Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sundog the RPG

As a kid, I spent many happy hours playing Sundog on our Atari computer. In a nutshell, it was a great little space trading game that really maximized the potential of that early computer. It operated on four scales; travel on foot, travel in your ground rover pod, and of course, space based travel both within systems and between systems. I think that it might make a great pen and pencil game. There's still dedicated fans today, and that speaks to how much fun that game could be!

What do characters do?
The overarching goal of the game is to help a fledgling colony stand up on its feet by delivering needed supplies. In order to do this, characters will need to acquire money, explore planets, and fight off pirates.

What is the scale of the action?
Play occurs on four scales.
  • Individual/street level. Players wander city streets, visiting bars, hotels, banks, warehouses, tube transit stations, and stores. They have to deal with muggers.
  • Travel Pod/planet level. Players drive their ship's landing pod(s) on the planet's surface. The original game had no threats other than starvation and the main challenge here was a navigational puzzle to find your way from one location to the next by expending minimal resources. One could easily include some ground-based combat action in the ship's pod. Early in the game, you could only land on a planet's main spaceport. If you wanted to explore elsewhere, you needed to drive the pod.
  • Spaceship/Solar. The SunDog could fly from planet to planet within a system. The primary threat here was pirate attackers. Pirates could be fast talked, bribed, or fought off, or you could run for the nearest planet to land or outside the star's gravity well to make a hyper jump. A risk is running out of fuel; you can always charter a rescue ship to deliver fuel to your vessel, but that is costly and while you're waiting you are a sitting duck.
  • Spaceship/Interstellar: The ship can jump from star system to star system. Each star system has different trading opportunities. The primary risks here are much the same as in solar travel.
What do players do?

This is a game where one can easily institute some "niche protection" via classes or templates. As much of the action occurs in vehicles, it makes sense to have roles related to the vehicle. There should only be 2-3 critical roles so as to allow smaller groups to viably crew the ship. Here are some possible roles:
  • Engineer
  • Pilot
  • Gunner
  • Sensors Operator
I avoid a Captain explicitly as that should be something for the players to work out among themselves. One can imagine exciting action sequences with something for each player to do each round; the pilot is navigating the vessel towards the nearest planet as fast as possible, the gunner is holding off a pilot raider, and the engineer is trying to keep patched-together systems viable as long as possible. It might sound boring to be doing anything other than shooting; however, I recall some tense sequences where the ship was shaking and shuddering around my character while I frantically rummaged through the parts locker for a shunt to get the warp drive back online for that jump to hyperspace.

On the ground, the same roles translate pretty well to the pod. However, navigation becomes more important as the game transitions to more of an exploration mode.

Finally, on foot, the individuals will need ways to deal with muggers. They'll also have the opportunity to go shopping, to make deals in bars, and to role play with other NPCs.

Anyways, I'm kind of excited about this game. I think it could be fairly simple to design and I'm going to put some more thought into it. At least it is different from the D&D stuff I've been thinking about lately!

Here are some notes about the key features of the game for future reference:

  • Character's Ability Scores: Charisma, Luck, Dexterity, Stamina
  • Character's Stats: Hunger, Vigor, Rest, Health
  • Character Items: Rapidheal, Shield, Stinger, Scatter Gun, Burger, Beer, Peptab, Dextboost, Charmer, Nutrapack
  • Ship's Systems: Sub-C Engines, Warp Engines, Pilotage, Guns, Tactical, Shields


JDJarvis said...

It's Traveller extra-lite without mercenary action and espionage getting characters killed.

Vedron said...

Quite possibly!

I've looked at Traveller and it just doesn't do it for me. There is a LOT going on. I'm almost to the point where I think all the key info you need to run the game should be able to be compressed onto a character sheet and a quick reference page or three. The core reference books should be relatively short. Everything should adhere to the rule of 7. In comparison, Traveller is pretty dense.