Tuesday, 18 August 2015

#RPGaDay 2015: Day 18 - SCIENCE!

Prompt: Favourite sci-fi game

And when we say that in the grim darkness of the far
future there is only war, what we mean is that changing
tagline over 6 editions is for wussies.
Despite the picture, Warhammer 40,000 isn't my favourite SF game, largely because it's not an RPG and I don't wargame. There are plenty of 40K RPGs, of course; almost too many, each with subtle rules variations, but in the end mostly too complicated to be my favourite game (but wait until we talk about settings.)

SF gaming, as I mentioned yesterday, has fewer iconic games than fantasy. James Holloway touches on the same topic in today's video*. I think what it comes down to is that SF fandom is more compartmentalised than that of fantasy. Plenty of fantasy fans are willing to argue over whether David Eddings or Robert Jordan or The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Rapist are good or bad, but very few who care to stand up and say that by failing to adhere to the Judeo-Christian framework adopted to a greater or lesser degree by Tolkien or Lewis, they aren't really fantasy, whereas what is and isn't SF or scifi or speculative fiction is a discussion that can get real nasty, real fast (never mind Trek vs Wars, hard vs soft** is a regular bag of cats.) Fantasy is a melting pot; SF is an uneasy federation of mutually antagonistic sub-genres.

Traveller is the ur-hard SF game, and displays one of the major problems of that subset. By undertaking to be hard SF, is simultaneously demands a vast array of technologies real, theorised and speculative, and a gritty, simulationist approach, which is why there are editions of the game in which you can spend upwards of an hour designing a gun and calculating its stats from its barrel length, calibre, propellant and other specifics. I was well into that when I was thirteen, but these days I treasure simplicity.

At the far end of the spectrum is Paranoia, a game with minimal stats and technology that works (or doesn't) just because (blue lasers are higher clearance than red lasers, thus blue lasers pierce red armour, but red lasers don't pierce blue armour, despite the only described difference being the colour.)

Somewhere in the middle lie the vast - and I mean vast - array of licensed SF RPGs. SF vies with superheroes for the title of most licensed RPG genre (or would if that was a title anyone cared about) and that again is an oddity, because an RPG invariably demands more detail than the show or movie provides and thus the creation of a whole mess of fragile and occasionally contentious deuterocanon (the arguments over the canonicity of the described nature of Ra from the Stargate movie in SG-1 terms in the latter's RPG were rivaled for ferocity by little on the Gateworld forums.) Also in this hinterland are the likes of White Wolf's old Trinity continuity, which in and of themselves ran the gamut from pulp action (Adventure) to comic book supers (Aberrant) and into psy-fi (Trinity,) representing the increasingly fine detail of the powers as a shift in genre to a harder style of SF.

In summary, the SF RPG market is splintered because SF fans... I'm not sure how to put this. It's not that fantasy fandom doesn't have opinions, oh gods does fantasy fandom have opinions, rather than opinions in fantasy tend to be qualitative and continuous, whereas SF fans make discrete, even binary judgements not of whether a thing is good SF, but whether it is SF at all***.

* And yes; I wish I'd thought to call my post Science Fiction Double Feature.
** Dating back at least to Verne vs. Wells.
*** And not just fans. Margaret Atwood is arguably an SF author (sometimes), but she denies it (always.)