Role-playing roundup: Science fiction, fall 2011 edition

My favorite author
Favorite author Isaac Asimov

Continuing my look at recent role-playing supplements such as The One Ring, I’ve managed to squeeze in reading some sourcebooks in between work, travel, and running games. Fantasy may be the primary genre in which I’ve played — and superheroes, steampunk, and time/dimension travel have yielded many memorable characters — but science fiction is still my first literary love.

As I’ve mentioned before in describing my “Vortex” game, my sandbox setting is largely inspired by classic space opera such as the novels of Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and David Brin. It’s no surprise, then, that I liked the PDFs of Star Frontiers Remastered, StarCluster 3, and Stars Without Number so much that I ordered hardcopies. Stars Without Number is about to get a revised printing from Mongoose, publisher of the latest incarnation of Traveller.

The detailed “future history” of games such as Stellar Horizons and Ashen Stars is similar to that of “Vortex.” (I took a class on the topic back in college.) In these settings, humanity has colonized the Sol system and beyond but faces new threats such as alien horrors, as well as old ones like infighting. I like the political and technical extrapolations of Stellar Horizons and the idea of Player Characters as interplanetary troubleshooters in Ashen Stars.

At the same time, I’ve incorporated elements of more recent cyberpunk and transhumanist fiction in my campaigns. I’ve already used ideas from Panopticon, a supplement for the excellent Eclipse Phase, in recent sessions. I also still regularly refer to GURPS Terradyne, Blue Planet, and Jovian Chronicles for megacorporations, genetically engineered species, and descriptions of colonial life, respectively.

Speaking of mixing genres, the fantasy/cyberpunk Shadowrun has endured even as fashions have changed in the past few decades. I played and ran the game briefly in college. The Fourth Edition and the 20th Anniversary Edition — even though Shadowrun has been around for longer than that — are slick and straightforward, with solid rules (point-buy character creation, dice pools using D6s). I would have preferred more thorough location and faction descriptions rather than “flavor-text” fiction, but that was the style of games from the late 1980s and most of the ’90s.

Similar to Ashen Stars in time period is Chthonian Stars/Void, which has a strong horror bent. I haven’t yet gotten it, and Cubicle 7 did reply to my query about supplements for Starblazer Adventures/Mindjammer and Legends of Anglerre. They’re delayed, but I look forward to eventually using them for “Vortex.” I’m also enjoying the lean FATE version of Bulldogs in the meantime.

After grabbing nearly every star map published for RPGs in the past 30 years, I recently ordered the excellent poster maps from Project Rho Productions. I’ll eventually need every human-habitable system within 100 parsecs, but this is a great start!

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