05 May 2011

On a Quest for Good TV....


Well, I've decided to re-watch the Babylon 5 series. This is, naturally, due to gaming. I'm currently in the process of reading the Stars Without Number RPG, a scifi RPG loosely based on the 0E D&D engine. The game uses the familiar six stats (ST, IN, WS, DX, CN, & CH) as well as HP. There are three classes (Expert, Psychic, Warrior). Experts are, well, experts, usually in technical matters; as a class feature, the player can re-roll a failed skill check once per hour. Psychics are the only class that can use psychic abilities; the way these are arranged remind me of Classic Traveller. The categories are: biopsionics, metapsionics, precognition, telekinesis, telepathy, and teleportation. Warriors get to ignore a hit against them once per melee (they have mad combat skillz!).

Skills are fairly broad in scope and few in number. They rely upon the use of specialties to flesh them out. The skill roll is a simple 2d6 + skill rank (-1 to +4) + attribute modifier (-3 to +3)  against a target number of 6, 8, 9, 11, or 13 based on diffuculty. Skills appear to be there to apply some tension, but not in the "do or die" level of a game like Spacemaster.

Combat looks like it'll be quick and potentially deadly. Kevin Crawford does away with cumbersome charts but his attack roll (d20 based, of course) isn't quite the same as 3.0/3.5's. First of all, AC is still descending, not ascending. To hit, the player rolls 1d20

+ target’s Armor Class
+ attacker’s Combat skill
+ attacker’s attribute modifier
+ attacker’s Attack Bonus

If the total is 20 or greater then the attack hits. A natural roll of 1 always misses, and a natural roll of 20 always hits. Damage is in the standard 1d6 to 2d8 range. Primitive armors are available and still have AC similar in rank to the modern ones. However, TL3+ weapons ignore primitive armors (a nice touch that).

I've only skimmed starship construction and combat. Construction appears to be fairly modular (as is to be expected). Space combat really needs a test run before I can comment. (I've played enough D&D and its variants to make a snap judgement about personal combat!)

What does this have to do with David Warner as a Grail Knight (from the B5 S1 episode "Grail") up there in the lead off picture? Well, the default setting in in A.D. 3200. Human space is recovering from an event called the "Scream" about 600 years ago when a wave of psychic energy came through and either killed the psychics are drove them insane. Humanity had become dependent on the use of psychics in interstellar navigation and civilization fell apart and is only now recovering.

It's seem like the type of place Babylon 5 could have become if the Shadow War had played out differently. That's the feel I get. I think that SWN could emulate B5 quite well, actually. It has that gritty, below decks feel but with a hint of optimism in it. There are hidden secrets that could destroy Humanity or lift us up to the highest levels.



Stars Without Number is available from RPGNow as a free download; it is also available as a POD product in soft- or hardcover. There are also several free (optional) rule add-ons (called "Mandates"), an adventure ("Hard Light") and "Skyward Steel" a supplement that expands naval characters/campaigns.


Also, note that Mongoose Publishing has picked up Stars Without Number for publication so it'll be in the mainstream distribution channels, hopefully by the end of summer/beginning of fall.

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