Level 1 Geek Reviews: Battlelords of the 23rd Century

I was lucky enough to play and review Battlelords of the 23rd Century with Of Dice & Dames and WholesomeDadGamer, a tabletop roleplaying game with all the futuristic, alien-blasting action you could ever want. Thank you to the team at 23rd Century Productions for letting us pick up and play this exciting game—you can see the full playthrough in the video below.

If you’re interested in trying out Battlelords for yourself, here are all the links you need:

FYI: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you use them to make a purchase. While this is nice for me, I have written this review based on my real opinions and not on kickbacks. That said, how was my experience with Battlelords of the 23rd Century?

The System

The Battlelords RPG works like many other tabletop RPGs in that you roll to determine the success or failure of an action. However, you use a d100 for most checks; you roll two d10s, taking one as the 10s digit and one as the 1s digit. Each check has a target number which you’re trying to roll equal to or less than (trying to roll low is always a fun switch from many other games, I think). These target numbers are based on your character’s eight Vital Statistics—like strength, agility, and the like—and skill rankings if they apply. Pretty much all of the calculations for a check happen up front, with modifications to the target number rather than to the roll itself. That means when you roll, you get what you get.

If you roll a 00 on your d100 check, it’s called a “double zod” and treated like a critical failure is in other games. On the other hand, a roll of 01 is a critical success. Since your chances of getting either a critical failure or critical success are lower than in Dungeons & Dragons (1/100 instead of 1/20), the effects of each can be pretty extreme!

In the quickstart rules, you’ll find a handful of recurring themes that the game leans on. Whether you choose to highlight them or not depends on how your group likes to play, but the game lends itself well to touching on these themes if you so choose:

  • Being “in the trenches”
  • Overcoming racism and stereotypes
  • Runaway capitalism
  • The haves vs. the have nots
  • Dark humor

Since we only did a brief playthrough of the intro adventure, we didn’t hit all of these themes, but I could see the potential for each (especially dark humor) to be really fun to explore.

The Setting

To describe the setting, I’ll quote the quickstart guide: “Battlelords takes place in the year 2282. Characters are citizens of Galactic Alliance, which spans large portions of the Milky Way and is made up of over a dozen species, including Humans, who pool their resources to expand, improve, and protect Alliance citizens from the external threats like the Arachnid hordes and the Atlantean nanite swarms.”

This. Setting. Is. Deep. While the quickstart rules stick to the essential deatils about the Battlelords universe, the core rulebook provides tons of information, including a timeline of significant historical events, twelve playable alien races (plus human), details about cultures and organizations, various places of interest, and more. The game designers have created a truly vast, impressive universe to explore and discover, making it easy to play whatever kind of space game you like.

In fact, there are full sections with details for how to run different styles of games in the Battlelords universe. So whether you want to be tough mercenaries, sneaky spies, or cutthroat space pirates, the book gives you a solid jumping-off point (complete with sample pre-generated teams) to start your own campaign.

The Combat

If you like strategic, crunchy combat, then Battlelords is right up your alley. Fighting works similarly to D&D in that you make a roll to see if your attack lands. But that’s just the beginning for this system. If your attack lands, you then roll a d6 to see which part of the target’s body you hit. The use of hit location diagrams unlocks a couple of cool mechanics in Battlelords:

First, it means enemies and characters alike can equip different pieces of gear on different body parts, so a headshot may be more deadly than a hit to the arm. It also means that hitting the same body part multiple times could weaken the armor in that area.

Second, with some strikes, characters can choose to “bump” their hit to an adjacent body part after rolling the dice for hit location. They could bump offensively to hit a more strategic part of their target, and defensively, they can try to avoid taking a shot to a vital area of their body.

Combat in Battlelords is extreme and colorful. Serious injuries, severed limbs, and violent deaths are par for the course in this game—in our playthrough, for example, there were multiple chopped-off legs.

This over-the-top feel is a huge part of the game’s fun. Another way it comes through is in critical hits. They don’t just happen on a roll of 01; whenever a target loses at least a quarter of their total Body Points (a.k.a. hit points) in a single hit, or if they drop to zero Body Points, they roll on the Critical Hit Table. This table is full of incredible flavor text with accompanying effects that could even spell instant death for your character! Here are a few of my favorite examples:

  • Multiple organs struck. Internals reduced to a jelly-like mixture.
  • Liver. You are spilling blood everywhere and making quite a puddle.
  • Lower Spine. Forget walking or doing the wild thing.
  • Head Removed from the Shoulders. You can’t walk around like a chicken with its head cut off. (Roll up new character)

There are many other cool rules and mechanics for combat in Battlelords that I don’t have space for here, but suffice it to say that this game loves technical, mapped-out combat and embraces ridiculous, gratuitous violence in a way that’s both fun and highly strategic.

What I Loved

With the basics covered above, let me detail some of the elements of Battlelords of the 23rd Century that I really enjoyed.

Outrageous Tone

This game is easy to enjoy. In our playthrough, you’ll probably notice that we had only a loose grip on the rules. But even with our limited understanding, the quickstart guide, the beginner adventure, and the game itself made it easy for us to find the fun right away. The Battlelords universe is colorful, zany, and funny, which was by far my favorite part of playing the game.

Freaking Cool Art

If you’re a visual person, there’s lots to love about the core rulebook. There are full-color illustrations of weird aliens, epic space battles, massive mega-cities, sleek spaceships, and so much more. Seriously. It’s cool. My words can’t do it justice. See for yourself:

Battlelords of the 23rd Century artwork
Battlelords of the 23rd Century Artwork

What I Didn’t Love

We had a great time playing Battlelords of the 23rd Century, but there were a couple of things that tripped me up along the way. Here’s what I didn’t love as much about my experience.

Acronyms and Abbreviations

This game is in desperate need of a glossary. The character sheets and rules are filled with acronyms and abbreviations that I often struggled to keep track of. I would have loved a key or a glossary—something I could continually reference until I became more comfortable with the game terminology. Without such a resource, I found myself looking back through pages again and again to figure out what THR, MN, ROF, etc. all mean.

Lack of Guidance in the Quickstart Adventure

Okay, okay, so you could say this point is less about the system itself and more about the particular adventure we played, but it bears mentioning for beginners. While the intro adventure in the quickstart guide is simple and straightforward, I wanted a bit more handholding to start out. Suggestions for when and how to increase the difficulty of certain checks, clearer enemy stat blocks, and more approachable character sheets could all make the adventure more accessible to people who are trying to learn the game. My group and I made it through just fine, but I felt like I had to hand-wave or guess several times when I would have preferred some more support from the module.

TL;DR- Would I Recommend Battlelords for Beginners?

Not for total beginners.

Battlelords of the 23rd Century is a ball of fun, but I wouldn’t suggest it for people who are brand new to tabletop RPGs. My one caveat to that is if you’re coming from a background of tactical battle games, like Warhammer 40k; in that case, you may be better equipped to learn this system (and you’ll probably love it).

If you’re a beginner who’s interested in trying this game, I would suggest starting with the quickstart guide and the intro adventure. Find a group of people who are interested in the setting and the high-strategy combat of the game and are willing to work a little to master the rules. Better yet, try to find someone who has played before. This is a game with a bit of a learning curve, but it’s also one I can imagine running very smoothly and very enjoyably once a group has a few sessions under their belt.

Now, get out there and start blasting aliens!