Monday, February 15, 2010

Struggles with Choosing a System

REMINDER: The poll is open through Monday, February 22. Cast your vote (at right) for your favorite sci-fi RPG. If it's not listed, feel free to comment below and explain why you like it! 
So I thought I'd narrowed down the list of contenders for selecting a sci-fi RPG system: X-plorers and Star Frontiers. In recent weeks X-plorers was winning me over as David Bezio's ruleset is quite nicely simplified and packaged,. I'd previously weeded out Star Wars (WEG--I'd not wanted to wade into the more recent Wizards of the Coast Editions) and Traveller. That is until I found my old WEG Star Wars books in storage. And then James Maliszewski posted his thoughts on Traveller before the setting books on the Imperium began to sour the milk that so many players of that era had enjoyed. Update: James will be updating Thousand Suns for release this summer and said he'd comment then. :)

I'm looking for something fairly simple, fun for combat, and especially engaging for players. (How generic, huh!). I plan on stealing setting stuff liberally from all the other contenders anyway so those types of trappings shouldn't be a major determining factor.

And while the ultimate decision lies with me, I thought it'd be worth opening it up for discussion--frankly I think most of you have had more experience with these than I have, as I've only played SWWEG about 100 years ago! I've posted a poll on the side bar, which one week from today, February, 22.  

Also, I would really love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. The current contenders include:
Other options include home-brewing a totally new system or adapting some other system (e.g., Marvel Supers, Modern D20, Savage Worlds, etc.) but I'll leave the suggestions to you. I'm the learner here, all frequencies are open....


  1. I love the Star Wars D6 RPG by West End Games. Its nearly perfect for fast paced, cinematic Sci-Fi/Action Adventure style gaming.

    Traveller is also a favorite of mine but without a good deal of tweaking, its a very different game, requiring (or leaning toward) being very crunchy at times (starships, planet generation, etc.). Still, if you stick with the original 3 LBB you really woun't find it anywhere near as cumbersome as many believe it to be.

    Star Frontiers is...interesting. I liked that game a lot in my youth but each time I go back and look at it in hopes of using it I find I sort of drift off and start looking at other stuff.

    X-Plorers...hmmm. As I am not a D&D fan, X-Plorers is more a curiousity to me than something I would consider actually using without a shuttlecraft load of houserules. For one thing, the classes are designed oddly IMO.

    The Technican Class and the Scout Class have the same skill bonus for Piloting and the Technican is slightly better at computers than the Scientist but only slightly. I'm not a fan of classes and always think that if you're going to use them, there should really be some benefit of being one over the other.

    I thought of altering the skill bonuses to make the classes more specialized and than adding a little idea I got from (Say it ain't so!) SF computer games. Make up a series of Kits - Skill/Ability sets anyone can take to round out or further specialize the characters abilities. So for example, with a Pilot Kit, the Scout could be an awesome pilot or the Technican could gain some piloting skill (I took Pilot away from the Technican). You could end up with a Scienctist-Doctor, Scientist-Explorer, Scout-Explorer, Scout-Pilot, Soldier-Pilot, Soldier-Marine, etc. Just some ideas I was toying with.

    And if all else fails, there's always Star Trek...heh, had to get that in there somehow.

  2. Barking, thanks for the excellent comments. I appreciate your wealth of knowledge! I agree about X-plorers on the classes. I'd likely expand on those quite a bit, mixing in a lot of material from other games and inventing a few of my own (but that's fun for me anyway!)

    On Star Trek, do you mean the old FASA version?

  3. D6. No offense to The Grubman, but I'm'a say D6.

  4. There were three official Star Trek RPGs (technically that's not completely true but I'm simplifying. For a detailed history of Star Trek RPGs check out the incomparable Robert St. John and his website Groknard ( )).

    The first was created by FASA and was a percentile based system with character generation in the vein of Traveller, with the player generating and choosing elements of the the character's pre-campaign history.

    The second official Star Trek RPG was created by Last Unicorn games and uses a d6 system called ICON in which your stats determine the number of dice you roll. The highest die counts and your skill is added to to the result. Character creation is accomplished by picking and choosing various pre-set skill packages, though you can create your character from scratch by simply breaking down the number of skills in each package.

    The last was version was made by Decipher and though some of the detail elude me (I didn't much care for it), the game is sort of a Last Unicorn/ICON variant mixed with 3rd Edition D&D.

    FASA was 1982 to 89 I believe, Last Unicorn's was 1998 to about 2001 I think and Decipher's game ran from 2002 to 2007 officially but so little was produced it felt like a shorter run.

    I've actually been thinking about the FASA game more and more lately. Nostalgia really kicks in hard as you get older. lol

  5. I'd vote for Traveller, though it is more Firefly or Alien(s) than Star Wars. It is fully skill-based, with 'careers' being mere chargen mechanics, and the basic system is quite simple - a 'character sheet' is merely a few lines long and a world, starship or alien beast rarely fills more than a short paragraph of stats and game-mechanic descriptions. Combat is simple, but quite realistic/deadly rather than cinematic, though.

    It also has a toolset of rules that allows you to build universes and things inside them such as worlds, creatures and starships.

    You might want to take a look at the Mongoose version, which is sort of an official 'retro-clone' of the LBBs built into a modernized, streamlined book. It still feels very similar, but gives you more options, has a unified task system and fills the main rule holes of the original game (such as robots and vehicle combat).

  6. You're already getting some great advice, but there are a couple of other indie games you might want to consider.

    One is HardNova 2, a cool little game that uses the genreDiversions system that I know Dr. Rotwang likes. Right, Doc?

    Then there's Starblazer Adventures "the Rock 'n Roll space opera" game that uses the FATE system. How's that for pulp?

    FWIW, my advice is that the system doesn't matter all that much. Just pick one that you're comfortable with and have fun.

  7. I loved Star Frontiers and still do, but for me, the d6 system is the way to go. You don't have to commit to Star Wars either if you want something more generic. WEG created the generic d6 Space game and it is now available for free download. Unfortunately the West End Games website has been down for awhile due to some issues with the company, but a bunch of the d6 products are available for free at DriveThruRPG, including d6 Space and d6 Spaceships.

  8. (pleased to have found this blog!)

    Good news, you can still get the OGL D6 Material at a mirrored site (direct links to PDFs, so right click/save):

    The D6 System (1996)
    D6 Legend

    D6 Adventure
    D6 Adventure: Locations
    D6 Fantasy
    D6 Fantasy: Creatures
    D6 Fantasy: Locations
    D6 Magic

    D6 Space
    D6 Space: Aliens I
    D6 Space: Ships
    D6 Gamemasters Aid Screen

    You should also consider checking out "Mini Six", a compressed variation of D6 with emphasis on light, fast and cinematic.

    This seems to be the way for you to go considering your love for SWWEG. If nothing else, it's free to look!

    Having said that, it wouldn't be my choice. And neither would Traveller, which IMO is more left-side-of-brain than right, and I've never found it that much fun (CT or Mongoose). I freely admit I've probably played with the wrong people, but I still find it's written dry and plays dry unless you fight against it. I like X-plorer's a lot but find it pretty restrictive out of the box.

    I'll second Jerry on HardNova 2, which feels and plays like an expanded version of X-plorers. My personal choice is Thousand Suns, which in my mind is Traveller done right and a great system for space opera, pulpy or serious. Unfortunately this is a bad time to recommend it whole-heartedly, because a revised version of it is due out in a few months.

  9. Hmm, let's try a few of those again...

    D6 Fantasy: Creatures -
    D6 Fantasy: Locations -
    D6 Magic -

  10. Rognar & Robert, you guys MUST be using psionics--I downloaded all of WEG's generic D6 PDFs just THIS morning! I believe I've also got a PDF of Mini 6 around here somewhere....

    From a cursory glance D6 looks like great--and I'm already familiar with much of it from SW WEG.

    @ Jerry, thank you for suggesting Starblazer--I have a PDF of the core book and it's pretty rad. Nothing against the Fate system, but I think it's going to be more of a setting book at this point with all of its fantastic art and wonderful backdrop.

    I've asked James at Grognardia to comment on Thousand Suns as influenced by Traveller (per his recent post). I've read some earlier comments of his, but I'm hoping that he might shed a little more insight given his latest word.

    Okay, keep it coming--any other thoughts? What about ships and vehicles? Or aliens and robots? Got a favorite system for those? :D

  11. I'm lurking on this one. I've been trying to decide on a Sci Fi setting as well. Been looking at a heavily house rulede X-plorers but time (the lack thereof) is not my friend in that endeavor. While I appreciate d6 it's just not my thing. Mongoose Traveller is tempting. Never seen Hard Nova and like you Starblazer Adventures looks cool, but I'm not a fan of the Fate System.

  12. I've been running a Mongoose Traveller game set in a homebrewed alternate-New Era sector, the first time I've ever run a Trav game. There hasn't been a lot of combat, but the system seems pretty nice. I like the basic mechanics of the game, although it's a little heavy on the skill list for my taste.

    I'm hoping to start up a new science-fantasy campaign soon powered by X-Plorers; the system looks nice and light, with plenty of flexibility. Some other posters have mentioned that you don't get much "out of the box," which is actually a plus in my book. It seems easy enough to incorporate new elements from other games or invent stuff from whole cloth as needed.

  13. The main advantage of Traveller is that, at its most basic level, it is a very simple game system.

    The core rule is roll 2d6 and add (or subtract) modifiers; if the result is 8 or higher, you are successful. This is how LBB-Traveller combat works (with skill, range, armor etc being modifiers), and this is the Mongoose Traveller core skill mechanic.

    Character generation is also quite simple (at least once you understand the rules), especially in the LBB version. Yes, you can die during chargen in the LBB version, but there is an optional rule replacing that death with an early end to the chargen process.

    Stats are very simple in the LBB version. A character's entire game data could fit in a very short paragraph, a world or alien beast in a row of text, and a starship in a paragraph of text. No need for complicated character sheets or long 'stat blocks' for NPCs and monsters.

    I'd recommend the Mongoose version, though, as it is more complete and modernized, covering things such as civilizan careers, vehicle combat, robots and cybernetics which are lacking in the LBB version.

  14. I've commented elsewhere on my dissatisfaction with Star Frontier's combat system, but I really think they did a great job on computers and robots. I'd check 'em out for that.

  15. Bill, gnobient, Golan, and trollsmyth, thanks for your great feedback! We've still got a few days to go yet before the poll ends and I'm hoping for a some more comments.

    BTW, when you vote the results ARE showing, but the module put a scrollbar in along the bottom (left/right scrolling) to see the results. I'd fix it, but I don't want to risk losing the votes already tallied.

    No worries--I'll post the results after the 22nd. :)

    Okay, anyone else have some feedback to share?

  16. I'll simply reiterate what I said before:

    I love me some Battlestations.

    5 minute character generation -no realy
    B-Movie pulp scifi all the way
    Ship to ship and on ship boarding party play
    Adjust to taste
    My 8 year old picked it right up

    Simple - Fun - And User Friendly

    If you don't want to spend your time making characters, crunching numbers, and you just want to have fun and play this is a great no GREAT game, its not rules light in the sense you have to make up a bunch of stuff to cover various situations, but its not bogged down with needless clutter either. From your list I'd put it closest to Star Frontiers but with easier to use rules especially ship-ship and combat. Characters are diverse without being pages long, and while I haven't tried adding new races should be a snap.

    Even if you go a different route I would suggest checking it out, just the basic game has kept us going for years. Oh and its still in print and releasing new material.

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  18. Sorry, didn't proofread the first one well enough so deleted and reposting.
    Star Frontiers is a great simple system with a unique setting. You can get all the rules for free on-line and there is a small but active community working on new content. Officially sanctioned scans of the rules can be found at, remastered versions (and the fan magazine) at the link in your post and community forums at, and

    I've always like this system as the character generation is quick (5-10 minutes) and the rules are simple and everything is percentile (d100) based. Plus there is a basic setting that provides background but is wide open for the referee to do with as he pleases.

  19. Karrigi, Battlestations is the first board game I've had suggested and I have to say it's piqued my curiosity!

    And Terl, thanks for your comments. I'm neck deep in reading SF materials now. I'm a fan, but the character generation isn't my favorite. Even so, it's a great setting and an extremely flexible system. I'm following your blog to keep up with developments!

    I appreciate the links you both posted. Thank you again for stopping by!

  20. Jay, you will find alote of StarFrontiers stuff revamped in the d20 Future book. Combined with the d20 Modern core book and Menace Manual you have a complete game.