Review: Seven Worlds Setting Guide

Posted: 29 July 2017 in Reviews
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“The goal is for the players to stop thinking about the door, wall or table as an inanimate obstacle to be overcome and instead see it as an enemy to be outsmarted.” – Seven Worlds

In a Nutshell: Hard SF space opera setting for Savage Worlds, 217 page PDF, published by Intellistories, written by Luis Enrique Torres. Price not known at time of writing (disclosure, I received a review copy – thanks Luis!).

The Seven Worlds setting was built around a specific campaign in seven parts, which deserves its own review; but I’ll begin with the setting book, because I am more of a rules guy than a story guy at heart, and the thing that really attracted my attention was that this setting has the Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval, meaning that website has validated the underpinning science as accurate. These awards are highly esteemed in the hard SF community, and not easily gained.

CONTENTS

Introduction (2 pages): This explains the setting’s unique selling points (hard SF, built around a specific storyline); who the PCs are (by default, paramilitary troubleshooters); and a capsule overview of the setting, which I think is suitable for handing out to the players.

Overview (98 pages): With nearly half the book in this section, I’m not going into a huge amount of detail. You have a timeline running from the present day about 200 years into the future; enigmatic but benevolent aliens; an accurate depiction of actual stars within about 30 lightyears of Sol; descriptions of the titular Seven Worlds, which are habitable, and a half-dozen or so less important waystations between them. The one-page world map/summary for each habitable planet would make a fine handout.

Key technologies for star travel include jump drives, fusion power plants, and the Coulborne Shield, which protects travellers from energy and radiation (working much like the Langston Field of The Mote in God’s Eye); there is no artificial gravity, but relay drones shuttling between jump points provide FTL communications, at least along major routes. I like the FTL travel and comms in this setting much more than the approach used in the The Last Parsec, which I guess is the setting’s main competitor.

There are writeups for the two main interstellar organisations, the Circle and the Psion Brotherhood, and what little is known of the alien N’ahili. There are descriptions of life in the 23rd century, with nanotech, AR/VR, genemods, space travel and combat (there’s a lot of detail in those bits). This section also has four iconic PCs, fully statted, and with extensively detailed backstories.

Characters (7 pages): Unusually short for a character generation chapter, because it stays very close to the core Savage Worlds rules – I approve of that, incidentally. Only humans allowed, although the different homeworlds give some variety by swapping out the usual free Edge for another benefit; the only arcane background is psionics, and that involves taking a vow representing a code of conduct much like the psions in Babylon 5. There are three new skills (Hacking, Knowledge: Ship Ops, Knowledge: Science), and five pages of new and modified Hindrances and Edges. The default assumption is that all PCs are members of a specific organisation, the Circle, which provides gear, missions and so on; think of them as the space patrol and you won’t be far off the mark.

Gear (11 pages): Near future hard SF here; no personal energy weapons or shields, although flechettes and gyrojets abound. Spacesuits, programmable matter, nanotech healing, and more mundane gear. Honourable mention for the smart dust grenade, which scatters nanosensors throughout its burst template and allows the user to see through cover and around corners. The signature gear item, however, is the assistant, a kind of high-tech familiar which almost every PC has – basically a disembodied NPC sidekick played by the GM.

Psions (5 pages): Again short, again because it leverages what Savage Worlds already has. A limited palette of available powers; mental Toughness, used to resist psionic attack; the Psionics skill is harder to advance than usual. There are 9 new powers, and 21 powers which are modified from the core rules either with new trappings or with different power point costs.

Setting Rules (22 pages): These cover languages (not an issue due to widespread translation software); game effects of microgravity, space and planetary environments, and assistants; and a modification to the Test of Wills rules I might adapt elsewhere, namely intimidating groups of NPCs. I liked the tags for planetary environments, which include things like “Cold and Hostile” or “Too Dark”.

The majority of the section, though, is taken up with rules for interstellar travel and space combat. Travel is in jumps, and each ship has a number of jumps it can make without refuelling, as well as a pseudospeed defining how many weeks each jump takes. This looks like it would work very well in play.

Space combat uses a modified version of the SW chase rules, reflecting the problems with realistic space combat; namely, you can’t hide, you can’t run or dodge very well either, and if you don’t manage the heat buildup properly the ship is incapacitated. There is also a heavy reliance on missiles, to the point where a sheet is needed to keep track of incoming ordnance. This all looks very different and more realistic than the usual dogfight paradigm; I’d have to try it to understand how the modifications interact, but I can already see the ship’s engineers have something useful to do – stop the ship melting. A useful sidebar shows you how to dial combat lethality up or down to match how much trouble the PCs are having.

GM Section (20 pages): Much of this is taken up with the introductory adventure, “A Mysterious Encounter”, which segues into the default campaign. This supposes the PCs work for the Circle, and includes introductions to common technology, personal and ship combat, and a final puzzle which I expect will be resolved later in the campaign. As well as that, we find rules options (interstellar trade, ship customization, space encounters) and game mastering tips (the implications of Seven Worlds technology, how to run the default campaign, alternative campaign types – including which ones will and will not work well in the setting).

Bestiary (22 pages): Over 60 animals and NPCs; 27 vehicles and spacecraft. Each of the animals and NPCs has a location specified, showing where it can be found; quite a few are constructs found only in virtual reality. (By the way, the widespread use of virtual reality in the setting allows the GM to make full use of the multi-genre nature of Savage Worlds – the PCs can have ‘real’ adventures in the Seven Worlds and ‘virtual’ ones in a fantasy world, the Old West, etc. I don’t think I could carry that off myself, mind.)

The Voyager (2 pages): This is the PCs’ default ship, owned by their patrons the Circle foundation. It’s spherical and the decks go all over the place, including one around the equator and a gym that is reeled out on a cable for spin gravity. It cannot have been easy to design, but there is no confusing it with the usual aeroplane or ship layouts for starships.

Appendix (11 pages): Seven Worlds prides itself on sticking to known scientific fact as far as it can, but in the end, it is a game; this appendix lists the areas where the author knows he has bent or broken the laws of science for the sake of a better story, as well as his reference sources and a 2D starmap.

After that, there are character and ship record sheets, a couple of ads for the campaign and website, and two more 2D maps of the setting, one showing all the stops between the Seven Worlds, and one more stylised and less cluttered, somewhat like a subway map – that’s the most useful one for planning interstellar travel.

FORMAT

Colour covers and illustrations (one every few pages, and I especially liked the cover), two column black text on pale blue background (which can be suppressed for a print-friendly version) – except in the introductory adventure, where the background is green, or the iconic PCs, where it is pale brown; I found that helpful to locate them when flicking through the book. There are also sidebars throughout the book explaining the science behind the game; I loved those.

A nice touch is that the blue line in the header between pages 2 and 206 has a purpose – to the scale of the small solar system diagram on page 2, it shows the distance to Proxima Centauri, our closest stellar neighbour.

As well as the usual character sheets, maps and pregens, the game’s website also hosts a dynamic 3D starmap usable with VRML viewers, and world maps you can load into Google Earth; the intention is that the GM and players use these at the table on their tablets or smartphones. Check out the demo video here. They are a nice touch, and point the way for future RPGs, but personally I’d be happy running things without access to any tech beyond pencil and paper, maybe because I’m an aging dinosaur whose play style developed in the 1970s, when that was the only choice.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

A minor nitpick only: There’s a tiny bit of Smallville syndrome, in that the three most significant ‘historical’ NPCs lived in the same small American town and went to school together. I thought that might be explained in the campaign (see next review), but the mystery just gets deeper.

CONCLUSIONS

This isn’t the usual Firefly-meets-Star Wars space opera, it’s more like The Expanse; and the hard SF tech isn’t just for show, it makes a real difference to the campaign plotline and how the game plays. This means it’s not a setting you can just pick up and run in a few minutes, it needs a little thought first. My first thought is that the kitchen appliances should include the Talkie Toaster and spontaneously burst into upbeat, family-friendly song every few minutes.

There are echoes of 2300AD, Classic Traveller, Diaspora, Attack Vector: Tactical and other games, so I suspect Mr Torres had a youth misspent in much the same way as my own. It’s no surprise that I love the setting, as it’s so close in spirit to my old favourites.

It’s good to see a game world whose technology feels futuristic; I haven’t had that feeling since I discovered 2300AD, and the 1980s were a long time ago. I’m also impressed by the way the corebook conveys a hard SF setting without making sweeping changes and adding complexity to the core Savage Worlds rules like, say, Nova Praxis.

My instinct is that the Seven Worlds would work better with smaller parties, as with large ones the assistants would increase GM workload too much – I might take a leaf out of Infinity’s book and have each player run the assistant of the player to his right.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. I could see the Pawns of Destiny group in this setting once there is a gap in the schedule; it’s complex, realistic and elegant, just the sort of thing they go for. I might let Arion loose in it after the summer holidays as well, to see what he makes of it and try out the setting rules.

Next up: The Seven Worlds campaign, which is after all what the corebook exists to support.

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Comments
  1. Brass Jester says:

    Thanks for the detailed review – I’m going to get this. I’ve been looking for a SW space game for some time and I’m a big fan of ‘The Expanse’ and the books it is based on (also books like ‘Revelation Space’). We tried Diaspora for a time but the group weren’t happy with the FATE system.

  2. SJB says:

    Good to hear that Arion will return soon. Will Seven Worlds support his omnivorous sidekick?

    • andyslack says:

      Osheen isn’t an easy fit for Seven Worlds, unfortunately. Coriander and Dmitri would slot right in though. Maybe I could make Osheen an Assistant?

      • SJB says:

        He/she/it/they is/are too good to waste! I’m sure such an Assistant would give sound advice on things such as the nutritional value of antagonists.

      • andyslack says:

        Yes, that’s true. As an alternative maybe Osheen could be in one of the virtual worlds, that would work too. There are probably multiple Arions in any event…

  3. […] “This isn’t the usual Firefly-meets-Star Wars space opera, it’s more like The Expanse… Overall rating: 5 out of 5.” – Halfway Station […]

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