Space Adventure RPGs


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Yora

Legend
While I am working on a space setting that I really like so far, I keep being terribly undecided on whether I should run a campaign with Scum and Villainy or with Stars Without Number. Both seem really quite similar in their setting assumptions and tend towards the lighter end of rules density. I think both would be great choices, but I can continue with only one. (At least per campaign.)

To anyone familiar with both games, what are your subjective pros and cons for either system? What things do you think one does better than the other, and for what kind of campaign style would they be particularly well suited?
 

amethal

Adventurer
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.
I'm familiar with the last two, but I'm struggling to identify the first one.

Do you mean "Falkenberg's Legion" by Jerry Pournelle? (It doesn't match either of your spellings but looks like it might fit.)
 

Yora

Legend
Here's something interesting that I found, regarding what scale of travel time could be plausible between planets of an interstellar empire.

In 1914, a military convoy from Australia to Cairo spend seven weeks at sea transporting soldiers to support the invasion of Turkey.
In 1944, reinforcements for Pearl Harbor took 12 days for the journey from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

If you base the ideas for planetary colonies on remote cities in the early 20th century before air travel became common, these are the kind of travel times that people apparently were fine to put up with. 50 days in hyperspace to get to the homeworld, or 10 days just to reach the nearest other colony appears to something that would work for colony worlds with only a million inhabitants. For all intents and purposes, cities like Honolulu or Perth could just as well exist as the only major settlement of a whole planet. And that was at a level of modern technology dependence not even a hundred years ago.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I'm familiar with the last two, but I'm struggling to identify the first one.

Do you mean "Falkenberg's Legion" by Jerry Pournelle? (It doesn't match either of your spellings but looks like it might fit.)
CoDo Verse is indeed initiated with Falconberg's Legion... but it's the same setting as Niven/Pournelle use (at the other end of the timeline) with the Mote in God's Eye, and it's sequels.

Co-Do from Co-Dominion - the government of the era...
 

Yora

Legend
Are there any space games other than Scum and Villainy that have some kind of adventure structure mechanics or gameplay loops? Stars Without Number says its a sandbox game, but is missing all the mechanics from OD&D that created unscripted adventures.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Are there any space games other than Scum and Villainy that have some kind of adventure structure mechanics or gameplay loops? Stars Without Number says its a sandbox game, but is missing all the mechanics from OD&D that created unscripted adventures.
All of them with trade systems create a play-loop, albeit one that often is very mechanistic...
Traveller, for example... key terminology issue: cargo is owned by the ship or a crewmember; freight is owned by others and sent as hired space. Passengers are special kind of freight.
  1. Decide destination
  2. post for passengers and freight
  3. check the speculative cargo available and decide whether to buy or not
  4. accept and load cargo, passengers, and freight.
  5. MegaT: GM checks for significant encounters for the week
  6. depart and head for jump point.
  7. GM checks for space encounter
  8. jump
  9. check for arrival encounter
  10. proceed to destination port
  11. offload freight and passengers
  12. See if it's worth selling cargo
  13. back to 1.
That said, it's not a fun loop for everyone.
Space Opera's loop looks almost identical.
A similar loop exists for Star Wars d6 in GG6: Tramp Freighters
GURPS: Traveller differs in the details, but uses a similar loop.

ALIEN also has a trade mission generator, with a play loop that's different in interesting ways...

  1. Exit hyperdrive
  2. Wake non-synth crew
  3. ship maintenance
  4. random encounter
  5. arrive at world
  6. discharge mission (if possible)
  7. find new mission (if space available)
  8. depart world
  9. random encounter
  10. crew sleep
  11. enter hyperspace
  12. repeat

Trade and commerce as a play loop can get old very fast, but it's definitely a play loop that can be added to any SFRPG with ships.
I've even used the CT/MT trade system in a car wars campaign.
 

Yora

Legend
Related to the topic of gameplay structure, what about incentives, rewards, and encouraged behavior?

With characters in these kinds of games typically opperating a space ship, and combat equipment often being highly customizable, there are lots of opportunities to spend money to the point that PCs will probably never run out of things they would want to buy if they could afford them. Which makes money a much more useful long term incentive than in most fantasy games.

However, many games also have some kind of exprience points as a secondary resource and reward that makes characters stronger, more durable, and might even gain access to new powers.
A good XP system in any RPG provides players with XP for behaving in the kind of ways that are considered typical for protagonists in the kind of fiction the game aims to mirror. Since players never say no to opportunities for more XP, they are generally quite happy to go with the option that is promising XP when they have to make a choice what to do next. Without the GM giving any kind of nudges what the players should or should not do, in the long term such XP incentives lead to the rewarded behaviors becoming quite common. And the players will enjoy action somewhat strongly stereotypical even when a game with a different tone would be just as possible. At least if the players are buying into the initial premise for the game.
The more codified the reward system is and the less it depends on the GM's subjective approval of the PCs actions, the more control the players have to judge for themselves the rewards and risk of their possible actions. In the most extreme case, if players have no idea what behavior will get them XP and how many, XP would not work as an incentive at all. Particularly when going for a kind of sandbox campaign, giving the players the full rules of how their characters will make XP is a very helpful tool to enable proactive PCs. Knowing what kinds of things would get good XP greatly reduces the tendency for decision paralysis.

In a Space Scoundrels on a Starship adventure, what kind of quantifiable actions, behaviors, and accomplishments would we want to see from the players to create the tone of this style of fiction?
Combat certainly is a common feature, but I think just as important is the daring escape from overwhelming foes. Giving XP for defeated enemies would encourage staying around in a fight much longer than serves any point in the narrative because it would get the players more XP than immediately jumping into their vehicle and speed away.
Similarly, since money already has a great value in itself and can be directly translated into more combat power, tying XP to money gained doesn't seem very useful either.
 

payn

Legend
We have done the XP song and dance before, so I wont rehash how unnecessary I find it conceptually. In a general space campaigns, like most Traveller games, the players are free to explore the setting in any myriad of ways. Want to be explorers? Ok. Want to help oppressed and downtrodden people? Also, ok. Want to become ruthless pirates? Yeap, ok too. Want to move between all those things as they become convenient and/or interesting? Perfect! One of the best features of flat leveling and no XP is how freeing it is for the players to explore in a truly open game fashion.

That said, if you really want to focus on a particular experience, than I can see XP as guiderails. Also, some players are hopeless when faced with ambiguity and choices, so its a very useful tool for them. I'd look at PbtA and Free League games like Alien to avoid XP, but no reason xp cant follow a similar purpose too. These games tend to have "playbooks" and lean heavily into their themes. Horror exploration, corporate espionage, particular role play quirks of characters etc... You advance while engaging on the expected conceits of the game style and campaign. Instead of such direct methods as playbooks, you can just chunk it into any number of small XP rewards to leave a breadcrumb trail for players to follow.
 


Yora

Legend
Yeah, that was way before my time. Seems it had already wrapped up when I was born.

Regarding XP: One source of XP I think would be quite cool is getting knocked out in combat but surviving.
Not sure how big an impact it makes, but in a game where dying in combat is not that rapid, it might slightly nudge some players to push their luck a little bit further than would be wise.
 

payn

Legend
Yeah, that was way before my time. Seems it had already wrapped up when I was born.

Regarding XP: One source of XP I think would be quite cool is getting knocked out in combat but surviving.
Not sure how big an impact it makes, but in a game where dying in combat is not that rapid, it might slightly nudge some players to push their luck a little bit further than would be wise.
Many games reward failure as a process of learning. Seems like a risky proposition though to turn fights into knockouts to earn XP.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Yeah, that was way before my time. Seems it had already wrapped up when I was born.

Regarding XP: One source of XP I think would be quite cool is getting knocked out in combat but surviving.
Not sure how big an impact it makes, but in a game where dying in combat is not that rapid, it might slightly nudge some players to push their luck a little bit further than would be wise.
I do that in my Cepheus Engine (Traveller) games is to give weeks of learning time after a critical failure, because skills are increased by studying over weeks. It helps people feel not so bad about trying something they are not good at.
 

aramis erak

Legend
We have done the XP song and dance before, so I wont rehash how unnecessary I find it conceptually. In a general space campaigns, like most Traveller games, the players are free to explore the setting in any myriad of ways. Want to be explorers? Ok. Want to help oppressed and downtrodden people? Also, ok. Want to become ruthless pirates? Yeap, ok too. Want to move between all those things as they become convenient and/or interesting? Perfect! One of the best features of flat leveling and no XP is how freeing it is for the players to explore in a truly open game fashion.
The lack of "likely to occur in typical campaigns" advancement in CT was also one of its major downsides for many players, and kind of a black eye that stuck around even after Mega added a more reasonable one. Two edged sword.

I disagree that players generally find it freeing; many have complained that it means they're stuck with a bad character for anything but X, where X is defined by what few skills are on the sheet. There is no room to grow into a change in role in stock CT, as it takes years to learn a new skill. In Mega, it's slow, but doable (and faster than basic char gen, but not a huge lot). In TNE and T4, it's way too fast compared to Character Gen (about 6-7 sessions, often covering 10-20 weeks for the PCs, so 1/5 to 2/5 of a year, equaling the gains from a 4 year term).

In my experience, most new-to-trav players who aren't new to gaming don't really grok that skill 1 is employable in field, skill 2 is experienced in field, or highly trained, and level 3 is professional (as in post-baccalaureate degree holder) level skill in CT and MT. (And T:2300).

Now, I'll note as well: each later Traveller edition has decreased the breadth of most skills from the prior. Each also has added new skills.
Many new to Traveller Refs/GMs didn't internalize that, either
 

payn

Legend
The lack of "likely to occur in typical campaigns" advancement in CT was also one of its major downsides for many players, and kind of a black eye that stuck around even after Mega added a more reasonable one. Two edged sword.

I disagree that players generally find it freeing; many have complained that it means they're stuck with a bad character for anything but X, where X is defined by what few skills are on the sheet. There is no room to grow into a change in role in stock CT, as it takes years to learn a new skill. In Mega, it's slow, but doable (and faster than basic char gen, but not a huge lot). In TNE and T4, it's way too fast compared to Character Gen (about 6-7 sessions, often covering 10-20 weeks for the PCs, so 1/5 to 2/5 of a year, equaling the gains from a 4 year term).

In my experience, most new-to-trav players who aren't new to gaming don't really grok that skill 1 is employable in field, skill 2 is experienced in field, or highly trained, and level 3 is professional (as in post-baccalaureate degree holder) level skill in CT and MT. (And T:2300).

Now, I'll note as well: each later Traveller edition has decreased the breadth of most skills from the prior. Each also has added new skills.
Many new to Traveller Refs/GMs didn't internalize that, either
I'll admit I have only run for about 5-6 different groups in Traveller. Nobody missed the advancement play loop of D&D. They really liked the ability to just focus on adventuring for its own sake. There was an adjustment phase when they learned what a skill level means in game terms, but after that it was smooth sailing.

Maybe I got lucky, or maybe you just play folks who are heavy into the game part of the RPG?
 

aramis erak

Legend
I'll admit I have only run for about 5-6 different groups in Traveller. Nobody missed the advancement play loop of D&D. They really liked the ability to just focus on adventuring for its own sake. There was an adjustment phase when they learned what a skill level means in game terms, but after that it was smooth sailing.

Maybe I got lucky, or maybe you just play folks who are heavy into the game part of the RPG?
Both. I, myself, am always looking for the game part to matter. If I wanted to sit and tell stories in pure collab I could... but I don't enjoy doing so. Without the game elements, it's not got the elements of risk I crave as both player and GM. (pun intended.) The roll of the die being a player in the game is a strong draw for me.

The BBS scene had some access to usenet in the late 80's and early 90's, and I was on usenet in 87 or 88 via BBSs, and from 1988 on through the uni I attended. The lack of character growth in Classic Traveller and Traveller: 2300 was a common lament in both. It was an element of flamewars on the mid 1990's Traveller Mailing List and X-boat Mailing List. (both of which I was on through their closure.)

It's also worth noting that almost all GDW RPGs have some form of improvement in play... Technically including Classic Traveller. Only Traveller: 2300 doesn't... and the second edition, renamed to 2300 AD: Mankind's Journey to the Stars, has an experience system. Twilight 2000 does in all editions (1e, 2.0e, 2.2e T2013, 4e). Even their first RPG, En Garde! (1975) has improvement, albeit rather slow.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Yeah, I've been playing it for 42 years, it has an experience section right by drugs, and there is also instruction skill from Mercenary, as well the personality overlay machine from Expedition to Zhodane. Just as examples, in experience it said to make up others too, so it sounds like it was expected to be there.
 

Yora

Legend
Does anyone want to pitch me on Coriolis?

I only heard the name before and only learned a few things about it today. Any fans of it who think it's the greatest thing ever and want everyone to know why?
 

payn

Legend
Does anyone want to pitch me on Coriolis?

I only heard the name before and only learned a few things about it today. Any fans of it who think it's the greatest thing ever and want everyone to know why?
The setting is described as Arabian Nights in Space. I have only read about it and it seems rife with RP and adventure opportunity.

I have played a few Free League games and enjoy the year zero system. In various games you build a dice pool for testing out an event. Typically, rolling is only done for important things. I find the system does a good job of sitting back and staying out of the way. If you desire something more tangible and crunch rules heavy like D&D or GURPS, you probably wont like this system.
 

Geekrampage

Explorer
I've played Coriolis and I love it. The "Arabian Nights in Space" angle depends on the gamemaster and how much effort they're willing to put into the flavor of their description and NPCs and cultures. Our GM wasn't great at that so his campaign felt much more 80s gritty industrial science fiction - Aliens, Outland, Bladerunner, Event Horizon, etc.

Space Combat felt like the Expanse TV show. Railguns and missiles for long range, close range point defense. I also really appreciated the way the game handled crew positions in space combat and decisions made by the commander. It's my favorite ship combat system of all sci fi systems I've played.

We built our ship around ECM and computer hacking. We were optimized to either disable an opponent's drive for boarding or to allow us to escape. Our GM HATED that!
 

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