The very busy Mongoose Publishing have announced their not-so-secret secret project and its Babylon 5. Mongoose aren’t the first company to have a bash at the license but they believe they can make it work. Matthew Sprange, of Mongoose fame, has offered up this preview. Enjoy.
There has already been a great deal of speculation as to how the new Babylon RPG is going to look and what changes are going to be made to the d20 System. So, we’ll take a dive into the 304 page main rulebook, due for release in late May, and see what goodies lie inside.
Not a lot you can say about an introduction – except that, as with our Judge Dredd RPG, we have three sections aimed at gamers who are a) new to Babylon 5, b) new to the d20 System and c) veterans of the d20 System. If you are the latter, a few paragraphs summarise all the changes we have made to the rules for Babylon 5, giving you 90% of what you need to start playing the game immediately. This is followed by a short ‘Welcome’ chapter, setting the scene for the entire galaxy in whatever time period you are aiming to play.
Characters on Babylon 5
This, I think, is what many of you will be wanting to know – what characters you can play in the Babylon 5 RPG! We have gone for the usual race/class split, for reasons that will become obvious. Anyway, the ‘standard’ player races are human, Centauri, Minbari, Narn, Drazi and Brakiri. We even have a section set aside detailing how such disparate characters could ever hope to work together as a ‘party’. However, there is nothing written that Babylon 5 has to be 100% co-operative in nature – if you think about it, the television show itself demonstrates quite nicely how players could both work together and pursue their own goals. . .
Eight character classes are available, and we have made sure these are all as broad as possible – in fact, we had to make them more specific in playtesting as while they could reflect 99% of all the characters that appeared on the TV show (leaving aside the obvious special cases, such as the technomages), they also meant that it was incredibly hard to justify almost any prestige class! In the end, we think we have managed to run right down the middle, allowing the core classes to handle about 80% of all possible character types, with the prestige classes taking the strain for players who want something that little bit special. Anyway, the classes available to begin with are; Agent (Morden and Refa are the obvious examples here, though the term covers any skilled operative, from an assassin to ‘aggressive negotiator’), Diplomat (need not be politically minded – many corporations have need of diplomats in business dealings, as do some unions – Neeoma of the Dockers Guild is a low level diplomat), Lurker, Officer (split into pilot, fleet and ground forces), Scientist (one of the widest classes there is in capability and potential), Soldier (including security officers), Telepath and Worker (split into blue and white collar, allowing everything from dock loaders, to accountants, lawyers and ISN reporters). When creating these classes, we actively looked through the B5 seasons, trying to identify characters that did not fit any of these. Aside from the really esoteric personalities (which beg prestige classes or, in a few very rare cases, a new core class that will come later), nope, we have not spotted any ! All are very broad in scope, and we have tried to avoid railroading anyone in terms of skill choices and class features. If you have a specific character in mind, you can create him or her with this system.
Also included in this chapter are the new rules for hit points (very, very few!) and using Constitution as a bonus to stabilise, rather than granting bonus hit points. You do not want to get shot in this game, especially if a Medlab facility is not close by. . .
Skills and Feats
This chapter speaks for itself – we have gone through the skill list in the PHB, chucked out what was clearly not B5 in spirit, and added new skills where appropriate, as well as change certain skills that now operate slightly differently. Feats, on the other hand, are divided into General, Telepath and Racial categories. We have, however, removed a lot of the combat orientated feats from the B5 RPG – don’t worry, the likes of Weapon Focus are still in, but games of B5 should rarely focus squarely on combat. In this game, feats such as Harm’s Way, Latent Telepath and First Contact Protocol are far more important. . . If you are of non-human origin, they are plenty of opportunities to concentrate on abilities that can set members of your race far apart from anyone else – be it a Narn’s Priestly Devotion, a Minbari’s Way of the Warrior or a Drazi’s Might Makes Right. Personally, I like the Drazi’s Green or Purple feat, which gives certain bonuses (and penalties) for this race’s mob mentality.
The Combat chapter introduces the bulk of actual changes from the standard d20 System. I won’t run through them all here though. Suffice to say that Armour Class is gone, armour now reduces damage, a few changes have been made to attacks of opportunity, and rules are in place to handle thin atmospheres, low gravity, explosive decompression and a host of other dangers. The vehicle rules also appear here – as I mentioned elsewhere, we have used a converted Dragonstar system, as this is quick, easy, and scales nicely between characters, vehicles and spacecraft, allowing your Thunderbolt to bear down on a speeding terrorist truck across the plains of Mars. However, we just could not resist tweaking things to make it more ‘Babylon 5′ in feel! So, you will find everything you need to reflect the Starfuries’ afterburners, ejector seat and pivotal thrusters (gives a hell of an advantage, I can tell you!). Artificial gravity is a feature of many advanced spacecraft, as is the ability to create jump points, and the living ships of the Vorlons are just plain nasty. . .
Equipment and Vehicles
One thing I did not want the Babylon 5 RPG to become was too focussed on technology. After all, this is not Star Trek – characters and their actions are what matters, not Type IV positronic phase flux capacitors. However, you cannot get away from the fact that there are a lot of cool ships and weapons in the TV show – so, I hope we have picked the right middle ground between the two. Full rules are given for black markets (anyone on Babylon 5 is going to want to establish a smuggling line that bypasses customs!), as well as the most common weapons of the various races – these will be expanded further in the forthcoming ‘race’ books that will cover each government in more detail than has ever been seen before for Babylon 5. I promise. However, you will still find shock sticks, PPGs, Minbari holdout lasers, changeling nets (mad if you use one. . .), data crystals, flak jackets, Narn battle suits and much more. The spacecraft section has full rules and guidelines for the costs of running a spacecraft (including docking and maintenance fees), as well as a huge variety of ships seen throughout the galaxy, both commercial and military. Everything from a Maintenance Bot and Delta-V fighter to Hyperion cruisers and Vorlon transports are detailed here, as well as full descriptions of their special abilities and weaponry.
So often turned away by their own kind, telepaths at least get a chapter all to themselves in the Babylon 5 RPG. I’ll preview these rules fully at a later date but basically they revolve around an inherent P-Rating (which never changes, of course), the Telepathy skill and a range of abilities that are acquired with practice and training. Yup, Deep Scanning, Pain and Jamming are all in here.
All Alone in the Night
The Babylon 5 diplomatic station has never been truly and fully detailed in terms of maps, specifications, locations and personalities – until now. This chapter contains everything you need to turn the station into a living, breathing place that your players can actually explore (rather than you having to say ‘well, you arrive on B5. . .’). You can even learn how to join the Transport Association, and what benefits you will get from it in the future. In addition, information is given concerning jumpgate operation, damaging the station’s exterior (it can happen. . .), the defence grid (do NOT attack) and what compliment of craft are typically on board and under EarthForce control. Details on how diplomacy works on the station, what the quarts are like, how much they cost, BabCom, StellarCom, the central computer, medical facilities, the process of law and order, the Universe Today – and all this before we even get into specific locations!
We received a little criticism with the Judge Dredd RPG for not including stats of the main characters in the main rulebook. Well, we have listened to you this time. Everyone of note is detailed here (though Ivanova seems to have a little ‘classified’ sticker obscuring one of her feats. . .), plus we have also added a giant selection of ready NPCs (such as commercial telepaths, market traders, dock workers, etc. . .) for you to slide quickly and easily into your games.
The Babylon 5 station really is an entire setting unto itself – you could play out an entire campaign here without ever leaving. . .
And the Sky Full of Stars
Fitting the rest of the galaxy into one chapter was always going to be something of a challenge and, inevitably, we have left many things for the more detailed sourcebooks to cover (the first of which will be the Earth Alliance). However, full details here are given for travelling through space, using jumpgates (or denying their use), plus navigating through hyperspace, whether you want to use the standard travel routes or not. Plenty of information is then given on the major governments, their systems and their customs, giving Games Masters enough to start launching their players out amongst the stars. Also covered here are a variety of other useful topics, such as why the EA has identicards, ISN, the Psi Corps (including rules for sleeper drugs, and regulations for all human telepaths), the Centauri noble houses, the Minbari attitude to service and honour and much, much more. We have also included racial traits for many members of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds – in general, we recommend that players stick to those detailed in the first chapter, as these are a little weaker in terms of game balance. But hey, if you really want to play an Abbai, Gaim, Markab (heh!), Pak’ma’ra or Vree, everything you need is presented.
Our central goal for the Babylon 5 RPG was to provide a gateway for Games Masters and players to explore pretty much whatever part of the galaxy they wished. We have provided as many tools as we could fit into the main rulebook – it is up to you to find adventure!
Signs and Portents
This will be the most controversial chapter of the lot, I am sure – this is a detailed (and I mean detailed) episode synopsis of the entire first season of Babylon 5. The question you will all ask, I am sure, is – why only the first season? Allow me to explain. . .
I have said before that I am a self-confessed B5 geek and so aimed to produce the kind of game that I would want to see (and buy) myself. So, when the question came ‘what do we include in this game’, my answer had to be ‘everything’.
You can’t actually do that in 304 pages! However, I knew that simply doing a dry list of all the events as and when they happened would be a) boring and b) completely miss the point of what B5 is about. We were also aware that there were many people out there who (unlike us real fans!) did not have every episode on video or DVD – some were only going to know the most basic things about the setting, while others would have inevitably missed a few episodes. So, we have gone for a very detailed episode synopsis that can (if you wish) serve as a framework to an entire campaign covering the Earth year 2258. We do not just detail the events in the episode, however – that, too, would begin to get boring. Instead, we have also added many new background entries to explain various things that crop up in each episode (such as how the Thenta Makur works, how Transport Routes are granted, what happened to the Dilgar, etc. . .), new rules (pain givers can be found here, as well as racial traits for the Dilgar, if you really want to go down the outcast route), minor characters (N’grath and Bester, for example) and, well, just about everything you need to know to run a decent game of B5 that did not fit logically elsewhere in the rulebook, but is placed nicely next to its relevant episode. And yes, all this is backed up by complete and functional index, meaning you will never have to go far to find anything, even in a rulebook of 304 pages.
In addition, we give plenty of ideas for plot lines, scenarios and campaign hooks alongside each episode. These allow players to either become directly involved in such events, or have similar situations mirror themselves in the players’ own encounters. In addition, notes are also provided as to what players in the galaxy might hear of the events on Babylon 5, all serving to provide a coherent structure to a campaign before the Games Master even starts writing. It also makes the players aware that there is an entire galaxy out there that will not simply stop and stand by while they complete their own goals – as covered in this chapter, this can lead to some very tense situations, wherever the players are in the galaxy.
Campaigns on Babylon 5
When I started writing this chapter, I figured I could fit everything into 5 pages – fat chance! We begin by covering a typical ‘starfarer’s campaign’, where players just use the station as a base of operation and play through a number of unrelated scenarios to ‘see what is out there’. This will suit some groups down to the ground. However, as fans of the show will be aware, a great deal more is possible in Babylon 5. You want huge, convoluted story arcs? This chapter tells you how to put them together. You want to know just what makes Babylon 5. . . well, Babylon 5? This chapter will tell you what to emphasise. There are also sections on characterisation, B5 iconography, playing canon/non-canon campaigns, as well as a huge list of campaign jump off points you can use to kickstart your own ideas.
This is also where the prestige classes lie – I won’t give the full list just yet, but making an appearance will be the Mutari, Planetary Surveyor, Psi Cop, and True Seeker.
The rulebook winds up with a full and complete glossary (including a few things even I did not know before I started this project!), plus index, rules summary and character sheets.