Star Rovers, Part V
You Gotta Have…Wait, I Did That Bit Already
Alright! After a long trek through space corporations, exchange rates, equipment failure, bodily improvement, and mining, we are staring at the skill listing for the Spacer class. This gives us the attribute prerequisites, which helps me figure out what classes I qualify for before I pick one. It’s also illustrated by an attractive, eye-patched space pirate lady (I assume she’s a pirate ’cause of the eyepatch, it is a fundamental law of the universe that naval officers or guys who haul space-beans from one forgettable starport to another either don’t lose eyes in fights at Moondog Maude’s or else can afford prosthetics) with a wonderful 80’s style "do", and her somewhat more butch looking crewmate, and because I’ve spent way too much time on the Internet and I’m a dirty old man, I’m going to have to speculate on just what they do to celebrate a successful raid. But since there’s no space combat rules (bitter? Moi?), I might just assume they have to keep busy while waiting, during those long, cold, nights in space… yeah, I’ll be in my bunk.
Picture (and some text) after the break.
Spacers and Zenos And Spooks, Oh My!
Is That An IDIC She’s Wearing?
OK, enough with speculating on the sex lives of space pirates. The Spacer class description has a long list of prereqs, and I don’t make the first one, which is Irrationality: 10. Mine is only 7. We can now also play an exciting new game called "Figure out how the frack the prereqs are organized". There’s 7 attribute minimums, out of 12 attributes, for Spacers. Are they alphabetical? No, it goes "Irrationality, Dexterity, Courage, etc". Are they in the order they appear on the Character Sheet? No. Are they in order from highest required number to lowest? No, "Rationality: 8" is followed by "Judgement: 9". In other words, not only do you need to check 75% of your attributes to figure out if you qualify (if you don’t wash out on the first number, as I did), you have to constantly scan up and down your character sheet.
There’s also attribute maximums. You can’t be a Spacer if your Strength is 15 or greater. Attribute minimums have a long and storied history in gaming, and "make sense", especially in the dominant design and balance paradigms of the 1970s/1980s, and, flying spaghetti monster help me, did I just use pseudo literary analysis phrases non-ironically? Stupid English degree keeps coming back to haunt me. If I ever begin talking about "secondary readings of the text", shoot me. Anyway, it’s a lot harder to justify attribute maximums from a balance perspective — it’s not like being very strong will make a Spacer too effective, since most of their skills don’t use Strength. I kind of get what they’re going for here, the idea that, if you’re in Space, you’ll be spending time in 0-G, lower muscles, yadda yadda, but it’s really unnecessary and just punishes someone who happened to roll well. I’m sure most DMs would not be adverse to you clipping off a few points, though.
0 Level Skills. Like 0 Level Spells, But Skillier
No, "Skillier" is almost certainly not a word.
You begin your journey
into the vast reaches of space between Moondog Maude’s and your ship with only 0 level skills. I think. Let me double check on this. Yeah, you begin with 0 level skills, and each skill begins at skill level 0. As you raise your career level, your skill level will increase automatically and you access to higher level skills, but your new high level skills are at skill level 0 and…
A Whole Lot, Belkar. A Whole Lot.
Well, I can’t be a Spacer, so let’s see what I give up. What would a prototype Han Solo (if there were any rules for spaceships) be able to do, in this world of starcluster eating hurraku, exploding biomorphs, and dragonspawn? Well, there’s Computers (which covers just sticking the 5.25 floppy for WordStar 1.0 in the disk drive, not writing programs), Minor Repairs (example given is patching space suits), Roustabout (which is sweeping up the floors at the starport. Really.), and Starship ID, which is being able to identify starships. (The uselessness of this skill in Module I is enough to make baby Cthulhu cry.)
Flying a starship? I mean, if there were any? This gets tricky and actually brings back memories of how we improvised, Back In The Day (the Day being most of early 1982, and, you know, I still use some ideas from the campaign I ran back then. It was set in a sword-and-blaster version of Earth’s solar system at "Tech Level M" and featured ocean pirates on Venus and medieval cat people on Mars, things which have shown up in some of my recently published work. I can’t really say my epic "Dungeon Of Orcs In 10 * 10 Rooms" has been a well I’ve gone back to over and over, but the stuff I came up with for Star Rovers? I’ve gotten amazing mileage out of it.). If you bleep ahead to the Level 1 skills, you find there’s a "Copilot License Class 1", which allows you to be a copilot on "Class 1 Starships", and this license requires Astrogation and Communications, so we ruled if you had those skills, you could at least take off and land. Of course, we have no idea what a "Class 1 Starship" might represent, but it can be safely assumed it was a small craft, probably
Mill Zirconium Zephyr size.
Of course, I can’t be a pilot. So. Moving on.
So What Can I Be?
Rover, out — Constitution is too low.
Rigger, out — Dexterity too low.
Merk, out — Constitution too low.
Spook, out — Irrationality too low. Spooks, by the way, have no fewer than five attribute maximums, including Scruples and Qualities. This does make sense.
Diplo, out, Charisma too low.
Zeno, out, Irrationality too low.
Medic, out, Irrationality too low.
Shadowjack, out, Dexterity too low.
Uhm… that’s it.
I didn’t qualify for a single class.
The class I am closest to qualifying for is Rigger. I just need to raise my Dexterity by 1 point, which I will assign to the… oh, wait! Woot! My dexterity is 9, thanks to the +1 Knack I got from the background table! Hoody hoo!
Ok, Tam Blackwing is a Level 0 Rigger!
With a Memory of 3, I can pick 3 0-level skills, 2 of which must come from the Rigger list. My little Scotty-to-be can pick from Basic Engineering, Basic Maintenance, Basic Repairs (which has examples of "Replace Washers" and "Wrap a rag around a leaky pipe"), Elementary Systems Theory, Fire Control (referring to "The ship’s on fire", not "fire all guns at the possibly lesbian space pirates"), Plumbing (presumably, if you have this skill, the pipe won’t leak so you won’t need to wrap a rag around it), and "Tech Check", which covers noticing if the antimatter warp core has a crack in it. Not that you could do much with "Basic Repairs" if it did, mind you.
I’ve said quite a few times that Star Rovers was forward looking in many design aspects. The 0 level skills… were not one of those aspects. This is a definite look backward to a model/concept which was leaving the "primary design gestalt", for want of a less pretentious term, at the time, namely, the idea that at first level, you were somewhat less than useless. Star Rovers is hardly alone in this; at this point in D&D history, a low level character could often be killed by a random household pet. A 1st level Rolemaster caster would be lucky if he could boil water, and I mean that literally. Simply surviving to a level of marginal competence was a great achievement. This made a certain kind of sense when character creation took 5 minutes and involved almost no choices. However, character depth and complexity accelerated rapidly, while character competence and combat lethality remained mired in the earliest days of D&D. (This isn’t universal — Traveller began characters with a literal lifetime of skills, but also had effectively no experience system.) Anyway, the disconnect between the cosmic level ass kicking promised by the art and the writing tone, and what your starting characters could actually do, is pretty jarring. I don’t mind the idea of growing in power… I find the "Zero To Hero" model to be effective and compelling and a part of why I enjoy RPGs. However, you should be able to begin with the basic skills of whatever class you’re supposed to be. A Spacer should be able to fly a spaceship. A rigger should be able to.. rig.
Yet Another Digression
Stepping back from just working through the rules as they are, and putting on my Game Designers Hat, it seems to me you could do a lot with a few quick fixes. First, get rid of skill levels per se. Instead, you have a list of skills for each class, of which you can pick "X" at 0th level and more as you go up in level. The URM provides a very good "Skill vs. Task Difficulty" mechanic, it’s already there. So your Rigger has "Repair" skills. Repairing a leaky pipe is a -0 on the "Unfavorable" axis, it’s as easy as it gets. Patching up minor wear-and-tear, maybe a -1 to -3. Stabilizing the antimatter reactor by rerouting the sensor grid through the particle field and venting the plasma out the airlock? -15. This handily avoids the "What, exactly, are the limits of ‘minor repair’?" debates.
Skills To Pay The Bills
OK, I will pick "Basic Engineering" and "Elementary Systems Theory" for my Rigger skills, and "Archaic Weapons" from the Merk skill list, so I can use a knife. Why Archaic? Because it will let me use my Length of 6 as a positive factor on the URM, vs. my Knack of only 3 if I went with ranged weapons. Min-max for the win, baby!
Well, all we have left to do is buy equipment…
From Dragon Breath To Cosmic Ray Guns
Ah, here we go. The equipment section.
To a lot of gamers, one of the best parts of any game is the selection of k3w1 stuph you can buy (or loot from the corpses of your enemies). Whatever other things Star Rovers may have left out (say, just to pick a random example, not that it’s something I’m harping on constantly or anything, starships), it certainly doesn’t stint on the items. The lists range from stone knives and bearskins ("Animal Furs", Tech Level A armor; "Dagger (Flint)", tech level C weapon. What, you thought I was being metaphorical?), to Tachyon Sabers (Tech Level "T" melee weapon, employed by Star Knights who owe allegiance to the "Dark Side of the Eg" (Yes, Eg, one g. Yes, I know I said that before. Just reinforcing it.)) and "Z-Ray Guns" which de-evolve the victim into pre-sentience. (The Z-Ray gun entry also helpfully notes that a carbine model is known to exist. This is just one of those little details that has you blinking in surprise and wonderment and the kind of state of mental duality that a good Zen koan provides. Gun that de-evolves targets? Ok, cool. Gun that de-evolves targets and comes in multiple models? That’s just… beyond cool. Beyond awesome. It goes past "awesome" and right around again to "stupid" and then zooms past stupid to "awesome" again. Yes, this is a Tech Level "T" weapon and unlikely to be in player’s hands, but still, there’s just something incredibly weirdly rightwrong about it. Tech Level "T" (the chart goes to "Z", by the way, but "T" seems to be where most of the equipment maxes out) is an age of inter-planetary telekinesis, the revival of suicide cults, and hyperdomes. After "T", things get really weird. Anyhow, it’s interesting to picture someone living at this tech level, buying a gun that de-evolves his enemies, then looking at it and saying "Well, OK, but I really need a carbine version. Do you have one in stock?" Is there some ultra-tech version of "Guns & Ammo" that features a headline article reading "We test 52 different Z-Ray models! Which one de-evolves the best?")
Oh, another Tech Level T weapon is the "Cosmic Ray Gun", which destroys the life force and leaves the victim a mindless zombie. It affects ALL forms of life and only psionic defenses of the HIGHEST order will stop it, and, zomg!, I just got it. The game is written in Kirby. Ever read Jack Kirby, someone who is very much a near god, and one of my major influences? That’s how he writes. Words are RANDOMLY emphasized, GIVING the writing a CURIOUS beat and RHYTHM all its own. Oh, the Cosmic Ray Gun will also destroy the wielder on a roll of 1 or less on 2d5, or 1 in 12 times. This is also a pretty typical feature of Star Rovers equipment list — most of the really cool stuff will kill you far too often to be practical, and that’s another bit of "old schoolery" that’s mostly past now. Back in Ye Goode Olde Dayse, "screwing the player" was a time-honored tradition, and the Arduin/West Coast style, in particular, was renowned for instakill death traps. Other guns, by the way, include the Microtizer (Shrink Ray), at TL "S", and "Quasit Beamers", which "reverses polarity" of the target, but which can’t penetrate energy screens. An extremely helpful note directs us to "Moebius Loops" in Module 2. Blaster swords, neuronic whips, ion saber, anti-matter mace… and a very large, very complete, selection of ancient, medieval, and "modern" era weapons.. flintlocks and chainsaws, flails and Molotov cocktails… really, if there’s a way to kill someone that this game doesn’t include, there’s enough examples and data points that you can trivially add it.
By the way, the "Dragonbreath" in the header? That’s not a poetic term for some wonky high tech weapon. It’s a "Tech Level A" weapon, which is, really, dragon breath. Since the weapons chart doesn’t include "teeth" , "claws" "stinger", or any other inherent attack form, I’m really not sure why it’s listed. I’m not particularly mad or upset or cranky that it’s listed, it just seems to be sort of a stub, something put on the charts when, perhaps, they were planning on including more natural weapons and never removed. Or maybe not. (Part of the cleanup of Earth Delta is removing the bits of stuff that were supposed to grow, but never did.)
There’s a lot more than weapons, here. There’s vehicles, communication gear, armor… wait a minute… there’s the armor cost table and all of its defense values, but there’s no descriptions or notes, like there are for every other type of equipment… OK, this is weird. I know I read armor descriptions. I remember it. I’m not going mad. I spent months reading this book backward and forward in my wayward youth, I know there’s armor descriptions here somewhere… folks, I flipped back and forth in the equipment lists for a good five minutes before giving up, and then, a little light bulb went on, and I went back to the combat section in Chapter 2, and there is where armor is described. Weapons? In the equipment section. Force fields? Equipment section. But armor? Armor is in the combat rules. Not the stats for the armor, or the cost, or the weight… they’re with the equipment. The descriptions, alone and contextless, are on page 2.12.
Titanium Armor, by the way, is Tech Level K, the first POWER ARMOR, and is noted as being "Iron Man’s".
The Dark Lord wears Tech Level O Plasteel Armor. Just thought you’d like to know.
And that, folks, is mostly that. The character is done! What remains of the book is that starmapping and cosmology rules, which tend to go beyond the scope of these sorts of articles. On the other hand, Star Rovers has such a unique take on astrophysics that it might be worth covering. Aw, hell, why not, this has already gone far beyond the typical entry in this series. Part VI, and final, will be a look at how you create starclusters, before the Hurraku chew them up.
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