Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

A Few Thoughts on Mark Kern’s Space RPG Idea

Mark Kern has been looking for rpg help up on twitter. You can see it here, here, and here… or just read this summation:

Okay, so some of you know I’m doing a tableptop Space Opera RPG. I don’t know the lay of the land in RPG social media. Who to follow…? I’m trying to build an audience of tabletop fans my new space operat RPG. Mine has a big focus on space-craft adventures and battles…with 3D printable minis

Okay, he didn’t really ask my two cents on this. But this sounds a lot like the way we played Car Wars as an rpg… and a lot like how we wanted to play BattleTech.

Just some random observations after countless hours of play:

  • You can take a six hour miniatures battle and prepend a role-playing segment that allows the players to gain intelligence, acquire allies, or influence where, when, and how the big show down will be kicked off. A lot of Car Wars scenarios assumed people would do that. At the end you’d (theoretically) do a bookkeeping phase, retrofit vehicles, collect reward money… and then go on to another big scenario and do it again.
  • This isn’t what people think of as role-playing, but I think it’s valid. If you can get a combat game that plays thrilling scenarios in less than two hours… and then solve the campaign system in such a way that the resulting scenarios are both interesting and take a load of the referee having to plan everything… then I think you have something.
  • Even better (in my mind) would be the chain or web of encounters… some of which can be skipped, some of which players can talk their way out of, some of which can provide information or side-quests. If you can combine several role-playing type encounters with some brief combat situations and maybe one or two epic battles in one session, then you’d got something.
  • GURPS Autoduel really tried to push game masters to get the characters out of their cars. I never knew of anyone that wanted to, really. All the stuff engineered for that line really didn’t see a lot of use. And the existence of that line bled out all the role-playing material out of the rest of the Car Wars line. BEWARE OF THIS FOLLY!
  • It’s perfectly fair to make a game where your vehicle is (in effect) the character. In Car Wars this results in a very different feel to the advancement. You might start out in a cheapo Stinger… graduate to a Joseph Special… salvage some kills and pimp your ride with the stuff people were just using to try to kill you with… and then barely survive a crash and burn, leaving you scraping up what dough you can to maybe get a subcompact or a cycle. THIS IS STUPIDLY FUN.
  • Translating all of this into cool stunt fighters or small spaceships… yeah. Going into startown or whatever in each port… there you go, the players are out of their rides. People have a hard time running the wide open sandbox that, say, Traveller was meant to be. If you can solve this problem– take a load of the game master and work out a campaign format that can practically run itself, again… I think you’ve got something. Computer games have tended to be better at this– because they have to be! (I’m thinking of Elite for example.)
  • For the tabletop you want to be able to leverage the human referee… but you need to watch for where you introduce friction into what he’s doing. Whole swaths of Traveller are used more to interpolate the nature of the Third Imperium than they are to run games. That’s a design failure.

Now, I’m probably crazy. I wouldn’t try to take all of my advice at once. Hopefully something here will inspire you to take something in a completely different direction or else save you from running up against a well known problem.

Besides, if you don’t make this game, I might want to do it myself!

11 responses to “A Few Thoughts on Mark Kern’s Space RPG Idea

  1. grummz0u812 May 17, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    Grummz here. TY for the feedback!!! I think I may have over-emphasised the miniature spaceship battle part. 6 hour combat is not the goal (unless it were some kind of all out war with dozen of ships). Also agreed that DMs need better tools for sandboxy style play. Have some ideas on that for a future update

    • jeffro May 17, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      Oh, 6 hours would never fly today. Just a bit of gaming history there for reference. BattleTech was about the same.

      • grummz0u812 May 17, 2016 at 11:04 pm

        Ya Battletech took a long time. Definitely aiming for fast play for the ship encounters. Will need to play with that quite a bit to find a sweet spot.

    • jeffro May 17, 2016 at 11:10 pm

      Definitely this, though:

      Not all encounters should go to combat.

      There’s a whole strain of D&D gaming that ignores the randomness of wandering monsters, encounter range, surprise, and reaction rolls. It’s a totally different game when you play that stuff straight.

      There should be a lot more variety in encounters than what most people tend to expect nowadays.

      Nobody wants to talk to the monsters anymore.

    • Cirsova May 17, 2016 at 11:28 pm

      Hey, Mark Kern! :: waves::

      Don’t forget to check out Star Frontiers!

      It was kinda the space equivalent of B/X D&D. I haven’t had a chance to mess with it much yet, but there’s a lot of stuff to like about it. Not to mention, the whole she-bang is online for free courtesy of WotC leaving it on the internet’s doorstep with a note.

  2. heartbreakridge May 18, 2016 at 8:14 am

    That picture reminded me to say that Convoy was some of the most gaming fun I had growing up! *sigh*

  3. Civilis May 18, 2016 at 8:47 am

    One thing to watch out for when designing something like this is that it’s very hard to maintain the character balance between space battle and non-combat sections, and I’ve had many games go completely kaput over this problem. While balancing characters between combat and non-combat roles is always problematical, I’ve found ship battles make it worse in one respect: there’s always one pilot/captain, so that character has a vastly disproportionate role in the game during the combat sections.

  4. ashley858 June 2, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Just caught up with your blog and saved it as an RSS. Your comments make so much sense in light of what I like about the games that make up the core of what I play: BattleTech, Ogre/GEV, Heavy Gear, and Star Wars X-Wing; especially the latter because it’s so quick and easy to play out battles based upon a shared background story.

  5. Pingback: Seid umschlungen, Sechsseiter! | Analogkonsole

  6. Pingback: Mark Kern on Geek Gab Game Night! –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: