Posted on January 26, 2015
Another to put on my shelf of games I’d like to try one day…
EDIT: More stuff added to the post which isn’t really a comment as a continuation.
Shit, before I forget: Device 6 for iPhone and maybe other platforms, I dunno, what am I, Dieter? I have an iPhone and I know you can get it on that. Anyway, fun little Prisoner-esque text based game that does a lot to show how stories could be told on multimedia devices. It’s a simple puzzle game – you’d hate it, JIM – but told in an engaging way that involves music, sound effects, turning your phone this way and that. It gives you a hint of what could be possible if someone wrote a novel for smartphones, one that could incorporate different, optional points of view or supplemental information. I was excited by it; play it, it’s groovy.
I’ve had a sudden hankering for Sci Fi roleplaying games. I dunno, Traveller or some shit. Something that isn’t Star Trek or Star Wars or anything familiar. Something unfamiliar and… alien. Traveller, has a SRD website attached to the d20pfsrd.com which I use all the time. But it doesn’t begin to capture the scope and quantity of Traveller material out there, how could it?
I like the look of the Dark Heresy game and I have it, never played, on that shelf of games to which I will someday pay attention. It’s set in the W40k setting, but for all that doesn’t really have much to do with the tabletop game unless you bit deeeeeep into the Grey Knights source material. In the grimdark there may only be war, but the Dark Heresy kind of shows you all the many, many exceptions, where there is really only a Cold War going on. In that regards, it’s far more of a Intrigue/Sci Fi game. The Gothic settings are suitably grimdark and the scale is such that what would be a throwaway pawn in a game of 40k is sufficiently powerful enough to be the big bad guy of an entire Dark Heresy campaign. The Balrog of Dark Heresy is the cannon fodder of your 40k game.
Plus, I like Dark Heresy because it deals with the same theme as old Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay; the contagion of ideas, one of my favourite tropes in fantasy/scifi.
That led me to linger a little longer on Eclipse Phase when I discovered it. It’s a free to players, creative commons endeavour, which looks reasonably well supported.
The brief premise is that as humankind became so technologically advanced they become transhuman and while that opened an awful lot of doors, it was accompanied by the collapse of… everything; society, the environment, the ability to stop sentient robots from murdering us all. Transhumanity survived, their Skynet-like AI enemies having disappeared into the galaxy, and it persists now in all sorts of forms, ringed densely around the dead planet Earth, radiating out into the big unknown of space.
The Transhumanity of it is kind of interesting from a mechanical point of view. Player characters play an Ego, a digitized personality that is put into various different forms as needed. Being blown to pieces doesn’t mean you need to roll a new character, it just means the Ego is uploaded into a new body or a clone and sent back out to get blown up. RPGs with save points! This isn’t unusual in sci fi games – half of Paranoia!’s jokes are based on this, but it is integrated into the game as a norm. Other than that, beings exist and can take whatever form they pick of the rack. Giant Octopus in a space suit? Get some! Chimpanzee with a Doctorate? Fill your boots! Death robot into which your personality is downloaded? By all means!
Players play agents of a secret society pledged to help transhumanity against the many threats that face it – the bigbads in the background, aliens, sentient diseases etc. The system looks simplish, d100 rolls for skills, no classes. Tech up the wazoo. The only thing I can think that would hold it back is that the tech level is such that almost anything seems possible. Pretty easy to see that snowball to the point where you lose the kind of common ground of understanding necessary to talk about the game.
I’ll check it out further. It is certainly not my usual thing and probably not to everyone’s tastes. If’n you want to check it out, you can download the rule books and sourcebooks here: https://robboyle.wordpress.com/eclipse-phase-pdfs/
Mass Effect Addition:
All this Space-pondering led me to wonder… is there a Mass Effect paper and pen Roleplaying Game out there? That, after all is the kind of Sci-Fi vibe I liked and the kind I’d like there to be a tabletop version of it. Complicated science questions (Can I time travel if I move faster than light? How can we possibly have psychic powers for realsies?) are explained away by Element Zero and I really like the alien races in Mass Effect; the uniform David Hyde Pierce-ness of the Salarians, the You-Can’t-Spell-Tragedy-Without-Rage of the Krogans, the exiled Quarians, the martial Turians, the all-female Asari, not to mention the countless other bit-part races. None of them feel like they’re the usual Sci-Fi alien Human+Animal hybrid or the Roddenberrian Humans+a fault made extreme and manifest.
The answer is… kinda.
Savage Worlds is the Gurps-like RPG making a rough grasp at universal applicability. As mechanics go, its family tree includes Deadlands as an ancestor, as DL author Shane Lacy Hensley is the head of Pinnacle, but if you’ve followed Deadlands RPG progression, you’ll know that Deadlands got simpler and simpler, abandoning a few of the things that made it fun and a few of the things that made it unplayable. I’d love to tell you that Savage Worlds still uses decks of cards, poker chips and hold ’em hands to cast spells, but I don’t think that’s true. Still Savage Worlds is supposed to be fast and easy, probably at the expense of a ton of variety. I’m fine with that, Pathfinder and 3.5 before it have TONS of variety and it quickly bogs down a game to the extent that all the players around the table have never heard of each other’s feats, spells or even classes. There’s something about a reduced choice selection, that makes how YOU play a character more of a decisive factor. It’s maybe the reason Jimmy John’s sandwiches are better than Subway’s sandwiches: all that choice doesn’t really get you anything good.
Anyway, yes, this guy is one of a few who hacked up a Mass Effect setting for Savage Worlds, covering most of the things that make Mass Effect, Mass Effect: the Alien Races, the basic tech (no ammo count!), the biotics – which evidently fit neatly into SW’s magic system and the omni-tool tech skills. And with the setting specific stuff available in pdf, players would have access to biotics/techskills/weaponry without having to buy the Savage Worlds rulebook, although Pinnacle gives out a lot of the SW stuff for free too: https://www.peginc.com/product-category/savage-worlds/
It being a hack, there are no other supporting materials (other than the plethora of visuals from Mass Effect and the background that is encyclopedic in its detail), probably never will be. But still, it might be fast enough, fun enough and galaxy-scorching enough to scratch that sci-fi itch I had.