Disclaimer. I do not know Jonathan Hicks personally, but we have talked at times on social media, I dedicated my “Essence Core” to him as he helped motivate me to write that version. He provided access to PDFs of the game for free.
Deep Space and its supplements are available from DriveThruRPG for $1.27 each, or PWIW for Starships.
The main rules
In the 22nd Century, Earth has not formed a unitary government, nation states have taken advantage of relatively cheap interstellar travel to export their policies, rivalries and problems to, err, Deep Space.
Behind the wonderfully “Analog magazine” style covers, what you get in the main rules is a very stripped down RPG of definitely about four pages long, with a system that manages to be unified across characters, vehicles and starships.
Character abilities are defined by skills, a range of values to assign to them, and the player priorities how skilled they are at any skill by choosing what value to give it.
To use the skill, roll equal or under its value. For opposed rolls it is a dice off with skill value as the bonus. Unusually for progression systems, if you want to get better at a skill, you can do so but the effect of that is you are neglecting others. Similarly, if you want a hobby, then you can have one, but if you want to get better, you are neglecting your other skills.
This idea of trade offs applies to designing vehicles too, trading off speed vs sturdiness, and starships, if you want your vessels to be able to withstand damage, the technology makes it trickier to handle.
In addition to character creation, character development, vehicles, starships, skill use and combat, you also have a short universe history, suggestion for adventures, quick NPC design, quick Star System design and optional rules for alien characters.
Obviously such a compact RPG is not going to have a lot of detail so the GM and players will be building their universe and its contents as they go along, e.g. the rules suggest you use current prices where you are to base in game-prices on, but the RPG system does the job, if the job you want done is playing as a small team having adventures of SF action, surveying, exploring, skirmishes with other corporate and national interests and espionage, or running a tramp ship, trading, getting mixed up in the concerns of big powers, and trying to keep afloat and alive.
The production is as similarly retro, recalling both magazines and some early RPGs in simplicity of presentation. The only issue is that it is light colours on black, which is fine as a PDF on screen, but ruinous in print. Thankfully Farsight Games have produced black on white versions for printing. There are so few pages for the game and supplement, that printing is realistic for this.
This has only been out for a few days, and my experience of it was creating some characters and having a semi-random solo adventures, searching a base that had gone quiet, and discovering the reason why and following up on the cause. I found the game worked, I had fun and honestly, I did not miss not having intricate star system or starship creation systems, things I played with for hours and hours in other SF RPGs and war games. The only drawback in my game was not having an explicit investigation skill, but I found others to use and just got on with things. For such a short turn around on each of these, I did not notice much in the way of typos or any grammatical errors. Well worth the $1,27 I didn’t pay for it.
Impressions of the rest
Obviously enthused by his rules, Jonathan Hicks quickly produces a slew of very short supplements and adventures for this game. The following are not so much reviews, but my first impressions and descriptions of each of these short and sweet additions to the game.
This gives you a two page outline of the major events on the corporate and nationalistic human future. If not a total dystopia, it is has been shaped by the failure of humans to work together for a common goal, so bleak in places, maybe some joy somewhere.
It would be an obvious lie to say that I knew that this was going to be a serious historical document because it uses the word history twice, but, although brief, there is enough future history here to provide some factions and conspiracies as the backdrop for for scenarios
Also two pages in length, page one are some extra features for using Starships, giving some more detail on crew and equipment, and special effects for damage in combat. No exploding control consoles, so not a Star Trek universe but, if you’re going to have a setting in which you’re travelling to distant stars you’ll need something to travel in. Here you go.
The second page has some sample starships, with little, I assume clip art, illustrations. The huge cargo vessel looks more like a tug than a hulk, but that is minor, you get five sample vessels to inspire your own.
Supplement #3 Gear
I have been enjoying the pulp magazine style covers of these micro-RPG books. I was hoping there would be one of those silly fake reviews on the cover. I wasn’t disappointed.
Inside there are some actual money rules, in which we learn that the entire human race, despairing if trying to get the United Kingdom to join a shared currency, apparently all adopted the Pound Sterling, possibly to spite Westminster.
This has tools, weapons, armour and analysis equipment, their costs and effects. Useful for potential rewards for characters for a job well done by their corporate overlords, or as things to loot.
Adventure #1 – Golf Alpha Tango
Although the rules and supplements are short, I was impressed with the volume of them in such a short time. Even so, I was amazed to find that this was the first adventure. Because that is what it is, or rather it is an adventure framework. The team are doing a follow up survey on the only liveable planet in a system.
Like the supplements, this is only two pages long, and the features and creatures of the planet serve as a sandbox for the GM to run the adventure they want, rather than a detailed adventure.
Adventure #2 – The Death of the Elliot Jones
Given the subhead of “A Dead Ship, as quiet as the grave, or is it?“, I was expecting only deckplans for the GM to use, so when I printed the PDF, the first thing that jumped out at me when I opened the book was that there were words in there.
Instead the team are sent to investigate a recently discovered derelict ship, believed to be the yacht of a wealthy businessman, missing for a year, perhaps related to accusations of tax fraud. The situation can work out in different ways, depending how the players approach it, and the text does allow for follow-ups for the GM.
Adventure #3 – Behold the Spaceman
In this mission for the team, a supposedly supernatural figure is affecting the exploitation of an valuable font of an essential mineral on the planet Garamond IV.
What kind of supernatural figure? The title has the word spaceman in it, which is good as as there is one in the game, and it is the spaceman that is causing concern.
Like the other adventures, this two page investigation can lead to subsequent adventures, on or off Garamond IV.
There is a fourth adventure, The wolf that burned for a similar low price