Babylon5 RPG Game

It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth/Minbari war. The Babylon 5 League was a dream given a forum.

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Babylon5 RPG Game

Postby lorien1 » Tue Aug 12, 2003 3:17 pm

The Babylon 5 Roleplaying Game and Fact Book
Return to the beginning of the galaxy's last best hope for peace as one of the beloved saga's imperfect heroes

The Babylon 5 Roleplaying Game and Fact Book

"Signs and Portents"

By Matthew Sprange

Mongoose Publishing

ISBN: 1-904577-11-3

MSRP: $49.99

Review by Ken Newquist

Like a time machine hurling fans backward to the dawn of an age, the Babylon 5 Roleplaying Game returns players to the beginning of the television series' saga, offering the possibility of fighting along side Sinclair, Ivanova, Delenn, Garibaldi and a host of other heroes.

The game uses the popular d20 game mechanic—the same mechanic behind games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars and Spycraft—albeit one that's been heavily tweaked to accommodate Babylon 5's epic future. Like other d20 products, it requires the use of Wizards of the Coast's D&D Third Edition Player's Handbook.

The game opens in 2258, and players can choose to play almost any of the major races found on Babylon 5 at that time, including humans, Centauri, Narn, Minbari, Drazi and Brakiri (Vorlon characters, however, are not allowed). Although their use is identical to those in Dungeons & Dragons, classes in Babylon 5 are unique to the setting. There are eight basic classes available, covering almost all of the professions a player could hope to encounter. These include spylike Agents, the charismatic (and, on Babylon 5, essential) Diplomats, military Officers, the downtrodden but resourceful Lurkers and the ubiquitous Workers (both blue- and white-collar versions). Also available are numerous prestige classes, representing specific professions a character might want to focus on. They include Psi Cops, Raiders, Terrorists and even Xenoarchaeologists.

In d20 games, hit points serve as an abstract representation of the amount of damage a player can take. In most games, this tends to be a high number, reflecting characters' truly epic ability to shrug off attack after attack. On Babylon 5, where even main characters can be felled with a single PPG blast, characters have maybe one-tenth the hit points they'd have in other games. Another change is armor: It does not make a character harder to hit. Instead, it absorbs some of the damage that the character takes when hit with a weapon.

The game also includes vehicle combat rules for everything from car chases to starfighter dogfights to capital-ship slugfests. Perhaps learning from the disappointing "abstract" starship combat rules in the first edition of Star Wars d20, Babylon 5 uses a literal space combat system in which ships move on a square-based grid, similar to how combat between characters is handled.

The game's features a variant psionics system, which is based on skill checks, rather than the "power point" system used in the D&D Psionics Handbook. It also includes numerous new feats and skills specific to the science-fiction setting. The "fact book" portion of the book includes an overview and maps of Babylon 5 and an episode-by-episode breakdown of the first season.

Witness the dawn of humanity's third age

Babylon 5 is the perfect setting for a role-playing game, offering all of the diplomatic intrigue, brutal firefights and alien strangeness that science-fiction fans thrive on. And the new d20-based Babylon 5 RPG does a good job of capturing the series' essence and presenting it in a playable form. Exactly how good a job it does, however, will depend in largely on what players expect to get out of the core rulebook.

The d20 rules themselves are adequate, existing primarily as a sort of literary superstructure supporting Babylon 5's weighty content. While combat is certainly possible in B5, the rules are really there to foster roleplaying. As a result, those looking to smash and blast their way through the space station are going to be in for a shock: The low-hit point threshold makes the game considerably deadlier than its d20 kin. That deadliness isn't a bad thing, but it'll be a turnoff for those used to games with more an overtly space-opera feel.

The game's classes and races aren't nearly as balanced as D&D's own offerings. That might worry those who are more concerned about throwing dice than role-playing, but they are consistent with the tone of the series. And after all, who'd expect a lowly dock worker to be the equivalent of an Earthforce officer? That said, game masters should not be surprised to see players gravitating toward the game's flashier classes, like Officer, Diplomat and Telepath, instead of the more mundane ones, like Agent and Scientist.

The game's use of a scalable system for vehicle combat—the same system is used regardless of whether someone's driving a ground car or piloting a Minbari cruiser—is a nice touch, and it shows the strength of the open gaming license system upon which d20 is based. The designers used an existing system (with a few tweaks) originally created for Fantasy Flight Games' DragonStar game.

The presentation of the game's content will probably make or break the game for most players. Rather choosing an overview approach to Babylon 5, touching on aspects of all five seasons but focusing on none, the designer decided to restrict the core book to the first season. That means that there's no Capt. Sheridan, no Shadows, no Rangers and no civil war between Earth and its colonies. Additional source books detailing the latter seasons will be released, but those expecting to pick up the core rules and jump immediately into the Shadow War are going to be disappointed.

That said, the game does an excellent job of detailing the first season, so good in fact that even casual fans may be willing to overlook the missing four seasons. The book spends more than 100 pages examining each of the first season's episodes. Each write-up summarizes the episode, and then provides writeups on characters appearing in it; new race, item or technology statistics, when appropriate; and three or four campaign hooks. Game masters could easily use this material to run a solid year's worth of adventures ... assuming they want to play during the first season. If they didn't, they'll need to wait until the source book they need is released, or put the game back on the shelf.

There are a few technical problems with the game's presentation. Grammatical and spelling errors (true errors, not just the differences between traditional English and American English) are scattered throughout the book. However, while they occur frequently enough to be noticeable, they do not detract from the game's playability. The character sheet included in the back of the book is a nice touch, but the fact that it's in full color is not. Photocopying the page results in a muddy character sheet, and printing out the downloadable, color PDF version from the Web site will burn through ink quickly. It would've been better if a basic black-and-white version had been included with the book, while the color version was reserved as a Web extra.

Ultimately, diehard fans, who will happily buy another four books in order get the complete Babylon 5 experience, should enjoy this game. Beginners with a fleeting awareness of B5 should also get a lot out of it, as it serves as an excellent introduction to the setting. Fans who fall somewhere in between, though, may be less than thrilled.

Is it fair to expect the core rules to provide an overview of the entire Babylon 5 universe? Perhaps not—there's a heck of a lot of history to cover, and while Star Wars d20 was able to do it, its creators had to deal only with one complete and one incomplete movie trilogy. But unreal expectations aside, as a fan who'd much rather see Sheridan commanding B5 than Sinclair, I couldn't help but be disappointed that he wasn't there.
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