Tabletop RPG Review: Beanstalk

2300AD is one of those games I’ve been very interested in for a very long time…but have never played or run.  Part of the problem is that, like other tabletop RPGs from GDW (and a lot of other companies in the 1980s), the rules are an impenetrable mess of math, needless minutia, unnecessary elements of wargaming, and a dreadful lack of good layout and organization.  Add to that the other huge problems of scheduling (getting folks together is probably  the hardest part of being a tabletop gamer) and genre constraints.  Fantasy is THE genre most tabletop RPG players seem to be interested in.  It can be very difficult to get folks to try new things.  Just getting someone to play something other than Dungeons & Dragons is like pulling teeth.  Getting them to try something in a totally different genre?  Yikes.

All that is to say that, in spite of the drawbacks, I’m very interested in 2300AD and would like to try my hand at running it at some point.  Or, more accurately, I’m interested in running a game using its setting.  Forget all that number crunching in the mechanics.  Last year I had a chance to play the new Alien RPG, and I loved it.  It was also clear to me then that it would be a great system for running 2300AD.  Their alternate near-future settings are actually fairly similar.  The tech level of each setting isn’t far off.  I even really like the Stress mechanics of Alien.  I think something similar would work well for any semi-realistic Science Fiction setting.

With that in mind, I’ve been skimming my books and thought I’d take a look at an actual adventure module for the game.  So, I read Beanstalk.  I like this.  I like the way it’s presented in a lot of ways.  Among other things, I was surprised by the author’s acknowledgement of the idea that women might be involved in the hobby.  In 1987, that was not such a common realization on the part of game creators.  From a usefulness point of view, I like that the world of Beta Canum is presented with quite a bit of detail and history, yet with plenty of room to expand and explore on your own.  There are also several important non player characters fleshed out.  And then there are actually three adventures that can be played separately, but are really meant to be played in succession.  Each one builds upon things from the previous adventures.

There’s also an adventure in the Traveller: 2300 basic game called The Tricolor’s Shadow, that can be run as a sort of prelude to the stories in Beanstalk.  Don’t get me started on the whole 2300AD VS Traveller: 2300 thing.  GDW and their Traveller stuff…that’s just a whole Byzantine nightmare that I have looked at a few times, but can’t make heads nor tails of.

If I were to run a long-term campaign of 2300AD, I can imagine Beta Canum being a good spot for the player characters to set up a home base.  There’s plenty to do dirtside, but it’s also fairly inexpensive to get to space (thanks to the titular Beanstalk space elevator), and it’s close enough to where a lot of the more violent action is, without being currently involved.

Much of the material for this game is available for relatively reasonable prices.  So, if you’re looking for a game setting that’s more Outland, The Expanse, or Alien (without the Horror…generally) than say Star Wars or Star Trek, this one is pretty cool.  And I strongly suspect that porting the Alien RPG for the game mechanics would make for a more playable and fun game.

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