This last weekend was pretty busy, so I really didn’t have a lot of time for much of anything. However, I did finally get a chance to read through my copy of Starships and Spacemen 2nd Edition from Goblinoid Games and I read through my recently purchased e-edition of Bandits and Battlecruisers by Albert Rakowski of Terminal Space fame. Both are tied to “old school” D&D rules and cover classic sci-fi. S&S is a Star Trek game, while B&B is more generic pulp sci-fi in the vein of 1940-50’s comics like Space Patrol and the like.
S&S has the look and feel that anyone familiar with Goblinoid’s other games like Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future will instantly recognize. It’s well organized and offers not only a great classic Star trek feel, but a lot of great tables and tools for generating space sectors and alien species. They even have a table for randomly determining the forehead of new aliens complete with illustrations of the foreheads! Characters are the standard class/race combination. The races may have different names, but they are usually easily recognizable as the Star Trek race they are meant to represent. There are three Classes, or Branches: Military, Science, and Technical. Characters can get promoted in rank as they level up from Ensign all the way to Admiral-in-Chief. There are also ranks for enlisted crewmembers as well.
Psionic powers are given. These powers are fueled by the standard Psionic Point mechanic. If you have enough psi points, you can use your power. Psionic Ability is determined by race. Some races are all psionically active, like the Andromedans, but others, like Humans, only have a chance of having any Psi talent or have no talent at all.
Section 5 gives examples of Hazards of space. Time Warps, Space Warps, Space Amoebas, and so forth are detailed here. If you’re sci-fi game has a touch (or is thoroughly immersed) in the space opera vein or even just has a little touch of the strange, this is a great section to rob from even if you’re not wanting to play a full on S&S game.
There are a selection of Alien threats ranging from fire-spitting ants to various humanoid alien threats. Since these stats are in the style of older D&D editions, they are easily ported over to SWN or your old school sci-fi game of choice with little or no issue.
The Alien Artifact section is packed with great ideas of all sort of strange devices with wondrous and dangerous powers for crews to stumble upon.
While I don’t know that I’d run S&S as is since few of my campaigns revolve around crews that are tied to any specific stellar nation, this is a solid game that is light without feeling incomplete. It may just be my favorite take on the Star Trek genre to date, and I even liked Last Unicorn’s take on the Star Trek mythos. It’s well worth checking out. In my book it’s another example of how great Goblinoid Games is at taking an older system and breathing some fresh life into it.
Bandits and Battlecruisers is an interesting game. It takes OD&D and turns it into a classless system. Characters generate their stats in the usual way (roll 3d6 in order), but they have a couple other options for those that want to increase their chances of having a stronger character (at least stat-wise). They’ve added in a new stat: Technology Level, which not only determines the character’s starting credits, but also determines how comfortable they are with modern technology.
Tables are offered for determining alien motivations and societal features, but no special abilities are granted. Much like the sci-fi of the time, aliens were pretty much like humans, but with strange cultural differences, but generally much the same physically and mentally.
Mutations are offered, but much like alien features, mutations don’t really offer anything mechanically. However, I would assume that if a mutation like “Centauroid” was rolled, the GM and player could easily come up with some mechanics that would fit and not break the game in any discernible way.
There are no psionics in B&B. This game uses spells. Rules are given for determining spell access and preparation, but no example spells are given. Instead, Mr. Rakowski suggest going to the Ancient Vaults blog and using the spells given there in place of standard D&D/OSR spells like magic missiles and fireballs. While the idea of magic in a sci-fi game is weird to me (though really it isn’t any different from having psionic powers in a setting), I wholeheartedly agree with that recommendation. Ancient Vaults is a great resource for new and unusual spells.
There are several tables offered up to randomly determine several aspects of alien threats from shape and diet to intelligence and social features. There is also a large list of keywords to help describe any new alien. Much like with S&S the stats of the various aliens would be easy to port over to other sci-fi games of similar mechanics. The same system is used for the generation of descriptions for robots as well.
There are several examples of alien artifacts as well that are just as if not weirder than those found in S&S. They also break down ray guns by the color of the ray used, which was an interesting variation on the ray gun theme.
The Vastness of Space chapter has lots of great tables for generating space sectors. There are tables for space phenomena, population density, planet description keywords, unusual planetary locations, space station details, and so forth.
The Shipyards chapter details everything you need to know about building and running a starship in B&B. The system is detailed and straightforward and offers plenty of options in hull types, weapons, and shields, which is somewhat in contrast to the rather bare-bones approach used in much of the rest of the system. That’s not to say that the starship chapter is overflowing with various options, but they don’t rely largely on keywords and GM fiat as the rest of the game. There is also a section on spaceship sized monsters, which is a nice touch.
I doubt I’ll ever run a B&B game, but there is more than enough here to use with other games. The classless approach to OD&D-style characters is interesting, but not enough to make me want to try in for a campaign. Mr. Rakowski has put a lot of effort into building a great pulp sci-fi toolkit beyond the character creation as well, which is really where this book shines. I can easily see this being a “go-to” book when I’m up against the clock and needing a quick idea for an adventure, or even just fleshing out a space sector with something new or unusual. Plus, at a price of $10 (for the e-edition) you just can’t go wrong.
All in all, if you’re looking for more resources to use for your SWN or X-Plorers games, these are two great books. I wholeheartedly recommend them both. They are also a great sign that sci-fi gaming is still alive and well. As a genre, it may never be as big as fantasy, but there are still creators out there that see the need and are putting out great games to fill that niche!