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Epic Space Opera and BRP Mecha


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#1 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 02:51 AM

Today I saw an RPGNet inquiry on how "epic space opera" can work in BRP. A very general inquiry, and while I am interested in the subject I fear I might have been very little help. The only thought I had was adapting some of the rules material in BRP Mecha to fighting space vehicles.

Even that would probably only work on the scale of small ships -- something like the Millennium Falcon would probably be the top end of the scale. The roleplaying paradigm breaks down a bit the bigger the ships and crews get. If you're playing Honor Harrington and commanding a ship or a fleet, the GM has to find stuff for the other players to do. And the Enterprise-D, with a crew of more than a thousand, would have very little for most of them to do in a big fight. (Mind you, there are many, many types of adventures you can have on an exploration/war ship, but if you want to be important in a big starship battle there are only a few things you can be.)

But some things in the genre are still doable as well. A lot of characters in the d100 multiverse are alien -- many of them very alien -- so it shouldn't be too hard to populate a universe with weird and wonderful critters. Or even move some around a bit (Dragonewts in space, anyone?).

#2 NickMiddleton

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 09:33 AM

Ah, but genre conventions are your friend - if you are running a game on the Enterprise D, the player characters are the command crew, so are always the people taking the crucial decisions in a ship to ship action, and for somereason always the ones in the away team...

the FASA Trek RPG Ship combat system had separate control panels for each role (Helm, Gunnery, Engineering etc) - worked quite well IIRC.

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#3 soltakss

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 01:53 PM

Today I saw an RPGNet inquiry on how "epic space opera" can work in BRP. A very general inquiry, and while I am interested in the subject I fear I might have been very little help. The only thought I had was adapting some of the rules material in BRP Mecha to fighting space vehicles.


Mecha rules would probably work for Space Ships.

Even that would probably only work on the scale of small ships -- something like the Millennium Falcon would probably be the top end of the scale. The roleplaying paradigm breaks down a bit the bigger the ships and crews get. If you're playing Honor Harrington and commanding a ship or a fleet, the GM has to find stuff for the other players to do. And the Enterprise-D, with a crew of more than a thousand, would have very little for most of them to do in a big fight. (Mind you, there are many, many types of adventures you can have on an exploration/war ship, but if you want to be important in a big starship battle there are only a few things you can be.)


The same thing applies to any military unit, no matter which genre. How do you deal with PCs on a battleship, on a pirate ship, in an army? They have the same issues as crew on a space ship.

Do you need everyone to be involved in a spaceship battle? Unless you are a gunner, pilot, commander or engineer then you probably won't have a part to play.

What if the life support system is hit? Then the different technicians come into play. The Sewage Disposal Technician Second Class comes into his own when the sewage pipes are cracked and can cause bacterial infection of the whole crew.

Finding roles for each of the PCs to play is not an issue for BRP. The same thing would apply to a Traveller game, for example.

But some things in the genre are still doable as well. A lot of characters in the d100 multiverse are alien -- many of them very alien -- so it shouldn't be too hard to populate a universe with weird and wonderful critters. Or even move some around a bit (Dragonewts in space, anyone?).


Sure, BRP has a strong history of playable aliens, no matter that the aliens have been fantasy races. It is no big jump to playing people from a different planet.
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#4 seneschal

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 02:05 PM

"Dragonewts in space, anyone?"

It's Dragonewts and Dropships! The ultimate human vs. reptilian galactic war simulation. Otherwise known as D&D. Er, um, wait. Well ... maybe not. :o

#5 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 02:55 PM

Dragonewts' tendency to be bizarre in terms of their behavior, to the point that humans think they're mad, would make them interesting as space aliens. They might not have a real empire, but they do have talents that make their services in many areas in demand. Nobody who isn't a Dragonewt has ever been to their homeworld (assuming it even exists) so they're still a complete mystery.

Dragonewts are already very alien in Glorantha. Put them in space and they become really alien.

#6 Atgxtg

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 02:56 PM

BRP Mecha does have some stuff for space ships. It could work for a Space Opera setting. You could pretty much run something like Space Cruiser Yamato or Macross fairly easily. The major hurdle is coming up with your own ships. Your pretty much going to have to figure that out on your own, using the example ships as benhcmarks.

You might even be able to use the mecha design rules as capital ship design rules by kicking up the SIZ scores to capital ship levels. Maybe even try adding another "scale" and bump everything up by 10 again?

For something like a Star Trek setting, you might be able to come up with some sort of key for stats. Like using the Size class of other Trek RPGs as a hint. Or the phaser "type".
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#7 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 03:08 PM

Phasers are interesting. If you're hit with a phaser set to kill or disintegrate, you're toast. Stun will almost always KO just about anyone (but I can't imagine it not doing more serious harm if done repeatedly or to the wrong person). Makes combat different. Phaser duels are quick and brutal, especially given that they are also pretty accurate for handguns. Literal point-and-slay.

#8 fmitchell

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 03:39 PM

Ah, but genre conventions are your friend - if you are running a game on the Enterprise D, the player characters are the command crew, so are always the people taking the crucial decisions in a ship to ship action, and for some reason always the ones in the away team...


That's one convention that really bothers me. Were I doing a Star-Trek-like game, I'd do one of the following:
  • Players start off as red-shirts and/or bridge crew, following orders from command officers who usually stay on the bridge. (I think ADB's Prime Directive works like this. See John Scalzi's Redshirts for an extreme example of how this might work.)
  • Players have two or three sets of characters: away-team, bridge crew, and command staff
  • The ship is small/automated enough that the PCs are at least half the available crew.
  • The starship is huge and powerful, but the PCs fly a shuttle to/from/around the planet.

And don't get me started on transporters. Or alien-human hybrids. Or phaser disintegration. Or ... well, lots of things.
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#9 seneschal

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 05:58 PM

Dragonewts' tendency to be bizarre in terms of their behavior, to the point that humans think they're mad, would make them interesting as space aliens. They might not have a real empire, but they do have talents that make their services in many areas in demand. Nobody who isn't a Dragonewt has ever been to their homeworld (assuming it even exists) so they're still a complete mystery.

Dragonewts are already very alien in Glorantha. Put them in space and they become really alien.


Inscrutable, mysterious reptilian enemies (or allies) are good. Even if they're on your side, you're not sure why or what they might do next. :)

Personally, I'd like to see Ducks in a space opera setting. They've been booted out of RuneQuest, so surely Duckworld is a planet that exists in the PCs' universe -- homeworld to fearless, wily adventurers. The endurance of Flash Gordon, the cunning of Buck Rogers, the avarice of Harry Mudd, all rolled into one waist-high package wrapped in shiny white spandex jumpsuits.

#10 Atgxtg

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 06:23 PM

Phasers are interesting. If you're hit with a phaser set to kill or disintegrate, you're toast. Stun will almost always KO just about anyone (but I can't imagine it not doing more serious harm if done repeatedly or to the wrong person). Makes combat different. Phaser duels are quick and brutal, especially given that they are also pretty accurate for handguns. Literal point-and-slay.


Yeah, pretty much. But every Star Trek RPG has had some sort of way to save yourself. The old FASA game gave you a Luck roll. If you made it you just got grazed, and took only about one-third of the normal damage, which was enough to turn a kill into about a 40 point hit (in a game with % stats, so something like an 8 point hit in BRP).


The ICON and CODA Star Trek RPGs let characters dodge phaser attacks, and gave characters a pool of points that they could use to augment die rolls. The latter games also gave phaser more settings (16 in accordance with the TNG technical manual). The higher settings can take out tanks and such!
Smiley when you say that. :P

#11 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 06:55 PM

"So that's your Disintegrating Pistol. What does it do?"
"I don't know. Every time I pull the trigger, it disintegrates."

If you know your opponent's weapon can reduce you instantly to your component subatomic particles, how does that change your plans?

#12 seneschal

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 07:34 PM

(Smugly) "Ha! He doesn't know that I'm wearing my Disintegration-Proof Vest ™!"

Marvin the Martian fires. Duck Dodgers is vaporized -- except for the armored vest momentarily hanging chest-high in the air.

#13 Atgxtg

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 08:03 PM

If you know your opponent's weapon can reduce you instantly to your component subatomic particles, how does that change your plans?


When I was running Trek, the PCs changed their plans like so:

-Idiots didn't change their plans much, other than learning to allocate more time to rolling up replacement characters.

Everyone else:
-Were less likely to escalate a situation into violence. The chances of losing a PC, even from a "successful" engagement was too high to risk it.
-Were more careful, and learned to use cover and tactics in order to maximize their chances of survival.
-Were more aggressive and committed when they did start a fight. With the stakes so high, there was no room for half-hearted fighting.
-Were much nicer and appreciative of to opponents who used stun settings. Anybody who stunned a character could just as easily killed him, but didn't, so the PCs tended to return the favor.
Smiley when you say that. :P

#14 seneschal

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 09:07 PM

It occurs to me that disintegration weapons are in many ways impractical because they give you only one option: irrevocably destroy the target. You can't merely wound and/or incapacitate and capture an opponent to question him (or make peace with him). You also can't search his person for cool gear and hidden information. If you're low on food in an area with wild game, too bad. You just vaporized your potential source of meat. It's a technology that works too well.

Re: combat. You'd be sneaking around and listening a lot, posting multiple observers (in case one or more vanish). Whoever got the drop on their opponent and sniped first would win since enemies could be eliminated instantly before they realized they were in danger.

#15 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 09:55 PM

It occurs to me that disintegration weapons are in many ways impractical because they give you only one option: irrevocably destroy the target. You can't merely wound and/or incapacitate and capture an opponent to question him (or make peace with him). You also can't search his person for cool gear and hidden information. If you're low on food in an area with wild game, too bad. You just vaporized your potential source of meat. It's a technology that works too well.

Re: combat. You'd be sneaking around and listening a lot, posting multiple observers (in case one or more vanish). Whoever got the drop on their opponent and sniped first would win since enemies could be eliminated instantly before they realized they were in danger.


I'm wondering just how few circumstances there are when reducing the target to a spray of subatomic particles is actually useful. To be honest, the only time that would come up is a circumstance where you have to kill someone in such a way that nobody will ever, ever find a body.

Like when you are going to impersonate a local political or cultural leader and want to make really sure nobody finds evidence that you aren't really him. But even then that will probably not be enough to carry on the ruse given how ubiquitous genetic tests are at that level of technology. You may look, sound or even act like him, but unless you go to an extraordinary amount of trouble the first DNA test (or device that requires a genetic match to work) will give you away.

Or when you're infiltrating an enemy base and need to get rid of any guard who encounters you without leaving a trail of corpses in your wake.

Or dealing with a Wolverine-like alien that regenerates its wounds or grows back lost limbs nearly instantly -- a full disintegration may be the only way to get rid of him for good.

The moral? Instant disintegration has too many downsides to make it your only option. But multiple options in a single weapon that can be swapped out by flipping a switch or setting a dial gives players the sort of power that is highly likely to go to their heads.

Also, if a traditional laser is silent and the pulse is invisible (it's coherent light and moves at full c) lasers become the ultimate assassination tool. Not only can a sniper with a laser rifle kill someone swiftly and silently, but nobody will know where the "shot" came from -- making living to kill another day much, much easier. It's the sort of thing governments will definitely want to keep out of the hands of private citizens, particularly professional criminals.

Edited by Michael Hopcroft, 07 February 2014 - 09:59 PM.


#16 filbanto

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Posted 07 February 2014 - 10:48 PM

My favorite phaser setting is "turn rocks red".

I always wondered just what kind of energy output one of those pistols had to have in order to completely incinerate a Klingon or turn a 2-ton rock practically into lava. Makes a .44 magnum look like a pop-gun;)

#17 seneschal

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 03:04 AM

And it begs the question, if most of your opponents are mere mortals like yourselves, how much firepower do you actually need to defend yourself? Star Trek foes tend to be either humanoids (Klingons, Romulans, etc.) or nigh indestructible phenomena (alien space probes, giant space amoebas, planet slayers, intangible entities). Against the latter, phasers are pretty much useless anyway, so you might as well stick with the pop-guns for the enemies you can handle and invest the money and effort into faster ships that can outrun the critters you can't beat. ;)

But it explains the practices that gradually were revealed in the various Star Trek movies. Crewmen didn't casually wear weapons on board ship. These were kept locked up and were issued only when absolutely needed.

Another thought. Some space operas have crewmen regularly sporting sidearms while on duty. And in Star Trek TOS, an armed security team seemed always on hand. But those of you who've actually served in the military -- do shipboard personnel really carry sidearms when there is no imminent threat? And how many guards/MPs do you really need to maintain order on a military vessel? After all, crew members were carefully screened before being admitted to service and have been thoroughly trained. They're presumably disciplined, stable, obedient types, not inclined to criminality.

#18 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 04:54 AM

And it begs the question, if most of your opponents are mere mortals like yourselves, how much firepower do you actually need to defend yourself? Star Trek foes tend to be either humanoids (Klingons, Romulans, etc.) or nigh indestructible phenomena (alien space probes, giant space amoebas, planet slayers, intangible entities). Against the latter, phasers are pretty much useless anyway, so you might as well stick with the pop-guns for the enemies you can handle and invest the money and effort into faster ships that can outrun the critters you can't beat. ;)


Some of the best Trek episodes placed Kirk, and later Picard, in situations where running away, while the prudent thing to do, would make the situation worse down the road. Getting out of the way of the planet-eating robot ship so that you could warn the rest of the fleet of its approach would have been a perfectly sensible course of action, and was something they would have attempted had the half-mad-with-grief Decker not gotten in the way. But could Starfleet have beaten it, and how many billions of lives would have been lost had they failed? When the option of running was taken away, Kirk had to reach down into his gut for an answer.

But it explains the practices that gradually were revealed in the various Star Trek movies. Crewmen didn't casually wear weapons on board ship. These were kept locked up and were issued only when absolutely needed.

Another thought. Some space operas have crewmen regularly sporting sidearms while on duty. And in Star Trek TOS, an armed security team seemed always on hand. But those of you who've actually served in the military -- do shipboard personnel really carry sidearms when there is no imminent threat? And how many guards/MPs do you really need to maintain order on a military vessel? After all, crew members were carefully screened before being admitted to service and have been thoroughly trained. They're presumably disciplined, stable, obedient types, not inclined to criminality.


SPs/MPs do a lot of things where weapons are not required. Especially when alcohol is involved.... And in TOS alcohol is involved quite a lot, from the oddly-colored elixirs McCoy kept dishing out (presumable "for medicinal purposes") to that glorious shore-leave brawl with the Klingons. Tobacco may well have been obsolete, but alcohol was everywhere and in a bewildering variety of forms.

#19 Hookie

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Posted 08 February 2014 - 10:51 AM

Dragonewts' tendency to be bizarre in terms of their behavior, to the point that humans think they're mad, would make them interesting as space aliens. They might not have a real empire, but they do have talents that make their services in many areas in demand. Nobody who isn't a Dragonewt has ever been to their homeworld (assuming it even exists) so they're still a complete mystery.

Dragonewts are already very alien in Glorantha. Put them in space and they become really alien.


Its a great idea, if you've ever read the 'Bug Wars' by Robert Asprin ( one of his earlier jaunts )
apply the 'Tzen' as Dragonewts and you have a awesome advanced alien race with swords & blasters .. technically a 'flamer' but you'll get the point

#20 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 09 February 2014 - 04:55 PM

Personally, I'd like to see Ducks in a space opera setting. They've been booted out of RuneQuest, so surely Duckworld is a planet that exists in the PCs' universe -- homeworld to fearless, wily adventurers. The endurance of Flash Gordon, the cunning of Buck Rogers, the avarice of Harry Mudd, all rolled into one waist-high package wrapped in shiny white spandex jumpsuits.


WHAT? RuneQuest would never quite be the same without the ducks.




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