Recently I had the chance to create a character for Catalyst Game Labs’ latest Battletech roleplaying game “A Time of War”. While the core mechanic is a pretty simple and straightforward “roll 2D6 + bonuses vs. difficulty level” mechanic, character creation is rather quirky.
You start out with 5000 points to spend. At first you pick your Affiliation, then your Early Childhood, followed by your Late Childhood, and so on. It’s basically a Lifepath system where each step of your development consists of one or more modules you have to buy which grant you with experience points spent in various attributes, skills, and traits. Yes, that’s right, you don’t get ranks directly, but the XP to buy them.
In some cases you get bad traits or maluses on your abilities that you can later buy off. The whole process takes a lot of time, especially when you are new to the game. And some of the modules you pick or the traits you get XP for have prerequisites you have to fulfill at the end of character creation. The “Nobility” early childhood module for example gives you the prerequisite of having Rank 5 in either Title, Wealth or Property. If you don’t make sure you got enough XP to buy one of those traits, you couldn’t have picked it in the first place.
Luckily we all had more than enough XP to basically create the character we wanted to play. But for most of the character creation process I had pretty much no idea how my character would turn out. At the end you’re allowed to make some optimizations. If you – for example – have 26 XP in a skill, you can either pay 4 XP to raise the Rank to 3 or take Rank 2 and spend 6 points on other abilities. It’s definitely a novel way of doing things, but I am not sure if it’s really worth all the hassle.
But regardless of my criticism of the character creation mechanics the process was pretty satisfying in the end. My character turned out great and I am extremely excited to actually play the game. We decided to start the campaign shortly after the arrival of the Clans. We might even be working with the Kell Hounds when they first encounter the Clans. Let’s just hope we don’t get our asses kicked too bad.
On Friday Mongoose Publishing released the beta playtest documents for their upcoming Traveller Core Rulebook. What sets this playtest apart from others we’ve seen in the past is the fact that you have to pay $20 for the playtest documents. At the end of the playtest you get a $20 coupon for the final PDF. I can understand the reasoning behind Mongoose’s decision, but I also understand why a lot of gamers are not too excited to have to pay for a beta. Since I am pretty sure I’ll get the final PDF as soon as it’s out, paying $20 in advance is no biggie for me.
Overall I applaud Mongoose for trying something new with the ageing Traveller system. Mongoose’s Traveller variant has been a streamlined version of the original rules from the “Little Black Books”. The new core rules not only streamlined the rules, but also tried to bring the look of the books to the 21st century. And while Traveller 5th Edition from Far Future Enterprises is probably the most complex edition of Traveller, the new Mongoose Traveller will be the easiest.
While the basic task resolution system pretty much stays the same, they borrowed an idea from D&D 5th Edition which totally removes the need for dice modifiers. There are now boon and bane dice which work like D&D’s advantage and disadvantage. While some of the old-school fans of the game might be dismayed by such a change, I wholeheartedly applaud it. You know my stance on rules-light games.
I believe that Mongoose is really trying to make the needed changes in order to get more people interested in this franchise. For the majority of current gamers, Traveller is just not cool enough. The universe is based on Scifi from the 60s and 70s and the rules were designed in the late 70s. About 40 years later some changes are definitely needed to reach an audience beyond the old Traveller grognards.
From what I’ve seen so far, they might actually succeed with their attempt. The layout of the playtest document is awesome, the new isometric deckplans are very sweet, and the rules changes I’ve seen so far are pretty well thought out. Luckily my Traveller GM shares this viewpoint, so we might give the new rules a try in the coming weeks. I have to admit I am very excited! These are great times for any Traveller fan.
And if you don’t like what Mongoose is doing, you can still rely on older edition, which are available from the Far Future Enterprises website.
If you are closely following what’s happening in the RPG scene, you have probably heard about the kerfuffle about a product called “Tournament of Rape” which was sold at DriveThruRPG for a few days before being removed. At first OneBookShelf (the company behind DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) tried to talk down the problem, before they took action. And there’s now a new policy in place which shall prevent issues like that in the future.
BUT this policy might create more problems than it solves. At first OBS will be reactive not proactive. The publisher still decides what to upload and the uploads will not be screened by OBS. Customers of the site can flag content they deem offensive and then OBS is taking steps. When the site update goes live, a press of a button is all it needs to flag a product. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Alas there is number of people who think they have the wisdom to decide what is good for the rest of us and take steps to enforce their world view. And the internet gives them the power to enlist countless people to their cause, a lot of which are not even remotely interested in our hobby. Under the new policy, flagged products are immediately suspended from the store. Which means, if someone doesn’t like your work, he or she can easily flag you on a Friday to make sure your weekend sales are gone. Poof. Can this be misused? Yes. Will it be? You betcha!
All this would be not that bad if there were alternatives to OBS’ sites. But alas they basically have a monopoly on the sale of digital RPG products at the moment. This makes it the perfect target for the kind of bullies mentioned earlier.
Don’t get me wrong. I agree with the removal of “Tournament of Rape” from DriveThruRPG. But I also fear that a system as the one OBS now put in place can easily be misused. It would be better if OBS screened products themselves to decide if it’s within what they seem appropriate for their store.
That’s why I am hoping for an alternative to the OBS monopoly. We need at least a couple major marketplaces for digital RPG products which may or may not cater to different target audiences. Perhaps one for family-friendly material, another for more adult-themed products. But the current situation is problematic. Publishers are now basically at the whim of OBS which might be easily bullied into action by certain parts of the hobby (and beyond).
Update: I have read a couple of good arguments and changed my mind. At least regarding the reasons why OBS should remove a product. If they think it’s not fitting for their store, they should remove it. But not when some people feel offended. Some people may be offended by something like “Carebears – The RPG”. Is that a valid reason to remove it from the store? I have my doubts. Noone is forced to buy stuff they don’t like.