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Sponge Monkeys from Outerspace
by James H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/10/2005 00:00:00
Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee is your standard one trick pony, driven completely by one concept stretched so thin that it eventually snaps. So, what?s the one trick? Puerile humor that revolves around monkeys (e.g. intentionally bad monkey jokes). If you have some bizarre love for this particular brand of humor that borders on fetishism, then Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee is easily worth your money. If not, then you should spend your money elsewhere.

So, what exactly is a sponge monkey? Well... I don?t know. The game doesn?t once attempt to answer this question. It talks about them being born in pools of water and then evolving into creatures that act like regular monkeys (i.e., monkeys as they exist on modern Earth), but it never once tells the reader what they are or where they come from. Given that the entire game revolves around them, this is a fairly serious pitfall, even for an intentionally humourous game. I?d really like to know something about the origin and nature of my character?s species other than the following:

?Sponge monkeys are born in pools of water. Please, don?t call them spawning pools as you?ll offend the monkeys. For the first month or two, the sponge monkey swims around in their underwater paradise and then -THEY EVOLVE!?

Unfortunately, this kind of shortsightedness in design plagues the rest of the game, as well. A good indicator that something is amiss comes early on in the document - the game?s disclaimer which proclaims that Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee was designed with the understanding that younger teens will likely play it - specifically followed by a warning that there is some humorous content in the game that some parents may not find appropriate for younger teens to read. The disclaimer, *exactly* as it appears in the game, is presented here for your benefit:

"Parents: While this game was written all in good fun with the understanding that younger teens may play it, there are some suggestive and mature themes found in this game that you may feel are not appropriate for your teen. Please peruse this book to ensure that this game is safe for your teen to play. Remember, you are the final judge on what is good for your child!"

It might as well say ?We designed this game for a certain age group and then loaded it with stuff that parents of younger teens probably don?t want their kids reading!? - because that is exactly the confused message that it relays. When I read "While this game was written all in good fun with the understanding that younger teens may play it..." I assumed that whoever wrote that had written the game with the understanding that younger teens would be playing it. After all, that's what the disclaimer actually says.

Well... what?s the premise of the game, then? What is it that characters (i.e., sponge monkeys) do? The 1-page introduction briefly mentions that some rare sponge monkeys are chosen to man (or rather, monkey) harvester units, space patrol untis, or scavanger units because... well, I guess because they can. There are three short (2-3 sentence) paragraphs in the introduction that explain each of which explains one of the three previously mentioned occupations, but that is the extent of it. As I mentioned before, the focus of the game is squarely placed on the humor and as a result, a lot of fairly important (or what I consider to be fairly important) questions go completely unanswered or gets glossed over with a sentence or two and then waved aside in favor of another joke.

Enough about conceptual short-comings, though... what about the mechanics? Well, surprisingly, there is a fairly serviceable system buried under the mountain of monkey jokes and flimsy premise of Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee (well, so long as you don?t mind making your own dice). A dice pool system somewhat reminiscent of WEG?s D6 System, the basic Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee system requires players to roll a number of six-sided dice, total the results, and compare them to a difficulty assigned by the Head Monkey (the GM). Oh... and I did mention making your own dice. Herein lies the rub...

In addition to regular six-sided dice in games of Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee, you use Monkey Dice. Monkey Dice don?t have numbers on the sides, but picturers (Note: I guess the designer wants you to cut them out and paste them to your own dice, as there is actually a template appended to the end of the document to assist you in doing just this) - one monkey (not two, despite what the text says), a skull, a kitty [sic], a coconut, a double coconut, and a banana. Monkey dice add a heavy meta-game element to Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee, allowing players to ?steal? dice from other players to improve their own rolls, robbing them of their own dice, or even inflicting random damage to the character ?just because?.

The designer himself jokingly (I think he?s joking anyhow - sometimes it?s hard to tell) says that he thinks the idea is stupid (Quote: ?I was told to add a Cheeky factor. If you ask me, I think it just adds a Stupid factor.?) - but I don?t agree. I think that the idea itself is sound, but that its implementation suffers from the same shortsightedness that many other elements of the game do. As it stands, the Moneky Dice system is pretty clunky (the pasting of pictures onto a normal six-sided die not being the least problematic issue), but I feel that with a wee bit of polish it could be something really fun.

In addition to the basic rules, Sponge Monkeys from outer space also sports a utilitarian, though not especially uniuqe, ship construction system (you buy ship components with credts); a ship combat system that works (for all intents and purposes) just like regular action resolution, but with some seriously pumped up damage and armor levels reminiscient of the Rifts Mega Damage system; a random roll world generator; a brief but detailed bestiary; and an introductory adventure wherein the protagonists must go kill a sentient salad (no, you did not read that wrong). Nothing here stands out as particularly good or bad, except for the adventure which tries awfully hard to be funny and generally just ends up being awful.

And that brings me to the final verdict.

Conceptually,. Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee is a nightmare. It lacks a detailed background or premise, but what?s worse, it overlooks these things in favor of slotting in yet some more monkey humor which was (by the author's own admission via the disclaimer) written with the understanding that a younger age group may read it, but is may be inappropriate for said age group. Finally - repetitive jokes tend to get old fast, and (again) unless you have a real love of monkey jokes, those in Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee are no exception. Sponge MOnkeys from Outer Spaaaacccee is a fine example of why other one-trick beer and pretzel games don?t get stretched out to 70 pages.

Mechanically, Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee isn?t anything special, but it is functional with the potential to be fun. Sadly, I think that due to the game?s other shortcomings, a lot of people might overlook this. The system works and works well, with the possible exception of the Monkey Dice rules (which, to be fair, aren?t an integral part of the game). I?ve seen a lot of other games that don?t boast a mechanically sound system, so Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee wins some points here. Here end the mechanics of note in Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee - while the rest of the game isn't mechanically redundant or broken, it just isn't particularly noteworthy.

All of that having been said, the decision of whether or not to purchase Sponge Monkeys from Outer Spaaaaccceee still comes down to the primary focus of the game. Puerile monkey jokes. If you like them, you?ll like the game. If you don?t, you won?t. And that?s the bottom line.

[NOTE: The author of the product being reviewed contacted me after this review was initially posted with a number of complaints. Without retracting any statements that I felt to be truthful, the contents of this review have been revised and expanded to address some of the author's valid complaints.]





LIKED: The basic resolution mechanic and the idea of a truly involved meta-game dice mechanic.



DISLIKED: The lack of thorough explanation where species origin and game premise are concerned. The extremely repetitive nature of the humor.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Sponge Monkeys from Outerspace
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for your review, James. Yep, you hit the nail right on the head, this game IS all about bad monkey humour and blowing things up with dice rolls. :D
Sweet Chariot
by David T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/26/2005 00:00:00
Great background material. I've enjoyed what I've read.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sweet Chariot
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Tribes of Mother Night
by Brian E. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/26/2005 00:00:00
I was pretty excited about getting to read through Tribes of Mother Night, by Better Mousetrap Games. The setting sounded interesting, and it used the F20 System, a variation of the d20 System that I wasn?t familiar with. That said, I?ll tell you a little bit about Tribes of Mother Night. It?s a fantasy setting, complete with magic and monsters, and revolves around the interactions between two peoples, the Haeloti and the Ehkaet. The Haeloti are a numerous people, and are named after Haelot, the sun god; they more-or-less run things, in one fashion or another. The Ehkaet, by contrast, are a nomadic people who have the unique ability to assume animal form. The two groups aren?t overly fond of each other (and, beyond that, Haeloti of different countries tend not to be overly fond of each other), and that?s where the conflict comes in.
As I?ve said, it?s an interesting-sounding setting; however, the book, itself, doesn?t really do justice to what it could have been. For one thing, the text (at least, so far as the setting, itself, is concerned) is peppered with clich?s, spelling errors, and muddy language. In addition, the text often jumps from subject to subject without any kind of transition, and the author doesn?t even break the text up into chapters (to be fair, there is a fairly exhaustive table of contents). Not only that, but much, much more could have been done to flesh the setting out. As it is, the Ehkaet are very clearly the misunderstood, downtrodden protagonists, while the Haeloti are the authoritarian, corrupt, and prejudice-ruled bad guys. It?s interesting that, for a game that uses prejudice as a central theme, so many stereotypes permeate the setting. All of these things combine to make a rather unprofessional-seeming product that isn?t exactly easy to digest, or really particularly interesting to read.
Worth mentioning, also, is the section dealing with the F20 System, itself. I found no egregious flaws with the system, though it does seem as though some skills are far more useful than others, even though they all cost the same number of Option Points to purchase (Running, for example, seems far more widely applicable than Art Appreciation). What really struck me about this section of the text, however, was the fact that the writing was so much better, and that there seemed to be a number of references to things found only in modern-day Earth, not in a low-tech fantasy setting. There were numerous references to concepts like the Olympics, SWAT officers, the CIA, and even Wal-Mart, and these seemed pretty anachronistic given the setting. Further, this is the only fantasy setting I?ve seen in which weapons like brass knuckles and police batons are given stats. In short, it seems as though the entire section on the F20 System was lifted from another text and pasted whole cloth into Tribes of Mother Night, with very little consideration given to internal consistency (though, thankfully, there were no modern firearms on the weapons list).





LIKED: The F20 System seems interesting and somewhat flexible, though far more complex than the standard d20 System. In addition, the core concepts of the setting, itself, have a fair amount of potential.

DISLIKED: Sadly, that potential is never realized. Far more effort is put into detailing the world?s creation myth than into detailing the state of the world and its peoples. The writing is some of the least professional I?ve seen in a published product, and the entire text lacks any real degree of polish.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Disappointed

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Tribes of Mother Night
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Cold Space RPG
by Rob M. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/19/2005 00:00:00
OVERVIEW

Cold Space is a science fiction RPG set against an alternate history that pits American and Soviet super-powers struggling against each other on earth and in a hyper-accelerated space race thanks to the game?s Solothurn drive. The Solothurn Drive adds contra-gravity and ?warp field? FTL capabilities to the timeline?s tech tree. Against this backdrop the player?s take on the roles of soldiers, spies, spacers, scientists, and settlers among the familiar conflicts of cold war history as well as among the stations, moons, planets, and faraway stars opened up by the presence of the Solothurn drive. It runs on the StarCluster 2nd Edition game engine, a set of solid percentile mechanics that utilize a detailed year by year education/career system to define characters.

COLD SPACE

The PDF opens up with a chapter on the Cold Space setting. Herein you find the retro-history of the cold space setting, where the major eras in the timeline are described, Initial Cold Space: 1954, Early Cold Space: 1955 ? 1964, Middle Cold Space: 1965-1975, and Late Cold Space: 1976-1989. Within each era, major campaign types are outlined along with the character?s most appropriate for each. A close reading of this chapter and discussion with his players will give the GM the means to outline the campaign setup he has envisioned. Military campaigns, both Earth-side and among the colonies are likely, with Korea, and Vietnam looming large, as well as several additional colonial conflicts, is outlined. Espionage campaigns are of course likely everywhere, with all kinds of Cold War skullduggery likely, indeed, for the edification of younger gamers, the cold war gave rise to the ?Spy Game? as we know it, particularly during the late ?70s early 80?s among East/West Germany and the Warsaw Pact countries. Then of course there is space exploration and colonization campaigns, as well as merchant trading, piracy, and Rocket Corps campaigns.

PLAYING THE GAME

This chapter describes the play style associated with Cold Space, the Task resolution rules, as well as pretty much all of the combat rules, which would have been better saved for a separate combat chapter. Knowing the basic task resolution system and play style makes understanding the character creation system, the next chapter, easier. However, also included in this section are detailed nitty-gritty combat rules, such as automatic and burst fire, something which the player isn?t likely to want to know, nor remember at this point in his learning of the game, especially before he has created his character.

As mentioned earlier, Cold Space uses the Starcluster 2nd Edition game engine. StarCluster is based on a ?survival? model, that is, your main goal is assumed to be your character surviving to gain more skill & ability. The default campaign is assumed to a linked series of adventures, each presumed to take place over a period of years, spanning the character?s career. Thus you first adventure or two might involve a military character fresh from the academy, then a few years later in his first campaign, and years later as grizzled NCO leading a troop in a campaign.

The task resolution system is a roll under percentile setup. Your character has a level in skill, from +1 for rudimentary skill, +10 for highly skilled, on up to +15 to +20 or more at the very high end. You base chance of success, the number which you must roll equal to or under on the percentile dice, is 40%+ 5xSkill Level. Thus if I had a skill level of +3, my chance of success would 55%. Thus I would need to roll a 55 or less on the percentile dice to succeed. Attributes affect this as well, adding 5% to the chance of success for every 2 points over 7. (The Attributes, which are rated from 2 to 12 or more, with the average being seven, are Strength (STR), Coordination (COOR), Agility (AGY), Endurance (END), Charisma (CHA), Luck (LUCK) and IQ. IQ, for reasons I do not understand, uses the ?real world? scale where an IQ score of 100 is average, so while you might have an STR of 8 and END of 8, your IQ is 125.) IQ is an exception of course, in which case the modifier is equal to +1% for every point of IQ over 120.

Mixed in with this chapter, rather haphazardly I would say are the basic combat rules, including detailed rules for grenades, burst fire, etc.

CHARACTER GENERATION

Characters are defined by two important sets of stats in Cold Space, Attributes, and Skills. The attributes represent a character?s basic abilities, while the skills represent his learned abilities and training. The culture and social class that a character grew up under is the major determiner of what skills a character can learn. The culture determines a character?s ?Mother?s Milk? skills, those skills he learned during his childhood. A character?s social class, as represented by the cash he has available to him, determines what education and professions he will be able to take up, and thus the skills he can learn. Your character?s skills are built year by year as he spends years in school or at a job.

This system is fairly unique in that there is no ?experience? system; Character?s only advance in abilities by the year by year system. A character?s adventures are assumed to happen within a year, and do not add to the skills or abilities he gains. Thus you can play a character at any arbitrary point in his career, by advancing his abilities appropriately.

EQUIPMENT & COLD SPACE STARSHIPS,


These two chapters, Weapons & personal equipment provide information on the equipment available to character?s in the setting. Though you might expect some ray-guns to show up among the brave men of the US Rocket Corps, they are all ?real world? type slug thrower fire arms. The weapon stats are fairly generic, with not detail being provided with regards to weapons becoming more accurate or such over campaign period (Such as the M16 becoming more reliable, and with the newer ammo, more accurate and damaging towards late 80s. ) However, the bulk of spacesuits and such are addressed, as they become more compact during period.
Unfortunately there are few illustrations in the equipment chapter, and relatively few in the Starships chapter. More illustrations would have helped bring across the peculiarities of the retro-tech feel of the starships and space-technology in the game. (The very fist ships used to land on the moon in the Cold Space timeline were converted submarines using the contra-gravity abilities of the Solothurn drive! Additionally, the ideas of rocket powered ships that can reach trans-luminal speed thanks to the ?Corkscrew? drive beg for some cool retro-tech illustrations. The two ships that are illustrated are basically ?blunt cone? type rocket landers, very interesting. Additionally, a bit of propaganda style illustrations would have help reinforced feel of game. I mean, they call the space navy in the game the Rocket Corps!)

STARSHIP COMBAT & SPACE TRAVEL

These two chapters provide the starship combat rules, which work similar to the character combat system, however, each crewmember takes on specific tasks during a combat around, coordinating communications, identifying targets, firing weapons, etc. The space travel rules provide rules for determining travel times among interplanetary and interstellar destinations. An interesting tidbit is that, even with the ?warp drive? elements of the Solothurn drive, the ships still follow real world space travel dynamics. They have a brief period of acceleration upon leaving for their destination, followed by a freefall coast at that speed towards their destination. And once approaching their destination there is a braking period as they slow so they don?t overshoot their destination.

COLD SPACE: THE WORLDS

This chapter is a gazetteer of all the worlds colonized by the two super-powers and the UN sponsored states, starting from Mars and The Moon in the Sol system on to Omicron Eridani IV and V. These are done as nice solar system maps, plus global maps, along with details and stats for each world/system. Also included in this section is a running travelogue written by a writer commissioned by TIME magazine to travel to all the off-earth colonies. It gives a nice feel for each of the different worlds and some adventure hints for many of the planets. A table listing details of each of the worlds and their associated colonies is included in Appendix B.

PRESENTATION & ARTWORK

The PDF makes use of a 2 column layout, and is fairly compact, with no extraneous whitespace. The PDF makes use of a large fancy serif font for several of the chapter headings; the font was fairly ornate and made me think of a fantasy setting rather than retro-tech future of the product. A more futurist/military/NASA style font would have added to the feel of the game, the ornate serif font used tended to jar me from the SF feel of the piece. The fonts used in the faux news-clippings looked authentic. The artwork is primarily limited to one large piece at the beginning of each chapter; it is passable for the most part, with the cover piece being the only standout, though there are numerous well-done solar system and world maps in the worlds section.


SUMMARY

Cold Space presents an interesting alternate history SF universe for players to explore, taking an interesting period of history and ratcheting it up a notch to include a retro-future space race. The Starcluster 2nd Edition mechanics provide a serviceable set of mechanics, though they could have been presented better, such as splitting up the basic task resolution information and combat rules into their own chapters. GM?s will want to read the fiction pieces, which are pretty good, running throughout each chapter to better immerse themselves in the Cold Space universe. This game also could have benefited from more targeted GM advice or a sample adventure, to help GM?s, and players get onto the same page as to the feel of the game, and the specifics of a particular campaign focus. Expansions detailing particular periods and campaign types would of course be helpful, and are hopefully forthcoming.

Overall, however, Cold Space provides a unique combination of retro-future Space Opera and alternate history gaming to engage players, the details of which can be easily adapted to another system. (Or expanded upon by enterprising GM?s, I of course, would like to see a Post-Armageddon Cold Space, where the big NATO vs. Warsaw Pact tank, or in this case contra-grav gunship, battles took place in Europe, followed by some nuclear exchanges on earth, with the various aligned colonies left to carry on the fight, or pick up the pieces.) So, for players looking for some sci-fi action that isn?t just another far-future space empire, I heartily recommend taking a look at Cold Space.









LIKED: Funky retro-tech alternate history Cold War commie bashing.

DISLIKED: Could have used more GM/Campaign advice, more illustrations of tech stuff, more propaganda style illustrations of rocket corps and soviet counterpart would have been fun.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cold Space RPG
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for an excellent and thorough review, Rob. Most of your points were actually considered during the lengthy process of writing and playtesting this game, and we'd like to explain our reasoning. The exclusion of combat specific modifiers from the Playing the Game chapter was considered and rejected, when we saw we would have what amounted to less than two pages of combat-only modifiers. Burst and Automatic Fire, Grenades, Ranges, and Cover don't add up to much. Supressive fire is not combat specific, as it can be used by extension in any situation where one group is harrassing and distracting another, combat or not. Also, we felt that adding a combat chapter would be in effect stating that combat was fundamentally different from any other skills use, when it is not. In short, we thought that a combat specific chapter would be misleading, and just to small to be justified. The "fantasy font" is an art deco font from the thirties and early forties. We felt a more futuristic typeface - like the one we used in StarCluster 2 - would detract from the period feel. Ironic, no? :D We initially worked out changes in equipment effectiveness over time - as well as changes in pricing due to inflation - but feedback from our playtesters was uniformly negative - "too confusing" was what it boiled down to, so that was dumped. The lack of "blasters" and lasers was purely intentional, as the only differences between our Cold War and theirs was due to the singular invention of the Solothurn Drive. As a result, we have the usual slug throwers with machetes and combat knives for close combat. This is also why the spaceship mechanics (boost-drift-brake) are like what we have now. All of the tech in the game besides the Solothurn was appropriate to the time period. We advanced the perfection of the Orion and Nerva drives by half a decade or so due to more money being spent on their development. Both projects were technical successes on a comparative shoestring in the real world, which were scuttled by political considerations which would be meaningless in Cold Space terms. In effect, Cold Space is very "hard" SF - taking one single technological advance, the Solothurn Drive, and exploring its ramifications. You'll note I didn't disagree with any of your criticisms. :D -clash
Tribes of Mother Night
by James H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/15/2005 00:00:00
Tribes of Mother Night isn?t your typical fantasy roleplaying game, revolving around the exploits of the Ekhaet, a shape shifting race of people able to assume animal form at will. Set in the world of Eurshanaem, most of the action in Tribes of Mother Night specifically takes place in the country of Ylosia, a rough analogue to the Ceasar?s Rome of our own Earth. Like the Christians of that early Rome, so are the Ekhaet persecuted by the followers of the Ylosia?s state religion. It is in this manner that Tribes of Mother Night manages to differ significantly from the dozens of Middle-European fantasy settings on the market, while remaining familiar enough that players won?t be overwhelmed by the more alien aspects of the setting.

While I have a great interest in further exploring the setting and cultures presented in Tribes of Mother Night, I feel that the F20 system leaves a lot to be desired in terms of mechanical balance. Built piecemeal from the well-loved, but commercially unsuccessful, Fuzion system and the extremely popular d20 system, F20 takes the character creation and combat structure from the former and marries it to the basic task resolution mechanic of the latter. While the system is by no means unplayable, it fails to appeal to me for lack of mechanical balance in character creation (which inevitably effects balance in other parts of the game). What do I mean?

Where character balance is concerned, being able to purchase degrees of legal authority and political influence over others (including fellow PCs) as Perks during character creation runs roughshod over the concept. A direct outgrowth of options presented in previous Fuzion products (most notably Wildblades, wherein you could buy ranks of nobility, including *kingship*) I would have liked to see this option disappear altogether, as I feel that it is an invitation to create both in-character conflict with other PCs and out-of-character conflict with players who feel overshadowed by the character whose authority over others is ?respected worldwide?.

As it happens, an attempt at adding some additional balance in terms of ranking Perks according to their potential to impact play has been implemented. While a welcome (and long overdue) evolution of the Fuzion system, this is a somewhat loaded fix for an otherwise unbalancing aspect of character creation as it is entirely subjective. On one hand, that makes it easy to scale to a player?s personal campaign - on the other hand, it doesn?t really fix the problem. While it provides some insight into the fact that the authors is aware of the Perk system?s failings, it ultimately leaves the responsibility of addressing those failings up to the individual referee.

Having addressed my primary complaint with the mechanics underlying Tribes of Mother Night, I wanted to touch on my single complaint concerning the setting. With the exception of a very short 5-page piece of opening fiction and an 8-page setting summary (both of which would probably fill a combined total of six pages if the massive 4" left-hand margin were reduced to a standard 1" margin), there is precious little setting information that isn?t presented in terms of mechanics. Hopefully, we can expect to see an expanded Tribes of Mother Night supplement in the future that focuses on the setting at the expense of mechanics, rather than the opposite.

Ultimately, I think that Tribes of Mother Night is a worthwhile purchase for anybody interested in a departure from bog-standard fantasy based upon the Middle-European stylings of early TSR products, as well as a worthwhile purchase for fans of both F20 and Fuzion. Fans of the d20 System may find some useful information here, but despite making use of that system?s basic resolution mechanic, F20 material remains largely incompatible with standard d20 System products short of some serious conversion work. If you?re happy with your current fantasy setting and have no love for Fuzion, then you should probably give Tribes of Mother Night a pass.




LIKED: I really liked both the setting and the premise of the game, and hope to see future supplements that explore it in more detail.


DISLIKED: The rules to setting ratio and the inclusion of character creation options that have the potential to unbalance the entire game.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tribes of Mother Night
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StarCluster 2
by Rob M. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/14/2005 00:00:00
OVERVIEW

Starcluster 2nd Edition is a science fiction RPG in the vein of Traveller; it favors small scale space opera involving smugglers, merchants, scouts, & soldiers making their way in a vast and not very friendly universe. It is built on solid percentile mechanics and utilizes a detailed year by year education/career system to define characters. It is set against a detailed, unique universe, called the Cluster, which ended up as the final refuge of a displaced humanity after Earth was destroyed in a supernova. This refuge was reached at long last by slower-than-light generation ships filled with refugees fleeing earth before its destruction. Upon their arrival they found many worlds connected by jump routes, 3 of those worlds were home to descendants of transplanted humankind, adapted to the rigours of their homeworlds, the Sastra, Vantor, & Tagris. Thus the game provides a vast detailed universe in which the players can play out the adventures of their characters as they seek their fortunes among the closely connected stars of the Cluster.

INTRODUCTION

This chapter starts with the story of history past, specifically what drove the Diaspora of the peoples from Earth, and the surrounding solar system. This back story, the exodus of peoples from the Earth's solar system via slower than light generation ships, which took place over a couple hundred of years, leaves some interesting options open for the GM and players. They can add new elements to the game as their campaign progresses, in the form of interesting new cultures of people arriving on an unknown generation ship.


CHARACTER GENERATION, SKILLS & METASKILLS, AND HUMANS & HUMANOIDS


These three chapters definitely could have benefited from a short overview of the mechanics of the game, in order to provide players with a better grasp on what the skill numbers and other statistics generated in these chapters mean. Secondly, a better overview of the steps in the character generation process and how they relate to each other would have helped as well.

After reading through these chapters a couple of times, and the playing the game chapter once or twice, you would have found out the characters are defined by three sets of key statistics, Attributes, Race, and Skills. Two of these statistics are constrained by the character's birth world and its inherited Tech level. The character?s Tech Level, as determined by his Birth World determines the possible range of three of the character's attributes, IQ, PSI, and (Social) Rank. It also determines the education options the character has open to him and through that the skills he will be able to acquire.

Now the Attributes, most of which are rated from two to 12 or more, with the average being seven, are Strength (STR), Coordination (COOR), Agility (AGY), Endurance (END), Charisma (CHA), IQ, PSI, and (Social) Rank (RANK). IQ, for reasons I do not understand, uses the ?real world? scale where an IQ score of 100 is average, so while you might have an STR of 8 and END of 8, your IQ is 125. PSI tends to range from 0, no PSI ability, to 5 or more. Attributes provide a modifier to a skill for which they are a controlling attribute. This modifier is +5% for each 2 points they are over 7, so +10% at 9, +15% at 11. I didn?t see it mentioned if the reverse is true, that stats below 7 provide a -5% modifier for every 2 points below 7. IQ is an exception of course, in which case the modifier is equal to +1% for every point of IQ over 120. Your physical attributes are used to determine your Constitution ((STR+COOR+AGY+END)*10), which should just be called Hit Points or something, since that?s what they are. Finally, many education and careers options have minimum attribute requirements.

Two options are presented for generating your attributes, random or directed. Random, you roll 2d6 for most of your attributes, except for IQ, PSI and RANK, for which you roll percentile dice and compare the result to a table based on your character?s Tech Level, as determined by his Home World. In the directed method you are given two sets of points, 35 to split between your STR, COOR, AGY, END, & CHA, and 135 points to assign towards your ?rolls? on the IQ/PSI/Rank table. You don?t spend the points directly, but instead take the score that a roll equal to the points assigned to the attribute would generate.

There are four ?races? in the Starcluster universe, which can inter-breed to form an additional 3 types of hybrids. The races are ?Human?, Sastra, Vantor, & Tagris, and the Hybrids are called SaHus, VaHus, and HuTas.

Sastra are a race of humans adapted towards climbing, being smaller and slighter than average humans and sporting a prehensile tail and large feet which can manipulate objects and pivot like a wrist, think of humans gengineered to have monkey or marsupial features. They have fur on most of their bodies and large pointed ears which give them greater than human hearing. SaHus can have features of either parent.

Vantor are a race of humans adapted to aquatic environments, they have broad, muscular tails, and broad finned feet, how that works wasn?t obvious from the picture of the Vantor, though she was hot. They are also described as having no body hair, with their bodies being covered by a unique pattern of stripes, whorls, spots, clusters, or splotches, depending on the Vantor. The Vantor-human hybrids, VaHus can have features of either parent as well.

Tagris are a race of humans with features similar to large cats such as tigers. They are larger and stronger than the average human, but have limited endurance compared to a human. Part of this greater strength is achieved by having their arm muscles anchored to their necks and heads as well as shoulders. The most notable feature in comparison to human?s, other than their size, is that their heads are covered in fur, except for the mouth and chin with their ears set high on their head. The Tagris-Human hybrids are called HuTas, and again can have the distinctive features of either race.

The primary effect of the choice of race is the attribute modifiers associated with each race. No information is provided as to how these different races are integrated into society or if there are any reaction modifiers or other effects associated with your choice of race, in the Humans and Humanoids chapter.

Skills are rated in levels, with a skill level of 0 representing no training/skill and +1 representing rudimentary ability, with Skill levels reaching +10 or more. Your chance of success is equal to a base chance of 40%, + 5xSkill Level. When attempting tasks in which you have no skill, i.e. a skill level of +0, you chance of success is equal to the Skills controlling Attribute, unless it is based on IQ, in which case it is a flat 10%, regardless of IQ. (Again with the non-standard handling of IQ, sigh. ) Which is the number you must roll less than or equal to on the percentage dice to succeed in using a skill.

A short section explaining these things would have helped new players get into the system much easier. As it stands, these things must be gleaned by scouring over the first three chapters and the playing the game chapter.

Knowing the things described above would have made the actual character generation process much easier to follow. Character generation in Starcluster 2nd edition, is similar to that in the Traveller games, you follow your character?s life path year by year through his education and career choices, improving his skills and attributes as you go (no survival rolls though, so you character won?t die in character generation.) Your character?s basic stats represent his abilities at age 10. You get 4 ?mother?s milk? skills based on his Rank and upbringing, representing childhood skills he learned. You then choose a secondary school for your character, gaining additional skills. From there you can choose to have your character pursue secondary education, assuming he can afford it (You have an amount of starting credits based on your social rank), or enter into a career. You guide your character through careers and education until you reach the age in which he will adventure at, and then he enters play.

You might think it is best to make your character as old as possible, so he can have the maximum skills; however there is Physical Deterioration to contend with. Every 3 years, starting at age 34, your character loses on point from one of his physical attributes. This being the future, it is possible to reduce the rate of this deterioration of your character?s abilities by the use of Boost, which reduces the rate to one point every 12 years.

There is no adventure based experience system in these rules, advancement only occurs through the year by year method. A character?s adventure(s) are assumed to be the most exciting thing that happens to him in that year, the rest is assumed to be his normal schooling/career. There are a large number of tables detailing each education and career option, defining the skills the character can gain and his chance for promotions, etc. It is a pretty good system, as proven in Traveller and other games.

EQUIPMENT, PERSONAL & EQUIPMENT, WEAPONS

This Personal Equipment chapter opens with a discussion of the prevalent technologies at each tech level, including the primary materials and power systems used, then goes on to list various pieces of equipment including their weights and costs. Due to the significant number of low-tech worlds in the Cluster, many low-tech items and armor are defined as well. The armor types even include ?wicker? which the text informs us is very effective against arrows & darts (Thus the discerning player will have his power armor clad warrior carry a wicker shield just in case he is waylaid by a band of pygmies.). Popular fabrics and other details of clothing are described as well. All in all, the equipment is fairly standard, though little information is provided about the prevalence of computers and information networks within the Cluster. An interesting omission, also little is said about nano-tech and bio-tech. I get the impression that Starcluster goes for a more classic space opera feel, and downplays any cyberpunk/trans-human elements in its technology base.

The weapons chapter provides statistic for both modern and archaic weapons, all of which see use within the cluster. High tech items include arc swords, laser pistols & rifles, gyrojet pistols, slug throwers, molecular swords, sonic weapons, & stun weapons. No plasma weapons or other high-tech energy weapons are listed. Archaic weapons are what you would expect, with nun-chuks and katana listed, because even in the future they are damn cool.

Weapons use hit tables based on the damage type and armor type against which they are being used. Damage types include, cut, arrow, bash, kinetic, energy, electric, sting, & unarmed, pitted against hide, ballistic, steel, plate, ceramic, plasteel, chromeskin, and wicker, yes wicker. Though, as explained in the designer?s notes, armor reduces damage, these damage reductions are front-loaded in the resolution process, and are handled as to-hit modifiers instead, for ease of use.

PLAYING THE GAME

This fairly short chapter includes a brief discussion of the play style assumed by the game, and then dives into the combat rules followed by some skill use rules.

Starcluster is based on a ?survival? model, that is, your main goal is assumed to be your character surviving to gain more skill & ability. The default campaign is assumed to a linked series of adventures, each presumed to take place over a period of years, spanning the character?s career. Thus you first adventure or two might involve a military character fresh from the academy, then a few years later in his first campaign, and years later as grizzled NCO leading a troop in a campaign.

Combat in Starcluster is conducted in one-minute long rounds divided into a 120 segments called initiatives. A character?s initiative score is determined by the roll of percentage dice. This is the character?s base initiative. A character can take penalties to his hit or damage rolls to speed up his initiative, acting on an earlier segment or can delay his initiative, thereby gaining a bonus to his hit or damage rolls. Character?s with high skill levels with certain weapons are able to make additional attacks during a round, each occurring 10 segments later, the first occurring on his acting initiative segment. Character?s make attacks using their weapon skills, damage is based on the weapon modifier plus the roll of a d100 (damage values of 100 or more are common, as most characters have between 250 and 350 Constitution). A character has 4 damage levels, Normal, Hindered, Unconscious, and Seriously Wounded, corresponding to 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 of his Constitution. As you will note, there are no automatic dead results, most character will be knocked unconscious as a result of combat.

STAR TRAVEL & SPACE COMBAT

This chapter describes space travel within the Cluster, which is accomplished via the use of A-grav, g-Drive, and jump. A-Grav is the use of anti-gravity fields for propulsion and used mostly to and from orbit, G-drive is a anti-matter based reaction drive and is used mostly for in-system travel. Finally, Jump is based on the use of a Jump field guided by a psionic navigator, no spice required. Jumps are limited to the closed system of Jump routes which are based on stellar type and location. The Jump drive only works within the Cluster, as the jump routes don?t extend beyond the confines of the cluster, limiting travel to slower-than-light means.

Starship combat is conducted in a series of turns, in which movement, fire, damage control, etc are performed as tasks by the crew members. Damage is handled similarly to that of characters, with ships having a constitution score based on their size.

GUIDE TO CLUSTER POLITICS & SOCIETIES

This chapter provides an overview of the political divisions of the Cluster as well information on the major worlds that it comprises. The Cluster is dominated by the SaVaHuTa, a loose confederation of world including the Diasporan humans, and the ?native? species of the Sastra, Vantor, and Tagris. Second is the Diasporan Community, which is much smaller than the SaVaHuTa, there defining feature being their xenophobia and distrust of the Sastra, Vantor, and Tagris, whom they do not consider human. There are also the Independent Worlds and the Thieve?s Worlds rounding things out. There is a League of Alien Nations, there being a number of non-human species native to the cluster. No information is given on the actual alien species nor any information on playing them as characters. The chapter is rounded out with a detailed description of the Aztec system, suitable as a beginning area for play, some nice maps of the Aztec system and the Cluster round out this section.

Overall, the Cluster presents a pretty interesting environment for play with some engaging elements. Things seem focused on small scale actions by players making their way among the worlds of the cluster, as there are no great monolithic empires or opposing empires to go to war or such. Smugglers, merchant princes, and fleet captains are all likely adventurer types to include. There is the ?seeder? background, the aliens who seeded the humans that would become the Sastra, Vantor & Tagris, as well as the now collapsed Etvar Empire, plus all manner of intrigues between the various states and the SaVaHuTa and Diasporan Community.

DESIGN NOTES

This chapter provides some insight into why certain mechanics were designed they way they were. Most useful for players who want to use the system are the core goals of the system, from the text.

The basic, core goals of StarCluster are:

? To sustain a survival oriented, realistic style of play

? To promote unique and memorable characters

? To allow for competent but not vastly superior characters

? To allow for various methods of game structure, both traditional (Campaign, One Shot) and nontraditional (Serialized Adventures, Flashbacks) as the GM and players wish.

? To allow for various points of emphasis, Exploration, Story Arc, Combat, and Social interaction, among others.



PRESENTATION & LAYOUT

The document makes use of both single column and double column layout throughout The PDF (as a second look shows). Certain sections definitely would have benefited from using a multi-column layout, especially in presenting the numerous tables. The artwork appears to be doctored model photos against hand done backdrops using a kind of watercolor or oil paint filter or effect. The effect is hit or miss, with some of the illustrations looking quit striking and other ones looking like a quick photoshop job. Overall it is pretty good though. The text doesn?t make use of bookmarks, but the TOC and Index use hyperlinks (the page numbers are linked in the index, not the index entry it corresponds to.), however. It is serviceable, but better layout would make the tables easier to nagivate and save on paper should you want to print them out.

SUMMARY

Starcluster 2nd edition is a solid Sci-Fi game set against an engaging universe. Its mechanics are easy to use and functional. The game text could use more summary & explanatory text to make it easier for the players to get into the game, but overall it is a good buy for player?s looking for some hard SF gaming focusing on the small scale stories of the peoples who make their way among the many worlds of the Cluster.




[Review edited to address publisher's comments]



LIKED: Interesting background, career system

DISLIKED: Lack of explanatory & summary text, sprawling layout used for tables.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
StarCluster 2
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Publisher Reply:
Hi Rob: An excellent review, very in depth - and you obviously read the game book thoroughly. There are a few, small points of fact I should bring up. Some of the chapters are layed out in double column, for example Playing the Game, Space Travel & Starship Combat, Guide to Cluster Politics & Societies, and the Design notes - basically anywhere there was a lot of text to read. Single column chapters were pretty much limited to those with lots of tables. Biotech is available in the Biotech supplement. The scope of the game necessitated working in large strokes, so this was not developed in the core book. There is no focus on nanotech, though. :D The ToC and the Index both are fully hyperlinked,though there are indeed no bookmarks. Aside from that, the humanoids were not given any reaction modifiers or other social effects because there is no single unifying society in the Cluster. Each world is its own society, and such things vary enormously between them. I pretty much agree with your assessments. The rules certainly are a bit jumbled, and could use a good editor. :P Glad you enjoyed it! -clash
Psihammer
by Kia G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/11/2005 00:00:00
This a totally new spin on psionics.
What defines itself as a 'rules lite' system is subtly powerful after a few reads. It exploits things like the carrying-rules, the grid-based system, attribute points, the Concentration skill to create broad-based effects.
No psychic is going to be uber-powerful using Psyhammer, but they will be extremely versatile and able to pull off unusual stunts. Be warned - because there are no restrictions your players may come up with some loopy stuff!

There are about 30 feats in the rules. You won't have players saying 'I use my kill all non-psychics in 100-feet ability', instead they will have to work out ways to manipulate the environment using their feats. The 'energetic' feats are the most useful - according to the rules they 'shift' energy. The rules focus on fire and electricity, but my interpretation is that this should apply to any energy type that causes damage, including sonic attacks. The 'shifitng' feats are also cool, allowing players to change attribute points during a game!
Interestingly, the feat called 'effect-field' is how I always thought Force powers /should/ work in d20 Star Wars. Go figure!

The NPCs are some of the most unique characters I've ever seen in a game - not amazingly powerful, but really well fleshed out, with an emphasis on how their psychic feats make them different from their class stereotype. The psyhic items in the rulesare also different to anything else out there - half of them even make just cool magical items for non-psychics.

Overall half the game seems to be combat/mechanic related, but the other half is very roleplaying related, with all the feats, npcs, items, and monsters reflecting this split. It tries to be all things to all people, in just over 50 pages, but it makes a really good effort and most of the time hits the mark.
Apparently there is a campaign setting that uses these rules. I won't be buying it because I already run my own world, but if I was starting a new game I'd definately consider looking into it.

One thing that could have been left out was the 'clashing' feat. This adds to the game it's own version of psychic combat - usable only against other characters or monsters that also use these feats. It's almost a sub-game within the game, and probably not necessary.

LIKED: I don't have to be afraid to say "Yes" when one of my players wants to play a psychic! Full of clever ideas you won't see anywhere else.

DISLIKED: A bit short, although the quality is better than most.
Perhaps the rules are /too/ broad, and unpredictable. Then again, that's also what I like best about them!
I will be more liberal with the ability to buy psychic feats than the rules specify - perhaps let them substitute for any General or Combat feat as well as the level feats.


QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psihammer
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Psihammer
by steve m. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/10/2005 00:00:00
I was pretty disappointed with this product. The psionic 'rules' presented turned out to be a handful of feats per discipline able to be taken by anybody. I know it was billed as a 'psionics-lite' rules system, but something that 'lite' shouldn't cost as much as this did.




Edit: Upon further review, I have decided that I was a little harsh in my criticism of this product. I purchased it as a replacement for psionics in my world literally the night before I was to DM a psionic encounter. When Psihammer turned out to be not what I was looking for, I was disappointed and it may have colored my review.







LIKED: It is a clever and (extremely) simple set of rules to incorporate psionics into your fantasy campaign. Just don't expect it to replace psionics as you know it.

DISLIKED: I still don't like the fact that the entire system is feat-based, that any character can just decide to skip Dodge or Combat Casting and instead become psionic. It feels more appropriate to a Superhero game, but the fact that ANYONE can just 'become psionic' is clearly what the author intended even though it is not for me.

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
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Publisher Reply:
<BR> <HR> <BR> Psihammer is <B>NOT</B> an expansion for the official psionics rules. It is a <B>replacement</B> for psionics, detailing over 30 feats that create six different 'streams' of psychic ability. <B>Any</B> class of character can be a psychic without ever having to change class, simply by selecting one or more of the Psihammer feats at character creation or during advancement.<P> <B>Psihammer throws standard psionics out the window, and completely replaces it!</B><P> <BR> <HR> <BR> Patrick Taylor<BR> Better Mousetrap Games
StarCluster 2
by Chris C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/05/2005 00:00:00
StarCluster 2 is a game with a grand design and flawed implementation. The background setting and story is pretty solid, the classic sci-fi diaspora of refugees escaping from generic cataclysm 34. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and the authors put a lot of thought and effort into "why things are the way they are".

The game mechanics are perhaps too thought out and suffer some overcomplexity problems, despite a design goal of making things as simple as possible. It uses a d100 and reminds me a little bit of Traveler and Star Trek. Overall, the layout and structure (single column, pages of charts/tables, no bookmarks) make it very difficult to read.

My best recommendation would be to take the settings, gut the mechanics, and call it even. A layout specialist and a content editor would be helpful as well to make the product flow a bit easier and be more accessible.

At the end of the book are dozens of pages on star systems and planets. This information is nice, but could easily have been separated into a free download. The art appears to be pictures modified in photoshop to appear appropriate for the setting. It's a little odd at first, but it grows on you.

LIKED: The setting and detail.

DISLIKED: The mechanics, the look and feel.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
StarCluster 2
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The Boomtown Planet
by David C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/05/2005 00:00:00
If you are looking for a complete "system" or "campaign" then I would suggest that you move along. Boomtown Planet is essentially a text based description of a town, Boomtown, and its daily newspaper, the Planet.

Description is apt in this case as while the characters and many locations are extensively described, there is little or not effort to provide stats or even coherent plots from that description. You will not find a number of suggested campaign kernals or a depth of statistics in this product.

Boomtown does include an extensive price list and even a list of slang terms. Maps are included, but they are minimal with only a few details and blocky in appearance.

In conclusion, Boomtown Planet is a true storyteller's resource. If you prefer a plethora of tables and charts and stats it is not aimed for you. On the other hand, if you can run a NPC for weeks without ever wondering what his stats really are, then your money will be well invested.

LIKED: The breadth of concept. Boomtown planet delivers what it promises. A background package that is nearly universally applicable to any system based in the early 20th century.

DISLIKED: While I can live without the stats and charts, I find it much more difficult to accept the maps. I like detailed highly crafted maps which Boomtown Planet just does not have.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Boomtown Planet
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The Hail River Report
by David C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/05/2005 00:00:00
As a supplement and alternative setting to the large city Boomtown Planet this has great use. As in all products in this line the detail is provided mainly through description and text rather than stats, but this is slightly more stat heavy than the companion supplement on the poor sections of Boomtown. Again this could easily be modified to provide a small town setting for any campaign based in the early to mid 1900s.

LIKED: Descriptive detail without a great deal of reliance on stats for any specific system.

DISLIKED: Would be nice to have a map of the surrounding area in addition to the map of the city itself.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Hail River Report
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The Seedy Side
by David C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/05/2005 00:00:00
If you own or have seen Boomtown Planet, you know what your are getting as this is just more of the same. If not, what you get with this purchase is about 18 pages of text and a couple of maps which provide further information about some of the more low brow locations in Boomtown and the characters in them.

Ownership of Boomtown Planet would be useful, but is far from essential in using this material. The descriptions are almost entirely free of stats and the locations and individuals can be used almost immediately in any other RPG as part of a town from the early to mid 1900s.





LIKED: The almost complete reliance upon text to detail the characters and locations.

DISLIKED: As with Boomtown Planet I found the maps to be less than what I would desire.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Seedy Side
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StarCluster 2
by Mark C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/04/2005 00:00:00
The book opens by telling us that everyone knows about the slow boats. I don?t. I can guess and extrapolate an idea that these are generation ships based on my knowledge of common science fiction (it turns out they are). Following are 11 pages of table of contents which could have been reduced to 6 pages by using two columns or even crunched down to 4 pages with three columns. I notice at this point the PDF has no bookmarks. It?s not something I use very often but it can be handy. I did not like the art at first but it?s really starting to grow on me.

We move on to the story. The people of earth determine that the sun is going to be vaporized in 300 years. As a ball of super-heated fusing gas, I think vaporized is the wrong term. I would have liked ?super-nova? as that is what is described. The cause is never explained. I am left to wonder if this is a Hitch Hiker?s Guide homage where all the ?trash? from civilization is sent away on arks but as the story progresses this seems less likely. In any case, a lot of people depart, Noah style, for another world. It?s a very old and much used theme and the real interest is upon their arrival.

Beginning the character generation we are told all the wondrous things the GM will do. ?The GM will be happy you too the initiative and gladly work you idea in unless it conflicts with the GM?s plans in some way.? So the GM will allow player ideas unless he doesn?t allow them.

Character Generation
While there were complains from another reviewer about having to use different dice for character generation, I have plenty of dice and changing from one die type to another is not such a problem. d20 is hugely focused on d20 and d6 with a smattering of d8 but it?s good to use some different dice for a change. Besides it feels good to be rolling d100 for a stat such as IQ. There are a LOT of tables for skills and jobs. There is an interesting table with a long list of skin, eye and hair colors.

Employment
Your job seems to be a big focus of the game, which is difficult because adventurers rarely have time to go to work when their arch-enemy is hunting them. It leaves only a few career options open, such as military and exploration, depending on the campaign.

Skills
Skills start off a little weird. The first skill I came across was ?aqua ? the knowledge of growing plants and animals underwater?. I?m afraid this reminds me of the old joke class at college, underwater basket weaving. There are a lot of skills though and many deal with fairly primitive activities such as blacksmithing and dowsing to locate water but in the same breath there are skills for dealing with cybernetics and business. It?s very diverse.

After the skills are the meta-skills which modify the skills. I like this concept because it exponentially increases the number of options when dealing with skills.

Races
There are modified human races, the fish-men, monkey-men and leopard/hyena-men. These are interesting but I would have liked to have seen some aliens too.

Equipment
The more you spend on equipment, the better the bonus. With such a range of technologies, from barbaric to futuristic, this is a reasonable mechanic.

Combat
Combat is based on your skills. You require certain skills to be able to use each weapon. Characters have four levels of injuries, normal, hindered, unconscious and seriously wounded. I like these systems because your performance deteriorates with your injuries.

Vehicles and Vehicle Combat
We start the vehicles section with a photograph of an advanced looking car. The wheels appear to be airbrushed off to make it appear to be a flying vehicle. It?s a good looking picture so there is nothing to complain about. Vehicle and space combat rules are a couple chapters ahead. You?ve got to love a combat system that includes ?waste recycling subsystem? on the critical hit chart. The lunar transit time table is starting to make my head hurt. That is something I might just fudge.

NPCs
I like the temporary NPC rules. d20 requires about an hour of work for every properly done NPC and that puts a load of work on the GM. There are a ton of pre-generated character and NPCs.

Politics
The history of StarCluster 2 is interesting because it allows for such diversity. Each slow boats? coming from earth developed its own culture during the voyage. There are yet more tables about the worlds describing the stats of each world; gravity, atmosphere, temperature, orbit and so forth. Its interesting by lends little to actual play. There are not details players want to know about unless they affect the players. There are dozens of planets ? too many to visit. Then there are pages and pages of affiliations and associations for each world ? but no real details about these worlds. This is a video game programmer?s dream

?The descriptions of the worlds have been left open to the GM?s imagination.? I find this statement frustrating. We are handed dozens of pages of technical information about these worlds and told to make the rest up. I would rather have those pages filled with a complete description of a small number of worlds that I could actually use. I purchase a product to get a campaign, not the rules for creating a campaign.

Finally we get a few pages of description on a handful of worlds, complete with maps. Then we get a beautiful star chart and looks like it came out of the old Star Control video game. They are amazing maps.

The system is greatly percentile based. This gives players a very clear understanding of the chance of success or failure. With d20, you need to calculate the numbers by 5 to get back to a percentile system we should all be so familiar with after high school. However it does mean rolling a lot of d100?s, or the more common 2 ten sided dice. Its twice the dice but players love dice, well mine do.


LIKED: A lot of work has been done on this product. The table of contents and index are exhaustive. There are a ton of worlds and books of ideas here. The length of the other reviews speaks volumes about the following of this work. People are interested in it.

DISLIKED: I don?t like the term ?mother?s milk skills? printed boldly on the character sheets. The tables are really dry and make me scared to get into this system. Maybe I missed it but I would like a summary of the rules system so I can understand it easily. I would like a 1-page outline of the game mechanics so I can look at the rest knowing how it should work.

There are a lot of ideas here, too many. It is unreasonable to expect to put out enough supplements to flesh out the dozens of worlds. With your birth world being so important, it would have helped to know more about the worlds besides the need for the GM to make them up.

The pages and pages and pages of tables could have been shorter by condensing the tables and removing blank spaces in them. The job tables are at least 50% blank space. For the length of the work, I would like to see a little more art and a page border. There are some grammatical errors left in the work but nothing too staggering.

There are several technology levels. Clearly it is an advantage to play at the highest technology level. I saw no advantage for playing as a lower technology player.

I think this product needs another author. There are only two and a few holes appear in the material. Bringing someone else in to fill in things they think are missing and give the product another theme or element could enhance the product overall. The product feels a little 2 dimensional, on the cusp of being a fleshed out 3D world.

This product is headed towards a good 5 stars but it needs some fleshing out.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
StarCluster 2
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d4-d4 Main Book
by Rob M. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/04/2005 00:00:00
PRESENTATION & LAYOUT

The PDF itself is 89 pages laid out in a single column. The fonts are
readable with color being used for section titles. Colored text boxes
are used to highlight rules options and notes. It is serviceable and
readable, with nothing especially artistic or beautiful about it. The
artwork is primarily clip art and thus not much to look at. It
includes a brief index.

OVERVIEW

The game describes itself as being best for modern or future
campaigns, of relatively short duration. As longer campaigns will
result in the character's breaking the system by becoming too
proficient.

The game itself is based around a trait description ladder, modified
by a roll of D4-D4. In this it is reminiscent of FUDGE. The basic
system itself is solid and workable, and easy to use. You modify your
character's trait rating up or down a number of steps on the trait
rating ladder (listed on the character sheet) based on the roll of the
D4-D4. So if the roll of the D4 is +2, I would adjust my trait rating
up two rungs on the trait description ladder, say from Fair to Good,
this result then becomes my performance rating. So I would have
achieved a good performance on my action. I would compare this to the
difficulty rating of the act to determine if I succeed. If I only
needed an ordinary result, my good performance would result in
success, for instance. The bulk of the game is simply elaborations on
this basic mechanic.

CHARACTER CREATION

Character creation is fairly detailed, but light on number crunching,
requiring you to consider elements of your character's background,
figuring the details of his appearance and considering his personality
elements. These personality elements include philosophy, demeanor,
habits & mannerisms, likes, dislikes, and ambitions. The bulk of the
rather light crunch is in defining your character's Traits. Traits
includes common character skills as well as attribute like qualities,
such as agility, as well as some advantages such as absolute
direction. If a character doesn't define one of his assumed qualities
then it takes a rating of ordinary. That is, you only consider
attribute like qualities when they are extraordinary, bad or good, in
some way.

Traits are of one of three types, anyone traits, specialist traits,
and bad stuff. Anyone traits are traits that anyone is capable of
performing, jumping or running for instance, these default to
ordinary. Specialist traits are traits in which you must have some
training in order to perform, Karate or Brain Surgery for instance.
Bad stuff are traits that hinder your character in some manner.

You receive 20 levels (Depending on power level) to spend on your
character's traits, raising them up from ordinary for anyone traits,
or buying them at ordinary for specialist traits. You can take up to 5
levels of Bad Stuff, gaining you that many extra levels to spend on
your other abilities. Bad Stuff here covers the typical disadvantages
you find in most systems.

COMBAT

The combat rules are serviceable and workmanlike. D4-D4 is out of step
with most RPG rules in that it discusses the psychological trauma
associated with killing another human being. It provides rules for
requiring a trait test by your character to actively try to kill
another character in combat. Again, something that isn't discussed in
most RPG's. The author even takes time to point out that detailed
weapon stats and rules are not included with instead the focus of
combat supposed to be on the effects of combat on the character,
psychologically.

Combat itself is a series of trait tests pitting your weapon skill
against the opponents Dodge (Speed) or Parry score. Damage is of one
of two types, stab or bash. With Stab being the more deadly and harder
to heal. It should be noted that the rules don't include a death
spiral, penalties for injuries are not suffered till after combat has
ended. The character must only avoid incapacitation, being knocked
down and knocked out, during combat without having to suffer penalties
for injury received. Shock and survival is determined after combat has
ended by making a test against a difficulty based on the level of
wounds suffered during the combat.

The combat system doesn't go into great detail with regards to
maneuver or tactics, movement and facing and such being handled
abstractly and represented by applying a penalty to an attacker's
trait test to hit in combat where appropriate, as determined by the
GM. There are no detailed rules for firing automatic weapons,
explosives, or fully automatic shotguns. It is a simple, lite combat
system for those more interested in narrative than crunch.

GAMING STYLES

This chapter provides an interesting and conversational discussion of issues of game style. It also discusses finding a gaming group and keeping one. Readers will also find references to several gamerisms, such as Cat Piss Men. Internet gaming is also discussed, a task that D4-D4 is well suited for.

GMING

This chapter provides a brief discussion of the elements of games that
engage players, and how to provide those to the players as the GM. It
also discusses issues of character gain and character death.

This chapter also issues some tongue-in-cheek advice to provide a
sometimes good, sometimes bad gaming experience to keep players
involved. Pointing out the infrequent reward as keeping players
addicted, much like gambling.

SUMMARY

To summarize, D4-D4 is good. It is a solid and workmanlike system
based around a descriptive and narrative style of mechanics. Players
looking for crunch and detail will be disappointed, but those wanting
a simple system to run a game with will find themselves quite pleased.






LIKED: Easy to understand text. Quick and easy to understand Mechanics. Interesting character creation options


DISLIKED: System is rather light on detail, with little crunch. Guns & other weapons are are given little detail, and thus any gun is much like another.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
d4-d4 Main Book
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The Boomtown Planet
by Jeffrey V. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/02/2005 00:00:00
I bought this for the setting, rather than the game mechanics, and got what I wanted - a detailed decription of a town and its newspaper, for not much money.

LIKED: The level of detail, and the large number of potential sources of conflict.

DISLIKED: I would have liked a few short adventure ideas to have been included, and there aren't any.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Boomtown Planet
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