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Old 04-15-2012, 11:53 AM   #1
Mailanka
 
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Default Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

I've been digging around in space opera and hard sci-fi for awhile, attempting to see how I can get my vision of space opera to fit into GURPS, and I've quickly found a few problems that I think I can finally encapsulate neatly:

Space Opera (and by "Space Opera" I mean the fantastical narratives filled with space tropes like starships and aliens, but with little actual science beyond the techno-babble necessary to justify such a setting, as seen in the popular conscience thanks to TV, movies and many video games. We're talking about Mass Effect, Star Trek, Star Wars and Firefly, if I'm allowed to make broad generalizations) tends to focus on the personal. It has human heroes that go toe-to-toe with easily understood enemies, usually other humans or humanoid aliens/robots, and this hero fights his enemies at a close enough distance that he can see them, talk to them, form relationships with them. It's something we can grasp on an intellectual level.

More and more science and technology might be lathered atop this core assumption, but anything that violates it is discarded, changed or ignored. In Dune, we introduce those strange shields to encourage knife fights. In Mass Effect, despite having weapons that can shoot amazingly long distances and facing an AI threat, all the fights inexplicably happen close enough that you can run at your enemy and reach him in the space of a handful of seconds, and said enemy has two arms and two legs and a head-like point, rather than being something completely inhuman that snipes you from miles away. This is true of 40k as well. Similarly, Star Wars features laser swords that can conveniently parry (remarkably slow-moving) laser blasts and the Jedi that wield them, despite having remarkable reflexes, control over remote objects and precognition, Jedi never whip out gun-fu and snipe their opponents with bent laser-bolts. They fight with laserswords. My point is not that any of this is bad or poorly justified, quite the opposite, it's that it is so. Every one of these settings fights to keep combat and problems up-close and personal, on a profoundly (modern, recognizably) human scale. Some justify them better than others, but they all have these concepts in place.

Hard Sci-Fi is more interested in exploring the ultimate implications of technologies and scientific discoveries, and thus it strictly adheres to verisimilitude. For example, if weapons continue to outpace armor, then you won't see power armor. If weapons and sensors continue to expand their ranges, then one would expect warfare to be fought at amazing distances. And if AI continues to advance and we still care greatly for human life, then we'd expect push-button warfare to become the norm. Why even have soldiers if AI can fight your wars better for you?

Likewise, the problems faced in sci-fi are often beyond the scope of a single human. You can't punch a nano-plague in the jaw. You can't negotiate with a star on the verge of going nova. You can't fall in love with an alien princess, because "she" won't represent anything remotely humanoid, much less something you could actually breed with, and it might not even understand or have the concept of love (It'd be like falling in love with a crocodile princess, except it would probably make less sense).

GURPS tends to favor this latter approach, as it fixates on realism by default. Ultra-tech firearms extend their ranges further and further and continue to increase in lethality (with some of the more mundane, uninteresting weapons like guns and nukes beating out exotic physics for combat solutions) and following the implications laid out in UT tends to lead one more in the direction of a setting like Transhuman Space than like Star Wars.

GURPS players tend to match it. Hand one of my players a Jedi, and they'll start to wonder why, exactly, they can't use blasters and destroy their enemy from a range. Thus, I cannot rely on tradition or genre savvy to keep my players in line. They want in-setting or in-system justifications, and I don't blame them.

So, my question to you is (TL;DR): What suggestions do you have for taking ultra-tech equipment and keeping the scale of adventure at a personal, human-oriented scope, using in-setting or in-system (ie cinematic options or house rules) justifications?
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Old 04-15-2012, 12:30 PM   #2
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

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Originally Posted by Mailanka View Post
So, my question to you is (TL;DR): What suggestions do you have for taking ultra-tech equipment and keeping the scale of adventure at a personal, human-oriented scope, using in-setting or in-system (ie cinematic options or house rules) justifications?
My Star Trek campaign is TL11^ and I've never had the problems with the action occurring at too-distance not-personal ranges. I think mainly because even if the weapon's range is a thousand yards, you can't start your firefight until can actually see your targets. Also, the players rarely know things are going to end up as a firefight until both parties are close enough to interact (and for that interact to go horribly wrong).

If you're planning a fairly straight-up military campaign, I doubt my post has helped you. If it's a more generic sci-fi campaign, I think you might be worrying about something that, in practice, turns out not to come up.

It's possible you were asking for ways to justify hand-to-hand combat over ranged weapons. If that is the case, then a sci-fi setting isn't really much different than a modern day one (at least not in any way I can think of at the moment).
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Old 04-15-2012, 12:47 PM   #3
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

Genre convention (and an accessibility limitation) of 'technology interferes with PSI, except <laser swords, etc>' will mean that if you want to be able to parry laser blasts, you will not be returning in kind.

Simply providing a discount for 'playing in genre' may also motivate players, while simultaneously allowing those who'd like the challenge the convention to do so (Say provide an extra 5-10% limitation for 'in genre' supernatural abilities); so if you want to play a jedi sniper you can do so, but you 'power' will have to come from your tactical advantage rather then your raw abilities, because the jedi knight with lightsaber effectively had 5-10% more points to spend on there abilities.

Use Genre-appropriate weapons; Blasters are slow rate of fire, basically never reloading, low damage things for a reason, you may want to expand this reason further. Having blasters do ~3 1d+1(100) and blaster rifles do !10 2d(100) while simultaneously making sure that no armor provides less then DR 200 or more then DR 700 for personal armor, and DR 1100 for structural armor means that rifles are ok vs even the heaviest armor, almost useless vs structures, but provide reliable protection from regular blasters, and make sticks, rocks, slug-throwers, and other non-blaster weapons useless against armor, but the low damage of blasters allows even unarmored (and laser sword wielding) combatants favoring dodge and mobility to ignore a blaster shot or two in a pinch. Have Laser Swords do 6d(inf), and they cut through armor like it's not even there, even if that armor would take dozens of rounds to whittle down at ~1 HP for every 12 hits. You can now still have the full myriad of conventional weapons exist; with everyone who even goes to the trouble of putting on a roguish leather jacket made of wonderflonium gets 200 DR for there trouble all of those conventional slug throwers and lasers, basically anything except the purposely low damage blasters, becomes useless unless it's amazing overkill (RPG vs individual).
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Old 04-16-2012, 04:12 AM   #4
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

Regarding range, I'm also currently employing a technology that makes mle weapons have their niche. Not in an open field where snipers rule, but under CQB circumstances, definitely. In fact, close quarters are the reason why mle attacks are still viable in Mass Effect.
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Old 04-16-2012, 08:45 AM   #5
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

Thanks Mailanka, I think your explanation of the "personal" scope of space opera is spot on.

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GURPS players tend to match it. Hand one of my players a Jedi, and they'll start to wonder why, exactly, they can't use blasters and destroy their enemy from a range. Thus, I cannot rely on tradition or genre savvy to keep my players in line.
I haven't found this to be the case at all. My players are all about the rule of cool. Personally, I think the whole point of being a Jedi is that you can use a lightsaber.

2 things spring to mind--first, in Star Wars, lightsaber are the only reliable defense against blasters. Armor is useless, but parries are always a perfect defense against ranged weapons.

I think this can be duplicated in GURPS by allowing Weapon Master with your melee weapons (and shields) but not with ranged weapons. Allow Danger Sense, Precognitive Parry, Enhanced Parry, etc.... Since armor isn't very effective, ranged weapon fighters will have to rely on cover and tactics, while melee fighters can jump into the fray.

The in-game justification isn't necessary-- blasters can't parry anyway.
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Old 04-16-2012, 09:24 AM   #6
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

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Originally Posted by starslayer View Post
Genre convention (and an accessibility limitation) of 'technology interferes with PSI, except <laser swords, etc>' will mean that if you want to be able to parry laser blasts, you will not be returning in kind.
Or for a different style of play, laser swords are commonly used close in because blasters require a cool-down time. West Country dialect optional.
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Old 04-16-2012, 10:48 AM   #7
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

I think one other thing to consider is how focused on combat the campaign is. If your sessions are just shared story excuses to get to the next combat, then yeah, you'll have to deal with the min-maxed characters that are using technology to the best tactical advantage possible. But if the story matters, and there are other situations to deal with for the players, then it won't be about what the most efficient way is to use technology to kill an opponent.

Firefly has a great example of this (probably many). The bounty hunter that managed to infiltrate Serenity looking to capture River Tam could probably have shot down Serenity easily from a distance... but that wouldn't achieve his goal. He had to board the ship, deal with anyone that got in his way, and find the girl. Fights got close up because it made the most sense and in a character story, you're going to be providing those kinds of situations for your players...

"There's an evil person trying to gather an army to assault a peaceful town, and you're pretty sure that killing him and his closest underlings will end the threat", won't result in the character driven story. It'll make the players consider what sniper weapons or remote controlled weapons to use to kill a bunch of people.

"There's misguided person who is gathering a force to try to use as a bargaining chip in a political arena... and his followers love him because he's standing up for them", leads to something else. The players might end up agreeing with him and end up fighting off assassination attempts. Or they might have to find a way to change this guy's mind to stop a blood bath from happening (can't just kill him because his followers will come after you and some one might take his place). There's a lot more to it, and suddenly being able to kill someone from a distance doesn't come into play as much.
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Old 04-16-2012, 11:10 AM   #8
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

In Andromeda they did in fact replace the classic Space Fighter with remotes and drones. Nevertheless it was still required to have a human make the final decision.

Maybe that is the answer. An AI warship, unless it is controlled by a reliable interstellar communication system is just an Interstellar Ballistic Missile. Warfare is usually intended a forceful application of policy rather then destruction per se and it may be that the culture building a given warship is unwilling to trust it's subtleties to a computer. Someone has to tell it not to blow up the planet that the Glorious Emperor wants to keep around for the purpose of brutally exploiting it. Blown up planets don't pay for all his decadent luxuries after all.
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Old 04-16-2012, 12:48 PM   #9
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

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Originally Posted by kdtipa View Post
"There's an evil person trying to gather an army to assault a peaceful town, and you're pretty sure that killing him and his closest underlings will end the threat", won't result in the character driven story.

"There's misguided person who is gathering a force to try to use as a bargaining chip in a political arena... and his followers love him because he's standing up for them", leads to something else.
Or:

"There's an evil person leading an army to wipe out the Rebellion, but he's the hero's father and the hero believes there is still good in him and that he can be be turned against his master."
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Old 04-16-2012, 02:14 PM   #10
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Default Re: Space Opera vs Hard Sci-Fi, personal vs realistic

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So, my question to you is (TL;DR): What suggestions do you have for taking ultra-tech equipment and keeping the scale of adventure at a personal, human-oriented scope, using in-setting or in-system (ie cinematic options or house rules) justifications?
First of all, a lot of that is dependent on the kind of campaign you are going to run - the contortions needed for a military campaign are much different than the contortions needed for a merchant campaign.

Second of all, while I agree with your general premise that Space Opera is more about the people and Hard Sci-Fi is more about the tech (paraphrasing), I disagree with some of your assumptions about the future of weapons and warfare.

Drones are dependent on either truly volitional (yet suicidal) artificial intelligence or else on "wave superiority" where the launching forces can ensure that they can remotely control the drones - take away either of those and drones will get eaten up either by automatic defenses or actual pilots. And what happens if the enemy hacks your control beam, or (gasp) the AI's themselves?

Long range weapons have a number of limitations - projectors or projectile weapons require tremendous stability to accurately hit a target miles away. This is not a big deal for artillery, because "accurately" is relative, but can be a huge deal for a sniper. Missile weapons avoid this problem but are expensive, bulky, and easier to intercept. Plus you still have the problem of identifying the target - from 20 miles away, can you be sure whether you are hitting a tank or a school bus? From 1 mile that isn't a problem, but from long ranges it sure as heck is.

Power armor IS under development as we speak, and for good reasons - it increases mobility and carrying capacity as well as raising armor capacity to a level where it CAN be more or less proof against basic infantry weapons. It will probably always fill a particular niche and will probably never be a "universal" issue... but it will be around, and potent.

Short version - remember that warfare is ALWAYS characterized by the available technologies, mores, and political/societal/economic relationships between the participants. Your assumptions are based on the current expectations of asymmetric warfare, and ignore other possibilities.

Finally, there are a multitude of options out there, but you need to decide which technologies you want to emphasize/eliminate, and in what manner, and in what type of setting. Some technologies may simply not exist in your universe, or may be strictly controlled on legal grounds, or may exist be extremely scarce, or may have been overused to the point that the countermeasures are commonplace, etc. Give some more detail on your setting and concerns and I will try to be more specific.
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