Space Opera (role-playing game)
Cover of Space Opera Volume 1 manual
|Designer(s)||Edward E. Simbalist, A. Mark Ratner, Phil McGregor|
|Publisher(s)||Fantasy Games Unlimited|
Space Opera is a science-fiction role-playing game created by Edward E. Simbalist, A. Mark Ratner, and Phil McGregor in 1980 for Fantasy Games Unlimited. While the system is applicable to the whole genre of science fiction, Space Opera had a default setting intended to be used as generic science fiction role-playing game rules, the focus being on creating space opera themed adventures.
Space Opera resolved to give gamers a system and universe which they could mold into any popular science fiction milieu, be it Star Wars, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman, Larry Niven's Known Space, Frank Herbert's "Dune", Battlestar Galactica, Galactica 1980, etc.
Space Opera also resolved to be a "complete" system. With the basic rules one got most everything one would need: in-depth character construction, sci-fi toys/equipment, aliens and robots, monsters, combat, planet and society creation, starship construction and combat.
According to the Scott Bizar, the founder of FGU, "I wanted a SF rpg and I gave the job to Ed Simbalist. During the process I’ve never met Ed, nor Phil McGregor and Mark Ratner, who lived in the Canadian west, Australia and the east of the USA, respectively. The project was completed over more than two years entirely by correspondence." Ed was responsible for all the editing and coordination. Phil McGregor sent some technology and space ship related stuff, which Ed liked so much that he incorporated it in the finished product. While the background universe was based on Mark Ratner's Space Marines, Mark had little input into Space Opera itself.Part of the volume one introduction by Fantasy Games Unlimited owner Scott Bizar describes this undertaking:
Character creation is a long process in Space Opera, typically taking about an hour for a more experienced and indepth character. While the number of random rolls is limited, the player has wide discretion in how points are applied and many choices especially when it comes to skills.
Players choose from the following Character Classes: Armsman, Astronaut, Tech (with subclasses such as Armstech or Crimetech), and Scientist (Pure Researcher, Medical Researcher, Physician, & Engineering subclasses). The classes are especially important where bonuses can be applied to Personal Characteristics and later ease the cost to acquire skills.
Space Opera characters are supposed to be larger-than-life. As such their Personal Characteristics average out higher than the "common man." For each of the 14 Personal Characteristics a d100 is rolled. These are Physique, Strength, Constitution, Agility, Dexterity, Empathy, Intelligence, Psionics, Intuition, Bravery, Leadership, General Technical Aptitude (GTA), Mechanical Aptitude, and Electronics Aptitude. Depending on the Character Class chosen, bonus points can be applied to these rolls. The final number is compared against a scaled table resulting in a number between 1 and 19 for the Personal Characteristic. Characteristic Rolls (CRs) are then made on a d20 during play.
Planet of Birth is made up of three rolls for Gravity, Atmosphere, and Climate. This could have effects on the Personal Characteristics, and some on the choice of race.
Races could be Human, Humanoid, Transhuman, Pithecine, Canine, Feline, Ursoid, Avian, and Warm-blooded Saurian for player characters. The races are general and don't necessarily bind to a particular star culture. They do though have prerequisites of Personal Characteristics, for example the Canine races can not have technical aptitudes beyond a score of 14, and Transhumans can not have any Personal Characteristics below 10.
A variety of other capabilities, such as Carrying Capacity, Damage Factor, and Stamina (based on Personal Characteristics) help to further define the character.
In the Career path the character goes through the recruitment process, participates for a random number of tours-of-duty, has opportunities for promotion, and then finally musters out, in some cases with severance pay, pension benefits, savings, and personal gear. There is no risk of death prior to the start of play.
The last step is for the player to calculate the generous number of skill points available and to go through the process of picking skills and spending points on them to advance them. This is made the most time-consuming part of creating the character, not only because of the rich assortment of skills to pick from, but also because of the accounting of prerequisite basic skills needed for more advanced skills. For example, the first level of Computer Engineering requires Physics/6, Math/4, Chemistry/2, Metallurgy/2.
In Space Opera races are treated very generally. Instead of assigning a unique name to a particular specific race, the races were named as their general, anthropomorphic stock. This allowed any race seen in fiction before or since to be simulated.
PC (Player Character) Races:
- Avian: Anthropomorphic bird races. Example: Brontitall or Garuda
- Canine: Anthropomorphic canine races.
- Feline: Anthropomorphic felines come in two general strains: Mekpurr, the smaller and more technically adept and Avatar, larger, hunting cat varieties. Example: Kzinti
- Humans: These include current Earth homo sapiens as well as all well-known biologically similar Science Fiction races. Example: Fremen
- Humanoids: Representative of human races who evolved away from the basic racial stock due to evolutionary adaptations to the local environment, and are generally not genetically compatible with Humans. Arrangement and even functions of internal organs differ. They may have adaptive extra organs, such as Desert planet humanoid's nictitating membranes and Olfactory organs more sensitive (similar to sharks and blood) to water.
- Pithecine: Anthropomorphic primate races resembling gorillas and the like, tending to be more emotional and more easily excited. Example: Planet of the Apes
- Saurian: Anthropomorphic warm-blooded dinosaur races. They are a "cold blooded" group only empathically speaking, by human standards, with loyalty to race over family. Example: Gorn
- Transhumans: Any kind of humanoid race which has achieved a greater level of evolution than Humans/Humanoids, more intellectually oriented, and with higher psionic aptitudes. Example: Vulcan
- Ursoids: Anthropomorphic bear races. Example: Wookiee
- IRSOL: Technically not a separate race, but any of the above races having fragile, taller and thinner frames for having evolved on low gravity managed atmosphere orbital installations, such as space stations, dome cities on asteroids, or wandering "StarCities."
NPC (Non-Player Character) Races:
Space Opera also included a much larger list of races for Non-player Characters and for encounters that consist of some meaningful contact:
- Cold planet beings,
- Transhuman, and
Planet of Birth
Characters could be born on a planet with any Gravity Field ranging from zero G to 2.5 G.
Characters could be born on a planet with many atmosphere types, ranging from low or no atmosphere in dome cities, to very high pressure atmospheres, with or without some contaminants, or partially exotic constituents.
Characters could be born on a planet with many Climate types:
- Type 1 Standard Terran Planet
- Type 1 Steppe Planet
- Type 1 Arid Planet
- Type 1 Desert Planet
- Type 1 Swamp Planet
- Type 1 Jungle Planet
- Type 1 Tundra Planet
- Type 1 Ocean Planet
- Type 2 Terran Planet without seasonality
- Type 3 Terran Planet with extreme seasonality
- Type 4 Terran Planet with normal axial tilt at outer edge of stellar ecosphere
- Type 5 Terran Planet with minimal axial tilt at outer edge of stellar ecosphere
- Type 6 Terran Planet with extreme axial tilt at outer edge of stellar ecosphere
- Type 7 Terran Planet with normal axial tilt at inner edge of stellar ecosphere
- Type 8 Terran Planet with minimal axial tilt at inner edge of stellar ecosphere
- Type 9 Terran Planet with extreme axial tilt at inner edge of stellar ecosphere
- Type 10 Terran Planet with eccentric orbit crossing beyond the outer ecosphere
- Type 11 Terran Planet with eccentric orbit crossing beyond the inner ecosphere
- Type 12 Terran Planet with eccentric orbit crossing beyond the inner ecosphere & the outer ecosphere
- Type 13 Terran Planet up to 10% beyond inner ecosphere limit (13/7, 13/8, 13/9)
- Type 14 Terran Planet up to 30% outside stellar ecosphere (14/4, 14/5, 14/6)
- Type 13 Airless/Low pressure, managed domed environment, with moon-like extremes of temperature
- Type 14 Airless/Low pressure, managed domed environment, cold exotic atmosphere
- Type 15 Airless/Low pressure, managed domed environment, close to primary with high radiation
- Type 15 High pressure, managed domed environment, high surface temperatures
- Type 16 Far out from primary, noontime high temperatures -80 °C to -185 °C
- Type 17 Far out from primary, noontime high temperatures -185 °C to -225 °C
- Type 18 Far out from primary, noontime high temperatures -225 °C to -273 °C
- Type 19 Rogue planet, completely frozen
- Type 20 Gas Giants with orbital positions indicated as 20/15, 20/16, 20/17, 20/18, 20/19
Where not noted normal (10° to 30°) axial tilts are assumed, extreme minimums with the suffix -A, extreme maximums with the suffix -B, with the exception of Type 2 and Type 3 which are axial tilt categories. Example: Type 12-B Terran "nightmare climate."
Some characters are able to use Psionics, an advanced science with many fields of studies, three levels of functioning (Psionically dead, Psionically open, Psionically Awakened) and vast number of skills. Characters that were open and been Psionically attacked or had contact with a raw PK Crystal could awaken and learn skills by trial and error. Characters with very high Psionic scores might be "contacted" and trained. Psionic fields included:
- Telepathy - 29 skills
- Telekinesis - 25 skills
- Teleportation - 4 skill
- Clairvoyance - 15 skills
- Telurgy & Self-awareness - 12 skills
- The Force - 11 skills
The technology of Space Opera follows the grand tradition of its name, as well as the lowest levels of tech possible (Notably missing are the influences of cyberpunk, mechs, and nanotechnology, which all came later than the publication of the game).
Multi-Computers (500 kg - 50 tons) were based on a monolithic, mainframe-style that are meant to look after a least as many processes as the human brain takes care of for the human body, but for starships or cities. Space Opera also includes Mini-Computers at higher tech levels that is comparable to smartphones of today. A vast variety of software for computers is available covering "much of the significant knowledge of the race." The higher level Multi-comps (Mk.X to Mk.XIV) are considered sentient with "cybernetic rights."
Many other innovative sci-fi technologies are included, for example: Artificial Gills, Still Suits, medical and anti-aging drugs, Electro-Binoculars (1000 Lightyears range), ECM for communication and sensorscans, belt-size personal force-screen generators, power assisted personal armour, grav/jump belts, robots of every type, laser/blaster guns, laserswords & lightswords, anti-robot positronic brain disruptors (APROBDIF), etc.
Combat is generally a four-step process. One first determines if a character scores a hit with his chosen weapon. Things like range, size of the target, movement, and amount of cover come into play. If one scores a hit, then one rolls to determine hit location. After hit location, one then determines if the attack penetrated the armor. Finally, damage is determined. The full range of possible weapons technologies is covered, from the lowest tech level "Atlatl," to the high tech "Anti-Robot Positronic Brain Disruptor (APROBDIF)" guns and screens.
While the Space Opera rules can be adapted to any imagined universe, the official universe was based on the nations described in Mark Ratner's Space Marines, and further defined through a series of Star Sector Atlases.
|Star Culture:||Notes / AKA|
|Blarad: Star Kingdom of the Blarad||Ursoids|
|Confederate Systems Alliance|
|Galactic Peoples Republic||"G.P.R."|
|IRSOL||Nil-Low Gravity Space Dwellers|
|Korellian Empire||Six digit Humanoids|
|Ranan: United Ranan Worlds||"Ranan Horde"|
|United Federation of Planets||"UFP"|
|Space Marines||related wargame||1979|
|Space Opera:||core rules (2 books)
Volume one (character creation, psionics, and starships).
|Ground & Air Equipment||supplement||1981||B000G7ST32|
|Seldon's Compendium of Star Craft 1 - Ship's Boats, Traders, Liners and Patrol Vessels||supplement||1981||B000B8AFUQ|
|Seldon's Compendium of Star Craft 2 - Starships of War Azuriach, GPR, Mercantile League and Terran||supplement||1984||B000B88PAI|
|Seldon's Compendium of Star Craft 3 - Starships of War Blarad, Mekpurr, Ranan and Hissss'ist||supplement||1988||B000B8511Y|
|Seldon's Compendium of Star Craft 4||supplement||not published|
|Star Sector Atlas 1 - The Terran Sector||supplement||1981||B000EOIYRI|
|Star Sector Atlas 2 - The Mercantile League||supplement||1983||B000F6MFAM|
|Star Sector Atlas 3 - The Azuriach Imperium||supplement||1984||B000FDKZSE|
|Star Sector Atlas 4 - The Galactic People's Republic (G.P.R.)||supplement||2015|
|Star Sector Atlas 5 - The United Ranan Worlds||supplement||1985||B0047MTQ2K|
|Star Sector Atlas 6 - The Hiss'isst||supplement||not published|
|Star Sector Atlas 7 - The Blarad Star Kingdom||supplement||2016|
|Star Sector Atlas 11 - The Confederate Systems Alliance||supplement||1982|
|Star Sector Atlas 12 - Korellian Empire||supplement||1984|
|Martigan Belt - An Adventure in the Asteroids||module||1981|
|Probe NCG 8436||module||1981|
|Fasolt in Peril - An Anti-Terrorist Adventure||module||1982|
|Rowison II - A Merchant Service Adventure||module||1982|
|Vault of the Ni'er Queyon||module||1982|
|Agents of Rebellion||module||1983|
|Casino Galactica - Adventure Setting and Scenarios||module||1983|
|Operation Peregrine - The Quanchiovt Conspiracy||module||1983|
|Clash of Empires||supplement||not published|
The Space Opera core game consisted of two volumes and four double-sided 8x11" data sheets, in a box. There were three different box covers probably corresponding to three printings, and the two core books were merged into one binding in the last printing, but the contents remained the same throughout.
Some components of Space Opera are in print again after a long absence and are available via FGU's online store and the RPG download sites DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.
The rights to the game are jointly held by the authors and Fantasy Games Unlimited, whereas the rights to the title were probably held by FGU solely. The rights to the game were to revert to the authors if the company went out of business. Despite going into dormant periods operating as a company in name only, FGU is still in operation. Ed Simbalist sought to buy the rights from the publisher Scott Bizar, however Bizar's asking price was judged too high.
From a December 2000 interview with Ed Simbalist: "I won't write another version of Space Opera. Scott Bizar owns that property, hasn't done anything much to promote it, hasn't paid royalties that offer any hope that an author will be compensated for his considerable effort, and won't release it back to the authors. I know of the many persona[l] reverses he's experienced, and I doubt that FGU would ever become a viable publishing company in the future. Any revision work on my part would be a waste of time. Similarly, the expense of legally recovering the right to publish Space Opera isn't worth it. Apart from a highly inflated value placed by FGU on the game (actually on the NAME), why would I wish to purchase several thousand copies of a recent reprint that just won't sell in the current market? It makes no sense." Reportedly the asking price was $100,000, though the authors felt it was only worth $10,000.
New Work Beyond 1980's
- Two new Star Sector Atlases, #4 and #7, were published in 2015 and 2016. #9 (Rauwoof Republics) is in the editing process as of March 2018.  
Stefan Jones reviewed Space Opera in The Space Gamer No. 33. Jones commented that "Despite its flaws, I highly recommend Space Opera. This game has the best of the other major SFRPGs on the market and more."
William A. Barton reviewed Space Opera, 2nd Ed. in The Space Gamer No. 49. Barton commented that "for those who liked Space Opera originally or for those who thought it had potential but were turned off by the typos, omissions, etc., the 2nd edition is definitely worth having."
- http://www.space-opera.net/GB/interviews/scott.htm Interview with Scott Bizar
- http://www.space-opera.net/GB/interviews/phil.htm Interview with Phil McGregor
- http://www.space-opera.net/GB/interviews/mark.htm Interview with Mark Ratner
- Space Opera Starter Kit
- Laporte, Dominique. "Space Opera". Retrieved 2009-10-06. showing the three different box covers.
- http://www.space-opera.net/GB/interviews/ed.htm Interview with Ed Simbalist
- http://everything2.com/title/space%2520opera message board posting
- Jones, Stefan (November 1980). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (33): 30.
- Barton, William A. (March 1982). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (49): 27.
- Space Opera: volume one (character creation, psionics, and starships). ISBN B000721GY0
- Space Opera: volume two (equipment, worlds and aliens). ISBN B0018ZCENM
- Space Opera: The complete science fiction role playing game (vol. 1 & 2 one binding.) ISBN B000EOIYLY