I was listening to Jason Hobbs’ “Random Screed” when I heard him talk about a desire to play some science-fiction stuff. Given that it was early – I had just arrived at school, around 7am – I shot him a quick Anchor message and thought little of it. This morning, listening to his latest episode, I heard Jason’s response… which wasn’t exactly positive, as he asked, “What is it with Military SF?”
But first, I want to tell you about my week.
Getting Into Space
This week had three highlights for me, all of which involved science-fiction roleplaying game products. The first was receiving GURPS Space (3rd Edition):
I owned this back around the turn of the century, probably earlier, but sold it when the current edition of GURPS updated the Space product. But the truth is that I have been strongly drawn towards playing some Third Edition GURPS and also solidly jonesing for some science-fiction, so when I saw a cheap copy on eBay it was a no-brainer.
I think that I am trying to understand the evolution of GURPS and the curiosity that I feel is a positive feeling at a time when, with work being so crazy and dangerous, positive feelings are few and far between. I feel nostalgia for some of these old books but I also recognise that I have never truly played with them. That feels like a bit of a shame.
The second highlight was hopping online on a very short-notice whim to interview David Suruco from the 23rd Century Productions, LLC. He’s one of the guys behind the newest edition of the classic military science-fiction roleplaying game, Battlelords of the 23rd Century:
Some months back, the guys had invited me to do a podcast chat and very kindly sent me the .PDF of the rulebook when I asked, “Erm, what is it?”
As you can see, it didn’t take long before I ordered the hardcover 550-or-so page tome and put it on my stacks. To be fair, I’d started reading it and got VERY excited… and then been hit by the realisation (read: thought-distortion) that no-one is going to want to play this with me. That all changed on Thursday night when, after a very near-miss on Zoom, Dave and I got chatting.
While I’ll work to share the full interview in a week or two, the relevant point is that David rekindled my fire for Mil-SF gaming – something that, when I think about it, has long been a flavour of gaming I have never quite got to play. Which brings me back to Hobbs’ question… but then again…
Today, the postie delivered another gorgeous tome. This time it’s the Klingon Collector’s Edition Star Trek Adventures core rulebook from Modiphius:
While I’ve barely had time to unwrap it and quickly flip through the pages, I have had re-kindled the fiery desire to play with Klingons. Does that need any explanation?
Anyway… back to Jason’s question: “What is it with Military SF?”
Getting Off My (Big) Guns
I grew up as an Army Brat: Dad was a Sergeant in the UK Armed Forces; I was born in Germany, and lived my earliest years on a military base. While I don’t have memories from those first four years, I was raised in a household wherein warfare – especially the modern period from 1939 onwards – was all around me.
Distinct memories growing up include playing Panzer! with my Dad (and losing often), being encouraged to read lots of books about World War II tanks, and learning everything I could about the UK’s weapons of the period – that’d be 1975-1990, broadly. The other big memories were Dad introducing me to science-fiction wargaming with Ogre and GEV from Steve Jackson Games, and then my friends introducing me to the Traveller and Star Frontiers roleplaying games.
I think, deep down, I have always wanted to play two types of game: World War II big tank battle wargames; and big-scope military science-fiction adventure games. I like big guns, and I cannot lie. I love laser targeting systems and ablative armour, gyrojet rifles, and big powered battle suits. And I’d really like to play some games involving them.
But it’s more than big guns.
It was something David said in that interview on Thursday. Roughly paraphrasing, he told me that Battlelords is a game about teams. Units of very well-armed and sometimes well-trained warriors who take on deadly missions but have to function as a team to survive.
This was the key ingredient: the need to act together, to co-operate, to deliver on a specific tactical mission in a limited timescale. That is why I want to play Mil-SF.
To put it another way, the free-wheeling hex-crawl in space is not the game I am looking for. I’ve tried it, many times, but I just can’t muster the enthusiasm. Why? Because I feel that the open sandbox approach of a hexcrawl just isn’t as compelling in a science-fiction context.
The most successful science-fiction properties operate on one of two models: the episodic show (e.g. Original Star Trek), or the specific story arc (e.g. Babylon Five). I feel that military science-fiction offers a great basis for either approach… although I tend to favour the episodic style for an Open Table in my own games.
That is what is up with Military SF, my friends, and it’s why I am absolutely desperate to pick up my laser carbine and get out there into the Big Black.