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.”
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.
Breaking Down the Breakaway Manual
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):
- History and External Layout – I finally have a good description of of what my MPC Moonbase Alpha plastic model kit depicts
- 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
- Nuclear Waste – At first I was like, “huh?” but after reading I better understand why this essential story element gets the attention it does
- 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)
- Supplementary Craft – Much more here than I remembered; give me the Hawk Mk IX for the win!
- 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?
- 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.
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/Technology – Star 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.”
Characters – The 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?