Saturday, November 6, 2010

Roleplaying in the Worlds of Star Trek -- Part II

In the first part of this article, I tackled finding and using some of the licensed Star Trek RPG games to get your fix of Star Trek gaming. But since those RPGs are currently difficult to find (especially here in the Philippines), what other alternatives is there?

Using a current RPG system -- one that you can get ahold of and are comfortable with -- and building everything  Star Trek-related with it!

There are two general approaches for this:
  • find a generic RPG system, get all the native source material for a Science Fiction game, and get started converting to Star Trek;
  • find a specific Science Fiction system, and tweak it into a Star Trek setting.
Let's tackle Generic RPG system solutions first!

Generic RPG Systems

Two of the go-to generic systems for traditional RPGs are the Hero System and GURPS. Each of them have a wealth of source material appropriate for a Science Fiction campaign and for a Star Trek campaign in particular.

Hero has a reputation for being a little more supporting of -- well -- heroic gaming, while GURPS has a reputation for being slightly more gritty and less forgiving with regard to superhuman abilities and recovering from damage.

The Hero System has a genre book titled Star Hero. It discusses the various Science Fiction genres, dissects how these genres and subgenres are applicable to games (as opposed to fiction), and lays out how to put together a Science Fiction campaign. It gives guidelines on solar system and planet creation, as well as rules for weapons, armor, technology, and starships.

Hero also has two other supplements available that are of special interest to Star Trek fans. These are the Terran Empire sourcebook (the primary Hero System Science Fiction setting) and the Star Trek sourcebooks (an unofficial sourcebook put together by fans). The former is available for purchase, while the latter must be found by searching online.

GURPS 4th Edition has a sourcebook titled GURPS Space, is a revised version of the 3rd Edition book, and is also chock full of source material on creating your own Science Fiction setting, the benefits and pitfalls of certain setting decisions regarding political structures, technology levels, etc. There are character professions appropriate for the various aspects of interplanetary and intergalactic empires (complete with recommended skillsets), and sections on weapons and spaceships.

Of course, GURPS has several other sourcebooks that may be of use to someone looking to build their own Star Trek-ish universe: GURPS Ultra-Tech and GURPS Spaceships come to mind.

By the way, both these systems use normal six-sided dice as opposed to the polyhedral dice collections favored by D20 systems, so this shouldn't be a hinderance to getting your game on.

Other generic systems you may wish to consider, with slightly different RPG philosophies are the D6 system and FATE -- and each have their own respective books that include both the ruleset and genre source material in a single tome.

D6 Space is the latest (free) incarnation of the D6 ruleset which is probably best known for the original Star Wars RPG ruleset. It also uses only 6-sided dice, and favors cinematic styles of role-play for all types of conflict. Space combat in particular is interesting due to options that allow a non-map based style of play that is fast and furious -- though this may be at odds with the traditional capital ship combat that is emblematic of the Star Trek series.

Another thing that is of note: D6 is known for really fast character creation. With pre-prepared profession / archetype templates, you can have your players finished with mechanical character creation within minutes.

Starblazer Adventures may not seem like a very generic name for a generic RPG, but it can be considered the Science Fiction sourcebook for the current FATE ruleset. Its name is drawn from a series of British pulp SF comic books, but due to the breadth of SF settings that these comic books tackled in their lifetime, the RPG talks at length about creating your own campaign setting.

FATE itself has a reputation for being more narrative in its approach to RPGs, and unless you've been playing a variety of RPGs for a while, that may not make a lot of sense. Suffice it to say that the mechanics focus less on attempting to model an internally consistent and plausible reality, and more on telling an internally consistent and satisfying story using game mechanics.

Interestingly, there's another FATE entry in the Science Fiction RPG arena -- one that attempts to describe a more Hard Science Fiction feel to a campaign. You may wish to pick this RPG (known as Diaspora) as well, and mine it for rules, guidelines, and source material that is also appropriate for the Star Trek settings.

continued in Part III

Monday, November 1, 2010

Game Table Interview: GM Marc

GM Marc is one of the many GMs in A.E.G.I.S. who has constantly tried to promote the hobby by running games and providing venues for games. I remember him running games way back when organized open meets were being run in the Greenbelt foodcourt, but have rarely seen him since them.

He works for Level Up Games as a Transition Manager. He used to be a GM and worked with them to try to insert Roleplaying elements into MMORPGs. He currently GMs for a loose group of 20 or so friends that call ourselves “The Dice Project”. They hold RPG sessions and boardgame sessions with various GMs every weekend at varying venues.

What was the first RPG you remember playing?

Star Frontiers, Alpha Dawn, all the way in Grade 5 in 1988. All because I saw a bunch of 6th graders play Robotech, I was too shy to ask to join and I couldn’t find Robotech in Nova Fontana.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to continue playing?

Power. I was the Referee / GM back then and being able to create my own worlds where the players were acting in it was endlessly fascinating. However nowadays I have a more altruistic motive for continuing. I love telling stories. And I like bringing the Awesome out in people. There’s a thrill when you see players roar in triumph as their character does something absolutely amazing.

What was it about the hobby that made you want to run RPGs?

Back then it was all about power and escapism. I was a pretty mean GM. I set scenes up according to a fixed script that I forced my players to run with, or else I’d tantrum. Hahaha. Over the years though, I’ve changed. My focus has shifted from indulging my own fantasies to working with the players to have the whole table entertained. Less Power, More Escapism for everyone!

What 3 novels have most inspired the games you run? Why?

Two Sci-Fi novels and a Fantasy Novel

  • The Crisis of Empire series by David Drake gave me my first taste of military sci-fi, which shaped most of my games.
  • The dystopian epic Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove inspired me to run darker games, where power politics and attitudes towards technology shaped the world.
  • Recently, I’ve been reading The Wheel of Time in Audiobook format. (okay, so maybe it would be listening) and that has definitely influenced my games. (Especially how I’d copy the male reader’s inflections for both male and female characters)

What 3 TV shows have most inspired the games you run? Why?

  • Robotech – Giant Robots and Military SF. It’s the genre I love and this show epitomizes it.
  • Another anime show: Gate Keepers, Its premise of superhero teen secret agents in the 60s was the inspiration for a long running campaign. (And still inspires an ongoing one!)
  • Third show… uh… no other shows really come to mind.

But mostly, my games have been inspired by video games:

  • The Wing Commander series pretty much defined my preferred style of combat and personal interaction. And of course it’s Military SF, my favourite genre.
  • Final Fantasy 7 and Xenogears have also inspired my storytelling style. Because of those games, I was inspired to use “cutscenes” in my sessions.

What 3 movies have most inspired the games you run? Why?

Hrm. Movies. That’s a tough question since I rarely watch movies. I don’t think any three movies really inspired my gaming style. Though the Matrix trilogy comes pretty close. (Hey, those are three movies, right? XD)

What is your favorite published RPG of all time, and why?

Well that would have to be White Wolf’s Exalted. Aside from the whole pseudo-anime theme and an incredibly detailed world that you are encouraged to destroy, warp or alter, Exalted is such a kitchen sink setting for almost anything you can put in fantasy… or even some elements of science fiction. .. now only if the system didn’t suck. It’s a book keeping nightmare. I remember playing a half-hour mass combat encounter… in EIGHT HOURS because of the clunky system. I love the setting but I hate the system.

In terms of system though, I would have to say the FATE system is my favourite system of all time. It’s robust enough to encompass any genre and can be customized to provide unique game experiences. Also it’s an “open source” system so anyone can publish work based on it. There are several implementations, with the popular ones being Spirit of the Century, Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures. My personal favourite implementation is, well, Legends of Anglerre…. But that’s partly because I had a hand in writing that particular implementation of FATE. But seriously, check it out, for me it has the right balance of fluff and crunch. And 80% less book keeping then Exalted’s Storyteller system!

What is your favorite published game supplement or adventure of all time, and why?

As a Military SF junkie, perhaps the supplement that has had the most impact on me is GURPS Space. I based all my high school and parts of my college games using information found in that supplement. It guides you to make decisions about the sci-fi world you’re building and discusses many alternatives. And it also inspired me to learn Calculus. (All throughout high school, I could never compute my own burn trajectory travel times… because you need calculus to do so!) Even when I moved to other systems I’d still use the information in that book. Though now since I’m a FATE junkie, I’d recommend it’s successor in FATE Starblazer Adventures now.

What RPG have you always wanted to play, but never got a chance to?

Bliss Stage – It’s an indie game that’s like Lord of the Flies combined with Neon Genesis Evangelion. The players are all teenagers in a post apocalyptic world that was invaded by aliens that kill adults in their dreams. The kids can fight the aliens in their dreams and when they do so, they use mecha like the Evangelions with weapons and armor made from the character’s relationships with friends and lovers. It’s really awesome stuff.

What upcoming RPG releases are you looking forward to seeing?

  • Tenra Bansho Zero – it’s a Japanese RPG translated into English. Only the second RPG to be done that way. (First is Maid RPG, which yeah, I have a copy of.)
  • Dresden Files RPG – It’s the ultimate FATE implementation for Modern Horror games. You can play pretty much all of the World of Darkness characters with the Dresden Files system. Plus it’s magic system is the best I have seen. Beats the pants off Mage: The Ascension.
  • Legends of Anglerre – The ultimate FATE implementation for Fantasy Games! It can handle anything from gritty to epic power scales and can handle personal and mass combat with very surprising mechanics. And I helped write it.

On the Radar: New Superhero RPGs

Well, we've all heard about the new DC Adventures RPG using what seems to be a Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition ruleset, haven't we? For those unfamiliar with M&M, it was one of the better rulesets that came from the D20 / OGL era that boasted a super-powers toolkit reminiscent of the HERO system, but with level-based mechanics that simplified certain areas of power level assessement, threat level limitations, and statblock presentation.

A quick perusal suggests that it has also tapped into two classic superhero rulesets: Marvel Super-heroes' FASERIP-based system, and DC Heroes' AP-based system.

There are two other superhero RPGs also out in the market these days that draw their inspiration from older systems -- TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes RPG in particular.

The first is Steve ("I Wrote Mutants & Masterminds") Kenson's ICONS. FATE-powered, but geared towards pick-up superhero adventuring, ICONS has random character generation tables, the 2d6 FATE resolution mechanic favored by Starblazer Adventures, and adjective-flavored stats in a very easy to grasp 1 to 10 range of abilities.

In an article on Adamant Entertainment's site, Steve mentions that the powers shy away from the toolkit system favored by HERO System and Mutants and Masterminds: "you get a power, it has a level, and you might have some options by way of its associated stunts or descriptions, but that’s pretty much it."

If you're looking for a quick pick up game reminiscent of the Silver Age comics, Superfriends cartoons, or the more modern Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Justice League Adventures flavor -- look no further than Icons!

The second one is G-core, which prides itself on being a similarly structured but different take on the FASERIP game rules. It does away with the green/yellow/red FEAT resolution chart for a more simple yet genre-friendly 1d10 mechanic, uses the same stats with different names, and boasts that "We took a character from the old FASERIP game and changed it to G-Core in less than 20 seconds!"

This of course means that all the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG material out on the web -- maintained and updated by longtime fans -- is just ripe for the taking. There should be no shortage of super-heroes, super-villains, and adventures for this new super-hero RPG -- currently available from Dilly Green Bean Games in Watermarked PDF form for the low, low price of $2.50.

So if you're looking to snag some new players who are fans of the blockbuster series of Marvel movies or are die-hard super-hero geeks, look no further than these two games for your gaming fix!