Shock: Human Contact is a hard sci-fi RPG in which the players construct a story around the first meeting between an egalitarian, advanced civilization and the alien cultures they encounter when they travel through wormholes in space.
Human Contact is the brainchild of game designer Joshua A.C. Newman and is a spiritual sequel to Shock: Social Science Fiction. The ideas explored within the game are inspired by some of the best science-fiction novels in history: Asimov’s Foundation novels and Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels among them. There’s also a certain amount of Star Trek influence present as well. The Academy, which is the galactic group the players work for, bears a certain resemblance to the United Federation of Planets, and an even stronger resemblance to Banks’ Culture.
Each player creates a protagonist, an individual aboard an Academy starship, which has just slipped through a wormhole to survey a new planetary system. Primary to the mission is interacting with the sentient denizens of said system, but it has to be done carefully. You might just cruise toward them for two years until you enter orbit and say hi, or you might send three “black ops” envoys to scout the place while the starship takes a seven-year slingshot trip around the system.
Either way, the players help construct the culture they’ll be encountering. They also describe how their protagonists react to the Academy’s choices in dealing with the culture. Driving the story are “shocks,” major events or changes that have the potential to destroy a culture, and will definitely leave it changed. Meeting the Academy is a shock, but the introduction of a new technology, a civil war, the outbreak of disease or economic collapse might also occur. The Academy needs to mitigate these shocks and negotiate a successful introduction to the new culture. It might even choose to join the Academy.
All of this is driven by some simple dice rolling mechanics — the interaction between the players as they describe and negotiate the things that happen takes on far more importance than the dice.
Human Contact belongs to a certain genre of storytelling RPGs. It has far more in common with, say, Umläut: Game of Metal or MSG(tm) than your typical “inn, dungeon, fight, loot, level” type of game. The players work together to create a story. And beyond that, they’re prying open ideas, like what happens when very different cultures are forced together, or what kinds of technology change the world so much that you don’t even recognize it any more? It can be heavy stuff, but having individual protagonists should keep things grounded, and I have no doubt that there’s plenty of room in this game for humor. You’ll be creating strange cultural traditions and throwing around unexpected shocks, so Human Contact will be a lot of fun even if it has lofty intellectual motivations.
Shock: Human Contact is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to pay for art and to fund an initial print run.