Review: Fantasy Age

In the beginning was D&D, and D&D (eventually) begat D&D 3.5, and D&D 3.5 begat True20, and True20 begat Dragon Age, and Dragon Age begat Fantasy Age…

In a Nutshell: Basic, generic fantasy RPG rules aimed at new players and Game Masters; expect a range of settings (Titansgrave, Freeport, Blue Rose, etc) to follow. Requires only six-sided dice rather than the usual set of polyhedrons. 145 page PDF in my case, $16 at time of writing; lead designer Chris Pramas, published by Green Ronin.


Introduction (5 pages): Fantasy Age is very friendly to the new Game Master and new players. I won’t dwell on the contents because jaded grognards such as I (and, I suspect, most of you) already know what a roleplaying game is and how to play one. If you don’t, you could do worse than starting with this.

Character Creation (21 pages): This is familiar stuff if you have ever played anything D&D-like; choose a character concept, roll for abilities (9 of them), choose a race (there are 6, Tolkien’s usual suspects and a couple more), social class and background, and character class, pick starting equipment, calculate Defence (more on that later), choose a name, goals and character ties.

Now, I’m going to skip ahead here, because character generation makes more sense if you understand the game’s basic mechanic, which is this: When your character tries to do something, you roll three ordinary six-sided dice (one of them a different colour to the others, called the Stunt Die) and add the relevant attribute to your score; you can add +2 if you have a relevant focus – more on those later, but for now note that focuses don’t stack, you get either +2 or nothing. If the total meets or beats the target number set by the GM, you succeed. If you roll doubles, the score on the Stunt Die shows how many points you have for stunts – I’ll explain that in a minute. Back to Character Creation then…

Abilities (Strength, Intelligence etc) are determined by rolling 3d6 and looking up the result to give a value between -2 and +4. Races each give the PC a number of mandated benefits and two random ones, typically either a stat boost or a focus. Your background gives you another focus. Your class determines what armour and weapons you can use, how many hit points you have to start with, and class powers, which might be more focuses or talents; a talent unlocks a capability rather than giving a bonus on test rolls, for example an alchemist can create grenades.

As far as equipment goes, everybody gets a pack, a waterskin and some clothes, and weapons and armour determined by their character class. They get some money too, determined by dice rolls and their social class.

Goals and ties are pure roleplaying elements; what’s important to the PC, why they are adventuring, and how he or she knows the other PCs. These give no mechanical advantage or disadvantage, just story hooks.

Basic Rules (11 pages): I explained the core mechanic earlier, except for target numbers. These are set by the GM based on how hard the task is and the specific circumstances; in an opposed test, your target number is the other guy’s result. If you succeed, the Stunt Die shows how well you did – 1 means you only just made it, and 6 is flawless execution.

Combat follows the familiar pattern of roll for initiative, act in descending order of initiative, make either a major action and a minor action (including attacks) or two minor actions. Casting a spell might be major or minor, depending on the spell.

Your Defence is 10 + Dexterity + shield bonus, if you have a shield. This is the target number for anyone trying to hit you, with attacks being a normal attribute and focus roll. If they hit, they roll for damage, you deduct your armour value, and anything left over reduces your Health (hit points). At 0 Health you are dying, and have 2 + Constitution combat rounds to get healed, or else.

Combat stunts (bought with the points on the stunt die if you rolled doubles on your attack) include things like pushing the target around, disarming him, doing extra damage, bypassing armour, and moving yourself to the top of the initiative order. Like the random attribute generation, this simplifies and speeds up creating a PC, because instead of digesting pages of rules to work out how your character could (say) do extra damage and adjusting the build to do that, you just buy the effect of your choice on the fly whenever you get lucky enough. This is a very clever rule.

Character Options (13 pages): This covers talents and specialisations your PC can learn as he or she levels up. Talents are available to a character who meets the requirements for class and abilities, and as mentioned above unlock special capabilities; each talent can be taken up to three times, unlocking a different ability each time. Specialisations are more powerful and have a minimum level requirement as well.

Equipment (13 pages): Here are the usual suspects for ancient, mediaeval and renaissance armour, weapons, camping gear, clothing, and so on. Slightly unusual are the focuses and equipment for crafting in the videogame sense, building your own gear from animal parts and other things you find on your travels.

This chapter jarred a tiny bit; I know it’s aimed at beginners, but explaining to me that a skirt (for example) is "a loose garment worn around the waist and draping down to billow around the legs" is taking it further than strictly necessary.

The lists of trade goods and raw materials could be useful for unusual treasure items or actual trade. As well as the usual food and lodging prices, there are prices for things like furniture and crockery. So this is an unusually thorough equipment chapter, underlining the game’s focus on beginners.

Magic (11 pages): Magic is divided into 12 talents, which would be called schools of magic or subclasses in most games. A mage begins with the lowest level (Novice) in two magic talents, two spells for each talent (four in all), and 10 + Willpower + 1d6 magic points, which are expended to cast spells – casting is a normal ability test using Intelligence and any appropriate magic focus. Spellcasting has its own stunts as well, such as increasing spell duration or doing more damage.

Each arcane talent has four spells, for a total of 48 in the basic rules. Again, we see the game’s focus on supporting beginners by reducing the amount of stuff they need to know before making a decision; if you have the Fire arcane focus and advance it from level 1 (Novice) to level 2 (Journeyman), you unlock the Burning Shield spell, case closed.

Stunts (5 pages): The Basic Rules chapter explains combat stunts, and the Magic chapter explains spellcasting stunts, but there are more, and this is where you find them; specifically, exploration stunts and roleplaying stunts. Exploration stunts are useful when searching for things or getting into an advantageous position, while roleplaying stunts are about talking to NPCs and allow you to sway crowds, make a witty remark or insult, flirt and so on. These types of stunts give benefits which are less mechanical in nature, and more things that can be woven into the narrative or provide story hooks – enraging NPCs so that they storm out of the room, seducing an NPC, and so on will all have ongoing repercussions for good or ill.

The Game Master (14 pages): So far everything we have seen could be shared with the players, but now we move into the covert realm of the game master. Again, this is aimed at a novice, with a series of short paragraphs explaining what the GM does and advice on how to do it; running a session, creating an adventure or a campaign, play styles, handling problem players, things to do or to avoid. There’s nothing new for veteran GMs, but if you are just starting out this is solid stuff.

Mastering the Rules (7 pages): While the previous chapter was about how to be a GM in general, this one gives advice specific to Fantasy Age; how to decide which abilities and focuses are relevant, what target numbers to set, major and minor NPCs, considerations in combat, handling hazards like fires and traps, that kind of thing. Again, nothing a grognard wouldn’t be able to figure out for themselves, but things that a novice GM might want help with.

Adversaries (12 pages): Here we have some 16 NPCs and monsters, with advice on how many to throw at the PCs, how to make them tougher if you need to, and what special abilities they might have. You’ve got everything you need to do Lord of the Rings or Conan, and probably Dragon Age as well (though I never finished that, so I’m guessing here).

Rewards (7 pages): The GM is offered a choice between rewarding the PCs by advancing them a whole level when they do something worthy of that, or awarding experience points and levelling up when they accumulate enough. New levels bring the PCs more hit points, focuses, talents, specialisations and in the case of spellcasters more magic points as well. Additionally, the PCs can be rewarded with treasure, there being six levels of treasure hoard to be found. Finally, PCs can acquire magic items, ranging from the common (might be for sale, fairly easily acquired, typically give a temporary effect – potions or similar) to the legendary (unique items worth a king’s ransom, consider yourself lucky if you find even one in a character’s career). A magic item might give you a bonus on some ability, weapon damage or armour rating; let you perform a specific stunt for fewer points, grant you immunity to a specific effect, and so forth; example items are given.

The Campaign Setting (6 pages): This being a generic rules set, there is no default setting specified. Instead, this chapter speaks to whether you might want to use a published setting, something based on real world history or a fictional world, or one of your own devising, then follows up with best practice on building a world from scratch. So again, nothing revolutionary here, just a solid explanation of the basics for someone new to the hobby.

Adventures in Highfalls Swale (12 pages): Here is a small, portable setting – a single valley with lakes, rivers, woods and villages – and an initial adventure, in which the PCs take part in a coming-of-age ritual involving camping out overnight on an island formerly occupied by a sorceress. What could possibly go wrong?

…and we close with a glossary, an index, and the obligatory character sheet. Which has a typo on it ("Interlligence").


Two-column black serif type on a white background, restrained use of colour, full-colour illustrations every couple of pages. Simple, straightforward, gets the job done.


There are a few things that would be nice extras. Layers in the PDF, making it more printer-friendly; some pre-generated characters for various classes maybe (although the rules are so simple one could argue they are not necessary); a few more monsters.


This is a good introduction to roleplaying for the neophyte, and a perfectly viable fantasy RPG for the experienced player. If my grandchildren were old enough to start playing, I might well this use to entice them in.

I was hoping it might be simpler and faster in play even than Savage Worlds; but I don’t think it is, as near as I can tell without playing it for a while. It has hit points, which in my opinion do slow things down. It isn’t simpler than SW, but it feels more mechanically consistent – some of my players have problems with the Wild Die in SW even after five years’ play which I don’t think they would have with the FA Stunt Die.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. This is tempting enough for me to try it at some point, but not tempting enough for me to drop my current campaign(s) in its favour.

Review: Ultima Forsan

"Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?" – Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: A Reader’s Discussion Guide.

In a Nutshell: Renaissance Italy zombie apocalypse setting for Savage Worlds. 210 page PDF, $25 but discounted to $15 at time of writing. To paraphase Jeff Rients: I’m Machiavelli, you’re Da Vinci; we team up to fight zombies. In clockwork powered armour.


Introduction (18 pages)

Ultima Forsan feels more like an alternate history than a fantasy setting, so I’ll talk about it in those terms. On this timeline, the zombie apocalypse begins in 1345 AD, with a plague of the risen dead spreading from the east of the known world. Two centuries later, the player characters are people of 1514 AD, living in small, fortified fiefdoms, and ever so slowly starting to push back the zombie hordes.

This section first defines how the contagion works and spreads, then extrapolates from that to how society reacts to those known to have contracted it, and how humanity itself is changing in reaction to constant exposure to the undead.

There’s a dungeon-equivalent in the Cities of Sorrow; places infested by undead and worse, but with valuable loot for those with the skill and courage to recover it – relics, books, weapons, or the traditional gold and jewels.

New Kingdoms (30 pages)

Unsurprisingly, since the authors and publisher are Italian, the focus of the setting is on Italy – but Renaissance Italy, even without the zombies, was full of city-states, wars, intrigue and adventure, so it’s a good choice. This section describes the principal Italian city-states, then provides a map of Europe showing civilised and wilderness areas, before describing the other nations of the day: The Holy Roman Empire, the Teutonic Federate, Hungary, the Hanseatic League (not strictly a nation, I know) and many others.

This is not a period of history I know well, but it looks like the authors have blended actual people and events into their setting as well as zombies. Although I’m pretty certain one of the NPCs is a Renaissance version of Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man.

We have several different kinds of undead, necromancers and others trying to use them for their own ends, and even some quislings who work for the undead, for various unwholesome reasons. Out in the wilderness between walled cities, animals and undead devour each other indiscriminately, and thus other abominations are created.

Character Creation (24 pages)

We start with character concepts, or archetypes if you will; in addition to the usual mercenaries, rogues, witches and alchemists, we have the obligatory Far East martial artists, Muslim berserkers (there are places in the setting where the Norse adopted Islam, you see), members of monastic orders military and otherwise, and so on.

There are two playable races: Human and Tainted – these are more-or-less immune carriers of the undead plague, shunned by most for obvious reasons. Character generation follows Savage Worlds Deluxe, with the Multiple Languages setting rule; there are dozens of new Edges, most of them Professional ones aligned to specific character archetypes.

Then there is the Sardonic Grin edge which those infected with the plague develop. With nothing left to lose, and little time left before he dies, such a hero becomes more effective in fighting the undead.

Gear (14 pages)

You should know by now that I have little interest in Gear chapters, so you will understand if I skip gaily ahead, pausing only to mention augmented armour and mechanical prostheses in passing. Imagine powered armour and cyberpunk implants designed and built by Leonardo da Vinci.

Setting Rules (20 pages)

The standard setting rules "switched on" in Ultima Forsan are Gritty Damage, Multiple Languages, Blood & Guts, and No Power Points. Fear checks use Spirit, and are less frequent than you might expect – the heroes grew up with hordes of undead outside the city walls, they’re used to stuff like that.

There are additional setting rules for variable lethality, plague exposure and what to do about it, and hit location for undead attacks, because what you need to do about being bitten depends on where the bite is. Often, what you need to do is amputate the bitten part, which leads us to the need for setting rules for amputation and prosthetics. I am not usually a fan of hit location, but in this case it supports the genre and the rest of the mechanics.

The Variable Lethality setting rule allows the GM to dial the heroes’ chances of survival up or down to suit the group, much like difficulty levels in a videogame. The further up you turn up the dial, the more likely the heroes are to die if bitten by zombies, but the more experience points they get per session.

There are two new Arcane Backgrounds: Alchemy and Witchcraft – these and Weird Science are the only Arcane backgrounds permitted, and they each have a drastically reduced set of available powers.

Optionally, you can use Tarot cards for initiative, and there are rules for doing that; essentially each player picks one of the major arcana as his personal joker (the GM gets Death as his), and the Fool is a normal joker.

Game Mastering (20 pages)

There are a few additional rules here, chiefly that in mass battles the undead consume the fallen living, so they can get more tokens as the battle progresses! Of course they are largely mindless, so they do not often win the battle roll.

There are expanded random encounter tables – always of interest to me because I often play solo, and that is greatly assisted by such tables. There’s a random table for which language that book you found is written in, too.

We are also introduced to relics the players may find, or be commissioned to recover from a City of Sorrows; things like St George’s spear, or bits of saints. These are drawn from the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Pagan faiths, and are complemented by marvels, which are the Weird Science equivalent; books of useful knowledge, enhanced armour and so forth.

Then there are GM’s secrets, including additional details on the plague – suffice to say that there are several layers of complexity beyond anything the players initially know.

The Secret of Marco Polo (34 pages)

This is an introductory campaign of four linked scenarios, each of 4-5 scenes, with the unifying theme that the PCs have been hired to find Marco Polo’s treasure, and return a particular book to their patron – anything else they find, they can keep. No spoilers, but using my usual yardstick of a couple of sessions per month and 3-4 scenes per session, this would keep my group entertained for 3-4 months.

Adventure Generator (8 pages)

It’s traditional for Savage Worlds settings to include a random adventure generator, and this one is no exception. Unusually, though, it’s all done with dice – no card draws here. You roll for the mission, enemies, destination, resources provided by the patron, and difficulties to be overcome.

Bestiary (30 pages)

Statblocks and descriptions for opponents; animals, fell beasts, undead, abominations and chimeras, stock NPCs.

…and we close with a map and a character sheet. The map is of a Renaissance city, and is particularly interesting as it has alternate keys, one key which describes the city of Lucca and one key which describes a generic period city. Nice touch. I assume Lucca is intended to be the PCs’ base town, but that wasn’t completely clear to me from the text.


Two-column, black text on yellow-green parchment-effect background (which can be suppressed to save ink). There are illustrations every few pages, a mixture of period woodcuts and new illustrations, usually black and white with a single spot of colour. It’s astonishing how many of the period pieces show humans and undead together, actually.

To judge from the PDF properties a printed copy would be approximately A5 size.


None worthy of the mention. But, if you want to check out the setting, there is a free primer including pregen characters and an adventure on RPGNow – search for "Ultima Forsan – A Taste of Macabre".


I’m impressed with the way the authors have built a consistent clockpunk alternate history (“Macabre Italy”) around the undead, and seamlessly merged historical characters and modern tropes into it. Like many Savage Worlds campaigns, it takes a common type of setting, gives it a twist, and adds zombies.

So, what is Ultima Forsan? It’s a 16th century version of Attack on Titan; it’s Leonardo Da Vinci: Zombie Hunter; it’s Left 4 Dead meets Assassin’s Creed. It aligns with the current wave of movies set in the 16th century, but with anachronistic technology and supernatural monsters – the most recent one I can recall is Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which you could do quite handily in this setting.

And the title? It has been 45 years now since I studied Latin, but I think it means something like "perhaps the last". That fits with the refrain in the book that for the heroes, each day may be their last. Especially with variable lethality turned up high.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. There’s a lot of good stuff here, and a number of ideas I shall quietly make off with and use elsewhere; but the Renaissance is not for me. Although if it was, this is what I would use.

Disclaimer: GG Studio provided me with a copy of Ultima Forsan for review purposes. Grazie mille Mauro!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Review: Strange Stars

I’m still looking for the perfect space opera setting, and I was intrigued by the approach this one takes. So…

In a Nutshell: 32-page system-agnostic space opera setting book from Armchair Planet, written by Trey Causey. $10 PDF or $16 softcover at time of writing.


I’m noticing more and more setting products designed without a specific RPG in mind, and this is one of them. It’s hard to separate content from format for this book, because every concept has an illustration, almost always in full colour. With the exception of a how-to-use-this-book page, it’s all written from an in-game perspective, so you can leave it on the table for the players to browse through.

The cover is an obvious homage to Star Frontiers, TSR’s space opera game from the 1980s. (People have tried to explain to me why this game is so good for years, and I still don’t understand; but it clearly has a lot of nostalgic fans about my age who do.)

Inside, you get the following, but not necessarily in this order:

  • A two-page historical overview of the four epochs of human space. Earth is long-lost, and nobody is sure where it is or how long ago humans went to the stars. Since then, two galactic empires (the Archaic Oikumene and the Radiant Polity) have risen and fallen, and the modern age is one of successor states partially filling the vacuum left by the Polity.
  • Full-page illustrations of a dozen archetypical characters, each annotated with explanations of their gear and unique physical attributes.
  • Commentary on the three classes of sophont: Biologics (meat), moravecs (metal), and infosophonts (substrate-independent data).
  • Commentary on hyperspace travel; maps, including a top-level one with half a dozen regions, then slightly more detailed ones for each of those regions.
  • Paragraph descriptions and thumbnail illustrations for 3-6 places of interest and/or indigenous species in each region.
  • Paragraph descriptions of the most wanted criminals (individuals or organisations) in known space, some inimical species and psionics.
  • A short glossary and pronunciation guide.
  • A page of about 40 McGuffins for scenarios: People, places, cargo, things.


The author is already working on conversions for FATE and Stars Without Number; I’d be interested in a Savage Worlds port, obviously, but that’s just laziness on my part – you could merge Strange Stars and The Last Parsec seamlessly, no-one would ever find the join.

The other thing one might wish for is an adventure generator; there’s one on the author’s blog, along with numerous other goodies and expanded information on many of the ideas in the book.


If Dorling-Kindersley made RPG setting books, they would look like this. As the book itself explains, this is a setting book written from the bottom up; interesting pictures and semi-random snippets of information to entice the GM into creating the setting himself.

It does what it sets out to do; there are a lot of adventure hooks crammed into the book, and it’s also fun playing spot-the-reference – there’s everything from Jack Vance to Iain M Banks by way of George Lucas; a heady mix indeed. Most SF games and game settings I’m familiar with don’t feel very science-fictional now; they’re grounded in the tropes of the Golden Age and the standard sci-fi setting. Strange Stars, with its asteroid-sized hyper-intelligences, drugged teenage slave-soldiers in powered armour, and post-human entities endlessly reincarnating amnesiac criminals, feels fresh on my jaded palate.

There’s debate on the internet about whether 30 pages is worth $10, but personally I’d say it is – colour art isn’t cheap, and this book is packed with it.

However, the acid test: Will I use it? I’m honestly not sure. That probably says more about my present parlous state of motivation than anything; you could pick this up and be running a Savage Worlds game in the setting in less than an hour, with or without the Sci-Fi Companion, and I may well do that very thing over the summer holidays.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5, and it’s growing on me.

Review: Ashen Stars

“Your players decide whether to make it matter. You decide what the truth is.” – Ashen Stars

I’m still looking for the game that will enthuse and re-invigorate my SF gaming the way Beasts & Barbarians did for fantasy, and given how impressed I was by Night’s Black Agents, the obvious next place to look is the space opera game from the same stable.

In a Nutshell: Space opera RPG that strives to emulate a gritty reboot of a TV series that never was. 305 page PDF, $25 at time of review, author Robin Laws.


Where the Stars Turn Grey (2 pages): What a roleplaying game is, although the book (reasonably) assumes you know that by now; other Gumshoe games you might want to try; overview of the rest of the book.

All the Justice Credits Can Buy (12 pages): The game premise is that a utopian interstellar society much like Star Trek’s Federation (the Combine) was recently destroyed in a great war, by enemies who have since mysteriously vanished (the Mohilar). While the core worlds rebuild themselves, the frontier worlds are left to their own devices, and everything the USS Enterprise would have handled previously is now contracted out to freelance mercenaries like the PCs.

PCs are created in several steps: Choose a species, assign crew skill packages to ensure that between them the party can do everything the PCs will need to do, choose other investigative and general abilities (these would be characteristics and skills in most games), choose a drive; then as a group, choose your ship and equipment and rate the group’s Reputation. Players are also encouraged to create a personal arc for each PC, a quest which will be woven into the campaign plotline as it moves forwards. Like the icon relationships in 13th Age, this is a way of ensuring that the PCs matter in the context of the game; on its own, this concept takes up four of the 12 pages in the chapter, which tells me it’s important.

There’s a lot of flipping backwards and forwards through the book as you create characters, and it’s best done as a group process, since the group needs to cover a lot of different skills between them, characters need to be differentiated so they all have a chance to shine in play, and they need to agree on how they spend shared points on buying gear and a ship.

Reputation is the mechanism by which the game’s key theme is rewarded or punished; at its core, the game strives to maintain tension between doing what’s right (which increases your Rep) and doing what’s good for yourself (which generally decreases it). The higher the group’s Rep, the more often it will find work, and the better off it will be.

The Seven Peoples (12 pages): Here are the playable races, which I really like.

  • The Balla are part-elf, part-Vulcan; nature-loving, striving to contain their emotions and occasionally failing with disastrous consequences.
  • Cybes are genetically- and cybernetically-enhanced humans, created as super-soldiers for the war recently ended, and now unsure of their position. I can’t help thinking of them as liberated Borg.
  • The Durugh are short, ugly former enemies of the Combine who changed sides before the end of the recent war. They have the ability to go out of phase, enabling them to walk through walls.
  • Humans are, as usual, the Mario; numerous, adaptable and determined.
  • The Kch-Thk are a proud warrior race of humanoid locusts, who at death can migrate their consciousness to a nearby larva, much like the skin jobs in the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or a videogame character respawning at the last save point. The downside to this species is a voracious need to consume organic matter, like terrestrial locusts. The Combine’s decision to remove restrictions on Kch-Thk breeding to produce vast armies for the Mohilar War means there are now huge numbers of ravenous combat veterans looking for food and trouble.
  • The Tavak are another proud warrior race; it’s unusual for a game like this to have more than one, but here they are. Serene and sleepy under normal conditions, these humanoid armadillos are roused to berserk frenzy when they need to fight.
  • The Vas Mal are few in number and resemble the Greys of UFO lore; they are the de-evolved remnants of godlike energy beings, physically weak but retaining some of their former psychic powers.

What You Can Do (26 pages): This covers investigative and general abilities, starting with the skill packages for each role a PC crew will need; each PC has both a shipboard and a groundside role, and based on these it looks like the optimum party size is six characters (some of whom may be NPCs). This is where my first beef with Gumshoe as a rules engine arises; too many skills, 50 investigative and 30 general.

Drives (9 pages): 32 different motivations for your PC, 7 of which can only be taken by specific races. These guide roleplaying but have no mechanical effect, unlike (say) Savage Worlds Hindrances.

Gumshoe Rules (22 pages): As usual, Gumshoe is divided into clue-gathering skills and general abilities. Reading through this implementation soon after reading Night’s Black Agents, I’m less impressed this time round – maybe that’s because of implementation differences, maybe it’s because I’ve given the rules more thought, maybe I’m just a grumpy old git who’s worked too much overtime this month.

Clue-gathering skills always succeed. Gumshoe makes a big thing about this, but really you can do it in any system by looking at the PC’s skills or character class. Aragorn is a ranger? Fine, he finds the orc tracks and the hobbits’ dropped brooch then, no need to roll for it. This is my second beef with Gumshoe, I think this part is needlessly complex.

General abilities (including combat skills) succeed if you make a skill test, which in Gumshoe you do by spending points from a pool, rolling 1d6, and meeting or beating a target number to succeed. Your PC’s “skill level” is the size of the points pool for that skill. Pools refresh at certain points, and you can increase pools by spending what are effectively experience points.

Damage is deducted from the PC’s Health, and he passes out when he has none left.

Starships (40 pages): It’s a given that the PC team has a starship. We have a range of ship types, a recommended ship for players not sure what to take, and upgrade options. Where this game is different is in the highly abstracted combat; it’s like watching the Star Trek bridge crew, or playing the Artemis computer game, in that there are several key roles in ship combat, each of which has a chance to shine. Mechanically, the objective is to accumulate enough points to achieve your objective – each ship may have a different objective (there are 10 to choose from), and the first to achieve its goal wins, in the sense of ending the engagement on its own terms. At the extremes, you need 6 points to Escape, and 21 points to Destroy your opponent. These numbers increase dramatically if you’re outnumbered.

Each turn, the crew decides which of four attack modes to use (fire, manoeuvre, override the opposing ship’s computers, or trickbag, which is a collection of dirty tricks); the PC responsible for that mode engages his opposite number on the other ship, and the winner garners points. There are penalties for overusing one attack mode compared to the others. The loser of the “showdown” may take damage or casualties, which bring the other two roles (medic and engineer) into play to repair/heal them.

Tech (23 pages): The gear chapter. Again, I applaud the game for its Preparedness attribute, also seen in Night’s Black Agents; rather than obsessing over minor items of equipment, your Preparedness allows you to have one available if you succeed at a skill check. We have communicators, some unusual cyberware which is tightly integrated into the game mechanics, medical and forensic items, protective gear (most of which defends against non-standard attacks such as pheromones), investigative equipment, tailored viruses which give you assorted genetic alterations, weapons and accessories. This is the section where the game transcends the usual sci-fi setting and edges into New Space Opera, in line with the gritty reboot theme.

Between the end of this chapter and the start of the next is a basic map of the Bleed, the volume of space in which the game takes place. Space is divided into clusters, in which FTL travel is easy, and outzones, in which it is not. Like the beacons in The Last Parsec, this allows the GM to choose whether the PCs reach their destination in hours or weeks.

The Feed and the Bleed (18 pages): This section provides extra detail on the setting; but the GM is advised that until a piece of information is discovered by the PCs, it is not yet part of the established “series continuity” and can be changed at whim. The GM is encouraged to do this to incorporate player input.

Here we find provisional goverment structures for the Combine, which have been imitated by most worlds; the Combine’s (cursory) presence in the Bleed; the concepts of synthcultures and nufaiths, which allow the GM to insert a world based on any culture or religion into the campaign with ease; a history of the Combine and the Seven Peoples; how to handle the Bogey Conundrum, a mysterious effect which makes it impossible to remember anything about the Mohilar; Bleed slang and jargon.

On the Contact (13 pages): This chapter explains the business the PCs are in, namely freelance problem solving and law enforcement, and what they can (and cannot) do. First we look at Reputation, mentioned above, and how if can be influenced by Public Relations material spread by the PCs and others.

This segues into a discussion of what sort of contracts PCs get, and how much downtime they have between contracts – the better their Rep, the more they are in demand. During downtime, all the boring stuff happens, and upkeep has to be paid for the ship and your equipment; if you can’t pay the upkeep, items have to be taken offline. There are also a number of side deals you can take on in parallel with the main mission, and loans in case the contracts are too far apart.

Next comes an explanation of law and justice; which laws apply, jurisdiction, trial procedures, sentencing and punishments. Not that your PCs would ever get in trouble with the law, or course, but they may actually be the law on a world.

Worlds are Stories (16 pages): This section profundly affected my thinking on SF RPG campaigns, and I’m still working through the ramifications. In short, it extols the virtues of spacefaring as a way of constantly refreshing the game, and casts aside any notion of world generation; the important thing is the scenario, the story of the episode; you start with the adventure premise, and build the world to bring that premise to life, linking it to the PCs’ personal arcs and your overall story arc if any. This central premise is well thought through, and fleshed out at some length.

This chapter also explains how FTL travel works in the setting, and introduces the ubiquitous meson shrapnel and the ashen stars for which the game is named, relics of the Mohilar War which interfere with technology to explain why the PCs’ gear works differently according to what the plotline requires.

The Bad, the Worse and the Alien (22 pages): Here’s the bestiary and a selection of stock NPCs. Some of them are designated as Class-K species, ones so inimical to sentient species that any PCs encountering them need to abort their official mission to eliminate them, or at least get out a warning. You get nine Class-K entities, nine stock animals, and 23 stock NPCs.

Here we also find that Gumshoe is player-facing, which means that if at all possible the players roll the dice; for example, if sneaking up on someone, the PC makes a Stealth check, but the NPC they’re stalking doesn’t roll at all.

Running the Bleed (22 pages): This is about constructing scenarios; the game calls them cases, or episodes. In each episode, the players travel to a new world, where they face a problem to solve, mostly by gathering information; encounter a plot twist; and may advance an overall story arc, or the personal arc of one of the characters. Episodes consist of scenes, which the PCs may traverse in one of several sequences, gathering clues as they go. As well as detailed guidance on how to do this, a wide range of sample episode premises (adventure seeds) is provided, any of which I’d be comfortable running off-the-cuff as an improvised scenario.

That will take you as far as a monster-of-the-week campaign, but the chapter also includes advice on building those individual scenarios into a larger arc by introducing links to personal arcs, gradually revealing an over-arching and escalating threat, and adding recurring characters. It then covers how to avoid the appearance of railroading the PCs, before finishing with an example of play.

The Witness of My Worth (23 pages): The obligatory example adventure, in which the PCs respond to a distress call from a war-ravaged planet, and find things are not as they seem.

Appendices (31 pages): Sample names, detailed example of ship combat (you’ll need that), character sheet, tables and charts.

…and we finish with an index.


The PDF download includes a pretty version of the game, and a printer-friendly one. In either case, two-column black text, quite readable,  especially the tables – most games make these too small or otherwise hard to read, but they are very legible here.

Colour illustrations every few pages, as is the norm, and a tasteful but non-intrusive background in the pretty version.


Since character creation is complex and requires knowledge of the setting, the playable races, and the use and relative value of 80-odd skills, this game could really do with some pre-generated characters.


Ashen Stars is essentially a gritty reboot of Star Trek; imagine if the Federation had lost the Dominion War big time, but then the forces of the Dominion had mysteriously vanished and whatever those things in the wormhole were had lost their powers and been precipitated into normal space. I can’t help observing, though, that gritty reboots are often franchise-killers; look at Star Trek: Enterprise or Stargate: Universe, for example.

Mechanically, I feel that the page count and skill list for intelligence gathering is overdone. Since the PCs are always going to find the clues anyway, do I really need 50 different skills and many pages of rules to explain that? I think not.

I love the setting, and the advice to GMs is very thought-provoking, but I’m not enamoured of the Gumshoe system, so I would probably want to Savage this.

Bulldogs, The Last Parsec and Daring Tales of the Space Lanes tell you there is no starmap and not much setting, and leave you to get on with it. Ashen Stars tells you how to turn that into a series of adventures and a grand story arc; the GM advice alone is worth the price of admission, Robin Laws has clearly spent a great deal of time and effort in understanding what players and GMs need, and how to give it to them.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. Great setting, great advice, but the Gumshoe system doesn’t do it for me. I’ll probably Savage the Bleed at some point. Meanwhile, this game has made me question and rethink what I should be doing in my SF game slot, and that’s a bigger topic for its own post; I am more likely to play Night’s Black Agents, but Ashen Stars may have a bigger impact on the way I game.

Review: Night’s Black Agents

"One of us always stays awake, in case of vampires." – Peanuts

It looks like I might get to GM for another group, and in looking for something exciting and different to run, I landed on Night’s Black Agents.

In a Nutshell: It’s The Bourne Identity meets Underworld; badass secret agents vs vampires with the world at stake. (Hur hur.) No pressure, then. 233 page PDF, written by Ken Hite.


Introduction (3 pages): This explains the goal of the game, which is to create a vampire spy thriller, and the modes in which this can be done: Burn, which focusses on the psychological cost to the characters of what they do; Dust, which tones down the over-the-top cinematic defaults to give you a gritty, deadly game; Mirror, which focusses on issues of trust and betrayal; and Stakes, which assumes the PCs are driven by a higher purpose. You can of course mix and match those; my all-time favourite vampire show, the British TV mini-series Ultraviolet, was a Dust/Mirror mix with some of the characters having Stakes as well.

Characters (34 pages): Character generation is a point-buy system in four stages. First, you choose a background, or several; this isn’t a character class per se, but does denote the PC’s role in the team – wheelman, muscle, hacker, and so on. Second, choose investigative abilities – streetwise, tradecraft and so on; these always work, so the PCs will never miss a clue, although they may misinterpret it. Third, choose general abilities – shooting, hand to hand, driving; these require a die roll (on 1d6) to succeed, but the points you put into them can be spent to modify the roll. In this stage you also pick the PC’s MOS; this is one general ability at which you excel, even for a superspy, and once per session you can declare that you automatically succeed when using it. Finally, you create the PC’s personality and dossier; this is partly just backstory, but also optionally includes sources of stability – the people and places that keep the PC sane, and allow him to destress between operations. (Naturally, these will at some point become targets for his enemies…) The PC also has a Drive, which is the thing that motivates him to keep fighting the vampires rather than run and hide.

Adventures in NBA are composed of either intelligence gathering, which uses investigative abilities, or confrontation, which uses general ones. At its most basic, dangerous situations get you information, which leads you to the next dangerous situation, which leads you to another clue, and so on.

General abilities also have "cherries"; these are special features that kick in when you have at least 8 points in the ability. My favourite is Preparedness, which is the ability covering how well you select and pack your gear for the mission. At 8 points, you can retroactively prepare timely specific actions in flashback during play – "I thought this might happen, so last night I rigged his car; I can cut his engine anytime using this…"

Character creation works better as a group effort, because the group will need every investigative ability at some point, so you need to make sure that between them, the group has them all. If you are using the optional trust and betrayal rules, the PCs also need to record how much they trust each of the others. Trust acts as a kind of roving modifier whereby one PC can help another; by betraying each other, PCs can get significant one-time bonuses on actions that hinder the one betrayed.

Players are allowed to reserve build points and spend them in play, as a staple of the genre is suddenly revealing that you could speak Bulgarian all along.

Rules (51 pages): The rules chapter is long, and mostly special cases. What you need to know is this:

  • You always find the clues. Always. You may not understand them, but you will not miss any. However, by spending points, you can get more information – you don’t need this extra information, but it can help speed things up.
  • In a confrontation, you roll 1d6 plus the number of points you want to spend on it, and try to hit a target number, usually 4. You commit the points before rolling the die.
  • Points you spend grow back either at specific points in the game, or when you do something especially cool (for example use your 8 points in Athletics to free-run across the roofs of Paris).
  • Points are not skill levels in the usual sense. Points are a way to signal how much a particular scene is about your character doing cool stuff.
  • You have Health (resistance to damage, lose too much and you die) and Stability (resistance to emotion shocks and betrayal, lose too much and you go insane).

Tools (25 pages): Here’s the gear chapter, and my eyes are not glazing over, which is almost unique. The PCs are superspies, and they have access to any conventional item appropriate to the genre, or anything a middle-class European would be able to buy. Acquiring gear only takes up screen time when it has narrative importance (like Bourne’s cache of passports in the Swiss bank) or can be handled very quickly. There’s no money in the game as such; if something is easy to get, you’ve got it, and if it’s hard to get, you make a general ability test to get at it. The gear list is therefore a short descriptive paragraph for each item, generally with no stats attached.

The Tools chapter is more than just gear, though; it’s also a primer on tradecraft for players. It encourages the group to maintain an adversary map – one of those things the protagonists in the movies always have, a cork board covered in photos, notes, and little pieces of string linking them together. How is the terrorist cell in Marseilles connected to the overall conspiracy? Who sent the hitman after them? Why?

Vampires (45 pages): This is where GM-only territory starts, with a build-your-own vampire kit. Are the vampires supernatural, damned souls, aliens, mutants, or some combination? Where did they originate? What are their powers, weaknesses and objectives? How many of them are there? Can they be cured, and if so, how? Some modes work better with some types of vampire, and there’s guidance on this. There are five different example vampires if you want to cut to the chase and start staking, and a dozen unnatural creatures they might have in support, as well as animals related to vampires in various folkloric traditions. (Stock human NPCs are elsewhere in the book.)

The vampire kit is followed by a conspiracy kit, and the GM’s conspyramid, which is a pyramid of nodes in six levels, from street gangs to the vampire elders themselves. This is the narrative framework of the game, showing who the opposition is, what clues can be found when they are defeated, and – when linked with the vampyramid below – what the conspiracy does in retaliation for being poked at that level. In the example conspiracy provided, a raid on a radar station (level 1) can provide clues leading to a member of the Israeli mafia (level 2) or a ring of heroin smugglers (level 3).

There are several non-pyramidal conspiracy structures, but my instinct is that they would be too confusing for the players.

Cities (24 pages): Most of the action in NBA, especially gathering information, happens in cities – the game as written assumes somewhere in Europe. The chapter explains how to set up one or more cities for the game, with a few examples; provides capsule descriptions of the nations, and also the real-world intelligence, terrorist and criminal organisations operating on the continent.

Stories (10 pages): This is advice to the GM on how to set up adventures; the rhythm of spying and fighting scenes which drive each scenario, the conspyramid which shows where the clues take the PCs and who they fight when they get there, the framework of scenes in a standard thriller and how to modify them, the types of missions that the PCs or their opposition mount, and the vampyramid I mentioned above; this is a list of retaliation options the vampires have when you poke their nest with a stick, such as offering to pay you off, framing you for murder, etc. The GM is encouraged to avoid repetition here; being framed once is a challenge, being framed twice is boring.

Scenarios dealt with, we move on to campaigns; the default NBA campaign begins with the PCs learning that vampires exist, the vampires finding out that they know, and then shifts into a race to see which side can wipe the other out first.

Finally, there is a section on alternatives to the vampire conspiracy; straight-up spy stories, Cthulhu, or psionics.

(S)entries (9 pages): This is a introductory scenario, in which the PCs are hired to suppress evidence of something. The action takes them across the Balkans, through fights, car chases and double-crosses, to the realisation of what the evidence is, and how far the opposition will go to suppress it.

Addenda (15 pages): Character sheets, GM worksheets, quick reference sheets.


Unusually, this document is laid up in three columns, black on white with red or grey headings, and the occasional colour illustration. Crisp, clean, a pleasure to read.


I love spy stories almost as much as I love science fiction, I love playing with conspiracy ideas, I’m OK with vampires, and Ken Hite is the ideal author to merge those elements into a kickass game, which he has duly done.

It does rely on the players sharing responsibility for the narrative, and in my experience not all groups are comfortable with this. The conspyramid is effectively a sandbox; like a dungeon map it presents the PCs with choices of routes to follow, but they must decide which lead to follow up and how.

The GM also needs to prepare quite a lot in advance; the actual sessions may be improvised, but you need to know what your vampires are like, how their conspiracy is structured, and what their objectives are; these give you the framework within which you can improvise.

If you plan on running this game, watch Ultraviolet first. Seriously.

If you don’t, there are a lot of ideas here that are worth pilfering. The conspyramid for the overall campaign structure; the vampyramid for how the bad guys react to the PCs’ meddling; the notes on how to run a thriller story. These are things that I will take with me into the next campaign – in fact I can retrofit them into the Shadows of Keron adventure in Caldeia which will start next time the PCs foregather. Be a shame not to, really.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. Man, I want to run this now; and I think it could be done online, too. Got some prep work first though…

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").


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.


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.


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.