X-Plorers and X-Plorers Galactic Troubleshooters #1 by David Bezio. Art by David Bezio and Others.
X-Plorers: 60 pages, Free for "No frills" PDF, 6 dollars US for full PDF, 12 dollars for softback book.
Galactic Troubleshooters #1: 32 pages, 5 dollars US PDF, 10 dollars softback book.
I learned of this game from Grognardia, that Old School Blog with its worship of the eye rolling "PULP TRADISHUNZ" and all. Lulu was having a holiday sale and the price was nice.
See I need a rules light Science Fiction RPG and it seemed to be one up my alley.
X-Plorers and Galactic Troubleshooters #1
I took a quick look at the artless "No frills" version but having a few dollars to burn (not knowing one has a medical bill on the way kind of sucks though..) I chose to go for a nice print copy. I like printed things. You can read and enjoy printed books. PDFs are not so readable or enjoyable to me. Sorry modern RPGers. Stop trying to praise PDFs.
X-Plorers' concept is "What if the original RPG creators were fans of Science Fiction and not Pulp Fantasy?", and thus we have this game.
The mostly generic setting is one of future Megacorporations in space with the PCs being tasked with doing jobs for the Corps or just freewheeling exploration of the galaxy. Its nothing too detailed, though the potential IS there for it to be a solid springboard for GMs.
To explain it simply it is "A little bit Original D&D, a little bit Tunnels & Trolls, a little bit modern gaming". So you hardcore OSR fans might be angry its not totally worshipful of HOW GARY DID IT, but it takes various influences and makes for a rock solid, rules light Sci Fi RPG you can add detail on if you so choose.
The core rules in the book? 30 pages. In these 30 pages you get ground and space combat rules, character generation, Gamemaster rules and tips, equipment lists, and pretty much everything else you really need to play an RPG. While there are a number of typos in both books the writing is clear and the art is pretty good. Bezio himself does quite a bit of it, and it has a sort of Erol Otus look without the ugliness of Otus' art.
What the book looks like inside. Nice effective art, easy to read 2 column pages.
I will assume most readers know the core D&D rules but that's basically how the rules of X-Plorers are. In this case you only have 4 attributes (Agility, Intelligence, Physique, and Presence), rolled on the good old (bad IMHO) 3d6 manner. 13-16 gets you +1, 17 and 18 get you +2, and similar minuses at a score of 8 or less.
This being more based off of Original D&D White Box as befits the Swords and Wizardry White Box ruleset it is a conversion of (IMHO normal S&W is WAY better but lots of the OSR crowd just worship the original 1974 box and even consider the supplements to be "untrue" for some reason. I just don't get it!) Hit Points are rolled using a D6, and all weapon damage is various amounts of D6s.
Combat is the normal D&D style of roll D20, add bonuses and level to hits, equal or beat target number. X-Plorers thankfully uses ascending Armor Class ala D20 D&D so your target number is the Armor Class. Easy. To add a little PC survivability, a roll is made when PCs get to 0 Hit Points where they may not actually die, though its about a 50% chance of it sans any Physique bonus to their rolls. (This roll gets worse if they keep getting hit while zonked.) There are a few mentions of bonuses and penalties for things like cover, movement, and dual wielding, but like most Old School games its mostly up to GM fiat and player creativity.
(As an aside: Combat rounds are considered to be 3 second intervals which I consider TOO SHORT. Unless you are a stickler for movement and scale, you may wish to just consider them 10 second rounds so everyone can say more than a half sentence and pop off a shot. 3 seconds just seems not enough time to do much of anything, especially if you like some cinematic flair to your encounters. Its nothing major, but something to keep in mind if you like to stay "by the book". Which makes me wonder why you even WANT an old school game, but YMMV!)
Characters still have classes, in this case Soldiers, Scientists, Scouts, and Technicians. As fits a D&D game, you have 10 experience levels with increasing Hit Points, Attack Bonuses, Saving Throws, and Skills.
Skills you say? Yeah. Each class has 4 skills they possess that they roll like a Saving Throw (more on that in a sec.) with any applicable Attribute Bonus to do something fancy. Like Soldiers have Demolitions and Survival, plus bonuses to Martial Arts attacks and Weapons Specialization. Scientists get Computers, Medicine, Science, and Sociology. In some cases 2 classes have the same skill, but one does it better or in a slightly different way. GM's can provide bonuses or penalties to the roll for difficulty/situation and roll away. If PCs rightly want an extra skill they can choose to learn another classes' skill, but are locked into a substantial XP cost to their XP requirements to Level Up and may only learn this new skill to the 5th level of proficiency.
Saving Throws work basically like they do in Tunnels & Trolls. For any sort of situation not covered in the rules, take the appropriate Attribute Bonus/Penalty, roll, equal or beat your base Saving Throw target number for that level. Climb a steep cliff? Maybe a Physique Attribute modifier. Conning a security guard? Presence. You get the idea.
Space Combat is rather interesting in that it gives a Player Character crew options to enhance the abilities of their ship and a simple distance track to keep up with where everything is. Otherwise its just like ground combat, but with each player helping via Saving Throws to make their ship do better. Its a pretty clever little system and sounds like a mixture of the abstracted space combat from the original D20 Star Wars RPG mixed in with FASA Star Trek in that each crew member can contribute even if not a pilot or gunner, allowing people to indulge their inner Scotties and Chekovs.
There is a section on building robots, and a nice keyword ability monster creation section with a few handy examples. The keyword monsters seems a lot like many modern wargames where instead of a pile of unique abilities it makes a selection of most common ones that generically fit anything you would probably want without having to learn a pile of rules. Much like old D&D, monster XP is based on how many Hit Dice it has, and those abilities.
The GM section is decent overall, though I DO question putting in some light advice. A few good play examples seem better for new to Old School play GMs than generic advice anyone who buys this game would already know.
Its not like people buying RPGs off of Lulu.com don't know how to play and run RPGs. Its not going to be someone's first RPG I don't think.
The book ends with a nice 10 page adventure taking place on a space station with that oh so common Aliens trope of "We lost contact with Blah. Go check Blah out", and then scary stuff happens as you explore the remote place. Its troubles are a bit more modern in theme than your usual SCARY MONSTERS IN SPAAACE dealie, though. Its a fun little adventure.
We get a set of pregenerated characters with above average stats, some handy charts you can also get from the game's website, a bonus NPC type with some fluff on it, and the legal pages as it relates to the OGL, and this game which nicely WANTS YOU TO MAKE STUFF FOR IT, even encouraging "for profit" projects. As most of the stuff I create is foolishly shared with the world here I only skim it the way one skims those EULAs in computer software, but its probably worth a read should enterprising gamers out there want to try their hand at it.
So what do I rate X-Plorers itself? The price is Good, the writing and art outside of typos is Good, and the game design overall is Good. While I would have liked some more in depth combat rules, a larger equipment list, and some psionic and ground vehicle rules, it covers what you really NEED, and leaves it to the Galactic Troubleshooters supplements and fan enhancements to cover these bits.
Heck, I may just follow up this post with some fan rules just because I like doing it!
So.. its Good and I recommend it!
Now on to the games' first quarterly supplement!
Galactic Troubleshooters #1 includes a 6 page set of more advanced combat rules with stuff like grenade scatters, more in depth cover rules, various D20 like actions you can take in a turn, using miniatures, and so on. Its concise, clear, and honestly ESSENTIAL in my opinion. If it wasn't in this book I would probably end up coming up with these sorts of rules myself, but I like a little bit of crunch and tactical detail in my games.
Most of the rest of the book is the adventure and some fluff/data pages covering the events, Megacorp, and locale of said adventure. A page devoted to the Corp featured in this adventure and the one from the main book comes first and gives some interesting ideas. Plus its cool to see an Egyptian themed corp instead of the usual American or Japanese one that most Sci Fi tends to go towards!
The next 2 pages cover the planet in the adventure, even covering sights, sounds, feels, and tastes of the planet. A clever touch!
So far like most of X-Plorers it gives you everything a creative GM needs as a springboard without gobs of detail you don't care about and will probably forget anyhow.
Its sort of like what Kyle from Australia once said about RPG rules over at RPGsite. Like a woman's skirt it ought to be long enough to be interesting, but short enough to keep your attention.
(I hope I am remembering that right and not offending anyone by saying it. But its pretty dang profound!)
2 more pages follow up with some fun critters to deal with, then its on to the adventure.
This adventure is in roughly 3 acts and involves another "We lost contact with Blah. Go figure out what happened" thing. In this case you get to investigate a colony ship, go down to the planet the ship is by while dealing with the local environment, then go deal with the main situation.
Overall its a simple but effective scenario, being mostly a sandbox type where inventive PCs and GMs can deal with things any way they want with a couple solutions and actions being covered. I liked it, but there is a little adult detail given about the main villain that while it provides an interesting characterization hook to him, it probably shouldn't have even been mentioned. For a more mature audience and a skilled GM it could do wonders, but I just think this sort of information doesn't really belong in a rules light more fun and freewheeling RPG. It seems like something one would see in a White Wolf adventure trying to be "Adult and EDGY".
So unlike the main book, this one mention turns a game that could have been suited for a 10+ audience to a 15-16+ audience. Parents should keep this in mind if giving it as a gift. If adults are running it, its easy enough to ignore however.
It ends with the pregens from the main book at Level 2, and a 1 page legal OGL thingie.
Galactic Troubleshooters #1 is 10 dollars for 32 pages as compared to the 12 for 60 of the main. I would say that makes the product more of an OK value. If a GM needs a larger adventure to get their brain cells firing with examples of a planet and creatures its great, if a group wants some harder rules for combat its also a good purchase. For more inventive GMs or folks who really want more Old School Rules Light stuff I am not sure this book is warranted.
For me I would give the book a Good overall if just for the more codified advanced combat rules, and corporate, planetary, and critter bits. The adventure could be handy and useful too, but as I may use the game to run in established settings or for my own house Sci Fi settings this book is more useful for the first 6 pages and the rest is just gravy I had to pay for.
The thing with this supplement is not every bit is useful to every person. Its not quite a magazine, not quite a rules supplement, not quite an adventure module.
So I guess its a Good rating if you get it on sale or while buying other books from Lulu, and OK if it is your sole purchase.
Well, that's the review. Overall X-Plorers and its first supplement are pretty dang good and show a good example of how taking concepts from the Old School AND Modern School of game design can produce a solid RPG without just regurgitating Gygax and Arneson for the 1000th time.
If you wish to know more, please visit X-Plorers' website at: http://greyarea.webs.com/ .
Look forward to my follow ups where I will cover some house rules. I have some ideas for Vehicular Combat, Psionics, and new gear I would like to throw in there.