Review: SSDC – Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century


Product Name: Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century
Publisher: SSDC
Author: Lawrence R. Sims
System: Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century
Setting:
Series:
Theme: Space Opera, Military Sci-Fi
Type: Core Rulebook (6th Edition)
Link: http://ssdc.com/

Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century is a unique sci-fi system with 20 years of experience. The game has the possibility to create many types of gaming experiences with Space Opera and Military Sci-Fi being the most common. It utilizes a roll-under d100 system based on a set of attributes, secondary stats and a listing of skills with professions. The game at its core envelopes multiple galaxies, a myriad of planets, several unique races, and endless adventuring possibilities.

Battelords of the Twenty-Third Century truly creates a unique sci-fi experience by placing the player characters in the position of mercenaries set out to perform the duties they are hired for rather than the typical “space exploration” or being under the constant employee of an inter-galactic policing force. The setting creates an air of free-will for the player characters giving them the freedom to do and be virtually anything and anyone.

INTRODUCTION

Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century opens up with a short story about a group of mercenaries and the mission they are currently on. While most of them seem to fall during combat, the narrative gives a quite interesting look at what types of adventures are possible.

Once you finish reading through the narrative, you are quickly set upon the overview of the entire system (and its possible campaign settings). Players create characters that are hired mercenaries or employed militants collectively known as battlelords. These battlelords set off throughout the galaxy to perform whatever action they are called upon for (this can vary greatly). This includes a brief look at the mega-corporations, their subsidiaries, the types of workers for these companies, and a very very brief look at the core mechanics.

CHARACTER CREATION

Character creation starts with a look at the player races including their timetable in relation to Earth’s history (going all the way back to 21550 BC and ending with 2275 AD). Some of the Earthen dates take an Alternate History twist, although considering the system was developed in 1990, these dates hadn’t occurred yet. There is a total of 12 player character races with one of the races having a regular and a more “chaotic” version creating a total of 13 possible starts to character creation. Each one has associated bonuses and penalties along with the professions they are more geared toward (although this doesn’t stop players from choosing other professions). These professions (or occupations as referred to in the book) are not actual character classes but rather the skills and abilities these characters focus upon. Each character race is fully detailed and described including general knowledge, government, culture, physical qualities, tactics, their view on the alliance, and various other things. These descriptions are more than enough to create 3-dimensional characters.

Once the character race has been chosen, its time to roll-up your stats and fill out your character sheet. The character’s main attributes are referred to as vital statistics: Strength, Manual Dexterity, I.Q., Agility, Constitution, Aggression, Intuition, and Charisma. Each of the character races (except humans) carries a listing of bonuses and penalties associated with these vital statistics to set the different races apart. These vital statistics are also used as the foundation for skills and most checks and encounters. However, each vital statistic is more than just a number that is used during the game. Each one falls within a given “point range” that creates a subsequent listing of bonuses and penalties that are applied to various actions throughout game-play. This is a little convoluted, but serves its in-game purpose.

From here you add secondary statistics which are specialized attributes only used for certain situations. Once the stats are all figured and all bonuses and penalties are determined from the chosen race, it is time to flesh out the remaining details. There are a lot of remaining details, some of which seem a little excessive. However, this does including recording your characters number of attacks, base damage, movement, social status, and occupation. These are all important mechanics which have direct in-game effects. Battlelords includes a grouping of fun tables that are completely optional but allow the players to add a little extra flavor to their characters. These tables include unique background items, quirks, goofy skills, mannerisms, and other various items. Although its completely optional, it does add a bit of fun to the character creation process.

SKILLS

Battlelords carries a very large listing of skills. While this seems intimidating, its implementation makes it much more manageable. Each skill falls into a grouping of skills that are focused upon a particular category of actions (such as communication or medical). These skill groups have a number of expertise within that category giving the character some focus on what they’re able to do. The change to the implementation is this: Once you choose a skill, you automatically gain it at 50% plus the associated vital statistic bonus plus the proficiency level bonus. This creates a feel that your character is actually trained in that skill and gains it at a fairly high level for in-game use. This is different than other d100 systems where each skill is unique in its own right and you do not have bonuses from linked attributes and you the skill starts at a percentage much lower than what would seem realistic (such as purchasing a skill at 10% or 20%). I find the list of skills to be extremely abundant but I really like its implementation. Each skill is subsequently described including the details for the different expertise.

ARMOR

Armor in Battlelords truly has a life of its own. I have never seen armor detailed in such a way starting with 3 different stats including the armors’ integrity (similar to hit points), threshold (how much damage it stops), and absorption (how much damage it absorbs). Each one has the ability to degrade over time and become repaired as well. But Battlelords doesn’t stop there, each piece of armor has slots for add-ons to every location imaginable. This is the first time I’ve ever seen armor given so many options and features to the point where it almost becomes another character. The character sheet reflects these detailed armor mechanics to keep things a little easier. One thing to point out is that while these mechanics are truly fascinating, they could slow down general game-play.

EQUIPMENT

The list of equipment, from weapons to the mundane, is large and creative with a great selection for sci-fi role-playing. While many of the items are Space Opera staples, there is a good number of unique items for the Military Sci-Fi games. Each piece of equipment is properly described and includes all applicable stats. It should be noted that there is a significant amount of information on cybernetics including a multitude of optional implants. Mercenaries need to be able to recover from a devastating hit to a limb.

MATRICES

Matrix manipulation is the art of altering energies and what-not to create different powers and otherworldly things to happen. This could be thought of as the magic of the 23rd century with a sci-fi implementation. The different matrices are quite vast and ranges from something similar to psychic powers to those that are sorcery or divine in nature. While this is a great addition to the system, it does create a bit of a fantasy sci-fi feel. Each power is placed into one of three matrices categories for the different types of matrix manipulators and given associated power points which are required to be expended for use.

COMBAT

Combat is fairly standard to that of many other systems with one exception, action declaration. Battlelords has a declaration phase where all players declare their actions before performing their actions. This gives players the ability to react to each others actions before everything plays out, although these actions cannot be changed once they are declared. This does limit ones’ choices as how do you properly react if an NPC is killed before your PC is able to perform their actions.

LIFE IN THE 23RD CENTURY

This section of Battlelords gives a look at what life is like during the 23rd century from a fairly high-level point-of-view. This includes a look at the galactic military forces, a more detailed look at mega-corporations, rebel activities, the different mercenary groups, society, a few vehicles, and how the different cities may appear. This is mostly an overview but helps to create a framework for the Battle Master to create settings, adventures, or campaigns.

BATTLE MASTER

Game Masters within Battlelords are called Battle Masters. This section includes tips and tools for the Battle Master including random encounters, NPC use, sample difficulty levels, company attributes, and a sample play. There are some good tools here for the BM to use.

HELL’S POINT

Hell’s Point is a small campaign setting for Battlelords taking place in a cloud city (city floating in the clouds). The city is fully detailed including an overview map and a large listing of important or interesting locations and a list of the different districts throughout the city. There is also a generic listing of NPCs that can be found in Hell’s Point or for use within other settings. The introductory adventure at the back, The Flexsteel Jungle, takes place within Hell’s Point. It is basically written as a Space Opera adventure and includes a listing of pre-generated characters, this is also a great way to better understand the character creation process.

APPENDIX

The appendix includes a star map and quick reference guide. The star map gives a look at the overall system setting with the quick reference guide picking out the major mechanics, rules, and BM references.

OVERALL

Sci-Fi systems often fall into very similar themes revolving around exploring the unknown universe and playing out encounters with either hostile or unknown alien races. Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century takes the entire known universe (known within the setting) and creates a single, “unified” (using the term loosely) inter-galactic nation where citizens of the alliance come and go throughout as they please. The alien races intermix relatively freely and interact on a regular basis. This creates mercenary (or adventuring) parties with a mixture of races and classes creating unique experiences from game session to game session. This unified nation also allows the mercenaries to travel vast distances to play various parts amongst the daily lives of others and the mega-corporations that exist. This truly immersive setting brings about the inherent flexibility of epic fantasy systems while being played within a truly science fiction atmosphere.

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
Being in its 6th Edition and a system with 20 years of experience, you would expect the highest quality publication, Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century does not let down. The layout and presentation are beautiful with an easy-to-follow and easy-to-read flow. Everything looks great with wonderful, full-sized illustrations and lots of well-placed smaller illustrations throughout. It’s not color, but it doesn’t need to be. One thing that really stands out is the uniqueness of the illustrations when it comes to the different alien races and the bits and pieces of what life in the 23rd century looks like. To top this all off there is a usable table of contents and a fantastically detailed index.

Mechanics: 6 out of 10
The core mechanics of Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century have their definite high-points and their definite low-points. To start, d100 systems inherently are blessed with an abundance of skills and this version doesn’t stray far from that idea. However, the implementation of those skill mechanics is quite different. This change in implementation takes that gigantic listing of skills and makes them more usable and manageable because their effect is that of a bonus to your standard attribute along with the inherent skill bonus as opposed to rolling against a completely standalone number (such as when every skill is independent of the base attributes). Having the skill provides a base bonus, plus the associated stat bonus, plus the skill’s level bonus. All this makes for skills that are more usable and realistic. If you’re trained in a skill, why would you only have it at 30? Battlelords doesn’t do it that way. This is one high-point. The other, is the armor. Armor in Battlelords has a life all of its own and it is phenomenal! I’ve never seen armor brought to life in this fashion.

The first low-point is the base attributes. Each attribute has its own value which can be rolled against while that value then falls into one of several “point ranges” which creates additional bonuses and penalties for various encounters and checks. The problem I see is that there are so many bonuses and penalties associated with each attribute. When you look at the system as a whole, these bonuses and penalties typically make sense, but there just seems to be too many. By filling out the character sheet during creating all these bonuses and penalties, you at least don’t have to try and memorize them. The second low-point is the way damage and other various “points” are listed within the rulebook. Each one is listed as a number range such as 2 – 7 or 3 – 18 as opposed to d6+1 or 3d6. This forces the reader to interpret every single point value before rolling rather than simply checking the book to see what dice need to be rolled. While experienced gamers may find this translation easy enough, new gamers or those who aren’t used to using multiple types of dice may find it confusing or complicated and spend too much time figuring out which dice they’re supposed to roll.

Desire to Play: 8 out of 10
From a Space Opera stand-point, I find Battlelords to be a bit heavy on mechanics to keep the action and adventure moving forward quickly and smoothly. The detailed armor may slow these types of adventures down quite a bit. However, from a Military Sci-Fi stand-point, I find Battlelords to be one of the most exciting systems around. You can not only create all sorts of different characters, but you can give their armor an entire life of their own with all sorts of gadgets, features and deadly add-ons. I love the weapon and equipment assortment and the vast alliance with the deadly arachnids makes epic combat very colorful. With the addition of all the mechanics from the Space Opera side of the system, you can create many opportunities for your mercenaries to do things other than just hunting or fighting as they work their way through the city to find the big bad evil.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century is a truly involved system that aims to create that sci-fi space warrior seen in many of your favorite movies and read in your favorite books. There’s a great selection of races and professions with a phenomenal selection of armor, weapons and equipment. I would recommend it as a possible choice for those looking for Space Opera systems with less exploration (if not no exploration) and more action while highly recommending it as a great system for Military Sci-Fi adventures and campaigns.

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