If anyone is trying to find a point to this post you may have a hard time doing so. I’m still working on feeling out this game that dropped out of the sky, into my head. Maybe this will make more sense to you by the end? We’ll see.
One of my favorite things about space opera is how easy it is to spot. You don’t really have a question whether or not something is a space opera, you just look at it and go “Huh, that’s it”. It’s like the difference between art and porn: it’s not hard to see what’s what, but trying to get it defined? Now that’s trickier. I mean, how do you define a space opera? Looking at the above image I can feel that it is.
But you know how many people have the art/porn argument? Tons. I’ve absolutely no idea if that’s true for space opera, but I can have the discussion with myself and you can tune in. Bring popcorn and your favorite beverage. After the type of day I’ve had I know I’m bringing a beer.
So what is a space opera? I mean, if you go by Wikipedia you’ll get this definition:
… colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakesHartwell and Crame, from Wikipedia
Look, folks, that’s a lot to go through. I mean, it’s all technically correct and all that, but my goodness that’s word salad to me. I’ll tell you what that makes me think, and if you agree you agree and if you don’t please tell me so that way we can have a discussion. It’d be fun!
Basically: the personal and grounded extremely contrasted with the epic and weird.
So let’s break that down then.
In order to have that rich contrast (which I’m going to call wonder), you have to have something grounded going on. We want big and weird in the world set up, so it obviously needs to be the characters that are simple. Folks just wanting to get their stuff done. Simple folks and motivations mean cleaner stories. Not all stories have to be “clean” or easy to understand, but if you’re doing something punchy and short you don’t get a lot of room for complexity. Given how bonkers the setting is supposed to be? Probably should just have simple people. This doesn’t mean that characters can’t have arcs, but you’re not looking for Dosotoevsky here; there just isn’t time.
SPACE OPERA EPISODE VIII’s character creation is extremely simple: pick a background, pick three skills from that background, pick (or make) a Trait, and pick (or make) a Goal. Your background determines what type of items you can bring into the game, as well as how people see you. Skills are simple actions that your character is good at. Skills also imply the type of equpiment you can bring into the game. But Goals and Traits are a bit more complicated.
Gameplay is centered around challenging your Goal, which is what you’re trying to get done before the act ends. Initial Goals are simple and often petty. These are “normal” people: they’re not out to change the world, they’re just trying to get from their point A to their point B. More epic-scale Goals will probably be drafted by the players in later acts, and that shift is an intended part of the game; your characters change and grow, and begin to care about different things. Goals also do some light world-building, drawing you into a conflict or a task in the world. You are involved already. Get ready to make some choices.
Traist are an aspect of your character that shines through no matter what, even in the most inconvenient of times. Players are rewarded for using their Trait to create trouble and suggesting how other’s Traits can get them in trouble too. Whenever you do reckless actions inspired by your Trait the closer you get to fulfilling your Goal, even if it creates some short term tension. But suggesting those reckless actions to others does the same thing, both for them and you! Players then collaborate in making sure everyone gets a good ending, since it’s mechanically better to help other people than to PVP.
Characters are grounded and simple. But the setting? Space opera intentionaly uses bonkers settings. You’re in a world that you’ve never seen before and it’s weird and you might get lost and what’s the next big thing that we’re going to run into??? You should feel lost in the next crazy thing that comes into the story. You should be going “Wow, what is that…. thing???“
The settings in SPACE OPERA EPISODE VIII are collaboratively generated, on the fly. You pick the first thing that comes into your head, and everyone else helps modify it. This creates some goofy settings at times, but there’s plenty of things in the real world that are actually pretty goofy when you think about it, why not have fun with it here? We had a game happen on the volcanic planet Filts, where they navigate the lava with sci-fi stilts.
Filts. On stilts.
It was great.
And then right after that the group realized they didn’t have those stilts, and all of a sudden the game got super intense as the players made a mad dash to get some of those stilts, and got stuck as they failed. While it started off goofy it became incredibly relevant, and thus serious in the best way possible.
There’s also an Opening Crawl mechanic. If you don’t know what an opening crawl is:
At the beginnning of each scene you randomly determine which line of the Opening Crawl applies to that scene, and then challenge everyone’s Goals with that line. The Opening Crawl keeps the story super focused, giving you just enough room to play around in, but not so much that you get lost. Unlike Goals, which change from act to act, the Opening Crawl does not change. The changing of Goals allows the table to explore the differing implications of the Opening Crawl.
I still don’t know if I’ve captured the feeling, honestly. I’ve playtested SPACE OPERA EPISODE VIII a few times and it’s getting there, but I still need some more testing to get it to feel like it’s coming from the same place as a space opera. But I think I’m well on the way to figuring it out!
If you want to check out the newest draft of SPACE OPERA EPISODE VIII come to the Discord here!