I'm sure many people here are aware that the videogame XCom: Enemy Unknown was released last week and looks to be doing rather well with both critics and fans. It's a remake of the 1994 Microprose classic (also known as UFO Defense), and in efforts to streamline the gameplay they have obviously taken some cues from D&D and other RPGs. For instance, the number of soldiers you can dispatch on a mission is reduced to between 4-6 (the ideal party size), and on a soldier's turn they can move and afterwards take an action (typically shooting) or move again (though you cannot shoot then move). In addition, there are soldier classes and experience is gained during missions to increase their rank and subsequent abilities.

So, I think there's more than enough scope for a solid RPG here (a quick search reveals some aged attempts at this). The most interesting thing about a game based around XCom, for me at least, would be the 'top-level' strategic decisions: what to build in your base, what to research, how to deal with threats. The biggest difficulty I can see is that players would require multiple characters in order to deal with deaths and injuries during missions - but this would if anything strengthen the team ethos. Indeed, it would be much more the sort of game where the DM is a direct antagonist (with strict rules on how many aliens and such he has to work with in a given mission) than a facilitator of play.

Mechanically, I think the videogame does most of the hard work. Some of the abilities presented would be considered overpowered in a tabletop game, and others unusual for the class they are assigned to. The game uses % to determine your chances of shooting, modified by weapon, range, cover and so on. I would be tempted to simplify this to d20 because I don't think much would be lost. Of the other d20 system mechanics, abilities and saving throws wouldn't really fit, though hitpoints would. Each soldier has a few basic stats: their aim, HP and will (for fear and psionics), with restrictions on weapon usage done by class. I think the original game had a little more finesse here, as a soldier's strength would determine who got the heavy weapons, and I think abilities ought to inform class choice, with class choice potentially determining special abilities (though I am not a fan of things like smoke grenades being a class ability). Alternatively, you could eschew classes altogether, and special abilities would be limited according to stats.

I think this could be a fun project to work on, and I wonder if anyone else has any ideas on how the game might be structured - particularly the top-level strategic information. I thought a fun way to do might be as in the boardgame Space Alert: each player gets assigned a top-level strategic role (in the boardgame it decides who puts cards on the board, who ensures nobody talks during static and so on). There would be a mission commander (who decides which soldiers go on a mission and who controls them), a science office to decide what to research, a supply officer in charge of engineering and constructing the base, and a diplomatic officer to deal with the world council. The team would obviously talk and advise each other, but if a decision was to be made it would come down to a specific player (or you can have democracy if you really want ).

Thinking about it, some aspects of play might be better handled in a boardgame manner. A deck of cards to determine encounters and requests makes just as much sense as a set of tables, but is prettier. You might need a board to track the world and the base anyway, though I still think that actual soldiers and combat are better dealt with in the more open RPG style than boardgame style.

So, discuss!