Blue Planet - 1st edition

InQuest Magazine, Issue 30 - Game Reviews [ONDECK]

“Blue Planet is a landmark release, the first really original science-fiction RPG since Paranoia.”

AD 2078: Investigating an anomoly at the edge of the Solar System, the Prometheus II probe discovers a traversable “wormhole” (space warp) that leads to the Lambda Serpentis system, 35 light-years from Earth. Ten years later, the United Nations establishes a small frontier colony of genetically engineered humans and “genlifted” cetaceans on the system’s habitable ocean world, Poseidon. Earth’s civilization promptly collapses for over a century, but the abandoned colony thrives. Now it’s 2199, and Earth’s resurgent government(s) and Incorporate States have returned to Poseidon in a gold rush for the life-prolonging xenosilicate Long John. There’s a world to explore, an amazing ecology to study or plunder, criminals to catch – and the original pioneers are rebelling. Meanwhile, deep in Poseidon’s endless ocean, mysterious “aborigines” pursue unknowable goals of their own ….

Think of an underwater Dune, of SF novels like Jack Vance’s The Blue World, David Brin’s Startide Rising or Arthur Clarke’s Songs of Distant Earth, and you have Blue Planet, an exceedingly well-drawn setting full of clear and believable conflicts. Take your hydrofoil out from the touristed boomtown of Haven or the Nomad raft-village. You’ll soon find a Judge Dredd-like GEO Marshal hunting Russian sunburst smugglers, or Sierra Nueva revolutionaries (led by orca warchiefs) sabotaging Atlas Materials’ Undersea Habitat 2, or a self-sustaining Force 6 cyclone, or a greater white (a 75-meter eel with a voracious appetite). Pirates, flesh merchants, wired Incorporate mercs, aquaform natives – they all coexist fractiously on Poseidon.

And it all makes beautiful sense. The tech, oceanography, geology; the ecology, in all its DNA-based unlikelyhood; even the wormhole all get plausible scientific rationales. Blue Planet does not offer a “Star Wars” space opera, nor even Traveller’s planet-hopping, but the bracingly austere rigor of “hard” SF. The mammoth rulebook includes Shadowrun-style cyberware and biotech, a good range of vehicles and weapons, rules for playing natives, dolphins and orcas, and Solar System background for “Newcomer” immigrants.

During character generation, your species determines base percentile scores for 14 attributes, 40 profession templates draw on 99 skills in 23 skill groups, with scores modified by attributes. The system doesn’t attempt to balance characters – a GEO shock trooper has more skills than a Haven archaeologist, period – but it creates well-rounded personalities. [Editor’s note: there are actually 40 profession templates drawn on 100 skills]

Percentile skill checks determine eight levels of success or failure; an elegant “scaling” system modifies these levels by task difficulty. The unexciting but workable combat system uses half-second rounds, initiative rolls, hit locations, and scaling modifiers. Lethal trauma rules and Role-master-style critical hits carry realism perhaps too far, but it’s easy to slot out the system and import your own rules.

Biohazard’s Blue Planet is a landmark release, the first really original science-fiction RPG since Paranoia. Sure, in hard-SF roleplaying we’ve seen GDW’s 2300 AD (it sold about a dozen copies) and several GURPS worldbooks (“sorry, I wasn’t yawning”), but Poseidon presents far more flavor and excitement. A couple of times it stumbles in its extrapolation: paper money? Computers barely advanced beyond today’s? But Blue Planet is a must-buy-now for every fan of hard SF, because it delivers big on two commodities scarcer than Long John: scientific integrity and fierce intelligence. In this field, they’re long overdue.

Dragon Magazine - Issue #250, page 109

Killer Crosshairs

Shadis Magazine

If you’re like me, you are never satisfied with any roleplaying game right out of the box. I all too often find myself “tsk”ing under my breath as I inspect weapons tables and combat rules. Always in search of the ever-elusive super-accurate method of conducting RPG combat, I found myself turning to more and more complex sets of rules. Oh, sure, it was innocent enough at first, – Twilight 2300. Who could forget those great rules for tamping explosive charges? But that was just the beginning. I knew I had a problem when I wrote five pages of rules for modeling radiation poisoning. All too soon I found myself spiraling downward into a Stygian abyss populated with the densest tables and charts Man has yet to devise: Phoenix Command. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a great product, but it does not lend itself well to roleplaying.

I’ve managed to kick the extreme realism habit, mostly, over the last couple of years by playing a lot of White Wolf games and AD&D. But I just found something that might push me right back over the edge. It’s Killer Crosshairs from Biohazard Games. KC is a generic system for adding realism to ranged and hand-to-hand combat in any system. It works like this: you place a transparent template over a drawing of your target, centered on your point of aim. (The book is full of drawings of people and creatures in various poses.) Make your roll, and depending on how much you exceeded your target score by, you move the point of impact. This way, you know immediately where your shot went, and the GM can determine the consequences. (If you’ve played Mellennium’s End, you’ll be familiar with this idea already.) There’s one radial template for ranged attack deviation, and one curious-looking linear one for hand-to-hand weapons.

Hand-in-hand with the deviation system go the detailed damage charts. Once someone has been shot, stabbed, bludgeoned or otherwise mangled, you can get the lowdown on just how bad a day they are actually having. It’s far more entertaining than merely subtracting hit points, and a lot quicker than using the Phoenix Command Advanced Damage Tables, as much as I love them. (It’s a personal crusade to find a way to elegantly incorporate projectile impact bite angle calculations into roleplay rules … but I digress!)

For example, say someone gets shot in the throat for, oh, 25% of their total hit points. This is what the entry reads: “Heavy bleeding and serious tissue damage. Trachea crushed 20%, speech impossible if crushed. Suffocation 75% if trachea crushed; incapacitated. Bleed for 10% of hits/minute. Mental action -10%.” Yeah! Now we’re gettin’ somewhere!

The best part is that it only takes one more additional die roll and one table lookup to get this extra level of detail. Sure, you might not want to do this if you are running a scenario where the players are engaging a horde of 50 orcs, but if it’s a smaller, cozier battle everyone will enjoy the extra detail. Since everything is given as percentages, it’s easy to adapt the system to whatever RPG you happen to be playing. Give it a shot!