Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Saturday Night Space Opera Part 1: A Successful Launch!

Welcome space rangers!
WELL, we did it! This past weekend we hosted our first Saturday Night Space Opera at The Source! We had a total of three RSVPs, plus John Till and myself--plus a few other folks stopped by to ask about the event. They'd heard about it and have even gamed with John in a round of Cosmic Patrol (I think it was). 

There's too much to recount in a single blog post, so I'll cover the actual game in a follow up soon. For now though, just know that we all had a great time. A large part of that is due to having three young (teenage) players who were more than happy to get their feet wet with a system that's low on crunch. By the sounds of it, they'd actually played an early edition of D&D for a while, though it wasn't clear which, it was seemed to be some form of AD&D. So there we were, ready to kick off a new Rad Astra game using the X-plorers ruleset...

A True Wingman!
Having a veteran like John at the table was a huge benefit and great pleasure that I cannot overstate. When I was waist-deep in manuals and my own manically scrawled notes, he was gregarious to the other players, happy to ask them if they needed help, and generously chiming in with well-timed advice. He cheerfully kept the game aloft when decision-making ground to a halt between some of the other players. His avuncular presence was a boon to they and me. At the end of the night he asked the other players if they had fun, and they all responded firmly in the affirmative. All traits of a fantastic game master in his own right and I can't wait to thank him by sometime returning the favor when he's head of the table...or at least be class clown and heckle him!

So here's a few things I learned, or in some cases, relearned:

Character Generation Needs a Reboot
X-plorers is a game that not a ton of people have played. Despite its"rules light" nature, CharGen remains a speed bump. Even when there's Player's Guide books, simplified character sheets reduced to note cards, and a few summaries on classes, all provided at the table it can take a while. Mostly this is due to players enjoying the process of crafting their characters. But it's pretty much on my shoulders to make the process as painless as possible. So in the future I'll be writing up a quick-starter one-sheet with steps clearly outlined--if not a few ready-made templates. 

Still, I think the players had fun--too much maybe. Especially when it came to choosing....

Equipment is Everything
I already knew from previous session with this game and still forgot: hardware in a scifi game IS the theme. Yes, a lot of other things play into the aesthetics of a setting, but the gear PCs carry on them is the road on which the campaign travels. This extends to vehicles, spaceships, etc. of course--but their gear has to be the single strongest indicator of the kind of setting in which their adventuring. 

The game's default equipment list is heavily influenced by hard scifi (ALIEN, Outland, etc.) Rad Astra is not hard scifi. I like hard scifi just fine. But a space opera game needs broader strokes--it needs to dream bigger and bring the fantastic. So a very overdue equipment list will be created...and slowly integrated into the setting. 

Several of the players took their time to carefully consider each piece. Like whether or not they should carry flashlights or flare guns!! For most kickoff adventures, I don't want player to worry about that stuff, so I give them some basics to get started and let them improvise the rest. 
Either way, a selection of more setting appropriate gear is now top priority. 

Props Help Sell the Theme
I was like a kid in a candy store when I was planning this game. So I brought some table-candy: 
  • A felt game mat with starfield and nebula
  • A map of the six-armed super galaxy that I drew in the days leading up to the game
  • A smattering of hastily printed B/W handouts of characters, ships, and locations
  • Extra player aids (see Character Generation above)
  • A handful of Buck Rogers minis and a swooshy ebony spaceship
  • One package of over-sized Galaxy Laser Team figures to hold down the mat and just hang around being cool
  • Besides John with his awesome Zochi dice, the other guys brought minimal polyhedrons and shared. Can't get more "light" than that...
Yeah, it's a zany way to game, but I've found that having fun things around to hold and gaze upon are are a perfect fit for a root beer and pretzels game night. And that's what Saturday Night Space Opera gaming is all about!

Theater of the Mind Wins Every Time
Despite having some cool toys on the table, we only used the Buck Rogers minis once to quickly settle confusion around some hand-to-hand combat with multiple participants. The rest of the game was group storytelling and good-old-fashioned dialog. The players intimated at the beginning that this was their preferred style (it's mine as well). Even the visitors who stopped by prior to the game, said they prefer no-minis in their games. 

It's amazing how far you can travel with just paper, pencils, and a few funny dice!

UPDATE: Here's the first play report!

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