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Saturday 17 June 2023

A Hostile Setting

The year is 2225. For the last seventy-five years, hyperdrive starships have enabled mankind to colonise, settle, explore, and most importantly, exploit the more than three hundred planets in the interstellar space surrounding the Earth. Three arms of exploration and settlement have been developed—American, German, and Japanese. The majority of settled worlds lie within a four to six Parsec radius of Earth, but there are worked, settled, and visited worlds out to a radius of forty Parsecs. It turned out that none of them are true garden worlds. Many of them are tidally locked worlds and all have environmental conditions which make survival difficult if not outright challenging or dangerous. None have been found to be home to intelligent alien species, although many are home to indigenous species deadly, or at least a danger, to man. Even the Earth is no longer safe having suffered partial environmental collapse. Billions reside on the planet, but many make the long journey in hypersleep to make a new life on another world or to work contracts on resource worlds, for in the main, deep space is a place to work. Metals and rare earths, but above all petrochemicals for the plastics industry, remain in great demand.

The need for these resources has led to the rise of several South Korean chaebol and Japanese keiretsu-like corporations whose reach extends to the far edge of explored space, greater than that of any nation. Mining and aerospace company Reiner-Gama dominates and has its operations confined to the Solar System, but others include the engineering-based Leyland-Okuda; the British-based Erebus, built up from oil extraction in the Antarctic; Russian conglomerate Voroncovo, which provides data brokerage and security services alongside heavy engineering; Hong Kong-based manufacturer, Wu-Ketai; the Tokyo-based Matsuyama which specialises in colony construction and support; and the Tharsis Corporation, a mining company which originated on Mars and is led by Compton de Vaille, who at 223, is the longest lived human in history. The activities of these and lesser corporations are regulated by the United Corporate Combine, but peace, law enforcement, and labour relations across human space are still regulated by the political blocs and organisations of Earth. In the American Arm, the Federal Colonial Marshal Service stations officers on every colony, the Union of American Space Labor supports the safety and well-being of the workers everywhere, and the United States Marines provides military protection and peacekeeping. This includes the Tau Ceti 4 colony, originally divided between China and the United States of America, where the collapse of the newly democratic China in 2166 led to the foundation five new states all of whom claimed control of the former Chinese colony, civil unrest on the colony, and then insurgency and counter-insurgency as the United States Marines stepped in as a peacekeeping force, welcomed and rejected at the same time.

This is the setting for Hostile, a gritty, near future roleplaying setting inspired by the Blue-Collar Science Fiction of the seventies and eights, including the films, Alien, Outland, and Aliens. It is a future in which space exploration and colonisation is difficult, harsh, and dangerous, but in which there are asteroid systems and worlds to be exploited and great profits to be made. Conflict is not unknown—between colonies, between colonies and corporations, between corporations, and when that gets too much the Interstellar Commerce Organisation steps in or peacekeepers such as the United States Marine Corps are sent in, but in the main, space is a working environment. One with numerous hazards—the vacuum of space, radiation, adversely high and low temperatures, poisonous planetary atmospheres, potential insanity from being exposed to hyperspace, and strange alien creatures which see you as intruder, food, or incubation for its brood—which humanity must cope with in addition to the stresses of space travel and working away from Earth.

Hostile Setting is published by Zozer Games. It is the companion volume and setting guide for the publisher’s Hostile Rules, derived from Samardan Press’ Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, the Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System based on Traveller. The Hostile Setting can be run using the Hostile Rules or the Cepheus rules, but is primarily designed as the setting guide for the former. Instead of offering the chance to begin again in a golden age of opportunity and adventure, the 
Hostile Setting instead explores a new age of work, industrialisation, danger, retrofuturism, and cynicism. The supplement provides a complete that includes a future history that runs into the twenty-third century, details of major government, corporate, and criminal players along the American Arm, data for some one-hundred-and-fifty world worlds and detailed descriptions of over twenty, rules for character creation, equipment, arms, and armour, a space bestiary, rules for handling and working the hazardous environments of the future—including zero-g, radiation, and mining, starship construction and current designs, a write-up of the USCS Hercules—a newly released commercial towing vessel, including deckplans, over thirty detailed scenario hooks, and nods aplenty to the subgenres it is inspired by.

There is some crossover between 
Hostile Setting and Hostile Rules. This is primarily mechanically in terms of the Career options—including Corporate Agent, Corporate Executive, Colonist, Commercial Spacer, Marine, Marshal, Military Spacer, Physician, Ranger, Roughneck, Scientist, Survey Scout, and Technician. The Android Career is included also, but primarily for NPCs. The possibility of an Android as a Player Character is discussed and it is strongly—in fact, very strongly—advised that should a Player Character Android be included in a campaign, it should not be able to break its programming. Only six general options are suggested for androids—spacer, survey, scout, physician, scientist and technician. Elsewhere, Hostile Setting and Hostile Rules complement each other. Hostile Setting provides not just the setting that Hostile Rules lacks, but also details of specific arms and armour, equipment, and starships, as well as the rules for creating the latter. The rules for spaceship construction does feel slightly superfluous given the number of vessels detailed as part of the setting, but doubtless, there will be some Game Masters and readers who enjoy tinkering with them and designing their own starships.

In terms of what type of campaigns can be run in the 
Hostile Setting background, several options are discussed. These include working as troubleshooters, working as a crew of an interstellar transport, members of the United States Marine Corps or Federal Colonial Marshal Service, or explorers out on the frontier. The peacekeeping mission of Tau Ceti 4 lends itself to a low intensity military campaign and Hostile Setting focuses on this colony more than any other in the book with some colourful fiction for the situation there. A Hostile Setting campaign need not even leave a colony or mining station though, the Game Master could easily develop a colony which could support any number of situations involving exploration, survival, criminal activities, technical difficulties, labour relations, and more. For the Game Master wanting a nod to the primary inspiration for Hostile Setting, the film, Alien, there is guidance for creating and handling horror in the setting and a discussion of the types of exomorph—or alien horror—that the Player Characters might encounter in the far, dark reaches of space. Whilst several examples are included, the Game Master is advised to introduce these with care. A number of hyperspace anomalies are also discussed as potential sources of fear. Whatever the type of campaign chosen, there is some solid advice on how to describe the setting, including excellent lists of elements which can help enforce the look and feel of the environment.

Hostile Setting is serviceably done. The artwork is decent, capturing very much the grim and gritty feel of space being a working environment. One noticeable design feature is the text size, which although sans serif, is large.

The contents of 
Hostile Setting will feel familiar to anyone who played or read either Traveller or Cepheus, but very much filtered through not one, but three different Science Fiction subgenres—Blue Collar Science Fiction, Horror Science Fiction, and Military Science Fiction—and combined into one heavily implied setting with obvious inspirations. Hostile Setting can use either of those rules, but best works with Hostile Rules, since they complement each other. Further, the Hostile Setting showcases a setting not just where a Xenomorph—or in this case, an Exomorph—could be encountered somewhere far out from the safety of the Earth, but a Science Fiction setting rife with other dangers and other story possibilities. In fact, to come to the Hostile Setting expecting to focus mainly on encounters with dangerous alien lifeforms would lead to disappointment and to solely focus on that in play, would be to ignore those other, in many ways, more interesting story possibilities.

For the Game Master who wants a near future, grim and gritty Science Fiction setting which focuses upon Blue Collar protagonists rather than heroes, the 
Hostile Setting is a very good choice. The Hostile Setting takes its Blue-Collar Science Fiction inspirations and provides a well-realised background with support and scenario suggestions aplenty.


  1. I'd mention that Zozer's Zaibatsu is nominally placed in this setting, for even grittier, cyberpunk grittiness. And if I were to run a game in the Hostile setting, I'd definitely want to mash it up with Zozer's Kosmos 68! What's a gritty future without Soviets, komrade?

  2. Baron Greystone's right on all accounts! I love the review and keep up the excellent work & reviews!

    1. Thank you. Lots of reviews to come, whether related to Hostile or not.