extract from Space Opera vol. 1
Crucial to any role-playing campaign or scenario is the ever hard-working referee or StarMaster. The StarMaster is charged, first of all, with the task of learning the rules well enough that he can provide fair and informed decisions on how the rules are going to be applied in most of the situations that arise. Now, we realize that Space Opera is a set of rules of rather substantial proportions, and that a StarMaster will take some time before he really comprehends it all. But he should also realize that the players are capable of comprehending rules, too. By encouraging the players to learn the rules as well, the StarMaster can rely on someone else to remember the particular procedure even if he is a bit fuzzy on it himself or if he hasn't remembered it at the moment the issue comes up.
The StarMaster must create a universe in which the action is going to occur. This can be as big and as exhaustive a job as he wishes to make it. Many referees make the mistake of trying to do the total design right from the beginning. This is particularly true of beginners and of less experienced referees. Many hours of painstaking work can be lavished on the development of dozens of star systems and scores of planets. But without a clear notion of exactly what he is going to do with that 'Universe' or a solid foundation in the rules that are being applied, the result can sometimes be disappointing. Only an experienced player/ referee can afford to invest a lot of preparation time into large-scale Universe designing. He has been this way before, and he knows precisely what he is doing and why.
Beginners and inexperienced StarMasters, then, should set modest goals at first, allowing their Universe to grow with the campaign, and with their ever increasing expertise and knowledge of the rules and the fine art of role-playing. If matters really become fouled up, the original design can be easily modified or even scrapped and replaced. But if too much work has gone into it, the temptation to waste more hours trying to make an ill-conceived Universe 'work' can itself become a time-wasting obsession.
Included in Space Opera is a 'future history' which can be used as a model for the type of background that can be painted for a roleplaying or Empire-level campaign. StarMasters are cautioned not to accept this 'future history' as the only way that Space Opera can be played. Any version of 'future history' is equally acceptable. The point is that such a general background will serve as a general guide to the design of a Universe. It will also assist the players to developing their characters' personalities so that they become 'real' people in a 'real' universe, not a set of game constructs and numbers that roll dice at each other and the paper 'monsters' that are introduced in the action.
The StarMaster must develop various quests and adventures for the player characters. These can arise from the very experience and situation the characters find themselves in. For example, a group of characters might be serving in a StarShip of the future space navy or StarForce. The StarMaster, in the role of StarFleet Command, hands a dispatch to the player who happens to have the Captain of the vessel as his character. The ship has been ordered to patrol the spacelanes off Tharon VI, a planet orbiting the star Pollux, as mysterious disappearances of a number of commercial vessels have been reported. The adventure is on. The characters have no choice in this instance, for they are members of The Patrol, and they are under orders. Black Regon and his force of Space Pirates are waiting off Tharon VI. What happens next will depend on the players!
The possibilities for game scenarios are endless. Tremendous wealth of examples and ideas can be readily found in the mass of science fiction literature itself.
But however important the contribution of the players may be, it is the StarMaster who will either make or destroy a science fiction campaign. His imagination, preparation, and mastery of the rules and the possibilities contained therein will be essential to the success of the whole activity.
The StarMaster must draft the master maps and charts of his universe. Space Opera provides some data and assistance in this regard, giving the co-ordinates of the Spica system. Techniques of designing a region of the universe are also outlined. Players should also see the Star Sector Atlases which are forthcoming for additional sectors.
The StarMaster must also decide on the types of planets, their surface Conditions, life-forms, intelligent races, cultures, technologies, etc. Again, a substantial amount of information and guidelines are provided in Space Opera to assist in this task.
The StarMaster must conceive the adventure scenarios, operate the many NPC or non-player characters that populate the Universe and come into contact with the player characters, provide neutral opposition to the characters as they pursue their goals, and settle all disputes over the rules. He must be fair, interpreting the spirit rather than just the letter of the rules. He must avoid personal involvement himself a sometimes difficult thing to do because his role as the neutral opposition to the characters can occasionally bring out his own competitive spirit. But he must suppress this because, as referee, he holds all of the cards and can subconsciously 'rig' events to suit himself if he is not careful. Such neutrality is essential, for one of the tasks of the StarMaster is to act as a neutral go-between when characters secretly or individually act behind the backs of their comrades or set themselves up in opposition to the very Authorities in power NPCs whom the StarMaster controls'
This is a very big responsibility, and the StarMaster will find that having a 'split' personality that ignores what he knows in total is very useful. That is, what he himself knows as StarMaster must he kept separate in his mind from what his NPCs know. The NPCs are merely 'men,' and do not have the StatMaster's almost 'godlike' command of all the facts of a situation. At time, the NPCs must be allowed to make mistakes, even though the StarMaster knows better, for that is only fair and believable. Nothing is more unfair to players then meeting up with NPCs who always have all the answers and who are always one step ahead of the players. The StarMaster must be a go-between for his NPCs as well as between the various characters.
There is much, much more to good StarMastering. Unfortunately, much has to be learned through experience. The secret is not to try to do everything, and not to do it all at once. The players themselves can be a great assistance in developing a concept of what the Universe should be like. Their advice and outright help should be encouraged, although the final say must remain with the StarMaster. This concept will be developed further in the next section.
PLAYERS & PLAYER CHARACTERS
To create a character for Space Opera will involve making a number of dice rolls to determine the basic traits a player character or Pc will possess. Other determinations will be required to establish the PC's personal background and career experience before he actually enters the role play, it will seem that a lot of dice rolling will be called for in the beginning, but these rolls are made automatically, after which the relevant sections can be consulted for the details which fill in the features of a PC's personal characteristics and aptitudes.
A system for acquiring expertise in a vast range of fields and skills is also provided, The unique feature of this expertise system is that the players will have great freedom in deciding on what skills their PCs will have before they enter the game, Further development of PC skill can continue once they are in the role play. However, the Whole concept of experience points as such has been discarded. Advancement is a function of time spent studying and training to acquire expertise, and also a function of attaining those career goals which the player sets for his character. He does not have to kill 300 slimy Xchityl of the Planet Slooggg in order to obtain enough experience points to advance a 'level' or rob widows, orphans, and banks :o obtain the money to become proficient at some task. He can do these things, but they are not essential to his improvement as a competent character.
Player skill consists, in part, of being aware of the range of skills open to a PC and then choosing those skills which may prove to be of the greatest use to the type of character he wishes to portray. A series of bad initial choices can be a real setback while a well rounded set of expertise areas can be decisive. At the same time, a high degree of specialization is possible. By heavily weighting some areas of expertise, a player can develop a crack Scientist, Astronaut, Armsman, or Tech whose proficiency is suited admirably to the career he has chosen to follow. But he is never limited to one area. An Armsman can also develop considerable scientific expertise, and a Scientist can be a formidable fighter.
Players should realize from the start that a 'character' is not themselves by another name. A PC is his 'own man'. He should be given a personality that is uniquely his, with the player assuming a 'role' in much the same manner as an actor does. The skilled role-player understands this and will work to give his characters a 'life' separate from his own. The idea of role play is, after all, to leave our own humdrum lives to explore lives of adventure. Taking along all of our own attitudes, hang-ups, and prejudices is hardly the way to do that. Role play is the creation of a 'real' person, One can adopt characters from favorite science fiction novels, movies, or T.V. shows, or he can invent his own unique personalities. But always the thrust of the role-play is to step outside ourselves, to become someone else, to have rousing adventures not possible to us in the here-and-now. Science fiction role play is a game of 'Let's Pretend' on a cosmic scale. Anything is possible. Why settle for less in a character?
There are also a great number of possible racial types for players in their role-play. The range of choice permitted will depend upon the StarMaster's preferences. Remember, it is the StarMaster who carries the heavy burden of preparing the campaign in broad and fine detail. The StarMaster prepares the adventure scenarios and calls the action. He must be satisfied in his own mind that he can handle a given racial type as a player-character without overstraining his own conception of the campaign or without making hasty preparations to fit a racial type in at the last minute. If he has not thought out the place of such a race in the universe he has prepared to date, it is sure that he will have a 'fly by the seat of his pants' if PCs of such a race are introduced to the game. That invites confusion and unnecessary problems, for he has enough to do to maintain the consistency and the imaginative believability of his universe.
For his part, the StarMaster should be prepared to define the terms under which PCs are to be operated in the campaign. If he has decided to allow players to portray Felines, there should be a Feline inhabited planet somewhere in the game universe which those PCs can call 'home.' That home planet and the racial culture should be familiar to the players with such PCs. There is nothing more frustrating (and unjustifiable) to role-players than their being kept in the dark about matters which their PCs would know in depth. A 'native' of a country or a StarCulture will certainly know about his people's history, way of life, customs, general attitudes, manners, laws, politics, etc. A number of racial/cultural profiles are included in Space Opera as working examples of the basic background information players will find useful and even essential if they are going to do a good job of role-playing their PCs. If the StarMaster is too secretive and refuses to tell players what they would reasonably know, he is failing in his duty to his players.
It may happen that the StarMaster is too hard-pressed to do some of the essential background work described above. In such cases, he might incorporate the Space Opera racial/Cultural profiles into his campaign to ease the task. That is not to discourage his own designs of races and cultures, which often is highly satisfying, but rather a suggestion to make the problem of maintaining the momentum of a campaign less difficult to resolve.
Players should be encouraged to join in the creation of additional background material for their PC's home planets and cultures. This may prove unwelcome to some StarMasters, who prefer to make such decisions themselves. However, many StarMasters will welcome the assistance of players. It certainly reduces the work-load of the hard-pressed StarMaster, so that he can concentrate more on developing interesting gaming scenarios and 'unknown' planets and StarCultures to be encountered by the PCs as the role-play unfolds. Above all, shared creativity gives players a powerful sense of participation in a campaign they have helped to create. The most experienced rolegamers will find it possible to design their own home planets in detail, following the StarMaster's general instructions about essential details, but adding a lot of 'local colour'. In such instances, the player can assume the role of assistant to the StarMaster whenever his PC's crew touches down on his home planet. Because his PC is a 'native' he can act as a knowledgeable guide to the other PCs. Meanwhile, the StarMaster is freed to concentrate on the 'excitement' to be provided during the visit. Such an approach may seem very sophisticated to some role-players; it is really quite workable.
The participation process trains beginners and experienced role-players alike to become better role-players. That means richer background upon which to project well-conceived 'characters' with a life and purpose of their own. The environment of a science-fiction role-game is every bit as important as the skill of the players and the StarMaster. A well-drawn environment will enable players to 'clue in' to the personalities of their characters, and also to interact with the NPCs run by the StarMaster.
It should also be noted that many very satisfying role gaming campaigns encourage players to feel that they are true 'partners' in the game. They are participants in an activity, not mere 'consumers' who must settle for the StarMaster's ideas and no more. Their opinions are heard, respected, and often used by the StarMaster - if those opinions are good, that is. In the end, it is the StarMaster who must make the final decisions because he is the storyteller and referee. But to the degree that he encourages player creativity and involvement, he will find his own successes enhanced.
Role-play is a group activity; a matter of teamwork essential to making an adventure enjoyable, exciting, and worth repeating in a later meeting. Players who demand that the StarMaster do all of the work, while they 'play,' are risking a less than superb experience. StarMasters who do not tolerate any 'interferences' with their personal universes are forgetting that the players, in their roles as characters in that universe, have no less of a stake in it than he does. Participation in role-play is nothing more nor less than involvement with all of the other players, with the characters, and with the 'worlds' and 'Universes' in which the action occurs. The game is everybody's game. Players need the StarMaster to call the action. StarMasters need the players if there is going to be any action at all!
HOW MANY CHARACTERS?
A point of contention in may role playing games is whether or not a player should be allowed more than one character at a time. In Space Opera, it is strongly suggested that each player be allowed several characters. There are several important reasons behind such an approach.
|First, to develop a total character takes a bit of time. If a number are developed at once, the basic bookkeeping tasks can be dispensed with in a single meeting.|
|Second, PCs will not all be involved in heavy action ail of the time. There will be moments when a PC is desirous of acquiring additional expertise and needs to 'retire' from the adventuring side of the game to go back to school, etc. I f several PCs are available to a player, he can easily have a character disappear from the role play scene for a time, and can continue on with another character.|
|Third, players will have different 'fantasies' to act out. If several characters are allowed, players can have PCs in the StarForce, the Merchant Service, and perhaps in a Mercenary Company or the civilian Independent Explorers. The idea is to develop teams of PCs who adventure together so that everyone in the playing group will be involved, wherever the action leads. Because there are several 'teams' involved, each player has a better chance of having his preferences satisfied.|
|Fourth, proceeding on the 'team' of PCs concept, the StarMaster can vary the types of scenarios that the various characters are in. This provides a welcome change-of-pace all around, and the players and the StarMaster have the benefit of a wider range of experiences than might be possible if only one character were permitted each player. StarForce characters would have 'Galactic Patrol' type adventures. A group of 'Meteor Miners' could enjoy the rough and tumble of a frontier scenario, complete with claim-jumpers, the Big Mining Company, vigilante committees, and the Great Strike. The list is endless, but it is sometimes better to have a group of PCs bent on attaining some common goal. How, for instance, could a Lieutenant of the StarForce associate with a known Space Pirate with the death penalty waiting for him in 17 star systems? Having two characters tends to cut down the improbability. One can have his StarForce Lieutenant and a Space Pirate. What happens if they ever meet is another question, and the resulting fight should prove interesting.|
|Fifth, players tend to develop preferences for specific character types. Since a good team has to be well-balanced, having a Tech or a Scientist along can prove very useful at times. But if every player is limited to just one character, essential personnel gets lost in the stampede to have an Astronaut or Armsman. Imagine a StarShip with six or seven Astronauts and no Engineer to perform the serious maintainance and repairs. See 12.0 Spaceship Maintainance and the subsequent sections to get a rough idea of what happens to a beautiful StarShip without an adequate technical crew. It is no fun being a dashing Astronaut when your ship is dead in space, the drive unit burned out, the power pile shut down, the air leaking from a damaged lox tank, communications out, and the temperature control out of whack. And that's just for starters!|
For these and other reasons, we therefore recommend that up to 5 characters be permitted each player. A greater number might prove too hard to manage from the bookkeeping and the playing point of view, but very talented or hard-working players in fact done so.
MANAGING TIME IN THE GAME
Time is a very flexible thing. Game time does not have to correspond to real time at all. In a year of real gaming time, for example, ten years of game time could pass, In a single evening or afternoon of role-playing, a week or two weeks could be ruled to pass.
This ability to expand or to compress time as required is essential to a good role game. Space Opera, in fact, depends upon a reasonable amount of time passing between adventures, so that characters can obtain expertise in various skill areas. The standard rhythm should be an adventure involving a team of characters, then a period in which nothing much happens to them and routine events occur. Meanwhile, another team of characters could be having an adventure.
The overriding requirement is to keep close track of the time by using a time line or some similar procedure. The StarMaster should decide on the rate that time is passing, and tell the players WHEN it is. This permits backdating non-playing experiences like learning skills. It also permits players to keep events in a coherent order in their minds.
Properly handled, time can allow the players to see a character pass through a better part of a lifetime, giving them the feeling that they have had a chance to see a career through to the end. It may even be that they have sons and daughters who themselves embark on lives of adventure, carrying the action into another generation.
Time is thus an 'enabling' device, not a hindrance. it should provide opportunities for PC advancement and adventure, not hold them back from it.
WINNING IN SPACE OPERA
How does one 'win' in a role game. The answer is that one does, and one doesn't. In other words, there are never any victory conditions set in a role game any more than there are any clear victory conditions set in real life. When does a man win? Whenever he attains his life's desire or, at least, has a good, exciting, fulfilling run for his money. When does a man lose? Whenever he fails to use his talents and brains to take advantage of opportunity.
Each player will have his own idea of what it means for his PC to 'win' or to 'lose.' The player must decide for himself. If he aims at making Admiral in the StarForce,that is the chief priority in his PC's life, and the PC will conduct himself accordingly. If it is to have his own StarShip and to set out on the life of a Free Trader, well and fine. But there will be no 'easy' measures of superficial 'success' like experience points and experience levels. Success is something that satisfies a person at the moment. There are always new horizons, new worlds to see and win, new adversaries to best in combat or hard trading, new adventures to excite one and make life worth living. He will likely get there, too, if he is competent.
We suggest that players try to get rid of the hyper-competitive spirit that marks some kinds of role gaming. The measure of a character is whether or not the player gets him to the goal that the player/character sets for himself. Then, having attained that goal, the way is opened to 'retire' from the game and start a new character as replacement or to seek still greater goals.
One wins in role-play in the manner that one 'wins' in life--you get to where you were going. And that can include a lot of living and a lot of countryside!