Posts Tagged ‘project orion’

Beautiful photos of Cassini’s fly-by of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. See the giant water geysers!

And to think, had we kept up with Project Orion, we could have been there to see it in person nearly 40 years ago.

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(This is one of several posts I’m saving from my LiveJournal account, which is soon to be deleted. Originally written on October 22, 2004, it describes a future-history roleplaying campaign that I’d love to run someday. It’s based largely on my fondness for 50s science fiction movies and the future as they saw it. Enjoy.)

A while back, I described a couple of RPG campaigns I’ve considered running over the years. I’ve had another in mind, but it’s a bit different from the last two: a future history of humanity, but the future is that seen from 50s science fiction. Right now, I have three stages or phases in mind.

Phase One

Title: “The Aliens Have Hitler’s Brain,” or, “Saturn By 1970!”

Inspirations: “The Thing,” “Earth vs. The Flying Saucers,” “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” “This Island Earth*,” “Project Orion,” and “GURPS: Atomic Horror.” *(Among other glorious movies from that period)

Overview of part A: This campaign would begin with deception. The players would be lead to believe they are playing an espionage game set in early post-war Germany and Austria, and that their opponents are Nazi holdouts and Communist agents. Indeed, early missions would be just that. Soon, however, they would get hints that maybe Der Fuehrer didn’t die in the ruins of Berlin, that he may instead be leading a resistance (that didn’t happen in our world) from a redoubt in the Alps, near where the German, Austrian, and Swiss borders meet. Investigations would reveal two things: the Nazis made a deal late in the war with some “foreign power” (really, the aliens), and that the Soviets are hunting Hitler for their own reasons. This part of the campaign climaxes as the players realize just who Nazi’s “foreign patrons” really are and race to capture him before a) he can unleash the alien wonder-weapons and b) the Soviets capture him. In the base, they also discover that Hitler is now a disembodied brain held in a bell-jar. The Soviets attack at the same time, and the time wasted dealing with them allows Hitler and the aliens to escape in their Foo Fighters, although their immediate plans are foiled. The governments involved hush the whole matter up to prevent a panic.

Overview of part B: several years pass, and the PCs have moved on to various careers — Intelligence, Science, Investigative Reporting. The careers that always seem to pop-up in those films. The Space Race is on, pitting the US against whatever Stalin is cooking up behind the Iron Curtain. While the public knows nothing of the events in Germany and thinks the Space Race is just a nationalist competition to get into orbit, those in the know realize the danger we face and have decided that we can’t wait passively for “them” to come back. Besides, there are rumors that Moscow would like to cut its own deal with the aliens. (I need a good name for them.) Over the intervening years there have been UFO sightings and incidents, convincing some that “they” are watching us, but nothing iron-clad. That is, not until America finds the right way into space: Orion ships. The aliens decide they can’t wait any longer and attack. For the climax, think of the big battle at the end of “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.” Humanity wins, but there’s no hiding the alien threat any longer.

What do the players do? They can be scientists in the space projects and those tasked to protect them from alien and Communist interference. Or they can be unaffiliated with these, but their jobs lead them into dangerous encounters, much like Gene Barry’s scientist in “War of the Worlds” or the flight crew in “The Thing.” Not all adventures would involve the Alien-Nazi plot, thus letting me work in other themes from 50s sci-fi, such as people and animals mutated by radiation (Inspirations: “Black Scorpions” and “THEM!”), or weird visitors from beyond who aren’t necessarily bad (“It came from Outer Space”).

Part B ends with the defeat of the aliens and the successful launching of the USS ORION, Earth’s first real spaceship.

Phase Two

Title: “Into the Dark”

Inspirations: “It! The Terror From Beyond Space,” Heinlein’s “Farmer in the Sky,” but I need others.

Overview: In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, mankind begins to colonize the Solar System and, thanks to the discovery of the “Atomic Star Drive” can now travel to nearby star systems in a matter of weeks or months. The aliens who so threatened us in the 50s are nowhere to be seen, though evidence of their presence is found on Mars, Titan, and in Alpha Centauri. They seem to have hastily evacuated after their defeat on Earth. There are hints, however, of a “war in the heavens,” the stars mankind cannot reach yet.

This phase allows the players to explore the wonders and dangers of space in a less military or conflict-oriented setting. Possible character types include colonists, Federal Marshals, and explorers, scientists, and archaeologists (to research the lost civilization of Mars and the abandoned alien bases). There is still conflict with the Soviet bloc, who have developed their own Orion drives and are making secretive trips of their own along with the newly-arrived Chinese. The phase ends with a devastating nuclear war between the USSR and China that grows into World War 3*. The aftermath sees the foundation of the Terran Federation.

*(Hey, I said this was inspired by 50s sci-fi, didn’t I? 🙂 )

Phase Three

Title: “Monsters, John! Monsters from the Id!” or “Star Trek the way it was meant to be”

Inspirations: “Forbidden Planet,” “Star Trek” (the original series), the Terro-Human future history of H. Beam Piper, various other old science fiction stories of “man out in space.”

Overview: It’s the year 2300 and Mankind is exploring its arm of the galaxy. Atomic power has been replaced by “anti-gravity” (or some sort of 50s hand-waving), and Earth ships now resemble the flying saucers they once fought against. We’ve found the aliens who once attacked us, and a Cold War now exists between us and their Empire. Naturally, Hitler is still alive; alien tech has kept his brain healthy. He is now the de facto ruler of their Empire, plotting his revenge. Mankind encounters new civilizations, some more advanced, some less.

Players could be explorers and scouts, sent to find new worlds for colonization, or the crew of a Federation saucer sent to find out what happened to them. They could be diplomats sent to find allies among the stars to hold off the threat of the “Stern Reich.” The major “feel” of this campaign should be that, even though we can travel the stars, space is still vast and empty. The setting should never feel crowded, nor should the PCs feel that they can just zip back to Earth or radio for help at a moment’s notice. They should feel like they are out on a limb by themselves, a limb that could break at any moment.

I’m not sure how this phase ends.

As you can see, phases two and three are less-developed than phase one. I need to fool around with the ideas some more and firm up what I want while still leaving plenty of opportunity for players to do what they want. (The eternal dilemma of the GM) Suggestions and ideas for source material that fits the “Atomic Era” view of the future would be welcome.

Oh, as for game systems, I had originally envisioned GURPS, but I haven’t bought 4th edition. Of course I could use 3rd edition, but now I’m leaning toward making it a HERO campaign with some optional rules to give it a grittier feel.

Ta for now!

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