XXVc: It’s Complicated …

I have been running TSR’s Buck Rogers XXVc for a while now and slowly the problems inherent with the system start to show. At first glace the game seems to work quite well. But the longer you look at it, the more it comes apart at the seams. I still love the setting, but the rules are starting to give me serious headaches.

The dreaded skill system
I didn’t believe it at first but the skill system has serious issues. Even if you take great care to put skill points in only the most important skills starting characters will still suck at everything. This is not only frustrating to the players but also makes the game extremely lethal.

The Medic is the only class able to heal wounds but you can only treat each wound once and it’s only successful if you roll below your current skill rank. Medics get no bonuses to their skills (Rocketjocks get bonuses to piloting skills for example) and so the chances of a starting character to heal a dying friend is close to nil.

Overall you have the problem that there are way too many pretty narrow skills and not enough points to put into these skills. I guess this is less of a problem at higher levels, but a starting character has basically no chance to succeed at anything. Sure, I could ask for Easy skill checks most of the time to make things easier, but this totally messes with immersion.

Several times during the last weeks I have considered throwing out the skill system completely, it feels pretty tacked on after all.

Deadly combat
The Buck Rogers XXVc setting reads as if it should support a cinematic playstyle right out of 1930’s pulp magazines. Alas the AD&D 2e ruleset doesn’t really work for this kind of gameplay. This shows in combat which is usually pretty lethal. The introductory adventure is especially lethal with opponents wielding weapons which could easily kill a character with a single shot. The armor classes in XXVc are usually a bit better than in AD&D 2e, but IF your are hit, 2d6 still hurt quite a bit. Staying at the back doesn’t help either, because everyone is using ranged weapons anyway.

It’s the future! Where are all the nifty gadgets?
Sure, XXVc has a lot of cool elements. I love the gennies, the almost plausible rocketships, the nifty materials in the box set, …
But then you realize that there’s a lot of stuff missing. For starters there is no health potion equivalent in XXVc. There are no magnetic boots which help with failed “Maneuver in Zero-G” rolls, no exciting artifact weapons and armor…
Again I want to stress that the setting itself is pretty great, but I advise against trying to run the game without some serious preparation. One part of that preparation should be finding ways to put the “magic” back into the game. XXVc is pretty much AD&D 2e with the magic ripped out. According to the Technology Book medicine is so advanced that everything less serious than heart surgery can easily be fixed by swallowing a pill or using some kind of spray-on skin. unfortunately this isn’t reflected in the game mechanics at all (see above).

The solution?
At the moment I am not sure how to solve these issues. I could either try to fix the game and add stuff I deem important or just throw everything out and try to run a game in the XXVc universe using different rules. I have to admit I am not really fond of either solutions. Both approaches are a lot of work and will probably take a lot of time. On the other hand I could just ignore the problems and soldier on, but I feel this will end in a game neither I nor my players will enjoy.

This Thursday we will take a pause from the game and I hope to discuss my concerns with the group. I’ll let you know if we come up with a viable solution.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

12 thoughts on “XXVc: It’s Complicated …”

  1. I have not run XXVc but I recognise the problem. One of the things I disliked about D&D was that combats could take an absolute age as you go up levels as you slug away at each other trying to grind down the hit points.

    My preferred choice from your two above would be the use the setting but with different rules. You said you fell in love with WarHammer recently why not try those rules in the XXVc setting?

    The advantage to going down that route is that you can pick rules that you and your players like and know so they do not have to fight the rule system. You can both then relax and enjoy the setting and the unique adventures that each setting throws up.

    1. Getting it to run with Warhammer would be an interesting project, but nothing I want to do at the moment. It’s too much of a chore.

      I have thought about using SWN or even White Star, but again, it’s not a perfect fit. I could take a break from running games again to make up my mind.

      It’s complicated…

  2. Maybe Spacemaster is the answer? The GM’s, Players and Tech books are just $5 on RPGNow.

    It is a skills based system it is also Sci Fi but for $15 it is almost worth the risk.

    With all forms of Role/Space master the initial investment in time is with the character recreation but in play it actually rolls a long quite nicely.

    HARP SF is a lighter ruleset than Spacemaster and is fully up to date. HARP SF is $20.

    I used to own Spacemaster and loved running it but I lost the rule books in a house move 10 years ago or so. HARP SF I bought myself for Christmas last year and I was very impressed with the rules. I have not had the opportunity to run it yet but I will be running a PBP game on rpol,net next year.

    They say that HARP is rather like AD&D 3.5 so depending on what the jump was from AD&D 2nd to 3.5 would give you an idea of how the system would work with XXVc.

    1. Thanks for the Spacemaster advice. If it’s just $5 I’ll definitely pick it up. It’s probably way too crunchy for my tastes, but it’s probably worth checking out anyway.

      I think I’ll probably not try to make the XXVc setting work in other systems. It’s too much of a hassle. I am also not sure if all my players were really happy with it, and I am not going to invest precious time in a setting not everyone is behind.

      For the moment I’ll probably continue to do my research in all things Traveller and eventually I’ll try to find a couple of people interested in playing it…

  3. Find a copy of 4th Edition Gamma World (Human and Ark and Obb on the desert wasteland cover), as well as the Wonders of the Ancients. GW4e is essentially the same as 2e AD&D, and therefore, very compatible with XXVc. The Wonders book should have more of the gadgets you are looking for, and GW4e will expand your game considerably. It includes (for the first time) classes, and these receive skill points each level. Regardless, simply studying how many points each class in XXVc they are deficient, and providing them will resolve your relatively minor problems.

    If you are looking for sudden healing, provide it, etc. Switching to another system simply because an acknowledged under supported system doesn’t do everything you want it to do without doing some of the work yourself seems an extreme response. If you have a list of specific needs the system doesn’t fulfill, I’d be glad to write them up for you and your group.

    1. Thanks for the advice. I guess part of the problem is a kind of general frustration I have with running games at the moment. If I can overcome this and if we – as a gaming group – decide we want to continue player XXVc, I’ll definitely do as you advised.

          1. I am the only one with proper GMing experience in the group, so I doubt anyone else will take up the reins. But taking another pause may be a good idea.

          2. I am not entirely sure what proper GM experience is. Donald Trump became US President with no experience.

            Ask them if anyone fancied running a game for a while. I game in a group of 5 and three of us GM. We have two games running at the moment and we split our gaming weekends into ‘sessions’. As the last adventure was very much a zombie apocalypse type scenario I chose all the evening sessions. In the mornings I was a player and by night I was GM.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.