In a swirling epic mix of science fiction, western and steampunk, travel to a far-flung planet and explore! That sounds exciting enough, but there's an interesting twist even to that: characters are not those original explorers but their descendants almost 350 years later. Those first homesteaders in the stars somehow found a hostile and barren world to settle on, and since then folks have been struggling to survive.
Opening with the standard 'What is Role-Playing?' piece, next comes a fascinating dissection of how to tell a cinematic story - start with a premise, and follow that with several scenes each of which has a setting and events.. think about it next time you watch a movie or TV show. With a few other bits like a glossary of terms, we're off to Chapter 1: Gameplay. Here the rules are explained, basically a variant of the OpenD6 mechanic that was itself derived from the core system used by West End Games for games like the first Star Wars RPG. Don't worry, however, if you are not well-versed in rulesets past and present, as the system used for this game is explained clearly and in detail. It will not matter if you have never played a D6 game before, it is easy to pick up particularly when as well explained as it is here!
Chapter 2: Characters looks at character creation. There are 2 routes here: there are some excellent templates provided from which you can pick one and personalise it, or else you can create one from scratch. The first things to decide on are the trade or occupation (i.e. character class) and 'race' - which here relates to whether the character is a city dweller (differentiated into those who live in Capital City and those who live in other settlements), a settler (who travels between settlements, trading and exploring) or less welcome types: scavengers, ferals and misanthropes.
Once decided, the character is built with attributes and skills. Even if not going as far as using one of the templates, you can speed the process by picking 'packages' which are based on the sort of character you intend to play and bundle up likely skills you'll need. Chapter 3: Attributes and Skills then covers in detail both attributes and skills, also showing you how to use them to best effect in play. This is followed by Chapter 4: Character Features... these are additional abilities which both add flavour and mechanical advantage to the character. For example, a character with the Imperturbability feature is very calm no matter what, and this aids not only him but those around him to cope with difficult circumstances, giving a mechanical advantage when willpower is needed.
Chapter 5: The Known World sets the scene in which adventures will take place. Westward is a remarkable planet - it's about the size of Jupiter yet surface gravity is about the same as on Earth, while a 'day' is 60 hours long! The year is 500 days long. (Some proofreading would help here, several paragraphs are hopelessly muddled and whilst what I've written here is what is intended, they don't say it!) This is followed by some historical information and details on what the world is like now. And of course, these are dangerous times and only looking to get worse. Good for adventure, if rather hard on those trying to live here!
There's a beautifully illustrated gazetteer, complete with rumours and all manner of information to help you feel at home. Then we learn of the different groups of people that will be encountered, which is worth reading before you create a character as it might give you some idea of where you want to fit in to the world. Some notable individuals are also detailed - you may meet them in your travels. This section continues with a look at creatures. Many are domestic animals, brought from Earth and familiar, but there also is native wildlife to contend with - some make good eating, but many are quite deadly. With lots of illustrations and ecological notes, this section makes good reading - and should your adventures take you roaming outside of settlements, vital information for your survival.
Next Chapter 6: Technology covers all the gear and equipment that you will need to live and survive and go about your business. And weapons. A nice feature is the write-ups of certain items, describing not just what they do but a bit about how they were invented. Being a steampunk game, many of these are inventive and amusing, as are the 'enclaves' - biomechanical augmentations that in another time and place might be called cyberware. There is also a range of automatons that might come in handy, too; and some spectacular vehicles. For mecha fans, there are several steamechs - you can buy them readymade or create custom ones from an array of components.
This is followed by Chapter 7: Adventure Design. Ideas will probably be spawning by now, after reading earlier chapters, and here is plenty of good advice on how to turn them into adventures suited to the unique environment and underlying cinematic style of this game. (Oddly enough I am preparing to teach a Digital Media class, and a lot of this will prove useful as the theme set for the students is steampunk...) To provide examples, there are several adventure outlines showing how the recommended approach is put into action as well as a complete adventure, The Incident at Fort Southridge, to get you started.
Throughout, the whole book is beautifully presented and copiously illustrated. At points, a proofreader would have been helpful to tidy up sentences that go nowhere or make no sense at all, but overall it is well written and thought provoking, creating the feel of a real world in which adventure is to be had in a genuinely cinematic style. Thoroughly enjoyable and original, this is well worth a look.