A Great Time for SF Fans

If you’re a fan of science fiction (or speculative fiction, or whatever you want SF to mean), then things are pretty decent right now.

If you’re a SF fan and a gamer, then things really couldn’t be much better.

So I thought I’d touch on some of the things happening in RPGs right now, specifically focused on science fiction.

Dune is Back!

I read Dune many, many years ago—I was thirteen at the time—and it became one of my favorite SF books of all time. I ended up reading the entire series, by which I mean all the books written by Frank Herbert. (The less said about the painfully terrible books by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, the better.)

I was not one of those lucky people to get my hands on a copy of the one and only Dune RPG, Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium by Last Unicorn Games. With only 3000 copies ever printed, it has become a collectors’ item that fetches some rather high prices on the rare event that one actually becomes available.

But just ten days ago, Gale Force 9 announced that they had acquired a license to produce official Dune tabletop games. And within that announcement was the amazing news that late 2019 will see an official RPG from Modiphius, the same company that has published the Conan RPG, Star Trek RPG, Tales from the Loop RPG, Mindjammer RPG, Coriolis RPG, and Infinity RPG.

Modiphius Games

Which brings me to some of those SF properties I’ve just mentioned. If you’re a SF gamer, then Modiphius pretty much has you covered, with a bunch of great games (not all developed in-house, but all published by them).

  • Star Trek—while I have not personally played this yet, by all accounts this is a fantastic game that totally captures the feel of the ST universe. Modiphius’ house engine, the 2d20 System, has been heavily modified once again in order to ensure that the rules fully support the kind of games that would be expected by fans of Star Trek.
  • Tales from the Loop—the setting for Tales comes from the very cool narrative art books by Simon Stalenhag, and the RPG expertly captures the same vibe of young people living in a world that has been affected by the construction of a massive particle accelerator that has resulted in some strange events. Consider this a SF version of Stranger Things and you won’t be far off the mark.
  • Infinity—this RPG takes place in the setting developed for the tabletop miniatures wargame, and provides an amazing take on digital and social conflict in addition to the standard guns and powered armor one would expect. Unfortunately, this game is coming out very slowly, as by all accounts getting approvals from the license holder is a painstaking and time-eating process. However, the core book is amazing and one could run any number of great campaigns using just one part of the rich universe developed for the wargame.
  • Mindjammer—written by the very talented Sarah Newton, this game uses the Fate Core engine and takes a very interesting approach in how cultures are affected by one another when people interact. Another very deep setting that provides nearly limitless campaign options, this game is very obviously a labor of love for Ms. Newton.
  • Coriolis—described by the authors as “Arabian Nights in space,” this game drips with flavor and interesting mysteries.

Warhammer 40K

Ulisses Spiele just released their new Wrath & Glory RPG, based in the Warhammer 40,000 setting from Games Workshop. This game is only one week old, but already the book has garnered some great reviews.

This edition of the game breaks with the past system developed by the Black Library and continued by Fantasy Flight Games through their Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Only War, and Black Crusade games. The new edition uses a d6 pool system, and provides a great deal of flexibility for characters of different types to all band together.

Yes, that means you can have an Inquisitor, a Space Marine, an Eldar, and Rogue Trader in the same “party,” though of course you’ll have to come up with your own explanation as to why they’re together.

The other major break from tradition is that this game takes a slightly lighter approach to the Empire, reflecting GW’s relaxing of the relentless grimdarkness that smothered their properties for so long. Hope is an actual thing in the WH40K universe now. It may not be easy, but at least it’s possible to hope for a better future.

I haven’t picked this one up yet, but I can pretty much guarantee I’ll end up buying the PDF fairly soon just to give it a more in-depth look.

Eclipse Phase

The second edition Eclipse Phase, the transhuman horror game—though it can be so much more than just that—has experienced significant delays, but Kickstarter backers have had access to the playtest documents for some time. At last update, this one is going to be released within the calendar year, but there’s no definitive date just yet.

Regardless, Eclipse Phase is an amazing setting, and the sourcebooks are fantastic. This, like Infinity, is a game where one could run multiple, entirely different campaigns within the setting and still not touch on all of the elements that could be used.

I know a great many people are waiting for the second edition to drop, and while I didn’t back the Kickstarter, I will likely pick this up shortly after it’s released.

On a related note, I posted a series of articles on how use the HeroQuest 2E rules with the Eclipse Phase setting (1, 2, 3, 4).

Cyberpunk

The Cyberpunk 2020 game from R. Talsorian Games was one of my favorites back in the early 90’s. I ended up picking up the vast majority of sourcebooks for it, and I always preferred it over FASA’s Shadowrun.

With CD Projekt soon releasing their video game Cyberpunk 2077—and it looks freaking amazing—word is that the RPG will be getting an update as well. Unfortunately, R. Talsorian is not the company it once was, and many of us fans are worried that we’ll get another terrible game like Cyberpunk V3.

If the new Witcher RPG is any indication of what they’re capable of, I’m going to suppress my enthusiasm and excitement in order to avoid the likely disappointment when the product actually comes out.

Then again, as silly as it is to use their Interlock system for The Witcher, at least it was a good enough system for Cyberpunk back in the day, so there’s a chance that they’ll just update the tech and timeline and put out a new version that is at least playable.

The Expanse

I was so excited at first to hear that The Expanse is getting an official RPG. But then it was announced that Green Ronin got the license, and that pretty much ended it for me. They’ve already put out a quickstart, because they’ll just be porting over their AGE system used in the Dragon Age RPG.

This one is a real shame, as the AGE system is a terrible choice to use for running a game like The Expanse. Like R. Talsorian, Green Ronin isn’t the company it once was when it was putting out Mutants & Masterminds first and second edition, and the great Freeport setting materials. For various reasons that I won’t get into here, they are also not a company that I want to support in any way.

But for those who want sourcebooks for The Expanse, this is going to be your chance. Even if the system is totally inappropriate, there will likely be a lot of material consolidated in one place to let you run a game in The Expanse setting even if you use a totally different system.

Other Great Options

Without going into a lot of detail on these other games, I want to mention some standouts that SF gamers might want to check out:

  • Stars Without Number 2E—a great game based on the OSR, Sine Nomine always delivers amazing tools for developing and running campaigns, even if you don’t use an OSR-adjacent set of rules.
  • SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists—this game has been getting a lot of attention lately, and it’s easy to see why. An interesting premise married to what is, from all accounts, a decent system.
  • Alternity—another very recent release, this is a new version of the game published by TSR in 1998. I don’t know much about this one, as I wasn’t a fan of the original Alternity system, but it does have a following and if you have fond memories of the original, it might be worth checking out.
  • Esper Genesis—an alternate Player’s Handbook for D&D 5E, this book provides SF character classes and associated abilities using the 5E rules. A Esper Genesis Dungeon Master’s Guide (to be called the Master Technician’s Guide) is coming.
  • Torg Eternity—some might not consider this SF, but I’m including it here because Torg was a pretty popular and innovative game back in the day. Unfortunately, this edition is marred by some sloppy editing and some truly broken rule bits. Reviews from customers have been uneven, so if you’re a Torg fan, take a look but definitely read up on it before you drop your cash.

Conclusion

Fantasy has dominated the roleplaying game industry throughout its history. But these days there are so many good SF games out there, that a group of players should be able to find something that meets their preferences without a whole lot of difficulty.

Now, I didn’t mention a bunch of other SF games (like Mongoose’s Traveller, for example) because I wanted to highlight some new games or games that do something different. But any game that I left off this list shouldn’t be taken as any kind of sleight—I just need to keep this post to a manageable size.

What is your favorite SF RPG? What do you like most about it and what does it do really well? Tell us about it in the comments.

Gaming Material – Traveller

I’ve reached a point where I want to make a bit of a change to the material that I’m posting on the blog. Gaming, particularly RPG gaming, is a huge part of my life. While I love writing novels and short stories, I also love to create materials for my favorite RPG games.

So I’m going to be putting my regular Reading & Writing posts on hold for a while and try out something new. I’m going to pick a game and create some material for it over a couple of posts, and then move on to another game and do the same thing, and then another, and so on.

I hope to create some useful material for other gamers out there, while also exercising my imagination in other directions, and having some fun in the process.

Traveller and Early SF

I’ve always had a deep and abiding interest in Traveller, though I’ve never managed to get a real campaign off the ground for any serious length of time. I’ve also been a huge fan of early SF from the 50’s through the 70’s, having devoured books by H. Beam Piper, Heinlein, Asimov, Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, and others.

In fact, in last week’s post about books I wish I had written, two of the six books listed sit solidly in the SF genre.

I’ve also been reading a fantastic series of blog posts on Tales to Astound! by Christopher Kubasik, in which he talks about the original three Traveller little black books (or LBBs) that came out in 1977. In those first Traveller products, there was no Third Imperium, the great sprawling setting that was later published for the game. Instead, the GM was expected to make up his or her own setting, just like in the original D&D little brown books from Gary Gygax.

The expectation was that GMs would use their love of SF literature to create a personal setting that included the things they wanted, and exclude that which didn’t appeal to them. The only implied setting in the original books is that there is some kind of centralized government far back that way, and that the player characters are out somewhere on the fringe.

This means fewer representatives of authority, more danger, more of the unknown, and more opportunity for actual adventure.

So, just like my story for April was an homage to Robert E. Howard, I’d also like to write a short or two in the style of early SF greats like Asimov. And so I’m going to combine these two interests into one project.

This week, and over the next few posts, I’m going to develop a sub-sector for Traveller. I’m going to use the random tables to create the base, and then I’m going to look at each world profile that I’ve generated and create something that is not just an extension of the Third Imperium, but a setting that reflects what could be found in the classic SF stories of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

The Draconem Sub-Sector

Yes, I’m using the original Latin name for “dragon” as the name of my sub-sector, at least for now. I may change it once the true character of this region is developed, so it’s a working-name at this point.

I’ve already generated the worlds that will appear in my sub-sector by using the random tables in the Traveller LBBs. Each world has what is called a Universal World Profile (or UWP), and it includes all the numerical data about the world. In order, the information shows:

  • The world’s name
  • The hex number of the world on the map
  • The world’s starport classification
  • The size of the world
  • The world’s atmosphere
  • The world’s hydrographic percentage
  • The world’s population
  • The world’s government type
  • The world’s law level
  • The world’s technological index
  • The world’s trade classifications
  • Whether or not the system includes a gas giant (for unrefined fueling purposes).

I haven’t name any of these worlds yet, so I’m leaving that part TBD for all the entries. I’ll have names by the time I post the second part of this series of posts.

There are forty worlds in my sub-sector. I understand that if you’re not familiar with Traveller and UWP, then this won’t make much sense to you.

  • TBD; 0103; C66761298; AG,NI; Y
  • TBD; 0104; B25191398; PR; Y
  • TBD; 0107; B6685778; AG,NI; N
  • TBD; 0108; B2002228; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0109; D56661192; AG,NI; N
  • TBD; 0110; B6430437; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0207; A78611110; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0208; C0002439; NI; N
  • TBD; 0305; B2425227; NI,PR; N
  • TBD; 0401; A871045715; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0402; X5344893; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0403; C4771778; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0404; E6357874; N
  • TBD; 0406; C47965210; NI; N
  • TBD; 0407; A57264811; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0504; C7668793; RI; Y
  • TBD; 0507; A63355212; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0508; B32456712; NI; N
  • TBD; 0509; B000109917; NA,IN; Y
  • TBD; 0601; C5063516; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0603; D68691296; Y
  • TBD; 0604; A7684418; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0605; C440912911; IN,PR; N
  • TBD; 0606; B6533347; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0607; A150613911; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0608; C311510911; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0609; C36499610; N
  • TBD; 0610; A56848710; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0703; E8862893; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0704; C7431013910; IN,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0707; E7855547; AG,NI; Y
  • TBD; 0709; B2413679; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0710; D99102786; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0801; C5255995; NI; N
  • TBD; 0802; B6436458; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0804; E3538646; PR; Y
  • TBD; 0806; A65361098; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0807; X44291195; IN,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0809; D6954784; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0810; C81074616; NI; Y

And here is the map of the sub-sector:

Sector-Map

The grey lines are jump routes only (meaning it’s easier to travel between worlds that have established jump routes than it is to travel between worlds that are not connected in that way). In the original 1977 LBBs, there are no established X-Boat systems of communications, so this just shows the routes most ships tend to take in order to reduce navigational hazards.

Now that I have a sub-sector and all the profiles have been generated, I’m going to look at the various clusters of world in the region and see what interesting things come out of it.

I’ll start with hexes 0103 and 0104.

Here we have two worlds (which I’m going to give temporary names):

  • Bitan; 0103; C66761298; AG,NI; Y
  • Pirnath; 0104; B25191398; PR; Y

The first world in hex 0103, Bitan, is a nice planet just slightly smaller than Earth, with a standard atmosphere and huge tracks of farmland (it’s an agricultural planet). But its population is pretty small for such a world, only 1 million people and its government is a charismatic oligarchy. The tech level is a bit higher than ours, with hovercraft and laser rifles, and more advanced computing power.

Its immediate neighbor, the planet Pirnath in hex 0104, is much smaller (only one-third the size of earth), but with 1,000 times the population of Bitan at 1 billion people. It’s a very dry planet (only 10% of its surface is liquid), governed by a religious dictatorship, and its trade classification is “Poor”. The tech level is the same as in hex 0103.

The immediate question that comes to mind is why the inhabitants of planet Pirnath haven’t annexed Bitan. They need the food supply that Bitan could provide, and they have more than enough people to throw at the problem. With the technology levels being equal, it would seem obvious.

There are a couple of different ways to go here. One is that the government of Pirnath is planning to invade Bitan. They’ve reached a point where their population has grown beyond the point they can feed themselves, and if they take over the larger planet they’ll be set for a while at least. They aren’t going to abandon Pirnath entirely—it has some kind of religious significance to them—but they are preparing to invade and occupy their closest neighbor.

But there has to be more to it than that. Bitan is a nearly Earth-sized planet with only a million people despite having great agricultural capacity. What is stopping its population from growing? And does that same factor play a role in helping them fend off the possible invasion by the people of Pirnath?

Another angle is that Pirnath’s population would never consider invading Bitan for their food. Perhaps their religion requires them to be pacifists. Perhaps the leadership of their government/church is fractured by a dogmatic schism and they have no ability to act as a united organization anymore.

And there is another agricultural world just three hexes away from Pirnath (hex 0107), of the same size as Bitan but with an even smaller population of just a hundred thousand people. That world is Balkanized, so there is no central planetary government at all. Are these a bunch of small settlements, perhaps established by other worlds in the vicinity? Would those other worlds band together if the people of Pirnath decided to expand outward in an attempt to take a more hospitable planet?

As you can see, these are only the first three planets on the map, but there are already countless possibilities, and that leads to countless adventuring opportunities.

Conclusion

Over the next few posts, I’m going to continue to develop this sub-sector. I’ll make decisions on some of the questions I’ve raised above, and develop the worlds—and possibly some alien races—that will make this region of space a great place in which to tell stories, and adventure in a game.

I’m also happy to hear ideas from others who have developed their own region of space for Traveller or any other science fiction roleplaying game. Tell us about your own creations in the comments.