Sci-Fi Table Top Role-Playing
I'm having a problem with Sci-Fi that is finding its way in my dreams. Basically it is answering the question: “What do I want from the Sci-Fi game I want to play?”. Looking around a lot of people will give many cosmetic reasons why they prefer sci-fi. This generalization calls those differences cosmetic because in an organizational standpoint, they just are.
The reason this is bothering me so much is because any setting more advanced than medieval has far more options to be considered. The capital rule in Medieval and any time before the age of reasoning is Ignorance limits all role-playable options. There are few bodies of knowledge that exist that are extensive and whose fundamentals can fit a few books. Having mastered these fundamentals, I usually have the mental agility to explain the cause and effect of the players actions and the extent of it.
I have mixed feelings about ignorance . It is a powerful force even today. Ignorance affects a character's options. Practical skill, without theory has options limited to the existing experiences (I will explain the difference between practical skills later on). As a GM, ignorance is my ally and a powerful force in the decision making element of the setting. In settings with Vast amount of Ignorance, I am able to come closer to the number of options my players will come up, anticipating about 90% of what they will. It is very much like a chess game at this point, the flow of decisions tends to come to a limited and logical conclusion based on the player dynamics.
Segwaying into Sci-fi again, I have the problem of options. I can at least analyze an example in any past event and narrow down points where options were limited and areas of ignorance. Sci-fi is all together frightening with the advent of Augmented Reality (which was the TED special of the new 6th sense). So to make assumptions of how it will be in the future, any GM who will run it, will run it as though it was modern times but with fantastic dressing.
Let us look at Fading Suns. My favorite part of the setting is that, what if ignorance was and is still a powerful force, even in the far future. Civilization tends to break down over vast distances, what more space? Despotism and Oligarchies can rule well within modern times thanks to the Church (Philippines this is a very real example). These social classes can romanticize themselves as great Houses, the way Dynasties of Pre-modern Philippines would about their Spanish Heritage.
When preparing a Sci-Fi game there are two schools core differences that affect a game: One is Narrative or the story, and the other is Cause and Effect. The GM's job is to provide a mix or the exclusivity of the either one. Some people like the story, some like the CaE. CaE is the core of TTRPGs game aspect. If there were no reasonable consequences then there would be no point in making it a game.
In many instances where there are those who do not provide the cause and effect scenario, instead they are just using RPGs as an excuse to tell a story. In many cases a story that in strongly affected by their own prejudices or the drawing as much attention to themselves as possible. The same truth can be applied to people who play it for the pure thrill of the game. As an RPG, role-playing ignorance, priorities, bias, prejudices and delusions are important in criticizing the decision making process.
Fading suns has dress of Ignorant Feudalism and the most timeless forces that effect human kind: The value of Family and Faith. These two things create a huge ripple affect in much of how technology will develop and how society works. In fact one can draw a web structure of how everything tends to have a role in the whole order. Interestingly the Status Quo is the biggest hand the Universe gives to the GM.
Having analyzed what makes Sci-fi difficult and addressing it's serious problems, the next step would be to define the Great before defining the small. Starting first with the roles of each social class and what keeps everything in their place, then moving progressively down towards the level the Players will be expected to Role-Play. Defining the Checks and Balances of a particular area, the GM can make several
In my own process, I've realized that a Minor House (one that I've defined as uniquely autonomous from the most powerful factions in the setting) in its constant diplomatic efforts to maintain its freedom will be the best place to start. It will be made up of several families (and names) who are both new and old. Some families are married into the House provide valuable skills and resources.
The characters available to be played are the Men-at-arms, highly skilled military retainers with special equipment and supporting their own forces in the defense of the family's holdings. The courtiers, power brokers who are out and about gathering information and probing the more powerful factions for the defense of the House, these courtiers also involve relatives who are part of the church. Other highly skilled retainers are also available, like those trained by the Merchant League.
This set up will also allow for characters with the same level of capability as those who rule the Empire, but with vastly diminished resources. They will also have a sense of “tribe” to look after, so that their goals are homogeneous. This will also allow for the GM to think up or ripp-off scenarios and missions that he can align with the party's objectives.
Although, before any effort should be made in preparing this kind of adventure the GM should have a dialog with the Players and try to meet each other's expectations while following an agreed upon set of parameters. Players negotiate the range of their freedoms and opportunities, while the GM will work out what he can afford to give them with the limitations in time and resources. In this dialog, the GM can even ask if any of the players would volunteer in the preparation and can assign a work breakdown structure to allow for maximum ease and fun in all aspects of the game.