Game: Prometheus Rising
Publisher: Vigilance Press
Review Dated: 10th, August 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Prometheus Rising is a new PDF Sci-Fi d20 RPG from Vigilance Press, the small company behind the super-heroic (a carefully selected term since I’ve been told that Marvel own ‘superhero’ as a trademark) Vigilance RPG.
Prometheus begins with a page of great story. There are hints of a rebellion, The Company, space prisons, strange technology and more. The tagline for the download on its virtual shelf at RPGNow announces “95 Worlds, 1 Destiny” and the front cover of the download itself says “95 Planets, 1 Destiny”. I was all set to soak up this new campaign setting and so after quickly reading through the new character classes I took to scrolling down the PDF quickly to skip through the rules to read about it. It’s not really there; instead there are clues. The clues to the campaign setting (I can’t really use the phrase “world setting” perhaps “galaxy setting” will do) have been slyly scattered throughout the product. There is the gazetteer though and this has been nicely expanded in version 1.1 so that flavour hungry gamers like myself have more to get our teeth into. The gazetteer is the first access point into the 95 worlds of the galaxy; that 95 tallies up as 9 plants and, I guess, 84 moons.
Prometheus Rising is a galaxy of rules. There are about 70 pages of them. You pick up hints of flavour from the text that patterns the game mechanics, although its worth noting there’s been a healthy injection of more since the first version of the document was released in early August (2002). The character race chapter talks about people being “rewritten” straight out of the gate and its only until you’ve read a few races that the term is explicitly described as the art of generic modification. Then in the Euros character class (from Europa the moon) freely talks about The Prime as an alien form of life and there’s just a little information as to what on earth is going on with these aliens in this section; there could be more, there could be a sourcebook entirely devoted on the Prime but I think what’s offered is just enough to temp a GM into allowing them.
Where the history, flavour and ambience of the galaxy setting are in scant supply, carefully constructed rules for everything from hi-tech armour to different types of spaceship engines are plentiful.
There are seven races and boring old mundane mankind is not among them. – Androids are terribly strong and quick (Str +4, Dex +2) the loose out on charm and worldly wisdom, in fact these constructs rarely live long enough to become worldly wise and are programmed to be cooperative instead. I think I can hear the munchkins arriving, though.
– Astronomers are people with the rare genetic modification that enhances their vision and allows them to work in the darkness of Pluto.
– Earthers are from Earth but they’re not just human. Earthers have had modification enough to make them immune to disease and highly resistant to pain. They’re seen as corporate tools and widely unpopular as a result (so I imagine the “Corporate Lackey” class is even less popular).
– Euros aren’t human at all, modifications or not. The Euro, or The Prime as they seem to call themselves, are the local advanced alien life. They’re water based but they breath air and rather slow and are ungraceful on land – but at least they’ve been written up so that they can go on dry land.
– Floaters are those people who grew up in micro-gravity environments. As a result they’re nimble and dexterous but weak and tire at the drop of hat (especially if the hat was dropped in high gravity area)
– Hoppers are the most common form of “rewrite” from a list where the word “rare” is used to describe many of the rewrites. They’ve been genetically rewritten with constructing colonies in low gravity planets in mind and benefit from a dexterity boost but strength loss similar to the Floaters’.
– Maulers seem to be genetically enhanced soldiers. They’re a great example of how Prometheus Rising flaunts bits of tempting campaign setting at you. The text says “Maulers are a custom rewrite commissioned by The Company for security and ‘colony peacekeeping’. Seen by many as an attempt to challenge the UEG for control of the Jovian Moons, Maulers have by and large been used for a totally different purpose: the establishment of a colony on one of Saturn’s moons.” My best guess for UEG (and it is a guess) is United Earth Government.
There are nine different character classes. There aren’t any Prestige Classes available and although some people will cry foul, I think it was a wise editing choice.
– Corporate Lackey, is anyone going to play a class with such a name? The very nature of a PC makes it mutually exclusive with the nature of a lackey. That said; the Lackey has surprising scope in that no matter where you go in the galaxy there will be someone’s lackey there too.
– Doctors are vital travelling companions when you and your crew will be stuck on the craft for the duration of a four-month journey. We’re told that outbreaks of disease are common enough, that there’s plenty of room for rogue doctors as well as weird experiments.
– Haulers are those space sailors who make a living dragging cargo from one spaceport to another. It’s like Elite – if you’re old enough to remember that.
– Pilots are better at ship-to-ship combat than, say, Haulers. Whereas lots of character classes can fly a ship and fly it well, Pilots are expert in the particular niche of fighter craft. You have to be careful that you don’t read off the scientist level chart while looking at Pilot stuff. The scientist’s level chart is adjacent to the pilot’s on the page and you’ll have to scroll up a page to see how the pilots progress.
– Scientists might sound like a possibly boring character class but what hints there are of a background and history from this download often suggest there are ancient ruins of cities all over the galaxy’s planets.
– Sensitives are psionic and I suspect one of the classes who are most effected by Prometheus’ focus on rules. There’s not enough on the Mueller institute to get your teeth into and there’s not enough in the way of psionics. However, at least they’re here at the start and may be the ideal choice for a supplement download.
– Smugglers make a living by hauling cargo from one place to another. Hmm, a bit like Haulers then… but Smugglers do things illegally and this seems to be enough to warrant an entirely new character class. It sounds silly and it is but I suppose under d20 rules a new character class is desired the minute the key/class skills list is different enough.
– Soldiers are a stalwart character class. No matter how techy, mystical or strange things get you’ll always find someone there ready to engage in some butt-kicking for goodness. Soldiers are space fighters and enjoy the same sort of feat heavy character advancement.
– Techs are there when things break down. I get the feeling from Prometheus Rising that those people not part of The Company spend a lot of time stringing hi-tech systems together from salvaged parts.
There’s a host of new skills. There’s nice names for some of them, how about “Computer Slashing” instead of “Computer Hacking” – which is the wrong term, or “Computer Cracking” – which is the right term that no one gets. Then there are things like Jamming and Boarding which have a nice sci-fi feel and then more mundane skills like pilot and repair. The authors know their system and it’s not really possible to poke holes in too many of the skills.
I had my poker ready for some of the feats though. As with the skills the feats are sensible choices for the Sci-Fi RPG and plug those gaps left by d20’s origins in high ‘cheese’ fantasy. Faith’s a feat here; if you have strong conviction (in a religion appropriate to your character) then this manifests not as divine magic but as a +1 bonus to all saving throws. The feat “Fighter Escort” sounds pretty good though but the text of the benefits just don’t sit right with me – they say that large or medium craft protected by a fighter escort benefit from a +1 defence bonus for each fighter protecting him but that the fighters count as flat footed (and you’ll have to see the starship combat section to see how that works). So who has the feat? Does the pilot of the large craft have it? Does it come with a handy fighter escort? Do the pilots of fighter craft suddenly find themselves flying different while they escort someone with this feat (so that they count as flat-footed) than they fly while protecting someone without it? It’s a mix; there are some great feats (like hopboxing) that make up for the weaker ones. If you’re still wondering about the psionic system then you’ll need to look to the feats for the bulk of it. There’s a list of psionic feats long enough to leave you wishing you’d decided to play a Sensitive instead.
There are pages and pages of hi-tech equipment. Better yet, right at the start, there’s a guide to how much money different characters can expect to have. Equipment ranges from brass knuckles to laser lashes. A quick count reveals nineteen different types of armour. If you’re one of those players who don’t see the point of armour when a good Dex bonus does the work and more than you’ll have to remember that future armour includes the likes of chameleon armour (expect it’s chameleon armor in the official download). Much of the fun in a Sci-Fi game is getting to play with all the toys. Would the movie Aliens have been so cool without the motion detectors and where would Star Wars be without the light sabres and R2? Prometheus doesn’t disappoint in terms of equipment, after the funky weapons and armour there’s plenty of other gizmos and toys. Hypnosprays, nightvision goggles, magnetic boots and drugs to name a few. Actually, there’s more than a few drugs, there’s a whole list of them and their effects. The drugs come with a healthy amount of information on their effects and side-effects but as is the way of Prometheus Rising we don’t know whether it’s The Company or UEG who decides what’s illegal and what is sociable or even how seriously they take trying to control traffic in the illicit commodities.
The starships chapter shows much promise; rather than launching straight into charts and tables on the different sorts of ships that might be available there is a whole lot of extremely useful text on the different ways people might go about getting access to such an expensive item by themselves. They might lease one, work for a hauling company directly or indirectly or they may even have had the skills and the crew to repair enough junk and turn it into a workable craft. That’s one of the attractions to the space-bound sci-fi genre for me; there’s an extra party member in the shape of the ship. If they ship’s pants then so is the group and has the group of heroes (or space pirates) improve then so does the ship (even if that means swapping, stealing, capturing or otherwise getting a new one).
If you want to have a ship put together from scrap then there is an helpful table which helps the GM decide the sort of condition salvaged equipment might be – in space, stuff doesn’t rot. Then the tables get going for real. There are charts of different sized weapons; everything from micro lasers for nano-bots to Colossal designs which go beyond theoretical and exists only as estimates from alien hieroglyphics! There’s even more on different sized spaceships since hulls have both shape and class; you can pilot a small civilian ship, a medium military vessel or even a large pleasure craft.
I quite like the way the speeds of different engines are presented; rather than complex figures about hundreds of light-years per year we’re simply told how long it takes any given drive to fly between any given planet. This makes the distances between planets and the differences between engines readily apparent. It takes the Pollux drive 40 months to fly from the sun to Pluto whereas it takes the Vega drive only 8 weeks. There are then modifiers that can be added for those people who want extra realism and have questions about relative positions of launch points and orbits and stuff like that.
Spaceships also enjoy a large shopping list of armour and weapons of their own, as well as possible bonuses from improved designs and high tech features. There’s enough in Prometheus Rising to custom build your own spaceship so that the players are truly confidant that it’s their own special creation.
Your players can be proud of their special creation right up until you attack it with a swarm of fighters. Right after this mass of tables and technological descriptions comes PR’s spaceship fighting rules. The rules are simply enough; the trick is knowing whether you’re engaging in brutal deep space combat where the tactics are simple or whether you’re actually flying around inside some planet’s atmosphere. When I initially saw the title “Atmospheric Combat” my hopes went up that they’d come up with some cinematic style of dodging lots of awkward rules and providing fantastic fight scenes but no… it’s for combat within an atmosphere. The spaceship combat rules are pretty good; simple enough not to worry me and yet complex enough to reward people who’ve gone to the extra effort to enhance their spacecraft’s performance.
One of the biggest changes between the very first issue of Prometheus Rising (version 1.0) and the one this review has been adapted to cover (version 1.1) is the Gazetteer of the Solar System. The Gazetteer is very much expanded and includes more detail on more planets. The information on the planet now covers topics through trade and intrigue to science and exploration. It’s a successful change to the game; planets now become valid destinations and places of interest rather than mile markers along the length of the solar system.
Prometheus Rising is a fairly standard looking PDF, though it does make wise use of Acrobat’s bookmark feature. Pictures are few and far between and this doesn’t help the sea of text that pages of charts can become. I once said that the layout could be improved – and it was. There are a little more pictures in the current version than the original and this does help. That said, it can still be hard to tell the difference between an important heading and a minor one.
Prometheus Rising is a game that is cursed and gifted with incredible scope. It’s a curse because it’ll always seem as if there will always be more rules that some people will consider “core” and want to see in the download and there will always be people like me who want more flavour and more history. The scope of the game is a blessing because there will always be so much you can do with it; you can run your own take on Alien or Aliens if you want (and they’re very different movies!) or you play a trading game, a politic game, a dark and heavy game against the Company or even have a go at a merry pirate shoot’em up.
On a final note, a good one, there is a set of rules known as Prometheus Lite that presents many of the above mechanics for free. Everyone loves a free download and I think the Lite version does a really good job of getting across what you’d expect from the core rules. The Lite version lurks at RPGNow alongside the full product and downloading it first to help you decide whether to buy or not can do no harm.
(This review has been altered to keep up with the evolution of Prometheus from version 1 to v1.1 – a benefit PDFs have over paperback!)