Some thoughts on roleplaying in the SF genre

FlyingCar While I am currently a fantasy campaign I am already thinking about what I could run next. And as so often before the idea to run a SF game crops up again. I actually decided on a system I want to use and now I am collecting ideas for a campaign. Of course I could run an preexisting campaign or use a background my players are already familiar with, but in my opinion creating a whole new universe is half the fun.

When I started thinking about what elements I want in my SF game I immediately noticed some of the problems with running games in that particular genre. Especially when you want to have at least some semblance of science in your science fiction things get complicated pretty quickly. Fantasy is easy. We all know what a sword is, we have a pretty good idea what an orc is and magic … just works. When creating a SF universe you have to put a lot of thought into almost any aspect. Of course you can just call it Space Opera and treat technology like magic. How does the hyperdrive work? Just fine, thank you. 😉

But that’s not what I want out of a SF game. I am looking for a setting that is at least scientifically plausible. One thing that usually causes me headaches is whether to include something like psionics. Telepathy, ESP etc. are all common tropes of some subgenres of SF but are scientifically implausible. And then it depends a lot on how you explain the existence of such powers in the game universe. I actually think that Mass Effect did that pretty well with Biotics.

Another problem I often have is visualization. When watching a SF TV series or movie you can see all the cool technical gadgets, space ships and aliens. It’s the same with modern computer games. You don’t have to explain everything to the player/viewer, you just show it to them. In roleplaying games (especially when creating your own setting) you don’t have that luxury. You have to explain everything. And listening to an explanation of that super-cool, holographic, touch-sensitive, force field input thingamajig is usually way less cool than actually seeing it.

At the moment I am not sure what subgenre of SF I want to use for my game, but I think a galaxy-spanning space-faring campaign may be fun.

So what are your thoughts on roleplaying in the SF genre? How do you avoid the common problems? As always your comments are highly appreciated.