So You Want to Run A Hard SciFi Campaign?

A friend of mine is currently working on a scifi campaign set into our solar system. Instead of a campaign spanning lightyears he plans to focus on our own cosmic backyard. Instead of racing through the galaxy with faster-than-light starships, the players will hobble along using more realistic technology.

If you’re planning to run a hard SF campaign, there’s one website you definitely should check out: Atomic Rockets. It’s a vast well of knowledge for scifi writers and gamemasters alike. You want to understand why reactionless drives can’t work or what project Orion was all about? Look no further! Especially if you want to keep a sense of realism to your campaign, you should make sure you make your research.

But even then you should consider your audience. If one of your players is a aerospace engineer or a physicist, you should make sure your science is rock solid, if you don’t want to get into discussions all the time. Or at least ask them if a certain level of handwaving is ok. If noone in your group has a firm grasp of physics, you can probably get away with a lot of bad science, as long as it feels plausible enough.

In most space opera games space travel is commonplace, cheap, and relatively safe (aside from random pirate attacks). This should never be the case in a hard SF campaign. While new technologies can make extended space travel more feasible, it will always be very dangerous. Space ships will probably still be very expensive, so only governments and multinational corporations own them. In addition to that interplanetary space ships will probably be pretty huge while the living compartments are rather small and very cramped.

Again, I can’t recommend Atomic Rockets enough at this point. The site is full of good information on realistic space flight, which can be sobering at times, but also very inspiring. It cites from a lot of Science Fiction books and movies, so you’ll easily find more sources for inspiration.

If you don’t want into too much detail regarding space flight, I advise using torchships. Torchships are space craft with high thrust and high acceleration, often using fusion reactors or even matter-antimatter-reactions as power sources. With a reasonably high acceleration, space travel becomes much easier. Instead of complex navigation you basically just “point and shoot”. As Atomic Rockets puts it, torchships are “unobtanium”, impossible to build at the moment, but plausible.

A torchship capable of constant acceleration of 1g or above can reach Mars in about 2 to 3 days, but reaching another solar system is still a totally different ballpark. But if you don’t mind putting your crew into the freezer for 6 years even trips to Alpha Centauri are possible.

So what are you’re thoughts on creating hard SF campaign? Have you ever done so? What experiences can you share? Please comment below!

Interview with Jeff Dee of Monkey House Games

Writing for this blog (and through it and our efforts with Puerto Rico Role Players) has allowed me to interact with the greater RPG community in ways I did not think possible. There have been many rewards, one of those is getting to talk with game creators I greatly admire, some of which I’ve been in awe since I began to play RPGs. Some time ago I interviewed one of my favorite writers Bruce Heard, and this time around it one of my favorite artist/writers Jeff Dee!

Continue reading Interview with Jeff Dee of Monkey House Games

Some Thoughts on “A Time Of War”

Recently I had the chance to create a character for Catalyst Game Labs’ latest Battletech roleplaying game “A Time of War”. While the core mechanic is a pretty simple and straightforward “roll 2D6 + bonuses vs. difficulty level” mechanic, character creation is rather quirky.

You start out with 5000 points to spend. At first you pick your Affiliation, then your Early Childhood, followed by your Late Childhood, and so on. It’s basically a Lifepath system where each step of your development consists of one or more modules you have to buy which grant you with experience points spent in various attributes, skills, and traits. Yes, that’s right, you don’t get ranks directly, but the XP to buy them.

In some cases you get bad traits or maluses on your abilities that you can later buy off. The whole process takes a lot of time, especially when you are new to the game. And some of the modules you pick or the traits you get XP for have prerequisites you have to fulfill at the end of character creation. The “Nobility” early childhood module for example gives you the prerequisite of having Rank 5 in either Title, Wealth or Property. If you don’t make sure you got enough XP to buy one of those traits, you couldn’t have picked it in the first place.

Luckily we all had more than enough XP to basically create the character we wanted to play. But for most of the character creation process I had pretty much no idea how my character would turn out. At the end you’re allowed to make some optimizations. If you – for example – have 26 XP in a skill, you can either pay 4 XP to raise the Rank to 3 or take Rank 2 and spend 6 points on other abilities. It’s definitely a novel way of doing things, but I am not sure if it’s really worth all the hassle.

But regardless of my criticism of the character creation mechanics the process was pretty satisfying in the end. My character turned out great and I am extremely excited to actually play the game. We decided to start the campaign shortly after the arrival of the Clans. We might even be working with the Kell Hounds when they first encounter the Clans. Let’s just hope we don’t get our asses kicked too bad. Zwinkerndes Smiley

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