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Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game
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September 11, 2007

Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game

Lead your own ragtag fleet on a search for long-lost Earth—while fighting Cylons along the way—in an RPG based on the hit TV series
Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game
232 pages
Margaret Weis Productions
MSRP: $44.99
By Ken Newquist
Fans of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series can take the fight to the Cylons—or help search for Earth—with a new pen-and-paper role-playing game that puts them in the Viper's seat.

Building on the Cortex System first used in its Serenity RPG (inspired by Joss Whedon's space-western setting), Margaret Weis Productions' new Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game faithfully recreates the drama and grittiness of the TV series, though some may find that parts of it fit a little too well.
Those who love role-playing and don't get hung up on the lethality of combat should love it.
Players create characters using a point buy system to purchase Attributes (strength, intelligence, agility, etc.) and Skills (athletics, piloting, scientific expertise, etc.) on a rising scale of polyhedral dice, including 2-, 4-, 6-, 8- and 12-siders. Characters expand from two dimensions to three as players take on Complications such as "addiction" and "gloryhound" that provide negatives during play in order to buy Assets like "dogfighter," which provide benefits.

Skill checks are straightforward; players roll the appropriate attribute and skill dice for a given task (such as Agility and Piloting to make a lightning-fast turn in a Viper) and compare the result against a target number. If it matches or beats the number, the task succeeds. If the rolls beat it by seven, then an extraordinary success is scored that yields extra benefits.

Combat works similarly, except that characters are trying to beat an opponent's Attribute + Skill roll. When a hit is scored, characters take two kinds of damage: stun, which can be shrugged off once out of combat, and wounds, which require medical attention and time to heal.

Unlike many other RPGs, characters in Battlestar have the ability to dig deep to make an absolutely essential dice roll via Plot Points. This mechanic lets players earn points through role-playing that can then be spent to buy extra dice for critical rolls, soak damage and even modify the plot in minor ways.

The game's rules are supplemented by a wealth of information drawn from the Battlestar Galactica miniseries and much of the first season. While the rules easily allow players to set their game anywhere along the Battlestar timeline, the book assumes the action begins not long after the Cylons' genocidal attack on the Twelve Colonies.

To that end, the book introduces iconic characters such as Cmdr. Adama, Apollo, Starbuck and Gaius Baltar, as well as two of the initial Cylon "skinjobs" (Caprica and Boomer) and the familiar chromed Centurions. Stats are given for the major ships in the human fleet, the Cylon basestars and the show's signature Vipers and raiders. The Twelve Colonies, as well as the complicated planetary layout of their solar system, are summarized, as is their recent and early history.

Great role-playing meets deadly combat
Battlestar Galactica is an old-school RPG, played with pen, paper and dice, and it takes its role-playing very seriously. The system's assets and hindrances have been seen before in other systems, but Plot Points take things a step further by rewarding players for bringing them into play. A hindrance that might have been taken simply as an excuse to min/max a character's scores in another game take on real value in this one, as players are compelled to actively use them in hopes of gaining the Plot Points needed to survive.

From a mechanical standpoint, Plot Points let players re-create those all-or-nothing moments from the series, such as making an impossible deck landing on the Galactica or hot-wiring a crashed Raider's cyborg brain. From a role-playing standpoint, the points go a long way toward building the dramatic tension the series is famous for.

Combat is faithful to the series as well ... but perhaps too faithful for some. It's fast, and often brutal, as Cylon Centurions unleash their high-powered weapons on Colonials. Plot Points can and will save a character's bacon, but eventually he or she will bear the full brunt of the Cylons' assault and likely die a quick and brutal death. This matches the series almost exactly: Centurions are nothing that anyone wants to stand and fight, but such brutal firefights may be off-putting to people used to games like Dungeons & Dragons, where heroes can easily soak a mountain of damage.

The rules play combat fast and loose, stating that up to three actions are allowed per turn, but in reality allowing each character that many actions can be deadly, as Cylons can mow down anyone caught out in the open. The rules can also be confusing when it comes to figuring out how long specific actions take (like reloading a sniper rifle or digging out and throwing a grenade). Once players get used to the system, though, things flow smoothly.

Space combat in the game is handled largely the same way as its ground-based counterpart. Rules for attacking across stellar distances are given, as well as what happens when a Viper attacks a much larger ship, like a basestar, but there's little in the way of special maneuvers or complications unique to spaceflight. While it's easy to appreciate why the designers wouldn't want to add a wholly new space-based miniatures game to a role-playing game, a few new tricks for pilots would have been nice.

The game's production values are better than the initial run of the Serenity RPG, which shipped without an index and (more importantly) with no character sheets. Battlestar has both, and the book is a quick and enjoyable read. There are a few editing mistakes, notably the lack of skills in the statblocks for Cylon raiders and a handful of spelling and grammar mistakes. These are minor flaws, though, and the developers are already addressing them in the forums of fan Web site CortexSystem

Ultimately, Galactica succeeds at doing what it set out to do: providing players with the tools to re-create the desperate flight of the Twelve Colonies from their robotic enemies. The game isn't for everyone, but those who love role-playing and don't get hung up on the lethality of combat should love it.

What impressed me most about the Battlestar Galactica RPG is how well it promotes role-playing. Even the most subdued of my players got into the spirit once the Plot Point tokens started flying around the table. —Ken