A good number of years ago, I decided I wanted to run a game of semi-pulp space adventure. I wanted it to be a little gritty, but mostly pulpy, with a crew of diverse characters trying to maintain law and order in a society that saw them as hopeless outmoded or completely useless. Of course, they would triumph, but respect would not be forthcoming and the odds would always be against them. Romantic and pulpy and fun: that was what I was going for. For a number of reasons it never ended up being run—but I still think it could have been great fun. And I had a really good story arc that I won’t reveal here, because you never know.
With that said, here is Part One:
GURPS Space Rangers
First, a story…
Mr. And Mrs. Levine, a nice older couple, were worried about their son. He had gone to a good school. He was bright, physically fit, and had friends. The problem was that he had no direction. He wasn’t interested in the family business. He worked, but never at anything for very long. He seemed more interested in going out every night than in deciding what he wanted to do with his life. Finally, the worried couple consulted their rabbi, who was a very wise man.
“It’s quite normal,” he told them, “for a young man to have difficulty deciding his direction in life. Wait and see–he’ll decide someday.”
“But we get so worried,” said the young man’s mother. “If only we could be reassured.”
“Try this,” said the sage. “Tonight lay out a law book, an adventure magazine, and a shot of whisky. Then wait until he gets home. If he takes the law book, he’ll be a lawyer, a politician–something like that. If he takes the adventure magazine, he’ll probably join the military. But if he takes the whiskey, then worry–he’ll turn out to be a good-for-nothing bum.”
The old couple rushed home and laid out a law book, an adventure magazine, and a shot glass filled with whisky on the kitchen table. Then they hid behind the curtains and waited for their son’s return.
The young man came home shortly and saw the three items on the table. His hand hovered briefly over the law book, and both parents, still hidden, smiled. Then his hand hovered over the adventure magazine, and they still smiled, even if it was a little less. Then he held his hand over the whisky, and they both felt unhappy.
Finally the young man picked up the law book, opened it, slid the adventure magazine into it, closed the book, and placed book and magazine under his arm. He lifted the whisky, drank it in one shot, and went upstairs to bed.
The boy’s mother gasped. “Oh my God! He’s going to be a Space Ranger!”
This campaign is dedicated to all those players who believe that no matter where humanity goes, and no matter how far it spreads, the spirit of adventure will always be alive. This campaign recognizes that culture and civilization will progress; that the Far Frontier will be settled, and that the wild ways of the pioneers who carve out new territories will give way to the urbane and settled ways of civilization. Nevertheless, there will always be those who don’t quite fit into a safe, settled culture. Some of them will be dreamers, living life like their neighbors, but always secretly dissatisfied. Some will turn against society, engaging in drug smuggling and piracy. A small few of them might form the thin line between society and those that would destroy it. Misfits though they are, in times of crisis, they might even be society’s last, best hope╔
Also dedicated to Robert Urich, Ice Pirate and P.I. for hire╔
Notes on the Campaign
Milieu: The Commonwealth
This campaign takes place in the far future. How far? It could be thousands of years from now, or it could be as few as two hundred. It takes place in the Commonwealth, a federation of different worlds connected much like the individual states of the USA. Not all the worlds are human (dozens of sentient species are members), and each has its own laws, customs, and traditions.
The Commonwealth is a fairly strong federal government. The Commonwealth Constitution grants civil rights to all sapient beings within its borders, regulates trade and defense, collects taxes, and oversees the individual planetary states, known as “systems.” Systems can make their own laws as they see fit as long as those laws do not violate the Commonwealth Constitution. Systems are usually a star and all its planets, although there are rare systems composed of more than one star system, and quite a few major inhabited planets that are systems unto themselves, with the rest of their stars’ planets forming separate systems.
The Tech Level in the Commonwealth is Tech Level 9.5. This means that most devices are of TL 9, though some TL 10 devices are being experimented with. The only exception is that anti-gravity technology is in use, though it is still rather expensive and needs both room and power. You won’t find it on smaller spacecraft, for example.
The Commonwealth is still expanding, although that expansion is somewhat limited in some directions. In the region that this game is taking place in, the Commonwealth narrows to a rounded point, as does a similar corner of the Heptarchy, a rather repressive theocratic state about the same size as the Commonwealth, and the Renshithi worlds, a smaller but swiftly expanding empire ruled by the Renshithi race. More about these two nations later on. A parsecs-wide buffer zone separates these three political entities, in which none is allowed to enlist planets into themselves. Peace treaties are allowed, but the Buffer Worlds know that, sandwiched between three hungry superpowers as they are, they must play a very balanced game. The Buffer Worlds are also full of smugglers, pirates, and spies, as the military forces of the three superpowers are expressly prohibited from entering that volume of space. Law is left to the governments of the Buffer Worlds, which are generally divided and weak. The superpowers do engage in clandestine activities, but for those to become known might trigger war. A minor clause allows some rights to law enforcement agencies, but the Patrol, the main law enforcement group in the Commonwealth, is explicitly defined in the treaty as a military organization. Therefore, guess who gets to fly undermanned, outgunned missions into the Buffer?
The Space Rangers
That’s right! You guessed it in one. The Space Rangers is a law enforcement agency with a colorful past and an uncertain future. Founded over two hundred years ago, the Space Rangers are older than the Commonwealth. Founded in the early period of exploration and colonization, the Rangers attracted a rough, tough, ornery breed of lawman. Often, Some Rangers were not much better than the frontier scum they fought. Some noted–sometimes notorious–Rangers were in fact converted outlaws. Rough, often crude, the Rangers were nevertheless effective champions of law in a universe where the difference between community and anarchy was often a single Ranger with a quick mind and an even quicker blaster.
Things changed. Over a number of years, the Commonwealth united the differing worlds. The primary law enforcement agency is now the Space Patrol, an elite military service charged with patrolling space, rescuing damaged ships, combating piracy, and enforcing Commonwealth law. The Patrol attracts the elite of every world: bright, physically fit, dedicated. Commonwealth citizens need never fear; the sleek, powerful ships of the Patrol, manned by the firm-jawed, sharp-eyed officers of the Patrol in their immaculate black-and-silver uniforms are keeping watch–or so their publicity reads.
With the coming of the Patrol, the Commonwealth Space Rangers began to be considered anachronistic. They still man (or woman, or thing) remote settlements. About thirty years ago, they were reassigned to the Commonwealth Ministry of Justice. Their chief mission: to serve the federal courts. Thus, their missions are to serve court papers, provide security at federal courthouses, enforce court orders, transport extradited prisoners, and track down and arrest bail jumpers. It’s all a far cry from the adventurous tradition.
Except for one thing. The Minister of Justice at the time the Rangers were reorganized insisted on two little bits of fine print in the legislation that redefined the Rangers’ mission. One reads, quite simply, “and generally enforce all Commonwealth laws using any means at their disposal, subject to the approval of the Minister of Justice.” This is common boilerplate language, but further on, in a supposedly unrelated section, it reads. “Missions shall be assigned by the senior Ranger on site. In all cases, approval of the Minister of Justice shall be assumed unless said senior Ranger is specifically notified otherwise by the Office of the Minister.”
In other words, the Rangers are allowed to enforce the law as they see fit, short of violating the Constitution or committing crimes themselves. That is, when they’re not too busy serving warrants and legal papers.
By the way—that Minister of Justice was a retired Ranger. Seems he remembered the Rangers’ Second Law.
Tone and Style
I have a specific sort of feeling that I want this campaign to have: a feeling of freewheeling adventure and challenge. I see several elements as being important in achieving this goal. First, the world I am attempting to depict is a world of contrasts. Some places, like more developed worlds of the Commonwealth, are settled, civilized, and may seem boring. I assure you, there is crime aplenty, but in such places running gun battles may not be the best way to work a case. The cathedral worlds of the Heptarchy are dark, regimented places where the shadowed catacombs may provide the only freedom to be found. In such a setting, stealth and caution will succeed How does this make for freewheeling adventure?
It’s all tied up in one word: challenge. I believe that what makes a good game is drama. Drama comes from conflict, and conflict comes from character. More specifically, drama comes from characters motivated toward a certain end and faced with opposition. Opposition could be their enemies or it could be the frustrating law that states you need evidence before you can bust someone. Ideally, working a case as a Ranger should mean careful and intelligent investigation in most cases, mixed with the pure adrenaline rush when things go terribly wrong.
To put it more simply, I want this campaign to combine elements three basic elements. The first element is mystery. This means thinking and role-playing. There will be times when the limits to a Ranger’s power will make progress frustrating, but good thinking, clever investigation, and a few lucky breaks will lead to the information you need. It is going to occasionally need slamming some punk up against an alley wall, too; just be careful not to overuse that technique.
The second element is action. There will be times to shoot, punch, and blow things up. On many of the Buffer Worlds, going armed is the only way to survive. You will be dodging enemy fighters as you pilot a hijacked and rusty old hulk, which may explode, even if the enemy ships don’t get you. Heroic rescues, crash landings, brawls on rooftops–I love action, and I think most role-playing gamers do too. But too much of that turns into power gaming, and I want this campaign to be more fun and more interesting than that.
The third element is humor. Jokes, fun, and goofing offer relief from the tensions of a tough job. Rangers can have fun, and “down time” allows the characters to enjoy themselves. Duty will call soon enough.