Gimme a Gleisner Bot! Or, Okay, a GSV! Or, Hell, a Sit-Down With a Shantha. (#RPGaDay 2017, Day 2)

August is RPGaDay month. Yep, a month solid of RPG-related posts, answering these questions:

Today’s question is this:

What is an RPG you would like to see published?

Hmmm. You know what I’d dig? 

A very hard-SF RPG setting based on the works of Greg Egan. Particularly books like Diaspora and Schild’s Ladder, and the novella Riding the Crocodile, and a few other short stories. The point here is a game with a bunch of really good, hard-SF worldbuilding done for the GM, so that characters could:

  • investigate mysteries in virtual polises, like the ones almost all of the characters inhabit in Diaspora
  • look into bizarre, mysterious signals from the void, like in Riding the Crocodile
  • adventure from world to world across a colonized galaxy, like the characters in Schild’s Ladder
  • deal with massive-scale extinction events and go jumping from universe to universe within a metaverse, as the characters do in Diaspora

All that said, I think a super-hard SF RPG would probably be tough for most GMs to handle, so here’s am alternative:

Iain M. Banks’ The Culture as an RPG.

There’s something about The Culture that I think would make an incredible RPG setting. The characters are radically more flexible and advanced than in any RPG I’ve ever seen. They deal with problems that pretty alien to us, until they’re just dealing with life and death. They ride around in ships that are smarter than them, and that bear hilarious names. But they also land on hostile worlds, bargain with wary, exotic alien cultures, and have to deal with being the pets of sometimes overbearing AI masters.

If you’ve read The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, or Consider Phlebas, I think you’ll see the flexibility of the milieu. And really, I think the worldbuilding in the book would be incredible. It’d also be a fun challenge to design characters so out of synch with what we think a bout characters in RPGs. After all, for denizens of the Culture, specific physical features like strength and gender and health and beauty are completely malleable; intelligence is boosted by the AIs that are everywhere around them, and by the intelligence drugs they can secrete from glands in their own brains—and the latter can affecty their willpower, their agility and speed, and more. I think Cypher would work better, as a system, but you’d also have to rethink how challenging characters work, with beings this superpowered under normal circumstances.

It’d also just be a really beautiful, gorgeous gamebook, I imagine. There’s enough love and interest in The Culture out there for an RPG book exploring the setting to be done well—to be done right. There’d need to be work introducing stronger female characters into the setting, I think, but it’s certainly flexible enough for a lot of adventure, investigation, espionage, maybe even revolt against the Minds if they were really daring! The one thing players wouldn’t get into that is a major theme in The Culture is all the ennui… and that’d be fine with me, not because I don’t like it in the books (it’s funny there) but because it doesn’t translate well to an RPG game theme.

So those are the two game systems I’d like to see: the one I truly, deeply wish could happen but think probably couldn’t, and the one I’d buy in a heartbeat if it existed in anything like the form I describe. What I guess is interesting about both are that they’re essentially thinky-SF, RPG books with a ton of really, really well-thought out setting. (And I’m the same guy who felt overwhelmed by the setting material in Numenera… go figure. I think, though, that’s because I can think up Numenera-type stuff myself. Eganesque and Banksian space adventure? Not so much.

I’m sure Diaspora (the RPG system, not the Egan novel) or Stars Without Number, or Cypher,  probably even one of the many versions of Traveller could be used to run either type of game, but… that heavy lifting in the setting-building, and in designing things to bolt-on so the game systems can accommodate the particularities of these authors’ worlds? I’d definitely pay to have someone do that for me at a level where reading the setting books is fun and interesting.

(Or, you know, accept payment to do it for everyone else, if there’s anyone out there listening…)

Oh, one more game I’d love to see published: Skyrealms of Jorune… 4th Edition (the playable ruleset edition). You know, with an actually playable ruleset, or just retooled to work with a mainstream game system, with exceptions and extra rules bolted on for the stuff that’s not generic, like the Isho/dysha/crystal-power stuff. Or maybe just a system-agnostic setting book I could pair with an established ruleset, like Cypher or Diaspora or Traveler or even just some homebrewed flavor of D&D-styled rules, roughly like LotFP did to achieve a horror/pulp/historical game? I love the setting of Jorune, science-fantasy quirks and all, but I basically can’t bring myself to try run it using any of the original rule systems. They’re too snarly and crunchy and 1980s and broken. (A very common sentiment, by the way.)

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