Science fiction campaigns

Mother's picture
Mother
January 22, 2015 - 7:03am
It seems like the science fiction (SF) genre of RPG offers an aspiring GM more options for creating a campaign than the typical fantasy RPG.  A typical SF universe offers advanced technology and advanced social structures giving the GM more options for varied challenges.  Technology allows PCs to realistically move easily between varied settings while the social structure makes political intrigue or corporate wars easier to do as well. The PCs can always go off and explore a lost civilization or uncharted planet whenever an old fashioned dungeon crawl is desired.  In contrast, incorporating futuristic elements into a fantasy campaign feels out of place to me and the game mechanics don't transfer as well either.  Having fantasy game PCs fly or teleport everywhere also seems a bit cartoonish for my taste.  In other words, it's much easier to go backward on the technology tree for SF than to advance up it with a fantasy campaign. 

What are your thoughts?  
Comments:

iggy's picture
iggy
January 22, 2015 - 3:02pm
Agreed.  I do the same.  I like my fantasy to stay fantasy and my science fiction to stay science fiction.   Knights with machine guns is not heroic and fighter pilots with magic spells is too powerfull.  This is where Star Wars is science fantasy and where Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull broke the rules of fantasy by switching from magic and mysticism to aliens.
-iggy

Abub's picture
Abub
January 22, 2015 - 5:03pm
iggy, you cut out there... you said something about Star Wars and some other movie... I can't read that part... it is like my eyes have the words blur out and I my mind is shielding me from whatever it must say.
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Mother's picture
Mother
January 24, 2015 - 9:05am
In general, do you think a science fiction campaign is easier to develop than a fantasy (pseudo medieval)?

TerlObar's picture
TerlObar
January 24, 2015 - 1:24pm
At some level, no.  In a fantasy campaign most of the background is mostly the same regardless.  Dwarfs are dwarfs, elves are elves, dragons are dragons and most people know what they are.  There might be some variations but for the most part the background is understood.

In a Sci-fi campaign, however, it's all new.  New worlds, new races, net technology and it's a lot harder for both the GM to come up with everything and for the players to grok it.  Much more background material has to be created and thought through.

The scope is larger too.  In a fantasy campaign you're traveling, probably relatively slowly, around a small area of one world.   In a sci-fi campaign you could visit mulitple areas on multiple planets in multiple star systems in a very short period of time.  So the GM has to make all those area, worlds, and systems and they need to each make sense or the game can start to fall apart.  There's a lot more development involved.  I often wonder if this very reason is why the AD rules didn't include spaceships from the start, to limit the range of the players to make it a bit easier on the GM.  It's possible to play an entire campaign on a single world much like a fantasy game but with laser guns and robots instead of swords and dragons.
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Mother's picture
Mother
January 25, 2015 - 4:48pm
Interesting points TerlObar.  While I've played RPG for 30+ years its been mainly as a player which I prefer if there is another viable choice for a GM.

That may also explain another reason why the Frontier Sector was kept small and manageable, in addition to the original concept of the game being exploration. I couldn't imagine trying to develop the minutiae of a huge game universe like Star Wars or Traveler uses.
   

jedion357's picture
jedion357
January 25, 2015 - 5:23pm
And yet we're constantly trying to expand and detail the one small sector that we have!
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

Abub's picture
Abub
January 26, 2015 - 12:42pm
Too Small of a sector if you ask me.  Not that is doesn't make sense for the tech level, but for options of unexplored or unknown planets... its a little short of options.
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rattraveller's picture
rattraveller
January 30, 2015 - 8:43pm

Terlobar you have missed one crucial point. Most Fantasy RPGs are based on Tolkien's stories. The Fantasy World is much bigger then just some hobbits, dragons and magic rings. Some games based on Asian mythos and some based on Ancient Greece and a very few based on other fantasy realms exist. Of course although generally labelled as horror there is alot based on Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos.

Sci-Fi games also suffer from the same handicaps as Fantasy games. Sure they look different but you have your spaceships and "high tech" weapons which don't vary alot. You have your alien races but how do they deviate from the logical emotionless race, the warrior race, the loya lsidekick race, the ancient race and of course the all around great guy human race.

To further illustrate my point, pick up an adventure from another Sci-Fi game and convert it to Star Frontiers or Star Wars or Star Trek or Traveller or Bulldogs or Rocket Age or High Space or Starships and Spacemen or Thousand Suns.

Sounds like a great job but where did you say we had to go?

Sargonarhes's picture
Sargonarhes
February 6, 2015 - 4:01pm
Sci-fi can also be so complex look at such RPG games as Robotech where for the most part because of the series it was based on takes place entirely on Earth, it just happens to be under assault. First by the Zentradei, then by the Robotech Masters, and finally by the Invid. So a lot can happen on just one planet.

With sci-fi you're not always limited to just a planet. Even a Gundam setting is on Earth but it goes out into space but stays within the solar system, the RPG Jovian Chronicles is like that as well. Even a game senario setting like Dune starts on other worlds but end up on Arakis.

If you wanted to make sci-fi a little easier it would be to think of every planet as an island, and you're hoping from planet to planet. Maybe not as easily as the Lensman series made it seem.

And Star Wars is considered science fantasy mainly because of how at first the 'Force' was regarded as a mystic power, and it's users as members of a religous group. Until Lucas Trekkified it with metaclorines. It wasn't like Babylon 5 where it was made clear telepaths were manipulated into existance by the Vorlons, or Lensman where the Lens provided by the Ariesians gave them the power of the mind to worthy lifeform. Or even Gundam where Newtypes were being born.

Then there are sci-fi settings like Legend of Galactic Heroes, where there are no aliens, no psychic  powers, no fantasy laser swords. Just men, fleets of ships and political hell.
In every age, in every place, the deeds of men remain the same.

Mother's picture
Mother
February 11, 2015 - 8:05pm
rattraveller wrote:

Terlobar you have missed one crucial point. Most Fantasy RPGs are based on Tolkien's stories. The Fantasy World is much bigger then just some hobbits, dragons and magic rings. Some games based on Asian mythos and some based on Ancient Greece and a very few based on other fantasy realms exist. Of course although generally labelled as horror there is alot based on Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos.

Sci-Fi games also suffer from the same handicaps as Fantasy games. Sure they look different but you have your spaceships and "high tech" weapons which don't vary alot. You have your alien races but how do they deviate from the logical emotionless race, the warrior race, the loya lsidekick race, the ancient race and of course the all around great guy human race.

To further illustrate my point, pick up an adventure from another Sci-Fi game and convert it to Star Frontiers or Star Wars or Star Trek or Traveller or Bulldogs or Rocket Age or High Space or Starships and Spacemen or Thousand Suns.

My thought was that is a lot easier to draw inspiration from various genres and adapt them to a Sci-Fi campaign than it is to go backwards and adapt to a medieval fantasy themed RPG campaign.  Murder mystery, Spy thrillers, exploration, current events and action adventure are easy to translate into SF.  Not so much into D&D.  

World building in a Sci-Fi setting is much easier than a fantasy one because our society and technology level is much more similar to SF than it is D&D.  One could easily imagine the Earth being incorporated in the Frontier Sector.  Speaking of which, the galaxy doesn't end at the edge of page 51.  There are lots more star systems beyond the frontier sector, it's just up to the players to decide to explore.  

jedion357's picture
jedion357
February 12, 2015 - 4:18am
Mother wrote:
My thought was that is a lot easier to draw inspiration from various genres and adapt them to a Sci-Fi campaign than it is to go backwards and adapt to a medieval fantasy themed RPG campaign.  Murder mystery, Spy thrillers, exploration, current events and action adventure are easy to translate into SF.  Not so much into D&D.  

World building in a Sci-Fi setting is much easier than a fantasy one because our society and technology level is much more similar to SF than it is D&D.  One could easily imagine the Earth being incorporated in the Frontier Sector.  Speaking of which, the galaxy doesn't end at the edge of page 51.  There are lots more star systems beyond the frontier sector, it's just up to the players to decide to explore.  


I quite agree on adapting things to SF- I routinely scan through an old Dragon magazine and consider the material I'm looking at and how I would use it in Star Frontiers and its not unusual that within 45 minutes I've written an article for the fan zine. I do this with a lot of stuff but the news is fertile ground as well. Suprisingly, other sci fi rpgs are less fertile ground for ideas but I still obtain them when I can and scan them as well.

I'm not so sure that you cant project backward into mideval fantasy gaming though. "The Name of the Rose" with Sean Conroy was a fabulous murder mystery, I haven't seen it in 30 years but I'd be surprised if it doesn't stand up. You could get away with a lot in a fantasy setting simply because its fantasy.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

Stormcrow's picture
Stormcrow
February 12, 2015 - 8:10am

Well, there's science fiction, which in the strictest sense refers to stories about how technology affects the human condition. Then there's science fantasy, a term that riffs off of science fiction, which describes stories that LOOK like science fiction but have nothing to do with technology and humanity.

It is under these sorts of definitions that Star Wars is described as science fantasy: the stories have nothing to do with exploring how technology changes humanity.

Star Trek (I'm referring to the original show), on the other hand, is very obviously science fiction, because most episodes explored how future society had changed due to technology, and many were obviously commentaries on contemporary life.

I think a very interesting case of science fiction is Firefly. The show is often said to be a space Western without science fiction, but I disagree. The SF in Firefly is kept subtle, but central. What happened to River is the most obvious example of this. Firefly IS a space Western, but it also features science fiction.

Summary: just because it's set in space doesn't mean it's science fiction.


rattraveller's picture
rattraveller
February 13, 2015 - 6:12am

Was recently rewatching a couple Charlton Heston movies and wondering under the science fiction heading where you think they should go.

The two movies are "The Omega Man" and "Soylent Green". Both deal with future worlds where things just aren't that shiny.

Sounds like a great job but where did you say we had to go?

Stormcrow's picture
Stormcrow
February 13, 2015 - 3:38pm
Haven't seen Omega Man. It's been years and years since I've seen Soylent Green, and I don't remember much except the punchline.

Dystopias can be science fiction, or they may not be. Depends on the role technology plays in the story. Is it just part of the backdrop, or does it play an essential role in the plot?

jedion357's picture
jedion357
February 13, 2015 - 5:43pm
Stormcrow wrote:
Haven't seen Omega Man. It's been years and years since I've seen Soylent Green, and I don't remember much except the punchline.

Dystopias can be science fiction, or they may not be. Depends on the role technology plays in the story. Is it just part of the backdrop, or does it play an essential role in the plot?


I heard of "The Omega Man" when "I Am Legend" with Will Smith came out. I have yet to track it down but its not the first adaption of the novel: there was one with Vincent Price, "The Last Man on Earth", Since I like Price, love Heston and kind of like Smith I think I like to watch all 3 over a weekend and critique.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

Mother's picture
Mother
February 13, 2015 - 7:32pm
Stormcrow wrote:

Well, there's science fiction, which in the strictest sense refers to stories about how technology affects the human condition. Then there's science fantasy, a term that riffs off of science fiction, which describes stories that LOOK like science fiction but have nothing to do with technology and humanity.

It is under these sorts of definitions that Star Wars is described as science fantasy: the stories have nothing to do with exploring how technology changes humanity.

I've never heard the term science fantasy before.  It seems misleading to describe Star Wars that way since the only thing it has in common with science fiction of any sort is that it involves space travel. It's simply fantasy or sword and sorcery and the story could be told in any setting or time period.  As Stormcrow said it's not science fiction.  

 


rattraveller's picture
rattraveller
February 13, 2015 - 8:26pm

http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/17128/DA2-The-Temple-of-the-Frog-Basic?cPath=9730_9736&it=1

The above link takes you to a drivethrurpg page for DA2 Temple of the Frog. If you read the description you will see it is described as "science fantasy". This might help with the definition.

Sounds like a great job but where did you say we had to go?

Stormcrow's picture
Stormcrow
February 14, 2015 - 9:28am
The term science fantasy means it has the trappings of technology and science, but the story it tells is fantasy, with wizards, knights, magic, quests, etc. The fantastic elements are all explained away as technology or science.

Star Wars is the classic example of this genre.

jedion357's picture
jedion357
February 14, 2015 - 6:15pm
rattraveller wrote:

http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/17128/DA2-The-Temple-of-the-Frog-Basic?cPath=9730_9736&it=1

The above link takes you to a drivethrurpg page for DA2 Temple of the Frog. If you read the description you will see it is described as "science fantasy". This might help with the definition.



This link if for the PDF if you dont wish to register on drive thru:
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fgobbi.free.fr%2Fscenarii%2FDA2%252...
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

RanulfC's picture
RanulfC
March 1, 2015 - 4:18am
"Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" was a test run of some idea for Gamma World where fantasy meets science fiction as was "City of the Gods" and some of the notes in the original "Temple of the Frogs" adventure in the original D&D books. The lines are pretty badly blurred overall these days with various flavors of Science Fiction from "hard" to "soft" to various sub-cultures such as cyberpunk and post-industrial etc.
A lot of people consider Star Trek (TOS) as much science fantasy as later shows and "almost as bad" as Star Wars because of things like the transporter but what "I" considered that made Star Trek science fiction was that they didn't shy away from and in fact embraced the changes that the choosen technologies would make on society and future technology from the point where it was introduced.
Star Wars on the other hand had "Ancient Jedi" who were basically the same as they were in the "present" with worse technology (at one point IIRC a "thousand years of history" of the order was mentioned) and really they are a static and unmoving force in a changing world with in part is why their downfall was accepted by the public. They (even with "midachlorians") were pretty much a conservative and static "religious" order that attempted to keep the rest of society inline while maintaining their own power and were arguably as "bad" an influance as any other such organization would have been in similar circumstances. It really is a fantasy story with technological trappings.

Science Fiction can be harder because the ability to travel long distances allow the PCs to touch and be touched by more environments and cultures in a single playing session than most other games. On the converse side that means (usually unless the GM is a masochist of some type of which I know a few) that such touches are more shallow and less defined at some point as the PCs are not going to get as deep into each "stop" as a fantasy PC might. (Hence the issue with "desert" or "jungle" planets and one dimensional cultures/aliens)

On the Gripping hand or course that's going to be decided by the GMs and players efforts to create a shared world/encounter and how deep they want the rabbit hole to run.

Randy

jedion357's picture
jedion357
March 1, 2015 - 5:32am
I think if I was locked in a room with pen and paper and tasked with writing/developing a sci fi setting that at a certain point it would become bland in that I would only be drawing from my mind and personality. However, some systems out there had tables for random generation that would give a referee a quick "skin" for the planet in just a few dice rolls. I think random tables has greater potential to produce a varied and even surprising setting. However, this sort of thing is more typical of sand box style of play like Stars Without Number.



I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

RanulfC's picture
RanulfC
March 1, 2015 - 5:52pm
jedion357 wrote:
I think if I was locked in a room with pen and paper and tasked with writing/developing a sci fi setting that at a certain point it would become bland in that I would only be drawing from my mind and personality. However, some systems out there had tables for random generation that would give a referee a quick "skin" for the planet in just a few dice rolls. I think random tables has greater potential to produce a varied and even surprising setting. However, this sort of thing is more typical of sand box style of play like Stars Without Number.

I love my SFU but I'm of the mind I'll never get it all out on paper/electrons before I die of old age and I really need other input to keep me on track for even a fraction of it. A single source game CAN be exciting or bland depending on the setting and background but even a mutliple input game can go the same way quickly if the "feedback" cycle isn't there.

I've seen and played both over the years :)

The best games (no matter the mechanics) were always the ones player and GM as well as developers and writers all had a hand in developing and filling out.

BTW, every seen the World Log sheets from Universe from SPI? Each planet has a "size-class" and is therefore divided up into 'zones' that can and did have widely different environments within the overall world environment. The lack of a single "zone" for each planet as well as haveing distinct "zones of interest" (where the major cities were, the starport, industrial centers, etc) were located was a major "advance" in planet maps that I've used many times over the years for various purposes in gaming.

Randy

jedion357's picture
jedion357
March 1, 2015 - 6:14pm
@RanulfC RE:World Zones- you're preaching to the choir on that point as when I do a planetary brief I like to describe 3-5 distinct environments and when I design a creature to live on that world I also tend to suggest variations like species of bear- brown, black, and polar giving some variation and by default letting you create 3 separate creatures with only creating one. Laco's World planetary brief that I did in the SFman is of that stripe.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

RanulfC's picture
RanulfC
March 13, 2015 - 6:06pm
These days the "lines" of course are more blurred than ever. I recall when Space:1889 first came out it was VERY edgy with applying the trappings of Sci-Fi to the Victorian World View. Now-a-days "Steampunk" is becoming pase' :)

And in the end I think it comes directly down to how much effort the GM and players put into a background. And it's best when it IS a collaberative effort rather than a "single-source" one. I tend to come up with all sorts of off-the-wall "gotcha's" when writing a background, (Elves are all females, Dwarves are all males... guess where new ones come from though neither "race" likes to admit it being the ultimate "battle-of-the-sexes" in most cases, and have spend years and much gold to find a "solution" to the "problem" they face :) ) and I usually carry them to far unless someone else steps in and talks me out of it.

Like any GM I really, really want "my" ideas to be generally accepted but like most GOOD GMs I'm more than willing to listen to input which I think makes the game/story better.

Randy

Tchklinxa's picture
Tchklinxa
March 14, 2015 - 8:32am
I think history pretty much repeats as people are people... nothing new really happens in that respect, just the tech and jargon changes, so there are plenty of "modern" issues that are not all that modern and can be revamped to fantasy settings or sci-fi. Good sci-fi tech often is just like magic anyway... to me sci-fi is modern mythology/folktales to an extent. I mean a wand that shoots fire and does 10 hit points of damage is doing the same thing as a laser pistol that does 10 hit points of damage... and if your pistols look like cylinders instead of present day guns the line is even thinner. Sci-fi has always skirted close to fantasy, I have a book from the 1800's in which a man gets whisked off to Mars on a "magic carpet" if the "magic carpet" was used as a device today it would be described as some sort of high tech gizmo  which would be easy enough to make plausible tech past "magic" and still look carpet like. Also each time period of sci-fi writing does really reflect what was going on in the world, in science, in politics, and a lot of early stuff is imagining the perfect societies of idealists and the long term results of such philosophies the oldest stuff is usually very Utopia peace stuff but gradually that shifts... I have a list of old books I am still hunting down, some include the first use of words now common in the English Language like "airplane". Other themes are comments on events, others are comments of the author of becoming disillusioned over a social/economic system they thought was awesome and almost got them killed, others are fears manifest and colonization impacts on both the society colonizing and the folks waking up one morning to being told "yo your now in our empire"... but fantasy writing can also be the same.  

Solent Green  is a comment on the overpopulation fear that once the human population reached a certain number we would have killed the eco-system and would be forced to eat ourselves... we have exceeded the magic number by the way, but the 0 growth cult people are still worried about this.  Omega Man was biological warfare results aka fears of what could happen if countries did not knock off the super bug weapon building and actually used them. 

Personally I think both types of settings can have great variety in story lines, sure the default political setting for fantasy is Feudal, but we have 2 planets in SF that have nobles and one for sure that has royalty, but I also have back history on a AD&D setting in which a big war involving the use of some serious magic resulted in pretty much the same as what a nuclear war would do. Not all power structures in a fantasy setting need be feudal... guilds are very much like unions,  tribal societies can be ordered very differently, theological power structures can be explored, and heck if you want release a "marxist" revolution in a fantasy world and see what happens you can. The setting is your parameters for the reality, but the story lines are in the end up to you.

 I did a campaign based on exploring racism as part of the longterm storyline in AD&D between humans and elves. There where murders to solve, pre-emptive strikes of racial purging to stop, injustice to stop, children to be saved and much more. All the adults playing really enjoyed the campaign as it was more than just killing (there was plenty of that) there was all sorts of other society issues to deal with including the fact that humans where prejudice against elves and there was a half-elf in the group of adventurers, which often created problems. What you do with the parameters of a setting is up to you, that includes what you allow... I like my fantasy very fantasy old time myth and legend like and less sci-fi so I usually avoid psionics in fantasy worlds as to my way of thinking psionics is modern "magic" in the sci-fi writing and thus is redundant. That is just me, I do get it that in AD&D mechanics they are separate things but I never agreed with that. 

There are all sorts of themes that can be explored in fantasy, such as magic based on a nonrenewable resource... if magic works by using mana & that mana can be depleted and if a fantasy setting suddenly develops a mana shortage how does that change the setting? Wars fought over the last mana sources? Only the rich can afford magic. New technology & knowledge not based on magic would become more important. The issue is a nonrenewable source suddenly becoming rare so you can explore a resource crisis in a society dependent on that resource, and it can become in many different ways a driving force of your adventures. You can of course do the same to an established advanced sci-fi setting, you pick a resource that is important and suddenly make it depleted, and then set the ball rolling in what that does to the politics, societies, planet economics and much more.


 "Never fire a laser at a mirror."