My last TTRPG Challenge post was on the Serenity Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis, 2005). Although that game comes first chronologically, Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game was actually my first Cortex-system RPG. It was also my first “IP” game since The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997) from a decade earlier.
To date, most of my science fiction RPGs could probably be best described as space opera focused with a healthy dose of starships and high tech gadgetry. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series certainly has starships and gadgets, but the focus is very much on the human story. Indeed, the trivia says that actor Edward James Olmos, who played Commander William Adama in the reimagined series, had a clause in his contract that no strange aliens or monsters would appear so that the story stayed focused on the human drama.
Creating a character in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is actually very straight forward. Indeed, in many ways it is not that much more complicated than my beloved Classic Traveller or Traveller 4 which is probably why I embraced the system so readily. Oh, there are major differences; the first being the dice pool mechanic. In many ways I was a bog-standard d6 gamer, so having to suddenly use d2, d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 was a bit of a shift. The other major shift was Plot Points, a meta-game currency that players can use to influence (control?) the storyline. The closest I had previously come to Plot Points was the Luck game mechanic in Star Trek: The Role Playing Game and James Bond 007. The other major adjustment in my thinking was “ships as characters,” which I discussed in the Serenity Role Playing Game.
The Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game also made me think about the “math” behind the game mechanics of RPGs. Most of my RPGs to date used either 2d6 or d%. I was very comfortable with “figuring the odds with those dice. Here though, you had a target number and often were mixing different die types together. If our Target Number is seven (7), what are the odds of rolling 7 or greater with a d8+d6? In many ways the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game created for me an interest in RPG mechanisms as I yearned to learn more about the “models” underlying the games.
Reporting for Duty
Creating a character in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a simple seven-step process:
- Set Staring Level: Determines the number of Attribute/Skill/Trait Points to spend
- Concept: General personality
- Buy Attributes: These are the character’s innate abilities
- Buy Traits: Assets…and Complications
- Buy Skills: Purchased in the form of “dice”
- Calculate Derived Attributes: Simple calculations
- Finishing Touches: Gear and other details
Unlike so many of my TTRPG before, character generation in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a point-buy system. The nice part here is that the system has little incentive to min-max, in part because of the Assets and Complications. Taken in conjunction with the Plot Point game mechanism, I barely realized that the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game was very nearly my first “narrative” RPG. That is, this was the first game where players had the ability to control the narrative through creative use of their Assets and Complications and Plot Points.
But before we get too far along on that idea, let me introduce Thomas “Puke” Dogg, a Viper pilot aboard the Battlestar Galactica.
Thomas “Puke” Dogg
Starting Level – Puke is a Veteran starting with 48 Attribute Points, 68 Skill Points, and 4 Trait Points.
Concept: Puke is a Viper pilot that suffered from a bout of spatial disorientation in flight school that led to him “losing his lunch” during a flight with a very senior instructor. Thus, “Puke” was born.
Buy Attributes: Attributes come in two flavors; Physical and Mental. Attribute Points are used to purchase different die levels at 1-to-1 cost.
- Agility (Physical) – d12
- Strength (Physical) – d8
- Vitality (Physical) – d6
- Alertness (Mental) – d8
- Intelligence (Mental) – d8
- Willpower (Mental) – d6
In keeping with the “Puke” story, our Viper pilot has far above average Agility, but lesser Vitality and Willpower.
Buy Traits: Traits can be positive (Assets) or negative (Complications).
- Assets: Dogfighter d4; Split-Second Timing d4
- Complications: Illness d4. The occasional weak stomach is actually something more serious…but who wants to see the Flight Doc when there is another Cylon raid inbound?
Buy Skills: Skills are bought in General and Specialty levels.
- Athletics d6
- Covert d6 (Sleight of Hand d8)
- Discipline d6 (Concentration d8)
- Guns d6 (Pistols d8)
- Heavy Weapons d6 (Autocannons d8)
- Knowledge d6 (History d8)
- Perception d6 (Tactics d8)
- Pilot d6 (Viper d10)
- Technical Engineering (Skilled only) d4
Calculate Derived Attributes:
- Initiative (Agility + Alertness) = 20
- Life Points (Vitality + Willpower) = 12
Finishing Touches: Puke is a Lieutenant.
Launch the Alert Viper!
Another aspect of the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game that I had to adjust to was a very character-centric approach to combat. So often in my RPG games to date, starship combat was a mini-wargame. Heck, the Star Trek: Roleplaying Game or The Babylon Project or Traveler: 2300 came with an entire set of wargame rules for ship combat. However, vehicle combat is the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a bit abstract. As the text box “A Matter of Drama” in the Vehicle Combat rules section (p. 152) states:
…For the players, the most important part of any combat comes from the point-of-view of their characters.
In short, this is the Battlestar Galactica Roleplaying Game, not a miniatures wargame. Viper combat should be run on a personal level, with rolls made to attack or dodge incoming raider autocannons. It plays out very similarly to combat on a personal level.
The only time a roll is needed is when something dramatic is about to happen, when there’s a real question to be resolved.“A Matter of Drama,” p. 152
In many ways, this character point-of-view approach to combat (or any encounter) in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is not that far removed from the original Little Black Books of the Traveller Roleplaying Game. This is probably why this game clicked so well with me.
In the Cortex system, one doesn’t just roll a d6, but many other die types too. The Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game opened up a whole new world to me based on the Cortex game engine. Indeed, the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game and the Serenity Role Playing Game were the start of what I term my “Game Engine” era of RPGs where Cortex, FATE, a new Traveller, and what would eventually become known as Genesys would become the preponderance of my games. Alas, there were other games in there too; some titles might even seem a little mousy to some…
Feature image courtesy wallpaperup.com