In their last podcast (Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Ep 156) Ken and Robin answered a question from a listener about differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy – essentially the question was why no “default” setting in Science Fiction like there is in Fantasy. I normally listen to podcasts either in my car on the way to work, or out walking for some exercise. Both options give me too much time to think. Robin talked about how fantasy is mostly made up of setting where players are normally welcome to bring their own tropes (Conan, dwarves, trolls, and tinkers all cohabit nicely). While SciFi is normally about a big idea – what happens when…
I think this is partially true, but I also believe that they missed the elephant in the room. Star Wars.
Ask ten unsuspecting gamers to describe a fantasy setting and seven will describe Middle Earth. Ask ten more unsuspecting gamers to describe a science fiction setting and at least five will describe Star Wars.
Remember 90% of statistics are made up.
Perhaps it is my age. I am 51. I was in Junior High when Star Wars was released. It’s the last movie my Dad took me too before I started riding my bike to the theater on my own whenever I had the money. (True story – I saw Airplane so many times they stopped asking for tickets knowing they would make up the difference in popcorn and soda). For me that is the default setting. Of course, I then devoured every science fiction novel in the library, and moved to the paperback section of our local bookstore. I swear I could tell what was new by the order of the books on the shelves after awhile. All of this is leading to only one thing (for me) that could ever be a true setting for a science fiction role playing game.
I have tried a few other system/settings. Traveler. I had the original basic set of three black paperback books. Somehow all of the fun was in character creation and not gaming. I did have a firefight type of game based on Traveler that was fun, but it was more like a first person shooter with deck plans and cardboard pieces. Gamma World (old and new) Metamorphosis Alpha, Hero System, D20 Modern (Future), Savage Worlds, all the Wizards versions of Star Wars, and finally the newest Fantasy Flight Star Wars. Out of all of those, the closest for me is a Savage Worlds hack of Star Wars. I have been thinking about why and I believe it is because I took a “generic” system and built MY Star Wars in it.
I used the setting in my head – my default – and made a science fiction game out of it. Space Knights with laser swords. Pirates with blasters. Hideous aliens. Princesses. Evil overlords. Mad technological planet sized weapons.
Why can’t you bring all the science fiction tropes that you want? No reason at all. Fill the hold of our crappy looking space ship and off we go.
I love listening to Ken and Robin, especially when they make me think hard enough to actually write stuff down.