Space 1889 Review

Lucky Raffle Tickets

I’m going to review random RPGs that I encounter, and I’ve started to encounter more than I otherwise would in my little D&D bubble thanks to our local RPG club. So long story short; I attend a weekly RPG group in my hometown and have been doing so since I formally stopped teaching – roughly the last 3 months although they’re nearly a year old now.  I knew about it because my partner is on the same college course as the founder – small world but with the teaching stuff I couldn’t make the commitment. However that died and I really love RPGs and need external social contact so off I went after an old friend invited me to join his game.

I started out playing Blades in the Dark for a whole 1 week and then on week 2 got co-opted into running D&D for some newbies ( thanks Harry!) However it proved rather popular so it’s still going even after finishing the Lost Mines of Phalandelver – we’re now on the Red Hand of Doom (another thing I’ll need ot review at some stage!) I initially joined as I used to DM a lot and Harry’s invitation gave me an option to play, but as it stands my weekly RPG at a friends house has had me playing for the last 2 campaigns so I don’t mind DMing here. It’s all part of the karma circle or something.

Anyway, the ‘Millenium Falcons’ RPG group is sponsored by EN World – you may have heard of them. Accordingly, every month/6 weeks or so we get a couple of RPG books or accessories which are raffled. Each paying attendee in the previous month/6 weeks gets an entry while DMs get an extra entry for each week that they DM. It’s a really cool system and it’s nice to get a little kickback for supporting a club. As I’ve DMed and attended a lot (14/15 weeks or so!) – I’ve won twice! Firstly the Starfinder core book last month and now this week I won something called ‘Space 1889‘.

While I’ve heard of Star/Pathfinder I’d never heard of ‘Space 1889‘ using the Ubiquity system, – published by Clockwork Publishing (Abranson & Götz) and distributed in the UK by Mophidius.

Space 1889 Review

Space 1889 Review
Pith helmets… in spaaace!

So I guess reading a lot of different types of RPGs is part of the criteria for attempting to write an RPG system and improve myself as a DM and storyteller? At the very least this one proves to be rather different than anything I’d normally pick up.

Interestingly all the rules are at the back, and all 137/241 pages of the fluff is upfront. It’s marketed as a ‘core book’ so in theory should be all encompassing from what I can tell. This was my major criticism with Starfinder – you still need adventures/encounters as well as enemies since there’s relatively few free resources at the moment. So short of making it up – which is totally OK by the way – I worry that in a finely mathematically tuned system (like Path/Star-finder where the numbers get bigger and bigger) it can be hard to accurately assess what numbers are the right ones for something as top heavy as a 3.X d20 system.

Looking at Space 1889 it seems ‘vaguely specific’. The rules cover a lot of options, but aren’t bogged down in details except for the setting and fluff.  so the rules are vague but the setting is extremely specific. Generally anything with a date in the title is probably going to be specific. The history is quite detailed and from what I can see largely accurate but obviously has space travel and ray gun turrets and mech-robot things, along with lizardmen on Venus and alien/goblin/bat-things on Mars.

Meanwhile the earth is as screwed politically as it was in the real 1889 and there’s all the issues that go with colonialism, racism and the other general ignorances of the era. This isn’t to disparage the real people of the time – like all of us we are partially products of our time; I’m sure in 100 years, I’ll be seen as some ogre by comparison to future-people. However this is partially alleviated by the presence of aliens which is good, although I worry that it’s just a way of transferring biases and hatereds to non-humans. I guess that depends on what sort of game you run and what themes you want to explore.

Systems

The rule system is a pool based system using odd/even to determine successes – the ‘Ubiquity’ system. This is nice because the actual type of dice doesn’t matter (as long as its got an even number of sides) which I found novel enough. A typical  7 or 8 dice polyset gives you all the dice you’ll probably need, as does a block of D6. There’s options to boost your rolls with ‘style’ points which encourages roleplaying panache.

Character generation is a simple points buy with varying levels of power – from ‘unlucky fellow’ all the way up ‘Herculean’ with archetypes that remind me a lot of Vampire the Masquerade. This helps you set the tone from Cthulhu grade bumbling in the dark all the way up to Indiana Jones and beyond. In addition there’s a virtue/vice system which again has that feel of World of Darkness lurking about it although the setting seems to lean towards one of optimism and exploration.

Overview

I have to admit that I only gave the book a cursory flick over a couple of in terms of the first several sections of fluff. It is really dense on the setting and fluff, then light on the crunch. Additionally, there’s also no sample adventures included, although several developed example characters are included.  There’s an assortment of extras available on Mophidius’ website. Artwork is reminiscent of 90s era WoD (minus boobs) and prior pulp-style comics which fits the theme nicely.

The custom alternate history is rather meaty and despite an A at GCSE, History to me is a subject and not a hobby to that level. I’d prefer to read the ‘history’ of Dragonville, with an eye to how I can use that information in a game rather than have a confusing mix of fact and fiction about an unreal timeline that I have to keep straight in a real world. I think it’s because if I’m reading say D&D or Starfinder ‘history’ it’s all ‘true’ because it’s all also all not real. In essence the pretend history is as real as it’s going to be. Whereas if I’m reading alternative history I have a dissonant meta-awareness that it’s all fake and need to take more steps to keep it mentally separate. However I know some people just love alt-history/diesel-/steam-punk stuff, I’m just not one of them.

I guess the word I searching for is verisimilitude; I find that ‘alternative’ settings don’t really tickle my fancy in that I find them too radically unrealistic. To scratch that itch I’d rather something like Vampire or Cthulhu which are also arguably ‘alternative’ (vampires and monsters exist) but are also ‘real’ in that day to day things like science and animals and stuff generally work how you’d expect. EG; Queen Victoria is queen and empress as opposed to England having becoming a republic after the Martian scuba-commandos attacks of 1847. Even Malifaux is alternative but is in a different dimension, again where all the weirdness is sort of contained and separate but parallel. Maybe I just need to get over this hump but as I’m not a fan of alt-history stuff it’s not something I encounter a lot of.

Conclusion

As mentioned this RPG is ‘vaguely specific’ so if you really want a setting about the early 1900s, that features pulp sci-fi, including space and aliens then this is certainly for you. The system is streamlined enough to avoid pointless complexity – the bane of the old storyteller system or d20 3.X – and looks simple enough to run. I don’t think this is something that I’ll end up playing because it’s so specific, however I am very interested to steal the Ubiquity system and give it a try to see if it’s good for other things! I already have Spirit of the Century –  a FATE based system I really like the idea of but have yet to actually play -since it can cover alternative history but doesn’t have to.

I feel that the crunch is great, the fluff:crunch ratio is great, but unfortunately the fluff isn’t of a genre that particularly makes me want to play it which is purely a personal thing. That’s what’s frustrating, I just know I’m not a fan of victorian/steampunk the same way I’m not a fan of Hip-Hop, Guiness  or Soccer which in some ways is worse because I know there’s little I can do to make myself enjoy it.

I Never Asked For This…

Jensen Meme

SitRep

So despite a plethora of illness* this past year, I’m trying to keep sane by focusing on my 2 main hobbies – Pokémon & RPGs – while I recover. I’ve managed to expand playing RPGs to 2 nights a week which is a major achievement considering health and previous commitments.

Miniature games aren’t really holding my interest due to the time investment required coupled with the sheer lack of local communities that I want to be a part of, (and I really don’t have the stamina to chivvy another community along after the last time). I still enjoy painting and that side of things though.

My lovely other half is quite busy with studies so even playing casual GW stuff at home isn’t really happening though Terraforming Mars is proving to have been worth the investment. (Seriously when it’s back in print, get it if you can!)

Aside from health issues and goals my new year’s aims were mostly Pokémon TCG based, and I’m managing to do pretty well at them too! (You can keep up to date with that journey here: Poké-Post.)

Anyway as mentioned, I’m really digging RPGs at the moment – from the Southampton guild of RPers to my own friend group I’m managing to play in and run some games and also have gotten to try out RPGs that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. (Blades in the Dark, Starfinder, Star Trek Adventures to name a few). It’s social and fun and lets me be creative.

Moving Forward

With all of that in mind I’m in the middle of writing 3 short PDFs for 5E D&D to offer variant monsters that are usually encountered at low level (Goblins, Hobgoblins and Bugbears). It’s a small step to break into writing for RPGs but I might as well try to make use of my 20+ years of playing RPGs to help other people while I wait for medical appointments to get sorted out.

Finally I’m managing to get some Deus Ex: Mankind Divided in, including the eponymous 1 save only perma-death ‘I never asked for this’ mode. I’m claiming it as research for a cyberpunk, conspiracy, non-magic (sorry Shadowrun!) post-human RPG that I want to write. Right now I’m thinking of basing it on Blades in the Dark / PbtA since the system is great and captures the nuances of the feelings I’d like to convey. However this is still early days.

*Seriously, at this point I’m expecting it to actually be lupus!