Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 17 December 2016

d100 Traveller

Published by FrostByte Books, M-Space: d100 roleplaying in the far future is part of the continuing wave of RPGs originating in Sweden, includling Symbaroum, Mutant Chronicles, and Mutant: Year Zero. Unlike those three RPGs, M-Space is neither Swedish nor European in its origins or its tone, being very much inspired by classic American Science Fiction and classic American Science Fiction RPGs. Further, its mechanics are similarly American in design, being derived from RuneQuest and Basic RolePlaying. Specifically, M-Space uses Mythras Imperative, the streamlined version of Mythras, the new incarnation of the RPG from The Design Mechanism that previously powered RuneQuest 6.

Part of the ‘Mythras Gateway’ program, M-Space is a percentile system that will be familiar to anyone who has played any RPG using the Basic Roleplaying system, whether that is Call of Cthulhu, Hawkmoon, or Ringworld. Stats are generally rated between one and eighteen, the primary mechanic is skill based and skills are fundamental to the game, everyone has hit locations, and so combat is fairly deadly. Character creation is a matter of rolling stats and assigning points to skills derived from the character’s Culture and Career—M-Space gives Rural, Urban, and Orbital as its possible Cultures, plus free to assign skill points. Skills themselves are divided into Standard skills, which everyone knows, and Professional Skills, specialised skills that a character only knows from his Culture and his Career. Most notable of the skills is Combat Style, essentially each a package that represents training in a number of weapons. So for example, Combat Style (Bodyguard) might cover the use of Handgun, Unarmed Combat, and Evade, whereas Combat Style (Merkrai’an Rider) could include spear, knife, and brawl. The major addition to combat in comparison to other Basic Roleplaying RPGs are Special Effects, conditions such as Blind Opponent, Bypass Armour, and Rapid Reload that come into play when a combatant rolls better than an opponent. A character will also have Passions—for and against people, organisations, places, and ideas—that can be used to help augment skills for particular actions, serve as roleplaying hooks, and indicate elements of a campaign to focus on.

Our sample character is a bureaucrat who trained to be a pilot, but washed out due to low fitness evaluations. Instead he entered the civil service where his space operations training saw him posted to the Customs & Excise Transit Authority. He is ambitious and wants to prove himself as good as any spacer. He has a strong dislike of smugglers and any who would besmirch the good name of pilots or attempt to undermine what he sees as the fair and just efforts of the Customs & Excise Transit Authority.

Chae-Won Daniel
Age 41

Culture: Orbital
Career: Official

STR 13 CON 07 SIZ 12 DEX 16 INT 16 POW 14 CHA 17

Action Points: 2 Damage Modifier: – Experience Modifier: +1 Healing Rate: 2
Initiative Bonus: +16 Luck Points: 3 Power Points: 14 Movement Rate: 6

Hit Points
Head 4 Chest 6 Abdomen 5 L. Arm 3 R. Arm 3 L. Leg 4 R. Leg 4

Standard Skills:
Conceal 30%, Customs 52%, Deceit 30%, Influence 74%, Insight 73%, Locale 32%, Native Tongue 63%, Perception 50%, Sing 51%, Willpower 52%

Professional Skills:
Bureaucracy 62%, Commerce 63%, Courtesy 63%, Pilot 52%, 

Combat Skills:
Combat Style (Orbital Self-Defence) 49%

Loyalty to Home (Orbital Habitat 242) 70%
Love (Mother) 61%
Hate (Smugglers) 50%

Mechanically, M-Space is a straightforward percentile system. Anyone who has used the Mythras system before will have no issues picking up and playing M-Space just as anyone who has played any RPG using the Basic RolePlaying system will pick the rules up with ease. Beyond most simple circumstances, M-Space covers more complex situations with ‘Extended Conflicts’, such as a poker game, a race through an asteroid belt, a dinner party, and so on. These are handled through opposed rolls, with the winner inflicting damage to the loser’s Conflict Pool, each Conflict Pool being based on one or more of each participant’s stats and being created according to the needs of the situation. So to sneak into a warehouse would mean a character rolling his Stealth versus the guard’s Perception in an extended series of tests with the guard using his Intelligence as his Conflict Pool and the character his Dexterity as his Conflict Pool. 

Unsurprisingly M-Space adds a number of separate systems to handle its Science Fiction—starship design, starship combat, alien creation, world building, and vehicle design. Starship design is done by building modules. For example, one module is required per crewmember or passenger, but four modules are equal to cubicle; one module is roughly equal to one ton of cargo space; a hanger bay equal to four modules would hold an ATV, whilst ten modules would house a fighter or shuttle, and so on. On the whole the system is fairly simple, although it will require some arithmetic. Hyperspace travel is framed as a narrative device, with a Jump rating of between one and five determining how far any Hyperspace Drive will get you. A Jump of one will get your ship to the nearest few stars, a Jump of five across the subsector. Starship combat, unlike standard man-to-man missile and melee combat, involves more maneuvering, typically to gain a better position—offensive or defensive—to avoid incoming fire or to better deliver it. Like the standard combat system, starship combat has its own Special Effects, these being divided into those for Pilot and Gunnery. Like standard combat, a simplified version of the starship combat rules are also provided. Unlike the standard combat system, the starship combat rules do include a fully worked out example.

Alien creation involves addressing a number of points raised as Universal Life Form Parameters, for example, how Strange an alien is, its biosphere, body plans, and so on. Rolling on or choosing from the simple tables gives the answers and essentially allows the GM to build an alien as he goes along. For intelligent aliens the GM can add technology and culture, whilst a similar set of tables will inspire the GM to create worlds where his campaign can be set. Further notable additions include rules for Circles or organisations and how they and the player characters interact and rules for Psionics. They are divided into three spheres—Sense, Mind, and Matter—with Psionic ability, like Telepathy or Farsight, is treated as a separate skill. The rules are a fairly standard approach to Psionics, but what they do not address is how they are acquired. For example, there is no Psionicist Career given.

Rounding out M-Space are some sample space ships and sample alien lifeforms. The latter are better than the former, including as they do the Grept, an intelligent species with an advanced civilisation and society whose hierarchy is based on Psionic ability, and the Deep-Sea Gobbler, a large fish-like species that is on the verge of civilisation. Unfortunately, there is nothing original about the spaceships. From the X Fighter and the Y Fighter to the Corvette and the Destroyer, they are essentially the ships from the Star Wars franchise. Now M-Space is designed to be a toolkit to model various types of Science Fiction, not necessarily specific franchises from Science Fiction. Nowhere else is this modelling done in M-Space. Had the rulebook included sections on using the rules to model various types or franchises of Science Fiction, then these ships would have been a welcome addition to such a section, but because the author does not even bother to change the very similar names, they just stick out like a sore thumb.

Which highlights the biggest problem at the heart of M-Space—how is M-Space to be used? What sort of Science Fiction can it be used to emulate? The author never addresses this nor does he talk about the genre. Part of the problem is that what M-Space really does is emulate another RPG—Traveller, and Classic Traveller at that, published in 1977 by Game Designers’ Workshop. If M-Space is emulating a forty year old RPG, then Traveller—especially in the form of its setting, the Third Imperium—is based more on the Imperial Science Fiction of the 1940s and 1950s, of Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Bertram Chandler, Robert A. Heinlein, H. Beam Piper, E.C. Tubb, and others. The author makes this explicit with the inclusion of the Tech Level Table from Traveller—included as Traveller is under Creative Common license and by the author as a direct homage—but the similarities between Traveller and M-Space run throughout the pages of the the RPG. The inclusion of the Tech Level Table just confirms the similarities.

Further, there is no advice for the GM whatsoever. So in addition to no discussion of Science Fiction and its various subgenres, there is no advice on running M-Space or Science Fiction in general. The lack of advice on running M-Space is compounded by the general lack of examples in the book. Now there is an example of starship combat and there are examples here and there, but there is no example of play or of character generation. None of this will be that much of issue for the experienced GM, but anyone new to roleplaying or science fiction roleplaying will find little to help them here.

Physically, M-Space comes as a black and white square volume. In places the writing could have benefited from a tighter edit and there is no denying that the author’s style is rather dry. Which is no surprise given the toolkit nature of M-Space. In terms of illustrations, each chapter is prefaced by a fully painted piece that works even in grayscale, but elsewhere the artwork is less effective. In particular, many of the thumbnail portraits are superfluous placeholders. Decent enough, but do no more than take up space and do not evoke the RPG’s genre.

As much as M-Space is an emulation of Traveller, it is not particularly strong emulation of Imperial Science Fiction or of any particular subgenre of Science Fiction. It could certainly be used to run a Traveller-like game, or one set in the far future of the Third Imperium, the near futures of Firefly or 2300AD, and with a stretch, even the Pulpier settings of Star Wars and the Star Frontiers RPG. How exactly you would go about recreating any of those settings or creating one of the GM’s own devising, is down to the GM—there is no advice given in M-Space. This is M-Space’s biggest weakness. Essentially, how do you use M-Space? How do I use the tools in M-Space to this or that? Of course, this will not stop an experienced GM who will know how to use the tools provided in M-Space to tinker away and create a setting of his choice, whereas a GM with less experience should probably look at an RPG other than M-Space. This also means that M-Space is not an RPG written with players in mind, as there no hook nor an elevator pitch with which to grab them, because beyond character generation, M-Space is about the tools that GM has to play with.