Monday, September 27, 2010

Why can't I find a good Sci-Fi game?

A post over at Grognardia,, has prompted a reoccurring thought in my head.

Why can't I find a good Sci-Fi game?

I have mentioned before that I have had a hit and miss, mostly miss, luck with Sci-Fi games. Every so often I am convinced I have the One, only to be ultimately disappointed in them.
I after I posted a reply to James' post I went back to the Star Frontiers book I have and online at I also went through all the Star Trek books I still have left.

In terms of Sci-Fi I like Trek the best, loved Star Wars as a kid, but got into Dune or the hard sci-fi of Asimov. I did like Heinlein and Arthur C. Clark a lot though. I loved Farescape when it was on and I even enjoyed LEXX.  Never watched Space Above and Beyond, could not get into Babylon 5 or the new Galatica (though that is not really a reflection on them) and I thought Firefly was stupid.

For games I started out with Traveler, moved to Star Frontiers, Doctor Who (FASA), Star Trek (FASA), Alternity, Star Wars d20, d20 Future and others that I have forgotten.  More recently I have used Unisystem (All Tomorrow's Zombies) and Doctor Who (Cubicle 7).  Yet nothing seems to fit just right.  I looked over Star Blazer Adventures, Rogue Trader and others and didn't really care for them.  I don't like GURPS enough to honestly consider it, same for FUDGE and FATE.

What do I want?
That is a very question and one I don't have a good answer for.  There are bits and pieces that I like from all the above games.  I like the sandboxy feel of Star Frontiers and Traveler. I love the tech in Trek, the scope in Star Wars.  I could get better buy-in from my Kids with Star Wars, even if my youngest says "I am not into Star Wars" and lightsabers are cool.   I like some of the features of Alternity.  I liked some of what I read in Dune.

And I don't want to spend a bunch of time figuring out a new system.
I suppose this points to two things.  Unisystem and d20 3.x.

Well I have a bunch of d20 materials laying around including Star Wars, d20 Traveler (T20), Dragon Star,  and d20 Future (which has material from Star Frontiers and Alternity).  I like the idea of using the d20 Mod/Future classes. I am not thrilled with the idea of levels though, but multi-classing looks like it could be fun.  Plus I have a metric ton of d20 material.  Bring back mind flayers as an alien race.  Baator?  Now a planet; literary Planet Hell.

Unisystem is more flexible and I can do it better than d20, but despite how good All Tomorrow's Zombies is, I want something more.   I am not big into mixing magic and SciFi.  Psionics is ok (in fact I also don't like Psionics in fantasy games), weird I know. I think in the end, d20 might be the way for me to go, or this could be a thinly veiled attempt to do "D&D in Spaaaace!"

Star Wars, like I said, has a great scope and is full of aliens. Adding a Trek-like Federation to battle an Evil Empire is also very cool and a great backdrop.  I'd make it more of a cold war, with hotter areas on the edges.  Lots of room then for black markets and ops.  Maybe even steal a page from Battlestar and make the evil Empire one of artificially intelligent machines.  T20 has a lot of cool stuff too and the Imperium is neat and again lots of cool races.

What is lacking in all of this is unified narrative.  Maybe I don't need one.  D&D doesn't have one, never did.  A lot of what I don't like about the various systems out there is I find their "fluff" to be restrictive.  I don't want all the baggage that go with Jedi, or the Imperium, or Aslans, or Fraal.    I guess say here is Oerth, here is Yavin, over there is Krynn and Vulcan and just let the universe take care of itself.

I guess until I find that perfect mix, I keep searching.


aka John said...

Traveller has a concept called MTU, or My Traveller Universe, which means that no matter what the official cannon is, it is your universe and you are free to add and remove concepts as you see fit. I'm working on my own, combining what I like best about Niven and Pournelle's novels, Battletech, Traveller, Outland, 2300 A.D..

As to the system, I really don't have a preference, liking most of the versions of Traveller and even though I've never had a chance to play it, like D20Modern/Future. Even the old Mechwarrior system for Battletech was decent.

Trey said...

I seems like you want one game to be perfect for you. Why not just enjoy different ones for their merits?

I've had great FASA Trek games when i was in a Trek mood, d6 Star wars games when I was feeling Star Wars, my onw version of GURPS Transhuman Space for the hard-science fiction "near" future, and GURPS Space for my own Space Opera.

To me, trying to make one game do a whole bunch of stuff, means that its going to everything it does less well.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend giving Space D6 a shot, if you haven't done so. It's the system that the original Star Wars was based on, it's mod-able and lets you build the type of world you want to do. I'm currently using it for my Space Aesir Game (okay, still in the planning stages, but it's there!) and it's a lot more looser then the d20 system. Better still, it's free and open source. contains the Wiki with the files you'd need.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@Trey - yeah, maybe it is my laziness but I do want one game to do it all for me. It sounds silly, but when you look at it deeper it really isn't. I have my One Game for fantasy, my One Game for horror and my One Game for supers.

I will pick and choose till I find something that fits "me".

@John I have been looking at Traveller more and more lately. It was my first SciFi game, so maybe I should come back to it in full.

@kensan-oni I will look at D6 space again. I'll admit there is some things there that intrigue me.

christian said...

I'm really hoping that we will see a good OGL sci-fi game in the Star Frontiers vein. I would do my best to play the heck out of it.

Unknown said...

This is the exact reason I've been rolling up my own SF game using Unisystem. All Tomorrow's Zombies is useful for Zombie SF one-offs, but not what I'd look for in an actual SF game. This is a homebrew setting + new chargen rules + new character development rules + new space battle rules. I'm still fleshing it out completely, but am beginning running games with it this weekend, which should be interesting.

I wasn't planning on releasing it or anything, but since you seem to have similar taste in SF to me, and a similar problem to my original motivation for doing it, if you want I can eventually type up my notes into something coherent. Won't be all that great since I'm no professional game designer, but might at least give you a few ideas.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@Adrian that would be awesome.
Have you seen the Unisystem Star Frontiers conversion that was done a few years back?;dl=item20;dl=item59

and one for Star Wars;dl=item16

Red Jack said...


Sorry, I just had a wee little nostalgia-gasm.

D20 Modern/Future is great, but requires a pretty hefty investment in books--not so great if you're still experimenting.

Open D6 isn't that bad, and if you've got older players who remember West End, it's sortof comforting. ^_^

One more I'd suggest: BESM. It's out of print but the 2nd/3rd editions aren't hard to find. I'd skip over the d20 version, personally, as the original Guardians of Order worked amazingly well as a sortof "universal" gaming system.

I realize that the art and marketing are aimed at anime fans, but my gaming group used it for quite a while to run a host of games--everything from Firefly, (before the release of the official RPG) FF 7/8, Aliens/Predator, and various original sci-fi weirdness.

The bonus is that the core book contains all the rules, and any additional books contained little more than fluff or pre-made character options. You invest in only one book, and as long as you're planning to make the game and the world your own, you don't need anything else.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Red Jack: Look at few posts back and you will see I am huge fan of BESM.

I think this just means I'll need to create my own game. No big really I guess.

Red Jack said...

Well boy is my face... erm... red.

Which just brings me to the question: since you've got all the fixin's for robots, (mecha and otherwise) spaceships, aliens of every variety, tech of every flavor, (including Clarke's third law) space knights, firelfy-esque gunslinging, cloning, lasers, phasers, disruptors, independently targeting particle-beam phalanx, tactical smart missiles, phase plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, sonic, electronic ball breakers, nukes, knives, sharp sticks...

Sorry, bit of a relapse there. ;)

Anyhow, all you're missing is a setting, which shouldn't be a huge deal for ya. If nothing else, rip one off from elsewhere. Mass Effect, Firefly, KOTOR, Star Trek... or just make some sort of non-horrific slashfic. Include some Picard-on-Cylon-clone-of-Mal lovin's for bonus (horror) points. There's also Trinity from White Wolf and Fading Suns which had some great ideas individually, although they never clicked for me as a whole.

Unknown said...

@Tim Sure thing then, whenever it's more coherent than a bunch of ideas and random notes in my notebook, I'll either type up a PDF or throw it all on my Obsidian Portal page. Some setting information is already on that, although a lot of it is woefully outdated and the chargen has been completely redone, so don't bother reading that part. Might give you a sense if you're still interested. Also, you might check out the Sufficiently Advanced RPG, which is more professionally done than my homebrew and has some really great ideas (but wasn't perfect for the feel I wanted, of the galaxy being huge and dangerous).

I'd heard of but not seen those two Unisystem conversions. Those should be helpful when deciding the more crunchy bits. Thanks!

Cyric said...

If you can, try to grab a copy of FADING SUNS. There was even a D20 edition of this one.

It's the best Sci-Fi setting I ever encountered. It's a great read and even greater to play.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

I think a second post to address the issues brought up is in order.

Anonymous said...

Have you given Eclipse Phase a look? It would require learning a new system, but not an overly involved one.

I usually hate sci-fi games for many of the same reasons you do, but this one keeps me interested.

Ronnie_ASA said...

Ah yes the great "sci-fi" systems debate. here are my thoughts:

Traveller is a good simple system and I think its pretty good for what it does. You could do a lot worse really than Traveller.

Whilst I was never a fan of the tv show as a system the Serenity RPG (using CORTEX) is actually not too bad.

Someone mentioned D6 Space and its a good call, especially if you can find the space ships and Aliens 1 supplements for it which give you rules for creating your own aliens.

I do have a soft spot for Space Master (or more recently its slimmed down cousin Harp SF) and feel that it is flexible enough to meet anyone's sci-fi needs, regardless of genre.

As for having a unifying theme or background, I tend to enjoy making my own as it gives me complete freedom to do so. Certainly the myriad of Star Trek and Star Wars games rely on a lot of canon and background but that can end up being restrictive if you want to think outside the box.

GeneD5 said...

Stars Without Number is a great sandbox retro-clone, while Eclipse Phase, Ashen Stars, and other recent transhuman/space opera games have a strong narrative.