desperate need for something, such heroin or fame.
A secret link to a terrorist cell (but probably not actual membership).
A fun place to go on a Friday night; the other characters might or might not know it, too.
A striking physical feature, such as a missing eye or wall-to-wall tattoos.
Something really valuable
(5 items total)
What your character can't be:
no legitimate members of the police or armed forces
no wimps who'll fail to face unexpected dangers
no total nut-cases

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