Sunday, 20 December 2009

Hard SF

Following on from yesterday's post I've been doing some thinking about hard SF. In principle I like the idea, you see. It's just that it's all so bloody difficult if you're a non-scientist like me. (My three GCSE Grade B's in Physics, Biology and Chemistry don't exactly stand me in good stead. What I really need to do is take a degree in Astronomy or something.)

There's also that old chestnut, the Player Investment Problem, or as I sometime think of it, the "a-realistic-game-set-in-ancient-Babylon-would-be-really-cool, but-only-1%-of-gamers-would-invest-anything-like-the-necessary-time-to-make-such-a-game-a-success problem." Which is to say, Pendragon and Harn are tough enough sells to most players. Don't even talk about a game in which you have to deal with lagrangian points and parsecs.

Transhuman Space looks interesting, were it not for the fact that I find the idea of transhumanism kind of laughable and revolting at the same time. It may be worth investigating to see if I can excise that part of it completely. Then again, that really probably just boils down to a very hard SF version of GURPS.


  1. Cyberpunk 2013 & -20 had accessible space sourcebooks (entitled "Low Orbit" & "Deep Space"). The latter had an excellent primer on making a hard sci-fi universe fun. The vagaries of microgravity, depressurization and explosive decompression were covered in a rules sidebar entitled "ARG! Air, Radiation, Gravity."

    Although it was no Mutant Chronicles the Deep Space book included a fun future (now alt.) history of space colonisation which included a swarming Earth orbit, named colonies at all the Earth-Moon Lagrangian points, the EU's mighty lunar mass drivers, two rival bases on Mars, Gibsonian space rastas homesteading the asteroid belt. This kept the learning curve gentle (at least for a hard science game).

  2. "Laughable and revolting at the same time" is a good sum-up of the concepts of transhumanism, or at least of the sorts of attitudes it seems to encourage.

    I would consider leaving some of the transhumanist stuff in as an antagonist group, actually.

  3. As a GM who specializes in hard SF games (and soft SF game and space opera SF and...I like SF) I can tell you the key is...get over it.

    Hard SF doesn't mean you need a degree in quantum mechanics. It means you need to know the basics so that you can judge actions logically. It also means you can use to the latest theory and cool articles in science magazines to wow your players with how science-y your Science-Fiction is.

    I mean, Traveller is hard SF but really its not. Its sort of Hard SF/Space Opera. I know people may disagree but that's how I play it.

  4. what's transhumanism? Using humans for transport? Piggybacks for all?

  5. Have you had a look at Traveller 2300AD? That's a pretty decent hard SF game, wrapped up in an interestingly postulated future. It's very easy to pick up stuff on ebay for not very much money.

  6. diaspora is a recent hard scifi game that's starting to get some word of mouth - I got a copy recently and have been enjoying reading through the rules.

  7. In regard to transhumanism--is it the idea that technology could be used to enhance human mental and physical abilities/capacities what you find "laughable and revolting" or is the behavior of self-styled "transhumanists?

    If its the latter, I can agree. If its the former, then I think that rejects a lot of very good science fiction literature. In fact most of it since the coming of cyberpunk.

  8. trey: Interesting question. It's both the things you refer to, though mainly the behaviour of transhumanists themselves.

    As far as literature is concerned, I agree that most good sci-fi literature since Gibson has included the use of technology to enhance human mental/physical abilities. But what makes that literature interesting is that it sees such use of technology as either bad or ambivalent. Transhumanists (in terms of the socio-political movement) tend to see it as an unqualified good, which I don't think it is.