Metascape, Part IV

Metascape, Part IV

The Final Chapter

I Hope

Yeah, it’s been a while. I have had birthdays, family issues, and a strange desire to learn the Unity game development environment. And I’ve had in my head that first, I would fill out the character sheet and then scan it and post it, instead of tediously transcribing all my steps. But, professional procrastinator that I am, I never got around to that, and I finally admitted I was using “Ah, but first, I must do this” as an excuse, and steeled myself. So here we are. (And I wrote 95% of this a week ago, but am just posting it now, because, reasons.)

Since I have effectively zero readers, the odds of someone discovering this post out of sequence are pretty low, but just in case: Part I (We open the box!), Part II (Dice mechanics. Nothing but dice mechanics.), and Part III (Swashbuckling catgirl ahoy!).

Oh, this link has nothing to do, directly, with this topic, but I just discovered it… I love the original pulp novels by Hamilton and I’ve enjoyed Steele’s “Coyote” novels… from the reviews, this isn’t a satire/deconstruction but a serious take on the character blending the original concepts and modern knowledge. (I have not read it; I am just summarizing others’ opinions.)

Let’s begin.

Race: Zin-Shee Female.
Sex: Female.
Age: 6L? What does… oh yeah, I look on the character sheet for the chart NOT labelled “L” (Light), roll a D6 and a D16, and cross index. A 1 and a 16… 16. Do I reroll and add for the 16 for this roll? I’m not sure. Let’s just say she’s 16 years old. Done.
Height: 6L+60… I end up w/62.
Weight: 6LV+100. I end up with a ‘1’, but V is x10, so, 10, so, 110.

I fill in the baseline attributes from the book. There’s a lot of them. 11 attributes, 5 weapon classes (base skills, each weapon needs to be learned… I think… EDIT: I was wrong, see below), “Enhancements” (general racial traits like “Enhanced Hearing” and “Light Sleeper”) Handicaps (No place to write them, I put it under “Enhancements” with a note), Natural Weapons, and more.

All PCs are presumed to be members of the House of Dha, an organization formed by the Guild for the purpose of employing the galaxy’s murderhobos… I mean, erm, “to investigate, engage, and eliminate all threats to the guild by whatever means necessary.” So, yeah, to employ the galaxy’s murderhobos.

There’s a list of benefits, but for purposes of character generation, the two that matter are that I get a “Bridge Officer” enhancement and optionally a ship specialization for half AP.

Chapter Approved

I now have to pick a class… er… chapter. Since the game was published in 1977, of course there are racial restrictions on which class I can pick, that’s just how things were back in the Cambrian era of gaming and… wait,  it was published in 1993? Oh, dear.

My choices (due to my race) are Cyber Warrior, Dragon, Marine, Mensi, Rogue, and Warrior. For those who care, other options are Bio Gunner, Bio Warrior, Destron, Mutak, and Warlock.

Humans (“Anthropos”) can be of any class, of course. And every race can be a Rogue, following a tradition going back to AD&D 1e.

My goal is to create a swashbuckler. The closest fit is, of course, Rogue… which, reading the description, isn’t so much as “thief” as “jack of all trades”, as you don’t get any special skills or abilities, but you can buy all “skills, enhancements, and specializations” for 10% off.

(I need to mention, at this point, that initiative is called “Nish”, leading to such statements as “Failure results in loss of Nish.” I felt that had to be stated somewhere in this series of articles. Why not here?)

Following are several pages describing attributes, skills, and enhancements in more detail. Most are pretty straightforward. The Bridge Officer enhancement I get for being a licensed murderhobo… I mean, a member of Guild House Dha… gives me a 6L (pretty low, but better than nothing) rating for the use of any ship functions. This rating can’t be improved or enhanced; you need to buy the actual skill for that. Makes sense to me. It helps ensure that you don’t have a situation where no PC can even attempt a vital ship function because the one guy who put points into “Pilot” or “Engineer” is dead or incapacitated, while still providing a good reason to actually take the individual skills and raise them to respectable levels.

(Oh, I just noticed this on rereading. Not all Enhancements are available to all races. Well, that makes sense. Which ones? Well, you see, it would be too “time consuming” to create a detailed table, so just ask your GM. He gets to decide which races can take which enhancements, to “fine tune” his campaign.

A good example is “Life Freeze”. You can enter suspended animation at will, appearing dead. (This was years before ‘feign death pulling’, BTW. And if you don’t know what ‘feign death pulling’ is, U R N00B.) That strikes me as something not every character would have the ability to learn, but, should it be restricted by “chapter”? By race? Both? A dozen GMs would have a dozen answers based on their own personal biases and internalized notions of what “makes sense” or is “realistic”. None would be particularly right or wrong, but, to beat one of my favorite dead horses (let’s face it, I have a Triple Crown’s worth of dead horses), the idea that rules don’t need to spell things about because “reasonable people” will always agree on the “right” answer is once again shown to be bullshit, because what’s “reasonable” when discussing plasma-sword wielding catgirls will, like the taste of Soylent Cola, vary from person to person.)

My “Flirtatious” Handicap (a racial trait) gives me +10 AP. I sure hope I find the rules on what to do with AP soon. I can also pick other Handicaps to individualize my character and get more points. Some are not applicable to some races. Which ones? See previous paragraph.

I flipped back to the start. I get 100 APs to play with, plus 10 from my Handicap, and a ton of skills, enhancements, and powers to pick from. This could be fun. It’s almost lunch time now, so, I will come back in a bit and finish this off.

What’s The (Advancement) Point Of It All?

110 APs.

To start with, I want to raise my Dexterity to 10M. That’s 20 points. 90 left.

My Melee to 10L. That’s 25 points. 65 left.

No, wait. As a Rogue, I get a 10% discount on everything. So, uhm, add in 4.5 back… let’s call it 70 left.

To get some decent abilities, I want to get the Parry and Disarm enhancements. There’s a confusing encoding for the cost (big shock), but I’ll spare you the details and say the only way I can afford them is to by them in their “single weapon only” version. That will cost me a total of 35…minus 3.5… or 32… points, and I choose to use them with Plasma Sword. 38 points left.

Might want some skills.

If I spend 30 AP (-3… 27) I can get the Thief Specialization, which gives me Theft for free and a bunch of other skills at half cost. But that would leave me with only 11 AP left. Hm. Time to look at more Handicaps.

Short Temper and Absent Minded seem appropriate for a catgirl. That gives me 18 more, giving me 29 after I buy Thief.

18 (20, -2 discount) go to get me some Acrobatics.

9 left. Stealth is half cost, so 7.5 (but I can’t also apply my 10% discount, it says so in the rules, foo). That leaves me 1.5. Or, I could fudge by 1 point and pick up Detect Lie and Fast Talk for 5 each, instead of Stealth. Yeah. Let’s do that.

Skills are based on Attributes, but actually start at a reduced value compared to their base… this is different from many game designs where an attribute can be used as the untrained default.

My skills, applying the base, are:

Acrobatics 8M
Detect Lie 10M
Fast Talk 10M
Theft 10M

A Plasma Sword attacks at Melee  – 2d, so 6L for me.

Man, first level… I mean, Rank 0… characters don’t have a lot of options, do they? Or, rather, they do (there’s an extensive list of skills, enhancements, and other goodies), but not a lot of points to spend when all is said and done. Of course, I chose “Rogue”, which doesn’t give a lot of freebies but provides flexibility.

It’s an oddity, to me, that you don’t learn “weapon” skills per se. You have the “Weapon Class” attribute for your skill with an entire set of weapons. There are multiple “enhancements” that will give you special actions with weapons or allow you to ignore some penalties, but you can’t really be extra-good with pistols or axes in general combat.

A Character Sheet

Here’s the filled out sheet, modulus some of the stuff I worked out above. My handwriting is abysmal, and not helped by the small spaces to write in.

There’s other stuff on the back, and even a second sheet for overflow of some items.

Some Conclusions

As is often the case, it’s hard to see how things play out in… erm… play.  I notice that for all the hundreds of words spent on die mechanics, ultimately, PCs have a very narrow range of attribute values… 3 die scores (6, 8, 10) times three categories (light, medium, heavy), boiling down to an effective range of 1-9. The extensive list of skills and enhancements provides opportunities for personalization, but they tend to be expensive, as we’ve seen. (On the plus side, there’s a lot of room for growth and development. I like games where you have choices to make after chargen.)

The time to create a character, once the learning curve of the dice codes is overcome, is low. Copy over your base stats and spend your points (of which you have few). Boom. Done. (There’s also buying equipment, but I didn’t go there.)

Clearly, Guild Space was never going to be the kind of insane success its creators envisioned, with organized play and internship programs and registering products owned to make it easier for people to buy new ones for you. But it made virtually no impact at all, despite a lot of advertising at the time. Why?

I would speculate:

  • It was a high-crunch, “simulationist” game at a time when the White Wolf wave was really gathering force.
  • And this little thing called “Magic: The Gathering” was about to hit, too.
  • People who wanted high-crunch SF at the time had many other options, with established universes and lots of ongoing support.
  • 40 dollars for a sealed box is a lot of buy-in for an unknown quantity. (That’s almost 70.00 in modern money. Yeah, that’s the buy-in for, say, Pathfinder Core and a supplement or two, but those are books you can flip through to see what you’re getting, and they’re well-supported online and off.)
  • It rips off is inspired by Star Wars (The ‘Sorce’. I mean, really? That’s the best you could do?), and there was an official Star Wars RPG that was at the peak of its creative output at the time. There’s no need for a pale imitation when you’ve got the real thing.

The creator obviously loved his work. There’s a trail of broken web sites and abandoned links scattered across the web, filled with new versions of the system (or promises of same; in many cases, the links were dead or rerouting to highly dubious digital locales). But this love could not, evidently, by easily spread.

If only they’d put the swashbuckling catgirls front and center!

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3 Responses to Metascape, Part IV

  1. Dust says:

    You know, for a RPG from back in the bronze age of RPG (between DnD’s first release and some time before DnD 3e), this is complicated. And people say current DnD is complex! You ain’t seen complex till you look back at the older stuff like this.
    I often wonder how the hell we were patient enough for this stuff, but then I remember these were the days before smartphones. Lucky bastards.

    • Lizard says:

      Read my walkthrough of C&S. At some point, I’ll do Aftermath.

      One of the persistent myths of the modern age is that “old school” RPGs were simple (and by conscious design, not because they often were limited to relatively short rulebooks by pure economics). I do my best to disabuse people of that notion. In many cases, especially D&D, people like to claim there were no rules to govern many actions… but there actually WERE, they were just so lousy that people ignored them.

  2. Adam Black says:

    I bought this box set on clearance at my local gaming store around 1995 or so and it’s been one of the weirdest items in my RPG collection ever since. Never ran it or even made a character, so your blog posts have been as educational as they are entertaining.

    I mean…I guess I can see what he’s trying to do with the rules…? But it seems like he still needs to read up a bit on bell curves and dice probabilities.

    Nonetheless: this game exists in my collection as a reminder that it’s easy to overdo it. 🙂

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