It’s been a long time since I’ve played in an RPG; well over a year, in fact, I think it might be nearer two. I’m beginning - slowly - to get the itch again, and am increasingly tempted to act on it and see about setting up a campaign. The first step, naturally, will be the setting, and given that I have a week off, I think this is as good a time as any to start getting to work on it. It will be science-fiction - which anyone reading this blog should not be that surprised by - and use a system I love but have never had the chance to use called ‘Stars Without Number’, which...for those of you who know anything about Sci-Fi RPGs, I think of this one as Traveller done right. Otherwise, think Firefly.
Which rather gets to the nub of what I want to do. A crew on a rag-tag ship having adventures in deep space. The adventures of the Millennium Falcon before those whiny Rebels turned up, basically - so smuggling, bounty hunting, all sorts of fun things like that. With some long-dead alien races lying around as a source of strange artefacts and weird technologies, which I always find to be a lot of fun, and something the game supports really well. The Ur-concept of Stars Without Number boils down to ‘Dark Ages of the Galactic Empire’ - space was ruled by the ‘Terran Mandate’, but two hundred years ago a strange psychic event, the ‘Scream’, brought interstellar civilization crashing down, essentially destroying Earth and the Mandate. Now the recovery is beginning.
That seems fine to me, and I don’t see any need to mess with the wide-scale setting. Now, I need to have a reason for the PCs to have a ship of their own, but not have that much money - in this setting, ships are expensive. I could change that, or I could come up with some sort of a reason for a large number of space freighters to have been built...and there is an obvious one. War. A few years ago, a big war ended, and in the course of it, a lot of Liberty Ships were constructed. Once the War ended, they were auctioned off in large numbers, perhaps with military veterans getting preferential treatment, or able to use their back pay. I can come up with the details later on - though if these ships were built cheap, it suggests that their long-term life-expectancy is not promising, and that they will quickly become maintenance nightmares.
What this also suggests is a core reason for the crew to be together - all of them served during the War. Now, that might be a little limiting, so I can expand it out a little to widows and orphans of the original team, either during the War or after. It seems reasonable that a group of veterans who had served together might weigh in to buy themselves a ship - think of it as Serenity, but the crew consists of the ones on the winning side. Though if the war was a Vietnam analogy, that might not completely be the case - and I like that idea enough that I think I’m going to run with it. The war was not won, but abandoned. Allies left to rot, and perhaps the alliance that fought the war fell apart.
That suggests I need two sides to the war, one probably rather stronger than the other; I get a sense that one side was probably able to take the high ground, secure orbit, but then failed at the ‘boots on the ground’ side of the equation. This can then reduce down to a couple of planets, rather than a sprawling ‘empire’. which is helpful - though both sides can have had allies in the war. Likely enough that neither of them will be visited during the course of the campaign, though I will need a home base somewhere between the two, perhaps an analogue of the Philippines - a system that was widely used by the ‘Allies’ during the war, but now is more independent, a melting-pot. More like Casablanca, now I think of it.
That means I can start to think about some sort of a map. Planet A, the heroes’ homeworld, is one parsec away from Planet B, the Casablanca of the setting, which is in turn one parsec from Planet C, the Vietnam analogue. Planet B will need to have other accessible systems in order to make it a good jumping-off point. Ideally, Planet C will have something that the inhabitants of Planet A wanted. (I suppose I could take the analogy still further and have a Planet D that Planet A was fighting a proxy war with - and that is actually a pretty good idea, because it means that there is a bit of a ‘Cold War’ feel in all of this as well, with possibilities for intrigue and espionage later on.) Assuming that the same situation faced Planet D, that means there is another Planet E close by.
This is looking better. The two homeworlds of the leading powers are probably out of bounds, but there will be a sizeable ‘neutral zone’ between them. The era of the proxy war has ended for the moment, perhaps due to economic problems - interstellar wars are expensive as all hell. Espionage is a lot cheaper, and presumably a new administration back home is working on that right now. Psychic powers are a factor in this setting, and it would be very easy to go down the ‘Psi-Cops’ route, but that would really eliminate a lot of ideas for characters. As an alternative, let’s go for the ‘Men Who Stare At Goats’ route (read that book if you haven’t, it’s fascinating). Each side has a Psychic Corps, used for tactical advantage. If they are rare, then we’re talking Special Forces stuff here, or Deep Intelligence - and both concepts seem sound enough to me for this sort of story.
Something this is screaming to me - if this is inspired by the ‘80s - is Cyberpunk, and I think that’s going to be something highly relevant to this campaign. A group of Cyberpunk veterans, some of them Psi-Ops, trying to set up a shipping line on a broken-down old transport, with opposition from all sides. Which rather suggests that I’m going to need a few more worlds, so let’s expand that out to eight in the ‘zone’, giving eleven in total - and to add a little variety, throw in a trio of ‘empty’ worlds on the map as well, suitable for colonization. I don’t want the setting to be too big, as it will become a bit of a pain to create, and I’d like a lot of return visits, rather than the ‘planet of the week’. As I also want this to be a battleground between two shadow-boxing powers, keeping the field a little limited is also a good idea. I can always add more worlds later on if I want.
So, let’s see what’s out there...