Monday, February 10, 2014

T Minus One

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Recently, my oldest nephew and his wife came up from Florida visiting. We spoke in the weeks before his visit and he expressed the desire to get in at least one roleplaying session during that time. Anyone who’s read my other blog probably – and correctly – has gotten the impression that my DUNGEONS & DRAGONS campaign initiative has failed. My plans for D&D hit a serious snag and I was not able to overcome the psychological impediments that resulted. Problem was and remains that I didn't have a really clear, defined vision for D&D; never really did actually. Though I love Sword and Sorcery, the fantasy genre in general has never really attracted me beyond the great fun it provides when playing D&D and I am just left in awe of people who can craft original, thematic and atmospheric worlds for their D&D campaigns that just leave me feeling wholly inadequate when it comes to the craft of worldbuilding. I know I can, and have, faked it and have even done so well, but this time I just really wanted to put together my Blackmoor, or Greyhawk; you know, a campaign for the ages, but it became clear to me that it wasn’t going to happen.

So in the months since I had buried myself back in my sci-fi PC gaming (such as Sundog: Frozen Legacy, Starflight, Master of Orion 2, Sword of the Stars, Endless Space and the Mass Effect series) and science-fiction reading and tried to forget about my silly desire to return to roleplaying. As a youngster I lived on the science fiction novels and anthology collections of Galaxy and Astounding in my local public library. To this day my Kindle remains loaded with Asimov, HeinleinH. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith and David Weber. A majority of the material I absorbed during that time were stories from the Golden Age of science fiction, so my preferences tend to run toward rayguns and rockets.  You know, sleek, silver rockets that power their way between worlds on atomic thrust and whose brave crews encounter bizarre aliens that just as soon devour them as look at them.

Still put off by the Fantasy genre, I decided that if I were going to put together a game Science Fiction was what I wanted to run. The problem being that my beloved Golden Age vibe is not well captured by TRAVELLER (which I find that when you run people expect to play TRAVELLER, not some "lame" homebrew setting) nor STAR TREK (love Star Trek but it’s not what I wanted to run) nor STAR WARS. In fact, the only roleplaying game that ever came close to that in terms of feeling was TSR's STAR FRONTIERS. But my history with STAR FRONTIERS is a rocky one; imagine, if you can, the frustration I had trying to sell STAR FRONTIERS to a bunch of TRAVELLER players. Bear in mind in 1982 I was a not a child - I had graduated from high school the year before and had already started down the adult path of so-called gainful employment as my main time sink. The rest of my group, a year or three behind me had no interest in the Golden Age flavor of TSR's initial foray into the sci-fi genre, they wanted TRAVELLER's "hard" take on sci-fi (I know; I pointed out that STAR FRONTIERS' office-building oriented spacecraft were far more "hard" in terms of science than TRAVELLER's aircraft/boat orientation, to no avail). The rules were "for kids" and every element that charmed me was a turn-off for them (especially the aforementioned spacecraft designs!). Sadly it’s even worse today as STAR FRONTIERS, though loved by many, suffers from comparably limited skill selection and under strength combat damage (I had had some hope for a new STAR FRONTIERS-inspired game called FRONTIERSPACE but there been nothing on that front for 5 years now). Despite the fact that my session design had nothing to do with mutants or post-apocalyptic settings I toyed with the idea of running it in either MUTANT FUTURE or the original GAMMA WORLD

In the end, however, I put together an X-PLORERS game. X-PLORERS is a rules-lite, old-school influenced thought experiment in the sci-fi genre released by Dave ‘Grubman’ Bezio, of 101 Days of Savage Worlds fame, in the summer of 2009. I discovered it in the Yahoo group Mr. Bezio set up back when he was writing it. Mr. Bezio has since sold the game to Brave Halfling Publishing and they published a digest-sized Limited Edition Boxed Set and a full-sized book version which is still available from Though additional works (a revision and adventures) were promised there's been nothing further on that front. I still have high hopes that X-PLORERS will get more attention and support in the days to come.

Happily, my one-shot, set in the game’s default ‘United Corporate Nations’ setting was well received and it's reignited my desire to get a regular game going but the session just reminded me about the things regarding that particular game that make me itch for something... else?  More? Don't misunderstand, I really like what Mr. Bezio has done though I have some issues with certain parts of the rules, but as you’ll hopefully see it's nothing I can’t work around...

Wish me luck!

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