Babylon 5 is one of my favorite sci-fi TV series. As I wargamer I certainly was entertained by the ship battles, and even went so far as to buy the ship combat wargame Babylon 5 Wars from Agents of Gaming (1997). Around that same time, there was another Babylon 5 ship combat wargame based on the Full Thrust set of rules by John Tuffley found in the Earthforce Sourcebook (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997) supplement to a new role-playing game, The Babylon Project. Since the wargame and the RPG seemed to go together, I got both. Twenty-five years later, I still enjoy the Earthforce Sourcebook ship combat rules. On the other hand, The Babylon Project is little more than a footnote in my RPG history. Like I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the period of 1996 to 2005 was a dark milieu of role-playing games for me. The Babylon Project certainly cast a “shadow” in over that dark, forgettable time.
This Really Ain’t Traveller…
In every RPG I had played before The Babylon Project character generation was by die roll. In a major change of pace, characters in The Babylon Project are not “generated” but instead “developed” through a thought exercise. At first I was totally lost—where are the die rolls and tables? As much as I loved the setting, this was totally NOT what I expected in an RPG. So I bounced off the game system very hard. It also didn’t help that the Task Resolution system was the polar opposite of character generation with a seemingly endless demand for table lookups Even this Grognard wargamer had difficulty with multi-step combat resolution system that had table after table…for what? Even worse, The Babylon Project uses 2d6 but not in the traditional sense; here you have “The Random Modifier” where you roll a “positive” die and a “negative” die and generate a result from +5 to -5. Sigh…
In the last 25 years I have occasionally revisited The Babylon Project and while I really enjoy the Gamemaster advice and setting material, I have never really been able to get into the character generation part of the system. I will admit however, that this time around it was a bit better. Maybe this is because after 25 years I understand more about life and understand what happens in different eras of aging.
The first part of character development that surprised me in The Babylon Project was that you don’t roll for attributes. Instead, you started with a list based on your race and do a maximum +2/-2 exercise to “customize” that you wanted. This approach demands you know at the beginning of character development what you want the outcome to be. This was an approach I was not at all ready for; up until this point the only RPGs I had played were ones that I “rolled up” characters. While some systems gave me a degree of flexibility and choice during character generation, for the most part you “took what you got” at the end of the process. I was used to and very comfortable with this approach; I think it actually makes for a better RPG player because you have to truly role-play what you got, not what you dreamed up.
When developing a character in The Babylon Project, you go through a thought process that asks you to imagine your character in three eras of their life. You think about what they did in Childhood, then their Development years, and finally what they did in Adulthood. Along the way you pick out skills and characteristics. Again, this demands a good amount of prior player “knowledge” of what the outcome of character development will be.
When I first ran into The Babylon Project I was around 30 years old and not far into a military career. I certainly could relate, but not fully understand, what I learned and experienced in my childhood years. I was truly in the midst of my Development years and was still unsure what Adulthood really would bring. So to ask me to make a fully formed character was in some ways asking a bit much. Today, I am a quarter century older with my own children, some of whom are in those Development years already. My perspective on life gives me insights I didn’t have before. Developing a character for The Babylon Project is now a totally different experience.
J’Mak – A Reputable Business…Narn?
Meet J’Mak, a Narn trader. Well, J’Mak looks like a Narn trader. He acts like a Narn trader. He even owns a small fleet of merchant ships like a Narn trader. What only a few people know (though others suspect) is that J’Mak is much more than a trader. Rumor has it that if you want arms shipped to or from certain areas of space J’Mak is your go-to contact. Centauri intelligence absolutely believes J’Mak is a secret arms trader; the Earthforce seem less convinced. The members of the Non-Aligned Worlds seem more than happy to do business with J’Mak…though few talk about exactly “what” that business is.
A Terrified Childhood
J’Mak was born in the last years of the Centauri occupation of Narn. This was a brutal time, and J’Mak is Haunted (characteristic) by memories of losing family members to the Centauri occupiers in a brutal fashion. He also became a bit Paranoid (characteristic) about losing anything to the Centarui. In these early years, he learned to draw on Religion (skill) for personal strength but also excelled in Athletics (skill) that he often used for Survival (skill) and Hiding (skill).
The end of the Centauri occupation of Narn occurred just as J’Mak was coming of age. He eagerly joined the space forces. He learned how to Pilot (skill), Navigate (skill), handle (Shiphandling skill) and fight (Tactics and Weapons Systems skills) a starship. He also learned how to handle himself in a fight (Unarmed and Ranged skills) as well as bit of the Human language (skill). J’Mak was Fanatical (characteristic) and Proud (characteristic) of his service.
J’Mak left the service and quickly established his own small merchant trading company (Assets characteristic). For a Narn that was fanatical, he has become a very Dedicated (characteristic) businessman (skill). He has learned the art of Diplomacy (skill) and is recognized as a Savvy (skill) dealer while also being very versed in Human Law (skill).
Along the way J’Mak also picked up some skill in Driving and Investigation. He is even a bit famous (characteristic). Or is that infamous?
J’Mak – Narn Trader and regular visitor to Babylon 5…
Attributes (scale of 1-6): Charm 6 (+2) / Finesse 4 / Presence 5 (-1) / Xenorelations 5 (+2) / Intelligence 5 / Insight 5 / Wits 4 / Perception 4 / Strength 5 (-1) / Agility 4 (-1) / Endurance 5 (-1) / Coordination 5 / Toughness 0 / Initiative 4 / Resolve 5
Primary Skill: Business 4 (Operations, Merchant)
Secondary Skills: Diplomacy 3 (Obfuscate, Persuade) / Law 3 (Human, Centauri) / Savvy 3 (Underworld, Human)
Tertiary Skills: Hiding 2 (Conceal) / Investigate 3 (Research) / Shiphandling 2 (Freighter) / Combat, Ranged 2 (Handgun) / Language, Human 3
- Haunted by memories of family deaths during the Occupation
- Paranoid and unable to ever trust a Centauri
- Fanatical to the goal of Narn rising
- Proud of his efforts to rebuild Narn
- Outwardly Dedicated to his business (a ruse)
- Inwardly Dedicated tot he fall of Centauri
- (Assets – 3x freighters)
- Famous and a popular businessman (Infamous as as gun runner)
If character development was a thought exercise, Task Resolution is a table heaven. Let’s say J’Mak has been approached sumggle arms by a contact he has never met before. Before signing on for the contract, J’mak decides to do a little “background check” on his potential client. This will require him to use his Investigation skill and let’s say he is using his Research Specialty to ask about. The Gamemaster decides this will use his Intelligence Attribute. The client is being vague and evasive with providing background information, so the GM decides this is a Difficult task,
- J’Mak has an Ability of Intelligence 5 + Investigate 3 + Specialty +2 for a total of 10
- The player rolls a Random Modifier (Good d6 – Bad d6) or 3-2 = +1
- Ability (10) + Random Modifier (+1) = 11 which EQUALS a Difficult Task.
J’Mak has a “Marginal Success.” He uncovers that his client has some indiscernable shady past but can’t find any connection to an intelligence service. J’Mak goes ahead with the contract, but asks for a bit extra of a premium to cover potential “complications.”
Of course, when making the delivery that “complication” arrives. Just as the cases are being dropped, a “concerned” bystander pulls out a PPG and opens fire! The bad gang member’s first shot drops one of J’Mak employees, but J’Mak now has a chance to draw his PPG and open fire.
- This is a Ranged Combat situation
- Bad Gang Guy is standing 8 m from J’Mak making the Ranged Attack Difficulty = Average
- J’Mak aims for the center of mass of the bad guy (Default Aim Point – No Modifier)
- J’Mak’s Ability is Agility 4 + Combat, Ranged 2 + Handgun Specialty +2 = 8
- The Random Modifier is 5-1 = +4
- J’Mak’s attack of 12 EXCEEDS the Average Difficulty (7) by 5…a Significant Success and Aim Point hit
- A PPG has Damage Rating = 12; Bad Gang Guy is not wearing any armor but has a Toughness of 1 reducing Damage to 11
- Cross-referencing Damage 11 to a Torso hit on the Immediate Damage Effects Table yields Stun=2 / Impair= 2
- Random Modifier roll for Stun is -2; Bad Gang Guy is STUNNED and cannot act next turn…
- …which is a good thing as the combat ends next round
- Turns out Big Bad Guy is a local crimelord (Major NPC) so Final Wounds are determined
- Hit in the Torso is No Damage Modifier so Final Damage is 11
- The Bleed Shift for a PPG is -1; Big Bag Gang Guy is bleeding but will not bleed out
- By table look-up the Final Impairment number is 4 (this is a -DM to actions)
- As the damage is greater than 8 we look up and see Big Bad Gang Guy suffers a broken bone.
As you can see, combat in The Babylon Project is far from streamlined. This is another reason I don’t play this
much at all.