Redux: Parsec RPG, Stats & Skills

This originally appeared on Google+ on January 3 2017:

I’ve got a one-shot coming up this Sunday where I’ll be running some people through the Age of Rebellion Beginner’s Box scenario. I picked the box up last Christmas back when The Force Awakens was released because of how much I enjoyed that movie, but the fire to take it for a spin was really stoked by seeing Rogue One last month. I ought to be reading through the scenario and the rulebook again to get myself geared up for the game…

…but I keep finding myself distracted by the rulebook for Parsec! So, I’m going to talk about that. Parsec (not to be confused with “The Last Parsec” which is tooootally different and complicates Google searches like no one’s business) is a rules-lite hard sci-fi RPG that scored itself a print-run in 2012. It was published by Jolly Roger Games shortly before UltraPro bought them and decided to not publish RPGs. As a result, you basically can’t score a copy of this game anywhere. It looks like 4 people own in on RPGGeek? And it has crappy reviews on DriveThruRPG because, as far as I can tell, JollyRoger won’t let anyone actually download the PDF anymore?

The whole situation is a mess, is what it is. I managed to get myself a print copy of the rules way back in the dark, dark ages of 2013 or 2014, I want to say. Haven’t gotten the chance to play it yet; I haven’t had the itch, the opportunity, or the inspiration. Then a couple of things happened: I really got into The Expanse when it hit SyFy, and I finally started digging into Burning Wheel. Those two things spinning around in my brain lead me back to Parsec. Let’s talk about why exactly that is.

When you make your character in Parsec, you go through a handful of life stages where you make some simple decisions about your history. Were you born an Insider (well-off, in the social majority) or an Outsider (a social/political minority, or lower class)? Were you born on Earth or in space? What was your education? What was your career? What are you passionate about? All of these questions, as you answer them, result in you knowing what your Status in society is, advancing the rank of your Skills or your Attributes, adding important Relationships to your character, or taking on Traits such as cybernetics, gene treatments, equipment, etc. You get this really cool, full-bodied picture of your character with a life-story, associates, and special ‘toys’ to boot.

Attribute rank provides a dice pool that you use when rolling your Skills. Skill competence is treated in a way very much like Burning Wheel‘s Shades: Default level for Skills grants successes when you roll a 6 on a D6; Basic Competence ups that to a 5 or a 6; Intermediate, up to a 4 thru 6; Advanced, 3 thru 6; and Master, 2 thru 6. Its a neat idea, and I dig its execution. The Skill list is pretty small, no more than 20 Skills, which is very unlike Burning Wheel, and fine by me. The Attribute list is a sextet, as it must always be, but the choices are cool and evocative of the very particular vision of the future that Parsec is aimed right at the heart of.

Your Attributes are: Power, your physical strength and endurance stat; Mobility, your speed, agility, coordination stat; Precision is the mental acuity stat, handling fine motor skills, perception, and quick thinking. All more or less expected, nothing too weird going on here, except maybe the way Precision and Mobility divide up the duties of the old school Dexterity stat, and saddle on some mental goodness. Then there is Connection. I’m just going to straight quote this because I dig it:

“Connection represents a character’s ability to find and understand
people and information. With worldwide information networks,
memorization is no longer critical. Even offline, vast stores of raw
information are available at a person’s convenience. The trick is (as
it has always been) separating the important from the unimportant
and seeing how it all fits together. Researchers and social networkers
have high Connection scores, and they know how to find people
and things in any situation. Connection is also the measure of how
quickly you can answer a question. High Connection means you have
a lot of access to information and know how to use it effectively, and
that you are well connected socially. A low Connection Attribute
means you’re on your own a lot of the time – no help from others
and little help from the technology that everyone else benefits
from. Outsiders often have a low Connection score.”

That is so weird and cool and feels so right for a far-future game. Social Media is here to stay, as far as I can tell, and the idea that the ‘knowledge’ stat is less “check the news” and more “check your sources” rings a little too true with the 2016 news cycle.

The stats are rounded out with Appeal, which functions admirably as your Charisma stat, and the second stand-out stat: Resilience. It covers mental and physical toughness. Resilience is all about fighting off fear, privation, pain, and coercion and it plugs into this system by which the game tracks your Courage, your Discipline, and your Tolerance. Those three are Skills, rolled with your Resilience dice, and they come into play regularly. You roll Courage every time the shooting starts to see if you hit the deck, run, or fight back. You roll Tolerance whenever you’re hurt to see if you keep going. Tolerance+Power measures when your injuries begin to kill you. Discipline is used to resist distraction and manipulation (important in a game that bills itself as being all about espionage and conspiracies).

I really dig this. You build up your character’s life story, and you’re left with this stat sheet that goes beyond how tough and fast and clever they are. Its suggesting stuff about how brave they are, whether they’re the kind of person who takes a break from a stake-out to buy coffee, and how they react to pain. You’re getting this interesting psychological make-up out of chargen, and I worms into the same part of my brain that Burning Wheel does — its not necessarily what I want all the time, but I 100% get the appeal and want to take it for a spin.

I would be falling down on the job if I didn’t mention that, unlike all other skills in this game, Courage/Tolerance/Discipline cannot be advanced like normal. That is, you can’t just crank them up during character creation or during play later on with XP. The only way these guys go up is if you choose (its a player choice! Oh man oh man!) to take on Scars. Scars are mental or physical, and they burden characters in particular situations, be that demanding some role-playing if you’re Agoraphobic and out in public, or taking dice away from you if you — say — suffer from phantom limb pain and find yourself in a scenario matching how you lost the limb in question.

I really love the Scar system. You have to live the tough, interesting, miserable life if you’re going to be brave, disciplined, and smile through the pain. If you choose to be born an Outsider — someone who has been stepped on by society — you automatically begin play with Courage/Discipline/Tolerance advanced from Default to Basic. You’ve had it shit, bam, here you go. Insiders don’t get this luxury.

Parsec is full of touches like that. I love them.

I’ll probably talk more about this later.

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