So What Do We Do?

A question that, for my money, is not asked nearly enough by game designers: what do the player characters do in this game? A vibrant setting with lots of plot hooks is all well and good, but if players have no idea how their PCs are supposed to interact with the game world, the details become somewhat meaningless or worse actually cause a sort of paralysis that intimidates an inexperienced GM into not running the game.

Over on Gameplaywright Will threw out an interesting question about why Sci-fi games sell or fail to sell – but it is something that was brought up in the comments that really got me thinking. All of the successful science fiction games that I know of – whether they be hard science fiction or roving into science fantasy, invariably have a good framework that tells the Game Master what his PCs should be doing. This allows a GM to come up with adventures, or in a more open ended game, informs players of the sorts of things their characters could / should be doing so that they can drive the game forward.

So sci-fi framework examples:

Shadowrun – Groups of mercenaries act as covert deniable assets, performing “needful” tasks outside of the law for a wide variety of individuals / corporations.

Dark Heresy – Acolytes join the Inquisition’s shadow war against the forces of heresy – be they blasphemers, xenos, or the hounds of Chaos – in preservation of the cruel magnificence that is the Imperium.

Star Trek – Working for the Federation, you explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before.

Cyberpunk 2020 -As Shadowrun, but make certain you look cool while doing it.

Star Wars – A mismatched far-flung organization of rogues and dreamers must fight the Empire. (Or alternatively – Crush the Rebellion. Or Jedi Cops/Texas Rangers.)

Eclipse Phase – Groups of skilled individuals, each with their own talents, assemble in ad hoc teams working for a covert group called Firewall for the purpose of stopping catastrophic events known as “existential risks”, e.g. things bad enough to kill virtual immortals en masse.

Rogue Trader – As Star Trek. Append: “Working for yourselves.” and “Then exploit the shit out of them.”

After Dark Heresy came out, a fair number of people questioned me what we didn’t “just make a Warhammer 40K RPG” where you could play whatever you wanted from the 40K universe. The simple answer is there is no framework for a generic Warhammer 40K RPG. Groups of underhive scum don’t hang around with their off-duty Space Marine buddy.

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Published in: on June 6, 2010 at 12:00 PM  Leave a Comment  
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