TIPS Sought for Sustainable Sci-Fi (not Star Wars) Gaming

The Green Adam

First Post
I think the main problem occurs when you have to split player character resources between space combat abilities and regular combat abilities (and possibly other abilities not related to combat). You have the Top Ace Pilot that flies the ship and fires the guns and all that, and the melee guy that ... hates space combat because he can't swing his plasma sword at anyone.

Ah but that's why Melee Guy needs to either have a starfighter of his own or some other skill that helps in space combat.

In my Star Wars (D6) campaigns is was common for the Merc/Soldier types to have a higher Starship Gunnery then the Smuggler who Pilots the ship. The Smuggler gets to do all kinds of fancy flying while the fighter type fights by shooting the guns. Co-pilot switches between Shields, Sensors (got to find the enemy's weak spot) and repairing damage from shots that did get through.

Actually for me this is RPG Space Combat 101 since I've spent so many years gaming Star Trek and Star Wars. Traveller can work this way as well.

Thing is, if everyone in the group is a ground pounding future soldier space combat will indeed be boring. I would have it occur rarely and become more of a background atmosphere element. The trick to good SF gaming is that vary same thing that Fantasy tells you not to do...split the party. If you can develop good timing and staging skills as a GM the players in a SF campaign are in for a real treat. The melee characters can be duking it out in the corridors with boarding pirates or down on the surface of a world while the ship's crew battle swarms of starfighters and try to repair the hyperwarp drive at the same time.

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Ah but that's why Melee Guy needs to either have a starfighter of his own or some other skill that helps in space combat.
Yes. But if that will cost him in another area, why should he do it, aside from the fact that it's more fun that way?

In my Star Wars (D6) campaigns is was common for the Merc/Soldier types to have a higher Starship Gunnery then the Smuggler who Pilots the ship. The Smuggler gets to do all kinds of fancy flying while the fighter type fights by shooting the guns. Co-pilot switches between Shields, Sensors (got to find the enemy's weak spot) and repairing damage from shots that did get through.
I think it would work even better if "Gunnery" (or a simlar named skill) was to be used for both spacecraft and regular weapons. Now at least you don't have to worry about personal vs space combat.

The trick to good SF gaming is that vary same thing that Fantasy tells you not to do...split the party. If you can develop good timing and staging skills as a GM the players in a SF campaign are in for a real treat. time.
I would love to hear more about tricks in that area you or others have developed, because it seems a common problem in many "modern" or "sci-fi" games. Matrix/Hacking, Space Combat, Astral Combat, regular combat...

In fantasy, the tip is usually given because the party is weaker if split up, but another gameplay reason that applies even in modern games is that some players are relegated to a passive role as they watch the dedicated pilot/decker/astral explorer do their thing.
 

Votan

Explorer
I would love to hear more about tricks in that area you or others have developed, because it seems a common problem in many "modern" or "sci-fi" games. Matrix/Hacking, Space Combat, Astral Combat, regular combat...

I suspect part of this is a result of making hyper-specialist characters. One option is a system of character generation like Traveller. Between "Service Skills" and the rolling on random tables, characters are likely to have a more organic smattering of expertise.

Another option is something like Cortex where it is cheap to get enough expertise to participate but darn expensive to get enough expertise to be massively superior. It still doesn't remove the possibility of a deliberately designed specialist but it makes having enough skill to participate in many activities more reasonable.
 

ValhallaGH

First Post
I suspect part of this is a result of making hyper-specialist characters. One option is a system of character generation like Traveller. Between "Service Skills" and the rolling on random tables, characters are likely to have a more organic smattering of expertise.

Another option is something like Cortex where it is cheap to get enough expertise to participate but darn expensive to get enough expertise to be massively superior. It still doesn't remove the possibility of a deliberately designed specialist but it makes having enough skill to participate in many activities more reasonable.
Another option is to do something akin to Saga Edition, where heroic characters always have some capability with various skills, even if it is greatly less than the specialists.

From a narative standpoint, I prefer this model. It allows everyone to participate (because they are the central characters and central characters do stuff) while still leaving room to specialize and differentiate.
 

The Green Adam

First Post
Another option is to do something akin to Saga Edition, where heroic characters always have some capability with various skills, even if it is greatly less than the specialists.

From a narative standpoint, I prefer this model. It allows everyone to participate (because they are the central characters and central characters do stuff) while still leaving room to specialize and differentiate.

This is true of the later Star Trek games as well and certainly seen on screen from The Next Generation foward.

Everyone has his, her or its own specialty but everyone also have certain skills that could perform the same task (or a similar one) at a reduced level.

Say the bridge of the U.S.S. Discovery is hit by distruptors in a battle against the Romulans. NPC crewperson Lt. Jenkins is injured and removed from the Operations (Ops.) station and sent to Sick Bay. Ok now, the ship's Astrometrics Specialist, a PC named Ensign Sorock, sits down at Ops.

Lt. Jenkins had the skill Shipboard Systems (Ops.) 2 (3).
That's a skill of 2 with all Shipboard Systems but 3 if using Ops.

Ensign Sorock has Shipboard Systems (Navigational Deflector) 2 (3).
That's a skill of 2 but a 3 if using the ship's Navigational Deflector (big blue glowy thing in the front).

So Sorock, who might not have anything to do normally during space combat, is now using the Ops. station with only a 1 point difference from the specialist.

This is a very particular and precise example I'll grant you but its these kinds of ideas you need to look at. There is always something to do aboard a starship ;)

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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Let us not forget ST:NG episodes in which we saw that certain characters were revealed to have espionage skills and/or command rank...and not all of them were in the more militarized branches, either.
 

Votan

Explorer
Another option is to do something akin to Saga Edition, where heroic characters always have some capability with various skills, even if it is greatly less than the specialists.

From a narative standpoint, I prefer this model. It allows everyone to participate (because they are the central characters and central characters do stuff) while still leaving room to specialize and differentiate.

This was one of the nice parts of Star Wars Saga Edition; unlike 3.5 E D&D you did not have the rogue with a +30 spot and the fighter with a +2 spot --> meaning if the rogue failed not even a twenty would enable the fighter to make the spot check.

I think the real problems will emerge with strict point buy systems that reward hyper-optimization or system that make options exclusive (*cough* Shadowrun *cough*). It can help a lot if you make it clear that the party will be doing tasks X, Y and Z routinely and recruits generalists who can particpate in all team functions.

For example, a Q-ship might require all members to have some shipboard skill (as all hands are needed during battle) and all members need to be able to handle themselves on the docks (if not actually function as spies) to make it hard for opponents to simply grab a crew-member.

For less structured scenarios this is harder to enforce.
 

shocklee

First Post
The problem I always had in most of the Traveller style games (with people who had prior D&D experience) was that they always viewed the ship as a treasure to try and take away from the owners. I always though that borrowing the troope style of play from Ars Magica would be a way to setup a sustainable campaign, meaning that the players would each create a ship-owning character and a supporting character.

Has anyone else had this problem (players constantly trying to steal the ship), and if so, what did you do about it?
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Taking the ship they're on should either be ridiculously difficult or simply not worth it.

Command, Engineering & Life Support sections, for instance, might be protected by exterior-wall strength bulkheads. IOW, unless you have a pass, can trick your way in, or you have hand tools as powerful as ship weapons, you're not getting in. In the absence of that, those areas might have permanent installations of Marines (or robotic defenses) to guard them.

Or, perhaps the crew is under orders to not to resist brigands, but just press the "Big Red Panic Button" which just arms the "We've been commandeered" emergency beacon, located on the outer hull. Once the ship is taken, its effectively marked as a rogue, stolen ship. Disarming that is possible, but it takes time.
 

Saeviomagy

Adventurer
I think the real problems will emerge with strict point buy systems that reward hyper-optimization or system that make options exclusive (*cough* Shadowrun *cough*). It can help a lot if you make it clear that the party will be doing tasks X, Y and Z routinely and recruits generalists who can particpate in all team functions.
Did shadowrun radically change or something? When I played it, the expense of hyper-specialising was really not worth it...

Or did you just mean "magic vs cybertechnology"?
 


Votan

Explorer
Taking the ship they're on should either be ridiculously difficult or simply not worth it.

Command, Engineering & Life Support sections, for instance, might be protected by exterior-wall strength bulkheads. IOW, unless you have a pass, can trick your way in, or you have hand tools as powerful as ship weapons, you're not getting in. In the absence of that, those areas might have permanent installations of Marines (or robotic defenses) to guard them.

Or, perhaps the crew is under orders to not to resist brigands, but just press the "Big Red Panic Button" which just arms the "We've been commandeered" emergency beacon, located on the outer hull. Once the ship is taken, its effectively marked as a rogue, stolen ship. Disarming that is possible, but it takes time.

Just having every serial number on the ship correspond to stolen property is a pain. ALl repairs now need to be done by the party (no yard work). Any inspection could discover that thye ship was seized by an act of piracy (in analogy with the 1700's, the last time such navy opperated without long distance commincation) this would probably be a death penalty offense.

There may be buyers but they know the players are desperate renegades and prices will be either insulting or measured in bullets fired. After all, seizing a ship means that the players are rogues and murderers with no conscience.

It's liking hijacking a US navy destroyer today -- the crew will fight hard and the number of safe havens will be . . . limited.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I ran a Star Wars campaign (although you could do this with any sci-fi system) where all the players were part of a Swoop Bike racing team*. Two of the characters were the actual Swoop Bike pilots, one was the mechanic, one was the owner/face-man, and the last was the cheeky droid.

At no point in the campaign did the players do any of the following...
1. Fight a stormtrooper.
2. Fly off planet.
3. Kill things for money.

It was great fun and while having the Star Wars flair and background we loved, it had nothing to do with rebels, the empire, or jedi.

DS

*This campaign ran from 93-95, predating the Pod Racing scenes from the movies by a decent margin. George Lucas is stealing my interwebz!
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
Now, salvaging a ship on the other hand....

Good way to start the campaign in media res too, play begins with the team entering the abandoned ship, either through the airlock, or through the enormous puckered rents that have been blown in the side of the ship.

Mind you, the pilot who brought them out this far will also want a cut of the profits, but making your nut is a good reason to pick up jobs.

And finding out what happened to the original crew can also be part of the fun. :)

One way that the team might know about the ship is that they were part of the original crew, much like [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NPuBEZPgjY]The Mary Ellen Carter[/ame]. (Which made a guest appearance in Traveller: The New Era. : ) ) They know where she is, and insurance has paid off the loss, leaving the ship open for salvage.

The Auld Grump
 

shocklee

First Post
Practical considerations

Just having every serial number on the ship correspond to stolen property is a pain. ALl repairs now need to be done by the party (no yard work). Any inspection could discover that thye ship was seized by an act of piracy (in analogy with the 1700's, the last time such navy opperated without long distance commincation) this would probably be a death penalty offense.

There may be buyers but they know the players are desperate renegades and prices will be either insulting or measured in bullets fired. After all, seizing a ship means that the players are rogues and murderers with no conscience.

It's liking hijacking a US navy destroyer today -- the crew will fight hard and the number of safe havens will be . . . limited.

Unfortunately I think my comments said more about the maturity level that we were playing at when the Traveller rules first came out than anything else. So that said, lets look a bit at this.
  • You would normally be hijacking a merchant ship and not a military craft.
  • If I really hijacked a ship in the Traveller setting, how easy would it be to catch the perpetrators? I'm going to assume for the moment that the ship is outbound from the system and is in a backwater system.

    The setting has a limited faster than light communication system. The control that the local authorities have is limited to inbound ships heading for the populated system. The authorities would need to be very lucky to be in the right place to intercept a craft before it jumps if it were hijacked on the outbound leg. Finally, the only way that news of my crime is spread is via mail being carried by other ships jumping out of the system and into the system where I'm located. If I stay out of the more settled systems, I might be able to stay ahead of the notification of my crimes.
  • The fastest way to end your campaign is to arrest and imprison the PCs. The player response is 'this game blows, whose up for some D&D?' No matter what justification I want to use for 'letting them get away with the theft', this was the real problem at the time.

On a more recent note, I just started running a Diaspora game with a couple of players. We just finished creating the cluster and the starting characters; it looks like this may end up being a fun campaign. The death of this game might be the lack of players.
 

Votan

Explorer
Unfortunately I think my comments said more about the maturity level that we were playing at when the Traveller rules first came out than anything else. So that said, lets look a bit at this.
  • You would normally be hijacking a merchant ship and not a military craft.
  • If I really hijacked a ship in the Traveller setting, how easy would it be to catch the perpetrators? I'm going to assume for the moment that the ship is outbound from the system and is in a backwater system.

    The setting has a limited faster than light communication system. The control that the local authorities have is limited to inbound ships heading for the populated system. The authorities would need to be very lucky to be in the right place to intercept a craft before it jumps if it were hijacked on the outbound leg. Finally, the only way that news of my crime is spread is via mail being carried by other ships jumping out of the system and into the system where I'm located. If I stay out of the more settled systems, I might be able to stay ahead of the notification of my crimes.
  • The fastest way to end your campaign is to arrest and imprison the PCs. The player response is 'this game blows, whose up for some D&D?' No matter what justification I want to use for 'letting them get away with the theft', this was the real problem at the time.

Well, the last part is always going to be a problem with any setting in which there are limits on player behavior. If the first level characters decide to loot a Great Wyrm red dragon;s horde (also a rich source of treasure) one has to decide if the party being roasted makes the campaign less fun.

I'm not saying that pirates can't exist; if we use the age of sail as an anology then they most certainly did. Hijacking ships did happen -- the key was to assume that the ship owners know that the ship that the players are on is worth 10's of millions of credits. So getting to be on a crew might require references. Or, if the owner is willing to hire a bunch of unknowns then maybe he is up to soemthing sleazy . . .

Seeling the ship becomes an adventure (as cheating ship theives is fair game) and any reasonable legal system would make seizing a ship by force harshly penalized (age of sail analogies are death sentances) so it may be hard to sell it discreetely as people will become suspicious if standard verifications are not carried out (and if ship info has been tampered with . . .)

Hiding out in remote systems will work but these systems can't offer much for the ship (my castle and a thousand serfs for your metal dream device) and dodging civilized vessels and the odd patrol boat can be quite fun.

This is even more cool if some elements of a ship are hard to disguise (say the drive signature). The result of hijacking a ship is a "space pirate" campaign where the players flee the navy and need to make a living on the fringes (or in uncivilized systems) where they now have to guard the ship from other scum. Instead of a 10 million credit payday the ship theft is a tense (and dangerous) adventure followed by a "flee the authorities" and "hide out in the outlands" camapign. It's good sci fi tradition -- even Han Solo had a death mark.
 

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