Yesterday, the bombs fell. The civilized world ended in an instant, at least as far as hundreds of thousands of console and PC gamers knew it anyway. In households across this great nation and around the world, the Sole Survivor of Vault 111 crawled out of his Vault to find a way to survive in the wasteland ruins of the Greater Boston area. Gamers returned to the 50s-sci-fi-influenced future of the Fallout world once more with Fallout 4. They play alone, much as their avatar explores the world alone, exploring without their friends, and with only their NPC companions and their loyal virtual-dog Dogmeat to join them.
But do they have to? Can’t they find a way to survive in the radioactive ruins with their friends? Many gamers, myself included, would jump at the chance to play Fallout with their friends; perhaps play around a table with pen and paper, dice, and imagination instead of console and HD TV.
The Fallout world is one that is steeped in RPG lore and origins. Anyone familiar with the property will know that the series began as a tactical based RPG game for the PC. An attempt by Glutton Creeper Games to make an official Fallout tabletop RPG ran into a wall in the courts as Bethesda fought a legal battle with Interplay over the rights and permissions for such a project. Eventually, Bethesda won and pulled the plug on the Fallout RPG that was so close to completion. Determined not to lose all the work they did, GCG re-skinned the game as “Exodus,” keeping enough details to make the setting familiar to gamers, but changing just enough that they wouldn’t get the pants sued off them by Bethesda.
That was almost 10 years ago, and while Exodus is practically a forgotten memory, the desires of many to play a Fallout tabletop RPG…well, that never changes.
I was struck with a desire to craft an adventure for the Fallout setting. It’s one of the many settings I’ve considered running a game for over the years, and have been idly searching for a system to run it in. Savage Worlds is the latest contender for this, and would probably work really well. However, I wanted to see how my current favorite RPG system would handle the world of Fallout–Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG. After some revision, some re-skinning, and some re-writing, I feel it should run fairly well.
And here’s how you could do it.
War. War Never Changes.
So, you want to run a Fallout game using the Star Wars RPG system? Excellent; let’s get started with my recommendations on how to proceed. First, a disclaimer; I’m going to give an overview of my thoughts here, but this is by no means meant to be an exhaustive or complete rules conversion. Maybe I’ll compile a larger and more complete rules-set in a PDF and share that with our readers here, maybe something I can have ready for the New Year.
Let’s set the tone; the best fit for playing in this setting is the first in FFG’s Star Wars line; Edge of the Empire. The careers and character options in that line grab and encompass the feel of someone trying to survive on the edge of oblivion, one trying to maintain the last vestiges of civility and community.
Concerning FFG’s neat meta-background options, Obligation and Duty, my preference for which to use is Obligation. Duty could work for Brotherhood of Steel or a New California Republic Army campaign, but Obligation fits the general feel of Fallout more. More often than not, your character is obliged to take on tasks in the game, rather than doing something out duty to a greater organization.
Characteristics and Luck
Star Wars has 6 characteristics (Brawn, Agility, Intellect, Cunning, Willpower, Presence), while Fallout has 7 (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck). They match up pretty well, if you sort of roll with Willpower’s partner being Endurance. While the analogues are close, the Luck stat in Fallout doesn’t appear to have a Star Wars counterpart until you consider the Destiny pool. Destiny is a perfect pairing for Luck; using a Destiny point to upgrade a skill check or activate a talent represents good luck, while the GM using it to upgrade the difficulty of a check or the skill of an NPC is bad luck.
The “Luck Die”: An additional option is to allow a PC to roll a Force Die with any skill check they make. Rolling white pips add Advantages or Successes to their check, while rolling black pips adds Threats or Failures to the check. It probably works best to have an Advantage or Threat cost 1 pip, and a Success or Failure cost 2. That way the player may be more willing to risk it if they have only a 1:12 chance of adding a failure to their roll.
The Three Races
Fallout has three races; humans, ghouls, and super mutants. Ghouls are pretty common throughout Fallout, and there have been enough friendly or at least slightly-less-psychotic Super Mutants to warrant their inclusion as a playable race.
Here’s how I’d break them down:
Humans – As is. Whether you’re a Vault Dweller, Wasteland Survivor, or former Raider; use the rules in the book and go.
Ghouls – Brawn 2, Agility 2, Intellect 2, Cunning 3, Willpower 2, Presence 1
Wound Threshold: 11 + Brawn, Strain Threshold: 11 + Willpower
Starting XP: 90
Rad Resistance – Ghouls are not affected by Radiation environmental effects. They take no damage from Radiation. Once per session they can spend a Destiny Point to heal a number of Wounds equal to the amount of damage inflicted from a Radiation source.
Tough Life – Ghouls get a free Rank in Survival. They may not train Survival higher than Rank 2 during Character Creation
Super Mutants – Brawn 3, Agility 2, Intellect 1, Cunning 2, Willpower 3, Presence 1
Wound Threshold: 13 + Brawn, Strain Threshold: 9 + Willpower
Starting XP: 80
Forced Evolutionary Virus: Super Mutants start with a free rank of the Enduring talent and the Burly talent (reduce the Encumbrance and Cumbersome value of all wielded weapons by 1). Super Mutants are immune to the effects of Radiation.
I suppose you could argue that there are four races and include robots. It actually would be pretty cool to play a Mr. Handy or maybe an advanced Protectron…
…no, not “Fisto,” you sick bastards…
Robots – Use stats for Droids; you’re an exceptional example of a Protectron, Mr. Handy, or Mr. Gutsy. Robobrains or Securitrons might be harder to recreate as a droid, but doable. Sentry Bots are best left as NPCs.
Careers and Specializations
With a few exceptions, most of the careers can be used as-is. For many, however, there’s a question of usefulness and utility in the Fallout world.
- Bounty Hunters can be used as is, as can Colonists.
- Explorers are excellent, but their Driver career from Enter the Unknown may have very limited usefulness depending on the setting for your game. The Fallout series doesn’t have many vehicles that still work, but they’re out there (there’s the Highwayman car in Fallout 2, and there are NPC operated Vertibirds in Fallout 3 & 4).
- Hired Guns are perfect as is, no need to change a thing.
- For Smugglers, ignore the Pilot spec. It’ll have no use to you stuck on Earth unless your GM REALLY wants to go off the rails on a sort of Mothership Zeta angle. You’ll get plenty of use from Charmer, Gambler, and Gunslinger from Fly Casual, so don’t worry about them getting short-changed.
- Technicians are good, but Slicers might be very niche, masters of a long-lost sort of technology. Come to think of it, maybe Slicers won’t be too bad off; those terminals seemed to be found in all sorts of places, and having someone along who can hack any terminal that impedes your group’s progress may be worthwhile.
Obviously, don’t use the Force Sensitive Exile or Force powers, they just don’t fit into Fallout.
Age of Rebellion careers and specs will probably work fine too, but they’re very military-centric. If you’re running something in the New California Republic army, or a Brotherhood of Steel campaign, AoR could be a better fit. Otherwise, stick with Edge of the Empire for your careers and specs.
There is one Age of Rebellion spec which calls out to me as one that could fit well into Fallout, the Ace career’s Beast Rider specialization. If you don’t want to use the Ace career as the base, it should fit well as an Explorer career.
There are some changes to combat skills to better reflect the skill system in Fallout, and to help separate someone who invests their time and energy on rifles from one who’s focused on plasma pistols or gatling lasers.
- Ranged (Light) and Ranged (Heavy): These skills apply to slugthrowers only; guns that use bullets (or other physical projectiles like billiard balls, railroad spikes, or lawn gnomes…)
- Ranged (Energy): Covers all forms of energy weapons that are pistol or rifle sized; laser, plasma, or disintegration beams from alien blasters.
- Gunnery: used for any large-scale weaponry, be they ballistic- or energy-based.
You could break it down further, and have Ranged (Light Energy) and Ranged (Heavy Energy), but that might be a bit much.
The only issue determining who gets access to these skills. I find that the simplest way to do it is to allow a player to replace Ranged (Light) or Ranged (Heavy) with this as one of their Career skills. If a Bounty Hunter Gadgeteer wants to use Laser Pistols, she could take Ranged (Energy) as one of her eight Career Skills from Bounty Hunter, replacing Ranged (Heavy) as their Career skill. They could also replace Ranged (Light) from their Specialization-granted Career skills list, either instead of or in addition to replacing Ranged (Heavy) from their Career-granted skill list.
No one’s going to be traveling between stars in Fallout, but travelling across the wasteland can be as tricky or difficult. “Navigation” replaces any listings for Astrogation in any Skill list, Career granted or Specialization granted. It’s easy to get lost trying to get someplace in the wasteland. Navigation helps you get there faster, or possibly allows you to discover interesting locales along the way (see below).
The only other voided skill is Piloting (Space). For this skill, replace it with Piloting (Planetary). You could also split up the Piloting skill to cover Ground, Air, and Water; and that makes sense, considering the vastly different mechanics to operate those three types of transportation. Just remember and keep in mind how rare working vehicles are in Fallout. It might be better to spend your XP and character creation choices elsewhere.
Motivations and Playing Well With Others
Just about any Motivation in any Edge of the Empire book will fit here (re-skinning anything that is Star Wars specific, of course). I did want to point something out for anyone playing in this setting concerning your motivations. You could play as a savage ne’er-do-well who takes advantage of every situation for your own benefit, who kills and steals to your heart’s content. You know–all the Bad Karma options you see in Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. But honestly, that sort of antisocial behavior fits better in the video game. The whole point of playing in a group with others is to be social. I’m not saying don’t be ruthless or out for yourself, I’m just saying curb that enough to work with your fellow PCs.
There’s a lot that would go into discussing the equipment and weapons used in Fallout. For the most part, anything high tech is probably going to have it’s rarity increased up 2-4 points or more. The biggest mechanics to try and recreate to capture the “scrounge for everything!” feel is the scarcity of ammunition and the difficulty of keeping your weapons in working condition.
Ammo is life in the wasteland. To keep it as simple as possible but still reflect the importance of the right ammo for the right weapon, the Extra Reloads equipment are designated for weapons of a particular skill type; Ranged (Light), Ranged (Heavy), Ranged (Energy) and Gunnery. Extra Ammo (Gunnery) is really only used for weapons that use bullets or energy cells, and to represent their larger size have an Encumbrance of 2. If a weapon has the Limited Ammo quality like a Grenade Launcher or Missile Tube, you will still need to track each individual shot and reload for that specific type of weapon.
All weapons in Fallout can run dry if they roll 4 Threat during an attack check, unless they have the option to run out of ammo with 3 Threat (I’m looking at you, Plasma weapons…)
As Three Dog often proclaims, proper weapon maintenance is important to survival in the wasteland. Use of any weapon will degrade its effectiveness over time, and eventually cause weapons to break. A Despair can be spent to damage a weapon as normal, but 4 Threat can also be spent to damage a weapon during an attack check. In addition, if the GM is using the “Luck Die” option above, they can spend 2 black pips to damage a weapon during an attack check instead of adding a failure to the roll.
Running the Game
Chapters have been written in a plethora of books on how to run a game. The Gamemastering Chapter in Edge of the Empire is great and handy for running any game. I can recommend a couple things to Gamemasters for running in a Fallout world.
To reflect the seemingly random nature of encounters in Fallout is to return to the good old days of 2nd Edition AD&D and create a random encounter table. You don’t have to roll on it every time your PCs wander out into the wilderness, but having a list of hostile encounters and beneficial encounters ready to insert into an adventure is a great way to take advantage of a Despair or Triumph rolled for a Navigation check. Maybe they find a gas station or an abandoned Thrift Mart that hasn’t been completely looted yet, or they come across a group of Raiders attacking a caravan or a fearsome Deathclaw. That’s a perfect use for Despair right there.
As far as exploring the Fallout world goes, don’t forget that the world is still highly radioactive in many places. Radiation is everywhere, as are hot-spots from spilled chemicals, nuclear waste, and thermo-nuclear fallout. GMs can greatly increase the challenge of an encounter by having radiation be a threat, and Resilience checks should be made often whenever the PCs enter any hot zones (or simply take a drink of water from a questionable source).
If you’ve played Fallout or any sort of Post-Apocalyptic game, one of the main themes of the game is survival. It’s not just survival of the character or survival of the fittest though; it’s also survival of the soul and the survival of humanity, not just humans. In the face of all these horrors, humans have inflicted on each other since the bombs fell, there are still good people out there trying to make a better future, however small their efforts may seem. It’s about not allowing yourself or your fellow man (or ghoul, or super mutant) to descend into barbarism and nihilism. There’s a lot of adventure potential in that, and many hours of good times with friends, rolling dice, enjoying a Nuka-Cola, and letting the Caps fall where they may.
May the dice be with you.