Friday, July 31, 2009

Creating Worlds

I must confess I've actually been working on my little Space Opera project for ages now. In an effort to keep it all generic and "purely GURPS," I've poked around at and ripped things straight from the books. Even so, it's been slow going, and I'm beginning to tire. I must face cold hard facts: I haven't run a game in months, and it's wearing on me. Writing in the abstract is not nearly as much fun as writing for people. I have some thoughts on why I've avoided running recently, but I'll discuss those at some other time.

So, I have a new project for myself: Design a quick-run military sci-fi scenario for the infant setting that's still growing in my head. Creating a scenario will give me something to work towards, so I won't need to design such abstract rules. Instead, I'll have actual situations in mind. Plus I have Dawn of War 2 on the brain.

Thus, I must create a world to act as the theater to this war. This conjures up lots of immediate thoughts, like why would people go to war in space? Sure, it's Space Opera, but "Because it's cool!" doesn't fly for alot of people anymore. I can come up with a few reasons:
  • Unique resources (real ones, like habitable worlds or Berrylium deposits, or fake ones, like alien technology or applied phlebtonium),
  • Infrastructure (Factories, jump gates and laboratories don't build themselves)
  • Position (Assuming limitations on FTL, some points in space might behave like bottle-necks, or open up more territory for an attack),
  • Pride (some alien races just love war, while even in less aggressive species, a general needs some way to make a carreer)
  • Paranoia (if any of the above are true, you might be better off attacking before you get attacked)
GURPS Space, like most GURPS books, offers some interesting insight into how you might create a setting. Among them, it estimates approximately 5% of all stars will have worlds with complex life. That's as good a number as any, and if we assume that means "One in 20 star systems is interesting enough to colonize and/or fight over," we can reach some interesting numbers: There are 100 star systems within 20 light years of earth. That means, within 20 light years, there are approximately 5 interesting worlds. If we use generic GURPS FTL travel times, that's about 1 day per parsec (about 3 light years), which means there's 5 interesting worlds within a week's travel of earth. If we assume interstellar government cannot exert real power a month away from its central worlds, we get a radius around earth of 80 light years. Poking around on the internet shows that within 75 light years, there are nearly 4,000 stars, which gives us 200 interesting worlds... plenty to fight over!

Among my infrastructural ideas, I like the idea of using Jump Gates, listed in GURPS Spaceships, as an alternative to normal space travel (which will probably be Warp, since it allows a ship to be detected coming in, and thus defended against in an awesome space battle, it allows ships to go to uncharted systems relatively easily, which is vital for space opera, and it lets the crew encounter Strange Space Phenomenon that are the bread and butter of most Captain and Crew type Space Opera). Interestingly, it costs approximately 150 times the cost of a star drive to create a jump gate, but this is fair as you're creating infrastructure that will benefit many other ships. If this allows rapid transit, it becomes analagous to laying down rails between two cities, which makes our inner worlds more "connected" than the strange, rogue outerworlds, but all it takes to fix this is some serious industry on both sides. This also creates vital choke points, as navies will fight over jump gates, and possibly destroy them to prevent rapid enemy incursion.

Such meandering thoughts. Well, the whole point of this blog is to give me "someone to talk to" when nobody rational would like to listen to what I have to say. Well, except for you, whoever you are mysterious reader. I need to set aside some time and come up with a world for my scenario, and see how it shapes elements. I promise, it won't be a one-biome world (no "Jungle worlds" for me, thanks), as the rest of this post should make clear how clarifying putting the abstract into practice can really be.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Space Opera

I'm a hard sci-fi fan. I have been ever since I dug into Asimov's works as a kid, and even to this day, I have a soft spot for science fiction that details science that works, rather than hand-waved techno babble in a universe where space works like an ocean and the writers clearly have no sense of scale.

However, Mass Effect showed me I was wrong, that I actually liked Space Opera. My problem, in retrospect, was that I associated Space Opera with crappy tales like Star Wars and, especially, Star Trek. In Mass Effect, the writers did have a decent sense of scale (you have TWO different forms of FTL travel, and the galaxy-spanning one requires vast, forerunner artifacts), the aliens aren't from a Planet of Hats (The Salarians make great soldiers AND great scientists AND great thieves), and so on. Mass Effect's adventure was pure, thought-provoking fun!

I've begun to catalogue the Space Opera I do like. That includes Farscape, Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, Doctor Who, Revelation Space, Mass Effect and Warhammer 40k. Reluctantly, I even have to admit the recent Star Trek reboot was really great. The good stuff simplifies science, yes, but it does so in a way that people enjoy. The aliens of Mass Effect look and behave essentially like people, but that's because humans find it hard to enjoy or envision talking to a sentient bush that speaks in radio waves and thinks in blossom-colors. Ships crash into ships in titanic space battles, but that's because awesome space battles are awesome. The great space opera shows you the universe as it is, or as it might be, but through a lens of bright colors and vivid imagery that appeals to our human, animal minds. It's a galaxy filled with sex and beautiful nebulae, where broad-jawed humans blast at evil, alien overlords with blaster bolts. Hard sci-fi is great, but settings like THS are hard to grasp, to run, to enjoy.

I've never really run a Space Opera game. Most of my games are either fantasy or, much more commonly, modern horror (World of Darkness). The last time I ran sci-fi was Traveller (which, in retrospect, was also Space Opera) in high school. Thus, I'm putting together a GURPS Space Opera game, similar in form and function to Dungeon Fantasy and Action, a book of templates and rules that focus GURPS' broad toolkit down to what makes Space Opera fun. Expect to hear more about this little project over time, as it occupies my thoughts quite a bit.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...