Category Archives: Reviews

B&B Adventures as at February 2015

“In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by the great log fires, and they tell a tale…” – The Saga of Noggin the Nog

Long ago, I took a map of the Dread Sea Dominions and marked upon it all the Beasts & Barbarians adventures, and I promised that I would update it periodically. Alas, that is no longer practical, because the adventures in the Borderlands, Faberterra, Kyros and Zandor – the most popular locations – are clustered too close together now. But I can give you a list! You know where your party is, so check that area and see what’s around them…

ADVENTURES

GE = Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition; BOD = Beasts of the Dominions.

The Borderlands: The Amulet of Dogskull (first part); The Betrayers of Rhybard (BOD); The Carnival of Nal Sagath; Moonless Night Over Grimdell; Wolves in the Borderlands (this is the one that persuaded me to buy B&B).

The Cairnlands: The Cliff Queen’s Court; The Price of Peace (BOD).

Caldeia: Death’s Cargo (BOD – second part).

Ekul: Shadows Over Ekul.

Faberterra: The Dread Shard; Green World; Main Attraction (BOD).

The Dread Sea: Eyes of the Night (BOD).

The Independent Cities: Death’s Cargo (BOD – first part).

The Iron Mountains: The Queen of the Lost Valley.

The Ivory Savannah: Hunter’s Moon (BOD)

Jalizar, City of Thieves: Grains of Death.

Kyros: A Matter of Love (BOD); Citadel of the Winged Gods; Thieves in the Night (Savage Insider #3).

Northeim: The Amulet of Dogskull (second part).

The Red Desert: Death of a Tyrant (this is the one the Shadows of Keron group enjoyed the most, I think).

Syranthia: The Skinner of Syranthia; The Whispered (BOD).

Tricarnia: Hosts (BOD).

Zandor: Vengeance of the Branded Devils (GE); Windborn (BOD). Jalizar is part of Zandor, so adventures there are technically in Zandor too.

PLACES WITH NO ADVENTURES YET

Ascaia, the Amazons’ Island; Caledland; the Cannibal Islands; the Fallen Realm of Keron; the Finger Islands; Gis, City of the Alchemists; the Islands of the Maimed Ones; the Land of the Idols; Lhoban; the Lush Jungle; the Troll Mountains; Valkheim; the Valk Steppe; the Verdant Belt.

JumpCorp Requisition Kit

More Last Parsec goodies! Is there no limit to the bounty of the Kickstarter system?

Well, maybe. But this time, I got four form-fillable PDF files which allow me to create my own JumpCorp ID badge (complete with photo), death certificate, heath and safety incident report, and supply requisition form. Nothing you couldn’t do yourself with a little time and a word processor, but they made me smile.

Maybe the mercantile combine on Mizah in the Dark Nebula campaign should be renamed JumpCorp, then I can use them to create props for the players. Especially the death certificates – "Yeah, the Captain prefilled these when you boarded, it saves time later…"

Review: Last Parsec Deck Plans and Figure Flats

More goodies from The Last Parsec… in this week’s post, the ship deck plans and figure flats.

I’ll digress from my usual review structure, because for this kind of product content and format are really the same thing, and also figure flats are not things I use much, so it doesn’t seem fair to give them a rating.

There are four deck plans and two sets of flats available; the deck plans are for a dropship, a modular freighter, a pair of pirate ships, and a research vessel. The figure flats are basically the good guys ("Explorers") and the bad guys ("Terrors").

FIGURE FLATS

Let’s look at the figures first. The Explorers pack contains nearly 70 figures suitable for use as PCs or their sidekicks, comprising four constructs, three deaders, three florans, seven male and three female humans, eight insectoids, three kalians, three rakashans, three saurians, four aurax, four yetis, and a serran (which could also work as another female human); many of these use the iconic art from other products in the line, for example the serran is the same artwork as in the SFC itself, and some of them are named, which suggests they are from existing or planned products – I haven’t checked. Additionally there are seven JumpCorp Marines, seven JumpCorp  security troopers, a squad of eight saltarians and their commander, and two armed exploration vehicles. With the exception of the JumpCorp and saltarian troops, who have multiple instances of the same pose, all of the figures are different.

In the Terrors pack, you get six security bots, a shady-looking dude called Kerastus, three librarians, two stringers, nine kragmen and two kragman shamans, eleven each of canyon, desert, forest, mountain and high sethis, three shock mantas, three drakes, two maulers, nine ravagers, nine spitters, one apex (as in apex predator), six arc beetles, one omariss death worm, five mysterious entities and one giant mysterious entity. All except the mysterious entities are from one of the TLP setting books. These being NPC mooks and local fauna rather than heroes, you get only one or two poses per type of being.

Some of the figures are 2D counters, but most are trifold standees; you fold each figure into a three-cornered prism and stand it on end. I always have trouble gluing those together, so I’d probably trim them to front-and-back and put them in some sort of stand. Personally I’d use the silhouette for the back and a colour image for the front, as in some of the games I play, it matters which way figures are facing.

DECK PLANS

The deck plans are provided as poster-sized full-colour images, overlaid with a square grid at the standard Savage Worlds one inch equals six feet (although you could print them at different scales to suit your figures, obviously). Each one would use 12 pages of A4 or Letter size paper to print out.

The dropship is a short-haul vessel, not suitable for long journeys. The internal areas suitable for combat or whatever consist of (fore to aft): A four-person cockpit; a passenger area with seats for 36; a utility section containing an office, a meeting room (or possibly sick bay, it has a bunk bed), a bathroom, and a weird red disk that might be a hatch, or a teleporter, or anything else you fancy; and a large cargo bay full of crates , with a small vehicle for loading and unloading them. It’s not entirely clear how those get in and out, as there are no suitable doors; I presume there’s a ceiling hatch.

The freighter has three deckplans, side by side, which I shall call the bridge, the crew quarters, and the cargo module. Looking at the cover picture and how the stairs are laid out, I’d say the bridge is on top of the crew quarters, and there’s a cargo module behind each one – possibly many cargo modules, much like freight cars in a railway train. The bridge deck has a seven-person control room, a large mess area, an airlock and a stairway leading down; the crew quarters has stairs up to the bridge, one stateroom with a double bed and a workstation, two four-person bunk rooms, a sick bay, a bathroom, and a lounge with a couch, a pool table, and an exercise bike. The cargo module is a boxy affair, full of crates and barrels, with what look like palm-keyed security doors fore and aft. I didn’t like this one at first, but it’s growing on me, because it’s actually many different freighters in one – print out multiple copies and make the ship as big as you like. That would’ve been easier if the decks had been on separate pages, though.

The pirate ship map has two small ships on it, one of which has two decks. The whitish vessel on the left of the poster seems to be some sort of high-performance, short-range craft, possibly a fighter; there are three crew stations and two jump seats. The more sombre craft on the right of the poster has a four-person bridge, bunk room, bathroom and small cargo area on the upper deck, while the lower deck has more cargo space and a sort of ship’s basement with a workbench and a meeting/dining table; the two decks are connected by ladders port and starboard.

The research ship map is another modular one, with two pods and a main ship – it’s not yet clear to me how they connect together, unless maybe the stairs in the pods lead up to the apparent floor hatch in the main section? If so, the ship can probably only have one pod at a time. The pods are a plain cargo pod with a few crates in it, and a spartan passenger pod with a kitchenette, bathroom, workstation and four cramped bedrooms. The ship proper has an expensive-looking bridge with six workstations, two of which are noticeably larger and better-equipped than the others – science stations, perhaps. Aft of that is something that might (or might not) be a sleeping area, with 2-4 things that might (or might not) be beds, depending on how you interpret their shapes. Behind that are four workstation areas, again two have large, expensive-looking displays. The main section of this map is the one I found hardest to interpret, generally what’s what is very clear on all the maps.

REFLECTIONS

The freighter and pirate maps together give you a solid set of multi-purpose, reusable deck plans. The dropship is OK, but less obviously useful in my games – I can only recall needing a dropship deck plan once in nearly 40 years of gamemastering SF RPGs. The research ship has potential, but it’s not immediately obvious how the pieces fit together.

On the figure flats front, these do the job and cover off all the iconic SFC races, with enough variety to differentiate between the PCs and major NPCs, plus a range of mooks and beasts of various sizes for them to face off against.

And on a personal note, I’m pleased I Kickstarted TLP at a high enough level to get all the PDFs. Win.

Review: The Enigma Equation

Kickstarting The Last Parsec is truly a gift that keeps on giving; I’m still getting PDF downloads intermittently. Next up: The Enigma Equation, 32 page adventure for that setting. You’ll need Savage Worlds Deluxe, and the Sci-Fi Companion, to make full use of it.

CONTENTS

The meat of this booklet is in three sections; Prime, The Enigma Equation, and Travelers & Xenos.

Prime (12 pages): This is essentially a repeat of the free setting primer, which I reviewed here. It’s Firefly meets Star Wars, except there is no central government to rebel against. The main rules clarification is for hyperspace jumps, which in this setting rely on navigation beacons, much as in Babylon 5.

The Enigma Equation (16 pages): This adventure in two acts begins when the team members are sent by JumpCorp to the planet Tomb, home of a JumpCorp research station, but since it was attacked by a group of strange insectoids the head researcher is missing… How are the mysterious Umbra Artefact and the even more mysterious Enigma Equation involved?

Travelers & Xenos (4 pages): Half-a-dozen foes, some reusable (especially the Djinn) and others not so much.

FORMAT

The usual Last Parsec trade dress; full colour throughout, option to turn off the page background in the PDF, pages formatted to look like a tablet PC readout, colour illustrations on most pages.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I’m ambiguous about repeating the primer in an adventure. Still, it didn’t cost me any extra, and even at full price the whole product is about six bucks. This is the sort of thing one usually sees bundled with a GM’s screen, and I vaguely remember reading somewhere that was the original intent.

CONCLUSIONS

I am still struggling to abandon my passion for worldbuilding, but with each Last Parsec adventure I come to understand a little better how that might work. I would be able to recycle the worlds and adventure hooks from any previous campaign just by throwing away the maps.

This little scenario is linked to Scientorium via one of its more enigmatic NPCs, and might make a good lead-in to the larger book. It also hints tantalisingly at a forthcoming TLP setting book which will explore things left unexplained at the end of this particular mission; Pinnacle could keep this up for years before the inevitable accretion of detail solidifies the setting into something hard to write for.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5. A fun little adventure, but it goes into the stack of Last Parsec goodies for potential later use. Perhaps I’m being unduly harsh because of the recycled Primer stuff.

Shadowrunners at the House on the Hill

Five of the old group joined us for Christmas, which was great, but the inertia generated by rich holiday food meant no-one was much in the mood for roleplaying. Instead, we turned to board games: Shadowrun Crossfire and Betrayal at the House on the Hill, both highly recommended, and neither of them mine, so I have not yet broken my resolution not to buy any more games in 2015! Hah!

Not sure how long that will last. Anyway…

Shadowrun: Crossfire

This is a co-operative deck building game. Waves of foes assault the players, who can play cards from their hands to defeat them; removing an enemy from play gives you money tokens with which to buy more cards. The co-operative element comes in because the players share the money tokens, whoever kills an opponent, and players can attack other players’ foes. There’s a roleplaying element too, as each deck is built around a character card, and successfully completing a game gives the player karma points, which are used to buy power-ups – these take the form of repeelable stickers which you apply to the character card. More experienced runners can take on more difficult missions, there being three scenarios in the basic game: Crossfire (survive three waves of foes), Extraction (survive six waves while protecting an NPC client), and messing with a dragon. We are not ready for that one yet.

(My recurring character is an ork whose portrait looks like Bruce Willis, so I’m buffing him with multiple instances of the Got Your Backs power-up, which allows him to pull a group of enemies onto him, get staggered by their combined damage, and then recover to active status again.)

Crossfire does an excellent job of evoking the Shadowrun universe without being enslaved by its rules, and of genuinely encouraging co-operative play whilst retaining an element of tension. It even has a solitaire mode, and the average game takes roughly an hour. It works best with four players, but we used it with one, three, four and five.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill

In this, players assume the roles of stereotypical characters from survival horror B-movies, exploring a haunted house. Each character is rated for its Speed (movement), Might (combat), Knowledge and Sanity. The haunted house is built by drawing tiles from a deck; symbols on the tiles reveal whether they contain an omen, an item or an event, which are drawn from card decks as needed and are a mixture of good stuff and bad stuff. At some point during the game, bad stuff will trigger a betrayal by one of the players; that player then looks up the nature of his or her treachery in one rulebook, while the others plot their countermeasures from another. There are quite a few variations, including the traitor collapsing the house into the Abyss, a madman supported by zombies, and the house rolling up on top of the players from the outside in.

(In the first game we played, I found myself playing the aged and knowledgable character, with a girl companion, a holy symbol, and constructive possession of the Mystic Elevator, which moves randomly around the house. Clearly, therefore, I was Doctor Who.)

Betrayal is every cheesy horror movie you’ve ever seen, with an interesting mixture of co-operative and competitive play, and enormous replay value. We used it with four players, but it should work with three to six. Again, a game takes roughly an hour.

We played more Crossfire, but I think Betrayal would be more accessible to the casual gamer.

Coda

And in other news, the players politely informed me that the Shadows of Keron campaign is not dead, just resting until they can get back together again, and that I may not consider it closed. Good news, I think, even though it may be a while before we play again. We should finish the Artefacts scenarios for Shadowrun first, though, since that has a story arc, and Shadows of Keron doesn’t, it’s just picaresque sword-and-sorcery adventures.

New Year Resolutions 2015

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” – G.K. Chesterton

It’s like this: When I’m tired, or irritable, I run off in all directions, learning new games and creating or converting new settings; but when I’m calm and rested, I keep coming back to a handful of them.

That handful is All Things Zombie, Traveller, Dark Nebula, Dungeons & Dragons, and Savage Worlds (in which I include Beasts & Barbarians).

So, for 2015, I’ve decided to embrace those and focus on them, building a greater understanding of how they work and the kind of detailed settings and backstories I admire so much when other game masters provide them.

Consider this post a line drawn under what has gone before, and a reboot for such games as survive. (I thought about deleting the old stuff or starting a new blog, but I usually regret doing that later.)

Moving forward, since I think of my campaigns as action-adventure TV shows, I will focus on each of them for 26 weeks in turn, that being how long a season of a show used to last before the writers’ strike and the adoption of mid-season breaks.

We’ll start with the Dark Nebula. Buckle up, sports fans. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Review: Dungeonlands – Tomb of the Lich Queen

Every so often, I get the urge to run a megadungeon again. I have plans to create one using a mixture of Asteroid, How to Host a Dungeon, Labyrinth Lord and the London Underground map, and maybe someday I actually will, but recently I thought: Somebody must have done a Savage Worlds megadungeon already, why don’t I look for that? And so…

In a Nutshell: Old School killer dungeon for Savage Worlds from Savage Mojo – Pathfinder version also available. 129 page PDF, $20 at time of writing. Part one of three; the upper levels, if you will.

CONTENTS

First up: The whole dungeon is a massive death-trap, and assumes the PCs are Heroic Rank or better.

We begin with a Conanesque full-colour cover, a page about the gods of the Suzerain multiverse in which the dungeon is set, disclaimers and credits, and a table of contents. Don’t worry about the Suzerain multiverse thing, the dungeon is designed to slot into any campaign, fantasy or otherwise, with a minimum of fuss. In fact, most of the individual encounters strike me as pretty portable and could be dropped individually into other places of mystery.

The Legend of the Lich Queen (21 pages). Background fiction.

Enter and Die (18 pages). In which the PCs find their way to Paxectl Island, where the dungeon is located, and explore the 15 locations of the ruined surface level. It’s worth noting that any PC, from any setting, can find the Tomb, and there are a number of free-to-download alternative beginnings written by guest authors, usually containing some pre-generated PCs, info on their home setting, and an adventure culminating in their finding the Tomb.

The Tomb of the Lich Queen (59 pages): The bulk of this chapter is taken up with 31 encounters; the GM is advised to read them all before starting play, as some of them interact, generating different outcomes depending on what the PCs have explored before, and some of them have to be solved in a particular sequence.

First, though, there’s an explanation of the overall story structure and how the dungeon is randomly generated as the PCs explore. There’s no overall map, but there are corridors connecting encounter areas, which are of course populated by wandering monsters.

The individual encounters are a mixture of safe areas where PCs can rest, traps, clues to the storyline, and more traps; no spoilers, but they are all atmospheric and at least slightly unusual – none of this “you open a door and see six goblins; they attack” business. You do get straight-up fights, but usually those are with wandering monsters in the corridors. There’s a lot of machinery involved, for reasons which make good sense given the storyline, but if you’re purist high fantasy or swords-and-sorcery you may not want quite this much clockpunk. The general feel is that of Old School roleplaying; the PCs will not survive just on Notice rolls to find traps and Lockpicking or Repair rolls to bypass them, the players need to pay attention to their surroundings and act accordingly. There are a few encounters where I did think, how on Earth are the PCs supposed to figure that out? But experience teaches me they will, or if not, they are capable of enough sustained violence to batter their way through.

The product assumes that you’re using the companion tile maps (another ten bucks or so) and cards (free to download at time of writing) to generate the dungeon and lay it out for play, and that you only roll dice if you don’t have access to those.

How vicious is this tomb? The designers recommend PCs get a new benny (called “Karma” in the Suzerain over-setting) every time they survive meeting a monster or a trap. Under the Suzerain modifications to Savage Worlds, a player can spend a benny to avoid death, so PCs can only die if they run out of bennies; you might want to consider using that mod here.

Denizens of the Tomb (25 pages): 22 new foes for the heroes to face. Let’s leave those as surprises, shall we?

We close with a list of the Kickstarter backers who funded this.

There are a lot of free-to-download supplements for Dungeonlands; you might or might not want the alternative beginnings, but I found Heroes and Servitors useful as a source of pre-gen characters and extra encounters (and as examples of what the main book’s encounters are like), and the bonus tables useful for monsters and treasure. I’m not likely to use the Encounter Cards, but found the Tomb Cards essential to understand the layout.

FORMAT

The usual; two-column black text on a full-colour background, with full-colour art every few pages. Boxouts are in white text on black. Thankfully the background can be suppressed for cheaper printing.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

21 pages of introductory fiction? Seriously? 17% of the page count? That’s not what I buy these things for, you know; and I’d also appreciate it if previews on places like RPGNow had something other than exerts from the fiction, which really doesn’t help me assess whether I want to buy the product or not; an example encounter would be better. I would have preferred less fiction and some legible diagrams of the modules used to make up the dungeon; that could probably have been done in 2-4 pages.

Speaking of which, it would have helped me a lot to know that most encounter areas are square, about 7″ on a side, with two doors on opposing sides, but that corridors are whatever size, shape and number of exits you need to connect them. If you play in dim light, as recommended, you’ll struggle with the low contrast on some of the map cards; on many of them, exits are simply gaps in black walls on a black floor. To help with all those points, here’s a quick, rough and spoiler-free view of the main encounter areas that I knocked up in Dungeonographer:

dungeonlands

CONCLUSIONS

As usual I’ve tried to tell you enough about the product to decide whether you want to buy it, without revealing all the secrets, because your players (or mine) may be reading. What it brought to mind for me were the horror movie Cube and the first Aliens vs Predator film, in particular the sequences in the Predator pyramid; randomly shifting rooms and corridors full of death traps.

I feel inspired to use this next time I do some SW dungeon crawling; it’ll probably wind up somewhere in the Dread Sea Dominions, somewhere in or near the Fallen Realm of Keron I expect, maybe in the Keronian Range. It has probably saved me many hours of dungeon creation, but that’s a mixed blessing, since if I created my own dungeon I would be able to report the group’s adventures in more detail, as spoilers would neither matter nor potentially infringe copyright. So maybe the OD&D Tube map will see the light of day at some point after all.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. Better than I expected, good enough to get used, not quite good enough to get me to drop everything else.

Review: Scientorium

“Sweet is the harbour, but Death is the ferryman.” – Tsolyani proverb,

In a Nutshell: Plot Point Campaign and mini-setting for Savage Worlds’ Last parsec framework setting; assumes you have SW Deluxe and the Science Fiction Companion.

Things you should know going in:

  • The campaign relies heavily on players being able to separate what they know from what their characters know, and have the characters act only on the latter.
  • There are a lot of obstacles in the players’ way, realistically so given the backstory, and they will need to be more resolute than my lot usually are to reach the end of the story.
  • You’re going to lose at least one PC during the course of the campaign. I guarantee it.

CONTENTS

Characters (2 pages): This is the only chapter safe for players to read, and I’d think twice before letting them near it. If they do read it, they will learn that their PCs are going to explore an ancient structure – since that is written on the back cover, it’s not much of a spoiler. There’s a summary of background information which most characters in the setting don’t know, and half-a-dozen suggested character types (no statblocks, but you could easily use the ones in the companion Archetypes product).

A Galactic Wonder (8 pages): This gives an overview of the Scientorium itself, an orbital structure left behind by a long-vanished alien race. Basically, it’s a megadungeon in spaaaace. I like it.

Setting Rules (11 pages): The mechanic that intrigues me most is that for Doubt – because although the players know about the Scientorium, their characters doubt its existence. I was wondering by this point how that worked, but there’s a straightforward rule for handling it, treating it much like Fatigue. There’s also additionial information on how the Scientorium’s systems operate – and how they malfunction. There’s a lot of virtual reality in the Scientorium, which makes it easy to drop any sort of adventure into this particular setting; I always liked the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation that focussed on the holodeck, and you can go nuts with that here. The down side of that is I’m not sure I have the creativity for it, but I could always mine other setting books for ideas. In fact, the Last Parsec as a whole encourages that thought.

Palimpsest (30 pages): Here is a plot point campaign in 11 parts, in which the PCs are (as usual) working for JumpCorp. At first they are tasked with finding a suspected thief and running surveillance on him; he leads them to a second shady individual and his bizarre quest, which over a series of adventures leads the PCs to the Scientorium and its wonders. The epic journey in parts three and four of the series can be extended almost indefinitely, as long as the GM has stories to tell and the players remain interested; they are more a framework into which other scenarios are inserted than they are plot points in the usual sense. Part six is also amenable to this, to an extent.

Savage Tales (22 pages): Thirteen of ‘em; the previous chapter suggests where in the overall story arc they should be played. The Pursuer in particular cries out to be woven into the campaign. Several of the adventures can be played before the campaign starts, foreshadowing later events and introducing the PCs to people they will get to know much better in the main plotline (which I would definitely do), or extend the campaign after its official end (which I probably would not). I approve, and encourage other authors to do likewise.

Bestiary (9 pages): Two xenos and six sentients. One of the xenos is unusually large and complex, at six pages long.

FORMAT

Full cover covers wrapped around two-column black text with a blue and grey background (which fortunately can be suppressed using Acrobat layers). Colour illustrations every few pages. The usual Last Parsec trade dress, making the product look a bit like a tablet PC, which is the standard for SF RPG products at the moment.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Like Leviathan, this book refers to Known Space having an edge, and it refers to a target being “three systems away”; I don’t see how either marries up with the presumed drive system, either a place has a nav beacon or it doesn’t, and if it does, it’s one jump away.

It also talks of known space including multiple superclusters of galaxies; that puzzled me until I realised I was confusing it with the Known Worlds, which occupy a much smaller volume.

Scientorium’s size is quoted as different figures in the text and illustration, no biggie.

At various places in the text things like slow drugs or low-pasage canisters are mentioned, apparently relying on the reader to have a knowledge of the Dumarest saga or (more likely) some incarnation of Traveller.

I’m not sure what the impact of million-Gauss magnetic fields on personal equipment and humanoid flesh would be, but I suspect there’s fun to be had with the field strength that this book hasn’t explored – I need to check that out before the players run into them.

CONCLUSIONS

Of all the promised Last Parsec materials, this is the one I was looking forward to the most. The author, Timothy Brian Brown, has a name I recognise from the heady days of GDW, so my expectations were high – GDW was the company whose designers seemed most in tune with what I wanted out of RPGs.

While the one-setting-book-per-world approach has its virtues, I want my group to wander from planet to planet, and I wanted a book to support that. This one does, although at the other extreme of world detail, namely none at all – the intermediate stops on the PCs’ voyage are left for the GM to flesh out.

While the Last Parsec line as a whole is at least partially an homage to Star Frontiers, this book harks back to different roots; the Space Opera adventure Vault of the Ni’er Queyon, or Traveller’s multi-adventure arc culminating in The Secret of the Ancients. There are also, at least for me, echoes of Chaosium’s Ringworld.

Using my usual yardstick of one session every other week, this book would last my group roughly a year of real time, and lift the PCs from Novice to halfway through Veteran Rank.

Overall: I’m dithering between 4 out of 5 and 5 out of 5. Of all the Last Parsec materials to date, this is the one I’m most likely to use, although I would want to sprinkle other adventures around it and before it, gradually leading the players to the start of the plot point campaign. It’s a good keel for a campaign, but I’ll want to add more to it.

Review: Leviathan

In a Nutshell: The second world and Plot Point Campaign for the Lost Parsec setting; requires Savage Worlds Deluxe and the Science Fiction Companion. 98 page PDF.

CONTENTS

Travel Brochure (3 pages): This book focuses on a vacation resort planet, Leviathan, where tourists come to see – and possibly hunt – giant life-forms. This chapter is written in the style of, you guessed it, a travel brochure; one page of text, two pages of a very nice picture of tourists (or maybe tour guides) unloading a vehicle, with flying not-quite-dinosaurs in the background.

Characters (7 pages): Leviathan is a world-sized wildlife preserve. This chapter speaks to what types of characters would live and work here; hunters, guides, medics, researchers, pilots, explorers – any type of outdoorsman will fit in. Of course, you could also be a tourist.There’s a new hindrance (Weak Stomach) to complicate wilderness survival, and two new professional edges; Explorer (simplifies travel and survival) and Scout (helps you spot hazards and avoid being surprised). There are also a few world-specific items, weapons and vehicles – unlike the earlier Eris Beta-V, where some of the items (like the stun grenade) felt tacked-on to me, these seem tightly integrated to the world; you can immediately see how they are useful on Leviathan, and less so elsewhere – a couple of them, in fact, are absolutely essential to the PCs’ survival, although they are unlikely to realise that up front. Neat trick.

Leviathan (8 pages): The chapter talks briefly about the Sigma Hydrae system and its main bodies, before settling in to the player’s version of the truth about Leviathan; it’s a lot like prehistoric Earth. The local government is essentially the Vestal Interplanetary corporation, which hires in a JumpCorp subsidiary to provide law enforcement. There’s a gazetteer and a basic world map.

This is as far as players go; the rest is for the GM.

Leviathan’s Soft Underbelly (11 pages): This starts with setting rules; modifications to Survival rolls, local hazards and pests, unanswered questions about the star system, encounters on Leviathan. Then what’s effectively a GM’s gazetteer; what the PCs will find in each area, including links to appropriate Savage Tales, and random encounter tables. There are a number of researchers and less savoury groups to be found out in the wilderness, as well as the local predators.

Extinction Event (31 pages): Here is a plot point campaign in eight acts, in which the PCs discover evils ancient and modern and (probably) try to stop them – yes, this campaign has multiple evils. The assumption, as ever, is that the PCs work for JumpCorp, which has a contract to provide troubleshooters of various stripes to Vestal’s Leviathan operation. There’s an easter egg of sorts here, in that one of the secrets of Leviathan is linked to one of the secrets of Eris Beta-V, which would be a nice touch if the PCs discover both and make the connection.

I like the way the plot point campaign swerves from exploration to violence to horror to mystery and back. The players are going to have to pay attention and keep their wits about them.

Savage Tales (16 pages): Nine short scenarios to intersperse with the plot point ones. They reaffirm my growing belief that Savage Tales are best used in the early stages of a campaign, with the focus gradually sharpening onto the main plotline. 17 adventures at two experience a pop and 2-3 weeks of real time between sessions gives you most of a year’s play and takes the PCs from Novice to halfway through Seasoned, or if they played Eris Beta-V first, up to the top of Veteran.

Bestiary (16 pages): Twenty or so critters, mostly six-legged dinosaur analogues, mostly curious about what the PCs taste like, and half-a-dozen stock NPCs suited to the planet.

And we close with an index.

FORMAT

The usual Last Parsec trade dress; suppressible full colour background behind two-column black on white text, colour illustrations every few pages, colour covers that make the product look a bit like a tablet PC.

Does the job and is clearly part of the Last Parsec line. I like the artwork for this one much better than the illustrations in Eris Beta-V, but that is likely a matter of personal taste.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Sigma Hydrae is a real K1 star about 350 light-years from Earth; the idea that it is on the very edge of the Known Worlds doesn’t fit with the statement in the Last Parsec Primer that the Known Worlds occupy the width of the Orion Arm, several thousand light-years.

Come to think of it, the idea that the Known Worlds have an edge doesn’t really match the FTL drive system, which is more like cyberspace; you’re either connected, or you’re not. The idea that Leviathan is far from charted trade routes makes no sense; either it has a nav beacon, or it does not. The reference to the multiple jumps required to reach it, however, could simply mean that Vestal is being tricky with its nav beacon codes – only giving you the code for the second jump once you’ve finished the first, then changing the code for the first jump.

Leviathan is described as an M-type planet; that nomenclature is unique to Star Trek as far as I know.

Maybe Leviathan was written before the final version of the SFC was ready? It reads like an adventure for a more traditional SF RPG, Traveller perhaps. None of these points are showstoppers, you can simply avoid mentioning them and no harm done.

CONCLUSIONS

I want to run this one. Maybe I’ll start over the Christmas holidays, I should be able to get the old gang together for at least one session.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. Very nearly 5 out of 5, actually; I have nits to pick (hey, it’s what reviewers do), but this is a solid story, and those PCs who survive will know they have been up against a worthy foe.

Review: The Last Parsec Goodies

Wherein your learned colleague considers the assorted goodies accruing to him to date as part of the Last Parsec Kickstarter for Savage Worlds.

THE ONE-SHEET ADVENTURES

Catch of the Day: In which the PCs visit a tourist fishing resort in response to a distress call. And in due course themselves become distressed.  Nothing low cunning and violence can’t fix, I’m sure. Catch of the Day doesn’t seem linked to Eris Beta-V, but maybe it aligns to one of the other plot point campaigns.

Ghosts in the Machine: In which the PCs respond to a distress call from a mining station, to find the miners have locked themselves in a storage container. With good reason, as it later turns out. Could be used in the Eris Beta-V system, or elsewhere.

Untimely Discovery: In which the PCs investigate an anomalous sensor reading  and find a situation with legal repercussions that could go on for some time, as well as things that shoot at them. Pshaw, they deal with that all the time. This one is linked into the Leviathan plot point campaign, yet to be released at time of writing.

THE MUSIC

Eleven tracks of music as background for your game. I don’t use music in my games, and if I did, I’d be more likely to reach for the Joe Satriani CDs. That’s a matter of personal taste and no reflection on the composer.

THE ARCHETYPES

Thirteen pregenerated PCs, ready to pick up and play. Here we have human and rakashan team leaders, a kalian pilot, deader and floran science officers, a heavily-armed and -armoured artificial being, human and insectoid scouts, serran and insectoid psychics, aurax, yeti and saurian security guards (red shirts not in evidence).

Since they’re all intended as JumpCorp team members, we can safely assume that members of all those races are to be found in JumpCorp territory, and co-operate at need. The rakashan racial enemy remains undefined.

THE GM SCREEN INSERTS

These are intended to work with Pinnacle’s customisable GM screen, which I would very much like to see in my Christmas stocking. However, if that fails, some cardstock, a laminator and some invisible scotch tape should to the job.

You have a choice of nine full-colour illustrations, most of which I like very much. There’s a panel with illustrations of all eleven playable races (the same illos used in the Archetypes download and the Science Fiction Companion).

Then we’re into the meat of it; abbreviated rules for combat options, dramatic tasks, interludes, chases, wounding, fear, NPC reactions, atmospheric and gravitational effects, salvage and trade.

I don’t generally go in for GM screens, because what the designers think I need to be reminded of and what I think I need to be reminded of are different; but this one I could see myself using, although I’d drop the atmosphere and gravity bits in favour of some real basics (trait rolls, wild dice, etc – not for me you understand, for the players) and notes on ship combat.

THE WALLPAPERS

Three different wallpapers for your monitor, in resolutions from 800 x 600 to 1920 x 1200, all presented as JPEG files. The first has the rakashan team leader and saurian security guard in a firefight (my favourite of the three, and one of the GM screen panels); the second shows a small spacecraft approaching a much, much larger one; and the third is the cover of Eris Beta-V, showing a spacesuited figure with some sort of artefact shooting at oncoming foes, against a backdrop of a ringed gas giant.

THE POSTERS

These are mock safety posters of the sort you’d find on JumpCorp starship bulkheads, all intended to be humourous, and some of them did actually make me snigger. These appeared as pictures in the Kickstarter update emails.

CONCLUSIONS

Mostly useful, mostly pretty, some will get used; I’m glad I Kickstarted at a high enough level to get all the PDF releases. There’s more to come, and I look forward to it.

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