It has been a long while since I bought any new RPG material. In early May, John Watts of Gypsy Night Games held a sale and I took advantage of to pick up a couple The Clement Sector products I had missed out on.
Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in the Clement Sector is a 135-page sourcebook and new game subsystem. As the publisher’s blurb puts it:
Can you relate?
This book concerns the relationships which have been established, broken, strained, and improved between the worlds of Clement Sector over the time between their establishment during the 2200s and the current situation in Clement Sector as of 2342. It will take each world, one at a time, and detail how well or how poorly each world government gets along with its neighbors.
It also includes a game within a game called “The Balancing Act”. This game will allow you to take on the role of a head of state in Clement Sector and go up against other leaders as you attempt to push your world ahead of your competition. These rules can easily be used in other settings and games where one might wish to become a leader of a world.
Now you can rule your own world!
The first 92 pages are the sourcebook. Here, John Watts really excels at doing what all his The Clement Sector books do best; provide hooks. There is lots of information here about all the different worlds and their relationships with one another, but at no point does it feel directive to the reader. Instead, what I find are many plot seeds ready to be explored by the players without a preset conclusion. As vast and expansive as The Clement Sector is, John Watts make sure it still if YOUR universe.
The second part of the book details the game, The Balancing Act. I have read the rules, created a few Leaders and Agents, and played with the mechanics so this is still a very preliminary reaction.
Each turn in The Balancing Act (hereafter BA) is one standard week long. Each turn is further divided into phases. Each Leader starts out with two Agents and each gets two tasks (actions) in each week.
My first reaction it that BA is…interesting. Leaders and Agents each have four Attributes but it is unclear if these are connected in a meaningful way to the Universal Personality Profile (UPP) of a character. Two of the four Attributes, Intelligence and Education, would seemingly be the same but I don’t see an explicit rules connection. If one is playing BA as a separate game it’s not needed, but if one is adding BA to a campaign the question arises. Worlds have Planetary Attributes and again the connection to the Universal World Profile (UWP) is unclear.
Projects are large-scale tasks taking multiple turns to complete. Some projects may take years (i.e hundreds of turns) to complete. This is where I feel the time scale of BA breaks down. Weekly turns is very tactical but Projects can be very strategic. Mixing the two of them together makes for some interesting (unrealistic?) situations. For instance, look a the project Upgrading a Starport from C to B (p. 111). This is a Difficult (-2) task that takes from 52-312 turns (1-6 YEARS). It costs 1bln HFCredits; spending 10 billion cuts the time in half. Let’s look at the Success/Failure spread:
- Exceptional Success: The starport is upgraded to B-class in half of the time.
- Success: The starport is upgraded to B-class.
- Failure: The starport is not upgraded. The task can be attempted again in 52 turns.
- Exceptional Failure: The starport is not upgraded. The task can be attempted again in 108 turns.
Does it seem right to “know” the result of a failure at the beginning? If I know the upgrade is an Exceptional Failure and I am going to have to wait two years to try again, I have 108 turns of different investment coming since I know it’s not worth investing in that new fleet or factories because the starport ain’t happening! Maybe the answer is to make this a hidden roll with the result only known to a GM who can then release the result when appropriate. However, the rules of BA are silent on a GM leading me to believe a GM is not used. Hmm….
Five scenarios are provided in the book with times ranging from 20 weeks to as many as the players want. Maybe BA is scaled best for scenarios of five years or less? Will have to try a scenario or two to see for myself.
As I read and experimented with BA, I found myself making inevitable comparisons to Classic Traveller Trillion Credit Squadron and Dynasty from the Mongoose Traveller collection. I’ll just say that in TCS the players are the head of the military whereas in BA they are leaders of worlds. Dynasty, being focused on generations, is a totally different timescale and approach to long-term changes. I can eventually see TCS integrating with BA (same timescale); Dynasty is best forgotten.
On balance (heh heh), The Balancing Act is a very useful sourcebook and inspiration for campaigns. I am going to reserve further opinion on BA until I experiment more with the game; I think it has potential but am unsure about parts.
Feature image Gypsy Knights Games via DriveThruRPG
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