[ForeSight] That obscure game I keep mentioning

review

#1

I’ve mentioned ForeSight a number of times, as my favourite RPG and as the native RPG of my setting Flat Black, but since it is very obscure I reckon that my mentions must have left most of you scratching your heads. So I suppose I had better put up a bit of a description and explanation. Here goes!

History

The way I understand it is that Tonio Loewald was very keen on SPI’s SF RPG Universe, but lamented it lacked a setting. So he designed one for it, but before he finished SPI exploded in a convincing demonstration that a group of gamer buddies does not make an effective management team for a company. TSR ended up with the properties, and was not interested in Tonio’s setting, so he designed his own SF RPG to support his setting. He went on to publish ForeSight (the game) in 1987, ForeScene: the Flawed Utopia (the setting) in 1988, and (seeing that the people who had bought ForeSight were using it as a general-purpose RPG) a fantasy and low-tech supplement (HindSight & the Age of ‘Reason’) also in 1988.

ForeSight sold out its initial print run of 500 copies, nearly all by sales at gaming stores in Australia and New Zealand. Without the backing of a distributor it took nearly two years to do so, and was not financially exciting. It has not been re-printed. Tonio brought out a much simpler and cheaper stapled edition in 1990, which he inaccurately called “ForeSight Enhanced”: I say “inaccurately” because in fact it was ForeSight considerably diminished. It did not sell out. Every now and again he stirs toward re-publishing ForeSight, but always intends to completely re-write and re-design it, so that the current draft (available from the ForeSight page at Loewald New Media is a radically simpler and less complete game with almost nothing surviving from the 1986 edition except the name.

Physical format

ForeSight first edition consist of 124 page of A4 plain paper perfect-bound into a cover of light stock card. I have found this binding amazingly robust. I covered my original copy in self-adhesive acetate film and then abused it like hell for twenty years. Not so much as a single page was even thinking of coming loose when I had the binding sliced off and the pages fed through a scanner. (There was also a very small number of copies bound in cloth-covered hard covers. All are still in the hands of the original owners except mine, which were stolen at a games con.) Owing to an error at the printers the paper is an ugly buff colour.

Layout is clean, there is an adequate scattering of graphical elements (illustrations, pictures, forms etc.) to break up the wall of text. The offset printing is adequately sharp, but in my middle age I am starting to find the type tinier than I prefer. (Body text is set in Geneva, about 50 characters across a 77mm column.)


#2

Contents and organisation

ForeSight was designed and written by a mathematician who was a fan of SPI wargames. This showed. Definitions are explicit and unambiguous. Sequences of operations are set out clearly, with the steps often numbered. Sections are numbered within chapters. The index is at the front.

Chapter 1

Four pages, consisting of one column of “[1.0] ForeWord”. Four and a half columns of “[1.1] Definitions” including “GM”, definitions of the game’s attributes, and a definition of the game’s distinction between Skills and Fields of Knowledge. One column of “[1.2] Conventions” covering such topics as “rounding”, “page numbering”, and “lack of explanation”. One column of “[1.3] Technological levels”, and half a column of “[1.4] Design credits” (mine is for “proofreading and playtesting”).

Chapter 2: Characters

The character representation system in ForeSight is based on that in Victory Games’s James Bond 007, somewhat expanded, generalised, and cleaned up.

A character has nine “attributes” (strength, endurance, dexterity, agility, intelligence, perception, willpower, empathy, and appearance). Each has an “inherent” value in the range 5–12, and a “trained” value which can be up to four points higher, giving a range of 5–16. Trained values may be increased with experience (to a maximum of Inherent + 4), inherent values cannot. This mechanic is support to prevent the experience system from effecting implausible changes to relatively stable dimensions of a character.

A character may have a number of skills—49 are listed, besides generic skills. Each skill has a base value give by its formula (the average or half the average of one or two attributes), on top of which a character may have a number of skill levels limited by his or her highest value for any attribute which appears in the skill’s formula. This is contrived to give PCs a range of PCS (effective value of skill) from 6 to 34.

A character will have familiarities with an array of different gravity ranges, temperature ranges, and environment types. Familiarities range from 0 to 3, with four gravity ranges, five temperature ranges, and 21 types of environment rated separately. Familiarity appears as a variable in the base ease factors of certain skills: eg. Acrobatics has a BEF of G+2, Groundcraft has E+4.

A character will have a number of Fields of Knowledge. About eighty are listed, ranging from Astrophysics through Capture (an unarmed combat field), Ballet (a dance field), and Tracking to Cast Sculpture. Each field of knowledge is used with a skill or skills, or to put it another way it enables skills to be used in a certain field. E.g. a character with Starship Construction can use his Diagnose skill to design starships and his Repair skill to repair them, but he can’t use those skills to diagnose diseases in the skill or to surgically repair the injured unless he also has the Emergency Medical or Standard Medical fields.

A character also has a handedness, a social background, an age, and maybe a goodie or bummer such as a talent or phobia.

Section [2.1] contains the character generation procedure in eight numbered steps, some of which have up to vii numbered sub-steps. Basically it is a point-buy system, or rather three separate point-buy systems, because inherent attribute points, years of education (used to buy fields of knowledge), and generation points (used to buy trained attribute points, skills, skill levels, and familiarities) form separate pools with no interconversion allowed. In a feature loathed by players an house-ruled in all campaigns except Tonio’s own, the pools were set randomly (but not independently). The player had a choice of either setting all inherent attributes to a base of 5 and distributing 32 inherent attribute points, or of setting each inherent attribute to d6 + 4 (rolled in order, no repeats) and distributing a further 15 inherent attribute points. Social background was rolled randomly, it gave bonus GPs, years of free education, and starting money with a rough trade-off (those some backgrounds were Just Better and some were Just Worse). Ethnic Background could be rolled randomly, but had no effect anyway. Age was rolled randomly, and had a dramatic effect: older characters got more eduction, more generation points, and dramatically more money—starting funds were multiplied by years of education and by (Age - 14). A goodie or bummer (perhaps several) was rolled on the “Abilities and Limitations” table.

Players hated the random features of Section 2.1 and the dramatic differences in character wealth and ability which they produced. The whole of Section 2.1 was commonly replaced by house rules with a straight point buy, and the most substantive content of the 1990 ForeSight Enhanced was a replacement character generation system, an elaborate but non-random method of partitioning points among the attribute point, generation point, and education pools in accordance with character background but with equal character power for all.

Section 2.2 was a skill list with some notes and definitions, rules for maximum level limits etc. Section 2.3 was a list of fields of knowledge with notes and explanations. Section 2.4 dealt with rules for unfamiliarity.

Section 2.5 was the experience system. Experience points could be spent on the same sorts of things generation points were (and a few extras, such as acquiring familiarity with unfamiliar things, i.e. buying off non-familiarity modifiers), but they were spent differently. Using generation points the prices of high skill levels, high familiarity levels, and high levels of attribute training were the same as those of low ones, i.e. total costs were linear in level. But using experience points, the prices climbed steeply, i.e. total costs were quadratic for skills, cubic for familiarities, and in the case of trained attribute points were quadratic in the trained level achieved (not in the amount of training). This produced a distinct incentive to concentrate in generation on getting a few skills and attributes to very high levels, and then buying lots of low levels with experience points. Tonio declared this to be a design feature, but I house-ruled it, and my house-rules were adopted in ForeSight Enhanced.

Section 2.6 was the fatigue system. Section 2.7 was an optional set of psionics rules with nine psioinics skills and rules for acquiring and using them. Section 2.8 (“Non-Player Characters”) urged the GM not to bother with the full rigmarole of character generation in the case of NPCs, and gave procedures for generating minor supporting cast characters less capable than PCs (unless the end up older!) for friends and associates of PCs.

Section 2.9 “Merits, Demerits, and Notoriety” was a system for keeping track of a PCs progress up the ranks of a hierarchy (or up hierarchy of different levels of being sought by the police). There were no rules for using the resulting rank to obtain favours or resources.

To be continued


#3

Chapter 3: Resolution system

Section 3.0 of ForeSight laid out a cleaned up and generalised version of the Ease Factor:Quality Rating resolution system out of SPI’s James Bond 007. The major change was that where the JB007 version was table-driven, ForeSight’s version was worked by comparing the die roll to various factions of the success chance. Playing ForeSight made me learn to do one-digit by two-digit multiplications, and to divide by two and five.

There is a summary of the resolution system, in large type, suitable to be photocopied and distributed to players, on the back of the chapter flyleaf. More than half the page is taken up by a division table.

The basic story of the EF:QR system is that a character has a PCS representing his ability in a skill. The skill has a Base Ease Factor (always 5 in JB007, in ForeSight they varied somewhat from skill to skill, and often included a variable for the character’s familiarity eg. with the gravity or the environment). Modifiers for circumstance and task difficulty are applied to the Base Ease Factor to yield a modified Ease Factor. Then you multiply the character’s PCS by the task’s EF to get a success chance. Roll d100. A result over Success Chance is a failure (in ForeSight, “Quality rating 7”) and maybe a botch (in ForeSight, “QR10”). A roll of SC or under is a success. If it is under 1/10 of SC (a tabulated value in JB007) it is a Quality Rating 1 (ideal success). If it is under 1/5 of SC but not a QR1 it is a QR2. If it is under 1/2 of SC but not a QR1 or QR2 it is a Quality Rating 3. If it is SC or under but not a QR1, QR2, or QR3, it is a QR4 (bare success). Exceptions: 00 is never better than QR7, even if SC > 99.; 99 is never better than QR4, even if SC>199.

Each quality rating is associated with a “yield percentage” (for use when the amount achieved is important) and a “time to complete” (for use when speed is of the essence). Also, the scale of QRs is appropriate for them to be used as BEFs for opposing tasks, or as a basis for (negative) EFMs for tasks building on the task achieved.

When I first encountered this system I thought it over-elaborate, but I came to appreciate it and the smooth and consistent way in which it handled degree of success in all tasks I grew very fond of it. It is flexible and powerful in proportion to its complexity, and not too complex for a universal task resolution procedure.

§3.1 set a scale for freehand task difficulty modifiers.

§3.2 was a set of rules for using the Charisma and Confidence skills to persuade an NPC to do a favour, based on the NPCs initial demeanour.

§3.3 was a four-step procedure for a PC to seduce an NPC, based on the five-step procedure in James Bond 007/

§3.4 was the repair rules, covering surgical repair of injuries inter alia. The size, complexity, and degree of damage to an object combined to give a time and ease factor modifier for the repair. Quality of equipment and QR of diagnosis modified the EF. The rules covered partial repair.

§3.5 was abstract design and construction rules. §3.6 was research rules. §3.7 was animal training, a four-step task. §3.8 was a four-stage task for penetrating computer systems. § 3.9 was a four-stage task for penetrating electronic security systems.

§3.10 was a neat little system (half a column) using opposing Stealth and Scan rolls (based on Environment Familiarity) to resolve the conditions of contact (range, surprise, initiate) of opposing parties that were travelling, patrolling, or setting ambush in arbitrary terrain.

§3.11 covered teamwork, allowing three modes: division of labour; “many hands make light work”, and “a second opinion”.

§3.12, the conclusion of the Resolution chapter, was a page and a half of guidelines and examples for using skills and setting task difficulty modifiers.

Chapter 4: Combat

The combat system in ForeSight was, I believe, based on that in SPI’s Commando. It was played on a hex-grid in turns, with each hex representing about a metre, and each turn about 3 seconds. Each character got to do several things in each turn, the number depending on his or her Speed. Speed was based on Agility and Perception, and was modified for fatigue, injury, encumbrance, and stiff or heavy armour on the limbs. The possible actions were listed, their effects and options (eg. hexes where you might end up, facings that you might end up in, etc.) very clearly illustrated with diagrams. The turn sequence was unambiguous and clearly set out.

I loved the ForeSight first edition combat system, but most players found it tricky. You had to be careful about setting up the first turn of a combat (though a few simple rules allowing characters to take opportunity actions to defend themselves before their pulse began in the first turn of a combat would have fixed that). And there were important tactics in the use of the game system, so that a good player with an inferior character could (fairly reliably) defeat a bad player with a superior character. I thought that the solution to this problem was to learn to play the game, but many players did not want to make tactical decision other than on the sort of level and in the sort of terms that their characters would.

In a long-running HindSight game , I had a character who on paper had less than 2% chance to win a fight against any of the other PCs, but who defeated more NPCs than all the others (except the magician) put together. There is a strong case to be made that the combat system in ForeSight was more of an included game than a suitable resolution procedure for an RPG.

§4.1 was combat setup, including a procedure for finding cover in the first seconds of combat, which depended on a Scan roll by the character and the terrain value of the environment.

§4.2 was the sequence of actions for the combat system, the rules for character Speed, the different actions which could be taken with action ponts or by devoting a whole pulse to them.

$4.3 was combat task resolution, including the parry and dodge rules, the armour and injury rules, the rules for getting stunned and recovering from stun, and the standard ease factor modifiers for ranged and mêlée combat.

§4.4 was combat equipment.

There a large (full-page) table of weapons with their performance modifiers, ammo, rate of fire, damage class, ranges (using the same system as in James Bond 007), concealability ratings, draw and reload times, jam ranges, weight, tech level, and cost, and a flag to note which skill they were used with. The same table was used for ranged and mêlée weapons, so that every firearm had full stats for use as a mêlée weapon. The arrangement of the weapons in that table had no pattern that I could see, which was annoying. There weren’t many weapons at each tech level (at ForeSight TL8 you had the protein disruptor (from Universe, I think), the TD (“target-designating”) laspistol and lasrifle, and the DEXAX needler and DEXAX needle rifle (the pistol from Vance’s Planet of Adventure, the rifle by analogy). This shortage was greatly eased by a system in an appendix which allowed one to apply modifiers to base weapons, providing stats for heavier and lighter calibres, shorter formats, target-shooting models etc.

The descriptions of the weapons in §4.4 were minimal. But not I think sub-minimal.

The table of armour was much smaller, but the system was that you bought armour separately for the head, chest, abdomen, each arm, and each leg, so there was scope for customisation. The 21 types or armour in the table included at least to two types (one rigid and one flexible) at each TL from 0 to 9. Each type of armour had separate ratings for its protectiveness against three damage types (mêlée, impact, and beam), a modifier to character speed for each limb dressed in it, a concealability rating, a vision modifier for a helmet made of it (or a usual matching quality of helmet), a base mass, a tech level, and a base cost.

There was a column on exoskeletons, including a load-bearing (“augmented”) and a combat-optimised (“combat”) exoskeleton at each tech level from 7 to 9, plus freaky things called “power roos” at TLs 8 and 9. The section concluded with a column of stats and rules for environment suits: breathing masks, SCUBA, NBC suits, thermal suits, and vacc suits.

§4.5 “Optional Combat Rules” includes stats and rules and special actions for hand grenades, alternative rules for more realistic damage and parrying, minimum strength for weapon use, and equipment listings for high-tech mêlée combat weapons called “battle harness” (from Universe, I think. It concludes with special actions and rules for tripping, knockout blows, entangling attacks, grabs, disarms, restrains (wrestling), knockback attacks, throws (as in Judo), and strangle attacks.

To be continued


#4

Chapter 5: Travel & vehicles

Chapter 5 began with a table of vehicles. This was rather sparse, especially at lower tech levels. A system of vehicle modifications in an appendix added considerable range and flexibility, but the whole thing was rather unsystematic. Vehicles were arranged without discernible order. The table listed their tech level, pursuit modifier, manoeuvre modifier, redline (an abstract measure of safe handling limits at speed, used in the chase rules), cruising speed and maximum speed (used in the long distance travel rules), ceiling (negative for submersibles), “damage track” (a measure of the injury required to damage them), size (a ‘to-hit’ bonus for ranged combat, also used in ‘Force’ manoeuvres), ‘type’, and cargo and passenger capacity.

Below the vehicle table was the chart of terrain values by terrain type, which really ought to have been in Chapter 1.

§5.1 defined all the vehicle characteristics and gave rules for adjusting them for terrain value (according ot ‘type’).

§5.2 gave procedures for using character’s driving skills and navigation skill, and vehicles’ stats to determine the speed of travel in arbitrary terrain, with one variation for cautious driving and another for “hasty travel”.

§5.3 was the pursuit system, rules for chase scenes based on the chase rules in James Bond 007. The idea was that there was an auction each turn, with different parties bidding levels of difficult and dangerous driving, the winner getting to choose whether to go first or last. There was a clear series of actions, and number of options to choose with significant effects, etc… And there were rules for ramming, exchange of fire, etc. It was supposed to be generalised for air, land, or sea pursuits, but in practice it really only made sense in a land environment, and some manoeuvres only assuming a network of routes and a degree of concealment. The pursuit system included rules for suffering crashes in such scenes, and for vehicles and their occupants being damaged and injured thereby.

Chapter 6: General equipment

Chapter 6 consisted principally of a four-page equipment list. Each piece of equipment was listed with the skill it was used with, the field of knowledge needed to repair it), its weight (mass, actually), tech level, cost, and some brief notes of what it did: where necessary. The listings for holsters included rules for the effects of different carries on concealability and draw time (which should have been in Combat Equipment). The listings for personal fliers included stats that should have been on the vehicle table. Apart from that the list was okay, but too short even with weapons, armour, vehicles, and protective gear listed elsewhere.

The other content of substance in Chapter 6 of ForeSight was the rules for toolkits, which let you work out the cost and mass of a basic toolkit, a standard toolkit, and advanced toolkit, a small facility (repair shop, clinic) or a large facility (engineering shop, hospital), for each technical field of knowledge, by tech level from TL5 to TL10.

To be continued


#5

Chapter 7: Star System and Planet Generation

The star system and planet generation chapter of ForeSight is what I first built my universe with, and I have since gone to some trouble to purge the results. However, you have to bear in mind that it was designed in 1985, when the Equilibrium Condensation theory was the best we had, and you ought to make some allowance for the fact that it was consciously designed to provide a little more variety than strict realism, and to be implemented with a calculator, pencil, and paper by actual gamers in days when we didn’t all have computers.

The first step was to make a photocopy of the star system design form. This did not have space for moons, and I eventually found that the system produced almost as many habitable moons as habitable planets.

The second step was to find a star in a “suitable” astronomical catalogue and note its Stellar Type (i.e. spectral type). The system had rules for types from B0 to M9 and S9 out to 100 light-years from Sol (including a table of luminosities and masses for spectral classes from M5 VI to B0 Ia0), but noted that it was intended only for F0 to M9 main-sequence stars within 30 light-years. Looking up “stellar type” in a table, you got “range” (which was a chance to have a planet on each row of the table), “radius” (a scaling factor for distance of planet from star: essentially the square root of luminosity), and “mass” (used to calculate the years lengths).

Then you went down the rows of the form. For rows 1 to 10 (corresponding to orbits inside the snow line) you rolled a d10, and for rows 11 to 16 you rolled d6. If the roll was less than or equal to “range” you put a tick in the “orbital radius” column at that row. Then for each row that had a tick in it, you multiplied the “base radius” figure printed in the “orbital radius” row by the “radius” factor for the stellar type, rubbed out the tick and wrote the product in in its place. (To be neat, you might then whiteout the “base radius” figures, but in practise I did not use the form.

For each row with a figure in “radius” you rolled a d10. If it was a 10, the ‘planet’ was an asteroid belt. otherwise a 1–3 gave you a “standard” (terrestrial) planet, and a 4–9 gave you a standard planet in row 1–10 of a gas giant in row 11–16.

For each terrestrial planet, you rolled d10-1 (minus a further 3 if the star was type S) for its size, treating results less than 0 as 0), and wrote that into the “size” column. Size 0 was 2500-km diameter, Size 1 was 3,750 km, Size 2 was 5,000 km, and each size larger increased diameter by 2,500 up to Size 6, then Size 7 was 20,000 km diameter, Size 8 was 30,000 km, and Size 9 was 45,000 km diameter.

For each gas giant you rolled a d10 and consulted a table to see whether you had size G1 (60,000 km) G2 (120,000 km), or G3 (250,000 km). If the star was type S you subtracted 3, results of -2, -1, or 0 giving you size 7, 8, and 9 terrestrials instead of gas giants.

Then you rolled a d10 for each planet, applied modifiers, and looked up the planet’s density in a table. Small planets got a +1 (giving higher density), large planets a -1, gas giants a -2, -3, or -4, planets in rows near the star got up to a +6, those beyond the snow line no modifier. Type S stars had +3. You wrote the density in to the density column, and then you multiplied it by the coefficient of gravity for the planet’s size (from the size table). That gave you the surface gravity, which you wrote in to the “gravity” column.

Then you rolled a d10 for each planet applied modifiers, and looked up the atmospheric density. A very low density for the planet gave a result of [C] soupy automatically. Otherwise you rolled a d10, added a modifier from the Planet Density table (positive if the planet density relative to Earth’s was 0.5 or lower), a modifier for surface gravity (ranging from +3 for gravity 2.0 gee or over to -8 for gravity 0.2 gee or less), and a modifier for size (from -3 for Size 0 to +5 for Size 9). This gave you a result of from “[-1] none” through “[0] trace” to “[10] soupy” or “[11] soupy”, which you wrote in the “pressure” column.

Then you rolled a d10 for each planet, added an opacity modifier from the “atmosphere density” table, and looked up the opacity of the atmosphere in the Atmosphere Opacity table. This gave a result from “[-1] none” to “[B] extreme”, which you wrote into the “opacity” column.

Then you took the temperature modifier off the opacity table (ranging from -35 C for [-1] none to +30 C for extreme [A]—extreme [B] gave an overriding result of hot/cold, and the tables were so contrived that that is what gas giants always got) and you added it to the base temperature for the row (printed on the form in the “basic temperature” column), and wrote the sum in the “mean temperature” column.

Then you rolled a d10 for each planet, added modifiers for atmosphere density, and subtracted |(mean temperature - 10)/10| (ignoring fractions). The result (times 10%) gave you the hydrographics percentage of the planet, with anything less that 0% treated as 0%. 100% exactly had scattered islands, but anything over had deep unbroken oceans. The modifiers on this roll worked out so that planets with trace atmospheres or [11] soupy atmospheres did not end up with water, and the [10] soupies and very thins or traces didn’t have much at the best of times and none if their temperatures were far from 10C. You wrote the result into the “hydrographics” column of the form.

Then you rolled a d10 for each planet, added the “composition” roll from the Planet Density Table (a negative modifier for planets less than 0.5 the density of Earth), subtracted the absolute value of the opacity modifier from the Atmosphere Density table (thus penalising both thick and thin atmospheres), and added (planet’s hydrographics/20) (rounded off). And looked up the result in the “Atmosphere Composition table”. This told you that the atmosphere was “Hostile: poisonous, oxygen-free”, “Hostile: poisonous, oxygen-free, corrosive”, “Unpleasant: poisonous”, “Unpleasant: oxygen-free”, “Unpleasant: corrosive”, “Tolerable: oxygen-poor”, “Tolerable: contaminated”, “Breatheable: slightly poisonous”, “Breathable: slightly contaminated”, “Earthlike”, or “Invigourating” (sic). You wrote that into the Atmosphere Composition column. The Atmosphere Composition table also gave you an SC for life on the planet. You rolled a d100 against that and determined a quality rating in the usual way. QR7 meant prokaryotes at best. QR4, primitive and unthreatening life, no more advanced that ferns, amphibians, and bony fish. QR3 meant “moderate degree of evolution”: equivalent to dinosaurs and non-sapient mammals. QR2 meant "highly advance, but no-sapient animals, perhaps semi-intelligent and /or very dangerous. QR1 meant sapients. You made a note of this somewhere.

Then you rolled a d10 for each planet, added modifiers for what row it was in and for certain atmosphere compositions (the ones with plenty of oxygen), and consulted a column in the Incident Radiation Table to determine the amount of radiation reaching the surface of the planet. This ranged from “benign” though “harmful” and “dangerous” to “inimical to life”.

Then you multiplied together scores for each planet’s temperature, gravity, atmosphere, hydrographics, and radiation, which gave you a score from 0 (lethal, and quickly) to 3,750 (perfect), and looked it up in a table to get the planet’s Habitability Index. HI 1 was “Paradise: ideal for human habitation”, HI 2 was “Promising: suitable for large-scale colonisation”, HI 3 “Tolerable: unsuitable for large-scale colonisation”, HI4 “marginal: probable death without equipment”, HI 5 “Uninhabitable”, and HI 5* “Inimical: rapid death without equipment”. You wrote the HI into the HI column of the form, and when every row was done you were done with the form and had finished §7.0 Star System Generation.

The system was pretty quick: quicker than it sounds. You could work down the form in columns rather than working out each planet in turn, and that meant a big saving in page-flipping and looking-things-up.

The modifiers interworked with the tables so that you didn’t get obviously absurd planets: not that I noticed back in the 80s, anyway. The “basic temperature” column, which should have gone with the blackbody temperature as 1/sqrt® had been fudged to extend the life zone, and I’m by no means sure that the albedo and greenhouse effects implied by various “atmospheric opacities” were physically realisable. However, you did get some dodgy orbits sometimes. Rows 3 to 7 covered the life zone, and were pretty closely packed. For an F5 to K4 star the “Range” value was 4 or above, and it was not unlikely that you would get a couple or even three planets in orbits that were simply too close for comfort. Outside the life zone things were a bit sparse: you couldn’t get a planet in an orbit corresponding to Mercury’s.

Still. In 1986, without a computer of my own or that I was allowed to program, I thought it was pretty handy.

To be continued


#6

§7.1 Detailing a planet

This was a set of procedures that was only intended for planets of unusual interest, which PCs might go to. It started with a Planet Record sheet, onto which you copied some information from the planet’s row of a System form.

Then you rolled two d10 and calculated 3.5 * (2d10 + 12) / |(planet size - 1.5)| for the planet’s day length in hours. In the first place, this takes no account at all for tidal braking. In the second place, it embodies a misapprehension that small bodies rotate more slowly than large ones (which misapprehension is based on failing to recognise that Mercury, Venus, and every moon in the solar system have rotational speed that have been substantially reduced by tidal braking).

Then you calculated daily temperature variation (for a typical mid-latitude spring day on the west coast of a continent).

Then as an optional extra, you rolled to see if the planet might have some pretty moons. You rolled d100 size plus one times on a table. Each roll gave a size modifier, which you applied to the size of the planet to determine the size of the next moon out. If the result was less than 0, no moon. Each moon imposed a -1 to the d100 on subsequent rolls. And then you generated the moons as worlds of the given size. :astonished:

As is often the case with the procedures for generating moons, this was evidently tacked on as an afterthought, and it was an absolute bombshell. A large planet got a lot of rolls on the table, and each roll was highly likely to produce a moon, because you could apply a hefty modifier to a large planet size and still get a non-negative moon size. So if you got a large planet (size 8 or 9) in the life zone it would very likely have several moons, and some of them were of a size to be quite likely habitable. In generating my universe (systems around all the solitary main-sequence stars (known) to 50 light-years from Sol) I got two profusely habitable systems: Tau Ceti and Lambda Aurigae. Each of these had several giant planets in the life zone, in orbits too close for comfort, and with lots of habitable moons. After applying the terraforming rules from ForeScene to touch up the atmospheres a trifle, I was left with five HI 1 worlds, two HI 2 worlds, and an HI4 world in Tau Ceti, andwith two HI 1 worlds, four HI 2 worlds, and two HI 3 worlds in Lambda Aurigae. These naturally became conspicuous features of the setting, and drew stares of alarm from anyone who knew anything about astronomy.

Next thing in ForeSight was a system for mapping planets. The map was an unfolded icosahedron, with each triangular face divided into nine triangular “sub-zones”. First you divided the map into 36 zones each of five sub-zones, and then you drew cards (from a restricted deck of 36) and consulted a table to see how many zones in each subzone had land in them. Then you rolled for each subzone that was not covered with water to see whether it was flat, uneven, or broken, and marked it with a symbol to indicate its “profile”. The for each subzone that was not covered with water you rolled a d10, modified this for the planet’s hydrographics and the number of adjacent subzones that had water in them, and looked in a table corresponding to whether the subzone’s temperature (planet’s mean temperature modified for latitude band) to see whether the subzone was barren, light vegetation, medium vegetation, heavy vegetation, marsh, or ice. Then, a each point where subzones met at a point but not along edges you rolled to see if there was an isthmus: the probability was tabulated for each possible configuration, including the special cases at the vertices of the icosahedron. I found this procedure ineffably tedious, and I only completed it once. I suspect that no-one else ever completed it at all.

§7.2 Detailing the Human Population of a Planet

Take a deep breath.

(i) Determine when the system was first explored. Look in the table corresponding to its distance from Sol (there are separate tables for within 10 LY, 10–30 light-years, 30–50 light-years, and 50–100 light-years. Roll a d100, and get a round multiple of 50 years, from 2100 AD to 2550 + d10 * 50. Call the result date I already don’t like this procedure: my campaign does not have the same history as Tonio’s.

(ii) Determine your campaign year. Tonio recommends 2535. I preferred 2933. Round this down to the nearest (he means “next lowest”) multiple of 25. Subtract the year of first exploration. Divide the difference by 25. Call the result g, the number of generations since discovery.

(iii) Subtract 1 from g. Add 25 to date. If date is greater than your campaign date, HALT.

(iv) Roll d100. If the result is greater than (120 - 24 * HI)*density then GOTO (iii).

(v) The planet was settled in date. Record this as “Date” under “settlement details” on the planet record. Roll d10, add g, and look for the range including your result in the column corresponding to HI in the table. Read across and record the “instigator” result as “initial settler” on the planet record. (This will be “Government”, “Social Group”, “Megacorporation”, “subsidised” or “unsubsidised”. The initial population density of settlement is given as a formula involving HI. Calculate this and note it on scratch paper.

(vi) Set c = g.

(a) subtract 1 from c.

(b) roll d10. If population density is < 0.1, subtract one. If population density is 10≤PD≤25, add one. Find the column in the population growth table corresponding to the habitability index. IF PD≥25, move one column left, if PD ≥20 * (60-HI) move one column right, if PD ≥ 40 * (6-HI). In that column, find the row corresponding to your adjusted die roll. Multiply population density by that number.

© if c > 0, GOTO (a).

(d) Record the current value of population density on the Planet Record. Calculate total population = π (d^2)(1-hydrographics/100) times population density, and record that on the Planet Record.

(vii) Roll d10, apply a bunch of modifiers (which reward high planet density), cross-index this with total population in the “Relative Technology Level Table”, add the result to your campaign base hard tech level and record the result as the planet’s hard TL. Roll d10, apply a bunch of modifiers (which reward low planet density), cross-index this with total population in the “Relative Technology Level Table”, add the result to your campaign base soft tech level and record the result as the planet’s soft TL.

(viii) Roll d5, multiply by 10, add 2d6, and then a modifier ranging from -50 to +100 in steps of 10 for population density and a modifier of +3 to +8 depending on who the initial settlers were. Consult the Government Type Table for the government code. This consists of a digit (perhaps reflecting some sort of degree of sophistication or development) and a “track” letter: “A” is the anarchy track; “B” the Balkans track, and “C” the conglomerate track. Six “S” codes appear in the “explanations of government types”, but they are not on the Government Type Table. This are the “silly” track.

Look up your government code in the Government effects table, and record it on the Planet Record. This will give you a base law level, a base number of social features, a settlement structure modifier, and a “tech level” percentage.

(ix) For each of the planets; tech levels, roll a d100 g times, and each time the result is less than or equal to the tech level percentage for government type, reduce that tech level by 1. Better stop at zero! (Note: some government types have tech level percentages of 20%, 30%, 40%, and even 60% :o)

(x) Roll d10, add the settlement structure modifier for government type, and consult the table to get n. Look at the list of settlement structures, and then, disregarding ones that require a hard TL higher than your planet’s hard TL, and ones requiring a range of population densities that your planet’s population density does not fit into , choose the nth settlement structure from the bottom. If there isn’t one, choose the allowable structure nearest the bottom of the list. Record the result on the Planet Record.

(xi) Roll d6/2 - 1 and round up. Add the base number of social features from the Government Effects Table. Add modifiers for population density, total population, and original settlers. Roll that number of times on the Social Features table and record the features resulting. (30% of the results are “no feature”, rolls of 98–100 give extra rolls. I don’t know why, given that you are rolling on the table a random number of times anyway.)

(xii) Look up the planet’s higher tech level in the Tech Factor table, add the result to the Law Level number from the Government Effects Table, and find the corresponding column in the Law Level table. Roll d10, modify it for population density and the type of the initial settlers, and consult the corresponding row in the Law Level Table. The result is the law level of your planet. The SC for corruption for any precinct, county etc. on the planet is 20 + 3 * law level, yield percentage determining the proportion of officers bribeable or on the take. Roll d100 once and consult the Legal System Features table to see whether your planet’s legal system has any ‘features’. The table might direct you to make extra rolls. Record all these results on the Planet Record.

(xiii) Calculate the volume of cargo flowing through your planet’s space ports. This is (total population) * TL^2 / 5 000 000 tonnes per day times factors adjusting for the planet’s TLs relative to campaign base TL. Find the spaceport rating n, where the total daily trade tonnage is between 10^n and 10^(n+1). Add the planet’s hard TL to the spaceport rating and consult the Space Port Type (N: no formal facilities, G: ground facility, O: orbital facility, T: tower facility (beanstallk)). Append the type to the rating to get a Space Port code, eg. 4O for an orbital facility handling 45,360 tonnes per day. Record this on the Planet Record.

If asteroid mining figures in your campaign, or you find asteroid belts interesting for any other reason, go back to the system form and roll a size (on the standard planet size table) and density (as per a planet, but with a +2 to the d10 roll) for any asteroid belts in the system

To be continued


#7

Chapter 8: Spacecraft design, Construction, & Combat

§8.1, §8.2, & §8.3: starship specifications, construction, and systems

I understand that the spacecraft design and construction system in ForeSight was based on that in Universe, each “compartment” in ForeSight corresponding to half of a “pod” in Universe. The big difference is that rather than throwing a few payload pods and drive pods together and calculating performance (a procedure that led to iterative design while players tried to hit magic performance thresholds in the space combat system), in ForeSight you chose your payload systems (and the amount of armour you wanted to put on them) and your drive specs (and the amount of armour you want to put on your drives), and then you calculate how many drive compartments you need.

So the procedure is, roughly, this. You choose what payload systems you want to put in your ship: control systems, generators, electronic warfare systems, lasers, particle accelerators, meson accelerators, conventional or nuclear warheads, launchers, launch-recovery bays, passenger compartments, cargo space etc. Many of them come in variable sizes. Then you choose how much armour you want to put on each of them, calculate its mass with armour, total up an armoured payload mass. Then you choose the level of acceleration you want (in half-gees) and the agility you want, and you choose the endurances you want on those and look up the thrust-to-mass ratio in a table. And then you choose the interstellar rating you want and look up the rating to mass ratio in a table. Then you choose how much armour you want on the acceleration drives, the agility drives, and the star dives, and calculate a thrust-to-mass ratio adjusted for armour, combine the three, subtract one, take the reciprocal, and multiply by the armoured payload (adjusted for bracing in high-performance ships) to get the total drive mass, which you split appropriately to get separate sizes for each of the three drives.

You added up the total number of compartments, which gave you the size of the ship, and how many of them had to be exterior. And you calculated the minimum number of exterior compartments, then chose how many exterior compartment you would actually have. That was the profile of your ship. Then you totted up the total cost. Which was huge.

Weapon optimisation was fiendishly complicated, with non-linear cost-effectiveness, and magical scales all over the place. I reckoned that the best course was to use beam weapons only just big enough to destroy one armoured compartment per shot. A given mass/cost of beam weapons them destroyed a maximum number of compartments per turn. This led to long, slow slogging matches at enormous range. As in Traveller, meson accelerators magically ignored armour, but since they had to take into account evasion in all three directions they were less effective at long range. Warheads were devastating, but since “missiles” did not move in a different medium from “ships”, and didn’t have room for significant ECM, I found that torpedoes (as I preferred to call them) were too vulnerable to point-defensive fire to be worthwhile unless you could charge in to close range in a heavily-armoured torpedo cruiser and then let fly with a salvo at close range.

The rules allowed small torpedoes (eg. the one-compartment torpedoes I designed) to be more heavily armoured than they should have been. The thrust and endurance ratings given for high-tech and long-endurance drives were physically impossible with the relativistic rocket equation. Generators produced more power than should have been possible except to antimatter batteries.

§8.4 Space travel

Travel time formula for constant burn with turnover. Rules for the behaviour of interstellar drives (a kind of jump drive, but requiring overhaul of the engines rather that refuelling with vast amounts of hydrogen, and working only much further from stars and planets than in Traveller. I worked out that enormous savings were available if transhipment facilities were built as space stations in the jump zone, with non-starships ferrying passengers and cargo between planets and these ‘outwell facilities’, and if interstellar vessels specialised entirely in the interstellar legs of travel.

Standard fares and freight rates were included, but they didn’t stand up to close examination.

§8.5 Space Combat

Space combat was played out on a hex-grid with ~2000-km hexes and ten-minute turns. The sequence of actions was well-defined, absolutely explicit, and quite practical (movement phase, initiative phase, launch phase, evasion phase, recovery phase, acceleration phase, direct fire phase, impact phase). Vector movement was handled on the hex-grid by giving each vessel a location counter and a destination counter. In the acceleration phase, acceleration drives could be used to move one’s destination counter by one hex per point of acceleration. Unused acceleration combined with agility to produce evasion, which, at ranges of sometimes 400,000 kilometres was effective even against lasers.

There was a 3-dimensional variant, in which each ship had to have a location counter, a shadow location counter, a destination counter, and a shadow destination counter. I never knew anyone to play it.

§8.6 Space combat procedures

Rules for

  • direct fire hit probability {taking into account ECM and ECCM, evasion and range (differently for meson accelerators than lasers and particle accelerators), but not any gunner skill}
  • pursuit impact probability (taking into account pursuing craft’s agility and reserve of acceleration, relative velocity, ECM and ECCM, and range to the guiding ship)
  • damage. A block of damage was assigned first to an exterior compartment (unless it came from a meson accelerator), and then (if it was sufficient to blow through) to a random compartment and so on until it hit a second (or first, for a meson accelerator) exterior compartment, whereupon if it still sufficed to blow through remaining damage was lost to space. Not that that mattered for heavily armoured ships anyway, since well-designed weapons seldom blew through an armoured exterior compartment with enough oomph to penetrate even light armour on a second compartment.
  • detecting and locating enemy craft. We didn’t know then about the impossibility of stealth in space.
  • treating cargo as armour.

APPENDICES

Specific vehicle types

A system of modifiers (“cheap/old”, “compact”, “luxury”, “sporty”, “fast”, “police/military”, “heavy”, “transport”, and “utility” (equivalent to US English “pickup”) to mix and match on listed vehicles to represent a huge range of variants.

Damage tracks

The system for converting damage sustained into wound level, for things flimsier or tougher than humans. This ought to have been in Chapter 4 (combat), and besides, a last-minute formatting change (after final proofreading) screwed up the table.

Organism record form

Sapients

Brief notes on things that have to be determined to define non-humans as player-character races in ForeSight

How to play ForeSight

One-column guide to the resolution system, unfortunately split across two pages so that it is awkward to photocopy and distribute.

Specific weapon types

A system of modifiers to mix and match on listed ranged weapons to represent a huge range of variants. A similar system for mêlée weapons had to wait for HindSight.

Interplanetary Transport Costs and Availability

Recap of the space travel cost rules from Chapter 8, with rules for determining when the next ship to depart one given port for another given port will do so. Hibersleep and luxury travel cost modifiers are given.

Poisons

Rules for seven kinds of poison, plus “paralytic poison” (which is usually not fatal), resiting them, and treating characters poisoned with them. No prices.

Falling Damage

Injury from falls, depending appropriately on local gravity and with a “bigger they are, harder they fall” feature (though it is probably too generous to giants). Rules from breaking a fall with different skills, and for falling onto different surfaces including water, haystacks, specially prepared mounds of cardboard boxes, and correctly-deployed airbags.

Burns

A table of damage classes for exposure to various intensities of flame, hot objects, corrosive chemicals, cold objects, and electric power sources.

Unusual terrain

Rules for combat on treacherous footing, loose covered ground, broken ground, narrow or precipitous footing, hexes containing other characters, soft sand, or snow, through doors or panes of glass, in shallow water or mud, and underwater.

Tackling

Rules for tackling in combat.

Larger Than Life Characters

Rules for the use of Hero Points as in James Bond 007, and for characters who exceed normal human limits (like Batman in The Dark Knight). These allowed hero points to be spent to raise inherent attributes, raise personal Base Ease Factors for skills, acquire psionic skills and mystic disciplines, and raise one’s damage track. They also allowed hero points to be used “for luck” to alter the QRs of tasks performed by the larger-than-life characters or directly affecting them. These rules were less generous than in JB007 (it took three hero points to turn a failure into a QR4 or botch or vice versa.)

Designer's commentary

Twelve pages.


I hope you’ll forgive my verbosity. I wanted to make it clear that this was a game that packed a lot into 124 pages.


#8

There’s a thing that more games could do with. I say this as a fan of GURPS Vehicles and someone who will buy Vehicle Design if/when it’s ever done: sometimes I just want to start with a car and…

ooh…

I bet one could write up something like this to apply to current GURPS vehicle stats…

I can’t sell it to Pyramid any more but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.


#9

Sounds like a fine idea!