2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Little Blue out of place in Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (FASA, 1983) #RPGThursday

[Another throwback RPG from “back-in-the-day.” I remember mostly playing this one with the bridge crew and mixing it with the Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator (FASA, 1983)]

Rol Th’tilleq

Andorian, Age 44, Lt. Commander (Helm Department), First Officer, USS Footfall, NCC-28149 (DERF-class Survey Ship)

Attributes: STR 71 / END 63 / INT 46 / DEX 62 / CHA 65 / LUC 21 / PSI 19 [Skill Checks are done using a %die and have to be UNDER the Attribute/Skill level]

Skills: Administration 40 / Astronautics-Astrophysics 34 / Carousing 03 / Computer Operation 59 / Computer Technology 21 / Electronics Tech 43 / Federation History 30 / Federation Law 30 / Gaming 15 / Grav Vehicle Ops 07 / Instruction 40 / Language (Klingon) 16 / Leadership 13 / Negotiation-Diplomacy 20 / Planetary Survival 05 / Ship’s Weaponry Tech 23 / Shuttlecraft Pilot 31 / Starship Combat Tactics-Strategy 49 / Starship Comms Procedures 11 / Starship Engineering (General) 12 / Starship Helm Ops 54 / Starship Navigation 22 / Starship Security 04 / Starship Sensors 21

Service History:

  • Graduated Star Fleet Academy
  • Cadet Cruise on Constitution-class Starship; Passed and promoted to Ensign
  • Attended Command School (Promoted to Lt.J.G.)
  • Assigned two terms (four years) to Merchant Marine Division, duty as Helmsman (Lt.J.G.)
  • Third Term assigned to Colonization Division (2 years), duty as Helmsman (Lt.)
  • Fourth Term assigned to Military Division (2 years), duty as Helmsman (Lt.)
  • Fifth Term assigned to Constitution-class Starship (3 years), duty as Chief Helmsman (promoted to Lt. Commander on completion of tour).

Service Narrative: Rol Th’tilleq (“Rolls” to his friends) was very proud to get into Star Fleet Academy, though he will admit it was more likely for his athletic abilities than his intellect…or luck. His Cadet Cruise on a Constitution-class Starship was uneventful and Rolls was promoted to Ensign and sent to Command School. There, “bad luck” seemingly caught up with Rolls and this gung-ho Andorian “warrior” was sent to ply the trade lanes as a helmsman with the Merchant Marine Division for not one, but two back-to-back terms. Somewhat despondent, Rolls agitated for a transfer and for all his complaining was assigned to the Colonization Division as a helmsman ferrying colonists to border planets. However, during this time his ship had a few encounters with Orion Pirates and Rolls distinguished himself enough to be promoted and transferred to the Military Division for his next term. Here he was assigned as Second Helmsman on a Larsen-class destroyer that was part of an anti-pirate task force. Distinguishing himself in several pirate encounters, Rolls was promoted to Chief Helmsman and assigned to a Constitution-class Starship. Rolls worked hard to please his Captain, and after three years was promoted and assigned as First Officer of…a survey ship with the Colonization Division. Rolls is a bit disappointed to be “out of harm’s way” but tries to keep the ship running smoothly in the hopes of getting a command in the Military Division in the future.

Character Comments

Per the core rule book, “Andorian history is one of conflict” and “The martial spirit is still alive in Andorian culture.” Personality-wise, Andorians are described as “stoic” and “disciplined” and “make excellent military officers.”

All of which makes “Rolls” a bit of an outcast? He has spent half his career outside of the Military or Exploration Divisions. Now he is assigned to a Derf-class survey ship which is described as, “a medium exploration ship used for survey work.” More accurately, a Derf is a type of tender that services navigation buoys, early warning sensors, beacons, and comms relay stations. Rolls very likely doesn’t view this work as “military” and probably chafes inside at having to shepherd the crew in this assignment. His obvious strengths are Starship Helm Operations (54), Starship Combat Tactics/Strategy (49), and Electronics Technology (43). Although he has fair Administration and Instruction (40 each) he has rather poor Leadership (13…maybe a bit too stoic?) though he tried to get closer to the crew but really doesn’t know how to Carouse (03!) or play games (Gaming 15).


(Name generated courtesy of Fantasy Name Generators)

Feature image courtesy https://sitzkrieg.blogspot.com/2018/09/derf-tender-to-rescue.html

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

2022 RPG CharGen Challenge – Wargame as RPG with Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982) #RPGThursday

I started playing roleplaying games in 1979/1980 with Classic Traveller. By 1982, one of the many small companies that grew up to support Traveller was FASA. In 1982 FASA published Behind Enemy Lines, a military RPG set in World War II Europe during or just after D-Day. Unfortunately it didn’t find commercial success. Which is too bad because Behind Enemy Lines is in many ways an outstanding military roleplaying game adventure generator. The heart of Behind Enemy Lines is the Encounter Tables. Behind Enemy Lines seems near-perfect for a Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers-based adventure.

Character Generation in Behind Enemy Lines was very simple; in many ways simpler than even Traveller. Characters were usually enlisted soldiers—real G.I. Joe types—though you could make an officer. The real discriminator in chargen was the background of the character; City versus Country. City slickers tended to be a bit better educated, maybe with leadership and languages. Country boys were simpler but often came with relevant skills.

Another important “skill” was Combat Experience which is used as modifier in various situations. For example, when attempting to sneak up on an enemy position, the player had to roll 2d6 against their Agility. Rolling above your Agility alerted the enemy. However, you gained a -1 die modifier for every level of Combat Experience. It also serves as a modifier when attempting to rally troops. Combat Experience also plays a role in interrogations and rumors.

Normal Range of Values: Physical characteristics range from 5-10. Most skills cannot go higher than 6.


Clinton Graves

Private First Class hailing from the Empire State of New York.

Strength 10 / Endurance 5 / Agility 7 / Stamina 8
Weapon Handling 9 / Combat Experience 5 / Skill Pts 2
Weight 175lbs / Carry 70-80lbs / Lift 175-200lbs / Drag 225-250lbs
Background: Country
Rifle 1 / Pistol 5 / Swimming 2 / Orienteering 2 / First Aid 1
Combat Skills:
Rifle 2 / Leadership 1 / Hand-to-Hand 2 / BAR 1 / Submachine Gun 2 / Grenade 1 / Rifle Grenade 1 / Bayonet 1 / Bazooka 1 / 60mm Mortar 1 / M1919 .30cal MG 1 

Clinton joined the US Army in early 1943 when he turned 18. Growing up in mid-state New York, he learned to shoot both a rifle and pistol while hunting with his uncle who worked for a survey company (Rifle, Pistol, Orienteering). He was the captain of his high school swimming team (Leadership, Swimming).

Clinton came ashore with a later wave of troops and was departing the Anzio beachhead late on December 2, 1943 when the Luftwaffe launched an air raid. Several ships were hit, including a merchant vessel that blew up into a tremendous mushroom cloud. The ash and dust of the explosion had mostly dissipated by the time it reached Clinton’s unit, and like many of his fellow soldiers Clinton used a muffler to not inhale too much. However, ever since then Clinton has been short of breathe (Endurance 5).

Now, in August 1944, Clinton and his unit are part of Patton’s army and working hard to break out of hedgerow country and race to the Rhine. 

(For the backstory of the Bari Raid see https://rense.com/general16/WWIIluftwaffe.htm)


Feature image courtesy https://quotesgram.com/d-day-quotes-from-soldiers/

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SciFiFriday – Rediscovering @GerryAndersonTV Space: 1999 and thoughts of #TravellerRPG, #CepheusEngine, & other #TTRPG systems

This past Christmas, I gifted myself the new Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual (Post Breakaway Revised Edition) by Chris Thompson and Andrew Clements with illustrations by Chris Thompson. This nice coffee table book is published by Anderson Entertainment and is an “in-universe” book based on the 1970’s TV series Space: 1999.

I was but a wee lad, a bit less than 10 years old when Space: 1999 burst onto my TV screen (and it was a small screen, still black & white). Space: 1999 was cool—cool spaceships (Eagles forever!), cool uniforms, and cool science (not that it all made sense to young me). I took in the first season and remember being absolutely frightened out of my skin at the episode “Dragon’s Domain.”

Fan created trailer for “Dragon’s Domain”

I also remember being so confused at the second season of Space: 1999 with shapeshifting aliens and…well, better to forget that season.

So I did. Ever since then Space: 1999—Season 1 at least—continued to exist somewhere in my headspace. It helped that I had a few Space: 1999 toys like a die-cast Eagle and several models. In more recent years I “rediscovered” Space: 1999 and added UFO to the lore as well as the graphic novels. The RockyMountainNavy Boys helped me find new plastic models and kept my memories alive.

UFO Intro

Breaking Down the Breakaway Manual

It’s bigger on the inside (whoops, wrong British TV show…)

Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual is a 272-page book formatted in a 9.5″x12″ hardcover. The cover illustration is a faintly lined Eagle Transporter that I wish was a bit easier to see. Inside, the Manual is organized into seven major sections (chapters):

  1. History and External Layout – I finally have a good description of of what my MPC Moonbase Alpha plastic model kit depicts
  2. Internal Layout – Covered in 73 pages (~25% of the Manual) this is a great mix of set photos and illustrations; many details I never noticed in the series
  3. Nuclear Waste – At first I was like, “huh?” but after reading I better understand why this essential story element gets the attention it does
  4. The Eagle Transporter – In many ways I love the Eagle Transporter over Star Wars vehicles and this chapter reminds me why (it also gives me details to help me paint up my other MPC model of the Eagle Transporter)
  5. Supplementary Craft – Much more here than I remembered; give me the Hawk Mk IX for the win!
  6. Uniforms & Equipment – What good sci-fi fan of the 1970’s didn’t have a jacket that looked a bit like one from Moonbase Alpha?
  7. Current Command Roster – Only later did I learn about how the production company, ITV, used international stars; I always though that Moonbase Alpha was simply “international” much like Star Trek was.

There are also two major Addendums covering “Alien Technology” and “Emergency Evacuation Operation Exodus.” Buried within individual chapters are other addendum boxes of relevant subjects.

[Warning – Spoilers Ahead] Sometime in the past decade I became aware of the connection between the TV universe of UFO and Space: 1999. I was really excited to see some connections in the Technical Operations Manual. What I appreciate the most about the connections is the secrecy; there are little references to UFO in the Manual like “the Straker Doctrine” but as a whole UFO is treated as, well, a secret. There are other nods too but I’ll leave those for you to discover on your own.

Generally speaking, my personal experience with “in-universe” background books based on pop culture intellectual property (IP) is mixed. In order to enjoy many IP-based productions I have to really, and I mean really, suspend my disbelief. Books like Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare (Jason Fry, Ballantine Books, 2012), which as a military veteran and wargamer I should have wholeheartedly embraced instead helped me realize that I am a science fiction fan that hems more towards “gritty” or “hard” sci-fi rather than “space fantasy” like Star Wars. All of which is a round-about way of saying the Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual is much more “believable”—and enjoyable—than I expected.

Roleplaying Space: 1999

As I also play science fiction roleplaying games (RPG), “in-universe” books like this Technical Operations Manual serve as a great source of gaming inspiration. I have played the Traveller RPG (Marc Miller, Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) since 1979 and science fiction RPGs are definitely my thing. As I look across my science fiction RPG collection, there are several different game systems that are candidates for use in a Space: 1999 RPG. Generally speaking, I look at each set of rules from the perspective of character generation, technology, and narrative support (story generation) when looking at how they might be used to create a Space: 1999 game.

Characters – When creating a character, most systems I am familiar with use careers. Moonbase Alpha is staffed by departments which might be a good starting point. The Manual tell us the different compartments are Command, Main Mission, Services, Flight, Technical, Medical, Science, and Security (pp 209-210). We also can see in the series the Space Commission (Politician?). If we expand our “canon” to include the 2012 Archaia Entertainment graphic novel Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe we also find other “careers” like the United Nations Coastguard using Eagle Transporters.

Courtesy goodreads.com

Technology – Space: 1999 is a near (alternate) future heavily grounded in technology we would recognize as our own. The major handwaves I see are nuclear fusion rocket engines, artificial gravity, and a hyper-light drive.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Although Space: 1999 the TV series was of the “adventure of the week” kind, different episodes covered many different genres and adventure types. A Space: 1999 RPG needs to be able to handle a wide range of story lines, from military to exploration to horror and more.

Cepheus Engine (Samardan Press, Zozer Games, Stellagama Publishing, 2016+)

The easiest approach to making a Space: 1999 setting might be to go to a near-cousin setting. Orbital 2100 by Paul Elliott from Zozer Games is a sublight, near future setting using the Cepheus Engine rules. Of course, Cepheus Engine itself comes in a few flavors (“Standard,” Light, and Quantum) but using the latest Cepheus Deluxe version as a starting point seems like a good place to jump from. Cepheus Deluxe has the advantage of being the rules set I am most familiar with, seeing how it traces it’s lineage all the way back to my first role roleplaying game, Traveller by Marc Milller from Game Designers’ Workshop (1977) which I first found in 1979.

Characters – No single rules set has the right combination of careers to represent Moonbase Alpha staff, but by synthesizing careers from Cepheus Deluxe, The Clement Sector Third Edition, and Hostile a fairly representative collection of careers and skill could be assembled.

Technology – Using Cepheus Deluxe, the “average” Tech Level (TL) is 8 to 9. To create the spacecraft of Space: 1999 will likely be a kludge of Cepheus Deluxe and Orbital: 2100 rules for sublight craft.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Cepheus Deluxe does not focus on a single genre of science fiction so it should be flexible enough to cover a diverse set of adventures.

Star Trek The Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983)

Going way back in my collection, I have the first edition FASA Star Trek Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983). Seeing how the characters in Star Trek are all academy grads (or at least Starfleet personnel) the similarities to the Space Commission Moonbase Alpha arrangements jump out.

Characters/TechnologyStar Trek assumes the characters are in the service after attending the academy and served prior terms to gain experience and rank. The various Departments in Star Trek map directly to Moonbase Alpha Departments though the skills will be different because of the different technology assumptions.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Like Space: 1999, episodes of Star Trek (The Original Series) were episodic. The game system is capable of handling most any genre, but is highly dependent on Game Master preparations.

The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997)

Long forgotten, The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997) is in many ways similar to Space: 1999. Overtly, both focus on characters on a “station” or “base.”

CharactersThe Babylon Project uses a concept-driven character generation system. Using the roster in the Manual, it’s possible to map most any character in terms of the Attributes/Skill/Characteristics which can be a good example of how to make a Moonbase Alpha character.

Technology/Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Technology takes a backseat in The Babylon Project. Instead, story comes to the front. Much like Babylon 5 was one of the first TV series to do a story arc, The Babylon Project gives advice on how to do the same for your adventures.

FATE Core (Evil Hat Publishing, 2013)

Another rules set that is a candidate for Space: 1999 is FATE Core from Evil Hat Productions (2013). FATE Core claims the game, “works best with any premise where the characters are proactive, capable people leading dramatic lives” (emphasis in original). Character generation in FATE Core is not a lifepath or point buy system, but rather “concept” driven which I find a bit harder to imagine. The core mechanic, using FATE dice, is also more suited to “pulp” gaming than gritty or hard sci-fi. Technology is what you make of it.

GENESYS (Fantasy Flight Games, 2017)

A more recent game system that might be useful is Genesys: Core Rulebook from Fantasy Flight Games (2017). Genesys powers FFG’s Star Wars Roleplaying Games series.

Characters – Character generation is a form of point-buy built around archetypes. The generic career list would have to be tailored, but there are many examples in the various Star Wars Roleplaying Game books to draw inspiration from.

Technology – Technology is again what you make of it. Unlike Cepheus Deluxe which tends to portray technology in “harder” sci-fi terms, in Genesys technology is there to aid the narrative.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Genesys is a highly narrative game system that again is suitable for many different genres of play.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin Publishing, 2019)

With some work, Green Ronin’s The Expanse Roleplaying Game (2019) may also be adapted.

Characters – The Professions list of The Expanse Roleplaying Game is not that far removed from Space: 1999.

Technology – Technology-wise the two settings are not all that far apart.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system uses a three different encounter types—Action, Exploration, and Social—for games that in some ways is very suitable for a Space: 1999 setting.

CORTEX Prime (Fandom Tabletop, 2021)

Another “generic” system that may prove useful is the CORTEX: Game Handbook (Fandom Tabletop, 2021). CORTEX comes in several flavors and different versions have powered the Serenity Role Playing Game (2005), Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (2007), Smallville Roleplaying Game (2010), Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game (2012), and Firefly Role-Playing Game (2014). The CORTEX Prime System described in the CORTEX: Game Handbook is highly modular and tailorable to genre and setting.

Characters – CORTEX Prime characters come with three Distinctions (Background, Personality, Role) and then a “Power Set.” Looking across the options, I feel a Power Set combining the Classic Attributes (Agility, Alertness, Intelligence, Strength, Vitality, Willpower) with “Roles” based on Department assignments may be a good starting point.

Technology – There are plenty of examples of how to define a piece of technology in the other CORTEX rule books.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – The different flavors of CORTEX can support different genres of adventure; CORTEX Prime attempts to synthesize those different play types under one rules set.

Which one should I work on first?


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPG Thursday – The real prelude Axanar – Star Trek: The Four Years War (FASA Corp., 1986)

Much like the Star Wars Expanded Universe (or, as the hipsters now call it, Legends) the best “source” for your IP-based RPG often is non-canonical. Memory Alpha tells us about The Four Years War:

pic556220This sourcebook was released as a scenario for Star Trek: The Role Playing Game, and used references from several novels and the Spaceflight Chronology (which differs from the more accepted and canon material in the Star Trek Chronology and later Star Trek: The Next Generation– and Star Trek: Enterprise-era productions). Introduced as “a concise compilation of library information on the conflict between the UFP and Klingons, stardates 1/9409 though 1/9806 (in the 2250s).” This was originally released as a set with book #2218, Return to Axanar.

It’s really a shame that The Four Years War (FASA Corp, 1986) is not Star Trek canon because the book is an awesome piece of gaming literature; a wonderful marriage of role-playing sourcebook and wargame campaign.

It’s sometimes hard to imagine that Star Trek was not always the powerhouse IP that it is today. Growing up in the late 1970’s all one got was reruns of the original series confined to syndicated television on UHF channels (if you don’t know what I mean by that, well, you just showed your age). In the gaming world, however, Star Trek was an IP that even small game companies could go after. In the wargame world it was Task Force Games with Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1977+); in the RPG world it was FASA Corporation and their Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (FASA Corporation, 1982-1989). I played both Star Fleet Battles (SFB) and Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (STRPG). As a wargamer, I got heavily into SFB but I didn’t go as deep into STRPG in part because I was a heavy Traveller RPG player.

At the time the first SFB and STRPG came out, the “canon” of Star Trek was still ill-defined. SFB based itself on The Original Series, Animated Trek, and most importantly Franz Josef’s Star Fleet Technical Manual. Unlike SFB, the authors of STRPG were able to incorporate elements of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), and eventually even more into their game while still creating new and original content. They created content until the great Paramount evil took back control of their IP. The designer’s notes in The Klingons Sourcebook actually tells us a great deal about the latitude the game authors had and what they were able to do with it.

A great example of this latitude and new content is The Four Years War. Reading through this collection of library entries, one learns not only about the military timeline, equipment, and tactics of the war but also the social, political, and economic factors of the day. The book is chock-full of inspiration not only for battles or military campaigns, but also background and plot seeds for a really interesting RPG adventure. There is enough here to ensure that the adventure doesn’t have to be a military campaign; there are many different seeds here to make something far more interesting.

The book is broken up into seven major sections. Within each are several “entries” that deliver the informationin small, really “bite-size” fragments. I especially like that competing viewpoints are included, like “UFB Military Background” and “UFP Military Background – A Criticism” or “Klingon Strategy” and “Klingon Strategy – A New Theory.” These multiple viewpoints engage the GM to design scenarios without a straitjacket interpretation of the situation already laid out by a lawyer from Southern California.

Not only does The Four Years War provide setting material for Star Trek: The Role Playing Game but it feeds other portions of the FASA STRPG product line. Entries like “Consequences for Military Shipbuilding Theory” help one design new ships in the game. If one has the companion Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator (FASA Corp, 1983) then the entire section on Starship Tactics is for you.

Resurrected Starships on YouTube has made a video explanation of The Four Years War. Check it out and tell me what you think!


Feature image Return to Axanar and The Four Years War set from waynesbooks.net

Lost in the Role – or – Why so Little RPG Talk?

If you look back on my blog, you will see that up until this year I had a heavy focus on roleplaying games, especially science-fiction RPGs. This year I have turned hard into boardgames with a mix of tabletop family games and wargames landing on the table. RPGs have definitely fallen off to the side.

I recently took a look at DriveThruRPGs Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale and made a few purchases, but at the same time I asked myself why I lost my RPG mojo. Last year I really tried to like Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Playtest and offered (few, very few) comments. In the end, instead of liking Star Trek Adventures, I was turned off to RPGs and only now am (sorta) giving them a chance again.

I have talked elsewhere about the art in Star Trek Adventures and how I find it totally opposite what I imagine. I also talked about how the now-decanonized Klingons Sourcebook for the FASA Star Trek RPG was more inspirational. But the part that turned me off the most was this:

borg_cube
Courtesy Modiphius Entertainment

This is the Star Trek Adventures Borg Cube Collector’s Edition Box Set. To me, this is not an RPG.

I cannot fully explain why I have such a visceral reaction to this offering. I understand that I don’t need the extra maps, and dice, and miniatures, and tokens, and other baubles to play an RPG. I know that all you need to play is a simple set of rules and imagination. I know because that is what I did with Classic Traveller for many years.

I think when I saw Star Trek Adventures I saw the continuation of a trend towards bigger RPG rulebooks and more IP-related gaming. To a point I had bought into that market with Serenity and Battlestar Galactica and Traveller 5 and Mindjammer and Atomic Robo and Firefly and Star Wars Roleplaying Game finding cherished places on my shelf.

But then something changed.

The first was that Mongoose Publishing brought out Traveller Second Edition and repackaged it in a way that makes it totally a price grab. This was just after they changed the rules for third-party publishers and stifled creativity (no…that’s not fair…they monetized it in an unfair manner). This was followed not long after by Star Trek Adventures and the Borg Cube trying to assimilate my wallet.

I rejected them…and walked away from the RPG hobby for a bit.

I am slowly finding my way back, thanks to small publishers like Gypsy Knights Games and Zozer Games and Stellagama Publishing. For a while that’s where I think I am going to stay for RPGs, on the smaller side of the spectrum with publishers who offer material that stimulate my creativity in a more rules-lite, non-restrictive campaign setting.

220791-thumb140I have found my RPG mojo…it never left and it is actually little changed from the late 1970’s. It just doesn’t need a large box and multiple rulebooks and maps and tokens and minis and hardcover expansions. It needs nothing more than the PWYW Cepheus Engine and a setting like The Clement Sector. What I need is like what Zozer Games is offering; the very simple 1970s 2d6 Retro Rules. With these simple tools I can make grand adventures; I don’t need a huge Kickstarter box or endless hardcovers or miniatures or tokens to do have fun.

Fangs Out!* #FirstImpressions of #Talon (@gmtgames)

pic68997_md
Courtesy BGG

Way back in the day I was a Star Fleet Battles (Amarillo Design Bureau/Task Force Games 1979+) player. My first game was the pocket edition in the half-size plastic baggie. In junior high and high school my friends and I obsessed with SFB. One of my friends designed the original TK5 destroyer. I even got into the strategic game, Federation Space (Task Force Games, 1981) that eventually evolved into Federation & Empire (Amarillo Design Bureau/Task Force Games 1986+). When I pack all my SFB stuff together it overflows a medium-cube moving box (that’s 3 cubic feet of stuff).

But time changes things. Whereas in my younger years I absolutely loved the excessive energy management required in SFB, and the long scenario play times, I gradually moved away from the game. I tried other games, like the FASA Star Trek: Starship Tactical Simulator (1983) or Agent of Gaming’s Babylon 5 Wars (1997). In the mid 2000’s, I tried to get into Federation Commander (Amarillo Design Bureau, 2005), the SFB successor, but it just didn’t click. Indeed, my game of choice for starship battles became Ground Zero Games’ Full Thrust (1992) or a derivative.

pic2661579_md
Courtesy BGG

In 2017, GMT Games offered a reprint edition of Talon, originally published in 2015. My interest was peaked by a series of post in the Castiliahouse blog where they were playing Talon. So I pulled the trigger on the P500. The second edition game delivered not long ago.

Upon unboxing, the first thing that struck me was the large, coated counters and the wet-erase markers. You mean I am going to write on my counters? Then I started digging into the rulebook.

And I am in love.

The basic rulebook is a slim 16 pages. The game mechanics are very straight-forward and explained in just 9-pages of Basic Rules. What I love is that energy management still is important, but instead of allocating everything (aka SFB) or several things (FC), in Talon one chooses “power curves” which are in effect “presets” for Power/Speed/Turn Radius. As a general rule, as a ship’s speed increases, the Turn Radius likewise increases while Power decreases.

Simple…Fast…and Fun!

Moving away from the SFB Power Allocation sheet, or the FC Ship Status Display, to info on the counter also helps with the fun. This makes the game easy to teach, an important consideration these days as I my main gaming partners are the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

pic3007572_md
Courtesy BGG

My plan is to get Talon to the table, probably in the next few weeks, using the Advanced Rules (just gotta have rule 15 THE BIG GUNS). I think the RMN Boys will like Talon; they like Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game and I know this will be a step up in complexity, but not nearly as much as Federation Commander or (shudder) Star Fleet Battles. Maybe someday I will play those games with them, but I am not so sure it will ever really happen. My taste in gaming has changed in nearly 40 years (go figure). In my early days my craving for simulationism was fulfilled by games like Star Fleet Battles. These days a more player-friendly game, like Talon, is welcome on the gaming table.

*Fangs Out:  Aviator-speak for when a pilot is really hot for a dogfight.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Which #RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

#RPGaDay August 17, 2017

pic516764_md
Courtesy RPGGeek

I tend to collect rules to study game mechanics and not necessarily to play. So I am going to cheat here and change the question a bit to “Which RPG have I owned the longest but not played in forever?”

My answer would be Behind Enemy Lines (FASA 1st Edition, 1982). I last really played this game with my high school friends (i.e. pre-1985). I pulled it out recently as part of my RPG Retrospective but I haven’t “played” it since the mid-80’s. I really should pull it out because it appears that it could be a good firefight generator for several skirmish-scale wargames.

#RPGThursday – Reflections on The Klingons (FASA, 1983)

Star Trek Adventures, the latest RPG version of Star Trek, is currently (as of this posting) up for pre-order from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Beta playtest, and made comments herehere, here, and here. Truth be told, I never really warmed to the system, and after somehow being dropped then re-added to the playtest when I dropped again I didn’t make an issue of it and finish the playtest campaign.

A quick look at the products page for STA indicates that Modiphius is focusing on the Next Generation-era of Trek. I find this unfortunate; in the living playtest I choose the The Original Series-era because it is my personal favorite.

Why The Original Series? Well, first off, my Star Trek gateway was actually via the Star Fleet Battles wargame. My first Star Trek RPG was, coincidentally, Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game from FASA. Both of these games have a very different (non-canonical) take on the Star Trek universe. Of the two, I prefer to RPG in the FASA setting. That setting is embodied to me in one key supplement and one book.

IMG_1739
Personal Collection

The supplement is The Klingons (1st Edition, 1983) written by John M. Ford, Guy W. McLimore, Jr., Greg K Poehlein, and David F. Tepool. The Klingons supplement was published a year before Mr. Ford’s novel The Final Reflection (Star Trek Worlds Apart #1). The Final Reflection was the first “official” Star Trek novel to explain the Klingon Empire.

The early-mid 1980’s was an interesting time in the lore of Star Trek. The “canon” of the time consisted of The Original Series, The Animated Series, and the movies Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. So when it came time for FASA to produce their Klingon sourcebook, they had a real challenge. As the Introduction from The Klingons says:

In the process of presenting interesting stories featuring Klingons, the series gave us only a few tantalizing looks at the culture and history behind the individual characters. In The Savage Curtain we meet Kahless the Unforgettable, the ancient Klingon who created his race’s traditions of treachery and tyranny, but we learn virtually nothing else of Klingon history. Klingon technology is revealed in bits and pieces in the series, but Klingon social customs remain a mystery.

To further confuse matters, STAR TREK: The Motion Picture introduces us to an entirely different breed of Klingon – less human in appearance and demeanor with even greater savagery in battle. It is a brief glimpse to be sure, before three D-7M battlecruisers are obliterated by V’Ger, but it opens a whole new chapter in the Klingon saga.

So what was FASA’s solution to this problem? Call in an old friend; in this case John M. Ford, former roommate and then-author:

When we discovered we were working on parallel projects, we couldn’t resist collaboration of sorts. Thus, the research on the Klingon Empire for his upcoming novel The Final Reflection (from Pocket Books) became the basis for the background material for this expansion set….The research-sharing went both ways on the project, with background data on the STAR TREK universe in The Final Reflection sometimes based on data presented in STAR TREK: The Roleplaying Game. In this way, the STAR TREK universe inhabited by game players and the novel’s characters remain consistent, and support each other in richness of detail. Thus, what you hold in your hands is not just a game supplement, but is also background on the Klingon Empire. With its detail and background supported by both the game framework and a major piece of professional STAR TREK fiction, it can lay claim to being an “official” look at the universe.

Within The Klingons and The Final Reflection there is a lot to unpack. From “the perpetual game” of society that all play to the “naked stars,” (“If there are gods they do not help, and justice belongs to the strong: but know that all things done before the naked stars are remembered”). One must understand kuve – servitor (not slave) – as well as tharavul (labotomized Vulcans made into living computers). This Klingon society is deep with meaning – and adventuring opportunity.

As the Star Trek universe developed, and especially in the Next Generation-series, the depiction of the Klingons changed (although Memory Alpha states Ronald D. Moore, eventually a producer for ST:TNG, claims The Final Reflection did influence him). What  I see is that instead of the Ford Klingons like Captain Kreen we get Worf – Space Samauri. When I look at the two settings…I only really see one choice.

It would be easy to get into a canon war at this point, but I look back on – and game by – the advice given in the Designers Notes to Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game:

…in the long run it will be the fans who decide what is and what is not STAR TREK for their campaigns. Feel free to change even basic assumptions if it suits you. Don’t be offended if we state something as “fact” that does not fit with your personal image. Simply run your campaign to suit what STAR TREK means to you. It’s your campaign, and we are by no means the final arbiters on such matters.

So with that thought, I say “no thank you” to Star Trek Adventures and look forward to welcoming back an old adventuring friend.

Kai FASA. Kai Ford.

#StarTrekAdventures RPG – What Do You See?

In the most recent Star Trek Adventures RPG living playtest email from Chris Birch at Modiphius he wrote, “Hope you like this new image!” I usually don’t have any real opinion of art in RPG products. Honestly, I rarely even think about it. But this time I did and I definitely have a reaction to it. But before I tell you what  I think about this picture a little of my Star Trek RPG history may help you understand where I am coming from.

My Beginning – FASA Star Trek

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Courtesy Grognardia

My first Star Trek RPG was Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983). The art in this product consists mostly of screenshots taken from The Original Series. In later products FASA commissioned artists for original artwork and by that time Paramount had released several Star Trek movies which heavily influenced the look. For instance, the first sourcebook, The Klingons,

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RPGGeek

had a “new” Klingon on the cover. The art content fell broadly falls into two categories; people and ships. The people art was generally staid with little dynamic action; what I term “poser” art. Then, like now, I find the artwork very neutral – indeed almost too neutral – and not exciting or deeply inspirational.

Call to Action – Prime Directive

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Courtesy RPGGeek

As I was a fan of the board game (and miniatures) of Star Fleet Battles, when Task Force Games brought out their RPG for that universe I scooped it up – with mild disappointment. But looking back on the artwork of Prime Directive, I see a few things that I like. For instance, the cover has action. Here I see what is likely a Federation Prime Team, with jackets on and phasers ready, in a temple-like structure being attacked (?) by an alien wielding a long spear with a bladed end. Take note that the team is facing the threat. Later versions on Prime Directive, especially the more recent d20 and d20 Modern variants, went to a style of art that I am not a fan of, but still harken back to core themes of the Trek universe. Like this cover from D20 Modern.

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RPGGeek

Here I see another Prime Team with each character acting in an iconic fashion; the blue-shirted scientist is pointing out something, the red-shirted security guy is getting ready to die, and the gold-shirted commander is leading. Not a lot of action, but each character captures (inspires) a role to play.

The Vanguard of My Imagination

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Courtesy readstartrekbooks

There is another influence on my “expectation” of a Star Trek RPG, coming from the Star Trek Vanguard series of books. This series appeals to me because it is an Original Series-era setting but with a more confrontational and mysterious adventure. In terms of their book covers, they all consist of ship art and are full of action. I especially like Reap the Whirlwind which shows off the small USS Sagittarius daringly passing in front of a much larger (and dangerous?) Klingon ship. Now that is adventure inspiration!

 

A Call to New Star Trek Adventures

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Modiphius Games

Which brings me back to the new Star Trek Adventures. Much like FASA Trek before, the art shown to date consists of ships and people. In this case the ships are trying to evoke a nostalgic reaction as they portray the iconic Enterprise across the TV series’ and movies. But it is the people art that catches my attention. To me, the people art shows how the writers and publishers of this game see their own game. Through those images they show me, the player (and customer), how they think the game should inspire me to play.

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Courtesy Modiphius Games

The first people image I saw was a crew on the bridge of what appears to be a Original Series ship. I like  that it is Original Series and that it is full of action. But to me it is the wrong action. I see a Federation ship that has been boarded by Klingons with at least two injured (dead?) already. The Captain is desperately fighting another ship even as the Klingons board his ship and threaten his bridge. This doesn’t look like it will end well. Indeed, this image reminds me what I see as an overused trope in too many Star Trek movies; Abandon Ship! How many times has the Enterprise now been destroyed? I personally am tired of the trope and it infuriates me because I see it as lazy writing for it has been used too many times to do nothing more than generate emotions (nostalgic longing for the ship) move the adventure off the to a different location.

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Courtesy Modiphius Games

The next image very different. It changes eras (to the Next Generation) which I am only “meh” to (except if we are talking about the alternate Federation found in Yesterday’s Enterprise). There is a lot of action going on here; from an exploding planet above to collapsing towers in the background to explosions. I also see a blue-shirted scientist studying a mystical hologram while two gold-shirted security guards are near a mysteriously glowing obelisk. A red-shirted officer is pointing, probably commanding the group since she is the only one wearing the red-shirt of command. On the far left we see a second blue-shirt scientist racing towards the group. That is a lot of action, and I see this as the moment the plan has gone sideways and the PCs are faced with a choice. It is the classic “Oh, Crap!” moment.

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Courtesy Modiphius Games

This picture, the one that that started all my ramblings, appears to take place shortly after the previous “Oh, Crap!” moment. The scientist previously seen racing towards the group is now racing away. He is being followed by a somewhat acrobatic gold-shirt security man. Our intrepid red-shirt leader is also on the run with the blue-shirt scientist previously studying the hologram(?) now also sprinting away. In the right top, two more characters not seen in the previous image are visible; a red-shirt being rescued by a gold-shirt. There are also at four characters in the left background; two (?) gold, a blue and a red-shirt.

There’s at least ten people in this scene. I’m going to assume the blue-shirt hippie dude, the acrobatic blue-skin gold-shirt, red-shirt leader and blue-shirt hologram scientist are player characters. A fifth PC may be the other gold-shirt security in the previous picture. That means this scene has a PC party of five with five supporting NPCs. To use the words of the man in the White House, “That’s yuge!” I have to wonder if Star Trek Adventures is playable only by large groups. Is there something in the game mechanics that makes this necessary or desirable or is it optional?

In a bit that I find very important all the characters seem to be running away from the threat. This runs (no joke intended) counter to what I see as a core tenet of the Star Trek universe; characters always face the threat. I am not saying that a strategic withdrawal is never in order but to show me a scene where everyone is running away – it makes me think of Doctor Who where the characters are always running. If I want to play game with running, I’ll play Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (11th Doctor) which I already own.

I can already hear some critics saying, “It’s your game. Play it like YOU want to play!” I heartily agree, and will do so, as long as the mechanics of the game allow me to!

“How do you like this image?”

Sorry, Chris. I don’t.

I don’t like it because although it looks Star Trek (the uniforms and alien species) it doesn’t look like the heroic Star Trek I expect – and want – to play.

 

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game 1st Edition (FASA, 1983)

At the risk of making many enemies, I admit that I am not really a Star Trek fan. No, it’s not that I am a rabid Star Wars fan (especially in light of what Disney/JJ Abrams is doing to the franchise these days) but in my early wargaming days my view of Star Trek was shaped by a little wargame called Star Fleet Battles (SFB)

SFB takes place in what has eventually come to be known as the Star Fleet Universe. As noted on Wikipedia:

The Star Fleet Universe (SFU) is the variant of the Star Trek fictional universe detailed in the series of Star Fleet Battles games (board-, card-, and role-playing) from Amarillo Design Bureau Inc. and used as reference for the Starfleet Command series of computer games. Its source material stems from the original and animated series of Star Trek as well as from other “fan” sources, such as The Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual. In addition, it also includes a substantial number of new races and technologies, such as the Hydran Kingdom, the Inter-Stellar Concordium and the Andromedans.

Star Fleet Battles was based on the Star Trek universe as of 1979 and includes elements of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Animated Series. Federation elements were heavily based on concepts from The Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual. Unlike the mainstream Star Trek universe, Star Fleet Battles seems to consider some, but not all of The Animated Series, as being a canon material source, thus leading to the inclusion of aliens such as the Kzinti, which had originally been created for a non-Trek story series.

Since the first publication of the game, Star Fleet Battles and the Star Trek universe have diverged considerably as the authors of the game and those of the films and television series have basically ignored each other. The resulting divergent world of Star Fleet Battles is known as the “Star Fleet Universe”. – Star Fleet Universe Wikipedia

The SFU did not get a RPG until the publication of Prime Directive in 1993. But in 1982, FASA published Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game. The game release was at an interesting time in the history of Star Trek, coming a few years after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the same year as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Although FASA has a license from Paramount, it appears that the studio pretty much left FASA on their own. As a result, the game designers were able to pick-and-choose what “canon” they wanted:

It was left to us to determine what was the “essential” STAR TREK material, leaving it to gamemasters and players to add whichever specialized material they preferred on their own. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 126

In terms of game mechanics, ST:RPG was published by FASA only a year after their award-winning Behind Enemy Lines RPG. ST:RPG is another interesting game where the differences between an RPG and wargame get murky.

ST:RPG is composed of three major game systems; Character Generation (Chargen), Combat, and Starship Combat. The Core Mechanic rolls Percentile Die (2d10 read 10’s-1’s) compared to Attribute or Skill – roll under for success.

Character Generation and Advancement is very RPG-like. Chargen uses a career path system after generating Attributes (Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, Dexterity, Charisma, Luck, and Psionic Potential). Luck (LUC) is the most interesting because this attribute first introduced me to a more narrative way of playing RPG’s:

LUC saving rolls are used in this game when the gamester believes situations may be affected by pure chance and coincidence. The object of this game is not to kill off player characters, and setting up a total adversary relationship between players and the gamester limits the enjoyment of the game. Therefore, the gamemaster should use a LUC saving roll attempt at times to give a player a chance to bail himself out of a tricky situation. A saving roll of this type should always be given to a player character ( or a non-player character who is an established STAR TREK character) who is in imminent danger of death or other tragedy. Temper the use of saving rolls with common sense, but do use them when necessary. Sure, it hampers realism, but STAR TREK should reflect television realism, not reality. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 12

ST:RPG includes rules for skill advancement. This was a whole new world to me; Classic Traveller is famous for NOT having a skill advancement system! Even so, the skill advancement system in ST:RPG is very simplistic:

Once play has begun, skill may increase with use. After each adventure scenario, or each major mission of a continuing campaign, the gamemaster should have each player who saw action make a saving roll against his character’s INT [Intelligence] score. If the roll is successful, the player may roll 1D10 and add the resulting number of hits to his skill level in any one skill he possesses that was used during the course of the adventure.

Gamemasters are encouraged to give a few bonus points (maximum of 3) in a skill to a player who pushes his skill to the limit in the course of an adventure (that is, makes a difficult saving roll), thus learning something in the process. Extra points should also be awarded to anyone who has the opportunity to closely observe someone of a higher skill level engaged in a skill-related activity of a more routine nature. To get this bonus, however, the person who is teaching (not the one receiving the extra skill points) must make a saving roll on his or her own INSTRUCTION skill. If the saving roll is failed, no skill is gained by watching. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 38

As simple as skill advancement was, it was still a more narrative-flavor of RPG that was very new to me at that time.

As much as Chargen with LUC and skill advancement was moving towards a more narrative RPG experience, Combat was a firm step back into the realm of wargames. Indeed, in the Tactical Combat Notes section of the Designers Notes they unabashedly proclaim:

When trying to decide how to design this section, we remembered one old adage – when something works well, use it! And this is exactly what we did. We had been playing GRAV BALL (by FASA). We enjoyed the movement and action system. It worked well, giving the feel of simultaneous movement while retaining a simple system. Most si-move systems require paper plotting of moves in advance. While realistic results can be obtained, the system is slow and cumbersome….

Combat evolved from our working knowledge of almost every game published on tactical combat. From the action list and character system we had it was a simple matter (although lo-o-o-o-ng!) to develop this aspect. Again, we just”worked through” what really happens in a combat situation. We drew on our own and other’s experience (you should see the looks we got from neighbors) and worked out situations live. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 128

As a result, the Combat system is (once again) a very wargame-like, skirmish-combat system using facing and Action Points on a gridded map for range and movement. When rereading the rulebook, I found it interesting that the Combat Examples (which is really just one example) starts on page 55 and ends on page 59! Admittedly, there are a few moments in the “wargame” example where role-playing is invoked, but it certainly is a rare exception and NOT the rule! Like this moment:

Wagner moves as shown, coming through the door (which opens automatically), stepping over the fallen Klarn, and moving towards the door. The gamemaster stops Wagner and requires a normal saving roll on DEX [Dexterity] be made to step over the fallen Klingon without tripping (since Wagner is moving fast under stress). Wagner’s DEX is 76 and he rolls a 31 – no problem! – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 57

The third game system is Starship Combat. Here is where the designers attempted to balance the need to role-play with a tactical wargame:

Where STAR TREK is different is in the approach to combat. A simple boardgame could have been used, but STAR TREK as developed here is intended as a role-playing experience. Unlike other tactical space combat systems, STAR TREK offers the opportunity to “role play” during ship combat as well as during ground or ship based adventures.

In the system presented here a number of players will interact, cooperating in an attempt to defeat an enemy ship (or a number of ships). The atmosphere of a game session then becomes much like that on a bridge of a starship, with each player having a responsibility to control one part of the ship’s functions.

To keep track of ship functions in play, each player uses a control sheet or panel. These players will communicate vital information back and forth during combat, using their panels to record the turn-by-turn changes in power levels, ship’s weaponry status, crew casualties, and more. – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 102

To assist in world building, rules for creatures/animals and world characteristics were also included. These systems are very Classic Traveller RPG-like in their mechanical approach and don’t stand out in any way to me.

What I Thought of It Then: As a Star Fleet Battles/Star Fleet Universe fan, the different canon of ST:RPG confused me. I remember always trying to “fit” ST:RPG into the SFU. I also remember our gaming group really trying to play the starship combat game (again, a need to make it more SFB-like). As an RPG, the game didn’t really attract our attention. We instead focused on the starship combat module. We played the wargame and not the RPG.

What I Think of it Now – Looking at FASA’s Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game today, I realize I missed a great opportunity in 1983 to play an RPG that was starting down the path towards a more narrative game. All the clues I needed were in the rules – I just had to read them and embrace the concepts. A good example of play is often helpful, and in ST:RPG there is a short example of play that unfortunately is buried just before the Designers Notes. It doesn’t even have its own header. When I read it now, I “see” the RPG game within ST:RPG. That said, the example also makes me cringe a bit at the “state of the RPG art” in 1983. References to pocket calculators and a very lopsided sharing of narrative were the norm:

GAMEMASTER: Your ship is two days out from Calvery IV, proceeding at Warp 3, on a routine call to deliver a Federation diplomatic pouch and other official greetings. Unexpectedly, your communications officer picks up a faint subspace signal from the direction of that system, calling for Federation assistance. The message is too faint to make out much else, and it is unlikely in this part of space that any other Federation vessel will intercept the signal.

CAPTAIN: Can the communications officer pick up anything else?

GAMEMASTER (to communications officer): Make a standard saving roll on Communications Procedures.

COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER (rolling): I made it! What do I hear?

GAMEMASTER: There’s lots of interference, but by switching antennas you get a bit more. The voice is male and human-sounding. You catch a reference to “the insect plague” and another to “Government House” being “besieged by the horde.” Abruptly, in mid-sentence, the message stops and you pick up no further transmission.

CAPTAIN: That sounds urgent! And we’re three days away at Warp 3! How far at Warp 6?

GAMEMASTER: Warp 3 is 27 times lightspeed and Warp 6 is 216 times lightspeed. That’s 8 times as fast.

CAPTAIN (consulting pocket calculator): That’s…nine hours or so. (To navigator and helmsman) All right Mr. Devareux, Mr. Wickes…increase our speed to Warp 6 on the same course. (Turning to communications officer) Mr. L’rann, send a message to Star Fleet Command detailing the situation and tell them we’re on our way.

GAMEMASTER: Just so you’ll know, it will take six days at this distance for a message to reach the nearest starbase.

CAPTAIN: So we’ll be on our own. Very well, The science officer will consult the library computer for information on the planet. Department heads will meet in the briefing room in thirty minutes for discussion.

SCIENCE OFFICER: Captain, a computer file search on insect life on Calvert IV might be appropriate…

CAPTAIN: So ordered, Commander Levine. (Dropping out of character) Everybody check with the gamemaster on your own departments. I’m going to grab a snack! – Core Rulebook 2001A p. 125

From an RPG-perspective, I give Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 2 (Simple Core Mechanic but mostly combat-focused)
  • Simulationist = 4 (“Wargame” combat systems)
  • Narrativism = 2 (LUC to overturn events)