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Author Topic: Space Opera Gaming  (Read 779 times)

tenbones

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Space Opera Gaming
« on: November 23, 2021, 11:01:59 PM »
This is not about systems, per se. This is about genre conceits and "what is cool". AND more importantly, do established Space Opera settings get in the way of your ability to enjoy other settings in the genre?

What elements do you like in a Space Opera?

 - Human space federation?
 - FTL?
 - Pseudo-Science?
 - Lots of humanoid aliens?
 - Capital ship customization and combat?
 - Fighter-scale combat?
 - Psionics? How powerful?
 - Politics/Exploration?

What KILLS Space Opera for you when it raises its head?


HappyDaze

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2021, 12:34:10 AM »
I don't like my space opera to take too hard a line on science when it comes to starships. I want space fighters that dogfight and ponderous capital ships firing barrages at one another. I don't want combatants that eliminate one another at extraordinary ranges with missiles/drones.

Spinachcat

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2021, 01:35:23 AM »
>What KILLS Space Opera for you when it raises its head?

Realism.

It's why I call it Space Fantasy when I run it. Not enough people understand the "opera" part and what it means because the public schools have failed civilization.

S'mon

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2021, 01:52:56 AM »
I like all those things OP.

My big problem with Space Opera - a genre I love - is that for easy long term RPG play you need a default game activity, and space opera gaming does not have the equivalent of D&D's 'go in the dungeon & loot'. Traveller has 'buy & sell', and Star Wars has 'go shoot some Stormtroopers'. The former is a bit dull. The latter is ok for linear mission based play, but does not lend it to the kind of sandboxing I like.

Aglondir

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2021, 02:36:37 AM »
This is about genre conceits and "what is cool". AND more importantly, do established Space Opera settings get in the way of your ability to enjoy other settings in the genre? What elements do you like in a Space Opera?... What KILLS Space Opera for you when it raises its head?

Wow, great question. Cool Established Settings:

Babylon 5
Buck Rogers XXV
Dark Matter
Fading Suns
Lightspeed
Pirates of Drinax
Serenity
Star Hero's Terran Empire
Stars Without Numbers (Post-Scream space)
TravellerMap.com


Not Cool Settings (could fill up a page why they are uncool):

Star Trek's Federation
Star Wars


Cool Stuff

A humans-only universe
Ancient technology
Anti-grav tech
Bringing a sword to a blaster fight
Cargo cults
Droids that look like machines
Droids that can pass as human (androids, replicants)
Evil AI's
Genetic engineering (replacement limbs, altered humans)
Humanoid aliens can be cool if done right
Jumpgates
New space religions and cults
Noble houses
NPC aliens that can't be comprehended
Psionics that are not too powerful
Psionics when the focus is on the dramatic elements and not kewl powerz (see Babylon 5)
Ships that spin for gravity
Space combat that's like pirates (broadsides and boarding parties)
Wet nano-tech (inside your body, it can heal you)


Uncool Stuff

AIs that run the PCs ship
Alien PC races that are so alien they are unplayable
Cloning tech (usually)
Dogfights in space
Dry nano-tech (creating/disintegrating objects. See space magic)
Light sabers, etc.
Mecha
Replicators
Space magic (The Force)
Space magic (Treknology)
Space magic (Very powerful psionics)
Teleportation, transporters
The "Better Than You in Every Way" race (Vulcans, Minbari, Space Elves)
The players are plucky rebels fighting an evil empire

« Last Edit: November 24, 2021, 02:40:31 AM by Aglondir »

jeff37923

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2021, 07:00:39 AM »
This is not about systems, per se. This is about genre conceits and "what is cool". AND more importantly, do established Space Opera settings get in the way of your ability to enjoy other settings in the genre?

What elements do you like in a Space Opera?

 - Human space federation?
 - FTL?
 - Pseudo-Science?
 - Lots of humanoid aliens?
 - Capital ship customization and combat?
 - Fighter-scale combat?
 - Psionics? How powerful?
 - Politics/Exploration?

What KILLS Space Opera for you when it raises its head?

It all depends on how it is handled.

I think psionics are bullshit "space magic" from a crystal worshiping bygone era of science fiction literature. Don't like them one bit. However, the way that they are handled in the Babylon 5 setting and the Official Traveller Universe as the Zhodani Consulate are really done well and thus are tolerable. I'd like to see more adventures showing how these settings got to that point because I can easily see Akira level and Stranger Things level of disasters previously in the setting history as people experimented with psionics.

If the setting only gives lip service to science and engineering, then it is science fantasy like Star Trek and Star Wars. Yet they work when they are internally consistent. This is one of the reasons why the Star Wars sequels and Star Trek Voyager failed - the characters that had been established went against their own moral and ethical convictions to behave in manners particularly unlike their characters as had been established.

If you go for hard science space opera, you have to deal with the probability that Faster Then Light travel is impossible, that life on other worlds may be just simple unicellular forms (mainly because mitochondria may have been just a happy accident on Earth), and that magical nanotech can't happen because of engineering thermodynamic problems (a lot of heat will get generated during assembly/disassembly). These factors would make for an interesting setting, but would not capture the interest of most players (as evidenced by the responses to this thread).

Lets look at direct neural interface between humans and machines. This looks highly improbable the more you look at the difficulties involved, yet it gets kept around and used because it is a cool idea to have in a game. So it stays because of Rule of Cool.

Where ideas in space opera, and science fiction in general, gaming fail is when they break the suspension of disbelief in the players. Star Wars as a setting works with all its violations of known science because it established a suspension of disbelief in the audience thanks mainly to its cinematic roots. It doesn't matter that AT-ATs and AT-STs are some of the most impractical war machines ever seen, they look cool and provide a credible threat to the heroes since they first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back - so they are accepted in the setting. Staying within the Star Wars setting, Mary Sue Palpatine (Rey) fails the suspension of disbelief in the sequel trilogy because there is nothing that she cannot do with the Force while Din Djarin succeeds in The Mandalorian because while he is heroic he has limitations that he cannot exceed which helps to maintain the suspension of disbelief.

I'm starting to ramble, but whether or not a particular space opera setting works for me (and I like it) depends more on how it is implemented than what exact aspects it has in it.

Fighterboy

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2021, 07:19:02 AM »
>What KILLS Space Opera for you when it raises its head?

Realism.


What he said.

Vidgrip

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2021, 08:14:10 AM »
I like all those things OP.

My big problem with Space Opera - a genre I love - is that for easy long term RPG play you need a default game activity, and space opera gaming does not have the equivalent of D&D's 'go in the dungeon & loot'. Traveller has 'buy & sell', and Star Wars has 'go shoot some Stormtroopers'. The former is a bit dull. The latter is ok for linear mission based play, but does not lend it to the kind of sandboxing I like.

This is a brilliant summary of my experiences. I have never had a satisfying space opera sandbox experience because of this.

The other KILL switch is having alien species that are so psychologically similar to humans that they feel like humans in rubber suits. I prefer a human-centric setting with aliens being so alien that they are not playable as PC's.
Running: Crypts & Things, Adventures in Middle Earth,   Playing: John Carter of Mars

jeff37923

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2021, 10:05:21 AM »
My big problem with Space Opera - a genre I love - is that for easy long term RPG play you need a default game activity, and space opera gaming does not have the equivalent of D&D's 'go in the dungeon & loot'. Traveller has 'buy & sell', and Star Wars has 'go shoot some Stormtroopers'. The former is a bit dull. The latter is ok for linear mission based play, but does not lend it to the kind of sandboxing I like.

I don't mean to be insulting, but this sounds more like a failure of your own imagination than it does a failure of the game systems or official settings. For both Traveller and Star Wars in the official settings you can do campaigns of exploration, colonization, political intrigue, free trade, mining/prospecting, and many others. Hell, some of the weird ones that worked was a wandering rock band,  a new market group of a fast food restaurant chain, and a wildcat graffiti artist collective out to tag every world in known space.

tenbones

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #9 on: November 24, 2021, 11:41:51 AM »
Ship combat is kind of a must for me. Whether it's technical, or abstract, it has to feel right. And it needs to be scalable from ground-craft to capital scale.

I like lots of weaponry - even redundant kinds. Cyberpunk spoiled me on that. Give me brands. AND GIVE ME MODIFICATION RULES. This goes for Armor too.

Blue-Collar Sci-Fi. I like scrabbly folk trying to earn some credit. Firefly, Rim-worlders from Star Wars, the Non-Trek cultures that "doing their thing". Then you have the "authorities" trying to keep the Man down. Be they Stormtroopers, The Alliance, Republic, Federation blah blah

Aliens - I'm fine with rubber-suit humans as long as their cultures are cool. I fully submit that Trek's sillier species like the Andorians, had their stock raised through the roof by ONE MAN - Commander Shran played by the awesome Jeffery Combs. But I like Alien-aliens too.

I always thought Star Control 2 would have made a helluva setting for a Space Opera game. It has rubber-suit aliens and alien-aliens, genocidal serious themes and lots of humor - sometimes both at the same time.

I agree with S'mon about the concerns of Space Opera as a genre, but that is a setting design issue. A good space opera is no different than how I'd approach any fantasy game in this regard, it's just on a much larger physical scale.

Exploration - there always needs to be more exploration. How else to toss in macguffins - or "dungeons" in the form of lost dead civiliations/ghost-fleets/etc. for intrepid adventurers err... starship crew members?

Ancient Races - I can take or leave it. To me it's always tantalizing in the sense that you can introduce irreplaceable and irreproducible tech into the game as "magic items". Plus you can slowly expand the conceits of your setting by implication.

Galactic Scale, not Intergalactic. But interdimensional can be fun too.

Human Federation - I can take it or leave it. Depends on the setup. At the point of having interstellar contact there is little hope humankind would last long without having a unified front (I'm sure I could argue the opposite if I put any thought into it). It just seems unfun to do it that way, reflexively. I don't need humans to be top-dog. Or bottom-dog (ala David Brin's insanely good Uplift saga) with Feisty Adaptive Points! It's all in sticking the landing relative to whatever else is in play.

 

Premier

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #10 on: November 24, 2021, 11:54:50 AM »
OP got me thinking about the necessary minimum requirements of Space Opera - the stuff without which you can't have it. I think it's the following:

- There is an active, dynamic conflict or threat with a moral dimension. There are Bad Guys out there, and if someone doesn't do something, the Bad Guys will win.
- Extraordinary individuals have a chance to change the outcome of that conflict. The Big Damn Heroes step up to the plate and actively participate in the conflict. A party that spends all of its time looting space dungeons and swindling primitive natives while not giving a shit about the Evil Empire is NOT Space Opera
- Individual actions triumph over objective chances. The Big Damn Heroes can succeed even if they have a smaller force, less advanced weaponry, and a crappy logistics train.

MAYBE:
- The technological assumptions of the setting (be they realistic or not) are set up in such a way as to facilitate space combat. The setting allows for spaceships to go pew-pew at each other, because it's cool.

In my opinion, anything else might be a common element in Space Opera, but is not strictly necessary. You CAN have S.O. without a sprawling interstellar empire, you set within a single solar system. You CAN have it with only humans, or with a bewildering array of aliens. You CAN have it handwaved bullshit technology or with reasonably realistic hard sci-fi. You CAN have it with or without space magic, whether that be psionics, nanotech, cybernetics or actual supernatural powers.
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tenbones

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #11 on: November 24, 2021, 01:31:25 PM »
So is the active threat immediately extant? The Federation is *immediately* known to be in conflict with the Romulans and Klingons. Or is the threat to be discovered? Like the Shadows in Babylon 5?

Or both? I like both - since the discovered threat(s) become leverage to scale the setting upwards and outwards when the time comes for the GM to push things.


Premier

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #12 on: November 24, 2021, 01:33:47 PM »
Personally, I think it should be *more than just background noise*. Sure enough, not every adventure has to be about directly confronting the Bad Guys, but telling the side story of some petty smugglers/adventurers/whatever who have nothing to do with the big conflict while the actual heroes are getting shit done off-screen is not very Space Operatic.
Obvious troll is obvious. RIP, Bill.

S'mon

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #13 on: November 24, 2021, 02:57:33 PM »
Personally, I think it should be *more than just background noise*. Sure enough, not every adventure has to be about directly confronting the Bad Guys, but telling the side story of some petty smugglers/adventurers/whatever who have nothing to do with the big conflict while the actual heroes are getting shit done off-screen is not very Space Operatic.

Hm, well, you could do it like Goblin Slayer basically as a subversion of genre tropes.

Premier

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Re: Space Opera Gaming
« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2021, 05:16:04 PM »
Hm, well, you could do it like Goblin Slayer basically as a subversion of genre tropes.

I've never watched Goblin Slayer, but sure, you could play as a subversion of Space Opera genre tropes... but within the context of this thread, why would you want to? The OP's question wasn't about how to play Space Opera while not really playing Space Opera; it was about how to play honest-to-god Space Opera.
Obvious troll is obvious. RIP, Bill.