In this post, I’ll give a taste of one of the things I’m working on in my spare time: Starscape, a science fiction RPG.
Way back in the 90s, I ran a scifi game called Starscape, for roughly a decade at least weekly. Of all the games I’ve run over the last 40-ish years, it is the one I remember most fondly. With so much playtime, and my habit of jotting everything down (and, at the time, being an extreme control freak), it accumulated a lot of lore.
I am designing a new game to recapture what made that game so great. I could go full heartbreaker and talk about all the things I think it did that were different from other games of the period, and games since, but instead I’ll tease something about the way characters are designed.
In many games, characters are often incompetent and are assumed to grow into power. In this game, characters start out already competent, even highly skilled, and may grow slowly in their adventures. Characters might be human, robot, or alien, and while while most characters are in the range of age 20-40, rarer characters might be 100-500 years old. The game gives characters their statistics, but is only somewhat concerned with balance and character power level. Characters of different power levels can play alongside each other.
Character design creates a life path, where we can see what deeds the character has been involved in up to now. Each term of your life lasts about 10 years, and grants a Career (one of twenty). You might jump around between different careers (a soldier, starship crew, intrepid journalist exposing corruption, etc.). Within each career’s terms you get a bunch of Skills, a Trait, and 2 Events. Events are the things that stand out as remarkable, the specvial events that you remember from your life. Each Career has a different set of events, rolled on a d20.
A roll of 20 on the Events for your career gives a Witness Event. Most events represent their personal achievements – defeated another in a space battle or duel, overcome being stranded on a hostile planet, and so on. But Witness Events are more abstract: you were a spectator in something that has a significant effect on the setting (but it might not be apparent yet how that is).
This is what the Witness Events table looks like. Roll d66 (d6 followed by another d6) to see your event:
|1||You encounter the Federation agent Kessler. But you had met Kessler before, and this Kessler didn’t know you.||You briefly glimpsed the ship of legend, Phoenix. In spacer folklore, this ship has been seen at most historical events.|
|2||After a starship misjump you found yourself in a place of folklore, the Maelstrom – a dimension of living matter. You escaped before your ship and crew were assimilated and became something else. Were you all unchanged?||As you left Marinos, an unremarkable planet, you were shocked to see a local fleet sterilise it from orbit, killing the entire population. Your crew were held in biological containment, scanned over and over, before release.|
|3||The Ancients built the long-dead Stargates. They say there is no way to reactivate them. You travelled –once – with a mad scientist through an old gate before it exploded.||You gave shelter to a human traveller who was being hunted. He was full of enthusiasm, overjoyed by everything he saw, amazed that humanity was among the stars.|
|4||Your ship encountered an impossibly vast sphere, many AU across. The landing party found an opening, and declared people were living on the interior surface. Then it was gone, as if the whole thing jumped into FTL.||The holo had to be a fabrication. You had never seen so many starships. Or a wormhole. The Federation losing a war against a superior enemy. Why do agents turn up and people ‘vanish’ whenever word of the holo spreads?|
|5||At the edge of the Milky Way, in a tiny cluster, is the Hyperscope – an FTL telescope. Its base is surrounded by the wrecks of military starships. Who attacked it? The parts bring a high price for the reckless who steal them.||The bubble of Unspace was expanding at lightspeed, on course to consume the Vaxxus cluster in 1,000 years. Just a curiosity to be researched. But after you left, Null Ships refuse to return to Vaxxus. What happened there?|
|6||Cassandra Cluster is a strange place – worlds full of psychics, who sell their crystal tech to the Federation.||The traveller claimed the gas giant Pluto was impossibly large, with dozens of moons each a separate colony.|
|1||The Simulation Hypothesis is real, ranted your professor before he took his own life, and this galaxy is the centre. But the universe wasn’t being simulated for us…||You might never know what they planned. You escaped the experiment, but others were not so lucky. Every time you try to remove the implant, technology breaks down.|
|2||The ruins predate humanity. The archaeological dig went smoothly – except for your strange dreams ever since.||Lanthus Cluster is in the Federal Core. Here you enjoyed a life of plenty, where even death was fixable for a price.|
|3||Some clusters view the Federation as evil. The rebellion spreads through Viola Cluster, hiding in secret bases.||Union is a new religion spreading a message of peace and togetherness. How is it turning up in far flung clusters?|
|4||The Colossus is the wreck of the first extra-galactic alien ship, and keeps jumping randomly. You boarded it, trying to seize advanced alien technology before it flitted away.||Dreneid Cluster is caught in a war of extinction against aliens of the Incursion, as they claim one world after another. The Federation was slow to help, but is fighting now.|
|5||The Federation and the advanced Prometheus cluster led the largest rescue operation in history when the sun of Atrophus died. You were there, seeing an unknown ship emerge from inside the dying and collapsing sun.||Marigold barely supported life, so it was easy to evacuate when the Incursion ship landed there. The local cluster decided to welcome the aliens, against the advice of the Federation. The alliance is working out. So far.|
|6||Paladin is a planet modelled after medieval times. Fanciful technology creates advanced weapons and armour that look medieval. The aristocracy enjoy their quest playtime.||Strange rumours are coming out of the frontier cluster, the Drift. Tales of hostile aliens not part of the Incursion. A Federal psionic institute there helps patrol space.|
|1||Urkel was an android returning from Kronos, legendary and secret planet of androids. It welcomes only androids (not robots), and stories say the android residents have their own secret route to the planet.||The Lost Network is a network of 12 clusters where the Stargates never went down. The Collapse didn’t happen here. Or so you were told by the strange traveller with the equally strange and advanced ship|
|2||The spacer told you about a lost planet named Earth. Humanity still lived there, but the Federation made sure they stayed in an early stage of development. You’d have laughed him off, but he was abducted the following day…||Folkloric tales of rabid xenomorphs are not unusual. But there was something about these xenomorphs – so hard to kill, and tech malfunctioned around them. The colony was nuked from orbit – it was the only way to be sure.|
|3||A dead, desert planet whose population nuked themselves 30 years ago, after uncovering strange ruins. The scans made no sense – how could someone walk away after?||Emperor Xandar took the Old Empire to New Federation, introducing democratic reforms a thousand years ago. How could he be talking to you, and who was hunting him?|
|4||There are persistent rumours that the Ancients are still alive, living among us and pretending to be transhumans. The drunken scientist who claimed this died in a brawl. Fanciful, but you kept the genetic marker he described.||She claimed there were parallel dimensions, each fighting for dominance. You humoured her tale that her home was in one of them and gave shelter. And then one day, she was gone, with no evidence that she had ever existed.|
|5||No-one believes you actually met The Hunter. Well, saw it, from a hiding place as it killed your team-mates. An immortal alien killing for sport is nonsense. Isn’t it?||Many corporations are interstellar, but LeyCorp seems to be embedded within the Federation and is everywhere. It might be friend or foe, whichever serves its agenda.|
|6||There is a hole in your memory of 1d6 x 1d6 days. Why?||Free space: suggest something. The Referee might agree.|
So you will end up with important characters who are very competent, who have skills that will be useful in play, and have a Lifepath that ties them into the setting (and weill continue to do so – see the coming post on Interventions). Your characters are pulp heroes.