So, talked to the Monday night group yesterday evening and a consensus quickly formed for a space opera travelogue sort of game for my next campaign – and since one of the players is particularly keen on the Traveller system it looks like we’ll be going with that.
I said in the discussion on my previous post that Traveller tends a bit more towards hard SF than space opera typically does, but that said I don’t think this is too much of a problem. Giving the SRD for the Mongoose version a quick going-over, it looks like they’ve done a reasonable job of offering alternatives to the baseline technical assumptions (they offer up different varieties of FTL travel, for instance, whereas previous editions had ye olde Jump drive hardwired in, and this time around it seems computers aren’t assumed to be massive room-sized affairs with teeny tiny hard drives). On top of that, the player who really loves Traveller seems keen on playing an engineer so a bit more emphasis on the technical details can’t hurt.
In terms of campaign premise I think I’ll have the PCs be bridge crew on a large starship as opposed to the entire crew of a small starship – partly because I kind of fancy ripping off Star Trek as much as humanly possible, partly because this means they’re effectively toting around a massive supply of replacement PCs in the event of fatalities, partly because giving them a big powerful ship with escape pods makes me happier about sending them into starship combat than if they were in a dinky ship with no escape pods. (I am mildly tempted to have the players roll up two PCs – a bridge crew officer with multiple tours of duty under their belt, and a weedy redshirt for security/suicide missions/comical random killing purposes.) I’d have to tackle the whole “why don’t they send a big mob of security crew to overwhelm the baddies?” question, but Trek has been doing that for decades so the problem clearly isn’t insurmountable.
Mongoose have actually put out multiple space opera-themed settings for Traveller (alongside the classic Third Imperium setting, which despite the whole empire-in-space premise is built along more hard SF lines), but I’m not sure I’ll want to run with any of the official sourcebooks. The Babylon 5 sourcebook they put out for it apparently isn’t brilliant and occasionally makes bizarre rule calls (Minbari have penalties to their social stats? Centauri get an intelligence bonus? Narn can’t be diplomats? Did these guys even watch the same show as me?), whilst Reign of Discordia a) uses the term “Discordia”, which has grown to be a red flag to me as far as geek culture artefacts go, and b) doesn’t feel very pointful – I mean, if I’m not dealing with an iconic space opera universe which is going to have some resonance with the players I may as well be homebrewing as far as I’m concerned. There’s actually a Prime Directive supplement coming out soon – the Prime Directive universe being an odd quasi-official offshoot of the Star Trek universe that seems to consist of the original series plus new background material cooked up for the Star Fleet Battles wargame – but that’s not out yet, and despite the added wrinkles that come in via the new background bits I’m not sure I want to run with something as familiar as the Trek setting.
So, current plan is to homebrew a setting and see how that goes. The nice thing about Traveller is that it gives you a lot of nice systems to procedurally generate sectors of space and star systems and generally goes out of its way to make prep fun in its own right so I’ll be going in with a bit more in the way of preparation than the Unknown Armies game. I’m currently pondering whether to go fully original with the setting or set it in the Babylon 5 universe with the players as the crew of one of those exploration ships which show up in one episode tasked with exploring a frontier region of the galaxy. Possibly in an alternate timeline where, after the end of the series and the fall of the Psi Corps which they built up to for the whole of the show and then dealt with in a spin-off novel afterwards, Sheridan is indicted for his horrible war crimes (namely, the use of innocent coma victims as suicide bombers) and the Interstellar Alliance falls apart (since it’s so closely bound up with Sheridan’s personal political agenda that with him discredited, the whole idea is mildly discredited), because then there’d be a universe which gets back to the slightly meatier, more tense and less creepily Messianic politics of the early series without the Shadows or the Vorlons cramping anyone’s style.