Nebuleon is Hinterwelt Enterprises's setting rich sci-fi RPG . The setting is full of possibilities with numerous organizations, cultures, and governments that could be the seeds of many campaigns. Whether it is a campaign to free Dremin slaves from their Haga masters or political and/or military conflict between trade organizations its all there for the picking. Nebuleon, as is the case with all of Hinterwelt's core books, is a complete game and features eight playable races, twenty classes, lengthy equipment section, and a respectable friends & foes section. Hinterwelt uses their house rules, the Iridium System to power Nebuleon. The Iridium System is a solid moderate complexity rules set that uses a d20 to resolve attacks and stat checks and percentile dice to determine results for skills.
While Nebuleon has many good qualities there are a couple areas that may not appeal to player depending on their taste in RPGs. The art & layout are not what I would call bad, but it is certainly not top notch. Now that I have given a brief overview of the game and its strengths and weaknesses I will explain my points in more detail.
Nebuleon's focused on a small section of a galaxy called the Nebuleos. The name was given to this area of space by the first space faring race to arrive via sleeper ships, an insectoid race called the Thri-T'Kree. The arrival of the Thri-T'Kree marks the beginning of the first millennium and during the next 1000 years they discover that the Nebuleos has several planets occupied by sentient beings. Near the end of the first millennium the Thri-T'Kree begin to suffer from a disease that kills many of them weakening their dominance over the other races. The other races over throw the last Thri-T'Kree colony which marks the end of the first millennium. The beginning of the second millennium starts with the development of faster than light drives by the Andromedaens. The availability of FTL sparks exploration and expansion among the races which sparked the many wars that plagued the second millennium. The Third millennium begins with the founding of the Gren's Grou-Lynn Imperial Navy. The Gren use their influence to establish peace in the Nebuloes by forming the Republic of Free Worlds (RFW) which somewhat similar to our United Nations. Gren along with rest of the RFW formed the Interstellar Trade Organization (ITO) to regulate trade. The ITO is often at odds with Andromedaen Conglomerate of Guilds (ACG) and their aggressive trade practices. The Nebuleon core rules assume that you will be playing in the third millennium, but there is also plenty of information included if you want to play in the second millennium.
Baleks: are a humanoid people who are descendents swamp dwelling quadrupeds. They look something like small, hairless apes with webbed feet and a head that reminds me of a bat's. Personality wise they come across somewhat like the Ferengi from Star Trek. Given that comparison you can imagine that they are known for their trading practices.
Dremin: If you like giant lizards the Dremin are the race for you. They are by far the biggest, toughest, and most feared in battle of all the races in the Nebuleos. The Haga have enslaved the Dremin for most of their existence, but most of the Dremin escaped when they revolted against the Haga.
Gren: are a race of cat people who in the third millennium are the most powerful race in the Nebuleos. There are 5 subspecies of Gren Emperor, Kezzeren, Tessreck, Chemise, and the Shea T'Kar.
Humans: I like the twist in Nebuleon puts on the Human race. Like in many other RPGs that I have played humans do not get any statistical bonuses or penalties. The twist is that Humans in this setting are considered to be on the same level of a cockroach to most of the other races. The human home world no longer exists. Every time they find a new planet and start to settle another race with better technology comes along and exterminates the colony and take the planet from them.
J'Hat Itar: The J' Hat Itar are an interesting race, being a combination of horse like beings (Itar) and a highly intelligent parasite (J'Hat). When the first J'Hat took to and Itar they found out that symbiosis worked to the advantage of both of them and have lived that way ever since.
Kiran: The Kiran evolved from forest dwelling creatures and are humanoids with a broad, powerful build. They have a long mane that they are proud of that runs from the top of their head and down their back. They are barbaric in many ways and military strength is of the most importance. Their society runs on feudal system that rewards good warriors with land grants.
Mog: A race that is descendants of arboreal sloth, the Mog are not known for their physical prowess. They make up for their physical short comings by being very intelligence and their natural ability to heal themselves and others.
Toaffi: A race of desert running people who are very skilled in the technology and the first to create artificial intelligence. They also lost their home planet in the AI wars.
The Next Three races are NPC only races.
Andromedaens: Xenophobic race that is very manipulative and shrewd. Andromedaens were the first to develop faster than light drives. They also have a very powerful military (Andromedaen Marine Crop) composed mostly of soldiers of other races. They will not admit any other race into their trading guild the Andromedaen Conglomerate of Guilds (ACG), but it is ok if other races die defending their interests.
Dras: are large jellyfish looking beings that can only live on gas planets or in specially set atmosphere on a ship. This race could have used much more description.
Haga: a lizard like race of religious fanatics whose mission is to wipe the galaxy clean of sinful creatures (every other race) and dominate space. They claim that the gods gave them domain over the Dremin much in the same way a person has control over a dog. So imagine what they thought when the Dremin revolted!
All of the races, except the Dras, are very well covered and their descriptions give a lot of ideas for role-playing them whether you are a player or the GM.
The governments and organizations in Nebuleon add a lot of hooks for the aspiring GM to run with. There are so many of them that I will not be able to cover them all in this review. In all there are five governments, ten organizations (The ITO, ACG, and RFW for example), and ten Megacorps. Most races have some sort of industry that they specialize in such as the Dremin's Omega Star megacorp. The Megacorps are each races largest economic contributor and are connected through the different trade organizations.
Now I know those reading so far are asking "how about ships & combat?!" In Nebuleon ship to ship combat is fairly rare. Ships are armed with weapons such as matter-antimatter (MAM), plasma, proton, and fusion weapons. Ships are not something that are owned by the everyday person. Most ships are under the control of governments & organizations, but there are a good number of free traders who own ships as a part of their business. There are no cloaking devices or transporters.
Skills: The Iridium system is a skill based system. Characters rely on their skills and raw talent more in the Iridium System than they do on special abilities. There are not many special abilities and most are related to the characters races. Skills are used by rolling under your skill value on percentile dice (plus or minus GM bonuses or penalties). If the role is 5% or less it is a critical failure and you roll again and subtract then consult the critical failure table. The more you fail by the worse the accident. If you roll 96% or higher you roll again and add it to the previous role, then consult the critical success table.
Skills are bought during character creation or through XP advancement. During character creation skill ranks are bought on a one to one basis. The number of ranks in a skill determines the percentage your skills are at to start. The starting percentage can be modified depending on class, race, and stat scores. XP advancement is done similarly to the way it is done during character creation except that advancement costs more. New skills cost four and to advance a skill costs a number of XP equal to the rank desired plus any ranks in between your current rank and the desired rank. For example if you want to go from 1 rank to 3 ranks it would cost 5 (2 for rank 2 + 3 for rank 3 = 5). Players can also purchase extra attacks, bonuses to hit and damage, and extra dice for damage rolls.
Combat: in the iridium system good mix of realism and playability. Basic combat involves rolling a d20 for each attack you have with the weapon you are using (a starting character will have from 1-4 attacks) and add your to hit bonus to each role. If your total is higher than the targets defense (which is derived from strength, agility, and constitution) you hit. If you roll a natural twenty then you have possible critical hit. To determine if it is a true critical roll against your critical chance percentage (which is based on the characters class and is between 2-5% to start) if your roll is under the critical percentage you have struck with an incredibly powerful or otherwise deadly blow. Once you have scored a critical hit you consult the critical hit table to see how bad you injured the target. Since true critical hits are very rare at low levels the use of tables does not slow down the game. Damage is rolled depending on the weapons stats and you add your damage bonus from your strength stat. The Iridium system uses hit locations numbered 1 through 10. Without a targeting skill you will randomly strike location 1through 10, but if you have a targeting skill you can make skill check and if you pass you get to choose what area is hit. If the character has armor the damage is taken of the armor points in the area hit. If the character has no armor or if the armor is depleted then the damage is subtracted directly from the fortitude points (derived from str, con, and will and dependant on location) in the area hit. A typical character will only have 10-15 fortitude points in area 1 (head) and even an average blaster shot will kill and unarmored character. The ship combat rules are very similar to the regular combat rules except for the use of hull points.
There are several classes that cover most any archetype you could find in a sci-fi game. In the Iridium System classes are starting point that gives you the skills that are the most important for that class. From there you can buy and skill of any type to take your character in another direction. There are no penalties for taking skills that are not normal for that class. Because of the lack of penalties there is no use for multiclassing in the Iridium System. If you are playing a soldier and you want your soldier to have some tech skills just in case you need to repair a busted control panel, you can , just buy the skill with your next lot of XP. Nebuleon also has rules for free form psionics and rules for playing AI characters. There is also a friends & foes section that stats out several adversaries for your players, anything from AI to humanoids and monstrous beings.
Art & Layout:
The cover shows three ships in combat and gets the message across that this is a sci-fi game but at the same time is not eye catching. Inside it is 236 pages, black & white, and has a mix of line and pencil drawings. The drawings done by Mark Brooks are quite good while the line art (mostly in the friends & foes section) give the book and old school feel that doesn't quite capture the feel of Nebuleon.
The layout is good. The PDF has corrected most of the layout issue present in the print version. The chapters are now sequenced correctly for easier character generation. Also some of the art in the section detailing some of the planets has new art in color.
If you are looking for a new SFRPG where players have a lot of flexibility for their characters, I highly recommend Nebuleon. It has a rich setting that I have found in my games to be among the best SFRPG settings. The Iridium system is a fairly quick playing system despite the hit locations and occasional use of tables. Nebuleon is a complete & well written, role playing game well worth the money
LIKED: Detailed setting with tons of adveture ideas built in to it. Wide range of organizations and governments. Different take on Sci-FI that is somewhere between hard sci-fi and space opera.
DISLIKED: Aside from some art that doesn't quite fit the feel of the setting and a few editing errors, none.
QUALITY: Very Good
VALUE: Very Satisfied