Today I finished reading “Time for the Stars”, a classic young-adult science-fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein. You might be asking yourselves now why I am reading old young-adult novels and what it has to do with roleplaying games. Please bear with me.
One of my favorite websites is Atomic Rockets by Winchell Chung. It’s a resource mainly for writers which explains basically almost every aspect of space travel. It helps you to get your science right, if that’s something you’re interested in. The article about “torchships” mentioned Heinlein’s story several times, so I decided to track down a copy and give it a read.
I have to admit that the story is not as interesting as I hoped. It’s about a twin travelling on the torchship Lewis & Clark to the stars while the other twin remains at home. They have a telepathic connection which continues to work even though the ship is light years away from home. But what sets the novel apart is the fact that Heinlein actually got a lot of the science right. The torchships are beyond what we could build today, but the technology is plausible. He also made sure he got special relativity right. This means that the time is moving differently for the space-travelling twin. When he returns he barely aged, while the one who stayed on Earth is an old man.
As a GM at heart I always think about how I could use movies, books, etc. at the game table. After finishing “Time for the Stars” I noticed that I haven’t read any SF roleplaying game featuring travel at relativistic speeds. There are usually only game settings with FTL travel or with relatively slow, non-relativistic in-system travel.
I understand that relativistic travel makes time-keeping a bit more complicated. A galaxy-spanning civilization connected by Heinlein-style torchships will also be vastly different from your regular space opera setting. News travels only at the speed of light. Imagine one world gets attacked by Evil AliensTM and requests help. It might take decades for the fleet to arrive. But this might make for some very interesting stories.
Do you – my dear readers – know of any SF RPGs featuring relativistic travel? If so, please post your recommendations in the comments below. What are your thoughts on the topic in general? Do you think such a campaign is feasible or is it just too much of a hassle? As always your comments are highly appreciated!