Guns, Tits, Starships

Starblazer is an excellent game, no doubt about that, but it’s also somewhat unwieldy. It’s the Arcturan MegaTome of RPG books rivalled, perhaps, only by HERO. That said it’s a fantastic toolkit for putting together your own games and it, and Legends of Anglerre, are my go-to resources when doing something with FATE. The incarnation of it I like best and the one I tore into little pieces and then reassembled to make Agents of SWING.



Another FATE project I’ve alluded to, apart from the pulp SF one, is a half-joke. The title of this post is the ‘working title’ if you will but it only really exists as scattered ideas and notes on the back of a napkin. (This is the state that most of my 100+ item to-do list exists in most of the time, I have – like – a lifetime of work I’m never going to get around to doing, I tell ya).

If Starblazer is Rock’n’Roll Space Opera then, asks my brain, what would a Heavy Metal space opera look like? The obvious answer is Heavy Metal or Heavy Metal 2000 but that’s to sell it short I reckon. Those might be the obvious sources, themselves drawn from the pages of Heavy Metal magazine (Metal Hurlant) but there’s so many, many other sources you can look to. Lobo, RanXerox, album art and the artists who made it.

What defines the sources we can draw on for such a genre and what might it look like?

  • Sleaze – Wherever you go in the universe, people are sleazy and tend to have dark motives. People are trying to survive.
  • Brutality – Fights are nasty, brutal, life is cheap.
  • Male Oriented – Heavy Metal is unabashedly male-oriented in imagery, style and its pandering to adolescent power/destruction/sex fantasies.
  • Sex – Speaking of sex, even aliens are susceptible to it.
  • Evil – Even the ‘good guys’ can be pretty awful. The bad guys have to be total, total bastards beyond redemption or some ultimate cosmic evil.
  • Shock – Sex, drugs, death, the depictions of things in Heavy Metal whether lyrically or otherwise tend to be pretty OTT with no pause or regard given to the sensibilities of others.
  • Anti-Authoritarian – Damn the man.
  • Drugs are Cool – Or if not cool, at least important/an experience/a motivation.
  • Badass – Anyone remotely important is a badass and so they should be.
  • Magic/Horror/Mysticism – In any Heavy Metal space opera, magic, horror and mysticism need to play as strong a role as the sci-fi elements (this is where my personal taste starts to diverge from the genre).
If I did have time to write this, how would I go about it? Would I kitbash the rules or just make a style/universe guide for use with Starblazer? I don’t think I’d be able to resist a similar simplification to what I did with SWING, though some things would have to work differently to that. I’d definitely keep the ‘attacker defines the consequence’ change I made, do something to make melee combat as important as ranged. Probably some work to make different weapons and their special effects stand out more. The key would be the presentation though, the key to such a game would be to invoke and inspire the right kinds of adventures and ideas.
To be honest I’m not sure if such a project has legs any more. I’m heartened by the success of games like Lamentations of the Flame Princess but is there even much of a metal ‘scene’ any more? I know there’s some tongue in cheek and retro things going on, Black Metal etc bumbles along as it ever has but would a ‘metal theme’ just hopelessly date the already somewhat dated image of gaming even further? It’s a puzzler, much as I’d love an excuse to fill a book with heavy metal pinups.
What do YOU think?

Heroic Failures

It struck me the other day – pondering about games as I do – that we don’t have many constructive ways to deal with failure. Games tend to be all or nothing, life or death, win or lose but, if you lose, the consequences tend to be dire. The character dies, the kingdom is lost, Sauron recovers the ring, the terrorists nuke New York or whatever the particular case may be. Players, characters, are used to winning, outright, all the time and much like the Old School bugbear of allowing character death it seems we’ve forgotten, or perhaps never really knew how, to allow people to lose.

Losing needn’t mean the deaths of the characters or the end of the world, although sometimes it can, of course. It can be more interesting for the villain to get away, even to triumph. The world to change for the worse, something bad to happen and for there to be knock-on effects for the players to counter or deal with.

You need an ongoing context for this kind of back and forth to take place in though, a campaign or at least a consistent world/planet/universe/reality in which things can move on, even if a character dies or even if there’s a total party-kill. It doesn’t work for one-off games then but as a structure or a context for a campaign or an ongoing world it’s great.

Not many games tackle this at all, those that do tend to only treat it in the role of a relentless positive advance or a legacy. The only game that I can think of that ever handled the contextual world in terms of success and failure was Underground.

Underground’s default campaign was centred around enacting social change in your environment. This was done by undertaking missions, pass or fail, that would shift the parameters that defined the area in which the characters operated. This wasn’t massively complicated or nuanced in Underground but it is a good place to start thinking about how we might structure a game where lasting change and a self-sustaining campaign might be created.

In Underground areas were defined by the following parameters:

  • Wealth
  • Safety
  • Government Purity
  • Quality of Life
  • Education
  • Necessities
  • Take Home Pay
It wouldn’t be hard, at all, to retool these to suit a fantasy or a science fiction domain by renaming them and considering their reinterpretation. In Underground they were rated 1-20 with 5 or below meaning something was seriously wrong and 15 or higher meaning things were really good.
These parameters interrelated in a fashion so that an increase in one thing would increase another and decrease another. Knock-on effects from the alterations that they’re making.
  • Increasing Wealth increased Safety and decreased Government Purity.
  • Increasing Safety increased Necessities and decreased Quality of Life.
  • Increasing Government Purity increased Take Home Pay and decreased Safety.
  • Increasing Quality of Life increased Government Purity and decreased Education.
  • Increasing Education increased Wealth and decreased Take Home Pay.
  • Increasing Necessities increased Quality of Life and decreased Wealth.
  • Increasing Take Home Pay increased Education and decreased Necessities.
These interrelationships were hard and fast and happened every time in Underground but this could be altered and randomised in a new approach and these things could be independently effected by outside forces in your campaign but it’s going to be my starting point for thinking about this as a framework in my own games and could easily do the same for you.
The trick is in interpreting how an increase, or a decrease, in the parameters of a society is reflected in the game itself. If Safety decreases, why does it decrease? Has a new gang arisen in the streets? Are bandits ranging into town? Has recruitment into the town guard gone down? A plague of assassinations? A change in a number can be an inspiration for a whole game.