I’ve spent a lot of time recently reading through various sci-fi RPG’s trying to find the one that hits my personal “sweet-spot,” which has turned into quite the daunting task. I’ve never had this much trouble landing on a fantasy rpg. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time during my gaming history on fantasy games that when I found the right one (Swords & Wizardry) it instantly leapt out at me? I really think it’s more of a case of a lot of fantasy RPG’s spring up from the same roots: Lord of the Rings, whereas sci-fi is all over the place. There’s cyberpunk, post apocalyptic, dystopian, Star Wars-style sci-fantasy, Star Trek-style space opera, hard sci-fi, post humanist, and on and on each with a different system that claims to scratch a different itch. Even more generic systems still have a slant to a particular genre that’s fairly easy to ascertain. You can go with a particular genre and find a system that is tailored to evoke that feel, but then you start getting into the system itself: it’s too heavy, it’s far too light. This is compounded even further for guys like me that like pieces and parts of various genres. You may find a system that’s feels right, but there’s nothing there for cybernetics or mutations, or the rule for robot or starship creation are either not sufficient or simply non-existent.
I’ve asked myself many times over the last 20+ years: “what would my ‘perfect’ system look like?” The question is great for any gamer that feel stuck. I’ve found, while you may be playing and enjoying one system, asking yourself this question may have surprising results and may lead you to a system or to options that you may not have considered otherwise. So, what would my “perfect” system look like?
I’d start off with a simple D20 base. The system would have ascending AC, simple Saving Throws (only 3-4 categories at most, and I’m not strictly adherent to Fort/Reflex/Will, though that does work for me in a lot of cases).
The class structure would be simple 3-4 classes at most that will allow for a wide variety of character types by way of Background packages.
Races will be clear and concise without 1001 modifiers for every conceivable skill usage contingency. No stat minimums to play a particular race, in lieu of stat bonuses and penalties (typically ever more than a +/-2 in most cases with +/-1 being the norm).
Skills would be somewhat similar to those found in Star Wars Saga. Slight bonus to all class skills, with a few being tagged as “Trained” that get a bigger bonus, but characters would be able to tag non-class skills if they wish to use them as class skills, but with a smaller trained bonus. This would allow a Soldier character to have Medical skills, where such skills would normally fall under the Expert class.
Cybernetics would be handled in the same manner as Stars Without Number: Each piece of cybergear costs System Strain. A character cannot go beyond their Constitution score in System Strain. However, I would add in the option of the creation of total conversion cyborgs, but such characters are more like robots with organic brains than cyborgs that are more flesh and blood than metal. Not sure how I would handle that just yet.
Psionics would be handled much like Star Wars Saga’s Force powers. Psionic characters would start with few powers, they would only be usable once per combat, but refresh in a variety of ways. Every so many levels, they can make a Psicraft check to see if they can learn a new power, but the more powers a character has, the harder it will be to learn a new one. When the character wants to use a power, he/she makes a Psicraft check and the result of that check determines success or failure and to what degree when using some powers. Not sure that I’d have a dedicated Psion class or not, but I likely would due to the number of powers that a psion could possibly have.
Mutations would be handled in the same manner as found in Other Dust. That system allows for some oddities, but is also built in a way that’s not too ridiculous.
Weapons and Armor would have a wide variety of options. I like specific models of weapons and armor rather than generic varieties that cover various classes of weapons. It’s one of those ways to mechanically make the character different than others of the same class/race combination.
Starship and Robot creation systems found in Stars Without Number are excellent. I would use them as is.
I like SWN’s simple creature/NPC statblocks. The only thing I would change would be the removal of Morale. I’ve never liked Morale as a stat. I’ve always felt that such actions should totally be left up to the GM based on the creature/NPC descriptions and GM fiat based on the situation.
Tech Levels would be like those found in D20 Future. It allows for more subtle differences than the four levels found in SWN.
Sector creation would be a combination of those found in SWN, Starships & Spacemen, and Bandits & Battlecruisers. That would allow for both the realistic and a touch of the weird as well. SWN’s charts for the creation of societies and governments are great, but they are largely human-centric, which fits with the SWN setting of a shattered human empire, with few aliens.
There you have it, that what my “perfect” system would look like. Would I ever actually get it written up? Probably not, or at least not in a state that I would be completely happy with. After all, the devil is in the details as I have found out during the times that I have attempted to do such things.