This product, an attempt to produce an over-arching set of rules for all manner of science-fiction gaming drawing on the core concepts of the Pathfinder ruleset, opens with a bit of a rambling prologue about how the game got its name, and the usual 'What is a role-playing game' that most corebooks have - after all, any book might be the reader's first RPG.
Then straight on to Chapter 1: Abilities. Herein the core of a character... how strong, intelligent, tough and so on he is, the innate qualities that make him who he is and a good starting point for defining the person who you are going to play. Here the normal (for D20-rulesets) abilities of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom and Charisma are used, starting with 8 points in each and utilising a point-buy system to tweak them to meet your concept. In a change from many games, Dexterity does not contribute to firearms attacks, and the reasoning behind this is explained: game balance. As most people will fight with firearms, having Dexterity scores contribute both to attacks and to defence scores would mean a lot of high Dexterity characters out there! And within the alternate reality of the game, training and practice count for more than nimble or steady hands or good eyesight when shooting anyway.
Next is Chapter 2: Races, complete with an apposite quote - "We all know interspecies romance is weird" (Tim Burton) - and a picture of a humanoid, but not human, female in a bizarre costume, shall we just say that her hobbies include leather and fetish clothing and leave it at that (if you like that sort of thing, it's a recurrent theme in the illustrations). This section covers character species, starting off with androids (accompanied by a stunning illustration of one!). Each race grants certain abilities, advantages and disadvantages, as well as a different perspective, world view if you like, and appearance. There are several 'living' races too, such as the ursine and artistic Cancrians... who are the root of legends of sasquatch, yeti and bigfoot - not monsters but stray Cancrians visiting Earth! Even stranger are the Enigma, who are just that - nobody's quite sure about them, and Cyber-sapiens, living brains with cybernetic bodies. Back to those that feature in the collective consciousness, there are Greys, the standby of UFO mythology. Or if you like really weird, the Sokuja have a human-like upper body but from the 'waist' down they are snakes! It's an interesting and varied group of races - and you can, of course, play a human being. Given their backgrounds, different races can be more or less common depending on where you are, the time period and so on, but it is likely that a party will be predominently of one race (probably human) with perhaps one or two others.
This is followed by Chapter 3: Classes. The chapter begins by abstracting out all the level-based information, so that you can then concentrate on the things that make each class different, rather than on the things appropriate to characters of any class based on their level alone. The core classes are Charmer, Techie, Psychic, Infiltrator, Outlander, Mystic, and Trooper. The Charmer uses their 'people skills' rather than combat to influence the course of events. Infiltrators use stealth and guile to achieve their ends (although they can be effective fighters as well), whilst Outlanders are specialists in living outside of civilisation, exploring the wild frontiers of whatever world upon which they find themselves. The Techie is the one who keeps everything working, although Outlanders are pretty good at that as well, especially when it comes to their own personal equipment. The techie class also provide the route into the medical profession, for those who wish to become healers. The Trooper is the out and out combat specialist, expert with a range of weapons systems or even his bare hands. Each class has an impressive list of custom class abilities, by choosing which ones your character has carefully you can tailor him to perform his role precisely as you envisage. The Psychic and Mystic are not explained here - the Psychic has his own chapter at the end of this book and the Mystic pops up in a later product, Infinite Mysteries.
On to Chapter 4: Skills. They are acquired during character creation and when you level up in the normal way, the number available being based on your character class and Intelligence, as the smarter you are, the more skills you can learn. The usual range of skills are available, with some interesting additions as well as the ones you'd expect for a science-fiction game. Domestic Science for an example, as well as things like Drive and Engineering and Computer Use. Each skill gets a detailed description about how to use it both in game and in terms of game mechanics, all of course being slanted towards SF - so acrobatics, say, is not just used for balancing and jumping but can also be applied to movement in zero (or micro) gravity. There's an interesting section on languages and linguistics, and suggestions for different ways in which you can handle them - or ignore the problem altogether and say that everyone speaks Galactic Standard!
Next, Chapter 5: Feats runs through a whole bunch of feats in the same manner, putting a science-fiction spin on familiar ones and introducing new setting-appropriate ones. There's some interesting treatments of martial arts, enabling a character to put together the style of their choice. If you've been intrigued by the 'Stargate' concept of an Ancient gene, you can have something similar... and there are plenty of feats to provide for specialist firearms use and fancy shooting tricks. Medics and mechanics have access to a parallel set of feats that enable them to repair things, be they people or machines. And that vital necessity, Zero-G Training. For those playing androids or other robotic characters, a rather double-edged sword is the Common Model feat... sometimes it's an advantage to look like all the other androids from that production run, but it can be confusing to your friends! Another neat one is Connections, which enables player and GM to build a network of people in a given geographic area or professional field, people the character knows and who know him, who may prove useful contacts or be able to help in some way - as a bonus it also covers the correct etiquette for dealing with members of that community, even when you don't know them personally.
Chapter 6: Equipment explores the gear, weapons and armour with which your new-minted character can equip himself. It starts, though, with glitches. Every time you are using any piece of technology and roll a 1 on the D20, something bad happens. The battery runs flat, something shorts out, an engine stalls... and the piece of kit has to be repaired before it will work again. Then there is a discussion about how to determine just what items will be available. Some things will not have been invented yet, even though they are 'known' to readers of science fiction, others will be obsolete. Try finding a faster-than-light drive or an engine which needs a starting handle to get it going today, and you get the picture. Whatever you decide exists in your alternate reality has the capacity to have a profound effect, so chose carefully. It is also necessary to decide what you are giving out as 'freebies' both during character creation and through the course of the game. For example, characters who are serving military can expect to be issued much of what they need - but also have to make do with what the quartermaster gives them or complement the issue loadout with private purchases. Other characters will have to provide for themselves, but are limited only by cost, legality (if this is important for them) and availability. Techies and medics on the team can reduce costs considerably, by repairing kit and healing injuries without the need for payment to third parties.
Having provided plenty to think about, the discussion then moves on to listings of weapons, armour and other items. Firearms are handled generically in a sequence from slug-throwers through to laser and more exotic weapon systems, those who like more detail than a generic 'pistol' or 'rifle' will have to add it for themselves. Archaic or melee weapons also feature, even in technologically-advanced societies there are advantages to weapons that do not malfunction or run out of ammunition or have batteries to go flat! (My pet hate, the use of slug-throwers in pressurised environments, is not mentioned, but it is another valid reason to have such weapons to hand!) The armour section is similar, and includes that science-fiction delight, the 'personal defence shield' as well as more conventional armours that are worn like clothing. Fans of the movie 'Alien' can operate a power lifter suit, whilst those who prefer the novel 'Starship Troopers' have various power armour suits to choose from, and if 'Dune' inspires you, check out the survival suit, inspired by the Arrakis stillsuit. There's plenty of other technological gear to make life easy or entertaining as well.
Next comes Chapter 7: Cyberware, bodily enhancements that, although mechanical in nature, are fully integrated with the individual's nervous system, becoming an inherent part of them. There's a hidden cost as well as the financial one involved in purchase of parts and surgery however: characters risk their essential 'humanity' if too much meat is replaced by hardware, and the performance of the organic parts that remain can also be degraded. There are some quite complex game mechanics to apply - fortunately in the main, one-off calculations done when cyber-parts are installed - to model this. As well as body part replacements and enhancements, adventurous souls can add parts that people do not normally have - wings or gills, for example - whilst the more violent can have weapons as very parts of their bodies.
Still on the theme of equipment, Chapter 8: Vehicles follows. The chapter begins by describing the various 'roles' that characters can occupy in the transport of choice - pilot, gunner, etc. - and then covers vehicular combat and chases. This is followed by a catalogue of vehicles from civilian motorcyles and ground cars to military tanks... and then moves on to a discussion of mecha and then to spaceships. It suddenly breaks into a selection of floor plans for use when on several spaceship types - a courier, a pirate raider, a private space yacht, a cargo ship, a 'Star Marshal' patrol craft, and a scout ship. There's also a rather skeletal data sheet for recording details of whatever vessel you have in mind.
We've already had a bit in the previous chapter relating to vehicular combat, but next is Chapter 9: Combat with the full explanation and rules for combat in this game. Starting with the concept of combat by rounds, all the options and necessary game mechanics are discussed in detail. As usual, it sounds far more complicated that it actually is in play, particularly once the participants are used to the system and do not need to keep checking the rules. This is one chapter in particular which could benefit from editorial attention.
Next is Chapter 10: Environments. It starts off with a discussion of common hazards, ones that can be encountered in a range of environments such as acids, extreme temperatures, darkness, falling, electrical and radiation dangers, and running out of such essentials as food, water or air. This is followed by a discussion on gravity and the effects of both high and low gravitational fields as well as its complete absence. Naturally, not all planets are going to have an Earth-normal atmosphere, and both the composition and the density of the atmosphere can have adverse effects on unprotected characters who are not naturally adapted to them. The vacuum of space is also covered, with the effects of exposure on unprotected characters as well as decompression of spacecraft being discussed. This is followed by an extensive catalogue of afflictions: poisons and diseases that conspire to make any character's life a misery, if not end it. Next comes, rather strangely, a look at movement and speed, and carrying capacity, then light and vision... and how to attack or break objects. The chapter ends with a discussion of star types - this could have led to more environmental matters such asthe materials necessary to design solar systems and planets for characters to visit, colonise, or fight over, but did not develop beyond the stars themselves. Good to see sound astronomical knowledge about main sequence stars and some of the more unusual things to be found in the universe, though!
Chapter 11: Creatures looks at those lifeforms that are likely to provide opposition for the characters, beginning with a suggestion that the Pathfinder monsters make a good starting point, followed by a collection of foes ranging from mechanical 'guard snakes' to some quite nightmarish creatures... Interestingly, most are sentient although some are of animal intelligence.
Finally, there's the massive Chapter 12: Psychic Powers. Deliberately kept separate, although referred to in the character creation sections, as it will colour the whole nature of your game if you decide to allow these (or indeed magic - known as mystic power in this system - which is dealt with in a separate supplement although touched upon here). Psychic characters have access to a range of Powers, which can be cast at will (with certain limits based on character level) until the character has exhausted their psychic powers for the day. This is regained by a period of meditation and reflection, but powers do not have to be selected in advance. Psychic powers come from within, and are powers of the character's mind. Being a psychic is as much a career choice as any other character class, rather than an additional ability that some characters may have, somewhat different from some science-fiction games. There are spheres of power, and as the character rises in level he gains access to more spheres, beginning with the universal sphere and another of his choice. The universal sphere provides basic offensive and defensive capabilities, then there are spheres concerned with energy, ESP, mechanical effects, telepathy, time, even the ability to affect computers, and so on. Then follows a massive 'spell list' of available powers to choose from. Many are based on the Pathfinder SRD, with additions and variations to deal with the more science-fiction aspects such as powers that influence androids or computers.
This is an exhaustive and massive remaking of the core Pathfinder system into a science-fiction game. It provides you with a good rules toolkit, but as far as setting is concerned you will have to write your own, or adapt one written under a different ruleset. It is a good start, but needs more work - including proofreading and editing - before it will be THE science-fiction D20 game... It certainly starts spawning ideas of settings and adventures in which these rules can be used, and shows some touches of genius particularly in the way in which some iconic items and beings from SF novels and movies have been adapted.