Friday, February 28, 2014

Meet The Physician

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One of the biggest changes I made was removing the Medicine skill from the Scientist class, which means other than robots with the Medicine skill and natural healing the characters were in trouble if they were damaged...

In the interests of full disclosure I have to inform you that this class owes a great deal to the version posted by John Adams in the 'Appendix N X-plorers' thread the DCC RPG Third Party Publishers forum over at, as does my Trooper class.  That thread can be found here.


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Physicians are an important part of of mission teams that see a lot of combat, and really what mission team doesn't.  Trained in healing both the body and the mind, Physicians keep other mission team members on their feet and ready for action.  Their expertise can also come in handy on jobs dealing with disease outbreaks, biological unknowns and disaster relief.

A Physician's skills include:

  • Doctoring (BRN) this skill covers the Physician’s ability to detect, monitor, diagnose and treat diseases and heal injuries. It also includes such areas as pharmacology, surgery and operating medical equipment.

  • First Aid (BRN) this skill covers the character's ability to staunch bleeding, splint broken limbs, reduce the effects of shock, perform CPR and other life-saving techniques, stabilizing a wounded or injured character until proper medical attention can be provided.

  • Psychology (BRN) this skill covers the Physician’s ability to detect, monitor, diagnose and treat mental disorders, diseases and tramas.

  • An elective skill selected from any of the other classes available in the game.

I'll also be using John's rules for the effects of a Physician's Skill Checks (SC) with the following changes, all healing dice are a d6 (as this is what all classes use for their hit die types).  Otherwise it all works as John has laid out.

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So that's the base classes for my X-PLORERS revision.  I have ideas for others but I want to take a break from the classes and cover some other topics.  Aliens, supplemental rules for vehicles, articles about my universe, methods of mapping, stuff like that.  But you should expect things around here to slow down some now that I gotten these out of the way.

Up next: I'm thinking about alien species in X-PLORERS.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Meet The Trooper

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The Soldier class was actually the one class that was pretty much dead-on from the start; the only real issue was that all Soldiers were clearly from the same service branch – the Infantry. I wanted my players to be able to create a military aviator, or a driver from the mechanized cavalry, or an Infantry medic if they wanted to, so I put together the Trooper class for my revision of X-PLORERS.


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Troopers, whether they are ground pounders, armored cav or espatiers, are the muscle of modern society. They are trained to fight and they do it well; this is reflected in the fact that two of their class ‘skills’ are actually advancing modifications to a the character’s combat rolls. Military aviators should cross-train in the Astronautics skill, tank or APC operators in the Heavy Equipment skill, medics in the First Aid skill and espatiers in the Zero-G skill but otherwise have fun.

The skills for a Trooper character are:

  • Hand-to-Hand (I renamed this because soldiers aren't taught any particular form of martial art, rather they are taught key moves from several different syles) is the same as the Soldier Skill ‘Martial Arts’ found in the X-PLORERS rule book, page 7. It also applies to knife-fighting.

  • Marksman is the same as the Soldier Skill ‘Weapon Specialist’ found in the X-PLORERS rule book, page 7.  However, it applies to all ranged attacks made by the character.

  • Soldiering: Skill encompassing any ability common to soldiers. Examples include: boarding/repelling actions, small unit tactics, demolitions, survival training, use and maintenance of various weapons and armors, etc.

  • An elective skill selected from any of the other classes available in the game.

Additionally all Troopers receive a +1 on all their dice rolls for hit points when created and when leveling (they should be at least as tough as colonists, no? [see page 27 of the X-PLORERS rule book]).

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While we're on the subject, can I just say how much I love the Critical Hits idea presented in this game? It really re-enforces the original thinking behind hit points, not that they represent damage to a character but rather the character's ability to endure the stresses of combat until, finally, they are no longer able to avoid the inevitable and fall to a genuine wound. I like it so much that I'm toying with the idea of renaming Hit Points to Endurance or Stress Points to better reflect this.

So that's all of the original classes revised. You're probably thinking I ended up creating some skill holes when compared to the original classes and you're right I did. Medicine in particular, but I'll address that next time!

Up next: The new Physician class.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Meet The Spacer

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The Scout class was another example of the puzzling skill spread. Basically a thief rogue with vehicle skills. For me the scout has always been about the space explorer in sci-fi, and to explore space you need to be able to travel through it. So for my revision of X-PLORERS I re-made the Scout as the Spacer, the class essential for space travel.


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Spacers can be important members of any mission team and their spacecraft skills are essential if the team has access to their own spacecraft.  Additional vehicle skills and some overlap with the Technician class keeps the Scout from becoming a niche class.

The skills for a Spacer character are:

  • Astronomy (BRN) is the study of space and the objects found in it and provides an understanding of the formation and function of nuclear stellar furnaces, nebulae, black holes, and even space-time itself.  Successful use of this skill can locate a lost spacecraft, analyze an unknown phenomenon, plot a warp jump, determine how long a star has before going nova, the hazard presented by asteroids to shipping lanes, plot gravitational disruptions.  If it affects space-time or travel through it Astronomy can unravel the details.

  • Astronautics (BRN) covers the knowledge necessary to operate and repair aerospace vehicles, covering everything from simple light airplanes to complex spacecraft and their shuttles.  Successful skill checks allow for orbital or docking maneuvers, stopping a tumble, bypassing burnt out power relays, restarting reactors.

  • Zero-G (QKN) represents a character’s ability to compensate for the difficulties of moving and working in a zero- or micro-gravity environment.  Skill checks are required for EVAs, overcoming zero-gee sickness, recovering from impacts or spins, and using rocketpacks for mobility.

  • An elective skill selected from any of the other classes available in the game.

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Up next, the Trooper (revised Soldier) class.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Meet The Scientist

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The next few posts are going to come rather quickly, just so you know. The Scientist class was one of the classes with a puzzling skill spread to me. Why would a Scientist be likely to have hacker-like Computer skills? I work with a number of scientists and engineers at my job and aside from one or two Linux enthusiasts most of the scientists have minimal computer literacy, some performing tasks by rote even. The engineers are much savvier about computers. I attribute this to the scientists' incredible focus on their chosen areas of expertise myself. So I have tried to re-make the Scientist into a well-rounded scholar and investigator.


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Scientists are the brains of any X-PLORERS mission team.  They are the ones to analyze the samples, piece together the disparate bits and deduce the dangers from the variform clues.  If you need to know what something is made from or what dangers a new lifeform presents, or how that anomaly is impacting the local space-time, the Scientist is the one to ask.

The skills for a Scientist character are:

  • Chemistry (BRN) is the science of material things and can determine the makeup of alloys, the class of an animal venom, the properties of a new metal or plant extract, detect new elements, etc.  Successful use of use of this skill can determine the particular effects of any aggregate compound on other materials, identify the components and elements of any such compound's make up (within the limits of current scientific knowledge) and classify new elements and their likely effects.

  • Mathematics (BRN) is the universal language, it is true that while the base numbering system might be different, it is also true that the same mathematical problems have to be solved for any intelligent species to reach space and then the stars.  Additionally, a solid understanding of mathematics is necessary to understand and use the other physical sciences.  The Mathematics skill covers every aspect of using numbers to figure out and decipher the universe: algebra, arithmetic, calculus, differential equations, geometry, probability, trigonometry, and so on.

  • Physics (BRN) is the study of physical reality and the rules that govern it. An understanding of physics can determine the strength of gravity on a new planet; determine what local materials would best be suited to the construction of a new building, the power of a laser or the feasibility of an aerospace design.  Successful rolls against this skill can design a spacecraft, determine the chances of an avalanche occurring on a particular mountain or what optics are best for a new laser. If you need to know how much stress it can take before collapse, how matter is put together, or how to blow it up, Physics is the science for you!

  • An elective skill selected from any of the other classes available in the game.

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Up next, the Spacer (revised Scout) class.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Meet The Engineer

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Had hoped to have this up yesterday, c'est la vie. A lot of my thinking about the Technician class has already been touched on in the last post, but with the change in skills I decided that a new name was required...  Also, if you still want the Engineer to be able to operate specialized vehicles just have them take the Heavy Equipment skill as their elective. Dedicated hackers, on the other hand, should take the Intrusion skill.

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Engineers are responsible for the continued operation of modern society; whether they work on cell relay towers, in server rooms, the repair department of your local Rudy’s Robotics store or in the control room of a fission reactor. They keep complex technology operating properly or can circumvent its proper operation. If it uses power and is more complex than a light switch a engineer can keep it running, hack it or sabotage it. Clearly no mission team is complete without at least one Engineer.

The skills for a Engineer character are:

  • Engineering (BRN) is the Engineer’s ability to design, create, repair, understand, and operate any type of device or technology (including alien devices and technologies).

  • Power Systems (BRN) represents the Engineer's understanding of the various power generation techniques and delivery methods.

  • Programming (BRN) is the Engineer’s ability to craft computer code; from simple spreadsheet macros to sophisticated heuristic AI routines, as well as decipher existing code for bugs or deliberate malicious intent.

  • An elective skill selected from any of the other classes available in the game.

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Up next, the revised Scientist class.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

No More Gimmicky Titles...Thinking On Skills

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I know that the subject of skills can be a bit of a sore subject with members of the OSR and I could do away with them altogether by allowing a character to make a Saving Throw (ST) modified by the appropriate Attribute if the task at hand fell within their class' purview. But I feel that too leads to over-capable characters. Besides I like the use of skills in a Sci Fi context. Sci Fi still has it's archetypal characters or else classes wouldn't make much sense. But while Han Solo, Captian Apollo and Luke Skywalker are all considered pilots, but it that their defining trait? I don't believe so. Han is a scoundrel, piloting the Millennium Falcon is something he can do; likewise Apollo is a soldier and Skywalker a Jedi like his father before him. So character class is about who you are, skills are about what you can do. Spock may be a Scientist but he can still get under a console to effect repairs as well as any Engineer (would you believe I couldn't find a single picture of that? Come on, internetz!  Balance of Terror for crying out loud!).

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So, I want skills in my X-PLORERS game; just not the skills defined in the original game (again, not a criticism just my choice). I started out by re-evaluating the skills that the author set up looking for a way to redefine the classes. So I'm looking to simplify the skills while still keeping their numbers down; I've restricted myself to three role-defining skills per class remember? So I started trying to break the skills down into their broadest but simplest components. If a Technician has Computer and Mechanics skill does he also need Robotics as a separate skill? A robot, after all is a mechanical system operated by a computer.

Likewise, are others of these skills needed, like the vehicle skill. I have a hard time rationalizing that only a technician can operate a vehicle. A jet fighter sure, but a motorcycle, ground car or even a big rig? Not so much. So I'm wondering if operating a vehicle  should even be a skill, except in the cases of specialized and usually military vehicles. Of course, this exception would include spacecraft as well. But otherwise make it into an ‘everyman’ ability; just make a Quickness (QKN)-based Saving Throw (ST) to keep a vehicle under control when performing maneuvers at high-speeds, or other risky actions like chases and so on. Computers also are so ubiquitous that usage need not even an issue.  Whether the character is searching for and retrieving files, running existing programs such as spreadsheets or word processors, or even trying to operate avionics or other detectors. We only care about when a character is attempting to do something outside the ordinary, like hacking a system or re-programming a computer and that would need the appropriate skill.

My initial attempts to reduce class skills to their simplest level resulted in a veritable explosion of the same, for example for the Technician class I ended up with Computers, Electronics, Mechanical and Power Systems.  That's too many skills in any case.  Then I started to think about how the engineers at work do their jobs.  Engineers cover a lot more ground than one might suppose, going from circuit board design (electronics) to phosphorus formulations (chemistry) to improvising fixture assemblies (mechanics) and coding spectrometers in Excel using a USB web-cam as their source (programming), building components and assembling them into infrared motion detectors and then using them in applications that can tell the difference between a live person and hot machinery, "presence sensing" they called it (a bit of all of the above).

I realized instead of breaking down the various skill areas by their technical distinctions I needed to be thinking about the functions the class was responsible for. So for the Technician I decided a name change was in order and it became the Engineer and that became their defining skill. Engineering, in this case, is understood to be the ability to design and build (and repair) technological devices to accomplish specific ends; whether it's lifting a load (rope and pulley), damaging an opponent at range (gun), digital information management (computer) or lifting men and equipment into space (rocket) including any required sub-fields of knowledge such as Electronics or Mechanics. Considering I see guys do this in real life all the time, it's not as big of a stretch as it might seem. I broke out two sub-areas to create the three total skills but since their application is different from the design, building or repair of technological devices I felt that their separation made logical sense.

Okay, I'm pretty sure this is getting boring and I'm feeling like if I go on I'll end up walking you through every decision and thought process I had while chasing this particular problem. If you come back later I'll be posting my versions of the base classes plus one.  Once you've seen them, if you have any specific questions about my thinking for a particular class feel free to ask them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

Up next: The first of my revised classes, the Engineer.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Free and Clear to Astrogate...

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I get that the classes in X-PLORERS seek to cram the greatest capability into the least number of classes, but I find the original classes to be too capable in regards to their function and sometimes puzzling in their skill spread. This is why, as mentioned before, I am revising the character classes from X-PLORERS; also I’m looking for my grand sci-fi epic to allow players more choice and a little customization.

Let's start by looking at the basics of each class; every class provides a character with four skills representative of their area of expertise. Each of these four skills also provides a starting target number that the player rolls a d20 against looking to equal or exceed that target number to determine if the character is successful when using that skill. The target numbers are a spread over the four skills, ranked from 13+ (or better) for the best skill to 16+ for the worst; if you're interested in the math that represent a success range of from 40% for the strongest skill down to 25% for the weakest. While one could presume that skills that start at a higher target number represent a more difficult skill, I don’t believe this is the case.

To see what I mean let's compare the two skills that overlap across classes, Pilot and Computers. Pilot is the same (14+) for both Scout and Technician and so doesn't reveal anything useful to us. However, Computers is different for the Scientist (15+) and the Technician (13+) even though the skill for Technicians represent the ability to perform more and, in my mind, more difficult tasks. The rules state: “This is the same as the Scientist Skill, except that the Tech can also repair the computer, install new programs, and modify existing ones.” So, even though a Technician can perform all of the same data manipulation and security (hacking) tasks as a Scientist as well as maintenance or repair tasks, parts swapping and modify existing code (programs) as well, the skill is still easier for them. Why is that?

I believe this suggests that the basis of a skill's target number might be more a measure of the character’s expertise, or proficiency, rather than being based on the perceived difficulty of that skill. Presuming (which I like to think of as a portmanteau for presumptuously assuming!) such is the case, my first step in changing up the classes will be to allow the players to assign one each of the initial scores (13+, 14+, 15+ and 16+) to their class skills to determine their individual levels of expertise. In this way one Scientist can be different from another by being better at a common skill.

Then, while pursuing the train of thought above, I stumbled on a forum post by John Adams of Brave Halfling Publishing from the beginning of last year in which he talks about plans for the conversion of X-PLORERS to Goodman Games’ DUNGEON CRAWL CLASSICS (DCC) RPG engine and in outlining his classes he does something I thought was brilliant, to – in his own words – “help reflect the diversity and adaptability of all core X-plorer Team members” he introduced the concept of a ‘bonus skill’, with which the character gets one free multi-classing option. By ‘free’ I mean that there is no extra experience cost associated with the selection, as there is later in play (see the Multiclassing rules in the X-PLORERS rule book, page 10. John also tightened up the skills a bit so I decided to follow his lead.

Inspired by that, each class now gets three class-related skills (and the player distributes the expertise levels 13+, 14+ and 15+ among them as desired) and an Elective Skill of the player’s choice to increase the team’s flexibility. This Elective skill is part of the character’s class and advances along with their other class skills every time they level. However, this Elective skill starts at an expertise level of 16+ for success representing its nature as cross-training or a hobbyist pursuit. This change lets all classes have role-defining common skills but still allows for individualization of a character.

But now I've reduced the number of skills available to allow a class to get it's job done. Considering I already thought that some of the skills are too all-encompassing I might be in trouble... Guess we'll find out!

Up Next: Thinking about skills

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

De-Orbit Burn

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While it's true that there are several areas of the X-PLORERS rules where I am dissatisfied by the author's choices, it should be noted that this is not meant as criticism by me and is only my own observation of my mental and emotional reaction to the rules as presented.  It should be noted that people have been and are continuing to play X-PLORERS as written since its release without any alteration or additional material and having a lot of fun.

I'll be dealing with each of these areas in turn on this blog, but not today.  Today I'm covering something very cosmetic in terms of the changes made to the rules set. One of the more interesting things the author did in X-PLORERS was to reduce the usual collection of character attributes from the more widely accepted six (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma) to just four (Physique, Agility, Intelligence and Presence).

I like that part; my problem is with the names chosen for those attributes.  I just don’t find them to be particularly memorable nor thematic. So my first alteration to X-PLORERS is therefore entirely cosmetic.  I’m renaming those attributes and referring to them in all future posts as Brains (BRN), Brawn (BRW), Quickness (QKN) and Charisma (CHR).  You may be thinking those choices aren't any better and possibly consider them even worse, but they work for me and that’s what counts.

Cosmetic changes, get it?
Up next: Talking about classes

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Lift Off!

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I believe that the name of this blog is fitting in several ways, one of which is that it is a metaphor for where I am in my sci-fi gaming. This is, for me and for this post at least, what I mean by the 'edge of explored space.'  I've played a lot of the existing systems and at least read a lot of the ones I haven't played myself. If the published games on the market that have left me unsatisfied represent explored space you see what I'm getting at.  It's time to move into the unknown of unexplored space.

Exploring the unknown always means moving from the known into the unknown. I am not, if that's what your thinking, going to be writing a new RPG from scratch on this blog. I've seen smarter, younger and more educated guys do that and I don't have the time or energy to manage it. In keeping to the idea of moving from explored territory into the unexplored; instead I'm going to try modifying the existing X-PLORERS rules set. No surprise, I'm sure, to readers of my first post. So, perhaps a better title for this post, though less thematic, would have been X-PLORERS Mine.

Though my current plan is to use the X-PLORERS rules set as the basis for an on-going Sci-Fi campaign, I'm going to be making some changes.  In some cases, serious changes. Tinkering with the rules is one of the hallmarks of an old-school game and gamer after all. Many of the changes will be a matter of taste. Beyond that though I'll be borrowing certain sub-systems I like from other OSR games. Morale from B/X D&D, starship construction from STARS WITHOUT NUMBERS, planetary system generation inspired by HULKS & HORRORS are my preliminary thoughts. The end goal is still a rules-light, OSR compatible game that'll let me run the adventures of my dreams.

Up next: Some cosmetic changes to start...

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Monday, February 10, 2014

T Minus One

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Recently, my oldest nephew and his wife came up from Florida visiting. We spoke in the weeks before his visit and he expressed the desire to get in at least one roleplaying session during that time. Anyone who’s read my other blog probably – and correctly – has gotten the impression that my DUNGEONS & DRAGONS campaign initiative has failed. My plans for D&D hit a serious snag and I was not able to overcome the psychological impediments that resulted. Problem was and remains that I didn't have a really clear, defined vision for D&D; never really did actually. Though I love Sword and Sorcery, the fantasy genre in general has never really attracted me beyond the great fun it provides when playing D&D and I am just left in awe of people who can craft original, thematic and atmospheric worlds for their D&D campaigns that just leave me feeling wholly inadequate when it comes to the craft of worldbuilding. I know I can, and have, faked it and have even done so well, but this time I just really wanted to put together my Blackmoor, or Greyhawk; you know, a campaign for the ages, but it became clear to me that it wasn’t going to happen.

So in the months since I had buried myself back in my sci-fi PC gaming (such as Sundog: Frozen Legacy, Starflight, Master of Orion 2, Sword of the Stars, Endless Space and the Mass Effect series) and science-fiction reading and tried to forget about my silly desire to return to roleplaying. As a youngster I lived on the science fiction novels and anthology collections of Galaxy and Astounding in my local public library. To this day my Kindle remains loaded with Asimov, HeinleinH. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith and David Weber. A majority of the material I absorbed during that time were stories from the Golden Age of science fiction, so my preferences tend to run toward rayguns and rockets.  You know, sleek, silver rockets that power their way between worlds on atomic thrust and whose brave crews encounter bizarre aliens that just as soon devour them as look at them.

Still put off by the Fantasy genre, I decided that if I were going to put together a game Science Fiction was what I wanted to run. The problem being that my beloved Golden Age vibe is not well captured by TRAVELLER (which I find that when you run people expect to play TRAVELLER, not some "lame" homebrew setting) nor STAR TREK (love Star Trek but it’s not what I wanted to run) nor STAR WARS. In fact, the only roleplaying game that ever came close to that in terms of feeling was TSR's STAR FRONTIERS. But my history with STAR FRONTIERS is a rocky one; imagine, if you can, the frustration I had trying to sell STAR FRONTIERS to a bunch of TRAVELLER players. Bear in mind in 1982 I was a not a child - I had graduated from high school the year before and had already started down the adult path of so-called gainful employment as my main time sink. The rest of my group, a year or three behind me had no interest in the Golden Age flavor of TSR's initial foray into the sci-fi genre, they wanted TRAVELLER's "hard" take on sci-fi (I know; I pointed out that STAR FRONTIERS' office-building oriented spacecraft were far more "hard" in terms of science than TRAVELLER's aircraft/boat orientation, to no avail). The rules were "for kids" and every element that charmed me was a turn-off for them (especially the aforementioned spacecraft designs!). Sadly it’s even worse today as STAR FRONTIERS, though loved by many, suffers from comparably limited skill selection and under strength combat damage (I had had some hope for a new STAR FRONTIERS-inspired game called FRONTIERSPACE but there been nothing on that front for 5 years now). Despite the fact that my session design had nothing to do with mutants or post-apocalyptic settings I toyed with the idea of running it in either MUTANT FUTURE or the original GAMMA WORLD

In the end, however, I put together an X-PLORERS game. X-PLORERS is a rules-lite, old-school influenced thought experiment in the sci-fi genre released by Dave ‘Grubman’ Bezio, of 101 Days of Savage Worlds fame, in the summer of 2009. I discovered it in the Yahoo group Mr. Bezio set up back when he was writing it. Mr. Bezio has since sold the game to Brave Halfling Publishing and they published a digest-sized Limited Edition Boxed Set and a full-sized book version which is still available from Though additional works (a revision and adventures) were promised there's been nothing further on that front. I still have high hopes that X-PLORERS will get more attention and support in the days to come.

Happily, my one-shot, set in the game’s default ‘United Corporate Nations’ setting was well received and it's reignited my desire to get a regular game going but the session just reminded me about the things regarding that particular game that make me itch for something... else?  More? Don't misunderstand, I really like what Mr. Bezio has done though I have some issues with certain parts of the rules, but as you’ll hopefully see it's nothing I can’t work around...

Wish me luck!

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