The Genesys System
2018 ended up being the year I dove into Roleplaying Game (RPG) writing and had my first experience as a Dungeon Master. After being introduced to the Genesys RPG system via Star Wars : Edge of the Empire by friends at work I just had to try my hand at writing my own scenarios and settings. Eventually I built up a game based around Stargate and this post talks a little bit about the process in doing so!
I found Genesys interesting because it bases itself around the
Narrative Dice System. The dice in this system have 6 different symbols, Success, Failure, Advantage, Disadvantage, Triumph and Despair.
When rolling a skill check you assemble your pool based on the skill of your character and the difficulty of the check. After rolling, the combination of symbols remaining tell you how the event panned out. Narratively you decide as a group with a bit of back and forth with the DM exactly what happened. For example, if you were picking the lock on a door and rolled a Success with a Disadvantage you may have opened the door only to tip off the people inside by making too much noise. On the other hand if you rolled a Failure with an Advantage you struggle to get the door open but instead notice that the Window was open all along.
I found that this system of making the dice results generic was nice to stop players from worrying too much about the stats of their characters and gave plenty of options for customisation without impacting the fun. The default system has a bunch of different skills and you can easily add any relevant ones since they just have a series of 5 ranks. I haven’t played any other RPG systems so its hard for me to judge how well it does things but you can read more about the Genesys system on the Fantasy Flight Games page if you are interested in more details.
During our groups intial RPG sessions we played Star Wars : Edge of the Empire which is set in the Outer Rim around planets such as Tatooine. The scenario we played was set shortly after Star Wars : Episode 4 but before Episode 6. Our team were a rag-tag group consisting of a bounty hunting Droid, a Twi’lek gun-for-hire, a drunken Human pilot, a Rodian Officer, a droid obsessed mechanic and finally a Wookie with a penchant for dismemberment and arson. During these games it became somewhat of a recurring joke that we wanted to pull in as much of the Stargate universe as we could. At the first chance we named our ship the
Daniel Jackson. On one mission we went undercover at a party as
General Hammond and
Colonel O'Neill. When the generalised Genesys system came out many sessions were spent shooting aliens and talking about how great a fit the Stargate setting was. Eventually I set out to write up a campaign so that we could finally explore the world of Stargate.
There might be minor spoilers if you haven’t seen the 17 glorious seasons of Stargate from SG-1 to Atlantis to Universe but if you haven’t why are you reading this? Get to watching it now!
To start I fleshed out a bit of the background for the setting to justify the players objectives. The modern Stargate story finished in 2011 with Stargate : Universe. At this point, most of the key threats in the system have been defeated. The major Goa’uld System Lords have been slain, the Replicators have been neutralised and the Ori destroyed. At this point the Lucien Alliance cause intermittent troubles for Stargate Command as they fill in the power vacuum left behind. Seven years on however, in 2018, I couldn’t help but realise an interesting justification for bringing back the Stargate program. The
United States Space Force. As early as March, Donald Trump has said “We have the Air Force, we’ll have the Space Force” (CNBC, 2018). This announcement seemed like the perfect way to tie everything back in to the modern day and to give the players an entry as the first new members of Space Force heading through the Stargate.
I’ve included the original synopsis for the campaign that I gave the players below for setting the scene.
State of the Stargate Program
It has been nearly 8 years since the last word of the Destiny expedition. In that time political wrangling and machinations have lead to the Stargate program stagnating. With no immediate threats to Earth and a high operating budget, various organisations pull in different directions for the best way to use and profit from the Stargate program. With no agreements and Military budget cuts little further progress is made in expanding Earths influence. However, in 2018, Stargate Command (SGC) found an unlikely ally in the current President of the United States, Donald Trump. Having been informed of the Stargates existence and the SGCs previous operations in space, President Trump has been eager to boost funding for military expenditure and has even directed his generals to create a sixth branch of the military. The American Space Force. Never one to shy away from opportunity President Trump hopes this new foray into space will further Americas position on Earth as well as the intergalactic stage.
Justifying the Players
After giving the above synopsis one of the biggest problems was how to link in the original lore and characters. It would’ve been great to have original characters like Teal’c appear in a cameo or for players to visit some of the old locations but I wasn’t confident in doing it justice. Alongside this, I didn’t want it to distract too much from the immersion, especially if any new contradictory stories were released. Luckily with the way the Stargate system works with planets being interconnected instantaneously through wormhole travel this was quite easy. I positioned the players as a new team assigned to explore a previously unexplored group of planets. From here the players could pick up the narrative thread I laid out without having to worry about it contradicting anything else. I was concerned that this was a bit of a cop-out at first and might feel a bit forced but the Stargate setting is robust enough that anything I threw at it just made sense.
Mechanics and Modifications
The process that took the longest was building the mechanics and tweaking the Genesys system to fit the Stargate setting. The core system has a few example character Archetypes (Races) and Careers (Classes) as well as rules for generic settings including Fantasy, Modern and Space Opera. On top of this I didn’t have to start from scratch and managed to find a copy of the official Stargate RPG. The original RPG was built on a different system known as Spycraft which is a d20 based system with a few modifications to make it suited towards a modern day setting. The Stargate RPG manuals themselves provided a wealth of knowledge and information, everything from races to military departments and exact weights of items was in there. The system even took into consideration the height of characters and alien races as well as their ages. This stuff was great but was definitely a bit overkill for our casual group. So that we could at least have some semblance of a game before the end of the year I started with the basics.
Races and Classes
Thinking from the perspective of the players, they would need to have a series of races and classes as well as relevant skills prior to building their characters. Since Stargate primarily follows the exploits of SG teams sent from Stargate Command most of the game is fitted around this. Unlike other RPGs there aren’t actually a great deal of non-human races in Stargate and most of the ones that do appear are a little bit hard to roleplay as or can be a bit imbalanced. Instead of sticking to the basic archetypes I seperated these out into a series of choices to help tailor a characters intial stats.
The broad racial choices available were Human (from Earth), Near-Human (i.e. not from Earth), Jaffa and Tok’ra. From here, you choose a specialism based on your race. For example, if you pick a Human, you would choose a bit of your background such as the branch of the military you are from or whether you are a civilian specialist. This would then dictate some of the initial skills and experience points you have to spend.
Since the players
Career was part of their race this concept no longer fit very well for allowing further specialisation. Going back to a
Class did have some merit but it took me a while to come up with an alternative. The Career or Class represents the characters current specialism. With it you will usually gain a basic level in a group of skills and it will often be easier to improve at these same abilities. You can change career or have multiple but following one should let you eventually be skillful in a certain grouping of skills. To represent this with minimal duplication we ended up using
Squad Roles. This got across the idea of an SG-team having different people from various backgrounds tackling differing roles in the squad. As well, the fluid nature of teams could mean that a member would respecialise. Initially the players could pick from the likes of
Field Medic. This also meant I could keep the roles generic, making them suitable across the various races and career choices previously selected by players.
Overall this splitting of systems worked but I found linking your stats directly to your background made the rule guide a bit un-wieldy. In my next iteration I would aim to simplify this process by giving the player more options for customisability and having background be something they define themselves.
Genesys includes a system of talents. I’m not sure what the DnD equivalent is but they are basically unique Perks that you can purchase with experience. Rather than a Skill that you hone over time, a Talent is something special that your character has learned or does. These do a very good job of boosting player abilities, especially in niche circumstances and allowing players to tailor themselves to their backstory. For this, I used the generic pool of Genesys talents and added a few extra. Due to time constraints I didn’t manage to get a good finalised version but did add quite a few extra military themed ones. The Talents also were tied into the original character
Race selection as each one was given an extra starting Talent. For example,
Navy SEALs would start with the
Explosive Handling talent whilst an
Army Ranger starts with
Some Talents would be limited to certain races or career choices whilst most could be trained by any other characters. This allowed Civilians to take the Basic Training talent to become better at combat whilst a Soldier might take Scholarly to improve knowledge checks. Some of the Talents I was most proud of included the hand-to-hand related ones such as
Introduction to Disarming and
Improved Blocking 101 which lead to one player building a character dedicated to punching things.
Items and Vehicles
Generating the items that players needed to interact with and acquire was tough. It’s a horrible balance between having enough items to be interesting/well thought out and not having too many that it becomes both impossible to manage or overwhelming for your players. On top of this, like any game ensuring that things are balanced is hugely important for both the game and the players themselves. There is nothing more frustrating than saving credits for several sessions to buy that rocket launcher you’ve always wanted just to find out the damage has been nerfed or as a GM having players invest solely in stun grenades because mechanically they are more powerful than other weapons.
For the initial list, items such as firearms, body armour and any other general equipment that military personal were added. This was done with the view that at least having this base line group of items in would allow us to proceed with the first session. More specialist equipment could be added in future. For my initial story (and based on the types of adventures often seen in Stargate) the players would encounter a medieval settlement. I found it beneficial at this point to create multiple potential item lists. A list of all known items and their stats for yourself as the DM, as well as reduced shopkeeper item lists. This way it wouldn’t spoil things too much for the players. Giving out lists was also good since players could pass it out and very quickly assimilate any information they needed.
Sadly I didn’t manage to fit vehicles into the scope of my RPG but when I return to it in the new year I will definitely try to work them in.
One of the benefits of the Stargate setting is that since the players are serving in a military organisation the items generally get vetted. This also allowed me to regulate and rebalance items whilst being able to give players “mission specific” equipment. I think this worked out quite well since I could give a taste of more powerful items without forcing players to spend credits on them. As well, by giving it out for free, if the effect is less than impressive then players don’t feel like they’ve made a wasted purchase.
Since the players are often funded it didn’t really make too much sense to give them money or gold to buy their equipment. Often (and dependent on the mission) the players would be assigned items. This reflected the way a military group might assign default equipment to a unit. However, players would earn
Requisition Points, which acted as an influence with the base. Functionally it would work similar to a simple currency but with the cavaet that at the end of each mission they return their items to a shared item pool managed by the base armourer. Players could also opt to improve base facilities with these points and by taking on more daring missions or bringing back useful technologies could earn more.
After building the world and setting up the mechanics we hosted our first session, Session 0.
The idea of a Session 0 is to get the group together and have a bit of a planning session. This included pitching the story/setting to the players, having the players generate characters as well as have a discussion about how we imagine the campaign might play out and what we are looking to do. This step was especially important since I got valuable feedback from the group about how they imagine it might go. On top of this, knowing the characters that the players have built allowed me to tailor the challenges in the initial scenario to that team. It also allows the players to sit and generate a more balanced team so that we don’t have everyone running into battle as Scientists or exploring archeological ruins with only Demolition Experts.
There is a lot of good information online about Session 0s and the type of things you can cover, the guys at
Web DM have a great video on Session 0s (Web DM) which gives a great overview of the different things you should do and why. One of the most profound take-aways from this I had was “The minute session 0 starts it is no longer just your world” and this is very true! Finally I also referred to this checklist I found on Reddit (Session 0 Checklist) that covers many topics.
Coming out of this initial session we did construct a solid team. They consisted of:
- Cam, a force recon sniper with a specialism in Anthropology.
- Mac, an SAS Demolitions expert with a penchant for drones.
- Ori, a Tok’ra scientist with extensive knowledge of Ancient technology.
- Don, a Illempiri near-human mechanic with amazing hand-to-hand skills.
- Shep, an Airforce Pararescue operative who potentially moonlights as a serial killer
Following on from Session 0 I reworked several aspects of the rule set and also wrote up the initial scenario. At this stage part of the challenge is coming up with a series of puzzles and challenges that will challenge each player but also layering them in such a way that players don’t feel like you are just trying to appease their character. It was useful at this stage to create a series of generic puzzle elements that might suit each character. This way if the time was right I could fit them in relatively easily and have them pre-thought out. The Demolitions expert will no doubt need something to blow-up, whilst the Tok’ra scientist will need artifacts and technology to tinker with.
Rolling through these example scenarios to see possible outcomes in advance was also good to help get into the mindset of what could potentially happen and how the story could diverge. The games themselves often quickly required improvisation, no matter how well written the story the players will go off in their own direction. Thinking of possibilties in advance and getting used to the idea that something drastically different might happen like an unexpected failure or success was important preperation.
After all of this, I had something resembling a playable RPG with enough rules to allow players to generate characters, enough items and NPCs for them to interact with and finally a story with which to give them something to do. The only thing left at this point was to actually play the damn thing but that is a story for another time.
A bunch of great resources helped me get this RPG up and running which I’ve linked below!
- GMBinder - This was a great site for generating nice looking RPG documents!
- Genesys Master Resource List - There are a ton of good files and references here for Genesys related things including character sheets and card templates
- Google Docs - So useful for collaborative editing.
- Audio Playlist - Sci-fi Ambient and Medieval Ambient playlists were great for setting the mood in the background.
- Stargate RPG - So much information was in here that was useful. Saved me a bunch of time in not having to think about specific items.
- Web DM - These guys have some fascinating videos on being a DM. Definitely worth checking out their channel.
- How to be a great GM - This video in particular was useful for building the scenario.