My last post went over the three science fiction FATE games in a brief, sweeping overview, but something I’ve wanted to do for a while now is look at how the different FATE games would handle different existing science-fiction settings and worlds. How would each one depict Star Wars or Star Trek, for example?
The Best Fit for Existing Settings?
Star Trek: Diaspora‘s collaborative storytelling would make the most sense given Trek’s history of long-table diplomatic debates. Here’s a simple analogy. Starblazer would be original Trek (or the better episodes of Voyager), somewhat campy, a blend of action, exploration, and diplomacy over science fact and reality. Diaspora would be TV show Picard, where he’s wise and philosophical and would rather work things out so we can all live happily together, with lots of character development and some great plot twists (“Hey, what if my character was assimilated by the Borg?”/”How about taking the Aspect Laquatus of Borg and going from there?”). Bulldogs! would be movie Picard, where he’s out to save the day and does amazing stunts to do so, saving everyone from the Borg in the last ten minutes.
Babylon 5: Again, if you’re interested more in the diplomacy, exploration, or espionage angle, I’d say Diaspora, since it can cover the combat and whatnot as well. Starblazer would be a natural fit, with its organization mechanics. Bulldogs! could do it, but its rules are a lot more action-heavy than Babylon 5 comes across as.
Star Wars: Hands-down Starblazer; it has the tools to replicate any SW alien, vehicle, even force powers (through the existing psychic skill rules, though I’d probably trim those back to the old Control/Sense/Alter standbys). A Bulldogs! take on Star Wars is also a good option, since it’s got a bunch of existing alien races and very focused rules. Diaspora would have to sacrifice much of its Hard SF tone, but could also easily fit the world: compare some of the weirder Star Wars developments—Luke has a sister, Vader is his father, etc.—I’m sure developments like those would make a helluva lot more sense if they came from Diaspora-style collaboration.
Battlestar Galactica (new): Diaspora‘s fast-and-loose rules for social combat and starship combat would be ideal fits for the new Galactica; they’re damn good rules, and would fit wonderfully for this. Starblazer would be interesting, since you could build up the fleet as an organization (and culture, if you buy Mindjammer and tweak it a lot), plot stress could be used to countdown to Cylon infiltrations or attacks, and it has plenty of rules to handle starship battles and internal turmoil. Bulldogs! has the right tone if you wanted to go more of a two-fisted action movie route. In any case, the game would need to gain a fine layer of grit, and perhaps add in Aspects related to the show’s paranoia and depression.
John Carter of Mars: Starblazer, with some things taken from Legends of Anglerre. Again, the other two could do it, but it’d be interesting, and I just don’t see their mentalities—collaborative storytelling and over-the-top action—fitting the established Barsoom feel.
Dune: If you want to focus on character development like what Paul went through, or the ecological/political/social sides of the Dune world, Diaspora. Starblazer is a close second, since it has the rules to create sandworms, and has the mentality and tools to follow on the more action-y and combat-heavy game you’d probably want from Dune: warring factional houses, political turmoil, assaulting a Sardaukar base with your Fremen…
’70s-’80s Anime Collection – Star Blazers, Robotech, Gatchaman, Megazone 23, Gundam, VOTOMS, Silent Mobius, Akira, et al: Again, I think the pure flash of the setting and infinite bag of rules would make Starblazer the game to turn to; the other two could do them justice, but Starblazer‘s flexibility and toolkit nature gives it a leg up. Of course, the over-the-top tone nature of Bulldogs! would be a great asset as well.
Firefly, Farscape: Bulldogs!, because the tone and style match, as well as the “bunch of people on a ship” setup. Again, something you could build easily in Starblazer, and something you could do in Diaspora, but it’s more or less Bulldogs! as written with a few setting tweaks (e.g., remove aliens and laser weapons for Firefly).
Blade Runner: As a more cerebral movie with deeper questions—am I human, what is human, what does it mean to be alive—I’d lean towards Diaspora. These are concepts for the players to develop over the game. If you went with the book, or played off the investigation nature of the game… still Diaspora.
Starship Troopers: I’m going to assume the movie, though if you really wanted to play the book, you could just skip the rules altogether and have someone yell at the players for hours about civic duty and fascism, Citizen. (Would you like to know more?) Bulldogs! and Starblazer would make the most sense here, action-heavy and with a good emphasis on combat. That said, Diaspora does have great small-unit rules, and Legends of Anglerre has good mass combat stuff.
Stargate: Bulldogs! fits the tone best, but I’d add in some of Starblazer‘s build-everything rules (and its fantasy cousin, Legends of Anglerre, for the time-lost cultures the SG teams eventually bump into). When I first read about plot stress in Starblazer, I thought of Stargate: SG-1. (Take a few points of plot stress, foothold incursion. Some more stress damage, and Thor needs help because the Replicators are back.)
MechWarrior, BattleTech: Much like their anime influences, Starblazer‘s got the rules to hash these together. It may not appear so, but look again at starships and apply the ideas on a different scale. (Better, if you’re not handling starship combat or chases in favor of mechs, just using them as space semis, nobody will be any wiser when you use starship stats as baselines for mecha construction.) The other two games could do it, you just wouldn’t have a baseline (dynamic starship building rules) to start from.
The Bottom Line
Again, the big thing to remember is that these games are flexible in terms of style and theme. It’s comparatively easy to run a pulpier game with Diaspora, or hard SF with Starblazer. What’s inflexible, though, are the mechanics… unless you’re willing to drop existing ones or kitbash your own from scratch. Diaspora is very rules-light, so if you like a crunchier game, look at the other two; on the flipside, if your idea of “building” aliens is to have players choose related Aspects, pick Diaspora.
If you want to use the FATE Fractal to cover everything and anything with FATE’s light mechanics, Starblazer has the means of doing that. It can handle such things as organizations or culture shock/culture wars with mechanics, much less aliens, psionics, robots, and star monsters. Its rules for starship combat are involved and crunchy, without being D&D levels of tactical. And while you can build the same stuff in the other games, they have less to start from, whereas Starblazer gives you a set of rules for everything it details.
But, pray tell, you want something crunchier than Diaspora but without all the work or heavy mechanics of Starblazer? Bulldogs! is a very good choice, flexible mechanically when it needs to be, more action-heavy than Starblazer wants to be, loose enough for Diaspora-style fast rules-light storygaming, and with an established setup that the other two lack. Its only downside is a hard copy costs almost as much as Starblazer, and it’s one-sixth the size.