Sunday, September 10, 2023

Esper Genesis vs. Frontier Space: Round 2

I did create my pilot-engineer character in Esper Genesis. I wanted to make sure my comparisons weren't just theory-crafting and go through character creation and that big 'what next' step that happens after.

Both systems created the same character. My hybrid pilot-engineer hero guy who makes his living flying a piece of junk, keeping it running on ingenuity alone, and getting into trouble he has to fly his way out of. In the 5E space game, he had "space magic" that simulated fantastic engineering powers. He had a skill and toolkit in Frontier Space - no magic.

To be fair, in EG it isn't magic but 'super high tech' nano-bot and energy science that lets him do amazing things. In game design terms, it is magic. A way to quickly describe the impossible by today's understanding and comprehension. The world of EG feels higher-tech than a traditional Star Frontiers or even Frontier Space setting. I assumed he had one of those Mass Effect-style arm computers with a holographic display. That thing could use an ancient energy source to do amazing things, like conduct scans, blast laser energy, and direct nanobots to make minor repairs close to him.

It does not surprise me that a 5E game leans into the 'personal power' design style, shipping hundreds of powers, dozens of classes, and even more variance with subclasses. This is how a 5E game works: it ships with hundreds of options that could never be tested on how they work with each other. The game sits broken, sells expansions, and is technically in beta for 10 years. They release a new edition that finally addresses the exploits - and nobody will play it since the broken design was more fun. If you cater to self-focused power gamers, shipping a fixed edition will not appeal to them.

So we could never do 'space magic' in Frontier Space? Not true.

DWD Studios also creates a little-appreciated game called Barebones Fantasy. This has a magic system. All you need to do is add the five magic skills to the game and add one +0 skill pick (that does not have to be a magic skill) to character creation. You add these skills to FS:

  • Cleric
  • Enchanter
  • Leader
  • Scholar
  • Spellcaster

Ignore the scout, thief, and warrior skills in BBF; these are already skills in FS. And set the following skill/level equivalencies in FS for the magic skills, and improve them like FS skills:

  1. -20 to +0
  2. +5
  3. +10
  4. +15
  5. +20
  6. +25 and higher

Ignore the BBF magic skill percentage chance calculations and stay in FS's skill and success chance systems (the action economy will take care of this quick). If our engineer with nano space magic wants to do a scan with his +5 'spellcasting' skill (level 2), it is PER plus 5 as the success chance. Spells are picked off the BBF lists, and the 'divination' spell becomes 'scan' for our space engineer, and it can be used once per hour (as per the divination rules in BBF).

A repair power that uses nano-bots? The heal spell is in BBF, and we could flavor this to only work on machines. Our cleric spellcasting skill would use the same spell for living things and have their Mass Effect-style armband project nano-healing bots to repair wounds.

It is all flavor! Play Cypher System, and you understand this.

BBF has a concept of a primary skill; wizards, if they choose spellcaster as their first skill pick (in FS, the +0 skill), this is a primary skill, and you get 2 spells a level instead of one. You can simulate this in FS by saying if you put a +0 skill in a magic skill, it is a primary.

And characters with that extra +0 skill choice do NOT need to pick a magic skill. You can pick another skill and ignore 'space magic' entirely, which works well since in EG all engineers are assumed to be 'space magic casters' - and in the hybrid BBF-FS hack, you can have engineers who rely on traditional skills without all that 'nano space magic' stuff. Characters who do not choose magic skills get that extra +0 skill and start off more powerful.

And with the BBF-FS hack, you get a few interesting new character types. A scholar with space magic scholar powers? Enchanters who can use powerful nano-powers to enhance objects, or even create robots? Leader skills for space admirals? Clerics for 'nano-powered' space healers?

Just flavor all the BBF magic with 'techno science' explanations, and you have a sci-fi plus space magic hack that feels like EG without all the 5E imbalanced cruft, self-centered design philosophy, and system complexity. FS plus this system feels like a Mass Effect, and characters have 'personal powers' that enhance the game but do not focus too much on personal power. But they feel more unique and capable, which hits that 5E sweet spot.

This also could be used for my 200-years-after game set in the original Star Frontiers universe and gives me a set of kewl-powers to add to the game that signifies a jump in technology and personal power. The Enorea crystal tech on Volturnus was probably used to create all these cool nano-space magic powers, and now everything is techno-slick like Mass Effect. Yet there still is room for those holding onto the old ways and that original traditional skill base and way of doing things. Even without space magic, it is possible to roll up your sleeves and fix a hyperdrive the old-fashioned way.

Part three for this comparison and hack is coming, and it has to do with the part that happens after character creation...

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