Hey! Welcome. This is my first review on Bones. I’m calling them my eldritch mousetraps, since my online moniker in all the places you can find me is @eldritchmouse. Thanks to Anne for the great name suggestion!
I’ll be reviewing Death in Space, so strap in, suit up, and get ready to blast off.
Death in Space is a science-fiction RPG with old-school sensibilities. It was created by Christian Plogfors and Carl Niblaeus and published by Free League Publishing.
I haven’t had the chance to actually run the game: this review is based on the PDF copy I received for backing the Kickstarter.
The real question here is simple—does it hold up to Mothership, the current big dog in the sci-fi RPG atmosphere?
We start off strong, with reference tables. The beginning of the book starts with equipment lists on the inside cover. I’ve always considered equipment lists to be neat little wishlists that the players love to look at and use to solve problems. Putting it in an easy to find place means there’s no digging through the book for it later. How does the equipment in DIS hold up? Well, you’ve got the good stuff like a fake grenade, pheromone spray, an animal replica with a simple AI, and magnetic boots.
You’ve also got a table of foodstuffs that is filled with things like “almost bread,” “toothpaste-type tubes with pureed food ready-to-eat,” and “vacuu-ice, cold flavored ice in plastic bags.” The fresh fruit and vegetables are the most expensive things on the list, apart from a box of spices. They’ve made a deliberate choice here, to use half a page just for food items, and I think it pays off—the choices presented imply a strong setting. You’re out in space, and every gram of weight is worth something. There’s no fancy luxuries.
We dive into the world of the game with eleven paragraphs of history, laying out the lore we’ll leverage in our campaigns. Tropes can be helpful in RPGs—a nice anchor to understand the world that is easy to grasp. DIS employs the standard tropes liberally. There’s a void out there in deep space, and it uses radio static to call out to you. After an all-out-war, resources have dried up, so there’s no new spaceships being built. The central powers are destroyed, leaving behind scattered warlords and their domains.
Players are hard-working laborers who take whatever jobs they can get—salvagers, escorts, prospectors, and everything that slots in between that space.
Even if we don’t leave the RPG medium, we’re seeing these tropes being used in other places already: in Traveller, in Coriolis, and in Starforged. The world is gritty, it’s falling apart, and you’re just in it to survive, job to job. It’s a good and usable setup for a game, but it’s definitely familiar.
The Iron Ring provides a sort of “starting
village” mixed with a megadungeon to get your campaign rolling. It’s a bunch of
old ships and stations stitched together in a ring around a moon. This is a
very cool concept, as long as you don’t think too hard about just how many kilometers of derelicts you’d need to ring a moon.