Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Extreme SF LAW

One of the issues with HARP SF is that beyond the necessary piloting skills, it does not detail the vehicles—starships, aircars, gravbikes, and the like—which all have a role to play in a Science Fiction roleplaying game like HARP SF. Especially a Science Fiction roleplaying game in which star travel and different worlds and systems all play a role. Now this is not due to any oversight on the part of the publisher, Iron Crown Enterprises, but rather an issue with space—or page count. The addition of the rules for vehicles (and a whole lot more) would have added greatly to the page count of
HARP SF, which is why they have been split into a second book, HARP SF Extreme. Half the length of HARP SF, HARP SF Extreme covers vehicle rules for slower-than-light and faster-than-light travel, a long list of land, marine, air, space and hybrid vehicles, combat between starfighters and capital ships, and more. The more gets a little more personal in taking HARP SF and its characters into the far future of Transhumanism—upgrading the mind with nanoware implants and the body with cybernetic replacements, and uploading your mind into the virtual world of cyberspace and downloading it into a robot body, and even going beyond as an Artificial Intelligence.

HARP SF Extreme can be divided into two parts. The first part is entirely vehicular in nature, covering space and vehicle travel, and space and vehicle combat. It goes into some detail how the Lagrange Drive—the means by which Faster-Than-Light travel is achieved in the Tintamar setting, the default background for
HARP SF—and highlights how it can only be used at certain points within a star system, at the Lagrange points of its largest bodies. This adds certain wrinkles to starship travel, limiting its free use, but making its use more interesting in term of storytelling. Distances are listed for within the Solar System and far beyond in the Nexus Sector of the Tintamar setting, but the SysOp is also given various formulae for working distances should she prefer that to ‘Moving at the Speed of Plot’.

Numerous vehicles are listed, including Ground Effect Machine, or GEM, vehicles, gravitic vehicles, motorboats and submarines, aeroplanes and gravplanes, aircars and seacars, and more. Spaceships range from maintenance pods, mini-shuttles, and starfighters all the up to corvettes, freighters, and scoutships. Some of the larger starships include decent and serviceable deckplans too, all done in colour, although there are a couple of issues with all of these means of transport. One is that they are generic, so if there are differences between the various species of the Tintamar setting, they are not discussed, and the other is that it is not obvious in some places which illustrations refer to which vehicle or starship.

The rules for combat cover ground combat and space combat, but
HARP SF being a Science Fiction game, focus on the latter. The rules are an extension of those for personal combat found in the first HARP SF rulebook, with the combatants making supporting Manoeuvre rolls to benefit (or hinder, depending on the quality of the roll) the actual attacks. Combat between vehicles is designed to be co-operative, the player of the character at the controls making the rolls for initiative and Manoeuvre rolls to better place their vehicle or spaceship to make an attack or avoid one, the player of the engineer either making repair rolls or rolls to boost manoeuvring power or shields, and the player of the communications officer making rolls to jam signalling or targeting by the enemy with Electronic Countermeasures with a Signalling Manoeuvre roll. Ultimately, this will generate a set of modifiers that the player whose character is in charge of the weapons will apply to his Offensive Bonus and die roll, whilst the SysOp will be doing the same with the enemy’s Defensive Bonus, which is deducted from the total and the appropriate Critical Table consulted if the attack is a success. The weapons include autocannons, laser cannons, particle beam cannons, and plasma cannons of various sizes, as well as missiles, the latter taking several rounds to reach their target once launched giving time for a defending vessel to try and jam them on their way in.

The rules for spaceship and vehicle combat in HARP SF Extreme are not necessarily as complex as they look, as they do not require the arithmetic and mathematical formulae that spaceship travel might. Nevertheless, they require a careful read through upon the part of the SysOp, if not her players. Fortunately, they are supported by two lengthy examples of play, which should help alleviate any difficulty in learning to use them.

In the second part of HARP SF Extreme, the supplement takes a more personal tone, shifting its Science Fiction ever closer to Transhumanism with three options—Cyberware, Artificial Intelligences and Electronic Characters, and Robots. Although a Player Character can have any Cyberware, he requires the Cyber Compatibility Talent to possess them. Thus Cyber Compatibility (Lesser) for basic cyber augmentation, such as cosmetic modifications, datajacks, and neuralware implants, and Cyber Compatibility (Greater) for anything beyond in terms of augmentation and replacement. HARP SF Extreme presents a long list of cybernetic augmentations, from Datajack, Fibre Hair, and Bloodstopper to Taste Enhancer, Vision Enhancer, and Subdermal Pouch, as well as Cyberarms and Cyberlegs. There are even options for the Cybertorso and Cyberhead, although that pushes a character towards being a robot rather than a Cyborg. Further options can be installed in the cyberlimbs, like an Agile Limb or Built-in Weapon. In traditional roleplaying treatments of cyberware, the replacement of the biological with the mechanical typically comes with a loss of empathy or humanity. Not so in HARP SF Extreme. Instead, Cyberware takes investment in terms of time, money, and development upon the part of the Player Character. First, it takes weeks to install and recuperate from, as well as costing thousands in terms of credits. Second, the biological is not accustomed to using the mechanical and so a character requires the Cyber Control skill, which requires specialisation in either Arms, Implants, Legs, Miscellaneous, or Senses. Thus every use of a piece of Cyberware requires a standard Cyber Control skill manoeuvre roll. Further, the number of skill ranks a Player Character has in a Cyber Control specialisation limits the complexity of the device that he can control. For example, controlling a Cyberarm requires three ranks of Cyber Control (Arms), a Built-in Weapon another one, Agile Arm one per bonus, and so on. In the long term, as a Player Character acquires new Levels and thus new Development Points which his player can spend on him, his Cyberware can be upgraded with new features and his skill in operating the various devices, effectively keeping pace with the other Player Characters and avoiding the power creep that adding Cyberware has the potential to bring to a game.

Electronic Characters covers not just rules for creating A.I. characters, but also virtual copies of a character—creating the latter taking time as money to create, and more time depending upon the age of the character. In general, virtual copies are kept as backup versions of a Player Character in the event of his death, but this comes with a penalty, since it can mean the loss of experience and memories accumulated since the last copy was made. Which actually means a potential loss of character Levels, and thus loss in terms of skills and talents purchased since! In the main, the primary difference between biological and electronic characters is the lack of physical statistics, although that may be offset in the long term if the electronic or virtual character decides that being downloaded into a physical form, whether that is robotic or biological, is an option. An A.I. character could remain in cyberspace though, or become part of a spaceship, for example, but if downloaded, there are plenty of options given in terms of robot types and bodies, which need not even be humanoid. Several full examples of robots are given, including explorer, medical, and repair types, as well as companion models, and these are all designed with remaining Development Points with which a player could modify the design. Alternatively, a player could design his robot’s form and chassis from scratch using the numerous options included. One issue which a gaming group may want to decide upon—and this applies to Cyberware and vehicles too—is whether or not power matters. That is, whether a robot or a piece of Cyberware will run out of energy and power down. This does complicate play, but it all depends on how technical the gaming group wants to get or if the matter power at this level is left up to SysOp to decide as a storytelling option.

Throughout, the SysOp is not just given choices in terms of the rules that she wants, but also additions to the Tintamar Knowledge Base, the state of any particular technology in the defiant setting for HARP SF. The SysOp can decide whether to combine supporting actions and attacks in vehicle combat for slightly faster play, include weapons placement and facing, being able to dodge missiles, and more. In the Tintamar setting, no Manoeuvre rolls are made for travel in hyperspace, only for entering hyperspace; background is given as to how the Portals which make long distance interstellar travel possible; the inability to transfer psionic abilities from the biological to the virtual; and the status of an A.I. controlled robot as property. Overall, the SysOp has an array of options to consider in bringing the contents of HARP SF Extreme, and is supported in terms of background if running a Tintamar-set campaign.

Physically, HARP SF Extreme is generally well presented. It uses a lot of colour digital artwork of its vehicles, which does mean that they are somewhat characterless, which is not the case with the later pencil artwork which appears in the rest of the book as well as HARP SF, and thus is far more engaging. Certainly, it is fun to spot the influences on the robot illustrations. Otherwise, the book is well written and examples of the rules, if unfortunately done in a light grey and thus harder to read, help the reader a great deal in terms of grasping the rules.

Putting HARP SF and HARP SF Extreme together very much means that HARP SF begins to feel complete in terms of being a Science Fiction roleplaying game. Characters, action and combat, vehicles, starships, robots, and the virtual are all covered. That does mean that the rules still lack a means for creating new worlds, new alien species, and sentients, though hopefully that is covered in another volume. HARP SF Extreme does an excellent job of detailing the technological aspects of HARP SF and its Tintamar setting, and even if not using the default setting, brings a grittier edge to the Space Opera and Imperial Science Fiction leanings of HARP SF. For playing groups who prefer their Science Fiction with a little harder edge, then together HARP SF and HARP SF Extreme is a good option.

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