Posts Tagged ‘Bulldogs!’

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

The annual gamesfest with my old university friends rolled round again recently. It has reduced in both size and duration of late; it’s now three of us over two days rather than 5-8 over four days, partly due to our kids growing up and leaving home, partly because it’s getting harder to schedule, and also (frankly) because we’re getting older; but we ain’t givin’ up yet. Over two days we played for about 16 hours while consuming large quantities of beer and whiskey, for that too is part of the ritual.

The players’ Shadows of Keron characters are currently in Caldeia, plotting regime change, and I need to do some serious prep work before that storyline can proceed; so this year, the crew of the Collateral Damage came out to play, and I started them on the Heart of the Fury campaign for Bulldogs!

Now, that was only published in 2016, and my self-imposed rule is no spoilers in the first five years; so, let’s just say that they worked their way through three episodes: The Teraci Extraction, The Pickup Job, and The Informant, enough to embroil them in the overall story arc and give them both a powerful friend and some clue what’s going on. I only expected them to complete the first of those scenarios, but I had forgotten how quickly a small group of experienced players chews through plot under Savage Worlds.

There are numerous possible routes through the campaign, but since we only play a couple of times per year, I’ll stick to the ‘express route’ – just the plot point scenarios, and in the order listed in the book. That will last us something like three years at our current pace, longer if we take time out to progress the Caldeian storyline or to deal with the dragon turtle currently menacing our adopted city of Shadipuur in the OD&D campaign.

Shouldn’t have let that whacko cult summon it in the first place, I suppose. But I digress.

The mapless approach has allowed me to change setting twice on these players, adding and removing worlds (indeed, entire interstellar empires) without that causing any problems. In fact, I don’t think they have actually noticed. This reinforces my beliefs:

  • Settings are for the GM.
  • The less you tell the players about the setting, the better.
  • While the characters spend hours haggling with cargo brokers and plotting courses, the players don’t have to and shouldn’t.

However, the characters’ base of operations needs some level of detail so that it feels like home; this group’s base is the Collateral Damage itself, so I printed and laminated the Moon Toad Type A Free Trader deck plans for them – it’s the one location we know will appear in every session. On the miniatures front, I have used OkumArts Retro-Space card figures for the last few games, as they are cheap and portable, with some Litko figure bases doing double duty as bennies.

Meanwhile, between a massive increase in workload, my son’s graduation, and an impending grandchild (this will be number four), gaming has to take a back seat for a while, so blog posts are going to be spotty for the next few months. Keep playing, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Review: Bulldogs FATE Core Edition

Posted: 11 March 2017 in Reviews

“The Black Watch is a tough ship, and the crew wants to represent that. They decide to spend their last starting upgrade point on light armor. They name it SPACETURTLE SHELL, actually claiming that their ship is covered in the shell of harvested spaceturtles. Because they can.” – Bulldogs!

I reviewed the previous FATE edition of this here, and there is a d20 version which I haven’t read; but because I really liked Heart of the Fury, and I am considering whether to run it under FATE at some point, I picked up the new edition as well. Now read on…

In a Nutshell: Tongue-in-cheek space opera for FATE Core. 220 page PDF from Galileo Games, $10 at time of writing.


Up front: There are some concepts you need to know before you read on, as they appear a bit out of sequence in the book.

Aspects and tagging. Aspects are things that would be attributes, advantages or disadvantages in most systems; the difference in FATE is that the player makes them up. Rather than having Strength, Dexterity and whatnot you decide what attributes matter for your character, for example “One-Woman Wrecking Crew” or “Nobody wants a blind pilot”. Aspects can be invoked or compelled to give you bonuses or penalties on dice rolls.

Fate points. These represent luck or narrative control. Typically you can spend a fate point to reroll a dice roll, or add a flat +2 to it. You gain fate points when aspects cause trouble for you. The ebb and flow of fate points is what powers the game in play.

Refresh. This is how many fate points you start with; 6 by default, but your character’s racial abilities may adjust that.

Introduction (2 pages): The premise of the setting, namely that the PCs are deeply flawed individuals crewing a heavily-insured tramp freighter on suicide missions. Pointers to key changes to the generic FATE Core engine made for this setting. Overview of the book’s chapters.

The Galaxy (14 pages): Here we find the basics of the setting; PCs will mostly find themselves in the Frontier Zone, a buffer zone between the Templari of the Devalkamanchan Republic (purple-skinned space nazis) and the assorted species of the Union of the Saldralla (a peaceful democracy, which stays that way because troublemakers quietly disappear).

FATE Core Basics (7 pages): I reviewed FATE Core here, so I won’t go through that again, but I will look at stress, conditions and consequences – partly because they are different from the usual FATE Core rules, and partly because they are the parts of the system that give me the most trouble.

In this version of Bulldogs!, stress is ticked off on condition tracks, e.g. “Stunned”. Once every box on a track is ticked, the condition becomes an aspect on your character; this normally clears when you accept a compel on the condition, e.g. “You’re stunned, so the thug can push you off the roof.”

If you can’t, or don’t want to, tick off any more boxes on a track, you must take a consequence, e.g. “Broken Arm”. These are harder to get rid of and can be invoked to make your life difficult, e.g. “Remember, you have a broken arm, it’ll be really hard to do that.”

One track worthy of note is Credits, which has 10 boxes; you start with 9 ticked, meaning you’re dirt poor; as you earn money you clear them, as you buy stuff you tick them again, and if you ever get all 10 clear at once you can buy yourself out of your contract with your employer (and start a new character).

Alien Species (34 pages): There are 10 playable races. Each has six racial aspects, of which a PC must choose two, and certain species abilities, which affect the amount of refresh the PC begins play with. There are also rules for creating new species.

Crew Creation (12 pages): Players are encouraged to create their PCs as a group, not least because they collectively create their ship and its captain (who is normally an NPC and often an adversary). Each player chooses a species and seven aspects, then picks skills, stunts, and gear. Every PC has three consequences slots (one mild, one moderate, one severe – more on these later) and four conditions, each with a stress track; Winded, Angry, Stunned and Broken. I can see what they’re doing here, but my aversion to hit points is well-known and the idea of tracking four separate sets of them is depressing – probably my biggest objection to the Rules As Written.

The ship has three aspects: A high concept (a general description, perhaps “decrepit free trader”), trouble (what’s wrong with it, e.g. “bits keep falling off”), and an advantage (what’s its redeeming feature, possibly “surprisingly fast”). The captain likewise has three aspects; what did he do to end up here, what trouble does he cause for the crew, and what is his management style? The example given is a Disgraced Ex-Nova Legion Officer who is Ever Intoxicated and whose style is Better to be Feared than Loved. While each PC has fate points, the crew as a whole also has some – these are used to invoke the ship’s or the captain’s aspects.

Aspects (17 pages): So, we know already that a PC has seven permanent (ish) aspects. These fall into the following areas: Racial (two from the list for your race), Aptitude (what are you good at, perhaps Silver-Tongued Devil), Class D (how did you wind up here, maybe Huge Gambling Debts), and three for your current berth (how well do you get on with the captain and two other PCs, for example I’d Follow the Captain to Hell, Rolley is my Brother, and Secretly in Love with Dahlia). Aspects are about who the PC is, and who or what is important to him; they are at the heart of the “fate point economy” which drives play. In addition to these seven aspects, which are part of the character, there can also be temporary aspects such as “Blind Drunk”. Note also that anything in FATE can have aspects; a place, an item of equipment, a character, the campaign itself. Things you can do with aspects:

Invoke an aspect, usually by spending a fate point and explaining how this helps you. This lets you either reroll your dice, or add +2 to a roll.

Compel an aspect, either on yourself or someone else. This causes trouble for a character; they can either accept the complication and earn a fate point, or spend a fate point to stop it happening.

To an extent, aspects are the players telling the GM what they want to see in the game.

Doing Things (22 pages): FATE has non-standard dice, d6 with two blank faces, two with a plus sign and two with a minus sign. Checks are made by rolling four of them against a target number, and can generate a failure (less than target), a tie (same as target), success (1 or 2 more than target), or success with style (at least 3 more than target). If you beat the target number, the points you beat it by are called “shifts”. There are five things you would roll for: Overcome an obstacle (what most games would call a skill roll or skill check), create advantages (aspects that will help a future roll), discover (learn something), attack (hurt someone) or defend (avoid an attack or negate an advantage created against you). There is a quite complex set of outcomes depending on what you’re trying to do and which of the four outcomes you get, but in general you get what you want, get what you want with some sort of cost, or get it with a benefit; costs and benefits are often temporary aspects. Beyond that, actions can be simple, challenges (complicated), contests between characters, or conflicts (combat). That sounds complicated, but I suspect once you are used to it, it flows very smoothly.

The bit I normally struggle with in FATE combat is consequences. If you fill one of your stress tracks (“hit points”) but still need to take stress (“damage”) you can pick a suitable consequence such as Grazed or Broken Arm; this is a temporary aspect which your foes can invoke for free. What this version of Bulldogs! does that I don’t remember seeing in any previous FATE product is provide a list of example consequences of each type! Fantastic, but how hard was it to do that, purveyors of other FATE products?

Advancement (3 pages): Advancements are triggered when your employer pays you; you can make money on the side, but that doesn’t improved your character. Recovering from “wounds” consequences seems to count as an advance, mind.

Skills (20 pages): Characters normally have 10 skills; one at +4, two at +3, three at +2, and four at +1. The default skill cap is +5, meaning no skill can ever be higher than +5. Skills are about what the PC can do; there are 18 in all, so they are fairly broad – Fight, for example, covers any close combat weapon, while Shoot covers any ranged weapon.

Stunts (17 pages): Stunts fill the same ecological niche in FATE as advantages, edges, feats and what have you in other games. By default, characters begin with two stunts; a stunt can allow you to swap one skill for another, use a skill in specific circumstances which would normally preclude it, or give you a +2 in a particular situation. The more powerful ones cost a fate point to activate. The bulk of this chapter is filled with example stunts.

Gear (11 pages): This is the first time an equipment chapter in an RPG has interested me in some years, and it’s because of the way gear is handled. You have two gear points to begin with, and you can use boxes on your credit stress track to get more, which you can replenish by getting paid.

Let’s take weapons for example. You have Shoot as a skill, obviously. That means you have some sort of basic ranged weapon, just enough to let you use the skill. Light weapons get an aspect you can invoke for free once per session. Medium ones do the same, but targets can’t use the Winded or Angry tracks to absorb their hits. Heavy weapons do all of the above, and targets can’t use the Stunned track against them either. You can also spend more gear points to get special features like Concealable or Autofire. Other gear has similar rules-bending attributes.

So, you always have the basic equipment you need; gear is for cool toys and trademark weapons.

Ships (19 pages): The PCs as a group have a ship; they choose how big it is and buy initial upgrades using a fixed pool of points. (Bigger ships have manoeuvring penalties but more boxes on their stress tracks.) Combat is a lot like personal combat, enough that I won’t drill into it in detail. The ship construction rules actually work for any kind of vehicle, and example ships are provided. Travel is at the speed of plot, and maintenance is handwaved (except for repairing combat damage).

Running the Game (18 pages): Advice for the GM, although unusually the players are actively encouraged to read it. This is stuff like when to call for dice rolls, how to set difficulties for them, what the consequences might be, designing social and combat encounters, minions singly and in groups, (minions are disposable, low-powered, nameless NPCs, similar to Extras in Savage Worlds) and the more robust supporting NPCs and villains. Bulldogs encourages action over contemplation and this shines through in the GM advice; this game is a comedy thriller. There’s also a nod to other campaign types, but I think the expendable merchant crew is the perfect setup for the game.

We close with an index, the Open Gaming Licence, and character and starship sheets. No sample adventure, but then there used to be half a dozen free ones.


6″ x 9″ format (roughly 229 x 152 mm), single-column black text on white, full colour illustrations every few pages, gets the job done. The art style is cartoon-like, but then to be fair so is the game.


It’s not clear what weapons and armour cost. I can infer that light examples cost one gear point, medium ones two, and heavy three, but I would prefer that stated explicitly.

There’s a “see page XX” on page 160 which I think should refer to page 166.

I’d like to see the return of the Ports of Call supplement and the free adventures – maybe they are being upgraded for these new rules?


I dislike games with custom dice, and anything FATE-flavoured has those. Functionally, they are equivalent to 4d3-8, which is no better. However they are straightforward enough as custom dice go.

Full marks for the best explanation of the FATE rules I have seen yet, and bonus points for explaining consequences in particular. This book simplified and clarified FATE, which has always mystified me somewhat, into something I might actually play.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5. I’m of a mind to tweak this setting a bit and use it as my default space opera game (5), and the rules should be tried out at some point (4).

Review: Heart of the Fury

Posted: 28 January 2017 in Reviews

In a Nutshell: A campaign in 16 adventures for the FATE Core Edition version of Bulldogs!. 262 page PDF, written by Gareth Hanrahan, published by Galileo Games.


The book breaks into a number of main sections: an introduction; 16 adventures, ranging from 6 pages to 54 pages in length; new species; and rules for psychic PCs, not previously an option in Bulldogs! The table of contents lists NPCs, monsters, ships, and other items separately, which is useful for the ones that can turn up several times over the course of a campaign.

The introduction gives the GM a concise summary of what’s going on – no spoilers, because figuring that out is one of the primary goals of the campaign.

The campaign as written assumes the PCs are the crew of a Class D Freighter working for the TransGalaxy shipping corporation, making high-risk cargo runs along the fringes of civilised space. The adventures can be run one after the other if you wish – the “Express Route”, the book calls it – or you can mix up the sequence and add in side quests, the “Scenic Route”, so long as you start with the first adventure and finish with the last. Sections called “Exit Trajectory” are listed for the adventures, giving several options for which scenario to run next. Some the scenarios, such as The Hunters, can be recycled and used several times over the course of the campaign. Unusually, the option where the PCs decide to go over to the Dark Side is also covered – I suppose you have to cater to that for Bulldogs.

Some of the NPCs, like the delinquent drop-out Hackragorkan (he’s an accountant), genuinely made me laugh out loud; this would not be appropriate for all games, but is definitely fitting for this one.


Colour cover around single-column black text on white with purple headlines and full-colour page borders and boxouts. A goodly number of colour cartoon illustrations.


PDF layers so I can turn off the colour borders and boxout backgrounds.

I don’t like the cartoonish style of the internal illustrations. Your Mileage May Vary.


I’ve come to the conclusion of late that the only way I can run space opera now is to play it for laughs, and for that, the Bulldogs! setting is ideal. Someday I may even try running it under FATE, though Savage Worlds works well with the adventures, so why change?

Bulldogs! adventures have always been a collection of challenges the GM can use in any order, depending on how the players react to the initial setup. I’d hoped Heart of the Fury would extend that to the campaign level, though it doesn’t quite – it does the next best thing, which is offer multiple routes through the plotline.

I can’t help drawing parallels between current US/UK politics and some situations in the plotline, but no doubt this is purely accidental.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. I do want to run this one right away, but it hardly seems fair to stop any of my existing campaigns to do so. It would be easy to kick Collateral Damage onto this track, though…

Another Bulldogs! freebie adventure…


It’s just another day in Bugtown for the crew of the Collateral Damage; the Ion Mining Corporation, rulers of the waterworld Yentsin, need supplies even in the middle of a workers’ revolt, and who better to deliver them than Our Heroes?

When traffic control goes off the air, only to return with different voices and a change of coordinates, the crew is suspicious, but decides they don’t care as long as they get paid.

They land on a floating platform rather than the expected small island, and swap their cargo for a load of metal ingots. While they are taking tea with the alleged harbourmaster (who is sizing them up as potential recruits to the miners’ cause), an explosion outside denotes that a miner-saboteur has blown himself up while installing an insurance policy on the ship. Meanwhile, a group of gravsleds crewed by Ion’s security forces is approaching.

Dyson and Big Ted emerge and discover the main coolant pipe for the FTL drive is ruptured. Dyson can of course fix the damage (high Repair skill, Weird Science, McGyver, Mr Fix-It, Gadgeteer) but doesn’t have enough spare coolant. He makes contact with the incoming security forces and allies the crew with them.

The miners attempt to flee through the cargo lift into undersea tunnels connecting the platform to the nearby archipelago, but most of them are gunned down by Big Ted, who is in hot pursuit.

The security forces land and take over the now-abandoned platform, and the crew enter negotiations, the outcome of which is as follows:

First, the crew again gets paid twice. Dyson’s position is that while the miners did pay him for the cargo of supplies, it doesn’t count, because it wasn’t paid by the Ion Mining Corporation. The head of security needs the ship for her plan of suckering the miners into an ambush, so she reluctantly agrees to this, planning to use the payment as cover for her own skimming off company stores. It’s amazing how many metal ingots will be lost in combat during this insurrection.

Second, rather than Security’s planned ambush, Dyson proposes that they simply flood the mines with seawater, drowning all the miners. This sounds a lot less risky than engaging the miners in a Close Quarters Battle, so Security agrees.

They see to the flooding, repair the ship, and take off into the Big Dark.


This session went very quickly due to a complete lack of empathy for the struggling miners both from Big Ted (he is an urseminite, after all) and Dyson (I was surprised by that, but as the player pointed out, they had hurt his ship). Lacking the time to start another session, we consoled ourselves with a quantity of single malt.

I’m running Beasts & Barbarians for my other group towards the end of the month, but for now, we return to the Arioniad and some reviews.

This time, rather than run a straight Bulldogs! adventure, I picked a planet from the supplement Ports of Call and made that the destination for their current cargo run…


Arriving at the Node 43 Starport on the planet Mariboa to deliver its cargo of munitions, the Collateral Damage finds itself in a small piece of neutral territory surrounded by factions in a five-way civil war between local clans. Having checked the tech level and forces available to the factions, Dyson and Big Ted decide it’s too dangerous to go out there, and contact their customer by radio to arrange pickup. With suspicious enthusiasm, the Blue 41 clan spokesman agrees, explaining that this gives them a good reason to give the Red 38 clan what for. They’ll be there in a couple of days.

Unfortunately, the Red 38 utterly demolish this attack, and when they make contact a second time to see why their client hasn’t arrived yet, the viewscreen shows a different Mariboan with a gruesome trophy.

“Head of clan yesterday,” the speaker explains, “Head on stake today.”

At this point Dyson makes a tactical error and uses broadcast radio to advertise his cargo of munitions to the highest bidder. By the end of the call, the five-way civil war has become a nine-way civil war, and all of those factions are marching on the starport, controlled by the Yellow 55, who throw the Collateral Damage out. The ship moves into orbit, out of range of local surface-to-air missiles, and observes over the next few days as the Mariboans whale the tar out of each other. The more the Yellow 55 protest that they don’t have the munitions, the more convinced the other clans become that they do, and have made a secret deal with the offworlders. Hilarity ensues.

(By this time I am making up clan names completely at random and not bothering to write them down for reuse, adding to the impression that the planet is totally balkanised and unstable as they never hear the same clan name twice.)

The crew manage to make contact with the Green 38, who control the distant Node 7 starport, and arrange to barter their munitions for a cargo of metal ingots. They land in Green 38 territory and complete the exchange without incident, but are then approached by a pacifist Mariboan from the Green 17 who asks if they will take her to Node 43 where she plans to negotiate a ceasefire. Big Ted notes thoughtfully that he has never had a Mariboan (considering they are sheep-faced humanoids with four eyes and rarely seen off their homeworld, this is not surprising). Dyson decides not to take her on as a passenger, on the grounds that if they do take her to the starport, she will be killed, and if Big Ted gets hold of her, she may wish she had been.

While they are debating this, a previously-unseen Mariboan kills the sentries and steals one of the trucks now carrying munitions. An Indiana Jones-style car chase develops, with Mariboans on motorcycles and Our Heroes in a gravsled chasing the fleeing truck – this occupies most of the session, actually. At length Big Ted injures the escaping assassin badly enough to force the truck off road and into a small ravine (she ran out of bennies); the assassin escapes, though wounded, and the jubilant Green 38 recover their goods.

Dyson is all for leaving as soon as possible, so they do.

“These people are completely insane,” he says. Coming from someone who is sharing a ship with an urseminite, several pirates and a schizophrenic library droid, this is a high praise indeed.


Dropping the PCs into a situation and letting them run with it met both their desire for a sandbox and my need for low-prep GMing. The beauty of it is that when the ship lifts, all of the complications are left behind, and the campaign effectively resets. We discussed that point, and came to the conclusion that it only works because the PCs have no control over where they go for the next delivery.

We have also dropped all pretense of tracking money for these characters. Yes, they made a ton of money on this trip because they got paid twice by two different clans. However, Dyson spent it all on upgrading the ship. What upgrades were needed, they asked. I pointed out that they were a crew of eight in a ship with life support for five, and consequently either someone was sharing a stateroom with Big Ted or about three of them were in sleeping bags on the cargo bay floor, so it was agreed they were putting in a couple of new cabins.

Finally, a lot of rules didn’t get used. While the players were aware of – and used – bennies, I didn’t give any out (I forgot) and it didn’t seem to cause any problems. I also forgot about the chase rules (it’s been a while) and narrated the chase, with pauses for Shooting rolls from Big Ted.

This is about tailoring the session to the audience. The group does have players with a healthy acquisitiveness, and it does have players who are interested in the detail of the setting; but none of them attended the session, so I focussed on the problem-solving, NPC interaction and violence this particular pair crave.

The lesson there is as always, cater for the players you have, and this session brought into sharp focus for me that if you have a subset of your usual players, you need to cater for the subset you have, not the group as a whole.

Solitaire play goes on hold for a while as I have an unexpected opportunity to run a few face to face sessions with the alterday shift of the Collateral Damage, specifically the I-9 Handybot, the pilot; Ed Dyson, the engineer; and Big Ted, the, well, whatever he is. I have a bunch of Bulldogs! adventures lying around so pick a few of those out…


In a starport somewhere, Ed Dyson and Big Ted are delegated to go pick up the next cargo they are to deliver from a warehouse in one of the starport city’s low-rent districts; a consignment of heavy weapons munitions.

Why does every adventure involve weapons, Dyson and Big Ted want to know. I remind them that their patron, Torun Balkan, is by trade an arms dealer and just dabbling in the whole heavily-insured-leaky-freighter business.

What are the local weapons restrictions? they ask. Sidearms and blades only, I say. Having digested this information, they feel it appropriate to take the gravsled with the improvised octuple assault rifle turret, Dyson’s Horripilator (basically a Fear ray), and Big Ted’s collection of personal automatic weapons, which is now large enough to give him encumbrance penalties. Fortunately Dyson has the presence of mind to leave the turret deactivated, so the rest of the traffic is merely subjected to harsh language and machine gun noises from Big Ted.

Arriving at the warehouse, they are told by the despatcher that they already picked up the cargo an hour ago. They deny this; he produces paperwork showing that they did, including a not-very-convincing forgery of Dyson’s signature, and declines to help further, turning to go back inside. Dyson tells Big Ted he wants to ask the despatcher some questions and allows him to proceed as he sees fit. Big Ted promptly leaps from the gravsled and twats the despatcher with a billy club, killing him outright thanks to a multiple aces on the damage roll.

“I wanted to ask him some questions,” Dyson says.

“You still can,” says Big Ted, enthusiastically beating the corpse with his truncheon. “He might not answer, though.”

“Couldn’t you attack to do stun damage only?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

Leaving the urseminite to it, Dyson wanders into the now-deserted warehouse office and makes use of his Jack of All Trades Edge and some flukey dice rolls to hack the security system; he gets an image of the imposter who took the cargo (and his truck) and links in the ship’s AI to edit the footage, making it look as if the imposter has just returned and killed the despatcher, rather than Big Ted.

By similar means he gets into the city’s traffic surveillance system and traces the truck to Hal’s Garage, about 15 minutes’ flight away. Landing, Dyson knocks on the closed doors and shouts that he wants to get some work done on his gravsled.

“Go away,” comes the reply. “We’re closed.” Indeed, now that Dyson looks, this is what the sign on the door says.

After circling the compound for reconnaissance purposes, the pair determine that the optimum approach is to ram the garage door, which they do, burtsing in to discover half a dozen people who are exchanging funds having clearly just transferred the missing crates to another truck.

Big Ted guns them down with his multiple assault rifles. Two survive for interrogation, but unfortunately neither is more than hired muscle and so have no answers. Dyson again reverts to Jack of All Trades and inordinately lucky dice rolls and determines that the would-be purchaser of the munitions is one Droogie Snaps. Dyson sends an email asking if he would be interested in the three tons of assault rifles they purloined several adventures ago, which the crew has reluctantly admitted is more than they require for personal use. Droogie replies that he is, and when and where should they meet?

Dyson contacts Mr Balkan, explains what has happened, and requests permission to use the munitions to remove Droogie from play permanently. (Dyson’s motivation is that he wants to McGuyver a delivery system, while Big Ted just wants to break things and hurt people.)

Balkan points out that he has a contract to deliver those munitions. He is content with developments – someone tried to rob him and was shown this is a bad idea – and would prefer them to make good on his contract.

Reluctantly, they return to the starport, load the cargo, and take off.


This was a slow-moving session dominated by in-character banter between the two main PCs, and detailed explanations of how the I-9 Handybot (which is constrained by Asimov’s Laws except when the Death Cult Virus takes control) would be persuaded to help them; and no less fun for that.

I have experimentally abandoned starmaps and setting detail to see how far I can stretch that, so I took careful note of what the players asked about the planet; the only two questions were about local weapons restrictions and whether it was Balkan’s homeworld. It didn’t even get a name. A campaign with no map and no setting looks entirely possible.

When I reviewed Bulldogs! last week, I mentioned that the rulebook contained neither pregenerated characters nor an example scenario, but that both were available as free downloads; and I promised to review them. So, here goes. They look like they were all intended for convention games, probably as part of the game’s launch.


These are available on the publisher’s website, along with a form-fillable PDF character sheet. Each sheet has selections that let you change the skill cap and power level, so you can play the same character as Fresh Meat, Trouble, Hard Boiled or Serious Badass. I couldn’t figure out how to get changing those to update the rest of the form, but that’s probably just me. The characters are:

  • The Black Watch, the ship
  • Jocaar Laf’t, the captain (NPC)
  • Badd, Urseminite Cook
  • Gloop, Tetshuashan Systems Tech
  • Big Brunda Margab, Hackragorkan Cargo Loader
  • Talus Mrioc, Dolom Engineer
  • Nightingale5000-D21, Robot Medic
  • Prbrawl awp Yawrl, Ryjyllian Pilot
  • Annabelle Quin, Arsubaran Co-Pilot
  • Shsss hatched for the Shul Clan, Saldrallan Gunner.
  • Sparkle Twist, Ken Reeg Procurement Specialist


There are five of these freely available on the web; I got mine from RPGNow. They share the clean, simple layout and comic-book illustration style of the core rulebook.

Each contains the same main sections; an explanation of how Bulldogs! scenarios are intended to be run, an introduction to be paraphrased to the players, a series of obstacles they must overcome to succeed in their mission, and stats for any NPCs or creatures encountered.

The introduction is generally along the lines of "the despatcher gives you this crate to deliver, and by the expressions on his face he doesn’t expect you to come back".

As Bulldogs! PCs apparently go off-piste sooner and more often even than normal PCs, there’s no real attempt to provide a sequence of events after that. The half-dozen obstacles are presented in the order the designer thinks the typical group will encounter them, but the GM is encouraged to change the sequence or even number of obstacles depending on the progress the PCs are making and what decisions they’ve taken. That’s a pretty good approach and I recommend it for any RPG.

In the NPCs section, a different set of stats is provided for each possible PC "rank" – Fresh Meat, Trouble, Hard-Boiled, or Serious Badass – so that the GM can scale the opposition to match the party.

The adventures are:

  • Astrozombies Must Die: In which the PCs go looking for another of their employer’s ships, overdue and declared missing. I think you can probably guess what happened to it.
  • Ghost Pirates of the Bandeth Sector: Here, the crew must deliver a container to someone who doesn’t actually exist. Tricky.
  • Jaws of the Barracado: Even the nastiest bunch of space pirates around needs supplies sometimes. Who better to deliver them than the PCs?
  • Pleasure Planet: A retired Templar charters the PCs’ ship to take him to the legendary Pleasure Planet, assuming it exists. Will they find it, or will they strangle him when they realise what a pain he is?
  • Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Bulldogs: Why does the Navy want the PCs to deliver a crate to one of their bases? Best not to ask, you know you’re not going to like the answer.
  • Stormy Weather: This delivery turns out to coincide with a rebellion. And of course everyone wants that crate.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5, does the job. Hmm. I wonder what would happen if I Savaged this game and blended it with Daring Tales of the Space Lanes? Hijinks would ensue, I’m sure. It would be pretty straightforward to drop all of the Tales into Bulldogs’ Frontier Zone.

Review: Bulldogs!

Posted: 3 April 2013 in Reviews

While I was experimenting with things for the Free Traders campaign, it occurred to me that I might be duplicating Bulldogs! So I acquired that game to check it out.

In a Nutshell: 170 page PDF by Galileo Games. It’s the love child of Firefly and Star Wars, raised on the wild frontier by the FATE game system. What’s not to like?

If You’ve Never Played FATE before: Everything in FATE – characters, locations, items – has aspects, which you can think of as qualities both good and bad which affect the outcome of dice rolls. Point-buy character generation, extensive use of Fate Points to bring aspects into play and thus gain bonuses, rerolls or narrative control.


Introduction (2 pages)

This explains the central conceit of the game (the PCs are deeply flawed individuals crewing a heavily-insured tramp freighter on suicide missions) and gives paragraph outlines of the other chapters. It also has a map of the Galaxy, which is basically the Federation on the left, the Empire on the right, and a buffer region called the Frontier Zone between them.

The Galaxy (8 pages)

So, the Federation (the Union of the Saldralla) and the Empire (the Devalkamanchan Republic) fought the Thousand Year War, which ended in an uneasy peace; now they glare at each other across the Frontier Zone.

One of the beauties of FATE is I can just list the aspects those regions have, and you’ll know pretty much instantly what you get:

  • The Frontier Zone: Patchwork of Jurisdictions; "On this planet, I am the Law"; Your Rep is All You’ve Got Out Here.
  • The Union of the Saldrella: Peace at Any Cost; The Union Stands as One; Troublemakers Disappear.
  • The Devalkamanchan Republic: Papers, Please; Never Mouth Off to a Templar; Iron Fist of the Empire.

These are expanded into something like a page for each major region, and similarly there are a handful of planets and organisations, each described with a paragraph of text and a couple of aspects.

FATE Basics (4 pages)

FATE is a descendant of FUDGE, and relies on special d6 called a "dF"; two sides are marked +, two sides -, and two sides are blank. To do something, you roll 4dF and add up the marks, giving you a result between +4 and -4. You then add modifiers, for example your skill level, and compare the results to The Ladder, a list of outcomes ranging from -4 to +8. For example, if you roll +2 and add a skill level of +3, you get a result of +5, which the Ladder describes as "Superb"; then you get whatever the GM thinks a Superb outcome is for that roll.

The GM can also assign a difficulty to the roll, which is the minimum number you need to score in order to succeed. For example, the GM might assign a difficulty of +3 to a task, in which case the +5 roll above would beat the target by +2, which is merely "Fair". In play, that would be described as getting an effect of "two shifts".

Characters are defined by their Aspects, Skills, and Stunts. They also have Fate Points, which are the local version of bennies, edge or action points.

Aspects are short phrases that define a character, such as "One Woman Wrecking Crew" or "Everyone Has A Price, Mine Is Just Very Low". During play, aspects are invoked to help a PC, or compelled to complicate his life. If one of your character’s aspects is applicable to a die roll (perhaps One Woman Wrecking Crew in melee combat), you can spend a Fate Point either to gain a +2 on your roll, or to reroll it. If your aspect could get you into trouble ("Everyone has a Price…"), a deal may be offered ("Your pal there has quite the price on his head, it’s tempting to turn him in,"); you either pay a Fate Point to avoid the consequence proposed, or accept the consequence and get another Fate Point.

Places and items have aspects too, and you can invoke or compel those in the same way. This steady trade of Fate Points for narrative control is the engine that powers the game.

Skills are rated using the terms on the Ladder, so you could either say "I’m a Superb pilot" or "I have Piloting +5", according to taste.

Characters also have a Stress Track, which replaces hit points or wounds, and a Resource number, which measures how rich you are in a semi-abstract way.

More on all of those below; this is more of a taster chapter to give you a quick overview of the system.

Alien Species (24 pages)

This chapter covers ten of the most common races, and provides rules for creating your own. I could see myself playing Bulldogs for a long time before needing any other races. The ten basic ones are:

  • Arsubarans: Your basic human. Tough, adaptable, ubiquitous.
  • Dolome: Big, blue, three arms.
  • Hacragorkans: Space orcs. Green, bad attitude, lots of tattoos.
  • Ken Reeg: Green, metaphorically slimy; slippery salesmen and ruthless crime bosses.
  • Robots: ‘Nuff said.
  • Ryjyllians: Samurai catmen; think of them as Aslan, mri, hani, or whatever those cat guys in E E ‘Doc’ Smith’s stories were called, their name escapes me for the moment. Anyway, most SF settings have a feline Proud Warrior Race, and this is them.
  • Saldrallans: Cold-blooded both literally and metaphorically, ruthless snakemen.
  • Templari: Purple-skinned Nazis in Spaaaace!
  • Tetsuashans: Slug people.
  • Urseminites: The result of a genetic engineering programme to produce nannies or pets that went horribly wrong. Look like teddy bears, but are homicidal perverts. These are my favourites.

Each race, including the ones you make up, has six stereotypical aspects; two mental, two physical, and two historical. A character may pick any two of the ones for his race. For example, Templars choose two from Superior Species, Imperfection is Unacceptable, Submit or be Crushed, To the Purple be True, Arrogant, or Martial Discipline.

There’s a point-buy system for building new races, listing a bunch of aspects they could have and the relative cost for each.

Crew Creation (10 pages)

Each player creates their own character, but the table as a group creates the ship and its captain.

Before doing this, the table jointly decides on a power level for the game. This is similar to the group’s Rank in Savage Worlds or level in d20 systems; it affects how capable the PCs are, which is implemented by a maximum skill level, maximum number of skill points, and maximum number of Fate Points. The levels are Fresh Meat, Trouble, Hard Boiled, and Serious Badass.

The ship has three aspects: A concept, a problem, and a strength. The example given is the Black Watch, which has "This thing still flies?", No Original Parts, and Deceptively Fast.

The captain is an NPC, because he (or she) is generally more of an adversary or patron than an ally. The captain also has three aspects; Concept, Trouble (how he makes life hard for the crew) and Leadership (how he runs the ship). The example captain has Disgraced Ex-Nova Legion Officer, Mean Drunk, and Better to be Feared than Loved.

To create an individual PC, the player picks or builds a race, then assigns the character 10 aspects; two of which come from his race, four from his backstory, and four from his current berth aboard the ship. The examples are things like "Apparently Murder is a Crime" or "No-One Wants A Blind Pilot", and convey the kind of play style one can expect from Bulldogs, which is to say fast-moving and none too serious.

Next, you spend 20 to 35 skill points, depending on the game’s power level; these must be spent in particular patterns, say "3 skills at +3, 2 at +2, 5 at +1", and anything you don’t explicitly take defaults to +0. Notice that in FATE, skills include things that most systems would call attributes.

Next, you pick stunts. Each stunt reduces the total number of Fate Points you start a session with by one, so you need to think carefully about his. Your race also factors in here, because effectively each race has built-in stunts. Stunts have their own chapter, below.

Note that unlike, say, Diaspora or Spirit of the Century (oh hey, I forgot I had that! Another one for the review queue!), character creation is done by the individual player, with no collaborative input from the rest of the table.

Again, this is more of a capstone chapter, showing the interaction between stunts, aspects and skills during character creation. You get the details on each in subsequent chapters.

Aspects (12 pages)

I’ve covered the basics enough for a review, I think, so I’ll limit myself to mentioning declarations and tags. You can spend a Fate Point even if no roll is being made to invoke an aspect as descriptive detail; this is called a Declaration. A Tag is when you invoke an aspect without spending a Fate Point, which can happen the first time you create or discover an aspect in a scene.

Doing Things (16 pages)

This expands on the core mechanics. Earlier I spoke of shifts; you can use those to make a task take less time, get a better result, or conceal what you did.

If you get at least +3 shifts, you can use Spin – effectively, a critical success with some game effects.

Combat is a series of task rolls, with characters acting in descending order of Alertness for physical conflicts, or Empathy for social ones. Actions are typically manoeuvres or attacks.

Damage taken crosses off boxes on your Stress Track, which is usually three boxes long. However, those three boxes represent a one-point hit, a two-point hit, and a three-point hit; if a box is full, you mark off the next higher one instead. So, if you suffer two 2-point hits in succession, you cross off the "2" box and the "3" box – and now you only have the "1" box left, so anything other than a one-point hit will take you out, since you have no suitable box to cross off.

You can avoid suffering damage by taking a Consequence, which is a temporary aspect like "Bruised". There are various levels and types to be had, and the more serious one are permanent injuries. If you have no more boxes and have used up your maximum permitted number of consequences, you are Taken Out, and whoever did that gets to say what happens to the PC. However, when you take a consequence you may concede the conflict; effectively, you are then Taken Out on terms that you, rather than the attacker, dictate.

Consequences wear off with time and appropriate action – for example you might take Heartbroken as the consequence for a failed date, and remove it by getting drunk with your buddies.

This is also the chapter with rules for minion NPCs, poison, explosions and environmental hazards in it.

Advancement (2 pages)

This occurs in Milestones, which can be minor, significant, or major; the GM gets to say when a milestone happens and what kind it is.

A minor milestone typically happens at the end of a session and lets you refocus the character without really improving it much; swap a couple of skills around, or reword an aspect.

A significant one happens at the end of a scenario or plotline, maybe every 2-3 sessions, and gives you a minor milestone plus one additional skill rank.

Major milestones essentially step up the power level of the game, and are tied to game-changing events like completing a long story arc. You get a significant milestone, plus a new stunt, plus another Fate Point, and you can delete one permanent consequence of wounding.

Skills (24 pages)

You’ve seen the overview of how these work earlier in the review, and earlier in the book. There are less than 30 skills, each of which can be used in half a dozen different ways. Each skill gets a bit less than a page of expansion in the chapter.

Stunts (16 pages)

Stunts are ways in which a character can bend, or even break, the rules. There is a list of predefined stunts, several for each skill, but the assumption is that a player will create his own stunt to enhance one of his skills in specific circumstances – for example Target-Rich Environment to give him a bonus on his Guns skill if he is outnumbered.

Gear (16 pages)

Resources is explained first; it’s effectively a skill, starting at +1, advancing when you make a big score and dropping when you buy expensive stuff. Then we find out about using it to buy things, getting loans, and so forth.

As you probably know, I don’t go in much for equipment chapters, so I’ll just say this covers armour, weapons, personal items, lifestyle, and making your own stuff.

Ships (14 pages)

Actually, this system covers all types of vehicles, not just starships; but that is the main focus. The chapter includes a point-buy construction system, maintenance costs, a discussion of how ships are meant to be used in the game (primarily as a plot device, but secondarily as a home base or battlefield), rules for chases in space and ship combat, repairing damage.

There’s a note on what happens when PCs shoot starship weapons at individual people (come on, you know they’re going to); essentially, if it’s bigger than you, it’s easier to hit but harder to damage.

There are a handful of example ships and vehicles, and a deck plan for the iconic Class D freighter, the Black Watch.

Running the Game (9 pages)

Here’s your setting-specific GM advice, although actually it would work well for any of my games. The highlights:

  • If neither success nor failure has a dramatically interesting outcome, you don’t need a die roll.
  • Set task difficulties low; the game is more about how outrageously well the PCs succeed than about whether they do so. If they do fail, that should be outrageously entertaining also.
  • Use a basic battlemap – divided into 6 or 9 zones – filled with features and hazards the PCs can interact with. List them as aspects of the scene on notecards. (It doesn’t specifically say this, but you could reuse the cards, I think – any docking bay has to have a fuel hose, right?) There’s an example battlemap which I like very much.
  • Make the NPCs engaging and make sure all PCs have something to do.
  • Embrace crazy schemes and action over contemplation. This is really the core of the game.

You have a couple of pages on adventure design and alternative campaign themes (mercs, free traders, spies, explorers, pirates)…

…and then the book concludes with the usual quick reference and character sheets.


Colour covers wrapped around easy-to-read, two-column black on white text with purple highlights. Colour illustrations in a cartoon style. Simple, efficient, gets the job done.


Bulldogs itself has no adventures or pregenerated characters in it. That is a significant omission, but I let them off because both are available as free downloads – I’ll talk about them in my next review post.

I’m pretty sure I would have chosen a different sequence for the chapters, but they work well enough as they are.


I keep finding stuff that I like written for the FATE rules; maybe I should try them out in earnest. If I do, Bulldogs would be the place to start, as it has the simplest and cleanest explanation of the core rules I’ve found yet. I really like the idea of aspects and how they’re used, but the wounding system is irritatingly complex. There’s probably a simpler alternative somewhere online; I could knock one up myself easily enough, but FATE has been around a while and probably someone else has already done the heavy lifting.

I like to experiment with games by playing them solo for a while before unleashing them on my players. I can’t see how to do that with Bulldogs, or indeed any other FATE-based game, because of the way aspects are invoked and compelled. Maybe I should ask around the Mythic forum and see if anyone is doing that already.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. If there were a Savage Worlds version of this I’d be all over it, but I don’t fancy changing rules system again. There was a d20 version once, I think, so maybe Savage Bulldogs is a possibility someday.