Author: Christoph Sapinsky
Publisher: Random Alien Games
Page Count: 354
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $20.00
PDF (IPR) – $20.00
Print+PDF, Softcover (IPR) – $35.00
Print+PDF, Hardcover (IPR) – $50.00
Note – I received a free copy of the PDF for review purposes and participated in an online game run for us by creator Christoph Sapinsky.
Free Spacer is a fairly open sandbox science fiction roleplaying game. I got some vibes from Traveller, Firefly, and the novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Looking at the designer’s website confirms the Firefly influence, among others. Listed are Cowboy Bebop, Dark Matter, Farscape, Firefly, Killjoys, Switchblade Honey, and the works of Heinlein. The book itself lists more inspirations, along similar lines.
I only have the game in PDF; therefore, I can only comment on the digital product. It is 354 pages long, with black pages, white text, and orange highlights. It is modestly illustrated with realistic three-dimensional art of the technology, setting, and characters. There are a lot of tables. The book is well bookmarked with links to referenced sections.
It’s a little hard to give a detailed description of the setting, as the group will generate the setting collaboratively. However, there are some general assumptions about the setting, with the group filling in the details. The game is assumed to take place in the Orion Quadrant, a balkanized frontier in the Exploration Wars’ aftermath. You decide what kicked off the wars, what an ancient society known as “Old Gold” was, what Earth’s fate was, etc. You will also develop three major societies for the sector.
Technology plays a large part in the game – both in setting and in rules. There is faster than light travel via fold drives (jumping from the edge of one system to near the core of another), anagathics, and impressive computer technology. Death isn’t even much of a threat – if your character dies, you can be born anew from a regenerative cocoon, likely with the potential for changes to their personality, style, pronouns, etc. On the topic of pronouns, there is a fair amount of discussion regarding genders, both human and otherwise, with a reminder of the importance of respecting gender identity.
The game’s characters are called Free Spacers. Being a Free Spacer sets you apart from others in the quadrant. You live a life of that many admire, but also one that limits you. Free Spacers cannot invest in a business, run for government, or otherwise have an everyday life. You contract yourself out to factions, with your patron being of utmost importance. You’re also typically in debt (and if you need to regenerate after death, that’ll cost even more).
The first step in a campaign is that of commissioning, the process of pre-game setting building. First, as a group, you commission the Orion Quadrant. While the Exploration War is over, its remnants remain. The Orion Quadrant is not united, with a Cold War going on between different factions. Factions you might be employed by, believe, or despise. You’ll also develop these factions as part of this step. Next up is developing your ship – a corvette, which is something of a jack-of-all-trades, but you can customize to fit your group’s needs – and improve it over the course of play. Finally, you commission the individual crewmembers. Each of the characters has two “stations” – given the size of my group (on the smaller side), I liked the idea of having multi-specialized characters. You will further develop and define what your character did during the war, what your motivations are, and your stats.
I’ve stayed clear of game mechanics thus far. I would rate this as a fairly crunchy game. It is player-facing – in that only the players roll dice. You’ll roll a “salvo” of task dice – d10s, which score “hits” on 5-9 and 2 hits on a 10. You’ll also roll threat dice, d6s, to represent the danger/difficulty of the task. Results of 1-3 negate “hits” achieved on the d10s. Your number of hits (or how negative you get) indicates how well you succeeded or failed. Characters have broad sets of skills, each with a rating of 1-3. Every skill has specialties – specialty rankings range from 0-4. It is these skills and specialties that are the primary sources of task dice. Every character is also highly reliant on tools – the ship, their PAN (personal area network), their suit, tools from their career, etc. Every character has a limited resource, “Charge,” to use on their tools, which add to the task dice salvo – but good rolls (among other things) can refresh Charge.
There are many special situations where the game rules dive into considerable detail, but what is presented above is the core mechanic – everything else builds on this.
The rest of the book – and there is a lot of this – consists of lots of details for playing the game, prepping adventures, and running campaigns. There’s a discussion of the setting’s technology, details for running crew jobs (carrying cargo, exploring strange new worlds), advancing the cold war between the various factions, detailing ship operations, etc. There is a lot of detail here.
There are many tools available online for Free Spacer – of particular interest to me, as most of my gaming has been remote, is an extensive Roll20 toolkit. We used this when we played, and it was a great resource to have.
What do I think of all this? I’m a bit of a science fiction geek, and I appreciated the overall setting, with lots of reasons for characters to go adventuring and a fairly hard SF feel to the setting – but not too hard. Medium-hard? The rules themselves are crunchier and more focused on resource management than I prefer in my Sci-Fi games. It’s not fair to treat that as a negative, as this is a matter of personal taste. The rules themselves are very consistent and fit together well.
In the end, if you enjoy medium and heavyweight Sci-Fi game with a set of adventure-based core assumptions that you are encouraged to detail for your campaign, this may be a game for you. Free Spacer definitely skews towards “crunchiness,” but always keep in mind that the core mechanics are rather straight forward; everything else builds on that. Either way, Free Spacer is going to be a game you’re going to want to check out. Definitely take a look at the Free Spacer website, which has lots of information about the game, both its setting and mechanics.
~ Daniel Stack
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