Friday, March 14, 2008

Battlestar Galactica RPG

Back a few months ago when I was getting ready to move, I read through the Battlestar Galactica Role-Playing Game whenever I felt like taking a break from packing. I haven't played the game, but I've decided to write about my impressions of the game after a read through. I'll start by discussing what I don't like about it.

First things first, it's too expensive. Forty-five dollars is simply too much for a 232 page book, even a hardback in full color. You have to blame Universal Studios Licensing for the expense, because the high price is reportedly the direct result of high licensing costs. I probably wouldn't have bought the book except that I was able to get it at a significantly reduced price, which is a shame because it's a pretty good book of a license I love.

I have one big issue with the style of the book. The show does such a great job of not introducing "parallel development" between the colonies and Earth. From the die-cut paper to the different sports to the odd clothes, very little is exactly the same. The commentary on one of the earlier episodes even mentions how they accidentally allowed a mention of "chickens" in the mini-series, when they were deliberately trying to leave such "earthisms" out. Unfortunately, the RPG doesn't take the same sort of care, particularly in the Gear section. There are lots of references to Kevlar (they even capitalize it, so they know it's a proper noun and not a generic substance), and various caliber weapons from .45 to .30-.06. Why would the colonies have such things? They should have kept things more generic, referencing bullet-proof cloth and large or small caliber. Instead, they left in dozens of "earthisms" that really tend to pull you out of any immersion you would otherwise have.

So, those are probably the biggest issues I have with the game, neither of which deals with the game itself. That game is based on Margaret Weis Productions' house system, the Cortex system. The Cortex system previously appeared in the Serenity RPG, and has its origins in the Sovereign Stone RPG. At its core every attribute and skill is rated based on its die value from d2 to d12 (with values higher than d12 rolling multiple dice, for example d12+d2). Most actions use one attribute and one skill with the total being matched against a difficulty number.

The one thing distinguishing this system from other mainstream systems is the use of Plot Points, which I touched on briefly in my post on The Evolution of the RPG Disadvantage. Players get these points for a variety of actions, including allowing their negative traits to be used against them. They can then spend them on a variety of actions including getting extra dice to roll, or even changing small things about the story itself. For example, for a few points a character might say that his character finds some extra ammo even though the GM didn't say there was anything there. The GM then chooses whether or not to allow the expenditure. While not offering as much player input into the environment as in some "indy" games, it does allow more than in most other mainstream games.

Character generation is point based. Players get three pools of points to spend, one for attributes, one for skills, and one for traits. Points cannot be traded between pools. Attributes and skills are pretty straight forward. Traits are a bit different in that basic characters start with a pool that equals zero. If the GM wants characters that are more experienced then they may allow for a few points, otherwise characters can only get positive traits (assets) by first taking negative traits (complications). It's a decent system, but I find the selection a bit anemic after such indy games as Burning Wheel, or even such mainstream games as Hero or GURPS . There's just over 30 assets and just under 50 complications. Still there's enough there to make a variety of characters, and it shouldn't be hard to introduce new traits.

Other reviews have said that combat is deadly, and I'll have to take their word for that since I haven't been able to playtest it. I can tell that it's definitely more deadly than some other mainstream games, like d20. Overall I think this is a good thing, especially since players can try to save themselves with Plot Points if they have to.

When it comes to the background, the scope of the book covers all but the last episode of the first season, including the mini-series. I've seen it mentioned elsewhere that there will be four add-on products which will expand this coverage. In particular, the book covering the colonial military is expected to deal with season two as that is where the Battlestar Pegasus first appears.

Overall, the game looks pretty solid, and not too complex. I'd give it a try either running or playing if I had the opportunity, although it wouldn't be at the top of my list of RPGs to play.

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