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January 2, 2012 / Wythe

Other sci-fi/apocalyptic RPGs: currently reading/remembering

Or “read recently.” (Or, in the case of Dark Sun, “always thinking about/just want to throw in there.”) Either way, fresh on my mind, tabbing through various PDFs, flipping through old books:

  • Alternity – best name, most disappointing game. But there were THINGS in it that I loved. The T’sa. The art. The distillation of tech (missing lots, but has some nuggets that many similar games don’t—quantum field gun, gravmaces). I never once contemplated actually playing this, but I do like to look at the T’sa from time to time.
  • Carcosa
  • Dark Sun – AKA a brutal post-post-post-apocalypse inspired by Jack Vance/The Book of the New Sun, ancient Sumer, and the simple idea that “what if elves and goddamn halfings were actually badasses for once?” – AKA my entire childhood…
  • Diaspora – Still reading. A sci-fi game using FATE rules, with which I am unfamiliar. Looks… very long? Thorough? Serious—in a good way, in a way most of these other games are not, in a way that makes me actually want to play it, using its own rules, at some point. [Disclaimer: There is virtually zero chance of that actually happening; I grew up a proudly d20 kid; I am now a proudly d20 adult.] The design, as in Hollowpoint and Microscope, is bangin. Just lovely, very easy to read.
  • Hollowpoint [not strictly sci-fi, but awesome] – Just a great, short game about “bad people killing bad people for bad reasons.” Adaptable. Interesting dice-pooling/team-dice mechanic that we may try to use somehow. (Perhaps as the mechanic for a base class?)
  • Gamma World – (And WotC-blessed new/4E edition of Gamma World) – The original? I only read Gamma World recently—and loved it, of course—but didn’t find it as brain-shakingly compelling as Dark Sun, probably because I read Dark Sun as a precocious eleven-year-old. What I love most about GW is the focus on politics: YES, finally. This is my type of game—one that forces you to choose sides, to explore dark ethics, and even, sometimes, to switch sides. Definitely a huge influence on the mutations chart.
  • Metamorphosis Alpha – The original-original… As P.D. said, more like some awesome work of Outsider Art than an RPG per se. First you play a Robot, then an Android, then a Human or Mutant or Android or Plantoid… or a whole bunch of characters at once? I love this. I am in love with this. Don’t tell my girlfriend or Dark Sun. Buy the 4th Edition; read the weirdness; use the impossible-to-employ charts (which have highly irregular numbers of elements—how do I roll a d59?); save the titanic/unfortunate starship Warden from aliens, again.
  • Microscope [not strictly sci-fi, but awesome] – A history-based game, minimally designed, well written, found by P.D. Hope to play it soon and write up a fuller report. For now, I am inspired a) by the design and b) by the prose, which hints at various (competing? nested?) sci-/post-futures including one in which the rebelling robots almost destroy humanity… then decide not to at the very last second. Whole story = implied/teased into existence in the brain, in that one line. Love it.
  • Mutant Future – “Nuclear,” “sadistic bleating of spidergoats” – I love the retro-badassery contained within MF, which is otherwise very similar to Gamma World (at least to me, an admitted amateur). Like GW, perhaps a limited vision of future ecology/society, but a fun one. I would definitely play this, by the rules, at least once. But then my players enjoy fine-tuning their characters to such a degree, I’m not sure they would be down. Also a huge influence on the mutations chart.
  • Shadowrun – I played this dark, Gibson-esque Code-phantasia for a few weeks as kid with my friend Whit and his friend. We had okay fun. I was a hot female assassin. Now I realize I was trying to turn Shadowrun into Hollowpoint before Hollowpoint existed. At the time, I was simply annoyed by magic. Magic is… stupid? There, I said it. I am a materialist. Tech is all you need to craft a truly Surreal, mindfucking RPG experience. I do love that a dragon ran for president, however. #Props.
  • Traveller – The other original. Played this with my friend Jeff and his autistic younger brother (and of course my intrepid younger bro) and possibly Castro. We liked all the species, planets, tech trees, starships, guns, societies, currencies, wars, histories, etc. The scope. Like a game of Microscope expanded into a game. And yet we much, much preferred either the d20 or WoD/d10 mechanics (this was before d20 Traveller). An expansive vision (inspiring Diaspora?), but one I have ultimately come to lose interest in: There is, for now, one earth, and I’m excited to tell the stories of that earth, in Vancian days, after the future (shades of Mark Dery and Mikhail Epstein in that phrase, always).
  • Trinity – (And the also excellent, same world/earlier era superhero game Aberrant) – Also played the White Wolf game Trinity, briefly, with Jeff and his bro and my bro. I recall the campaign was based loosely on Neon Genesis Evangelion, and that we loved this game. Loved it. Along with Dark Sun, Trinity shaped my conception of the future of earth: We will find aliens; we will fight with them; China will take over; my little brother will save a distant world… Typical. Anywho, finding the core rulebook for this the last time I rooted around my parents’ house was wonderful, like finding a bundle of crisp $20s in a burrito. (#DontMindIfIDo #ThanksBurrito) Will I ever play the game again? Probably not. But the setting, the obsessive/slick/Photoshoppy bricolage of images, the timelines, the inchoate starship charts, the newsreels—these are what drove Young Me to learn more about science and to design not only characters and stories but worlds. #MadProps

What am I missing (besides Rifts, about which I know zero)? What’s the best sci-fi/post-apoc/post-future RPG? I mean, besides my own dinosaur- and radiation-fueled mangling of Pathfinder…


One Comment

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  1. takeonrules / Jan 2 2012 7:16 pm

    Star Frontiers for old school.

    Burning Empires for a fantastic game loaded with insightful design decisions.

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