Space Adventure RPGs

I think the generic sci-fi has just never took off like the fantasy genre has. SW has had some luck getting a little traction.

How is the white star system? 5E reskins are no go for me. They all end up feeling like D&D.

Its an OSR game so I'm pretty cynical about it not having the same problem.
 

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Sir Brennen

Legend
Its an OSR game so I'm pretty cynical about it not having the same problem.
I found that "OSR" doesn't have to mean OD&D retro-clone. Often it's just applying the philosophy (albeit, a philosophy created in hindsight) to a game system. Mothership, for example, is more like a retro Call of Cthulhu mashed up with BX D&D, but is really its own thing.
 

I found that "OSR" doesn't have to mean OD&D retro-clone. Often it's just applying the philosophy (albeit, a philosophy created in hindsight) to a game system. Mothership, for example, is more like a retro Call of Cthulhu mashed up with BX D&D, but is really its own thing.

I doesn't have to--after all, Cepheus Engine and its kin are probably considered OSR games, and they're all Traveler derivatives--but my observation is its the way to bet.
 

payn

Legend
I doesn't have to--after all, Cepheus Engine and its kin are probably considered OSR games, and they're all Traveler derivatives--but my observation is its the way to bet.
Yeah im running Traveller on the foundry Cepheus module. I had to change like 4 things to make it Traveller. They are super close.

Speaking of which if folks have a good resource to point me to on editing character sheets Id love to crack the spaceship sheets in my module and make some adjustments.
 

Yeah im running Traveller on the foundry Cepheus module. I had to change like 4 things to make it Traveller. They are super close.

My own preference among that familiy is Cepheus Deluxe which has drifted significantly there, but you can still see its origin clearly.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I doesn't have to--after all, Cepheus Engine and its kin are probably considered OSR games, and they're all Traveler derivatives--but my observation is its the way to bet.
The OSR sites I've seen tend to not consider CE to be OSR... nor even CT (Classic Traveller) as OS... but (as a couple regulars here show) outside the hard core OSR crowd, many of the non-OSR crowd and somme of OSR crowd do consider CT, CE, RQ 1E, T&T to be OS/OSR.

Someone wrote a diatribe about the OSR being summed up as something akin to "Roll some stats, then roll 1d20 for high to succeed, modified by the most appropriate stat and maybe a level modifier"...
and claiming I'd not read it when I pointed out the variety of non-D&D old school games.

To be blunt, the board in question rejects pretty much everything other than pseudoclones and retroclones of D&D+S1+S2+S3 or BX as "Not old school" and very much "Not OSR"... Not even T&T, which dates to 1975...

It's not atypical of the blogs and boards I've seen which strongly ID as OSR... hell, Starships and Spacemen wasn't "Old School" enough for the new owners... despite being late 1970's... so they wrenched it into a (IMO, poorly designed) system they'd done to fill the same space as Gamma World.... Brief splash. IMO, people are far better off buying the original in PDF or POD, and getting an actual Old School game.
 

The OSR sites I've seen tend to not consider CE to be OSR... nor even CT (Classic Traveller) as OS... but (as a couple regulars here show) outside the hard core OSR crowd, many of the non-OSR crowd and somme of OSR crowd do consider CT, CE, RQ 1E, T&T to be OS/OSR.

Someone wrote a diatribe about the OSR being summed up as something akin to "Roll some stats, then roll 1d20 for high to succeed, modified by the most appropriate stat and maybe a level modifier"...
and claiming I'd not read it when I pointed out the variety of non-D&D old school games.

Well, one thing for sure is that some self-identified Old School players are super soggy about considering anything but D&D (and probably their own specific edition of same) as Old School. I'm in a FB group that's about Old School gaming but covers a broader ground (it also will sometimes talk about old board or even computer games) and when a couple people got really insistent, the admin had to come in and tell them to either calm down or get out.

To be blunt, the board in question rejects pretty much everything other than pseudoclones and retroclones of D&D+S1+S2+S3 or BX as "Not old school" and very much "Not OSR"... Not even T&T, which dates to 1975...

Doesn't surprise me.

It's not atypical of the blogs and boards I've seen which strongly ID as OSR... hell, Starships and Spacemen wasn't "Old School" enough for the new owners... despite being late 1970's... so they wrenched it into a (IMO, poorly designed) system they'd done to fill the same space as Gamma World.... Brief splash. IMO, people are far better off buying the original in PDF or POD, and getting an actual Old School game.

Yeah, I actually bought that and was, well, underwhelmed.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Yeah, I actually bought that and was, well, underwhelmed.
They still sell the 1E PDF. Which, for others benefit, a bit of Starships & Spacemen history learned direct from Dr. Kanterman...
FGU was looking to make it an official Trek game, but couldn't afford the license. So they dialed it back a bit.

For 1E, It's about as close to STTOS in tone as The Orville is to STTNG. Yeah, clearly inspired, yeah, same core tropes, but "without the stick up its...." (quote from youtube comment)
The mechanics are simple... the key is that XP charts are separate for each class, so you advance by doing what you're supposed to.

2E is a mangy mutt of a game... sure, someone loves it...
 

I honestly thought by the time I hit it even S&S1e was, well, kind of primitive for its time (but again, keep in mind where I was coming from) but it at least was a game of its time.
 


aramis erak

Legend
I honestly thought by the time I hit it even S&S1e was, well, kind of primitive for its time (but again, keep in mind where I was coming from) but it at least was a game of its time.
I have a soft spot for it; It was my 5th or 6th RPG in my collection... and I got it in '84. It's a trek-inspired hex crawl SFRPG... I've even run it in the last 10 years. Had a great time.
 

amethal

Adventurer
I find another thing about SF games is that many recent ones have been tied to movies/tv show IP.

Meanwhile, interesting releases like this struggle to get as noticed:

I bought Reign of Discordia a decade ago for True20, and picked up the Traveller version on eBay a few years later. Hopefully the 5th edition version will do well, but I'm not likely to buy it.
 

Yora

Legend
I've been sitting down with some old style analog pencil and paper to start outlining an actual campaign in a custom created setting. Getting the broad strokes done is easy. Pick a few sources as references for your own stuff, decide on a rules system, and put together a list of alien species and the default technologies in arms and space ships.

But then... what actually?

Creating a couple dozen planets with their own geography, culture, and history is a pointless undertaking. It would take forever and barely anything of it would ever see any use in actual play. I am a firm believer in that good campaign setting worldbuilding is tailored to the needs of the kind of activities that PCs are expected to engage with. But what exactly are those needs? This is something that has been brought up earlier in this thread. Fantasy games are perceived as more accessible for players (and GMs) because the archetype of the fantasy adventurer is well established and understood. They stab monsters, bandits, and sorcerers with their sword when they see them and get applauded for it by the masses. In futuristic space settings we don't have such an established role for PCs, though I do not believe that this means they are inherently less suited for play.

There is of course the space soldiers fighting in space war model, and I think that is pretty self explaining and straightforward. Gameplay consists of attacking or defending ships and bases, with periods of interacting with guides and informants or getting new orders from the higher ups. You go where the enemy is (often being directly send there on a specific mission) and fight the enemy until victory is declared.
But I started this thread specifically with "space adventure" in mind, with which I mean parties of more or less honorable rogues traveling the galaxy in their ship and having run-ins with gangsters and law enforcement and other exciting shenanigans. I think this character archetype is well enough understood as well, and there are loads of existing examples in fiction. But translating that into a game structure and tailoring a campaign setting to support those structures isn't quite as obvious.

I've recently been thinking about sandbox and survival games in a different context, and it had me thinking about push and pull factors in regards to getting PCs to become active on the players' own initiative instead of being handed a task.
Typically in heroic fiction, we are dealing mostly with pull factors. An inciting incident happens, it signals the arrival of a great evil or major threat, and the heroes, being heroes, are pulled towards it by their desire to see it stopped. (The Expanse being a good example of such a setup for a ragtag bunch of misfits with a cool ship who are compelled to act out of a sense of compasion and justice.)
But when you are dealing with a gang of scoundrels and other rogues who often get into trouble with the law, this often does work out very smoothly. If you invite players to make such characters, they are absolutely justified in not wanting to get involved in external crises they see on the ground of "what's in it for me?" But it looks differently when you approach character motivations in the form of push factors. Things that make the status quo of the PC impossible to maintain and forces them to do something, anything, to adress their own situation. Even when you are dealing with PCs who are lazy cowards who would love to do nothing but spend their nights in bars, this can be a great character motivation if you have something at work that keeps disrupting their tranquil stupor. In many survival games, this push factor is food. Your character needs food, and there is no food in your little cave where you can safely hide from predators and bandits. It's your character's hunger that is pushing you out of your safe comfort spot and forcing you to get food. Somewhere, somehow.
In a game with some rogues on a cool ship, maintaining that ship can take the place of hunger as the push factor that is driving the entire campaign. If you only have to pay for repairs if your ship gets damaged, and only have to pay for fuel when you fly around, the sensible thing is to park the ship somewhere safe. But when the party is losing money in maintainance costs or the ship keeps degrading by itself even when not moving, then that no longer is an option. The players are forced to go find money. Somewhere, somehow. And it never stops, it's an infinite loop that keeps pushing the characters to go on new adventures for all of the campaign.

I think this is a good starting point to begin my own tinkering with this approach, but it surely isn't the be all, end all in regards to this issue. Any other ideas how to begin formulating a kind of campaign structure or gameplay loop for space adventurers who might not have an endless pool of compassion in their hearts?
 

I think "Professional Explorers" is a perfectly good basis, and that can either be freelance or not. Even if not "Its our job to go explore this new sector and report back" is plenty of reason. And it doesn't necessarily compel them to do it in any particular order.

But I know some people have a weird thing about it not being a proper RPG campaign if what people is doing is part of their, well, job.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Professional Explorers and Paramilitary/Military Space Defense Forces are, in sci-fi, often one and the same.

Honorable Rogues really struggle to remain a viable concept in Sci-Fi, especially when there's FTL comm. In part because if they are breaking laws, it's hard to outrun the news. And in part because few Sci-Fi settings have the kind of evil that allows for the heroes to ignore the laws in the name of doing good.

Firefly and Star Wars both ignore the comms for the most part. If Star Wars had no FTL radio, it would be a lot more reasonable for the Alliance to be capable of survival. And for smugglers and such to do their crimes. At least, in Star Wars, the empire is truly a work of evil genius. But the "Heroes" in Star Wars, at least outside the Original (before warping to "Episode IV"), is a pretty wide assortment of ne'r do wells... bad people doing bad things to worse people in the name of good... but many of them are really just there to be able to do the bad things and feel good about it later.
Zeb, Anakin, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett, the Mandalorian, Cara Dune, and both Jyn Orso and Cassian Andor... and of course, K2-SO.

Plus, the Star Wars writers forget that FTL comms means FTL bounty notices...

The best "Space Rogues" setting I've seen is a toss up between the Early Codoverse (Falkonberg and other start of the Codo era novels), The Vorkosiverse, and Ringworld... Falconberg's about taming the frontier as much as the merc ops. The Vorkosiverse, well, Miles and Ivan are both intelligence operatives - in different modes - and the side stories involving Ellie Quinn are Ellie doing things on behalf of ImpSec when Miles can't. And Ringworld? It's a terra incognita exploratum.
 

Professional Explorers and Paramilitary/Military Space Defense Forces are, in sci-fi, often one and the same.

Yes, but it doesn't have to be that way; you could have a situation where the military and official presence only moves in after private enterprises have forged out and located the places that might be useful to examine them in detail. This has obvious risks of private sources stirring up a hornets nest, but it still could be how things shake down.

Honorable Rogues really struggle to remain a viable concept in Sci-Fi, especially when there's FTL comm. In part because if they are breaking laws, it's hard to outrun the news. And in part because few Sci-Fi settings have the kind of evil that allows for the heroes to ignore the laws in the name of doing good.

As you note, that's an issue of whether FTL comms are a thing (I'll note they aren't in a fair number of SF fictional settings) and also that there's enough of one benign government spread out that there aren't plenty of places in the edges where people are being taken advantage of. Not every setting is the Federation.
 

Yora

Legend
One of the first decisions I made for the technological parameters of a new setting was that faster than light communication is not possible. Though I don't remember why I picked that.

Lightspeed communication means phone connection on the same planet, email to the rest of the star system with response times in hours to a few days, and courier service to other systems. You have to record or write your message, send it to a mail ship whose route goes to your destination, and then it will transmit it to the recipient on arrivial. Military, diplomats, and big businesses probably have their private carriers to deliver express messages as quickly as possible, but public mail can take weeks to arrive.

I think my original reasoning for that wasn't about phone calls but about internet access. Each system has its own closed network and you can only access what is somewhere on that network. Or you need to specifically request the files or media from another system to be delivered by courier which is expensive and will take a good while. If you're currently on some frontier world with a population of 50,000, the only thing you might be able to access is the website of local businesses and public institution, and the local media library server. Which probably has mostly just 20 year old movies and games from the local species homeworld. And perhaps weekly or monthly news packages from nearby systems.

The campaign structure and setting concept I am currently working with is a remote frontier sector of perhaps a dozen mining planets far away from the centers of civilization. Two of them have populations the size of small countries, but the rest each only have a couple of towns of a few tens of thousands of people. Hyperspace cargo transport is cheap, so the giant industrial mining companies have huge fleets traveling to planets with easily accessibly reaources of very high purity, which they extract for a couple of years at very low cost and very high profit. Once the most profitable resources have been extracted, they pack up their still working equipment and their most productive workers and move on. Left behind are their broken and worn out machines, and all the workers whose contracts were not renewed and private business owners who had been selling services to miners off their shifts. Those who can pack up their own stuff as well and head for greener pastures, leaving behind those who can't afford it or have nowhere else to go.

After the mining fleets leave, there's still lots of resources around which can still be sold on the open market. They just take more work to extract which makes them less profitable, so the big mining companies who have the capacities just move the whole operation somewhere else. There's also usually enough abandoned equipment left behind to fix up some machines to working conditions, and so the abandoned miners can continue to make a living as independent mines.
Unfortunately, not a lot of traders bother making regular trips to depleted systems to pick up small loads of low-grade resources. And those who do form cartels to avoid competition and to keep prices for imported goods high and for resources low. Independent traders who try trading with the independent mines at better rates are given clear messages to not try it again.
Miners often try to improve their situation and break their dependence on the merchant cartels by pooling their resources together and forming cooperatives to produce medical supplies and simple electronics locally or maintain their own cargo ships to sell their resources in other markets. The cartels will try to bribe or intimidate local administrators to obstruct such efforts, or just sabotage equipment or assassinate leaders who are uniting the people.
Of the 12 planets I have planned, two are large, prosperous industrial worlds and commercial centers with major cities, one is currently strip mined by a mining fleet, and the remaining nine already depleted planets with small independent mines trying to survive. I think that's a setting with great potential for a group of PCs with a fast ship and flexible morals. The independent mines need people who can smuggle supplies to them without the cartels knowing, defend them against raiders or corporate mercenaries, and find or stop traitors and saboteurs. The merchants need people who can do sabotage and bribe or intimidate officials without it leading back to them. And then there's of course pirates looking for small freighters to rob and slavers looking for workers for their own mines to cause additional trouble. Add to that a mechanic that forces the players to constantly pay for repair and maintance on their ship even when nothing gets damaged, and it should provide a situation for some pretty great campaigns.
 

payn

Legend
I've been sitting down with some old style analog pencil and paper to start outlining an actual campaign in a custom created setting. Getting the broad strokes done is easy. Pick a few sources as references for your own stuff, decide on a rules system, and put together a list of alien species and the default technologies in arms and space ships.

But then... what actually?

Creating a couple dozen planets with their own geography, culture, and history is a pointless undertaking. It would take forever and barely anything of it would ever see any use in actual play. I am a firm believer in that good campaign setting worldbuilding is tailored to the needs of the kind of activities that PCs are expected to engage with. But what exactly are those needs? This is something that has been brought up earlier in this thread. Fantasy games are perceived as more accessible for players (and GMs) because the archetype of the fantasy adventurer is well established and understood. They stab monsters, bandits, and sorcerers with their sword when they see them and get applauded for it by the masses. In futuristic space settings we don't have such an established role for PCs, though I do not believe that this means they are inherently less suited for play.

There is of course the space soldiers fighting in space war model, and I think that is pretty self explaining and straightforward. Gameplay consists of attacking or defending ships and bases, with periods of interacting with guides and informants or getting new orders from the higher ups. You go where the enemy is (often being directly send there on a specific mission) and fight the enemy until victory is declared.
But I started this thread specifically with "space adventure" in mind, with which I mean parties of more or less honorable rogues traveling the galaxy in their ship and having run-ins with gangsters and law enforcement and other exciting shenanigans. I think this character archetype is well enough understood as well, and there are loads of existing examples in fiction. But translating that into a game structure and tailoring a campaign setting to support those structures isn't quite as obvious.

I've recently been thinking about sandbox and survival games in a different context, and it had me thinking about push and pull factors in regards to getting PCs to become active on the players' own initiative instead of being handed a task.
Typically in heroic fiction, we are dealing mostly with pull factors. An inciting incident happens, it signals the arrival of a great evil or major threat, and the heroes, being heroes, are pulled towards it by their desire to see it stopped. (The Expanse being a good example of such a setup for a ragtag bunch of misfits with a cool ship who are compelled to act out of a sense of compasion and justice.)
But when you are dealing with a gang of scoundrels and other rogues who often get into trouble with the law, this often does work out very smoothly. If you invite players to make such characters, they are absolutely justified in not wanting to get involved in external crises they see on the ground of "what's in it for me?" But it looks differently when you approach character motivations in the form of push factors. Things that make the status quo of the PC impossible to maintain and forces them to do something, anything, to adress their own situation. Even when you are dealing with PCs who are lazy cowards who would love to do nothing but spend their nights in bars, this can be a great character motivation if you have something at work that keeps disrupting their tranquil stupor. In many survival games, this push factor is food. Your character needs food, and there is no food in your little cave where you can safely hide from predators and bandits. It's your character's hunger that is pushing you out of your safe comfort spot and forcing you to get food. Somewhere, somehow.
In a game with some rogues on a cool ship, maintaining that ship can take the place of hunger as the push factor that is driving the entire campaign. If you only have to pay for repairs if your ship gets damaged, and only have to pay for fuel when you fly around, the sensible thing is to park the ship somewhere safe. But when the party is losing money in maintainance costs or the ship keeps degrading by itself even when not moving, then that no longer is an option. The players are forced to go find money. Somewhere, somehow. And it never stops, it's an infinite loop that keeps pushing the characters to go on new adventures for all of the campaign.

I think this is a good starting point to begin my own tinkering with this approach, but it surely isn't the be all, end all in regards to this issue. Any other ideas how to begin formulating a kind of campaign structure or gameplay loop for space adventurers who might not have an endless pool of compassion in their hearts?
In Traveller the PCs are all part of a crew that has a mortgage to pay. The ship is basically their home. If they default on their loan, the ship is flagged and bounty hunters and repo crews are sent after them. Its pretty good incentive to keep moving and keep making credits.

I do find that set up to be a bit lacking in overall theme. I like the campaigns that Mongoose has been updating/releasing lately. Pirates of Drinax sets up the Travellers to be rouges, revolutionaries, and/or heroes of the Trojan Reach. They have been given a single, but powerful, ship and a task to restore a fallen empire to glory. How they choose to do is up to them. Pirate the space lanes and upset the status quo? Become kingmakers across numerous systems and forge a diplomatic alliance and power base? Play powerful empires against one another to weaken their hold of the territory as a high reward yet risky gambit?
 

Yora

Legend
They have been given a single, but powerful, ship and a task to restore a fallen empire to glory. How they choose to do is up to them. Pirate the space lanes and upset the status quo? Become kingmakers across numerous systems and forge a diplomatic alliance and power base? Play powerful empires against one another to weaken their hold of the territory as a high reward yet risky gambit?
Yeah, that kind of thing isn't my cup of tea.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
The campaign structure and setting concept I am currently working with is a remote frontier sector of perhaps a dozen mining planets far away from the centers of civilization. Two of them have populations the size of small countries, but the rest each only have a couple of towns of a few tens of thousands of people. Hyperspace cargo transport is cheap, so the giant industrial mining companies have huge fleets traveling to planets with easily accessibly reaources of very high purity, which they extract for a couple of years at very low cost and very high profit. Once the most profitable resources have been extracted, they pack up their still working equipment and their most productive workers and move on. Left behind are their broken and worn out machines, and all the workers whose contracts were not renewed and private business owners who had been selling services to miners off their shifts. Those who can pack up their own stuff as well and head for greener pastures, leaving behind those who can't afford it or have nowhere else to go.
The Kronusverse setting for Starfinder RPG, especially Colonial Space is kind of your described setting, though potentially it's 47 star systems, some with more than one habitable or settled world. I've got two colonies with billions, and one with 1.4 trillion inhabitants, but the majority are less developed planets with smaller colonial populations. My planet builder supplements introduces the idea of a Colonial Economy. Where surveyed star systems are purchased by a financing group with a defined set of colonists often with a unique political or ideological focus where they can be isolated in their practice. I also include the financial goals of establishing mines and mine processing stations, but I imagine the task of mining taking centuries to take place, so that ventures to a given star system isn't a 5 year sojoune, rather permanent settlement.
 

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