Shock – Putting Social Science in Science Fiction

Yes, it’s two game posts in a row. My knitting isn’t going well, so you all have to suffer the consequences. Besides, I realized when I mentioned Shock last week, that many people may not have heard of it (or indeed most, as like most Indie RPGs it has far too small an audience compared to the big dogs). This is my attempt to hopefully let even one more person know this exceptional game is out there.

Superlatives actually fail. I say things like exceptional or best or incredible far too often around here, and that weakens their sting. If I ever meant the words before, I mean them here – Shock: Social Science Fiction is the hands-down best SF rpg ever written. The reason why is simple – most SF games concentrate on the bang-zoom factor, the spaceships and laser guns and everything else. Shock turns that on its head by concentrating on the social issues the technology brings. Players choose a single “Shock” – the big SF thing that makes the world most different from now – and then each proposes an issue (often ripped from the headlines or science section of the paper) to be one of the issues explored in the game.

For example, if Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner were a Shock game, the Shock would likely be “Near-/Super- Human Replicants” while the issues might be “Nature of Humanity,” “Slavery” and “Fallibility/malleability of memory”.

Each player creates three characters , their primary character, and two minor characters (the ally of one player and the antagonist of another). Further, each of the primary characters is tied to a specific issue (so Roy Batty might be tied to “Nature of Humanity” or “Slavery” for example) guaranteeing that the issues get explored in that character’s scenes.

If it sounds like heady stuff, it is. I’ve never played a happy game of Shock, but I have also never played a game of Shock that wasn’t thought provoking and insightful. It plays like the greatest SF stories read, filled with fallible characters stumbling towards their own personal redemptions, against a backdrop that reflects their struggles rather than feeling divorced from it. If you are interested in a different RPG experience than the mainstream,  I cannot recommend it enough.

PS – in pulling up the link for this, I learned that Shock: Human Contact has passed its Kickstarter goal and will be out in February. Suffice to say, I’ve already got mine ordered.

The Fate of Diaspora

So I am a lucky nerd, or so I’m told, and have had occasion to balance not one but two game nights in my monthly schedule. Sure it’s not the heyday of college, but when you’re a band of professionals old enough to know better, well, it’s a goodly amount. Regardless, the important point is that in addition to my Dark Sun game (currently on hiatus for the holidays) I am also playing in a second group that has recently started up Diaspora.

Diaspora, for those not in the know, is a Hard(-ish) SF game using the Fate system. Players represent people from a collection of systems linked together, but otherwise separate from the rest of the broad spectrum of humanity, which goes through phases of growth and collapse. It does a lot of things right, and gives an opportunity to make some great SF along the way (Not Shock-level great, but that’s a different review).

One of the things I like most is the way it handles world and character building. All the players are involved in creating the systems, and finding linkages between them that explain their sometimes unusual connections. Character development requires you to create ties to the characters around you, with each character playing a pivotal role in another character’s moment of crisis. In all, it’s a compelling game, with a lot to offer for folks who like independent games or science fiction. Set up takes a long time, but the investment in the setting makes it rewarding and worthwhile.