Getting Dangerous With The Elite: Dangerous Role-Playing Game
  • Getting Dangerous With The Elite: Dangerous Role-Playing Game


    Some RPGs are suited to telling a tight story, and some work best in a sandbox where players can explore and adventure as they please. The Elite: Dangerous RPG definitely falls into the latter category.


    That makes sense, though, as the original Elite is arguably the granddaddy of open-world videogames. Despite coming on cassette tape and taking up considerably less memory than this web page, it allowed players to explore an entire galaxy of starbases, pirate bases and asteroid fields, and the tabletop version from Spidermind sets out to emulate the same feel of freedom and exploration.
    Unlike its digital ancestors, however, the Elite: Dangerous RPG isn't designed around a lone-wolf star pilot but rather a whole party of them. Or possibly the term is 'squadron', as every player is expected to have their own ship, whether it's a single-seat fighter or a cruiser teeming with laser cannons.

    It still sets out with the aim that any character can achieve any role they want though, and as such there's nothing even slightly resembling classes or even archetypes in the rulebook. Instead, you build your character by picking a number of background options that can determine everything from your childhood to your career. For example, if you decide that your character used to be an engineer they get extra points in their repair skill, while a brief foray into politics boosts their social skills.

    The sheer range of options is staggering - apparently cheerleading at high school is worth +20 points in athletics - and set the scene for Elite as a whole. The entire game seems based around giving you choices to upgrade and tweak your character, their gear and their ship. Sometimes this could mean investing in a fresh rack of missiles, while others could involve dying your skin an attractive shade of blue for a bonus to social encounters.

    In terms of crunch, therefore, the game is incredibly broad but not particularly deep. Everything from charming a contact to firing a chaingun is settled with the same core mechanic of trying to hit a target number by rolling a d10 with a skill bonus on top. Every ten points you have in a skill you gets you a +1, with early-game characters maxing out at around a +4 and only the greatest of pilots ever reaching the heights of a perfect +10.

    This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, and for a game that looks so intimidating at first glance Elite: Dangerous is surprisingly quick to pick up, with the only truly complicated part of the rules being those for space combat. Even then, most players should be fairly comfortable with their options once they get a couple of encounters under their belt.

    It's the kind of system that rewards players who like to tinker with their character and enjoy looking over weapon tables and lists of cybernetic enhancements, imagining how they'll use them in the next encounter. At the same time, it doesn't need them to spend hours on a single turn as they activate buffs and roll on endless tables.

    The biggest flaw, perhaps, is in the universe itself. Elite has always been about the tales players made up for themselves rather than those presented in the fiction, and as sci-fi settings go the one presented in the Elite: Dangerous RPG is incredibly generic. Between the corporate-run Federation, feudalistic Empire and democratic but anarchic Alliance all the tropes you'd expect are well-represented, and at times it feels as though the game is calling out for some unique twist that shakes things up a little.

    Appropriately enough then, it's up to the players to write the stories that make their galaxy come alive, and the Elite: Dangerous RPG certainly provides the tools for them to do that.

    contributed by Richard Jansen-Parkes
    Comments 25 Comments
    1. lyle.spade's Avatar
      lyle.spade -
      I played what I believe was the original version, on 5.25" floppy disks, in the late 80s on my Apple IIc. I remember the space stations were all d20s and the dogfighting and trading made for a really interesting, immersive game. In retrospect, it was way ahead of its time, and was amazingly playable given (what we now consider to be) the limitations of the technology.

      The RPG, based on the free Quickstart I read, looks pretty generic, with a system that seems, mechanically, to be almost a close of R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk:2020. I'd love to read a review and feedback from someone who owns and has played it.

      Any takers? I ask because I am in search of a good science fiction system, preferably with an interesting world. Note: I've played FFG's Star Wars and grew tired of the dice system. Traveller, although it has major nostalgia value for me, is ultimately based on a really clunky, old system. Starfinder is Pathfinder and we hates the Baggins too-crunchy Pathfinder forever. So now you have context.
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by Winghorn View Post
      Some RPGs are suited to telling a tight story, and some work best in a sandbox where players can explore and adventure as they please.
      I'm still trying to figure this out. How are some RPGs more suited to sandboxing? Is it simply because players can travel to any one of numerous star systems, "jumping" from one to the next, or is it a reference to something deeper?
    1. Winghorn's Avatar
      Winghorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
      I'm still trying to figure this out. How are some RPGs more suited to sandboxing? Is it simply because players can travel to any one of numerous star systems, "jumping" from one to the next, or is it a reference to something deeper?
      There are some that work best with fairly tight stories, and others that are better when people can freely roam.

      Off the top of my head, mystery games like Tales From the Loop and ​Call of Cthulhu are examples of systems where the GM is unlikely to just drop you in a world and let you get on with it. There will generally be a pre-defined goal or weird thing for you to investigate.

      With Elite and other sandbox-ey games, you can create an enjoyable campaign by giving your players a gentle slap on the bum to get them out of the gates, and then allowing them to drive where the narrative is going.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by lyle.spade View Post
      I played what I believe was the original version, on 5.25" floppy disks, in the late 80s on my Apple IIc. I remember the space stations were all d20s and the dogfighting and trading made for a really interesting, immersive game. In retrospect, it was way ahead of its time, and was amazingly playable given (what we now consider to be) the limitations of the technology.

      The RPG, based on the free Quickstart I read, looks pretty generic, with a system that seems, mechanically, to be almost a close of R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk:2020. I'd love to read a review and feedback from someone who owns and has played it.
      The Apple II version was a port from the original.
    1. Fandabidozi's Avatar
      Fandabidozi -
      My experience with Elite is repeatedly flying head first into the side of the hanger bay or being paralysed with doubt over what to buy and sell.
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by Winghorn View Post
      There are some that work best with fairly tight stories, and others that are better when people can freely roam.
      You keep saying this as if it's obvious, or common knowledge, but the claim needs to be substantiated.

      Off the top of my head, mystery games like Tales From the Loop and ​Call of Cthulhu are examples of systems where the GM is unlikely to just drop you in a world and let you get on with it. There will generally be a pre-defined goal or weird thing for you to investigate.

      With Elite and other sandbox-ey games, you can create an enjoyable campaign by giving your players a gentle slap on the bum to get them out of the gates, and then allowing them to drive where the narrative is going.
      Um...ok.

      But how are the games actually different? Let's say you're right about Call of Cthulhu: Why is that the case? Is it the mechanics of the game? The example adventures? The genre? The type of people who want to play Lovecraftian horror? Because a sandbox would simply be too terrifying for mortals?

      For that matter, I don't see why a game of CoC couldn't be a sandbox, even though I've never played it that way. (Disclaimer: I've only played a couple of standalone adventures of CoC, in the late 80's I think.)
    1. Winghorn's Avatar
      Winghorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
      You keep saying this as if it's obvious, or common knowledge, but the claim needs to be substantiated.
      I wouldn’t expect it to be particularly controversial to say that different systems work better with different types of campaign.

      The core concept of CoC is that the party are investigators - they are a group of folks trying to make sense of weird events cause by cultists and horrors from beyond etc etc etc.

      This shapes both the narrative and the mechanics, with plenty of rules for searching out clues and a system for determining whether the characters crack under the mental strain caused by the horrors they face.

      You certainly could just drop the players in s fleshed our city where spooky things are waiting to be uncovered, but what if the players decide they want to become bank robbers and ignore the creepy things?

      At that point you either spring creepy things on them anyway and force them into a more typical investigation, or you’re playing a game where half the rules are wasted and the others are having to be tinkered with in order to fit the new direction.

      If you’re running a sandbox game of Elite, however, you’re unlikely to run into this problem. As the review says, both the narrative conceit (you’re space adventurers! Go adventure!) and the mechanics (character and equipment flexibility, broad application of rules for different situations) lend themselves to a game where the players can genuinely go where they want and do what they want.

      One of the great things about tabletop RPGs is that you can generally use them to run any kind of story you want. But just because it can work, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.

      If I had to drive across the country I’d pick a big ol’ German saloon over a smart car, even though both would eventually get me there. And in the same way, if I was running a sandbox game I’d pick Elite over CoC.
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by Winghorn View Post
      I wouldn’t expect it to be particularly controversial to say that different systems work better with different types of campaign.
      In some cases, no. It's the specific claim that some work better in sandboxy campaigns that struck me as odd.

      The core concept of CoC is that the party are investigators - they are a group of folks trying to make sense of weird events cause by cultists and horrors from beyond etc etc etc.

      (snip)

      If you’re running a sandbox game of Elite, however, you’re unlikely to run into this problem. As the review says, both the narrative conceit (you’re space adventurers! Go adventure!) and the mechanics (character and equipment flexibility, broad application of rules for different situations) lend themselves to a game where the players can genuinely go where they want and do what they want.
      Ok, so in CoC you're a group of "investigators" and in Elite you're a group of "adventurers". That's a rather slim distinction. Especially because in CoC the name "investigator" is only a game conceit: not every PC is a trained investigator. They can be surgeons or journalists or mobsters or whatever. Really they are (drumroll) "adventurers" in the rpg sense.

      As I acknowledged, the published CoC adventures I've seen are kinda linear, but I think (hope) you're saying something more profound than that.

      One of the great things about tabletop RPGs is that you can generally use them to run any kind of story you want. But just because it can work, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.

      If I had to drive across the country I’d pick a big ol’ German saloon over a smart car, even though both would eventually get me there. And in the same way, if I was running a sandbox game I’d pick Elite over CoC.
      But is that because a game of exploring star systems is inherently more sandboxy than a game of investigating eldritch horrors? If so, then what you should have written was "If I were running a sandbox game I'd pick a space exploration game over a Lovecraftian horror game."

      So are you claiming that Elite is better than, say, Traveler at sandbox? How about Edge of Empire? (This is why I originally asked if the difference is just the genre.)

      To extend your car example, if I asked you, "Why the big 850iL?" you would not (I hope) just repeat "Because it's better for cross country trips!" You'd be able to say, "Because it has a lot more leg room, it has a better sound system, and it's both quieter and more stable at Interstate speeds."

      What is it about Elite that makes it better for sandboxes?
    1. 5ekyu's Avatar
      5ekyu -
      Quote Originally Posted by Winghorn View Post
      I wouldn’t expect it to be particularly controversial to say that different systems work better with different types of campaign.

      The core concept of CoC is that the party are investigators - they are a group of folks trying to make sense of weird events cause by cultists and horrors from beyond etc etc etc.

      This shapes both the narrative and the mechanics, with plenty of rules for searching out clues and a system for determining whether the characters crack under the mental strain caused by the horrors they face.

      You certainly could just drop the players in s fleshed our city where spooky things are waiting to be uncovered, but what if the players decide they want to become bank robbers and ignore the creepy things?

      At that point you either spring creepy things on them anyway and force them into a more typical investigation, or you’re playing a game where half the rules are wasted and the others are having to be tinkered with in order to fit the new direction.

      If you’re running a sandbox game of Elite, however, you’re unlikely to run into this problem. As the review says, both the narrative conceit (you’re space adventurers! Go adventure!) and the mechanics (character and equipment flexibility, broad application of rules for different situations) lend themselves to a game where the players can genuinely go where they want and do what they want.

      One of the great things about tabletop RPGs is that you can generally use them to run any kind of story you want. But just because it can work, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.

      If I had to drive across the country I’d pick a big ol’ German saloon over a smart car, even though both would eventually get me there. And in the same way, if I was running a sandbox game I’d pick Elite over CoC.
      "You certainly could just drop the players in s fleshed our city where spooky things are waiting to be uncovered, but what if the players decide they want to become bank robbers and ignore the creepy things?"

      What would you do in Elite if the characters decided to settle on one planet, no space travel? Force them on starships to new worlds so all those space rules got used?

      The answer to your question above is " they become bankrobbers *and* the creepy stuff advances as it would within the world cuz ssndbox does not mean the world outside of the characters perception stands still." If it is lovecraftian, that does make it likely creepy stuff sooner or later hits their crime spree.

      If its truly lovecraftian, its likely something they steal is a key to some nefarious ritual - with a prophesy linked to it and who possesses it.
    1. S'mon -
      I think the genius of Elite was in its content generation systems that created the sandbox to play in. What GM-side procedural content generation tools does the RPG have for creating the sandbox?
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      I think the genius of Elite was in its content generation systems that created the sandbox to play in. What GM-side procedural content generation tools does the RPG have for creating the sandbox?
      Ahhhh...now we're making progress.

      I could see how content generation tools could make it easier for the GM to improvise in a sandbox setting.

      However, I'm not sure that makes the RPG itself more suited to sandbox play. It makes it easier to GM the game, but that's not the same.

      I guess it's a matter of semantics, that is, of whether you want to consider the inclusion of such tools intrinsic to the game itself. I can easily imagine content generation tools for CoC, but since they aren't included in the default game one might argue that the "game isn't as suited for sandbox play".
    1. 5ekyu's Avatar
      5ekyu -
      Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
      Ahhhh...now we're making progress.

      I could see how content generation tools could make it easier for the GM to improvise in a sandbox setting.

      However, I'm not sure that makes the RPG itself more suited to sandbox play. It makes it easier to GM the game, but that's not the same.

      I guess it's a matter of semantics, that is, of whether you want to consider the inclusion of such tools intrinsic to the game itself. I can easily imagine content generation tools for CoC, but since they aren't included in the default game one might argue that the "game isn't as suited for sandbox play".
      TBH, i started to respond to the earlier question about the game with things like random "system" generstor but then stopped when i recalled...

      Recently on Shield of Tomorrow RPG the GM there used the random system generator to do on the fly a system or two... Now SoT and its game system (Star Trek Adventures) are Star Trek setting and obviously anything but "built for sandbox."

      I then recalled how much random generation suport there has always been in DnD and others and so...

      I myself could not support ny own hypothesus that the random system type, random city type, random dungeon or critters by region etc rules were at all very distinctive of differentiable a trait for deciding " good for sandbox" or " built for sandbox" or whatever label one wishes to put on the dividing line.

      I think i reached " without any, its likely ill-suited for sandbox" but that doesn't mean its good for the other.

      Especially since sandbox does not need to involve travel at all. "We be bank robbers instead" does not need space travel - for cthulgu or space opera.
    1. Steve Blunden's Avatar
      Steve Blunden -
      Ah, Elite ! Released on the BBC Micro model B in 1984 - and probably my favourite all-time computer game. And yes I did finally make Elite, before my Dad's BEEB finally died ....

      But I'll restrict myself to 4 comments more suited to role-playing:
      1.space was mind-boggling BIG. There were many places to go to
      2. The repetition of trade and combat could get monotonous when you reached Dangerous level. At that point, missions kicked in: one had you trailing a stolen shop through several star systems and into the next galaxy. The second it was you being chased everywhere by the Insect -like Thargoids because you were carrying the secret plans that the Navy required.
      3. There were rumours among the Elite community of finding mysterious ships somewhere far out in space. (I never saw one myself)
      4. Each planet had a few lines of text describing it - and a unique quirk it had. And many of these reflected Hitch-Hiker's Guide inspired humour, eg: "This planet is known for its love of Zero-G Cricket" !!
    1. Jhaelen -
      The Elite missions were really fun. The one I recall best was having to get rid of a freight of tribbles (of Star Trek fame) before they overwhelmed the ship. And then the one where you got ambushed by Thargoids during your hyperspace jumps with increasing frequency; that was really tough.
      I played the game on the Amiga, imho, the best version ever released.
    1. Riley37's Avatar
      Riley37 -
      Procedurally generated planets... hey, did they write a TRPG for "No Man's Sky", then change the name to Elite?
    1. Gibili's Avatar
      Gibili -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      I think the genius of Elite was in its content generation systems that created the sandbox to play in. What GM-side procedural content generation tools does the RPG have for creating the sandbox?
      Rather than using tools, I've always achieved that by:
      * The DM's imagination at the time and ability to improvise.
      * Ideas spun off from the player's comments whilst they play. Always a great source of things to give the team things to do.
      * The DM writing scenarios in a modular manner which can be dropped into any location with only minor changes, or changes that can be improvised at the time, thus allowing the players to go where they wish and do what they want.
      * The DM having a thorough knowledge of the sandbox world, what is going on across the sandbox, who the main movers and shakers are, so that it doesn't matter where the players go, the DM knows what is going on and can thus accomodate such freedom of movement. It's a kind of framework upon which you can hang specific scenarios.

      What you often have in a sandbox environment is actually a series of fixed adventures which can take place in many different locations. If any given location is interesting then the players will usually stay and explore in more detail.
    1. Age of Fable's Avatar
      Age of Fable -
      Does this game run the risk of being too similar in theme to Traveller?
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by Age of Fable View Post
      Does this game run the risk of being too similar in theme to Traveller?
      I don't think there's a problem with games having the same theme if they are taking dramatically different approaches with mechanics. (I can't speak to the difference in this case because I don't know the rules for Elite. Just sayin'.)
    1. lyle.spade's Avatar
      lyle.spade -
      Quote Originally Posted by Age of Fable View Post
      Does this game run the risk of being too similar in theme to Traveller?
      I picked this up a few days ago and have read the character generation rules as well as perusing the rest of the book, albeit lightly. It is similar to Traveller, which I've played extensively, in that it takes place in a large universe, with governments and worlds spanning large areas of space, and with variety between those governments. It is also similar in that trade is part of the foundation of character activity, if players decide to go that route. Beyond those, it is unlike Traveller in that travel is faster, meaning that a story can take place across a larger area of space without having to accept the months of travel that Traveller requires between subsectors, to say nothing of while sectors of space.

      The system is pretty light, and looks to provide for quick resolution of rolls at the table. There are no stats....read that again: no stats. Characters are defined by skills and a few others pools of points to account for damage and those used to increase the odds during encounters. The simple d10-based mechanic involves rolling at or above a target number with a d10+bonuses, most of which will come from skill scores. Damage is based on weapon plus extra coming from how much over the target number you roll. I think combat looks to be more fluid and faster than in Traveller, mechanically.

      Also unlike Traveller, characters can actually advance in skill level over time, becoming considerably more capable over time. Yes, there is skill advancement in Traveller, but it's small and takes forever. Elite is more mainstream in this area.

      I might add some more on this comparison later as I become more familiar with the game. but after a few days it looks like it'll fill the niche that Traveller does, with better, more modern rules and a universe that is more immediately accessible due to the technological assumptions at the root of the world.
    1. Elfcrusher's Avatar
      Elfcrusher -
      Quote Originally Posted by lyle.spade View Post
      I picked this up a few days ago and have read the character generation rules as well as perusing the rest of the book, albeit lightly. It is similar to Traveller, which I've played extensively, in that it takes place in a large universe, with governments and worlds spanning large areas of space, and with variety between those governments. It is also similar in that trade is part of the foundation of character activity, if players decide to go that route. Beyond those, it is unlike Traveller in that travel is faster, meaning that a story can take place across a larger area of space without having to accept the months of travel that Traveller requires between subsectors, to say nothing of while sectors of space.

      The system is pretty light, and looks to provide for quick resolution of rolls at the table. There are no stats....read that again: no stats. Characters are defined by skills and a few others pools of points to account for damage and those used to increase the odds during encounters. The simple d10-based mechanic involves rolling at or above a target number with a d10+bonuses, most of which will come from skill scores. Damage is based on weapon plus extra coming from how much over the target number you roll. I think combat looks to be more fluid and faster than in Traveller, mechanically.

      Also unlike Traveller, characters can actually advance in skill level over time, becoming considerably more capable over time. Yes, there is skill advancement in Traveller, but it's small and takes forever. Elite is more mainstream in this area.

      I might add some more on this comparison later as I become more familiar with the game. but after a few days it looks like it'll fill the niche that Traveller does, with better, more modern rules and a universe that is more immediately accessible due to the technological assumptions at the root of the world.
      No stats (by which I assume you mean "ability scores") is really interesting. I'm a bit skeptical, but I'd be willing to try it.

      Is there anything that makes characters better at some skill categories than others? E.g., Character A happens to be better at skills that evolve thinking than he is at skills that involve manual dexterity, even though there's no "Int" or "Dex" score?
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