Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Great SF Games to steal- err..."borrow" from

Though I do love fantasy settings and RPGs, my 'true love' has been (since 1977) Star Wars and Science Fiction or Space Fantasy type settings. In my youth, however, I had very little exposure to gaming outside of D&D. The nearest gaming shop to my home town in South Dakota was three and a half hours away and the closest book store (90 miles away) only carried a limited selection of gaming books (pretty much just TSR products). I didn't have a subscription to any gaming magazines and there was no internet (god, how did I even LIVE!?) I pretty much had to stumble over something before I knew of its existence.

Star Frontiers
Such was the case with Star Frontiers—TSR's foray into the world of Spacefaring Sci-Fi (I don't really count Gamma World or Metamorphosis Alpha in this genre, for various reasons). The game system had its faults, but was playable enough to suit me. I loved the setting, most notably the races presented. The selection of adventure modules was pretty nice, too—running the gamut from corporate warfare to exploration to alien invasions (including a full-scale planetary battle!) to murder mysteries. Still, it never quite captured the 'feel' of the Star Wars movies. What was great about the setting, however, is the ease with which I have been able to incorporate many Star Frontiers aspects into my Star Wars game. I made an extensive posting on how Star Frontiers can be adapted for use with Star Wars here, so I won't go into it any further.

But Star Frontiers wasn't the only Sci Fi game I came across during my gaming career—nor was it the only one to influence my Star Wars game. In the rest of this post, I'll briefly touch on each of these games and what I was able to take from it.

I had heard about the Traveller setting here and there throughout my early gaming experience, but had never had the resources or opportunity to buy the game. When I finally did, I made the mistake of picking up Traveller2300—thinking that it was an updated/revised version of the game. It was not. It was it's own entity and one not...entirely to my liking. Still, a couple of the sourcebooks I picked up had cross-game appeal—namely the Equipment Guide and Vehicle Guide. The illustrations in these are great and the equipment is easily translatable. You know, looking back on it, I think my main problem with the game was the fact that the French were the greatest power in the known space. How frightening is that?

World's Beyond
I found this gem in the college book store during the early 90's. It's a complete setting and rules all in one, complete with a selection of alien species, construction rules for ships and some very nice maps of those aforementioned ships. My friend Doyce actually ran a short-lived campaign with this system (borrowing my book to do so). It had some neat artwork, some interesting gadgets and a few adventure ideas—but in the end, I still most admire it for its Starship floorplans, which I have used in subsequent games.

Battlelords of the 23rd Century
This was a game my sister Jessica bought me for Christmas one year—she saw the book in a gaming store near her—saw aliens blowing eachother up with blasters and the cover and said "That looks like something Roland would like." And she was right. I can't speak for the game system (having never really learned/played it), but there was a wealth of fun gadgets within. Indeed, it seemed to me that most of the book was taken up with descriptions of weapons and armor. The game itself seemed PROUD of its 'all combat' focus (a bit too proud for my tastes) but again, it had enough interesting stuff (and alien races) to make it useful. Bits and pieces were scraped up by Doyce for use in our World's Beyond campaign (he had an unnatural love for 'Ram Pythons'—giant, muscular barbarian lizardmen) and I've taken some weapon ideas from the books, myself.

I have no idea what edition of the game we played, but at least it more closely resembled the 'real' Traveller than 2300 did. This was another game run by Doyce and (alas) terribly short lived. In fact, I think Character generation took longer than our actual playing time. I only remember this game because I rolled up possibly one of the most bogus characters ever for it—and all completely legal. On a 1 to 10 scale, my dude (a space marine) had two tens and a 9 for his primary attributes, and nothing else below a six. In any case, I eventually picked up my own copy of the game some years ago. I enjoyed the background material for it and the races—they're good idea generators for sci-fi gaming.

Star Ace
I ran into this one pretty late in my gaming career—a very Star Wars-esque game by Pacesetter (the defunct company that did 'Chill'). It even goes so far as to have an evil empire being resisted by an 'Alliance'. Plus there are a race of giant bear-men (wookiees). So it may come as no surprise that a LOT of the materials for this game translate very well into a Star Wars setting. There are some adventures that rely heavily on references to Earth, so that would have to be changed, but other than that? No worries at all.

Though I never really got into this game, I did buy a couple of the books. I am a fan of the artwork—particularly of the various vehicles, robots and armor. Many of them area easily translatable into a Star Wars setting—in fact, I used the 'Deadboy' armor as the design for one of my Sith Villains (unfortunately, he didn't live up to the 'dread' this armor seemed to inspire). The Skelebots were also cool, as were the 'Bottweilers' (robot attack dogs)—and dozen of other things.

So there you are—and as you can see, I'm a huge fan of stealing from anywhere I can to fuel my own ideas. And on a final note, I'm not saying that all these games were 'great', but rather, that they've all got some great things to steal ;)

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