As the mid-2000’s came—and went—my quest for a replacement role-playing game after Traveller RPG had gone nowhere for almost a decade. After failing my d20 save, I went looking for other game systems. In doing so, I ended up looking at smaller publishers. Somewhere I came across a copy of a game called Cold Space from Better Mousetrap Games (2005). So desperate was I for a new RPG that I was willing to try anything. I mean, the setting looked interesting; an alternate history Cold War with counter-gravity in the 1950’s, Orion rockets, and the like.
The setting in Cold Space was not the only difference from what I was used to. The entire game system was different from my experience too. Cold Space was my first introduction to what I came to call “Indie-RPG.” These games, many times published in a kind of do-it-yourself desktop publishing manner, were maybe not as refined as the tentpole games (i.e. Dungeons & Dragons). However, each was interesting in how they brought a unique perspective on a game system to an RPG. Cold Space was built using a system called StarCluster. This was my first, and only, expereince with that game engine.
Cool Characters in Cold Space
In Cold Space, there are two “approved” methods of generating the initial characteristics and cash for characters; the Random Method and the Directed Method (p.30, 31). Seeing how I came from the random character generation heritage of the Traveller RPG I instantly went with the Random Method. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure sure I ever tried the Directed Method. Most initial characteristics in Cold Space are randomly generated with 2d6…another link to Traveller in my mind.
After generating the initial characteristics in Cold Space the character enters schooling. Ah, a life-cycle approach to character generation, ala Traveller again! Then, you enter a profession…still more Traveller-like! The skill list in Cold Space is kinda large (`100 skills) but not unmanageable.
Then I tried to play a game using Cold Space.
Check-ing Out Cold Space
Very slowly I was beginning to realize that different role-playing games had different “core mechanics.” I was learning that characteristics and skill levels were not all the same across different RPG systems, and each was related to the “core mechanism” of each design. In Cold Space, the Task Resolution system is built around several different checks:
- Skill Check: Target number is the character’s skill chance which is base skill (45) plus 5 added for every level of skill with a bonus if governing attribute is above a certain threshold.
- Attribute Check: A multiplier of the base attribute ranging from x1 (Very Difficult) to x5 (Moderately Easy).
- Profession Check: Not a skill but familiarity from profession; 3x years spent in profession times promotion level.
Say the character, Major Tom, is an early astronaut that is launching on a mission…
As Major Tom’s rocket enters orbit, there is problem. Major Tom attempts to use his Pilot+3 skill to regain control. This is a Skill Check with a target number of 45 plus (2×5=10) or 50. A governing attribute bonus of +1 comes from IQ above 120. Final target number is 51. Major Tom rolls a 65…
If you can’t tell already, the StarCluster engine (a term I would learn later) in Cold Space is built around a d100 or d% die roll. This was certainly NOT Traveller RPG-like but I had played James Bond 007 so the d100 was not totally foreign. At the end of the day, though, the system just didn’t click with me.
In the early days of the contragravity space program, it still took a certain “steely-eyed missile man” to make an astronaut…
Mother’s Milk skill are learned before age 10. Major Tom hails from the American Midwest, and as such he has Rural Moderate resources. This gives him skill in Tracking from the Hunting Set, Endear from the Social Set, Dash from the Sport Set, and Research from the Scientific Set. Young Major Tome grows up in a very middle-class family and has an interest in science.
Initial Characteristics (Random Method)
- Strength (2d6) = 5
- Coordination/Agility (same 2d6 each) = 6
- Endurance (2d6) = 9
- IQ (%d) = 53 by lookup table becomes 113
- Luck (%d) = 31 by lookup table becomes 1
- Cash (%d) = 71 by lookup table becomes $13,000
- Charisma (2d6) = 5
- Public Junior High: CHAR+2, IQ+5, Research+2, Negotiate. Young Major Tom is a friendly, outgoing guy who loves to study and becomes a peacemaker amongst his friends.
- Military High School (cost $1,300): Str+2, COOR +2, Mathematics+1, Astronomy+2. Young Major Tom starts dreaming of the stars…
- Agriculture & Military (A&M College) (cost $2,000): Observe+1, Biology+1, Operate+1, Husbandry+1. Unable to get into a Military Academy Major Tom still finds a way to get a military education.
- Officer Candidate School: IQ+20, Leadership+1
- Skills: Pilot +3, Electronics+1, Mechanics+1, Zero-G+1
- Promotion: +1
- Pay: $3,000/year
Characteristics: STR 7 / COORD 8 / AGI 6 / END 9 / IQ 133 / LUCK 1 / Cash $30,000 / CHAR 7 / Constitution 300
Skills: Astronomy+2, Biology+1, Dash+1, Electronics+1, Endear+1, Husbandry+1, Leadership+1, Mathematics+1, Mechanics+1, Negotiate+1, Observe+1, Operate+1, Pilot+3, Research+3, Tracking+1, Zero-G+1