Game: Raw Recruits
Publisher: Mystic Eye Games
Series: Dragonstar: d20
Review Dated: 19th, December 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
I’m not enamoured with pre-written adventures. You’ve heard me say that before. I’m not keen on packaged adventures because they tend to be inflexible and linear. If we’re lucky then they’re thinly disguised dungeon crawls. The pre-written adventures in Raw Recruits are not much better. Raw Recruits isn’t a just a single pre-written scenario, it is largely composed of them. The whole is fair greater than the sum of its parts.
This review isn’t going to go greatly into the details of the adventures but play safe and assume there are spoilers.
Dragonstar is a Sci-Fi campaign setting from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a nice blend of science-fiction and traditional D&D fantasy. Raw Recruits uses the Dragonstar setting, requires the Starfarer’s Handbook but it isn’t a Fantasy Flight product. Mystic Eye Games are the d20 company behind Raw Recruits and the book is the only example of product licensing I can think of its league.
The licensing deal is a success. I don’t keep up with Fantasy Flight Games’ products. I’m not on their review list and their books arrive on the shores of the British Isles in dribs and drabs only. I didn’t have a copy of the Starfarer’s Handbook. I do keep up with Mystic Eye Games’ products and their distributor Osseum seems to have recently secured itself as the strongest transatlantic link. Letting another publisher do something with the Dragonstar license was a good move by Fantasy Flight, it broadens the would-be player base at a stroke. Letting another publisher in an entirely different distribution network do something with the Dragonstar license was a critical hit.
I flicked through Raw Recruits when it arrived. I skim first, read later. The skimming was enough to persuade me that it wouldn’t be remiss to splash out and buy myself a copy of the Starfarer’s Handbook rather than simply borrow a copy. Chalk up another success for the licensing deal and a good first impression from Raw Recruits.
The first 16 of the 160 pages are in colour. The change in text density between colour and standard print is striking. The text density decreases again at the end of the book and once more at the index. I started off holding the book nice and close so I could read it. Towards the end of the book I’m sure I could have placed entire rows of text from the introduction in the white space between the lines there. The colour section introduces the background to the campaign and then the crew of the spaceship on which the story is supposed to be set. The Everstanza is a nice looking ship. The smaller vessel that the PCs get to take out under their own control, the Midnight Angel, is too Star Trek. I don’t think it’s a silly point to make. If you’re going for an alternative sci-fi adventure then bend over backwards to make sure your ships don’t have a disk shape up front and then a two-pronged tail with engine shapes on either side. Just don’t. The good news is that each ship has a set of floorplans. The Everstanza has colour plates inside the front and back covers showing all the different levels and shields. The cartography throughout the book is good; not simply with the layouts of the spaceships but of the various buildings the characters are likely (read: will) end up exploring.
The book contains four adventures and they will take a group of four to six characters from first level to sixth. Even seventh, they say. I’d be alarmed at that. Let’s call that sixth to maybe seventh range at 19,000 XP. That’s over 110 XP per page, including the index, introduction, advert, blank notes page and Open Gaming License. You’ll get 220 XP for reading the OGL in this case. It’s about 4750 XP per adventure. I’m not all that worried though. Not that worried. One of Raw Recruit’s best selling points is that it’s more than four scenarios strung together. There are encounters in the book designed so that they can be put into play between the adventures. They’re “interludes” to use the phrase that readers of Mystic Eye’s partner Thunderhead Games will already be familiar with. These interludes really are just short encounters, rarely more than half a page of notes on their own but they do sometimes chain together into something bigger. I think they’re great. I wish there were more of them. I think there should have been more of them.
My ideal published campaign would be a book that presents sets of interesting people, their ambitions, how they’re going to go about reaching their targets and how they’ll respond and act to certain triggers. The PCs then get to come in and mix it all about. It’s the player characters who become the focus of the story and their actions or inactions affect the plot hugely. Raw Recruit’s makes a start down that idealised path of mine. There is a set up; a renegade officer of the ISPD has made off with the plans to build a powerful weapon. This renegade drow has made powerful enemies along the way but he’s virtually completed the device, the Dead Cannon, and is ready to sell it to the highest bidder. It’s not a simple matter of hunting this renegade down either; the PCs initially believe themselves to be exploring the frontier of the galaxy and not hunting a dangerous and powerful killer. There’s plenty of scope for surprises and betrayal. The groups involved are mentioned, key figures pointed out. It’s a start but it could be better. The important thing here is that the structure for an intelligent game is in place. The GM can use Raw Recruits as a handy guide. There is time and plenty of space available to put in as many encounters as needed. In fact, the GM need to run the adventures from Raw Recruits once it becomes clear that the players are willingly chasing a lead that will play into the hands of the plot.
The reverse is true. If you want to divorce the adventures in Raw Recruits from the backbone plot, you can. There are notes at the start of each for what would be required to run the adventure as a standalone. Little paragraphs like that add greatly to the book’s value for money. Similar chapters give advice on how to scale the difficulties to suit your player characters’ strengths better.
I like to say that if the first plot hole doesn’t come quickly then it’s not going to come at all. The Everstanza’s kindly captain put together a team of experts, known as the Alpha team, to try and thwart the renegade drow. The Alpha team failed on the first attempt. They all died. The captain’s response was to put together another team – the players. First level characters hired to succeed where the Alpha team failed. It’s right to say that the Everstanza’s dragonkin captain should have no concept of “first level” but surely he’s able to tell an experienced person from rookie? I must admit though, this must be one of the most common calls for the suspension of disbelief in any role-playing game so I’m not going to linger on this point for long. All it would take is an introduction where one of the players pitches the experience of the party above what it really is.
Raw Recruits is an easy book to pick up and get into. The layout uses two columns of text, a solid border all the way around the edges of the two-page spread, sections, game mechanics and notes are easy to find. The book uses black background boxes with white text to mark snippets of text that could be read out to the players. In an adventure set in space it is just about possible to get away with so much black background and it certainly does make these snippets easy to find. I wouldn’t read any of them though. Generally these GM friendly bites of flavour and role-playing are good but they use the word “you” too often. It’s easy to use “you” or “your” too often; they really shouldn’t be used at all. Here’s a particularly damning example of what could be read after a successful Search check. “After noticing small cracks in the wall, you find a tiny flush button at about waist height. When you push it, the concealed door slides into the wall, revealing a small room filed with electronic panels and sensors.” My gosh; players I know would be throwing things at me if I decided their characters had started pushing strange buttons as a result of a Search check. It’s worth repeating that generally these bits of flavour text are much better than that. It’s also probably fair to say that if you’re a GM who likes to get into flavour heavy descriptions and wonderfully rich non-playing characters then you’re not likely to be reading these boxes in the first place.
Raw Recruits is successful as a whole. Each part of the book is adequate by itself but when it all comes together the result is something much better. Pages of NPC stats are average but when they’re there so you have names, quick descriptions and sometimes histories as well as stats for lots of NPCs in the spaceship you’re basing a campaign around then they’re more useful than just average. New magic spells and monsters are fair enough but they become twice as valuable if they’re presented as part of a campaign. Pre-written adventures rarely entertain me but when they’re down in black and white along with nicely drawn maps and can be used whenever appropriate in a wider game then their worth increases.
Raw Recruits is probably more expensive than most packaged scenarios. The book costs US$24.99. Raw Recruits isn’t a simple packaged scenario though. It is a great way to introduce players and even GMs to Dragonstar and it’s a campaign likely to entertain gamers for a while.