“Hey! Are we playing horseshoes, honey? No, I don’t think we are.
You’re close! (Close!) But no cigar!”
– Weird Al Yankovic, Close But No Cigar
This one’s for Cloud Divider, who asked how the SFC stacks up against High-Space and the old SF Toolkits… A bit like this, CD; as you can see I got carried away, and wound up with something too big for a comment.
SFC VS HIGH-SPACE
While both of these focus on the space opera subgenre of science fiction, they’re looking at different versions of it.
The Sci Fi Companion emulates the kind of space opera written in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It’s good for campaigns with the look and feel of Poul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League or Terran Empire, E C Tubb’s Dumarest saga, H Beam Piper’s Future History, Frank Herbert’s Dune series; movies like Star Wars; TV shows like Battlestar Galactica; games like Traveller, Star Frontiers, BattleTech. This is SF as Westerns-with-rayguns, and I’d say it’s closer to the original Star Wars movies than anything else in fiction.
High-Space mimics the sort of space opera written from the late 1980s onwards, by authors like Iain Banks, Alastair Reynolds, or Neal Asher; or games like Halo or Mass Effect. I can’t think of any movies or TV shows in this subgenre, but no doubt they exist. Transhumanism is central to the setting, with characters routinely being clones, cyborgs, AI software in robot bodies, sentient starships and what have you. For me, it resonates most with the videogame Mass Effect.
Mechanically, the main differences are these:
- The SFC doesn’t add much as far as character creation goes; a couple of Knowledge skills, a handful of new Edges and Hindrances, and off you go. High-Space takes SW character generation and overlays careers and cultures, which for the most part give you a little character backstory and a couple of mandatory skills.
- The SFC gives you a point-buy alien builder for making your own races. High-Space treats races as trappings for one of a half-a-dozen racial archetypes.
- High-Space is set in a post-scarcity economy; the gear PCs have depends on their Rank rather than their available cash.
- The SFC has a wider range of gear, especially weapons, but High-Space has a stronger focus on computers and hacking.
- High-Space essentially treats starships as characters; in SFC, they’re just another type of vehicle. However, the rules in SFC are much easier for me to understand; I would love to use the High-Space rules as a plug-in (which incidentally they are designed for) but I found too many unanswered questions and violations of the laws of physics. Yes, I could house-rule around those, but I pay publishers for this stuff so that I don’t have to do that.
- High-Space has a default setting, The Lantern, already specified. The SFC doesn’t.
SFC VS TOOLKITS
At the top level, the difference is one of style. The toolkits presented options (different ways to design a starship, for example), and encouraged the GM to pick one, or use them as inspiration for his own custom method; they offered advice and guidance. The Companion is more prescriptive, offering a single starship design method as the approved approach; it offers actual rules.
Things the Companion adds:
- Nothing I’ve noticed. I could’ve missed something, mind.
Things it takes away:
- The random alien creature generator. I get the feeling some of the actual creatures are gone too, but the page count is about the same, so maybe I’m wrong.
- The Weird Science Edges and notes on that Arcane Background.
- The superhero lair generator (from Necessary Evil).
- Much of the GM’s advice on setting design.
- I’m sure the total number of example vehicles, power armour suits etc. is lower; I haven’t checked to see if the surviving ones are new, or recycled.
- Psionics and extra powers (which I think, but have not checked, are mostly in SWD now).
- The notes on time travel.
Things it changes:
- It’s aligned with Savage Worlds Deluxe rather than the earlier Explorers’ Edition. This doesn’t change much other than the chase rules.
- Hacking and cyberspace. This is simplified, with a suggestion to use Interface Zero if you want more complexity.
Of the three – High-Space, the SF toolkits, or the Sci Fi Companion – I prefer the Companion, for these reasons:
- It’s easier for me to understand and explain to players. High-Space is unclear to me in places, and the toolkits offer too many options.
- It’s a single, tightly-integrated book. Both of the other options are composed of three books, and the toolkits by their nature are not such a cohesive whole.
- It’s closest to the type of game I like to run best, no doubt due to a youth misspent reading Poul Anderson and E C Tubb, and playing Classic Traveller.
Is there anything that makes the Companion a “must-have”? That depends on what you want. In my case, I like it for the vehicle and ship design rules, but I could (and have) run SF games without it. My usual rule of thumb is that if I’m still using it on a regular basis a year after I bought it, it graduates to “must have”. Let’s see if I’m still as enthusiastic about it in January 2015…