I started listening to the Gaming & BS Podcast a couple of weeks ago. Really fun gaming podcast. Frankly, it is the best one I’ve listened to. The dudes have a good time, but there’s not a lot of the constant snickering and whatnot that often detracts from podcasts.
Last night I listened to Episode 15, in which the guys talk about the difficulty of developing a good Sci Fi campaign. They express just how hard they find it. I have to admit that I find it hard too, for a number of reasons. Even with my own GURPS CyberTex campaign, which is very sporadically played (hell, we’re just getting ready to play game 4 in July), it isn’t easy, and we do have a setting and some game history. For me the thing that makes it hard is that most of the tropes by which a GM brings characters together don’t really exist in the cyberpunk context. Characters in cyberpunk tend to be loner types. They don’t “form a party” and go off on a quest or exploring, or if they do they don’t really continue as a party for years on end. I kind of forced them together in the first game. Now that the initial three game arc is done, and I’m making the game take place a year later, coming up with a rational for bringing them back together has been challenging. I say challenging – what I mean is that doing it in the style I want is challenging. Certainly there are plenty of reasons, based on the first three games, to get them together again. But I want to “up my game” every time as a GM, which means I want my shit to be clever. That’s part of the enjoyment of it for me.
So on the topic of other Sci Fi campaigns, yeah, not super easy. I suppose you can just say “make all your characters members of the same exploratory space corp” or something like that. That works. That’s fine. I think it all just seems a bit harder than saying “you meet in a tavern and an old man you save from a ruffian gives you a treasure map.” Which of course is also totally fine and fun, but not terribly inventive. The great possible range of science fiction means that defining the scope and tech level of your campaign is really important.
I recently read this tweet from Pink Dice GM that I really liked. It is an approach I’ve been using in CyberTex. A means of keeping my mind on the atmosphere of the campaign and really trying to give the players a place for their minds to inhabit, but I’ve not articulated it like this. I think this is right. And I think that even with a Sci Fi campaign, if you can start with some sort of interesting premise, limited in scope but with the possibility of expansion, and some good player characters to envision in that campaign, you can use this rule of thumb and build a very good campaign.