Stars Without Number and OSR tactical gameplay,

edited March 2012 in Story Games
I had this big long post about Stars Without Number, and then realized my topic is kind of summed up by this thought here:

At some point in one of the first D&D games ever, someone asked, "hey, where can I buy a long pole for my character, like ten feet long?"

You figure that with a sci fi sandbox game, those questions would be off the hook. How do you nurture that? How do you get that ball rolling in an OSR game? Will those same principles apply?

One of the players in last week's game got all "the Wire" on me and asked about the future version of a disposable cell phone so they couldn't be traced. I thought that was awesome. More, please.

What do they ask for in your games? What have you asked for as a player?


  • We had this come up in our MGSF playtests, and the hardest part was getting everyone on the same page w/r/t technology assumptions. So easy when it's fantasy -- there are poles and lanterns and chalk and rope; maybe you'll argue about gunpowder but there will probably be some kind of explosive. But man...sci fi!

    I think you'd need to hash out a longish set of either baseline technologies (yes wireless, no ubiquitous wireless, yes fusion, no cold fusion, yes cloning, yes brain mapping, no AI brain mapping, etc) over time. Or you'd need to agree on some inspirational media to act like shorthand. Or you just assume anything we can do today we can do in the future, but it's smaller and better -- nothing truly game-changing. The disposable cell phone is a good example. But about a phone that can scan the user's DNA and transmit that to a fast-growing vat so you can create a backup body in a few minutes/hours and make it look like you killed the guy you just kidnapped?

    Honestly not sure how to cultivate that in an interesting, non-gonzo way. I'm not smart enough to think through every technical implication and how it might play out.
  • In my own experience, players tend to ask for things in two categories: things that fit the genre of the game, like hand computers, laser cutting torches, hologram emitters, and other space operatic trappings, and things that are future analogs of modern-day equipment, like communicators, space booze, high explosives, and other traditional adventuring gear. They won't usually ask for advanced tech unless it's either implicit to the genre or I cue them by showing them that it exists and is available, like the personal drones that can be picked up on Polychrome or living biometric collars on Hutton.

    I think a GM has to be willing to play things a little loose with tech in a sci-fi game like SWN. There's just not enough mental bandwidth available to sort out the social ramifications of every new piece of tech that's plausible under the implicit tech level of a setting, and trying to make sure that every addition fits seamlessly into your campaign setting is an invitation to hair loss. When a player asks me for something novel, I just filter it through a few quick mental checks: is this object going to trivially negate an entire class of challenges? Does it seem like this object is the sort of thing that would be kept off the open market? Is this object going to be hard to break or take away if I find out it screws with the game? Even if I answer yes to some of those, I might still include the object as a rare prototype or one-shot resource that the PCs can obtain if they're determined.

    When we play games set in the real world, we all share an enormously developed familiarity with the setting. It helps people comfortably understand what they can and can't get, and what sort of resources they can plausibly access. When you play in a fantastic world, like the post-apocalyptic sci-fi of SWN, neither the GM nor the players are going to have that kind of easy familiarity. I've found it largely preferable to ride with the assumptions of my players and let their own tacit expectations shape the setting. Every time I say "No, it doesn't work that way" it forces them to stop and grapple with the meta-context of the game and obliges them to split their attention between what their PC wants to accomplish and what the player understands of the possibilities. It's easier to just let them be right about how things work as often as possible.
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