I’m in a gaming rut at the moment, and a flurry of real life interruptions has disrupted my regular players, so I decided to get THW’s 5150: New Beginnings and try that out.
I use the Arioniad as a testbed for new rules – that’s part of the reason why there are so many retcons in it – so I open the rules with the idea of using Halfway Station as an orbital city where the action takes place, and converting Arion, Coriander and Dmitri into NB characters for a test run. Like other more recent THW products, NB takes a programmed learning approach to easing you into the game; as you read the book you’re encouraged to create a Star, recruit a group, try out the reaction tests, and so on. So this post, which will take me through character and group creation, is part Arioniad season 3, part review of 5150 NB, and takes me up to about p. 35 of the $20, 176 page PDF.
With 5150, THW has split its sci-fi offering in two; Star Army, which is aimed at squad and platoon-level actions, and New Beginnings, which looks at a small band of desperados. In the designer’s notes, Ed Teixeira says that this decision came from noticing that his customers were split between wargamers and RPG gamers, and wanting to tune the rules for each.
Characters and Group
Let’s start with the PCs. Race (Basic) and gender are obvious. I prefer to play humans, but in NB I or my minions could also have been Grath (REALLY tough thugs), Hishen (little blue-grey slavers and crooks who have a sort of group mind), Razors (fast, terrifying thugs), Xeog (good-looking, power-hungry, blue-skinned), or Zhuh-Zhuh (berserker space apes). Or, I could have made up a new race using the Alien Attributes tables.
Looking at p. 6 I see that as well as Stars and Grunts (roughly equivalent to SW Wild Cards and Extras respectively) there is now a third option, Co-Star, much as in Larger Than Life. In 5150 NB, Co-Stars are midway between the other two; they have a reduced amount of Star Power (which allows them to avoid damage sometimes), Larger Than Life (which means they can’t be killed by inferior opponents) and Cheating Death (which means they can voluntarily lose one Rep – the most important character stat – to avoid death).
I decide Arion is the Star, and Coriander and Dmitri are both Co-Stars. I also notice a new advantage, one I haven’t seen in earlier THW games: Bonus dice. The Star gets as many Bonus Dice as his Rep per encounter, which he can use alongside his usual dice for reaction tests etc. This means Stars can improve their chance of success on a few chosen dice rolls during the game.
A character’s Rep determines his hit probability, morale, and a few other important things. As the Star and my personal avatar in the game, Arion starts with Rep 5, which is pretty good. I decide the Co-Stars should be Rep 4 ( under the recruiting rules on p. 33, Arion can’t recruit anyone with a higher Rep than that).
I can see from p. 8 that I need to pick a Class for each character, which determines the reaction tables it uses, the available Professions, and who can be in the Star’s group. THW games revolve around the reaction tables, and the various races and “character classes” are differentiated by having different ones; so the same dice rolls for a reaction might make different characters under fire duck back, run away or return fire. Rather than min-maxing the reaction tables, I decide to skip forward to the Professions on pp. 13-16, and pick Class based on the Profession I want each character to have.
After flipping backwards and forwards a bit, I decide all three are the LWC class (“Law-abiding Working Class”), which means their basic Motivation (p. 9) is Survival, rather than Duty or Profit. The characters’ Professions and primary skills (more of those later) are: Arion – Pilot (Sav), Coriander – Doctor (Sci), Dmitri – Dealer (Pep). There are no obvious spy or psion classes, so I picked ones that seemed close to how the characters have behaved to date.
Next, attributes. Rather than dice for these, I select them from the tables on pp. 9-11 based on the SW stats. This gives Arion, Exceptional Pilot (Ace) and White Knight (Heroic); Coriander, Charismatic (Attractive); and Dmitri, Smooth (Investigator). I debated whether to give Coriander and Dmitri two attributes like a Star, or one like a Grunt, but since Co-Stars are theoretically promoted from Grunts, I decided on one in the end.
Now I move on to skills. Each character has four skills; Fitness, People, Savvy and Science. One of these has a skill level equal to the character’s Rep, one has Rep-1, and one has Rep-2; others are at level 0. Fitness must be at least 1. This works out very quickly and easily, with all the characters’ skill levels matching half their relevant SW die types.
As usual in THW, you’re encouraged to count the character as armed and armoured with whatever its figure has; this gives Arion and Dmitri a Big Ass Pistol and an ordinary pistol each, and Coriander an assault rifle (what!?). By the time I get to p. 24 I see that everyone can have a Local Comlink, so add those to the pile.
On top of that, there are the “items” rules on pp. 83-85. Pretty much anything is an item, and 5150 takes the view that it’s all about playing the game, so if your character wants a spaceship, just give him a spaceship and move on. You get 3 items per point of the Star’s Rep (15), plus one per game month, plus one for each recruit you did not take when forming your initial group (3 in this case, as a Rep 5 Star could have 5 minions, but I have only taken 2).
That gives Arion 18 items for the group. We’ll have a Long Range Comlink each, the Dolphin as our spaceship, an aircar as a runabout, a dozen spiderbots in the repair swarm, and a godown at the starport as our cover business.
All of this took about an hour, which was probably extended by not being familiar with the rules.
- Arion: Rep 5, Pilot (LWC), Exceptional Pilot, White Knight, Fit-3, Pep-0, Sav-5, Sci-4. BAP, pistol, LR Comlink.
- Coriander: Rep 4, Doctor (LWC), Charismatic, Fit-3, Pep-2, Sav-0, Sci-4. BAP, pistol, LR Comlink.
- Dmitri: Rep 4, Dealer (LWC), Smooth, Fit-3, Pep-4, Sav-2, Sci-0. Assault rifle, LR Comlink.
- Group items: Spaceship, aircar, 12 spiderbots, starport godown, 3 x Local Comlink.
Update at +1 hour: I see from p. 34 that each Grunt brings 2 x Rep items to the party, which gives us another 8. We use 3 to buy Armoured Jackets and bank 5 for a rainy day.
Update at +2 days: Yes, well spotted, that should be another 16 items. Blimey, we’re rich. Another 3 used to buy Universal Voice Boxes for translation, and bank another 5 for a total of 10 in the bank. I’m starting to wonder whether characters get too many items, but I always try to play using the Rules As Written for a while before I start messing with them.
Review Thoughts So Far
Character and group creation is simple and straightforward, and it was easy to convert my troupe from SW to 5150. I expect creating a new troupe would be easier, but I’ve become attached to these rascals over the last few years. I’ve noticed before that the simpler character creation is, the higher the mortality rate among new PCs; the simple system suggests I might get through quite a few characters, but let’s see how that goes.
One of my concerns in getting NB was how complex the skill system would be. However, as long as you stick to one Profession it’s very straightforward; only if you train in multiple professions do you need several different types of Savvy or Science.
The 5150 aliens don’t interest me much, but then I invariably play humans in any RPG, so that is probably me rather than the game. I think The Warforged’s player would want to be a Grath.
Equipment – or “items” – are handled with a very broad brush indeed, which suits me just fine.
Overall, I’m delighted with my purchase, as usual when I shop at THW.