In every RPG, there is always that starting page or so of “what is a roleplaying game” type stuff. I’ve been going through Parsec trying to come up with something that is actually interesting and helpful, which is a lot harder than it sounds (or, if you’re a game designer, it is probably just as hard for me as it was for you).
Here is another try; feel free to comment. In section 1.0, I’ve said that Parsec is a “science-fiction roleplaying game”, and a few other introductory things, before I go on to say this:
Science-fiction is a genre of fiction in which some of the assumptions about the world are changed. Often, a science-fiction story takes place in the future, as is the case with Parsec. It usually involves advanced technologies which are not available now, as well as other kinds of speculation around what society might look like or what people will do with themselves.
It is very common for science-fiction to be used to comment on our present lives. Sometimes an aspect of our everyday life is exaggerated to show what problems might come up, or sometimes a present trend is extrapolated into the future to show what the consequences of our actions might be. It is also common for science-fiction stories to ask the big questions – Why are we? Why are we here? What does it mean to be human? What are our social, technological, cognitive and spiritual limits?
Some science-fiction stories take science more seriously than others. In Parsec, we try to stick close to what we think is actually possible. We run a risk, of course, of embarrassing ourselves by saying that something happens 100 years from now when it is really around the corner. That’s why science-fiction like the Time Machine or Journey to the Center of the Earth is so interesting now, because we can see what people 100 years ago thought our world would be like. No doubt, we’re no more accurate. The only intentional scientific “cheat” is the Baeder Drive, which is a faster-than-light engine that can carry spaceships across vast distances very quickly. We intentionally don’t explain exactly how those work (yet). Otherwise, we think what we talk about is plausible.
In Parsec, because we try to stick to “hard science”, the world we depict intentionally exaggerates some of the things in our own world and time that we think are interesting. Human beings have journeyed into space and are building long-term homes outside of the Earth for the first time. The Baeder Drives are opening up exploration of the solar system and of distant stars and planets as well. Back on Earth, there is a great deal of conflict as human beings are basically split into two groups, the Insiders who have everything and the Outsiders who have almost nothing.
As the description suggests, in Parsec the people playing the game take on roles – you portray characters that you imagine and create and then connect together in a story. Most of the players have one character that they focus on, like an actor in a play who only portrays one character, but one of the players needs to be the Director, who doesn’t portray any specific character. The Director guides the game and portrays the characters that you meet over the course of the story. The Director is also in charge of deciding how to implement the rules fairly, so she needs to be familiar with how Parsec works.
When you are a player in Parsec, you should have two things on your mind at the same time. The first is: “What would my character do?” Unlike in a play, there is no ‘script’ in Parsec. Your character can try to do anything you can think up. The way you decide what your character will try in any given situation is by imagining them as an independent person and imagining what they would do, how they would respond to a given situation. You also need to keep in mind what your character can do. Your character has particular skills and abilities and relationships that make up who she is, just like any person does – so she isn’t going to be good at everything, and some things will just be impossible. Your character is still basically human, after all.
The second thing for the player to keep in mind is: “What would be interesting or fun in this situation?” As we already said, your character can try anything, but remember that you are still working with the other players to come up with an interesting story that will be fun to play out through your characters with the help of the Director. Just because your character can try anything, however, doesn’t mean the she should try whatever comes to mind. Of all the options you have for your character in a given situation, choose the one that adds to the fun for the whole table whenever you can.
When you are the Director in Parsec, you can also boil your job down to two basic questions that you keep in mind. The first is “What happens next?” The players are responsible for making up their own minds, but you as the Director are in charge of how the world responds to the player-characters’ actions. Are they now in trouble with the law? Have they made an enemy or an ally who will help them in the future? What are their opponents thinking and doing while they plan their next move?
The second question to keep in mind as a Director is “How can I complicate this in an interesting way?” A story without conflict and adversity isn’t very interesting. You don’t want to crush the players and frustrate them all the time, but they will have more fun if their characters have to fight for what they want to accomplish.
If this seems like a lot to keep track of, don’t worry. Parsec has a lot of things that help you figure out what your character might do in a given situation, what kinds of choices would be most interesting, what happens next, and how to complicate your characters’ lives in interesting ways.
Parsec isn’t just a way of playing the roles of characters in a story together, it is also a game. It has rules and systems and ways to resolve questions just like any other game. It is an interesting kind of game because either everyone wins or everyone loses. Everyone wins when the story moves forward, when everyone is having fun, and when your characters develop in interesting ways. Everyone loses when the action bogs down, when the story stops making sense, or when only a few of the people at the table are having fun.
One way that Parsec is a game is that it injects some randomness into what your describe your characters trying to accomplish. Otherwise, there would be a lot fewer surprises. Just like in real life, sometimes when you try something, you fail – it isn’t always your fault, but something happens to get in your way. Parsec uses dice to decide when this happens, so that there’s always a chance that someone will be surprised.
Parsec is also a game because it has specific rules, and there are better ways to use these rules to accomplish what you want. Part of Parsec is playing with the game itself, manipulating the rules that you find in this book to get the result that you want.
In Parsec, all of the rules boil down to rolling dice. You roll 6-sided dice and the numbers that come up on the dice tell you what happens. The way you decide how many dice to roll is a combination of factors – what your character is good at and what the situation that your character is in is like. The playres control what their characters are good at and the Director controls a lot of what the situation is like. An able character with a beneficial situation will mean that more dice are rolled. An unskilled character in unfavorable conditions will mean that very few dice are rolled.
What numbers you look for on the dice is also determined by what your character is good at. When you roll dice, you count “successes”, which are dice that show numbers that are equal to or higher than the “target number”. With a target number of 6, only 6’s rolled count as successes – and more successes mean that you’re more successful, so you want those. With a target number of 4, 4’s, 5’s and 6’s all count a successes. So you can already see that with 6 dice, for example, a target number of 4 is a lot better than a target number of 6 – it means the difference between averaging 1 success and averaging 3 successes! In Parsec, all target numbers are between 2 and 6, and target numbers are always determined by a character’s Skills, which we will discuss later.