Sunday, February 1, 2009

Another Hypothetical RPG - an alternative BSG RPG

Battlestar Galactica - yeah, I know there's already a BSG RPG. I'd never play it. I'll start with a few points as to why I'm not interested in just playing it as-is:
  • It's based on the current show. I enjoy watching the current show, but as an RPG setting it sure has flaws. It's muddled, and I really can't tell what will prove to be prophetic destiny arranged by godlike beings and what will just be Baltar's paranoid schizophrenic ravings. I'm not entirely convinced the writers will be able to make the cosmology make sense in the end, and I'd hate to find that out for certain in mid-campaign.
  • Worse, there's giant logic holes in the show that wouldn't survive contact with your typical playgroup. To keep the PCs from having a cylon detector by episode two, you'd have to deny them access to any science or engineering characters, and also disallow cameras and the seduction of their fellow pilots. The Galactica has a never-ending supplies of missiles for the vipers - so PCs would jury-rig missile launchers onto the hull of the President's ship by the end of session one. It goes on and on.
  • I've read that the two types of Viper (Mk II and MVII) have the same stats in this system. There's 40 years of tech development seperating them. I know the show doesn't dwell on it real long or hard either, but they ought to have some variation in stats. Abstract elegance is good, but for a setting the features space-dogfights so prominantly, you need more granularity.
  • On the other hand, the rule book lists several different pistols that only vary in cost, not effectiveness. Why differentiate between costs of identical handguns? The show never names gun types, never dwells on them beyond "he's armed", and only mentions money when plot points are being discussed over a game of Pyramid.
  • Politics is a huge part of the story, and resource depletion is a recurring plot line. You could handle the resources with a light and abstract touch by having an NPC admiral give the PCs missions every session - "The Admiral says Fuel supplies are low and we need to raid that Cylon tillium station". Sadly, that runs into the same "powerless PCs" problem you get when you have a NPC Prince in a Vampire LARP - it would strip the Politics out of the setting, and/or make the PCs feel like bit players. Alternately, you could have a very gritty system that tracks resources so players can make the hard decisions - but every review I've read of the game suggests that it's crunch-lite, without any rules for how to find a world with food, how much fuel it takes to jump the fleet, etc.
  • Most generic systems lack the ability to make 3-D space combat meaningful or exciting. I haven't heard any praise of how this one is different.
Assuming, for the sake of an post/argument, that I had some desire to capture the feel of the series, but not the precise exact canonical details... Here's a quick rough draft of how I'd start:

I'd go with a really rules-light system for the actual characters. Probably FATE, as it's solid, simple, flexible, not too cinematic, and provides some character background. PCs would have skills, but not lots of feats. I'd put the majority of the focus on the ships, instead.

I'd have each player design a ship - and I'd focus my game-design energies on making a system for that rewards the players for making a fleet that's diverse. Their PC would be the captain of the ship they designed. Rather than having one big Battlestar to focus everything on, the needs of the fleet would be split between various vessels.

When the Captain of the only Agriculture vessel in the fleet decides to play political hardball, I want him to have some clout. When he tells the Military Carrier that he wants their engineers to install some point-defense on his vessel or else he'll cut production to emergency ration level, I want it to be a workable threat. I also want the players to be able to prioritize which ships get protection and babying based on what they bring to the fleet based on an appraisal of how important that vessel is to the fleet, and the mechanics need to make that possible.

Of course, when a fight breaks out, who wants to play the Agriculture ship, even if it has some jury-rigged flak guns? To solve that dillema, each player would have option of having two PCs. One is a captain of a civilian vessel, the second is one of the hot-shot fighter pilots. The captain characters would take part in the political struggle and resource management, and the fighter pilots would face the threats head-on. During full scale fleet battles and "33"-inspired ambushes, each player would control both their fighter and their civie ship, and the game would need a good tactical 3-D space combat system to make that work... Problem is, I have yet to play an RPG that does so, so I'm uncertain where to start.

I think I might crack open my old Full Thrust miniatures game books. Something similar, with individual ships-systems recorded and tracked, and using relative vector movement, would probably be the way to go. Fighters would have to be souped up a bit to feel like BSG, but Full Thrust is at least a good inspiration. You'd add systems like "Cargo Hold", "Tillium Processor", "Improvised Housing", "Hydroponics Bay" and the like so that the ships could hold a purpose in the fleet. You don't want a system where a critical hit makes the whole ship explode, nor a system with abstract hit points and a boolean unimpaired/destroyed status for the whole vessel. Instead, you want a brutal system where ships get battered and impaired, systems go offline one by one, and you have to nurse it back into shape after the battle.

That's where I'd start, anyway.

1 comment:

Hunty said...

this would also make an awesome video game. I might steal it. :)