Navigator Tech

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this article. After perusing the equipment offerings in both White Star and Spacemaster’s 1e Tech Law, I believe that Peter R probably intends to confine himself to the gear in White Star, though this might cause problems for backward-compatibility with Spacemaster products, an intention of purpose he has for his Navigator RPG.

As would be expected, White Star equipment is fundamental. Its standard gear isn’t more wondrous than modern tools in existence today. Its weapons range from the primitive ones available in most fantasy rpgs to modern “slugthrowers” to laser weapons. Armor in White Star, no matter how it is “skinned,” is just armor—even if it has reflective coating against laser weapons. Shields are either energy or physical, and they can’t be used together. Only with starships do we see some innovations predicated on genre. Here we find Shielding, Targeting Systems, Automated Weapons, Cloaking, Ion Guns, Proton Missiles, Reinforced Hulls and Tractor Beams.

The range of equipment in Spacemaster’s 1e Tech Law is much more diverse, but these raise design questions that aren’t easily resolved. Does armor lacking reflective covering provide any protection against laser beams? How about blasters, which I’m interpreting as a weapon that fires a wall of force? Against these energies, armor might minimize damage, but the character nonetheless should be subject to being knocked prone. Ion blasts should be particularly pernicious to robots and gadgetry, and plasma and matter/antimatter should be particularly lethal: plasma should eat right through physical armor (only energy shields might provide a defense) and perhaps continue to do so for rounds later, and matter/antimatter… Well.

White Star Advanced Equipment (in the White Star universe, this appears to be the equivalent of wondrous items or artifacts—not “for sale” and designed to be extremely rare) offers devices such as an Atomizer (Save or die, 10 uses), Plasma Projector (massive damage, 10 uses), and a Freeze Ray (a stunner?). These, perhaps, emulate some of the Spacemaster tech I have described above.

I guess these considerations merely show, per Peter’s intentions, that there is great potential in these spaces for third party developers. These designers should have opportunities to create very interesting and tactical mini games based on real or fictional “science” and technology.

If the range of science fiction personal gear in White Star is limited, its starship offerings are much more serviceable, and this chassis, as a foundation upon which to build, is preferable to Spacemaster 1e’s opaque method for designing starships, though much—particularly the construction of computer programs and abilities—could be ported in from there. I guess I likewise look forward to the mini games that third parties might develop for spaceship combat and exploration.

Well, those are my thoughts for the emerging Navigator RPG. I’m eager to see it take shape!

“Casting” in Navigator RPG

I appreciate Peter R’s inclusion of the telepath or mentalist into Navigator RPG. As I have said before, I’m amused by the preponderance of this archetype in science fiction, that training, mutating or evolving to use the power of brain waves is somehow more believable than outright “magic.” And magic it is, demonstrated as so by Spacemaster adopting its Rolemaster magic system in toto for its emulation of psychic abilities.

In preparation for this article, I had thought I was going to propose an utterly different system for mentalist abilities. For awhile I had been dissatisfied with the resource-based method of magic in RM, and I believed I would be additionally so, when it came to mentalism, while proposing a system in Navigator. I had thought that using a straight skill mechanic —individual lists developed independently, as is BriH’s method or in Against the Darkmaster (VsD)—while completely disregarding Power Points would be my preference.

My thinking was that a telepath—in contradistinction, perhaps, to a magic caster who was born special or had access to some numinous gift—simply had learned to use one’s mind to an extraordinary degree. In other words, whereas you and I think, perhaps, all day long with comparative ease, a futuristic mentalist simply will turn these thoughts outward to interact with other minds. How successful they will be at this interaction, I had been thinking, should be dependent on a Skill roll, one most often opposed by a Skill roll arising likewise from the target mind.

I also liked the idea of a telepath becoming strained or fatigued, however, and that’s when I began to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps the mentalist should expend hit points for its abilities. Or maybe it made more sense to burn the actual stat most closely associated with its powers. But then I thought that this was too punishing, that a telepath should be able to do some things passively or with ease, and hence Power Points were reintroduced.

What this line of reasoning did for me, however, was to recognize that the subsystem within which casters operate might be—and perhaps should be—applied to other classes. I doubt that this idea is original, but here it is: every profession should enjoy a secondary resource, determined by the table that enumerates Power Points, based on their archetypes’ primary attributes. For casters, this resource should power their spells, of course, but additional points might be spent to add bonuses to the roll or its effects (VsD allows additional spends for more powerful applications). This is what I propose for other classes: these might spend points for, say, +10 per point, while attempting actions in conformance with the professions’ primary abilities. I would allow these bonuses to stack up to a cap determined by a sum of three main stats keyed to mind, body and soul.

I developed a system like this for my d100 Viking game, heavily inspired by the game Yggdrasill, which uses a PC resource called “Furor” for many similar results.

Two considerations remain.

The first is this: should casters (and other classes) be allowed to burn hp or temporary stat values? I really like the idea of burning mind power for the telepath, an action that, within great straits, could leave the character brain dead or, at the very least, temporarily impeded in cognition, which could reduce Power Points per day, while the mentalist recovers.

The other question is just how many kinds of casters should be in Navigator. It’s foregone that a type of Essence caster is going to be represented in the form of a Star Knight. But what about Channeling? Is the implied metaphysics of the genre that nothing that can function as a deity—be it outside or inside SpaceTime—can exist? I expect that this question shall be answered at individual gaming tables and that Peter R expects resources for this kind of gameplay to be offered by third parties. On my end, however, I’m already adopting the Cleric WhiteBox class—renamed a “Shepherd”—into any future White Star/Spacemaster/Navigator game I might run.

Professions and Skills for the Navigator RPG

In my advancing years, I have ceased being a fan of Skills-based RPGs, and Rolemaster, I am told, quite ironically is Skills. I much prefer the idea of working out resolutions at the table as situations arise, and this lends itself well to the style of play in “first generation” games. Here is an example: in a Swords & Wizardry game I had all PCs make Save rolls vs inclement weather, but the Druid (and this would have applied to a Ranger, too) got to Save for “free,” without a roll. The game was text-based, online, and the Druid gamer sent me one of these: 😍. In contrast, recently in an Against the Darkmaster game, two PCs rolled to detect something in a forest. One succeeded at hearing an unusual sound, the other didn’t. The one who didn’t was an Elf. “That’s odd,” said that player, and, for awhile (being a 1e gamer), that player truly believed that something mysterious was going on. He was an Elf, and Elves simply hear things in a forest. He was a bit surprised when I explained to him that, no, his ignorant Elf simply had spectacularly failed his Perception roll.

I recognize now that I should have dealt with the situation by letting the Elf hear the sound “for free” and requiring the humans in the group to make Skill rolls. I suspect that this is how Peter R runs his games, but Rolemaster, for me, is so “roll-heavy” that I routinely forget to stop and think like this. There’s a Skill for nearly everything, and characters have been built to be “good” at these things because of reliance on their Skill rolls. Perhaps I should have stopped and given the Elf a bonus on the roll, but that’s figured already—that’s Elven racial modifiers. The truth is that, with Skill-heavy games, too often I am lulled into ignoring simple common sense in terms of the fiction.

But what happens when I outright remove Skills? It never occurs to some players that, say, their Fighter character might diversify into some Thief-based qualities. Original iterations of the game provide the highly clunky “dual classing” to accommodate this, though this still tends to keep caster types sacrosanct and unattainable. I think we RM games appreciate a little magical possibility in all our classes. I also know that some gamers heavily rely on a list of Skills to visualize their characters and conceive of which their adventurers are capable.

For Navigator RPG, therefore, my wish is for a sweet spot of basic Class abilities, allowance of common sense, and serviceable, core Skill systems. In the following sections I make some comments on the existing Professions that Peter has adopted from White Star as well as his inclusion of the Mystic. I also propose two of my own, and draft what seem to me a serviceable set of Skills.


It seems sort of odd for this to be a “Profession,” but I very much like it as an archetype. I see a bit of both Leia and (weirdly) Lando in this one. I wonder how Peter is going to use the “Charm Person” quality here. Perhaps it makes more sense to simply give the Aristocrat a special “Convince” or “Befriend” Skill based on Level (I have nothing like this in my lists below). Perhaps something based on a Resistance Roll (using the Aristocrat’s Level) also is a good idea.


I wonder what, if anything, Peter will do with the attacks per Level against creatures of 1 HD or fewer. In my reduced Combat Skills list, I would allow Mercenaries to specialize in one or two Combat skills, giving them a one-time bonus at character creation in these.


I really like the OSR construction of this character class, but this archetype’s ability to take rounds of combat to manipulate the qualities of a starship might better be modeled with Skills in the Navigator RPG. I wonder what changes we will see and if, consequently, the Pilot’s White Star adequacy will be diminished.

Star Knight 


This is Peter’s Spacemaster telepath or mentat. It’s often amused me that science fiction has regarded mind powers as much more “believable” than magic. Anyway, I think it’s an element highly required in Navigator, and I’m quite eager to write about mentalism and its powers with great detail in the future.

Technician and Scientist

At this point, I don’t have much to say about my two additions, but I felt that they should be represented. As with the Mercenary, though I expect these classes to be generally capable, I would have them pick one or two specializations in which to gain some one-time bonuses.

And here follow my lists of proposed skills.


Melee. This would include all melee weapons as well as unarmed combat.

Primitive projectiles

Modern projectiles. “Modern” here would include everything that is modern within the game setting: energy and laser weapons would be included.

Heavy weapons

Vehicle weapons 


Adventuring. This is a catch-all, including Survival and First Aid (also, possibly, Perception).



Fine tasks








Finally, Peter has plans for armor proficiencies, which I think is a great idea, and Body Development and “Spellcasting” abilities should be handled separately.

Stats (and Skills) in the Navigator RPG

A close reading of Peter R’s Navigator update causes me to believe that, so far, the most salient part of White Star that he is using are the adventuring professions. The rest appears in common with the d100 system that we all love. This strikes me as an opportunity to revisit this latter system, and I shall begin where character creation commences: stats.

Stats define the character, and, broadly speaking, there are three intentions to be considered as one employs player characteristics in game design. PC attributes are the result of a simulation of chance (aka deterministic nature), a player’s predetermined character concept, or a combination of these. This last is the approach Peter has adopted for Navigator: players roll their stats (the deterministic “mini game”) but they get to assign them (the “build”) and, most importantly, if they don’t get numbers high enough, two can be replaced with 90s.

I think the Navigator design process is an opportunity for Peter to revisit Spacemaster’s ten stats. As I have written before, I like the symmetry of ten stats within a percentile system. But that symmetry is sort of broken when Peter assigns three of the ten as bonuses to individual Skills. And, as I have said (again in the article linked above), I like the symmetry of three, which breaks down into the three traditionally-regarded aspects of the person: mind, body, and soul.

I should add here, looking ahead in the design process, that rough Skill “groups” might conveniently break down into three (as is sort of demonstrated in Against the Darkmaster). For Spacemaster these Skill categories could be Combat, Utility and Learning. Should there be ten Skills in each category? Maybe. I might prefer five, but such a paltry value might reflect a “lite” version of our favorite d100 game.

While I’m on the topic of symmetry, it appears that original Spacemaster is likewise considerate of this aspect of elegance. Five of its stats it identifies as “Development Stats;” the remaining five are “Primary Stats.” These designations represent the “mini game” of early Spacemaster character creation: high numbers in Development Stats garner more Development Points for Skills. But high Primary Stats (maybe) directly benefit more “useful” Skills. The parenthetical “maybe” reveals my uncertainty that the distinctions here result in “meaningful” choices (I’m not going to plunge that deeply into this old design) at character creation, and I’m not sure that Constitution (identified as a Development Stat) believably should result in DPs.

This topic of “meaningful choices” should be kept in mind as Peter assigns Stats to Skills. All of the stats should be used more or less commensurately. I’m not saying that they need to be “balanced,” but all should find some use within the game. Another way of putting this directive is that attributes such as Charisma should not immediately be regarded as a “dump stat.” These White Box games have done well to dignify this stat (and Wisdom) by awarding an xp bonus for a high value. If it becomes a last resort, Navigator might consider something similar. Finally, a good first principle would be to try to find a stat from each of the three aspects of the person to modify each Skill.

So now I’m again privileging three aspects of the person. Can I convince Peter to go with nine stats instead of ten? Here they are in categories, to see what might be thrown out.

MIND: Self-Discipline, Memory, Reasoning 

BODY: Constitution, Agility, Strength, Quickness 

SOUL: Presence, Intuition, Empathy 

Looks like I’d wrap Agility and Quickness together, reducing body to three stats.

Spacemaster and the OSR

I’m of two minds while reading about Peter R’s development of Navigator RPG. As far as I can tell, it purposes to be an open content retroclone of Spacemaster but using the convenient OGL of White Star, which is based on the “White Box” version of the Original Game. 

I fully support the mechanics of this decision. Swords & Wizardry has become my game of choice: quick-playing and eminently malleable. Though my own preference is for Swords & Wizardry Complete, I can see the rationale in adopting White Box: since this form uses only d20s and d6s for its mechanical resolution, conversions to d100 should be efficient.

My ambivalence arises from the sources that are inherent in White Star’s inspirations. The strongest influence appears to be Star Wars, and Star Wars—at least to me—is not science fiction. It’s fantasy skinned with spaceships and laser swords. I’m not saying that this kind of fantasy is “bad fun” (for me, Star Wars is very fun, especially the d6 version). I’m saying that this is out of alignment with the ethos of Spacemaster.

But of which Spacemaster do I speak? I own the first edition, the one that is directly compatible with RM2. I’ve never played this edition (or any others). I’m not sure if I can. It’s a fascinating read. Yet, as a publication predating the Information Age, some parts are quaint, and Tech Law’s details for starship construction are utterly confounding. One thing it is not, though: it is not Star Wars (though I believe it accommodates, in part, a player’s desire to play a Jedi Knight). And if it also isn’t, precisely, “hard” science fiction, it at least attempts to be “realistic.”

One of the ways in which it is realistic, I suppose, is in its range of Professions. Do you want to play a Research or Field Scientist? How about a Machine Tech? If one follows the usually reliable dictum that a game’s rules telegraph what the game is about, then this feels a bit like Star Trek (which I consider “pseudo-science”). Is your character going to specialize in Planetology? Then what are your “adventures” going to be like?

Dr. Mind: Captain, I’ve determined that this atmosphere contains high volumes of nitrous oxide.

Captain Stern: Very good. Crew, ready yourselves for nitrous breathers.

What a challenge this level of verisimilitude must be for the GM.

An even better indication of Spacemaster’s mundane orientation is in its Races and Cultures. There are no “aliens,” precisely. I understand that Spacemaster 2e does provide a few samples with the caveat that alien intelligence in the universe is highly unlikely, and, even if one were encountered, it’s doubtful that homo sapiens would be able to recognize one as such. The “otherness” of wonder and exploration is nonetheless provided in Spacemaster’s trans humanist vision: humans have colonized space, adapted, mutated, evolved and even modified themselves genetically and technologically. In Spacemaster, artificial intelligence has emerged. I’ve begun to prefer human centrism in my fantasy games, so this aspect of science fiction play greatly appeals to me.

Again, I think Peter R is correct in choosing White Star as his starting point. Moreover, White Star’s more obvious “adventuring classes,” I suppose, are a necessity. I’m not certain about all I’ve been reading about the inclusion of alien species, however, and this has led me to wonder what precisely is being “revived” with the OSR label on this project. As we all know, all game systems are simply tools, and I look forward to adapting Navigator RPG to my preferred form of mundane science fiction. I also wonder at which point, though, rules become so entwined with tone and implied setting as to be inextricable.