Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Threepenny Space Opera

I'm intrigued by the idea of almost-but-not-quite human aliens.  The OSR game Starships & Spacemen even plays with the trope with a d100 random forehead table, which is a ridiculously fun idea.  My little tribute to these near-humans is this micro-RPG that I scribbled down a few years ago.  Maybe someone reading will get some enjoyment out of it; I have a minor goal to OSR-ify it at some point.

Threepenny Space Opera

Art by Louis Glanzman, taken from

Genre:  Space opera
Equipment needed:  Three pennies


It’s the far-flung future.  Or maybe it’s long ago, just nowhere close to this galaxy.  Or...somewhere in between.  Whenever it is, humans have conquered the stars, and space exploration is the wave of the present.  You don’t really care, though, because you’re not human.  However, you’re close.  You interact with humans all the time, in the Big Interplanetary Organization that you belong to, and they look a lot like you.  There’s something just a little bit different, though...maybe it’s your forehead, or your green skin, or those antennae.  In fact, if you’re a woman, geeks probably drool all over you and your pointy-eared hotness.  You also might have some special alien abilities or hindrances.  We’ll get to those later.

Character creation

Name:  Come up with a name for your character.

Species:  Name your character’s species.  If you want, name her home planet, too.

Stats:  Your character has two stats:  Mind and Body.  You get 2 points in one of them, and 1 in the other.  If your character is from a rough, warlike species, you’ll probably want to make him Mind 1 and Body 2.  If your character is of a more cerebral species, one that depends on science or art or deceit to survive, then you’ll probably make him Mind 2 and Body 1.

Skills:  You can pick four things that your character is good at.  Try to be fairly specific...instead of Being a captain, you could pick the skills Command, Astrogation, Negotiation, and Shooting a blaster.  Really, the possibilities are wide open here.  It’s your chance to really make your character who he or she (or it) is.

From Memory Alpha

Playing the game

Flipping:  As you venture through space, you will encounter a number of situations where success isn’t assured.  When this occurs, the Flipmaster (FM) must determine if it’s a challenge for the Mind or the Body.  You flip a number of pennies equal to your character’s value in that stat.  In addition, if the challenge involves a skill you possess, you flip one additional penny.  If you get at least one heads, you succeed at the task.

Combat:  Combat can be run two different ways.  There can be a series of flips as the characters attack, dodge, parry, etc., with the FM determining how each character is affected as the fight progresses.  Or, you can make things easy and just let the characters involved each flip for their Body stat (plus an extra if they have any relevant skills).  Whoever flips more heads wins the fight.  (And if it’s a tie...just bounce off of each other...)

Alien abilities:  Whenever you get three tails on a single flip, you’ve failed pretty miserably.  There’s an upside, though:  You now get to establish a special power for your character, which may immediately help you in the adventure.  Maybe it turns out you can breathe underwater, so that escape across the river is suddenly a lot easier.  Or maybe you can read other beings’ thoughts in certain situations.  (Don’t you wish you’d thought of that earlier?)  Feel free to be creative.

Alien hindrances:  It isn’t always great being an alien, though.  Sometimes your character’s anatomy becomes a problem.  Whenever you get three heads on a single flip, the FM gets to make up a weakness for your species.  There’s a good chance that breathing too much oxygen takes away your short-term memory, or that the next planet’s sun just happens to be of a color that weakens you.  Or maybe it’s just that nobody likes your species.  Nobody.  Again, creativity is key here.

From Wookieepedia

Advancement:  Seriously?  Okay, if your character survives an adventure, you can give her one new skill.

Other notes:  The freeform nature of this game lends itself well to roleplaying over email or message forums.  Honestly, you could probably play it without an FM; just take turns telling the story and flip when appropriate.  Also, be on the lookout for this game’s sequel:  No Quarter, the fliptastic RPG of pirates and parrots.  And coming later in the year:  A Fistful of Silver Dollars, sure to be an immediate classic in the Western genre.  Although, really, you can probably work those out on your own...

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