Review: Scar Night

Scar Night is the debut novel from Alan Campbell who, previously, has worked as a designer and coder on the Grand Theft Auto games. It forms, apparently, the first novel in a series to come called The Deepgate Codex. A good, even great first effort Scar Night would seem to (hopefully) establish Campbell as another of the active British fantasists and SF authors that seem to be keeping the innovative side of those genres bubbling along a bit.Scar Night is, mostly, set in the fantastical city of Deepgate, a great metropolis city state, controlled by the church of Ulcis – a good of death and the abyss – and hanging over a pit that delves deep into the earth and is said to be Ulcis’ home. To the pit the denizens of Deepgate offer their dead – unless their blood has been let (losing the soul) all the while defending themselves from the Hesshite heathen tribes beyond the edge of the pit.

Deepgate is old, thousands of years old and in this book their line of guardians, descended from angels who came from the pit, is reduced to but a single member, the curiously named Dill who doesn’t know how to fight, is prevented from flying and is kept cloistered up in the temple buildings. He is joined by Rachel, a member of the ‘spine’, assassains in service to the church who destroy the heathens, protect the temple and also engage endlessly in battle with ‘Carnival’, an insane and fallen angel who feasts on the blood, and soul, of a victim from the city once per month on a night… called Scar Night.

Scar Night is firmly entrenched in the Urban Fantasy genre and contains many of the clockpunk/steampunk references we’d expect to see in such a work – airships, insane chemists, peculiar machinery that nobody really understands. It also has its fair amount of weirdness so, with an urban setting, anachronistic technology and magic (of a sort) all going on comparisons with China Mieville’s work are all but inevitable.

Campbell’s work lacks the surrealism, the sharp political/religious eye and the sheer abandon of Mieville’s work. It is safer – in every way – despite its visceral and violent scenes. You don’t particularly connect with the characters, particularly Dill who just seems like a whining emo kid through the whole damn book up until a bit of a deus ex machina finally makes him relevant. This makes it hard to sympathise with the figures even though the adventure side of the story rattles along happily through the second half of the book and keeps you page-turning particularly through the gigantic siege and the exploration of the abyss.

The ending is suitably apocalyptic but for the first in a series you get a huge amount of closure and it is unclear where the next book will have to go, unless it is simply a book about the same world and not so much about the same characters or situations. That said, it is nice to get a book in a series that is actually complete in itself, unlike many series.

I wouldn’t have picked this up in a book shop myself, but I’m glad the wife did. I will likely be checking out the next in the series when it comes along.

Score: 3.5/5

Review: The Dreaming Void

I am an unabashed Peter F Hamiltion fan. I was initially introduced to his work by my great friend (and co-writer on The Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming) Steve Mortimer through his Mindstar series (a bio-modified psychic detective of sorts in a post-warming, post flood, post ‘socialist’ Britain) and then followed on through the brick-like Night’s Dawn series and on into Pandora’s Star. Most of his books I have liked I great deal (apart from Misspent Youth) to the point where I even negotiated, and held for a year, the RPG rights to Mindstar and Night’s Dawn – but nobody was interested in pursuing it.To me Night’s Dawn (The Reality Dysfunction, Neutronium Alchemist, Naked God) represents Hamilton’s pinnacle and honestly I didn’t find Pandora’s Star to be even half as good so learning this new series was based in the same universe was a bit of a kick in the tits as I didn’t find The Commonwealth half as interesting as The Confederation, even with a thousand year plus shift between Pandora’s Star and The Dreaming Void enough of what put me off Pandora’s Star remains to tarnish my enjoyment of this book.

Hamilton’s politics have softened somewhat it seems since his Mindstar days, we see an increasingly apparent disenchantment with libertarian conservatism expressed, particularly in Fallen Dragon but that same theme appears in the newer books with some of the least sympathetic characters being soulless businessmen. Other themes common throughout his books remain familiar though, the fusion of the mystical with the scientific, the exploration of transhuman and posthuman technologies, clashes and ideals and the importance of the individual set against the background of large scale events (cosmic events in this case). While these things interest me a great deal there isn’t

much new done with them in this book. The technology appears to have advanced – new names are used and it seems to be hereditary – but really the uses of the technology aren’t that different to the previous Commonwealth series or even to the Adamist and Edenist technology from Night’s Dawn. In other words Dreaming Void feels a bit like a retread and a playing out of old ideas rather than a development of new ones.The background of the book is that after the war against the alien from the previous serious humankind appears to have gotten to a sort of technological and social plateau. Immortality is a reality and has been for over a thousand years, technology progresses only slowly and even the expansion of humanity has slowed to a crawl. Where there is a division it is between those humans who choose to remain physical – mostly the younger ones – and those who choose to go post physical and upload themselves into a sort of combined AI core. That core, and society as a whole, is further divided between the Advancer faction – who wish to kickstart human development again and to go posthuman, and the Conservative faction which seeks to preserve the status quo. Neither side overtly moves against the other and both act through agents.

While humanity tries to sort itself out it has also allied with the Raiel, a powerful ancient race who have gotten decidedly nervous about a thing called ‘The Void’, a mysterious star-swallowing rift, expanding into the galaxy periodically and threatening all life within it. With typical human arrogance some humans seem to have managed to pass through the rift and into the inside, which seems to be a ‘safe’ pocket universe from which psychic emanations are now reaching out to those in the real universe, particularly the first and second dreamers, one of whom founded a religion based upon the void, the second of whom is unknown to the cult but sought. With new and stronger dreams emanating from the void the search for the second dreamer is stepped up a notch and a mass pilgrimage into the void is planned which, given the nature of the void has made a lot of other alien species a touch nervous, to the point where they’re preparing to attack humanity and the pilgrimage fleet if they don’t desist.

The story unfolds with typical Hamiltonian multi-layered storytelling and wheels within wheels, though the writing does have a little less of Hamilton’s characteristic technofetishism. We learn who the second dreamer probably is, we follow the fortunes of a young, psychically powerful lad in a pseudo-renaissance world within the void and we follow the machinations and adventures of agents of the posthuman factions as everyone vies to control the pilgrimage and get to the second dreamer.

This is one part of a planned series so it may solidify with the later books but as an introduction to the new series this is a slow starter and by the time the book really gets up to speed it is over, leaving you hanging and waiting for the next volume but more with a sense of frustration than excitement.

Score: 3/5

Review: The Darkness

The Darkness, or ‘In The Darkness There are Many Shades of Grey’ – to give it its full title, was apparently created, initially, as an add-on book for Talislanta – The Midnight Realm. When Morrigan Press took over they decided to expand The Midnight Realm into a more full game of its own and what that became is The Darkness.Basically, what the game world is, is part of a lower, demonic plane of existence, beneath the other spiritual and other worlds, a place of demons and death and devilry and Tim Burtonesque twisted landscapes where the various demonic races and beasts vie with each other for power and control. A theme which has been explored more than just a little in many other products for many other game lines.

There are no real surprises here, the game world as such is quite small and restricted and so a fairly complete, if somewhat scant, world guide is present along with descriptions of all the demonic races and monsters of the underworld, systems of government, money, equipment and all the usual information required to get a game up and running.The book runs to 161 pages with black and white artwork throughout but, while it contains additions to the Omni System rules (Morrigan’s in house system) it does not contain the basic rules themselves, for which one would need to buy a copy of the system.

Not that I am one to complain about a book filled with half-naked demon girls but a little variety would have been nice. Strangely the cover piece is probably the weakest piece of art in the whole book and surely the cover is the one place you DO want a half naked demon girl with red come-hither eyes… apparently not.
The layout is a simple two-column affair with a rather cheesy and overwrought border on the inside, top and bottom, but it does the job with no fuss.

The writing is professional quality and quite well edited but no amount of writing can shake off the fact that the whole game feels like a circa 1990 heavy metal-fan’s home campaign, inspired by album covers and copies of playboy.The whole thing reeks of ‘kewl’ and ‘3vil powerz’ and hell, I’d have probably lapped it up when I was 13 or 14 but compared to other games on similar themes this just feels a bit… immature.

An ancient elder race called the Thane once ruled large swatches of the planes and the omniverse until it All Went Wrong(TM). Now they’ve departed the lower planes and sealed up the gap behind them leaving some of their brethren asleep to await the return of the good old days and everything else trapped in this gothalicious heavy-metal hell hole that they have to call home. Now the various kingdoms and devil (not demon, very important) species vie for power and control with each other, not really having any of those pesky ‘forces of good’ to worry about.
While the background is complete it is a little directionless and the adventure seeds given and the city and political backgrounds don’t give you a great deal to work with in coming up with a party concept, particularly given how evil/amoral themed games tend to make such friendships and alliances difficult to justify anyway.

The Darkness uses the Omni System, you can see my review of the TTA game for an overview of that. This book contains character creation rules for the various devil races, monster statistics for demons and other creatures, new skills, weapons spells and other items that round out the world and let you equip your barely dressed succubus in exactly the right way.


  • A certain adolescent charm.
  • Lots of half naked succubi.


  • Metal Album-Cover game
  • Idea not really developed enough.

Style: 3
Substance: 2
Overall: 2.5

Review: Ravenloft Gazetteer V

I should probably note before I commence that I am not much of a fan of the original Ravenloft, or of the world as a whole. Of the alternative game settings offered in the last gasps of TSR Ravenloft is much weaker – in my opinion – than Dark Sun or Planescape. To me it just all seemed a little too cheesy, a little too Bela Lugosi and we all know how unscary the old 40s and 50s horror films seem these days. Some of that ‘cheese’ always seemed to taint my encounters with Ravenloft from fortune telling gypsies to vampire lords and, so, I’ve never been that enamoured of it. I know people love it though, so I’ll try to rate this d20 remake gazetteer based on its individual content rather than the world it describes.


For a ‘gazetteer’ this is a big book, 178 pages, and it is mostly written in character from the perspective of the narrator, an immediate strike against it in my book I’m afraid. The books are also supposed to exist, in character, as items within the world. Mostly this contains what you’d expect from the older, slimmer gazetteers – descriptions of areas, important people and intrigues for you to use in your own campaigns but, this feels somewhat self defeating as a prospect given that GMs need freedom and open spaces in which to work their own stories. This operates more like a throwback to both the heavily detailed Forgotten Realms and/or the painstakingly metaplotted World of Darkness – not that surprising given the book’s providence.
The artwork throughout the book is fairly basic black and white, mostly line art which suits the feel and tone of the book quite nicely. None of it is particularly outstanding and the layout wastes a great deal of space around the text but the motifs and themes of the layout, along with the torn-parchment inserts does make it feel more like the book it is supposed to be.

Embedding important information in an in character piece is a sure-fire way to annoy me, particularly as a GM, and while this book does that it isn’t quite so awful as it could have been. Rather than being embedded in sub-Anne Rice prose the in-character author of the book is writing a genuine report for their Master and, so, there isn’t quite so much florid waffling to get through in order to get to the meat of the matter. There’s also a good amount of statistical summaries and so forth in sidebars which render much of the IC text redundant but do make it easier to reference after a first read-through.

Fully a third of the book is, fortunately, dedicated to the GMs viewpoint and dispenses with the in-character conceit.Unfortunately this isn’t so much to clarify the preceding sections so much as it is to supply the usual rag-tag bunch of prestige classes and new monsters, none of which really stand out in brilliance or excitement or are, necessarily, even needed at all.


  • Detailed exploration of a large section of the world.



  • Overly detailed.
  • In-character writing.


Style: 3
Substance: 4
Overall: 3.5

Review: Flesh Feast

Fresh Meat or Rotting Carrion?

Flesh Feast as an anthology of zombie-oriented horror fiction, currently available on pre-order from Permuted Press, the third in a series apparently. The volume is presented much in keeping with the current, and ongoing, resurgent zombie fad but isn’t truly and entirely a zombie-oriented collection. While the stories do all follow the undead theme zombie purists (those who foam at the mouth about 28 Days Later) are going to be a little disappointed and, to be honest, they have a point. The stories that stray the most from the more classic zombie fare are the weakest.The book runs to over 200 pages and contains 14 separate short stories that cover a very wide range of material between them from your standard issue Night of the Living Dead scenario to a, barely zombie related at all, story about mutating zombie fish – I kid you not. As the third in a series and given that just about every permutation of the zombie story has been flogged to death, reanimated, flogged to death again, raised as a spirit and then exorcised I don’t think it is too surprising that some of these stories find themselves reaching a little for a new angle or a truly innovative twist. While these attempts, perhaps, satisfy the authors I feel that the expectations of the zombie genre – a rather tight and defined genre at the best of times – don’t really reward innovation as it strays a little too far from the point.

The scattershot approach here does give you some gems but also gives you some pigs and some oddities that just don’t quite seem to fit in.

The Fresh Meat
Spoiled Meat: This one’s a great story following the tale of a lone survivor, filled with self loathing and loneliness not least of all because the zombies aren’t interested in eating him. While the story rambles and doesn’t really go anywhere, just talking about this poor lonesome character that’s fine, its a vignette, a ‘tale from zombie world’ that remembers how the best stories are about the people swept up in things and not so much the undead themselves. Excellent tale.

Ile Faim: Like most of the better stories in this collection this one evokes times past. These kinds of historical zombie stories seem to be able to innovate while retaining what is best about the ‘straight’ zombie tale. 2000AD’s Defoe: 1666 being a prime example of a historical zombie re-telling that works really well. Ile Faim tells us the story of a ship crew putting in at a strange island and finding more than they bargained for and it is done with style and elegance.

As the Day Would Quake: Some of the best zombie fiction, hell some of the best fiction at all, gets its sting through social commentary – when it works. This tale draws on the, admittedly obvious, target of the increasing security culture in the US, the societal fear and the ‘invisible enemy’, following two special FEMA agents as they collect people who test positive for a dangerous zombie virus, at least until one of them has a conflict of interest. While the subject matter is as obvious as the twist the story is very well executed and in the best traditions of the zombie genre and so, deserves a place of note.

If You Believe: Let’s face it, in an anthology about the undead you know – pretty much – what’s going to happen in any given tale. Even so I don’t want to spoil this one for you as it is a goody with a lot to say about childhood innocence (or lack thereof) and the dangers of religion. Even though this is more of a straight horror tale I felt it deserved a top-spot mention for just being so damn good.

The Legend of Black Betty: This one is the star of the show, a wonderful western tale of fevers and zombies, voodoo, whores, whiskey and six-shooters. It’s written incredibly well with a combination of evoking the period and managing to bring the depiction up to date in line with the newer cowboy movies or Deadwood. I love it to bits and it could easily have been made into a full paperback of its own or a series of western tales of the undead. This one makes the whole book.

The Preserved Jerky
Street Smarts: Street Smarts is a workmanlike tale of survival on the streets of a zombie infested city with good thought for detail and a sensation of realism to it. Through the story Jan, an older survivor, is trying to teach Hamish, a typical rebellious adolescent, under control while searching out things to scavenge from the city. The twist at the end of the tale, however, is delivered rather poorly without the impact is should have which leaves you with a feeling of mild disappointment from a very promising beginning.

Memory Bones: An oddity this one, and one not really in keeping with the undead theme as such. The story follows a new doctor taking over for an old one and getting an introduction to a very strange old man, and his oddly similar brothers, the old man making claims to be able to regenerate and even return from the dead. The story only falls short of greatness, despite being a bit out of place, because it fails to properly end. A cliffhanger is one thing but you’re left without any real resolution to the tale, which has a wicked bit of social observation to it. Almost a great, not quite!

Basic Training: A solid, but not especially inspired, story this one follows a squad of soldiers, all on the verge (or over the edge) of a mental breakdown assimilating a new soldier into their ranks while one of them has an attack of morality. The gung-ho spirit of some of the soldiers, the ‘laddish’ teasing and induction of the new guy and the gross out horror somehow don’t merge and while there are high points in the story the overall tale is pretty average.

Deadtown Taxi: Another one that almost breaks into the top-notch this story is a perversely funny twist on DeNiro in Taxi Driver, if he’d been played by a zombie and the girl was simply alive, rather than young. Deadtown Taxi paints a portrait of a city of the undead, a corrupt, sleazy city of the undead that chews up the living and spits them out – in more ways than one. While set in a bizarre version of the present day, peopled by liches, zombies, vampires and ghouls, the story’s spirit is much more in the 30s and 40s and probably could have been improved by being set in a hard-boiled detective vein more directly.

Under an Invisible Shadow: A post-post apocalyptic tale where the zombie war has ended with the undead mysteriously ‘dying’ anew. A few gifted people are able to see their ‘souls’ departing their bodies and flitting away to somewhere new and track it down, only to find a mysterious conglomeration of these souls. This is an interesting idea – coming in after things have ended – suggesting a new threat, but the story fails to follow through on it and the new mysterious identity is not revealed, there isn’t even an attempt to reveal it. While Lovecraft (name-dropped in the story) had incomprehensible terrors in his stories there were at least attempts to understand or thwart them. This just leaves you hanging.

Brownlee’s Blue Flame: Another interesting and experimental spin on the zombie tale that, again, loses sight of its essential ‘zombieness’ in the process. This story takes an incarnated spirit of Death’s viewpoint of the whole process, with the natural order of death being subverted by a mysterious force. While there are sparks of good humour and interest here and there throughout the tale, again, it fails to come together properly and the pay-off, while evocative, is unsatisfying.

The Rotting Carrion

Adam Repentant: This one’s a stinker, largely because it doesn’t really seem to know what it is doing but also because the story seems to sprawl larger than the short story format allows. The story sets Adam – the original man – up as a sort of alternative devil figure without really taking the proper time to establish the background of the world or the characteristics of that figure – and then throws zombies into the mix as a substitute for Lucifer’s army of fallen angels. The whole thing fails to come together and gel though it might get better with a longer treatment. 

Killing the Witch: The oddness of this tale, a dark take on the Oz stories, should be enough to make it a fun – and disturbing – read, as many reinterpretations of childhood classics often are. This one fails to take off though, again, perhaps because of the constrictions of fitting everything in to such a short tale. In the end it just feels rather contrived and a little pretentious, though the idea of recasting Dorothy’s companions as various forms of beast and undead is a good one the story just falls horribly flat.Fetal-Fied Gigolo: Another story that doesn’t really seem to know what it is, shifting viewpoints and angles from an obsessive bereaved mother with a fascination for voodoo through to a grotesque possession and a comeuppance/twist that just seems cheesy when it is executed. This one also feels out of place amongst the rest of the stories and more suited to a general horror anthology than this collection.

Wall-Eyed: This one is just a stinker. While freakish enough it doesn’t really fit with the genre of zombie fiction, or even the broader undead label really, the pay-off is predictable and the story really doesn’t make any effort to pull you in. Undead fish, seriously, without the decency to even be funny.

Rating: 3/5

Review: Aletheia

Aletheia is an extremely difficult book to write a review for because, while it is an RPG, it is one with an extremely defined, extremely tight, extremely focussed setting which amounts to a campaign idea with its own rules, rather than as an RPG as such. Given that so much of the book is devoted to the reality behind the secrets of the setting it is nigh impossible to give a full review and assessment of the game since that would give away too much and spoil it for those that do buy it.This is something of a conundrum.

As to the game itself, I can’t decide whether I like it or not, while the execution of the game is largely flawless and the ideas within it are interesting, in their way it is very restrictive and very set. Fine if your gaming group likes the setting and the idea, then it gives you a great springboard from which to launch straight into play, if your gaming group are difficult bastards as mine often are, then this may pose a problem.

The players are some (or all) of the members of The Seven Dogs society, an elite group of specially selected people taken from an exhaustive list of genealogical investigations undertaken by the society’s missing founders. You don’t get a choice in that matter, though you do get to generate your character as you wish within those boundaries. These characters can be just about anything but since the game is centred around investigation, lacking investigative skills will tend to cause you problems. The other commonality is that every character has a supernatural power of some kind.

The role of the characters, the setting in which they find themselves and the home location from which they operate are all absolutely defined so it is vital that the designated GM not allow the players to read the book, at all, ever. Which rather restricts the ability to hand around the ‘cool new game’ to get people interested. A basic synopsis however would be something like this:

“You are all members of The Seven Dogs Society, a special group of psychically gifted investigators who are trying to reconcile weird events with a rational view of the world in order to arrive at an overarching understanding of the truth, a unified theory of everything. In the process you will encounter strange phenomena, investigate them and try to come to some manner of conclusion.”

There are many similarities and many influences that seem to be readable in the game, it seems to occupy a similar space to the new version of Mage, but one can also see a similar design philosophy to The Gumshoe engine and I would think Over The Edge would have to have influenced the writers. In fact, you could view this as a linear Over The Edge with a slightly more defined mechanic and player role, the defined setting of both games resonate with each other and Al Amarja wouldn’t be out of place – at all – in Aletheia’s world, even if it is a bit more mondo-bizarre.

The use of artwork is minimal, but striking, mostly depicting relatively ordinary looking people doing relatively ordinary looking things but with a few pieces that demonstrate the weirdness of the game. That sort of combination, along with the clear and unfussy layout gives the game an appropriately dry and ‘scholarly’ air for most of the book and creates a ‘shock’ when you do encounter the weirder bits later on, increasing their effect.

The writing is good, clear, crisp. Explains itself well, the system is simple and so is simply explained, leaving the lion’s share of the book for the background material, sample cases and a sample adventure. I only found a few simple mistakes in the text so there’s really nothing to complain about here that wouldn’t be nitpicking.

This is what I can’t really talk about without giving the game away too much, at least I can’t talk about specifics. Suffice to say that the game has a specific background, this is the way things ARE in the setting and there isn’t much room for deviation, interpretation or shifted focus. The whole game is a single, large mystery, made up of smaller mysteries and the campaign plays out in the solution of that mystery and then comes to a natural conclusion, so this is a limited-life product, much like the old White Wolf offering Orpheus.

While I like the idea of the overarching mystery this just reinforces my impression that this isn’t really an RPG so much as a campaign with some rules tacked on to it. As such this could be a good thing to buy for any modern mystery game or to incorporate into an existing setting, even as an investigation of, rather than by The Seven Dogs.

So, what can I actually say about the background? Not much that I haven’t already but I can say that the defined ‘truth’ is a mash-up of many different new-age and eclectic religious beliefs, topped off with a little popular quantum theory. I say popular because it has little to do with real quantum theory, people hear terms like entanglement, observer effect and quantum consciousness and then go off on one to Neverland without pausing to actually consider these things. I don’t normally find this sort of thing a problem but within this game it did make me uneasy.


Well, reading through the book I read a lot of things that I run into in discussions, things that people genuinely believe. Again, this isn’t necessarily a problem but normally in such games there’s a nice little disclaimer in the introduction, something like…

‘Magic isn’t real, pointing a stick at someone and shouting in Latin will only annoy them, aliens aren’t mating with your left nostril while you sleep and any resemblance in this book between gods depicted and gods that may or may not exist is purely coincidental. But gee, doesn’t this stuff make for whiz-bang stories?’

Aletheia doesn’t have that and it reads almost like you’re being preached at, right from the get go. I have no issue with drugs, religion or magic in game settings, or even being preached at (you can ignore a book easier than a frothing street preacher after all) but the matter-of-fact way the material is presented runs from the out-of-character introduction right the way through to the end. In a world where people buy into Deepak Chopra and blatantly exploitative nonsense like The Secret that can’t help but make me a little uneasy.

The rules use a simple dicepool system of between one and five dice, with a bonus dice if you have a ‘descriptor’ (such as strong, tough etc) that is applicable to the situation. You roll these dice needing to score a 5-6 with each dice scoring that counting towards a target number of successes. Professions or skills add automatic victories toward that goal target number and to succeed you have to meet the number.

Characters start out very average – two points in each statistic if they were spread out evenly, but also get a profession, some pick-up skills and a psychic or otherwise supernatural power. Different powers and different professions are rated with stars, the more stars the more expensive but also the more useful the profession or power, so you have to trade expertise in for usefulness, which is fairly balanced.

The investigative side of the game is somewhat similar to The Gumshoe system, but not as detailed or quite as responsive. Vital clues are identified and these are always discovered first, but you don’t automatically get them, you still have to roll. Thus an investigation can stall if nobody is able to succeed in finding that all important clue. Additional success brings additional supplementary clues, which may reveal more of the whole.

Its a simple but responsive system that seems to work very well indeed for its intended purpose.


  • Brilliant investigative campaign world.
  • Well crafted ‘light’ system mechanics.
  • Mature approach and presentation.



  • Preachy.
  • Very locked down.
  • Finite usefulness.


Style: 3
Substance: 4
Overall: 3.5

Review: Orbit

Orbit is an older game, 2003, but we picked up a copy on the bring-and-buy table at Gencon UK so I thought I might as well review it. Some shops seem to still have copies for sale and you can, apparently, still get copies from the creator HERE.
What the game is, or at least what it tries to be, is a sort of ‘Heavy Metal’ (the film) in game form, intermingled with some psychobilly retro-fifties styling. The book is soft back, reasonably well printed and weighs in at 258 pages all told. I had high expectations for this game as I sensed a kindred spirit to ’45: Psychobilly Retropocalypse but these expectations weren’t particularly fulfilled.


This thing is clearly a labour of love for its creator, Jeff Diamond, as – with assistance – he’s written and drawn practically everything within the book, taking an ‘auteur’ approach that I think is often a positive thing in game creation and other arts. You get a lot in the book for your money, a complete background, appropriate – but somewhat inconsistent – artwork and, overall, a lot of bang for your buck. Everything you’d expect in a science fiction game is here, from starship rules to high-tech equipment, a plethora of alien races and creatures and the alien-o-matic alien creator.This is a complete game in one package and nothing more is needed. My copy had an inserted piece of paper with corrected data for armour but the promised online support and PDF expansion either appears to no longer be available or never manifested at all.


Considering that the artwork is all by the same person it is extremely variable. We have everything from relatively cartoonish to relatively realistic. Some of it is coloured with flat grey tones, some of it is in full colour and some of it has highly detailed shading. The paper quality and printing process doesn’t show off the colour work to the best advantage and a lot of the pieces seem a bit flat but it does a reasonably good job of showing off the world of Orbit, particularly in establishing the races and people of the game world, less so the equipment, starships and so on. The layout is nothing special though there is good use of sidebars and boxes for specific information.

The whole game is a bit… skitzophrenic. On the one hand it is terribly excited about what it is and has a lot of comedy gold, bold ideas about rock-and-roll space and half dressed babes with plasma cannons, and then it hits you with this very detailed and quite overwrought background material. It is like the game wants to be two things at once, on the one hand this super-gonzo space opera, on the other hand a serious science fiction RPG, yet it can’t decide which it wants to be and ends up being neither.
The writing reflects this, we go from little, almost Hitch-hiker’s Guide pieces about a particular alien race to intricate details about society, space travel or something else, almost in an instant. While the writing is reasonably good it, like the rest of the game, is inconsistent and this can leave your head spinning a little, trying to work out what the game really wants to be.

Frankly, this book could have been half, or even a third, of the size it is without losing anything and perhaps even gaining a lot. If your schtick is gonzo science fiction space opera then development a huge background and vast detail on anything and everything in the setting is not only unnecessary but it works against your goal. We don’t need to know the intricacies of interstellar policing, all we need to know is that they’re cops and that all cops are bastards and that they don’t like teenage hotrodders zooming around moons at a significant fraction of the speed of light. Equally we don’t need to know the mating habits of the Denebian Vulture men, all we need to know (besides their statistics) is that they’re evil, lecherous, look like vultures and that they’re the bad guys.

Less is more if you’re after creating a free-wheeling atmosphere of fun and adventure but for every Traxxian (little, green, eye-stalked, four-armed, space versions of Delboy Trotter) write up, full of good humour and sleazy role-playing potential there is a dull treatise on the Trade Guild and interstellar industry.

If you like detailed background worlds (and I normally do) there a ton of detail here on a multitude of alien races, technologies, worlds, organisations, starships and everything else that makes up the Orbit world, I just don’t think it works, or is necessary, toward the apparent goal of the game.

The main thrust of the game appears to be the idea of the Wandershen, a blatant, obvious, but welcome, way of getting an RPG group together and giving them something to do. Basically, in the Orbit universe, sentient species of age are required to go ‘walkabout’ off their home planet for four years in order to qualify for full League citizenship, and all its attendant benefits. This gives a great reason for characters to wander together and also ensures a vibrant interstellar culture, full of teenagers and young adults trying to get by on their own as well as extending League reach and sympathisers beyond their core worlds into the fringe.

The main power in the setting is the League of Allied Worlds, a more chaotic and somewhat fractious version of Star Trek’s Federation but they by no means control all of space and there are many non-aligned races and worlds. Some of which can be nasty, some of which can be nice.

The main races of the setting are:

Humans: Just like you and me.
Ketrin: Because what’s an RPG without sexy catgirls?
Ironkin: Space dwarves, sans beards.
Gelssk: Reptilian aliens, but not the invisible space lizards of David Icke’s imaginings.
Vangg: Toxic giants.
Rowglin: Because if you have catgirls you MUST have dogboys.
Pel’Tuurians: Half black, half white (or other combinations) these are the ‘special’ race in this setting.
Mezh: Naga-like semi-humanoids (I’m beginning to suspect Jeff Diamond to be a closet furry).
Traxxians: Little, green, many armed, many-eyed, chancers, rogues and reprobates. Like Ferengi with a bit more charm.
Xel: Living plants.
Arach: Sentient, bodysnatching, spiders.
Warg: Crossbreed between other races.

Then there’s a host of non-League races you can play as well, though these aren’t so recommended. The Baebians are worth a read though…

Orbit uses a fairly normal percentile based system as its basis with skill levels acting as multipliers of your basic statistic to determine a target number which is then used to roll against. Say you were an expert pilot, with a Tech stat of 30, the Expert gives you x2, so your target would be 60, though this can be altered by other modifiers and circumstances and can even go over 100. The better you roll, the greater your degree of success.

So far all pretty much well and good but the game interferes with the standard mechanics in two ways, author stance and gonzo abilities. Author stance gives the player control of the scene for a short period rather than the GM. This happens with critical successes but also with mastery of skills letting you dictate things for the duration of that action. It isn’t particularly well explained and seems tacked on to the system rather than incorporated into it. Gonzo abilities similarly step outside the base system and relate to special, unique powers or abilities that characters acquire that let them do things completely out of the normal scope.

Character creation is done by selecting your race, generating your background (similar to Cyberpunk 2020s Lifepath Generator), picking a homeworld, generating statistics (point distribution), adding traits and quirks (merits and flaws), selecting a career, then additional skills and finally adding your equipment. All pretty straightforward and par for the course and the background generator is always a godsend, though sometimes the results may not be to a player’s liking.


  • Well envisioned world.
  • Solid and expansive background.
  • One man’s vision.


  • Inconsistent presentation and style.
  • The relatively simple system is rendered unwieldy by options.
  • Poorly explained genre/story emulation mechanics.

Style: 3
Substance: 3
Overall: 3


New Clipart Critters

300 dpi .tif images by Bradley K McDevitt for use in personal or professional projects, subject to the attached license.

Lulu Storefront

Lulu Storefront Open
You can now buy my book, in print, direct from LULU.
At this time however I would not recommend buying @ctiv8 there (it is overpriced) and I cannot offer Bloodsucker: The Angst through that venue at this point either. I hope to have these problems resolved within 2-8 weeks.
I can also offer purchase of my books & card games directly from me in some instances, or to shops who wish to sell my material. If you represent a shop that should like to purchase my products for stock please CONTACT me directly.