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Alex Greene

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So we've been looking at M-Space for so long now, I'd almost forgotten that the core of this blog has been to look at Mythras. I'll get back to the fantasy stuff soon enough. But for right now, let's look at what we've been reviewing these past two months, and see what we can do with it beyond creating more clones of Traveller settings.

After all, this is a setting for science fiction.

As is The Twilight Zone.

Let's open the door, then, to another dimension ... a place of the senses, the emotions, the imagination.

Let's open ... the doors of your mind.

Let me in. I'm a hypnotist.

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Playing M-Space, Not Traveller

Playing M-Space as if it were a clone of Traveller is probably a huge sin against Frostbyte Books' game. M-Space is not Traveller. The expectations of Traveller do not apply here.

Or not always.

Traveller is explicitly a space opera setting. Lyndsie Manusos, in an article on Bookriot, listed some other subgenres of science fiction. These include:-

Hard Science Fiction
Science and technology predominate. Heavy concept stuff. The Expanse, more than The Orville.

Soft Science Fiction
Characters take the focus away from technology and science.

Military Science Fiction
Characters are likely to be military or ex-military; the main plot has to do with glorifying war and/or military life, or if the characters are in civilian life, the military is never far away.

Space Opera
Space-based soap opera. The technology is virtually ignored; the focus is on people, and the relationships between them. A lot of personal fight scenes, and plenty of chrome - silver lame suits, robots, rayguns, green alien princesses.

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Space Western
Lawless and gritty adventures, desert and prairie planets, frontier towns, life on the fringes of society, both physical and social. Honour, duelling, even ditching vehicles in favour of riding on horseback like bloody savages. This is the world of Outland, some of the worlds and settings of Judge Dredd, and 2000 AD's Strontium Dog.

Steampunk
A subgenre created by WIlliam Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine. Steampunk posited a what-if: what if the Information Age had its genesis in the Victorian era, with cogs and valves replacing computer circuitry? Later, it developed into "mad scientist fashion," and the original ethos was lost.

Apocalyptic
This is end-of-the-world science fiction. Things go wrong, and the world we know it comes to an end. This is the story of the lead up to the end, as the characters can only look on in horror at the unfolding devastation all around them. Depressing as hell.

Post-Apocalyptic
This is set after the Apocalypse. Humanity has been reduced to a state of savagery. It's dog-eat-dog, and the setting emphasises nothing but the ugliest, most savage sides of humanity - brutality, scheming, murder, depravity. Boring as hell.

Dystopian
This is set in some alternate world where everything works, but it's crap, frankly. We're talking about fascism winning, and we're stuck in a right-wing world where you see nothing but more brutality, scheming, murder, depravity. How people can get hot for Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Equilibrium, The Hunger Games, The Handmaid's Tale, and The Man In The High Castle, is beyond me. They were meant as warnings, not instructional manuals. Depressing as hell.

Horror
This is an interesting subgenre. The best horror science fiction setting is, IMO, HOSTILE from Zozer Games. They have captured the feel of movies such as Saturn 3, Outland again, and most of all Alien and the Alien franchise. However, and this is the fun part, this subgenre doesn't confine itself to the boundaries - it is quite happy to reach out and discolour virtually every other kind of science fiction in grim tones.

Comedy
This can be the world of Red Dwarf, or a setting which regularly lampshades the tropes of other science fiction franchises. A prized and well-loved example is Galaxy Quest.

Silkpunk
The youngest subgenre, coined by Ken Liu to describe a future world where art and magic and poetry predominate over technology and science. A graceful, positive setting, and a fresh aesthetic which seems to draw from its older sister ...

Solarpunk
A post-scarcity genre, Solarpunk is a world where technology and Nature come together to create a universe where life flourishes, greenery and animal life are abundant, and humans and other species dwell amid an abundance of resources; where conflicts arise when humans need things which society cannot supply.

Episodic
Each story is its own, self-contained unit. The characters may be the same; their vehicles, their devices, may be the same; but each episode has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Often an anthology, sometimes each story can involve different characters with absolutely no connection to other episodes whatsoever, where each episode is a different setting completely, with a different tale to tell, somewhat like the different incarnations of The Outer Limits, Tharg's Future Shocks and Terror Tales from 2000 AD, or ... The Twilight Zone.

 

Example Settings

The default setting of M-Space might well be the far future, and everybody could well be happy to run it as a space opera, but the game can be used to branch out into different genres so very easily.

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They Walk Among Us

The setting is the modern world. Humans are living out their lives, little realising that some of their number are extraterrestrials. There could be one species, slowly infiltrating humanity one person at a time (Invasion of The Body Snatchers, Captain Scarlet), or the invaders could have planted their species instead, sometimes even using humans to gestate their alien offspring (The Midwich Cuckoos) or just have them arrive on Earth and try to adjust (Skizz, Third Rock From The Sun, ALF). Humans could work for some government department to investigate sightings of vehicles and individuals (The X-Files).

Rescuers

The most famous example of this subgenre is, of course, Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds. A secretive group sends forth technologically-advanced craft to rescue beings from danger zones. They face dangers themselves, but ultimately courage and an attitude of "never say die" prevails.

Adventures In Time

Journey to the past, the future, or face down monsters in the present day. The crown of this subgenre is worn by Doctor Who, of course - but your characters could play some sort of Timebusters, heading into the past to stop miscreant time travellers from rewriting the present and destroying the future. Examples: Doctor WhoThe Time Tunnel.

Adventures In Space

Say hello to Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across The Parallels. This is a game which has already been covered in a Mythras title, but nothing says you can't just steal great big chunks of that book and port them to your M-Space story. Vibro beamers, psionic synaptic puppetry, parallel universes ... go for it.

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Terra Quadrant

Part solarpunk, part silkpunk, the universe of Terra Quadrant is set towards the end of humanity. Influenced by Luther Arkwright, Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men and Odd John, and Peter J Carroll's Liber Null and Psychonaut and Liber Kaos, this is the last era where humans are recognisable in their appearance and behaviours. The species is on the verge of becoming a Type II civilisation before they have adjusted to life as a Type I civilisation. Humans are meeting other species which are themselves evolving past being Type I civilisations; together, they are heading rapidly towards becoming a single, united Type II civilisation, or even Type III. In the meantime, individuals are capable of some incredible feats, such as Spacejaunting within the galaxy and beyond, dimensional travel to different universes, and even time travel.

 

Alternatives

Alternative Starship Drives

Many space opera settings are themed around Starships, the vehicles of choice for the settings. Traveller gave us a standard, the Jump Drive, which confines the Travellers to the local area - they can only advance a few parsecs each week, and explore the next few systems next door, which can be pretty confining if all the planets in the sector are desert planets with fery low populations and few facilities to repair or maintain their ships.

High Guard, however, gave examples of alternative drives - the Space Folding Drive, whose jumps are instantaneous, but which require 24 hours to recharge; and Warp Drive, which allows for FTL travel through Einsteinian space (like the Destiny in Stargate Universe). Hyperdrive and Warp Drive are two different animals, in that they work in different ways: hyperdrive opens a hyperspace conduit through which the ship travels, and warp drive just circumvents the limitations of relativity by distorting space into a warp bubble, capable of travelling faster than light.

However, these drives involve the ship travelling throught he void, and the rating of the ship (factor 1 through factor 9) is the relative velocity of the vessel through space, which can be measured in parsecs per week (like Traveller), or a lot faster - such as the Long Jump Hyperspace II engine from Larry Niven's Known Space setting, which negotiated the parsecs at a rate of one light year per 1.25 minutes.

But what if your characters did not need to travel in ships at all?

Alternative Modes of Travel

Frank Herbert's Dune series gave us "travelling without moving," another form of space folding drive. "Travelling without moving" sounds rather like Teleportation, a psionic power. Imagine taking the concept of Dune's Spice Melange, and applying it to a setting where some people who took that drug could teleport between star systems, rendering the need for most space travel obsolete. If those people happened to be natural psions, gifted with Teleportation, and the Spice Melange merely amplified their range to allow them interstellar travel, such beings would become integral to the story as the characters would be depending on their teleporting friend to get them to the next system.

Unless they were all capable of Spacejaunting ...

The twist ending of Alfred Bester's The Stars, My Destination was not the telekinetically-active PyrE which was the great secret that humans were willing to go to war for, but rather Gully Foyle's Spacejaunting, which allowed characters to teleport to worlds thousands of light years apart. Spacejaunting also allowed for time travel to the past and the future.

Yet another form of space travel is Stargates, both small and large. Stargate, and the series Stargate SG-1Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe also had gate travel, where artificial portals allowed characters to visit different worlds in this, and later other, galaxies. The Glen A Larson show Buck Rogers In The 25th Century had Stargates which were set up for Starships - a concept also used extensively in Babylon 5. In the latter series, only large vessels (Capital ship size) could house the massive hyperspace engines to allow them to open their own Jump points, and ships needed to open Jump points at the point of origin and destination, and navigate through hyperspace by following subspace beacons.

Alternative Technologies

You aren't restricted to following the Tech Level tables from Traveller. Your tech level development could embrace psionics once it reaches the point where humans would be reaching for the stars in Traveller. Your TL 13 characters might be able to Spacejaunte, or communicate telepathically over light years, or your tech level development could reach the point where you develop the first bioships, organic vessels which turn out to be the only vessels able to travel FTL since they are psionically active, and use telekinesis and teleportation for their modes of travel.

Mundane Science Fiction

This setting eschews all the fancy technologies altogether. Your characters are just ordinary people in the modern world. It's about them using their technologies of the day - mobile phones, spirals, the internet, modern scientific equipment - to resolve conflicts such as alien invasions, and so on. Your characters can be military, or spies, or even left field occupations such as journalists, entertainers, or ordinary people off the street, facing off against aliens, cloning, strange new tech, and so on.

 

Imagination

In the end, imagination is the key to your stories. Use M-Space as the basic rules, but remember that M-Space does not create the settings; nor does the CRB bring them to life.

You do. You and the players.

Edited by Alex Greene

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