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Battlelords of the 23rd Century (1991)

I love how Battlelords of the 23rd Century (originally 1990, this is the third edition 1991) just feels so perfectly of its time. It came out around the same time as Rifts and Torg, and embodies the same over the top vibes. A universe packed full with aliens, factions, mega-corporations and more is at war. Everyone is trying to profit, no matter the cost, so they hire battlelords — bloodthirsty, high tech mercenaries — to do the dirty work.

The system is skill-based, percentile and almost entirely arranged around bombastic combat — as you’d expect from a game with an alien with chainsaw tentacles on the cover. Character generation includes a personal history generator called I Was Just Growing Up, a series of random tables that bestow benefits (you won money at bingo!), penalties (someone put slow acting poison in your food and you have a month to live) and personality quirks (you liked remote control cars as a kid). It’s kind of great, honestly, but all too brief.

Cyberpunk is an obvious influence — the tone of the game, the mega-corporations, even the background generator all seem to owe that game a debt. Warhammer 40K, too. Somehow this pre-dates Leifeld mania over at Marvel Comics, but the vibe is similar. So many of the illustrations (and the dizzying world building) feels like the product of sugar-fueled conversations in an elementary school lunch room. My monster man is meaner/cooler/badder/deadlier than your monster man, look at all his spikes and his legs that are nuclear bombs and that neck tentacle that is holding a katana! Your gigantic tank/ant/demon doesn’t stand a chance. A lot of other RPGs chase this energy of unabashed one-up-manship — Rifts for sure comes to mind — but I’ve never encountered it is so pure a form as Battlelords, to the point I am surprised I can’t see lue loose leaf lines behind the drawings. What a hoot! A real romp!

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