I am working on a SF adaptation of the Dragon Age RPG rules, hence the name Space Age. Probably the three biggest changes I am making to the rules are (1) no classes (2) no levels and (3) much lower initial health and maximum health. Changes (1) and (2) are linked together. For a futuristic game, restricting initial player stories to three classes feels to narrow to me. Instead, I prefer a broader range of modern professions to be available as background elements in the character generation. By having no levels, what I will have instead is sessional experience, which the players are free to spend as they choose on developing their characters. They could emphasise developing their attributes, their skills, or their masteries.
Low health pools reflect a desire on my part to fit multiple short combats into a single four hour gaming session. When characters have 60 health, 10 points of armour, a defence of 18, and the weapons that only do 2d6+3 damage, then combat becomes very drawn out … it only starts to get tense if you drop into a zone where a special success and stunt points could let an opponent do 4d6 damage. So why not start combats in a state of tension?
Low health does incentivise play towards being cautious, setting up ambushes, and min-maxing defences and healing options.
From a mechanical point of view, I can have pistol weapons doing 1d6 damage, rifles doing 2d6 damage, and then I can have exotic high tech weapons doing 3d6 damage. I would rank light armour at three points, medium armour at six, and heavy armour at 10 points.
Initial health depends on background more than constitution. So characters from privileged backgrounds, who get the benefits of literacy, education, credits, etc, start with low HP totals (as low as 10), and characters from proletarian/feral backgrounds start with higher HP totals (as high as 15). There are no levels, so Constitution is a one-time bonus at the initial character generation. In play I would allow a limited number of HP boosts to be purchased, and one qualifier for these would be “survive being reduced to zero health” – a hard to kill feat. I think someone would be doing well to get over 30 HP though.
For background, my inspiration draws on classic space opera like Andre Norton’s Solar Queen series and various Forerunner books, Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy, and Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity. Technology will include various pulpy tropes like Ansibles for FTL communication, FTL travel, intimidating Blaster weapons, stun guns, cloaking devices. I am not sure about cyber/biotechnological modification, its not intended to be a Cyberpunk in Space game. I’ll write more about the background in another post, although I imagine the setting to be a few centuries post the start of the diaspora from Earth, after first contact with aliens, and immediately after the end of a brutal war against a Saberhagen style exterminating menace.
The next trick, is to figure out what the players do. There are two types of space RPG campaigns, those where the players have a starship, and those where they do not. I have run both in the past, with mixed success. Another option is to imitate Deep Space Nine/Babylon-5, with the characters based at a Casablanca Crossroads of the stars, in which case all the trouble comes to them rather than the other way around.
I’m leaning towards a trading/espionage game, with the players floating the eddies of vast political currents. So a ship would be useful. I think I’d make the ship the reward for successful completion of the first major story arc. The starship does act as a mobile base, but it can also act as an anchor, as the players need to be very careful about its security. Destroying a spaceship is just about as bad as killing a player character in terms of emotional impact.
A common way SF groups get split up, is simply by having a couple of people decide to stay on board rather than go shopping. A solution for this that I’d like to try, is to adapt Ars Magica and allow the players to have multiple characters. So one character can be bridge/engineering crew, another character can be a security red shirt, and a third character could do something more interesting (they can be the emo ninja with memory loss and a shiny forerunner artifact embedded in their spine).
Still a long way from looking for players, as the Dragon Age game has at least one more year to run yet.