Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 8: Technology and Equipment

Equipment lists cause me so much pain. I don’t understand why this has to be so freaking hard any more. GURPS Traveller? You know… I’m just not sure how much of Traveller got lost in the translation here. There’s a lot of significant differences between all those editions, though…. Traveller itself? There’s a pretty flavorful weapon and armor list there… but… I keep looking at it and sometimes I’m not sure if there’s actually a system there to use it with or not. GURPS Interstellar Wars? They took the easy way out and just walked away. Essentially, it’s left as an exercise for the reader to adapt an equipment list from the GURPS Tech books. GURPS Romulans for 4e GURPS? I think those stats there in the weapon list are for 3e GURPS, so I’m still hosed here. I can’t get away from this.

Steve Jackson created a thing of lasting beauty when he developed the armor units for Ogre. Designing your perfect force is just one of those great things in life… like making a power structure in Illuminati. The CAR WARS equipment list is also one of those quintessential things. Okay, expand it out to an Uncle Albert’s catalogue or two if you want… but fix the rules for the stupid stuff and rig it so that no single design philosophy dominates the arena floor, right? Whatever you game designer types do, though, could you please just make it sort of fun for me to spend my 3d6x10 gold pieces…? Huh? Please?! An end-all-be-all list just kills it. There has to be a meaningful set of trade-offs in the various equipment. There has to be enough to accommodate a variety of approaches without having so much that I stop caring.

Based on what we've seen so far, I don't think Thousand Suns is going to need a euphemistically titled "Rules Supplement" like this one.

So what does Thousand Suns bring to the table? Something like the still-suits from Dune. Something like the personal shields from Foundation. Armor options have a bulk stat that dings your move rating. Weapons have a concealment stat that modifies Concealment skill tests.  There’s about one page of armor stats, one page of weapon stats, and one page of equipment stats– enough of each for some options, but not so much your brain explodes. The tone is closer to Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star than it is to anything else, in my reading. The crunch level here is more or less what Gamma World Third edition wished it could have been: enough to have sort of a flavorful microgame, but without anything so complicated or broken that you’d ignore it in perpetuity.

The cybernetics section just looks fun to me. This is the closest thing I’ve seen in a long time to something even trying for that old Steve Jackson fiddly nerdy design-a-thing awesomeness. You have a limited number of attachments and swapping them out is not trivial or cheap. You’re really not done with character creation until you spend your benefit money on some of this. This might be where this game gets a double dose of awesome.

The robots section was a pleasant surprise as well. The stats are pretty much the same as the character stats, so you don’t have to learn a completely new system to run them in your game. (I never figured out how to run Gamma World robots back in the day, so that is a relief.) There is a CAR WARS style design system for them, but you have to buy another book to get it. That would only be necessary if the costs for these robots really mattered, I guess. The only way I can really see that is if players were playing robots and had a strict budget with which to build themselves. The real acid test would be arena combat for robots of a specific cost class. (Don’t ask me where I got the idea for that.)

So there you have it. With the first eight chapters covered, I’ve picked through most everything related to characters and combat. That’s really all you need for a role playing game; the rest is just gravy. My previous suspicions are now confirmed. This game is old school science fiction retuned for a modern overtone. It is not an end-all-be-all monster game, but it is an unabashedly a game. That means you can relax and crank the wahoo up to eleven, because this is not about modelling reality or getting things “right”. The designer has more of an eye on getting things fun than anything else. People that are already committed to GURPS won’t see much new here beyond a potentially nifty setting and possibly an interesting new way to frame up their templates. However, the closeness of this game to old school D&D and Gamma World means that groups that wouldn’t touch GURPS or Traveller with a ten foot pole might just give this a shot.

One more typo:

  • p. 126: “there” should be “their”

See you here next Tuesday when we continue the Readalong with Chapter 9: Starships and Vehicles.

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3 responses to “Thousand Suns Readalong Chapter 8: Technology and Equipment

  1. RogerBW January 19, 2012 at 9:23 am

    For me this list falls between two stools. I feel an equipment list should be either tied into the setting (like the ones in Cyberpunk 2020), with brand names and history and everything else, or completely generic (like GURPS Ultra-Tech). Here we have a mostly generic list, with the occasional brand name (like the Militisto armor), which seems to me like the worst of both worlds: you don’t have flavor for most of the items, and the few that do can’t be readily dropped into all campaigns.

    Is there any reason for people to use projectile weapons, other than “Traveller did it this way”? Why would anyone ever carry a laser rifle when he could have a blaster rifle for better stats at the same price? The drugs look as though they’re directly inspired by combat drug, fast drug, slow drug, and the other Traveller staples.

    Yeah, I know, I’m not the target market for this. It just seems a shame that a game that’s going for the wahoo should feel so uninspired in its shopping list.

    • jeffro January 19, 2012 at 11:54 am

      That’s a pretty good criticism of the shortcoming of the meta-setting concept when you’re competing with GURPS. The thing is, GURPS is probably off the table for much of the OSR crowd. While the inherent awesomeness of GURPS makes it hackable, it is quite beyond my GURPS-fu to do the sort of things that guys like Douglas Cole and David Pulver do with the system. The simplicity of the Thousand sun equipments stats and the lack of any sort of pretension in the rules make it very open to free-wheeling Fight On! style of rules hacking. Your criticisms of the weapons lists make me wonder if I could sling together something better…..

  2. John E. Boyle October 29, 2016 at 11:20 am

    RogerBW: I get your objections, but I already had a pretty good idea what weapons and general tech I was going to use in my campaign going in. I’ll just let the players know what is available at the time and place they want to buy.

    Robots probably won’t show up as anything but opponents in my campaign, (the Von Neumann war survivors are a nice quest path), at least not until much later in the campaign.

    Cybernetics: this is where I was pleasantly surprised. For some reason, I had forgotten this angle of possibilities for my players, and the system presented has a great deal of potential. I’ll be sure to tell my players to save some of their benefit sols for at least a look through Aunt Sally’s Cybernetic Salon and Saloon.

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