The Game: Thousand Suns
The Publisher: Originally Rogue Games, now Grognardia Games.
Degree of Familiarity: I’ve planned games, but haven’t got to run them yet.
Books Required: Just the revised rulebook (which looks sexy, by the way).
Thousand Suns is James Maliszewski’s game of imperial SF. That’s SF in the old space-opera style, with galaxy-spanning empires, tech that’s soft but not quite science-fantasy, psi, and intrigue. If that doesn’t ring any bells, think Mass Effect with 70’s visuals, or read something by Poul Anderson or Larry Niven.
It’s a good game. I like it a lot. Certainly, several people will say something along the lines of “But Traveller can do all of that”, and they’d be right. But Traveller’s a Mongoose creation nowadays, and even before that I was mildly allergic to it. Thousand Suns knows precisely what flavour of SF it’s going for, and it hits. Hard.
Thousand Suns is based on the 12° system that also fuels Rogue Games' Shadow, Sword, and Spell. It’s 2d12 roll under stat+skill. Unfortunately, lower is better and several rolls use the margin of success. The brain is not as good at subtraction as it is at addition, and I hate all manner of roll-under systems for that reason. That said, with it being a bell-curve ain’t no real way to fix that. Shit happens, and the game’s good enough that I’m willing to roll with it. Besides, it has hooks and action points, which are rather cool additions.
I’m going to pretty much run with the Mass Effect setting for Thousand Suns. Since it’s a handy point that many of my readers should be familiar with. And if not, there’s something wrong with you. Also, it shows just how easy Thousand Suns is to customize.
1. Determine Ability Scores
30 points, 5 abilities, 5-6 is Terran (human) average. Nice and neat. worth noting that only two of the Abilites are physical: Body and Dexterity, and “Intelligence” doesn’t exist—its function is split between Perception and the existence of Skills. Which I can handle.
Body is strength/stamina, Dex is dex, Perception also includes intuition, memory, and insight. Presence is social-fu, and Will is determination.
I really should work out what I want to play. Hrm. I’ve always played infiltrators or engineers when engaged in computer manshooting, so I’ve never had a good feel for personal-scale biotics. And according to the wiki, Turians with biotic powers are rare, and end up in specialist units called Cabals.
To digress a little, I love the Turians as a culture. They’re halfway between the Roman empire and a modern Scandinavian country, with a strong group ethic and an innate disinclination towards personal wealth. The fact that of the two main Turians in ME2, one is a total dick (but played right with regards Turian psychology) and the other is Space Dinosaur Batman certainly helps.
Start everything at 5. Our character is an intuitive, adaptive thinker—pronounced either “genius” or “pain in the ridge” depending on who you ask. Three of the remaining points go to Perception. He’s faster than he is brawny, so one point to Dexterity. Finally, like most Turians he’s stubborn. The last point goes to Will.
2. Select Species
Referring to my previous post, we see that Turians get Will +1, a bunch of Skills, and some alien traits, including Armor Restriction (Turians can’t wear human armor), Damage Reduction (their metallic hide is developed as a natural protection against the Turian homeworld’s harsh environment), Natural Weapon (Turians still have claws, though most prefer to use guns), and 8 bonus points to spend. I’ll hold off the bonus points until later on.
3. Select Homeworld Package
I think our character was born on one of the tin-can space stations orbiting a planet with high eezo reserves, which explains how come he ended up with biotic abilities. This translates to the Spacer package, giving me Acrobatics (Zero-G) 1, Observe 1, Technical Sciences 1, and one skill at rank 1 from among Piloting or Space Sciences. I go with Piloting. You never know.
4. Select Career Package(s)
Each character starts with up to three career packages. Fortunately, I don’t have to muck about much—the military training of his Cabal can fall neatly under the ESPO (military psychic) career. Rather than grab Veteran in that and call it a day, I figure he’s mustered out of the Cabal and started a life as a freelance peace-keeping agent (yes?) in the Terminus systems after pissing off one CO too many. At least he got shunted through C-Sec for some training. Experienced ESPO, Novice Law Enforcer.
Experienced ESPO gives me Will +1, a bunch of skills, and three powers at Rank 4. I go for Barrier (silly not to, really), Throw, and Singularity. I also get a total of three ranks in any skill (or biotic power). I raise Observe to 2, and take two ranks in Pull.
Novice Law Enforcement adds a whole lot of skills. Nothing to choose here, so I note them and move on. This does put me at Shoot 7, which is very high. I have no problem with this.
At this point, I spend the 8 free points for being a Turian. Abilities cost 2 points, Skills and Specializations cost 1. Due to the change to firearms rules, I pick up the “Shotgun” and “Assault Rifle” specializations in Shoot. Two more points in Intimidation, two more in Technical Sciences. With my last two points, I raise Barrier and Pull by one point each.
5. Create Hooks
“Hooks” are freeform bits much like Aspects in other games. A player can spend an action point (of which characters start with 5) to get either +2 to a roll, or to re-roll a failed test. Specialties act like free Hooks on Skills (modulo trained Specialties, which a character needs to avoid the unskilled penalty).
For my Species Hook, I pick You only see a Turian’s back when he’s dead—Turians do everything in an orderly fashion, even retreating from overwhelming odds.
For my Homeworld Hook, I go for Dendrophobe—he’s grown up on a station, and still doesn’t quite get what all this foilage is for. On the upside, it means he’s never properly relaxed when planetside, so it’s very hard to ambush him.
Next, three Career Hooks. The first, from Novice ESPO, is Cabal Soldier—he’s well-versed in the military appliation of biotic abilities. The second is Sergeant—his rank within the Cabal, which also speaks to his place within the strict hierarchy of Turian society. Finally, the Hook from Law Enforcement Officer is C-Sec Investigation Training—he’s not currently part of C-Sec, but he’s gone through the same investigative training as a C-Sec officer.
I also note five Action Points
6. Benefit Points
I had to re-read this bit, but a character gets Benefit Points according to his highest career progression—a character with a Veteran career has (novice + experienced + veteran), while one with one Experienced and one Novice has only the (novice + experienced) from his higher-ranked career. In this case, our character has 5 points.
At this stage, we also look to equipment. As mentioned in the previous post, we start with light armor, an omni-tool, a pistol, and a machine pistol. Jumping up to Medium Combat Armor costs 2000$. A shotgun and an assult rifle cost 550$ and 1300$ respectively. With $3850 spent, that’s… wait, hang on.
My distaste for gear lists has left me giving characters quite a bit free, but each benefit point converts to 10,000$. Which is too much. So instead make each one 2,000$. That works. I’ve edited the post to reflect that.
Add Tech Armor to the omni-tool. 5,650$ spent in total. That’s three benefit points. Two to go. I use them to buy Membership, denoting that he’s a possible Spectre candidate.
7. Finishing Touches
I calculate Vitality (30) and Initiative (Init (avg Dex & Perception), and add in the associated ability to each Skill. Then I consider my character’s biographical details.
As far as names go, I like the sound of “Lantar Iraeus” (ee-RAY-us). He passed out of the Cabal at 30, and did two years of training with C-Sec before going independent in the Terminus Systems, making him 32 years old. His armor’s black with blue highlights, and his colony facial markings are ochre in color.
Considering it’s a whole new setting, that was really rather painless. This hopefully gives a clue as to why I love Thousand Suns.
Body 5 • Dexterity 6 • Perception 8 • Presence 5 • Will 8
Vitality 30 • Initiative 7 • Action Points 5
Skills: Acrobatics (Zero-G) 1 (7), Athletics 4 (9), Bargain 1 (6), Bureaucracy (Legal) 1 (9), Culture (Turian) 2 (10), Defend 6 (12), Diplomacy 1 (6), Dodge 6 (12), Empathy 2 (10), Intimidation 4 (9), Investigation (Criminal) 2 (10), Language (Citadel Standard) 2 (10), Language (Turian) 2 (10), Melee 3 (9), Observe 4 (12), Piloting 1 (7), Profession (ESPO) 3 (11), Profession (Law Enforcer) 2 (10), Resist 4 (12), Shoot (Assault Rifle, Shotgun) 7 (13), Streetwise 1 (6), Tactics 5 (13), Technical Sciences 3 (11), Unarmed Combat 6 (12)
Biotics: Barrier 5 (13), Pull 3 (11), Throw 4 (12), Singularity 4 (12)
Hooks: You only see a Turian’s back when he’s dead, Dendrophobe, Cabal Soldier, Sergeant, C-Sec Investigation Training
Traits: Armor Restriction, Damage Reduction (Radiation, AV 4), Membership (Spectre Candidate), Natural Weapon (Claws, DV 1)
Equipment: Medium combat armor (25/40, -1), Pistol (3/60, 9m), Submachine Gun (3/60, 22m, SA), Shotgun (4/60, 15m), Assault Rifle (5/70, 25m, SA), Omni-tool (Tech Armor)