One thing I’ve been doing with Dust Watch is trying to fill a market void-that is, the fact that there aren’t many great sci-fi games that are easy to play and offer engaging, deep settings. There are enough to make things difficult for me, but I’ve still got to look at some of the other things in the market, especially when you consider Dust Watch’s elevator pitch:
An exotic science-fiction setting where faith and technology come together on a planet divorced from the rest of mankind.
This isn’t too similar to most things, but there are some things it could come into contact with.
First, there’s Warhammer 40k. Faith, check; technology, check. Arguments have been had over how “exotic” the 40k setting is, but it’s at the very least unconventional for science-fiction. Dust Watch isn’t going to beat Warhammer 40k, but WH:40k’s not my market-Dust Watch may be set in a bad place, but it’s neither Gothic nor does it fall on the soft side of science-fiction. The elements of faith are important, but New Armenia only resembles the Imperium of Man in the fact that its inhabitants are human-Dust Watch has multiple faiths and multiple governments sharing the same infrastructure. Alternatively, look at Fading Suns here; neo-feudal science-fiction with a ton of interesting things, but very large scale. Dust Watch is significantly smaller, focusing on one planet and a more specified conflict, and while it takes place in the aftermath of a golden age it’s not a “dark age”. In addition, WH40k is a massive, massive world, and trying to just jump in means that something’s going to go wrong along the line, as is Fading Suns, but Dust Watch hopes to be more focused and small, focusing less on the enormity of the world but rather its depth.
Next, let’s look at Bill Coffin’s Septimus (published by WEG). It’s a more technologically advanced science fiction, but one of the major ways I have to compete with it is that it’s one of the D6 free products out there. Fortunately, it’s a lot softer than Dust Watch-xenoforms, the local gremlins and monsters, are actually created by humans (admittedly often with transgenic material, but they’re pretty conservative as far as sci-fi beasts), with alien technology and giant mysteries. In addition, it’s still “too shiny” relative to Dust Watch. There’s so much in the setting that there’s not really a small focus, which Dust Watch delivers on by putting players into the shoes of Watchmen. Again, like WH40k, Septimus is very broad, and while it can be deep it also has more shallow places, which leads to issues.
So the bigger question is whether or not Dust Watch is different on fundamental levels. I believe that this is true, for a number of reasons. First, it’s a grim science-fiction without going “grimdark” as the popular trend is. There are no inquisitions hunting down and burning people (though sectarian tensions may build in certain areas, this isn’t an oppressive regime but rather the conflict of multiple groups trying to get along with limited resources). It’s frontier science-fiction, something that is relatively unseen in sci-fi, though it is, admittedly, very late frontier, so the social orders are stratified and set even while the world of New Armenia remains mysterious and unseen. It draws influence from the Phantasy Star series (pretty much any one, but particularly the Universe installments), but keeps the setting Western and relatively hard (i.e. we don’t break known physical laws, especially not at the current time).
Dust Watch is a game about a bunch of rough people doing what has to be done to survive-not as individuals, but as a planet. The Watchmen are crucial to keeping Yerevan-the only real city to speak of on New Armenia-safe from xenoforms or marauders, and guarding Shirak, which is the only terraformed region of the planet, preventing the xenoforms from undoing the work they were originally created for. The players’ long term goal is to terraform the planet, but this proves difficult; the xenoforms created to get the planet in good enough shape to terraform were never fully exterminated, and while the whole planet is habitable, there is massive ecological damage wherever the xenoforms live, and colonists who live in the Dust must always worry about attacks and running out of resources.
The setting has its own crises; New Armenia contains primarily ethnic Armenians, but these people hail from different parts of Earth; some were sent out in the Diaspora, others remained in Armenia. New Armenia is richly religious, with the vast majority of Armenians following the Armenian Apostolic Church, led by a patriarch in Yerevan. Armenians who were involved in the diaspora, however, brought back religious views that would often be described as heretical by the AAC, namely the Neo-Arminians, an offshoot of the Wesleyan movements. For those unfamiliar with Christianity, the distinctions are essentially Orthodox for the AAC, and Protestants for the Neo-Arminians (who take their name from the theologian Arminius). However, extremist groups exist in both; the Neo-Arminians include the Exiles, who went off into the Dust to form their own societies-technically considered in good standing by Yerevan, they nonetheless often have issues with the larger population because of their extreme beliefs, though some Exiles have re-integrated into society. Exiles believe that the loss of the Spaceweb, and with it the connection to Earth, was a consequence of human depravity, and take up names that relate to their transgressions. Hesychasts fall into a middle-ground. Technically a religious order, the Hesychast movement is more common in the Armenian Apostolic Church, though not exclusively so, and they’re essentially an extreme monastic order.
The Watchmen, on the other hand, try to keep everyone’s interests in mind-they must deal with every faction to get the things that they need to do their jobs, and if they fail then the catastrophe is going to have an impact on everyone on New Armenia.
I believe that this sort of falls into a niche market-it’s not perhaps a “unique” setting in that it doesn’t contain any elements that haven’t appeared anywhere else, but it has its own flavor and elements that are something that I’ve found to be lacking in science-fiction not because it’s an undesired style but rather because it’s gone unexplored.