Thursday, November 24, 2022

Reading FrontierSpace Part 2: Character Creation & Advancement (&Equipment)

What better way to review character creation than to create a character?

There's 6 character creation steps (that include equipping your character) - a FS character starts in pretty broad strokes. In game-mechanical terms s*he is defined bei 6 Abilities, 3 Skills, Species, a Moral Code an 6-8 pieces of equipment. There's a little more differentiation involved in selecting how your species impacts your stats.

I start with rolling up my six Abilities (the core characteristics), taking them in order as they come - RAW, you are allowed to allocate them or use a standard array, but since I have no idea where I'm going, I'll start out as random as possible. Abilitier are rolled with 2D10, using a table that will mostly generate results between 45 and 65, with the minimum and maximum values being 35 and 70.

The first set of stats I come up with is not terribly impressive - Strength 55 (slightly above average), Agility 45 (sligthly below), Coordination 60 (good), Perception 55, Intelligence 45 (not the brighest), Will 65 (at least nows what s*he wants). I decide that, for simplicity's sake, my character will be a human.

As skills, I choose Diplomat at 0 (0 is actually the best starting skill score, meaning that you can bring your full Ability value to bear when you use that skill) - I imagine that a lot of Diplomat rolls will be combined with Will, my best core stat. Then I pick Thief at -10 (agility 45 doesn't make me terribly sneaky, but Coordination at 60 is pretty good). Finally, I go with Pilot -10 (though I'll change that one later on to Medic-10).

Next, I need to skip forward to the Species chapter to read up on what it means to be human. One cool thing about FS: There's three non-human alien species, humans and robots. Except for robots, they're presented in alphabetical order (so humans come after the insectoid Erekai), and they are described in the same manner as all the other species ("Humans are two-armed, two-legged beings with five fingers on each hand ... They have a head mass that holds their brains and primary senses ... their coloration varies from pale to dark ..."), which works really well to make clear that humans aren't more or less special than any other species. (which is kind of ironic, since one of the creators has mentionend on that the original plan was to make a humans-only RPG and adding alien species was a choice made relatively lately in the design process).

The other playable species come with a few twists:

The insectoid, genderless Erekai are traders with giant bio-ships. They have several life phases, and player characters are supposed to start out in their "Seeker" or "Protector" phasees: As Seekers, they're still looking for a worthy cause to pledge their lifes to, while as Protector, they´ve found it (ability modifiers depend on these phases, with Seekers being more perceptive and Protectors being tougher). I like it how they made the insect people, of all the species, the ones with a culture based around individual idealism.

The tailed, smooth-skinned Novim are genetically modified slaves who fled from their masters and fear their return. Their pretty cosmopolitan and, apart from that, relatively non-descript; though I'm still thinking about switching my characters species to Novim, which somehow feels fitting.

The hairy Yar are organized in clans, which, in terms of character, really makes them a catch-all for all the Star Trek species you could want. They seem kind of spiritual, choosing one path of self-mastery when they come of age (Fury or Serenity). They also choose their own clan, which is basically their job and gives them an advantage at one skill and a disadvantage at another. You want a Klingon, you pick a Warrior on the Path of Fury, you want a Vulcan, you pick a Scientist on the path of Serenity ..

Robot characters, finally, can have developed self-awareness or not (player's choice) - a robot lacking self-awareness doesn't earn XP and is unable to develop apart from adding hardware, while self-aware robots develop just like characters from all other species. Apart from that, robot creation is pretty free-form and creates characters that are slightly tougher, but about as competent as all the others. (I immediately thought that you could also start with a non-self-aware robot and save up XP for the moment when you finally become self-aware to spend them on a big development boost; it's not quite RAW, but I like the idea).

Coming back to my human character, I have to roll or choose a specific Background that defines his or her species modifiers: I roll "First Responder", though I'm not quite sure if that is supposed to be the character's former job or what his or her parents did for a living. There's stuff like "Light-g-Worlder" or "Urban Survival" that implies a whole social background, but "First Responder" not so much. Anyway, I stick with it and decide that it was my character's job (by now I'm also pretty sure it will be a he). I now may freely choose two positive and one negative modifiers from a list, keeping Background in mind. I decide on +5 Perception (to help people, you need to find them first), Advantage in Social Dealings with the Medical Community (I might not be a full-fledged doctor, but I know the talk), and -5 Body Points (one time when I had to help evacuate people from an airlock, I was exposed to vacuum, and my lungs were permanently damaged).

I decide that while my character likes to help, he also feels that he shouldn't be supposed to put his life on the line for others constantly; that will be reflected in the personality traits I get to choose. Personality traits have no mechanical impact, but offer suggestions for roleplaying. There's five opposed pairs (kind/cruel, focused/unfocused, brave/cowardly, selfless/selfish, honorable/deceitful), and for each of them, you can decide whether you're one or the other and whether you are "somewhat", "very" or "totally". I decide to be Very Kind (I've learned that it is most important to help people), Somewhat Unfocused (I'm not a First Responder anymore and don't really know where I'm going), Somewhat Cowardly (my experience in that airlock has shaken me more than I'd like to admit) Somewhat selfish (I may be kind to people, but I'm done with sticking my head out too far for others) and Very Deceitful (I'm kind of on my way to become a conman now). In the end, I guess I'm a person who is more about talking the talk than walking the walk, but nevertheless, I have a kind heart. Okay, that definitely helped define my character (though I find the focused/unfocused pairing a little less interesting than the others).

You're also supposed to come up with two descriptors, one leaning towards positive, one towards negative (think Fate aspects, but without game mechanics attached). I go with "I have learned how important it is to help others" and "I won't put my life on the line for others", which feels like an interesting internal conflict.

Finally, you have to do some maths - your Hit Points (called Body Points) equal half your strength (28, in my case -5, so I end up with meagre 23 BP). You get 1 Destiny point, +1 of your worst Ability score is 45 or lower (applies), +1 if your highest Ability score is 65 or lower (doesn't apply), +1 if you haven't chosen the Marksman skill (applies), +1 one if you haven't chosen the Warrior skill (appiles), so I start with 4 of 5 possible DP. An interesting aside: If you acquire these skills later or raise your relevant abilities, you will actually lose the corresponding DPs permanently (though you can acquire skill benefits that will give you more limited DPs for specific uses). It's a real incentive to stick to the initial weaknesses of your character for a while.

Now my character only needs a name - I'll just call him Elroy for now - and equipment, which I'll skip for now; there's a list to select your starting gear from that seems to make sense, but really, equipping my character is always my least favourite part of character creation, and there's an Equipment chapter later on.

The next two chapters are about Species (which I have already covered) and Skills. The latter describes FS's broad skills and possible Specialisations (you can pick one Specialisation per Skill, which gives you +10 in your specialised area and -10 when you're using the skill for something else). What's not in the Skills chapter are the Skill Benefits, special abilities you get for each positive increment of 10 in a Skill (so you can buy your first one at +10, the second one at +20). These are relegated to the Character Development chapter (see below), which is a slightly awkward design decision; it makes sense in that you don't need the skill benefits for character creation, but for later reference, it's probably not ideal.

The Equipment chapter follows - TBH, I never read those completely, though they are essential to SciFi RPGs and may contain important information on the setting. What I gather from this one are two important rules concepts: First, a lot of equipment comes with abstract usage units - the most commonly used being energy units, but you also get bullets (one size fits all) and different kinds of provision units for medkits, explorer kits, food ... keeping track of those might be a hassle, though most character will have only 2 or 3 at max of those tracks, the character sheet provides ample room for easy bookkeeping, and the system works the same for all kinds of provisions and pretty much boils down to "Shot at someone? Lose one EU. Patchet someone up? Lose one medkit provision". In the end, I think it's a good solution to make money matter (you'll regularly have to restock supplies), which is important when the default core story of the campaign is that the characters constantly need to secure their next job to keep their ship afloat.

The other important concept is damage types - there's kinetic damage, beam damage, sonic damage and electrical damage, and specific armor types and screens to protect you against each of those while being mostly ineffective against the others. On the one hand, this might provide interesting tactical choices and make sure that there's pretty much always a weak spot you can exploit, on the other hand, I imagine that playing rock-paper-scissors with damage types might end up tiresome; that's something that's really hard to tell from reading the rules. I guess at least at the beginning, while the characters will have to make do with whatever equipment they have, it won't be a big problem.

Armor is ablative - basically, it just adds Body Points and is destroyed once they are used up. That works well for personal energy shields (which just eat up energy units when they take damage and are rechargable), though for actual armor, I would probably houserule things in a way so that your armor won't be completely destroyed everytime it is succesfully penetrated - maybe just deduct 10 or 20% from the max armor value instead everytime it hits 0.

Character Development works with XP (called Development Points or DP) handed out by the GM. You can improve your Abilities and Skills directly in increments of +5. There's no fixed upper limit, but the prices increase the higher your score gets. Improving skills also costs money. All used-up DP go into your Reknown, and based on your total Reknown, your Rank improves. Rank is basically level; it determines your Mission Pay Grade (how much you can demand for your work), and also, each Rank gives you +1D10 Body Points (or five, if you don't like to roll). Mission Pay Grade seems like a concept that makes sensev for FS, though I'm not that sure about increasing BP, which feels awfully like getting additional Hit Dice in D&D. That's something I would probably waive, keeping the characters squishy (at least, they'll be able to buy better armor and better energy shields with their improved pay grade).

As soon as you hit +10 in a Skill, you can also start to acquire Skill Benefits. These provide a lot of the skill differentiation that you would get out of the gate in a more granular skill system. For example, using the Marksman skill for starhip gunnery, you would be at -20, unless you have the Gunnery Skill Benefit. Another big class of Skill Benefits are the specialised Destiny Points that basically give you a DP that can only be used in a way that is tied to the respective Skill. Skill Benefits also include licenses (for example to install cybernetics) that provide cheaper and safer access to certain ressources; and the Command Skill gives you a number of "Plans" as benefits that let you hand out bonuses to your companions when following a certain strategy. Because of the skill requirement (you need to have at least +10 in a Skill for each Benefit), I guess you probably won't get much more than 6 or 7 Benefits in you adventurer career, and they all work pretty simple in terms of rules, so you won't have to deal with tons of special effects for all of your feats. In other words, this looks really playable, but if you're totally into having specific feats for "Fighting with two medium length weapons while blindfolded and standing on one leg", you might be disappointed. Generally, the scope and use of Skill Benefits reminds me a lot of Stunts in Fate.

That's it for now - next time: Robots, Vehicles and Starships.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for continuing your review! I’m beginning to suspect Frontier Space may not be for me, and my wallet thanks you for that enlightenment so it isn’t lightened.

    The automatic increase in Body Points makes me wonder if they kept the variable-charge weapons in their homage to Star Frontiers. There were a handful of energy weapons that allowed the user to increase the damage dealt by expending additional charges. The maximum boost I recall meant you could one-shot an opponent with a good roll. It could also be an attempt to avoid the Star Frontiers problem of people dumping XP into Stamina to survive, leading to problems when scenarios expected people to have spent XP on skills.

    Your comment about damage types has me dredging my memory of armor in Star Frontiers. There was at least one scenario where the big schtick was a creature had resistance to the equipment your PCs had, and an adventure where if you managed to get to the end with your energy weapons the critter you faced was resistant to them. One campaign also gave you the chance of having armor against lasers, but after the first encounter it was worthless until you got into the second book of the campaign. Despite having owned almost everything for SF, I played it very little, and I never considered the armor issue until you described it. It’s a good point, and possibly another reason so many players I knew raised Stamina to the exclusion of everything else.