TLDR summary: Great game, good possibilities for tinkering, great art, good setting, great writing. Buy it, for it is fun.
I will admit first of all that I have been looking forward to this game for quite some time. When I bought BareBones Fantasy several years ago, I learned that the authors had taken the system they loved from Star Frontiers and had carved it down to a lighter version which they called the D00 Lite system. Among the changes made to the system, attributes were changed, a new critical mechanic was given, and skills were changed to the class-as-skill model I have seen used successfully here and elsewhere. The BBF game was really a great innovation, to my mind, and I was left with an eager desire for the day when I would see my old friend Star Frontiers (by TSR back in the early 80s) take flight again in this system. I eagerly devoured Covert Ops soon after BBF, and saw a few more changes to the system that adapted the game to that setting, showing how versatile the game engine could be. My eagerness only grew.
Now that I have my copy of the game, I am even more eager to take it for a spin.
The first thing I saw from the game was in the notice of the download which contained the author’s’ invitation for anyone to take the system and setting and do whatever they liked with it under the Creative Commons license. This impresses me especially as a game tinkerer and is a refreshing change from some other games. I already have a couple setting ideas that almost write themselves, and a few more ideas within the setting as it is written.
And now the game itself.
In the introduction of the game the primary setting ideal is explained, that this game is about small fish in a very big ocean. The frontier is the star of the show, so to speak, and the players part of a far larger whole. Here I got a glimpse of the quality of writing I could expect throughout the book, which was engaging and clear; dramatic yet succinct (if I am using that word correctly.) It is a gritty setting. The discussion then continues to explain the role players and referees each serve in, and the all-important golden rule of RPGs, that when the GM makes a ruling, accept it and move along.
The dice system is broken down and explained in the beginning of the first chapter. All dice are ten sided. Most rolls will be percentile, with two zeroes read as 00 and not 100. You succeed if you roll under the target number, usually a skill plus an attribute plus modifiers. Rolls for damage or some other effects are the dice rolled and added together. There are six attributes which cover whatever your character is going to do.
Skills follow the class as skill model as in the other outings of D00 Lite, but here instead of the previous games’ formula to arrive at the overall skill, it is simply expressed as a number between -20 (untrained) and +30 (top in the universe) with 0 being basic professional level training. At first I was thrown by this idea, but as I got used to it, I began to see how brilliant this is. For one, it is possible to use the same skill with multiple attributes. If you have a Medic skill, for instance, you could use it with Perception to examine your patient, with Coordination to perform surgery, and Willpower when you are telling the patient to relax and heal.
Character creation is in the second chapter, and has a couple of neat points. You can roll for your attributes and then put the rolls where you want them or choose a predetermined array that includes a good mix of values to give a character enough depth without being overpowered yet. Species are discussed elsewhere in detail but are conveniently summarized here. The Referee’s book will have the means to create new species but the five included in the book are plenty to start with. (I have to wonder how hard it would be to adapt the various fantasy races from the BBF supplement Flesh and Blood. Probably pretty easy, and just a bit of re-flavoring and reskinning.) Characters start with one skill at 0 and two at -10. This I like because you then have a character that can do one thing well and a couple others (out of 12) that they do sort of well. I like the way character creation comes together as a fast and easy thing.
The rest of the book follows along as a logical progression through the technology and the culture of the game and winds it all up with the setting. While glossing over much of the book and encouraging you with my opinion that it comes together well, is well written, and engaging, I will say that the game makes a few assumptions that pinch just a little. The setting is somewhat limited to a couple dozen systems but with a lot outside of this area left nebulous enough to be mysterious and so forth, but in saying that I have to giggle a little at myself since I haven’t seen more than a quarter on my own state and rarely leave a hundred mile circle of that. Ships are kind of on the small side but only when compared to Star Destroyers and Trek ships. The only other annoying thing about the setting is the number of loose ends set up in it which would all be things one could use as story hooks to get player characters doing cool stuff.
It would be really easy, though, to port in any setting you like with this game.
The artwork throughout the book is pretty cool and captures the essence of a spacefaring gritty story based game. Only a couple of the spaceship drawings were not quite up to my standards, but are still a ton better than what I manage. One thing the old game did that is rare to find elsewhere in science fiction shows and games was that almost all of the ships were built on the tower model rather than the boat model, which is to say that in a spaceship decks would be best placed perpendicular to the thrust so that you have acceleration as your false gravity. There is very little evidence that gravity floors would be possible let alone cheap enough to be ubiquitous. It appears that the space vessels are built on the boat model for the most part. Really that is my only gripe with the art. Everything else is awesome. Those boat model space ships are pretty awesome, too, really.
Fair or not, I judge games on several criteria, mostly having to do with feelings. Frontier Space wins first because I have been excited for a long time to get it. It wins again in how confident in the way the rules are laid out that I could easily play and enjoy it. It wins in that I can see myself walking around on many of the described worlds, talking to Yar, Erakai, and Novim friends. It wins in that I can see piloting huge freighters and nimble fighters through the deep voids of space. It wins in that I cannot think of any ways in which it loses, with the only exception being the relative obscurity of the game, which is something I can at least try to do something about through this review and getting the word out on other places.
I was going to ask for more D&D books for Christmas and birthdays upcoming, but since i got this as an early present from a kind benefactor, I think I would rather get printed copies of this book and the referee’s book, which together would be less than either the 5th Edition DMG or Monster book.