Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Miss Science Fiction

This post utterly uncorrelated with any holidays, except inasmuch as I was locked out of my office building yesterday and so had to spend the day reading Crimson Dark with my cat instead.

So in some sense, causally correlated with holidays, really.

I believe I have made an error in my gaming.  In the past, I have found great success in alternating between sci-fi and fantasy as a means of avoiding burnout and stagnation.  The clearest example of this was the cycle my sophomore-junior year of "run True20 Midnight in fall, run Traveller in spring, play Trailblazer and Starmada over summer, doldrums of fantasy one-shots and such in the fall, some degree of revitalization via Traveller again in the spring, followed by finishing Trailblazer."  And then ACKS happened, and it's all I've run since.  Hmm.

Naturally we're in the middle of a campaign upon this realization.  There are some rough spots with the current game:
  • ACKS is stressful.  People die or get mangulated a lot.
  • I'm not getting much feedback.  Rather than the typical post-session chatter, folks seem to jet a lot faster than was typical for a game in meatspace.  Hard to gauge group morale under these circumstances.  These top two combined have me concerned; are people having fun?  I have no idea, and that's a bad place to be.
  • Holidays disrupting scheduling :\
  • Some conflict within party.  Notable sources of tension include some PCs wandering off / doing their own thing and henchman pay policy (division between "use fewer henchmen, have fewer shares, everyone levels faster" and "use more henchmen, have fewer casualties, everyone lives longer" camps)
  • ACKS mercantile ventures - not so profitable, actually, without the ready availability of luxury goods from the abstract trade system and the venturer +market class bonus.  The price differentials are not bad, but the volumes are so low as to be basically insignificant between the sort of market classes available (and luxury goods are practically nonexistent).
  • It would be inaccurate to say that I'm out of ideas, but the faucet isn't putting out the same flow rate it was two months ago.  Filling a couple thousand square miles of wilderness with interesting stuff is looking daunting, even done as a streaming process.  ACKS DM burden is not insignificant.
  • Finally, the way we're playing is in some sense very procedural.  Go place, fight monsters, get treasure?, come home, get heals.  This structure is good, in that it handles large inconsistent player groups well by being simple and not all that dependent on anything but knowing where to go.  This structure is bad because sometimes it's just kinda boring.  I do have an event planned for start of next session (Festival of Yaris), but I do not know if it is sufficient to shake things up significantly.  This world is a lot less reactive than the previous one was (though perhaps this is merely perceived due to less frequent sessions; I know recurring enemies and such were not yet established by the third session of last campaign, and that was acceptable).
But mostly...  goddamn do I miss spaceships.  I miss Homeworld, and Starmada, and "full speed ahead and damn the tor...  oh, shield-piercing you say?  Belay that order, evasive action!"  I miss AIs and cyborgs, genejacks and uplifted chimps, robots and powered armor, Bolos and OGREs.  I miss orbital habitats and derelict ships, and ringworlds, Dyson Spheres, and other assorted Big Dumb Objects.  I'm forced to reflect, perhaps incorrectly, on D&D and fantasy's mutual echo chamber; even though sci-fi does have plenty of cheap hack tropes, there seems to be a bit more variety in the genre, which in turn means there're more sources to draw from.  That was one thing I enjoyed about running Traveller - it could be Blade Runner one session, Road Warrior the next, and Dead Space the one after that.

And so, dear players, you see my dilemma.  I propose no immediate action, but think it perhaps wise to air these concerns and elicit thoughts.


  1. It's been several years since I was last in a science fiction game. They're just not as popular with my group. I suppose our alternatives to constant fantasy gaming are Call of Cthulhu or Mutants & Masterminds.

  2. I'd play some Traveler. I'm definitely missing sci-fi a bit too. Shadowrun Returns filled the gap for a bit, but now I'm starting to feel it again.

    Probably best would be if we had more DMs willing to run in cyberspace. I've been trying to work myself up to it, personally. I don't have the best track record for follow-through on DM-heavy systems though. :\

    1. Actually I think the hardest part about running an online game for me is the difficulty of improvising. Interaction gets a bit stunted and makes it harder for me to play off the other players.

    2. At this point I'm thinking it might be viable to pull a Midnight on the ACKS game. And yeah, the digital medium is still quite different. I think facial expressions are probably a big part of it; I feel like sometimes we deadlock waiting for someone to speak. Which reminds me - still need to set up VM for hangouts. My webcam has died on my main machine, unfortunately :(