This week I will run the third session of our Buck Rogers XXVc campaign and I think it’s time to share a few thoughts. Overall things have been running smoothly with a few unpleasant exceptions.
To familiarize me and my players with the setting I decided to run the introductory adventure included in the box. It is a bit linear but aside from that I didn’t think it would be as bad as it turned out. We quickly realized that the adventure was either very badly balanced or it meant to be lethal. The first encounter was with three thugs equipped with a laser pistol, a heat gun and a microwave gun. Especially the heat gun was a big issue. 2d6 damage can easily kill almost any 1st level character. Ouch! I think I wasn’t really at the top of my game at the time, otherwise I would probably have given them different weapons.
The next encounter was another group of RAM thugs. After barely surviving the fight with three thugs the author of the adventure thought it was a great idea to let them fight against as many thugs as players in the group plus the NPC they had in tow. Guess what! Each enemy was armed with a heat gun! Yay! A few lucky rolls by the GM and the player characters are toast … literally.
Starting characters also have pretty weak skills which makes healing very unrealiable. If you play rules as written, Buck Rogers XXVc turns deadly pretty quickly. The technology book talks about the advances in medical technology in the Buck Rogers universe, but alas there’s nothing like a stimpack, health potion, etc. which I could give to the player characters to make things easier. Eventually I did just that and invented single-use “stimpacks” which they could use to heal quickly if necessary.
The skill system has a few issues as well. New characters basically suck at everything. Even if I let them make easy tests all the time, their chances to succeed are usually below 50%. Things will probably get better as the characters level up, but until then making skill checks is usually pretty frustrating. Aside from that I am actually glad we gave Buck Rogers XXVc a try. My players seem to enjoy playing their characters, they love the setting and overall we are having a lot of fun. I think I just need to get a better understanding of how the game is balanced.
Before I even knew that pen & paper RPGs existed I was a fan of computer RPGs like SSI’s Gold Box Series. My two favorite games from that series were actually the games based on TSR’s Buck Rogers XXVc game.
While doing some research in preparation to next week’s game I watched some “Let’s Play” videos of the first game in the series: Countdown to Doomsday. There I noticed a something which is missing from the pen & paper game: gear qualities (or it’s not mentioned in any of the books I own).
Gear qualities are basically the “magic weapons and armor” of the Buck Rogers game. Standard weapons have a +0 to hit and a –0 to AC. So far so good. Martian weapons on the other hand are +1 to hit and –1 to AC. I think you get the drill. So if you want to provide your players with a particular useful piece of treasure you can make use of this. I’ve added a table of the various Gear Qualities available in the Countdown to Doomsday game below.
You can use something similar in your D&D games as well. If you don’t want to hand out boring longswords +1 or daggers +2, think of more descriptive terms fitting your game world. For example Imperial plate mail sounds way better than plate mail +1, don’t you think?
After playing a couple of one-shots and my players yearned for a longer campaign, so I retreated into my GM cave and thought long and hard what I really wanted to run. In the end I had three games on my list: James Spahn’s The Hero’s Journey, Kevin Crawford’s Star Without Number and the venerable TSR Sci-Fi RPG Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (or XXVc for short). To my surprise the players voted for the latter.
Even though I totally love the game, I am no fan of descending ACs and the dreaded THAC0. I also hate the rather bland and much too small character sheet provided in the book. So I sat down at my PC and created a new one. Since I wanted to include all skills on the sheet and make it as user-friendly as possible … let’s just say, it got a bit more extensive than expected. While doing so I also decided to quickly convert the game to ascending ACs, which is luckily very easily done.
Eventually I ended up with a five-paged sheet which – at least in my humble opinion, looks sweet but also includes some helpful information for the players, like an armor table with both ascending and descending armor classes. The skill prerequisites are all listed, and last but not least there’s a handy attack bonus table on the sheet which I derived from the THAC0 table. Overall I am quite happy with the sheet, so I share it here.
If you find any errors, or if there’s anything missing, please let me know.