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My Babylon 5 RPG Universe

Babylon 5 is one of my guilty pleasures; a 1990’s sic-fi TV series that actually had a story beyond “the monster of the week.” When it first aired I was overseas a lot and really only got to watch it in reruns or later when it streamed online for a while.

In the world of roleplaying games, there have been a few publishers that handled the Babylon 5 license. In 1997, WireFrame Productions co-published The Babylon Project with Chameleon Eclectic. I reminisced about this game in January 2013 and, after rereading that post, find that my opinion has not changed.

In the early 20-oughts Mongoose Publishing picked up the license and produced a new rulebook based on D&D 3rd Edition. I never got the core rules, but over time have picked up many of the sourcebooks and supplements that Mongoose published to use as reference material for campaigns. I have guides to seasons 2-5 (The Coming of Shadows, The Point of No Return, No Surrender No Retreat, and Wheel of Fire). I also have sourcebooks for several major powers (Earth Alliance, Minbari , and Narn) as well as a campaign book for Earthforce. Other supplements include, The Rangers, Free Mars, and The Zocalo (galactic trade and black markets).

In 2008 Mongoose repackaged the Babylon 5 rules using their Traveller RPG license. In a post from May 2011 I was less-than-impressed with those rules, and that has not changed. But as a result of nearly 20 years of collecting, I have a pretty robust set of Babylon 5 RPG books. Enough that I could make a story arc (using The Babylon Project method) with details from the D20 sourcebooks and supplements. In February 2013 I even stat’ed up a character.

Add this one to the growing “Winter Wish List” of projects!

#TravellerRPG Mongoose 2nd Edition Beta – Halloween Update

In late October, Mongoose dropped another update to their Mongoose Traveller Second Edition (Beta) Core Rulebook. They dropped a .doc version of High Guard (starship construction rules). They had already dropped a .doc version of Central Supply Catalog (CSC for ironmongery and vehicles) earlier in the month. With these three “books,” the core rules for MgT2E is pretty much complete.

My verdict so far: “I’m whelmed.”

In the Core Rulebook, one of the biggest changes was to the core mechanic through the introduction of “Boon/Bane.” This mechanic called for a roll of 3d6 and selecting either the highest two die (Boon) or lowest two die (Bane) for your roll. The first draft tried to put Boon/Bane in many places but resulted in many confusing rules contradictions. In later drafts Boon/Bane remains but is a shadow of its former self and seemingly now treated as a far-off optional house rule that isn’t necessary for the game.

The other major change was to ship construction since ships now have power requirements. Although this change has good roleplaying potential (“Need more power, Scotty!”) it also adds more complexity to the ship construction rules which we finally get to see in the High Guard draft. At this point, I am not sure the additional roleplaying or combat limitations that ships power production and uses have actually make the game that-much-more interesting.

So now I have to ask myself, “What makes MgT2E different and better than first edition?” At first I would have answered with “an updated core mechanic and more detailed ship combat rules.” Now I see a core mechanic not far from 1st Edition (or even Classic Traveller) and new ships power rules that don’t really add much to the game.

The Traveller RPG has always been a series of smaller games (character generation, personal combat, vehicle and ship combat, world building, trade, etc.) that (fairly) smoothly integrated together to make a rich and robust play experience. Mongoose embraced this approach with their First Edition, but seemed to be stepping away from that approach in later publications. One has to look no further than Mercenary 2nd Edition (confusingly part of the First Edition rules) where Mongoose dropped the Mercenary Ticket generation system and tried to make a Mass Combat system based onto personal combat rules. IT DIDN”T WORK. So far, MgT2E seems to be carrying on that line of rules development.

As a Beta purchaser, Mongoose promised a $20 voucher towards the final product. It will be interesting to see if the final product comes in at $19.99 or if it will be more. Mongoose tends to be on the expensive side and that is part of the reason I usually throw my money towards smaller publishers like Gyspy Knights Games. The smaller publishers seem more affordable – and an overall better value – than Mongoose has been to me in the past.

#FLGS @GameParlor Closing

They don’t have an real robust social media presence but let it be known that Game Parlor (@GameParlor) in Chantilly, VA is closing. I had the day off today and planned to drop by, but was very surprised to see that the store will be closing by Thanksgiving. Having been in business for 24 years, the owners want to be closer to their daughter who doesn’t live in the local area.

It is always sad to see a FLGS close. I admit that I provided a mixed level of support for Game Parlor; on one hand I liked the owners (always friendly and willing to help) but some of the staff occasionally irritated me. In the last few years, the shelves would be stocked with just a few of the latest items, and many older items (like PC video games on 5 1/2″ disks) remained unsold with faded covers. Although they won’t blame online retailers or big merchants, I have had a few conversations with the owners that relate disappointment and apprehension at the way the games industry does business. The rise of digital retailers like DriveThruRPG have put a dent in RPG sales, and deals like FFG had to sell Star Wars-related games exclusively on Sept 4 (weeks before small merchants could even order items) make it hard on the small merchant who watches money that used to be destined for them go another way. This has been happening for a while now. I remember conversations at Petries Family Games (@PetriesFG) in Colorado Springs back when TableTop got their exclusive Target deal and took business away. The FLGS is in danger and won’t survive unless they get our support.

As Game Parlor closes out, the owners are having an inventory clearance sale with progressively greater discounts the closer to closing they get. Today I went ahead and got a few items before they disappear. Sorta felt bad because I was going to buy several things…eventually.

As gamers, we can help our FLGS by making it a point to support them. It doesn’t have to be much; anything is better than nothing. If we don’t, the FLGS will go the way of the Dodo bird – and that would be really stupid!

#TravellerRPG – Being Social in the Clement Sector

The Clement Sector for the Traveller RPG from Gypsy Knights Games (GKG) is my go-to setting these days. I appreciate how, through just a few simple changes (like the Z-Drive I discuss here) , GKG is able to make a very familiar-like setting so-much-more interesting.

GKG has not only mixed up technology in the Clement Sector, but also has altered one simple characteristic – SOCIAL. In the Clement Sector, SOC “reflects the amount of wealth and prestige enjoyed by the character [and] not a noble rank in a large empire” (The Clement Sector Core Setting, p. 49). Unlike other characteristics that require much work or study to raise, SOC can be raised simply by spending more money! Indeed, to keep your SOC status, one must spend a minimum amount per month (see Career Companion, p. 17). If you don’t spend enough, your SOC falls, and raising it back up takes more time.

GKG also uses SOC to create more interesting worlds. For example, in the Introduction to the Clement Sector (free from DriveThruRPG) the world of Osiris is a tiered society and the SOC characteristic reflects which tier group the character is from. Each tier has its own privileges and responsibilities – like higher tiers pay more taxes but are far more likely to get a pass on small crimes from the police. Now here’s the catch; any character visiting Osiris is a “non-citizen” – the lowest tier – and will be treated as such. The PCs SOC score is automatically 2 (with a -2 DM) which will affect EVERY social interaction the PC has while on planet. A simple change in how one uses SOC, but it opens up so many more interesting role-playing and story opportunities!

I am sure that GKG and the Clement Sector is not the first Traveller RPG setting to use “SOC as wealth” and replace noble ranks, but it is great to see the new characteristic treatment integrated so cleanly into the setting and be useful for influencing social interactions and adventuring. SOC as wealth in Clement Sector is yet another reason I enjoy this setting so much.

Traveller RPG Tech – Clement Sector Zimm Drive

Many people forget that the Traveller RPG is actually a generic system. In the years since the Little Black Books came out in 1977 the Third Imperium (3I) setting has come to define the Traveller RPG to the point that many believe that the Third Imperium is Traveller. Fortunately, Gypsy Knights Games’ Clement Sector setting breaks the 3I paradigm through a few simple changes. For a taste of the Clement Sector I strongly encourage you to download the free Introduction to the Clement Sector from DriveThruRPG to see the setting differences in the Clement Sector setting.

In the Clement Sector, the FTL system is the Zimm Drive. Instead of the standard Traveller Jump Drive that moves a ship across 1-6 parsecs of space in a week, the “Z-Drive” covers 1 AU in about 1.44 seconds, one light year in 26 hours, or 1 parsec in 84 hours (3.5 days). The Zimm Drive is limited to a practical range of  2 parsecs (actually 2.44) in 168 hours or 7 standard days. Ships greater than 5000 DTons cannot be equipped with the Z-Drive, and ships between 2000-4999 DTons have a risk of the bubble collapsing. The Z-Drive uses the same space and fuel requirements as a standard Jump-2 Drive in Mongoose Traveller (MgT).

This simple technology change actually has a great impact on adventuring in the Clement Sector. In MgT, to travel in-system a distance of 1 AU using a 1G acceleration drive will take 68 hours; at 6G the best one can do is 27.6 hours (MgT Pocket Rulebook p. 145). In the Clement Sector, a ship can fire up its Z-Drive and get there in 1.44 seconds. If one is trying to get to the outer system, in MgT at 6G it will take between 55-68 hours, whereas in the Clement Sector setting it take a mere 1.85 minutes. This forces changes in how one thinks about fuel, trade, and combat.

In the Clement Sector one can use their Z-Drive instead of Maneuver Drive to travel far distances within systems, but doing so requires a change in how to think about fuel consumption. In MgT, ships can jump less than 1 parsec, but it counts as a Jump-1 event for time and fuel (Pocket Rulebook, p. 141). Z-Drive performance in the Clement Sector can literally be “dialed” to the needed range. In my games, I added a fuel tracker for the Z-Drive which gives the ship 200 hours of “Z-Time” that can be used as appropriate. Need to get to that Gas Giant to top off the tanks? That’s going to cost you 2 minutes of gas!

The Z-Drive also changes the speed of intersystem trade. The quickest way to get around in-system is no longer a Maneuver-6 Drive, but a Z-Drive. Taken together with the Z-Drive size limits, bulk freighters are uneconomical; thus the need for smaller merchant ships is greater (i.e more adventuring opportunities).

The Z-Drive changes the nature of in-system combat compared to the usual Traveller approach. In the Clement Sector, a fleet could enter the outer system, refuel at the far gas giant, organize itself, and then “micro-jump” to the 100-diameter limit. The final approach micro-jump takes less than 2 minutes compared to several days in a standard Traveller setting. In the Clement Sector there is no need for a “long approach” battle. This has an impact on planetary defense forces which must stay within 100 diameters of the target they are protecting. In effect, non-Z-Drive become “static defense” forces whereas Z-Drive defenders become the “mobile” force.

In summary, the Zimm Drive in the Clement Sector from Gypsy Knights Games is both familiar to Traveller players and just different enough to make it interesting. The changes the Zimm Drive brings to travel, trade, and combat will require players (and GMs) to think about the setting differently – one can’t automatically fall back on the “3I way.” This is yet another reason the Clement Sector is so interesting a setting to play in.

Ships of the Clement Sector – Gypsy Knights Games

In honor of TravellerCon, Gypsy Knights Games is having a sale on their Traveller RPG line. I like GKG’s Clement Sector setting so I took advantage of the sale and brought my Ships of the Clement Sector (SOC) collection up to date.

GKG’s Clement Sector setting is a small-ship universe. The largest ships in this collection are the 2,500 dT Moltke-class cruiser and the 2,540 dT (fully loaded) Vulcan-class Attack Boat Tender. At the other end of the displacement spectrum one finds the 10 dT Work Pods (SOC 4) and System Defense Boats (SOC 9). Although I bought it prior to the sale, I would be negligent not to mention the excellent Historical Ships of the Clement Sector 1: Trent-class Destroyer which is a pre-gravtic design with spin habitats and nuclear propulsion.

In terms of production values, the SOC series is blessed by great ship artwork. The people poses are, well, acceptable. But a ship book is about the ships, and the graphics and background stories are well done and go a long way towards making the setting and ships interesting.

As part of the playtest of Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition (now in Public Beta testing) I see the new rules will change how spacecraft are handled in the game. The biggest difference looks to be power production and consumption. Although I see GKG putting up a good public front, I also read/hear a bit of anger in between the lines at the changes that are coming. I am fully with GKG on this matter; their awesome The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture is what Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition needed to consolidate all the ship construction rules spread out over so many books and supplements. To have Mongoose literally “change the rules of the game” after all the great work GKG has recently done is tough on a business.

So do GKG a favor and send them some well deserved money. With the SOC series they have earned it!

Playtest Update – Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition (Public Beta)

The Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition RPG playtest continues. Sometime in September Mongoose rolled out a “September Revision” for download. I actually didn’t find it until this weekend; after an initial spurt of dedication I rolled back on my playtest efforts. This weekend I “reengaged” a bit.

To Mongoose’s credit, many of my initial issues have already been cleaned up. “Traveller Creation” has been cleaned up with missing parts (like Commission rolls) showing up. For me, the “Skills and Tasks” chapter is the one I focused on before and I am happy to see many of my issues with the Boon & Bane mechanic were addressed. Maybe too well addressed; whereas the first draft used Boon & Bane (too) liberally this draft has the mechanic present, but little guidance on HOW to use it. With Boon & Bane being replaced in many places by die modifiers the “Combat” and “Encounters & Dangers” chapters are cleaner. “Equipment” is equipment; with the release of Central Supply Catalogue (CSC) (in a word document only) lots needs to be cross-checked. “Vehicles” has a dogfight rule which, although great in concept, suffers from total unrealism (both combatants must be within 1 km to initiate a dogfight). I still need to dig deeper in the “Psionics” and “Trade” chapters.

My greatest disappointment remains the “Spacecraft Operations” and “Space Combat” chapters. Without the publication High Guard (coming soon to another word document) for spacecraft there is actually little that can be done. At this point, to do a real playtest of spacecraft combat I must make more-than-a-few assumptions based on what I know of Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition as well as Classic Traveller. In my opinion, this is a MAJOR FOUL for a core book. I strongly believe the CORE RULES should be able to stand on their own – these don’t. I also have doubts as to the marketing strategy for the 2nd Edition, i.e. to be useful a player will have to buy BOTH the 2nd Edition Core Rule Book AND High Guard. Good for Mongoose; bad for my wallet.


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