A N.E.W. Hope for Sci Fi

I’m a big fan of everything Traveller, from the original little black books to Mongoose Publishing’s new version.  I’ve played dozens of different types of far future sci-fi RPG’s, including Alternity, Space Opera, 2300 AD (second cousin to, and sort of a prequel for, Traveller), Star Frontiers, and Star Wars d6 (a personal favorite), and others.  Most of these games have excellent, solid mechanics, even if some of them (I’m looking at you, GDW) are a bit chunky and maybe not so well explained in the core rulebook.

Of all of these, the original Traveller is the great granddaddy, and one of the most popular, well-known and loved far-future science fiction role playing games of all time.  It has withstood the ages of d20 (even though there was a d20 version published… avoid it at all costs) and (so far) Fate, and the upswing of no-mechanics-all-descriptive games becoming so popular now.  It has the infamous character generation system that can kill your character before you even begin play, but most importantly it has the completely bad-ass PGMP, or Plasma Gun Man Portable, kinda like a plasma tank gun that you can carry around for random destruction of whole city blocks.  Wowsers!

Just kidding.  Traveller does have huge amounts of super hi-tech weapons and gear, but most importantly it gives players and GMs all the tools needed for far-flung, far-future interstellar adventure.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about this time.  Something has arrived on the RPG scene that (in my opinion) has the potential to unseat Traveller as the reigning king of sci-fi.  It has everything that made Traveller great plus more.  A straightforward mechanic that works well in every situation, a character generation system that covers all of the classic tropes while still easy enough to tweak to match all kinds of imaginable settings or time periods, technology from personal weapons and cyber to spacecraft that is already pretty extensive (and hopefully will expand with sourcebooks), and of course the one thing Traveller always missed the mark on: alien races for player characters.

This new game is Russ Morrissey’s N.E.W. (don’t ask me what that acronym stands for, I haven’t figured it out) by E.N. Publishing.  N.E.W. uses the same mechanics and system in E.N.’s O.L.D. (fantasy sword-n-sorcery), and is part of their What’s Old Is New (W.O.I.N.) series.  What’s cool about that is the fact that since both O.L.D. and N.E.W. are completely compatible, you can mix and max to your hearts content.  Who wouldn’t want their starship’s chief engineer to be a skilled wizard as well?  Obviously, you don’t have to mix the games if you want “pure” sci-fi, but it’s there if you want it.  Heck, what if your “away team” lands on a planet that just happens to be the D&D home world?  LOL.

I’ve said it before (in a review of N.E.W. on DriveThruRPG.com) and I’ll say it again.  N.E.W. has the potential to upstage Traveller as the king of this type of science fiction role playing game.  If you ever enjoyed playing or actually still play Traveller, by all means keep it up, but give N.E.W. a serious look.  You won’t regret it.  And don’t forget to tell me what you think!  I’d love input from other gamers.

By the way, when I say it’s new on the scene, I should specify that it’s new to me.  I just discovered it on DriveThruRPG.com about a month or two ago.  It’s been advertised that they will soon be releasing N.O.W., which is a modern spy-thriller type of game using the same system.  As a dedicated lover of spy RPG’s, I’m going to buy this the day it’s available.  I can’t see how it could possibly not be fantastic, right from the get go.

EDIT: I’ve recently read a review of this post that made a lot of sense. Daniiren, on EN Publishing’s WOIN site, gave me some great pointers as to why this review falls a bit short, specifically on what it is about N.E.W. that I think is so great. In my opinion, there are three areas where N.E.W. exceeds Traveller as a fantastic science fiction role playing game. The first I’ll call genre; while Traveller covers far flung hard science fiction very well, it’s not easily adaptable to other tropes of science fiction. N.E.W. can support games from settings where humanity has barely even explored it’s own solar system to galactic scale, imperium level super-high-tech drama, and everything in between. You’d like to do a non-space travel game full of cybertech in a corporate dominated dystopia? N.E.W. is ready for you. You’d rather travel the universe as laser-sword bearing Knights of Justice? You’re covered. N.E.W. is already built to adapt, whereas Traveller’s setting is pretty set in stone.

Second is character generation. Traveller’s original rules for creating a character caught everyone by surprise. You can actually die during character generation without ever even playing the character? Oddly, that resounded with many, at least the many I knew all those years ago that played Traveller. That was a good thing, but was not was the ability to free-form your character without a “career”. There were no (written) ways to create a character outside of the career system. N.E.W. also bases character generation on careers, but it’s just a matter of choosing what careers and how long you spent in them. You don’t have to worry about rolling to reenlist. You can swap from career to career as easily as you’d like, which helps you make characters that fit YOUR idea, instead of Traveller’s idea of what type of people adventure in space.

The third area where N.E.W. excels is the core mechanic. Where Traveller was a very simple 2d6 +/- modifiers, N.E.W. takes that one step forward and incorporates character experience directly into the die roll. Novice characters with little experience exploring may have very high skill or attribute statistics, but without that experience in using what they know effectively, they are limited on how well they can ultimately do. I honestly thought for a while that this was something I didn’t like, but upon reflection it seems a great motivator to players to excel, and a great representation of experience without some artificial “level” system.

Traveller RPG’s, from Classic Traveller to Mongoose’s new version, to Marc Millers T5, are fantastic games that have lived on so long due to their awesomeness. I get that, and I agree with it. But now that I’ve read and started to play N.E.W., I won’t go back.

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