Games from Scratch – Gamma StarCraft, Part I

Games from Scratch is a new article series, and we hope that it’s something you can find useful, either as a game to run, an interesting mod of a game or setting you like, or an experiment in game design. We’ll examine a wide range of worlds and rule sets as we go along, but we want Games from Scratch to be more than a bin for homebrew odds and ends, and even more than assorted rules hacks. When one of us sets out to create a Game from Scratch, the goal is just that: an examination of the whole play experience, hoping to adapt some kind of already-existing RPG to make something you could at least get a few hours’ enjoyment out of in a new way.

Last winter, I dusted off my old CD-ROM of StarCraft and subjected my roommates to weekend after weekend of endless LAN parties. At first, they tolerated it mostly because we were trapped under a mountain of snow, but soon they came to agree with me: StarCraft is epic. It needs no introduction, and has spawned an expansion set, novels, comics, and a sequel (along with the frankly bewildering world of professional StarCraft competition).

What I’m working on isn’t the first attempt to produce a playable StarCraft RPG (Wizards of the Coast licensed an RPG in 2000 using the Alternity game), but my goal is a game that captures the feel of the StarCraft universe from a different perspective than the top-down strategy game–that perspective being that of the individual grunts running around at ground level, which hopefully gives some appreciation for the game’s perspective.

It’s not hard to find ports of StarCraft into the D&D 3rd Edition rules, but that never appealed to me because, honestly, as much as I loved DMing 3rd Edition, the horrors of trying to create new creatures, feats, and classes in 3E is perhaps the best argument in favor of 4th Edition. If 3E is your cup of tea, though, d20 Modern is an excellent rules supplement that provides a good baseline to start with, especially if you use the d20 Future expansion. Even the Star Wars RPG, despite being heavily steeped in a specific setting, could be the basis for an adaptation.

When I first flipped through Gamma World, though, I realized how perfect it was for a StarCraft hack. Apart from being “D&D with guns,” Gamma World shares 4th Edition’s very pliable rules, which makes it very tolerant of tinkering. Origins make it easy to balance a wide array of classes for PCs to choose from, and let terrans and protoss play with the same toys. Omega Tech can be  used almost unaltered to represent high-grade military hardware, experimental Dominion weaponry, and alien artifacts with mysterious powers. One sticking point, though, is Alpha Mutations which are a core part of Gamma World but which don’t exactly fit StarCraft.

 I also decided early on that Zerg characters were not going to be available to players, an aesthetic choice but one which also means that I’m fortunately juggling only two distinctly different character types and not three. I’m also not going to bother with spacecraft for the beginning, but maybe eventually we’ll get around to that.

Next up, some real crunch: Terran origins, including Marine, Firebat, and Marauder!