2400 devlog: Battle Moon

Battle Moon is a 24XX combat rules primer disguised as a patently ridiculous (but still quite usable!) one-shot scenario. Create a black-belt vidcast celebrity with a bandolier of plasma grenades, a robot chessboxer with a glitchy force-field generator, or a cephalopoid master of disguise with a sentient Rigelian worm-whip, and see how they fare at hoverboard jousting over lava for the amusement of the galaxy’s hyper-rich! Or just read it if you’re completely baffled by how to run combat without “turns” and “hit points.” Battle Moon is available as part of the full 2400 series on Itch.io, and on its own and in the 2400 bundle on DriveThruRPG.

Influences

Typically, when I discuss influences of a game, I focus on other media that inspired the setting and characters. That’s how I approach game design, most of the time: I see a movie, comic, video game, or TV show, and I think, “This is great, but I’d really love to play in this setting with my buddies.” It’s kind of like every other form of entertainment I consume is a commercial for action figures, but instead of spurring me to buy stuff, it convinces me to go make my own toys.

I can certainly point to specific media touchstones for Battle Moon, especially Beyond Thunderdome, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games. (I’d probably throw in Squid Game if I’d managed to finish the first episode, but I found it way too depressing at the time.) You can see their influence on the back page in particular, in that table about weird twists combatants need to contend with. I’m not an especially big fan of any of those sources, though.

For an odd change of pace, I didn’t make this game because I wanted to actually play it, but because I needed an excuse to teach how combat works in 2400 (for reasons I’ll get back to shortly). And I got the idea from the most amazingly absurd pulp magazine cover I’d ever seen, discovered after many hours of sifting through public domain art, which I was dying to put in an RPG.

For months, I had that image sitting in my file for Wastoid image inspirations. Then, for weeks, I had it mocked up as a 2400 cover, just sitting in an Affinity Publisher file with the placeholder title, 2400: WTF?

Finally, I realized I needed to do a 2400 module with more detailed combat rules, which meant coming up with a scenario where combat would be unavoidable. I found that distasteful (again, I’ll get back to that), but it was a lot easier to swallow when I thought of it in terms of, “Buuuut what if there were a table that might result in a robot battling a lion?”

So, yes: Battle Royale, sure. Hunger Games, yeah. Book of Judges, I guess? But mostly: robots fighting lions.

Why a combat-focused module?

As I outline in the original Itch.io devlog for Battle Moon, The most common questions I get about how to run 2400 are about combat. I had hoped that giving away Emergency Rules free and writing a blog post on combat in 24XX would address those questions, but — for reasons I dig into the Emergency Rules devlog — I don’t think that was enough. And so, I made Battle Moon as a thinly-veiled rules primer: just three columns devoted to character creation and scenario prompts (with the scenario prompts doing double duty as character creation tables), with the other 3 columns of text devoted to explaining how I run this game, especially in combat. 

(And just in case all that still isn’t enough, I’ve dramatically expanded my Combat in 24XX post with a new “FAQ” that expands upon the procedures presented more briefly in Battle Moon.)

I actively resisted making explicit “combat rules” for 2400 for a long time. This hobby’s wargaming roots, and the continued dominance of D&D in the market, mean that a lot of players expect combat to be the primary activity in RPGs. That’s not how I wanted to run 2400, though. The rules are meant to encourage players to come up with interesting, out-of-the-box approaches to deal with risky situations without pre-planned solutions. 

For these reasons, combat in 2400 is handled the same way as any other risk — as a thing that could go in a lot of different directions, without predictable outcomes, possibly surmountable by a single roll. By explicitly spelling out the unpalatable consequences of violence, rather than abstracting them as hit points, my hope was that players would find solutions other than combat the vast majority of the time. And from what I hear from GMs running 24XX games, that’s generally what happens. 

All of that said, combat does come up in 2400 — in my games, and in others — even if only as a worst-case scenario. And because so many of us come to new RPGs with preconceived notions about how combat works from other games, I hear from GMs who struggle to set expectations for players, or get derailed by falling into patterns learned elsewhere. 

I like that 2400 is a game that’s not “about” combat, by and large, but I’d be be sticking my head in the sand if I were to deny the reality of how people play it. I figured the best way to handle this would be to address the questions directly — not by changing the rules of 2400, but by offering a scenario where combat is practically unavoidable, and advising on how you might handle it. Data Loss and Legends also offer some expanded guidance for combat, given that they’re designed to emulate games from combat-oriented genres, but Battle Moon goes a step further to really dig into the nitty gritty of how I mean for fights to run.

The first rule of Battle Moon

The first rule of Battle Moon is: You get to decide on the rules of Battle Moon.

I don’t mean the “rules” as in abstract, mechanical procedures of 2400: Battle Moon, the roleplaying game. (But yeah, you get to decide on those too; “improvise rulings” is literally written into those rules). Rather, I mean the in-world, fictional rules of the Battle Moon arena itself. You “get” to decide those. Or you “have” to. Either way, I didn’t write them into the game.

I can certainly tell you some questions I asked myself, though, which you may want to address explicitly in your game:

  • Is it a fight to the death, or will any lives be spared?
  • Is it a free-for-all, last combatant standing, or a team sport?
  • How much visibility does the audience have on combatants?
  • What does this place even look like?
  • Does “the Emperor” have any actual political power and legal authority, or is that just the self-proclaimed title of some deranged patron backing this sick display?

I offered some suggestions for challenges, terrain, and rule variants on the back page, which can help inspire answers to some of these questions. I figured the specifics would change over time to keep the audience on their toes. Beyond that, though, it’s up to you. After all, I can only fit so much in three pages (plus a totally sweet picture of a robot fighting a lion).

Combining with other 2400 games

Battle Moon was meant to be a useful teaching tool for any 2400 game that might feature combat — but it’s also a scenario that fits especially well in certain settings.

For 2400 games that are especially likely to feature fight scenes, check out Data Loss (a sci-fi soulslike), Project Ikaros (rogue psychics and the agents who hunt them), Eos and Xenolith (space spec-ops inspired by Mass Effect), ALT (secret agents with mind backups), Orbital Decay (an alien monster is trying to kill you), Inner System Blues (cyberpunk freelancers on dangerous jobs), and Legends (D&Dish fantasy).

To run Battle Moon as a rescue scenario, consider starting with a team from Eos, Xenolith, Resistors, Inner System Blues, or ALT. Other 2400 games would work too (including Battle Moon itself), but those are the ones most built to make an elite team of specialists prepared to assault a defensible location.

To run Battle Moon an escape scenario, you could create a ragtag group of misfits using Battle Moon character creation, or a team of captured characters from some other game — say, a Cosmic Highway crew that was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or an Exiles group stuck in that setting’s location “Arena” location. This could be a self-contained one-shot, but it could fit into an ongoing game as well. It could be a campaign starter, or an option to keep the game going if the whole team is defeated in battle. Why kill your enemies when you could sell them to the Battle Moon?

If the captives do escape, and you want to keep playing them, you’ll likely want to transition into some other 2400 game just to use its advancement rules. Xot characters are set up the same way as Battle Moon characters (as a trait + vocation), so its advancement rules may be a good fit. If you want something a little more predictably paced, you might try to agree as a group what your goal is now that you’re free (or on the run), and say you’ll advance again whenever you’ve accomplished the next major step on that journey.

Featured image edited from original by Frank R. Paul

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