This massive tome, lushly illustrated, hurls you headfirst into a game billed as the Arabian Nights in space. Mixing myths with starships, exotic cultures and interstellar travel, storytelling and technology, it puts an exciting spin on science-fiction and provides a setting that just calls out to be explored!
First up, we learn that this is a new version of a previous game, co-produced by Free League Publishing and Modiphius, and using a modified version of the latter's Mutant: Year Zero game mechanics. Free League Publishing, interestingly, were fans of the original game who started off by writing supplements for it. Then it's on to the first part of the book: RULES. Chapter 1: Introduction lays out in broad sweeps what the game is about (this is identical to the overview in the Quickstart Set) and explains the setting as being the Third Horizon, commonly just 'the Horizon', which consists
of 36 star systems joined through space and time by mystic
portals. The Horizon of today is a melting pot of different
cultures, peoples and factions.
Now we are excited about visiting the Horizon, Chapter 2: Characters provides us with the tools to create characters with which to go there. As characters are assumed to be part of a group (with a spaceship) it is recommended that the group of players get together to create their characters, beginning with choosing your group concept from Agents, Mercenaries, Free Traders, Pilgrims and Explorers. There's advice on the sort of roles that need filling in each concept, as well as variations around the core theme: Pilgrims, for example, may not be particularly religious, the concept would fit itinerent workers or even travelling entertainers just as well. You will also need a Patron and a Nemesis...
Next we get down to individual characters. You start off by coming up with a background and a homeworld as well as a personal concept. Based on upbringing - Plebian (ordinary planet-dwelling folk), Stationary (raised on a space station) or Priviliged (the elite and wealthy) - you get varying points to spend on attributes and skills. There are two types of skills - general ones that everyone has a chance at and advanced ones in which you need at least some training - and five skill levels from novice to master. Each skill is associated with an ability, as the task resolution system (explained later on in the book) requires the rolling of a number of d6 based on the sum of the appropriate skill and its associated ability... and hoping for lots of sixes! There are other things to work out here as well, including which Icon - the local deities - you were born under. Just about everyone believes, at least a little, in their power. There are also some beautiful pages illustrating each character concept and providing further options to enhance and personalise your character. The next two chapters cover Skills and Talents - tricks, cheats and abilities that give you an edge over others - in great detail and show you how they are used.
Characters done, we move on to how they use the rules, and what they have to help them. So there are chapters on Combat, Weapons & Equipment, and Spaceships & Star Travel. Well-resourced and with plenty of examples, the whole system is quite easy to pick up yet elegantly powerful in what it allows your character to actually do. Task resolution is performed by adding up the points in the appropriate attribute and skill for the thing you're attempting and rolling that number of d6s - a single six means you've just managed it, three of them means you've done well, a critical success. The skill descriptions explain what all that means in terms of using that skill. If you don't get any sixes at all, you've failed and the GM needs to come up with some consequence of failure. When everything looks really bleak, you can always pray to the Icons. This pious act allows the re-rolling of all dice that didn't come up with a six. However, praying has its own dangers - every time you do, the GM gets a 'darkness point' from the religion's devil figure, the Darkness Between the Stars, these can be used against the party in a variety of ways. Combat is dangerous, think carefully - if you have the opportunity - before participating in a brawl. It's a turn-based system, with initiative established at the beginning of a fight by each participant rolling a d6, highest goes first... you can choose to lower your initiative by waiting to see what others do, but you are then stuck with a lower initiative for the whole combat. Various actions may be underaken in your turn, and a whole range of options are discussed. Associated matters like injury and healing are included and there's a delightful critical injury table for those who like to get more graphical than mere points of damage. We also find out how to fight with star ships, and about the vast array of equipment and weapons that are available.
Next comes a section THE HORIZON, where a wealth of setting information is to be found. We start with Chapter 8: The Third Horizon, which is where the game is located. It is a cluster of thirty-six worlds connected by ancient portals and the use of more conventional space travel. Our study begins with the region's history and then looks at the current state of affairs and the various factions which vie for power and position. Early space explorers barely knew where they were going, but eventually one group discovered the first star portal and colonisation really took off with the First Horizon and then the Second Horizon being explored and settled. It seemed a golden age but as such things do, something went wrong... and the discovery of the Third Horizon seemed a blessing for those who wished to escape the stultifying monolithic cultures that had developed. These, the Firstcome, spread across the Third Horizon building a beautiful and tolerant culture, and bringing the worship of the Icons with them. Then the fighting began, what history has termed the Portal Wars... although there are many opinions as to why the Wars started or what they were intended to achieve. They culminated in a kind of victory for the Third Horizon, but at the price of not just the loss of an entire system but also of all portals back to the other Horizons. Now isolated, they must forge their own future.
Even within the Third Horizon, there was a bit of a dark age with little interstellar commerce or even contact. Then things were stirred up by the arrival of an ancient generation ship, colonists from the original homeworld of Al-Ardha (this is apparently the name for Earth, although on Earth it's a town in the far south of Saudi Arabia...) who had been travelling for, well, generations direct through the black, having left before the portals were even discovered. As the vessel was called the Zenith these newcomers adopted the name of Zenithians. They explored for a while wondering quite what to do, but eventually set up above the planet Kua, creating a spacestation called Coriolis as a meeting place for all the peoples of the Third Horizon. Slowly it's bringing the Third Horizon back to vibrant life.
Needless to say, there's plenty going on that threatens to destablise this fairly fragile peace. Strange Emissaries have emerged from a gas giant. People have begun developing strange new powers. One of the Emissaries has declared himself the living embodiment of an Icon, which has upset a lot of the faithful. And one planet has been attacked but nobody knows by whom, because vessels sent to investigate don't come back. So amist this maelstrom we move on to Chapter 9: Factions. Here is a wealth of detail about the main factions - perhaps your party will join one, or they may provide customers, patrons, allies or enemies as the campaign proceeds. Those who love intrigue will find it here, be it the public face of official diplomacy or more behind-the-scenes action. As if that were not enough, there are small-bit players as well, groups and organisations operating at a lower level than the factions themselves, never permanently allied to a faction... and a likely source of employment for the party. Small wars for mercenaries, trade contacts, interesting excavations for those of an archaeological bent, there's plenty here.
Next is Chapter 10: The People of the Horizon. Even the true humans are quite a diverse lot, and then there are the Humanites, despised modified humans who have been altered to perform certain tasks or survive various extremes. We read of daily life in diverse places, and how the Icons are all-pervading, with virtually everyone believing in them (or at least saying that they do) and many being devout. A discussion on culture in general is followed by notes on the Icons and what is believed about them. Oddly, belief in the Icons themselves predates the foundation of the Church of the Icons, which has codified beliefs and practices, laying out various commandments that must be obeyed... and outlawing some traditional customs. Not surprisingly, there are many schisms and factions within the faith. To add to the mix there are myths and superstitions galore, and of course the djinn.
The next three chapters introduce and describe the Coriolis station, explore the planet Kua around which it orbits and present a gazetteer of the Third Horizon. For Coriolis, there's a timeline and details of many locations aboard. Much of it sounds like a North African or Arabic souk, teeming with merchants and food stalls, where just about anything can be had for a price. Whole adventures could be run here without ever setting foot off the station. However, reading about the Kua system - or indeed the entire Third Horizon - may change your mind, there's loads to see and do there as well!
The final part of the book contains a chapter on Beasts and Djinn, which is somewhat more than a mere bestiary, and one on the Campaign. As can be imagined, this is GM territory, and players are advised to avoid these two chapters. Mysteries are explained (or suggested), and there is loads more background and flavour to aid the GM in writing adventures and running the game. The Campaign chapter is a mix of advice and game mechanics, notes on the science and art of running a game... and how to use the Dark Between the Stars to good effect as a terrifying evil force that balances the good the Icons do. There's also a mini-scenario, The Statuette of Zhar to get you started, and two 'scenario locations' that can be used in your own plots.
This is an exciting book that leaves you itching to go visit this rich and complex setting, which is reflected beautifully in the sheer visual impact of the tome. The simple elegance of the game mechanic ensures that it will not intrude but facilitate your storytelling. Overall, this promises the potential of a particularly fascinating game.
Return to Coriolis RPG Core Rulebook page.
Reviewed: 4 March 2017