PCs as Ship Crew, Part 2

And a wonderful GURPSDay to you all! Thanks for including Game Geekery in your RPG reading circuit.

Today is a follow up to the popular “PCs as Ship Crew” post from a few weeks back, which generated quite a bit of feedback.

The most common comments were people sharing their favorite gameable ship crews fitting the mold that I didn’t mention, especially:

Both Star Wars and Star Trek were frequently mentioned as well. I have played and GMed numerous games in both universes, and they were of course super, super fun settings to explore. But they don’t quite fit the kind of crew I’m talking about here for a couple reasons (and may get their own post down the line).


One thing the ideal PC party/ship’s crew has is self-determination. They can go wherever they like, accept or refuse any jobs they want, follow or ignore any story leads that speak to them. If they’re halfway through a mission but suddenly decide, “Eh, forget it… let’s just keep the MacGuffin for ourselves” they can totally do that.

Sure, a Rebel Alliance crew of PCs could simply defy their orders, but that makes quite a major change to the game’s foundation and assumption in a way that a freelance crew doesn’t. They could tell Starfleet to go to hell and pursue their own agenda, but if the premise of the game is “PCs as Starfleet officers,” that’s quite a change-up. Again, can still be a lot of fun, but a little different than the topic at hand. I personally find it more enjoyable when the party has to live and die on their own terms.

Just Scraping By

Speaking of, the second thing that most of the above PC teams have in common is that they are always just scraping by, pulling into port on fumes and having to scramble for work. Starfleet and its post-scarcity infrastructure, not so much — Starfleet personnel in a Star Trek game don’t need to worry about the logistics of support, money, food, medical care, gear, etc. I prefer when the crew isn’t sure where that next meal or ship’s fuel is coming from.


A couple of RPGs also got reader shout-outs: Traveller, which is more or less written assuming this exact kind of crew (and may or may not have been Whedon’s inspiration for Firefly), and Leverage, which (I am told) explicitly structures the game according to the roles the PCs fill within the group (from the episodes I’ve seen and enjoyed, this sounds perfect).

This kind of character group structure goes way beyond just tabletop RPGs, though. One reader pointed me to an absolute treasure trove of examples of this kind of group at TV Tropes: The Five Man Band. It lists out hundreds of examples of similar groups from all manner of media, from Hunger Games and the A-Team to Fraggle Rock and more. A great read! (See also The Team).

Finally, speaking of losing hours of one’s life to a crazy-cool and awesome website… another reader pointed me to a site called Atomic Rockets which, I am overjoyed to tell you, is densely packed with info about ship crews, their gear, their ships, and so much more. Seriously, it’s an incredible resource for space gaming, definitely worth bookmarking and checking out.

All this talk about constructing great campaign premises and PCs is percolating the ol’ GM juices! Share your thoughts in the comments below — what’s on your mind?


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  1. I used to play old Traveller on occasion. When we did, we tended to get caught up on the merchant side of the game. We discovered we could make a ton of credits just running the right cargo. Instead of an adventure game, it became “Asteroids and Accountants.”

    Though, I really want to get to use that Asteroid Ship that I payed for it’s construction. 😉

  2. Nice 🙂 We were more into Star Frontiers — our first major haul, we used the wealth to create a luxury cruiser named Hedonism and retire from adventuring life (for a while).

  3. In the movie, “The Thing From Another World” (1951), the heroes are the crew of USAF C-47 cargo plane have traits that is inspiration for creating a PC Sip Crew. Though they are military, rank is all but forgotten. The pilot, Capt Pat Hendry, listens to his subordinates, especially his crew chief. I think there is a lot of Mal in Capt Hendry, or possibly, a lot of Capt Hendry in Mal.

    As an honorary crew member I would add Nikki, Pat’s girlfriend who is also the head scientist’s secretary. She can handle herself and did drink Pat under the table!

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