When I was trying to decide on what system to build my campaign setting on, one of the systems that gave SWN a heavy run for its money was Rogue Space. (Check it out here.) Written by Christopher Brandon, Rogue Space is a 64 page rules-light Sci-Fi RPG. It’s got a simple, elegant design that is quick to run and fun to play.
Characters have 5 stats (Fighting, Acquiring, Scientific, Empathy, and Repairing) that can range from 1 to 6 in value. These values can be randomly generated or assigned from a pool of points. Stats with a value of 1 levy a penalty to rolls made dealing with that stat, while stats of 4-6 grant bonuses. Characters then choose one of three archetypes (Warrior, Rogue, or Technician) that applies a bonus to a stat and determines the character’s hit points. Characters then roll hit points and have a Movement rate as well. The final part of the character sheet (other than buying equipment) is Luck. This is essentially a standard re-roll pool seen in a lot of modern rpg’s these days. The entire character sheet can easily be written out on a 3x5 index card.
The dice mechanic is a fairly standard 2d6 system. Roll 2d6, add in any relevant modifiers from stats, gear, environmental effects, etc. against a target number (TN) set by the GM; the higher the TN, the tougher the task. Simple and straight-forward.
Alien races are available for play, though only one example is given: Elfaar, a Vulcan equivalent. Guidelines for creating playable aliens are given. To help balance aliens with humans, they are only allowed one or two possible archetypes out of the three to choose from and if the species is one that is space-faring on their own that selection or one of the two must be Technician. There are also rules for playing an android as well.
Next up are Psionics. Psionics in Rogue Space feel limited in scope compared to other sci-fi games, but when many examples of Psionics in TV and literature sport psionics used as “Empaths” or “Telepaths” or “Telekinetics” without a lot of wild and wondrous powers at the disposal of the psion, this take on psionics fits the genre better than many other systems. Psions in Rogue Space (called “Psykers”) are available to any character of any archetype with an Empathy score of 2 or better. A Psyker can use his/her power repeatedly until they fail a usage check. The Powers descriptions are kept fairly vague allowing a psyker player to find ingenious ways to use their power, so while a psyker will only have the one power the effectiveness is largely up to the imagination of the player. The player will describe how he/she wants to use the power and the GM will assign a difficulty target number that the player will have to roll equal to or above to successfully use the power.
Weapons deal a certain amount of damage based on their damage type. These damage types range from Light to Extra Heavy. Armors are also rated the same way. This lets the player know what dice to roll for damage and how much damage soak to roll for armor. If an attack hits, damage is rolled. Then the defending character or NPC rolls his/her damage dice to see how much damage was absorbed/reflected by the armor. Whatever isn’t blocked by the armor is damage subtracted from the attacked character’s hit points. Once again, simple and effective, though some may not like rolling to see how much damage is blocked by armor seeing it as extra rolling, but to each his own.
The Alien Life Forms chapter goes into the creation of aliens for the Rogue Space system. There is a section to randomly generate the appearance, wardrobe, and culture of humanoid aliens. A section about Humanoid Alien reactions, and then a section about how to round out the stats for NPC aliens follows. The next part goes into the creation of Android and robot NPC’s.
Next, there is a Solo Adventure that offers up some example characters and walks the player through a pick-a-path style of adventure highlighting various parts of the Rogue Space rules. The adventure is alright for what it is, but I feel that space could have been better used to offer more gear, alien examples, robot examples and so on.
Starship rules follow the feel of the character rules: simple and effective. Starships have five stats (Structure, Howitzers, Interior, Propulsion, and Shields) that are represented by a percentage. Structure is essentially the hit points of a ship. Damage will reduce the percentage to the point where the ship is destroyed. A structure of 10% means that the ship is down to only being able to run life support and nothing else, for instance. The structure will always be 100% to start with. The rest of the ship stat percentages must equal to 100%. More of a percentage put into Howitzers over Propulsion means that the ship is more heavily armed, but slow. Every stat other than Howitzers must have at least 10% applied to it. Starship weapons follow the same rules as character weapons with damage ratings Light to Extra Heavy. There are a selection of pre-generated ships and weapons for the GM’s to use to create their own starships. My one complaint on building starships, is that it feels largely arbitrary. There are no rules on how to get the ship details lined out in any area other than in weapons and shields.
An optional rule provided details ship quirks. These are things like A.I. bugs, infamous reputations, haunted, rowdy crews, etc. that can add a little more spice or flair to a starship.
Starship combat works much like character combat. Initiative is rolled, ships are moved into position, weapons are fired, shields are rolled to soak damage, and damage is applied. The more damage a ship takes, the more it’s structure is decreased.
The Role of the Referee chapter goes into information for the GM on how to use the rules, hints on creating atmosphere, and other general points on how to run a game of Rogue Space. Nothing really special here that hasn’t been hashed out a hundred times before, but I still feel is critical to be part of any rulebook.
The Sci-Fi Setting chapter gives a brief overview of various sci-fi sub-genres and includes some examples to draw inspiration from.
The Sector Creator chapter is a well-done set of charts that allows a GM to quickly generate a star sector complete with star systems and possible plot hooks to build adventures around. It’s not as detailed as SWN, but it fits the general lighter feel of the rules in general.
Pirates & Peril is a brief example setting of an alternate history/planetary romance setting using the Rogue Space rules. The Horror of the Robota Lords is a sample adventure using this setting. For a 4 page setting, it’s pretty interesting. Not necessarily what I’d want to run, but I would gladly make a character to play it.
The art throughout the book is a collection of public domain pieces and original work and evokes a feeling of 1940’s-50’s pulp sci-fi. Christopher Brandon has stated that the art evoked a feel that he wasn’t exactly looking for wanting the system to be more all-encompassing sci-fi rather than just a classic pulp feel. He is currently working on a new version of the rules that adds material and has new artwork by his very talented wife, Valerie Brandon (who provides the original pieces of art in the rulebook).
On the Rogue Space blog, there are links to other blogs that offer up various rules expansions ranging from conversions of the Star Drive setting from TSR, to Mass Effect rules, to a rather well done expansion adding Mecha rules to Rogue Space. There is also a couple issues out of “Rogue Transmissions,” a magazine put out with information gleaned from various fan submissions that further expand the system.
I really like Rogue Space. The only way it lost out to SWN is the system familiarity, the ability to quickly and easily draw on my library of D&D sources for material, and a much better defined starship creation system. Even though I’m devoting my sci-fi attentions to SWN, I anxiously await the next edition of the Rogue Space rules. If starship creation is better fleshed out, I could see myself really having a tough decision on what I’ll want to use for sci-fi gaming. Do yourself a favor and check out Rogue Space, it’s a great indie rpg that’s well worth the support of sci-fi roleplayers. I personally have bought both a printed edition and the pdf!