Wednesday, February 03, 2010

From the Ground Up - Homebrewing a Near Future Sci Fi Setting : Part1 : Stuff

I'm an engineer by trade and a scientist by mindset. Let me get that right out in the open from the start.

I love well thought-out rpg systems and the way certain systems or gaming processes lend themselves to different genres is something that I am always conscious of when deciding on a new campaign. There are certain games which epitomise this - the original Deadlands, with it's mix of dice, poker chips and cards, managed to enhance the feel of the Old West and, despite it's seeming complexity, improved the gaming experience. This always seemed to be the epitome of the system fitting the genre (especially when you played poker with the same cards after the session).

The original World of Darkness rules became my standard 'generic' system for modern day games when I was gaming at university, mostly because of their simplicity and ubiquity. There were always little touches that could be tweaked with the Storyteller system to give it that little bit more atmosphere.

Others are less successful. I've only really been happy with the various d20 systems when I've used them to send up the whole genre - XCrawl using the Iron Heroes rules is amazing fun and I've had a great time attempting to break the paradigm by subverting DnD stereotypes but that's only good if everyone in the group has ganged up to completely destroy the genre. At a different level GURPS is a brilliant series of sourcebooks but the system has always left me cold as it's too clinical for me.

Which brings me to my main problem at the moment - what happens when you find a beautifully elegant system but aren't comfortable with the setting that comes with it?

Yep, it doesn't happen often but it's happened to me a couple of times - the first was Fireborn, a short lived 'the PCs are shapeshifted dragons in modern day London' game from Fantasy Flight which had a lovely basic mechanic unfortunately backed up by an overly complicated combat system and a setting that never really jelled.

The second is my current favourite system of all time - the one created in Duty & Honour/Beat to Quarters by Neil Gow. It's very stylised but elegant in the way most systems couldn't even dream about. The pure card based system can rack up tension in a way that'd be difficult to attempt, let alone succeed with, using dice rolling. My only problem is that I wouldn't feel comfortable with running it with the setting it's designed for - the Napoleonic Wars. I'm not a Renaissance girl; my heart belongs to ancient times or to the unknown future. If something happened less than two or three hundred years ago it just doesn't seem like history - more like slightly old current events. Growing up down the road to a Neolithic dolmen that might be older than Stonehenge does seem to define your worldview and I know I just couldn't do justice to the era. In fact I've probably insulted a bunch of historians by mentioning the renaissance and the Napoleonic Wars in the same breath.

So what do I aim for? Duty and Honour is based around infantry which would be a fit for most eras, though I'd want it to be a time which fits with the cards. Pulp Noir would be interesting with the whole relationship based drive of the system so I spent some time trying to feel out how my players regarded that setting.

Shot down in flames.

Then Beat to Quarters came out. It is based around naval campaigns and the moment I saw the ship-to-ship combat rules I knew that this is what I wanted. My players had previously expressed a great deal of interest in playing a space-based military campaign and I realised that I held in my hands the perfect tool to run it. Now I just had to figure out the details...



Vodkashok said...

Hi Jash

Glad you're liking D&H/BTQ. After reading your blog, I thought I could share a couple of things. The first is that, secretly, my desire has always been to use the D&H system to create a SF game - specifically a Honor Harrington game, which is a series of books I simply adore. The second is that I am aware of a few more people who are looking to homebrew some SF into BtQ at the moment. If you get a chance to drop by my forums, you might be able to get some ideas there too.

Best of luck!

Neil Gow
Omnihedron Games

Jash said...

Hi Neil

Thanks very much for the encouragement, I hope you realise how much joy you've brought the gaming community with these games and especially the system. With a bit of luck when I've finished the setting I'll be running this down on at a Uni society so there should be a whole new bunch of converts :-)

I do haunt the Omnihedron forums, but will my real name, not my 'net one...