Category Archives: The Mysterious Column X

The Mysterious Column X is your Mysterious Guide X to Mysterious Science Fiction RPGs X! Hosted by The Mysterious Dr. X, The Mysterious Column X will cover all manner of scifi-ish themes, from Star Wars, to post-apocalypse, and beyond! Be prepared for lots of The Mysterious Fun X!

Original Trilogy? Nah.

Greetings, frequent (or occasional, I won’t mind) sci-fiers! It is I, The Mysterious Dr. X, here once again to blab about science fiction all over your monitor! I was going through some of my older articles on here, and I came across one in particular- I Hate Jedi– that I thought had some intriguing possibilities for expansion.

I don’t know if you know this, but my comments in that previous article are something that all the rest of my fellow writers here share. None of us at The Doderman Defense Network like Jedi. This article, meanwhile, will probably be… a less popular post than the previous one was, namely because I’m pretty sure I’m the only one here that agrees with me.

—–

I don’t like the original trilogy.

A lot of people here- Larry and Pain, looking at you- will complain about how it’s impossible to not like, about how it sets the tone for the series, about how it’s just SO DAMN IMPORTANT, both internally as part of the saga, and externally as a movie, and so on.

Don’t care. Not even kind of. It’s importance in the history of moviemaking is literally completely irrelevant to what I’m talking about, and I never said I thought it wasn’t important to the series storyline. And yes, it does set the tone for the other parts of the series. But that is how literally every other series ever made ALSO works, so that’s not really a reason to like this one specifically because of it.

And as far as it being impossible not to like? Well, I don’t like it, so “impossible” is obviously a bit strong of a word.

My biggest problem with it is that it’s all about Jedi. The entire world has gone down the toilet, and a Jedi is the only thing that can fix it. Yawn. Since I already don’t like Jedi, this is in no way a draw to me. At least in the prequel trilogy, there were other, non-Jedi forces at work, moving the plot along, so it felt like a complete, filled-out world that didn’t need to rely on magical space samurai to function. Original trilogy was basically “if there isn’t a Jedi, it doesn’t really count”. Basically, things can only happen if it’s a Jedi that does them, is what the original trilogy is trying to say. No one else can really affect much change anywhere important.

But that’s just from a storyline, plotting perspective. From a gaming perspective, I honestly believe that setting a campaign during Rebellion era is legitimately, objectively the worst choice of all the possible eras of play. First off, it’s the obvious, first choice. The movies were really famous, everyone thinks they’re really good, then when the sequels (well, prequels) come out, everyone thinks they suck, which just intensifies their still-held childhood belief that the originals were great. So therefore, everyone’s automatically gonna want to set the game in Rebellion era, just cause it’s the setting from “the good ones”. That just smacks of “lazy and obvious choice” to me.

Plus, in a related note, a big part of why everyone likes original trilogy so much is that is really gives a sense of a fleshed out world, with lots of history to it. So why not give that a try? You already know what happens in Rebellion era, you’ve seen the movies 300 times. Go explore some of that history you’re so glad the series has.

But anyway, the second reason why Rebellion era just doesn’t work for me is that there’s no room. Every moment of every day of the entirety of the Rebellion era has been officially in canon accounted for already, thanks to the EU. By this point, the only way to make a campaign set during the original trilogy is to actively ignore at least one or two of the published materials. So why not set your game at some other point in the timeline? For instance, twenty four thousand years ago, during the Dawn Of The Jedi era? Or, say, three years after the Yuuzhan Vong are defeated? Or- my favorite- Old Republic era? All three of those settings have huge swathes of several years in a row where there’s just NOTHING officially released that takes place there. You have literally the entire galaxy and everything in it to explore, and in no way will you be ignoring any canon to do it.

I remember the other day I was talking to an acquaintance of mine, and he said “oh, I really like [Certain Band X]”. Well, so do I, so I started mentioning all these songs, and which one was his favorite, and all that. His response was to shrug and say “I only really like their first album. After that I stopped listening to them”. Well then, you’re not really a fan, are you? They’ve released six albums, you only like one of them- hell, have only LISTENED to one of them- and call yourself a fan? How does that work?

That’s what people who are all about Rebellion era look to me. They love it SO MUCH, YOU GUYS, but they’re unwilling to give the other eras even remotely the attention or care their oh so beloved original trilogy somehow deserves. I’m not saying everyone should love the ones I love- if that were the case, this article would be about Old Republic, not Rebellion- but what I AM saying is that you should give something other than original trilogy a shot. You’d be surprised at how fun it is.

—–

That’s it for me this week, folks! See you next week for another blast from my Mysterious X Ray! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “don’t forget to bring extra power packs”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (pew pew pew)

Advertisements

WARNING: TOP SECRET

MUAHAHAHAHA Greetings, puny humans! It is I, your overlord supreme, The Mysterious Dr. X! I have left my distant home planet of Earth to teach your species the wonders of science fiction RPGs!

Sadly, however, today will be but a brief one- although it may contain hidden gems yet to be uncovered (except by me, of course- I know it all). I was perusing my binders (upon binders upon binders, but I digress) of Star Wars notes, and I came across something that piqued my interest- a flowchart for an adventure I never ended up getting the chance to use, so it never made it beyond flowchart form. But first! There was along with it a list of the characters in the party for the campaign it was designed for. (Which was Revised edition, by the way.) Believe it or not, there were nine of them/us:

  1. Elias, human soldier- very by-the-books and super traditional. Relies mainly on his tricked out laser rifle, “Ol’ Headshot”.
  2. Zaku, human cyborg soldier- personality almost the opposite of Elias. Has a cybernetic hand that could be swapped out for various melee weapons.
  3. Freylis, Bothan scout- sensitive, thoughtful, caring, and knows every swear word in thirty different languages. Loves himself thermal detonators.
  4. Wes, human scoundrel- dual wields heavy blasters when he isn’t hitting on everything that moved.
  5. Rexar-Gaine, sub-human Jedi- borderline feral, she was adopted into the Order, mainly so the Sith couldn’t get to her.
  6. Rokhuun, wookiee Jedi- political machinations forced him off the Council and back into a life of adventure and exploration.
  7. Cedrith, human Jedi- Rexy’s Jedi master, and a former athlete who gave up the fame and adoration to do some real good.
  8. HCX67, droideka soldier- part of a contingent of droids built in secret by the Emperor decades ago in the event Order 66 fails, but reprogrammed by Luke Skywalker.
  9. Narg, wookiee cyborg tech specialist- got cybernetics so he could learn new languages while working, and got a voice mod installed that lets him speak them.

Now, admittedly, not every single one of these characters was always active all the time. For instance, Rhokuun and HCX67 first showed up right around the time Elias, Zaku, and Wes retired from constant adventuring. Freylis became the Bosley of the group, frequently communicated with but almost never actually onscreen. Then later on (like, a couple years after it originally ended), it would come back with another new character- and one you Mysterious Dr X-Fans might recognize- the great Gurling Qualin. So, uh, I guess you could say

  1. Gurling Qualin, mon calamari tech specialist- equally quick with a joke or a punch, he specializes in stun attacks, to leave behind a minimum of evidence.

By the time Gurling showed up, he was adventuring with Rexy, Cedrith, Narg, and HCX67, everyone else having long been killed or permanently retired. New Generations, and all that.

Anyway, the list of characters the mission was designed for was on one side. But the mission flowchart itself was on the other, and that’s what I came here to talk about. All you GMs can make of this what you will.

flowchart

And that’s gonna be it for me, all you sci-heads out there! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “may your dice ever be 20s”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (also, side note- see that little jagged line sticking out over the border on the upper right side? What could that ever be??? Let’s take a look, shall we?

mysterious note of mystery!!!!!!!!!

WHOA!!!!!!!!!!!)

That Infamous Knave

Hello out there, Earth dwellers! It is I, your magnanimous host, The Mysterious Dr. X, here today to share with you a story of betrayal and redemption; of love and loss; of glorious triumph and agonizing failure. I am of course talking about that rogue of rogues, that criminal to end all criminals- Quick Joe himself.

Now, I imagine that there might be one or two people out there that aren’t familiar with the delight/madness that is Quick Joe. So for the 95 percent of you that already know him, feel free to skip this next section. For the rest, read on.

—–

Quick Joe was born Wik Jonetta on Ryloth in 9 BBY. He quickly grew into a lanky, gangly teenage twi’lek, and never grew out of it when he became an adult. Upon discovering he actually- surprisingly- was actually a pretty good shot, he decided to join the teeming masses and attempt to make a name for himself in the slums of Coruscant. Not long after, he got his first job as the backup security guard to a half-forgotten strip club on their c-string dancers night. He became locally well known for his extreme bluster and low security-providing ability. He soon saved up enough money to move into a run-down tenement nearby, which lead to the event he’s most famous for.

One day, Wik- not yet known as Quick Joe- was coming back home from work, and was stopped in the street by his landlord, demanding his two months of back rent. Panicking, Wik pulled out a vibrodagger, stabbing his landlord. He heard a noise in the nearby alley, and- thinking it could have been a witness- drew his holdout blaster and fired. Turns out, however, it was just a young hawk-bat foraging through a pile of trash, squawking as it got shot. He then fled the premises.

Forever more, he was known as Quick Joe.

—–

Trust me when I say Quick Joe is the greatest of dudes. Fast with a shot, faster with the blame, and an admittedly bad criminal that gets by on his recognition more than anything else. But he showed up for one primary reason- and here it is! This is the official stat block of Wik “Quick Joe” Jonetta, scoundrel supreme!

Quick Joe was built using the Saga Edition rules.

—–

Quick Joe (Wik Jonetta), twi’lek scoundrel 1; gender- male; age- 38; height- 2 meters; weight- 59 kg; destiny- rescue

STR 11, DEX 18, CON 8, INT 18, WIS 11, CHA 19; hp 17; dmg threshold 13; force points 5; BAB 0; spd 6; destiny points 1; F/R/W 13/17/12; dark side points 2

languages- Basic, Ryl, Lekku; talents- sneak attack; feats and spec. abil.- deceptive, low-light vision,great fortitude, weapon prof. (advanced melee), point blank shot, weapon prof. (pistols), weapon prof. (simple weapons); credits 2500

weapons- vibrodagger (x3) (atk 0, dmg 2d4, crit 20/2x, kept at ankle, small of back, and wrist), ion pistol (atk 4, dmg 3d6 [ion only], crit 20/2x, does half damage vs. non-cybernetics, 30 shots/power pack), blaster pistol (atk 4, dmg 3d6, crit 20/2x, 100 shots/power pack), holdout blaster (atk 4, dmg 3d4, crit 20/2x, 6 shots/energy cell)

skills- acrobatics 5, climb 1, deception 10, endurance 0, gather info 10, initiative 5, jump 1, knowledge (criminal) 10, mechanics 5, perception 6, persuasion 10, pilot 5, ride 5, stealth 10, survival 6, swim 1, treat injury 6, use computer 5, use the Force 5

gear- vibrodagger (x3), ion pistol, blaster pistol, holdout blaster, credit chip, datacard (x10), datapad, recording unit (audio only), all-temp cloak, ration pack (x3), comlink (short-range), pocket scrambler, energy cell (x6), mesh tape roll (x2), power pack (x4), power recharger, hip holster (x2), concealed holster, knife vest

—–

There he is, in all his fantastic glory! He has been very useful as an NPC over the years, and now is the time for you to use him as well! Any time you need some jackass, he’s your dude!

And with that, a brand-new Mysterious Column X sadly comes to its end! If Quick Joe ends up getting himself into something as stupid as he already has, let us know and we’ll feature it here on the site! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “Quick Joe is like Unicron- he exists in multiple timelines simultaneously”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (there’s also both a fantasy and a Modern version of him, and the only real difference between the three is the gear and his race)

Steampunk: The RPG

Hello out there, everyone! It is your ineffable host, the mysterious Mysterious Dr. X, here again to rattle your cage with some science fiction goodness! I’m sure you noticed the headline- yes, today we’ll be talking about steampunk. Now, I know some of you are sitting out there going “well, DANG”.

See, I know steampunk is kind of… I don’t want to say “controversial”. I will, however, use the word “divisive”. I know a lot of people don’t like it, a lot of people think it’s a fad, think it’s lame. And that’s cool. But I like it a lot. I find it very imaginative, very exciting, and different enough from standard science fiction to still whet my appetite for sci-fi while simultaneously not offering exactly the same thing every other sc-fi story does.

And basically, my plan here today was to talk a little bit about how you would set up a steampunk D&D game, what kind of rules that would entail, et cetera. “But wait”, you think. “Isn’t steampunk more ‘fantasy tech in the [relative to its origin] future’ than ‘future tech in the [relative to its origin] past’? Wouldn’t this topic be better served by getting written by the actual fantasy columnist?” You raise an interesting possibility, Reader Who Never Learns To Shaddup! A very interesting and thought provoking question! To that I say “nah”. So buckle up, The Mysterious Dimension X awaits!

Steampunk, at its most basic, is future tech built in the past. There’s robots, but they’re made out of cogs and brass. There’s amazing flying ships, but they’re generally blimps. Steam power is a wondrous new invention. Magic is generally rare, and looked upon suspiciously (usually). In game terms, the setting itself is PL4, with some elements of PL5 and PL6, and with the fluff appropriately changed to suit the setting.

This by the way, is assuming the setting of your steampunk game is the same (or technologically equivalent) setting typically depicted in steampunk media- late 1800s Britain-analogue. If it’s got the trappings of steampunk- brass robots and frequent airships- but takes place modern day, and so also has all the normal tech nowadays has, it’s a solid PL5 with shades of PL6. It all depends on when the game takes place, but the article assumes turn of the century-era tech, which is firmly PL4.

As such, it would probably be easier to run a steampunk game using D&D rules, rather than, say, d20 Future rules. (Using d20 Modern rules would also be pretty smooth, except you’d have to eliminate most of the items in the gear section.) So you’d likely want to start with the basic fantasy version of the game. But from there, it would only require the change of a few bits of fluff narration- and a handful of minor rules changes- in order to effectively convert it into steampunk.

First off, the zeppelins. This would require, well, no conversion- rules for blimps are located on page 55 of the Arms & Equipment Guide (which, let’s face it, every D&D player should own anyway). Okay, technically, the rules are for dirigibles and zeppelins. (shrug)

As far as the weaponry is concerned, you’re gonna want to allow a new feat. Depending on the style you’re using, it would be either Exotic Weapon Proficiency (firearms), or Personal Firearms Proficiency. The first one would be if guns are more rare, and the second would be if they’re normal and commonplace. Anyway, if you’re using fantasy to run the game, stats for guns can be found on page 146 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Personally, I would only allow the revolver, the hunting rifle, and the shotgun- since those generally tend to be the only firearms seen in steampunk- but that’s ultimately up to you.

With melee weapons, rapiers, short swords, and daggers are the most common by far. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a steampunk novel that’s ever had someone carting around a greataxe. But hey, there’s a first time for everything.

Now, this is the part I was having the most trouble with. I’ve been hemming and hawing on how to easily use robots in D&D. Admittedly, there’s a few different choices. There are mainly three that come to mind, but all three of them need to be tweaked a bit. (Again, this is so it will match up with a “typical” steampunk setting. If you want to do it differently, be my guest. Disregard anything or everything written here, it won’t make me feel bad.)

First off, though, you need to decide on one major question- how exactly do you want your robots to be depicted? Do you want them to be all “BRZZT CLANG I AM A MADNESS OF BRASS TUBES AND STEAM”, or do you want them to essentially be a human, except just with organs made of metal?

If you’re going for more of the second one, just use stats for warforged, and narrate them as looking like regular humans. It’s not a perfect fit, but it will effectively emphasize the “robots are another standard race” feel that the “human, except made of metal” approach is aiming for. Warforged are found on page 190 of Monster Manual 3, or on page 20 of the Eberron Campaign Setting book.

Whereas if you’re going more for the first idea- obviously nonhuman, clanking around, geysers of steam shooting out all over the place, and so on- it’ll take a bit more doing. There isn’t going to just be a “just read this stat block, BLAM you’re done” solution- as I said a couple paragraphs ago, there’s gonna be a little tweaking involved, no matter which option you choose.

Option 1: warforged. They’ll actually work for the more obviously robotic kind of robot as well, but I would recommend removing the “living construct” type and replacing it with the regular “construct” type. So, no CON score, immune to criticals, things like that. Keep the INT score (unless that’s the kind of robot you want), but otherwise you should probably be good to go. Consult two paragraphs earlier for their locations in the books.

Option 2: inevitables. Inevitables are robotic creatures from a lawful plane called the Clockwork Nirvana Of Mechanus. Stylistically, they already have the look down (they already look steampunk as hell), and they come already equipped with an INT score (again, if that’s the kind of robots you want). But, these guys are natural spellcasters, and have some natural abilities that robots generally don’t have. And actually, there’s three different kind of inevitables- the one you’ll want to use is called the kolyarut. I would recommend against using the other two kinds, since one is quadrupedal and the other is Large size. Anyway, personally, I would remove the kolyarut’s vampiric touch, the enervation ray, the spell-like abilities, and probably the DR/SR. Course, it might be cool to keep one or two of the abilities (enervation ray, for example) and just narrate it as some kind of crazy secret weapon hidden away in a compartment or something. The kolyarut is on page 159 of the Monster Manual 1.

Option 3: iron golem. This one is both more and less complex, but it most directly correlates to how robots are depicted in steampunk, and will produce the closest resemblance to how they’re shown elsewhere (in my opinion). Basically, take an iron golem (Monster Manual 1, page 136). Remove the breath weapon, magic immunity, and damage reduction. Shrink it down to Medium-size. Then open up a copy of Savage Species to page 63, apply the modifications from the “awaken construct” spell to it, and make it permanent.

Now, are any of these ideas perfect? Nope. None of these are tested and verified, they’re just ideas that’ll send you along the most helpful path. All three will need further modifications in some way to better suit your game’s specific needs. But I feel they’re a good start. I’m confident enough in my ideas that I’m willing to attach my name to them.

And don’t forget, any kind of stat block modifications might change the CR of the monster, so if you’re using these robots as an enemy combat encounter, make sure to watch out for that.

Anywho, beyond those things, just make sure to fluff up the descriptions. Lots of cogwheels and brass. Goggles all OVER the place. Undead- especially zombies- are a VERY frequent steampunk staple. Airships litter the sky, steam power is still regarded with suspicion in some circles, magic is an uncommon occurrence. All in all, it’s an age of wonder, adventure, and exploration that jives great with the play style of D&D, plus has cool robots! Hell yeah!!

And with that, I shall bid you farewell! It’s been a blast, as always, and I hope you had a blast as well! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “also, piracy- especially air piracy- is rampant”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (Oh, and NPCs have names like “Romulus Buckle” and “Veronica Hobbes”)

Have I Got A Deal For You

Greetings, all you science a-fiction-ados! It is of course your favorite writer of all time, the irrepressible Mysterious Dr. X, all the way from my home planet of Earth to show you humans how to do it! Today is part two of a two part series on science fiction-style aliens appearing in D&D! Last week, we talked about the scourge of the illithids, and today we talk about an equal threat, the terror of the neogi.

Now, let me clarify- I love these guys. They’re my favorite D&D monster, like, ever. (Confusingly, we called them “neogi” on my home planet of Earth. I know, confusing, right?) I like them as much as Chief likes Crawfordsville Monsters.  Since they’re also aliens, I’m gonna spend some time talking about them, so buckle in.

Neogi. They’re the best. I love ’em. They’re completely unrelatable, but in a totally different way than illithids are. Illithids are all “plan, plan, plan”. Neogi are a lot more simple to understand- the ultimate capitalists, their only real plan is to own everything. (Like, seriously. Everything.) They’re merchants, traders, and- most importantly- slavers known the galaxy over.

That’s right, galaxy. These guys are also from space- but unlike the illithids, neogi are from an otherwhere, not an otherwhen. According to legend, they originally hailed from the planet Ka’jk’z, a place of which there is very little information that still exists. Basically, all we know about it is that the greater god of the neogi got killed by all the others, and his brain landed on an empty planet, which hatched like an egg and created the first neogi (that’s plural- “neogi” is its own plural). Why exactly they left is a mater of debate- one story says they were divinely informed it was their racial destiny to conquer, so they just up and left, abandoning it altogether. Others claim Ka’jk’z no longer even exists, having been the first planet destroyed after the rise of the clockwork horrors. Of course, none know for sure the fate of Ka’jk’z, so who is to say any more.

Anyway, they have giant spaceships shaped like spiders- called, cleverly enough, “spiderships”- that are said to be able to travel between worlds. But can they, truly? Long story short- yes. The neogi still, to this day, have the ability to travel to other worlds in their spidership. Lords Of Madness (which I talked about last week, go check it out if you haven’t yet) actually has a mini-adventure at the end of the chapter on neogi (it has one at the end of each chapter, but the neogi one is the relevant one at the moment) involving what’s called “The Wreck Of The Mindspider”. Anyway, they use their ships to travel around the cosmos and collect, well, anything they think they can get money for. Mainly slaves, though, like I said. They’re really big slavers, and that’s definitely their main “supply”, if you will.

Speaking of slaves, there’s one big one that’s an especially big deal to neogi society- the umber hulk. Umber hulks are the neogi’s personal slave race, and every single neogi owns at least one, usually multiple. Since neogi themselves are only small size, they use umber hulks for all sorts of purposes- bodyguards, intimidators, convenient travel, generalized work. Really, they’re just all-around useful.

Actually, I was mistaken- there’s actually two types of slaves that are a particularly big deal to the neogi. The umber hulks, as I mentioned, and the second one is the neogi themselves. Other than umber hulks, neogi are the primary slave race of the neogi, but they aren’t slaves in the typical sense- they aren’t put to work all day, or anything like that. It’s just ownership, and other than that, owned neogi aren’t treated any differently than if they weren’t owned by someone else. After all their racial philosophy is “everything was, is, or will be owned by us”.

All in all, I’ve always had a soft spot for these furry little guys, and I could talk about them all day. Speaking of, there’s actually one more thing I forgot to mention- they were originally created as a monster in a campaign setting from second edition called Spelljammer, which was essentially space travel, but not science fiction type stuff. It was decidedly with a fantasy bend- ships powered by magic, planets inside “crystal spheres” separated by magical fog, and so on. Good stuff. There’s kind of a long, complicated story as to what exactly constitutes Spelljammer (since it contained game information for several different games, owned by several different companies), and so I won’t really be getting into it here, since I’m not familiar enough with second edition to really get a super-good handle on it. But it’s an interesting read, that’s for sure.

And that’ll be it for me today, gentlefolk! I hope you had a blast learning about some cool monsters, because I certainly had a blast talking about them! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “I wanna say ‘bleauh!’ every time I look at a neogi”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (neogi and illithids and umber hulks, oh my)

Spamming Mind Blast

Hello, cats and kittens! It is your most loquacious of hosts, The Mysterious Dr. X, here to razzle your dazzles with some more science fiction goodliness!

I’m gonna be talking about some more sideways sci-fi stuff. Specifically, I’m gonna spend the next couple weeks talking about aliens in D&D. Today is part one, and next week is part two. Now, let me clarify- I’m not talking about monsters that you could reasonably explain as coming from space, for the purposes of your own game. There’s lots of those. Most of them, to be honest. I’m gonna talk exclusively about monsters that have explicitly, in the source text, been described as spacefarers, coming from another planet.

Yesterday, I interviewed Ilsensine, god of the illithids. That column was sort of a preamble to this two-parter, although I endeavoured (both then and now) to write so that knowledge of yesterday’s isn’t necessary for enjoyment of the other two. Specifically, we talked a bit about the history of the illithids yesterday, a topic that I will elaborate in more detail today. So if you missed out yesterday, don’t fret- these articles will still be all the quality content you look for, with none of the confusion!

Stay tuned for next week, when we talk about another alien race in D&D, who also happens to be my favorite monster, ever, in the entire game. Who is it? Stay tuned next week to find out!!

—–

First up, the dread illithids. Commonly known as “mind flayers”, these octopus/human hybrids are the bane of adventurers everywhere, respected and feared equally for their potent psionic abilities, cold and calculating demeanor, and penchant for eating brains. One of the classic D&D monsters, so much so that they are considered “product identity” by Wizards Of The Coast- meaning they are the only ones legally allowed to produce stat blocks for the monsters.

Inhuman in both mindset and visage, the illithid is a monster that most definitely deserves the appellation “aberration”. They are most definitely aliens, in every sense of the word. Even, in this case, literally.

There have been conflicting, mutually exclusive explanations as to where the origins of the illithid race lie. Seeing, however, that this is a blog primarily devoted to 3.5, I naturally default to the information contained in Lords Of Madness, a 3.5 book all about aberrations. Since illithids are one of the primary aberrant races (they’re literally referred to as one of the “master aberrations”), they get their own chapter in the book, most of which is spent detailing their history and society. Interesting stuff, if you’re someone that cares about that kind of thing.

Anyway, according to Lords Of Madness, they come from the future. They had starships, traveled around the cosmos, took slaves (like most aberrant races), and so on. Classic “evil alien race” from science fiction. Good, good stuff. See, what had happened was, in the far future, maybe millions of years from now, these aliens were going around the cosmos, terrorizing. They were undoubtedly the ruling body, their empire spreading across the known universe.

But the end was coming. Then, at the very end of time itself, a menace appeared. No one knows the nature of this opponent, but the illithid race was powerless to stop it. The destruction was uncountable, unknowable. Unstoppable. Finally, backs against the proverbial wall, the few illithids still left alive gathered together on a ship. They sacrificed their remaining elder brains (gigantic brains that are the rulers of illithid cities) to create a massive, powerful maelstrom of psionic energy in a final attempt to stop the nameless threat. And it worked, in a fashion.

It ripped open a portal in spacetime itself, sending the remaining illithids back through time. (Specifically, the game suggests they first appeared approximately two thousand years before whenever your specific campaign takes place.) Upon taking in their new exile, they started back to work rebuilding their vast empire, secure in the knowledge they can’t be stopped. After all, to them, it’s already happened.

Now, that’s pretty cool. I thought the book did a good job of selling their desperation at the end of time, of making it crystal clear just how inhuman they really are. The book did a great job making sure you know just why these guys deserve to be called aberrations. There was lots of talk of spaceships, and other planets, and other alien races, which is something that I appreciated as a fan of sci-fi. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a few minor issues with the story of their origin. The one thing that gets me- yeah, okay, even disregarding the whole “time travel” thing, where did they originally come from though?I have to assume the entire race didn’t just pop out of nothingness one day. Their backstory explains where they came from in relation to now, but it doesn’t actually tell me where the species as a whole originated. Did they come from the Far Realm, as one of the conflicting theories I mentioned earlier states, and THEN get blasted through time? (shrugs)

But whatever. They’re aliens from another planet, and they’re monsters in D&D. More than good enough for me. And speaking of “goo enough for me”, I think I’ve said as much as I need to about the first alien race on our table, the malicious illithids! Tune in next week for part two, when I talk about the other major alien race in D&D (or as I call it on my home planet of Earth, “D&D”)! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “remember, DMs, play up the essential ‘alien-ness’ of them the best you can”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (vampiric uthilarid alhoon, baby!!)

Here’s My Dude!!

Hello again, fellow sci-fiers! It is your amazing, fantastic companion, The Mysterious Dr. X, here to tell you a story!

The other day, I was observing that I hadn’t played some Star Wars in a while. (I talk about it on here a lot, but it’s all from old game notes, not any current game I’m in.) I happened to be mentioning this to an acquaintance of mine, and he agreed, decreeing then and there we were gonna start up a game. I mulled it over a bit, and decided I was gonna go for it. And so here I am, playing a techie. (As I mentioned in a previous post, techies and scoundrels are my favorite.) Figured anyone needing a cool, great tech specialist NPC just got handed a silver platter. So here he is, in all his glory! NOTE: He was built using the Revised Edition rules, and the specific game he’s in takes place post-Episode VI.

—–

Gurling Qualin, Mon Calamari tech specialist 1

Engineer for the Antarian Rangers

General Info: Age- 29, Gender- Male, Height- 1.4 meters, Mass- 72 kg, Hair- N/A, Eyes- Yellow, Skin- Yellow, Handedness- Left, Force Points- 1, Dark Side Points- 0

Ability Scores: STR 12, DEX 16, CON 13, INT 20, WIS 15, CHA 13

Vital Stats: VP 7, WP 13, Vitality Dice d6, Defense 15, Initiative +3, F/R/W 1/4/3, BAB 0, base melee atk +1, base ranged atk +3, grapple bonus +1, reputation bonus 0

Skills: Astrogate +9, Computer Use +9, Craft (Electronics) +9, Demolitions +9, Disable Device +9, Knowledge (Technology) +11, Pilot +3, Profession (Engineer) +2, Repair +14, Search +9, Treat Injury +6

Feats: Weapon Group Proficiency (simple weapons), Technological Wizard (Knowledge [Technology])

Class Abilities: Skill Emphasis (Repair)

Weapons: Stun gauntlets (atk +1, dmg N/A, crit N/A, special- DC 15 Fort save vs. stun), snap baton (atk +1, dmg 1d6+2, crit 20/2x), stun grenades (atk +3, dmg N/A, crit N/A, special- DC 15 Fort save vs. stun, has 6)

—–

And that’s him, the great Gurling! I actually don’t have anything else, so that’ll be it for me today! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “his official portrait is just a photo of Admiral Ackbar, then colored yellow”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (his last name is pronounced “quay-lin”, by the way)

I Hate Jedi

Hello, dear readers, it is your gracious, wonderful, and attractive host, The Mysterious Dr. X, here with another thorough, well-thought-out, factually accurate, objectively true Mysterious Column X! I have traveled from my home planet Earth, all the way across the cosmos and here to your ridiculous planet called Earth, to deliver a simple message.

I hate Jedi.

Now, I’m not gonna pull out my Mysterious X Ray and start waving it around, threatening to send all who disagree to The Mysterious Dimension X. I don’t mind if you don’t agree with me- after all, if you noticed, I said that I didn’t like them, not that they were bad. But if you do disagree, don’t waste time telling me why I’m wrong. After all, I’m NOT wrong- remember how I commented this article was objectively true in paragraph one? That’s because, to reiterate, I’m not saying Jedi are bad, merely that I don’t like them. Which IS objectively true- I really DON’T like them. Ask any of my fellow writers here on The Doderman Defense, and they’ll back up that claim.

Anyway, back to what I was saying. I really just don’t like Jedi. I don’t like them for a lot of reasons- the inherent moralism, the childish oversimplification of religion they are an analog of, et cetera- and all that would be perfectly in keeping with the theme of this blog, since “Jedi” most certainly falls within the purview of “science fiction”, no matter how you slice it. But since this is a blog about science fiction tabletop RPGs, not science fiction in general, I’m gonna limit the scope of this article to why I don’t like them mechanically speaking. As in, when it comes to the character concept in a Star Wars game.

Now, in contrast to the typical approach for this column, I am going to spend some time talking about some of the other versions of Star Wars- the comics, video games, movies, and so on- not just the tabletop RPGs. So just trust me on this.

Also, I actually feel I could be a bit more precise in this instance. When I say “Star Wars game”, I’m referring to the RPG published by Wizards Of The Coast between 2000-2010, using the d20 System that is typically associated with 3rd Edition and later Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not going to be talking about the West End Games version from the 80s and 90s, or the current version being published by Fantasy Flight. While I’m sure they’re entertaining games, I’ve played neither of them, and as stated in a previous article, this website is d20 Country. So we’re gonna be spending our time with the Revised Edition and the Saga Edition.

Anyway, let’s get on gettin’ on.

—–

I hate Jedi. I hate them a lot. Every time I run a Star Wars game, 80 percent of my players want to do a Jedi, and it sickens me. I’ve seriously considered banning Jedi as a PC class, but then I realized if I did that, I’d basically be running a game in Rebellion era, which is something I dislike an equal amount, but for completely different reasons (that I will not be getting into here. Maybe another time). Plus, considering the figures I cited at the beginning of the paragraph, if I did, I would lose almost all my players.

But do you want to know why I hate them so much? They’re so damn typical. And I don’t mean that “oh, ho-hum, just like everything else”, I mean they’re the standard. Like, the gold standard. They’re omnipresent. They’re always there. Even when it’s not actually ABOUT a Jedi- the aforementioned Rebellion era, for instance- the entire plot is about The Force, and finding more Jedi, and blah blah don’t care. Or Legacy era, where the entire story arc for Cade- at least in the beginning- is “you MUST be Jedi, whether you want to or not”.

My point is, the makers of Star Wars products have apparently conflated “like Star Wars” with “likes Jedi”. They always assume, with every product, that people want more Jedi. They violated the one narrative reason for Order 66- “kill all the Jedi”- just so they could have more damn Jedi! Knights Of The Old Republic lets you choose from a group of starting classes, none of which were Jedi. Which I found to be a very satisfying breath of fresh air for once. Haha, nope, at level eight, you discover your Jedi past (not specifically yours, just that you had one) and are forced to multiclass into a Jedi class, never to be allowed to go back to your previous one, whatever that may have been.

At least in KOTOR 2, they put aside any and all pretext of “maybe you might want to play as a non-Jedi, maybe?” by making all the playable classes Jedi- both starting and prestige- versions of Jedi. They also have a feature where you can unlock the ability to get your party members to multiclass. And surprise surprise, literally every single unlockable secondary class for literally every single party member (that has one) is a Jedi class.

I said “at least” at the beginning of the previous paragraph because I was implying I was relieved to see they didn’t try to hide their preference for Jedi like the first one did. I can’t stress how mad I got when KOTOR 1 pulled that ol’ switcheroo on me.

Now, I’m sure some of you are wondering, “”tell me, Mysterious Dr. X: why is it, though, that you don’t like Jedi? Surely their ubiquity isn’t the only reason”. And to that I say bravo, Guy Asking Question Who’s Actually Me! That is a great question! And honestly, this one’s a bit trickier. But it’s mainly because of their ridiculous levels of both power and utility. If you have a Jedi, you don’t really need any other class the game offers. They’re basically combination fighter/wizards that get the best of everything- the extreme versatility of a spellcaster, along with the physical and combat might of a fighter. Plus, they’re ostensibly diplomats first, so they also fill the function of the “face” on the team as well. They can do everything, they’re EXPECTED to be good at everything, and they often ARE. It even literally say in the rulebook, when talking about where to put stats, “a Jedi should be gifted in all abilities”. What the hell is some chump with a pistol supposed to do against the might of a Jedi? Run or die, essentially.

In the Star Wars RPG, Jedi start off- level 1- with a lightsaber. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, because all Jedi have a lightsaber. But that is a RIDICULOUSLY overpowered weapon for level 1. Admittedly, there are other weapons- notably the ranged weapons- that do the same, if not more, damage than a lightsaber. The reason I’m singling out the lightsaber, however, instead of, say, the heavy blaster (which does 3d8), is because the lightsaber is inherent to the class. If you roll up a Jedi, you get a lightsaber. Period. If you roll up a scoundrel, that doesn’t by definition mean you’re getting a heavy blaster. Can you? Sure, you get the feat for it. But that specific weapon itself isn’t an endemic part of the character build. Plus, lightsabers ignore ALL damage resistance. They can cut through ANYTHING. That’s the other main reason why I believe it’s way too powerful of a weapon for a level 1 character.

Almost every character at level 1 (in Revised edition, anyway) is gonna have somewhere between 6 and 12 HP. And a lightsaber- again, a piece of equipment you start off with- does 2d8 damage. That’s an average of 9, and a maximum of 16. Most other opponents will have a number of HP approximately equal to the average, and NONE of them will have an HP amount equal to the maximum.

In the interest of full disclosure, Saga Edition mitigates this somewhat by giving all classes more HP starting out. But Saga makes Jedi even more aggravating because of the changes to the handling of the other major Jedi feature, The Force.

In Revised edition, you had both Vitality and Wound points, and using a Force ability required you to have both the relevant Force skill and enough Vitality points to use the ability (you would lose the Vitality after using the Force skill). Now, admittedly, “Casting From Hit Points”, as it were, isn’t exactly how it worked in the canon of Star Wars, but it worked in the game, since it was a handy limiting factor that forced you (ha! No pun intended) you be more careful, since the pool of points you used The Force from was the same pool of points that gets subtracted when you get attacked.

Saga edition, meanwhile, made all Force powers effectively infinite- you can use each one you have once per encounter, and when the fight is over, you instantly regain them all. It also made another, more insidious change- it eschewed the entire list of Force skills and replaced it with one lone skill, the maddeningly vague and depressingly accurate “Use The Force” skill. You can do literally anything! All you need to do is call upon The Force, then you just state what you’re gonna do with it- you don’t need to train, or get better, or practice a specific Force ability. If you can use The Force, you don’t need any of those other pesky, worthless classes. Crack shot? nah, a quick Use The Force will line your shot up FOR you. Ace pilot? Nah, a quick Use The Force check will make you just as good of a pilot as actual training will. Soldier? Nah, Jedi already get the same Base Attack progression and hit die you do, plus they get an extra ability you don’t- The Force- AND start off with a weapon that way outclasses anything you could get at level 1.

Long story short, I say “let’s play some Star Wars” and people go “yay”. They say “I’m playing a Jedi” and I go “boo”.

—–

And there you have it, Earth humans- my manifesto on Jedi. Whether you agree with me or not, I hope I at least made the time pass by quicker. As we humans back on my home planet of Earth would say, “at least there’s that”. I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “give me a dang scoundrel or tech specialist any day of the week!!”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (also fringers and scouts, too. Oh, and nobles actually aren’t bad. Neither are soldiers. Really, I like basically any class that isn’t a Jedi)

It’s Not Like Last Time, I Swear

Well, hello again, everyone! It is I, The Mysterious Dr. X, here with more fun from beyond the stars!! Last week, I did a review of a Mass Effect d20 system, and it was really long. Like, REALLY long. Over six thousand words. Well, admittedly, I had a lot of fun making it, and so I figured I’d do another one today! (It probably won’t be a regular thing, however.) But I learned my lesson last time- I’m gonna try to make this one a lot quicker (read: shorter) than the previous one.

Today, we’re gonna be talking about a game that some of you may have heard of. It came out in 2008 and was very popular, won a bunch of awards, and seemed to be going places. By 2011, it was announced that the game would be coming to an end, but by that point, the game was already no longer in the public eye, so very few people even got the memo. Two years later, the company, Mind Storm Labs, has already gone out of business. We’re talking about Alpha Omega: The Beginning And The End.

In their short lifespan, they only managed to release a handful of books- the core rulebook, The Encountered Volume 1 (basically the game’s version of the Monster Manual), a Recognition Guide (which was The Encountered without the stat blocks, designed primarily for the players), a couple short pieces of prose fiction, and two adventures: The Job, and Milk Run. There may have been others, but those are the only ones my searching has discovered. My research on the internet seemed to turn up a rumor they were working on a book of all kinds of weapons and equipment, as well as a miniatures war game involving the aliens that play a key part of the setting’s background, but I’ve come across no evidence they were ever released. For all I know, they were never even finished. There were also rumblings of a second volume of The Encountered, but it never got past the enthusiasm stage.

Now, let me tell you right now, this review isn’t going to get into the nuts and bolts of exactly how the system works. I will talk about it in generalities (core mechanics, and things like that), but there’s a lot about it I just won’t be able to learn in the time I have to do this. I’ll be spending more of my time talking about the presentation and the setting.

Okay, let’s get to it. First things first- the Alpha Omega book isn’t your standard 8.5×11 style book. It’s printed landscape style (which reminds me of the Saga Edition books, although they don’t have the same dimensions as this), and so this book’s different aesthetic is immediately apparent. Skimming through it, there’s a lot of artwork, and it’s overall a very pretty book. High production value abounds. (Is this a tipoff as to why Mind Storm Labs no longer exists?) Opening the book, they have the standard “what is an RPG” section. Then some writings by this NPC from the 1800s that could see into the future. Not bad. Some interesting fluff. It does a nice job of setting up the overly apocalyptic tone of the rest of the book.

Next chapter, the setting proper. In its most general, it’s post-apocalypse. Basically, every ten thousand years, two groups of aliens arrive on Earth to fight each other in a war between the two of them. No human knows what the war is about, or why they fight it on Earth. But they’ve been here several times in the past, and each time they arrive, they leave behind a small group of themselves here on Earth before departing once again. All this kept going on until 2049, when the planet basically exploded. Worldwide volcano eruptions, plagues, tsunamis, droughts- every single natural disaster you can think of happened, up to and including a gigantic meteor strike. While all this is going on, civilization has erupted into worldwide war, and large sections of Earth have become barren, uninhabited nuclear wasteland.

Then, at about 2100 (by this point, civilization had returned, thanks to the humans that were left banding together and forming what would evolve into city-states), a prophet appeared, warning the populace those aliens I mentioned earlier were on their way. No one believes him, until the small pockets of them that stayed behind started to reveal themselves, becoming a part of society at large. The game proper takes place some years later, in 2280.

Now, the first thing that strikes me about that- that’s a lot of stuff to have happen. There’s really a whole lot of events, almost to the point of seeming kind of cheesy. It’s so over the top, it strains my belief a little. But hey, people liked it, so I can’t say it’s bad, just that it isn’t to my taste.

There’s a section detailing the structure of cities, inter-city politics, and The Wilds, which is basically any are that isn’t within the limits of a city. Then, onto the culture of these areas- computers, language, food, travel methods, and so on. This is followed by a brief section  detailing some basic info regarding these alien inhabitants, the Seraph and the Ophanum. Specifically, how they’ve interbred with humans over the generations and created a bunch of different types of half-breed species.

Now, all this is cool enough. I especially liked the touch that theater is the most common form of entertainment. I don’t have any complaints.

There’s a section here devoted to Wielding, the term the game uses for magic. And this is something that, to be honest, kinda bugged me. There are three ways one can Wield- innately, through study, or through devotion. Okay, cool- basically the same as psionic arcane and divine magic in D&D. (This, however, has the added rules of alignment also being involved somehow.) But the explanation for this is what bothers me about it. They go out of their way to make it sound all mysterious and mystical, talking about how nobody knows how it works or where it comes from. Which- okay. Fine. That’s a completely reasonable explanation, in canon. But metagame-wise, as a mechanical component of the rules, that doesn’t really fly. It needs a better explanation than “(shrug)”. So Wielding? Fine, I suppose. I guess. Whatever.

There’s a section on scientific advances, and I notice that this is the second time in the last like twenty pages with a picture of a woman lounging around in just her underwear. I’m not celebrating or chastising, just noticing.

There’s a chapter devoted to the major locations in the game, followed by a chapter about the major NPCs and organizations. Something else I noticed- the NPC section goes out of its way to comment that they chose not to stat any of them out, so you can have the ability to build them exactly how it best suits your game. That sounds to my ears like an excuse to not do the work themselves, but oh well. Doesn’t really matter now, I suppose.

Then we get into the mechanics of character creation. Builds are point buy, but not like how D&D does point buy- more like how GURPS does point buy, where every aspect of your character is bought with your points. No wonder you start off with 500 of them.

There’s a bunch of races to choose from- human, mutated human, a different kind of mutated human, a third kind of mutated human, a half human/half alien, a half-and-half/human, alien-bio-engineered almost-human, almost-human/human, alien/alien (one Seraph parent, one Ophanum parent), and robot.

There are seven base stats, and seven more secondary stats that are determined by averaging together two core stats. At this point, I think “hm, this is starting to sound pretty complex”. Let’s see where this goes. Then, there’s a set of tertiary stats that are each determined differently- one is the average of two secondary stats, while another is the average of all of your base stats, for example. “I was right. Complex.”

There’s a section on Abilities and Drawbacks, and they’re almost identical in style and function to feats in D&D. Since you point buy all your abilities, Drawbacks give you some points, by the way. But regardless, there are some Abilities in here that I really like. A few of the Drawbacks are interesting too. I rate this section a thumbs up. Then we get to the section on skills (of which there are a pretty good amount), and- oh, what’s this? You can buy mutations, nice.

Now, we get to Wielding. Arcane users (the “through study” method I mentioned earlier) can buy ranks from every Intention, as well as every Source (except Alpha or Omega [another name for positive and negative energy]). Innate Wielders (who I compared to psions) can buy ranks from one Source, and a small handful of Intentions. Devotees (divine casters) can only choose Alpha or Omega as a Source, as well as one of any Intention.

Uh, sure. Let’s find out what the hell that means.

Which Source you choose effects a couple key things- namely, how good you are at using that Source (since each one is tied to a base stat) and determining the amount of damage you do when you Wield. Intentions, meanwhile (of which there are 16- four Intention Realms with four Intentions in each), determine how you intend to use the power you get from the Source. You can buy ranks in both of them, and more ranks makes you better at Wielding that Source/Intention.

Now you buy your gear- every character starts off with 2500 Trust (the name for money). We’ll get to the gear selection later.

Now we get into the actual game mechanics. It uses a dice pool to resolve actions, and the pool of die you use is determined by the number in the stat that you’re using to perform the action. That’s interesting. Plus, in favorable or unfavorable conditions, the dice pool is actually shifted up or down, as if you had a better or lower (respectively) stat. For instance- say you’re making a Tracking skill check, and you have a 16 in the stat that governs the skill (in this case, Wisdom). Your dice pool would be 2d6+4d4. But say the GM determines there has been a recent rain, causing the ground to become muddy, making the tracks more difficult to discern. The GM might give you a -1 DPS (dice pool step), making you as effective at tracking as someone with a 15 Wisdom, which has a dice pool of 1d6+5d4.

We then get into information about Challenge Ratings (or Difficulty Ratings as they’re called here), Opposed and Unopposed checks (which are exactly what they sound like), Skill checks (which are also exactly what they sound like), Resist checks (which I thought was basically Fortitude saves, but it turns out Resist checks cover a lot more ground), and Wielding checks. There’s also a neat optional rule here, where you can choose to roll 1d20 along with your dice pool, and if you roll a natural 20 or a natural 1, you automatically succeed or fail (respectively) regardless of what your dice pool total is. That’s neat.

There are several different Stances you can be in while making actions, and the determining factor as to whether a Stance is Dynamic or Static is determined by whether there is intent to cover distance. There’s also something called States, which is basically the concept of size categories in D&D, except applying to things other than just size- Disposition and Speed, for example, are also categories of State.

And now we get into the base mechanic of the game. It’s called the 6-6 System. Each Combat Cycle (in D&D, the term would be “round”) lasts for six Segments. But a character can only roll a total of six dice in each Combat Cycle. Hence the 6-6 System. Now, the fact that each character can roll six dice per Combat Cycle is important, since characters don’t necessarily only act on one Segment per Cycle. Your Reaction score determines how many Segments you can act on per Cycle. (The Segments in a single Combat Cycle that you’re active on are referred to as “Turns”.) Most characters will be able to act on more than one Turn per Cycle. But- to reiterate- you can still only roll a combined total of six dice for all the Turns you’re active in during one Combat Cycle. As such, you can choose to roll less than 6 dice during one Turn, then roll the rest during another Turn you’re active in, or whatever.

Full actions take one Turn to perform (not all of your Turns in a Cycle), and they are the only thing you can do in that Turn. Half actions, meanwhile (as the name implies) only take half an action, allowing you to (for example) move and attack on the same Turn.

Then there’s a section dealing with the determining defense, and making attack rolls, and cover, damage reduction, multiple weapons, things like that. The crunch of all the minor combat-related things. The optional rule I mentioned earlier involving a d20 appears here again. You roll a 20 alongside your normal attack, and can determine automatic success or failure, just like last time. The reason it’s neat is because they offer a handful of different options for effects of success or failure, which is an idea I really like. There’s a section about damage, endurance, and stuff like that.

First thing that pops out at me- the image on page 7.11.2 is really sweet (the book doesn’t use standard page numbering, but its own system to indicate where you are in the book: specifically, chapter.section.entry). Mechanically, shields work by negating a certain amount of damage from an attack. You can go into negative hit points. You don’t actually die until you hit a negative number equal to the amount of Vitality you have. There’s a chapter on environmental effects, most of which you can probably guess how they work. Darkness, disease, falling damage, vehicle use, and so on.

Next, is the chapter devoted to the mechanics of how Wielding works. I’m not really gonna go into detail, because I don’t want this to be a billion pages long, but basically- you choose a Source that your power comes from, and a handful of Intentions that determine how exactly you plan on using the Source. There are six Sources and sixteen Intentions. There’s a section on Wielding checks, how to determine what effect your combination of Source and Intention will have, things like that. Straightforward enough, when it comes to the concept of magic.

Next, there’s a chapter on leveling up. Well, you don’t actually level up, because characters don’t have levels. But anyway, Character Development (as the chapter is called) is basically the exact same thing as character creation. Instead of XP, the GM hands out more points, like what you used at the beginning, and you spend them on the same thing- new abilities, upgraded ranks in skills, things like that. With one major exception- there’s a brand new feature introduced, Ascension. If you meet certain prerequisites, you can spend your collected points on Ascension Levels, which give you a variety of stat bonuses, special abilities, and free ranks in Wielding ability.

I really like the idea of that gameplay element, but in practice, I notice something odd. Ascension Level 1 automatically gives you Wielding abilities, and each level beyond one increases your Wielding rank.    …But what if you don’t want to play a Wielder? Or weren’t playing a Wielder before you Ascended? What if you were playing some big dumb brute with an axe? Or, more of an issue, what if you were playing a race that is incapable of Wielding (for instance, robots)? Do they just… not get half of the bonuses for Ascending? CAN they even Ascend? There’s no alternative to Wielding ability during Ascension for people who don’t  want to play Wielders- there actually isn’t any mention either way of what characters who don’t (or can’t) Wield can or should do. So, I dunno. It’s almost like they forgot that some of the races can’t Wield- or, more likely, that they forgot people might not want to play a Wielder. Hm. That kinda give me pause.

(You know, that was also always the problem I have with Star Wars games- the makers always assume everyone always wants to play a Jedi, so you’re always forced to play as one. Even in Star Wars d20, that was a similar problem- the Force using classes were significantly better in every way to the other classes, so much so they unbalanced the game after like level 6. As such, everyone wanted to play as one. I hate playing as Jedi. Gimme a scoundrel any damn day.)

In unrelated news, there’s an optional feature regarding gaining new ranks that I like- if you use that ability a certain number of times, then you can get new ranks in it at a reduced cost. That’s a really cool idea.

Chapter 9 is all about gear. There’s several different kinds of armor- I noticed sets of Alpha and Omega spiritual armor, which I found intriguing. There’s a whole bunch of weapons, most of which are the type of weapons you’d expect in a setting like this. This chapter also contains the stats for various vehicles. Interestingly, this is also where the implant/cybernetics section is located. And there’s some cool augments on this list. Another section I give a thumbs up to.

The final chapter has some brief overviews and suggestions on how to play to elicit the most amount of fun, but the majority of the (brief) chapter is stat blocks for generic NPCs.

There’s an index (no problems with this one, THANK THE SISTERS) and a short section containing a handful of important charts for the GM. Finally, the character sheet. Now that I know what all these things mean, it makes a lot of sense- but parts of it seem overly cluttered and busy to me. It seems a little cramped. But hey, at least they got everything in there.

—–

And there you have it, the Alpha Omega core rulebook! While I’m thinking about it, I should probably say something about The Encountered, too.

(ten minutes later)

The cover art is really cool, there’s a lot of opponents to choose from, the artwork is gorgeous, and the layout makes it really easy to find specifics for whatever entry you’re looking for. I notice, however, that they aren’t in alphabetical order for some reason. Weird.

There’s also a section on inventing your own monsters, and it is refreshingly streamlined- it’s basically “think up a few numbers and put them in these spots, decide on some attacks and use these charts to determine the damage for them”, and so on. Really simple and smooth. That’s followed by a short section with some additional tips for running combat from a GM’s perspective.

The final section (not counting the glossary and index)details a bunch of templates you can add to monsters to make them even more unique. They work pretty much identically to the template system in D&D.

—–

Okay, there you have it for real! I’ve gone through, well… all (both) the rulebooks for Alpha Omega, and what a trip it was! I’d like to comment again that the artwork in these books is beautiful. Lots and lots of full-color, sometimes full-page splash pictures- I loved every second of it. Time for my official The Mysterious Rating X:

  • Presentation: 5/5
  • Difficulty Of Learning System: 4/5 (some parts might take a couple readthroughs to get it)
  • Sensibility Of Mechanics: 4/5 (too many dang stats)
  • Another Five Points: 5/5

Look at that! 18/20!! Very impressive! Sounds like I really liked it a lot! If any readers out there decide to start up an Alpha Omega game, I’m there- just let me know!!

Also, before you mention it, yes, I know my last review had five ratings while this one only has four. What can I say, baby- I’m a wild man!! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “I still want to know about robots and Ascension, damn it”!

The Mysterious Dr. X (I went out of my way to try my best and make this one shorter than the previous one, and I did that. It’s about half the length. But that still means this clocks in at over three thousand words. *sigh*)

Mass Effect: The RPG (Or, In The Middle Of Some Calibrations)

Hello, Earth dwellers! It is I, The Mysterious Dr. X, coming to you all the way from my distant home planet of Earth to spend some time chatting about science fiction RPGs with you!

I figure it is probably safe to assume that anyone out there reading this likes science fiction RPGs. If you recall, that is literally what this column is about. And if any of you readers own an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation3, then- since we’ve already established you like sci-fi and role playing games- you likely own, or at least have played, part or all of the Mass Effect series.

Now, I like Mass Effect. I personally liked the first one the best (not because of some misguided “sequels always suck” idea or anything, I just didn’t like how they changed the gun mechanics to clips in the second and third one. I thought then overheat system was a lot more interesting), but all three of them have their charms.

(For the record, the second one was my least favorite, because there was just way too damn much planet scanning, and the plot always bugged me, since it didn’t really have anything to do with the Reapers. Also, like everyone else, I thought the ending of 3 was bad, but unlike everyone else, I don’t complain about it, since at the end of the day, they’re creators, and it’s their story to wrap up however they like. Plus, the last ten minutes being bad doesn’t make the preceding 150 hours not fun, so quit yer gripin’.)

Anyway, I own the Trilogy box set. I spent all the money (over 100 bucks!) to get all the DLC for all three games. You could say I enjoyed it. And with such a rich, well thought out, intricate world they’ve built, I had always thought it would make for an interesting tabletop game.

Cut to two years later, and I’m goofing around on the internet, looking for some new RPGs to download. I found some great ones- Drunken Bear Fighter, Big Motherf***in’ Crab Truckers, Lasers & Feelings, Inception, Geiger Counter, and The Plant, just to name a (very) small sample of some of the games I got. But anyway, there I am, just looking around the Net, and someone posts “Mass Effect, using the d20 System”. I download it, read through (some of) it, and it seems legit enough. But I see some discrepancies it the rules, so when I write up the article/review (this current one you’re reading right now), I make note of the issues I had in the article. Then, later on, I realize I might not have the most up-to-date version of the game (figuring the issues I had with it may have been fixed in later revisions), so I get online to see if there was a more recent version of it somewhere. Now, I’m internet savvy enough to know that there was no chance of this one I got being the only tabletop conversion of Mass Effect there is. Sure enough, I’m practically flooded with games, and I was having a pretty hard time finding the one I wanted.

Credits page to the rescue!

After about four seconds of searching, I find the correct game, and I was right- the one I had was not the most up-to-date version that had been released. This article will be based on the current (as of this writing) version of the rulebook found at this website. The things I wrote about the previous version that have since been changed in the most recent revision have been left in, mainly so you can laugh along with me at such an overly melodramatic schmuck I sound like. Complaints no longer valid upon my look at the more recent edition will be distinguished by the strikethrough font I put it in. Comments I added after the fact regarding the most recent edition will be in red. Anyway, after a mere six hundred or so words, onto the article proper! Better go to the bathroom now, because this article is loooong!!

MASS EFFECT- THE d20 SYSTEM RPG

First off, if you’re gonna play it, be prepared to read- the rulebook itself is 500 540 pages long, and there’s even a galaxy overview supplement that, on its own, clocks in at 110 pages. This beast is 650 pages long, not counting the four page character sheet. This guy obviously believed in his work. The style itself is pretty cool- just upon a brief skim, there are a lot of pictures, walls of text don’t last too long, everything’s in full color, and there’s lots of variety in the style and characters depicted in the pages. Visually, she’s a beaut. And I really like the cover picture, too- rather than a more bland, generic fight scene, or a group shot of a bunch of characters, its a bit more stately and reserved, with Shepard looking up at the sky while a Reaper flies by menacingly in the background. Very understated, very cool, and a lot more interesting than “BLAM HEADSHOT” or “HEY, LOOK AT THESE BOOBS”.

The font is easy to read, the headings denoting the different sections are easy to notice, and the two-columns-per-page layout is made a lot more interesting by the design choice of making the columns slanted- not enough to cause difficulty reading (except for the index, which is a big enough deal (along with some other reasons) that I’ll have an entire section just talking about the index at the end) (haha, whoops, the index in the updated version doesn’t have slanted columns like the rest of the book does- but I’ll still be going on about the index at the end for the other reasons), just enough to be eye-catching. Now, let’s check out the mechanics.

Stylistically, the game seems to be based off Mass Effect 2- the specializations and powers classes get don’t really resemble the versions of the from the first game, and instead play like the overhauls of them in the second. I later found out this was exactly the case- he first started working on the game after 2 came out, and before 3 was released (which was also the time period the campaign was assumed to take place in). He has since stated the mechanics have been tweaked to better line up with Mass Effect 3, and that the time period this game takes place is post-trilogy. However, I couldn’t detect any meaningful changes, so I guess the first edition I had already had those changes made. Mechanically, meanwhile, the game seems to be a modified version of d20 Modern. For instance- it’s not “AC”, it’s “defense”, “Research” is a skill, et cetera. The game states it’s a heavily modified version of the basic D&D engine, so while that means it’s technically based off fantasy, not Modern, they’re close enough that I stand by my original conclusion.

Thinking about it now, it uses a d20, sure, but it’s at least as different from D&D proper as Modern is- now I can’t decide whether it would be considered a “campaign setting” or a “system”. Hm. I guess it all comes out in the wash regardless.

The races are the standard ones you would expect- asari, human, turian, et cetera- but there were a couple that threw me for a genuine loop. Namely, volus and elcor. Plus one other one I’ll get to later. I also thought vorcha were an interesting choice, but that surprised me less.  No hanar (as he says later in the book, “let’s face it, they’d be a terrible playable race” [okay, that’s a paraphrasing]), so you can’t play Blasto- but there’s a good selection of most of the sentient races in Mass Effect’s galaxy, so most people will be able to find something to play as. Paradoxically, this section is also the first one where I noticed something that rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t say it’s an “error”, just a design choice that I didn’t particularly care for. I’m not a big fan of the build for some of the races- a lot of “+2 in a few abilities, -2 in a few different abilities” going on. It makes them seem a bit overpowered to me. For instance- the asari get a +2 bonus to Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma, and a -2 penalty to Strength and Constitution. That’s on top of the +2 bonus to Diplomacy (which they would already get a bonus to anyway, because of their +2 to Charisma), the Melding ability, and the immunity to side effects from biotic amplifiers they already get. (Humans, meanwhile, get a +2 to one ability score of their choice, one extra feat, and one extra skill point per level. Doesn’t seem quite even, if you ask me.)

Now, all the classes have essentially the same class feature- something called “specialization points”. There are three different kinds- biotic, tech, and combat. But what you can use them for is what makes the classes unique. Each class only gets the type of specialization point inherent to their class, of course- engineers won’t get biotic points, and vanguards don’t get tech points. When you get enough, you spend them on specializations that give you the abilities. And the abilities themselves are basically the same ones you have in the video games- Combat Drone, Lift, and so on. The powers work just like the original games, yet still feels like d20. Excellent.

(While I’m thinking about it, remember how in D&D, magic had its own separate system to function? Well, not here. Biotics [essentially the Mass Effect universe’s version of magic] works exactly the same as a Soldier learning a new Ammo Specialization- when you have enough specialization points, you purchase a new power. Clean and simple.)

There’s even a system for learning special powers- or as this game calls them, Unique Specializations- as well. I read the section regarding Unique Specializations a few times, and wasn’t quite able to 100% understand the rules on how to do it, but the idea was cool, and I saw some other people on the forum talking about doing it no problem, so the confusion is obviously user error.

On top of THAT, there’s also something else I thought was pretty cool- Power Mods. Power Mods are basically alternate uses for powers you already have- they tend to be pretty powerful, so you generally can only unlock a Power Mod by sacrificing either a feat or a Unique Specialization (it varies on the specific Power Mod) in order to take one.

Which reminds me, the level-up bonuses are a bit different than in standard D&D- you now get feats every odd-numbered level, an ability point every third level, and a unique specialization unlock every fourth level. Also, there’s no multiclassing allowed. I found that to be an interesting choice for a tabletop RPG. I can’t necessarily say it sucks
though, because- as the writer himself points out- you couldn’t do it in the original games either, so it’s not like you’d expect to be able to anyway.

Anyway, there are also a few lot of race-specific classes- they work exactly the same as normal ones, you just have to be of a specific race to take them. There’s only a handful of them, however, and half of them are for asari. There’s a whole bunch of racial classes, with a pretty good spread of choices- each race has one additional racial class, with asari having three. I was gonna make some comment on how “each race has additional race-specific classes, but humans only get one” then I realized that, no, apparently every race only has one additional race-specific class. Except the asari. That, combined with the racial bonuses I mentioned earlier, tells me someone has a favorite race.

Not really much to say about skills- they work the same way and do the same thing they did before, in either D&D or Modern. I noticed they invented some new ones that are unique to this universe- Damping, for example, comes to mind. (You’ll note that I choose a lot of tech-based stuff to use for my examples. Engineers were always my favorite class.)

Combat works much the same as it does in D&D. One turn is 6 seconds, and there are three units of measurement when it comes to dividing a turn- a normal action (attacking, moving, using a power, and so on), which you can make two of in one turn, a full-round action, which you can (of course) only do one of, and it takes up both actions in one turn, and free actions, which you can do X number of in one turn, where X is whatever amount the GM allows. The reason I bring this up is to explain the new Specialization class features. Essentially, Specializations don’t have a number of uses per day, like spells do in D&D. Instead, they have a cooldown period, which basically works like this- after you use a power that has a cooldown, it requires you to wait for a certain number of actions to pass until it is usable again. And this is another place in the rules I have a problem with- some of the cooldowns are RIDICULOUSLY long. I saw a weapon with a cooldown period of ten actions. TEN. With two actions a round, that means after it overheats, you have to wait FIVE TURNS until you can use your gun again. Pretend my monocle just fell out. Well, first pretend I had a monocle, then that it fell out. Haha, wow, there’s so much wrong with that section. First off, the ten action cooldown period would only happen when the gun overheats- and it’s impossible for guns to go from cold to overheated in one turn. So my implication that you can only fire one turn every six rounds is laughably wrong, because it would take more than one round of continuous fire for it to get that hot to begin with. Second off, what the hell was I even thinking? Guns CAN’T overheat in this game, because it was based off Mass Effect 2 (then later 3), both of which used thermal clips, not heat discipline, to manage gunfire. (By the way, when the heat sink is full, it takes a mere one action to replace it.)

I stared at that section for a good couple minutes, attempting to figure out how I could have been so lip-flappingly dumb in regards to the gun tech of this game- then I realized. I had seen a sidebar talking about rules for how to handle guns from Mass Effect 1 era, and the “10 action cooldown” they suggested in that sidebar was for like a 15-shot pistol or something. In other words, they suggested five rounds of cooldown after almost eight turns of continuous fire. That’s pretty reasonable. But anyway, I saw the “10 action cooldown” suggestion in the sidebar, then later on when I was thinking of the cooldown system, that was the number that popped into my head.

In other words, I saw one number out of context, forgot what was in reference to, then talked about it like it was standard because it was the only relevant stat I could think of.

Ever since I originally thought “this would make a sweet tabletop game” I’ve thought about how you would handle shields. Well, this game handles it in a pretty reasonable way- by following through with their mission of “make it feel as much like the video games as possible”. They do that by handling the same way the games do- essentially, Shields are a secondary health bar that has to get completely taken down to zero in order for the character to start taking damage. I had some trouble figuring out how to phrase this sentence in a way that didn’t sound awkward, so here’s the exact quote from the book- “shields can be regenerated by spending 3 actions without taking an offensive action (if during those actions the character takes damage, the shields do not regenerate)”. At that point, they start regenerating one third of their total shield HP per round, until full. Just like with their initial waiting period, if you take damage, the regeneration stops.

Upgrading weapons in the game is referred to as “the variant system”. Basically, you find or buy an upgrade (each weapon has unique ones) and take the time to install it, then it’s good to go. I notice that none of the upgrades increase a weapon’s damage, when in the original game, they ALL did that. Maybe give each variant upgrade a +1 damage or something, to a +5 total at variant VI. Turns out that the newer version of the rulebook had thought of that, too- only instead of doing a +1 bonus with every upgrade, they did it on every other. Which is fine by me. The variant system also applies to armor, but upgrading it only lowers the weight. To give it special effects, the “customization system” comes into play- what that is, is some armors have parts that can be swapped out for replacements, effectively losing one bonus while replacing it with another. Most suits of armor also have an inherent special ability just for equipping them (additional thermal clips, +2 power damage reduction, +1 to Charisma checks, and so on). They managed to translate the idea from the games well, in a sensible manner that’s easy to understand. I really like it.

While I’m on the topic of customization, the customization system even applies to the starships you can use. Spend some money (OR F%$#@ING RESOURCES- I’LL GET TO THAT IN A BIT), and you can get new rooms on your ship that give some small stat boost, or upgraded weapons, and so on. I don’t see anything mentioning a limit as to how many of those you can have, though. I don’t know if that’s simply an oversight, or if it’s because the answer is “however many your ship/budget can fit”, but it would have been nice to have it clarified regardless.

But, I did see one thing in the Equipment section that bugged me. Namely, there were some weapons that had weird die rolls for damage. I saw some “2d3″s and “1d5″s in there that I went “(wince) someone needs to fix that”. Having abnormal die amounts like that is never a good idea. That’s why you never see things like that in D&D.

The famed “morality meter” makes its appearance here as well, of course. And how does that work, you ask? You’ll get anywhere from a +1 to a +5 either Paragon or Renegade points (they’re measured on separate scales) at times where you do something particularly noble or tactless (respectively), with the numerical modifier changing depending on how major or minor the act was. At its heart, it’s basically a numerical stat used to determine how NPCs react to you, which manifests itself as a bonus/penalty to Dimplomacy rolls. As far as I know, that’s not true. Reading the section on morality again, I noticed something interesting- Paragon and Renegade points aren’t actually USED for anything. Or, rather, if they are, that rule is placed in the section on that thing, rather than in the “morality points” section. The section here explains what they are, how you earn them, guidelines regarding how many you might get in situations (and this paragraph actively contradicts itself in something they said just two paragraphs earlier- one of the examples is “kill or torture a civilian: 1d6 Renegade Points”, when just a few lines up, they say players should be “never awarded… more than +5 points for each situation”), and so on, but they never actually say “THIS IS WHAT PARAGON/RENEGADE POINTS CAN BE USED FOR”. Like I said, that may very well be covered in the section detailing whatever that is, but it’s not covered here, so I wonder what the point is, other than just being able to say the mechanic is there. As it stands, I don’t see any incentive to include this feature in any possible game of this I might run, since it doesn’t actually do anything- so there’s that, I guess. I don’t really have much else to say about that- it’s simple and straightforward, and- while yet another number to keep track of- doesn’t affect the game in a major enough way to fret over too much.

The “other rules” chapter has some neat ideas in it; quantifying personality traits into a
numerical stat, unique feats that you can only get by doing some RP related thing, creating new gear like in Mass Effect 2’s Research Lab, a section about character flaws that wasn’t in the previous version of the rulebook I looked at (I’ve always loved the flaw rule in D&D)- although it doesn’t work the same as the fantasy version, it’s still there, so I’m on board regardless, and so on. Pretty cool stuff, and a clever idea. I especially like the idea of tricks you can perform with your Specialization. Neat.

Not much to say about the Monster Manual section near the back. EXCEPT ONE THING. I was treated to a nice surprise a few pages in- the “sentient geth” playable race. Well, they actually function as a racial class (similar to how Savage Species works in 3.0), but they can go all 20 levels. It’s really cool that that’s there, because while I was reading the race list all the way in the beginning, I even thought out loud “dang, no geth” not even noticing the fact that it was listed on the table of contents. And now here we are. It’s like they read my mind! Kudos to the authors for deciding to do that- and I actually really like the fact that they buried it in the back of the book, instead of putting it up front along with the other races. It makes it seem a lot more different and unique- after all, that’s precisely what Legion was.

I touched on the idea of ship customization earlier, and I want to go back to that now- some of it was something I kind of had an issue with, so I wanted to make sure I could devote some time to talking about it without it being in the middle of some other conversation about some other topic.

There are some ship upgrades that cost resources (gold, platinum, iridium, palladium, element zero, and/or uranium), instead of credits, to purchase. Okay, great. However, there are no specific rules regarding those resources, and there isn’t a separate section of the rulebook (to my knowledge) that talks about them. They’re just tossed in there, like I should already know how how that particular aspect of the rules works. Do I know what they are as far as the canon of Mass Effect is concerned? Yes, of course. But you can’t just causally mention some brand new part of the game mechanics (brand new, as in “hasn’t been mentioned in the rules until now”) without explaining HOW, statistically, they work in terms of being rules for a tabletop RPG.

Where am I supposed to get resources? Can I buy them, or can they only be found? What’s the exchange rate? Is there anything else, besides purchasing ship upgrades, I can do with resources? For that matter, what unit of measurement are resources even in? For instance- an Advanced Med-Bay requires 50,000 platinum to acquire. Fifty thousand what? Pounds? Meters squared? Tons? When it was a video game, these questions were irrelevant, because you spent resources on things you wanted, then when you beat the game, whatever was left was automatically donated as a War Asset. So the question of “units of measurement” for resources didn’t matter, because there was only one thing you could do with them anyway, and ideas like “storage space” and “ship weight” weren’t programmed into the game. Here, however, they DO matter (or at least CAN matter, if players decide to worry about it- Shepard, however, wasn’t coded to give a damn about it. I wish they would address that, and I personally find it to be a legitimate misstep that they didn’t. (NOTE: IMAGINE MY SHEEPISHNESS WHEN I DISCOVERED A CONVERSION TABLE IN THE GEAR SECTION. THAT ONE DISCOVERY MADE ME DECIDE TO REMOVE ONE PART, THEN THAT ONE DECISION CASCADED OUT, AND OUT, AND OUT, UNTIL EVENTUALLY I HAD UNPERSONED THIS ENTIRE SECTION.) Man, near the end there, I wasn’t even making sense. I guess I was just kinda complaining to complain. That’s probably this article’s most aggressively dumb moment right there. Good thing I discovered that conversion table.

I’d actually like to spend a little time talking about my thought process here. I’ll use the example I used earlier, the Advanced Med-Bay. It costs 50,000 platinum. As far as the “units of measurement” business, the conversion table at the beginning of the gear section labels it as “units”. So it costs 50,000 units of platinum. I was so mad about them not talking about this essential part of the universe, but when I saw the label was (what would be in most other situations) the meaningless-almost-to-the-point-of-being-useless “units”, all my anger melted away, because that’s when I realized I was fatally overthinking it.

Resources aren’t given a classification of individual measurement because it doesn’t matter how much one individual piece is worth- buying power is based on the number of pieces of resources you have, not how much money the resource would be worth if you sold it. After all, their entire purpose in the game is to be another form of currency (specifically, to buy ship upgrades), and currency isn’t given a label beyond whatever form of currency it is. Think of it like this- take the cost of the Advanced Med-Bay, and replace the word “platinum” with the word “credits”. It doesn’t seem weird, because everyone knows “credits” is just the word they use for money. “Platinum”, in this game, is literally just a different kind of money that happens to have the same name as a thing we in real life are familiar with, that you get a different way. The fact that it’s called something different, or acquired in a different manner (usually), doesn’t make it not credits.

All of this flashed through my mind in about one second. I saw the conversion chart, I saw that the unit of measurement was “units”, my brain realized that meant “resources” was essentially being used as another word for “credits”, and I took out everything from “For that matter” to the end of the section in the crossed out part above. Then, since it was a conversion chart, that by definition meant I had an answer to the “exchange rate” question, so that came out. Then, (again) since it was a conversion chart, that answered the question of whether I can buy them or not, so that came out. Then, thinking about how I can buy resources made me realize that “if the person I bought them from had them, where did they get them? They either bought them or found them”, which told me that, yes, you can find resources as well. (Eventually, I would discover a ship upgrade letting you launch probes and scan planets for resources. So my assumption was correct.)

As for the last question, “what else can I do with them”, I thought about it and went “hell, who cares? I bought them from someone, so there’s obviously a market for resources beyond just me. I can just sell them, like whoever I bought them from was doing”. So out it went.

I still do wish there was a section specifically devoted to talking about resource acquisition and management (it’s a neat idea that you can get some really cool stuff with, so it deserves some information of its own), but ultimately, I suppose that with all the fluff cut out, the section would look like this- “ACQUISITION: you can find resources on missions or from scanning planets, get awarded some as if it were treasure, and you can also buy it. MANAGEMENT: spend resources to buy ship upgrades. Sell it or donate it if it’s bothering you that it’s just sitting there, taking up space”.

Okay. I’m onto my last part. I saved it for last for a couple reasons- first off, it’s my most major (and in my mind, legitimate) complaint about the whole book. Secondly, it’s right at the very end of the book, so it would be the last thing you get to anyway.

Let me preface this next part by saying that I like this book. I think it’s a good system, it works pretty well to my eyes, and the handful of small gripes are just that- gripes. They aren’t things that are bad or broken, just things that I personally would probably tweak a bit if I had editorial control over the project. But so far, the rulebook has a 99 percent success rate, and I’m very proud of being able to say I have this book. I would love to be able to use it some day.

…Okay, um, I don’t know how to say this without just coming right out and saying it point blank, so that’s what I’m gonna do.

The index is a pile of trash and needs to be completely redone.

A  few examples of why-

  • I look up “money”. it says “MONEY see: CREDIT”. Okay, cool. I flip to the “C”s. There’s no entry for “CREDIT”.
  • Take the “Warp Ammo” ammo specialization- there’s an entry for it under “W” for “Warp Ammo”, but there’s ALSO a subentry for it under “S” for “Specializations: Ammo”. And both of them list the page number, instead of one referring you to the other. So, some entries get cross-referenced (like “credit/money”, above), but some don’t.
  • Let’s say I want to look up feats. The “Specializations” entry (which we were looking at during the previous point, about Warp Ammo) had subentries of every specialization in the game, so maybe feats do the same thing. I’ll look up “F” for “Feats” first. No subentries. Why does one have subentries, but the other doesn’t? Okay, fine, Let’s look up the feat itself. “TRACK page 117”. Okay, so feats are each listed in the index separately- I go to page 117. But wait, here’s a feat called “Slide Through”. (flips back to the index) There’s no entry under “S” for “Slide Through”. So some feats have their own index listing, and some of them don’t?
  • Going back to my perusal of “Warp Ammo” from point 2, it tells me “page 177”. okay, I go to page 177. It’s not there. Turns out it’s actually on page 175. Yet there are some things- the entry for the “search” skill, for instance- that actually have the right page listed. Now, I didn’t check every single thing in the index, but of the things I DID check, ALMOST EVERYTHING IN THE INDEX HAS THE WRONG PAGE NUMBER LISTED. The index says “Turian: page 36”. I go to page 36, and that page definitely is the entry for turians- but the entry actually started three pages earlier, on 33. So going to 36 just plops me right in the middle of a wall of text.

Now, the index does have one very cool feature- you can click on the listed page number for an entry, and it will automatically take you to the entry (notably, it takes you to the page in the rulebook proper that entry is on, even if that entry isn’t on the same page that the link you clicked on had said).

At first blush, I was tempted to unperson large chunks of this section in light of this discovery. I decided not to for a few reasons- A, the fact that I discovered a semi-useful workaround doesn’t excuse the fact that this feature is horribly broken. A broken feature is still broken, even if I figure out a way to not use it. B, the feature can only be used for things that actually have an entry in the index to begin with- and as bullets 1 and 3 above point out, not everything does. C, that feature would be completely useless if the book were printed out.

You know, it’s funny- this entire thing about the index, as well as the complaint about resources above (which you might recognize as “the only to real complaints I have with this book”), they all started when I needed to find where the “credits” section was. I had seen the section on upgrading your ship, and didn’t see a companion section on the resources you’re supposed to use to do that (see above, with my long entry in red all about my thoughts on that particular asset). I figured that maybe, instead of having its own section, it was a subentry in the section about credits. Problem is, the book’s- as mentioned earlier- 540 pages long, and I wasn’t about to scroll through all of them to find it. So, I turned to the index, because that is literally what it’s for. Discovery of the “credits/money” fiasco got me looking to see if the index had any other problems with it, and that’s when I discovered the “wrong page numbers listed” issue. Everything just kind of snowballed from there.

I never truly appreciated how essential a well-structured index is until I tried using one that was a piece. Oh, man, it’s a good thing this book has a table of contents- I don’t recall seeing any noticeable issues with it (and after I discovered the state of the index, you can be sure I looked), so I can look at that and make some educated guesses from there.

As far as any last-minute minor comments I might want to make, I noticed that the glossary was missing a whole bunch of entries- such as “resources”, which made me laugh out loud, derisively- but that didn’t really bother me, since pretty much everything in the book I was already familiar with, either because of my familiarity with D&D, or my familiarity with the canon of Mass Effect. Someone without that level of familiarity might have a problem, though.

The character sheet, meanwhile, is pretty nice- four pages (like I mentioned earlier), with lots of room for powers and weapons and stuff. It’s filled with entries and lines and boxes and so on, and I suppose it might seem cluttered and visually messy, but they took the time to make sure everything is clearly separated by some sort of text block, or square, or what have you, so it doesn’t end up seeming nearly as bad as it may look at first glance. I noticed that when I view it in my .PDF viewer, it looks slightly fuzzy- the edges and letters aren’t quite as crisp as I would like them to be. But I don’t know if that’s an issue with the character sheet file, or my computer displaying it incorrectly, and so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

—–

And I think that will be it! Woo boy, almost six thousand words! I went into this thinking I was just gonna do a brief bullet point list of a couple things I liked/didn’t like, and be done in like ten minutes!

I just realized I forgot to make any comments about the Star System enhancement. (spends a couple minutes looking at it) Well, it doesn’t add any new rules to the game, it’s just a list of all the planets in the galaxy, with stat block detailing their environment, any fuel stations or mass relays nearby, et cetera. Just some cool fluff, nothing more. So no problems there.

Okay, now I think that really IS all she wrote! The Mysterious Rating X for the Mass Effect d20 System book:

  • Successful Translation Of Source Material- 5/5
  • Visual Appeal- 5/5
  • Ease Of Use- 4/5 (sorry, index)
  • Apparent Completeness- 5/5
  • Another Rating I’m Adding To Give Out Another Five Points- 5/5

Wow, look at that! This game must be pretty damn good! I can’t recommend it enough- go here, download the book (and don’t forget the character sheet!), grab some of what you call “dice” here (we call them “dice” on my home planet) and have a ball! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “fifty words away from six thousand! Time to waste forty words worth of space! Yeah, woohoo, let’s do it, come on, so dang cool, oh yeah, let’s get it, here it is, yeah baby, BOOOM! 6,000″!

The Mysterious Dr. X (the entry for “credits” is on page 187, by the way. Wish I’d known that fifteen hours ago)