StarControl

star-control-ii_7StarControl 2 was a video game series from the early 90’s that holds a dear place in my heart. For me, it epitomizes the niche gaming genre of space exploration and sandbox design. It was a true space fantasy universe  Naturally, about this time last year I went about designing a tabletop roleplaying game based off of the original. Though not specific to Star Wars, the themes and ideas that went into this opus resonate with any space fantasy game setting, and so I will be sharing them with you here.

You can also jump to our abandoned Obsidian Portal page here, created for the short-lived campaign. I’ll be refraining from posting very many detailed mechanics to the game, as the core of the game used a pretty obscure basis. Drop a Comment if you want to see more of something specific that I glossed over.

Background

The basics gameplay is as follows: Your crew flies around the galaxy, mining planetary minerals, discovering strange anomalies, making alliances with alien races, enhancing your battle cruiser with new armaments, and building a fleet of vessels to destroy the evil Ur-Quan Hierarchy.

Your ship is of an ancient design, uncovered during an archaeological expedition. It begins as a barebones skeleton, but is quickly outfitted to be an unstoppable war machine. The Crew are the only free enemies of the Ur-Quan, all other species opposed to their rule having been enslaved or destroyed. Though the Crew starts alone, their travels and adventures earn them the opportunity to forge new alliances and build a protectorate fleet of allies.

Mechanics

I started with a baseline using a little tabletop game I had stumbled into years ago called Battlestations! I bought up the core set and a couple of expansions and used that as the backbone of the game mechanics for combat, character generation, upgrading the Crew’s starship, etc.

A huge part of the source material is going to nearby star systems to plunder their planets for rich minerals, using a small landing craft to “gobble up” the wealth. To replicate this, I went all-out sandbox style and created a system for generating entirely random star systems at the table. It went something like this:

Planet Formation

When entering a new star system, roll 1d12 to determine the number of planetary bodies that can be mined for minerals. Break out the handy quick Star System Sheet to quickly jot down each planetary body’s information.

Roll 1d100 to determine the type of world the planetary body is (Magnetic World, Radioactive World, Ruby World, etc.), which then leads to a chart that applies modifiers to the planet’s other characteristics: # Lifeforms, Heat, Weather, Tectonics, Mineral Type, # Minerals.

Planets have 1d12 Lifeforms, modified by (always negative or zero) its Planet Type, and each lifeform has a random name and genetic value to Intergalactic Tradesmen.

Similarly, each planet has 1d8 “Heat”, 1d6 “Weather”, and 1d6 “Tectonics”. These form the four dangers of landing on a planet and the numbers represent the level of difficulty in overcoming the danger. Each time a lander lands on a planet, the pilot of the lander must succeed on the appropriate skill check to avoid the danger. After three failures, the lander is destroyed, which costs a lot of money.

Cashing In

When all four hazards are overcome, the planet lander grabs all the minerals and begins filling up the cargo hold. We had a small sheet of paper with open squares that got filled in with colored pencils to represent the hold filling up. Minerals generate resources based on their type (Common at 25/ton to Exotic at 1000/ton) when brought back to the starbase. Resources can be used to buy fuel, train new crew, build new starships or starship parts, and buy handheld equipment for the crew, such as laser rifles.

Meaningful Progress

Something I’ve talked about before, this game does a good job at satisfying the need for Meaningful Progress. Each voyage to a new star system explores a finite number of stars and presents an opportunity to make some cash, which is then used to build a more powerful fleet against a foe with a static level of power and difficulty. Furthermore, voyages also run a chance of randomly encountering one of the twenty-one alien races; making new friends and foes alike.

Star Map

Through painstaking planning and research, I drafted a list of the 500+ star systems shown on the starmap. Each entry in my Little Black Book then had a quick reference for where it was, what species has influence here, how likely is a random encounter, and most importantly the Notes. The Notes section detailed all of the hidden mysteries to be found by exploring these worlds, taking data not only from StarControl, but also throwing in dozens of fun little side treks inspired by as many science fiction tv shows as I could think of.

It was pretty awesome.

What Was the Problem?

At the core of the game, the problem was that we were trying to “fault the giraffe for having a long neck”; namely, that this was a video game designed for one person to while away many hours at, and not really suited for the group dynamic. There was a lot of effort put into making mineral harvesting a fun endeavor, and few a few gaming sessions it was, but not for a full length, traditional RPG campaign. Furthermore, the combat chassis we drafted from Battlestations! was clunky and awkward at best. It, too, was designed for something else; a long, drawn out space battle between two people over an entire afternoon. It was not the kind of fast-paced, ‘over and done in 15 minutes’ system we wanted it to be. Lastly, the roleplaying. By copying the original game’s style and plot, we were forcing ourselves to have a single player have all of the roleplaying limelight, and that was just plain no fun.

In the end, my gaming group had a great time with it and I learned a few game design lessons that I carry forward with me to the next exciting game in my life: Edge of the Empire! SIt tight, tomorrow I’ll be posting some pictures I rescued from those sessions and explain some more of the game’s mechanics in more detail.

About C. Steven Ross

C. Steven Ross is the founder of Triumph & Despair. View all posts by C. Steven Ross

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