E.D:RPG Elite Dangerous Roleplaying Game

Like so many who were intrigued by the Elite Dangerous RPG I have very fond memories of spending way too many hours sitting in front of my BBC Micro playing Elite back in the 80's.  It was a groundbreaking computer game at the time, the wireframe graphics, the sense of movement, the freedom to go where you wanted and to choose your own path within the game.  Be a bounty hunter, smuggler, trader, go rogue and be hunted by the forces of law enforcement.  The idea that you could control your own story was really something new.  Since then Elite has seen a couple of resurgences, most recently making full use of the benefits of online gaming to take the immersive gaming experience a step further.

So would there actually be a market for a tabletop RPG set in the Elite universe?  While I loved the idea on a nostalgic level I was sceptical.  Roleplayer's are generally a very loyal bunch; to bring a game like Elite to the table you need to have something that hasn't really been there before.  What I mean is, if I want to play a science fiction game I've already got plenty to choose from.  Closest in concept to Elite is probably Traveller a massively well established RPG with a fanatical fan base.  Or if thats not your bag, and you are of a certain age, then maybe it was SpaceMaster.  Or more recently MindJammer for a trans-human excursion into the reaches of the universe, or the highly acclaimed Coriolis: The Third Horizon which is perhaps more closely analogous to Elite.  Then there is Modiphius's latest franchise Star Trek Adventures or even Starship Troopers for those that want the familiar and well established universe that may be one of the appeals of  playing a game like Elite.  The list goes on and if you are feeling creative then there is no end to what you can do with systems such as Fate, GURPS, Savage Worlds.  So would EDRPG just be a niche curiosity?  Or would it have the legs to take its place amongst the best?

I've had my copy of the books now for a good few weeks, the PDF for a while longer.  I'll confess that I haven't played it and so there will be limits to my opinions on the game.  What I have done, as I always do with any new game is to "test run" the mechanics, I've generated characters, tested the combat system and so on.  The kind of things I would do for any game that I was thinking of running for a group and my review here will be based on that alone.

For the benefit of full disclosure I want to make it clear that I am in no way affiliated, or connected  with Spidermind Games. I have received nothing in the way of an inducement for this review and the books and materials reviewed were bought with my own hard earned cash - no freebies here (although for future reference I'm always open to review copies!)

I'm a lucky owner of the EDRPG box set which contains the core rulebook and four supplements; Military, Espionage, Super Traders and Exploration.  Originally this looked like it was going to be a slipcase, but for one reason or another the decision was made to swap it to a proper box.  I'm more than happy with this - the box is really sturdy, comfortably holds the four books and I'll probably squeeze other bits in there over time.  For the purpose of this short review I'm going to stick to the core rules.  Suffice to say that the four sourcebooks are slim softback books of around sixty five pages each.

The artwork on the box - as throughout the entire game is superb.  Lots of custom artwork and some which seems to possibly be taken from the Elite Dangerous console game itself and maybe then enhanced for printing, but in any case its really vivid and evocative of the game.  The style and layout of the book is crisp and clean without being wasteful - I've seen a few books recently where by time you take out the lines, headers footers and text boxing the content could shrink into something half the weight.  EDRPG isn't in this camp.  There is a great balance of the aesthetic and the "useful" readability.

The core rulebook is a hardback running to 365+ pages, admittedly there are about a dozen or so pages of character, ship and other sheets. (Who the hell photocopies anything these days?) There are also a few pages of the names of Kickstarter backers, which has pretty much become the norm.

The basic mechanics of the game system in EDRPG are about as simple as you would want. Everything that you need to roll for has a difficulty value, low is easy - for example 3 and any fool should be able to do it, 10 - well fingers crossed that your good at this!  You basically roll a d10, a task check is made by rolling your d10 and adding the "tens" value of the related skill  to the roll. If you beat the Difficulty value of the task then, success! Opposed rolls, regardless of whether its another character or an NPC, are simply that - you both roll, and highest total wins.  Combat is a variation of the opposed roll using offence versus defence.  But more of all that in a moment.

When  you are as long in the tooth as I am and have been roleplaying for so long that you actually don't care to remember when you started the hobby there are parts of any new book that you tend to gloss over. What is an RPG? How challenging it can be for a first time GM. What's the aim, how do I win?  ED:RPG deals with these, and other questions well,. Oftentimes these parts of an RPG book feel like generic afterthoughts, little more than filler.  But in ED:RPG it is clear that considerable thought has gone into making this game accessible to new players and GMs alike. Throughout the core book there are useful snippets for the new player or GM that don't feel intrusive or patronising and are clearly more than just filler.

Anyway, back to the combat, which is the domain of the third chapter of the core book.  There are three situational variations on combat in ED:RPG.  Firstly we have personal combat; both ranged and melee.  Secondly, starship combat.  Every character in ED:RPG has their own ship and a big part of the game will take place in space.  Finally there is combat between vehicles (on the ground).  All three use the same basic mechanic noted above.  Initiative is the result of a die roll, personal combatants can move and take an action and wounds and healing are covered adequately.  What I did find interesting and something that will add, literally, another dimension to combat is the lack of artificial gravity in ED:RPG.  Whilst space stations, (and really big ships), achieve some sense of gravity through rotation it is not prevalent, or assumed in the convenient way of many SF games.  Starship combat is given a comprehensive treatment in the chapter, but it remains relatively simple.  A big part of what makes this effective is the relative close combat nature of much of the combat, retaining the feel and atmosphere of the dogfights of the original computer game. Now I'm not a big fan of maps in my combat scenarios I like combat to be descriptive and freeform, usually the concept of employing miniatures will evoke a huge sigh and a possibly even lead to me rolling my eyeballs.  But ED:RPG is sympathetic to this and it is clear to see that they have made efforts to accommodate  both styles of play.  However, I will concede that using some kind of mapping may prove invaluable in the three dimensions of space combat.  Vehicular combat, follows the same principles, and once you have mastered the basics slipping between the three forms of combat should be seamless in gameplay.

The real unique selling point of ED:RPG is that, in keeping with the computer game, every character has their own ship which you can customise with a plentiful array of upgrades.  You will start out with one of a small selection of starter ships and go from there. (Or alternatively you can start from scratch and build your own with a limited starting budget). You'll need to choose your ship and its upgrades carefully as not only does this matter for general gameplay but it has an impact on your options for progression "off screen" between adventures.  During the downtime between adventures your characters are assumed to go about their day to day business - just without the extraordinary events which befall them during your adventures.  This gives them an opportunity to use their ship to earn extra money, the type of work you can take on is limited by your ship.  Other games have similar "off screen" development, and in a campaign game it can work particularly well.

One thing I particularly liked is the concept of character development. This is handled in a "improve it by doing it" way - not dissimilar to games like Call of Cthulhu - where the first time you use a skill in a session it gets a check mark, at the end of the adventure these skills increase by 1.  I like this because it means your character develops in a way that reflects her experiences rather than through any kind of arbitrary and sudden leaps in ability.

Whilst there is undoubtedly a lot to like about ED:RPG I do have a few gripes.  The biggest one being that whilst the core book contains a lot of setting description there is a lack of any kind of pre generated map or star system.  Whilst this may be in keeping with the "sandbox" build your own philosophy of the game it would have been a big help for GMs who want to dive in.  You are going to have to do quite a bit of homework and prep before you can get playing.  To me this just feels like a missed opportunity, it would have not only allowed people to get up and running quickly but could have given an example of what good looks like for people building their own.

In summary, the ED:RPG core rule book presents a well rounded and self contained game.  If you aren't already a regular SF Roleplayer and you fancy something different then you could certainly do worse than add this to your games shelf.  If you are already an Elite Dangerous fan (or even a good old 1980's Elite fan) then there is enough in here to make you want to play it. If you are already a SF RPG player then I'm not sure ED:RPG is going to change your view sufficiently to replace whatever system you are currently using.  In some ways there is much missing; for example no droids or exciting alien races.

The acid test for me is having read it, do I want to run it?  The answer is a resounding yes, it gnaws at my nostalgia genes and for some one shot easy play, combat laden space opera, it will make a good change.

If I gave stars out of five for games, which I don't, then this would be a 4/5 and I look forward to playing trough the free quick start/play test "The Worst Intentions" which can be downloaded from the Modiphius store here - it gives you everything you need for a taste of ED:RPG, without spending a penny, albeit with some slimmed down rules.

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