What is the Vortex SFRPG?

In one future, humanity has colonized the Sol system, but ecological degradation, population pressures, and internecine strife persist. The rediscovery of ancient mysticism and official First Contact with alien societies challenge Terra and its colonies. Some brave individuals lead the way out into a dangerous galaxy….

One future begins
The “Vortex” space opera has its roots in The Zarkonian Bomb , a film script that I wrote with Carlo R., Jon and Bill B., and Ray C. in high school in New York’s Westchester County. Looking back to 1982, we were obviously inspired by the novels of Isaac Asimov, Doctor Who, the original Star Wars film trilogy, and the Star Frontiers game. I later wrote “The Adventures of Jason Delmar,” a series of short stories.

In contrast to “hard” science fiction or other subgenres like cyberpunk, space opera features relatively easy interstellar travel and human interaction with aliens, plus themes of exploration, diplomacy and heroism amid warfare, and the importance of friendship. Space opera has its roots in the “planetary romances” of the 19th and early 20th centuries, pulp fiction, and movie serials, but James Cameron’s Avatar is a recent (if explicitly derivative) example.

“Vortex” evolves
In college in Upstate New York, I created the “Vortex” role-playing rules with my brother Peter and David I.S. , influenced by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Ed., the Star Trek franchise, books by Larry Niven and others, and the cyberpunk/fantasy game Shadowrun. Our system had several species options, five attributes (Prowess, Agility, Intellect, Respect, and Aura), skills and mystical powers, and lots of gear.

The name “Vortex” came from late-night conversations about the nature of time, human history, and perception with Carlo and Dave, touching on the works of Edward Gibbon and Mircea Eliade . Is history linear or cyclical? Are technological and social progress inevitable or transient, and what role does individual choice play? From the perspective of the present, global events seem more crowded at an ever-accelerating pace, hence the vortex (I’m not the only gamer to think of it this way). It can also represent the spiral of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Rules changes
After graduate school, I used the Generic Universal Role-Playing System to run successful campaigns, including GURPS 3rd Ed. Space : “Vortex,” for about a dozen people in Virginia in the 1990s. At that time, we enjoyed the books of three Davids (Brin, Gerrold, and Weber), movies like The Fifth Element, and television shows such as Babylon 5 and Space: Above and Beyond. The universe expanded as the players developed more aliens, and the crew of the P.T.S. Venture explored more space.

Earlier in the 1990s, I had used the original “Vortex” system for “Bay City: Visor and the Seer,” which later became the GURPS Supers : “the S.J.I.” superhero campaign (most recently using D20 Mutants & Masterminds). In addition, we used my timeline in the "Voyagers II: Adventures in the Dimensional Corps " game I co-ran with Steve M.R., Tim M.B., Jim J.D’B., and other Game Masters.

I ran GURPS “Vortex” briefly by e-mail and for Rob R. and Randy K.M. after moving to the Boston area. We then returned to my long-running “Vanished Lands” fantasy campaign using Dungeons & Dragons Third and Fourth Editions. In 2010, I expect to incorporate some “transhumanist” concepts, “retrofuturist” speculative fiction, and “rules-light” games, looking back and ahead simultaneously.

In other posts, I’ll explain more of the “Vortex” setting and tone , character options, and various science fiction rules sets. Feel free to post your own questions and ideas to the “Vanished Lands” Yahoo/eGroup, the “Holy Steel” Google group, or my blog.

“Vortex” FAQ
Fellow role-players, here are some more tidbits for those of you who are new to my " Vortex " space opera:

Rules: We’re mostly using Starblazer Adventures (SBA), a British pulp sourcebook for the rules-light Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment (FATE) 3rd Ed. The hardcopy isn’t well-organized, but it has most of the skills, stunts, equipment, and example aspects that we’ll need. We’ll also be using the Mindjammer supplement for SBA because it has some rules on psionics and transhumans, as well as Bulldogs, a more streamlined FATE science fiction game that has good rules for aliens. PDFs of all of these are available.

When and how: Unless you see otherwise on the Google Group or hear from me, assume that we’ll be meeting on most Sundays from about 7:00 to 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. Among other teleconferencing technologies that we’ve tried in the past four years, we’ve used Skype with the Rolz online dice roller and Google+ with Tabletop Forge. No single system has been without glitches, but which should we check first each week? Note that more campaign information can also be found at Obsidian Portal and the " Vanished Lands " Yahoo/eGroup.

A little “future history:” As you may have already seen, “Vortex” takes place in the late 22nd century A.D./C.E., immediately after open and official First Contact between humanity and starfaring species. Most of the Sol system’s 19 billion inhabitants still live on Earth/Terra, but there are colonies on or in orbit around each of the other planets.

Mercury has a solar observation station, Venus has heavy industry, and the L-5 orbital cities and Lunar Free State are ruled by megacorp elites. The Martian outback is home to domesteads, terraformers, and scattered bands of rebels. The Asteroid Belt has far-flung smugglers and the Union of Solar Nations shipyards, and Jupiter and Saturn have up-and-coming colonies on their many moons.

Earth is overcrowded, polluted, and still the center of politics, culture, and trade for humanity. Most people live in megalopoli, toil for megacorps, and dream of the freedom (if not necessarily the personal space) of the colonies and beyond.

Humans have also created “Synths” or artificial sentiences, including “Uplifted” animals (genetically modified chimpanzees, bears, dolphins, etc.), robots/androids, and cybernetic or bioengineered “near-humans.” Most Synths are considered second-class citizens, and mutants and psionics are known, but not common. The United Ecumenical Movement (U.E.M.) was created in reaction to wars in the Middle East and is the umbrella organization for various religious groups, as well as some archaeologists and mystics.

The recently renamed Union of Solar Nations (formerly the United Earth Authority) is the loose central government of the Sol system. Each planet and colony is represented in its parliament/legislature, as well as regional entities (for example, North America’s capital is now in Denver). The U.E.A./U.S.N. capital is in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, but it has more power in space than on Earth.

Alien relations: The major groups of extraterrestrials are the benevolent Kharvamid Alliance, the mercantile Trade Guilds, and the threatening Zarkonian Imperium. Major races (occupying several solar systems each) include the following:

  • Encegulans: slug-like slavers
  • Gustrall: antlered, orange-furred flightless avian warriors (resembling prehistoric Terran terror birds or velociraptors)
  • Olvar: mammal-like arboreal pranksters and mystics (think vaguely feline Elves)
  • Nethians: insectoid engineers (think D&D Thri-kreen and Star Trek ’s Vulcans)
  • Ru’ulok: heavy-gravity reptilian traders and pirates (think space Orcs with a dash of Ferengi)
  • Trinoids: three-armed, amphibious terraformers (a little like D&D Xorn)

Humanity has just begun to learn of dozens of other species, most of which are nonaligned, within 50 parsecs (150 light-years) of Sol. A new age of exploration and conflict is dawning….

Inspirations/style: Aside from the obvious Star Trek and Star Wars , much of " Vortex " is inspired by the following space opera works:

  • Books by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, David Brin, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, and David Weber
  • Movies , including Blade Runner and The Fifth Element for 22nd Cent. Earth, Outland and Aliens for colonial life, and Heavy Metal for mysticism
  • T.V. shows , including classic and newer Battlestar Galactica for tech level, Doctor Who and Stargate SG1 for first contacts, Babylon 5 and Farscape for aliens, and Firefly/Serenity for smugglers
  • Other RPGs , including Star Frontiers, Shadowrun, StarCluster, Stars Without Number, and Traveller

What is the Vortex SFRPG?

Vortex GeneD5