A Long Time Ago, in the Final Frontier

"Your reign of terror over the blue guys from Avatar is at an end, Ming the Merciless!"

I’m sure a lot of people who read this blog also read Grognardia, and that some of you have read this post.

For those that haven’t, James Maliszewski’s basic argument is that D&D was successful partly because it had a very broad understanding of ‘fantasy’, and allowed people to combine elements from different sources. So you could have a Conan-like barbarian in the same party as a martial artist monk and a Tolkien-style dwarf, and they could be fighting creatures from horror films. In my experience most players don’t notice this, because they’re familiar with D&D-style fantasy and not familiar with its ingredients except perhaps Tolkien. In fact when people say ‘fantasy’ they often mean D&D-style fantasy.

He goes on to say that “There’s never really been a science fiction game that’s successfully adopted a similar approach…”

The reason I’m writing this is that I’m taking over DMing duties in my gaming group. I’m going to be running a version of d6 Star Wars (I’m looking at Mini Six, but I’m planning to change it a bit), and I was looking at doing exactly the sort of campaign that James M. seems to be talking about, which combines elements from lots of different science fiction (I’m defining ‘science fiction’ here to mean ‘adventure stories but in space’).

The thing is, James Maliszewski makes this sound like an unprecedented and fiendishly difficult undertaking.

I’ve been assuming that this would be reasonably easy. For example Star Wars and Firefly both assume that space will like the world of Westerns. The Alliance in Firefly are like the Federation in Star Trek as seen by their enemies. Star Wars and Avatar both have elements of the Barsoom series.

In any case, settings that don’t fit could be limited to particular planets, in the same way that ewoks are isolated from the main society of Star Wars (incidentally, to me the Na’vi from Avatar and the green martians of Barsoom look more like typical Star Wars aliens than ewoks do).

And another ‘in any case’; I don’t think that role-playing really is, as people sometimes claim, like┬ácollaboratively creating a novel or film. In my experience it’s more like collaboratively creating terrible fan-fiction (and hopefully having fun doing so). And I’m sure that there’s fan-fiction with more jarring mashups than having the Russian mafia guy from Firefly as a rival to Jabba the Hutt.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a very good DM (going by my success in setting up long-term campaigns anyway. People seem to enjoy my games). So I wonder if I’ve underestimated the difficulty of the task. Please share your experiences in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “A Long Time Ago, in the Final Frontier

  1. Go for it! In high school, I ran a D&D game that turned into sci-fi (still using D&D rules) after the party exited the dungeon and found a Dalek spaceship. They flew it away into a mash-up of Star Trek, Aliens, and Star Frontiers.

    One easy way to explain the different components would be dimension-hopping, or even time travel.

  2. This sounds like a blast and is quite feasible in my opinion. One hallmark of old-school gaming is the mixing of genres. I love your way of describing it as terrible fiction. ­čÖé

    In my current campaign that I’m DM’ing (which is currently AD&D), I have one room where a soldier from the Vietnam was has entered a time vortex and is wandering the dungeon. In this case, if the PC’s help him get back to the vortex so he can head back to his time, he will reward them with a handgun with some extra rounds. So I love mixing genres.

    Have you read the Arduin Grimoire books from the 1970’s? They have many aspects of tech, including a character class called Technos. They also have alien races that can be played as PC’s.

    In summary, mixing different sci-fi genres should be fine. After all, people successfully mix wildly different genres (Western/Horror, or Fantasy/Sci-fi).

    This is my first time here. Nice looking blog!

  3. I think this an awesome idea I never would have thought of. My current game is modern fantasy and I love it because I can mix genres and don’t feel limited to anything in particular.

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