Monday, December 22, 2014

Game 171: MegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy (1990)

The main main screen lacks the "1" after the title, but the pre-main screen, the box, and the manual all have it.

More than 3,500 years in the future, mankind has colonized space. Multiple planets and systems, each governed in a neo-feudalistic style, are united into the Third Imperium--a "classic aristocracy" of haves, have-nots, and political machinations. Around 500 years ago (in the year 5018 on the "old Earth calendar"), humanity came into contact with the Zhodani, a race of human-looking mind-readers whose psionic powers--and the accompanying loss of any sense of privacy and secrecy--have created an authoritarian, unemotional, highly-regimented existence. The Imperium and the Zhondani clashed in a series of five Frontier Wars, each ending in either a loss or a Pyrrhic Victory for the Imperium (rendered worse after the first three Frontier Wars were followed by bloody coups in the Imperium).

MegaTraveller 1 starts amidst the beginning of the Fifth Frontier War. The titular Zhondani Conspiracy is to smuggle military weapons and armor to "dissident guerrilla units" on a selection of Imperium worlds. When the Imperium forces are distracted by these uprisings, the Zhodani plan to seize imperial worlds in the Spinward Marches, an area of space that marks the boundary between the two empires. The arms shipments will be conducted through a secret alliance with Konrad Keifer, an executive in the Sharurshid Megacorporation.

The characters get the main quest amid the opening screens.

But Lenara Raclor, a special agent from Sharurshid's internal intelligence agency, Transom, has learned of Keifer's treason. Clutching stolen data tapes and on the run from Zhondani forces, she bursts into a tavern frequented by ex-military types. Desperately, she approaches a table at which five veterans are reminiscing about their service. She hands them a data storage device, a decoding key, half of an imperial seal, and $30,000, begging them to take the items to Supernova, a bar on the planet Boughene, and find a man named Arik Toryan. As she finishes her plea, the door bursts open and commandos storm the tavern. Shouting a command to the party to "run!," Lenara pulls out an automatic pistol and begins firing.

No villain speech should ever begin with "Surprise...Surprise!"

The backstory and prologue for the game are as intriguing as anything I can remember. You could almost imagine them as a title crawl at the beginning of a Star Wars film, setting up an immediate action sequence. The five veterans are, of course, the player's party, created through an hour-long process and dead within five minutes unless the player has helpful commenters who warn him to run away from the opening battle. (To be fair, Lenara does say "run!," not "fight!")

More on the opening moments in a bit, but let's talk about the five veterans in the bar. MegaTraveller has an unusual and complex character-creatoin system. We saw it earlier in Space (1978), which of course was plagiarized from the Traveller RPG. It starts with a random assignment of scores to strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, education, and social standing on a scale of 1-15. I don't think the rolls are truly random, because I almost never saw 1s or 15s and in general everything seemed weighted towards the middle of the scale.

Character creation begins.

Once you get a character you like, you choose whether to enlist in a service or submit to a random draft. Assuming you enlist, you have a choice between Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, and Merchants, each with different requirement for starting attributes. If you choose a branch whose minimum requirements you don't meet, you automatically go to the draft.

No matter how you end up in service, once you enlist, you watch the years pass, aging the character from 18 to whenever, depending on how many terms you serve. During each term, you can get promoted or assigned to special duty, which affects the number of skill points that you earn for the term. These points are spent acquiring new skills or bolstering existing ones. You can also get injured or even die during service, forcing you to start over. Aging takes a toll on the starting attributes after a while. It's unnerving to see a character get worse after generation.

Man, this game makes me feel old.

The choice of skills practically drove me to paralysis. With 82 skills, MegaTraveller has more than any other game I've ever played. With some franchises and companies, you can rest easy that whatever selection of skills you prioritize, the game will offer you appropriate alternatives to most puzzles. I don't know what the next Fallout game is going to look like, but I know that nothing crucial to a quest is going to be behind a locked door--or, if it is, the game will offer a computer terminal that also unlocks the door and, failing that, a keycard hidden somewhere in the same base. I know that I'll find plenty of weapons of all types, so I don't need to obsess about whether to favor energy weapons or guns. I know that bribes or running errands will compensate for failed speech checks. If Origin made MegaTraveller, I'd have the same level of trust. Paragon, whose only previous RPGs are the bizarre Alien Fires: 2199 AD and the silly Wizard Wars, has not yet earned that faith.

(The manual helpfully tells you that 25 of the skills--including cool-sounding ones like "interrogation" and "robotics"--aren't used in the first game, suggesting that you might want to develop them anyway "for future MegaTraveller computer adventures." The company certainly hasn't earned that kind of faith.)

Despite the complexity, you don't really get to "select" your skills during training. Instead, you choose a "skill table" that you want to focus on, and the game randomly picks a skill from the table--perhaps mimicking how military personnel don't have full control over their assignments. Thus, the character's starting position, in terms of skills, is somewhat arbitrary, although I'm promised that there are ways to acquire skills throughout the game through use and training. If a character turns out to be entirely useless, you can always dump him and create a new one at any starport.

I can choose "Advanced Education," but the game will choose randomly from among the items below it. On the other hand, if the game chooses any of the bolded options, it will open a sub-menu where I can choose the specific skill. It's all very complicated.

You get to choose how many terms characters serve, and basically the choice you're making (in addition to gambling on injury and death) is whether you want a young, inexperienced character with high attributes or an old, character with lots of skills (and retirement pay) but diminished attributes. Naturally, the manual advises, a mix is sensible.

Once the character leaves service--either by choice or force--he gets a certain number of "benefits" related to the number of terms he served and how many times he got promoted. Such benefits include cold, hard cash, increased intelligence and education, weapons, armor, and an "imperial release"--basically a pardon for crimes. As with skills, you don't get to actually choose the benefits--you just choose from two categories, "cash" and other "benefits," and the game randomly makes a selection among them.

Selecting from retirement benefits.

My party took most of this playing session to create. These were the five successful characters.

Keller seemed from her stats (high intelligence and education, low social standing) like an engineer type. I enlisted her in the Army. By focusing on "special skills" and "education" and keeping her in service for five terms, I ensured that she developed "ATV," "electronics," "grav vehicle," "jack of all trades," "mechanical," and "watercraft" skills along with "combat rifleman" and "submachine gun." (Ironically, general "engineering" wasn't available in this branch.) Despite my intentions to keep her in until the age of 40, the Army released her at 30 at the rank of captain. She received $20,000, cloth armor, and an imperial release upon retirement.

Castle was pretty high in social standing and dexterity but moderate in everything else. I thought I'd make him a "Face" character, skilled in things like bribery, communication, gambling, trading, and "streetwise." With the random selection, I was able to partly realize my goals, with skills in "carousing," "liaison," "streetwise," and "communications," along with the non-desired skills of "vacuum suit," "electronics," "jack of all trades" and "computer," before mustering out at the age of 34 and the rank of 3rd officer.  He retired with $11,000 in cash, an auto pistol, and an imperial release.

Maddox got above-average (but not extreme) scores everywhere, so I decided to make him my pilot. I was hoping he'd get out with the "pilot" skill, but instead he got "medical," "engineering," "forward observer," and "navigation" before the Navy mustered him out at age 30, having never been promoted. Ouch. He got $20,000, an autopistol, and +1 intelligence upon leaving.

Naming the character is technically the last step of the process.

By this time, I needed a couple of ground soldiers. I decided to try to make one young and hale, one old and grizzled. I rerolled forever until I went with Espinosa, moderately high in everything but education, and enlisted her in the Marines. I had intended to keep her in until 40 or 50, but the marines released her, having never been promoted, at age 30. Nonetheless, the training had done its job and I got out with 3 levels in "laser weapons," one in "heavy weapons," and the ancillary skills of stealth and bribery. In choosing benefits, her intelligence went up by 4 (from an already-high 11), but she only got $5,000 cash.

My last character, Casey, had 9s in most of his attributes. I enlisted in the Scouts. His enlistment was blessed with "special duty" and lots of skill selections. I intended to train him in weapons, but he ended up becoming more of a pilot than Maddox, with skills in "pilot," "navigation," and "engineering," but I also got him "handgun," "heavy weapons," and "battle dress" while improving a lot of his initial statistics. I wanted to keep him going, but I got discouraged at the losses of 1 point of strength, dexterity, and endurance for every term after the age of 30, so I mustered him out at 34. He got the most money of anyone--$90,000--plus a 2-point bump to his already-high intelligence.

At this point, Casey and Maddox were a bit redundant with each other, but I had been rolling, re-rolling, creating, and discarding characters for over two hours, watching some die in combat, others on the operating table after combat, and so forth, so I decided to just go with it and see how it worked out.
Too much of this gets depressing.
This game's approach to character creation isn't nearly as cruel as the one used in Space, where 9 out of 10 characters were simply unplayable and 9 out of 10 who were playable died during military service. I wonder which is closer to the original Traveller rules. I do like the general approach. Most RPGs assume that the player is a young, rank amateur, and it's fun to see one approach it from a different angle: these people are coming from long careers that have made them who they are. I wonder why those careers all have to involve military service, but that's a minor quibble. It's a nice inversion of the standard D&D-based system. On the other hand, for such a detailed process otherwise, I found it odd that you can't choose the character's sex.

After the long character creation process, MegaTraveller starts in the bar described above, where Lenara has demanded that the party "run!" from the Zhondani allies. The party starts outside the bar in the middle of combat, taking constant damage from enemy weapons while trying to figure out the interface and controls. This is only the second game I can remember that starts the party in such a cruel position--the first is Ultima VI. But where the battle in Lord British's throne room was fairly easy to win--including NPCs in the party who acted independently--the battle here is reportedly impossible even for a player who knows what he's doing.
Shot by Zhodani agents the moment I leave the bar.
I didn't know what I was doing, so I had my party hightail it out of there, to the far corner of the map. The interface shows that I'm on the planet Efate in the Efate system.

Hiding in a corner from Zhodani agents.

MegaTraveller has a bizarre interface. The top of the screen shows four icons in a row that represent the various party members, annotated with symbols representing the branch of service they came from, but I don't know what the pictorials below them mean and the manual isn't much help there: despite taking up 85 pages, it has about 4 total screenshots. The upper-right shows the active formation. I'm not sure what the symbols in the mid-right are about, but the bottom right has most of the commands, fortunately accessible with redundant keyboard shortcuts. 
Combat begins by "breaking" the party into multiple icons and controlling them separately. But it takes place in real time, and party members don't act on their own, so I haven't quite figured out how to effectively give commands to five characters at once. More on that next time, I guess.

I wandered around speaking to the various NPCs, but none had anything to say but "Greetings, Traveller!" I found a shop that rents ATVs, "grav vehicles," and boats; a clinic; a general store; an imperial base; a Museum of Natural History; and a "traveler's aid society" that won't let me in because I'm not a member. If I wandered too far, I kept running into Zhodani agents, so I ducked into the Museum and wandered around looking at items for a bit. (Just the icons; the game doesn't have a "look" icon that I can see, or any other way to interact with things.)

"Greetings. Please get out of my way."

One curator indicated that he'd be interested in purchasing "starrghrite" if I found any; another was interested in diamonds.

The extent of NPC dialogue, at least so far.

The Zhodani agents didn't go away, and they're blocking my access to the rest of the city, so I'm not sure if I'm supposed to hide longer or take them out individually now that they're dispersed. I'll work on that for the next time.
The RPG on which the game is based.
For now, let's focus on the game's origins a bit. It is, of course, a computer edition of the Traveller tabletop role-playing game, first published in 1977 by the Game Designers' Workshop. It seems to be the most successful science-fiction tabletop RPG, particularly given that it's still active, with the latest edition funded partly by Kickstarter and released in 2013. An impassioned e-mail from frequent commenter Gaguum, calling himself "without a doubt, the biggest Traveller fan among your regular commenters," led me to learn more about the setting, and I confess I really like it. Much like Firefly (which Gaguum speculates was heavily inspired by Traveller), it offers a future in which, despite faster-than-light travel and ray guns, people are pretty much the same as they are now. Although aliens exist in the universe, the focus is on humans. It eschews the utopian dreams of Star Trek for a gritty future in which people steal, trade, scam, scrimp, and hustle to make ends meet. Gaguum's description of the universe is so good that I'll just repeat it verbatim:

In the typical Traveller campaign (as in MT1), your PCs operate a "tramp steamer" starship, paying your bills and debts by taking various gigs--mainly speculative interstellar trade, but also odd jobs like bounty hunting, mercenary work, private investigation, delivering messages/parcels, etc. At the same time, you have to avoid myriad disasters and threats. Nearly everybody will try to kill you if you get in their way (e.g. space pirates, corporate goons, mobsters, corrupt officials, aliens, spies, critters, etc.). And there are always guys out there who are richer, more powerful, better connected, more heavily armed, and meaner than you, all of which makes diplomacy and discretion as important as fighting.
For its tenth anniversary, GDW published a new edition called MegaTraveller. My understanding is that the original Traveller was just a set of rules with no backstory. Later, GDW fused it with its Imperium boardgame to create the game's official universe, but even then it was up to the players to make up much of the story. MegaTraveller created a more rigid universe from that point forward. The weird thing, mentioned by Gaguum and confirmed by other online sources, is that while the tabletop version of MegaTraveller is set during an era of rebellion against the Imperium, the CRPG version mentions nothing of the rebellion at all. Despite taking the name from the updated universe, it's set during a period of the original Traveller universe.

This isn't Gaguum's only problem with the computer version. He complains that the plot strips the subtlety and complexity of a traditional Traveller campaign; that the mechanic removes the rules system by which players have to choose to do things "cautiously," "normally," or "hastily"; that the skills are under-used; that the computer game significantly limits character development; that the real-time combat system destroys the tactical nature of the game; and that, overall, it's too hard.

I have to agree with his last point.

I haven't gotten far enough in this game to assess any of these things for myself, but his comments don't fill me with hope for the game in general. By the end of the next post, I should know whether I like it yet.

One major theme of 1990, which I'll explore in more detail in the end-of-year post, is the number of other tabletop roleplaying franchises that, presumably seeing the success of the D&D Gold Box games, decided it was time to get themselves on the nearest computer. MegaTraveller is one of four tabletop-to-computer conversion that we saw in 1990, the others being Buck Rogers, Tunnels & Trolls, and the upcoming Space: 1889 (the latter also by GDW and Paragon). All of them flopped. None of them had great reviews, and only MegaTraveller and Buck Rogers survived to sequels--only to die after that. So as discussion questions: 1) other than Dungeons & Dragons, what RPG system has been most successful in its computer translation; and 2) what is so special about D&D that it was able to inspire 6 billion computer games where everyone else seems to die in the single digits?

86 comments:

  1. on a scale of 1-15. I don't think the rolls are truly random, because I almost never saw 1s or 15s and in general everything seemed weighted towards the middle of the scale.

    That would be the distribution of, eg., three rolls of a six-sided die, as indicated in the chart at http://www.thedarkfortress.co.uk/tech_reports/3_dice_rolls.htm#.VJiwMl4DA ... except in this case instead of the range being 3-18 as in D&D, they appear to have just bumped down the result by 3 and thrown out (as not very fun to play?) any final scores of 0. That's my knee-jerk interpretation.

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    1. Or it could be 3d5, or 5d3. Computer dice can have any number of sides.

      One way to do it with ordinary dice would be to roll 3 dice, rerolling any 1s until a larger number is got, then subtract 3 from the total.

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    2. Yeah, my suspicion was that the CRPG was using the same system to generate characters that the RPG would be using, and supposing that in 1977, Traveller called for the use of six-sided dice 8)

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    3. Traveller used 2d6 for ability scores. They could get as high as 15 or as low as 1 during character generation.

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    4. I don't know what mechanism it uses to boost 2d6 up to 15, so the exact odds are still nebulous, but the 2d6 part would give you only a 2 in 36 chance of rolling a maximum or minimum value.

      The 3d6 version used in Dungeons and Dragons has a 2 in 216 chance of getting an 18 or a 3.

      So, depending on where the system falls between those two sets of odds, it can be quite likely to not see many maximum or minimum values.

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    5. You can only start with an initial roll of 2-12, but attributes can increase through training and decrease with age.

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    6. In most editions of Traveller, stats are rolled up with 2D6 (that is, two six-sided dice). In its "normal" versions (Classic, Mega, Mongoose), Trav uses 2D6 for almost everything.

      2D6 offers a range of possible rolls from 2 to 12, but because rolling on multiple dice generates a bell curve, everything's weighted toward the center. Therefore, 44% of all unmodified stats will be in the 6-8 range, whereas a natural 2 or 12 occurs less than 3% of the time.

      One of the things that you can do in Trav's character generation is to try to improve your initial stats through exercise or whatever (as @Old Man Matt pointed out below). PC's stats can fall to 1 (technically even to 0, but that would be fatal) or rise to 15, which is the hard cap for any given stat (although some alien races can max certain stats out at 16). That's how stats can go above or below the base range of 2 to 12.

      Most of these exercise options are available on the "Personal Development" table, which you can see in one of the screenshots. I've had experiences where I was rolling up a character who was serving many terms, and toward the end the grizzled old dude was spending almost all his time working out, just to keep pace with the aging penalties. It was grimly amusing.

      The design philosophy behind Traveller's use of aging penalties, disability, death on the job, etc. is easy to understand. That stuff is there to make you think twice about having your character serve a billion terms, because the rewards are offset by the risks. Otherwise, every character would just be a lifer in whatever career they had, accumulating exorbitant amounts of skills and benefits and cash. This would defeat the purpose of Traveller's metagame, which is all about being relatively broke (unlike D&D, which is about having more gold than Fort Knox). Rolling up a shipowner or an Admiral is a rare and impressive achievement, and so it was intended to be.

      But one great perk in Traveller is the presence of "anagathics" (anti-aging drugs) that stall your decline into infirmity. However, they cost a ton on the open market and aren't available to you unless the Imperium thinks that you're worth the investment. For example, the Imperium's espionage services like to use 26-year-old-looking women who are actually in their seventies and have racked up more skills than James Bond. Likewise, a promising officer needs the drugs in order to serve long enough to become a Grand Admiral while maintaining his sharpness, which the Imperium would naturally prefer.

      As for MegaTraveller 1 vs. Space (1978), it should be no surprise that MT1 is closer to the original Traveller chargen system. Space's designers were afflicted with the degenerate form of simulationism that decrees, "[Thingy] is a real thing, so we're going to have it occur in the game, um, let's say, 1% of the time!" But with hundreds of freakish misfortunes thus included, such as homicidal psychosis or Lou Gehrig's disease (both of which are rather rarer than 1% in real life), everybody ends up having at least one game-ending problem, and so the game is unplayable. In my view, anything rarer than one-in-a-thousand should be abstracted out of existence by the RPG's designer. Otherwise, you get products like Edu-Ware's Space. Trav didn't have drug addiction or crippling diseases in its original rules, because their conception of role-playing isn't all about the marginal cases.

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    7. In most editions of Traveller, stats are rolled up with 2D6 (that is, two six-sided dice); you can do almost anything in standard Trav with 2D6, in fact.

      The possible rolls on 2D6 range from 2 to 12, but because rolling on multiple dice generates a bell curve, everything's weighted toward the center. Just over 44% of all unmodified stats will be in the 6-8 range, whereas a natural 2 or 12 occurs less than 3% of the time.

      One of the things that you can do in character generation is to try to improve your initial stats through exercise or whatever (as @Old Man Matt pointed out). PC's stats can fall to 1 (technically even to 0, but that would be fatal) or rise to 15, which is the hard cap for any given stat (although some alien races can max certain stats out at 16). That's how stats can go above or below the base range of 2 to 12.Most of these exercise options are available on the "Personal Development" table, which you can see in one of Chet's screenshots. I've had experiences where I was rolling up a character who was serving many terms, and toward the end the grizzled old dude was spending almost all his time working out, just to keep pace with the aging penalties. It was grimly amusing.The design philosophy behind Traveller's use of aging penalties, disability, death on the job, etc. is easy to understand. That stuff is there to make you think twice about having your character serve a billion terms, because the rewards are offset by the risks. Otherwise, every character would just be a lifer in whatever career they had, accumulating exorbitant amounts of skills and benefits and cash. This would defeat the purpose of Traveller's metagame, which is all about being relatively broke (unlike D&D, which is about having more gold than Fort Knox). Rolling up a shipowner or an Admiral is a rare and impressive achievement, and so it was intended to be.But one great perk in Traveller is the presence of "anagathics" (anti-aging drugs) that stall your decline into infirmity. However, they cost a ton on the open market and aren't available to you unless the Imperium thinks that you're worth the investment. For example, the Imperium's espionage services like to use 26-year-old-looking women who are actually in their seventies and have racked up more skills than James Bond. Likewise, a promising officer needs the drugs in order to serve long enough to become a Grand Admiral while maintaining his sharpness, which the Imperium would naturally prefer.As for MegaTraveller 1 vs. Space (1978), it should be no surprise that MT1 is closer to the original Traveller chargen system. Space's designers were afflicted with the degenerate form of simulationism that decrees, "[Thingy] is a real thing, so we're going to have it occur in the game, um, let's say, 1% of the time!" But with hundreds of freakish misfortunes thus included, such as homicidal psychosis or Lou Gehrig's disease (both of which are rather rarer than 1% in real life), everybody ends up having at least one game-ending problem, and so the game is unplayable. In my view, anything rarer than one-in-a-thousand should be abstracted out of existence by the RPG's designer. Otherwise, you get products like Edu-Ware's Space. Trav didn't have drug addiction or crippling diseases in its original rules.

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  2. The Realms of Arkania games, based on The Dark Eye system, had their moments. Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines and Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall are both good despite their tragic colon addictions, although I doubt either plays an awful lot like their respective tabletop game.

    But yeah, it doesn't seem like RPG developers have ever had much interest in purchasing the rights to use game systems for their time-tested mechanics and balance, at least not since this brief spurt in 1990. The Dungeons and Dragons license is worth paying for because it's a recognizable name. "GURPS" doesn't move inventory, and the programmers are perfectly capable of coming up with their own synonyms for 'dexterity', or 'fireball.' Or at least so they totally believe.

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    1. I felt the Santa Monica hub in Bloodlines was a very accurate reproduction of the table top V:TM experience. It was truly a masterpiece. (spoilers?) It's a shame the game falls apart so quickly after Santa Monica.

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  3. 1) other than Dungeons & Dragons, what RPG system has been most successful in its computer translation

    The initial GURPS connection to Wasteland is intriguing, but its presence in the final product is only vestigial... and the Steve Jackson Games connection to Origin never ended up going anywhere interesting. White Wolf computer game adaptations are basically cursed... I think that the correct answer to your question is undoubtedly the German RPG Das Schwarze Auge, aka Realms of Arkania aka The Dark Eye... Wikipedia lists 12 computer adaptations.

    2) what is so special about D&D that it was able to inspire 6 billion computer games where everyone else seems to die in the single digits?

    Due partially to its early introduction into the market, D&D has always been the elephant in the pen and paper gaming industry, so it's also the obvious choice for computer adaptation regardless of its actual suitability -- especially by devs who may not even have been exposed to other RPGs. It's a valuable license to be associated with, and its logo on the package will guarantee at least a small amount of sales. Not necessarily so for virtually any other cheaper, more obscure system.

    I always wondered why Palladium RPGs never saw themselves adapted to a computer format, as their baffling array of bespoke tables seemed naturally destined to be crunched by supercomputers.

    If you're willing to consider the Tunnels & Trolls "solitaire adventures" as a species of RPG, there have been... quite a number (well past single digits, at least) of computer adaptations of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks over the years, and fellow travellers like Lone Wolf have also remained properties that keep being revisited by game developers.

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    1. Duh -- sorry, meant GURPS connection to Fallout.

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    2. Yes to the Dark Eye series. It might be more popular in Germany than in other countries, but it's at a solid 2nd place behind D&D here. Maybe the Warhammer series comes is at third place.

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    3. If I'm not mistaken TDE rulebooks were only officially released in English with the system's 4th edition, some time mid-2000s. Which is probably the reason behind the recent (relative) abundance of TDE-based video games. Prior to Drakensang, which came out in 2008, there were only Realms of Arkania.

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    4. There was a Rifts videogame. In a typical Palladium decision, it was an N-Gage exclusive.

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    5. @Alexander, I am greatly amused by the thought that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is so popular in today's Germany.

      The "Empire" of the Germanic "Old World" is a corrupt and brutal totalitarian state (although, of course, it's no worse than its neighbors, let alone the forces of Chaos). Mass society itself is squalid, brutish, inefficient, and barely functional, since the people have a considerable disregard for law and order. The neighboring countries are, at best, colorful but effete; at worst, barbarous hordes threatening the fragile flower of civilization (or what passes for it). For example, there are the ratlike hordes known as "skaven" (which is pretty close to "Slavs"), and the Empire's policy is to exterminate them because they're Chaotic destroyers of all that is good and holy (hmmm...).

      And yet post-war Germans actually approve of this game, which was originally created by a gang of "lulzy" crypto-fascistic Englishmen?

      Don't get me wrong: I actually like WhFRP (1e) fairly well, and I'm definitely not anti-German. But the idea had never crossed my mind that WhFRP might appeal to modern Germans, and it seems strange and funny.

      @VK, you are correct that Das Schwarze Auge was not translated until 4th edition. That's a pity, because I've read that they had some very good ideas back in the mid-'80s. I'd like to read some of the early rulebooks.

      @malkav11: I hadn't known that, but that's hilarious!

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    6. I've heard Germans like works with darker themes. You may remember Berndt das Brot, a children's show protagonist who is a boring, depressed loaf of bread.

      Besides, you're not supposed to like the Imperium, I think, it's just where you are. Life sucks, and doesn't it, in real life, too? Our own government is basically bought by multinational corporations, and Americans of all classes except the very highest have to work like slaves until they die, kept sedated by entertainment and artery-clogging food. Who's to say the present isn't a nightmare dystopia?

      But I'd like to hear Germans weigh in.

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  4. Ooh, discussion questions!

    1) other than Dungeons & Dragons, what RPG system has been most successful in its computer translation?

    Probably the World of Darkness games, with a handful of products based on Vampire: The Masquerade and adapting its ruleset, along with some spinoff games utilizing the setting but not the mechanics. But this is a distant, distant second to the D&D stuff.

    You could also make a case for Warhammer 40,000, but while there've been a number of games based on the miniatures and RPG products I don't know of any that actually used the same system (rather than just the franchise setting).

    2) what is so special about D&D that it was able to inspire 6 billion computer games where everyone else seems to die in the single digits?

    I think there are a number of factors at play here, the most obvious being that D&D has always been the best known and most popular pen-and-paper RPG. That means more money thrown at licensed adaptations, a licensor who can afford to be choosy with what developers they licensed to, and a large enough fan base to have some meaningful impact on sales of even terrible games.

    I think there's also something to be said for the fact that D&D inspired so many non-licensed CRPGs in the first place. That meant a "real" D&D adaptation didn't actually need to stray very far from Ultima, Wizardry, and so forth to feel true to the license... and as a result, designers of a D&D CRPG had more games to look at for examples. With hundreds of class and level based CRPGs already out there, there's plenty of lessons to learn from them without needing to make those mistakes yourself.

    Finally, if you assume that D&D is a relatively well-designed rules system (at any given time--and I do assume this), you can also assume that its most successful competitors generally tried to do something different. For many pen-and-paper games, that "something different" meant a system focused less on combat and more on, say, skills or social interaction or freeform magic.

    Wargame-style combat rules adapt really well to CRPGs. There are limited options with strictly defined outcomes. Your freeform medieval magic RPG may be fantastic with a bunch of players at a table and a GM to adjudicate, but allows too many options for a computer. The same thing that let you find a "non-D&D niche" in the pen-and-paper world potentially reduces your odds for success in the video game world.

    That's my rambling thoughts on the subject. But while we're on the topic, I'll throw out another question: Most obscure pen-and-paper to CRPG adaptation? My selection is Skyrealms of Jorune, but I'm sure someone can do better.

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    1. I think Final Liberation and Chaos Gate are based on the tabletop 40K system (well, Final Liberation was based on 40K Epic, which I believe is a bit different from base 40K). Not 100% positive. Generally Games Workshop has avoided licensing direct adaptations, though, apparently out of some weird, misguided fear that it would cut into their sale of miniatures.

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    2. @A. Freed, I agree with you that D&D's dominant share of the TRPG market, and therefore of gamers' awareness as well, was the decisive factor that made its CRPGs so profitable, and thus so numerous. I strongly disagree with your assessments that D&D has ever featured a well-crafted ruleset and that lots of other TRPGs focused on non-combat mechanics. Almost all TRPGS in the '80s had combat as their bread and butter, and most of them tried to one-up D&D by making it more complex (and therefore less playable for the masses), whereas TRPGs focusing principally on non-combat interaction were vanishingly rare. But even though D&D had undeniably stupid rules, a middle schooler could start playing it with no trouble. That was the secret. The DM did the heavy lifting (or not, depending), but as far as your typical entry-level fighter was concerned, D&D was as rules-light as they come. They picked a target, rolled dice, and the DM told them what the Attack Matrix Table (or THAC0, or whatever other equivalent) said about it. That was all there was to it.

      D&D thrived because it was "everybody's first TRPG", and that's because it was omnipresent, easy for newcomers, and riddled with all sorts of childish absurdities that boys in middle school will think are "totally awesome, brah!" As stupid as that stuff is, it's kind of addictive, and millions of TRPG players got locked into it and refused to play anything else. The vicious cycle continues to this day.


      Also, just so nobody gets confused:

      Games Design Workshop (GDW) was an American company that made wargames and TRPGs, most notably Traveller. They tended to be cynical about a lot of things.

      Games Workshop is a British company that makes TRPGs and wargames, most notably Warhammer Fantasy 40'000 and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. They tend to be obsessed with "Chaos".

      Games Design Workshop and Games Workshop are entirely different companies.

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    3. At the same time, I've long wanted to give some of those highly complex RPGs a try once there is a computer doing the math for me. Even Phoenix Command would be playable then! Imagine its crazy math, but with the computer rolling on the six tables, then generating a cool animation showing how wind deflection and such worked. Or Aces and Eights with a computer doing actual randomization with the shot-clock and keeping track of its init ticks.

      My Dad did something like this with his C64 back in the 80s: He wrote a program called Starfleet Boomski to track the math in Starfleet Battles for his friends and him. They got way further into games. Then one time Mom walked in and tripped over the power cord, disconnecting the C64 and losing all the data, and he had to learn how to make a program save to disk....

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  5. This is what I get for typing slowly. Yeah, The Dark Eye / Das Schwarze Auge probably does come in a strong second place--though it's again notable that a number of the computer adaptations use only the setting, not the mechanics. (Several are adventure games!)

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  6. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system of the Fallout games is a tweaked version of the G.U.R.P.S. roleplaying engine. Also, Shadowrun had some successes with the Shadowrun SNES game, the Shadowrun Genesis game, and most recently with Shadowrun Returns and its most recent spin-off.

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    1. I'd say, inspired by. GURPS is a 100% point-buy system, only has 4 stats and uses 3d6 for everything. Fallout took some ideas from it for SPECIAL, but it is it's own thing.

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    2. I'll just leave this here: http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Vault_13:_A_GURPS_Post-Nuclear_Adventure

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    3. I'm very aware of that, but then they had a falling out and had to build their own system, which, having looked at SPECIAL and played quite a bit of GURPS are not that similar.

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  7. I've never heard of this game before but it looks like something I would have loved when it was first released. I can't wait to read more about it here.

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  8. D&D starts off strong by being the only tabletop system most people have heard of. That brand recognition gets D&D adaptations looks they might not otherwise get. Realms of Arkania is based on The Dark Eye tabletop system but that means nothing to most people.

    Next you've got the setting. D&D has that Tolkein-esque high fantasy that most people think of when you talk about fantasy. It's only recently with things like Game of Thrones and The Witcher that low fantasy has started to get real traction in people's minds. D&D is familiar and well known.

    Finally, the biggest is probably how D&D is a wargame that turned into an RPG. Since computer games are terrible at the freeform off-the-rails storytelling that is a big part of tabletop you're left with being railroaded down a main story with lots of combat. Sure, there might be sidequests and the ability to explore the landscape around you, but both those resources are still finite. You can only do what the developers though of programming into the game. Meanwhile, the D&D combat system is pretty tactical in nature which translates quite easily to the computer screen. Any tabletop system that bases a lot of its dynamics on social interaction is just not going to do well as a computer game.

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    1. Realms of Arkania is based on The Dark Eye tabletop system but that means nothing to most people.

      Add a "in the US" to the end of that and you'll be accurate.

      Dark Eye is the D&D of Germany.

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  9. 1) other than Dungeons & Dragons, what RPG system has been most successful in its computer translation?

    The most successful other system that I can remember would be BattleTech/MechWarrior/MechCommander (which is barely an RPG by your criteria: characters have stats like piloting/accuracy that improve through use; combat effectiveness, especially of allies, is governed by those attributes; and acquiring new mechs/weapons to kit out the mechs are the core game mechanic). I've found the all of the mech-games to be extremely fun, mostly in the tactical combat sense (MechWarrior 2 was the first I played when it first came out, and I remember putting several hundred hours into it and each of the sequels).. some of the plots are pretty cringe-inducing, however.

    Warhammer 40,000 would also be a candidate, although one I know little about.

    2) what is so special about D&D that it was able to inspire 6 billion computer games where everyone else seems to die in the single digits?

    My short take on the best aspects of D&D is this: encounters scale well from about levels 1-30. You can have plausible foes from the beginning of a new character through fighting gods at the end of your career. Your characters get noticeably more powerful at about the right rate. You can fight fairly well above your level if you have the right tactics/preparation, but the battles are going to be iffy, while a lower level group of creatures can still ruin your day if you haven't stayed sufficiently rested/healed etc. The second best aspect is that D&D is the first game to have realized the tactical flexibility of the tank/healer/controller/dps dynamic.

    The worst version of that dynamic that I can think of in a successful game would be Oblivion, where although you're more robust at say, level 20, the fights take just as long and tend to be more annoying, so I always wind up with a 95% chameleon character in stealth mode all the time, only killing things when I have to for a quest. The best in terms of that dynamic, which is a game you won't play is EverQuest and its many expansions. New foes were, somewhat plausibly, added regularly. You got to feel powerful going back to older areas, but not necessarily invincible. Due to large-scale raiding, one could fight very powerful creatures that would become manageable for a single party down the line. Like D&D EQ had an excellent set of character synergies, where if you were (very) good at the game the only class you almost had to have in an upper level group was a cleric (druid+shaman was also viable in some areas).

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  10. D&D also has the advantage of a large number of relatively popular paperbacks. Most every reader has picked up at least one Drizzt book or has read the Dragonlance Chronicles. Since most of the computerized games take place in the Forgotten Realms, with a few in the Dragonlance setting, that gives the games a sense of familiarity that persists even if the player has never touched a PHB.

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  11. D&D is used because it essentially always have been about hack & slash hence it translates easily on the computer screen.
    Other games like tunnels & trolls did the free range approach and I take it you're (Chet) still suffering from it judging by the fact that we haven't seen a winning screen yet. :)
    VtM started well and true to it's RPG storytelling roots but literally shits on your face in the end.
    Games that would benefit from computer are definitely systems based on role master (where every single item had a page full of random tables) but I don't think I've heard of any game made from that system.

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    1. Aethra Chronicles from 1995 is the only game made that is based on the Rolemaster system, and is the best indie game I've played.
      Very good character system, and lots of items, and they synergy between character classes/skills and items is perhaps the best I've seen in a CRPG.
      In addition the game had decent graphics, artwork, exploration and combat as well.
      Definitely a hidden gem that many people will have overlooked.

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    2. Aethra Chronicles if wonderful :)

      I think the Dark Eye-people are right, it seems reasonably succesful, if a bit niche.

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  12. I had this game back in my early teens, and probably only got a little bit further than you did in this first post. The problem was that I bought it as part of a bundle pack with a couple of other sci-fi games (Elite Plus and Wing Commander 1, I think) and the pack only came with brief installation instructions and keyboard controls for the games...no instruction manuals whatsoever. That was fine for the other two games, but for Megatraveller it meant I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It always intrigued me, though, and I played through the character creation and first section many times. I'm very interested to see how the rest of the game plays out.

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  13. To your questions, pretty much what they all said, Other rpg systems never really broke out of the hobbyists stores into the mainstream media, the exposure products needed to guarantee a worthwhile market.

    Was just thinking about character development in MT1 + MT2 and I can't really remember any apart from the occasional, Hey guys I think I'm starting to get the hang of this FGMP!
    Can any other players remember increases that were not from ground combat? space combat, diplomacy, health anything like that?

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    1. @Boroth: The hilarious thing about that line is that the "Fusion Gun, Man-Portable" can only be equipped when wearing battle dress (Trav's version of power armor), due to the gun's extreme heat and weight.

      As for your direct question, I always made sure that at least one PC had Medical skill, because it was the only way to heal characters in the field, and medkits were way cheaper than hospitals (which I never use). So I did manage to level Medical in the course of this game, but it took a while.

      @Chet, if your ex-Army character doesn't have Medical, you're going to have a serious handicap throughout the game. Medical's pretty important; I'd say that it's essential.

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    2. @Autor, I agree, but there's a lot more to it than that. Consider the game designer's perspective: Would you rather make a realistic game that needed to have intelligent rules and believable settings, or would you say, "Screw it! My deadline's next month, and nobody cares whether the game's any good!" You probably would choose the former regardless, but hundreds of "professional" (i.e. hackwork) game designers obviously disagree.

      If you started writing a realistic game and had to write rules for automatic weapons fire (a daunting task, let me tell you) or the consequences of combat (example: "What mechanics do we use to see if gangrene sets in?"), you might never get around to actually publishing the thing. And who would play something of such complexity? Fantasy, on the other hand, absolves its designers of such responsibilities, so that any idiotic mistake can be justified with the catch-all argument that "dood its a fantisy stfu lol" Anything too hard for the designers to write can be abstracted away with "magic" or whatever: problem solved! These crap-fantasy games are so much easier to write and publish, and you can always count on some middle-schoolers to eat it up, so it's a sure thing economically.

      Here's another problem. Fantasy roleplay lets characters level ad infinitum, amass godlike hit points and kewl powerz, kill and steal without consequences, and resurrect yourself on the cheap if you need it. But realistic games don't let you do this stuff, and that's why they don't appeal to ... a certain kind of player. 'Cause let's face it, those things are kind of fun, even if they're baser pleasures. So people who are fairly b.s.-tolerant will play such games with no shame.

      Underlying both of these issues, there is a general trend across all gaming, and indeed all mass media, such that almost nobody is willing to put any effort into making products for mature and intelligent adults. That's why hack-fantasy dominates the world of role-playing games, and it'll go on doing so for the foreseeable future.

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  14. Regarding the reason why other RPG games never got the attention they deserved, I'm also of the opinion of other posters: publicity.

    In the late 80's/early 90's TSR was dominant. I mean, Dungeons & Dragons even had a children's cartoon, for God's sake. Apart from Battletech I can't remember another board game ever having a saturday morning animation series.

    And for the reason why we almost never have sci-fi RPGs: I think most people are mentally "stuck" in medieval-fantasy. That's retarded, I know. Most people I know (who enjoy RPGs and stuff) are just interested in Orcs, dragons and wizards. I suppose that's related to some sort of childhood trauma.

    I also enjoy medieval fantasy, but 90% of it is still emulating Middle-Earth. Enough is enough!

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    1. Heavy Gear had TV series made out of it:
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0274262/

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    2. @Autor, I agree, but there's a lot more to it than that. Consider the game designer's perspective: Would you rather make a realistic game that needed to have intelligent rules and believable settings, or would you say, "Screw it! My deadline's next month, and nobody cares whether the game's any good!" You probably would choose the former regardless, but hundreds of "professional" (i.e. hackwork) game designers obviously disagree.

      If you started writing a realistic game and had to write rules for automatic weapons fire (a daunting task, let me tell you) or the consequences of combat (example: "What mechanics do we use to see if gangrene sets in?"), you might never get around to actually publishing the thing. And who would play something of such complexity? Fantasy, on the other hand, absolves its designers of such responsibilities, so that any idiotic mistake can be justified with the catch-all argument that "dood its a fantisy stfu lol" Anything too hard for the designers to write can be abstracted away with "magic" or whatever: problem solved! These crap-fantasy games are so much easier to write and publish, and you can always count on some middle-schoolers to eat it up, so it's a sure thing economically.

      Here's another problem. Fantasy roleplay lets characters level ad infinitum, amass godlike hit points and kewl powerz, kill and steal without consequences, and resurrect yourself on the cheap if you need it. But realistic games don't let you do this stuff, and that's why they don't appeal to ... a certain kind of player. 'Cause let's face it, those things are kind of fun, even if they're baser pleasures. So people who are fairly b.s.-tolerant will play such games with no shame.

      Underlying both of these issues, there is a general trend across all gaming, and indeed all mass media, such that almost nobody is willing to put any effort into making products for mature and intelligent adults. That's why hack-fantasy dominates the world of role-playing games, and it'll go on doing so for the foreseeable future.

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  15. This kind of character creation would scare me away. I want to spend my time playing the game, not preparing to play the game only to find out that I did everything wrong.

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    1. Twilight: 2000, also based on GDW RPG, has aside those dozens of skills also dozens of languages to choose from, but it was made to act also as character creation for the tabletop rpg.

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    2. @Alexander, the terrible problem with this CRPG is that it presupposes that you play the TRPG already. But if you did, you'd hate the hell out of the CRPG because it's so vastly inferior. I assume that this catch-22 is what caused so many other TRPG-to-CRPG adaptations to bomb miserably.

      @Dariel: IIRC, the Twilight games are also by Paragon, and I suspect that their approach to languages mirrors the one used in Space: 1889 -- which is, far and away, the most wretched thing I've ever seen an RPG do with languages. Oh, how I hate Paragon.

      Chet, just you wait until you have to learn "French" and "German" in the upcoming Space: 1889. I'm warning you, you're likely to vomit with rage at the insult to your intelligence.

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    3. Of all the Character Creation processes of RPGs, the longest would have to be GURPS, followed closely by Palladium's Heroes Unlimited.

      These 2 systems are literally impossible to be translated and implemented fully into a video game. Either system would require an entire day to roll up a new character.

      Woe betide the unprepared GM who had to introduce a new NPC on the fly.

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    4. Nope, Hero System is longer then GURPS. Also, GURPS is long, but you don't need to do much preplanning; I'd say 3.5 takes longer then GURPS if you do it fully, since you need to map out what feats and such you need to take 10 levels in advance so you can get into your Prestige Class (See: The main thing I hated about 3.X)

      Also: Phoenix Command, FATAL are both longer, but are generally considered to be terrible games (FATAL is generally counted as the worst RPG of all time, for being pretty much unplayable, the single most sexist RPG ever written (No, I'm not joking on that) AND being chalk full of racist jokes. Also for having anal circumference rules.)

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  16. If you wind up not liking MegaTraveller 1 very much, take heart - MegaTraveller 2 is a great improvement.

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    1. I do find MT2 more fun just for general messing about, the combat and space flight have the major annoyances from MT1 taken out. MT2 is one of the buggiest games I've played though (along with daggerfall). Identifying certain people can crash it, shops often have graphical glitches, people sometimes buy non-existant things from you for random amounts of money, ammunition has an exploitable bug..

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  17. Is Espinosa based in Vasquez from Aliens?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYkxCzBszOQ

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    1. No. Given Gaguum's comments, I decided to go with a Firefly theme. I named them after other roles of the principle actors.

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  18. Much like with Darklands, I spent far more time re-rolling characters than I ever did actually playing the game!

    I think the real-time combat was the real sticking point for me.

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    1. That, combined with the fact that your Darklands characters will almost certainly die during their first outing with no means of ressurrection, make for a truly frustrating experience.

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    2. @Anon: I don't get this at all. If you die that fast in Darklands, then you must be doing it wrong. Just grind on some street thugs after town curfew; you'll get some spending cash, build local rep, avoid paying inn fees, and level up steadily. Who needs sleep?

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  19. I think the Addict hit on the big reason why many tabletop RPGs don't translate well as CRPGs - combat. Extensive, grindy combat is kind of a hallmark of the CRPG genre, and most TTRPGs have pretty minimal combat rules. In many table top RPGs, combat is usually rather rare - with huge stakes riding on most fights. The fun of combat in most non-D&D TTPRGs I've played comes from the drama of it all. When combat finally erupts, everyone knows that someone is probably going to have to roll a new character when it's done. Tension = fun.

    Combat in D&D, on the other hand, is frequent, tactically rich, and low-stakes. Perfect for CRPGs!

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    1. Especially 4th edition. Unfortunately, during the entirety of 4th edition's time in the sun, there were only three D&D games that I can recall: Daggerdale (or something like that), which was a reputedly terrible ARPG with no real use of D&D mechanics; Neverwinter, which is an action-oriented MMO and makes at best token gestures towards D&D mechanics; and a Facebook game. Weirdly, the Facebook game was the most systemically faithful, and it was really cut down and, well, Facebook-game-y, full of microtransactions and energy limits on your play.

      Now we'll never see an authentic 4E game because 5E is out and -if- they license D&D for a proper CRPG, it'll be 5E.

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    2. @Daniel: Frequent and low-stakes, definitely. But tactical richness? In OD&D, B/X D&D, and AD&D 1e? Pfff, only if you're a high-level magic-user. Otherwise, it's all just "roll to see if you can manage to hit a creature standing right in front of you". There's only one kind of hit, so you never have to decide whether to tradeoff between speed and power (e.g. will you hack or jab?). Also, the low level of risk actually encourages you to sleepwalk your way through fights. It's just the sort of thing that newbie gamers will like.

      @malkav11: I don't suppose that WotC did any OGL stuff with 4e, did they? If so, is a D&D 4e CRPG something that anyone would want to see?

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    3. I thought 4e would have been an awesome system for a ToEE style game.

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    4. One of the things that upset people about 4E was that WOTC backed off the whole OGL thing. I think there was even some concern that they'd try to revoke the 3E OGL (or they had expressed a desire to or maybe even did? I'm not sure. It seems like there's still plenty of non-WOTC D20 stuff, though.)

      I'd love a turn-based, reasonably faithful 4E CRPG but, like I say, won't happen.

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    5. From what little I read about it the other day, it looks like they've already moved on to 5E, which rolls back a lot of the things people didn't like about 4E (which was a long list) and makes the core ruleset freely available.

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    6. It would be like Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy: Tactics, but D&D! I would have played the hell out of that.

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    7. 4e D&D turned battles into interesting boardgames. The side effect being that a typical encounter took a long time to play.

      I think it had the most interesting combat and character development by far, but it just wasn't that well suited to a p&p rpg experience.

      5e feels more like a modern 2e - which I think it what a lot of people wanted.

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  20. This looks like EGA, except for that orange color which isn't part of the standard palette.

    My brother bought the Imperium board game from a garage sale a long time ago, but we've never really played it. I think I read somewhere that there were several related board games that let you play an epic sci-fi game campaign at multiple levels of granularity.


    Speaking of PnP RPG to PC RPG conversions, I'd like to see something based on the Palladium ruleset, if only because Heroes Unlimited and a few of their other series were my earliest introduction to PnP role-playing.

    It would also be interesting to see a CRPG based on RuneQuest, as I have a friend who always talks about how much he likes it, and apparently D&D, RuneQuest, and Traveller were at one point considered the 3 major PnP RPG systems.

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    1. There was a Rifts RPG released for the N-Gage, and there is a PC strategy game set in the world of RuneQuest.

      I think the world of Rifts is pretty imaginative, but the Palladium combat and skills systems are atrocious.

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    2. The N-Gage - wasn't that the taco phone (lol)?

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    3. @HunterZ, you're right about the board games and the different scales of micro vs. macro. The Trav board games back in the early '80s ran the full gamut: from starship duels (Mayday) to fleet battles (Trillion Credit Squadron), from close-quarters fights (Snapshot and Azhanti High Lightning) to tactical land-based mass combat (Striker) to planetary invasions (Invasion: Earth). Full-scale interstellar wars were covered by Imperium, Fifth Frontier War, and Dark Nebula.

      Although the core rules covered the basics of individual-scale activity, other in-game events could be adjudicated using the board games. Let's say that the player characters were smuggling arms back and forth across the frontlines of a hot war. Higher-level plot events, such as the movement of the frontlines, or attrition of border patrols, or the precipitate collapse of one of the belligerent powers, could be the result of board games played between the group's members. If you wanted to wage future wars at any scale desired, there was a Traveller board game for it. They were a lot of fun, and breaking one out changed things up from the usual form of Trav gameplay.

      What's more, Traveller was (AFAIK) the first TRPG to offer not only thorough scalability, but also extensive rules modularity in the form of splatbooks and supplements. If you looked at the core rules and thought, "I want to handle this aspect/subject in more advanced detail", there was a book or a game that dealt with it. This approach was massively influential on GURPS, and to a lesser extent on White Wolf. Hell, I'd even bet that that's what motivated TSR to publish the first Unearthed Arcana (1e, 1985)! But I digress.

      You're also right that, in the Anglophone world during the early '80s, the three dominant TRPG systems were, first of all, the variations of D&D (O, B/X, and A1, not to mention unofficial add-ons like Arduin), followed by classic Traveller, and finally the Basic Roleplaying family (dominated principally by RuneQuest and secondarily by Call of Cthulhu). Both Trav and RQ/CoC had some unusually good adventures ("modules", if you like), not only by early-'80s standards, but by any standards.

      There's never been an RQ CRPG, but they did make CoC into ... an FPS. (The less said about that debacle, the better.) But FWIW, RQ seems to me to have obviously influenced the Magic Candle series (the skill system and leveling process), Knights of Legend (stat array and freeform magic), Dungeon Master (skills and magic), Darklands (one of RQ's designers, Sandy Petersen, was on the dev team -- enough said), and for all I know, various other CRPGs as well. Not a bad legacy, eh?

      Oh yeah, and here's another CRPG for you. Dragonfire: The Well of Souls (2000) is an action RPG adapted from the TRPG Drakar och Demoner ("Dragons and Demons"). This one is a big deal in Sweden (seriously!), although not anywhere else. But it just so happens that DoD (1e, 1981) is an officially licensed derivative of the RuneQuest rules system, so Dragonfire just might have that going for it. I've never played it myself, so I can't say for sure how much of the ruleset it preserved, but it's probably the closest thing out there to a genuine RQ CRPG.

      Of course, nobody outside Sweden has ever heard of DoD, except for BRP aficionados (not that there are many of those), and fewer have heard of the computer adaptation. That makes Dragonfire one of the most obscure tabletop-to-computer adaptations ever. (I gotta say, though, that the Rifts CRPG for N-Gage wins the booby prize. Sheesh.)

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    4. @Tristan: I agree concerning Palladium games' failings (and then some) but I can't say that I like the Rifts setting at all. The setup is just a transparent excuse to have an "every genre ever!" kitchen-sink TRPG, like Shadowrun on crack, or the worst GURPS campaign ever. I don't consider it truly imaginative. Also, the ruleset predictably sucks as a result of mashing everything together -- not that Palladium's Megaversal System ever had much going for it to begin with. Even West End Games (famous for the old Star Wars TRPG and the D6 System) made a godawful botch of Torg, because omni-genre games just don't work. If somebody wants something like that, I'd suggest a game like GURPS: Infinite Worlds instead.

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    5. The core Rifts book seems to suggest a 'post-apocalyptic western' style of campaign, taking place on the fringes of Coalition territory, where a motley crew of would-be heroes rolls from town to town,battling 'evil' in a lawless world of scarce resources. Granted, many of the sourcebooks in particular seemed to deviate from that theme.

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    6. @Tristan: Hmm, I'd forgotten about that.

      You're right about the later sourcebooks, though; Rifts's late-period efflorescence respected no boundaries.

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    7. @Gaguum thanks for the info.

      I played the old West End Star Wars a fair amount. I liked it a lot better than the d20 version that came out later.

      Now to really derail the conversation: What about CRPG-to-PnPRPG conversions? Someone adapted Fallout's system to a pen-and-paper one, which is ironic considering that Fallout was inspired by GURPS. Not sure if it's any good, as I never really go around to trying it out.

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    8. @HunterZ, you're quite welcome.

      WEG's D6 Star Wars TRPG is pretty darn great, as long as you already like Star Wars. AFAIK, D6 was the first dice-pool system (and it was finer-grained than usual, at that). That's a rather elegant and easy way to resolve tasks, and I like D6's approach far better than anything by, say, White Wolf.

      As for CRPG-to-TRPG stuff, only Fallout comes to my mind (although I too have never played it). But these days there's a huge glut of cheapo rules-light TRPGs that cash in on pre-existing media (Starblazer Adventures, anyone? BESM Star Wars? Serenity?). So there must be some justly obscure TRPGs out there, based on Skyrim or whatever, but I wouldn't know about them.

      Also, D&D 4e sorta counts in that category.

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    9. To be fair, the SPECIAL system was inspired by GURPS, but it fell pretty far from the tree. GURPS has advantages and disadvantages: SPECIAL ties them all into one. GURPS only has Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Health. Special has a buttload of stats. Special uses a flat % system, GURPS uses a veryyyyyy nice 3d6 bell curve.

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    10. @Gaguum Buffy, Lotr, and Firefly/Serenity all have tabletop versions. I've played Firefly and found it quite fun, but I was playing with a bunch of fellow Firefly addicts. We had to houserule that my blind mechanic was no longer allowed near the flashbangs, but it felt like being in the 'Verse. But that can be group as much as setting.
      (sorry to resurrect an old comment, I just saw a question I knew an answer to)

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  21. "What RPG system has been most successful in its computer translation?"

    I suspect that the upcoming Torment reboot, built around Monte Cook's P&P system 'Numenera' will become the answer to this question.

    What is so special about D&D?

    Cultural standing, market penetration and concepts that translate well to digital play: 1st Ed had leveling, classes, item tiers and combat in which individuals inhabited 10' squares and acted sequentially.

    D&D's focus was dungeon delving and the system had limited rules/skills related to non-combat encounters. The thief picked locks, disarmed traps and the dwarf spotted secret doors. That was about it. Thus, when D&D transitioned from P&P to PC, it lost very little.

    You couldn't make a more CRPG friendly system if you tried. :)

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    1. It says something that D&D lost barely anything in the process of computerization. That's a bad sign in my book.

      But wait, I can think of something that SSI left out of its Gold/Silver Box games! Perhaps because it required a DM to make up a few things on the fly:

      "For a good time, roll 51-75 on D%" (NSFW)

      If you've never seen that one before, you're in for a treat!

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    2. D&D loses MASSIVELY in the transition to a CRPG. Most of the best spells in the tabletop game are completely and utterly worthless in the computer versions (due to them needing far more environmental interaction than a CRPG allows, as well as needing DM adjugation) while others are "simply" far less useful due to the limited interface (Several multi-target spells became single target in computer adaptations, while spells that allowed you to pick your targets often (but not always) turned into bursts).

      Meanwhile, the game (as far back as AD&D 1e) had rules for building, digging, and improvisation that never made it into CRPGs because computers can't think outside of their limits, so a crevice with no bridge or a locked door becomes impassable until you solve the one or two ways the developers gave you to get past, when in the tabletop there were plenty of options, even before the 3.x series of games that tried to codify it further.

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    3. @Noman: Yeah, okay, all kidding aside, you're totally right. Magic in tabletop has infinitely more uses than on computer. Even so, I'd say that D&D lost less in the conversion process than any other TRPG that I can think of, especially given the railroading that went on in many official modules.

      Edit: My captcha for this one was "surely" with the archaic long S that looks like an f. Heh.

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  22. I can still remember a little about this game and can give you a few general tips.

    First, the top part of the interface displays each of your characters. Below the service icon, is a drawing of what kind of armor they are wearing. Notice that only one of your characters has armor, and each one looks to be wearing a respirator instead of a helmet (no vacuum for you). To the right of each armor drawing is a white line indicating how much oxygen each character has left (for operating in vacuum). To the right of that is his health bar (the white line dividing it is where the character falls unconscious). And that's about all I remember from this screen.

    2) When you land at a planet, you arrive at the city with the spaceport. To get to any other part of the planet you need to rent an atv or gravboat. Each planet has a code giving you it's tech level and stuff. Some planets don't have an atmosphere and you need vacsuits to avoid dying when you leave the spaceport. Some planets have strict arms control laws and limit the equipment you can take with you. The code will tell you that, but you need the manual to decipher it.

    3> Chargen
    Retirement benefits increase massively with long service, but the physical and mental degredation from old age get much worse also. One way to partly offset this and stay in the service longer is to invest skill increases in physical advancement to limit your losses. Yes those old guys will be more fragile, but they have a good chance to begin with enourmous resourses.

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    1. I really appreciate the tips. I'm having the hardest time with this one. I finally found the spaceport to take off (the passage leading into it looked like a wall), but I can't seem to jump to any planets. I finally figured out that I needed a navigation program and figured how to load it, but I can't get it to "run." The whole thing is very frustrating and the interface is horribly unintuitive.

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    2. I had forgotten about those programs until I went to play it a little while back after seeing it coming up. They are quite odd, on the computer part of the ship you have to load the program, then run it, both should have progress bars, which are needlessly slow. I *think* you only have to do this once per program(not per trip) unless your computer suffers damage in combat. You jump to other systems, but there are a couple planets within your system, you may have to fly to them manually...

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    3. @Old Man Matt is right on all counts, and Boroth is mostly right about computer programs (you have to reload them if you take them out of RAM, such as if you load some other program instead).

      The upper left of the GUI shows the PCs in their slot order (1 through 5), with each one's service emblem displayed in the color assigned to his slot number. The junk underneath represents his current armor (head and body). The colored bars represent current health/woundedness, where the white bar represents unconsciousness. Losing the whole bar represents irremediable death. Death is curable in the TRPG (if the party is wise to the way how to do it), but the CRPG doesn't implement it.

      Judging from your textual description and your screenshots, your party has started the game with only respirator masks, except for the fifth PC, who's got ballistic cloth armor (providing less protection than a space suit). Moreover, the best gun that you've got is a mere semi-automatic pistol. That's why your entire party dies in short order when the Zhodani-backed thugs start blasting you with submachineguns from dispersed positions. (The devs were sadistic morons.) The only way to get your party capable of surviving a stand-up, knock-down fight is to ensure that every member leaves the service with good armor and weapons. But that's next to impossible for new players to manage (and tough for those who know how), which is why you needed to flee (or rather, "advance in another direction"). Go buy some good gear in town (since Efate famously lacks any form of gun control laws), and then creep back and pick those bastards off one by one.

      The upper right of the screen shows the marching order when the party "breaks", and that S-shaped thing is the planetary flag (it'll change when you leave Efate for somewhere else). The corner just duplicates the slot order again, with the party members' service emblems. The same colors are shown again in the same order in a bar underneath, for those players too stupid not to have figured it out already.

      The center-right part of the screen is a filler image showing the sunburst of the Imperial flag alongside the trefoil of the Zhodani Consulate. You saw the Zhodani trefoil spinning around on the main screen, which is your first screenshot in this post. You may also have noticed the sunburst in the lower-left part of the MegaTraveller Referee's Manual front cover (that's the starships picture toward the bottom), except that there the sun's broken up into small pieces, because MT's Rebellion setting is all about "Role-Playing in the Shattered Imperium". Anyway, that sunburst-vs.-trefoil picture on MT1's screen never changes; it's there only for flavor (and also to keep less of the screen active).

      The rest of what Old Man Matt said is correct, but note that Streetwise skill enables characters to smuggle contraband weapons through starport customs. That's something that you will definitely want to do in this game. (Think of the casinos in New Vegas.)

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  23. I downloaded this game just to try the character creation. It was the most detailed, engaging, unique system of creating a player that had no bearing on the game to be played, that I have experienced.

    Despite this my master hovercraft pilot/bureaucrat will forever be legend for his 45 years in the public service without promotion.

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    1. @frambojan: I see that your man entered the merchant marine ("roll 12 for promotion"). Bravo, sir.

      BTW, Chet, the game doesn't let you pick a sex for your characters because Trav usually doesn't stat men and women differently. It's pretty handy that you can pick a name at the end. Whatever I ended up with, I'd give him a fitting name like "Bruser" or "Luger" or whatever. Good times.

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  24. Some more miscellaneous comments about Traveller:

    A lot of the seemingly peculiar features of the Third Imperium setting are highly logical extrapolations from fundamental assumptions. First and foremost, space is huuuuuuuuge. It has taken many millennia for humans to have expanded as far as they have in Charted Space, but the speed of travel remains finite. Therefore, just as with many historical empires on Earth, it takes forever to get from one end to another. The only reason why the Imperium doesn't just knock its neighbors over is that it lacks the logistical ability to project force that far. It takes a year for news to get from the edge to the core, and vice versa.

    Consequently, the large interstellar governments are heavily decentralized, by necessity rather than choice. Any given planet fends for itself most of the time. This (sometimes) salutary neglect has led to wide divergences in local government and tech level. At the highest level, the Imperial state, like most traditional empires throughout history, amounts to little more than a ridiculously strong military and its support apparatus, and they're concerned mostly with maintaining their racket, and therefore with keeping the general peace, which is the only thing that the military is well able to handle. The state's motto might as well be, "You can do whatever you like, but don't mess with us, or else we'll shoot you."

    Sometimes brutal but usually indifferent, the Imperium inspires little love, except in two ways. One is that the Imperium treats its citizens better (or no worse) than its neighbors would, and Imperial citizens are taught to fear a foreign takeover of their worlds. The other way is the personal touch: The Emperor is actually a pretty swell and likeable guy who reigns rather than rules, and most everyone likes him. (Not all, of course.) Many people also like their local nobility, either because they're naturally good, or else skilled propagandists.

    As historically in Europe and east Asia, feudalism is an effective way for the sovereign to keep the locals in line, because he's got a man on the scene who owes it to His Majesty. Those who serve the Emperor are rewarded with (very lucrative) fiefs, and those nobles who betray him forfeit their fiefs (and the income). But whereas a noble on Earth could use his power base to resist central authority and become a law unto himself, the Imperium can just nuke rebels from orbit. Imperial vengeance is slow but sure, so that any traitorous vassal will get nothing in the long run, except for the rope or the bullet. Therefore nobles generally try to keep their noses clean, or at least to look that way. That's why, on balance, feudalism suppresses more greed and mischief than it generates.

    BTW, the foregoing is colored by my own interpretation of the setting, which differs from person to person. Trav has always left a lot up to its referees, who tend to be extremely insightful and highly argumentative, and who are frequently heard saying that such-and-such is true or false "in my Traveller universe (IMTU)". The old Trav mailing list used to have "geek code blocks" where you could compactly communicate your positions on various "holy war" issues, which were many. The essential nature of the Imperium was one of these issues, with people's evaluations ranging from "a massive juggernaut with an amazing tax base" to "a picture of gross mismanagement over impossible distances". My own view is a combination.

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    1. By the way, Chet, you asked why everybody in MT1 goes into the military. That's because four years of national service is compulsory for everybody in the Imperium, no matter where or who, and regardless of whatever they go on to do for a living. (This also ensures that every Traveller PC, from scientists to courtesans, knows how to shoot to kill. But then again, so can everybody else. You can see how this can generate excitement during gameplay.)

      But the TRPG lets PCs do lots of things that the CRPG doesn't. MT1 has only five available careers (and only for Imperial humans), which happen to be the same ones that offered "advanced" character generation. But the TRPG handled basic chargen for eighteen careers open to Imperial humans, plus a bunch for several other races. When you get around to playing MT2, it'll offer all of the TRPG's available careers for Imperial humans and Vargr (genetically engineered wolves). For now, though, things are severely limited.

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  25. Concerning skills and task resolution:

    Forward Observer is one of those things that I thought was awesome when I was a kid: "I can direct field/orbital artillery! Bitchin'!" Of course, it was generally useless in practice, and in MT1 as well. The only worthwhile weapon skills are lasers, plasma/fusion, and rocket launchers. Anything else wouldn't make a dent against tough opponents.

    "Engineering" in Trav means starship engineering, which is why it's a Navy thing. Army does offer Combat Engineering under the Special Combat cluster, but it's useless in MT1. If you get Special Combat at all, take Battle Dress. It's the best armor in the game, but difficult to operate without the skill; they also might give you a suit upon retirement, which otherwise is horribly expensive.

    I'm not certain how well Paragon implemented "Jack-of-all-Trades" in this game; but it's supposed to represent MacGyver-esque resourcefulness, and therefore it can substitute for any other skill not already possessed. I've seen my MT1 characters level up in JoAT multiple times, so it must be doing something.

    Most skills that the MT1 manual claims are implemented really aren't. A lot of the ones that do matter don't benefit you beyond skill level 1: Computer, Communications, Survey, Navigation, Demolitions, Bribery, Vacc Suit, Battle Dress, vehicles, etc. Some skills, like Gambling or Trader, aren't truly useful except at unachievably high levels (like 4), and then they help only to make money faster. The best skills in which one should get high levels are: powerful weapons, Medical, and Streetwise (for concealing weapons, not for talking). MT1's a pretty limited game in this respect -- which blows chunks, seeing as Traveller was the very first TRPG to handle all task resolution via a skill system (which was extensive, right from the start).

    I'm rather obsessed with task resolution in TRPGs, and MegaTraveller had one of my favorite systems for it. In spite of some serious flaws, it was the most sophisticated system in existence upon publication, and it has some ideas that I've seen nowhere else. The task system that I use in running my own games owes a lot to it.

    The best innovation in the MT rules, which Chet mentioned, is the ability to specify that you're doing something "cautiously" or "hastily". Example: Is your ship's maneuver drive busted? You can try to fix it at top speed, because you need it working right away; or you can work on it as as carefully as possible, because you want the job done right for good; or you can split the difference, which is the default. This is a brilliant mechanic that's very rarely seen, but MT1 left it out, because everything is in real-time. Ugh.

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  26. It would be hard to say which game is more accurate: As I understand it Megatraveller is based on a much more recent version of the ruleset, while the rip-off game you played seemed to be based on a fairly early one.

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