Thursday, February 15, 2024

World Conversions: Monsters & NPCs

One of the keys to a prosperous world conversion is the feeling, "It was always this way." The world always followed GURPS, and when the world was created - it was GURPS. Magic always worked this way; characters were always like this, history was made with these rules, and all the significant NPCs follow these rules and know nothing more.

There was no "time of troubles" or "the way things were before."

The original game books fight you every step of the way, especially the bestiaries and adventures.

This is why I use a bog-standard B/X bestiary (like the excellent Basic Fantasy) and do a rough conversion:

  • HT = HD x5 or x10
  • Attack Skill, Parry = 10  + (Attack Bonus / 2)
  • Dodge = 6 to 10, estimate
  • Damage = 1d3 or 1d6 per HD or by weapon (swing = +20%)
  • Special Damage = 1d3 or 1d6 per HD (or 5 character points per HD for a power)
  • DR = estimate based on armor, or (roll-over AC - 10) / 2

Toss advantages and disadvantages on as needed. I recommend the lower multipliers for average creates and x10 for bosses, as 5x aligns it with the GURPS bestiaries. The elephant is a good example:

  • HT = 50
  • Attack skill = 15
  • Dodge = 7
  • Damage = 5d6 thrust, 7d6 swing
  • Special Damage = none
  • DR = 4

It matches the entry in GURPS Basic close enough. Those are good enough to play with. Goblin?

  • HT = 5
  • Attack skill = 10
  • Dodge = 8
  • Damage = 1d6 thrust, 1d6+2 swing
  • Special Damage = none
  • DR = 2

If you want special powers, like flame breath, give them special powers, tack damage on there based on HD, and be done with it. You don't need a full-blown character creation tool for these!

Again, it is close enough to the DF Monsters book, except HT, which is half - but hey, high fantasy, and this is a "minion" style monster - otherwise, use 10 HT. Skill is a little low, but this may be a villager - pump it by 2-4 points for a warrior.

Getting the numbers in a "good ballpark range" is all you care about. Tweak and adjust from there since no monster is alike.

Do enough of these and reference the Monsters and Basic Set books, and you'll get the hang of it quickly. Now you have a fantasy bestiary there, so you don't need to pick up the old one and hear the siren's call, "Just play me; it is easier..."

Sorry, I got my 4th Edition Basic Fantasy book, and we are free from all "it's not game X" feelings. Most special 5E monsters can be described as, "Oh, it's about the same size as a chimera, but it has ice-breath and mind-control powers." Find the chimera in Basic Fantasy, convert the numbers, tweak them to feel right, and tack on special powers.

You are done.

It is challenging to convert, but having a rule of thumb for converting monsters lets me quickly pull in a few favorites and get me in the ballpark should I need to use a part of an adventure for inspiration. This also helps the feeling that "the world was always this way" since the monsters are good to go.

If converting in a B/X module, remember that the number appearing should also be reduced. Old-school modules are infamous for putting 20-40 monsters in a room, and even a dozen skeletons could be lethal to a party of four.

Everything should be "reimagined" using the GURPS lens, and even significant NPCs should be flavored and given interesting specialties to make them unique for your game. If I were doing a Forgotten Realms conversion and trying to put together an Elminster, I would not make him a 1,000-point arch-mage, a superhero of magic. I would make him a 500-point or even a starting 250-point character and put him in his early career. Nobody gets put on a pedestal if he falls - so what? That is what happened in this reality, or maybe this world was part of one of his dreams (and he was here for a while).

No one gets put on a pedestal; every GMNPC is a starting hero.

If they fall, get corrupted to evil, or end up on the wrong side of something - that's the story. Your players may be playing alongside them or against them.

But I would make him a little different, like an alchemist or monster hunter. Give him a quirky, fun job; maybe he won't be so intolerable and god-modded. Elminster, the inexperienced magic hunter of monsters, sounds fun, and I could root for a guy like that. Give him a unique theme and set of skills, and let him play through adventures and get better at a new role in life.

Maybe he won't turn out like he did in other worlds and end up like a Pok√©mon trainer or mage who participates in gladiatorial monster fights. D&D can force you into a very annoying and stereotyped archetype at high levels, like the pious paladin, the wise old cranky wizard, or the Xerox Conan barbarian. What else is there to model yourself after?

Master alchemist Elminster? Monster hunter Elminster? Steampunk inventor Elminster? Magical postman Elminster? The Island of Doctor Elminster?

Those sound fun.

And they aren't so GMNPC I can't stand them.

Monday, February 12, 2024

GURPS Character Sheet

I started with GURPS Character Assistant (GCA, the software you can buy on W23), but I am slowly migrating to GURPS Character Sheet (GCS, free, but please support the creator on Patreon).

GCA is only a Windows app. I like the "creating libraries of books" and focusing on the experience, though how they do this at times means they remove options from the main books I may want: wings in the Dungeon Fantasy setup, for one. If I want a character race with wings, I must add that as a custom advantage. But when this works, it does very well, like the scripts that remove all the high-tech gear from the equipment lists, so you only have what you want when picking equipment.

GCA is a bit slow on my machine, and the entire "creating and loading book libraries" feels more complicated than it should be and can throw errors if you add incompatible books. Each character can use a different library, so loading can sometimes be a little slow and confusing. The guided templates used in character design are excellent here, though, and the program avoids the duplicates you can sometimes get in GCS that you have to combine or clean up.

I feel GCA is a better "beginner's app" than GCS. Hacking GCA and creating books requires scripting experience to create a book or script and then apply it to a library.

GCS feels like a power-user app. Hacking this and creating custom options is extremely simple; you create files in folders. GCS lacks the "macro scripts" of GCA's library functions because they aren't needed, but you have to be selective about gear or create a custom list for yourself.

GCS sometimes creates duplicate entries in a character sheet, like one option adding a point of STR and another doing the same. The STR score is updated, but I like to combine those into one modification of the sheet to clean it up. I have had a few times where a duplicate advantage or skill was added, so it is good to review each section and look for duplicates, combine them if needed, and delete the second entry. I haven't had GCA do this, so again, it's better for new users and players.

GCS supports Windows, Linux, and Mac and has excellent Foundry VTT export support. The upside and downside of this app are you get everything; there is no creating "lists of books." You have all of GURPS to pick from when building a character. That said, you have to "know your GURPS" to get the best use out of this software. There is a Dungeon Fantasy RPG area I mostly stay in, but if I want a few Basic Set traits, I can open that folder up and grab what I want. It is nice when I am trying to design a monster and can just hop over to something "shop there."

I love taking GCS user files and replicating my custom templates and character lists on another machine and OS with a file copy. I have a characters folder in my user library, and I store my characters in there, with a folder for each game. I click on them, and they open. All my custom templates live in there, too, so I can create a custom "magic corruption" template, give it levels and effects, and save it so I can apply it to a character with a click.

I still like GCA and keep it installed and updated. If I want a campaign focused on a limited set of tech levels, the macro scripts do an excellent job cleaning up the game's massive lists of stuff. The macros sometimes go too far and clean out options power users want. For players new to GURPS, giving them an app with a preset library that limits selections and lets them focus on design is handy. You don't have to worry about a player in Dungeon Fantasy picking a .357 magnum, though this is GURPS, and that sounds like a fun game.

With Mac (Intel and Apple Silicon) and Linux support, GCS is a power user's dream. I tested Mac support, and it works amazingly. I wanted a laptop character creation tool for GURPS, which changed my laptop buying plan to a Mac with some screen room. It works excellent on an M1 MacBook Air 13", but a 15" Air would be very nice to work on and give me more screen room. I was looking at a Windows Surface device (since GCA would run on that, too), but paying 3 grand for less than a day's battery life.

Chrome is the big offender, and that program will drain your battery faster than a Tesla trying to tow a loaded U-Haul trailer. There is very little reason for Chrome these days other than as a password manager, and if you want battery life, switch to either Edge or Safari while on a laptop. The browsers made by the OS companies are good enough, plus they can optimize for battery life far better than energy-wasting Chrome could ever dream of.

The Macs are amazing regarding price, performance, and battery life. My 13" M1 Air will be good for another 4-6 years, and it is really all I need for GCS and my PDFs. However, as I get older, my eyes want a bigger screen. As it is, opening a PDF in GCS to read an option, I need to zoom and pan around, which is not great but workable.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

GURPS: Star Frontiers, Part 3

Oh my fnord, Interstellar Wars space combat is awful.

It killed my GURPS: Star Frontiers game.

Here was the setup, two starfighters on a training mission simulating a dogfight. Fly towards each other, accelerate, vector, use sensors to find the other ship, fire weapons, and go to the next turn.

Only both pilots blew their sensor rolls for TL 10 ships. Where is the other fighter? I don't know. Well, maintain speed and turn towards where you think they would be. I did, and they turned towards each other (random roll determines turn direction, so I got lucky), and blew the sensor roll again for both of them since the range was more significant.

Where are you?

Well, this is a combat simulation, no cheating telling each other where we are, so keep turning and scanning. I got unlucky in the turn direction where they thought they would be, and due to the speeds involved, they were on the opposite sides of a map with 10,000-mile hexes - 30 hexes apart.

So spotting a starfighter the size of an airplane 300,000 miles away in space with sensors that only go out 4 to 6-hexes at best.

Where are you?

Hello?

Is anyone out there?

Hello?

They will be lost in deep space and halfway to another planet before they realize this is pointless and give up. This is two fish trying to find each other on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean.

Okay, time for a reset. I add a "space station" guiding them and telling them which way to turn since the one in charge of training wants them to at least have a shot at each other.

The RoF of the weapons is like 20 shots in a turn, pouring lasers at each other in a 20-minute turn. You get any number of hits, and the laser's armor divisor cuts through the other ship's armor like butter, and one side will be vaporized. GURPS at any high-tech level has these insane armor divisors on attacks that make you want to put the "hardened" option on it so the divisor doesn't apply (B46). I tend to assume high-tech armor is military grade and hardened, so no armor divisor applies - and still, damage will get through.

I stopped playing after this.

I could see all ship combat devolving into pointless, where are you, circle strafing as the ships flew further and further apart.

I am going back to Knight Hawks combat. I will roll GURPS to hits with skills and will apply a -1 per hex range modifier to hit, and keep the max ranges in KH. ADF/MR and maneuvering will be as per KH. Ship damage will be KH.

Yes, that means breaking out the d10s but I will survive.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Hex Background!

We have a new hex background! I know a GURPS blog with a square graph paper background is strange. Hopefully, we are more aligned on the hex grid with the GURPS vibe. I did a few edits to keep it from being distracting and pushed it to the back.

Larger hexes are easier on my eyes since small hexes begin to become a visual distraction. You need to be careful with small repeating patterns since they make the text harder to read.

 Yes, the source image is licensed.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

GURPS -Anything

I have nothing but respect for people who can run a "GURPS-anything" campaign for years in a setting that uses another set of rules. This is especially hard for settings like Greyhawk or the Realms with established published adventures that, in all worlds, should just convert over?

I know the first thing that happens is "s*** gets real."

I love that feeling; the world goes from a simple game system where everything is abstracted to a level of detail that blows your mind. It feels like having poor vision, wearing glasses, and seeing the world in high detail for the first time. People reported this when they went from Traveller to GURPS Traveller; suddenly, they said they "felt like they lived there" and "it feels like I am in the world and living it for real."

It feels like putting on a VR headset and being immersed in the world.

This is "The GURPS Effect."

It is a powerful thing since all of a sudden you realize what was before limited to four classes - fighter, mage, thief, and cleric and everyone being cut from the same cookie cutter to having a million professions with hundreds of skills and nobody is the same anymore. Entirely new adventuring professions have opened up, like the royal cartographer, and they can actually sell the maps they make (with their adventures and skill rolls) for a profit.

This happens to so many classes as those skills are combined with professions. You get specialty clerics, like an exorcist, that a B/X cleric is like, "cast a spell and done" - to a skilled professional with a deep set of skills to analyze a demonic possession, figure out the exact demon they are dealing with, and having many spells to encircle the affected area, isolate those possessed, and drive them out all one by one while adventuring companions fight off the evil creatures trying to stop the cleansing.

The GURPS character, with dozens of skills and spells, feels much more capable than the 5E cleric, who is armed with a single spell slot for exorcism, a smite cantrip, and a passive perception.

The GURPS Effect applies to characters, NPCs, the world, and the entire fabric of reality.

And you can mix and match skills and get infinite combinations where a "holy cartographer of the realms of Hell" becomes a viable profession. They gate in, establish a base camp, and have a combat mission to map a piece of the planes of Hell for the church. And then escape as the demons figure out what you are up to and mount an assault on your camp.

Why?

Why not?

I love the idea and hear people have done this - but I have yet to try. Mainly because much of the source material steers you in the wrong direction; all of it was written for a limited set of "world physics" controlled by "the game it was written for."

I have never been able to make this work, but I should try since people are happy with their conversions and the games run a long time.

Let's head over to B2, Keep on the Borderlands, and go into one of the first rooms, key A6 to be exact, and get hit by 40 kobolds in a 50' by 40' room. Some of these modules had little clue what they were doing. I played this once in a modern Pathfinder 1e game, and the outside hallway became a slaughter as the kobolds charged and were cut down in hails of gunfire wave after wave. Halfway through, they failed morale.

I felt terrible for them.

Many "new fantasy" games assume steampunk tech, so you will have guns and explosives. This playthrough was not that far off the mark for the new games. Get two or three gunslingers in a party, an alchemist with bombs, and the result is the same with "rapid reload tech" or magic allowing high rates of fire "for the fun of the game." There are parts of this module that feel less like a classic adventure and more like the setup of a mass casualty event.

Even if you assume a B/X party in here and the kobolds can fight 2 or 3 on a front rank, we are talking about a 3-4 hour fight and the same sort of slaughter. 5E would throw a blue screen of death trying to run this battle, and a game like GURPS - if you played this by the book, would take days.

Unless you have fireballs or a bunch of hand grenades, which in B/X is what this room is made to do - burn a fireball, sleep, or other AoE spell slot.

Pair a dwarven architect who knows his underground construction, a mage specializing in detecting the types of magic, and a seer who knows a lot about this ancient lich. This crusty halfling tomb robber knows every trap ever made, and a holy paladin specializing in destroying undead, and the Tomb of Horrors becomes a slow slog of tearing the dungeon apart like an Egyptian tomb excavation taking months.

The death rate would be far less since this team knows their stuff.

Tomb of Horrors is deadly because it relies on throwing characters without the skills to deal with a highly specialized and technical situation into one. I am a fighter! What do you want me to do? I know nothing but how to kill something and stand behind a shield.

Yes, Tomb of Horrors is deadly because AD&D characters are unprepared and stupid in these situations, not because of the players but because of the game. 5E does this with passive skills, turning off player brains and forcing the referee to "read the text box" if they have X higher than Y.

In the original module, it all fell on the player's brain and ability to pay attention. The rules did not help you because they couldn't. In GURPS, I can design a character to completely own an aspect of a skill set needed in this adventure.

You get that seer in there, and he sees a mock-up of a holy temple, his warning bells will go off. If a fake copy of the lich shows up, he will know it isn't real. He will know the riddles and mosaics, who made them and could go outside the dungeon, find a library, and research further - possibly finding a few more experts in areas.

That and none of these dungeons are on hexes.

If I made a "total conversion" world, all the dungeons would be on hexes. Get bent on 60-degree angles, old-school holes in the ground.

But I would like to try this, and I get the feeling tossing out modules and making my own "places of danger" that fit the world better would be ideal. There is something about seeing B2 and getting overwhelmed with all that needs to be converted that just makes me quit before I start. The secret is, I don't need the module, and just one cave with kobolds and a story behind why they are there and what is happening would play much better.

Use the module as an inspiration; there are tons of places in here, like the owlbear cave and the goblin tunnels, the evil temple, and the orc fort, that could be "torn off" and used as smaller adventure sites (with hex maps) that would play and feel grounded in a larger world.

Instead of B2 being this massive mess of a conversion nightmare, tearing parts of it off could populate an entire valley with fun adventure zones, and each one could feel like it belongs in its area.

Even in 5E, that is a good strategy, more minor, site-based encounters, and less of these mega dungeons.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

GURPS: Star Frontiers, Part 2

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Today, I created my doctor character, and back when my brother and I played the original Star Frontiers, this loose-knit group of the fighter pilot's friends went on to form the crew of his ship.

I know this character well, but GURPS had some disadvantages that fit her personality perfectly. She was never combat-oriented, so a pacifist who only fights in self-defense plus post-combat shakes fit her well. She is a rich girl, the local physician's daughter, who enjoys horse riding and dance music. She went to medical school because her father paid for it, and she has this listless, bored life of just hanging around and not knowing what to do with her life.

For weapons, she uses a needler with sleep drugs. She gets dual use out of that when she needs to sedate a horse and knows a little veterinary medicine. She probably works as a nurse at the local clinic and as a veterinarian assistant. She owns a hoverbike, knows nothing about fixing it, and keeps a backpack with her medical gear in case she needs to make a house call to a ranch. The pack is 50 pounds, so she can carry it in the field on her back, but it encumbers her seriously. She has a small medical kit on her webbing and a few other handy items she can throw on in a pinch.

In GURPS, you need a medical physiology for each race so she can also treat Vrusk. They probably joke she treats them like a horse, but she would laugh. This physiology skill lets her avoid penalties when doing medicine, surgery, or first aid on the Vrusk. She must learn the physiology of other races on which she wants to perform medicine. Like the mechanic and electrician skills, she needs to specialize.

I can see the 5E players rolling their eyes. Healing skill is healing skill! Why does this need to be so specific? This is slowing the game down! Why is this so complicated?

I put her on a damaged space station, and she had to treat a wounded Drasalite with a crushing injury. In that case, her lack of physiology knowledge will be a huge problem and a significant source of tension. She will need to make do or look it up on a medical computer to try and reduce the penalty. If the Drasalite survives, she will definitely want to spend her XP on getting familiar with alien physiology to ensure that it never happens again.

To a doctor, this is an essential upgrade and capability. You make the skills too rules-light, and you lose this moment. But on a more significant level, GURPS is all about these moments when you have the right skill (and equipment) at the right time or frantically trying to make due, roleplay to reduce penalties, and hope for an excellent dice roll.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

The equipment game is essential, too, especially in sci-fi. You can't just say "healer's kit and a tool proficiency" to perform surgery to stop internal bleeding. She is a doctor, a lifesaver, and while science-fantasy characters would wave their hands and cast a glowing nano-healing spell, she would drag over a surgery kit, wash her hands, and get busy saving a life. She would set up a transfusion with another Drasalite; even though unfamiliar, she would make it work with some research and roleplay. She would stabilize the patient and get them resting in the ruins of the recovery room until a rescue ship could arrive. Her pilot/mechanic friend could repair some of the damage to bring the machines back online and stabilize the rolls with that life-support equipment.

In 5E sci-fi, a medicine skill roll and a repair skill roll are against a challenge rating. Due to the game's science-fantasy genre, there are likely 'special powers' that prevent much of this from being done, with the character's nano-healing power for combat. Wave your hand, top off hit points, and everything is okay.

In GURPS, she puts points into skills, has a healer trait that makes everything easier and has to use specific knowledge - some of which she lacks and needs to make up for. Her friend has to bring computers and medical machines online with his repair skills as time runs low. She needs to make a few skill rolls in different areas to prepare and perform her lifesaving miracles. She needs to find the right gear for the job and possibly have her friend blow open a storage locker. She needs to roleplay, find someone for a blood transfusion, and sit them still next to the patient.

That unique collection of skills and talents is her character class, powers, and abilities.

Very few people will remember that 5E moment since it is either 'cast a spell' or so simplified nobody would care. Very few moments in rules-light games are worth remembering, typically only boss fights, roleplay, or silly mistakes.

In GURPS, that 'saving a life' fight - almost like a mini-game - feels like a combat where life and death hang in the balance. That moment will be remembered for years. Any moment in a more robust game can become an epic battle against the odds.

And saving that life will also prove why she exists.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

GURPS: Star Frontiers, Part 1

To learn a system, create some of your favorite characters using GURPS. Granted, this is not as easy being new to the system; there are a million skills to sort through, and just sorting through what books you will use is a considerable challenge.

Even if all you start with are the core books - that is fine!

GURPS is a system with a fractal level of depth; whenever you think you know all you need to know, there is another level to dive into and explore. And understanding that level will make you appreciate everything that came before even more.

Before we get started, here is my library definition as per GCA. I am calling this "Space Plus - TL 10," and there are a few significant changes to the lore assumed by this collection. Since GURPS has so many excellent books, it would be silly to ignore some of the possibilities for expanding the story and campaign.

The first is limiting campaign TL to 10. When you get to blasters at TL 11 in GURPS, a lot of the personal protective gear becomes worthless with that (5) armor divisor and burn damage, and the TL 11 armor becomes immune to many guns. TL 10 still has a good mix of lasers and projectile weapons, capturing that sort of early-1980s sci-fi feeling where projectile weapons are still viable, and high-tech weapons aren't one-shot deadly. TL 10 still has low armor divisors (2 and 3 mainly), and there is a good armor game here with gear.

The next major change is the addition of the Bio-Tech and Psionics books. I am assuming the Frontier is discovering massive 'relic ships' or some other precursor race's million-year-old space travel technology and these will become a focal point of the campaign. This also takes the pressure off Volturnus being the end-all of the campaign and opens up space mysteries to every part of the galaxy. With the discovery of these city ships and ruins, the citizens of the Frontier are finding substances that mutate them or parts of the population (Bio-Tech), and also these ships are unlocking powers of the mind (Psionics). 

I envision parts of the population of some worlds changing into new forms, adopting psi-powers, skin color changes, and other mutations that create new variant species of the major races. A crashed ship in an ocean may have slowly mutated parts of the population slowly until everyone knew something was happening. There may be mutated animal races and others with an expanded selection of races and mutations.

This also allows limited super-science and TL 11+ items to enter the game, but I am limiting (for now) everything in the program to TL 10 or lower just to reduce choices during character creation. I can always modify my library later, but for more, TL 10 is the limit for character creation, and TL 11+ items (and starship equipment) are treasures and unique finds.

TL 11+ space treasures, especially personal equipment, and starship systems, are very cool. A starship captain may find a piece of higher-tech starship equipment and that would be a one-of-a-kind find they can install into their ship. This is the "treasure and magic item" game in traditional fantasy gaming in a sci-fi sense, and keeping the general TL lower increases the amount of cool stuff from TL 11-15 characters can find (and fight over).

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

The character I created is your pilot/mechanic-style archetype. In Star Frontiers, they don't let you be a pilot from character creations (with Knight Hawks) since you need technician 6 and computer 2, along with computer 6 if you want astrogation. In the original game, starship skills are 'high-level play', and beginning characters have no hope of having their own ship or being able to fly it.

My guy is a primary 150-point character (-50 in disadvantages/perks) and uses the astronaut template out of GURPS Space. When converting, watch out for the generalist mindset other games put you in. You will want to make your character just as competent as they are in the rules-light game, and I found myself buying dozens of technical, piloting, and other skills to make him able to do the things he was able to in the old game.

For a starting 150-point character, your character will be 100% better if you design for a very narrow set of specialties - just the core things you need the character to do (not want). My guy needed to be able to fly a starfighter or other high-performance craft in standard space (not hyperspace), fly between planets, fix his starfighter (but not the reactor, computers, or other specialty systems), and shoot a laser pistol. His background hobbies were camping, driving his truck to his favorite para-glider spots, and doing extreme sports with his buddies.

That's it. he can't fix radios, computers, shields, sensors, reactors, fuel cells, robots, or anything else (without a related skill and penalty). He could in the original game, but he is a specialist here and that narrow range of skills helps better define him as a character. If he needs a person to repair (or program) computers he will need to learn a new skill or (better yet) hire someone else to do that. He could replace a star-fighter reactor or other system but not repair it.

He has a military rank of one, and I assume he is one of the thousands of reserve fighter pilots in training for his planet's militia. He holds down a regular job and then reports for training every few weeks to train, study space battles, do shipboard drills and operations, clean and do maintenance chores, fly a starfighter older than he is, study repair manuals, and review training afterward. Otherwise, he is a mechanic who fixes ATVs and shuttles, owns a piece of junk ATV himself, and has an apartment in a nowhere town to slum in.

This is where you realize a fine-grained skill system that forces your character into specialty areas helps roleplaying. If he wants to be the captain of his own starship, he will need to find a crew to cover all these areas. He will need specialists to cover systems he can't repair. He needs a navigator, sensor person, computer specialist, doctor, science crew that can operate sensors, and other crewmembers. He will not be able to 'do it all' or 'cover any station' like sci-fi games based on 5E or Starfinder typically assume since 'they want to skip to the fun.'

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

But let's think about the future. He wants to be a starship captain someday. He wants to own his own ship. Maybe he wants to complete his military service term and move on (the timing of the end of this should be roleplaying and decided between GM and player). He could transfer to the Scout Service and deal with diplomats, scientists, and explorers. He could stay in the militia and be given command of a fast patrol ship. He could stay in reserves and work towards becoming a private merchant or transfer to the merchant marine reserve forces and haul cargo for the military when loads come up.

Yes, you can do all that in a rules-light system, but you need a profound experience in sci-fi to even come up with it. With a deeper skill system that forces specialization, these questions come naturally as a part of character design and improvement.

But there are a billion ways to go. That feeling overwhelms some; they need a class and level system as rails. I love being thrust into the stars and asking, "What is next?"

How I answer that question and what the rules allow me to do reflects my choices and actions.

And he will need to improve his skills too. He will need better personal combat skills. He can defend himself now, but he has a lot of room to specialize and improve in the narrow combat areas he prefers to fight with. He needs hyper-space pilot skills, better gunnery, sensor skills, and some more tricky flying advantages. He will need leadership skills and some skills used to manage money. he needs contacts, and skills needed to deal with planetary governments and bureaucracies, which will involve contracts and negotiation. 

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

But those social spacer skills and dealing with business and 'red tape in space' are another part that rules-light games ignore. This is tremendous flavor and color, and having a specialist legal and customs crewmember will allow him to breeze through customs, docking, legal, and taxes with a breeze. Other captains will be caught up in red tape and able to get in, deliver cargo, load up the next haul, and get out, while other captains sit in a processing queue for weeks and wait for customs to get to them.

Today's rules-light sci-fi gives you a space goblin, puts a laser pistol in your hand, and tells you to 'kill it for some fun' and 'loot credits out of its pockets for a reward.'

Today's sci-fi games miss the point of sci-fi so hard the pain is unbearable. If I want to think, reflect on the human condition, discover the unknown, and feel that deep sense of wonder - I will play sci-fi. I will play fantasy if I want to stab things to death for a few pieces of gold.

My character specialization, dealing with red tape and everything he doesn't know, increases the sense of wonder and amazement when encountering the unknown. He needs to deal with other people if he wants to fly a starship and hire a team of experts. There are the mysteries of the body (Bio-Tech) and the mind (Psionics) to deal with and understand. The universe has mysteries (the ancients and TL 11+ gear) to unravel. And there are terrestrial concerns with races getting along, governments, space pirates, criminals, and other groups to deal with while trying to find your place in the stars.

Rolling 3d6 for six ability scores, picking a class, rolling hit points, writing down special abilities, getting a base attack bonus, and holding a 1d6 damage laser pistol gives me nothing to grab hold of and engage me for science fiction. Classes and preset progression paths hold me back and limit my imagination. Characters that can 'do everything' make me feel like I should be 'doing nothing.'

The more limits I must overcome, the sweeter the victory when I finally reach that goal.

And then there will be the next star to visit...