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Buck Rogers XXVC

Entry updated 27 September 2022. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (1990). Tactical Studies Rules (TSR). Designed by Mike Cook, Michael Dobson, Jeff Grubb, Jim Ward, Warren Spector, Jeff Butler.

Buck Rogers was perhaps the first in the line of quintessentially American mass market Space Opera heroes which continued through Flash Gordon, E E Smith's Kimball Kinnison and Star Wars' Han Solo, all of them tough men in tough universes. The original Comic series – Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – was cancelled in 1967, but rights to the character remained the property of the descendants of John Flint Dille, who devised the strip based on magazine stories written by Philip Francis Nowlan in the late 1920s. The president of the RPG developer Tactical Studies Rules during most of the 1980s and 1990s was Lorraine Williams, a granddaughter of Dille, who decided to relaunch the then dormant Buck Rogers intellectual property as a RPG. Flint Dille, Williams' brother, created the core background for a new iteration, and TSR developed a line of novels, a Board Game and the RPG, which used similar mechanics to the second edition of their fantasy game Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1989 TSR) designed by David Cook, Steve Winter, but added a much more detailed system for handling character skills resembling that used in Traveller (1977).

The setting is Retro-Pulp, aiming to combine the tone and visual style of the original series with science-fictional ideas current in the 1980s, including Genetic Engineering and an oppressive social system dominated by corporate forces. In the twenty-fifth century the solar system is controlled by coalitions of Earth's former national governments, of which the most important is the strongly capitalist Russo-American Mercantile, a group reminiscent of Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium. The planets, each of which has its own exotic culture, have been Terraformed and colonized by artificially created human subspecies, including the partially feline Desert Runners of Mars and the human shark hybrids which inhabit the atmosphere of Jupiter (see Pantropy). Meanwhile, a polluted, exhausted Earth is fighting for its independence, assisted by Buck, a twentieth-century astronaut woken from Cryogenic hibernation. The milieu's amalgamation of rocket pistols with nuclear fusion and Uploaded personalities with living Spaceships makes for an unusual ambience, suggestive of a Parallel World's version of Pulp sf; ultimately, however, it proved to be a commercially unsuccessful one. The overall effect remains oddly reminiscent of many of Nowlan's contemporaries, as if Edmond Hamilton's Captain Future had been transported into a Cyberpunk reimagining of Larry Niven's Known Space.

Buck Rogers XXVC is remembered largely for the two Computer Role Playing Games which were created in the setting, using the same basic design as the highly popular Advanced Dungeons and Dragons license Pool of Radiance (1988) (see Computer Role Playing Games). The Videogames take the form of Grand Tours of the Solar System, with the characters travelling in stylized rocketships between various planetary bases and asteroid outposts. Many actions are handled through abstract menu driven systems, notably space travel and combat, while a variety of three-dimensional, overhead and Isometric views are used on the ground. Both games are strongly focused on turn-based combat, with largely linear plots (see Interactive Narrative) which emphasize a deliberately over the top sense of cheap melodrama; the frequent battles are enlivened by occasional moments of vivid incident. In the first game, Countdown to Doomsday (1990 Strategic Simulations Inc [SSI], Amiga, C64, DOS; 1991 MegaDrive) designed by Graeme Bayless, Bret Berry, a freshly formed team of characters must save Earth from a gigantic lens which will devastate the newly liberated planet with focused solar energy. Matrix Cubed (1992 SSI, DOS) designed by Rhonda Van is a direct sequel in which every faction in the politically fragmented solar system is fighting over the "Matrix Device", a McGuffin which converts matter from one form to another and could be used to reconstruct the still ravaged Earth.

Related works: A number of novels and anthologies were published for the setting, beginning with Arrival (anth 1989) edited anonymously by Flint Dille, which included stories revolving around Buck Rogers' resuscitation written by Dille, Robert Sheckley, M S Murdock and Jerry Oltion as well as Abigail Irvine and Ulrike O'Reilly. This was followed by the Martian Wars trilogy by Murdock, comprising Rebellion 2456 (1989), Hammer of Mars (1989) and Armageddon off Vesta (1989), the Inner Planets trilogy, which contains John Miller's First Power Play (1990), Murdock's Prime Squared (1990) and Britton Bloom's Matrix Cubed (1991), and the Invaders of Charon trilogy, consisting of C M Brennan's The Genesis Web (1992), and William Keith's Nomads of the Sky (1992) and Warlords of Jupiter (1992). A series of at least eight Comics (known as "comics modules" for contractual reasons) were published as Buck Rogers (1990-1991), written by Dille and Buzz Dixon. Buck Rogers – Battle for the 25th Century (1988 TSR) designed by Jeff Grubb is a relatively simple strategic Board Game somewhat resembling Risk (1957) (see Risk 2210 AD) which was the first game released in the Buck Rogers XXVC setting. The pieces are moved on a board representing the entire solar system, on which the planets travel along their orbits during play. [NT]


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