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Stargate SG-1 Roleplaying Game

Explore the universe side by side with O'Neill, Carter, Jackson, Teal'c and the rest of the SGC

*Stargate SG-1 Roleplaying Game
*Alderac Entertainment Group
*488 pages
*MSRP: $50

Review by Ken Newquist

T hey've vanquished gods, saved worlds and transcended reality, and now SG-1's going to do it all over again with the Stargate SG-1 Roleplaying Game. Published by Alderac Entertainment Group, the Stargate RPG uses a modernized version of the fantasy d20 rules created for Dungeons & Dragons. These rules, known as the Spycraft engine, take the familiar D&D concepts of ability scores, levels, classes, skill points and feats and update them for play in the early 21st century.

Our Pick: A-

The 488-page rule book is divided into 11 chapters, the first of which provides an overview of the show's first six seasons. The second chapter covers the Stargate program, while the third gives a rundown of the major worlds and species encountered on the other side of the gate. The middle chapters cover character creation, updated skills, feats and gear while the last few detail combat and the art of running the game.

Unsurprisingly, Stargate shares many of the same basic characteristics as its d20 kin. There are six base character classes: Explorer, Guardian, Pointman, Scientist, Scout and Soldier. Players gain experience through adventures on- or offworld, and that experience in turn is used to buy levels in one of these classes. Players can choose to mix and match classes as they advance, creating new combinations of skills and abilities, and at higher levels can take on prestige classes. These represent highly specialized vocations, and the options available include Officer, Prime, Sniper and Field Analyst.

Skills and feats operate much the same as they do in other games, but both categories have seen extensive additions and revisions. Bureaucracy, Cryptography, Demolitions, Xeno-Cultures and Xeno-Languages are among the new SG-specific skills, while skills like Languages and Gather Information have been expanded to reflect their use in the series. Feats are far more extensive than in the baseline D&D systems, and are broken up into seven subcategories: combat, covert, gear, skill, species, style and terrain.

But while there's a lot that's familiar in Stargate, there's a lot that's different too. The most notable addition is "action dice." Players and the game master start with a certain number of these dice each game and can use them to enhance just about any roll in the game, including attacks, damage, skill checks and initiative. They can also be spent to activate critical successes and fumbles, causing exceptional effects such as killing an opponent with one shot or causing a weapon's clip to explode.

Stargate ends the stereotypical dungeon crawls for gold and equipment by implementing a system that awards each character "gear points." They then spend these points to acquire the equipment they need for each mission, be it specialized scientific equipment to survey an alien moon, extra claymores for establishing defensive lines, or a backup firearm. They also receive "resource points," which can be used to secure the use of alien artifacts or order a recon of a new world.

Keeping with the cinematic nature of Stargate, it also replaces the static initiative system used by most d20 games in favor of a fluid one. Traditionally initiative—the order in which players perform their actions—is fixed at the start of combat with a single initiative roll. Stargate keeps that opening roll, but then allows players to modify their initiative order by taking various actions. For example, moving to higher ground than an opponent can increase an initiative, while certain kinds of damage can reduce it.

Finally, the game greatly expands the normal d20 combat rules to include modern-day combat staples such as firing automatic weapons, providing cover fire for allies and attacking with large-scale explosives.

As with other d20 projects, the game requires the D&D Players Handbook to be played, but it's used primarily as an occasional reference—the SG-1 book contains most of the rules players will be using on a regular basis.

One Stargate, thousands of games

Stargate SG-1 has nearly seven full seasons of history behind it, and that history demands epic treatment. Alderac delivers exactly that, offering fans a rule book that captures the broad sweep of the series while still providing enough detail for fans to run a campaign at any point along the series' growing timeline.

Alderac's Spycraft engine perfectly re-creates Stargate's cinematic action, allowing players to narrowly avoid staff blasts by Jaffa guards while simultaneously taking down their pursuers with well-aimed shots from their FN P90s. The "action dice" mechanic lets players pull off those clutch moves that are such an important part of Stargate, and the excellent gunfight rules easily allow for the sort of running battles frequently seen onscreen.

The base classes accurately represent the series' archetypal characters, though fans will undoubtedly argue about the specifics of how certain aspects of the show were implemented. There are a few components that soon-to-be Game Masters may balk at, such as the fact the Asgard are offered as a player race (rather than as a nonplayer-character race), but, like most RPGs, Stargate defers to the GM as the final voice on what's allowed.

The game's "fluid initiative" is a pleasant surprise, and makes for a nice change from the standard d20 approach. It adds an element of tactical timing to the game, and again is consistent with the sort of maneuvering often seen in the show. The "gear" system is very cool and helps to insure that every player gets exactly the sort of equipment they want. It also intensifies the game's focus on role-playing, as players become less interested in what neat stuff they've found, and more interested in how they found it.

All of these rule innovations come at a price, though. While Spycraft fans may be able to run the game without batting an eye, even longtime D&D fans will find they have much to learn. That said, it's easy enough to compartmentalize the game, ignoring new ideas like "fluid initiative" to focus on other new concepts, like "gearing up." AEG could have smoothed the transition by including game master- and player-friendly handouts of game rules with the book or on its Web site. It didn't, but fortunately the game's fans are quickly picking up the slack and posting their own homegrown lists online.

The Stargate SG-1 RPG is a huge book—the kind that dominates bookshelves—but for all its size it's not as comprehensive as fans might like. For example, the Jaffa—with the possible exception of Teal'c—are constantly seen running around in battle armor, but the book includes no statistics for it. The personal force-shields most Goa'uld System Lords wield will block bullets (which is good)—but as written, they won't stop blasts from staff weapons (apparently it's an oversight being addressed in the errata). The game includes no rules for starship or vehicle combat, but given how much time SG teams spend walking from place to place, these are features that can easily wait for a future source book.

The book also has several editing mistakes, including text that was copied and pasted to places where it shouldn't be, a few continuity errors in the text, and some formatting problems (the letter "H" sometimes appears where the fraction 1/2 should be). And then there are the sorts of quibbles that can fuel a thousand fan flame wars. For example, fans first saw Teal'c as First Prime of Apophis, yet even in his most powerful version, Teal'c doesn't have a single level of the "Prime" prestige class. Of course that's the meat of the flame war—should a fallen Jaffa have any levels of Prime?—but fans will notice it.

But with a book this big it's easy to ignore such imperfections, especially after visiting Alderac's discussion board and seeing how quickly both the company and its fans are working to remedy them. Overall, Stargate is a solid game with a few minor imperfections. It's one that both casual and die-hard fans should check out.

There are other d20 RPGs out there, but Stargate's basic premise—the exploration of thousands of new worlds via the simple mechanic of the Stargate—combined with the ability to adapt content easily from a score of other d20 games—easily makes it my favorite. — Ken

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