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What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?
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Author:  Sir Chaos [ Fri May 31, 2013 8:13 pm ]
Post subject:  What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

By "mood" I mean both the general assumptions about human nature, and what the setting does to them.

Star Trek - at least Next Generation, which I am most familiar with - is pretty optimistic: Most human are basically decent, if you let them, and will do the decent thing if given a chance; aliens, too, are doing that which is the decent thing from their ethical base. Most the main characters do what they´re doing for idealistic reasons - because it´s the right thing, because they´re continuing their father/mother/whatever´s legacy, because they´re curious and want to see the galaxy, but generally for a lust of money or power, for revenge, or some other "bad" motive.

Warhammer 40.000, on the other hand, is grim and cynical to a ridiculous degree - basically the lucky people are those who are killed and then eaten by a demon. There are NO good guys - at all. Paranoia goes in the same direction, except much more for the laughs than WH40k.
Call of Cthulhu can have idealistic characters, but they tend to get eaten and/or go nuts; but, so do cynical characters. There´s really no long-term victory, and just staving off defeat for a while and surviving in the process usually counts as an unqualified success. So, yes, grim dark mood, except no laughs here.


So, which one do you prefer? Optimistic and idealistic, or dark and cynical? Or maybe something in between?

Personally, I find myself drawn more and more towards the darker end of the spectrum - though not to ridiculous extremes like WH40k. It probably has to do with me becoming more and more cynical overall where mankind as a whole (which tends to feature quite heavily in SF settings) is concerned. Don´t get me wrong - I´ve met plenty of wonderful individuals, but large groups, or humanity as a whole? Come on... :roll: Anyway, I don´t really go for black-and-white settings any more.

Author:  rust [ Fri May 31, 2013 8:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

I prefer what I consider "realistic" settings, which are settings where the huge
majority of people (which includes aliens) act more or less rational according
to their personal interests and the traditions and values of their societies. In
my view both Star Trek and Warhammer are implausible, one is an Utopia and
the other a Dystopia. My own settings are somewhere in between, although
much closer to Star Trek - after all, I am an optimist. As for mankind in gene-
ral, I tend to be somewhat cynical, too, but I consider it possible that future
generations will learn from our worst mistakes and will avoid them.

Author:  Xavier Onassiss [ Sat Jun 01, 2013 7:04 am ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

I almost agree with rust's comments, above. I prefer realistic settings, although I don't believe for a moment that people in a "realistic" setting are prone to rational behavior. In the real world, rational people are the exception, not the norm. Take a look at the news on any given day and you'll see what I mean. Or if you really want to see how irrational people are, (and if you're not already terminally depressed) click on a random news story and scroll down to the public comments... ugh!

When I GM, it's hard to drag myself down to that level, but I do tend to be pessimistic about human nature in general.

Author:  Golan2072 [ Sat Jun 01, 2013 9:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

I prefer something in the middle. After all, most good games need a conflict, as well as a chance for the PCs to win victories in that conflict. Too much utopia means less conflict and thus less opportunity for heroics; too much dystopia means less chances for having the PCs heroics accomplish something meaningful. Also, in real life, most people are neither heroes nor villains, but rather following their own interests without going too much out of the way to either help or harm others if it does not fit their interests.

This is how I built the Outer Veil setting. For the most part, it is quite optimistic - Humanity went to the stars, has a unified democratic regime guaranteeing human rights and relative freedom (for the most part), no major wars for almost thirty years and an open-wide frontier for exploration and expansion. But as communications go at the speed of travel (i.e. 2 parsecs a week at best), actual local government depends on the person or persons in charge, and these could vary wildly from world to world, from honest, hard-working administrators to rotten, corrupt scumbags, and a lot in between. The same goes for corporations - HQ on Earth wants certain ends met (usually concerned with maximising profits and minimizing costs), but how this is done on the local world is up to the local manager, who can be anything from a ruthless cutthroat to a honourable man or woman. Also, it is quite easy for criminals to get away with their crimes on the sparsely-populated Outer Veil, so there are pirates, bandits and assorted scum in many places, but, on the other hand, the Outer Veil offers the prospective colonist much more freedom than the hyper-integrated panopticon society at the Core (which isn't malevolent per se, but think about how the combination of cheap CCTV cameras, RFID tags, hyper-broadband internet, instant communications and limited AI capable of facial/voice recognition would affect society on a POP-8 world).

Author:  epicenter [ Sun Jun 02, 2013 4:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

I prefer realism myself. Especially when it comes to people. After indulging in a lot of cynical settings in my youth, I've gradually become cynical of cynical setting themselves. At the same time I've come to no longer believe in the inherent "goodness" of a lot of notions cherished these days (particularly "freedom").

As a result, I like settings where people behave in a believable manner and do not automatically do the maximally stupid/evil/cruel thing each and every time. Most people believe themselves to be basically good persons. However, all humans occasionally behave in ways that are self-interested and short-sighted, and those two will explain the majority of "evil" and that one person's "this is all right" action may have extreme negative effects on someone they don't know.

Author:  EDG [ Sun Jun 02, 2013 5:20 am ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

I'd say "realistic", with a utopian bias. I don't like my SF too dark, but I like things like Star Trek, Stargate, Space 1999, Transhuman Space, and Eclipse Phase (which ironically is a bit dark, but doesn't have to be played that way).

Author:  strontygirl [ Sun Jun 02, 2013 11:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

I like both. I enjoy both upbeat, 'space opera' type settings like Stargate and also grim and gritty ones like Eclipse Phase and BSG. Though I must say that most of the people I play with can turn the grimmest and grittiest game into some sort of cross between Monty Python and a Carry On movie.

I don't like Cthulhu because of the futility of it all - not in terms of the grimdark, but in terms of the characters usually being dumped in a sort of 'Bambi versus Godzilla' situation.

Author:  Sir Chaos [ Sun Jun 02, 2013 12:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

epicenter wrote:
As a result, I like settings where people behave in a believable manner and do not automatically do the maximally stupid/evil/cruel thing each and every time. Most people believe themselves to be basically good persons. However, all humans occasionally behave in ways that are self-interested and short-sighted, and those two will explain the majority of "evil" and that one person's "this is all right" action may have extreme negative effects on someone they don't know.


That sounds pretty cynical to me - and I do not mean that as a criticism.

If you take a closer look at history, I think you´ll find that the most unspeakable atrocities have come to pass not because someone was trying to get inducted into the Fraternal Order of Evil Overlords, but because somebody´s belief system developed in such a way that they really, honestly believed a pile of utterly demented bullshit (pardon my French) - and then, with a noble heart and the best of intentions, proceeded to put their beliefs into practice for the good of the world and all of mankind (or those parts of mankind they believed to be the ones that count). Then they got others to follow them for a variety of not-at-all evil reasons - faith, patriotism, sharing their belief in the cause, loyalty, gratitude, personal charisma, you name it. Not one person in the gallery of history´s villains ever woke up one morning and decided "today I´m going to do something evil".
I think that, ironically, petty motives like greed or revenge or a desire for power actually serve to make such things less severe, not more. If you set out with such motives in mind, then one day, you´re going to have enough, you´ll be satisfied with the status quo, and basically retire to enjoy your triumph - whereas if you´re out to do good (whatever that good may be from your point of view), you cannot just give up: there´s always another task to be done, another problem to be solved, another wrong to be righted. If you´re selfish, then at some point you´ll stop and feel great; if you´re altruistic (no matter how sane the basis of your altruism is or is not) you´d feel bad if you ever stopped.

Author:  Xavier Onassiss [ Sun Jun 02, 2013 6:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

Sad to say, I have yet to see any evidence that greed and power work that way. The greedy and the power-hungry always want more, no matter how much they have; there's never a point of satiation.

Author:  epicenter [ Sun Jun 02, 2013 9:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: What mood do you prefer in an SF setting?

Sir Chaos wrote:
That sounds pretty cynical to me - and I do not mean that as a criticism.


I suppose that can be seen as cynicism.

While a lot of "epic" historical evil is indeed committed by people who honestly believe they're doing the right thing (this goes to my "people believe they're good people" thing - most of those people believed they were doing the right thing). Most "evil" is committed by people doing things they don't think is bad or "that bad" or things they've rationalized away. Even if each individual act isn't necessarily be awful (though it can be) it adds up. While it might not yield dramatic sci-fi plots as the guy who wants to capture an alien artifact that will control everyone's minds to create a dystopia*, it does yield a lot of situations that write themselves and ones that your players will not be poking logic holes into of "why the heck would he do that?"

For instance, a good example are the "tragedy of the commons" type situations. If you look at something like overfishing, introduction of invasive species, or people destroying a national park using ATVs any individual person doing this stuff really has no intention of getting rid of the fish they love, introducing rabbits to overrun Australia, or turning their favorite national park into a mudpit. In fact, at an individual level, the rationalizations are often pretty reasonable. Instead, the fisherman figures, "oh well everyone else is catching past their limit, it's not fair that I'm the only one who follows the rules" or "I think rabbits are cute and I'm sure foxes will like them more and what are a few rabbits on my property going to do?" or "I'm not doing a thing with this ATV what are they talking about?" Then you multiply that by lots of people and it becomes a real problem. Similar acts that ultimately are reprehensible occur in similar ways, such as people just standing around watching a crime occur and not doing anything to stop it because "it's a bother to get involved" and "someone else will do something."

I'm not sure this is really cynicism, though perhaps you're right. Expecting people to behave "better" to some standard that's been shown to be unreasonable is more "cynical" in a way, I think. After a certain point, such persons can be argued to be "self-sabotaging" - setting themselves up for failure so they can indulge in another round of "people are scum, I'm so glad I'm better than 'people.'"


* I admit I'd rather have a situation where the person trying to capture the alien artifact wants to control everyone's minds to make them into better people. ("Besides you, people will never be aware they are being influenced." "It's possible to make a world where no child gets abandoned, nobody gets murdered, and a young woman can feel perfectly safe walking alone at night. You've seen the performance of this device, it's possible to do this all. You're saying that you want some 'freedom' so people can do these things? If you defeat me, I hope you'll spend the rest of your lives going to every funeral of a murdered person and every orphanage and every sex crimes counselling session and apologize saying 'I could have stopped this from ever happening, but I wanted to give criminals 'freedom.'")

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