How Do I Sci-Fi?

[How do I Sci-Fi?] #6 Eclipse Phase

Eclipse Phase is one of the newest Sci-Fi tabletop rpgs to have come out, and I must say that it has taken me quite by surprise.  Set in a future where mankind has made staggering amounts of progress in technology along the lines of Transhumanism.  Through the use of advanced science and technology, mankind has transcended beyond his former limitations.  Diseases, old age even death has been overcome, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all sunshine and rainbows.

Perhaps a better way to introduce the game is through the Eclipse Phase website’s opening blurb:

Eclipse Phase is a pen & paper roleplaying game of post-apocalyptic transhuman conspiracy and horror.

An “eclipse phase” is the period between when a cell is infected by a virus and when the virus appears within the cell and transforms it. During this period, the cell does not appear to be infected, but it is.

Players take part in a cross-faction secret network dubbed Firewall that is dedicated to counteracting “existential risks” — threats to the existence of transhumanity, whether they be biowar plagues, self-replicating nanoswarms, nuclear proliferation, terrorists with WMDs, net-breaking computer attacks, rogue AIs, alien encounters, or anything else that could drive an already decimated transhumanity to extinction.

As you can see, the threats that are put up against the player characters aren’t just common goons, or a local crime ring.  The threats that Firewall deals with are way beyond that.  These are the things that can end all of transhumanity in one fell swoop.

Eclipse Phase bills itself as a Post-Apocalyptic Conspiracy Horror game, and certainly it delivers on all three fronts.  However, from all three parts, I think I’ll focus on the Conspiracy portion of the game more for my Campaign Concept.

Campaign Concept:

“Thanks for coming over on such short notice.  Sit down, I’ll try to make this quick.

Two weeks ago, a luxury aerospace cruise liner vanished in mid-flight, taking over a hundred people.  All known records, backups and forks of the missing persons were purged from our systems in the minutes that followed, resulting in panic and confusion as these individuals were effectively erased from existence.

Until of course, the incident this morning.”

The tactical augmented reality overlays flared to life, displaying footage of a lone woman in a black cocktail dress, standing in front of a cortical stack backup facility.  Her elfin features and picture perfect body betrayed the Sylph biomorph she was wearing.

“Isn’t that Amira?  The pop star?”

“Not anymore, Williams.  She was one of the people reported missing on the flight.”

The woman turned to face the camera and a direct audio feed kicked in with a distinctly non-human voice.  “We’ve returned to finish what we’ve begun.”

“At this point -all- the cortical stacks in the building that were connected to the network were purged.  Every single one of the people in there are now wiped, leaving nothing but empty morphs.  Similar incidents have been reported in at least three other colonies.  Whoever it was in Amira’s morph then disconnected from the network, leaving her body empty on the ground.”

“Wait, they said they were going to return?  Who’s they?”

“We’re not certain.  But whoever they are, they must be stopped.”


Again nothing too ambitious.  Eclipse Phase has a setting so advanced that I have trouble even understanding some of the concepts.  I’m hoping that by sticking to more local issues and threats, I can slowly get acquainted with the rest of the setting while escalating the conflict.

PS. Forgive my writing, I’ve been blogging for a while but I suspect my fiction writing skills are really rusty.

[How do I Sci-Fi?] #5 Fading Suns

Now here’s an old game that I’ve always wanted to play in.  Fading Suns is sorta-kinda like 7th Sea / Legend of the Five Rings meets Warhammer 40k with a pinch of Dune.  The resulting mix is an intriguing game with an elaborate setting and interesting factions.  Let’s take a look at the official description:

It is the dawn of the sixth millennium and the skies are darkening, for the suns themselves are fading. Humans reached the stars long ago, building a Republic of high technology and universal emancipation—and then squandered it, fought over it, and finally lost it.

A New Dark Age has descended upon humanity, for the greatest of civilizations has fallen and now even the stars are dying. Feudal lords rule the Known Worlds, vying for power with fanatic priests and scheming guilds.

Fading Suns is a saga of humanity’s fate among the stars—a science fiction game of heavy combat, vicious politics, weird occultism, alien secrets and artifacts, and unknown and un-mapped worlds.

I have to admit that it’s refreshing to see a sprawling Space Opera setting that isn’t Star Wars.  Not that Star Wars is bad, I’m a big fan of the Knights of the Old Republic games, myself, but too many people jump for the opportunity to go Sith.  With Fading Suns, it’s a good mix of familiar concepts without being actually being cliche right away.

Campaign Concept:

In these dark days, the enlightened Heirophant Palamon, Archbishop of Byzantium Secundus, has issued a call to the faithful and repentant to gather under the banner of the Universal Church of the Celestial Sun.  He urges those of stout heart and strong will to assemble at the feet of the Urth Orthodox’s most ambitious quest to bring enlightenment to the Lost Worlds of the Second Republic aboard the majestic Lux Aeterna.

It was an unprecedented call to arms, and one that sent all manner of man and alien to Byzantium Secundus to participate in this venture.  Some were pious, men and women who signed up to fulfill their duty to the Pancreator.  Others were ambitious, those who sought the riches and the technologies that could lie dormant in those worlds.

The Player Characters are among those who set off in the Lux Aeterna.  Their motives and backgrounds will serve as the primary motivation of the campaign, even as the characters are made to explore and adjust to the various worlds that they discover.

Much like a true Passion Play, the virtues of the campaign have to lie in the journey, as opposed to the destination.  Character development will take center stage for this game, with politics and combat having a presence without being too dominant.

Themes: Enlightenment, Discovery, Self-Discovery
Character Concepts: Cunning Merchant, Pious Missionary, Scribe, Repentant Mercenary, Zealot, Youngest Child Noble with No Inheritance.

I seriously need more time to sit down and really understand the setting.  It’s a great setting, and I love the religious tone in everything, but I don’t know enough to feel comfortable about running this just yet.  I also feel that I don’t have enough focus in this pitch to give a better idea of what the players will be doing.  So… any opinions?  Would you guys play this?  Is there anything else you’d like to see in the pitch?

[How do I Sci-Fi?] #4 Cthulhutech

Cthulhutech is a recent Sci-Fi game that mashes together the much-loved horrors of H.P. Lovecraft with a distinctly anime and cyberpunk twist.  It’s a broad game, where players characters can range from human agents and investigators trying to find and stop various Cults, to being pilots of massive anti-Cthulhoid horror mecha called Engels, to mysterious Tager agents fighting a covert war against an insidious megacorporation.

To quote from their website:

CthulhuTech is set in our world less than one hundred years from now, though as unrecognizable to us as we are to the people of the early twentieth century. Through the unorthodox blending of arcane principles with modern science, Humanity has created an inexhaustible power source that has revolutionized the world. Hand in hand came greater cosmic understanding and the acceptance of what was once thought to be magic. Our blossoming power brought an alien race that had hidden amongst us into the foreground as they descended upon Earth to enslave or destroy us. Celestial mechanics have brought ancient sleeping gods back into our world. The Aeon War rages and three-quarters of the people on Earth have been wiped out. But, combined with the might of unexpected allies, the New Earth Government makes certain that we will not go gently into the dark night.

It’s a vibrant setting, with various options on what scale of game to play.  For the purposes of my campaign however, I’ll stick to the concept of having players on a street-level NEG National Security Agency working hand in hand with members of a Research team to identify and neutralize various Cults, disparate Occultists, and the occasional summoned Cthulhoid Horror.

Campaign Concept:

Take Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Fringe, Criminal Minds, and Masks of Nyarlathotep then put them all in a blender until smooth.  The Player Characters will be working for the New Earth Government’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB), and tasked to participate in investigating various crimes that have a connection to the Occult.

A mix of specialties will be necessary, as modern cults and criminals inside the Arcologies of the setting are paranoid and careful.  Many of the opponents will also have some form of summoned magical backup, or at least a few dozen crazed cultists.  Fusing tech and occult knowledge to pull off any manner of bizzare crimes or insane rituals will be a big part of the villain MOs.

The overarching plot of course isn’t just an episodic series, as the characters will also run into some of the larger global conspiracies, involving, but not limited to the Chrysalis Corporation. Like Masks of Nyarlathotep, the connections between cults will comprise the major thread of their investigations.

The other half of the campaign will also deal with the pressures of the job and how it can start to break into an agent’s psyche.  Madness, therapy, domestic conflict are all potential events in the game, and should be an interesting counterpoint to catching the bad guys.

Themes: Vigilance, Madness, Corruption
Character Concepts: Field Agents, Hackers, Scientists, Occultists, Bureaucrats, Reformed Cultist / Cult Leader

Patterning the campaign as a police procedural might come in handy in a campaign like this.  It also helps keep the possibility of new characters coming in open just in case things get too dicey and the character end up dead at the hands of some monster.

Overall I feel that taking on the Evangelion / Robotech path in this game dilutes the horror element too much.  I like the idea of humanity fighting back with technology (stolen or developed) but the overall feel of it being a dangerous setting still has to exist.

[How do I Sci-Fi?] #3 Bubblegum Crisis

Bubblegum Crisis holds a special place in my heart due to the fact that it was one of the first anime I’ve watched that wasn’t aired on local TV, along with Ranma 1/2, Bio-Booster Armor Guyver, and Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory.  The darker themes of Cyberpunk, awesome hardsuit designs, the idea of killer robots masquerading as humans, matched with glam rock music and fluid animation was a heady mix of awesome that still continues to influence me to this day.

To those unfamiliar with the series, Bubblegum Crisis is a Cyberpunk anime set in year 2032 in “Mega Tokyo” where a mysterious group of Hardsuit wearing vigilantes called the Knight Sabers fight a shadow war against the devious mega-corporation known as GENOM.  GENOM is the primary manufacturer of androids known as Boomers, which perform a variety of tasks from construction to cleaning to serving as prostitutes.  Unknown to the citizens of Mega Tokyo GENOM also uses these Boomers to serve as corporate soldiers, assassins and spies.

Now that I’ve been thinking about it, it’s certainly possible to update the series from it’s 90’s Blade Runner-esque roots to incorporate some of the existing technologies of today, as well as other near-future technologies without losing the Glam Rock and Chrome.

Knight Sabers, Go!

Campaign Concept:

Dr. Katsuhito Stingray, brilliant head scientist of the BioEscape Corporation was assassinated by GENOM agents out to steal his greatest invention: the synthetic race known as Boomers.  However, Dr. Stingray was well aware of GENOM’s plans and had managed to distribute his work and preliminary plans for the creation of Hardsuits to several trusted friends and colleagues in the form of a technology packet that could only be accessed by his children Sylia and Mackie.

All would have gone according to plan had not a traitor attempted to kidnap the children.  The Player Characters begin the game at the end of a flashback of a fierce firefight in Dr. Stingray’s home, where they find Sylia shot and dying, and Mackie nowhere to be found.  Now having taken the little traumatized Sylia in as their ward, the Player characters must use the technology unlocked in Dr. Stingray’s will and testament and avenge the crimes GENOM has inflicted on the good doctor and his family.

Much of the campaign will be episodic, dealing with the Boomer threats that GENOM deploys to further their own dark plans.  The problem of Sylia’s missing brother is going to be a continuing plot hook, and the appearance of opposing Hardsuits will serve as the nemesis of the players.

As with all my campaigns, I’ll also take time to further the player backstories based on whatever concepts they submit for the game.

Themes: Fighting against Corruption, Revenge, Justice, Hope
Character Concepts: Rockstar, Hacker, Biker, Police Officer, Detective, Mechanic

I felt it was too easy to make “Yet another Knight Sabers” team in a different team, but it felt strange and tacked on.  So instead, I decided to change the origin story of the campaign from the ground up, using Sylia and Mackie Stingray as plot hooks as opposed to GMPCs.  It’s canon heresy, of course, but those are the breaks if you really want to have Mega Tokyo as the real stomping grounds for the players.

Admittedly I’m not too happy about how this pitch turned out.  Perhaps it requires too much knowledge of the setting?  I’m not sure.  What do you guys think? Is this something you’d play in?

[How do I Sci-Fi?] #2 Blue Planet

Blue Planet has always been an intriguing game with a unique setting that has yet been emulated in any other print rpg product to my knowledge.  Taking place in a time when mankind has well and truly screwed up Earth, humanity finds a wormhole that leads them to the distant planet of Poseidon.  Capable of sustaining human life, a rush of colonists and corporations migrate to the new planet in hopes of taking advantage of the new world and staking a claim on it’s rich natural resources.  As the book itself says:

Blue Planet is a compelling journey into humanity’s dark future on a distant planet where life is hard and dying is easy. A world where GEO Marshals enforce the peace and wired mercs patrol deep waters in deadly fighter subs. A place where corporate greed and human desperation ravage an alien ecology, threatening to plunge humanity into a war of survival with an ancient legacy.

The game has also been described as a game of Waterpunk, and I can’t really argue against that.  The science revolves around cybernetics and genetic modifications to help people live in a planet that is composed of mostly water, and corporations have all manner of subs and weapons to fight for and defend their own claims.

However another way to look at it is that it’s a Water-Space-Western.  I know that sounds awkward, but that single concept suddenly breathes new life to this game.  Much like the Frontier, the colonists are carving out their lives in a planet where there is no completely centralized law just yet.  There are threats from both within and without.

Stop! Or my Orca will shoot!

Campaign Concept:

They say that Posiedon is the planet of second chances.  People who decided to take that one big risk to scrap whatever it is they had and knew on Earth, and start over.  Whether its from bad debts, bad memories or a chance to make it big, all of you signed up to make the jump knowing it was a gamble.

But second chances aren’t always free.

In your case, you people are an investment.  MY investment.  I picked each and every one of you for your talents.  I didn’t ship all of you past the wormhole to this planet just out of the goodness of my own heart.  But don’t worry, I’ve got it all planned out.

Poseidon’s a planet ripe for the picking.  With only the Incorporate Private Security in our way, this is our chance to take back everything we’ve lost and still have some left over to spend like kings.  Technology, resources, Long John… it’s all there, and with my connections, every job will be a winner.

So get up, get dressed, and go outside and smell the magic.  It’s time to make some money.

Themes: Everyone’s got an angle, Second chances, Freedom from authority
Character Concepts: Ex-Convict, Bounty Hunter, Hacker, Researcher, Scientist, Journalist, Cop, Grifter, Bureaucrat.

Of course the pitch isn’t the end-all-and-be-all of the game.  Taking on jobs for your employer is the start, but the game eventually breaks down to various character arcs that deal with whatever issues the characters had when they left Earth and took the devil’s bargain.

This campaign starts off with the Waterpunk Wild West Heist angle but can adapt to a more freeform situation, especially if the characters pay off their debts, and decide to cash in an stake their claims out in Poseidon by themselves.

Add rival mercenary companies, security teams, ecoterrorists, and other malcontents of the planet to keep things snappy and fast paced.


Again, old trick, different setting.  However, I have to ask myself if I’m not just tricking myself by applying modern / pulp genres with a coat of chrome and calling it sci-fi.  Would you guys play in this campaign?

[How do I Sci-Fi?] #1 Battletech – A Time of War

Welcome to the first installment of my attempt to gear my brain for running sci-fi games.  First on list of RPGs to take a crack at would be Catalyst Games’ Battletech – A Time of War.  While I don’t have a copy of my own (hence the lack of solid detail,) I am semi-familiar with the series through some old pc games such as Crescent Hawk’s Inception and Crescent Hawks’ Revenge, as  well as the esteemed Mechwarrior series.

It’s not really all that surprising then that I’d draw inspiration from these sources when formulating a campaign for Battletech.

Campaign Concept:

The players are members of a planetside military reservist force either as trainees or military personnel on standby.  The game begins with the usual introductory scenario, with the soldiers going through a standard training drill, while I run through some slice-of-life moments in a military base.

Then the Clans arrive for the first time.  Much like Pearl Harbor, the hit will be hard, fast and utterly unexpected.  In the midst of this chaos, the military base is thrown into a state of confusion.  Majority of their mechs will be damaged in the opening salvo, and other installations will be rendered useless.

Unable to determine just what the hell the Clans are, the commanding officers call for a strategic retreat, evacuating the planet even as the Clans continue their unstoppable onslaught.  Players participate in this process, helping evacuate people, while any Mechwarriors suit up to try and buy time.

After a successful evacuation, the survivors are requested to return to the core planets of their faction, to debrief their superiors on the capabilities of the mysterious new threat, and to plan a counterattack.

Themes: Heroism, Sacrifice and Hope in a time of War.
Character Concepts: Mechwarriors (limited to 1/3rd of the group), Military Personnel, Intelligence Officers, Tank Crew, Pilots, Scientists and Soldiers.

Moving forward, the campaign will deal less with the Strategic scale and maintain a close look on the human condition.  It won’t just be about fighting and blasting the enemy away.  The Clans represent a dangerous, and unknown enemy, but they are not invincible.  The players stand at the forefront, bringing knowledge they’ve gleaned to even the odds, learning the ways and tactics of the clans and finally discerning a means to fight back and defend their way of life from this threat.

Information, espionage, science and even diplomacy will play a vital role, and I’ll be staying away from dedicating too much spotlight time on explosions and war.  If anything I want to go back to the human condition, always back to the moments where human nobility, sacrifice and ingenuity turn the tides of battle… not just who has the bigger gun.


Well, that was interesting.  Not bad for a first try, but I wonder if I didn’t inadvertently just put mechs in a war movie.  What do you guys think?  Would you play this?

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