Page 1 of 4

Space Force Science Fiction Role-Playing Game

Posted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 8:54 am
by Solomoriah
I'm considering putting together and publishing a retro-scifi game based on the Space Force campaign I ran using TSGS on the forum. The rules will be different, more like BFRPG in some ways; in particular, when in need of alien monsters it will be possible to mine the Core Rules and/or Field Guides for ideas with limited difficulty in translation. The "numeric scale" of the game will be very similar.

The campaign idea is a little funky; hopefully my explanation will make sense. Players take on the roles of crew members aboard a Solar Alliance Space Force scoutship, launching on its maiden voyage from the Sea of Tranquility in 1969. In this alternate history, radio signals were received from Mars right at the end of WWII, sparking an early, atomic-powered space race. The Americans got to Mars first, tracking the signals to a buried facility which was given the codename "Vulcan's Forge."

Apparently Mars was inhabited, a long time ago, and as the planet died the Martians just... left. When they left, they left behind things they no longer needed, including a number of almost-working two-passenger starships. The American team excavated the site, dismantled the technology, and even decoded the Martian language using a periodic table of the elements found in a Martian classroom. In a few short years the Americans were building small interstellar scoutships, the Scorpius-class ships, and moving out into the galaxy to explore.

In 1963 President Kennedy took an unplanned break from campaigning to give a speech at the UN, where he revealed details of a hostile encounter with an alien spacecraft. After much negotiation and maneuvering, the UN reformed as the Solar Alliance. Almost all UN member nations agreed, but the Soviet Union dropped out. They had followed the Americans to Mars, but the American hold on Vulcan's Forge stung the Russians, who reportedly never found a trove as comprehensive and useful as the Americans had.

By 1968 a second group of scoutships, a bit smaller and capable of longer interstellar jumps, began to launch from the Solar Alliance base at Tranquility. These new Nova-class ships were staffed with a mix of experienced Scorpius veterans and new recruits to the program. Together the Scorpius and Nova fleets form the backbone of the Solar Alliance's interstellar exploration efforts.


Okay, so now you get the idea. But wait, there's more. One of the things that many fantasy games suffer from is long, drawn-out campaigns with a single major arc. Space Force is meant to be different, less like a series of thick fantasy novels and more like a TV show. In fact, in my online game I referred to it that way. Each adventure was an "episode" (the first was a two-parter). The Game Master is called "The Director" and players are referred to as actors.

Not every detail needs to be, well, detailed. On both the first and second missions, the formal launch procedure at Tranquility was described, as well as a brief montage sequence for the intermediate interstellar jumps before the interesting bits started. On later missions I felt comfortable giving the actors a brief rundown of how they got to whatever planet they were orbiting and let them take over from there, avoiding the now-boring bits. I even described the post-filming party after the initial two-part episode was done.

Another thing... this is "low tech" sci-fi. Say the reactor is melting down, and the chief engineer needs to eject it; he opens a protective cover on the side of the reactor housing, grabs a big lever and pulls hard. The lever releases water between the housing and the reactor itself while retracting the bolts that hold the reactor in place, and the hot reactor flashes the water into steam and is pushed out into space. Did you notice there's no computer involved in any of that? The ship is gloriously mechanical... the ship's computer is a glorified calculator and controls exactly nothing.

Another example: When a bridge officer is planning a jump, he or she moves over to the computer console, enters the information about where the ship is and where it needs to go, and receives a heading; then the pilot turns the ship to point in the specified direction, using a gyrocompass to align it, and phones the engineer with instructions to charge the wormhole drive for a jump of N light years. The engineer makes adjustments, increasing reactor power output by cranking the control rods higher, then throws the "charge" switch to ON and watches the graviton flux gauge until the correct number is shown. Meanwhile the pilot or another bridge officer has primed the jump clock with the expected transit time (reported by the computer). When the engineer turns off the charge switch he or she reports it to the bridge, and the pilot hits the button that releases the charge and forms the wormhole. As the clock begins automatically counting down, the pilot bumps the aft maneuvering thrusters, pushing the ship gently into the "near end" of the wormhole.

The situation is this way because much of the Martian tech is still not understood well enough to reproduce it. Computers in this fictional 1969 are a bit better than those in 1969 in the real world, but not a lot. Automatic machinery depends on linkages and gears, on relays and switches and mechanical sensors, not on computer equipment. If the valves for the liquid argon tanks aren't working, you can't "run a diagnostic," you have to go under the floor plates and start taking them apart until you find the problem.

This is actually fun, though. In an RPG, a lot of the enjoyment is about what your characters can (or can't) do; in Space Force, it's all about their skills and abilities, and your ability to think up cool ways to employ them. And then of course it's fun when they run into alien computers that actually DO control stuff... seems like magic.


SO here's how I'm thinking of doing this. I had originally thought I'd do this all myself and publish it at a modest profit (as with Iron Falcon). I've since realized I need collaborators. This is a more creative task, in the sense that I'm making stuff up from whole cloth rather than interpreting rules and traditions from the past (again, as with Iron Falcon).

The game, if it materializes at all, will be published in the form of a basic rulebook (including campaign background for the players) and a series of "scripts" (i.e. modules) for each episode of the first season of this fictional TV show. Each script will contain not only the actual adventure materials such as maps, creatures, technology, events, and so on, but also information for the Director about the things that might be revealed in the course of the episode. Space Force is a universe with secrets; everything is not as it seems at the start. After the entire season is done, we might put together an omnibus combining the rules and the entire season's worth of episodes; or we might not, really depends on if there's demand AND if anyone wants to do the work.

Because there are a lot of potential spoilers here, I would set up shared space (probably via Dropbox since it's worked so well for me before) and only collaborators would have access to the episodes in development; on the forum, I'd create a separate section that only collaborators would have access to.

My idea is to have a first season of at least 10 episodes, but more would be welcome; network TV series in the US tended to be 22-26 episodes per season. I have ideas and some materials for the following episodes:

S01E01 Shakedown Cruise
S01E02 The Signal
S01E03 Cat and Mouse
S01E04 The Castor Mission
S01E05 Sister Star

My previous Space Force campaign got through the first two of those, and was in the late stages of the third when it fell apart (as all my PbP campaigns have done). But I was very happy with the adventures as they played out, though they would certainly benefit from a bit of fleshing out. For the last two I have the basic ideas in mind but have written down basically none of them.



-- Writers
-- Editors
-- Artists
-- Playtesters

To be clear with everyone: This will be a collaborative, OGL, not-for-profit production just like Basic Fantasy. PDFs will be free, and prints will earn around 10-30 cents per copy (owing to the usual Amazon pricing strangeness). As with the Basic Fantasy Project, artists who submit work for publication are giving me, Chris Gonnerman, a non-exclusive, perpetual license to use the artwork in Space Force publications as I see fit. One exception applies: If you draw a descriptive image of something in an episode where that image is effectively required in order to play the episode, you must make the artwork available as Open Game Content or under another properly free license (this exception also applies to Basic Fantasy, but we don't have a lot of artwork like that so it rarely comes up).


One of the things I've mentioned (indeed, complained about) in the past is how "generic" sci-fi feels, well, generic, while playing games using licensed content (Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, whatever) leaves you playing the supporting roles (as you usually can't play Kirk or Han Solo or other major characters who control the published storylines). I have an idea of how to handle that for Space Force:

If this had been a real TV show that aired in 1969, then next year would have been the 50th anniversary. I have in mind the idea of writing a book entitled "Space Force: The Lost Pilot" which tells the story of the "original" pilot for the show. It would contain an introduction by (fictionally) famous producer Sol Levinson talking about how the network execs loved the pilot, except they hated every single detail; that, and a catastrophic fire at Sol's production facility resulted in the recasting of the show and the writing of an entirely new first episode, Shakedown Cruise. The book, supposedly, was written based on one shooting script that was "borrowed" by one of the cast members and only recently rediscovered.

This would have the advantage of presenting the "world" of Space Force in literary form, with what I hope are interesting characters and some idea of how things work in the "show" while not overshadowing the activities of actual players. There will even be a few differences between the book and canon background materials from the rulebook and possibly episodes, as things often change in situations like these.

Of course, my luck at selling fiction hasn't been as good as my luck selling games, so it might not amount to anything. So while I like the "50th Anniversary" idea I'm not starting on the book right away.


ANYWAY, if you're interested, please post here and we'll talk it over.

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 3:28 pm
by SmootRK
You can always count on me for some input and such. I just closed on a house this morning, so next several weeks will be all about moving and settling in, but of course I would like to offer my assistance in whatever manner I can.

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 4:47 pm
by Dimirag
My pencil will be ready if needed

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:24 pm
by Solomoriah
You know, one thing I've told so many people... if you want others to contribute to your project, first you have to share what you've written. Just asking never gets you the response you want.

(Mr. Smoot, dimirag, not talking about you guys here...)

SO I'll share just this much in this thread: the current version of the Actor's Guide (i.e. "Player's Handbook") for the game.

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:30 pm
by Solomoriah
Oh, and I found some of my notes and realized I missed an episode:

S01E01 Shakedown Cruise
S01E02 The Signal
S01E03 Cat and Mouse
S01E04 Prize Ship
S01E05 The Castor Mission
S01E06 Sister Star

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 12:54 am
by Metroknight
If you want playtesters, I can drum up some on Roll20 (they will text based players) for some sessions.

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 10:24 am
by Solomoriah
Thanks Metro.

It's looking like there isn't as much support for the idea as I'd hoped. May have to back-burner it for a while.

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 12:28 pm
by chiisu81
An interesting concept. I'll give it a read-over to see if it'd be "my kind" of sci-fi. I do like the concept of actual machinery rather than near-magical computers on everything. Either way I'm always available for proofing/editing. :D

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 6:16 pm
by Solomoriah
The stories would be classic "hard" science fiction, similar to the short stories of the 30's through the 50's. The part of the backstory about the translation of the Martian language by way of the Periodic Table of the Elements? It's from the 1957 story "Omnilingual" by H. Beam Piper; anyone interested can take a look at the Project Gutenberg text here:

In a similar way, I expect to be able to mine themes and ideas from other classic science fiction short stories.

Re: And Now, For Something Completely Different...

Posted: Sat Sep 22, 2018 9:45 pm
by Paladin
I think people are interested, but hoping to see/read/hear a bit more about your ideas and the mechanics. I am interested as ell, but I don't know if I can do much to help.