Elite: Dangerous Role Playing Game (EDRPG)
The Elite Dangerous RPG from SpiderMind games is one of a growing number of Kickstarter success stories. Launched in January 2016, it more than doubled its original goal and backers are now receiving their physical copies.
Anyone who has played Elite: Dangerous will know this, but EDRPG is set in the distant future (34th century) when mankind has discovered Faster than Light travel. A central part of space, a blob 200Ly across known as “the Bubble”, has been colonised. But humans are still exploring and mapping the rest of the known Universe. There are three main power factions; The Federation, The Empire, and the Alliance. There are also a whole host of minor factions, including independent systems, that the players can find themselves associating with.
In Elite: Dangerous the video game, you start off as a lowly pilot in a Sidewinder. The Universe is your oyster. Between trading, mining, bounty hunting and a host of other missions, you make fame and fortune for yourself. Always with one eye on that next spaceship you’d like to buy.
And in EDRPG the universe is as much of your oyster as it is in the video game.
You can use the existing factions to build a campaign that has you working for, or against, any of them. This could be in any number of scenarios. For example, you could be Federation Police Detectives, solving crime in a particular system or sector. Or diplomatic spies for the Alliance in an espionage setting. Or even members of the Imperial Navy as part of a long running border conflict that escalates into full-out war. The options are there to pick a path and roll with it. Or to use as a sandbox that allows the players to do pretty much whatever they like.
Who has the power?
The faction power-play in EDRPG is a familiar story. On one side you have the big, democratic Federation. On the other is the feudal dictatorship-esque Empire. And somewhere in the middle, the Alliance is trying to wrangle control of their systems from the two big guys.
With the wide range of settings available to them, the players and GM can decide on what kind of adventure they’d like to have before moving into character creation.
Character creation in roleplaying games is key to getting the player invested in their character. EDRPG works quite differently to many other systems in that you don’t roll any base stats. Skills are in a range of 1 – 100, with every complete 10 giving you a +1 bonus for that skill. So hitting 30 in Computers will give you a +3 bonus, but so would having computers skill of 39.
Every character starts with 10 in every skill. Then the players choose four backgrounds that have an effect on the skills they know. Some backgrounds, such as the military ones, will count for two slots. But they give a much bigger skill reward.
Next the players can select three “Karma” abilities. These have a huge range of uses and are generally crazy stunts that you can pull off in the right situation. Everybody also gets the Escape Death ability, which can literally save their life if they have some Karma left to use. Karma can also be used during play to allow you to re-roll any 1 that you throw. With the d10 system comes the Rule of 1 and 10. 1 is always a fail, 10 is always a pass. Regardless of bonuses. Karma can save your ass in many a situation.
I really liked the character generation system when we looked at it. Rather than rolling some dice and then having to think up your backstory, you can use the player backgrounds to mould a character that has a history and a reason to be doing what they are doing.
Spaceship combat is obviously key to EDRPG. And for the most part, Spidermind Games have come up with a good system.
Any form of vehicle combat in Roleplaying settings can be a bit of a nightmare. Often you need to calculate distances, speed, trajectory. But Spidermind Games have done a great job of abstracting this out.
A battle map has two zones, Up Close and At Distance. Depending on which zone you and your potential target are in, there are a variety of different actions you can take. Usually you’ll end up getting in up close pretty quickly and dogfighting with your enemies. You can choose to disengage to get back at up distance, before coming back in on another charge. You don’t need to worry about relative distance, direction vectors, or anything like that.
This abstraction helps Spaceship combat mimic the chaos of entering a high intensity conflict zone in Elite: Dangerous. However, the abstraction may go a step too far. Firing weapons for example. You fire your lasers, multi-cannons and missiles all on your turn. And, if they all hit, they cause damage immediately. While this makes sense for lasers, and you can get away with it for projectile weapons, for missiles it does not.
The rules for Vehicle combat are pretty much the same for Spaceship combat. But there are a couple of extra things to consider.
First off is your speed. The speed that you set has an effect on both your accuracy, and the difficulty to hit you. Go fast and you will take a penalty when trying to use your weapons. But you will gain a bonus to your defence score.
Speed also has an effect on the other different mechanic of Vehicle combat, Obstacles. Before taking any offensive actions, you need to check for obstacles. The table is different depending on what type of planet you happen to be on at the time. You will encounter fewer obstacles on a desert planet than a rocky body, for example.
If you do stumble on an obstacle it could just result in you having to spend your turn navigating around it and missing an opportunity to attack. Or it could have you taking damage. In our playtest, the players were struggling a little with a vehicle battle. That was until one of the enemies failed to navigate a large ice boulder. They wrapped their articulated lorry around it, destroying the engine. And there is no heavy rescue in space!
While Vehicle combat and Spaceship combat are a lot of fun, alone they don’t lend enough to a complete Role-playing experience. In Elite: Dangerous you never get out of your Spaceship or SRV. But for RPGs to work, the players need to care about the characters and the encounters that they have. Spidermind Games had to balance traditional Roleplaying gameplay with the nature of the Elite: Dangerous Universe.
In most cases, the bulk of an EDRPG adventure takes place at a personal level. The players will need to do some exploring, some social interactions, and usually some shooting of bad guys.
The rules for personal combat are a little more complex than Vehicle or Spaceship combat. And perhaps a little more complicated than they need to be.
In vehicle and spaceship combat you roll attacks, add modifiers and see if you beat the opponents defence. In personal combat, weapons have a finesse score, based on the range you are using it at. You add this number to the enemy’s defence score to get your target number. Roll your d10 and add your energy/kinetic weapon bonus to see if you hit. With so many different weapons, and so many range modifiers, there is too much to look up when dealing with personal combat.
How many bullets?
And then you need to think about damage. Most kinetic, and some energy, weapons have a thing called Burst. It’s this burst feature that gave us a bit of difficulty understanding the ammo system in EDRPG. Take the Autopistol for example. It has an ammo capacity of 3. Combine that with the sharp incline on how hard it is to shoot someone greater than 6 meters away, and the pistol can seem pretty useless. That is until you understand what burst truly is. And what the name “Autopistol” alludes to.
The Autopistol has a base damage of 1d10, and a max burst of 2d10. The way that I read this is that when you squeeze the trigger of the Autopistol, three projectiles come out. Depending on how well you roll dictates how many of those projectiles actually hit their target. So in truth, the Autopistols magazine holds nine bullets. Once you also realise that it’s most effective from within a range of 6 meters, you can start to do some real damage with it.
The Worst Intentions
We played through the Playtest adventure, The Worst Intentions. The adventure sets you as Police detectives going after an illegal drug manufacturing company. As you work for the long arm of the law, you get handed all the equipment you need at the start of the adventure. Including a Viper Mk III equipped with an SRV. The playtest adventure gives you every opportunity to experience all the aspects of EDRPG. Well, all expect from progression. If you are interested in getting in to EDRPG, then the Worst Intentions Playtest is the perfect place to start.
The playtest strips back the rules a little, especially when it comes to Spaceship and Vehicle combat. But it still gives you a great overall impression of how the system works.
Learn by Doing
The final nice mechanic of EDRPG is “Learn by Doing”. When a player uses a skill for the first time in an adventure, they put a wee tick in a box beside that skill. At the end of each adventure, the player goes through their character sheet and adds 1 to any skill with a tick. Across a long campaign, these will add up to allow a player to grow the particular skills that they use often.
The Core Book
On our recent visit to the UK Games Expo, Spidermind Games did pass on to us a physical copy of the Core Book. And we do need to take a minute to appreciate the beauty of it. It is a beautiful piece of work. It is well laid out, with clear tables and beautiful artwork throughout. Not to mention the whole section on Spaceships, with blueprints and recommended configurations for all. One thing to book does lack is an index. This may be a sticking point for many. In its place, several of the sections are on colour-printed pages, which does allow for quick navigation.
The book also comes with several tools to aid a Games Master. The Opponents section gives you a wide arrange of template NPCs to use against the players. But more importantly, the Random Generation System gives you the tools to manage just about everything else. From creating new star systems on the fly; with stars and planets, right down to stations and their political policies. To Mission Generation, which can lay out the key plot hooks for you to then flesh out into an adventure. It is an extremely useful tool for the Games Master.
We had a lot of fun with the playtest adventure. However, if you have listened to our Day 3 round up of the UK Games Expo, you will hear about a very bad experience we also had with the system. The main things we have issues with is the target number checking, and burst and ammo mechanic in personal combat. If you are looking for a modern Sci-Fi RPG, then definitely try out the EDRPG play test to see if it fits with you.
6 sidewinders blown up out of 10