#RPG Thursday – #TTRPG Preorders and Kickstarters

While I keep a good list of preorders for my wargames and boardgames, I don’t do the same for roleplaying games. Maybe that’s because until recently I didn’t really have many RPG items on preorder. That’s changed a bit in the last few months with a (very) few items ordered but not yet delivered…

Blade Runner – The Roleplaying Game.

From Free League Publishing. Preorder via FGLS. “Coming 2022.” I have enjoyed the Year Zero Engine as it is used by Twilight: 2000 – Roleplaying the World War III That Never Was and ALIEN – The Roleplaying Game. If this is going to get here by end of 2022 it’s going to have to be quick…

https://player.vimeo.com/video/705732326?h=7c3ca98be9″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>
Courtesy Free League Publishing

Code Warriors RPG

From Nerdburger Games, Kickstarter. “April 2023.” Pledge in last 25 minutes of the campaign thanks to Jim “The Gascon.” Why? It looks interesting…

Courtesy Nerdburger Games

Cowboy Bebop – The Roleplaying Game

From Mana Project Studio via Kickstarter. “November 2023.” The Quickstart is available for free on DriveThruRPG. This looks very glitzy; hope the game plays as good as it looks.

Courtesy Mana Project Studio

Feature image courtesy Inn on Lake Wisotta

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

My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Finding daylight out in the black with Serenity Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2005)

In 2002 I was stationed overseas with the U.S. military. If you have ever been stationed in the military overseas you will know all about the American Forces Radio & Television Service, or AFRTS (pronounced “A-FARTS”). What you will very likely remember is that AFRTS had no real commercials; instead you got “public service” and command messages.

Yeah…I still remember seeing these…in the early 2000’s

What you also didn’t get was the latest television shows, which is why I didn’t get around to watching the 2002 season of the TV series Firefly until after I returned stateside in mid-2004. By 2005 I discovered the movie Serenity and the Firefly TV series and eventually even a new RPG, the Serenity Role Playing Game from Margaret Weis Productions (2005)

Don’t we all…

Technically speaking, I didn’t actually discover the Serenity RPG until 2007 when I got the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2007) and then went hunting for the older game. But in this 2022 CharGen Challenge I’m working my way through titles chronologically by publication date which is why this game is here.

The books for Serenity are beautiful, full color hardbacks that are lavishly illustrated with extensive use of the intellectual property. They were then, and still today, bloody expensive. But between those covers I discovered a RPG game engine that reinvigorated my RPG mojo after a decade of darkness.

Don’t know where I found this but it’s true…

Serenity was written by Jamie Chambers and uses a game engine that eventually came to be call Cortex. Unlike many of the RPGs I played before, Serenity uses a dice pool system. The fact I needed to buy d2, d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 to play was enjoyable. Characters were easy for me to understand as they have Attributes and Skills. Finally, a game that doesn’t have Classes or Feats or Talents!

While I had grown very comfortable over the decades with a lifepath character generation system of random tables and the like, Serenity uses a point-buy approach. Yes, this demanded a change in my attitude, but here it seemed so natural. I will admit that the first time I came across Traits, Assets, and Complications it was a bit tough to understand, but again the whole package was put forward in such an enjoyable and understandable way I just went with it.

Little did I realize it at the time, but with Serenity I was moving into a more narrative style of RPG play. Nowhere was this more evident than with Plot Points—a form of currency used in-game to “buy” a bonus or create a short-term, expiring “reward” for players. The other part major change Serenity showed me was the concept of “ships as characters.”

Let Me Tell Ya About this FREE Trader…

Up until this point in my tabletop role-playing game experience, vehicles—be they ships or aircraft or ground vehicles or whatever—were always thought of and described simply as equipment. That is, they had a very mechanical description for they were really nothing more than tools for characters to use. Going a bit further, given the wargame heritage of designer Frank Chadwick it’s not surprising that vehicles in the Traveller Roleplaying Game were described in wargame terms. The listing for any ship in Traveller is little different than one finds in Janes’ Defense journals.

Not so for Serenity. While ships are given some encyclopedic entries (Dimensions, Tonnage, Crew, etc.) the in-game statistics mirror characters with Agility, Strength, Vitality, Alertness, Intelligence, Intuition, Willpower, Initiative, and Life. Ships even had SKILLS! Add to that the different traits and complications and every ship could be given a personality. Which really does make sense and is totally in keeping with the sci-fi roots of the game. Enterprise (Star Trek), Eagle 1, Space: 1999) the Millennium Falcon (Star Wars) , Galactica (Battlestar Galactica), and Serenity (Firefly) all are more character than setting in each of those franchises.

In the Serenity Role Playing Game building a ship is like building a character. You start with a Concept, determine Ship Attributes, figure out some Specifications, and then assign Ship Traits, Ship Skill, and so on.

Bagman

Concept: Small(?) courier ship to move (few passengers) and (some) cargo between planets. Usually owned by corporations or governments but few operate “freelance” in the verse.

Attributes

  • Agility d6 “Average Maneuverability”
  • Strength d4 “100-1,000 tons / Small Transport”
  • Vitality d8 “Requires low maintenance”
  • Alertness d4 “Basic, typical needs for privately-owned vessel”
  • Intelligence d4 “Substandard; can handle mundane flight details”
  • Willpower d4 “Basic; automatically seal bulkheads at critical sections, backups for the most critical systems”

Specifications (Dimensions, Tonnage, Speed Class, Fuel Capacity, Crew Quarters)

  • Dimensions: 118′ x 74′ x 30′ (Wedge)
  • Tonnage: 875 tons
  • Speed Class: 4/6
  • Fuel Capacity: d4 “12 tons in a 60 ton tank”
  • Crew Quarters: 4x Staterooms (Rooms 9 tons, Common 23

Ship Traits: The Asset “Cortex Specter” which means few record exist (seems appropriate for a ship delivery “off-the-record” materials).

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

My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Shot down in Luftwaffe: 1946 Roleplaying Game (Battlefield Press, 2005)

In January 2006 I discovered a website called drivethrurpg.com. This was an incredible discovery; a website devoted to digital publishing of role-playing games. Here I found games I had never heard of before. My first order was for a Twilight: 2000 supplement I didn’t own. The second, on January 11, 2006 was for a 2005 game titled Luftwaffe: 1946 Role-Playing Game from a publisher I had never heard of, Battlefield Press.

At the time, I had discovered a website called Luft 46 which is still accessible today. At first I thought the RPG and website were associated with one another. Then I discovered that the Luftwaffe: 1946 RPG was based on a comic book series. Luckily, I was able to find some issues in a local comic store.

Luftwaffe: 1946 used the Action! game engine based a target number and 3d6. Basically, to make a skill check you took Attribute + Skill Level + 3d6 and tried to beat the Target Number.

If Luftwaffe: 1946 has a problem, it’s that the game engine and character creation rules are unbalanced. The character creation system in Luftwaffe: 1946 is extremely dense. The end result was my appreciation of the game was also unbalanced; I liked the game engine but didn’t like the character creation system.

Dallas ‘Tex’ Miller

U.S. Army Air Corps 1st Lieutenant assigned to a special air squadron flying captured German X-Planes

  • Body Group: Strength 5, Reflexes 5, Health 5
  • Mind Group: Presence 5, Intellect 5, Will 5
  • Derived: Defense Target Number 15, Initiative 5, Toughness 5, Life 25, Move 10, Cool 5, Fatigue 5
  • Skills: Athletics – 1 / Acrobatics -1; Heavy Weapons -3 / Aircraft Machine Guns (Spec) – 2; Military Science – 3 / Tactics (Spec) – 2; Small Arms – 2 / Pistols – 1; Technical – 1 / Repair -1; Transportation – 3 / Pilot (Spec) – 4
  • Abilities: Ace! Technique -2 (Gunnery, Masterful Controller), Attack Combat Master, Heightened Awareness, Rank 2 (1st Lt.)
  • Disabilities: Famous (1), Recurring Nightmares (2)

Tex has a good life, getting to fly the latest Luftwaffe wonder weapons. Today it’s a Salamander-D, or the forward-swept wing Heinkel 162D (Maneuver Bonus +1). Tex is just trying the basics and is making a Immenlman Turn (Target Number 21).

The GM says the Governing Attribute is Reflexes (5). Tex adds his Transportation (+3) and Pilot (+4) or a total of 12. The 3d6 roll is 10 plus the Maneuver bonus of +1 for a total of 23. Tex pulls off the Immelman but the Salamander is being a bit slippery in its handling!

A bit later Tex decides to try an execute a Lag Roll (Target Number 24). The roll is as before (12 + 1 + 3d6). The 3d6 rolls com up with 7 for a total of 20; the maneuver fails with and effect of -4. Normally, Tex would have to make a TN18 skill roll to retain control with that -4 modifier added in, but his Masterful Control ability gives him the “ability” to ignore the negative penalty. The roll is 12 + 1 + 3d6 (11) for a total of 23—Tex maintains control and is starting to discover the Salamander’s true limits!

An RPG Atrocity

In the end, I gave up on Luftwaffe: 1946 not for the game, but for the politics of the comic book author. What bothered me is that he insisted that removing the swastika from plastic model kits amounted to censorship. He also stated, “I made a careful study of Nazi Germany and found out that their atrocities were not much worse than what other major countries had done to their people and their neighbors throughout the centuries of warfare” (p. 5). Now, I’m not so stupid to think my country is totally blameless, but I absolutely disagree that the United States of America and Nazi Germany are somehow morally equivalent. This forced me to relook at the entire setting in Luftwaffe: 1946. In the end, I decided not to pursue this game any further.


Feature image by Gareth Hector on Luft 46

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

My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Out in the cold with Cold Space Role-Playing Game by Clash Bowley & Albert Bailey (Better Mousetrap Games, 2005)

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…

Standing there alone,

the ship is waiting.

All systems are go.

“Are you sure?”

Control is not convinced,

but the computer

has the evidence.

No need to abort.

The countdown starts.

“Major Tom” – David Bowie

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…

Back at ground control,

there is a problem.

“Go to rockets full.”

Not responding.

“Hello Major Tom.

Are you receiving?

Turn the thrusters on.

We’re standing by.”

There’s no reply.

“Major Tom” by David Bowie

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.

Major Tom

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

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

Schooling

  • 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

Career

Air Force

  • Skills: Pilot +3, Electronics+1, Mechanics+1, Zero-G+1
  • Promotion: +1
  • Pay: $3,000/year

Watching in a trance,

the crew is certain.

Nothing left to chance,

all is working.

Trying to relax

up in the capsule

“Send me up a drink.”

jokes Major Tom.

The count goes on…

David Bowie – “Major Tom”

Major Tom

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

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

My 2022 #TTRPG Chargen Challenge – The Lost Traveller 4 (Imperium Games, Inc., 1996) #TravellerRPG

“I started playing the Traveller roleplaying game in 1979…”

I’m sure you’re very tired of hearing me tell you that Traveller RPG story, so let me tell you another. It’s about another version of Traveller, specifically Marc Miller’s Traveller 4th Edition aka Traveller 4. This “new” version of Traveller was much the same but also very different. The same was character generation. The (very) different was the Task Code.

From 1st to 4th

I missed out on MegaTraveller (aka “Traveller 2”) and Traveller: The New Era (aka “Traveller 3”) so in many ways the character generation system in Traveller 4 looked to be an extremely well organized, cleaned up, and streamlined version of the expanded character generation systems that I encountered in Book 4 Mercenary, Book 5 High Guard, Book 6 Scouts, and Book 7 Merchant Prince in the older Classic Traveller system. Even today, I love the simple character generation tables laid out in Traveller 4.

So what’s the problem?

3.5D

That’s not a reference to yet another edition of Traveller, that’s the Task Difficulty for a Staggering task. The code is telling the players they need to roll three and one-half dice for the task.

Wait a minute…Traveller RPG is a 2d6 game system, right? What’s this more-than-two dice? What in the heck is a “half dice?”

Every task in Traveller 4 is given a Task Difficulty. This is the sum of the character’s characteristic and skill level. So shooting a gun (Gun Combat) relies on Dexterity. If a character has a Dexterity characteristic of 7 and a Gun Combat Skill of 1, the Target Number is 8. The referee then looks at the task and determines the Difficulty. Taking a shot at Short range is a Difficult Task rated at 2.5D. This means the player rolls 2d6, sums the result, then rolls another d6 and divides the result in half (rounding up) and then sums the result again. If the die roll is LESS THAN the Target Number the task is a success. For example: With a Target Number of 8 I roll 2d6 (6+3=9) and adds a “half die” (roll 3…divided by 2 and rounded up to 2) for a total of 11 which far exceeds the 8 needed—FAIL!

For the longest time I simply could not grok the Task Code system in Traveller 4. The whole idea of a “half die” appeared ridiculous. I have to admit that decades later and after having expereince with many other RPG systems the half-die in Traveller 4 isn’t as off-putting as it once was. I still don’t like it, but I understand it better these days.

1st of the 3rd in the 4th

One other part of Traveller 4 that I never really grasped was the default setting. Traveller 4 was set in the “First Milieu” of the Third Imperium, a century before the Classic Traveller Third Imperium setting. Given at the time I was having difficulty buying into the Traveller 4 task system, is it any surprise that I resisted “investing” in the setting? Recalling that the 1977 Traveller books were actually setting-less, I think I also longed for some of those “good ole days.”

Fourth Generation Traveller

When it comes to creating a character in Traveller 4 the process is actually quite familiar and simple. Recalling that I skipped T2 and T3, reading the three ways to generate a character’s primary characteristics was (finally) affirmation that my preferred “Best Order” method—roll 2d6 six times and assign each roll to characteristics as desired—was not just a house rule. I also liked the more formalized homeworld, early life background skills that were at least acknowledged here. Some later systems would create far more detailed routines for youth or teen years, but I find those too excessive for my taste. A few (two?) background skills based on homeworld environment and tech level seems enough.

Traveller 4 uses the advanced education options in character development. The ability for character to go to college or a service academy was in the later Classic Traveller little black books but here I saw the process applied more universally. Looking at the process today, it seems that one of the assumptions behind character generation in Traveller 4 was that players wanted to have more educated characters and used advanced education to get there. I don’t feel this was an assumption in Classic Traveller and it was a bit jarring at first.

Traveller 4 also did away with the chance of “death in chargen” that is a hallmark of Classic Traveller. Instead, there was Injury and Honorable Discharge. Given the relatively simple chargen process in T4, having to “start all over” is not that onerous a task, but I understand how some people get…uh…”offended” by losing a character in chargen.

Pursuing a career in Traveller 4 is very easy thanks to the simple tables. The hardest part is (again) getting used to the “roll under” requirements and terminology. Specifically, I’m talking about “Die Modifiers (DM)” in chargen. When the table states, “Injury: 8-; DM+2 if Edu 8+” that means the die roll to avoid injury becomes roll under 10 (8+2) if the die modifier applies. This confuses me because when I see DM I automatically assume the modification applies to the die roll I make, meaning if I rolled a 5 it becomes a 7 (DM+2).

J’hnn K’ry

Meet J’hnn K’ry, a young man from the capital of the Bradii Reach in my B’rron Subsector. His primary characteristics are UPP 798773 (Strength-Dexterity-Endurance-Intelligence-Education-Social Status). J’hnn had a relatively normal teen life, and knows how to drive a Grav Craft (Grav Craft-1) and his way around computers (Computers-1).

Although J’hnn comes from a relatively poor background (Soc-3) he has average intelligence and education and tries to get into college. Alas, he is rejected, so he seeks out an Army recruiter and joins that service (Service Skill Gun Combat (Rifle) -1).

J’hnn’s first term is a bit scary as he (barely) avoids injury. He learns how to handle himself in unarmed combat (Brawling-1) and how to fly a helicopter (Aircraft (Helo)-1). His real heart is as a grav tank driver (Grav Craft-2) and he also enjoys his barracks time (Carousing-1). Maybe he enjoys that barracks life a bit too much; he does not commission nor promote but is allowed to continue his career.

The second term for J’hnn is a bit better. He doesn’t commission but is promoted to E-2. He picks up some more fighting skills (Brawling-1) as well as rifle marksmanship (Gun Combat (Rifle)-2). He obviously really enjoys being a driver as he gains yet more skill in grav tanks (Grav Craft-3) and some formal skill in ground vehicles (Ground Craft-1). He also gains some skill as an instructor (Instruction-1). Yet, for all he has achieved, the Army decides in their infinite wisdom that J’hnn does not have a future in the service and lets him go.

Now on the outside, J’hnn finds he has 10,000Cr and a Low Passage ticket. He is seeking out a mechanized mercenary unit where he can keep going as a grav tank driver.

J‘hnn K’ry, Age 26, former Army E-2 / UPP 799773 / Aircraft (Helo)-1 , Brawling-1, Carousing-1, Computer-1, Grav Craft-3, Ground Craft-1, Gun Combat (Rifle)-2, Instruction-1 / 10,000Cr / Low Passage Ticket (1)

Unfortunately, I never invested in other sourcebooks for Traveller 4 beyond the Starships book so I don’t have the T4 version of Mercenary.

Like I said, a lost Traveller era.


Feature image: “Grav Tank Patrol” by Andrew Boulton

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

My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Lost direction in Prime Directive 1st Ed (Task Force Games, 1993)

I started playing tabletop role-playing games in 1979 while in middle school. By 1993 I was a college graduate starting a career in the U.S. Navy. With deployment for war and then overseas I had little time for hobby gaming. The truth to the matter is that between 1993 and 2005 I actually had little room for any gaming. Indeed, I call the milieu from 1993 to 2005 my “Lost Traveller D20 Years.”

I tried to pick up some new games. One of those which was not Traveller nor D20 (yet still part of this lost milieu) was Prime Directive: The Star Fleet Universe Role-Playing Game by Timothy Olsen and Mark Costello and published by Task Force Games in 1993. More popularly called Prime Directive 1st Ed. (PD1), this was a role-playing game set in the Star Fleet Universe (SFU) that was built around the wargame Star Fleet Battles. Although Task Force Games had a legitimate license from to produce Star Fleet Battles material, the SFU diverges significantly from the Star Trek setting.

In Prime Directive, the players are members of a Prime Team, an elite special forces team for the Federation. Whereas Star Fleet Battles is centered on ship-to-ship battles in the SFU, Prime Directive tried to be a bit more Trek and less Battles. I personally was never really able to rectify this setting dissonance in my head, especially since I owned more that a few products from the FASA Star Trek line and was perfectly happy with that set of rules for my Star Trek-ing adventures.

Tricode-er

While I had trouble wrapping my head around the setting of Prime Directive, it didn’t help that all those years ago I didn’t grok the core mechanism in the game either. Prime Directive uses a Task Dice and Tricode system for resolving action. Basically, the player adds their Skill Level and supporting Characteristic and divides by two. The result is the number of Task Dice rolled. This was also the first game I recall noticing the “exploding six”—any roll of six was rerolled with the new roll minus 1 added to the six. Once all the dice are rolled the resulting numbers are compared to a Tricode for each skill that showed Failure, Minimal Success, Moderate Success, and Complete Success. For example, my character you will soon meet is trying to repair a door controller that a teammate “accidentally” fried. This is a Technical Skill and my character has an Electronics skill level of 4 and a Technical Characteristic of 6, meaning they throw five Task Dice. The rolls are 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (exploding 2) or 7. The Electronics skills Tricode is 2/4/6.

  • If 2 or 3 was my best result that would be a Minimal Success
  • The 4 and 5 deliver a Moderate Success
  • The “exploding 6” for 7 makes my attempt a COMPLETE SUCCESS—the door is back in service like nothing ever happened!

In another example, my character is attempting to resist interrogation. With a Discipline characteristic of 3 and Resist Interrogation skill of 2, my character rolls two Task Dice. I’m going to also add a die roll modifier of -2 because the interrogator is using a strong pain baton. Die rolls of 1 and 5 become -1 and 3 which compares to a Tricode of 6/8/10. The 3 is half of the 6 for Minimal Success so it’s just a Failure not a Botch. The interrogator gets the information they want quickly…

All of which doesn’t sound that bad until you realize there are something like 100 or so skills and 100 or so Tricodes and 100 or so…sigh…you get the idea. It’s almost impossible for a player to know what their chances are without much cross-referencing of characteristics and skills and Tricodes. All of this I never really grok’ed back in the day and thus Prime Directive was shelved…and stayed shelved for many years only occasionally being pulled out to be fodder for comparison.

Another Trekish Lifepath

Generating a character in Prime Directive is another form of a lifepath system. Determine characteristics, tweak based on race, select a Service Division, gain Initial Skills and skills by Division, Rank can gain more skills. Then there is Seniority and Initial Professional Heroic Reps (reputation). None of this is diffucult but it also doesn’t lend itself to generation of characters that I can get excited about.

Bohr Th’oshaalleq

Coming up through the Academy, Bohr (often called “Boring” behind his back, and more often than not even to his face) was the stereotypical unsociable and gruff Andorian. Now a serving Lieutenant (Senior Grade) in the Technical Branch of the Star Fleet Engineering Division, Bohr has worked his way onto a Prime Team as the “gadget guy.”

Characteristics

Strength: 3 / Accuracy: 3 / Speed: 3 / Leadership 1 / Logic 4 / Intuition 3 / Discipline 3 / Technical 6 / General Knowledge 3 / Perception 4 / Lift 15-75 / Jump 1.5-3-.75 / Range Type NORMAL / Lethal Damage Capacity 6 / Stun Damage Capacity 6 / Seniority 35 / Professional Rep 4 / Background Rating 1

Skills

Accuracy: Acrobatics 2 / Drive (Vehicle) 2 / Fine Work 2 / Fire (Phaser) 4 / Lethal Damage Attacks (AMA) 2 / Marital Arts 1 / Melee Combat 2 / Pilot (Shuttlecraft) 4 / Sleight of Hand 2 / Zero-G Manuev. 1

Speed: Quick Draw 2 / System Speed 1

Leadership: Negotiation 3 (the Leadership characteristic of 1 made purchasing these skill levels VERY expensive)

Logic: Astrogation 2 / Computer Prog. 2 / Cryptography 2 / Investigation 2 / Mathematics 2

Intuition: Evaluation 2 / Fast Talk 2 / Gambling 2 / Security Proced. 2

Discipline: Resist Interrog. 2

Technical: Comm. Systems 2 / Computer Sys. 2 / Console Ops 2 / Damage Control 2 / Demolitions 1 / Electronics 4 / Field Equipment 2 / Imp. Drive Sys. 1 / Jury Rig 4 / Life Supp. Syst. 1 / Mechanics 4 / Medical Sys. 1 / Power Gen Sys. 1 / Sensor Systems 1 / Shield Systems 1 / Ships Weapons Systems 1 / Transporter Sys. 2 / Warp Drive Sys. 1

General Knowledge: Cultural Knowl. 1 / First Aid 2 / Philosophy 1 / Star Fleet Regs. 2 / Wargaming 2

Perception: Blind Fighting 2 / Shadowing 2 / Tracking 2

Lt. Th’oshaalleq is a Prime Team member but in many ways he lives up to his given name—he is a bit of a bore. With a wide variety of skills but only a few that he excels in, Other Prime Teams call on him often but at the same time don’t really count on him to make the big play…


Feature image courtesy fanpop

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Tuesday #TTRPG – All velocity but no vector – Thoughts on Ships of the Expanse: Civilian, Merchant, and Spacefaring Vessels for The Expanse Roleplaying Game (@GreenRoninPub, 2021)

To many sailors, every ship has a personality. When I deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) during the Gulf War, the ship had a bent shaft that vibrated at higher revolutions. Just before the Gulf War, all the water fountains (“bubblers”) had been removed and we deployed without all of them reinstalled. When we ate chow, we often placed a glass of water in the middle of the table and noted how much jet fuel “skim” there was at the top when we finished eating. It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that USS America was “quite the character.”

The Traveller Roleplaying Game taught me that ships are systems, and while they may have quirks, they are engineered. Not every roleplaying game uses that same engineering approach. My first real encounter with “ships as characters” was Battlestar Galactica – Role Playing Game from Margaret Weiss Productions (2007). Coming forward to 2021, The Expanse Roleplaying Game, treats ships like characters. I often struggle with myself in trying to rectify these two different approaches to ships in roleplaying games—the system-engineer player vs. the narrative player.

Ships in The Expanse Roleplaying Game are described with just a few characteristics; Size, Drive, Sensors, Weapons. This is followed by Qualities and Flaws. One doesn’t “build” a ship as much as one “describes” a ship in The Expanse RPG. That’s an important point to remember as one looks at what Ships of the Expanse brings to your game.

For myself, I bought Ships of the Expanse because I wanted more ship construction rules, more combat rules, and some ship examples to inspire me. This is how Ships of the Expanse describes itself:

Ships of the Expanse offers an in-depth look at spaceships, ships, combat, and life in space in the universe of The Expanse. The ships and rules herein describe ships and technology roughly up to the beginning of the novel Nemesis Games…This book contains several new rules; ship qualities, stunts, ship maneuvers, and more.

Ships of the Expanse, Introduction and How to Use This Book, p. 3

Ships of the Expanse is 144 pages long and divided into four major chapters, “1. The Shipyard,” “2. Ships in Action,” “3. Shipboard Life,” and “4. Spaceship Specifications.”

The Shipyard

What immediately struck me when reading the 24 pages of The Shipyard in Ships of the Expanse was the overall lack of ship construction rules. To me, the 3 pages of Qualities and Flaws and 4 pages of Ship Rewards (~5% of the total book) constitute the entirety of the “new” ship construction rules. The balance is background material on shipyards and shipyard life.

Ships in Action

Ships in Action is 20 pages of the Ships of the Expanse book. The majority of the chapter is given over to operating ships and hazards; new combat rules are the 3 pages of Stunts and 2 pages of Ship Maneuvers. Five (5) pages, or ~3% of the overall book.

Shipboard Life

Ahh, the life of a sailor. The Shipboard Life chapter of Ships of the Expanse is 23 pages long and, again, has lots of information on living aboard a ship and various challenges. There is alot of setting-appropriate information here.

Ship Specifications

This chapter of Ships of the Expanse starts off with an interesting 2 pages where how to buy a ship is discussed. Bottom line – it’s really expensive. I guess this is in keeping with the setting where you see very few personal ships. What follows is a long (72 pages or ~50 percent of the book) section with specifications, deck plans, and background on many different ships which is what I guess I wanted…

Flip (pages) and Burn (your brain)

I guess by my own expectations I should be happy with The Ships of the Expanse because over half the book is “what I wanted.” Well, yes, but. While the (many) ship descriptions are welcome, the many deck plans here suffer from the same problem so many ship books suffer from in this digital book world—how can I use them? I also have to ask myself if the other 12 pages of ship construction and ship combat are really worth it.

By my rough numbers, 42% of Ships of the Expanse is not really useful to me. Honestly, that’s a bit of an unfair statement. Forty-two percent of Ships of the Expanse was not what I expected. So why does it bother me? Arguably, that 42% is the “in-depth look at spaceships, ships, combat, and life in space in the universe of The Expanse” that the introduction proclaimed.

Science is…Hard

I think what bothers me most about Ships of the Expanse is the same thing that bothers me about The Expanse RPG in general. It’s too preachy. Throughout the core rule book and now this expansion, there is plenty of exposition on the science behind The Expanse. I am not sure this is all totally necessary. I mean, The Expanse RPG is based on a popular intellectual property and I feel that if you play The Expanse RPG you are likely familiar with either the books or TV series. That familiarity brings with it certain “expectations” and player knowledge.

Ships of the Expanse is the type of source book I expect a GM to read. There is nothing in here that players cannot read, but how many of them will? As a GM, Ships of the Expanse offers many inspirations to use during adventures. For players, there are a few new rules but the rest of it is kinda a “Standard Operating Procedures” that you should understand/follow lest the GM let you walk out an airlock without a vacc suit.

Then again, that’s the sort of thing you just might want to do in an adventure of The Expanse RPG. I’m not sure if all the science exposition in the books help or hinders that sort of adventuring.

At the end of the day, for myself I don’t necessarily feel that Ships of the Expanse is a must-have expansion. Maybe that’s because I am comfortable with the setting and especially the science behind it. Maybe players and GMs who love the adventures of The Expanse but don’t really grok the science behind it need this sort of help.

Amos had spent thirty grand during a stopover on Callisto, buying them some after-market engine upgrades. When Holden pointed out that the Roci was already capable of accelerating fast enough to kill her crew and asked why they’d need to upgrade her, Amos replied, “Because this sh*t is awesome.” Holden had just nodded and smiled and paid the bill.

Abbadon’s Gate

Feature image courtesy Green Ronin Publishing

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