After flirting with several different game systems lately, I am now conducting a scientific experiment: how long will it take for me to get sick of Vampire: the Requiem, and by implication, other games that I get momentarily infatuated with? (The answer: I was fed up with the presentation and authorial voice instantly. But maaaaaaybe there’s a game worth playing hidden in between the schlocky writing?) I ask this because I was recently enamored of Star Frontiers and then Gamma World, only to have those feelings quickly dissolve within a few days.
star frontiers: what am I doing here, captain
Our group has been wrestling with science-fiction games for quite some time. By New York State Law I am forbidden from playing Traveller, but it doesn’t quite seem to get a critical mass of interest from the other Red Boxers. I know the Alternity system pretty well, but its spaceship combat rules are awful, character design takes forever, and I’m a perfectionist about designing a scenario in these types of system-is-everything games. A friend wrote a beautiful hack of Starships & Spacemen that some of us used to play a joyous Star Trek rip-off, but he doesn’t want to run it any more.
Anyway, what with one thing and another, I figured I’d check out Star Frontiers, given its TSR pedigree and remembering incomprehensible adds in Marvel Comics. Frankly, I am not sure what Star Frontiers is about. Apparently you’re like, the Away Team sent down to hex-crawl across alien worlds and zap things. Several of the modules take this approach, and the game’s tagline, “Exciting adventures on alien worlds!” seems to bear that out.
Somewhat awesomely, all of human knowledge has collapsed into thirteen fields of study, of which a full seven (54%) directly involve killing things. (This amazes me mainly because in Alternity, the sci-fi game I’ve played most, there are like 109 skills, of which like 25 directly involve killing things.) Also, the aliens aren’t described in much detail, but they’re fairly non-human, which is a plus in my mind.
Part of the problem with Star Frontiers, maybe, is that it is deliberately non-political science-fiction: that is, science-fiction that’s designed to be bland. Star Trek‘s original series is infused with mid-1950’s techno-utopian thinking, Cold War tension, and late-60’s cultural concerns; the later iterations of the show tended to veer toward the police procedural genre, albeit ones where the police get trapped in caves a lot or date women who are actually disguised space-monsters. Star Wars (the watchable movies, at least) is an admixture of Zen platitudes, anti-fascism, and perhaps a qualified rejection of the Industrial Revolution. But those two are only the big sci-fi franchises in hindsight. In the early 1980’s, there was also Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica and many other things besides, and it feels like Star Frontiers was just trying to fit in with the crowd rather than stake out new territory.
Certainly some people love the hell out of this game, enough to create a deluxe, high-quality remix of the rules with better art. I do find it curious, though, that a company like TSR / Wizards has never tried to squeeze more juice out of this game. Maybe the Williamses wanted the company to start fresh with Buck Rogers XXVc or something.
gamma world: that’ll do, pig
After quickly growing bored with Star Frontiers, I got into Gamma World very briefly after Tavis was kind enough to run me through a goofy little half-scenario in which my twice-super-intelligent pig, Boss Hogg, who I imagine is the Samuel L. Delany of post-apocalyptic Hazzard County, helped some benighted villagers understand the mystery of witch-fruit (“it’s really a tuber”), found them a robot-obstetrician to help with their appalling infant mortality rate, and fed pig-slops to a smelly toothless hobo, just like the real Samuel L. Delany would.
Gamma World 2e (which is kinda the Moldvay equivalent of the 1e rules) looks like a lot of fun, precisely because it’s what disappointed me about Star Frontiers: you’re some weird freak rollin’ around in an “alien” world. Why this appeals to me in Gamma World but disappoints me in Star Frontiers is a mystery, and probably unfair.
I mainly fell out of love with Gamma World when I realized it seemed to be D&D with a facelift: modern-day ruins instead of medieval ones, tons more hit points, and an unchanging list of
magic spells mutations. To whatever extent D&D is a game about managing your resources wisely, this seems less true Gamma World in the main (though I guess you’d have to ration your D batteries pretty carefully).
I still wanna play that pig, though. Boss Hogg, Edible Consultant, has a lot more adventures left in him.
i hope vampires are not too stupid
Over the weekend I got hopped up on old Tomb of Dracula comics, and took down my old unplayed copy of Vampire: the Requiem down from the shelf. So my experiment started on Sunday night and I’m waiting to see when I get tired of this thing. That way, whenever I fall into the grip of some new gaming passion, I will know to wait _____ days before taking it seriously.
I am not, and probably never was, part of the target audience for Vampire: the Requiem. I don’t like horror movies, LARPing, or freeform role-play twiddle-twaddle. I hate the book’s padding and fake-ass lingo. I strongly doubt that whoever called it “Modern Gothic role-playing” had read The Castle of Otranto. This book is not meant for me.
On the other hand, I really, really dig the idea of what a pain in the ass it would be to only be active at night. I can barely get my shit done in 18 hours; now I’ve only got 12? Man, what if I want to check out some Isaac Asimov book from the library and it closes at 5 p.m.? Can’t see no animals at the zoo. Can’t see no kids on the playground while strolling around. Can’t renew my drivers license at the DMV; can’t pick up Amazon boxes at the post office. Plus, every night you gotta drink blood instead of having a toasted cheese sandwich or whatever. This is not enough to make me all emo and mopey, but it would be an interesting problem to have for few sessions.
Stripping down the game to the basics, it seems that what you’ve got is a game about extremely territorial cannibal-folks with magic blood-powers, who more or less hate each other but any big move would set off a gang war apocalypse. There’s also some stuff about enslavement and addiction, and a risk of growing insanity, which has to be carefully managed to avoid being disabled for years or decades. It looks like there’s a playable game lurking in there, if you can avoid the pretentious nonsense.
I expect my interest will fade by the end of the Memorial Day, but we’ll see.