Prologue: Far Beyond The World I've Known, Far Beyond My Time

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Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Prologue: Far Beyond The World I've Known, Far Beyond My Time

In their August 1928 issue, Amazing Stories featured a story by Philip Francis Nowlan entitled “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” It tells the story of Anthony Rogers, a WWI veteran who is trapped in a collapsing mine and put to sleep by strange gasses. He re-emerges 500 years in the future, where American “gangs” are fighting a war of resistance against a high-tech Mongolian empire which has conquered the world. Rogers meets up with the rebels and, using his military experience, helps them in their struggle. The story received a sequel, “The Airlords of Han”, but more importantly was adapted into a comic strip by Nowlan and artist Dick Calkins- a strip titled after its hero, now named Buck Rogers.

The strip was a big hit, and ran for decades. To his credit, Nowlan got away from the Yellow Peril aspect before too long- Rogers and his partner/love interest Wilma Deering managed a peaceful accord with the Mongol Emperor, who was more misguided than evil, and with freedom won, Buck and friends started tangling with air pirates, Atlanteans, and the Tiger Men of Mars.

This set up a certain pattern of reinvention- Buck Rogers and associated characters, like Wilma Deering, the brilliant Dr. Huer, treacherous Killer Kane, etc. weren’t tied to one specific vision of the future or one particular conflict. A 1939 serial starred Buster Crabbe as Buck, who now helped the rebels of the Hidden City in their war against “super-racketeers” who made men slaves with robot helmets, all while jetting back and forth between Earth and Saturn. The comic strip made sure to update the look and the tech with the times. What stayed consistent were the characters, the 25th Century timeframe, a general theme of a heroic army against an oppressive evil force, and an emphasis on gosh-wow future tech, from the original’s rocket pistols and anti-gravity belts to full on spaceships and jetpacks.

But let’s face it, you probably mostly know Buck Rogers because of the 1979 TV series, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.” Made to capitalize on the Star Wars craze, this two-season series was produced by Glen A. Larson (who also produced Battlestar Galactica) and starred Gil Gerrard as Buck, a shuttle pilot frozen by a system malfunction and thawed out to find Earth rebuilding after a nuclear war, and under threat from the Draconian Empire. This was pure space opera, with interstellar travel and loads of weird aliens and beautiful women in skimpy outfits. Oh, yeah, and Twiki, a goofy child-sized robot with the voice of Mel Blanc. The first season was and is kinda fun in a stupid, campy, James-Bond-In-Space way, but the second season was a dramatic rehaul of the concept and a complete disaster (though the very last episode is actually kind of interesting, like a Twilight Zone script run through a goofy space opera filter.)

And that was it… until the late 1980s. In this time, the game company TSR was run by a woman named Lorraine Dille Williams. Her tenure at the helm is not well regarded, and while some accounts of just how horrible she was are maybe a little exaggerated, it’s fair to say she made a lot of decisions that didn’t pay off.

One of her ideas involved Buck Rogers. See, Williams, was- as shown by her middle name- one of the Dille family, owners of the Dille Family Trust, which held the rights to the Buck Rogers comic strip and in theory, all the associated copyrights and trademarks (this is currently under dispute BTW and it’s gonna take a while). Her idea was to license a new take on Buck Rogers for a multimedia launch, including tabletop games, computer games, comics, books, a big coffee table book of the old strips which I actually have somewhere, etc. While some have described this as “writing checks to herself” I feel this was more of an attempt at Corporate Synergy- trying to leverage what TSR had to give an old IP a new lease on life and hopefully start a profitable new line.

And at the center of this, at long last, like you’ve all been waiting for, is the game. Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century.

Released in 1990 as a big, fancy boxed set, Buck Rogers XXVc was designed by Mike Pondsmith and uses a variant of the then-fresh Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules. Does this transportation of fantasy adventure mechanics into a futuristic setting work? Well… not really, like, it’s playable and light enough to easily figure out, but there are quite a few missteps and places where you can tell they didn’t look a lot at balance and game feel. At best it’s kinda generic.

But then there’s the setting. I’m not sure exactly who did what in creating the world of XXVc, but this was a time when RPGs were getting known for detailed settings with lots of side characters, and sci-fi settings were showing influences from 2000 A.D. and cyberpunk and all that good grotty stuff. XXVc is, as a result, a very unlikely synthesis of space opera and hard science fiction, with hints of cyberpunk and even transhumanism. It has a unique vibe, not too shiny but not wallowing in edgy darkness either. It is nicely detailed but also keeps the scope wide enough for your PCs to make a difference, with the titular hero and his friends not crushing your style. It is a desperate and dangerous time, in need of every hero it can get.

So welcome to the Twenty-Fifth Century. Space pirates roam the solar system, megacorps threaten an environmentally devastated Earth, and humanity comes in all sorts of designer packages. Have fun!

An Introductory Overview

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Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

An Introductory Overview

Dat ass, tho

Here is the box. Retailing at $24.95- so a little over $50 in 2019 money- it contains three booklets, three big maps, a GM’s screen, twenty four reference cards displaying major NPCs and notable spaceships, a transparent ruler, dice (the standard D&D assortment), and a sheet of counters. The ruler and some of the counters are for the big Solar System map, which shows the Inner Worlds and major asteroids and their tracks around the sun. The idea is, the GM can keep track of the positions of the planets relative to each other based on how much time passes in the campaign, with the planets moving to the next position on their rotation every 30 days. The ruler helps figure out travel times and communications delays. Unfortunately they printed it on the opposite side of the maps showing ship interior layouts so that may be a little inconvenient. The other maps are one big topographic one of Mars, and another double-sided affair with a hexmap on one side and a map of the Tycho Spaceport on the other.

The cover art is by Jerry Bingham and it’s cool, not quite the style that the interior art conveys but it gets the basics right.

Now, since the rules are the weakest part I think I’ll go through the rules booklet first, but before that I want to give a brief rundown of the setting. It’s the year 2456. Mankind has expanded beyond Earth to colonize the solar system, though interstellar travel remains out of reach. Extensive terraforming is underway on Mars and Venus, but at the same time, genetic engineering has produced a number of new human offshoots specially adapted to living in different environments around the system. Some are close enough to humanity that they’re still basically called human, but others are “gennies”- heavily modified and all weird looking.

(This is one of the balancing elements between hard sci-fi and space opera we see- FTL and intergalactic empires are out of the picture, but we still have a wide variety of “alien” beings living on the known planets.)

Earth, meanwhile, is in a bad state, described as a complete mess due to pollution, nukes, and exploitation by offworlders. The most habitable areas are the arcologies, but there are vast slums. While Earth is supposedly governed by the Solar Alliance, it mostly falls under the influence of RAM- a monolithic corporate entity once called the Russo-American Mercantile, which rose to power after leading the terraforming of Mars and staging a successful rebellion against the Earth government. RAM now exploits Earth for every resource it has, backed by a powerful military, including gennie soldiers known as Terrines. And it’s fair to say they’ve got eyes on the rest of the solar system, though they haven’t made any big moves yet.

Opposing RAM is NEO, the New Earth Organization, a growing movement operating largely from orbiting space stations. It’s your standard band of rebels, and most recently they’ve added to their ranks a long-thought-dead air force pilot known as Buck Rogers. Rogers (so it was thought) gave his life shooting down a Soviet space battle station near the end of the Cold War in 1999, and in years since he became sort of a mythic hero- and now he’s back.

I’ll note right away I think the use of Rogers himself and the other classic characters is one of the setting’s strengths- they’re important, but not so important that they’ll overshadow anything the PCs do. Buck Rogers is famous, but he’s no Chosen One, anybody could end up having a major effect on the battle for the 25th Century. It feels like his role is usually to show up and say “good job guys” when you do cool stuff.

So with that out of the way I’m ready to dive into the first book- Characters and Combat.

Introduction and Ability Scores

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Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Introduction and Ability Scores
The book opens with two paragraphs of fiction, about a man named Flint arriving on Ceres in his ship, the Lady Jane, on his way to deliver info about a secret weapon to the New Earth Organization. Two men with lasers leap out, and as the action starts we cut away to a brief introduction to the setting. Along with a few specifics, the intro talks about heroic action and fleets of rocket cruisers and tries to set the space opera vibe. We get the standard “What’s Role-Playing” section next, followed by a brief Choose Your Own Adventure section.

This solo outing is pretty brief; you’re Captain Flint, you’ve got the plans to the new weapon, and you try to evade bad guys and get your info to your contact, Buck Rogers himself. There’s a brief “combat” and a few dead end choices, but it doesn’t take long to get to the end, which is another cliffhanger. It gets the job done, sets some of the mood some more. The game then talks more about the basics of roleplaying, what you’ll need to play, etc. There’s also talk about how the game is different from AD&D; basically the skills system works way differently, and combat is more reliant on projectile weapons. There are also quite a few minor differences, one of which is coming up very soon.

Ready to Roll

And now it’s time to determine attribtues. The standard method is rolling 3d6 seven times, and then assigning those to your attributes in any order you want.

Seven? Well, yes. This game has the standard AD&D attributes- Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma- and a new one, Tech. Tech is like Intelligence or Wisdom but applies specifically to your mechanical knowhow and is independent of your scores for both. The game’s example of a high Tech character is someone who can thump a food dispenser and get free meals for a month, presumably saying “Ayy!”

I actually kinda like this change? It means that in a high tech setting, you don’t necessarily need a high Int to do anything at all. (Intelligence is still important, with a lot of skills associated with it, but this helps split the load a little.)

You may recall that AD&D had little tables for each ability score, with very low or very high numbers giving you modifiers. In Buck Rogers this exists only for the physical attributes. Strength determines your melee Hit Bonus, melee Damage bonus, encumbrance, maximum lift, and instead of breaking doors/bending gates there’s a percentage chance for “Feats of Strength.” It starts at 1% at Strength 8 so even the slightly wimpy have a chance!

Dexterity gives Reaction Bonus, which is a modifier to your initiative (low initiative rolls are good in this game, so low Dex scores get positive bonuses and high scores get negative), bonus to ranged attacks, and a possible bonus to AC. Constitution determines hit point bonus and “System Shock”, which is the chance of withstanding severe trauma.

There’s a section on Ability Checks, which is standard- if you’re doing something that relates to your abilities but the GM can’t figure out any specific rules, you roll a d20 and try to get less than the relevant ability score. Standard stuff, no complaints here.

Lastly there’s alternatives for stat generation. You do have to clear these with the GM, etc., but they’re all pretty solid. One is the 3e way, roll 4d6 and drop the lowest. The next is rolling 3d6 twelve times and discarding the five lowest. (The book says “your odds of getting a 3 using this method are roughly 1 in 100 trillion” and I’m not gonna check that.) Finally, start with a 10 in each score, and add 1d6.

All pretty normal so far. The section on playable races is BIG so I’m gonna handle that separately.

Characters & Combat: Races part 1: Smooth Lions Are Eating Me

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Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Characters & Combat: Races part 1: Smooth Lions Are Eating Me
So, Races. Yeah that’s what they’re called- the book’s actually not clear as to whether or not all these genetically modified humans are still the same species. And this was back when TSR didn’t want to provoke the Satanic Panic types, so it goes without saying they don’t go into the question of what happens when these various types of altered humans get mad rutty.

So the Races are divided into two categories. Terrans, Martians, Lunarians, Venusians, and Mercurians are separate races but all still considered “human”- they’re at most mildly altered from the basic human genotype to adapt better to certain conditions. The second category, “gennies”, short for genetic mutants, are heavily modified to live in extreme conditions- the bottom of the sea, the poisonous Venusian lowlands, even deep space.

Some of them even have trouble living outside of these environments. In one brief section they float the idea that you might even have different characters to play if the campaign takes you to the surface of Venus or the ocean floor, so you can switch to a Lowlander or Delph, leave them behind when the campaign goes elsewhere, and just have them in reserve. Not a lot is done with this concept in the rest of the game, but it’s neat to see- Ars Magica had troupe play in 1987 and so this may be an early example of “new concepts in game design flowing over to TSR.”

Terrans are up first. They’re the least modified of the human species, adaptable to a wide variety of environments. As mentioned before in this overview, Earth in the 25th century kinda sucks. Most people are living in bombed out sprawls ruined by war in the 23rd century, overrun by gangs who constantly fight each other over food and supplies. Some fortunate Terrans live in arcologies, giant self-sufficient fortresses isolated from the chaos of the outside world. The drawback to this is that most of the arcologies are oppressive societies ruled by RAM puppets, along with centuries of isolation and the inevitable problems those bring along. Terrans get a +1 to Con and Wis, and a +1 to saving throws vs. Paralysis/Stun/Fall. (Saving throws have been altered to fit a sci-fi setting but we’ll get to those later.)

Martians are the yuppie scum of the Solar System. Mars is directly ruled by the corporate state of RAM, and pretty much every Martian’s life is tied to it in some way. Martians are tall (6-7 feet), slender, with slightly larger eyes and ears and wide nostrils to improve their breathing in the still-thin atmosphere. Martian upper classes like to get into gene-tailoring for aesthetics so they tend to be pretty good looking. Mechanically, Martians kinda suck. They have +1 to Dex and Cha, but -1 to Strength, Con, and Wis, and their saves aren’t great either. They are said to have slightly better vision and hearing but there’s no real mechanical bonus to that I can see (and the lower Wis score works against this.) There’s talk about how RAM gives you access to tech and manpower but that’s pretty much for the bad guys- for PCs it’s actually harder because the rest of the solar system thinks of you as one of Them, and you have to conceal your true loyalties from other, more RAM-friendly Martians. So not a lot of incentives to play one honestly.

Lunarians live in mostly-subterranean cities on the moon, and are a fiercely independent, even neutral people, mostly descended from European colonists. They’re short (4-5 feet tall), light, and have pale, hairless skin and slightly larger, more sensitive eyes. They’re compared a lot to the Swiss, they’ll handle anyone’s money, but strictly forbid any military ships landing on the moon. Lunarians get +2 to Intelligence and +1 to Dexterity, with -2 to Strength and -1 to Constitution. Their big drawback is agoraphobia- they’re used to living in small spaces and NPC Lunarians dragged out into the open with nothing but sky overhead need to make Wisdom checks to not freak out. PC Lunarians are assumed to be a little more under control but it’s supposed to be something to keep in mind when role-playing one.

Venusians can be divvied up into three main groups. The Aerostaters live up in the clouds in floating dirigible cities, mostly traders and herdsmen for the floating Krakens, tentacled gasbags who serve as a source of meat. They’re described as “aerial [slur for Romani]”, with flashy clothes and lots of festivals and family rites and superstitions and so on. I mean they’re not criminals or possessed of Actual Magic Powers so it’s not too bad I guess. Aphroditians live on the continent of, well, Aphrodite, and are mostly finers and miners living in an oligarchy controlled by wealth families, descended from the original colonists- they’re considered stubborn and hot-tempered. The Ishtarians control most interplanetary trade due to controlling the New Elysium spaceport, and they’re a theocracy with life centered around the Temple (though not puritanical, more mildly ascetic.) All Venusians tend to be vaguely “Asiatic” in appearance, with small eyes and ears and long, thick hair. There’s no mechanical difference between the three groups. All Venusians get +1 to Con and Wis, -1 to Dex and Cha. (Why these modifiers I’m not even sure.)

Mercurians are an interesting mix of colonists from other worlds but with some tailoring to live in the superheated planet’s underground warrens. You’ve got the Sun Kings, super-rich owners of the energy-collecting Mariposa satellites, who own much of the land below- these are flamboyant, gaudy types, the “Rich Kids of Tumblr” of the 25th Century. The Miners of Mercury live in the warrens, which aren’t quite as cramped as on the moon- no agoraphobia here- and while they’re more working class they still like to live fancy. The Musicians are the traders and merchants (it’s not even clear why they’re called Musicians since they’re not especially accomplished in the arts), and then there are the Desert Dancers. These people live on the surface, in giant enclosed arcologies that roll on tracks around the planet, travelling between solar arrays and staying out of the sun. They’re described as having vaguely Arabic styles, and actually are accomplished in the arts, with lots of famous writers, poets, musicians, etc.

All Mercurians, despite their polyglot origins, are a bit short, stocky, and tend towards dark skin. Distinct Martian and Venusian traits got kinda bred out over the years so they mostly look Terran. Mercurians get +1 to Dex and Con and -1 to Str. As saves go they’re very resistant to Heat and Radiation, and very vulnerable to Cold. They also get slight bonuses to saves versus Paralysis/Stun/Fall and Suffocation.

And now, the Gennies. Gennies still come from human stock and are sentient, but have much more extreme mods to fit in specific niches.

Image from a later supplement, for the sake of reference

Tinkers are small (2-3 feet), furry gray humanoids engineered to work in ducts and hatchways and so on. Most of their genetic modification comes from lemurs and gibbons, giving them long reach and finer skill in manipulation; they also have very large eyes which let them see in total darkness. On top of which they just ended up being very good at technology, naturally curious with a certain knack for fixing stuff. They naturally suffer from being thought of as pets, which they fucking hate. Tinkers get +3 to Tech and Dexterity, and -2 to Strength and Constitution.

Workers were bred by RAM to do the grunt work of the corporation. They’re short, stocky, with rough, gray-ish skin, bred for strength at the expense of everything else. They’re mostly bred from primate stock but rumor has it that RAM snuck in some homo habilis genes while they were at it. Workers are basically slaves, living in prison-like compounds with no culture or religion to speak of. Workers have +3 to Strength and Constitution, -3 to Charisma, -2 to Intelligence, and -1 to Wisdom and Tech. An even bigger drawback is that they subsist on a special food paste, normally only available at their work camps. Going without it causes their Strength and Constitution to drop by 1 per day, until a score reaches 0 at which point they die. It only takes them one day to recover back to full strength after getting a new supply. There are somehow Workers who have made it to freedom, and PCs will be assumed to be one of these, with the game even kinda waiving the food requirement.

Another image from a later manual

Terrines are RAM’s genetically engineered shock troops, with coarse leathery skin, catlike eyes and ears, and sharp fangs; it’s not explicit what all animals they’re derived from but there’s definitely a bit of shark in there. The name comes from the fact that they were designed for use on Earth, but they can survive just about anywhere. They stand about 6-7 feet tall and weigh up to 300 pounds. They’re trained to do two things, kill and obey their Martian masters. “The first test of fitness for a novice Terrine is to plunge a knife into his own belly and survive the test. Almost all of them do.”

They get +2 to Str, Dex, and Con, -3 to Cha, -2 to Int, and -1 to Wisdom. On top of this they have a natural AC of 7 and their claws grant them unarmed damage of 1d6+3. The big drawback is they’re subject to battle rage- whenever they get into a fight, they have to make an Intelligence check. If they fail they fight either to the death or until they’re knocked out. PC Terrines- who naturally are renegades- get to make a second check if the first fails. Terrines also have great saves across the board.

Five more to go! Next Time: Lizard Men, Desert Runners, and Space Men!

Characters & Combat: Races, Part 2: Don't Forget to Pack a Spare Lamp in Case You Get Hungry

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Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Characters & Combat: Races, Part 2: Don't Forget to Pack a Spare Lamp in Case You Get Hungry

Delphs are a blend of humans with seal and dolphin traits, and were the first “major” gennies created, bred to tend Earth’s fish ranches and kelp beds. They run from 7 to 8 feet tall and from 200 to 400 pounds. Their skin is rubbery with a layer of blubber below, and comes in shades of blue, gray, or black. They live in clans, and have a few cities (basically raft flotillas with rooms above and below the water) but mostly just roam around, often alongside herds of whales and dolphins. They have +2 to Str, +1 to Con and Cha, and -2 to Tech, seeing as they live without much technology. Their big disadvantage, though, is their need to be in or near water; a Delph who is not fully immersed in water for at least ten minutes every eight hours loses a point of Strength, Dex, and Con, and continues losing points for every hour thereafter until they’re immersed (one hour will bring them back to full health) or a trait reaches 0 and they die. So yeah these are very limited as potential PCs, hence the kind of troupe play suggested at the chapter’s start. Delphs are fairly carefree and curious types, even playful.

Lowlanders. Remember how I said there were three types of Venusians? Well this is the fourth. Short and stocky, with many reptilian based characteristics, Lowlanders were bred to work with terraforming machinery on the Venusian surface, and so have been bred to endure a toxic high-pressure atmosphere. The problem is, as they quickly figured out, if they terraformed the land to be suitable for everyone else it would be very bad news for them. So they’ve rebelled, focusing instead on the agriculture (particularly substances which are used for valuable drugs.) They’re distrustful of outsiders, especially “Uplanders” (the non-Gennie Venusians), but content with their lives now. Lowlanders have +3 to Strength, +1 to Con and Tech, and -3 to Charisma. They have excellent saves against Heat and Poison but are vulnerable to Suffocation and Cold. A big disadvantage is that they need helmets and breathing packs to survive outside of the Lowlands’ atmosphere. This is slightly less of an imposition than the Delphs needing their own dunk tank, but it’s a bit dangerous- their breathing packs last about 72 hours before needing to be replenished, and if deprived for any reason they’ll suffocate in 10 minutes. The game notes that Lowlanders will need a very good reason to leave the surface of Venus, and so again they’re most likely going to be used as “guest” PCs.

Desert Runners were engineered in the early development of Mars, to look after herds of herbivorous animals that were planted on the Martian plateaus. They’re tall and covered in reddish/yellow fur, with big eyes and ears, and fangs mixed with normal human teeth. They’re a nomadic people, divided between several subtypes (identical but for different markings) and there’s a lot of competition within and between groups. They’re described as living similarly to the Plains Indians in the 18th-19th Centuries. Desert Runners get +2 to Strength and Dexterity, +1 to Con, and -1 to Cha. Most of them wear leather armor which gives them an AC of 8. A Desert Runner’s claws do 1d6+1 when used (they can retract them.) There’s a slight discrepancy between the write-up, which says they can’t tolerate extreme cold, and the actual saving throw chart where they have a +4 to saves vs. Cold but a -3 to saves vs. Heat. (Which makes a little more sense with Mars still being on the chilly side.) They too are used to a different atmosphere, needing special masks to lower the pressure of the air they take in when not on Mars. A normal, “high pressure” atmosphere will cause them to lose 2 points of Strength per round until they either die at 0 or put on their protective gear. However, there is no mention of said masks needing to be replenished as with the Lowlanders, though the book says a PC should have spares close at hand. Similarly, it’s rare for Desert Runners to leave the surface of Mars but they can be found elsewhere if they’ve got the gear.

Stormriders are the least human of the gennie species. They live all the way out on Jupiter, soaring through the upper atmosphere on long batlike wings and living in floating cities. Stormriders stand from 15-20 feet tall and weigh 800-1,200 lbs. They were designed using ray and shark genes, meant to be herders and terraformers, but live a very secretive life- it’s rare for anyone to venture out to the Outer Planets, and the Stormriders almost never leave Jupiter. If they do, again they need special breathing apparatus- this runs out every 10 hours, and the effect when deprived is the same as for Desert Runners. Their flying abilities only work in dense atmospheres as well. Stormriders have +2 to Strength and Constitution and -2 to Dexterity and Charisma. They really are guest-shot-only PCs, and it’s honestly kind of a shame.

Spacers are maybe not as weird as the Stormriders but very close. They were designed to be able to survive in space itself, without the need for protective gear; they have a special kind of algae in their digestive tract which converts thermal energy, water, and minerals to oxygen and nutrients. They’re sprayed with a thin aluminum coating at birth, and this coating not only protects from radiation, it can shift colors, with a Spacer forming dark spots to collect heat energy. They live out in asteroids and ring systems, gathering water and minerals for themselves and deposits of valuable materials to sell- they’re almost all loners by nature, occasionally banding together but not really developing any kind of organized civilization. They have +2 to Constitution and Tech, +1 to Dexterity, and -1 to Charisma; to speak at all with anyone (including each other) they need special translators. Spacers die of starvation if they go 48 hours without being exposed to sunlight or radiation, but even a simple lamp will be enough to “feed” them. Mechanically they’re perfectly viable as PCs, it’s just rare to see them leaving their solitary lives and joining groups of any kind.

Overall the variety is interesting- most players will want to be one of the “Human” types because they have the fewest drawbacks, and I do think they maybe go a little overboard with this- even if you want the authenticity of species bred to live in very hazardous environments, breathing apparatus could be made more reliable and not something you have to keep track of. The section closes out with a few notes on deciding age, personality, appropriate names etc. For gender they have the standard “we use ‘he’ for simplicity’s sake” thing but there’s no mechanical differences and they even mention that cross-gender play is okay, which is about as progressive as TSR were willing to get in 1990.

So that’s this big-ass, scan-heavy section out of the way. Next up- Careers!

Careers: Good Rocketjocks Never Hock an Engineer's Tools

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Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Careers: Good Rocketjocks Never Hock an Engineer's Tools

Okay, now we get into Careers, or as you know them, Classes. They’re basically the same thing. After some discussion about teamwork and how levels and Hit Dice work, we’re presented with six choices. It’s worth noting that one of the big differences between careers is what skills they have available as career skills- it’s possible to learn outside of your career, but you get more points to spend on career skills. In a nice show of balance each career has eight career skills.

Rocketjocks are your hotshot space pilots, similar to WWI Flying Aces. To play one you have to be a Human (including Venusians, Mercurians, etc.), Delph, Desert Runner, or Spacer, and you have to have a Dexterity of at least 13, an Intelligence of at least 13, and a Charisma of at least 12. (Gotta be dashing, you know.) They get the fastest XP table, middling THAC0 progression (oh yeah, THAC0’s still around), and 1d6 HP per level. Naturally most of their career skills relate to piloting and driving things, and they get a +10 bonus to all skill checks involving piloting or driving. (Skills are a d100 thing so that’s a nice boost.) Also, every 2 levels they get a +1 adjustment to Charisma “when dealing with someone of the opposite sex and the same race”. Not very open minded. Anyway Buck Rogers himself is a 10th-level Rocketjock.

Warriors are the fighter class. They can be any race except Tinker and Stormrider, and need minimum ability scores of 10 in Strength and Constitution, and 8 in Dexterity and Intelligence. They’re the only class that gets to roll 1d10 for HP, they get the best attack progression, and advance moderately slowly. They also get to do 1d6 damage barehanded and can attack twice per round with bare fists, plus they get a +1 specialization bonus to a weapon of their choice every 2 levels (up to +3 for any single weapon). At 8th level a warrior starts attracting a company of 11-20 fellow soldiers, subject to GM discretion. Skill wise they get a decent range of fundamental stuff, including stealth and maneuvering in zero-G.

Scouts are kinda like Rangers but no? They’re the planetologists, explorers, etc., at home in a variety of environments. They can only be Humans, and need at minimum a Wisdom of 9 and Constitution, Intelligence, and Charisma at 9. They get a 1d8 hit die and the same THAC0 advancement as the Warrior, but they advance more slowly. The big deal with these guys is that for every level they gain beyond the 1st, they get +5 to any skill check related to their career skills. So, +5 at 2nd, +10 at 3rd, etc. This is good yes. Most of their skills relate to survival in the wilderness.

Engineers are the folks who fix things. They can be Humans, Tinkers, Lowlanders, or Desert Runners. (The latter is explained as their resistance to radiation helping them out.) The ability score requirements are 13 Tech, 12 Constitution, 10 Strength and 8 Intelligence. They get the fastest XP again, get 1d8 for HP, and can use any of their tools as a melee weapon with +2 to attack for 1d6 damage. They don’t let other people touch their tools though, that’s just rude. Outside of that they have the slowest THAC0 progression. Their skills naturally focus on repairing things.

Rogues are kinda like xD&D Thieves but also expected to be the facemen of the group, needing 13 Charisma and Dexterity as well as decent Intelligence and Wisdom. They can also only be Humans, for some reason. They get 1d6 HP per level and middling attack progression, but have the fast XP table. They also get a flat +10 bonus to any of their Career Skills.

Finally, Medics are needed to help patch everyone up at the end of the day. They get access to the Treat Light/Serious/Critical Wounds skills to restore HP in and right after combat- they aren’t expended like spells, but do require a roll, and can’t be used on a given PC more than once per combat. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Medics require a score of 12 or greater in Dexterity, Intelligence, and/or Wisdom, and the class is open to Humans and Tinkers. They get 1d6 HP per level and have a medium-fast level progression, but the slowest combat progression. Their big ability is simply that they’re the only ones who can learn skills in the Medic group, the others can’t even learn them cross-class. They’re also the only ones who can operate certain equipment.

EDIT: And I just now figured this out after posting, but this is why someone said you can't actually play a Stormrider PC- they're not eligible for ANY of the careers. Oops.

Overall the careers aren’t hugely exciting, but you can see steps have been taken to keep them in balance. It helps that there’s no magic or psionics or Force or whatever, nobody gets access to abilities that fundamentally overwrite the rules of the game world, so it’s all just numbers. The gaps in terms of HP and XP needed to advance are narrower here than in AD&D as well. You’ll notice that I said nothing about saving throws here- those aren’t actually tied to career. My major complaint is the racial restrictions, this really feels like an AD&D legacy, and one that already felt needlessly restrictive. (No Humans Allowed offers an optional rule that dramatically loosens these restrictions.)

Then there’s a section on changing careers. Despite a lot of text it’s… actually pretty simple? As long as you meet the ability score requirements for a new career, you can choose to stop progressing in your current career and start that one instead. You begin at 1st level, but retain your HP and THAC0- you gain HP as normal for your new class, but THAC0 only starts improving again once you reach a level in your new career where it’s better. You lose any special advantages from your old class, but keep your skill ratings. (Though if a medic changes class they can’t improve those skills anymore.) You can only change careers once.

And from there I’ll pause a bit while I try to figure out how to handle the next few chapters (the organization is kinda weird.) Next up: Probably Experience!

Experience (Has Made Me Rich And Now They're After Me)

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Experience (Has Made Me Rich And Now They're After Me)

This section is oddly placed, seeing as it’s marked for the GM’s eyes only but is sandwiched right between player info. It won't actually ruin anything or give away any secrets if the players see it, but I have no idea why this is where it is.

But anyway, experience. Obviously it works like in AD&D, but there’s a concerted effort to make XP awards not just about combat. The first couple of sections are general advice on how to give out XP over the course of a game, while noting that the GM has a lot of discretion. One section is about how experience point awards should be tied to success; winning combats, accomplishing missions, or minor bits of problem solving. The latter shouldn’t be completely trivial but there can be small awards for handling things in a clever way. (One could argue that failure is just as much a teacher as success, even more so, but this is the D&D paradigm still.)

The next section is about advancement, which of course is what all this is for. There are two hard rules, characters only advance in levels between adventures, and they can only advance one level at a time, no matter how many XP they got. There are also a couple of guidelines: the group shouldn’t go through more than 5 or 6 sessions without somebody advancing, and after 45-50 sessions you should have at least someone at level 9 but probably nobody beyond that. Now, if a campaign goes 45-50 sessions I can’t imagine still keeping count of how many sessions you’ve had, so while I get the idea that they want to set limits on how fast you advance I can’t see this coming up much. But then again I’ve been in mostly short campaigns. They also say that you should move players through the fragile lower levels reasonably quickly, which yeah.

Now, finally, some hard numbers. I mean they’re still guidelines, but numbers nonetheless. Achieving the overall goal of a mission is considered to be worth 1,000 XP, while achieving a secondary goal is worth 750. Of course the game then says these numbers will maybe be too high for low levels (I say go with it, level 1 is for the first session) and WAY too low for higher level characters so you have to adjust numbers anyway. We’re still not out of the vague zones.

Anyway there are also awards for use of skills, depending on whether the check was Easy (25 xp), Average (100), Difficult (300), or Impossible (500). This is mostly for low-level characters, and at higher levels you may want to phase out the low-level awards. There are also awards for using a skill in an unusual way (200) or unique way (350) though how you decide between unusual and unique is beyond me. And finally there are awards for just making wise choices at important moments- 150, or 350 if the moment is “crucial”. Again how you decide this I dunno.

But now, finally finally, we have hard numbers- combat! Combat awards are based entirely on the level of the enemy, and there’s no real scaling- if a level 10 character beats a level 1 enemy, they get XP, it’s just only 15 so it’s not worth very much. The awards for ship combat are more complex- based on the opponent ship’s tonnage, speed relative to yours, number of weapons, it gets complex. There’s a table for all the ships that are described in the game pitted against each other, though (a Scout Cruiser defeating a Krait fighter gets 260 XP, for example.)

There’s some guidance on divvying up group awards, and “extra credit” for teamwork, cooperation, and good role-playing, but of course those are vague qualities so they can’t give numbers. Finally the section ends with a reminder that the real point is to have fun and that if you’re doing your job well, the players will be motivated by the story and not the need for XPs. Which yeah, I guess.

You can kinda see here, again, Pondsmith and co. struggling to push the AD&D framework. AD&D 2nd Edition made the mistake of eliminating the “XP for Gold” rule for all but a couple of classes, meaning combat was now the main source of advancement while combat at low levels was still really dangerous- there was some support for story awards but they didn’t go in much detail. Here combat is still a source of points but there’s more guidance on giving awards for meeting the goals of a mission. Everything’s vague but there are at least some numbers to use as a baseline to tweak. Again, though, I question why this section is placed here, in the midst of stuff you need for character creation. I feel there was a miscommunication somewhere, or that since advancement normally gets talked about in the “player’s section” of games this got put here even if it ends up being more for the GM.

With that out of the way, however, we can get into the system’s big change, and where I think it actually kinda fails somewhat- Skills. That’s next time.

Skills, Where the Game Kinda Screws Up A Little

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Skills, Where the Game Kinda Screws Up A Little

So really the major difference this game has from AD&D 2e is the skills system, meant to handle all the specialized stuff you have to deal with in the world of the future. There’s a very big list and I’m not going to go through every single one, but I'll pick out some highlights here and there.

Skills work on a percentile system- whenever you use one you roll d100 and try to roll under. 01-05 is an automatic success and 96-00 is an automatic failure, the latter of which seems like a bad idea. (You always want a chance but 5% is, I think everyone here and now can agree, a bit much.) There are modifiers based on difficulty- an Easy skill check lets you roll against your skill rating x2, Average is normal, for Difficult tasks you divide your rating by 2, for Impossible ones you divide by 4. (Always rounding down.) Also you add the skill’s related attribute to your skill rating for the roll, and untrained skill checks are allowed with two exceptions- Medic skills, and skills you haven’t met the prerequisites for (more on that later.)

Characters have their skills divided into Career Skills and General Skills. You start with 40 points for Career Skills, and get 40 more each time you level. You can’t put more than 15 into any skill at a time, but skill ratings can go over 100 (which is important if Difficult and Impossible checks start to come up.) They also recommend that if you have a career which gives a bonus to career skills (Rocketjocks and Rogues), you just include that in the skill rating for convenience’s sake. (So a Rocketjock effectively starts with 10 points in Drive Jetcar, Drive Groundcar, etc.)

You get 20 points for General Skills, and get 20 more each time you level, with the same 15-points-at-a-time limit. There are actually two skill lists, one showing Career Skills and one showing General Skills- they’re the same skills, but the second list shows you which attributes they’re connected to. (With one exception- Medic skills are silo’ed off into their own group, but the book states that all Medic skills use Tech.) It’s a little inconvenient but nothing big.

Now you may have worked out a problem, and it’s the familiar one of many systems which use percentile skills. At most a PC can start out with 15 points in their chosen skill, and that skill’s related attribute may get as high as 18, 19 with modifiers. So, a 1st level character’s maximum possible skill ranking is going to be a 34- 44 if they’re a Rogue or Rocketjock and it’s a relevant skill. So yeah, at early levels there’s gonna be a TON of whiffing, more than is going to be fun. A GM’s gonna have to be pretty conservative with calling for skill checks, or just make a lot of them Easy.

I can see how this came about, in an RPG you want room to grow and advance, and with a percentage score your range is a little limited. On top of everything they were probably working from AD&D’s Thief skills, which mostly start low, but those were only supposed to be used sparingly anyway- here, the skill system seems designed to be used extensively for a wide variety of tasks. I don’t get how playtesting didn’t catch this (and there are a lot of credited playtesters.)

(This is definitely something that comes up in Countdown to Doomsday, too- the second mission puts you on a derelict spaceship and Maneuver in Zero G rolls are needed for every combat. The results are, not ideal.)

As for the skill list? I count about 84 skills, divided not really evenly among Dexterity, Tech, Medic (which is also Tech), Intelligence, Charisma, and Wisdom- which gets the short shrift with only 5, though that includes “Notice” which is always useful. While Intelligence, Tech, and Dexterity get the most, those lists are pretty specialized- there are multiple types of piloting, multiple types of repair, lots of specialized areas of knowledge, etc. Strength and Constitution are completely left out.

A lot of the more specialized skills have prerequisites- to take points in Repair Nuclear Engine you need Repair Mechanical 10, to take Navigation you need points in Astronomy and Mathematics, and Composition, while you can take it any time, is only useful if you put 20 points into Sing, Play Instrument, or Literature.

So yeah you may have worked out some of these skills are more likely to be used in an adventure than others, that’s also a problem. This is hard for me to judge, I get intimidated by long skill lists but maybe you have enough points to dabble in some not-strictly-useful stuff? Certainly after a while.

And now, Selected Skill details:

Maneuver in Zero-G is a Dex skill, and a career skill for rocketjocks, warriors, and engineers. A failed roll on this in combat gives you an Armor Class penalty.

Paint/Draw is a Dex skill, which, okay.

Drive Groundcar is a different skill from Drive Heavy Ground Vehicle, and Drive Motorcycle is still another.

First Aid, a Tech skill, is pretty important because it’s the only way a non-Medic can heal someone. A successful First Aid roll during or after a combat lets a PC (either yourself or an ally) heal 1d6 hit points of damage that they’ve suffered in that combat. You can only do this once per character per combat encounter, so it’s not a lot, but it’s something.

Jury Rig lets you do the same for mechanical or electrical components, healing 2d10 points of damage to a ship component, but the fix only lasts 1d6 rounds. This also requires 10 points in Repair Mechanical and Repair Electrical.

Repair Mechanical and Repair Electrical are basically the foundational skills for Engineers, needed in some quantity to take other repair skills. Repair Mechanical can heal up to 2d10 points of damage to a ship’s controls, while Repair Electrical can do the same for ship’s sensors. Repair Computer, Repair Life Support, Repair Rocket Hull, and Repair Nuclear Engine let you do the same for other ship systems.

Repair Weapon is an interesting exception to all this because it has no prerequisites, and is a career skill for warriors, but not engineers. It doesn’t heal a given amount of damage either, it just fixes a weapon. (I assume this works for ship’s weapons as well.)

Life Suspension Tech is one of the more esoteric Medic skills. A life suspension device lets you stabilize a character reduced to 0 hit points, if applied within five rounds. However, bringing them OUT of suspended animation requires another successful check at Impossible difficulty- if you fail this, the patient dies anyway. A little strict.

Treat Light Wounds is the must-have for starting Medics. Using the skill requires one round and restores 1d8 HP to a patient on a successful roll. You can only do this once per individual per battle. If you take 30 points in this skill, you can start taking points in Treat Serious Wounds, which heals 2d8+1 over 3 rounds. Finally if you get 40 points in Treat Serious Wounds you can graduate to Treat Critical Wounds, which heals 3d8+3 over 10 rounds. You can’t stack uses of these (i.e. you can’t use Treat Serious Wounds AND Treat Light Wounds on the same patient), and using Treat Critical Wounds on yourself is an Impossible-level task.

Battle Tactics is an Intelligence skill and career skill for warriors. On a successful check, any other member of the group who can see or hear you gets a +1 to-hit bonus. It’s meager, but using this skill also takes no time at all and you can still move and attack and whatnot, so you may as well have it.

Memorize is its own skill. I’m undecided about this.

Speak/Read Language, an Intelligence skill, can be taken multiple times for each new Language you wish to learn. Every PC is assumed to be able to speak and read English, which is the common language of the solar system.

Hypnosis, a Charisma skill, lets you implant “reasonable commands or suggestions” in the mind of the hypnotized party for up to 1d10 hours, but the target has to be willing to be hypnotized so it’s a little limiting. There’s a note on this, Fast Talk/Convince, and Intimidate specifically saying you can’t use these skills on other PCs, which I thought was interesting. Presumably in 1990 we were still having “I can totally Intimidate Bob into carrying my stuff” arguments at the table.

Leadership is another Charisma skill, and a career skill for warriors. The description is a little vague, it allows you to “give orders and be obeyed- as long as the ones he is ordering are willing to be led.” A failed check means you have to wait at least 1 day before trying again on the same character or group. In the computer games this actually gave you NPC allies in some situations, and I can see this cropping up in similar “mass battle” scenarios in the game.

Shadowing is a skill you don’t often see specifically outlined but it’s good to have- sort of an urban version of Tracking (a scout skill), but also more about stealth.

Having Buck Rogers XXVc be a largely skill-based system was a good idea in itself- it was sort of the default approach for sci-fi games and lets the classes be distinguished in subtler ways than the broad strokes of xD&D. But there is still that problem of the scores being too low. I think in this case the best solution (if you’re still using the system) would be to move the difficulty range a tad- make Average rolls at 2x skill, and Easy at 4x, Difficult at normal, etc. It’s tricky working with a 100 point scale over many levels (BTW, shoulda said this earlier, XP tables go to level 12.)

There’s also the problem of the skills being a little overspecialized at times- Move Silently and Hide are still separate, for example, and while some “color” or background skills can be nice I can’t imagine Economics getting much play.

So yeah I think this section shows the greatest flaws in the system, and while I think they’re fixable it’s a question of how much effort you’re willing to put in. But we’re almost done with character generation! All we have left is getting our stuff.

Outfitting: Spacesuits Are So In This Season

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Outfitting: Spacesuits Are So In This Season

Money in the 25th Century is credits. It’s always credits. There are credit cards and such but hard cash has made a comeback.

Every character starts with 1d10 x 200 credits. Which is a pretty big range considering the cost of things, 10% of PCs are going to be rolling in with maybe one gun and that’s it. That said, “ordinary” melee weapons are pretty cheap and as the game points out, they never run out of power or need to be reloaded. Of course the cheapest melee weapon that does 1d6 damage is 100 credits (for a cutlass) but that still leaves you something.

Before we get to the list of what to buy there’s a section on Encumbrance. There’s a mention of how this is affected by gravity- a simple table gives weight multipliers showing how much you can carry in the lower-gravity environments of the inner planets, you multiply your normal weight limit by that. (Of course, you’re not actually carrying more weight, the stuff you’re carrying weighs less.) In theory you can carry as much as you want in zero-gravity, but the section says you do have to take volume into consideration. Doesn’t give any hard numbers for it though.

Actually there’s something I should mention in regards to all this- there are no class restrictions on weapons or armor. Your only limitations (with one weird exception) are encumbrance and what you can afford. Also the actual list is pretty sparse as far as description goes, I'm cross-referencing with the Technology Book and the later combat section to give more detailed write-ups. When we get to the Technology Book proper I'll really dive into some of the stuff I'm just summarizing here.

Anyway, melee weapons include normal knives, polearms, etc. (as well as clubs,rocks, etc. which cost nothing) but also mono knives and swords. Mono blades are cut from a piece of synthetic diamond, and have an edge one molecule thick. They also have little laser beams projected on the edge when the blade is extended, so they look like lightsabers, but they’re not! You ain’t got shit on us, Lucas! Ahem. Anyway, mono weapons are powered by solar cell batteries, which last a long time; you can use a mono weapon 20 rounds per day for 60 days before the thing runs out of charge, and recharging them is just a question of leaving them plugged in or in the sun for an hour.

The ranged weapons are really where things get varied. Needle Guns are pretty cheap at 200cr; they only do 1d3 damage per hit, but have a rate of fire of 3 (i.e. they can be used three times a round) so they’re still pretty good. Nice starter weapon. (And Countdown to Doomsday does start you with these.) Rocket pistols fire self-propelled projectiles with no recoil, making them good for zero-g fights. This is a nice nod to history- the original story and comic strips had Buck and his allies using rocket pistols which worked the same way. You’ve also got heat guns, microwave guns, sonic guns, and plasma throwers which basically launch napalm.

Desert Runner Crossbows are also notable, only costing 100 credits, and they can fire either bolts (for 1d4 damage) or explosive shells (for 1d8.) Pretty good right? Well, the thing is, they’re built for Desert Runners, to the extent that anyone else gets a -4 penalty to use it. You can decrease this if you spend a long time using it exclusively, but who’s gonna do that? So this is basically a Wookie bowcaster, but again, legally distinct!

Armor is generally more expensive, starting at 200 credits for a Spacesuit (Armor Class 6- remember we’re doing this the old school way). Light Body Armor, at 250, is actually AC 7, but doesn’t weigh as much (but weight doesn’t actually count for what you’re wearing, so just go with the Spacesuit.) If you rolled well enough you may be able to afford Smart Clothes (4) or Heavy Body Armor (2), but Battle Armor is strictly out of reach for starting characters. Now, later sci-fi d20 games came around to the idea that not everyone is running around in armor and so used things like class bonuses and Dex bonuses to compensate, but that hasn’t really shown up here. No reason not to get whatever you can afford. Suit up!

Beyond this there’s your standard survival gear and a load of other technological toys. Breather Helmets (needed for some Gennies) cost 40 credits, with atmosphere tanks for Stormriders costing 20 credits. Spacer Translators also cost 40. There are Swim Fins which increase your swimming speed, videophones, macrobinoculars, gillmasks, a lot of familiar sci-fi tech. Your very own atomic generator will run you 600 credits, powers a small ship or building for three days, and only weighs 10 pounds! I also like the Watchbox, which is a small security robot you can set to patrol an area and sound an alarm if it spots an intruder.

The Fieldfence is also kinda interesting. It’s two or more posts you put up to 10 feet apart, wired to a generator. They create an electromagnetic field which helps block most metallic projectiles (Buck Rogers’ trusty service pistol is specifically exempt so I’m not clear how this is supposed to work), and you can also throw in metallic chaff to block laser and plasma weapons. Against appropriate weapons, it gives a 70-90% miss chance (GM’s discretion I guess). All in all a little complicated but it reminds me of the cool invisible fence from Forbidden Planet.

Medical wise you can buy Drug Fabricators for 500, but the chemical supply pack to actually make the drugs costs 1000. An Autosurgery is a compact cube which unfolds into a computerized machine which can perform simple surgeries under the direction of a doctor or medic.

And there are jetpacks! A Rocket Belt costs 1000 credits and is best used for short hops around 2 minutes in length, for an average speed of around 15 miles per hour. They don’t work in airless environments, though- for that you need a Space Belt, which costs the same, weighs slightly west, and has cheaper refills. It’s not clear why you wouldn’t just buy one of those, but Space Belts do have quite a kick- a single burst fired in a weightless environment will send you flying at 120 feet per round, and each burst after doubles your speed. There are rules for how much damage you suffer when hitting something at speeds faster than 200 feet per round.

Finally, there are costs for a few different varieties of jetcar- all of these are unattainable with starting money, but on the table nonetheless.

So we’ve got our denizens of the 25th century trained and equipped. Next time, we’ll be sending them into battle.

Combat: Lasers and Bad Feelings

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Combat: Lasers and Bad Feelings

Combat in Buck Rogers works a lot like it does in AD&D, naturally enough. I don’t actually have my 2e books with me, though, so I’ll probably forget some of the fine distinctions. Basically it’s more abstract than what you’d see from 3rd edition onwards, simple but with plenty of little modifiers, and a touch more lethal than it should be.

Each round of combat lasts a minute, and the action economy is a little broad and generous- in a round you can make an attack, reload a weapon, run for cover, etc. (Moving and attacking at the same time isn’t mentioned, but there’s little to no tactical/miniature support in the rules anyway.) There’s a lot of room for common sense / GM fiat, but that part seems okay- it doesn’t seem too hard to work out if a particular action will take more or less than 60 seconds.

Initiative is done by everyone rolling d10 (the GM does one roll for all the NPCs.) Characters act from lowest to highest, so high Dexterity gives you a negative modifier. There are also some modifiers for being in tricky terrain. Movement rates are given for all the various races- a human can run 600 feet in a round, climb 150, and swim 300.

Attacking is done by subtracting the opponent’s AC from your To Hit Armor Class 0 (THAC0), and then rolling a d20 to see if you can equal or beat that number. A table gives THAC0s for the various PC classes and for NPCs dependent on hit dice: Warriors, Scouts, and creatures with d10 hit dice get the fastest progression, d8s get a middling progression that stalls out in later levels, and d6 progression starts very slow but ends up lower than the d8s. You automatically miss on a 1, but there is no rule for an automatic hit on a 20, so that presumably is not a thing. Also notable, there are no Critical Hit rules at all.

There’s a good chart of AC modifiers, with bonuses from cover, concealment, and high Dexterity, all especially useful in firefights. There’s also a section on active parrying/dodging, which is a full defense- you take your entire round to be defensive, and get a bonus to your AC equal to half their level, rounded up (minimum 2.) Warriors and Scouts get an additional bonus to this. It doesn’t seem like it’s worth it except in very desperate situations. Backstabbing is open to all classes, so long as they have a melee weapon- you get a +2 attack bonus and a x2 damage multiplier if you manage to sneak up on someone and attack. Rogues get +4 to backstab, and at higher levels their damage multiplier increases.

A section on brawling follows, and I like that they point out why this is a good idea. Out in space, or on asteroids or lunar cities, shooting guns everywhere risks blowing a hole in the wall and killing everyone. Of course, brawling still has its downsides- you only do 1d4 base subdual damage, plus or minus any modifiers from Strength. (Though a couple of genotypes are exceptions to this.) Also, to actually knock somebody out, you not only have to reduce them to 0 hp, but they have to fail a System Shock roll (which, as a reminder, is one of the things derived from your Con score- meaning NPCs now all need Constitution scores.) If they fail they’re knocked out for 1d10 rounds, if not they hang on with 1 hp. Subdual damage heals pretty quickly, 1d4 per hour.

You can also try to just lay someone out by bludgeoning them. You take a -4 penalty to your attack, and the target has to make a System Shock roll at half their normal chance to succeed, or get knocked out. (You also still deal damage, and it's not subdual.) It’s not clear how long anyone stays knocked out in this way.

We then get range and damage tables for major weapons. I covered some of this in the Outfitting writeup, but one thing worth noting is even melee weapons have ranges: knives, daggers, and clubs have a range fo 3 feet, swords of various kinds (plus the Venusian Kryptx, which I didn’t write up because you can’t buy it and it’s a bit weird and we’ll get there) all have a range of 6, and Polearms have a range of 9! The game notes the GM should probably assign a penalty to someone engaging a sword-wielding opponent with a knife, but doesn’t set specifics. Range for actual ranged weapons works a bit differently, you’re given the max ranges and divide by two to find medium range (which is a -2 to attack) and 4 to find short range. Each weapon also has a “Shots” entry- run out of shots and you have to spend 1 round reloading or recharging. I prefer my space opera without people ever running out of laser bullets, but XXVc is sorta walking the line between space opera and harder SF so I get it. Thrown weapons work pretty much like ranged weapons, except that things like bricks, bottles, and grenades have their range determined by multiplying the Strength of the thrower by 5. Grenades get write-ups for blast radius and how to determine where it goes off, etc.

Let’s get into Saving Throws! As I’ve hinted before they work a bit differently in XXVc. Part of this is because of the change in genre- no Dragon Breath or Magic Wands to dodge here. Instead, the Saves are: Explosion/Plasma Fireball, Electrical Shock, Paralysis/Stun/Fall, Toxic Atmosphere/Gas/Poison, Suffocation, Radiation, and Extremes of Heat or Cold.

The second main difference is in how they’re calculated and advanced. In most of D&D, saves are mostly dependent on your class, and improve by level based on your class. Here, all characters start with the same base array of saving throws, which are then modified by race. Mercurians are more resistant to Heat but vulnerable to Cold, Venusians are more resistant to Toxic/Gas/Poison, etc. Every three levels you gain a +1 bonus to all saves, and the game only has XP tables for up to 12th level, so at maximum they’re not improving by much.

Priority is something that may also be new. The order in which I listed the saves above is the order in which those saves are made, if a situation calls for multiple rolls. So if a Human walking in the Venus Lowlands is near to an explosion which tears a hole in their protective gear, they first have to make a save for Explosion/Plasma, then Toxic/Gas/Poison, then maybe Heat if the gear was also the only thing protecting them from the temperature. There follow some explanations of the various saves- most of them halve damage, but some like Toxic can eliminate it entirely, while with stuff like Radiation and temperature extremes, there are issues with how this is calculated over time. (Radiation has you make a save for the overall dose, which is calculated by how long you were exposed.)

There’s also a nice chart for fall damage depending on what planet you’re on, including maximums (though- and the game doesn’t bring this up- terminal velocity is a matter of air resistance, so if you’re on the Lunar surface as opposed to in a dome, there should be no practical maximum.)

The game’s handling of HP is pretty simple: run out and you’re dead. Life Suspension tech can maybe save you, but as we learned earlier, it’s a very tricky thing. There’s also advice for situations where death seems inescapable- the GM is encouraged to fudge a bit. If a PC is in a fighter that suddenly gets hit and spins towards a mountain, they should be able to escape via ejector seat, that sort of thing. Sometimes you can’t help it, and stupid decisions should mean death, but the GM is encouraged to balance these considerations.

However I think the rules as written are probably still too lethal. As in AD&D low-level characters are quite fragile, but unlike AD&D there are no temples with clerics willing to cast resurrection spells for the right price. The Life Suspension thing really only seems viable once a Medic has some levels with them. Here, I think Countdown to Doomsday had the right approach- like all the AD&D Gold Box games, it treats 0 hp as “Down”, below that as “Dying”, but anyone can stabilize a dying character, and you’re only killed outright if you take a whole bunch of damage at once. Really I advise using the Gold Box rules for all your old school D&D derivatives, barring something like Dungeon Crawl Classics or whatever.

The section closes out with a bit on Healing; while medical treatment has already been covered by Skills, natural healing lets you heal 1 hp a day if you don’t do anything strenuous, and 3 hp a day if you just rest the whole time. It’s slow, but the book also says that between adventures the GM may just say to Hell with it, you’re back up to full.

So, there’s Combat. Maybe a trifle too dangerous at low levels, but there is a fix for that at least.

Next time: SPACESHIPS!

Rocket Ships: Smithers, There's A Rocket In My Pocket

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Rocket Ships: Smithers, There's A Rocket In My Pocket

All spaceships in XXVc are rocket ships; they use the same basic technique of fuel combustion, though the technology has advanced. Rockets take off and land vertically, and while they’re accelerating they have gravity pushing things towards the back, so a rocketship can be thought of like a flying skyscraper, the decks stacked on top of the engines. The main difference from old-school rockets is they have enough power and fuel to do braking maneuvers just before landing, instead of turning over halfway through.

There are six major categories of rocketships. Fighters are small one-or-two man vehicles, very fast but with limited range- they have small atomic motors which aren’t enough to travel between planets, though they can be carried by larger ships. Fighters are often customized to their environment- Martian fighters have large wings for better maneuvering, and have hulls which can withstand the Martian sandstorms. Venusian fighters are closer to dirigibles, designed to “swim” in Venus’ heavy atmosphere. There are some rules for the penalties faced when, say, a Venusian fighter is on Mars (+6 initiative/reaction, and it’d take 2 HP per round to its Hull during a sandstorm.)

Cruisers range from 50 to 1,000 feet in length (though few are larger than 200 feet), and have powerful fusion converters enabling interplanetary travel. They have fins for atmospheric stabilization but maneuver on their engines alone. The book says that when piloting a cruiser, you should think to yourself, “What should I do with a jetliner armed with lasers and missiles?” That is a question with many answers.

Asterovers are small shuttles used to make runs between orbit and a planetary surface. Like fighters they can’t travel between planets. They have small amounts of cargo and living space.

Battlers are your capital ships, giant military vessels starting at 1,000 feet long and maxing out at around 2 miles. They have hundreds of crewmen, can carry fighters (usually between 20-50), and also usually have a lot of ground troops on board (enough to assault a city.) They’re the only ships described here that cannot make planetfall; they do sometimes skim the atmosphere to gather gas for fusion drives, though, so they have some atmospheric streamlining.

Transports are built to take cargo and passengers between planets, and so sacrifice speed, maneuverability, and most armament just to make the trip. They come in all shapes and sizes, but usually only have a crew of two (a rocketjock and an engineer) living in very cramped quarters.

Freighters are smaller than Transports, and are built to carry small but valuable cargo. As such they tend to be better armed and more maneuverable. The kind of ships adventurous rogues are found in- in other words, the PCs.

Spaceship construction is largely centered around tonnage. You determine your ship's tonnage based on the kind of ship it is (a light freighter is 30-50 tons, a medium cruiser is 55-200, etc.), picking a number in that range so long as it’s a multiple of 5. (No 33-ton ships etc.) This determines your ship’s length, width, basic cargo space, speed, and maneuverability. Smaller ships get bonuses to their initiative and AC, while very large ships get the inverse. This has the effect of making the fighters very hard to hit indeed, which can be a bit annoying (and doesn’t seem entirely balanced, seeing as they’re on the low end of the XP value scale.) You also get a Speed score out of this, used in combat and when you’re moving in a planet’s atmosphere.

Tonnage also determines your ship’s hit points, which are divided into six categories. Your Hull has HP equal to the ship’s tonnage x4, Sensors/Commo and Control systems both have HP equal to tonnage x1, Life Support gets HP equal to tonnage x2, and Fuel System and Engine both get tonnage x3.

Your options for Armor Class are basically determined by your kind of ship: civilian craft get Civilian armor (AC 8), Military Armor (AC 6) is for fighters and light cruisers, Maximum Military Armor (AC4) is for cruisers ≥100 tons, and Battler Class Armor (AC 0) is for Battlers. Finally, you have individual weapon spaces equal to your tonnage divided by 10 (rounded down)- most weapons take up one space, but some are larger.

There’s a whole section on Buying a Ship- basically it boils down to, the base cost of a good used ship is tonnage x 10,000 credits, you can spend more for a New ship with higher HP values than normal (though the bonus they get is permanently lost when they’re damaged), or less for a Poor ship with each section having a chance to be damaged or even unusable until repaired. Financing is available, but generally the PCs aren’t expected to be able to buy a ship out of the gate. Of course, as interplanetary heroes of space, you may be coming into ship ownership in… other ways.

On to operations! Fuel costs 20 credits per HP of fuel (you basically use the system HP as your fuel gauge), so a full tank for a 30 ton vessel costs 1,800 credits. It also costs 1,000 credits to load a ship’s reactor with atomic fuel rods, but those rods last five years. There’s a list of costs for replacement systems, if you’re in port and don’t want to spend days on end restoring small amounts of HP to something- these costs aren’t based on HP or tonnage, but they’re all in the thousands or, in the case of the nuclear engine, tends of thousands. It takes only 1d6+4 hours to swap out a module. There’s also costs- and number of spaces required- for weapons. Spaceports charge their own docking fees, ranging from 50 to 200 credits a day, and there are all sorts of supplemental charges you can ding the players with if you wanna really be annoying about it. A ship needs to carry around five pounds of food and water per person on board per day.

I’m not really sure most of this detail will be useful, but I’m one of those who thinks outer space RPGs should be focused on adventure and heroics and not on trying to manage the economics of rocket ownership, so I feel like little would be lost if this were mostly handwaved. Again, that’s me though. Sci-fi RPGs often feel a need to get wrapped up in this stuff.

Spaceports are classified as Class A, B, or C- A is the best, with all kinds of facilities and replacement parts, B spaceports will have most of what you need and can mail order the rest, and C spaceports are basically open-air landing pads and maybe a fuel pump.

Space travel works a little differently from how it does in our century. Because rocket ships have lots of fuel and efficient reactors and whatnot, they don’t have to spend most of their fuel just on achieving escape velocity; they can (and do) actually fly under power most of the way, making travel between planets much faster. This is where the map and the ruler come in- the referee can track orbital positions and therefore the overall distance you have to travel from one planet to another, and the ruler shows rates of travel based on how much fuel you’re spending per day.

Ah, but what if you’re spending no fuel? The game doesn’t give options for cutting acceleration and continuing at your present speed- which should work- but if you do run out of fuel, and aren’t orbiting a planet, you deviate from our original course by 15 degrees in one direction or another (roll a die), and continue moving at the 10-HP per day rate. If you run out of fuel near the surface of a planet, you start falling- the pilot must make a Difficult or Impossible skill check to land, otherwise you just crash.

Finally, in an atmosphere, a ship can move at a top speed of 1,000 mph for every point of Speed it has. For every 1,000 mph you’re burning 1 hp of fuel per hour.

And this is hella long already, so I’ll split off Space Combat into the next post.

Space Combat: You get a gun! And you get a gun! Everybody gets a gun!

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Space Combat: You get a gun! And you get a gun! Everybody gets a gun!

Almost every spacefaring game has to deal with the question of space combat, and frankly, it’s one they’ve all struggled with. The big question when you have all your characters in a ship and another ship starts firing is always, “What does everybody do?”, and the answer is usually, “Well, okay the pilot flies the ship, someone else is the gunner, then someone else fixes the engine, maybe the other person… runs the shields?” It’s never really that satisfying, because, well, who wants to be stuck with shield duty?

I think Buck Rogers XXVc gets closest to a good answer, one elegant in its simplicity. But before that, the game wants to talk about the basics, weapons and sensors. Well, it says weapons and sensors but then only talks about weapons so I assume something was cut somewhere. Anyway, weapons!

Lasers come in two varieties, Pulse and Beam. Pulse lasers work the same as the handheld variety, while beam lasers fire a steady, well, beam- in game terms they have better aim and a hit bonus because it’s easy to sweep across where a target is, but they do less damage since the energy isn’t as concentrated.

Gyrocannons fire small explosive shells, with shorter range and less oomph than missiles but a much larger ammo capacity and higher accuracy.

Missiles are given a lot of description- basically they’re smarter than modern ICBMs, which could easily be targeted by a rocketship’s defenses, and they can do weird things like throwing out magnetic fields or throwing out micro pellets to shred hulls. But in practical terms there are regular missiles, heavy missiles, and K-Cannons. They don’t have a lot of shots and aren’t very accurate, but do a shit ton of damage- especially the K-Cannon, which is a giant ballista. (The K is for Kinetic.)

Acceleration Guns are short range mass drivers, which throw flak at the enemy. They do a bit more damage than lasers to compensate for their short range and low accuracy.

All ship combat takes place on a hexmap, included in the box set. One hex is equal to 50 miles. The referee takes the appropriate counters (also in the box) and places them according to the situation. Each round you roll for initiative, and the way rounds work is kinda weird- ships use speed points- calculated from your ship’s speed rating- to perform maneuvers, and the next round begins with your speed diminished by how many points you spent, until everyone’s speed points are used up or every manned weapon has been fired at least once, at which point speed presumably resets. It’s a bit odd but I think I get what they’re going for? Basically gives faster ships more opportunities to act and react. The highest printed speed for a ship is 7 (the Krait, a RAM fighter) so it shouldn’t take too long to cycle.

In combat there are two major actions, maneuvers and combat. Maneuvers include movement (1 speed point per hex), turning (1 point per hex side), and special maneuvers- stunts which require the pilot to make a skill check. The example given is a pilot pulling off an inside loop to come around on an enemy’s tail, but here’s the thing- there are no actual rules for such maneuvers giving you a numerical advantage. Weapons don’t have firing arcs, there aren’t rules for flanking, etc. I get the feeling something was left out here.

As for firing, well, here we get to the solution I was talking about. Each of a spaceship’s guns needs to be manned at the start of a round in order to fire during that round. The game recommends that you have a Rocketjock flying the ship, an Engineer running between decks repairing things, maybe put the Medic on standby, and everyone else just gets to a gun. The freighters and light cruisers detailed in the game usually have 3 weapons available, so a 4 or 5 person party has enough weapons to go around. It’s just that simple, let more people shoot. I can’t believe more sci-fi games don’t just build their ships so that multiple people can attack in a round. In a pinch, if you’ve still got people with nothing to do, they can assist- assisting a gunner gives them a +1 to hit, and assisting someone making a Skill Check (for repairing, medic-ing, etc.) gives them a +10 bonus to their skill. You can move to an adjacent deck and still perform an action during a round, but moving two decks takes the whole turn. (The game’s ship plan maps show various decks and you’re meant to work out ahead of time how they’re arranged on top of each other.)

Each weapon has a max range in hexes, all within 6. Despite their max range, they’re all affected by distance: 1-2 hexes is short range with no penalty, 3-4 is medium range with a -2 penalty to hit, and 5-6 is long range, -5. Where ground weapons do variable damage, ship weapons always do a set amount, in multiples of 10- a Light Acceleration Gun does 20, a Missile does 40, etc.

Attacking is done just like on the ground, using the shooter’s THAC0 and the defending ship’s AC and AC Defense Bonus. Like I said this makes small ships very hard to hit (the Krait has a printed AC of 6 but an effective AC of 1, AND it’s described as having stealth capabilities that take it all the way to -5 as long as it’s moving!) If you hit, you roll a d12 to determine your hit location- Sensors/Commo, Controls, Life Support, Fuel, Engine, Weapon, Hull. All of these systems were given HP in ship construction, and the game supplies still more counters to track that damage. For weapons, you determine which weapon got hit at random and that weapon is destroyed. Other systems give various effects if they’re destroyed (or in some cases take half their HP)- a ship without Controls can’t maneuver, a ship with no Life Support means everyone has to put on a suit, Fuel means you go adrift, etc. Losing all your Hull means your ship falls apart and if you’re not wearing protection you die immediately. Also, any character in a section that takes damage must make a saving throw vs. Explosion or take 1d10 damage. If they’re reduced to 3 HP (or half their HP total, whichever’s lower), they can’t help to run the ship until they’ve been healed.

You can make called shots to target specific systems, with penalties ranging from -1 (Hull), to -6 (Sensors, Controls, a specific weapon.) You can ram ships if you’re on the same hex- the defending pilot can make a Pilot Rocket check to avoid damage. A collision between ships, intentional or unintentional, has each ship deal damage equal to its tonnage to the other’s hull. So the bigger ship always wins, whoever caused the collision. (One way to deal with those damn Kraits I suppose.) Finally, a ship that crashes suffers 10 HP of Hull damage for each 1,000 feet fallen, and everyone on board takes maximum damage from the fall (as explained way back in the saving throw section.)

And that’s it. So yeah, a few flaws, I’m convinced ship maneuvers were supposed to do something but it was getting to be too much rules (the other problem with ship combat in RPGs, how much additional complexity do you want to introduce?), but I do like the bones of this. Does better than most at giving people shit to do, attacking systems matters, and because close range is so advantageous you get a kind of age of sail feel with ships pulling up alongside.

Almost done with the rules book! Next, Digital Personalities and Scientists!

Digital Personalities, Scientists, and Digital Personalities who are Scientists

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Digital Personalities, Scientists, and Digital Personalities who are Scientists

Digital Personalities (shortened to DPs, because 1990 was a simpler time) are basically AIs, and while they’re mostly covered in the World Book, this book gives the mechanical details. Suffice it to say, they’re computer folks, made up of 1s and 0s, and they come in two types: Constructs, which are original digital creations, and Translated Personalities, which are based on the brainwaves of real people. They sometimes manifest as 3D holograms to interact with people. DPs are strictly NPCs, which is probably just as well. Two major examples in the setting are Dr. Huer- a Construct, and the setting’s incarnation of one of Buck Rogers’ iconic allies- and Simund Holzerhein, the digital ruler of the RAM empire.

A DP has no scores in Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution, but does have the other four attributes. They have a hit die of d10, and since they’re NPCs there’s no tracking experience, you just determine what level they are. The Armor Class of a DP starts at 10 at 1st level, and improves by 1 every level.

But wait, wait, why do they have an Armor Class? And Hit Points? Because there is digital combat! This is where the game gets kinda cyberpunk and I have to jump around a bit. Basically, in XXVc there are World Computers, crystalline structures the size of a city. There’s one for Earth, Luna, Mars, Mercury, and Venus, and there are satellites linking those computers together. DPs can travel within and between these World Computers, which in game terms are made up of a bunch of individual cells. A DP can travel to any adjacent cell in a round, and can also spend a round to disassemble-reassemble to another World Computer. So yeah basically they go dungeon crawling looking for data, and when enemy DPs meet, they can fight, using special programs.

A DP starts out being able to initiate one program per round- at 5th, they can initiate two per round, and at 10th level three, etc. Virus Attack does 1d4 damage per attacker level on a hit, then 1d4 damage per round for the following three rounds. It can be used as often as the attacker wishes, but you have to wait for one virus to expire before attacking with a new one. Mind Bolt does 1d6 damage per attacker level, and can only be used three times in an encounter, and misses count as uses. There are a bunch of Non-Combat programs too; there’s a Stealth program, a couple of healing ones, one that lets you control remote devices, etc. It looks like any DP “knows” all these programs, they’re just limited by the number of actions they can take.

You may have worked out a problem here. Since all DPs are NPCs, the PCs can’t actually participate in these digital games of cat and mouse, so these rules are kinda pointless. It’s interesting to think about or maybe have running as some sort of parallel action, but in those cases there’s no reason for the Referee* not to “script” what happens. Nice idea but not much of a use for it.

Finally there’s the Scientist, an NPC-only class- theoretically the rules are complete enough that a PC Scientist is possible, but they’re not designed to work in an adventuring group, and all these rules are just so you can make Scientist NPCs.

Scientists can be Humans, Tinkers, Lowlanders, or Delph, and need at least 16 Intelligence and 12 Wisdom. They get 1d4 hit points per level, and have the same THAC0 and advancement as medics (though again, the referee can just say what level they are.)

The main thing about Scientists is they get access to two exclusive skills: Bioengineering and Gadgeteering. Bioengineering is actually considered a general skill, but also one that only Scientists have access to, and has a prerequisite of Biology 20, or Botany 15 if you’re focused on plants.

Bioengineering is related to Intelligence and is used to create new genetically-altered organisms. It has a couple of uses: Alter Human lets you alter an unborn person’s ability scores within a +2/-2 range, though it has to balance out to 0 (i.e. you have to penalize something to increase something else.) Creating a Gennie is a Difficult task, and Creating a new Animal/Plant is a range; modifying an existing species (making a faster sheep) is Average, combining traits from two or more life forms (sheep + cheetah) is Difficult, and creating something entirely new is an Impossible task. (No Humans Allowed does feature one creature whose genes were built “from scratch”.)

Gadgeteering lets you modify a device to improve its function or make it do something entirely different. The difficulty for this is mostly based on how much you’re altering the gadget, and there are also modifiers for whether you have all the proper tools and whether the gadget already has multiple uses. Whipping up a gadget can take anywhere from 1d4 hours (for Easy modifications) to 1d4+4 days (for Impossible tasks.)

And there’s one more thing: Inventions. Inventions aren’t a skill to themselves, but rather use certain Science skills depending on what’s being invented. It’s a detailed system based around Research Points, which are a total you generate from what you’re trying to do, to how big/portable the thing is, to how long a range it has, to damage or HP healed, etc. A healing ray (base cost 20) that’s portable (+10), that works over hundreds of feet (+5), that heals 1-20 hp (+5) has a Research Point cost of 40, and that’s subtracted from the relevant skill you’re going to roll against (Physics, in this case). Research points also determine the cost to develop the device and the time it takes to make, and these rules can also be used to discover new astronomical bodies or lost cities or whatever.

It’s not the worst system, but since it’s NPC-only it basically has no reason to exist. I don’t see any point you’d delve into this instead of just saying “RAM has invented a powerful new weapon, you’ve got to sneak into their secret base to destroy the research!” Like, it goes beyond even the kind of “how many clerics are in town” simulationism you got in the worst of 3.x.

And honestly, I don’t actually think there’s much of a reason to keep this from your players. The Scientist class as a whole may be way too fragile to really put in the field as an option for PCs, but that’s just a question of hit dice- the rest seems entirely doable. If PCs could do inventions, that’d honestly be perfectly okay. So, yeah, just do that. Someone wants to be the Huer or Zarkov of the group, let ‘em.

And that brings us, at long last, to the end of Characters & Combat. As I said, the rules have a lot of bumps in them. It’s an interesting attempt to push the AD&D rules set as far as it will go, Pondsmith was trying some things, but a few things slipped past playtesting and editing. There may well have been time pressures, given the big multi-media launch they were trying. Generally speaking my advice with XXVc would be to use your semi-generic system of choice, but that’s with almost 30 years of development since.

But now we’re done with the weak part of the game. Soon, I’ll be able to dig into the real meat of this- The World Book. See you next time, rocketjocks!

Edit: * I forgot, the GM in this game is called a Referee.

Overview and Timeline: It Was Only A Few Nukes

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Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Overview and Timeline: It Was Only A Few Nukes

Now we get to the good stuff. The World Book opens with a brief overview of the solar system, a lot of which we learned from the Race section- Mercury is a planet of underground mines and overhead solar collectors, Venus is partially terraformed but still a land of poison gasses, Mars is a paradise controlled by an evil corporate dictatorship, etc. We’ll get into that soon enough.

There’s a brief overview of the “state of the world” in the 25h century. Space travel’s common, with powerful rockets flying through the solar system. Computers are powerful enough that you can “download” personalities into them (I use the quotes because that’s more like uploading) and live forever as a hologram. Genetic Engineering is the big science, though, with some gene alteration being quite common and new genotypes being developed all the time. It’s also a very armed society- people carry around mono-knives, rocket pistols, etc., it’s very much a Wild West vibe.

But now, the history. This timeline’s a little weird, taking place in big chunks even though some of the events don’t seem like they’d take too long.

1999-2050: In 1999, the Soviet Union still exists, and a small group of Soviet hard-liners within the government make one last big play, launching a giant space offensive satellite called Masterlink. The US naturally see this as a big problem, but don’t want to risk a major military confrontation, so they decide to send a single pilot in an experimental space plane. The pilot, Lt. Col. Anthony “Buck” Rogers, manages a daring assault and destroys Masterlink, but he doesn’t make it back and is presumed dead.

The fallout of this incident sees a limited nuclear exchange between the superpowers- the Soviet hardliners only manage to commandeer a few silos, and the US recognize the Soviets are divided and are limited in their retaliation. The resulting “Last Gasp War” isn’t quite the end of civilization as we know it, but enough damage is done that everyone kinda steps back and takes a moment. A new era of international cooperation begins, with three major power blocs emerging- the Euro-Bloc faction, the Indo-Asian Consortium, and most fatefully, the Russo-American Mercantile Combine. Advances in nuclear fusion make space travel more commonplace, and we see the beginnings of plans to terraform other worlds- not a moment too soon, as Earth is getting more polluted and resource-starved all the time. Radioactivity actually isn’t a big problem despite the recent war, it’s just everything else that’s making the planet less habitable.

2051-2100: The System States Alliance is formed to hash out the colonization of the solar system. The three power groups are each awarded charters for the inner worlds: The Russo-Americans, with the most influence, take Mars, the Indo-Asians take Venus, and the Euro-Bloc faction takes Luna. The SSA levies material taxes on the colonies so that Earth can get the materials it needs.

2101-2300: The Russo-American Mercantile group is now RAM, and makes big strides in colonizing Mars with the help of genetic engineering. Terraforming makes some areas habitable. The Europeans have no such options with the Moon, so stick to underground cities and domes. The Venusian colonists have to take a slow approach- the first colonies are airborne, sitting on the clouds.

2275 sees RAM rebelling against Earth control and the taxes they levy. Venus and the Moon stay out of it, while RAM quickly thrashes the SSA and, by depriving Earth of outside materials, quickly accelerates its decline into savagery. The Ten Year War ends with RAM in control of Earth, and for funsies they sabotage work on the Venusian space elevator as well.

2301-2455: As RAM’s power grows in the solar system, refugees from Earth and Mars flee to begin colonizing Mercury. They use asteroids pulled into orbit to create the Mariposas, massive solar collectors, and set up mining concerns on the planet itself. Still more refugees head outwards to asteroids and to Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus remains distant and untouched. Because of the traffic to the Outer Worlds, space piracy emerges as a major force, personified by the Black Brotherhood.

2456: The present year. RAM has successfully terraformed around half of Mars, and runs it like a totalitarian police state. For Earth, they have set up the Solar Alliance Protectorate, which officially is there to protect the wounded planet from outside exploitation, but of course RAM intends to take all it can get. Earth itself is slowly recovering from centuries of ruin, and a new group has emerged- the New Earth Organization, or NEO- dedicated to opposing RAM’s tyranny.

And they’ve made a bit of a discovery- Buck Rogers survived the destruction of Masterlink in suspended animation, and is now awake and on their side. This is a big deal because while the SSA was developing its plans for colonization, Rogers was held up as an icon, a martyr for the new age of human progress. Now he’s alive, and he’s a good enough strategist and fighter to be a real asset to NEO. 

All of the major worlds now have their own military, comprised of gennie troops and space fleets. RAM has the biggest army, but everyone else has a decent presence, apart from Mercury who have allied with Venus for the moment. NEO, by contrast, is made up mostly of “pure” humans (who from the text seem a little haughty about being unmodified) and doesn’t have a lot of resources. Open war has not yet broken out in the solar system, but tensions are very high.

And that’s where we come in. Next time, we’ll begin our look at the Solar System with Mercury!

Mercury: We've Got Heat

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Mercury: We've Got Heat

Colonizing Mercury was not an obvious choice, what with it being right next to the sun and all. Terraforming was out of the question- giving it an atmosphere would just trap heat- so instead almost all development has been underground. Most of the people live inside huge warrens, which are described as miles-wide corridors laid out in a criss-cross patterns. There are also underground spacedocks which ships enter through giant doors; these are pretty important because Mercury is actually a common stopover for ships travelling long distances. Sometimes the planet you wanna go to is just plain on the other side of the sun, after all. Through all this it manages a population of 20 million, which is actually on the low side of the Inner Worlds.

As mentioned before there are a few different groups of Mercurians. Miners are the largest demographic, living in the warrens and working the planet’s abundant mineral resources (half the planet is made of iron.) They sometimes get irritable when their warrens are facing the sun (the heat can still be felt deep underground), but they claim to be used to it. The Musicians live underground and off planet, and do most of the non-physical labor- running shops, business, etc. The name comes from the fact that a lot of Mercury’s surface features are named after old Earth composers.

The Desert Dancers, meanwhile, live in giant track cities that roam along the surface. Along the roads are a bunch of solar collectors, and the track cities are giant mobile arcologies that were set up to help maintain the solar arrays and scout mineral locations. The cities move such that they always stay on the cool side of Mercury- prolonged exposure to the sun and cosmic radiation would likely kill the inhabitants. (They don’t give any hard numbers, but it’d be a good story hook- a city gets sabotaged and you have to get it moving again, etc.) There are also roving mining machines on the surface, not using the tracks but being operated from the underground city of Caloris.

For all the planet’s mineral wealth, however, Mercury’s big asset is, as mentioned before, its proximity to the sun. Solar collectors in orbit and on the surface collect the energy and beam it to relays across the system- this is very unscientific but may also be a nod to the original comics, where the Han used “broadcast power” for everything.

While the planetside solar collectors are useful, the real money is in the Mariposas. Early colonists captured asteroids, plated them with metal and solar panels, and put them in orbit. There are about 500 of these things, and most of them are owned by the Sun Kings, the aristocrats of Mercury. The most powerful of the Sun Kings are the Gavilan family, who live on the orbital colony of Helio. The Sun Kings live like the aristocrats of Old Earth, with a mix of classical styles, from Arabic to baroque influences. The Gavilans in particular have a medieval outlook, with all sorts of ranks of nobility. So yeah these are your opulent greedy bastards, a classic space opera trope.

On paper, Mercury is a democracy. It’s basically a democratic union of the Sun Kings, Miners, Desert Dancers, and Musicians, but in practice, the Sun Kings, and particularly the Gavilans have most of the real power. This has kept up because so far they aren’t ruling with an iron fist, but the lower classes are starting to organize.

The Sun Kings have historically been friendly with RAM, even using Martian aid to put down some early uprisings. As of late, though, the growing power of the Miners, Musicians, and Desert Dancers has created a rift. It also helps them that the Mariposas have the potential to be made into planet-busting weapons (though the exact nature is left vague) and turned on Mars. The Mercurians are also aiming for control of all space within “immediate range of the sun”, because of the value of the sunward passage.

So as presented Mercury has a few conflicts brewing- their status in the setting’s major conflict is ambivalent, as they’re more interested in their own agenda. The Sun Kings are good potential enemies in themselves, and the Mariposas seem like fun adventuring locales.

Next, cue up your “Best Hits of the 80s” mixes because We’re Heading for Venus

Venus: But Still We Stand Tall

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Venus: But Still We Stand Tall

Venus is a planet in the middle of terraforming. Temperatures range from 300 degrees Fahrenheit in the lowlands to a breezy, relaxed 100 degrees F on the mountaintops. The high mountaintops and continental mesas are home to major cities, the original orbital and aerial colonies are still intact, and bioengineered algae nest in the clouds, feeding on the poison gasses and giving off oxygen. The lowlands, meanwhile, are fuckin’ metal. Note:


The vegetation of the lowlands is a truly alien combination of mineral and vegetable- massive yellow crystalline trees attract and ground the bolts of lightning that continually batter the jungles, while their heavy, blue, drooping coverings of lichen and moss absorb the acid rain… the ground itself is covered with boulders, glowing pools of acid, and thick swamps of bioengineered, semi-metallic plants in wild, fluorescent colors.

The planet was, as per the timeline, settled in the 22nd century by the Indo-Asian Consortium, starting first from orbit, then building cities on the massive plateaus of Ishtar and Aphrodite. These are big steel cities, mostly sliver and white because acid rain is murder on the paint job, and it’s all curves and domes so the rain doesn’t collect. Heavy clouds surrounding the mesas give the cities a look like they’re floating in the sky sometimes.

The Uplanders live in these cities. They’re called the aristocrats of Venus, and tend to wear flowing robes in muted colors. The biggest spaceport is at New Elysium, on top of Maxwell Montes, the tallest mountain on the Ishtar plateau. The Ishtar Confederation, also headquartered in New Elysium, is dominated by The Faith, a very vaguely described religion with a theocratic hold on the population. It’s a mixture of Islam, Bahá'í, and Taoism, but is not given more detail than that. Many practitioners are vegetarians, but it’s not a specific command and there are no particular prohibitions on violence or killing- the Confederation has a pretty solid military.

The other main continent, Aphrodite, stretches along the equator, and is dominated by the major corporate families who originally settled the planet. The continent was also once the site of the Aphrodite Orbital Platform, a space elevator destroyed by RAM in 2285; the ruins stretch for miles along the surface and down into the mists.

The Aerostaters live in balloon cities, giant sphere clusters that balance on the high-pressure lower atmosphere and are moved by the currents of the upper atmosphere. There are around 200 separate Aerostates, and they’re all linked in a democracy. Small craft can land on the Aerostates, and they serve as a transfer point between the planet’s surface and Venusian orbit.

Finally we have the Lowlanders, gennies created to live on the lowest points of the planet’s surface, withstanding high temperatures, crushing pressure, and a poisonous atmosphere. We described them a way back, they’re basically lizard men. As I pointed out then, and this is one of the details of the setting I really like, the Lowlanders figured out that if terraforming went as far as planned, their natural habitat would be threatened and they’d all die, or at least be wiped out as a culture. The Lowlanders have a useful tool in their control over the raw materials for the popular drugs gravitol (which counteracts the debilitating effects of low or null gravity) and lifextend (no points guessing what that does), both of which are made from grasses in the Venusian swamps. They still need the other Venusians to transport the materials off world, so an uneasy stalemate exists.

Politically the Ishtarians are the major power players on Venus, controlling the largest military force. RAM could maybe take them in a straight fight but it’d be extremely costly, and Venus has many unique hazards for invading armies. So it’s a cold war, and the Ishtarian Confederation does a lot of proxy sponsorship of NEO and their attempts to subvert RAM’s influence. It helps that philosophically the Ishtarians are sympathetic to NEO’s aims. Meanwhile, RAM have funneled money and supplies to the Lowlanders, both to keep that stalemate going and to make sure they can regualrly get their hands on the aforementioned good drugs.

So Venus serves a number of purposes in the setting. It’s a cool place for adventures what with the floating cities and deadly metallic swamps and all that, has a very old-school pulp vibe. Early sci-fi often depicted Venus as full of jungles and dinosaurs and lizard people, and so we get a slightly hard sci-fi spin on that. The Ishtarians are allies with their own agenda, while the Lowlanders are naturally sympathetic- they’d like not to be genocided- but may be on the side of RAM in a given situation, and the players will have to untangle that mess. Potential moral dilemmas!

So after this, we're off to the shittiest place in the solar system: Good ol' Earth!

Earth: The Very Birthplace of My Birth

posted by Maxwell Lord Original SA post

Buck Rogers XXVc: The 25th Century

Earth: The Very Birthplace of My Birth

As has been mentioned many times, Earth is in terrible shape in the 25th Century. Wars and environmental catastophers have turned it into a devastated backwater, its population (now a mere 3 billion) divided among corporate states, reservations, and arcologies. Ostensibly the whole thing is under the control of the Solar Alliance, which is in reality the other planetary power groups, meaning mostly RAM. RAM in turn has divided the planet into Regencies, and each Regent is directly in charge of their region, most of them acting like dictators. There’s a mention of mind control through drugs and media censorship, but it’s not really taking- most Earth people really hate RAM.

Most humans on Earth haven’t undergone much, if any, genetic alteration, though mutants exist thanks to various nuclear and biological incidents in the past.

The old cities of Earth have become ruined sprawls, filled with people, gangs, RAM troops, etc. It’s clear the authors are aiming for something between a police state and a flat-out war zone. The exception to all this bleak desolation is the arcologies. The arcologies aren’t described in much detail here, other than that they have adequate food, shelter, etc. However, most of them are directly under the influence of RAM, and life in them is more strictly controlled. Only about a fifth of the arcologies aren’t directly under RAM influence.

There are two major resistance groups on Earth. First are the Orgs, groups of people living in the ruined cities who have managed to set up modestly equipped autonomous regions. They tend to be named after the city they’re in, hence Chicagorg, Newyorg, etc. (This is a straight lift from the original Nolan material.) They’re described as a kind of middle class between most of the poor denizens of the cities- whom the Alliance keeps an eye on to make sure they don’t organize- and the rich citizens of the arcologies, who can easily be monitored. The main drawback to the orgs is they don’t, and to a certain extent can’t really organize with each other— they don’t have easy means of communication and transportation over long distances. Basically each one is kind of a large, well-organized street gang, a potent force in its local area but each with their own agenda.

And then there’s NEO. NEO are the good guys of the setting, a plucky alliance of rebels with the goal of freeing Earth from RAM occupation. They’re described as a “one-time anti-pirate patrol” but we don’t get any more information about their history or formation. Unlike the orgs, NEO has global reach, a space fleet (of sorts- mostly light rockets, maybe a battler or two), and financing from some well-to-do persons and organizations in the arcologies. They’re described as being kinda like the US forces in the American Revolution, always undermanned and underarmed, using guerilla tactics. Their ground presence is pretty weak. Most of NEO operates from orbital bases.

NEO is organized mostly like an army, with a bunch of Battle Groups run by Strike Leaders, who in turn answer to Group Leaders, and above that you have Captains, Generals, etc. The NEO Council is said to be pretty diverse and was even kinda disorganized- then along came Buck. Buck Rogers was made an honorary council member when he was revived and joined the group, mostly because of his status as a figurehead. However, he’s taken it upon himself to try and shake up NEO and set out a clear agenda, including the expulsion of all RAM forces from Earth and recognition of NEO as the de facto government of that planet. It’s not all military, though, NEO is working to try and get sympathetic appointees on the Solar Alliance and build up alliances with other forces opposed to RAM such as the Mercurians and Ishtarians.

The Earth chapter closes out with a look at the LaGrange Colonies. The Colonies are in orbit at the L-4 and L-5 LaGrange points in Earth’s orbit, their orbit stabilized by the gravity of the moon. These were the earliest space colonies, mostly abandoned when more advanced ones were set up on other planets, so now they’re havens for smugglers, pirates, and NEO forces. They’re described as a collection of old hulks and space junk, easy to hide in.

Next up: Bang! Zoom! Straight to the Moon!