Traditionally, role playing games are set in Medieval milieus. People immediately envision dragons, swords and sorcery, castles on high hills and monsters skulking about in the forest. But what if you change it up, and decide to run a game in the future? Space ships and laser guns, exploring the depths of the void, fighting alien life forms with advanced technology. How would you run such a game?
The first thing you need to determine is whether you want your game to be set in classic, golden age sci-fi, or a more accurate portrayal of the future. Don’t know what the difference is? Simple. Golden age sci-fi is Flash Gordon, Star Wars, a setting where technology would be familiar to be people in the 1950′s. You have laser guns, space ships, space pirates, moon bases and the like, but nothing particular modern, or based on modern ideas.
Accurate sci-fi attempts to envision the world 200, 500, or 1000 years from now by following modern developments and seeing where it would go. For example, there is no internet usually in golden age sci-fi. People at best have a version of a cell phone, but not 3G technology. They don’t have the ability to chat, pull up information on Heads Up Displays embedded in their eyes, nanotechnology, etc. All the modern developments that make out current world complex, what will they be like in 200 years? Will we have cell phones embedded in our minds so that we can talk to each other telepathically?
The style you choose to run with will determine the kind of game you play, or more accurately, the atmosphere. Golden Age sci-fi is the most commonly run, because it’s the most simple. You jet around, you fight bad guys, and basically you swap fantasy conventions for modern ones without changing the fabric of the system. Horses become jetpacks, swords become guns, castles become moon bases. Accurate portrayals require more thought; there is no equivalent for the internet in fantasy games, no equivalent for nanotechnology. Thus they require more thought, more deliberation.
Ultimately the style of game you choose to run will help the players decide what kind of character to play. A golden age game will encourage Flash Gordon types, while the more accurate system will encourage players to make more technologically sound types.