The Elite: Dangerous RPG

Earlier this year The Elite: Dangerous RPG was funded on Kickstarter, and recently released its core book. The game is co published by Spidermind Games and Modiphius Entertainment. It is a licensed release under Frontier, the developers of the Elite: Dangerous PC game that this is based on. 

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The setting of the Elite universe seems to be a good fit for an RPG, with plenty of room for GM freedom, and options for players. Just like the original Elite computer game from 1984, the modern Elite: Dangerous is based in our own galaxy, in a future where space flight and ship ownership is very common. Cheap and readily available faster-than-light travel has allowed humanity to explode across the stars, building new colonies, cities, nations and empires. The galaxy is a rich place, filled with a wealth of minerals, water and life bearing planets. The three huge factions of the Federation, Empire and Alliance grow wealthier every day, and such wealth attracts powerful people who scheme daily to increase their power. So essentially you have a new frontier to play in, one where traders, miners, explorers, pirates, and bounty hunters are all flying about at FTL speeds in their personalized spacecraft.

So a PC game such as Elite: Dangerous, where you already have the freedom to explore all the known galaxy, and undertake whatever profession you like, seems deserving of an RPG. One of the biggest drawbacks of E:D is that you still can’t really leave your ship and explore populated worlds, the closest you can do being landing on the small outposts of a few planets, and driving around in a rover. Now with this RPG, you have the potential to explore that same galaxy, but with the only limit being your imagination… and the GM of course.

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Taking a look at the mechanics of EDRPG, everything you’d expect is there and covered well. Rolls are done with a d10 system, adding your skill bonus. Character stats are mostly just the skill list, stats for combat initiative and defences, your endurance (HP), and ‘karma’ points. Karma is used for special abilities, “these are little tricks your character can pull off to help avoid disaster or overcome particularly tricky challenges.” Similar to maneuvers in some other games, a system I tend to enjoy. 

The combat is also very standard, with a turn consisting of a move and an action. You can choose to parry and then counter-attack an enemy that attacks you, leaving you feeling a little less passive when you get smacked, as you might in D&D. Other than that, there are certain rules and actions that revolve around being in a zero-g environment during combat, and how that may affect your movement and attacks in a realistic way, which is interesting. Space and vehicle combat rules are also present, and are probably expected to be used more frequently than infantry combat. The way these work is mainly through two different range bands; ‘up close’ and ‘at distance’. You have differing options of actions to take depending on the range of combat, and even more variation thanks to the variety of ships and ship weapons and systems that can be installed, which is a big part of Elite: Dangerous, and it’s great that the same can be said for the RPG.

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The character creation in EDRPG is quite straightforward in terms of stats, seeing as there aren’t a ton of numbers to crunch, or huge stat tables. There are however some great options for character flavour and roleplay potential, which also directly impact what stats there are. You start off with choosing backgrounds, and not just the one like most games, but four. As with most things in this game, it is possible to randomly select your backgrounds, leading to some interesting combinations, such as a cyborg computer game designing radio host who ran away from home. All these options will affect your skills in different ways. One of your four options could also be the ‘Partner’ choice, which allows you to create a companion NPC for your character to team up with in game. A partner can be a best friend, a fellow cop, a business partner, a boyfriend or girlfriend, wife or husband or even a dependent child. For each of these options you can also roll for or choose the status of the relationship, how you met, or why you stick together depending on each one.

Next you will choose enhancements for your character. These are permanent bonuses that affect you in more fundamental or unique ways than simply boosting skill levels. Enhancements are mostly gained through play, although some certain backgrounds allow you to choose one at creation. These enhancements can be simple things such as allowing you to be ambidextrous, give you damage and endurance bonuses, or make you move faster. Others do more interesting things such as making cybernetic upgrades easier, allow you to use karma abilities for less points, or straight up make you harder to kill. 

The Karma system that I’ve mentioned is next. At creation you have 10 karma points, and can pick 3 karma capabilities. Spending karma allows you to use one of these unlocked special actions, as well as re-roll a 1 instead. Most of the options are for the various forms of combat, with examples such as ‘crack shot’ which adds a bonus to a ranged weapon attack, ‘karmic missile’ which lets a ship attack evade countermeasures and ‘swipe’ which lets you make a vehicle ramming attack that minimizes damage to yourself. Some of the non-combat choices are quite useful too, such as ‘everybody pipe down’ which gives a bonus to your and allied stealth checks (an ability that we all wish we had in most games), and ‘honey trap’ which allows you to try to seduce someone with an opposed roll, and makes certain social skills of theirs less effective when used against you in future id successful.

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Finally, after finishing off a few other basics, you’ll select your starting gear, and your very own spaceship! The ship options are all mostly small starter vessels, but you get the choice of some decent all-rounders, fighters with interception or defence focus, haulers with good cargo space, range or mining capability, and exploration and scout vessels, one of which comes with a basic ground vehicle on board. You also have the option of building your own ship from the extensive parts and systems list with a budget of 100,000 credits. Of course most of this could be changed around by the GM, potentially to give you better ship choices or a bigger budget for higher power games, or perhaps even allow the group to purchase or build a medium or large class of ship for them to crew together.

The book comes with character sheets as usual, but also spaceship and vehicle sheets, different ones for the small, medium and large classes of vehicle too. These sheets could arguably be more vital than your character sheet in some cases, as in Elite your ship is almost an extension of yourself. The large ship sheets even come with a list for crewmember stats, which is a nice touch. On top of these, there are also planetary system data sheets, which can be as useful as a map in other games, as they allow you to keep track of the stars, planets, moons and any space stations, as well as their distance from the object they are orbiting. These could be used by the players in exploration and scouting, and filled in as the star system is explored, or perhaps used by the GM to keep track of the systems they generate or create using the game’s rules.

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Overall the game looks quite straightforward, but I can see no faults, and the combat systems seem solid, quick to pick up, and plenty enjoyable thanks to the various options in actions to take and gear to acquire and use. The Galaxy of Elite has plenty of potential to be roleplayed in, and this game appears to make the most of it by giving just enough detail to sink your teeth into without letting stats and number get in the way of the story and fun. I hope to play or run a game of this someday, as I’d probably enjoy it even more than the PC game itself, which can be a lonely experience, and thankfully RPGs are anything but that.

If you’re interested, take a look at edrpg.co.uk !

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