The Last Parsec Core

Having purchased this as soon as I noticed it was available, and devoured it overnight, here are my initial thoughts…

In a Nutshell: Core book for the Savage Worlds Last Parsec setting, from Pinnacle Entertainment. 96 page PDF, $10 at time of writing – print options also available. This isn’t a stand-alone book, you also need Savage Worlds Deluxe and ideally the Sci-Fi Companion as well.

CONTENTS

1 – The Known Worlds (42 pages)

This covers the history of the Known Worlds in outline, and details six of them, before moving into essays on FTL travel, sentient races, threats and opportunities, and character concepts.

The history is broadly in line with the early part of the Standard Sci-Fi History common to many space operas; Earth is devastated by war in the near future, but recovers and launches sublight colony ships which settle distant Earthlike worlds, encountering various species which resemble humans, felines, saurians, etc. After enough time for the colonies to develop distinctly alien cultures, FTL travel is discovered and they link up again. Earth is historically significant, but not a major interstellar power.

There’s a table of main sequence star data, which appears to serve no useful purpose as there are no rules for star system generation. Each of the six selected worlds gets about a page of background detail in all, explaining how it was settled, what it’s like, and the culture of its inhabitants; one is tagged as the serran homeworld, and the others are human-dominated.

There are a couple of pages on FTL travel, but they don’t answer the questions I still have – see Suggestions for Improvement below. They do clarify that in TLP hyperspace travel is not instantaneous, and there is a tantalising hint of sentient white dwarf stars which are able to conduct hyperspace jumps.

Next, each of the important sentient races in the setting gets a couple of pages, describing its homeworld, appearance, pre-contact or pre-spaceflight history, and current situation. These races are the aurax, parasteen (deaders), florans, insectoids, rakashans, saurians, and yetis. We learn who the rakashan racial enemy is in the setting – kalians. We also learn that there are various splinter groups of rakashans who do not play well together.

Note that terms like "insectoid" are used as catch-all categories covering multiple similar species which need not be related; indeed, the book provides three different species of saurians from different planets.

This chapter also contains a map showing the realspace locations of a number of worlds, which is nice enough but has no game purpose due to the nature of FTL travel in the setting – every world is only one jump away from every other world.

The threats and opportunities section talks about lost civilisations and threatening species, and to avoid spoilers I won’t give details, other than to say that if you have Scientorium you already have much of that information.

The final section talks about character concepts – these are called archetypes, but to me an archetype is a ready-to-play character, not a paragraph telling me that engineers build and repair things and are in high demand, for example. It also has a sidebar of slang terms.

2 – JumpCorp (8 pages)

The default employer for player characters in the setting, JumpCorp is a unifying component giving the future-shocked PC something to cling to among the wide range of worlds and races. It’s more like a franchise operation than a typical megacorporation; charters are limited to a particular star system, but local operations can group together into conglomerates, and all report to JumpCorp Prime, which doesn’t control franchises but does share data and arbitrate between them. Individual charters can be good, bad or indifferent, and use different organisational structures and job titles; so the GM can invent whatever type of corporation suits his group best.

Basically, whatever the GM needs the megacorp in his game to do, there’s a bit of JumpCorp somewhere that does it. The chapter also mentions three other corporations to show JumpCorp isn’t the only game in town, and gives the GM some guidance on how to use JumpCorp to best effect.

3 – Gear (13 pages)

You can see my eyes glazing over already, right? That’s not about the book, it’s about my long-standing indifference to equipment chapters in all RPGs. There are a handful of new weapons, personal devices, androids and starships; a couple of new mods for homebrew ships; and some new vehicles and vehicle mods. There are more starships and vehicles than anything else. The main thing that caught my eye was the grav belt – err, sorry, anti-grav pack.

4 – Setting Rules (5 pages)

We start with Joker’s Wild and Multiple Languages from the SWD rulebook – good choices – and all PCs getting a free Knowledge skill at their Smarts die type – which I dislike on principle, but that’s just me.

The chapter then talks about what JumpCorp pays your heroes, how they might requisition unusual equipment, and commendations – these are a bit like medals and grant the PC bonus money and experience for going above and beyond their contracted duty; they also grant Resolve, which are points you can trade for connections, bennies, extra action cards, or extra adventure cards if your group uses those. This intrigues me and deserves further study and possibly experimentation in play.

A sidebar explains that interstellar travel is something done only by the few, e.g. the PCs, with most people never travelling offworld. A larger section expands on space travel and how it works, but seems to be largely a consolidated recap of information in other products (which one might reasonably expect of a core setting book, although usually the adventures would be published after the core book and duplicate its content, not the other way around).

5 – Adventure Generator (9 pages)

As is traditional for SW settings, there are rules for generating random adventures using card draws and dice. In this case, an adventure consists of an objective, a focus, a conflict and 1-4 other elements. I’ll create an example to show you how it works… it’s worth noting that all card draws refer you to the same set of tables, so a specific item might be a factor for good or ill depending on the adventure. That would encourage me to reuse NPCs, as I like the idea of particular NPCs being allies in one session and enemies in the next, according to their motivations.

First I roll 1d20 for the mission objective: 1 – exploration. The PCs must explore a newly discovered region, world or ruins. Fair enough, it’s a common adventure type.

Next I draw a card to determine what people or objects relate to that objective; a Queen of Clubs. Clubs tell me there is an obstacle of some type and I roll 1d20 to decide what -  15, which I see means the PCs encounter local military or police forces and must persuade them of their right to be in that location, or be arrested.

Third, I draw a card for the conflict; Ace of Diamonds – I roll another d20 and get 13, technology; 1d10 = 3 cargo spaces of high-end consumer goods. That is unlikely to fight the PCs, so it must be something they find which other groups want badly enough to fight them for.

Fourth, I draw 1d4 more cards for other elements and get a 2 of Clubs and an Ace of Spades. Each of those requires a d20 roll and I get 12 and 20 respectively; the adventure will also feature a gravitational anomaly and soldiers of the Tazanian Empire in a heavily-armed light freighter.

(In some situations I could have found myself rolling percentile dice to see which creature from the Sci-Fi Companion was involved, but that didn’t happen here.)

Putting that all together, I decide to use the stock TV show trope of answering a distress call; a JumpCorp freighter has been rerouted to a world with super heavy gravity, and is thought to have crashed. The team is sent to investigate and recover any survivors and the valuable cargo – and also find out why it was there in the first place.

Reaching the crash site, which is dangerous and difficult because of the gravity, the PCs discover the ship was given forged orders diverting it from its normal destination, and is being ransacked by a group of Tazanian soldiers disguised as a freighter crew, who claim they are salvaging the cargo. Clever players may discover clues to the fact that the Tazanians issued the fake orders to take the ship somewhere they could seize its cargo, which has valuable secrets and/or contraband concealed in it. The Tazanians have also warned a warship from a neighbouring world which is patrolling the system that they suspect "pirates" are responsible for the crash and to be on the lookout for brigands posing as JumpCorp employees.

Sounds like a reasonable adventure and took less than 20 minutes to work out. For me, this is the most useful part of the book.

6 – Travelers and Empires (13 pages)

More common allies and enemies to supplement those from the Sci Fi Companion; a couple of dozen NPCs of various stripes, including the first mention of an avion in the setting; empires and organisations, including two of the three empires from the Sci-Fi Companion and a sidebar with a couple of mercenary outfits to use as organisations.

…and we close with an index.

FORMAT

PDF properties suggest this is what Pinnacle call an Explorer-sized book, about 7" x 10" or so. It’s in the usual TLP trade dress, black type on a pale blue background with pages looking vaguely like a tablet PC screen. Fortunately for my printer the background layer can be suppressed.

Full colour illustrations every few pages, ranging from a quarter page to a full page in size; many have been recycled from earlier TLP products, not that this bothers me.

Overall, it’s fine; plain, straightforward, gets the job done. It would be easy to use at the gaming table and that’s what counts most for me.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I still want to know the military and political implications of an FTL drive system in which there are no choke points and all planets are equidistant from all other planets, especially since the nav beacons provide “FTL radio”. It’s a bit like the present day I suppose; if you’re in trouble in Sumatra, say, you can radio corporate headquarters in New York, and if they care enough, they can have backup airdropped to your position within a day or two.

I also want to know how a planet can be “far from the regular trade routes” or “on the edge of explored space”, as several are said to be in other products, when every world with a nav beacon is equally accessible.

Nobody on the forum seems bothered about any of this, so I suspect there is another paradigm shift from Old School RPGs to Savage Worlds that I haven’t quite made yet, one relating to not needing the amount of setting information I’m used to having. I shall muse on that further over the coming months; it’s probably connected to Old School assumptions about domain-level play, which current RPGs have largely abandoned.

CONCLUSIONS

I had wondered whether this would enhance TLP to the point where I abandon my semi-homebrew Dark Nebula setting in favour of it, but it doesn’t. I can vaguely see how a TLP campaign might be run, and it would have almost no advance preparation at all, which is attractive; setting details would emerge in play as the GM responds to player questions. I can’t see it clearly enough to run, though.

TLP Core reuses a lot of setting information from the other TLP products and the Sci-Fi Companion, but this makes it usable whatever other products you have, and even if you do have them it would reduce page-flipping across multiple books; it does mean you are paying for content you might already have, or could obtain free elsewhere, so it’s your call whether the convenience is worth the cost. The reuse does mean I could see this setting being just about workable without the Sci-Fi Companion, and it’s definitely usable without the world books from the Kickstarter. Mind you, you could do the same thing with the free setting primer, too, and if you’re interested I recommend you download that first to see if it floats your boat before you buy the full setting book.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 if you have the other TLP products, 4 out of 5 in its own right. I’ll mine it for ideas (most likely the adventure generator), but it’s not quite what I’m after at the moment, so it’s destined for the reference section.

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3 thoughts on “The Last Parsec Core

  1. I agree with you re the implications of FTL and choke points and inaccessible areas. It’s likely that those interest in spatio-politics and military-logistics will find the ‘everywhere whenever approach’ unsatisfying, I know I would and so will 2/3rd of my gaming table, so we’d fix that. I didn’t jump into TLP since I suspected it might not quite fit my needs, since the SFC meets them 33% already, once I had that 90% then the remaining 33% comes from Traveller, the remainder from my head, from Star Wars/D6 and the rather interesting SWN stuff you showed me. [e.g. the factions].
    So I’ll probably pass, but I suspect it’s a very serviceable setting for many.

  2. I was wondering if you have tried Solar Echoes by Corefun Studios? Solar Echoes is a scifi rpg, and the pdfs are available at Drive thru RPG and RPGNow, I believe. I ordered a physical copy directly, because the idea of “all players playing at the same time” intrigued me. However, I haven’t been able to devote any time to it, so far. I would like to hear your thoughts/review.

    • I’ve only read the free orientation guide, and that didn’t appeal to me enough to buy the full rules. I didn’t understand well enough from the combat example how the simultaneous movement and actions worked; I’d be interested in what you think when you’ve tried it, and whether it works any better than just letting the players co-ordinate actions once initiative has been rolled or drawn.

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