Bulldogs! (Almost Final)
Bulldogs! is a d20 based Science Fiction RPG from Galileo Games, a very small RPG publisher (and also the co-founder of Indie Press Revolution, which also sells the game now).. It originally came out in about April of 2004, I believe. Maybe a bit earlier. I first heard of it in the ads forum here (which more people should read, by the way).
When I saw the post about Bulldogs!, I said to the author, "I already have half a dozen science-fiction d20 RPGs, what does Bulldogs! do that those don't?". I probably came off as a bit of a jerk, but I didn't mean to be like that, I just have a tact deficiency (or in d20 terms, a really low charisma score).
Still, I did have a basic point, there are a number of SF d20 RPGs, not to mention this summer's release of D20 Future. I don't exactly remember what his answer was, but I remember it impressed me.
So I put Bulldogs! near the top of my want list. But things went awry (my TV went kaput) and I had to use the money I was going to buy Bulldogs (and some other RPGs) to replace it. I did have enough for one new book and was thinking about getting Bulldogs!, but I went with d20 Future, mostly because it supposedly had Star Frontiers as a setting in it, and is something I am a huge fan of. Ultimately though, while it had some Star Frontiers material in d20 Future, there was very little (not really enough to play it using the rules) and not really Star Frontiers in terms of "feel". (And since I discovered I needed a new computer, I had to stop buying RPGs for the forseeable future, so I never did get around to buying Bulldogs!, though I felt guilty about it.)
Getting to my point, I finally did get Bulldogs! and it is indeed quite different from the other d20 SF RPGs I have. The feel is very much like the original Star Frontiers, which was exactly what I was hoping for from d20 Future, but didn't get. Sort of a two fisted (or 3 fisted, given the Dralasites) science fiction game, full of action and adventure. But where Star Frontiers frankly didn't make much sense, this is coherently put together.
It's set in a small galaxy, far far away. (But apparently not a long time ago). There are no humans per se, but there is a race that is essentially human, Arsurbans, but somewhat more colorful (they can also be red, green, or blue skinned). The Galaxy is dominated by two empires. One run by a bunch of Snake people, one run by beings that are suspiciously similar to Drow, but without hair.
In between the two empires is a neutral zone, called "The Frontier". This was set up between the two empires because they realized that they were too evenly matched, and an all out war between the two would result in no empires. Half of a galaxy is better than none of a galaxy.
So, it's set up as something of a cold war situation. The Neutral Zone between the two is actually about the size of either empire, but is not united as a whole, but made up of little planets and governments. Also, there are a lot of megacorporations, or Pan-Galactic Corporations. Again, similar to Star Frontiers (they weren't prominent in the original boxed set, but were in the Knight Hawks expansion).
While the basic setting is explained up front, little tidbits of the setting are given every few pages or so in a little sidebar (okay, mid bar, as usually it's in the middle of the page). There are lot of little pieces of info that really help give you the feel for the setting, and also often give plot hooks for possible adventures.
It uses the basic d20 rules, that is, essentially the D&D rules. Which is something of a double edged sword, especially these days. Many people prefer the d20 Modern/d20 Future rules for modern day/space games. This is one of those d20 books that is almost complete - pretty much everything is explained but character generation/advancement. So if you know d20 reasonably well, you really don't actually need the PHB with you.
It essentially re-uses (and reprints) 2 of the existing D&D PC classes, the Fighter and Rogue (most d20 based games do the same thing, as they are the 2 non-magical classes that don't suck), as well as the non-spell casting NPC classes for NPCs, while introducing 6 new PC classes. The Space Pirate, the Space Pilot, the Bounty Hunter, the Medic, the Engineer, and the Gunner.
They are sort of grouped into 2 groups of 4, one group of land based classes and one group of space based classes. Obviously, the space based classes are most useful on starships, but they are reasonably effective all-around (unlike say, the classes in Traveller 20).
The classes are all pretty much what they sound like. The only one that really needs explanation is the Space Pirate, which not unlike a Fighter/Rogue multi-class (and in fact, the text mentions it's sort of a combination of the two). But is different enough to justify its existence.
There's only a handful of prestige classes: The Assassin (basically the D&D one minus the magic), the Mata Hari (a seductive spy), Secret Agent and Infocity Acolyte (which is sort of a hacker).
Skills are largely the same as normal d20, though it adds the obvious new skills for a futuristic games: Pilot, Systems (for computers), Astrogate.
Bulldogs! takes the Star Wars approach to aliens - that there are a whole bunch of different types of them, too many to count. 10 are included in the book, and there is a system to generate new ones with abilities that are balanced. The aliens are a mix of near human, humanoid, and some that are just plain alien.
I've always thought aliens should be alien. One of my favorite Science Fiction series is "Sector General" by the late James White. It's not exactly the deepest SF around, it's sort of like "Emergency!" only set in space - about a space hospital and an ambulance starship. They answer space emergency calls and often find weird, undiscovered species.
Rarely do you find weird aliens like in those books. Usually they are just like the ones on Star Trek - people with funny objects or fruit glued to their foreheads, or are animal-people of some sort.
Bulldogs! does indeed have some of those, but also has some of the truly alien sort. For instance, there is the Dolom, which is sort of a 3 legged , 3 armed, 3 eyed, er, thing. They remind me a lot of the Hudlar from the Sector General series. Another thing is sort of like a one eyed slug. And perhaps inspired by the classic "Hoka!", there is a race of teddy bears. Only these are amoral (if not evil) Teddy bears, not really impressionable ones. (Their background story is that their race was genetically engineered, but turned out to have been flawed, and overthrew their makers, which is plausible.)
But more importantly, the alien race creation rules make it easy to come up with very strange, very alien, aliens.
Basically, it divies up special abilities or advantages (and disadvantages) into 3 categories, I, II, and III. A standard race gets 5 points, and something from category I costs 1 point, II 2 points, III 3 points.
I was able to stat up races from Sector General and many of the ones from the Master of Orion series really quickly. So it's fast. Is it perfectly balanced? Well, I'm sure it could be abused, but it seems to work well enough.
There's a ton of gear, about 50 pages of the book is devoted to it. One of the most extensive lists of equipment I've seen in a SF game.
All sorts of ranged weapons. Gyrojets, projectiles, flechettes, lasers, blasters, disruptors, gauss/rail guns. Tons of melee weapons, too. There are no tech levels or anything, the culture in the Bulldogs! galaxy is fairly homogeneous
If you've seen a weapon in a movie or another SF game, then it probably has an analog here, if not by name then by function. Seems like pretty much everything from Star Frontiers is in here, including my beloved gyrojets (which are actually little rockets, not jets. But "gyrorock" sounds like a dance, not a weapon).
One of the cooler things about the book, is that there are a number of companies that make gear. Each company has specific qualities that affect the stuff (mostly weapons) that they make. Some companies make good weapons, some make lousy (but cheap) ones.
Starships take up about 30 pages of the book, including 8 pages of rules on creating them. It's a fairly simple process, but fairly flexible, too, allowing designs from small craft to death star sized behemoths.
Combat is essentially the same as the d20 system, with starships having hit points and hardness, and ships weapons doing damage (quite a lot, in larger weapons case). The damage that starships can suffer is detailed very well.
The layout is very nice. Better than the vast majority of RPG books I own. The only complaint is that perhaps the outer margin is too big. Usually companies do this to pad the book's page count and so to allow them to charge more. However, in that case, the opposite seems to be true - the book is priced far below what it should be (216 pages with some color for $25? That's almost crazy cheap these days)
The art is somewhat retro looking, but I liked it quite a bit. The illustration for each race is in full color, which is a really nice touch.
It's got a 4 page, detailed index, and it's got the chapter name in the outer margins. So it's an absolute breeze. The editing is also excellent, I think I noticed only 1 problem, and that was a superfluous -.
I really like this book. I like it a lot. The only real problem with the book I found is really just a nitpick of mine. A few times it mentions space is really cold, and has rules for it being really cold. While it is cold, space is actually a near vacuum, and so works kinda like a giant thermos - you don't lose much heat, since nothing carries it away, other than what you radiate as energy. A fairly common misperception. (Really, the only realistic space game/supplement is the one for Cyberpunk 2020, so no biggie. )
I own or have read almost every d20 Science Fiction game on the market, and this is as good as any of them, far better than most. It's amazing that it came from such a small company, the production quality is better than that of anything not from Wizards of the Coast. (It might not beat Mongoose's art, but it does beat their editing.)
So, it's a definite A. It might not be the literal torch bearer for Star Frontiers, but it sure feels like the spiritual successor. That's just about the highest honor I can give to a SF RPG, as when it comes to them, I have two great loves, Star Frontiers (obviously) and the original Traveller. I was gravely disappointed with Traveller 20, almost Hulk-Smash angry with how bad it was, and rather disappointed with d20 Future. This goes a lot way to restoring my faith in SF d20.
Unfortunately, it does probably suffer by being late to the d20 show. And from the close release of d20 Future. Still, much of the book can be adapted to d20 Future quite easily - the setting, the races (and the rules for creating them), the equipment, the prestige classes (with a bit of tweaking).
So anyway, in care you are wondering how compatible it is with other d20 SF rpgs, I would say it's pretty much completely compatible with Fading Suns d20 and Blood & Space 1st Edition (both of which are excellent), and the Pinnacle d20 products (which are of varying quality).
The races and equipment and such are compatible with any normal d20 product, including D&D and d20 Modern. Classes, too,other than the lack of magic, which makes it pretty much compatible with Dragonstar
It's probably not too compatible with Traveller 20 or Star Wars d20, since they use different hit point systems, though the races should still work (and the race building system would be especially useful for Star Wars). (And about the only thing Traveller 20 is compatible with is a headache.)