The Roleplaying Game
Authors: Todd Downing, Mark Bruno, John Sullivan, Andrew Kenrick, Lee Hammock, Gavin Downing, Allan McComas, and Samantha Downing
Year Published: 2002
Page Count: 170
Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game is based on the British sitcom Red Dwarf that first aired in 1988 and is still in production. Not familiar with Red Dwarf, here is a quick summary.
Deep in Outerspace, the colossal Jupiter-Class mining ship Red Dwarf under the Space Corps’ jurisdiction slowly moves through the stars. Its crew dead—wiped out from a radiation leak by a faulty repaired drive plate. The only crew member to survive, Dave Lister, the lowest-ranked member of the crew who was safely sealed away in a status chamber—punished for bringing on board an unquarantined pregnant cat. Three million years later, after the radiation level reached habitable levels, Holly, the ships onboard AI, who after all that time alone has gone a bit peculiar, unsealed Lister from his slumber. Lister wakes to find that he is the last human alive along with a humanoid cat named Cat, which evolved from the offspring of his pregnant cat who has safely hidden in the ship’s hull away from the deadly radiation. To ensure Lister’s sanity, Holly revives Arnold Rimmer, Lister’s former roommate and second-lowest ranked crew member. He’s also responsible for the faulty drive plate repair and a total smeghead as a walking, talking hologram who can do anything a real human being can do except touch anything. The trio turns Red Dwarf around and heads back towards earth, where Lister hopes to fulfill his dream of starting a farm on Fiji, even though a volcanic eruption has put the island under three feet of water, which just means the land is cheaper to purchase. It’s not long into the trio’s journey when they rescue Kryton, a 4000 series domestic mechanoid, from a crashed spaceship on an asteroid and teach him to break his programming so he can think for himself. Many more adventures later, an alternate dimensional version of Kristine Kochanski, a former crewmate and Lister’s one and only crush, joins the crew. As the crew of Red Dwarf heads back to earth, they pass the time away by playing childish games, like watching laundry tumble in the dryer, eating vindaloos, salvaging cargo from derelict ships, explore strange worlds, encounters weird space aliens, and playing pool with planets. At one point, even the dead crew of Red Dwarf is brought back. How you ask? It is better to watch the show than for me to spoil it.
This high-level overview vaguely covers seasons one through eight. What about the rest of the seasons? Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game was published in 2002 during the show’s 10-year hiatus. It only covers seasons one through eight. Since the show started up again, it would be nice to see an updated version covering all the seasons thus far. Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game had a limited print run; finding a copy of the game or additional supplements is difficult. I was very fortunate to find a copy in a used book store at a reasonable price.
Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game comes as a full-color hardcover book that features still images from the show and a few color illustrations. The layout is clean—it uses a two-column layout and easy-to-read typeface. The esthetics of the layout is questionable, in my opinion. It features a thick computer-generated vector art border that is repeated on each page. A color bar at the edge of the page inside the framing illustration slowly descends with each chapter to easily mark their positions for quicker retrieval—a nice feature. The interior is composed of scenes from the show converted into black and white images and the color red, the single accent color used for page headers and chunky callout boxes with quotes from the show or other pertinent game information.
The book opens up with a nice introduction to roleplaying and the world of Red Dwarf. On page three, an easy-to-read quick start guide lists the steps for character creation and a rules overview. On the backside, another quick reference sheet. This time for the caps on character types and their special abilities and drawbacks. It then progresses into a chapter about playing the game and then to character creation.
Character creation is a fairly quick and painless procedure. Players first choose a character type, allocate a number of points to their Stats, calculate any Derived Stats, select skills and choose the level of expertise, and finally give their characters personalities by selecting Liabilities, Behavior Tags, and Assets.
“How’s life in hippie heaven, you pregnant baboon bellied space cookie? What’s the plan for the day then? Slobbing in the morning, followed by slobbing in the afternoon, then a bit of a snooze before the main evening’s slob? God, you’re a disgrace to the species.” – Rimmer
Players start building their characters by first choosing from thirteen different character classes: Humans, Holograms, Cats, Dogs. 4000 Series, Hudzen 10 Series, Kinitawowi, Pleasure GELFs, Wax Droids, Simulants, Rabbits, Rats and Mice, and Iguanas. Each character type possesses stat limitations, special abilities, and drawbacks that are unique to them.
Humans represent characters like Dave Lister and Kristine Kochanski. Your normal everyday 60% water-filled primates. They excel in coping with psychologically traumatic situations but very squishy against blunt force traumas.
Holograms are holo-projections of light of people who were once alive. Their personalities and memories were captured and played back through the ship’s computer systems. Floating inside each Hologram is a tiny light bee that buzzes and projects an image of the deceased. Holograms are incorporeal and can not touch or be harmed by physical objects. Only holographic objects like a Holowhip can harm them. A hologram’s key characteristic is the large letter “H” on their forehead to signify what they are.
Cats, Dogs, Rabbits, Rats and Mice, and Iguanas are all anthropomorphic evolved species. Each features traits from their lesser evolved selves. Cats are selfish, while Dogs are loyal. Evolved Cats and Dogs are portrayed in the show; the other creatures were added for the roleplaying game. Rabbits and Rats and Mice are referenced in series as lab test subjects but never encountered. In the roleplaying game, Rabbits evolved into a mightly warrior race set on rabbit domination. Though they use the same build, Rats and Mice are separated by their sense of style and sociability. Rats are sly and reclusive, while Mice are more socially gregarious. Iguanas are only referenced in the series in the context of “What’s an iguana?” by Lister, who apparently never heard of the creature. In the game, evolved Iguanas are easy-going with relaxed attitudes–a byproduct of their affinity for Reggae music and ganja.
4000 Series, Hudzen 10 Series, Simulants, and Wax Droids are all mechanical lifeforms. 4000 Series and Hudzen 10 Series are mechanoids designed for domestic purposes—the Hudzen 10 Series is the replacement model for the 4000 series. Both series can install new software to make use of new skills and tools. 4000 Series is passive toward humans, whereas long periods of isolation have made the Hudzen 10 Series prone to space madness with homicidal tendencies. Simulants are similar to mechanoids without behavioral inhibitors. Originally designed as soldiers, over the centuries, they have gone rogue—hunting and killing humans. With a little fiddling, they can function as teammates with Asimov’s Law (do no harm to humans) encoded into their programming. Wax Droids were designed for the sole purpose of historical re-enactments in a controlled environment. They have a wax outer shell on top of a metal skeleton, not unlike a mechanoid. They are able to change personalities and by remolded into another historical figure. They melt and fry their circuits in hot environments. Wax droids portray famous and infamous characters, fictional and historical.
Kinitawowi and Pleasure GELFs are genetically engineered life forms. Kinitawowi were developed for hard labor and have limited intelligence. They are good bargainers and negotiators that can intimidate others with their large size. Pleasure GELFs were designed as perfect companions—altering themselves to appear and act to their host’s unconscious wishes. Pleasure GELFs do not have control over their appearance and will appear differently to others. Even their verbal responses manifested differently for each person. Their true form is a stocky green blob with a single bulbous eye and a few skinny pseudopods.
In addition to their main character, players may optionally play one of the robotic secondary characters like a talking vending machine, taking toaster, or one of the scutters—limited maintenance robots. These are one-dimensional characters with limited abilities. They are not to be used as main characters and are only intended to add flavor and humor to the game.
Stats and Skills
Characters have six primary stats Agility, Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Perception, and Willpower. Twenty points are distributed among them, keeping within the Character Type maximums listed. From these primary stats derive a character’s Initiative, Save, and Shrug. The sum of the Agility and Perception is one’s Initiative. Save uses the sum of Strength and Willpower to denote one’s toughness to bodily harm, and Shrug is the average between Strength and Willpower that reduces damage taken. Once all 20 points are allocated, players can then move on to selecting their skills. Red Dwarf has many different skills to choose from. They are all connected to a Primary Stat on the character sheet. Players receive additional points to spend on skills and bonus skills based on their character type. Skill values range from 1 (loser) to 7+ (What a guy!).
“Has anyone told you that you are a disgusting, pus-filled bubo who has all the wit, charm, and self-possession of an Alsatian dog after a head-swap operation” – Kryten
The last step in character generation is to give them personalities by using Liabilities, Behavior Tags, and Assets. Liabilities and Behavior Tags work to challenge players, working against them or restricting the character. Liabilities tend to hamper a character’s progress in life, while Behavior Tags are little character quirks. Some examples of Liabilities are Cowardice, Gullibility, and Smeghead, while Behavior Tags are items like Cynicism, Fidgeting, and Superstition. By taking Liabilities and Behavior Tags, players earn points to spend on Assets. Assets are positive benefits to the characters like Acute Senses, Material Wealth, and Ambidexterity.
Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game uses the results of two six-sided dice and a target number for its dice resolution mechanic. Stats and Skills values are combined to make a base Target number in which the Gamemaster, called the A.I., can be modified to fit the situation as needed. Results below the target number are successes. Rolling snake eye, two ones, is a Critical Success and gains a character an additional D6 to onto their margin of success which is important in combat. Opposite that, rolling boxcars, two sixes, is a Critical Failure resulting in the A.I.’s discretion for punishment. Skill checks are Active or Passive. Active Skill Checks is anything that takes time to complete or utilizes a physical skill, whereas Passive Skill Checks are a character’s reactions to their environment.
Space Corp Directive — Article 5796: No officer above the rank of mess sergeant is permitted to go into combat with pierced nipples.
Combat starts with opposing sides rolling for the initiative using 2d6 plus a character’s base initiative score derived earlier. The character with the greatest margin of success goes first. Combat rounds last roughly three seconds. All players get one action per round, but multiple actions are possible with restrictions. The combat section explains all the rules needed: opposed rolls, melee combat, ranged attacks, called shots, dodging, surprise, and the like. It also provides rules for ship and vehicle combat and the associated actions like evasive action, weapons, shields, and damage. In melee combat, the attacker and defender both roll dice. The attacker uses their attacking skills plus any bonuses the weapon has while the defender uses their defensive skills. The character with the greatest margin of success is the victor. Defending is considered a passive skill check and is not limited to one action per round. Ranged attacks can’t be dodged like melee attacks, but some can be avoided by diving out of the way.
Damage and Death
“But Rimmer, death isn’t the handicap it used to be in the olden days. It doesn’t screw your career up like it used to.” — Lister
When an attacker successfully lands a blow, the attacker’s margin of success is subtracted from the defender’s margin of success then multiplied by the weapon’s Weapon Rating plus any damage bonus the weapon has or strength bonus for melee—this constitutes the amount of damage inflicted. The defender then reduces the amount of damage taken against their protective clothing before comparing the sum to the defender’s Shrug. If the damage is less or equal to their Shrug, no damage is taken. If the result is above, the character marks off one wound on their Wound Status found on their character sheet. There are seven states of wounds, with one being A Bit Wonky to seven a Smoldering Hole. Depending on how much over their Shrug determines how many wounds they sustain. For example, a result that is twice a character’s Shrug get two wounds and so on. With each wound level, characters face crippling penalties to future actions.
On top of that, all wounded characters must make a Save roll to remain conscious. Failed Save rolls puts characters out of the action until they successfully make future Save rolls. Save rolls are also used if an attacker is trying to stun the defender. In those cases, combat is the same as a lethal attack, except the delivery method is non-lethal. No damage is taken, but the defending character must make their Save roll or get knocked out for 1d6 hours.
Once a character is wounded, they must first be stabilized with a successful Medicine check for them to heal. The wounded person’s wound penalty modifies the roll. After a character is stabilized, they can heal one wound level per week or try once per day to heal one step up with another Medicine check. Critical successes provide a wounded character an extra level while a Critical Failure puts them down one.
When a character reaches the Smoldering Hole wound status, they die but don’t fret. As Lister points out to Rimmer, “death isn’t the handicap it used to be in the olden days.” When a character dies, they may come back in various forms at the player’s discretion and gamemaster. They may return as a Hologram as long as there is no other Hologram running or they are more important to the mission than the current Hologram. Red Dwarf’s computer Holly can only sustain one Hologram at a time. So if you’re going to die and come back as a Hologram, make sure no one else of greater importance dies, or they will take your place. Another option is to bring the character back as an alternate dimensional version like Kristine Kochanski. Whatever is chosen, it’s a comedy-based roleplaying game. Have fun with it.
Equipment & Ships
“Hey, this is mine. That’s mine. All this is mine. I’m claiming all this as mine. Except that bit. I don’t want that bit. But all the rest of this is mine. Hey, this has been a good day. I’ve eaten five times. I’ve slept six times, and I’ve made a lot of things mine. Tomorrow, I’m gonna see if I can have sex with something. Ooooooooow, Yeaaaaaaaah…” – Cat
Character don’t have jobs or the need to spend money. Everything is free for the taking on board the mining ship “Red Dwarf.” Who’s going to stop you anyway? Everyone is dead. Red Dwarf is huge. How huge? Large enough that it takes hours to move through the levels of the ship using the lift. That’s huge! Throughout, characters will discover entertaining and useful equipment. Many of the show’s unique and more mundane items have found their way into the rulebook. Take, for example, the artificial reality suite, equipped with total emersion virtual reality games, the DNA Modifier which might turn you into a hot fudge sundae, or perhaps the Matter Paddle, which can transport up to four individuals instantly to any planet or artificial structure with a breathable atmosphere within 500,000 light-years. The rulebook breaks the types of equipment into seven different categories: Diversions, Hologram Gear, Medical and Scientific Equipment, Space Vessel Necessities, Time/Matter Displacement Units, Utensils, Weapons, and Defense.
Red Dwarf also has plenty of ships to fly, though none are particularly attractive or super-powerful, though they do have their uses. There are ten stated out ships plus the Jupiter-Class Mining vessel “Red Dwarf.” The stats used for ships consist of Speed, Maneuverablitlity, Shields, Hull, and Weapon Data. Other than “Red Dwarf,” characters will find “Starbug” the most useful of the ships available. “Red Dwarf’s” crew used it the most in the show. It even became their only home for a time. “Starbug” is also the only ship in the rulebook to have a layout of the interior that lends to its usability. The areas described for “Red Dwarf” are of the same interiors shown on the show, science lab, drive room, hanger bay, and so on. The ship is said to be 9,000 meters long by 3,000 meters wide and contains nearly 2,600 levels. The section covering the “Red Dwarf” is a little sparse.
Aliens and Illnesses
“When I finally get ’round to writin’ my “Good Psycho” guide, this place is gonna get raves. Accomadation: excellent. Food: first class. Resident nutter: courteous and considerate. Psycho ratin’s gotta be four and a half chainsaws.” – Lister
The Creatures and other Beings chapter is filled with thirteen stated aliens from the show: Despair Squid, Emohawk, Giant Insect, Giant Space Weevil, The Inquisitor, Legion, Mr. Fibbles, Mutton Vindaloo Beast, Polymorph, Psiren, Simulant, Space Weevil, and Vidal Beast. Each uses the same format as player characters with skills and special abilities. They also have Fear Factors which requires Fear Checks from characters. When encountered, Fear Checks against a character’s Cool Skill (under Willpower) is tested. The alien’s Fear Factor becomes the target number to beat. Failed Fear Checks roll on a D6 Fear Factor Table to determine the extent of their fear. A character can get off easy with just freezing in place or, in the worst-case scenario, suffering a complete meltdown and firing randomly until subdued.
Viruses are just as dangerous as hulking lumbering beasts. There are several illnesses a character can catch in Red Dwarf, like Mutated Pneumonia which have the usual systems of the illness with the addition of hallucinations that manifest, not only to the infected but to everyone, and tend to hang around a lot longer than they should. The Space Mumps swell your head to the size of a watermelon and bursts open at the final stage, covering everything nearby with yellow pus. Viruses can also be good to catch, like the Luck Virus, which makes you unbelievably lucky for a period of time. The Sexual Magnetism Virus makes you the most popular person around. There are also viruses for Holograms and computers to contend with. Each virus is described in length and has information for the A.I. on its effects on those infected.
“Day 1: After landing, I ventured forth to explore the place I would be calling home for the next two-thirds of a millennium. A desert planet, the only life forms the most basic single-celled protozoa, and me. Relationships would be difficult, but not impossible” – Rimmer
Everyone needs a break to stretch their legs, as the crew of Red Dwarf repeatedly did on the show. In the Worlds chapter, the rulebook covers nine locations linked to the show: Backwards Earth, Fuchal, GELF Space, Justice World, Legion Station, The Psiren Belt, Psy-Moons, Rimmerworld, and Waxworld. Each entry has a healthy background description with crew advisory notes and worst-case scenario advice for the A.I. A word of advice. Don’t eat or go to the bathroom on Backwards Earth. Trust me. You’ll thank me later.
“I am Holly, the ship’s computer, with an IQ of 6,000. The same IQ as 6,000 PE teachers.” – Holly
As an aid for the Gamemaster, Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game features a special section just for them. It covers topics like playing Holly and balancing the role between Gamemaster and player, tackling comedy in roleplaying, and more. A good amount is merely general information on how to run a successful game with added tips and tricks. For a new Gamemaster, it’s valuable information. Later in the book, additional useful A.I. tools are provided, like a random scenario generation for creating future Red Dwarf adventures.
Personalities and Starting Adventure
“Where did it all go wrong? My life started so promisingly. Rich parents; good school; pony named Trumper. How did I end up like this? On a ship where the fourth most popular pastime is going down to the laundry room and watching my knickers spin dry…” – Kochanski
In the latter parts of the book, many personalities of the show are presented, fully stated out, and ready to use: Dave Lister, Arnold J. Rimmer, Cat, Kryten, Kristen Z. Kochanski, Able, ‘Ace’ Rimmer, Captain Hollister, Dog, Duane Dibbley, Epideme, Governor “Nicey” Akerman, Kill Crazy, and nine other non-player characters to use.
The introductory scenario is a day out playing in a nine-hole golf tournament to win much-needed engine parts for the crew’s badly damaged driver system. It’s best played with two to six players and may play a bit longer than most beginning adventures. Characters will face humorous challenges at each of the nine holes. A.I.s will find helpful game mechanics already written in and extra call-out information in large outlined blocks. It’s a good indicator of how wacky A.I.s should make their future adventures.
I’ve been a fan of Red Dwarf after receiving my first Prerecored VHS copy of the show, which held only three episodes, half a season, in the mid-nineties. I eventually collected all eight seasons on VHS at a considerable cost—$20 per tape. When I discovered Red Dwarf was a roleplaying game, I was too late to purchase it at its release. Luckily I’ve since picked it up. Along with the core rulebook, a supplement, Red Dwarf: Series Sourcebook, expands the content. While the Red Dwarf: A.I. Screen, containing an A.I. Screen and a 24-paged booklet full of extra bits to throw into an adventure, were produced. The A.I. Screen is easy to find, new in some cases, whereas the other two are very difficult.
As with any roleplaying game based on television shows, movies, or works of fiction, it works best if the Gamemaster knows the world and can convey it to their players. It helps if the players are familiar as well. Red Dwarf: The Roleplaying Game is a comedy game that doesn’t take itself very seriously, and neither should players. The writing throughout is filled with puns and jokes that fit the show’s humor, as should your games. Fans and casual watchers of Red Dwarf will get the most out of this RPG. Kick back and have fun knocking planet’s around like pool balls and stink up the room with a curry vindaloo. Gather your friends around the table and “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!”
~ Stephen Pennisi
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