Forgive me for having an Off Topic on Tuesday, but I'll try to relate it to our table top games as much as possible. Before I begin though, have you played this game? If not, and you like playing games on your computer, you should give it a shot. It's only $10 on Steam, and while a quick play is entirely possible it is intriguing in how the game works out. It also has a lot of fun things to use in your table top game.
For those who haven't played, the game works like this. You have 3 crew members aboard a space vessel (default: The Kestrel) and you are fleeing a rebel fleet with news vital to the safety of the enemy of the Rebel fleet (your allies.) However, you are very far from home and need to get back there. To do this you jump from sector to sector and system to system. Each sector has a random encounter. Some combat related, others peaceful, and many with choices. You try to keep your ship alive to get back home and survive these encounters, and it gets really hard. Like really hard.
However, that challenge and the unforgiving nature of the game are kind of awesome in their own way. The story is very bare bones, but each game feels like its own story and the challenge of the game makes that story one full of drama. I agree with Tycho from Penny-Arcade when he says the game makes you feel fear in a real way. it is kind of awesome. It is also full of poignant story moments too. Some of which are very sad.
For example, my most recent escapade ended when the crew of the Kestrel valiantly fought off not only borders but an enemy ship that was more powerful than the Kestrel. Unfortunately, their victory was short lived as they slowly died, one by one, trying to repair the life support on their ship, a victim of the sabotage the boarding party committed before being sucked out to space with an open airlock door.
So, how would this be useful in your table top game? Well, for one the ship layouts are simple but they work. They're good enough you could easily use them in an RPG as a "quick map"for a ship, or at least it's vital areas, and determine where people are. Placing crew members at systems also gives advantages that could be good to keep in mind when running a game.
The random encounters are also good, and neat. Enemies surrender (when was the last time you had someone surrender in your game?) can sometimes be bought off, avoided, or otherwise handled. Environmental hazards play a part in battles for good or ill. You also have control of your ship.
One of the coolest things though is the idea of the naturally developing story. Aside from the "flee from the rebels!" plot you are free to play the game as you like, and in doing so you get a story. I've had a ship limp along for a couple of systems with only one engineer onboard. Battles became a frantic thing as he ran from system to system trying to repair, or help, wherever was needed to keep his ship going. After slaying five sectors worth of pirates he died to a boarding party. I have to imagine they were surprised to find the bane of their existence was just one beleaguered man trying to get back home and operating a ship on his own.
The lesson to take from that last point is the big thing. When running a game you don't have to force a story. Sometimes it is enough to just let one develop. Give a good enough reason for things to be in motion, and then just focus on the events you have and the characters involved. They will tell you the story with their actions, their successes, and their failures. Just let it emerge and enjoy the story as it develops. It can be a powerful thing when you look into your game and see the story that began without you even knowing it was there.
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