I asked myself this question first, to give the initial direction. What follows is a bit of a stream of consciousness... a window into my design soul, if you will.
|It's cloudy, with a chance of sci-fi.|
photo credit: ChaoticMind75 via photopin cc
First, I want a sci-fi game. This is distinct from fantasy in space - I'm not looking for hardcore technical sci-fi, but I'm also not looking for magic/force/psionics. I want laser guns and maybe power armor, but psionics beyond a little basic telepathy risks going to far. Maybe a little bit of Firefly attitude and Battlestar Galactica technology. Hmm, ok, maybe a little more advanced than that in some regards; I do like Star Wars space fights. On the other hand, I don't really care about how the technology works. Some sci-fi explains it a lot, other settings just accept the tech exists and don't explain it at all. I mostly want the latter, but with cool sounding names like "antimatter injection drives". Who cares what that really means, it sounds like something I want in my space ship!
Vague, but a start.
Next, the play experience. A sci-fi game with mostly just ground combat feels clunky and like a fantasy rip-off. I want space fighters and capital ships and atmospheric explosions and warp speed, Mr. Sulu. But not Star Trek, it's too peaceful and happy and tech-explainey. Lots of conflict and turmoil. Good adventure seeds in that. I want fast-paced, not a ton of record keeping, but just enough to feel like some "tech" decisions are being made by the players. Decisions with meaning, but not decisions that overwhelm the basic system underlying it all.
Space flight should be inherent to the game. I'd like to see players start with a space fighter or other vessel, and have the party fly around. Maybe at low levels, they don't have FTL (Faster Than Light) drives yet and have to hitch rides. Maybe space fighters can't FTL anyways, at least not the cheap ones that players start with. At higher levels, perhaps PCs can upgrade, eventually even gaining capital ships of some sorts?
That means I'll need rules for personal combat, space fighter combat, and capital ship combat. Probably hard to target a space fighter with a capital weapon, which explains why fighters exist. A space battle probably involves capital ships blasting each other while fighters try to gain an edge and get some torpedoes close enough to help blow up the other mothership.
Sounds strategic. Back to the RPG genre roots, then: the space combat should feel a bit like a tactical wargame, but streamlined enough with more modern approaches that it feels fast & dynamic to the players. Ground combat can feel different, more like an OSR fight. But predominately with ranged weapons - who would use a "vibro sword" when they can fire a plasma cannon at 300 meters away?
Any games already like this? Or close?
<research timeframe="a month or two">
- GURPS (too complex, I fell asleep trying to resolve a combat)
- d6 Space (too focused on ground combat. "Space is done like ground combat.")
- Spacemaster (omg rule spam... the whole book is overwhelming, although there's some trinkets of interest scattered around)
- FASA Star Trek (impersonating command structures on capital ships is interesting, but... wow, the accounting exercises...)
- Traveller (who doesn't like the story-based character creation? But for my idea, skills are too subdivided and the play flow is too slow and too lookup-based. There's a whole page of Ship Software effects - too much "explaining the tech" for my idea.)
- Gamma World (hilarious, but too outlandish and too random. Love the random character creation too, but random isn't what I want for long-term campaigning.)
- Shadowrun (too fantasy)
- Mechwarrior/Battletech (relies too much on very slow, cumbersome tactical combat rules, but who doesn't like making 'mechs?)
- Aerotech (examined separately from Battletech - some interesting tactical combat stuff for space, but too slow in actual play)
- Star Wars RPGs (so many... from creepy confusing dice in the new one to force-fitting (ha!) d20 rules, to older systems - for me, none of them captured the SW movies' feeling of epic good vs evil and super acrobatic lightsaber duels and triumphant space victories)
- d20 Future (more attempts to cram a fantasy system onto space; which is great and all but it doesn't feel any different than the fantasy system it is based on)
- Alternity (ok, some new ideas in here, control/situation is interesting in the one version, but the old D&D oops I mean using d20 rules feel dated and the rules are still too ground-centric for my idea)
If I was forced to use existing systems, I would probably use Aerotech for the space combat and some sort of weird combination of Traveller and Shadowrun for the ground adventuring.
But I'm not forced to use existing systems, so here I go again!