Spacemaster and the OSR

I’m of two minds while reading about Peter R’s development of Navigator RPG. As far as I can tell, it purposes to be an open content retroclone of Spacemaster but using the convenient OGL of White Star, which is based on the “White Box” version of the Original Game. 

I fully support the mechanics of this decision. Swords & Wizardry has become my game of choice: quick-playing and eminently malleable. Though my own preference is for Swords & Wizardry Complete, I can see the rationale in adopting White Box: since this form uses only d20s and d6s for its mechanical resolution, conversions to d100 should be efficient.

My ambivalence arises from the sources that are inherent in White Star’s inspirations. The strongest influence appears to be Star Wars, and Star Wars—at least to me—is not science fiction. It’s fantasy skinned with spaceships and laser swords. I’m not saying that this kind of fantasy is “bad fun” (for me, Star Wars is very fun, especially the d6 version). I’m saying that this is out of alignment with the ethos of Spacemaster.

But of which Spacemaster do I speak? I own the first edition, the one that is directly compatible with RM2. I’ve never played this edition (or any others). I’m not sure if I can. It’s a fascinating read. Yet, as a publication predating the Information Age, some parts are quaint, and Tech Law’s details for starship construction are utterly confounding. One thing it is not, though: it is not Star Wars (though I believe it accommodates, in part, a player’s desire to play a Jedi Knight). And if it also isn’t, precisely, “hard” science fiction, it at least attempts to be “realistic.”

One of the ways in which it is realistic, I suppose, is in its range of Professions. Do you want to play a Research or Field Scientist? How about a Machine Tech? If one follows the usually reliable dictum that a game’s rules telegraph what the game is about, then this feels a bit like Star Trek (which I consider “pseudo-science”). Is your character going to specialize in Planetology? Then what are your “adventures” going to be like?

Dr. Mind: Captain, I’ve determined that this atmosphere contains high volumes of nitrous oxide.

Captain Stern: Very good. Crew, ready yourselves for nitrous breathers.

What a challenge this level of verisimilitude must be for the GM.

An even better indication of Spacemaster’s mundane orientation is in its Races and Cultures. There are no “aliens,” precisely. I understand that Spacemaster 2e does provide a few samples with the caveat that alien intelligence in the universe is highly unlikely, and, even if one were encountered, it’s doubtful that homo sapiens would be able to recognize one as such. The “otherness” of wonder and exploration is nonetheless provided in Spacemaster’s trans humanist vision: humans have colonized space, adapted, mutated, evolved and even modified themselves genetically and technologically. In Spacemaster, artificial intelligence has emerged. I’ve begun to prefer human centrism in my fantasy games, so this aspect of science fiction play greatly appeals to me.

Again, I think Peter R is correct in choosing White Star as his starting point. Moreover, White Star’s more obvious “adventuring classes,” I suppose, are a necessity. I’m not certain about all I’ve been reading about the inclusion of alien species, however, and this has led me to wonder what precisely is being “revived” with the OSR label on this project. As we all know, all game systems are simply tools, and I look forward to adapting Navigator RPG to my preferred form of mundane science fiction. I also wonder at which point, though, rules become so entwined with tone and implied setting as to be inextricable.

7 Replies to “Spacemaster and the OSR”

  1. You’re right of course that Spacemaster 1 and 2 skimped on the alien races; that was a regrettable oversight. But the extended SM 2 set of books did compensate: the Aliens and Artifacts book added many new races. And SM: Privateers offered many more (and different) alien races in the core books.

    1. Thanks, Hurin. In fact, I didn’t think Spacemaster 1e said anything about aliens, but I came across them today while preparing two other articles about Spacemaster and the Navigator RPG. I think, more than anything else, I’m really struggling with a Spacemaster retroclone as Star Wars, and, though the toolkit should accommodate that, I’m worried about that flavor getting inextricably baked into the rules. I’ve started some of my own designs. We’ll see what Peter thinks about them, after his convalescence.

    2. My approach is this. I describe how to make an alien species, talents, faults and so on. I then make two races as examples. I then invite you to make the races for your universe.

      Remember, I am trying to build the absolute bare bones and yet playable game.

      I have quite a high morphine intake. I can answer comments… I am not dead yet!

        1. Did you at least take Meditation: Healing?

          Hell, try rolling at -50 anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?

          Get well. Heal up. We’re hear for you.

  2. There are 2 different orientations that I also can enjoy, if not at the same time. And yep SM seems right for S-F and WB for the space fantasy.

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