Reading the #FourRPGs hashtag on Twitter is a great nostalgia trip, as well a thinking challenge. Here are the four RPGs that most influenced me.
#1 – Classic Traveller (Published 1977 – discovered 1979)
Anybody remember the game store Fascination Corner in Arapahoe Mall in the Southeast suburbs of Denver? It was there I bought my first war-game, Panzer, by Yaquinto Games in 1979. Soon after that, I found a little black box with a very simple logo. The game was Traveller, and it was a role-playing game. Being a huge Star Wars fan, I just had to have the game. This was my gateway into RPGs. Although I had friends who played Dungeons & Dragons, I didn’t (fantasy didn’t catch my attention then, and to this day still doesn’t). I have never looked back since.
I actively played RPGs until the mid-late 1980’s. After college, my job and family didn’t really give me the time to play. Instead, I became a bit of a collector. I tried to keep up with Traveller (buying Marc Miller’s T4 and later the Mongoose Traveller versions). I tried other Somewhere in the mid-2000’s, I discovered DriveThruRPG, and started building an electronic collection of games that I had missed. Being a huge Traveller RPG fan, I stayed with GDW RPGs for the longest time. Sure, I dabbled in other systems (like the James Bond 007 RPG), but I really tried to stay away from Dungeons & Dragons. I had tried my hand at D20 Modern, invested heavily in the Star Wars: Saga Edition, and even looked at Savage Worlds, but none of then really captured my interest.
#2 – Battlestar Galactica (Published and discovered 2007)
Being a huge fan of the show, I just had to have Margret Weis’ Battlestar Galactica RPG. I was immediately sold on what is now known as the Cortex Classic System (which, in retrospect, is not so different from Savage Worlds). The Battlestar Galactica RPG was a major turning point for me because it was with this game that I truly embraced designs beyond the Classic Traveller system. The Plot Points system, i.e. a tangible game currency for the players to influence the story, was a major break from my previous gaming philosophy. I realized that I was too fixated on systems like Classic Traveller, with its many sub-games, which is very wargame-like and not actually a great storytelling engine. I continued to follow the Cortex system, and these days really enjoy the Firefly RPG using the Cortex Plus system.
#3 – Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (Published and discovered 2013)
While Battlestar Galactica started me on the path to narrative RPG play, I didn’t truly arrive until Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. I had got the core rule book and the Beginner’s Game and tried to play with my boys. But at first I just didn’t “get it.” What do all those funny dice really mean? One day I discovered the Order 66 podcast, and listened to their advice on Triumph and Despair. At that moment it all clicked. From then, I was sold on the the system and strongly believe that this game is the best marriage of theme and gameplay. That said, I have to say that the later volumes of this game system, Age of Rebellion and Force & Destiny don’t hold my interest as much as Edge of the Empire does.
#4 –Atomic Robo (Published and discovered 2014)
After Edge of the Empire, I started looking for other narrative RPGs. Somehow, I happened across a copy of Atomic Robo. I picked up the game (mostly on a whim) but after reading it was so intrigued by the gaming possibilities. As fortune would have it, I also discovered a Bundle of Holding that had many FATE products. I discovered I had been missing out on a great game system. Now, in addition to Atomic Robo, I enjoy Diaspora (FATE 3.0) and Mindjammer (FATE Core). I have even played a few games using FATE Accelerated with the boys, much to their (and my) enjoyment.
Truth be told, these days I pay much more attention to the “game engine” than the actual game. I admit that my favorite “game engine” these days is FATE Core. That said, I still enjoy Traveller (and even the much-maligned Traveller 5) although the newest Mongoose Traveller Second Edition is not impressing me.
In my ship combat example from earlier, I stated that Channing M’rrfeld’s Pinnace had 8 Hull Points. Unfortunately, I was looking at the late-Oct version of the High Guard Beta document and not the December update. Using the December playtest document, the Pinnace has 16 Hull Points. So the battle continues….
When we last left Channing, his Pinnace had suffered 13 damage points in the Attack Step of Round 1. Although a devastating hit, it does not automatically trigger a Critical Hit because the Effect of the attack was less than 6 (p. 158). However, the Sustained Damage rule (p. 158) applies a Severity 1 critical hit for every 10% (rounded up) of the starting hull. (The rules just say “starting hull;” I assume they mean Hull Points not tons.) Every 10% of the starting Hull Points is 1.6, rounded up to 2, meaning the 13 damage caused 6.5 (rounded down?) or 6x Severity 1 Critical Hits. Rolling on the Critical Hits Location table (p. 158) yields the following:
- M-Drive (Control checks at DM -1)
- Power Plant (Thrust -1, Power -10%)
- Armor – Reroll Fuel (Leak – lose 1D tons (roll 6) per hour – but the Pinnace only has 1 ton of fuel to start with)
- Armor – Reroll J-Drive – Reroll Weapon (Suffer Bane when used)
- Armor – Reroll Hull (see next hit)
- Hull (this makes the Critical Hit Severity 2 – suffer 2D damage – roll 10)
Attack Step Summary: Channing’s Pinnace has suffered at total of 23 Hull Points damage, reducing it to zero Hull Points and a total, inoperable, unrepairable wreck (again). Even if the Hull damage had been avoided, the ship has lost maneuverability (M-Drive and Power Plant critical hits) and is out of fuel. (Interestingly, the Core Rulebook does not specifically state what happens with no fuel. One can “assume” the Power Plant doesn’t work based on the statement, “Fuel is required for both the jump drive and power plant” found on p. 145.) If, by some miracle, those critical hits had been avoided then any attacks by Channing will still suffer a Bane. Channing needs his Vacc Suit and a rescue….
Post Battle Comment: Even with the “extended” play based on a (few) additional Hull Points, it still seems that space combat in this Second Edition of the Mongoose Traveller RPG (MgT2.0) is VERY deadly. Most importantly, the fact I had to refer to playtest documents to game out even this simple scenario using the “Core Rulebook” and Common Spacecraft is intensely dissatisfying. A Core Rulebook should be playable BY ITSELF and not rely on external references. This is a clear FAILURE on Mongoose Publishing’s part.
I also question if the system will appeal to today’s gamers. I come from a sorta old-school of roleplaying games and as a long-time Traveller RPG player I am used to the “wargame-like” nature of the combat system. That said, these days I also enjoy a more narrative style of game like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars RPG series, Firefly (Cortex Plus), Mindjammer or Diaspora (FATE Core), not to mention older systems like the Battlestar Galactica RPG (Cortex Classic) or something using the Savage Worlds engine. In a previous post I talked about how the Boon/Bane mechanic gives MgT2.0 a more narrative feel; the question in my mind remains, “Is it enough?”
Continuing my exploration of the new Mongoose Traveller RPG 2nd Edition (MgT2.0), today I experimented with ship combat. Using my previously generated character, Channing M’rrfeld, I laid out a simple scenario where Channing, in his Pinnace now outfitted with a Beam Laser in a fixed mount, is being pursued by a Light Fighter (p. 189). The Light Fighter mounts a Pulse Laser that has a maximum range of Long (p. 159) so this seems a good range to start the combat.
Before moving into Space Combat (Chapter 8, p. 155), I resolved Sensor actions (p. 150). This requires an Electronics (Sensors) check. Channing does not have this skill so he automatically suffers a DM -3 (Skills and Tasks, p. 56). His Pinnace outfitted with only Basic Sensors giving him a further DM -4 (p. 190). The Light Fighter is radiating using Radar/Lidar which gives him a DM +2 for counter detection (p. 151). With a roll 0f 8 and a final DM -5, Channing fails to detect the fighter (though he likely knows he is being radiated). The Light Fighter pilot has Electronics 0 (no unskilled DM) and is using Military Grade Sensors with DM 0 (p. 188) against a target running with its transponder on (DM +4, p. 146). The fighter pilot rolls 7 with a DM +4 and successful detects the Pinnace. At Long Range he has Minimal Sensor Detail (p. 150) which gives him the basic outline of the target. We now move to the Space Combat system.
Initiative: The first step in Space Combat is to determine Initiative (p. 155). Though Channing has not detected the fighter, he does know he was radiated by something so he is not surprised (p. 154). Channing possesses the skill Tactics (Naval) 1 which allows him to make a check to influence his Initiative. His roll gives him Effect +1. He will also use his Pilot (Small Craft) 1 skill and add his Thrust 5 from the Pinnace. His roll of 10 gives him a final Initiative number of 17. The Light Fighter has only Pilot (Small Craft) 1 and Thrust 6, which added to a roll of 7 gives a final Initiative number of 14.
Maneuver Step: Channing hedges his bets and spends 4 thrust on movement (p. 155) and reserves 1 thrust for Combat Maneuvering (p. 156). The fighter, trying to close range, spends all 6 points for movement. Assuming the fighter is in a stern chase, this closes the range by 2 points, meaning there are 8 more thrust points needed to change the range from Long to Medium (p. 156).
Attack Step: Channing has not detected the fighter so he cannot attack. The fighter attacks. This requires a roll of 2D + Gunner + DEX DM. Assume the fighter pilot has Gunner 0 and a DEX DM +1. He is also using Fire Control/1 in his Ships Computer meaning the fighter can conduct one automated attack with DM 0 OR grant a DM +1 to the Gunner – the fighter pilot decides to let the computer handle the attack (p. 151). Other Common Modifiers (p. 156) are Using a Pulse Laser +2, Long Range -2. Channing can react (p. 160) and try Evasive Action (Pilot) which gives the fighter pilot a DM -1 (Channing’s Pilot (Small Craft) rating). Final DM is -1. The pilot,s attack roll is 12, making his Effect +3. Pulse Lasers roll 2D for damage (roll 10) to which the Effect of the attack is added (p. 158). The result is 13 points of damage. Channing’s Pinnace has 8 Hull Points (not found in the Core Rulebook…had to reference the High Guard Beta document – FOUL!). This reduces Channing to zero Hull, meaning his Pinnace is wrecked, totally inoperable, and beyond repair (p. 158). Channing now finds himself without power or life support….
Actions Step: Given the Pinnace is “beyond repair,” none of the Actions in the Actions Step (p. 160) seem to apply. Let’s hope Channing already has a Vacc Suit on or his future will be very short!
After Action Comment: That’s it? One shot from a light fighter totally wrecks a small craft? No chance to even get into Close Range Combat (p. 162)? The out-of-combat Sensors detection is cumbersome with so many modifiers spread around the book, some in the Encounters and Sensors section and others in the Space Combat chapter. The same goes for the attack modifiers with some found in Spacecraft Operations and others in Space Combat. Finally, the fact that Hull Points are not defined in the Core Rulebook is a clear foul – to use the Core Collection of ships should NOT require purchase of High Guard!
In retrospect, the fact that the fighter had a sensor detection and Channing only had limited awareness of the threat would of made the attack roll a good candidate to use the Boon mechanic (p. 59). This could of represented the “advantage” the fighter had with its detection. Not that it would of made much of a difference….
After shoveling the driveway out of the 30″ of snow that #blizzard2016 dropped, I decided to take the new Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition RPG (MgT2.0) through a few paces. Character generation is not very different from the previous edition: roll characteristics, attempt college, find a career, get skills, survive, resolve events or mishaps, see if one can advance, then repeat or muster out. MgT2.0 does add a handy flowchart for character generation (p. 10) which is nice but not strictly necessary after the first time thru.
Allow me to introduce Channing M’rrfeld.
(At start) STR 8, DEX 12 (+2), END 8, INT 10 (+1), EDU 5 (-1), SOC 6
At age 18 Channing applied for college but didn’t make it (EDU 7+, DM-1, Roll 6-1=5 FAILURE).
After failing to enter college Channing successfully enlists in the Navy and selects the Flight Branch. He gains skills from Basic Training (Pilot 0, Vacc Suit 0, Athletics 0, Gunner 0, Mechanic 0, Gun Combat 0). He survives his first term, applies for a Commission, and receives it (Rank O1). In this term Channing also gains his CO’s interest (Event 11) and gains Tactics (Naval) 1.
For Channing’s second term he continues with the Flight Branch and gains Pilot (Small Craft) 1. He survives, advances (Rank 02) but falls in with a gambling ring (Event 2 – gain Gambling 1).
In Channing’s third term he is trained as a starship pilot (Pilot-Starship 1) but is improperly revived after being placed in the Frozen Watch (Mishap 2). This reduces his STR, DEX, and END each by -1. There is no chance for advancement this term. Channing decides to leave the service.
For his Muster Out benefits, Channing gets a total of four rolls (3 terms, +1 for rank). He gains some EDU (+1), Cr55,000 (thanks to the DM+1 from the Gambling 1 skill picked up in the second term), and a “Ship’s Boat.”
The rules specify that characters injured or wounded in combat must roll to see how bad their injuries are (see Injuries, p. 47). After that there may be Medical Care available to undo the effects of the damage (see Injuries – Medical Care, p. 47). The Mishap that Channing suffered in his third term specified the injury making a roll on the Injury Table seemingly not necessary. However, it also seemed to me that the medical care option should apply. Channing gets the Navy to pay for 100% of his medical bills, restoring the lost STR, DEX, and END to their original values.
The “Ship’s Boat” benefit is a bit confusing too. There is a small craft called a Ship’s Boat (p. 192) but the actual benefit defines “Ship’s Boat” as, “…a ship’s boat or other small craft with a limit of MCr10 and TL 12” (p. 45). The Ship’s Boat on p. 192 cost MCr8.192 but is TL 13 and thus not an eligible small craft. Channing instead selects a Pinnace (MCr8.732, TL 9) found on p. 190. This also avoids having to use the Beta version of High Guard to design a suitable small craft.
Channing M’rrfeld, Age 30, Navy (3 Terms)
STR 8, DEX 12 (+2), END 8, INT 10 (+1), EDU 6, SOC 6
Skills: Athletics 0, Drive 0, Gambling 1, Gun Combat 0, Gunner 0, Mechanic 0, Melee (Blade) 1, Pilot (Small Craft) 1, Pilot (Starship) 1, Streetwise 0, Tactics (Naval) 1, Vacc Suit 0
Owner/Operator 40ton Pinnace “Move Over”
Bank Account: Cr53,000
Starting Equipment: Cloth Armor (Cr500), Mobile Comm TL 10 (Cr500), Portable Computer TL 10 (Cr500), Gauss Pistol (Cr500)
Channing M’rrfeld is a discharged Navy Pilot and Owner/Pilot of the Pinnace Move Over. He has a healthy enough bank account to pay the monthly maintenance on his Boat (Cr728/month – see p. 192) and live at or above his SOC 6 standard of living (Average Cr 1200/month – see p. 92). He will have to pay for fuel at Cr500/ton (p. 145) but he only needs 1 ton for 4 weeks of operations.
Running Costs and Maintenance (p. 144+) has a Life Support and Supplies section (p. 145) that computes life support costs based on the number of staterooms in a ship. Small craft, like Channing’s Pinnace, do not have staterooms. Additionally, Berthing Costs (p. 225) again seem to be based on a starship and not small craft. Since the rules are silent on these costs, it seems like the referee will have to decide what, if any, additional cost/fees Channing will have to account for.
In all my time as a Traveller RPG player, I cannot remember ever getting a “Ship’s Boat” as a mustering out benefit. This makes for an interesting adventuring challenge. Does Channing limit himself to adventure in one system? Or does he get hired onto a ship? How will he outfit his Pinnace? Hmm…the possibilities!
I have been playing around with Mindjammer – The Roleplaying Game for a few months now. Mechanics-wise I am fairly comfortable with it given it is based on the FATE Core engine. However, setting-wise, I have a few problems.
First off, I am not a big fan of transhumanism sci-fi adventure in my RPG’s. Maybe I am a bit too old-fashioned and love my classic space pulp and space opera a bit too much. That’s what I get for growing up with the Classic Traveller RPG! That said, I do like my Battlestar Galactica RPG….
In my first few readings of the Mindjammer setting, I was put off by the Commonality. In the core rulebook the Commonality comes across as a unified, monolithic polity with common agenda and goals. The primary goal seems to be to reintegrate rediscovered worlds regardless of if they want to or not. This made mw think that my Mindjammer characters were going to always be the outsiders because I fancy myself more of a Browncoat than an Alliance “purple belly.”
I was very happy when I read the first Mindjammer adventure, Hearts and Minds. Besides being a great adventure that helps one understand the game better, it also introduces factions of the Commonality (see p. 35-37). All told there are six factions mentioned, with two major ones defined as either a Major Organisation or a Supporting Organisation. After reading this part of the adventure I am much more comfortable with the setting. Yes, I understand that I could of done this on my own (after all, its MY game) but I appreciate when a setting is flexible enough to accommodate my style or trope of play.
One of the major rules changes in the new Mongoose Traveller Second Edition (MgT2.0) Core Rulebook is called “Boon and Bane.” As the Core Rulebook states:
“…there will likely be situations that arise that will make things either easier or harder for the Travellers. This is where Boons and Banes come in.” (Core Rulebook, p. 59)
When a Boon is invoked, the player will roll 3d6 and keep the two best die. Bane calls for a roll of 3d6 keeping the low two dice. To see the impact on the chances of success/failure, I recommend you look at Traveller GM and 2nd Edition playtester Shawn Driscoll’s video which graphically lays it all out.
Back in September, I was already confused about the Boon/Bane mechanic. As I wrote then:
I’m sorry – I just don’t get how task difficulty and Boon/Bane work together. Nor do I see a clear difference between task difficulty and exterior factors. Don’t get me wrong; I like the intent of the Boon/Bane mechanic (the 3D6 High/Low 2D roll makes for interesting odds and results) but the RAW are unclear as to when, or even how, Boon/Bane is applied. I would like to think it’s a narrative (role-playing) tool for the players and referee. Regrettably, the rules are silent on that issue.
As the Beta playtest continued, the use of Boon/Bane was reduced and in many cases replaced by a simple die modifier (DM). In this final version, the usage is greatly reduced compared to the early Beta. However, the rule remains. Looking at the few places Boon/Bane is used, it is finally making a bit more sense to me – but only if I make the jump in understanding that MgT2.0 is a more “narrative RPG” than I previously thought.
The eureka moment for me finally came after I read Chapter Three: Combat, Leadership (p. 72). In combat, a Traveller can make a Leadership check. The Effect of the check (if positive) is the number of Boons the leader can give to any skill checks on the same side. Conversely, if the Effect is negative, the opposing side gets that many Banes available to influence skill checks. In the FATE system, this would be called an Aspect:
“Aspects are short phrases or sentences which describe something important about your character, object or situation. You can use an aspect to gain a mechanical or narrative advantage during play….Mindjammer uses several types of aspects: game aspects, character aspects, cultural aspects, situation aspects, consequences, flaws, and boosts.” (Mindjammer: The Roleplaying Game p. 67)
I think that Boon/Bane are trying to be the MgT2.0 version of FATE aspects. The first problem is that the MgT2.0 Core Rulebook is very weak on when a Boon/Bane is applied. The closest one gets is the sidebar in Chapter Two: Skills and Tasks on p. 61:
“In the vast majority of cases, a referee simply need set a Task Difficulty and then decide whether a Boon or Bane need be applied. Any necessary Dice Modifiers will be suggested by the rules.”
In FATE Accelerated (FAE), the simplified version of FATE which I often reference to understand the core mechanic, one can invoke an aspect to give themselves a bonus (Boon?) or make things harder for their opponents (Bane?). Players can also compel an aspect; use it against themselves or others making life more complicated (Bane?) (Fate Accelerated (FAE), p. 27-29). The major difference here is the use of Fate Points. While the FATE system uses Fate Points, a similar game mechanic can be found in Savage Worlds (Bennies), or Cortex Plus (Plot Points). The lack of a similar mechanic – the Fate Point/Bennies/Plot Point economy – in Traveller is the second problem with the Boon/Bane mechanic. Without a Fate Point or similar economy, too much power potentially ends up in the referees hand.
I am now more comfortable with the Boon/Bane mechanic in MgT2.0.It will be interesting to see how it works in play, but at least now i have a better understanding, and acceptance, of the intent and usage.
This week Mongoose Publishing dropped the release version of their Mongoose Traveller RPG 2nd Edition Core Rulebook. This is the final edition of the Beta that came out last September that I previously blogged about here, here and here. Of my many concerns with this new edition, today I will only talk about the pricing strategy.
Mongoose offered the Beta rules for $20. For this price one got the Core Rulebook, High Guard (starship construction rules in a .doc draft), Central Supply Catalogue (equipment in a.doc draft), some deck plans , a character sheet, and an adventure. The purchase price of the Beta was good towards the purchase of the final release edition. When the final release dropped this week it retailed for $29.99; so after the voucher one had to pony-up an additional $9.99 to buy the book (electronic version only). As I said before, I expected to pay an additional cost since Mongoose always seems to be on the expensive side of publishers.
Using DriveThruRPG, I looked to compare prices of other similar genre corebooks. I found that Mongoose is indeed priced very high. The Traveller Core Rulebook is 241 pages meaning it has a per-page cost of 12.4 cents. The Firefly RPG Corebook (Cortex Plus system) is 364 pages selling for $19.99 or 5.5 cents per page. Mindjammer (Fate Core system now but after its Kickstarter campaign will get at Mongoose Traveller version) sells 500 pages for $26.99 or 5.4 cents per page. A personal favorite of mine is Diaspora (Fate Core system) which sells 270 pages for $12.99 or 4.7 cents per page. Even the Traveller 5 (T5 system) tome of 759 pages selling at a whooping $34.95 (!) works out to “only” 4.6 cents per page. The price disparity is just as bad even if one looks at “generic” corebooks like Cortex Plus Hackers Guide ($19.99 for 264 pages – or 7.5 cents per page), Savage Worlds Deluxe ($9.99 for 160 pages or 6.2 cents per page) or worse yet Fate Core (“Pay What You Want” or around $5.00 for 308 pages – a measly 1.6 cents per page)!
So what does the $29.99 for the Traveller Core Rulebook get you? The download contains the Core Rulebook (both full color and B&W printer-friendly), deck plans (not labeled as nice as the Beta set), a subsection map (blank but with a legend that is not useful if you are non-Imperium), and a character sheet (no color and again not as nice as the Beta set).
Unlike Firefly, Diaspora, Traveller 5, or Mindjammer, Mongoose Traveller 2.0 is not fully playable with the core rulebook only. Judging from the text on p. 4 of the Core Rulebook, in the future one will have to purchase High Guard to get the ship construction rules, Tour of the Imperium if one wants the setting of the Third Imperium, the Central Supply Catalogue for ironmongery and various equipment, and The Vehicle Handbook for vehicles. Adventure modules will also be sold separately. So while one could play “with the corebook only” in reality it will be necessary to purchase High Guard to even come close to having a functional core set of rules. It will be interesting to the price point of these future products. In Mongoose Traveller First Edition, Book 2: High Guard currently costs 9.7 cents per page. The far superior (IMHO) third-party publisher Gypsy Knight Games sells The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture (a High Guard-like book used in their Clement Sector setting) for 8.7 cents per page.
I am sure some will cry foul and say my comparison purely on the basis of per-page cost is unfair. The new Traveller Core Rulebook is in full color similar to Firefly but unlike Diaspora or Traveller 5 or Mindjammer. It certainly has more art than Diaspora or maybe even Traveller 5. After listening to many podcasts I have had it drilled into me that the most expensive part of an RPG publication is the art. I find it difficult to imagine that the art in the new book is of such quality or quantity that it raised the price that much higher than its competition.
At the end of the day I am reminded that I had previously sworn off buying Mongoose Traveller products. On the basis of cost alone, I am not sure I got a great bargain. In future posts, I will look closer at the game mechanics and the content of the Traveller Core Rulebook to help me judge if I got a really good bargain or not.