I've been researching books for personal enjoyment, but also to mine ideas for the Digital Dark Age campaign. One thing I've discovered is that the definition of space opera is somewhat subjective. So I figured it might be important going forward to what the term space opera means to me.
When I think of space opera the very first thing that comes into my mind is Star Wars. The Star Wars universe feels huge, anachronistic, futuristic, mystical, ancient, worn, gritty, and epic. It features huge space ships that carry entire armies, space stations that can destroy entire planets, and fleets of small stunt fighters. It has exotic and bizarre aliens that speak a myriad of languages and come from all reaches of known space, yet humans seem to dominate. It has scoundrels packing blasters, next to thugs armed with axes and other primitive weapons. Then there is the Jedi and Sith, two ancient religions that draw on a magical power that seems to be misunderstood by most. Even the nature of the Force is argued between the Jedi Knights. There is good and evil, and the grey in between. There are grand stories of war and political manoeuvring and personal stories or revenge, redemption, and love.
So to sum up what space opera in the Digital Dark Age means to me it's:
- The science fiction takes a back seat to the fantastic. Faster than light space travel, mystical powers, massive star ships, innumerable alien species that could belong in any D&D setting. Scientific accuracy is ok, but cool ideas take precedence. I guess you could say my definition of space opera would be more like space fantasy.
- It's anachronistic. People wear armour and carry swords and laser or slug firing guns. People have plugs in their heads and arms to access the Datasphere. Clothing tends to be a combination of medieval, victorian, and modern. The look might be old, but the materials tends to be futuristic. Monarchies exist, there are noble houses and lords.
- Epic and personal stories. The battle between light and dark, good and evil is clear but there also exists the grey area of those that do horrible things for the greater good, fallen heroes, redeemed villains. It's fun to have bad guys that you know are bad and can kill with impunity, but it's also fun to have moral quandaries that need to be dealt with.
- Mystery and Exploration. It's a dark and dangerous time in the universe. There are space pirates, hostile star kingdoms and alien races. The universe is old. Both human and alien empires and civilizations have risen and fallen. The birth place of humanity is an ancient memory, some believe Earth is a mythical place not unlike the biblical Garden of Eden. There are planets to explore, new sectors of space to discover, new aliens and creatures to encounter. Mystical powers and cults exist. There are secret societies and organizations with hidden agendas to thwart.
- Space Travel. For me space opera is all about space ships and space battles. Every group should have their own spaceship. In many ways the space ship that your characters have will define what kind of campaign you will run. Obviously not every campaign needs to include space travel but I strongly feel like it's part of the genre. The players could be members of the Imperial Navy, smugglers, a squadron of fighter or mecha pilots. Maybe they are part of an organization of intergalactic peace keepers, like the Jedi Knights. Maybe they work for a private traders consortium, are scientist, explorers, or pirates.