As I stated in my recent review of the FrontierSpace PHB, FrontierSpace is one of the most exciting releases this year. Even though I have played and even written fantasy roleplaying games before, I am first and foremost a science fiction fan. Unfortunately a lot of SF RPGs out there have been written by designers who love rules. It feels as if crunch and science fiction often come in pairs. Luckily FrontierSpace is an exception. The rules are between rules-light and rules-medium, but there’s definitely enough depth for long campaigns. The referee handbook adds optional rules and various generators to expand your FrontierSpace game and help the GM (or Referee as it’s called in the game) to do their job.
This review is based on a unfinished copy of the RHB provided by DwD Studios. Thanks again, Bill. The 198-paged preview copy lacks a couple of pieces of art but aside from that it should be identical to the finished version. The RHB shares its look and layout with the PHB. The release is probably only a week or two away and like the PHB the RHB should be available both as POD version (soft- or hardcover) and PDF via RPGNow/DriveThruRPG. I guess it will probably set you back $10 just like the PHB, which is a very good price, if you ask me.
So what does the RHB add to the table? The first chapter of the book called Game Guidelines mostly expands on the rules on the PHB. In the first section of said chapter there’s a closer look at Character Rules including the morality system, how it applies to robots, and how the Referee can react when players let their character’s act against their defined moral code. Personally I don’t think codifying one’s morality is really necessary (especially in a SF game), but that’s just me.
More interesting are the information on earning DP (development points, FrontierSpace’s XP equivalent). In this section the author gives detailed tips on how to grant DP after each session. There’s a bullet list with ten item which if applicable grant you 1 DP each. This makes granting DP a much easier task, since you just have to check which criteria apply. Veteran Referees may just wing it, but if you’re new to the game it definitely comes in handy.
Another form of reward is also detailed: Loyalty benefits. These are special benefits granted to characters who have been loyal to a certain patron may it be a powerful corporation or a local government. Loyalty benefits are usually designed by the Referee but a list of examples is given which contains benefits like special skill training, the use of certain vehicles provided by the patron, or even company stocks.
It’s a great time for fans of science-fiction roleplaying games. Kevin Crawford has just successfully kickstarted a revised edition of Stars Without Number, Green Ronin recently accounced a roleplaying game based on the “The Expanse” franchise, and DwD Studios finally released the long-awaited Player’s Handbook to FrontierSpace .
Before I start my review I have to make a confession. I know that the people behind FrontierSpace are huge fans of TSR’s Star Frontiers, and I was told that some of the mechanics are at least inspired by this classic RPG, but I can neither deny nor confirm this. I have actually never played Star Frontiers. Having said that, let’s get this review started…
This review is based on the digitally version of the FrontierSpace PHB which has graciously been provided by DwD Studios’ Bill Logan. The 248-paged PDF is currently available on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG and a POD version should be available soon as well. DwD Studios will also release a Referee’s Handbook in the next couple of weeks. While FrontierSpace is fully playable with just the PHB, the RHB will contain a lot of material to make the GM’s life easier and which also expands the game. There will be rules for Psionic abilities, Referee advice, Alien creatures and species generation, star system generation and more.
FrontierSpace is powered by DwD Studios’ d00-Lite System which they already used in both Barebones Fantasy and Covert Ops. It’s at its core a d%-roll-under system. But instead of most games where a result of 00 means 100, it’s zero in d00-Lite. Something I especially like about the d00-Lite System is that the Skills are basically archetypal roles like Academic, Commander, Medic, and the like. So if you are trying to perform an action a marksman might be good at, you use the Marksman skill, while everything medicine-related is covered by the Medic skill. Sounds easy, right? This also solves a common problem with SF roleplaying games: skill creep.
This game is currently in open play test and to me looks really good. I mean that both literally, the art and book layout of the quick start PDF is outstanding and as a ruleset it looks really solid.
Being a second edition, this is more evolution than revolution but there are plenty of tweaks from the looks of things. I have joined the development forum this week and it is nice to see a lot of positive feedback from the Eclipse Phase community.
I know plenty of GMs that fix dice rolls to make sure players survive fights but that is one of the cool thing about Eclipse Phase and being transhuman, death of the body is a mere inconvenience and if anything adds some interesting role play potential. If your body dies a back up of your personality or ego can be downloaded into a new body, resleeved, and away you go again but the back up only know what you knew at the time of the last backup. So if you meet someone it could be the first time for you but the second time or more for them.
There is an active discussion over at another forum I take part in about how GMs bring the party together so they will stick together. Eclipse Phase does not have that problem as the players are all cast as Sentinels, or agents of Firewall and so they are a team that has been brought together for a mission(s). This also means that it will be easy to introduce new players to an existing game, you just have the powers that be parachute in an additional team member. Likewise if someone drops out of your game then you have Firewall pull the character out for a different mission.
Game mechanics-wise this is a sort of ‘roll under’ system where you have to roll under your current skill but having said that when to skills are opposed such as you trying to hide and someone trying to spot you then if both succeed at their skill rolls the person who rolls highest wins. So you want to roll low but not too low. To me that sounds quirky but I like it. Skill rolls have plenty of opportunities for critical successes and critical failures that can give he GM plenty to play with.
As this game is currently in play test it is a great time to get involved. The playtest download from rpgnow. What you get is the quick start rules but also the beta test rules for the full second edition of the game. These take the form of a bundle of text based documents, one for each aspect of the game such as character creation or combat. Each document is typically 5 to ten pages in length. This makes them pretty easy to read and digest. Some play tests I have been involved with have been single 500 pages mammoths and it is nigh on impossible to remember if a reference to something on page 50 is consistent with an example of play of page 450!
Behind all of this is an community based around a forum where you can post questions, make suggestions and get more support.
I think if ever you want to try Eclipse Phase now is the time to do it and at the same time be able to give something back to the developers, even if it is just feedback on how your play sessions went.