Review: SW Sci Fi Companion

I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time! The Sci Fi Companion is a Savage Worlds supplement which expands the Deluxe core rules to cover the science fiction genre. That gives it a lot of ground to cover, from Grey Lensman to Accelerando, from Star Wars to Gattaca, from Doctor Who to Person of Interest… Let’s take a look inside and see how well it does…

CONTENTS

Characters (10 pages): This chapter includes the introduction, then moves on to a point-buy race builder much like the one in the Deluxe Edition, but with more detailed and better laid out explanations of positive and negative abilities. The abilities themselves seem much the same.

There are then 13 sample races, which at first glance seemed to include half-a-dozen repeats of races in the core rulebook; but when I read the detail I could see that apart from humans, they have been built differently. Avions, for example, have the same name and retain the Flight and Hollow Boned abilities, but now gain an extra Agility die step and the Low-G Worlder Hindrance.

The races are aquarians (a bit like Atlanteans from the core rulebook), aurax (kinda-sorta centaurs), avions, constructs (a bit like androids), deaders (slug parasites that "wear" dead human bodies), florans (plant people), humans (look in the mirror), insectoids (ant-mantis-human hybrids), kalians (four-armed, agile humanoids), rakashans (almost identical to the core rulebook version), saurians (changed a bit from the core rules), Serrans (the inevitable telepathic humanoids, although at least they aren’t specifically smug tree-huggers who turn their backs on That Evil Technology), and yetis (big, furry, would do for Wookiees at a pinch).

There are 7 new Hindrances; the one that grabbed my attention was Low Tech/High tech, available in major and minor versions. This Hindrance effectively gives a range of 5 tech levels – major low, minor low, average, minor high and major high – by giving the character penalties on using gear that’s not at the campaign’s average tech level, whatever that is.

New edges next; there are 7 of those too, including Heavy-G Worlder (Low-G and Zero-G Worlder are Hindrances). I like Geared Up best; you get $10,000 of starting gear each time you take it, but this is a one-time benefit like using a skill point to take more starting cash; lose it and it’s gone.

Notice, no new skills or changes to existing ones. Not that I mind. Although Knowledge (Astrogation) turns up in the Starships chapter, later on.

Gear (13 pages): In addition to the 5 tech levels implied by Hindrances, the gear chapter introduces a sixth – Ultra Tech, for game-changing advanced technology. After a short discussion of various methods for tracking ammo, we move on into the gear list, which is divided into personal equipment (the usual suspects, except this is the first time I’ve seen a 3D printer as something PCs can buy), armour (including Ultra-Tech personal force fields), and weapons; disintegrators, flamers, flechette guns, gyrojets, lasers (slightly different to the ones in the core rules), particle accelerators/blasters, plasma guns, rocket launchers, stun guns, high-tech versions of yer basic slugthrowers, and vehicular weapons from MGs to heavy torpedoes and mass drivers. Most of this section is weapon stats, but that is because weapons have more stats than most gear.

Throughout, gear uses the normal SW approach; what it does is specified, how it does that is left up to the GM.

Setting Rules (3 pages): This chapter has rules for different types of atmospheres, gravity, hacking, salvage and trade. Hacking in SFC is either a straight skill roll or a dramatic task; if you want more than that, you’re advised to get Interface Zero (which is lurking on my hard drive somewhere, and may get reviewed one day).

Cyberware (3 pages): Here we find a new derived attribute, Strain, which is two plus half the lower of your Spirit or Vigour and defines how much cyberware you can implant; install more and you get permanent Fatigue levels. That’s the first page of this section; pages two and three are cyberware enhancements such as communicators, subdermal armour, built-in weapons and so forth.

Power Armour (4 pages): This part of the book introduces Mods. Various vehicles, robots etc. are built by taking a basic chassis, which has a Mods rating, and adding components which each require a number of Mods points, until you run out of Mods rating, money or imagination. There are three basic chassis for powered armour, 17 optional components, and half-a-dozen pre-worked examples. I immediately started thinking about how to represent suits from favourite games and fictional works in game terms, which is a good sign.

Robots (4 pages): Same story; basic chassis with Mods points, 21 optional components costing Mods points, four worked examples. Setting rules for repairs, maintenance, glitches for unmaintained robots. Robots are essentially customisable Extras, or Wild Cards if you pay the extra for that.

Starships (11 pages): There are 6 basic hulls, rated like vehicles in the core rules, with Mods points used in the usual way for combinations of 28 optional components. There are rules for fuel costs, provisions, repairs, crew wages, hyperspace travel, and starship combat (a modified version of the core Chase rules, which is how I would’ve done it myself). There are guidelines for using miniatures for ship combat, too. 13 example ships are provided, as are guidelines for how much ship a group of PCs should start with, if you want to do that (I probably would).

Hyperspace deserves a more detailed look. A jump requires a Knowledge (Astrogation) roll and can take you anywhere, although jumps within a solar system are easier and jumps to another galaxy are harder; they take 2d6 days, less if you roll well or spend extra fuel to go faster. Essentially, all star systems in the same galaxy are the same distance apart; goodbye star maps, hello intriguing implications for galactic politics (of which more perhaps in a later post).

Vehicles (7 pages): Are rated, unsurprisingly, like vehicles. Again, they have Mods ratings and 35 optional components to consume them; there are six basic chassis, rated only by size, since how they move (jets, tracks, antigrav) are covered by Mods. There are rules for tracking ammo and fuel, and guidelines for the budget a group might have if the game will revolve around vehicle combat. There are 18 sample vehicles, ranging from dirt bikes to shielded hovertanks.

Walkers (5 pages): Get yer mechs here. They are built much like power armour, but are bigger (up to 50′ tall). Three types of chassis, 18 optional components, six example mechs, special rules for mech combat – notably that these compartmentalised behemoths can never suffer more than two wounds from an attack, whatever the damage result is.

World Maker (4 pages): Random tables for generating planets; gravity, dominant terrain type, atmosphere, population density, government, law level, customs (which may apply only to specific groups), spaceport, technology level.

Travelers & Xenos (30 pages): Stock NPCs and alien animals, each with a short description and a statblock. Includes psi-knights (*cough* Jedi *cough*), variant swarms, and a couple of example empires and organisations as well as individual foes – nice touch, that.

…and we close with an index.

FORMAT

Full colour cover; layered PDF (huzzah!) so you can suppress the foreground, background, text, illustrations or guides/grids individually. If you like, I guess you can suppress them all and get blank pages… anyway, behind all the layout and illos is black on white two-column text in readable fonts.

Gets the job done.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

What happens when a character with High Tech (Major) tries to use stuff made on a world where everyone has Low Tech (Minor)? I’d probably stack the penalties so he’s working at -6.

I really like the idea of rating starships like characters, and making them a playable race as High-Space does; so I would have voted to include that. However, Pinnacle took a conscious decision not to go down that route – fair enough, it’s their game.

CONCLUSIONS

This book replaces the earlier SF Toolkits, in the same way that the Fantasy Companion replaced the Fantasy Toolkits. Likewise, it takes a more prescriptive approach to genre specifics than the toolkits did.

How does it do at covering the vast playground of SF? Well, it’s tightly focussed on space opera, and it does a good job of that; if you want to game Aliens, Babylon 5, Star Wars, Star Frontiers, Traveller and so forth, you can, but the SFC doesn’t go far beyond the space opera niche. Neither do I, to be fair, so I’m happy with it; but if that’s not your goal, you might be better served by something else – probably something that isn’t the fast, furious pulpiness of Savage Worlds.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. I’m not playing much at the moment, but I expect to have fun shortly with the various vehicle and powered armour sections. Watch this space!

Oh, and I forgot to mention earlier that it’s a 98 page PDF and currently costs $14.99.

CODA

At the same time, Pinnacle has released the second edition of the Super Powers Companion. Supers aren’t my cup of tea; I reckon anyone who works all day at a normal job, then dresses up in skin-tight spandex and goes out at night looking for like-minded individuals to beat up, is somebody with serious psychological problems, superpowers or not. So if I were to run a supers game, it would be inspired by Watchmen or The Boys rather than Superman or the Avengers. That aside, be aware that the SPC is now available if that floats your boat, and it seems to be quite tightly integrated with the SF Companion.

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2 thoughts on “Review: SW Sci Fi Companion

  1. I’ve been following your blog for awhile, particularly after I started my Savage Worlds SF campaign. Enjoyed the Arioniad, particularly.

    Thanks for the review. I’d been considering whether to buy this or Savage Space. How would you compare the two? What has changed since the old SF Toolkits from ages ago?

    I get the impression that you prefer Savage Space for starship design. Is there anything that makes the SF Companion a “gotta have”?

    • Why thank you, kind sir. This question deserves a more reasoned response than I can write in my present state of exhaustion, give me a day or two and I’ll come back with something sensible…

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