Review: Nova Praxis

Posted: 24 September 2014 in Reviews
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In a Nutshell: Transhumanist science fiction setting for Savage Worlds, converted from its original game system, FATE. 311 page PDF by Void Star Studios.

To use the setting, you need Savage Worlds Deluxe, the usual pencils, paper and dice. The SW Science Fiction Companion is optional but recommended; you won’t need it, though, unless your game makes heavy use of vehicles, starships or mecha. I Kickstarted this because it looked cool, and indeed it is cool.

CONTENTS

About half the book is used to detail the setting, which is post-scarcity, transhumanist, and hard SF. The basic premise is that humanity creates an AI (called Mimir), which creates all sorts of cool toys nobody really understands, then expires. Earth is rendered uninhabitable by nanomachines run amok, and the few survivors flee to the other worlds of the solar system and a handful of exoplanets.

Nation-states have been replaced by corporate entities which now call themselves Houses and have banded together into a Coalition. Coalition citizens have all their basic needs provided for, but live under constant control and surveillance by the Houses. Those who prefer freedom and privacy, the so-called Apostates, live on the fringes of society, often by illegal means.

The main conflicts in the setting are the open one between the Coalition and the Apostates, the covert war for supremacy between the six great Houses, and the ideological one between transhumanists and those preaching human purity. For convenience, the advice to the GM assumes that the PCs are deniable operatives fighting the covert war (*cough* Shadowrunners *cough*), but other campaign types are certainly possible.

The hard SF aspect of the setting is that with a couple of exceptions (interstellar jumps, artificial gravity) there’s nothing here that isn’t an extrapolation of existing technology. It’s also reflected in the setting rules: Blood and Guts, Critical Failures, and Gritty Damage.

The post-scarcity aspect is reflected in two new characteristics; Rep and Assets. Rep measures how valuable the Coalition thinks you are, while Assets determine what stuff you’ve got stashed; essentially you use Rep to get hold of legal goods, and Assets to barter on the black market. (High-Space is also a post-scarcity setting which assumes free gear assigned by Rep, but simplifies matters by saying your Rep is effectively your Rank – Seasoned, Heroic, or whatever.) Nova Praxis bases Rep and Assets on your initial skills and edges, and increments them as you advance in Rank. Rep and Asset ratings translate into die types you roll to buy things or ask for favours. NPCs can bump your Rep if you’ve impressed them, or damage it if you haven’t; these bumps or hits are in units of 5% of a Rep point, but how many units are applied depends on the NPC’s Rep. This is a clever mechanic, replacing the financial rewards one would find in other settings.

The transhumanist aspect is covered by how characters are created, recreated, and advanced.

Character creation is more difficult if you aren’t familiar with the background, since several key choices rely on an understanding of the setting. The first of these is what kind of character you will play, your "state"; pure, sleeved or SIM (Substrate-Independent Mind). Pure characters retain a human mind and body, sleeved characters exist in a single organic or synthetic body (the "sleeve"), and SIMs are digital entities existing only in virtual reality, interacting with the real world only through Coalition-sponsored sensors and machinery. PCs can move from pure to sleeved or SIM during play, becoming effectively immortal as their consciousness can then be restored from backup, but once they leave the pure state, they can never go back. Sleeved PCs can resleeve themselves in a new body; when they do so, certain Edges and Hindrances are lost, and must be replaced with others in consultation with the GM. A sleeve also has its own attributes, so you need to keep track of both your sleeved PC’s "natural" attributes, and the attributes of the sleeve he or she currently inhabits.

There are no aliens or demihumans in the setting, although you can emulate some of them with sleeves. To offset the advantages of being sleeved or a SIM, pure PCs have access to the Path of Purity, which gives them advantages due to their sheer willpower.

The only Arcane Background in the setting is Savant, representing a sleeved or SIM PC who has hacked the code of his own uploaded mind and so gained power over the technology around him. These abilities are represented as unique "programs" rather than trappings on existing Powers, which is how I would have been tempted to do it. Some of these let you edit other people’s minds, which is no doubt part of the reason Savants are generally distrusted.

The second setting-specific choice is your allegiance, which is to one of the great Houses, or Apostate. (If you choose one of the Houses, you may take an Edge which grants you bonuses on skills the House is renowned for and easier access to goods it specialises in.)

This setting makes significant changes to the core skills, edges and hindrances of Savage Worlds, and adds a number of new ones, too many to detail here. Your state affects which of them you can select.

There is a new secondary statistic, Cohesion, and two additional wound tracks, Fragmentation and Glitches. Cohesion is the PC’s sense of self, and is used as a modifier on rolls to resist Fragmentation, which are triggered when he changes state or resleeves; fragment enough and get a free psychosis, manifesting itself as a new Hindrance. Glitches are what happens to a Savant when his programs fail, collect enough and go offline while your mind reboots. You don’t really need any of those if you’re playing a plain vanilla human, though.

All of this makes character creation more complex than usual; fortunately, there are five iconic, pre-generated PCs to pick up and play; Alexei the Savant, Anders the pure Apostate, Jane the mercenary, Malpheus the SIM, and Reagan the tactical genius.

There’s a ton of gear, which as usual I will gloss over; personal weapons are railguns, coilguns or particle accelerators for the most part, armour consists of basic chassis types to which you can apply features of your choice (much in the same way that the SFC builds vehicles), there’s a range of miscellaneous gear and a section on sleeves and augmenting your original body or sleeve with cyberware. Note that a sleeve can be a clone of your original body, if you so wish. There are a bunch of sample sleeves and drones. Vehicles use the SFC rules, but non-standard mods; fuel is unimportant as they are powered by antimatter reactors. There are some stock designs, and notes on using SFC vehicles.

There are a number of stand-alone plot hooks scattered throughout the book, but the GM’s chapter offers four campaign arcs, as well as a number of factions, secret societies and entities whose existence or activities are not public knowledge, and example NPCs.

Finally, a new character sheet – this is necessary because of the changes Nova Praxis makes to the core rules.

FORMAT

There’s a lot of nice full-colour art, though it’s mostly restricted to chapter frontispieces.

For some reason the entire PDF is form-fillable, and on my PC and tablet at least it is much more sluggish than other PDFs of equivalent size and I have to suppress side windows every time I open it. Not impressed, sorry; this is my biggest gripe about the product.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Does the PDF need to be form-fillable? Does it need to be 78 MB in size?

CONCLUSIONS

This is actually a pretty nifty setting. It makes more changes to the core Savage Worlds rules than I’m entirely comfortable with, but they meld with the setting seamlessly, and SW without modifications wouldn’t work as well here – the pulpy style of the vanilla core rules is better suited to space opera than transhumanism.

Comparing it to the competition…

  • I prefer the setting and mechanics of Nova Praxis to High-Space, although it would still be cool to have starships as PCs.
  • Interface Zero has a richer, more detailed setting, but no starships or exoplanets, and I like my starships.
  • Eclipse Phase is creepier and much more complicated, too complex for me to run I fear.

For my next science-fiction campaign, I have a choice between classic space opera in the vein of Star Wars, or taking Shadowrun a century further into the future and turning the volume up to 11, both of which are attractive in their own way. The former would suit The Last Parsec, the latter Nova Praxis; so it looks like one of those is coming to a gaming table near me shortly – which it will be depends on how The Last Parsec turns out. We’ll know that in a few weeks, stay tuned for a review.

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Comments
  1. Mike says:

    Hi Andy,
    I just wanted to pop in and say thanks for the review, and to tell you that the next update to the PDF will not be form-fillable.

    Thanks again,
    Mike

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