Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not technically Space 1889

Since the theme of the Emerald City Game Fest was Steampunk, both games I played in were set in 1889.

The second of those games was actually in the setting of "Space 1889", the seminal Steampunk RPG. It did not, however, use Space 1889's mechanics, which, I'm told are a little clunky for a one-shot. Instead, he used a system called "Science vs Savagery". At first, I thought it was homebrewed, but half way through I realized it was derived from some of Ed Texiera's "2 Hour Wargames". In other words, it was a rules-light skirmish miniatures system, shoehorned into being an RPG. That said, it was a brilliant move by the GM (whose name escapes me, sorry), as it made for fast combat and simple character sheets.

Brief complaints: PCs were a little fragile, and we got knocked out fairly often. The "taking fire" reaction chart favored the target a bit too much. We kept getting charged by the winged monkees we tried to shoot - I would have been happier with them (and us) ducking for cover more often.

On the other hand, since his plot hinged on us barely escaping alive, and having to sneak and fight our way back, it worked out okay. He threw overwhelming force at us in the first fight, and faded to black once we'd all been KO'd. We woke up "left for dead" in the desert, with our airship moored to the badguys castle. Survive the desert, find the back entrance to the mesa, disrupt the villains plans to unite feuding factions of barbarians to overthrow Brittain, steal our airship back, sabotage or steal Blavatsky's invisible airship, and escape. All in a days work.

He also did a great job with his NPCs. Specifically, Professor Blavatsky! (which needs the exclamation mark to catch the character) will be with me for a while. I'm chuckling as I write that. Superb, very memorable.

I must say, I really took to the Space 1889 setting. Thomas Edison built a steam-powered airship and flew to mars, and the various colonial powers followed. Mars has some antigravity trees ("liftwood"), and there's apparently atmosphere in space, so you can literally sail from planet to planet. Liftwood airships are fun, adding the 3rd dimension to old-school naval battles is neat.

Like 7th Sea, it does a good job of blending familiar history with the mystery of supernatural/unexpected. The three martian cultures seem flavorful. As presented in the one-shot, the Canal Martians were roughly analogous to colonial India, the Hill Martians had Zulu and Native American influences, and the High Martians were Flying Monkees. Now, I suppose that could be interpreted as racism, but I'm confident it's not intended as such. I think the point is really to give you a hook on which to hang your concept of the various Martian types, so instead of being random anonymous aliens, they have a cultural niche. You get a starting point, but no smart-alec history buff (or armchair anthropologist) will be able to tell the GM how to run his game. That's my take on it, anyway. (It may also be that the Martians were grossly oversimplified for the sake of a 4-hour time block, I don't know.)

I ended up playing a largely forgettable character, which I now regret. I'd played a flamboyant noble dandy earlier in the day, and so wanted to try something else. I knew I was going to be a Native American warrior in the game I thought I'd be playing this week (going to a free movie instead, it turns out), so I passed on the opportunity to play a Hill Martian scout. I ended up as an airship crewman with a dodgy past, and I never really found the character. I had lots of fun, but I don't feel I contributed much to other peoples fun (unlike the InSpectres game, where I was on fire), which is regretable. I tend to over analyze and self-depricate, so I probably wasn't as dissapointing as I imagined. Still, I could do better, and did so earlier in the day.

No comments: