Apropos of Nothing 2: Battlestar Galactica and Awesomeness

Sometimes it goes right, and sometimes it doesn’t.

So, let’s talk about another show that started out one of my favorites, and then . . . faded.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

First, a few words about GURPS BSG. There was a short thread on it in the SJG Forums, but I’ll ignore it for a moment.

I think that as a setting, BSG makes excellent roleplaying fodder. Especially since I think the series could have gone in a couple, maybe better directions. Such jumping-off points make for nice campaigns.

It’s mostly TL8 or TL9, but with some real excursions into superscience for plot purposes. It’s got nearly infinitely scalable engines (from the Viper to the Galactica – they all run on the same fuel), artificial gravity, and jump drive. The Colonial economy was able to support very large starships on a scale of fleets.

The tech is a blend of the familiar and the awesome. They use nukes, but they’re believably limited in power as space weapons. The need for swarms of fighters is a stretch – it always is – but it’s presented as a “just accept it” part of the genre that works (for me).

The awesome part of this as a RPG campaign is that it thrusts the PCs into any imaginable encounter in a believable way. You’re planet-hopping, so nearly anything is possible. You need to periodically refuel, there’s a bad guy who is entirely likely to show up every episode, and can also show up as a surprise since the new cylon models can blend in with people. You can have mining, special ops, fighter pilots, politics, and interpersonal stuff, up to and including trading, crime, and romance.

GURPS? Well, GURPS can handle the PC stuff no problem. You can just mostly crib TL8 weaponry – and a lot of High Tech’s TL8 weaponry outclasses Ultra Tech’s stuff . . . but you’ll want the TL9 ammo types to scrap toasters with. For the ships, you can just pick up GURPS Spaceships and wing it and if you want tactical combat, you can grab Spaceships 4 which has some mods for cinematic fighter combat.

Honestly, that ought to do it.

But . . . what about the Awesome?

Well, it started great. The miniseries was wonderful, I think, and the first regular episode, 33, is one of the finest hours of television in the genre. All of Season 1 is very strong. After all, “. . . and they have a plan!” is the tagline.

Season 2 was also strong, but soon after, it very much seemed that while the Cylons had a plan, the writers did not. They tried to be pretty political with “ripped from the headlines” stuff with suicide bombers on New Caprica, and that entire plotline could have been handled better, I think. The show lost its way in a fashion that Babylon 5 did not.

It didn’t hurt that J. Michael Straczynski had all five seasons plotted out in advance, more or less. Despite jamming the fourth and fifth seasons into what became the fourth, the fifth was strong enough to stand up, though not stand out. But the entire show had the right pattern to it.

BSG seemed to have that for the first two seasons, or maybe the first and the first half of the second. But then the show seemed to lose its grasp of itself, losing it’s theme.

I’m not hating on the show. I liked it, and the first few seasons were very strong . . . but when the Cylons seemed to, well, not ‘have a plan,’ it foundered. My expectations were not met, since both the humans and cylons seemed to be making it up as they went along. Whatever the Cylon’s grand plan might have been, I never got a sense that the cylons or the writers knew what it was.

Destroy the humans and enslave them? OK. Fine. They WON. Why was Galactica (and later Pegasus) so freakin’ important? Let ’em go. Set up a Colonial perimeter and let them come to you, where you can toaster-pile them instead of trying to hit ’em one Basestar (or two, if you’re going against the Pegasus) at a time.

Anyway, I think that somewhere in Season 1 or 2 would make a great jumping-off point for an RPG campaign, but a prospective GM would be wise to ensure that his Cylons actually have an overall plan. The bad guys would not be bad guys in their own minds – and in fairness, they weren’t in the show, either – and should have a clear objective (or set of objectives) that they are trying to achieve.

OR . . . if they don’t, one must understand why. Did they get wind that Galactica is looking for the lost Colony of Earth? Does that fire the imagination? Why? Why chase them across the light-years.

I don’t know if that was ever clear to me – perhaps there’s more information out there than what I picked up from the show. But one thing I did understand: the primary driving force of the Telepaths, the Shadows, the Vorlons, and the Centauri were all clear to me.

Toasters?

Not so much. That made it hard to get swept up in the arc, even if some individual shows were quite good.

3 thoughts on “Apropos of Nothing 2: Battlestar Galactica and Awesomeness

  1. I pretty much agree with this– I quit watching at the end of season two. And yes… that "33" episode was a thing of beauty.

    The "politically relevant" plot points really made me want to gag. Also… they followed this pattern over and over of making you like a character… have things go bad for him… have things get better… and then… kill him dead. At first it was gripping, gritty, and shocking… but after a while I just stopped caring about anyone.

    Also: as with that Cybergirl Torchwood episode… I have no patience for people that are willing to betray their entire civilization just because their girlfriend is hot. What a bunch of hard up losers, sheesh! (Though I gotta admit… that blonde Cylon babe is hot enough to make that stunt seem plausible.)

  2. Agree with you about BSG. I watched the whole thing through, and while there were individual strong character arcs and sub plots, after the first two seasons, the whole thing ended up as a hot mess.

    The "Anabasis" (viz Xenophon) plot in Battlestar Galactica has also been used to good effect in some anime series, most notably in Robotech / Macross. However, the Giant Star Travelling City In Space with its subsidiary space vehicles and mixed civilian and military crew also shows up in Space 1999, which has most of the tropes but lacks the important one of Someone Chasing You to provide a continuous villain and some story structure.

    Have you seen the BSG live action webisode series?

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