+1 for the Vinland Saga reference :)
Powered by Space Loops: Adapting Impulse Drive to the Halo setting.
With the recent release of Halo 3 on PC & trailer for Halo Infinite, I have been reminded of my love for the halo games & universe at large. Halo 3 in particular meant a lot to me. I love it's story campaign & spent so many nights playing online in big team battle & custom games with friends & family. I read the early books, listened to the I Love Bees audio drama. I even wrote a very bad RPG to try and capture the feel of the human-covenant war.
So I'm back on my BS, thinking about playing a Halo RPG. But this time, I've got a game I know very well that plays in the same *ahem* space, close enough that some conscientious adapting & setting of expectations, Impulse Drive can help you set a game in your own version of the Halo universe.
Danger in treading the path of the Forerunners
I'm going to be talking about plot points from various games & the consequences groups may leverage from them to set up their own stakes, so if you haven't played the Halo series & hate spoilers for media, perhaps go play the Master Chief Collection to get hyped for playing a Halo RPG & them come back to this article.
But where to start?
First let's chat about setting expectations for your group & the canon discussion. Getting a common baseline for your groups familiarity with the setting is the first step in getting excited about your game & narrowing in on a where & when. Most importantly, you get to see what parts of of the universe you're all interested in exploring together & which parts you're happy to play fast & loose with. The most important thing to keep in mind is that lore you establish as a group during play trumps whatever's in a wiki. You're playing with and for each other, your groups comfort & enjoyment is all that matters.
Let yourselves be inspired by the things you love about an existing setting, but not be beholden to it.
A part of this is accepting that as soon as you start playing, you are going to diverge from canon, or play in such an out-of-the-way part of the galaxy that you won't directly interact with any of the Big Story Facts established by existing properties. The Halo fictional universe is big enough that there's *looks around* an Infinity of possible small scale stories you could tell about scrappy losers or deep cover operatives that brush up against the edges of the Big Stuff without directly interacting with it. Or you can go big with alternate timelines, legends, & circumstances you can set up to sketch your space adventures into. I'll describe a few ideas I have myself & how I'd go about doing them using Impulse Drives Ship playbooks, Archetype Playbooks, & SM resources to seed adventures set in the Halo universe.
A Jiralhane, an Unggoy, a Kig-Yar, a Huragok, and a Human walk into a bar.
After Halo 3, the Covenant no longer has the spiritual goal of the Great Journey to unite them, & one may imagine the various races & worlds splinter into countless factions trying to reclaim past glory or just eke out an existence for themselves. Tne resources of a galaxy spanning multi-species culture bent towards one purpose litter the shattered empire, ready for an enterprising crew of misfits to make their fortune, taking jobs from various hungry factions & salvaging a wealth of abandoned infrastructure to flip for profit. This setting is a great place for a Smuggler, Predator mercenaries, or Marauder pirates ship playbook & suits the conceits of Impulse Drive very well. Setting your game at the edge of the Covenant's fallen empire, with a number of Local Space factions your group can brainstorm & entangle their characters with is a perfect premise for an Impulse Drive game in the Halo universe. You could have a multispecies crew, or perhaps majority of one species or other. I would be fascinated to play out the adventures of a plucky group of the methane-huffing Grunts trying to make a life for themselves after losing the yoke of their Brute & Elite masters. Brute mercenaries or pirates would also be a good fit for the Predator & Marauder ship playbooks respectively.
As for the Vanguard ship playbook, a warship crewed by special operatives & soldiers suits any of the wars depicted in the games. A covenant cruiser like the Truth and Reconciliation or a smaller frigate like the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn on missions from their factions fit well into the Vanguard playbook. Consider giving Vanguards special missions that allow them to act somewhat autonomously to give the players more freedom to move. Every now and them, setpiece battles for the group to get some serious ship combat in can really finish an arc off with a bang.
A who's who of space weirdos
One thing about playing in an established sci-fi setting to consider is how aliens are played. In Impulse Drive, I don't make a characters species relevant to mechanics, unless you are playing the Outsider - & only then if that's how the players want to engage with it. While some species feel like they fit more easily into certain Archetypes than others, do not feel forced to play to stereotypes - especially if you're playing in a post human/covenant war setting. You want to play the Brute Scientist intellect? Hell yes you can! A San-Shyuum Warhorse? tell me more! A smooth & charming Unggoy Scoundrel? I want to play an Unggoy scoundrel!
That said, I'll give some examples where certain character archetypes from Halo fit the Impulse drive Archetype playbooks in ways where the mechanics support the fiction.
The Hound is a bounty hunter or lawgiver. They straddle the line between authority & justice outside of laws. Hounds are good finding those who don't want to be found & then doing what needs to be done. They are more focused on the chase & cornering their prey than an Infiltrator is, but they have their own code that they work by. A freelance bounty hunter of any species, or a Human or Elite operative hunting down high value targets or war criminals would make a great Hound. Consider whom they may have a vendetta against, from their side or the enemy side of the war.
The Infiltrator is the stealth operative. A cat burglar or a stalking assassin. As their name suggests, they are masters of infiltration & going unseen. I could imagine a Jackal as a master thief or sniper assassin. Elites with optic camouflage would make great up close & personal assassins in the war, or rogue agents after the Covenant collapses. I could also imagine a Spartan 3 defector or child of a Spartan making a great Infiltrator.
What is Doctor Halsey if not an Intellect? Cold, calculating, capable of using science to commit atrocities in the name of the greater good, or to save humanity. Halo has a rich history of nerd characters who can spout technobabble. You could play one of the UNSC AIs like Cortana as an Intellect, if you don't want their incorporeal digital existence to be a core part of their story. On the covenant side, Prophets are definitely the nerds, but a grease monkey Grunt engineer would be a great fit.
This is one of the hardest fits to Halo lore since there's not really any example of space knights with magic powers in Halo. While some of the mind powers could just be a character who's very good at convincing others or reading them just right, you can either go off brand for telekinesis or have some technological device perform the same role. The Prophets fit a similar cultural role as spiritual authorities in the Covenant, but I could see an Elite having something similar in their culture & the iconic Halo energy swords fit very well as the Mystic weapon. My recommendation here is to get creative if someone wants to play a Mystic playbook, however you describe them, they may be something we just haven't seen in the halo fiction.
Ready to get weird? Let's get weird. There's a lot of opportunities for Outsiders in Halo. From the Weird creature angle, UNSC AIs are a great fit. No physical body, able to move through & manipulate computer systems, super smart, but with a life span of 7 years before you think yourself to death? Cortana & her brethren were a big inspiration for the outsider playbook. But the other angle to take is a cultural outsider. This might be someone from the Covenant trying to fit into human society, or vice versa. If your group is willing to go even further, a human or forerunner from the human/forerunner way 100 thousand years ago is perfect. Perhaps even a monitor like 343 Guilty Spark or one of the Composed Prometheans - digitized souls of Forerunners & Humans used by the Didact to fight the Flood.
Fast talking criminals, the galaxy is full of them. The default assumption is an attractive human, but a Jackal, a Grunt, a Brute, or an Elite could play this part. Whatever their species, a Scoundrel has shady contacts everywhere & knows how to get what they want with sly words.
Another tricky one, The Tempest draws on having unusual powers. the subject of an ONI human experiment - either a washed out SPARTAN or some other program is a good opportunity. The Orphan could be any species with some technology & a lot of rage. A young brute who lost everything but a gravity hammer. Or someone whose colony was destroyed by Brutes, but they were adopted by their tormentor & trained to fight - wait this is just the plot of Vinland Saga. So it could probably be a pretty great revenge story.
Alright you waited all article for this. Here it is, the payoff. There is one fictional role in Halo uniquely suited to playing the grizzled stoic war veteran in Halo. That's right, that one soldier with the aussie accent.
More seriously, SPARTANS make great Warhorses - super soldiers augmented & trained to fight from a young age, the quintessential veteran. That said, any survivor or frontline soldier of any of the wars in Halo are perfect for the Warhorse.