Conquer the Galaxy from Home


It started out simply enough. One of our gaming crew had a roommate, Bob, who was thinking of getting involved in role-playing games. He had all the hallmarks of a potential RPG-er: he loved Lord of the Rings and was a fan of William Gibson, but most of all, he loved Star Wars. We were all interested in starting up a new game, so we sat down with Bob to find out just what kind of game he might be interested in.

The Challenge
It started out simply enough. One of our gaming crew had a roommate, Bob, who was thinking of getting involved in role-playing games. He had all the hallmarks of a potential RPG-er: he loved Lord of the Rings and was a fan of William Gibson, but most of all, he loved Star Wars. We were all interested in starting up a new game, so we sat down with Bob to find out just what kind of game he might be interested in.

"First off all, it's got to be sci-fi, with a Star Wars-ish kind of a feel."

"Ok, check."

"And it's got to be epic, really epic, you know, political intrigue, wars, the rise and fall of galactic powers, that sort of thing."


"And I want to be able to design my own race for this game and guide it from infancy to stellar domination."

"Uh, check."

"And I have to be able to do anything I can think of - no limitations."

What Bob wanted was a role-playing game where instead of playing a character, he could design and play his own alien race, guide its development, meet challenges, interact with other races and generally take part in shaping his own universe: a stellar game of epic proportions. It sounded like a great idea. The problem was, none of us knew of a game that came close to meeting Bob's standards. We thought about coming up with one of our own. We even wrote some preliminary rules down, but ultimately the game never got off the ground.

Since then, the idea of an epic role-playing game has stuck in my mind. Recently, I discovered something that reignited my interest in it: a play by e-mail RPG called ">Twilight. In Twilight, each player takes the role of a minor god. In the beginning, they are only able to see a small part of the world. To expand their sphere, they must use their divine power to uplift a primitive race to worship them. As a god, they can lead their race down the paths of technology, biological engineering, magic, or anything else they can think of. Their ability to directly interfere in the world is limited, however. They rely on their worshippers to attain most of their goals. I was inspired by Twilight to take another stab at Bob's game.

The Basics
So here are our goals:

  1. A game where you can attempt to do anything you can think of.
  2. An epic scale spanning entire races.
  3. A science fiction setting.

First off, the game absolutely must be some sort of role-playing game. Only a game where you interact with a referee of some sort allows the kind of flexibility we want. Secondly, the scope must be epic. I envisioned a game with several players, each playing an entire race of beings, sometimes competing, sometimes working together, but always working towards their ultimate goals. This will probably not work as a tabletop RPG, so I'm going to make it play by Email. Finally, the game had to have a science fiction setting. Setting has always been one of my favorite parts of gaming, so we'll start there.

The Setting
In the distant future, the galaxy is inhabited by dozens of distinct races. After uncounted centuries of war and strife, these races decided to come together and form a single government, the galactic assembly, which could deal with galactic issues, resolve conflicts, and keep the peace. This worked, for a while, but in time the government began to decay. It wasn't as effective at responding to events as it once was. In recent times, a number of powerful factions have arisen, each with their own idea of how the galaxy should be run. The young races want to break away, explore the universe and carve out their own holdings unrestricted by the will of the assembly. The older races believe their superior wisdom and experience suits them to make decisions for the galaxy at large. And there are other stirrings. Someone has begun to build up their forces in secret to wrest the reins of power for themselves by force.

This background works pretty well for my purposes. It gives the players some reason to have contact with one another: the galactic assembly. It also suggests some goals: exploration, peace and power. It's a universe where the actions of one faction can change the fate of the galaxy: exactly the sort of this of which epic tales are made. Although the original plan was for each player to take the role of an entire race, a player could just as easily run a faction, cult, or organization that draws its members from several races. As a referee, I can flesh this setting out in detail, describing the planets, races and factions that exist, or I can leave it very "bare-bones" and make it up as I need to.

Creating a Faction
The next thing is to let the players design their factions. I want to keep this as simple as possible but still give the players some guidelines to work with, so I'll give each player a number of points to spend on characteristics. Here's the list of characteristics I came up with:

  • Powerful: this race is strong in combat
  • Armored: this race excels in defense
  • Innovative: this race reacts to change very quickly
  • Cunning: this race excels at intrigue
  • Hardy: this race can survive in harsh environments
  • Secretive: this race keeps its activities very secret
  • Perceptive: this race keeps a close eye on what's happening in the universe

Keep in mind these aren't just physical characteristics; they also determine the race's philosophical outlook on the universe. For example, a powerful race isn't just physically strong, but is also adept at using brute force to attain their ends in every sphere, including negotiation and scientific research. Each player gets to choose two of these. Just to keep things interesting, I'll also let each player create one secret characteristic of their own (subject to my approval, of course). In addition, each player is encouraged to create a detailed write-up of their race, including things like form of government, laws, culture, customs, and physical appearance.

Players are encouraged to be creative but consistent. The idea here is to create a varied universe where different factions go about their ends in different ways. For example, one player chooses to create a powerful, warlike race. He decides his ultimate goal is to research, build and launch a space station powerful enough to destroy an entire planet. Another race has a slightly different outlook on things. They send a small group of highly competent agents on a covert mission to blow up the space station from within. Yet another race waits in the wings, spying on both, waiting to capitalize on the chaos created by this destructive conflict.

But epic gaming isn't just about universe-shaking events. It's also about characters, and I want each race to have memorable, heroic individuals. To reflect this, each race gets three agents. Agents are important individuals who work to advance the goals of their race. They are the players' eyes, ears and hands in the universe. Whatever the player wishes to accomplish must be carried out by their agents. For example, a player cannot simply say "I incite my people towards war". He would have to send an agent on a mission to carry this out, for example, "Zybx the demagogue will journey to the capitol and start stirring up the populous towards war". A player can have a variety of different agents; a spy, an assassin, a pilot, a general, a diplomat and so on. These agents don't have to be fleshed out in too much detail, though a background for each and a description of their capabilities is helpful. Since these are major heroes, it's acceptable for them to have quite impressive capabilities. In addition, each agent gets one characteristic chosen from the list above.

Each turn, the player will assign their agents to missions or projects. A game turn consists
of an exchange of emails between player and referee in which the player describes what they'd like their agents to be up to, and the referee describes the results or progress of last turn's missions. These missions can be short term, such as a raid against an enemy outpost, or long term, like infiltrating an organization over a number of turns, or researching weapons of unspeakable destruction. The only limit to what players can attempt is their imagination.

Ready? Now Fight!
Every game needs a way to resolve conflicts. In our game, factions are of about equal strength by default. In the example above, the team of agents who want to infiltrate the planet-killer space station, have an about even chance of succeeding. If, however, the saboteurs were from a faction with the "cunning" characteristic, they would be more likely to succeed, since this is a covert operation. If the race defending the station were "perceptive" however, this would nullify the bonus, making the conflict even again. It's important to point out the defender's "powerful" characteristic doesn't help them at all in this situation because it's not a conflict of brute force. Finally, I'll add one more wrinkle by stacking the agent's characteristics on top of the faction's characteristics. In our example above, the "cunning" infiltrators and the "perceptive" guards are equally matched. If, however, the agent carrying out the mission is also cunning, this would add to his inherent bonus for belonging to a cunning faction, giving him or her (or it) the advantage once again. This gives the game master some general guidelines about how to resolve conflicts.

Next Steps
There's a lot you can do with the basic idea. Besides tweaking the setting and background, you could transfer the same game mechanics to a completely different genre. As a computer programmer, my first impulse is to write a program to help me keep track of all the people, places and projects in my universe. A website for publishing publicly available information about the universe is also another good idea. Like any game idea, it's only an idea until it's been play-tested. Testing is likely to uncover lots of problems and improvements for this game. Alas, I won't have a chance to actually try this game out for many months, but if any of you readers want to give it a try, please do, and post to this forum to let us know how it goes!

This is an awesome idea. I would be willing to help play-test it, but I am unfamiliar with PBeM games, and so this would be a learning experience for me. Anyone can email me @ if they are interested in trying to start something like this.

Glad to hear you like it! Unfrotunately, I dont have the time to pursue this idea now. But if I ever get around to it, Ill drop you a line.