Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Starships of the Galaxy

I have to confess an embarrassing personal fantasy - I dream of one day having a roleplaying group that gets really into it. Like, if we're playing Vampire: the Masquerade then they will remind me when the time comes for a Humanity or Frenzy check. Or, with Shadowrun, maybe they'll really get into the Matrix rules and memorize them by heart. Or, to pick a totally random third example, we'll be playing Star Wars Saga Edition, and I'll announce that there's a massive space battle and it's time to roll out the grid, and they'll respond with an enthusiastic "hell yeah!"

It is in pursuit of this fantasy that I bought (and, indeed, continue to buy) books like Starships of the Galaxy. It's a book that is entirely about one particular subsystem of the SWSE rules, expands those rules to make them more complex and involved, and then dares people to use it. It's not the most baroque space combat system I've seen, not by a longshot, but it definitely requires a player to be mentally invested in it, and sadly, that's not something I've ever seen happen.

Of course, part of my problem might be that I'm the one that obsessively collects supplements and then systematically reads them whenever we play a game, but also I'm invested in at least a dozen different gamelines, and flit between them at a whim, so my players never really get the time necessary to become true experts in any given game. But that would imply that my problems are somehow my own fault . . .

Anyway, the bulk of this book is taken up by descriptions of the various, um, starships of the galaxy, and they're . . . fine. They're statted like monsters, and SWSE's monster design is some of the worst in the d20 family, but if you assume all the encounter-interesting stuff is going to be done by fleshed out NPCs, they work okay. It was a neat nostalgia trip seeing these familiar designs from the movies, and I've got a feeling that if I were more into the expanded universe, then that sensation would only have grown.

Overall, this was exactly the sort of super-specialized book that I come to prize as an essential GMing reference. Dry as hell, of course, but I'm not (usually) reading it for pleasure.

UKSS Contribution: Ooh, I was hoping this day would not come quite so soon. I am at a crossroads, and am forced to make a choice. But first, let me explain a certain implicit design principle that I've been using for awhile, but have not yet expressly articulated - Ukss is one world.

So, I wanted Ukss to be a kitchen sink setting, taking a little bit from every rpg book I read to produce something gloriously over-the-top. However, I've been avoiding two ideas in particular - alternate universes and interplanetary travel. And the reason for this is simply that they make the kitchen sink idea too trivial. Have something that doesn't quite fit with your previously established canon? Easy, it happened in an alternate universe, or on a distant planet. There can be a fantasy world, a steampunk world, a transhuman world, a roman world, whatever. They don't have to interact with or inform each other in any way.

It was my hope that I could do Ukss without ever introducing the idea of outer space. But this book here, it's all about exactly that. You can't read Starships of the Galaxy and not deal with the idea of space travel.

Now, there's a loophole. Certain things that could be adapted. Maybe the Millenium Falcon could be an airship (hey, it worked for Final Fantasy XII). Or, hey, Admiral Akbar is mentioned by name several times. He could be a naval admiral instead of a space admiral, but basically the same character. It wouldn't even be a totally fatuous choice. I like good ol' Akbar just fine. And he's a squid-person, so commanding a ship at sea would actually make total sense for him . . .

But I realized, while working through those ideas, that I was violating the spirit of the UKSS project. I think the fact that I spent the better part of a week updating the setting may have influenced me. I started to feel more like the setting's author than its curator. I didn't want to include any of the space stuff because it didn't match my vision of what Ukss was like.

I think I have to do the honorable thing here and kill my darling. I must follow the source material wherever it leads, even if it results in setting details that don't jibe with my imagination. Therefor - the main UKSS contribution from this book is going to be the very concept of space travel itself.

But because I learned my lesson about choosing too abstract an idea when I couldn't find a place for "swashbuckling" I'm going to reify that contribution by choosing the actual coolest thing in the book (sorry, Admiral Akbar) - The Super Star Destroyer.

That's right, Ukss is going to have a 19km long, bristling with weapons, wedge-shaped space battleship orbiting it like a second moon.

Deal with it.

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