Monday, August 24, 2020

Out of My Hands

Growing up, Star Trek was my first love when it came to science fiction. I can't recall how young I was when I was introduced to Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the crew of the USS Enterprise, but it was certainly several years before 1977, when Star Wars appeared and momentarily won my cheating heart. In any case, the release of FASA's Star Trek the Roleplaying Game in 1982 was an important moment in my gaming history. I still remember the anticipation occasioned by the ads in the pages of Dragon that heralded the game's imminent arrival. 

This post isn't actually about Star Trek or Star Trek the Roleplaying Game, though the latter serves as an important example. You see, an early supplement for the RPG was Trader Captains and Merchant Princes by Guy W. McLimore which detailed, as its name suggests, what it is like to be an independent trader à la Cyrano Jones in the Star Trek universe. I really liked the book for many reasons – perhaps I'll do a Retrospective on it some day – but a reason that sticks out is its inclusion of rules for playing the Federation stock market.

The rules are fairly simple, even simplistic if you know anything about real world financial markets. Arguably, they don't even make much sense in the post-scarcity economy of Roddenberry's United Federation of Planets. None of that mattered to me, who enjoyed the rules because they mechanized an aspect of the background setting, enabling me to see the rise and fall of the relative values of Federation companies. This might not seem like much, but it meant a lot in merchant campaigns where the the fortunes of Multiplanet Metals or Shuvinaaljis Warp Technologies played an important role. I appreciated that, with a few rolls of the dice, a part of the game setting was taken out of my hands and I could be as surprised at how things unfolded as the players.

This is also why I continue to esteem Frank Mentzer's D&D Companion Rules, despite their many shortcomings. Mentzer included a couple of lists of natural and unnatural events, along with percentages assigned to each, that might occur in a player character-run domain each year. To call it a "system" is ridiculous, but it nevertheless gives the referee some creative pushes in terms of how the campaign world might unfold independent of his own ideas. A more developed version of these lists can be found in 1985's Oriental Adventures by Gary Gygax, David Cook, and François Marcela-Froideval.

After refereeing my Empire of the Petal Throne campaign for the last five and a half years, I've often found myself looking for ways to mechanize background events, both to alleviate some of the prep work I must do and to ensure that setting events don't fall into ruts. I find that certain ideas recur in my imagination and, left solely to my own devices, things might get repetitive. Having access to a system that determined, for example, the start of a war or a political alliance or a magical discovery would be extremely useful to me. The only old school RPG I can think that includes such a system is Stars Without Numbers and even that isn't exactly what I'm looking for. I suppose the answer, as with so many things, is to make one for myself.

1 comment:

  1. It's not osr, but the game of thrones rpg has a fortunes roll for every month that introduces events like you mention. I feel like Stars Without Number (or perhaps Crawford's upcoming Worlds Without Number) just needs the inclusion of one of these tables to elevate their domain game to the next level.