The Introduction gives a potted history of the ruleset from its (note absence of apostrophe - inappropriate ones have slipped past this book's editors rather too frequently!) inception as the Federation RPG to its current incarnation - but in terms of publication details rather than how the game mechanics have developed. This is followed by a laboured explanation of how to generate a percentage from a d10 and the suggestion of a very dictatorial approach to GMing... one which makes the most authoritarian GMs I've encountered look like cuddly fluffy creatures.
Now, on to character generation. There are four primary statistics (Strength, Dexterity, Endurance and Intelligence) which are rolled as percentages, with some derived ones calculated from them. It is suggested that characters start at 21 years of age although 'older characters are usable' and looks at how much cash a character is likely to have before moving on to look at the standard Human. The discussion launches straight into careers, giving likely skills package for a few and then listing a wide range of skills - a starting character has 300 points to spend, and should aim to put at least 70 into the designated primary skill for his chosen profession. Each skill has an associated statistic, although it is not made clear how that is used: the description of how to roll to use skills describes the calculation of a target modifier based on difficulty well, but just vaguely comments on 'roll against the skill or stat' with a note that characters lacking the necessary skill can have a go based on their statistics alone but at a level of difficulty one greater than the task actually warrants. I think I understand how to run task resolution but it could have been written more clearly!
Next comes a discussion on psionics. For humans, some 50% have at least some gifts in this area, and whether a character is psionic and how strong he might be is determined by a single percentage roll. The difficulty of using psionics is based on range as well as what you are trying to do, but again this section could use better and clearer rules.
The award of experience points comes next. It is a very task-oriented system, with the interesting feature that evading combat actually gains you slightly better rewards than successfully engaging in it. Only skills which have been used may be increased with the experience gained - makes sense, as if you haven't been using a skill, why should you improve at it? Tasks accomplished using psionics gain special points which can only be used to improve the character's psionics.
This seems to be the end of characters, as the next section starts on the classification of planets according to their physical nature. It is important to know the planet's gravity, as characters' stats are temporarily affected depending on how different it is from their homeworld. The formula given does not make sense, fortunately the table does so it should be easy enough to work out. Likewise, atmospheric pressure has similar effects: but there are technological aids such as exoskeletons and environment suits to help characters cope. When it comes to a marine environment, everyone is affected in about the same way, but again they can purchase useful equipment. This leads on to a more general discussion of survival and the sort of gear someone intent on wilderness survival will need - including a range of navigational aids. Some general comments on animals - as in, the wild sort the aforementioned survivalist might encounter - are followed by details on several very Earth-like beasties, although some attempt has been made to look at being generic from the standpoint that creatures evolving on an Earth-like planet will be similar to Earth ones.
Just in case the animals turn hostile, the next section covers combat - naturally, the emphasis is on deliberate brawls between sentients rather than animal attacks. The combat round is but one second, and whichever side has won initiative can determine who goes first (rather than just going first as in most combat systems). Within the round, various actions - such as attack, defend, reload, evade or move - can be undertaken, those wishing to do more may do so at a higher difficulty than if they did one action only. It is a detailed system, with a lot of options available to the combatants - including an impressive array of unarmed combat moves for the martial artists amongst you - but with the natural result that it can be quite laborious to work through even a simple combat unless you are happy abstracting according to the spirit of the rules. A good point is some clear diagrams of cover showing just which parts are and are not protected depending on what you have to hide behind. Layout and organisation could be improved to make the flow of combat easier. The discussion of combat is followed by that rather essential component of a good brawl: weapons! Starting with contemporary firearms, the list moves on to some science-fiction classics such as plasma, gauss and laser weapons. Those who prefer blades, and who seek protection in the form of armour, are also catered for extensively.
All these weapons cost money, of course, so the next section discusses finances. Money is handled pretty much as it is today, with credit cards and loans... although a quite neat biometric 'cash card' serves as a portable current/checking account as real money (notes and coins) is rarely if ever used. Next comes communications, with a range of devices which can be purchased to stay in touch, and the languages used for said communication... along with translation devices for those who lack the necessary linguistic skills. These are followed by computers, which seem primitive by today's standards - the desktop model in the future is far less capable than the one on which I am typing this review! There's also a variety of cybernetic enhancements for people who either need replacement parts or seek improvements to nature. Once you have all this gear, you also need the tools to maintain it of course, so they are listed next. Also classing in a way as maintenance is the next section on matters medical, which includes treatment (with an emphasis on wounds), drugs and medical equipment. Next comes a brief discussion of robotics in general followed by examples of what is on the market for the discerning robot owner. The review of technology continues with security systems - and the devices invented to bypass them, of course, followed by sensors and other observational devices.
Starships are the focus of the next section, beginning with details of the development of the necessary engine technology to make space flight possible. Both sub-light and hyperspace drives exist, allowing for inter-planetary and inter-stellar travel, while each senient alien race seems to have developed their own variations on the theme. This discussion is followed by a catalogue of ships mostly quite small ones. With a bit of a lurch, the next section is devoted to a discussion of accidents and combat in ground vehicles, leading on to typical vehicle descriptions in tabular format, and a motley collection of examples ranging from power armour to sports cars.
The next section presents an overview of history, left deliberately vague to enable the GM to weave in any contemporary trends he wants, before things start to get more detailed with the arrival of a resource-rich asteroid in the vicinity of Earth in 2005, leading to expeditions and bickering over which nations should benefit from the resources. An initial Mars mission in 2015 led to full-blown settlement by the 2050s, the industrialisation of space and the beginnings of interstellar exploration as the first hyperdrives were invented. Earth has remained a fragmented collection of nations, much as it is today, which sometimes get on and sometimes do not; while colonies founded by Earthmen elsewhere tend to retain a national identity harking back to home. Next comes details of some of the military organisations maintained by the nations of Earth, and also Mars which is the only sovereign nation not on Earth. The detailed rank charts might be of use in a heavily-militarised game. Hot on the heels of the military are some of the major corporations plying their trade throughout known space.
Talking of known space, the next section describes the planets and other locations within the solar system. This is followed by descriptions of some individual Earthmen, presumably for use as example NPCs or even potential characters. And then... at last... some notes on alien races, as mentioned in passing earlier. Details are sketchy, more suited to brief encounters with aliens than supplying the data necessary to play an alien character. This is followed by thumbnail sketches of various interstellar empires, and some alien characters. And... that's it.
As a system, FSpace is quite well-developed and it does work - but it needs a rulebook written to explain it in a logical manner to someone who has not encountered the ruleset before... and this is not that book. Good stuff, hopelessly jumbled and in need of a competent editor to present it clearly and logically so that this worthy game can actually be played!
Return to Kapcon 1995 Rulebook page.
Reviewed: 27 September 2009