Episode 61: It Still Feels Like Dying While You're Doing It

This month, Mike and Roger look at what it takes to do Star Trek “right”, and explore the language of role-playing and its native narrative forms; and Mike perpetrates a carefully-organised surprise.

We mentioned The One Ring at the Bundle of Holding (until 3 January) and the older offer revived (until 8 January), Roger on Our Turn podcast, Mongoose Traveller, Eclipse Phase, Welcome to Life, Transhuman Space, Wives and Sweethearts, John Winton, Reign of Steel, 2300 AD, Roger’s WWII game, Hamlet’s Hit Points, the BBC’s Rendezvous With Rama, The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, GURPS Fantasy: Portal Realms, Space: 1999 and The High Crusade.

Apologies for the slightly muddy voice quality in the end show; it’s all Roger’s fault.

While we’re leaving the commenting engine on the podcast site turned on for now, please consider using the new discussion forum here instead; it should be a more pleasant experience.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com.

(We do get free access to the Bundle of Holding contents, but this happens whether or not we plug them.)

1 Like

Too late for Mike’s Xmas game (and probably too dark to inflict on relatives who are after festive fun) but check out When The Dark Is Gone, which is one of the games in the Seven Wonders RPG collection. It’s about people who went to a Narnia type magical land as kids, have repressed the memories, it’s screwed up their lives, and now it is all going to come out in a group therapy session…

And a hearty thumbs up to you both for pointing out that books/films have stories which are edited, whereas RPGs do not. I think some of my more indie-game focused “Let’s do this because it will make the story better” mates forget that. I’m usually muttering “Make the story better for who?” under my breath, as they steal my character’s agency or warp their personality into something I am uninterested in playing.

1 Like

There’s an important crime in Wives and Sweethearts that we haven’t encountered: stealing antimatter. It’s portable (in its containers), very expensive, and very dangerous. Once antimatter has been moved into a different container, it’s hard to identify as being from a particular source or batch. I’m not sure if there’s a futures market in it, but the price can definitely be manipulated via “industrial accidents.”

And it’s legitimately useful to civilians, whose drives are slower but still need antimatter to work.

Ah, here’s a specific crime from the antimatter grey market: containers that lie about how much they hold.

With the generic merchant ship having 240mps of delta-V, they may well spend significant amounts of their transit time above escape velocity for the nearby star. Which means if they unexpectedly run out of antimatter, they’re on a very slow interstellar trajectory.

The Navy presumably has to occasionally rescue ships from this fate. The victims will presumably tell everything they know about the bastards who sold them the antimatter, so this crime is committed either by real idiots, or those well-organised enough to find someone else to take the fall. Or who want to get a Navy vessel out of the way.


To answer Mike’s question about the Marines, they’re a bit sarcastic because Keene so much wants to be in charge of everything. However, he doesn’t think quickly about what he wants them to do, so they end up making suggestions. They expect that from a sub-lieutenant, but hope a lieutenant would have learned to give them a bit more discretion up-front.

1 Like

If the anti-aging drugs are so expensive, is there a trade in (a) cheap knock offs or (b) fake ones?

Also, if people can live to be 300, are they still fertile all that time? What does that do to society and family structures? And inheritance of assets? Are they permitted to breed like rabbits all that 300 years? Even having a family once every 50 years, means you have 2.4 kids x 5 or 6. Do they need ‘child permits’ to prevent a population explosion? And think of the generation gap if Mum is 270 and you are a teenager! :smile:

Instead of rolling up young striplings who have picked the Navy as their very first career, should we all have created 100 year old jaded investment bankers who want a career change? :grin:


Fertility rates have generally dropped as there’s less time pressure to breed while young, but there’s definitely a slowing-down of the pace of change of society. Population explosion? That’s what colony worlds are for.

Well, life-extension technology may extend child-bearing years, and that might raise the total fertility rate somewhat. But it will also raise the number of years that each person expects to live in retirement. Whether the elderly are supported by their family privately or through taxes, the expense of supporting the elderly may leave working-age people feeling that they cannot afford to have children. Even if the retired are supporting themselves from the rents and dis-saving of accumulated capital that means that working people facing a long retirement have to save a lot for their future retirement, and that limits their ability to afford children.

In highly-developed countries where women are not badly repressed, where effective contraceptives are freely available, and where sex education is not distorted by religious pressures total fertility rates are below replacement. Populations are shrinking, maintained only by age distributions skewed to the reproductive age by the events of a generation ago, or supported only by immigration. And fertility rates seem to be trending down quite strongly with continuing economic and human development. In terms of rationalising sufficient population growth to drive interstellar colonisation, life-extension technology might well be not enough.

1 Like

Roger, Mike:

Would it be appropriate that I post here the text of the e-mail in which I suggested topics that you discussed in the episode, or would you prefer that I refrain?

Feel free! It’s your text to post.

Naturally. But it would behove me ill to say everything that freedom of speech allows: I would become hoarse.


Greetings, podcasters!

It’s a commonplace that some features of Star Trek and its setting were, if not absolutely dictated by the needs of a one-hour TV show, certainly designed to suit it. For example the transporter, later a multipotent plot device and recurring writers’ migraine, was reputedly included because the makers could not afford the cost nor the writers the time that would have been taken up by a landing sequence in each episode or a large landing craft or huge ship set in a different location every week. Perhaps another example is the compression of the cast, resulting in the merger of the First Lieutenant and the Science Officer, and in the Captain very frequently abandoning his command.

RPG has an infinite budget, especially if the GM has a flair for description. And as the learned Mr Bell-West has remarked before, it has a much greater need for things to have consistent capabilities so that they can be left in PCs’ hands through a wide range of adventuring circumstances with providing trivial solutions for too many things. So if you were planning to run “Star Trek done right” for an RPG campaign you might set it up quite differently from “Star Trek done right” for a new TV series.

How might you do it? All exploration? Or include a leavening of diplomacy with or without gunboating? Intrigue against other spacefaring superpowers? Would the ship be in an almighty Constitution-class pride-of-the-fleet match-for-anything-in-space flag-showing ship? Or more like HMB Endeavour or HMS Beagle — small, and optimised for carrying explorers on a long cruise and not for maximum firepower? How big would you make the ship and how many PCs and NPCs would you put in her? Who would be the PCs? Naval personnel? Explorers with actual training in suitable ologies and onomies? Diplomats? Marines? The mission commander and the heads of naval, diplomatic, planetary sciences, social sciences, and commando departments? A mixture? Might you give each player a stable of characters and play troupe style? Would you still do the transporters? Or landing boats? Or land the ship? Would you allow “scanning” of a whole planet for “life signs”, and putting views “on screen” from arbitrary viewpoints, or stick to realistically limited observation technology?

What GURPS supplements would you use? Space, obviously, and Spaceships 1, 3, and 5. Anything else?

Live long and prosper!

Brett Evill

Roger, do you mean that fertility rates have dropped or that birth rates have dropped? I suppose the latter.

Apparently I meant birth rate, but I wasn’t aware of the distinction. I suspect that age-specific fertility rates aren’t particularly useful when TL11 medicine can keep you in basically good nick for 100+ years.

Indeed. I would only be interested in an RPG; I have not watched TV for decades, and would not want to use “Star Trek done right” as a recruitment slogan for gamers, since people might expect me to use ST tropes and references. I don’t consider ST to be SF; it’s something else disguised with SF trappings.

True, but total fertility rate remains demographic destiny whether in fast-forward or slow-mo. It’s an integral over a range that is extended by anagathic medicine, but the function may nevertheless be depressed by the rising cost of raising and educating children and by the burden of supporting forebears in, or saving for, an extended retirement.


I feel much the same about Star Trek, which is not only not my cup of tea, but not my mug of coffee either. (I have enjoyed Star Trek Discovery, but only by switching off my inner nerd.

I follow Isaac Asimov in using “SF” to refer to actual science fiction, i.e. stories about ideas that are suggested by Science and the impact of those things on people, and “sci-fi” to refer to stock drama and adventure stories with sets, props, and Mcguffins borrowed from SF.

Unlike Asimov, I do not despise sci-fi as such. On the other hand, unlike perhaps a lot of genre fans I don’t find that sci-fi trappings increase my enjoyment when the stock adventure or drama is not up to scratch.

Yes… though the high general wealth of society (and frankly socialistic outlook compared with the modern day) means that raising a child needn’t be a major financial burden.

I suspect live births per head of population in W&S are probably about 2-3× what they are now (with a lot of variation), though I used contemporary growth rates when I was plotting the star map.

Umm. Furthermore I haven’t ever actually used “Star Trek done right” as a tag-line for an RPG campaign prospectus. I am afraid that doing that would irritate and annoy my friends and prospective players who like Star Trek very well as it is.

I feel more relaxed when addressing Mike and Roger, who aren’t going to play in my campaigns anyway.