Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sci-fi gaming is hard

Sci-fi gaming is hard. one big reason is because there really aren't any cheat codes (i.e. magical spells) the universe of a Sci-fi campaign is limited by a facsimile of known science, fantasy gaming doesn't generally have this issue. Beyond the investment in universes fandom cliques have latched onto over the years and the problems that can create sci-fi gaming has other issues.

With rare exception a fantasy universe isn't undo on the first appearance of a fairy, demon, vampire, or orc; should something new show up in a sci-fi universe you've got some explaining to do and the explanation should reasonably mesh with how the universe works.

My last post on transporters being B.S. touched on this; a sci-fi setting needs a coherent and moderately consistent framework on how things work. Sure science makes new discoveries all the time and technology improves all the time but some things just don't change. A lasers are light, they are limited to lightspeed, everything in the universe is effectively limited by the speed of light even cheating with whackeyon particles and hyper/sub space doesn't change this. 

The universe is big, really big. The vast size of the universe in a sci-fi setting not bound to our earth is a pretty serious affair. There are very few fantasy camapigns where folks can jump in a ram ship get the sucker up to 99% the speed of light and go as far as they can for 10 of their own years... most of us lack the handle on math to even say how far they'd actually get in all that time (it's really far but not far at all considering how gosh darn big the universe is).

If the tech in your sci-fi campaign doesn't pay attention to what it is enabling any devious band with resources is goign to inflict havoc on the universe of that campaign. If nuclear powered starships common in your campaign, well the players have a dirty bomb they can use in a desperate situation, it get's even worse with exotic fuel systems. If there are disintegrators in your campaign every barrier, every target is getting a big hole punched in it and the GM is ultimately goign to have to unrealistically restrain the use of such items. Teleportaion works... be sure how and pay attention to what you are doing or the universe is going to shrink even more. If food replicators work for a wide array of races... well, you've handed anyone really bright and talented that can operate one the means to create a wide array of poisons, acids, and explosives with careful menu selections.

Sci-fi gaming is hard because all the pieces interact with each other with a great degree of verisimilitude and hand-waved logic or lapses of logic can wipe away the universe and ruin a campaign.


  1. I agree only if you replace "sci-fi" with "hard sci-fi". Otherwise the rule "sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" applies. Most people in modern society don't know how advanced tech works let alone relatively simple things such as internal combustion engine. I have no problem with the answer "Science!" when asked how can the transwarp transporter work across the galaxy.

    Our ideas of future technology will be as inaccurate as Jules Verne's idea of how to get to moon. It does not matter and does not diminish the story.

  2. Science fiction is science fiction, if you want it to be science fantasy well it's science fantasy.
    "sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" only for the uneducated and non-technical.
    The workings of current tech are nothing like magic despite the ignorance a lot of folks have about how things work.

    A wookie and a vogon kick in a port hole on the Enterprise and the Trek has gone straight to heck. But that's really a matter of taste and styles conflicting,

    Jule's Verne's trip to the moon works as science fiction becasue it doesn't create a universe that breaks itself.
    Now there's a a lot of great stories about the transformative power of science and technology but that isn't the problem I'm talking about.

  3. i'm a moderately techie person by trade and i agree with Norman. perhaps the problem is with the typical sci-fi gamer demographic. most sci-fi, not just gaming - books, movies, etc. really is total B.S. like the transporter etc.

    someone that wants a detailed and current scientifically sound explanation for how miraculous technology works in a sci-fi game/story and gets upset when they don't get something to their satisfaction probably shouldn't be playing, reading, or watching sci-fi.

    not sure why lasers have to be limited to light speed in a world where FTL or hyper or warp speed is possible. speeds are relative. i read an scientific article in the past few years about how warp speed might be possible. i forget the specifics because it doesn't matter. how do i make it go? when it quits working, what do i replace to fix it? that's all i need to know. anyway, the warp theory had to do with creating some kind of gravity-deformed space-time bubble around the ship. guess what? the ship in the bubble that is traveling faster than light would fire a laser. the laser would travel at the speed of light inside the bubble that was traveling faster than light. the laser beam would exit the bubble and fall back to normal light speed. the ship in the bubble would fly into it and explode. warp speed is BS too. substitute micro-asteroid for laser in the above example. and how do you navigate the ship that's inside the warp bubble? your sensors won't pick up anything before you slam into it.

    All sci-fi is fantasy. Even Trek. Trek just gives you some educated BS about stuff works. Star Wars (when done right) respects your intelligence enough to not even try that hood-winking. BTW, I'm a sizable fan of both franchises. sci-fi tech, fantasy 'magic', or divine intervention - they're all just plot devices.

  4. sorry, i kicked in the Enterprise port hole. i just wanted to get Kirk's autograph.