Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Doc Rotwang! Reviews StarSIEGE - Event Horizon

No one asked for it, really, but I felt like doin' it: my review of StarSIEGE - Event Horizon. ¡En Inglés!

StarSIEGE - Event Horizon (SSEH) is a new science fiction RPG from Troll Lord Games, designed by Josh Chewning. It's the first published use of the popular SIEGE Engine outside of Castles & Crusades. You get a box (a sturdy one, at that) with 2d20, 4 copies of the Field Manual (aka Player's Guide), 1 Operations Manual (aka GM's Guide), 1 copy of Victory: 2442 (a sample setting), and some cardstock reference and character sheets.

Some folks want exactly that; others, anything but that. The answer to the question is:

No, not really.

Here's the skinny: SSEH uses the core SIEGE Engine to get things done (the use of a Primary ability has lower base target number than the use of a Secondary ability), but it does so without classes. Neither will you encounter Armor Class, Hit Points or even Levels. BUT! If you really want that stuff, it's embarrassingly easy to drop it back in - a series of sidebars tell you how.

You CAN have it both ways. Enjoy that cake, Chico.

...oh, boy. Where to start? It's all in one box, for one; that's great, because not only is it complete in that box, but you have room for notes, character sheets, etc. Nice.

The real meat of SSEH's awesomosity lies in its flexibility. A wide range of SF characters, equipment, settings, powers and so on are available to you, in the form of Trappings. There is a built-in system to help you design anything you need, from aliens to weapons to starships...and it's fast and easy to use. No HERO-style point-juggling here; jot down everything you need, add up the Building Points, then spread out the total amongst the necessary stats (XP cost, Drain, Reliability, Value, Size, Tech Level, etc.). There's a slight learning curve, but trust me, you'll get it.

No less awesome is the fact that the SIEGE Engine was pretty much made with improvisation in mind. It has a very strong Old School flavor wrapped in a contemporary "unified mechanic" style, which makes the game fun for player and SIEGE Engineer (read "GM") alike.

The most intriguing aspect, though, has to be the planet creation system. Planets, you see, are designed like characters, and rules are given for interactions between them -- even for fights. How cool is that?

Oh, and hey -- you know how it's easy for PCs to get left out in starship combat? Not in SSEH. Everyone has a chance to do something when the TIEs (or the Starfuries, or the Interceptors or the...) come 'round. The rules for this are damn easy, too. So that's pretty awesome.

Well, yeah. I mean, it's not perfect. Thankfully, its flaws are, in my estimation, few and far between; still, here they are.

It can be argued that the Trappings system is a little tricky to use. However it's not because of any inherent complexity or clumsiness in the system, but rather because a Trapping can be too simple. My first Trapping was, not surprisingly, a cyberdeck; I ended up with a device no larger than a tennis ball which almost never crashes, is cheap enough to buy in bulk and can be manufactured AND operated by any Neanderthal who is close to hand. Thankfully, when I mentioned this on Troll Lord's SIEGE Forum, Josh Chewning showed up and set me straight (you can read our discussion, and get his rad 'deck, here.)

The movement rules in the Ops Manual and the Field Guide contradict each other (the Field Manual is correct). The art is sparse and repetitive. The layout is very, very bare, which means it's legible as all get-out but not exactly exciting. Minor, minor gripes all.

The biggest gripe is (or rather, might be) this:

It's a toolkit.

That means that, while there are a good number of Trappings already made up (equipment, races, etc.), a lot of stuff is left up to you. You may dig that; you may not. It's easy to build stuff if you have a clear idea and make sure to think thoroughly, but you're still building. (I haven't read Victory: 2442, therefore cannot comment on it as a setting -- but it's chock full of spaceships, cousin.)

It's rad. Totally. I'm serious. This game is good for tons of fun, and it can support your campaign for a long time all by itself. Despite a few very minor flaws, StarSIEGE: Event Horizon is solid, uncomplicated, and ready to roll.

So roll, already.