#RPGThursday Retrospective -#ThousandSuns #Traveller

While stationed overseas in 2008, I was experimenting with new RPGs in search of a good science fiction game. I was in the middle of my Star Wars Roleplaying Game – Saga Edition experience but was not “feeling the love.” I wanted a sci-fi RPG more like the old Classic Traveller RPG. I didn’t want swords in space.

Thousand Suns Rising

I think it was through some gaming websites that I came across Thousand Suns by James Maliszewski and Richard Iorio II. The first thing that caught my attention was the liberal use of quotes from Golden age science fiction stories like Alfred Bester’s The Stars, My Destination. I also was attracted to the intent of Thousand Suns, as laid out in Chapter 1: Basics, The Game:

Science fiction, it’s been said, is really about the present, not the future. Consequently, a lot of older science fiction – including the works that inspired Thousand Suns – feels somewhat dated because the concerns of the time when they were written don’t always translate well across decades. Yet, older science fiction often joined a wide-eyed sense of wonder with an appreciation for classical archetypes that’s generally lacking in either the jaded cynicism of cyberpunk or naive optimism of transhumanist SF of the present day. Thousand Suns is an attempt to marry the best of the past to the best of the present to create exciting space opera roleplaying adventures in the imperial SF tradition.

Imperial science fiction – whether classical or contemporary – is a vast genre, both in terms of its literal scope and its diversity. Of necessity, it takes place over a large canvas, with hundreds, even thousands, of worlds as potential sites for adventures. Having such a large canvas allows it to encompass almost any kind of science fiction story, big or small. (p. 9)

While the setting potential initially drew me in, the game engine kept me interested. The core mechanic is called 12º. It is a very simple system:

Roll 2d12 and if the result is equal to or less than your Target Number (TN), the action succeeds. It’s as simple as that.

Your TN is a number based on two associated Abilities or skills plus or minus any modifiers. (p. 12)

Tests, or checks, come in three forms; Ability Tests, Skill Tests, and Opposed Tests. There is a narrative play element introduced with the possibility of Dramatic Failure or Dramatic Success. There are also Degrees of success to consider. There was also a difficulty ladder of modifiers to the TN.

Further reinforcing a narrative play element was the concept of Hooks and Action Points. Hooks were described as:

…roleplaying tools that describe some aspect of your character’s past history, personality, or connections to other characters, among other things….Each of these hooks is suggestive about your character and possibly about his relationship to the wider universe – both of which make them invaluable to the GM as he plans engaging adventures among the Thousand Suns.

Besides suggesting interesting things about your character to the GM, hooks have another more immediate benefit: Action Points. Action Points are a kind of dramatic “currency” you acquire by creating hooks. They can be traded for situational boons, such as bonuses to your Target Number, free re-rolls, and other benefits. (p. 16)

I found the idea of Hooks and Action Points fascinating. Hooks were a non-mechanical character aspect that gave the GM ideas for adventures. Action Points were a very mechanical element for the player to use to affect the luck of the dice, or even being able to go as far as “edit” a scene (p. 58).

Outside of a different core mechanic, and the use of Hooks and Action Points, the rest of Thousand Suns had a very Classic Traveller RPG feel to it. Character generation was not Traveller’s career, but instead a mix of point buy and “packages.” Vehicles/Spacecraft was very abstract combat process and design harkened back to a Classic Traveller Book 2 simple process. Even the World creation was – if not a near-direct copy of Classic Traveller – a close spiritual successor.

Looking at the book today for this retrospective, I now also realize that most of the book is rules, not setting. This is all the more surprising to me because I it was the implied setting – Imperial Science Fiction – that drew me in. In Thousand Suns there is a Meta-Setting, but even here (Chapter 7) it still offers options like:

  • The State – or Concordium – could be the “Second Federation” or “Empire of the Thousand Suns.”
  • The Head of State may be “The First Citizen,” “The Puppet,” “The Corrupt Politico,” “The Man of Vision,” The Zealot,” “The Emperor,” “The Doddering Fool,” “The Naif,” “The Once and Future Emperor,” or “The Tyrant.”

Even when Thousand Suns offered up a setting, it still gave options for the user to pick and chose from.

Lastly, Thousand Suns included a Bibliography which is really list of inspiration sources. This collection of books and stories are essential Imperial Science Fiction reading.

So much did I like Thousand Suns that I wrote a review on DriveThruRPG that proclaimed Thousand Suns was the spiritual successor to Classic Traveller.

That is, until I found Mongoose Traveller (MgT).

I am not sure how I acquired my first Mongoose Traveller book. I have two copies of the Pocket Rulebook. Like so many other long time Traveller players, I was immediately drawn in by the simple black cover with the red line crossing underneath the Traveller title. Inside I found a game system that I was very familiar, and comfortable, with.

Familiar, yet not identical. Character generation was more refined, with items such as Characteristic Modifiers, Background Skills, Connections, and different tables to add Mishaps, Events, and even Life Events. The core mechanic remained roll 8+ on 2d6, but now there was an expressly defined difficulty ladder. Personal combat was more abstracted, with actions and range bands and armor reducing damage. Space combat was even more abstracted, doing away with Classic Traveller’s vector movement and becoming more like an extension of personal combat. Other parts, like starship construction, animal encounters, worlds and trade were very similar to the LBBs.

Like Thousand Suns, MgT is mostly rules with little setting. There were no aliens in the Classic Traveller LBB, but they are present in MgT. My searchable pdf of the Main Rulebook only returns seven (7) instances of “Third Imperium,” the setting that has become synonymous with Traveller. Like I had so many times before, I missed the part which said, “While the Traveller rules can be used for almost any science fiction novel, movie or setting, the traditional setting for games is the Third Imperium of Mankind….”(p. 2). In some fashion, MgT achieved the goals set out by Marc Miller in Traveller 4 to be a universal science fiction rules system.

So Mongoose Traveller became my new RPG of choice. Over the next few years I would invest heavily in the system. But what MgT lacks is narrative play. Like its predecessor Classic Traveller, the GM is king. Looking back, as much as I love Traveller, I also think it was this time that I started wanted a system that had more narrative. I looked back fondly at James Bond 007 Roleplaying Game, and even Thousand Suns had narrative Hooks and Action PointsMgT lacked any nod to narrative elements and had no game economy.

My next purchases were a major step in the narrative direction, and opened up a who new gaming frontier to me.


Thousand Suns, Copyright 2008, Rogue Games, Authors James Maliszewski and Richard Iorio II.

Traveller ©2008 Mongoose Publishing. Traveller is a trademark of Far Future Enterprises and is used under license.

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977-2016 Far Future Enterprises.”

 

Wargame Wednesday – Degrees of Success

A bit of a different Wargame Wednesday here.  This week my “wargame” was a full play-thru of the starship combat rules for the Thousand Suns RPG.  In particular, I used the Expanded ship-to-ship combat rules found in Thousand Suns: Starships.

For the battle scenario, I drew from my Mayday game a few weeks back.  I had a stock Fighter going after a Freighter.

Thousand Suns uses the 12Degree system, where your character has Abilities (ranked 1-12 with 6 being average) and Skills.  Your Target Number is the sum of the Skill and related Ability.  Roll 2d12 and try to get LESS THAN the Target Number.  The difference between the number rolled and the Target Number is your “degrees of success.”

Key characteristics for the Fighter were:  Dexterity 7; Perception 12; Initiative = d12+11; Piloting 2 (Target Number 9); Gunnery 2 (Target Number 9); Technical Sciences 1 (Target Number 13).

For the Freighter Captain:  Dexterity 7; Perception 8; Initiative = d12+7; Technical Sciences 7 (Target Number 15); Piloting 7 (Target Number 9).

Fighter and Freighter start off at range of 12 spans, opposing courses, Speed = 5 for each.

Initiative – Fighter wins Initiative 23 vs. 18.

Move – Frieghter goes straight ahead and accelerates.  Fighter reverses behind and stays close.

Targeting – Fighter rolls for Ladar Lock on Freighter.  Range is Short.  Use Technical Sciences (TN=13).  Roll = 8 => 5 degrees of success.  No countermeasures on Freighter so Lock-on!

Targeting -Freighter rolls for Radar Lock on fighter.  Captain makes the roll (uses Technical Sciences with TN= 15.  Range is Short. Roll 8 => 7 degrees of success.  Fighter used countermeasures.  This is an opposed Technical Sciences roll.  Freighter rolls 12 (3 degrees of success) versus roll of 15 (failure) for fighter. Good Lock for Freighter!

Engagement – Fighter shots at Freighter.  Use Gunnery Target Number (9) – Range Modifier (0) + Offensive Modifier (8) + Sensor Degrees of Success (5) + Piloting Skill Test Success (5) – Defensive Modifier of Target (1) – Target Pilot Skill Test Success (1) = 25.  Maximum is 24.  Roll of 9 means 15 degrees of success.  Damage Value of Fusion Beam is 4 x 15 degrees of success for 60 damage.  Freighter has only 32 hull.  VAPORIZED!

What I Like – The targeting stage is crucial to success or failure.  You have to have a good lock-on to the target to hit.  I also like the vector movement with simple up-down altitudes.

What I Don’t Like – The background material implies that ships slow down to engage in combat but beyond a range limitation of 12 spans there is no consideration for speed in to-hit calculations.  Seems to me that relative speed need be addressed as a modifier for hit-chance.

LT Delvi – Thousand Suns RPG Character

 

Space Fighter Pilot (Courtesy of Sal2009)

 

Delvi

Myrmidon Male

Homeworld (Marches/High-Population)

Navy Lieutenant (Fighter Pilot – Callsign: Devil)

Careers: Athlete (Novice), Navy (Experienced)

BACKGROUND

Lieutenant Delvi started out with a promising career as an amateur athlete (cross-country & rifle shooting) but ended up being ousted by his homeworld’s sports federation when he refused to allow a more politically influential family to predetermine the outcome of a major sporting event. He joined the Navy and quickly rose through the ranks becoming a fighter pilot. Delvi realized that there is more to space combat than “just being a good stick” and has worked on his Tactics knowledge and Sensor skills. Mid-way through his naval career his past came back to haunt him and he was exiled from his planet. He now works at the edges of Wildspace, passing himself off as a Terran mercenary pilot. If he ever was subject to a real physical examination his Myrmidon-physiology would become known but in the meantime there are many planets that need an experienced fighter jock – regardless of his past.

ABILITIES

Body: 8            Dexterity: 9            Perception: 8          Presence: 5           Will: 6

Ultra Immune System

Vitality: 35 [0000000000|0000000000|0000000000|00000]

Resolve: 35 [0000000000|0000000000|0000000000|00000]

Action Points: 5 [00000]

SKILLS (Skill (Type)/Specialization – Rank (Ability) > TN

  • Acrobatics – 3 (Dexterity) > 12
  • Athletics/Climbing – 2/4 (Body) > 10/12
  • Athletics/Jumping – 2/4 (Body) > 10/12
  • Bureaucracy – 3 (Perception) > 11
  • Computers/Hacking – 2/4 (Perception) > 10/12
  • Computers/Programming – 2/4 (Perception) > 10/12
  • Defend – 3 (Body) > 11
  • Diplomacy – 2 (Presence) > 7
  • Dodge – 5 (Dexterity) > 14
  • Gunnery – 4 (Perception) > 12
  • Language (Czanik) – 2 (Perception) > 10
  • Language (Lingua Terra) – 2 (Perception) > 10
  • Medical Science – 4 (Perception) > 12
  • Melee – 2 (Dexterity) > 11
  • Piloting/Ultralight – 2/5 (Dexterity) > 11/14
  • Profession (Athletics) – 2 (Perception) > 10
  • Profession (Navy) – 4 (Perception) > 12
  • Shoot/Energy – 2/4 (Dexterity) > 11/13
  • Shoot/Rifleman – 2/5 (Dexterity) > 11/14
  • Socialize – 2 (Presence) > 7
  • Tactics/Starship – 2/5 (Perception) > 10/13
  • Tech Sci/Sensors – 2/7 (Perception) > 10/15
  • Unarmed Cbt/Martial Arts – 2/6 (Dexterity) > 11/15

HOOKS

  1. (Species) – Extreme Loyalty
  2. (Homeworld) – Exiled
  3. (Career) – Amateur Athlete 
  4. (Career) – Cool Under Fire
  5. (Career) – Rank of Lieutenant

EQUIPMENT (Wealth 13,190$)

  • Flight Suit
  • Laser Pistol
  • Karto
  • Unicom

Delvi

Myrmidon Male

Homeworld (Marches/High-Population)

Navy Lieutenant (Fighter Pilot – Callsign: Devil)

 

BACKGROUND

Lieutenant Delvi started out with a promising career as an amateur athlete (cross-country & rifle shooting) but ended up being ousted by his homeworld’s sports federation when he refused to allow a more politically influential family to predetermine the outcome of a major sporting event. He joined the Navy and quickly rose through the ranks becoming a fighter pilot. Delvi realized that there is more to space combat than “just being a good stick” and has worked on his Tactics knowledge and Sensor skills. Mid-way through his naval career his past came back to haunt him and he was exiled from his planet. He now works at the edges of Wildspace, passing himself off as a Terran mercenary pilot. If he ever was subject to a real physical examination his Myrmidon-physiology would become known but in the meantime there are many planets that need an experienced fighter jock – regardless of his past.

 

ABILITIES

Body: 8 Dexterity: 9 Perception: 8

Presence: 5 Will: 6

Ultra Immune System

 

Vitality: 35 0000000000 Resolve: 35 0000000000 Action Points: 5

0000000000 0000000000 00000

0000000000 0000000000

00000 0000

SKILL RANK ABILITY TN

Acrobatics 3 Dexterity 12

Athletics/Climbing 2/4 Body 10/12

Athletics/Jumping 2/4 Body 10/12

Bureaucracy 3 Perception 11

Computers/Hacking 2/4 Perception 10/12

Computers/Programming 2/4 Perception 10/12

Defend 3 Body 11

Diplomacy 2 Presence 7

Dodge 5 Dexterity 14

Gunnery 4 Perception 12

Language (Czanik) 2 Perception 10

Language (Lingua Terra) 2 Perception 10

Medical Science 4 Perception 12

Melee 2 Dexterity 11

Piloting/Ultralight 2/5 Dexterity 11/14

Profession (Athletics) 2 Perception 10

Profession (Navy) 4 Perception 12

Shoot/Energy 2/4 Dexterity 11/13

Shoot/Rifleman 2/5 Dexterity 11/14

Socialize 2 Presence 7

Tactics/Starship 2/5 Perception 10/13

Tech Sci/Sensors 2/7 Perception 10/15

Unarmed Cbt/Martial Arts 2/6 Dexterity 11/15

 

HOOKS WEALTH

(Species) – Extreme Loyalty 13,590$

(Homeworld) – Exiled

(Career) – Amateur Athlete EXPEREINCE POINTS

(Career) – Cool Under Fire

(Career) – Rank of Lieutenant

 

EQUIPMENT

Flight Suit

Laser Pistol

Karto

Unicom

Thousand Suns: Starships

Thousand Suns Rulebook (Rogue Games)

Stepped away from wargames this week and picked up my RPGs.  In particular, I have been playing around with Thousand Suns: Starships.

The comparisons to Traveller: Book 2 are inevitable.  Though I have the original LBB2, I know that Mongoose Traveller Book 2: High Guard is also out there (indeed, I own both). TS: Starships is a worthy successor to the original LBB and (in my opinion) better than the Mongoose Traveller implementation.

What TS: Starships gives us is 169 pages of medium crunchiness.  Chapter 1 is subtitled “The Navy.”  This explains what a Navy typically is in “Imperial SF,”  the genre that Thousand Suns aims for.  The explanations in this chapter are excellent; not rules as much as they are explanations of how the Navy or Space Patrol or whatever the force is called could be organized and operates.  In Chapter 2, Operations, we get some rules but again this is more how things could work vice how they should work.  This is in keeping with the rules-lite approach taken by Thousand Suns.


Thousand Sun: Starships (Rogue Games)

Chapter 3 is the combat rules.  A good deal with the combat rules are that they generally play just like character combat.  Indeed, many rolls will be more dependent on the characters than the ships.  This focus in a RPG is refreshing because, after all, the players should be the focus and not the ships.  The combat system showcases the best of the 12degree system.

Chapter 4 is the starship design chapter.  If there is a section that could be accused of being too crunchy, this may be it.  The system seems straight-forward enough but I found that I needed a good calculator and eventually a spreadsheet to make it work.  Just too many calculations and numbers to track by hand.

If I have a beef with the books it is that Rogue Games needs to do a better job of layout and proofing.  The most glaring error is on pages 78 and 79.  At the bottom of page 78 is a text inset box that doesn’t end, but at the top of page 79 the box restarts from the beginning.  I first discovered this error in  my hard copy, but I was really surprised when I got my PDF guarantee copy and found the same error!  This supplement has been out since GenCon and I find it surprising that the error has not been fixed in the PDF.  There are also a handful of spelling errors and some sentences that just don’t make sense.  In a few cases spell check should have picked up the problems and in others they just need to be proofread.  The amount of errors is just enough to worry me; this inattention to detail could be enough to turn people away.

Bottom Line: Thousand Suns: Starships is a valuable and useful addition to the Thousand Suns library.  I just wish Rogue Games was a bit more careful.  I will be watching them closely in the next few products; if the quality control issues are not resolved I am going to have a hard time throwing my money their way.