The Babylon Project
Babylon 5 is -- at least in my opinion -- simply the best piece of science fiction on television . . . ever. So it should come as little surprise to you that I quickly bought a copy of the roleplaying game when it came out. I mean what could be better then playing in the same universe as G'kar and others . . .
The Babylon Project, on first inspection, seems a little thin for a roleplaying game, being slightly under two hundred pages. On first glance, however, it looks impressive with its cover of the computer-generated station in glorious colour. The interior is even more impressive, being in full colour (and I mean full colour). Every page has a gagged metal border on the left or right, and the rest of the page is non-white. Its is a grey with bars running across the page every so often. The bars are annoying, and should have been skipped.
The book is divided into three chapters and a number of sections. The Introduction happens first with a pretty comprehensive introduction to the roleplaying game, the Babylon Project (ie. the series of space stations) and a little earth history up to the present year (between the building on the first station and the completion of the fifth).
This is followed by the Characters chapter, which details the very unusual character creation system. Basically, players can pick any character they want, and receive attribute ratings based on what is typical for their race (attributes are the usual strength, agility, endurance, intelligence with a few others including xenorealtions). They must also choose a character concept and history. The attributes can be modified by up to +3 as the player chooses, but ever + must be balanced with a -. The character development proceeds in three stages: Childhood, Development and Adulthood. At each stage the character details their history at that stage including appropriate characteristics and skills. At then end of the process they get to give their skills various ratings. The onus is on the player to create an interesting character with skills to match, primed towards role playing rather than roll player. The next section gives players some details behind the game including the alien races, the skills and characteristics they have chosen.
The next chapter, Games System, has the actually mechanics of the system . The first section details story telling and how to flesh out epics in the vein of the TV series. It hasn't been very often I have been inspired by a roleplaying game, but this has been one of those times. This section is simply enjoyable to read, and explains how they see Babylon adventures being written: Introduction, Identification, Preparation, Challenge, Climax and Resolution phases. There are also details on what characters hope to get out of the game and how to develop characters. The next section contains the real mechanics -- 31 pages of it!?! Simply put, each task has a difficulty the character has to beat using the appropriate skill. You add the related attribute rating to the skill rating and add two if you have the specialty. Then you roll two dice, one being a negative die the other a positive -- the lower winds. Thus -5 and +2 becomes +2, -4 and +5 becomes -4. Unusual, but how effective is it? The combat system is probably the most detailed and confusing, with locations, damage and levels of success. It all looks a little complicated. The rest of the section details character development.
The next chapter The Environment details the Babylon universe in more detail. The first section is about "Humanity in the 23rd Century" looking at current events and political climates. It details the Babylon project, the Earth Alliance, EarthForce and Psi-Corps. The second section details the Alien Races -- Narns, Centauri, Mimbari and Vorlons (a couple of paragraphs) -- including some of the Non-Aligned races. The last section details technology, including weapons and space craft.
The last chapter, The Campaign contains a sample series of adventures. It is only the first part of a campaign, but there is a lot which could be fleshed out into quite an epic. Definitely worth a look at.
The artwork varies from far to good. The computer generated images from the series are simply stunning, whereas the hand drawn art isn't up to spec. I understand not wanting to use material from the show, but surely a few photographs of the alien races?
Summary: A nice system, with a pretty slim set of rules. This will certainly appeal to people interested in the series, and is recommended to those wanting a guide to Babylon 5. The system looks interesting, but I'd have to see it in action to really get a handle on it. The presentation is great, and it is inspiring. Really for experienced groups who like big epics.
© 1998 - 2000 David Schibeci