I advertised this as a Full Thrust: Babylon 5 game, giving the two equal weight. Using a TV show has the advantage that new players are likely to know the setting (or at least have heard of it) and find it easier to take on the role of fleet commander. On the Full Thrust side, it shows the flexibility of the rules and the ability to use them for different genres. Plus, some new players will be pleasantly surprised to find a set of rules that doesn't force them to play with only the "official, approved" miniatures.
The B5 ship designs are my own. All are designed using just the standard rules, with no new weapons or systems.
In the centre of the table is the artifact. This was inspired by the Iain Banks novel Excession so a black sphere would be ideal, but anything suitably weird will do. Around it you need a blue, yellow, or otherwise unusually colored six inch diameter circle of paper/card.
Each player gets two sheets: a handout describing the scenario and relations with other players, and a ship record sheet. The handouts all start with a common section, but the briefings are unique to each player and should be kept secret. The text of the briefings is further down this page and you can download a full set of handouts and ship record sheets. (Feb 16th: these are now OK)
Ideally you have four players. With three, leave out the Narns. The Shadows and Alliance should set up on opposite corners, which will force them to negotiate with the other players before they can get at each other.
The balance of forces is intended to be that Earth, Shadows, and Alliance plus Narn are equal. If you think one of the players is better than the others, give them the Alliance which has the hardest mission. The Narn are good for a hesitant or unsure player, as their role is less assertive with only one ship that can take a lot of damage.
The game starts with one ship per player, pointed roughly in the direction of the artifact.
Make sure you have at least two each of tape measures and cardboard circles with the clock face headings marked on them. These are much easier for new players than the plastic degree circles you can buy in shops. And don't do what I did and give one poor player a centimetre tape measure when everyone else is using inches.
Once people got in range, I explained initiative, firing arcs and beam ratings on the ship SSDs and the rolls needed to hit with beams. For initiative, start with whoever rolls highest going first and then clockwise around the table. For firing I kept it simple and didn't introduce extra rolls on a 6 or threshold checks. The Narn ship doesn't have any fighters, so combat will be simply roll to hit, mark off boxes.
After a few more turns everyone should be comfortable with the basic mechanisms, so introduce additional rolls on 6. I didn't bother with threshold checks in either of my demo games, wanting to keep the action fast and furious. Change initiative so that the player who wins gets to decide the order for everyone else that turn.
Should anyone fire on the artifact itself, the first attempt does nothing. There is no visible or active defense, but all weapons are just absorbed. If they try it again, let the player roll and then inform them that they are shooting at themselves, as the artifact is reflecting back weapon effects.
This is also the time to start introducing more ships per player (except for the Narn - explain to them that they have the most powerful ship on the board at the start) and that ships fire one per side in initiative order, not that every ship on that side fires first.
Ships can come on in any order you, the GM, choose. If you need a reason, the artifact interferes with both transmissions and jump points. I brought on only one new ship each to start with, to make sure everyone got familiar with the new initiative/firing sequence, and after that tried to keep it balanced.
Suggested but by no means compulsory starting ship and order of reinforcements:
Earth: Hyperion medium cruiser, second Hyperion, Omega battleship/carrier, Hyperion and Nova battleship/carrier.
Shadows: Thorn destroyer, Avalanche heavy cruiser, Thorn and Avalanche, two Thorns and an Avalanche.
Alliance: Up to four White Star heavy cruisers.
Narn: G'Quan battleship without fighters. If it gets destroyed or crippled despite the Narn briefing, give them another.
Bringing on the Earth Omega also introduces fighters and PDS. I didn't bother with fighter morale rules and counting CEF.
Continue as long as people are having fun and able to play.
The setting is Babylon 5, late third season or early fourth.
Something strange has appeared in space. It is alien, big, and mysterious. Everyone wants to find out what it is, and keep the knowledge (and actual possession, if possible) to themselves.
No hyperspace jumps, in or out, are possible on the table. Ships can leave under normal movement from any edge.
Weapons may be fired into or out from the zone surrounding the artifact, but not through the zone and out the other side. The artifact itself blocks weapon fire. Measure lines of sight through ship base posts if in doubt.
Nothing else is known about it!
A ship may make detailed sensor readings by spending an entire turn within the colored zone. (You must move into the zone on one turn, spend the entire next turn there, only then move out.) Those sensor readings can only be successfully transmitted once the ship has left the table.
The turn after you attack or are attacked, other ships may start to arrive at the same corner, at the discretion of the GM. They have initial velocity 6.
Don't count on all the ships on your SR Sheet actually turning up!
The Shadows are an unknown alien race, possibly dangerous, certainly powerful. Try to convince them to leave peacefully, but we want this for ourselves.
The Alliance are humans who have been brainwashed by aliens into becoming traitors. They are our enemy and must be destroyed or driven away.
The Narn are unimportant. Keep them away by threats or force as necessary.
An Earth captain always keeps his or her word, but we place little trust in the honesty of aliens and expect none at all from the Alliance.
Earth think of us as traitors, as they have yet to realize who the true enemy is. Do not fire on them first, but you can defend yourself with deadly force.
The Shadows are our enemy. Destroy or drive them away.
The Narn are our friends.
An Alliance captain always keeps his or her word, unless the other party has clearly and obviously broken their promise.
Earth are our puppets, although they do not realize this. If it becomes necessary to fight them, destroy them all: none must escape.
The Alliance are our enemy. Destroy or drive them away.
The Narn are unimportant. Keep them away by threats or force as necessary.
If a Shadow ship becomes crippled (ie loses life support or main drive) it could be captured by an enemy who controls the artifact. Do not allow this to happen: we must conceal our true nature.
Morality, honesty, or honour are meaningless concepts between superior beings such as ourselves and these lesser races.
Earth were our friends in the past, and not yet our enemies.
The Shadows are a deadly enemy. Avoid them.
The Alliance are our friends, although they have not done much for us yet. Do not fire on them first.
Given the desperate circumstances of our people, make or break agreements or otherwise do whatever is expedient to preserve your ship and gain some advantage.
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