Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TFOS The Forever

Aside from Star Trek, this may well be my all time favorite game. Maybe.


Created by the maverick game inventor extraordinaire Mike Pondsmith and first published in 1987 by R. Talsorian Games, Teenagers from Outer Space was the first commerically popular non-mecha game based on Japanese anime. Of course, the mecha game actually based on giant robot anime was Mekton, also by Pondsmith.

As I mentioned before in the post on Mekton, I was a fan of Anime and Manga long before it was well known in the U.S.. This meant that I was adding Anime bits to my other RPG campaigns (such as D&D, Traveller, Villains & Vigilantes, Star Trek, etc.) in the form of more cinematic combat, background pathos, crazy visual descriptions of characters, creatures, machines and the like when Mekton and TFOS rolled in and said, "Hi! Were you looking for us?" The answer was a resounding yes.

It helped a lot that the rules are super simple, the premise super flexible and the rulebook written in a humorous, "Don't take this too seriously" style that is not only perfect for the genre but also a hoot to read.

Now speaking of 'the genre', what exactly is the genre of Teenagers from Outer Space?

Well, Anime and Manga are not genres in and of themselves but rather mediums with a particular style that can be used to tell stories in a variety of genres. The basic premise of TFOS in a nutshell is aliens make contact with Earth and after a while their children enroll in our schools, hang out in our malls and discover dating, pizza and rock n' roll. The universe is forever changed. The genre is a mix of Science Fiction/Space Opera, Slapstick Action Adventure and Romantic Comedy. Its a mix that is encountered fairly often in Japan (Tenchi Muyo, Birdy the Mighty, Dirty Pair) but much less so in the U.S. (though European comics seem to get it pretty well).

I've used the game for Western Superheroes, Medieval Fantasy, straight up Space Opera and a host of other things, though usually also adding a dose of comedy.

The system is your basic Stat + Skill Rank + Die Roll familiar to most D20 fans. The 'Interlock System' was extremely influential to game design of the era and the following years, obviously all the way to the design of 3rd Edition D&D. Unfortunately, Mekton and Cyberpunk used a D10 but Teenagers used a D6 for some reason. I switched TFOS to D10 right away, making the three games much more compatible.

Another adjustment I made was to give the Special Powers and Abilites ranks similar to skills. The idea was simply to not have everyone with Superspeed be the same speed for example. Player Characters in my house rules all start with 10 points and can either roll randomly or assign points to the powers they want. For example, my friend Dave's character 'Blitz' had Superspeed 10, while Pete's teenage cyborg had Superstrength 3, Invulnerability 3 and Micro Missiles (Zap) 4. We also added a lot of new powers and abilities.

I've run at least two or three long term campaigns using the game's default premise, modified by settings of my own creation. The most successful was a game I ran in high school entitled 'Blast City Blues' in which alien refugees escaping a deadly enemy come to Earth with a warning and an offer. The warning is that the menace of three galaxies is hot on their heels and the offer is to give the Earthlings super powers and advanced technology to fight off the coming invaders. The offer is excepted but the menace never arrives. Now, 20 years later, the refugee ship is an island city that houses a school for the superpowered offspring of Earth's original volunteer protectors.

Going to leave it there for now but I'm sure I'll be coming back to this subject again in the future. The products of R. Talsorian Games had a pretty profound effect on me and my gaming style. I can easily see analyzing and discussing them further.

Until then,

Barking Alien


  1. Mekton, TFOS, Cyberpunk - these were all games I enjoyed.

  2. I'm telling you, Mike Pondsmith and R. Talsorian were ahead of their time. Or, perhaps more accurately, they were just in time. Their games did come out just prior to the big Anime/Manga boom in the states but at the perfect moment for the RPG industry which was very much in need of new blood.

  3. Another game I'm going to have to see about getting...

  4. I miss the glory days of R. Tal, but at least they gave us some classics.

  5. Mekton was my intro to Talsorian's system and I loved it, even if I never did get to play or run it. That led me to Cyberpunk which I also thought was awesome but we were mainly a Shadowrun group so I ran CP2020 once, ever. I never picked up TFOS as I knew there was no way it would ever get run in my rather hardcore gear-headish group. I'd be happy to play any or all of them though right this minute.

    As much as I liked the both the Interlock system and Hero system I wish they had never gotten tangled up in Fuzion - Never liked it and I think that helped push Talsorian into a decline that it never recovered from. There's still room for a Mekton and a TFOS out there today.

  6. @Narner - You have given me an idea for a new post. Or rather you have contributed to the idea of making a post I've been thinking about for a while.

    @Jerry - Good to see you Jerry! I too miss the days of R. Talsorian. It was awesome to have this cool, 'it' little company making games that I thought (and still think) blew away what the 'big boys' were doing. Classics indeed!

    @Blacksteel - Still room for these games? Hell yeah! My question is more like, "Where the hell are these games!" Remember when people put out neat little game ideas for shits-and-giggles and they became popular? Luckily the indie guys still are doing that. But somehow, its not the same. I wonder what's missing. Hmmm...

    Fuzion...yeah. When you dumb down Hero or over complicate Interlock the result can't be good.

  7. Sorry to comment on such an old post, but I would really like to hear about what you did to use TFOS for a straight up superhero game, as I have wanted to try that with this system forever!