This Amazing Engine universe book, unlike its predecessors, is a complete game. It contains all the material first published in the Amazing Engine System Guide as well as the universe-specific information that you will need. This introduces the concepts of Player Core and Player Character, which enables you to set up a base Player Core that reflects the type of character you like to play (does he emphasise intelligence, brute strength, being sneaky, or whatever) and enables you to reflect that in the Player Character you build for the universe in which the next game is set. It also enables experience from one character to be passed along to another, even though he's a completely different person. These concepts are a bit strange in some ways. I tend to decide on the character I want to play depending on the setting rather than have a 'generic' preferred type, and while a multi-setting game can appeal when the same character can appear anywhere, this isn't the case here, you have to set up a completely different Player Character for each one, even though you are using a common Player Core.
Once the generic parts of the system - the Player Core and the basics of the game mechanics - have been covered, we then get on to the 'universe' or setting part of the book. The Galactos Barrier is introduced as a science-fantasy game. Yes, it has a science-fiction setting, but there are elements of fantasy here, in fact, the kind of wonder a fantasy setting can evoke are the main focus.
The setting itself is an ancient interstellar empire that is drifting further and further towards evil, which given that its foundation was based on piracy is understandable. While a few in authority work for the common good, most are out for themselves and are happy to destroy anyone who gets in their way. There are still a select few who resist this trend... mostly operating outside the law as interstellar pirates, smugglers, guns-for-hire, revolutionaries, and more. These will include the player characters, of course. The intention is for a light-hearted fun game, a space opera approach, high fantasy set amongst the stars.
The background information begins with a timeline for the empire. Some 3,000 years into its history (and that's 3,000-odd years before the present - told you it was an ancient empire!) something called the Music of the Spheres was discovered, psionic powers that allow practitioners to achieve things beyond the capacity of normal human beings. This exciting time also saw the introduction of new and improved spaceships capable of faster-than-light travel by means of going through alternate dimensions (the Tesseract drive) and the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Neither of these developments got far due to official disapproval and public disquiet (the AI robots had not been programmed to avoid harm to human beings), and the psionic practitioners turned out to be quite squabblesome. The next millennium saw the beginings of a slide into decadence that has only got worse with time. There's much more too, a vast history of tensions and developments that provide a rich backdrop to your game.
Next comes a section on character creation. You can play a human, an alien or a robot. Most aliens are humanoid, and some example races are provided (but you can come up with your own, if preferred). There's even a shapeshifter race whose natural form is a blob of jelly as well as more conventional reptiloid and avian races and more. As well as deciding on a profession for your character, you also need to give him a social class, something regarded as important in the empire. Professions provide the basis for skills... which are expanded upon in their own section in great detail.
Character done, there's a section with information about everyday life in the present day. There's a frontier mentality out there on the space lanes, based on the slow speed of communication - nothing travels faster than the fastest star ship. Many people do not rely on the rule of law but on themselves for protection, so carrying weapons is normal behaviour. There are also notes on NPCs, a few ideas for standard ones that can be built on as needed.
Next we learn about the Music of the Spheres. A Player-Character wishing to be able to use it must have Spirit as their major ability... that gives them the potential to use it, they then have to seek a mentor or attempt to release it for themselves. Interestingly, the whole system is described in musical terms... but not used as a musician might, so pay attention to the glossary provided to understand the terminology applied here. There are three Colleges of Music, but this is not so much referring to a school but a discipline, a way of thinking... and they squabble, at times even resorting to all-out war to settle their differences. You can swiftly drown in the terminology, but at length we reach the importance bit, what you can actually do with it. These are called Pieces and each piece brings about certain effects. It is an interesting and potentially powerful system, but one that will require a fair bit of effort on the part of the player to get right. Unless, of course, you just treat the pieces as spells and use them without referring to the underlying philosophy. That would work in game, but loses out on what makes this a rich and strange system.
Back to more mundane affairs next, with a section on Technology and Money. There's a wide range of items from weapons, medical supplies and communicators to vehicles and spaceships - quite a few sample ships here, and of course weapons and other enhancements you can add to your chosen vessel. The next chapter covers Combat, beginning with hand-to-hand and building up to spaceship actions. Fighting ON spaceships is also dealt with, including the effects of breaching the hull and variable gravity effects.
Moving on, a look at Space. It's big, and it has all sorts of fascinating things in it. Here we learn how to design planets to visit and about space travel, and there's a selection of sample planets to visit and have adventures on. This continues in the next chapter, The Domain Now, which looks at the socio-political scene replete with ideas for adventure springing from the background material. Finally to get you started there are some adventure ideas you can develop.
This makes for a fascinating basis for a space opera game, with its innovative psionic system and deep background. It needs, however, a fair bit of work on the part of the GM before you are ready to sit down round a table and actually play... but when you do, a fun game should ensue.
[4 of 5 Stars!]