Zap! updated!

Zap! The Science Fiction RPG
Zap! The Science Fiction RPG

There’s a new version of Zap! on RPGNow.  A lot of work went into this one.  There are some rules clarifications, and significant new optional rules for things like speeding ship-to-ship combat, adding hit locations to regular combat, and pages and pages of new example equipment.  Many of the most useful tables have been added to a new Appendix for easy printing, and there’s a whole bunch of new art, mostly from public domain SF comics of yore.  Plus I’ve included a 5 page Quickstart PDF with just enough rules to generate a character and go.

Also, I’ve been running a lot of G+ Hangout games using Zap!  If you want to join in the fun, follow me or the SFX! RPGs community on G+.  We’re trying to set up an every-Tuesday-night SF RPG hangout, where I’ll be one of the rotating GMs, and I have pick-up games several other nights of the week.  If I can get interest, I’d love to run a longer term campaign instead of pick-up one-shots.  Drop on by!

Random E.L.F.s & Espers Character Generation

Start as Follows:

Attributes: Tough: 2 Will: 2 Stamina: 2 Actions: 2
(you may swap points in attributes 1 for 1)

You then get Powers and Shticks, based on what you roll on the following tables.  Don’t worry about the details, just record what you roll and the GM will help you with the rest.  You are free to choose from the table instead of roll (since you could just make up a character from scratch); the tables still provide a handy guide for how common you can expect the entries to be in the setting.

Powers: 3 Powers @ 6
Shticks: 2 Shticks @ 3, or 4 if they fit the stereotype

Restrictions: 1

If rolling on the tables grants you more than 3 Powers, you can change some of them to Shticks or accept more Restrictions.  If you get less than 3 Powers, you can increase an Attribute by 1 for each Power less than 3, or take 2 Shticks.


Roll 2d6

3-4 Evolved/Mutant
5-8 E.L.F.
9-10 Esper
11 Robot
12 Alien

Initiation  (optional)

Roll 1d6.   Choosing an Initiation changes your Template from Unique to either Bad-Ass or Crew, depending on whether you want to be more combat or skill oriented.

1 Technomancer (can operate pentacorders, all-purpose scientific devices; changes your Template to Scientist)
2 Robomancer (can build and control robots)
3 Biomancer (can design and repair E.L.F.s)
4 Roguechemist (can brew potions and fire them with their “casters”)
5 Trooper (can operated powered armor)
6 Archaeomancer (can read ancient scripts, and learn prehistoric languages; lower chance of Mishap when operating ancient tech)


Roll 1d8

1 H-E.M.A.N. (Hyper-Enhanced Male Android Newtype)
2 S.H.E.R.A. (Super Human Emergency Response Android)
3 D.A.T.A (Danger Adapted Terrestrial Android)
4 M.A.R.V.I.N. (Metallic Android Researching Various Induced Neuroses)
5 A.S.T.R.O. (Android System Terrestrial Remote Observation)
6 G.O.R.T. (General Operations Rescue & Training)
7 V.I.C.I. (Voice Input Child Identicant)
8 A.R.A.L.E. (Advanced Research Android Limited Edition)


Roll 1d6.  1-4 Base is human with 1d4 Mutations; 5-6 Base is animal (1d20 for type) with 1d3 Mutations + Enhanced Intelligence

Animal Type

1 Fish: Bass, Clownfish, Dolphin, Eel, Lionfish, Marlin, Puffer, Shark
2 Bird: Crow, Dove, Egret, Hummingbird, Ostrich, Parrot, Raven, Robin
3 Insect: Ant, Bee, Beetle, Butterfly, Centipede, Cricket, Flea, Fly, Moth, Wasp
4 Arachnid: Mite, Scorpion, Spider, Tick
5 Rodent: Bat, Capybara, Gopher, Mole, Mouse, Rat, Squirrel
6 Canine: Dingo, Dog, Fox, Hyena, Jackal, Wolf
7 Feline: Cat, Cougar, Leopard, Lion, Lynx, Ocelot, Puma, Tiger
8 Bovine: Antelope, Auroch, Bison, Bull, Buffalo, Gnu, Ox, Yak
9 Marsupial: Bandicoot, Kangaroo, Koala, Platypus, Possum, Tasmanian Devil
10 Pachyderm: Elephant, Hippo, Rhino
11 Raptor: Eagle, Falcon, Hawk, Owl, Osprey, Peregrine
12 Amphibian: Frog, Newt, Salamander, Toad, Turtle
13 Aquatic Mammal: Beaver, Manatee, Orca, Otter, Porpoise, Whale
14 Reptile: Alligator, Crocodile, Gecko, Gila Monster, Iguana, Komodo Dragon
15 Snake: Anaconda, Boa, Cobra, Coral Snake, Mamba, Viper
16 Dinosaur: T Rex, Ankylosaur, Triceratops, Allosaur, Pteranodon, Raptor
17 Extinct: Giant Sloth, Mammoth, Mastodon, Saber-tooth Tiger
18 Primate: Ape, Baboon, Chimp, Gibbon, Gorilla, Lemur, Monkey, Orangutan
19 Equine: Camel, Deer, Donkey, Horse, Reindeer, Zebra
20 Invertebrate: Jellyfish, Octopus, Sea Anemone, Sea Urchin, Squid, Starfish


Roll a d3 for number of powers: on a 3 you get 2 powers, but re-roll and add; keep doing that until you stop rolling 3’s. (aka 1d3p)  If you roll a power again, increase its Power Level by one.  You get one Defect, plus one more for each time you re-rolled because you rolled a 3.

For each power, roll 1d6 on a 1-5 it’s a physical mutation, on a 6 it’s a mental mutation (roll once on the Esper chart).  Having any Mental mutations automatically means you have an over-sized head, for whatever physical stock you come from.  Roll 2d6 to see what kid of mutation.

Realistic  (an actual mutation such as albinism, extra fingers or limbs, resistance to certain diseases)
3-4 Defect (roll again, except it’s bad; roll a d4, on a 1 the defect is Background, on a 2-3 it’s a Complication, on a 4 it’s a Restriction)
6-8  Plausible (roll on animal chart for some ability from another animal, e.g. a chameleon’s ability to blend in, cobra’s poison fangs, or an electric eel’s shock)
9-10 Science Fictional (immunity to disease in general, or poison, or radiation)
10-11 Magical (ability to use magic; consult the GM)
12 Absurd (comic-book style mutant superpower, e.g. phase through objects, or weather control)


Roll 1d6

1 D.W.A.R.F.   Deep Warren Adapted Rock Form
2 H.O.B.B.T. Habitat Optimized Biologically Based Technology
3 G-N.O.M.E. Genetic-Nonce Organism, Modified Experimental (roll 1d4 times on Evolved table for animal traits)
4 O.G.R.E. Organism Grossly Reinforced Experimental
5 M.A.G.E. Magically Adept Genetically Engineered + re-roll.
6 C.O.B.O.L.D.s Common Order Biologically Optimized Layered Design
7 Gray E.L.F.  Fungus-based E.L.F.
Green E.L.F. Plant-based E.L.F.


Espers are big-headed human-stock descendants, though mutants will also sometimes have Esper powers.

Roll a d4 for number of powers: on a 4 you get 3 powers, but re-roll and add; keep doing that until you stop rolling 4’s. (aka 1d4p)  If you roll a power again, increase its Power Level by one.

1 Apportation – Materialization, disappearance, or teleportation of an object.
2 Aura reading – Perception of the energy fields surrounding people, places, and things.
3 Autonomic Nervous System Control – Conscious control over ANS (heart rate, perspiration, pupil dilation, etc.)
4 Astral projection – An out-of-body experience in which an “astral body” becomes separate from the physical body.
5 Bilocation – Being in multiple places at the same time.
6 Clairvoyance – Perception outside the known human senses.
7 Death-warning – A vision of a living person prior to their death.
8 Divination – Gaining insight into a situation via a ritual.
9 Dowsing – Ability to locate objects.
10 Healing – Diagnosing and curing disease
11 Levitation – Bodily levitation or flying.
12 Mental Domination – Controlling somebody else’s mind.
13 Precognition – Perception of future events before they happen.
14 Psychic blast – Causing damage with psi power
15 Psychokinesis – Manipulation of matter or energy by the power of the mind.
16 Psychometry – Obtaining information about a person or object.
17 Remote viewing – Gathering of information at a distance.
18 Retrocognition – Perception of past events.
19 Superior Intellect – genius level intellect
20 Telepathy – Transfer of thoughts or emotions.


Roll 1d10.

1-3 General Purpose (1-4: Humaniform, 5-6 Functional)
4-5 Industrial
6-7 Heavy Duty Industrial
8-9  Vehicle
10 Military


Roll 1d6

1 Time Traveler (roll on Temporal Origin)
2-4 Extra-Planetary (1-10 Habitats, 11 Mercury, 12 Venus, 13 Moon, 14 Mars, 15 Asteroid Belt, 16 Jupiter, 17 Saturn, 18 Uranus, 19 Neptune, 20 Pluto)
5-7 Extra-Solar
8 Interdimensional

Temporal Origin

1 Classical (Ancient Greece or Rome)
2 Medieval European
3 Ancient Norse/Viking
4 Feudal Japan or China
5 Ancient Egypt
6 Ancient Africa
7 Biblical Middle East
8 Renaissance European (e.g. Musketeers, Cavaliers)
9 American Old West/Civil War
10 Napoleonic European/American Revolution
11 Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica/South America (Inca, Aztec, Maya, etc)
12 World War I
13 World War II
14 Roaring Twenties America
15 18th Century Pirate
16 Cold War
17 Alternate Dimension
18 Alternate Time-line Earth
19 Pre-Apocalypse Future (compared to now)
20 Far Future

A Brief E.L.F.s & Espers Glossary

E.L.F.  Engineered Life Form

D.W.A.R.F.   Deep Warren Adapted Rock Form
Habitat Optimized Biologically Based Technology
Genetic-Nonce Organism, Modified Experimental
Organism Grossly Reinforced Experimental
Magically Adept Genetically Engineered
Organism for Relentless Killing
Hyper-Enhanced Male Android Newtype
Super Human Emergency Response Android
Common Order Biologically Optimized Layered Design

Commerce… in Spaaaace!

Here’s a quick take on doing commerce in Zap!

Space Trucking

For simple “Take this cargo and deliver it” runs, roll the Cargo Bay power of the ship vs. Difficulty 13 for how far (how many scenes) you have to travel before you deliver the cargo and get 1 Wealth Point payoff.  You can use the usual rules for combining powers to boost your roll by narrating how your shticks such as Merchant or Smuggler improve your chances.  The presumption is that this is the best deal you can currently find, and that you’ve cleverly arranged it so that you’re not going out of your way to do the delivery; that is, wherever you find yourself after that many scenes of travel is the destination for your current cargo.  This kind of commerce is incidental to whatever goals you’re pursuing, and should be relatively risk-free; it’s just background texture that give you extra wealth for bothering to make up some details of your merchant activity.

Special Delivery

If you’re hired specifically to take cargo X to place Y, that should be the basis of an adventure, and the GM should make up the details and the payoff in WP.  This would be the meat of a campaign like Firefly, where the PCs are trying to scratch a living.

Space Trading

If you want to be more of a wheeler and dealer, and actually accumulate wealth, then you would buy and sell commodities. You decide how valuable a cargo you want to take on (expressed in terms of Power Level), and the between you and the GM you make up the details of exactly what might be available at your location.  You then pick the power you want to use to acquire it, such as Cargo Bay, Smuggler’s Hidey-hole, Wealth, and apply any narrative “juice” from combination with other powers and shticks to roll against the cargo’s PL roll; if you meet or beat the roll, you get the opportunity to purchase it at the value the cargo rolled.  If that’s acceptable to you, you take it on and make a note of the purchase price; the power you used is now committed until you sell the cargo somewhere.  Subsequently, wherever you go you can try to negotiate a deal to sell it.  Roll the cargo’s PL combined with any narrative juice vs. the Wealth power of the location (depending on the scope of the campaign, this could be a whole planet, a settlement, or even an individual); if the cargo wins, they want to buy it and their offer is whatever they rolled.  If that’s acceptable, they get the cargo and you get a profit (or loss, if you’re desperate) in WP of the selling price vs. the purchase price.

The upshot of all this is that you have considerable leeway in how you trade, and pretty large scope for using your powers and shticks creatively to make trading more interesting and improve your profits, while keeping the amount of book-keeping low (no tracking how much space cargo takes up, what your exact current wealth is and if you can afford to purchase the cargo, what prices various planets have offered in the past, etc.).

  • Valuable cargoes are harder to acquire, but have a bigger margin for profit; cheap cargoes are easier to get, but have smaller profit margins.
  • Poorer buyers are more likely to want what you have, but usually will offer less for it; richer buyers are pickier, but more likely to pay more.
  • There’s an “opportunity cost” to keeping goods until you get the best possible trade.
  • Gains from trade can be much more than just getting paid for delivery, but it’s possible to lose wealth if you’re unlucky or trade poorly.

Zap! or Kapow in Spaaaace!

Since Dan’s interested in changing his Warhammer 40K setting using SavageWorlds over to Kapow! I need to get cracking on writing up a minimal set of the genre-specific rules for changing it from supers to space opera.

Broadly I think these are the areas that need tweaking:


For superheroes, equipment other than vehicles is just an explanation of some heroes’ powers.  For most SF settings, gear matters and players care about it (and upgrading it).  Tentative rule: an item of gear is a power, with its own dice rating, but most gear requires that you have an appropriate Shtick to use it to full effectiveness; roll only 1 die if you don’t have a Shtick that covers it.  E.g. a Blaster might be d8, d8 but you only roll d8 if you lack a Shtick like Soldier or Gunslinger to justify it.  Some characters might still  take a full-fledged Power where the explanation is gear, such as a cyborg with a built-in laser, bought with the usual power rules.


Vehicles will have their own Scope appropriate to the vehicle, so a groundcar would be Scope: Planetary Region, while a in-system shuttle might be Scope: Interplanetary, and a star-cruiser Scope: Interstellar.  There will probably be more Scopes, so you can make distinctions between FTL where travel between nearby stars takes a couple weeks, a couple days, a couple hours, etc.  Movement will be rated in terms of Scenes. One of the things I’ve noticed about travel in RPGS, and in SF RPGS in particular, is beyond a certain point unless travel is insanely dangerous (as in wandering monster rolls every 6 hours) players tend to stop caring about how long trips take; a journey of 10 days is not really any different from a journey of 100 days… both will be blipped over with the exact same hand-waving.  Zap! will address this by requiring that you play out, or at least describe, a scene aboard the ship for each unit of distance traveled (size of unit determined by scope).  Hopefully the scenes will be interesting, since the point isn’t to punish players for wanting to travel longer distances, but to give the act of travel texture so that the trips become more memorable and make longer trips seem longer because you can expect to have and later remember more incidents happening during them.


Similarly, and along the lines of my musings in Clarke’s Law and SF Roleplaying, to make tech seem a bit less magical, we’ll give equipment maintenance ratings (and maybe Advantages/Disadvantages like Low Maintenance/No Maintenance and High Maintenance/Constant Maintenance)  that will also be expressed in terms of Scenes that need to be spent playing out or describing maintenance being done, or else it starts having chances of degrading or malfunctioning.  Scenes will probably require that a character with an appropriate Shtick make a roll, with failure or mishap resulting in having to spend extra money or get replacement parts.  I think this kind of thing is pretty important in SF…even in squeaky clean futures ships like the Enterprise require a ton of work to keep in repair, if the number of episodes where something goes wrong or needs replacement prompting them to make a landing and get in trouble is any indication.  Again the idea is to make sure that there’s some “spotlight time” devoted to players, particularly those who’ve focussed on Shticks like Engineering, doing the things that define this as SF.


We’ll just be using the Template rules from Argh! to handle alien races that have unusual abilities.   We’ll probably also use the Argh! Templates for characters, but with new names if needed (e.g. Magician -> Technician).


I’d like to come up with a simple way of handling commerce and trade, since that’s often important to star-faring SF.  Again this is probably going to be expressed in terms of Scenes rather than tables of trade goods and prices, perhaps with some notion of trading off travel distances and risk vs. profit.

I think that’s the gist of it… but I’m open to suggestion on things I might have overlooked that would be important to an SF campaign that aren’t already covered.