Thursday, November 25, 2010

Space Opera Help Requested

As I have admitted, I've lately been oddly obsessed by both Chivalry and Sorcery and Space Opera, two FGU games I never played back in the day and that each have the reputation of being "unplayable." I was all prepared to put the lie to the notion that Space Opera at least was unplayable by creating and posting a character I'd created for the game. And, though a bit confusingly worded and organized, the character generation rules work, more or less, so that much of the game at least is viable.

In creating my character, though, I soon realized that, so far as I could see, there's no skill mechanic in the game whatsoever. There are "characteristic rolls" (CRs), which are 1D20 rolls under inconsistently variable target numbers (i.e. some CRs use the characteristic itself as the target, while others have a fixed target and have modifiers derived from the characteristic being tested), but there don't appear to be any skill rolls, unless I'm missing something. The descriptions of skills sometimes note specific game mechanic benefits (e.g. "build structures 5% faster for every level of experience"). Other skill descriptions provide no such guidance, despite the fact that all skills have levels and its implied that having, say, Advanced Mathemetics/5 is better than having Advanced Mathematics/4.

So, does anyone out there have any idea what I'm missing? I confess that a big part of the problem is that Space Opera is simply horribly organized and needed information is often difficult to find. Once you know where everything can be found in the two rulebooks, it's not so bad, but the trick is figuring out where everything can be found. In this case, I confess I can't quite figure out if there are rules for skill use I simply haven't found or there are no rules at all, at least none beyond the jumble of sub-systems found in some of the skill descriptions. As I said, if anyone knows better, please enlighten me.



  1. Oh god. Flash back to being 14-15. So nice to be reminded it was the game, not me.

    (Did you notice, all the zillions of different weapons each have their own range bands.)

    I'm sure you can play this thing, but Wotan knows why you would want to.

  2. We used to play at lot of Space Opera and unless we were totally misunderstanding the rules, I don't remember anything about rolling a D20. That was for Characteristics or 'Stats'. Skills were percentage based and figured out by your Level of skill and various modifiers.

    I'd have to double check my copy of Space Opera to be certain but I don't recall that part being impossible to figure out, just a bit annoying.

  3. I'd have to double check my copy of Space Opera to be certain but I don't recall that part being impossible to figure out, just a bit annoying.

    I'd appreciate that very much. Thanks!

  4. You've already discovered the most important thing about Space Opera, in that, like most of the games of the time there is no coherent overall system. Instead most tasks are resolved separately. This is particularly the case with the skill system.

    Skill tests are percentage-based, with a base percentage, a characteristic modifier, and a bonus for each level of skill you possess. All of these can be variable according to the task at hand. A difficulty modifier based on the Complexity multiplied by a percentage value is subtracted from this skill chance to get the chance of success.

    The exact values depend on the tasks being performed. For example, take the science skills. Most have a level [SL] from 1 to 10 (but understanding alien or experimental sciences might have a lesser value). But it is important to remember that having level 1 in a skill means that you are technically proficient in the skill (you just may not be inspired). [Generally level 1 to 5 are highly skilled "technicians" and 6 to 10 are fully qualified "doctors/scientists."]

    To make routine observations and gather information you have a 71% + Int + SL. Simple. You are unlikely to make a mistake collecting data.* It's something we scientists do all the time.

    To actually research something (doing actual science to work out what is going on) depends on how many sciences are involved and the complexity of the problem (up to 16), and is summed up by the following equation: ((10 - # of sciences needed) * 1% * SL) + (1% *SL for each additional science). [This is provided by a chart which is a lot simpler to follow than than a formula.]
    The problem has a complexity (up to 16 for a really complex seven science problem) , which reduces the chance of success by -(4% + 1% per science needed) per Complexity level after the first. Don't worry if the final result goes negative - that just means that you have to set up a research team to investigate the phenomenon (you can't do it by yourself).

    So you see the system handles everything from a simple query as to the full analysis of the atmosphere of a planet [Complexity 1, Single Science (Chemistry) => 9% * SL] to the analysis of the alien jump drive [Complexity 14, Six Sciences => 4% * SL + 1% for other SL - 130%].

    The problem is the rules are broken up into discrete sections. Skills are explained in general. Then skills in specific. Then finally the use of those skills for specific tasks is explained. Often in widely separated sections. In the case of certain skills there may also be special uses of the skill contained in the skill description, which leads to the mistaken impression that the rules only explain how to use some of the skills.

    Like the wargaming rules of the time, there is no overall synthesis. You generate your character, and then, when faced with a problem, you go to the section of the rules dealing with that problem and it will tell you how to go about it (without the need to look up any other section of the rules). Take each part in isolation and it works. It's just confusing when you want to link things together. [It's a reference book, not a text book.]

    [* But you will. And then you have to go back and do it again. Or simply ignore the erroneous data (or even the valid data by assuming it is invalid). Just like in real life.]

  5. I couldn't have put it any better than the Rev. The system is almost there, complex and spread all over the place in Book 1. But so many examples of special uses of the SL value are given, and the mechanics so inconsistent from one challenge to another, that it seemed like it was almost up to the players to pick one example and apply it to the situation at hand. This is why I found it unplayable back in the day. Which was disappointing because the game made such an earnest effort to cover so much.

  6. Rev FTW.

    If I remember correctly, we simplied the system a bit. Long before it became standard practice to do so in many a game system of the mid-to-late 80's, we often made judgement calls when gamemastering Space Opera as to how difficult something was. We than took everything at its basic level and had a difficulty modifier based on levels of complexity, proper equipment, number of PCs teaming up to work on the same thing, etc.

    While not an accurate representation of the numbers we actually used, I can give an example of what I'm saying. Imagine you're gathering information as Rev suggests in his example. If the subject was the ocean dwelling life of Beta Antares II, you would roll based on his formula. If however, you were specifically looking up a lifeform that was only recently discovered and you were uncertain of the name or your computer system was acting up or whatever, we might put a 10% to 30% penalty on the roll. Its typical of what you would find in Star Wars (WEG/D6) or other difficultly/target number systems but applied to percentile rolls.

    I apologize if my explanation seems unclear. Really tired. ;)

  7. My group played Space Opera for 8-9 months (many moons ago) and I don't remember ever finding a system to use skill levels. Reverance Pavane's comments don't ring any bells for me.

  8. Hhhmmm... thought I already posted about this. Oh well...

    RP's summary struck a bell with me. I played Space Opera many moons ago. Well, I actually GMed the game, and everything he said seems correct to me from what I recollect. SO is one of those games I want to replace. I also want to get Bushido. That's another FGU game correct? I had fun times playing a ninja in that game.

  9. Thanks to everyone who offered me help on this. I think I'm finally starting to wrap my head around how the rules are supposed to work.