Surprisingly, I had trouble with this prompt. My initial desire was to talk about gaming space — the physical (or virtual) location one plays in, and sort of the dream library (not a man cave — a proper library) I envisioned, but it turns out I’m not hugely interested in pursuing that. So what to talk about..?

Recently, I grew tired of the ’30s pulp game (Hollow Earth Expedition) I’ve been running. It’s a great game with good characters, and the players enjoy it, but it’s been one of two campaigns we’ve been cycling through every few months since this group came together almost three years ago. Prior to that, the pulp game had been the main game for the group for about a year or so prior to that.

All of this had been the rebound game after an epic, five-year long Battlestar Galactica game I’d been running. That campaign was easily the best bit of gaming I’ve been part of,  and I’ve been gaming for four decades, so that’s saying something. It remains the only campaign I miss, and I’ve had plenty of games I’ve been in I’ve really enjoyed, because I hit my stride as a GM. So recently, I’ve really wanted to return to a space opera setting…and hence the tie to the prompt.

I had considered a space-based game for the next rotation, while I get my taste back for the ’30s. The two choices were Battlestar Galactica — but I wasn’t sure we could catch lightning in the bottle again; and Star Trek. Recently, I’ve watched Star Trek: Discovery, and truly enjoyed the second season, despite the interminable “talking about our feelings” scenes and the execrable spore drive McGuffin. I floated the idea of doing a “pilot episode” for both and we started with Star Trek. To my surprise, the group — most of whom only had a passing knowledge of the various series — loved it.

Space is an environment that works well for RPGs because of several elements: First, it’s insanely dangerous. Even soft sci-fi can’t escape things like vacuum, even if you use a lot of hand-waving to ignore weightlessness and the attendant health dangers, radiation, aliens, and the forces that speeds high enough to get around the galaxy entail (inertial dampners, anyone?) are still waiting to kill the shit out of you.

Second, it’s isolating. You’re far from things in space, even in a solar system. One of the issues I had with Discovery‘s spore drive (other than the mushroom idiocy) was that it made space small. It was a similar issue I had with the J.J. Abrams movies. Need to get somewhere? Done! Trek has always traveled at the speed of plot, but this removed the sense of exploration and wonder. Everything was a quick nip down to the corner. I decided to use old show scales of speed — they are often weeks from anywhere, and communications repeaters might allow you to talk to the bosses back home, but once you are outside of the Federation, you are aloneGalactica worked so well because Man was truly alone. There were no “head of the week” aliens just around the corner, or life-sustaining planets. “The universe is a pretty barren place when you get down to it,” as Colonel Tigh tells the president in an early episode. It’s why arctic and antarctic settings work so well for horror — no one is coming to save you.

Third, there’s the unknown. You meet things that are hard to understand or communicate with. There’s physical events and things that can’t be overcome (unless you rewire the deflector dish into a spiraling quantum whatsinator…) One of the issues with the “head of the week” approach of Star Trek is that aliens become just people with strange customs…they’re rarely strange. Even with the watering down of the recent movies, the creature from Alien was strange!

There’s a number of great settings that have RPGs attached to them. There’s the hardish science fiction of The Expanse (although after a quick look at the rules set a few days ago, the game looks to be a hot mess…), there’s the upcoming horror of Alien, done by the guys who gave us Tales from the Loop; there’s various version of Star Trek (I prefer the Decipher CODA system to the new Modipius’ 2d20 system), and there’s the more customizable games like Traveler. You can get your Firefly fix with classic or the Fate-ified Cortex, and there’s even the steampunk of Space: 1889.

Get out there.