Game: Blood and Space
Review Dated: 30th, May 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 11
Average Score: 5.50
Blood and Space seems to confuse people and I don’t know why. It’s not a campaign setting; it’s a “Starship Adventure Toolkit”. Oh. Okay. I suppose that slightly buzz-wordy and perhaps the inclusion of “Adventure” confuses people. I really don’t have that much sympathy; “Starship Adventure Toolkit” looks nothing like “Sci-Fi Roleplaying Game” and Blood and Space has “Starship Adventure Toolkit” printed in bold text right on the front cover. If you’re looking for a complete Sci-Fi game, you know, like Star Wars, then look elsewhere. If you have a Sci-Fi game of your own imagination and you want a rulebook to help you through the nuances of starship combat, starship construction, crew quality, navigation computers and want feats and skills to back them up then that’s when Blood and Space becomes a temptation.
The book begins by setting out how it’ll offer up rule options for both the hard science and space opera sub-genres of Sci-Fi. The harder edged Sci-Fi is one where the science tries to be as accurate as possible, ships are slower, aliens (if any) will be rare and inhabited planets further apart. Space Opera is a bit like high fantasy in space, there will be plenty of aliens, powerful lasers can shoot chunks out of moons and starships employ all sorts of weird technologies to move faster than light. A campaign world will do one or the other; Blood and Space caters to both.
On the subject of catering to both, it’s well worth pointing out that Blood and Space is usable with either D&D d20 or D20 Modern.
The rules get underway with a whole load of classes, core classes and a few prestige classes too. There are alignment restrictions (although all the core classes have “any” alignment) and no action points. That seems to best suit D&D d20 rather than D20 Modern then, the latter doesn’t really rely on exacting classes though. Included in the core classes are the Starship Pilot and the Hotshot, there’s even the Starship Officer. There’s a distinct overlap there, I can quite honestly see some GMs wanting to move the Hotshot up to a prestige class or removing one of the three. The overlap, however, is less pronounced than D&D’s Fighter and Barbarian – two classes who fight, just in different ways, and the Hotshot is a less worthy candidate for a prestige class than the Paladin class is. Of course, if you think class overlap is an inexcusable crime then the fact that D&D does it as well will not let Blood and Space off the hook. I think it’s an example of what I’d want from a toolkit, as many tools as possible and from which I can pick and choose the ones I want to use.
Skills and Feats make sure that there are enough of the hi-tech and space environment mechanics to support your game. You might have thought of a hyperspace navigation skill but I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought of the need for a boarding skill until I read Blood and Space. I probably would have only realised just how important boarding could be as a skill until halfway through the adventure where I needed to make a boarding check. The feats are a mixed bundle. Some feats are in the vein of advanced skills – the advanced training packages, others are starship stunts – like hot shoes and bounce, while as others are those better-than-normal knacks – leadership and linguist for example. It would have been dreadful if having the stunt feats were the only way to perform the stunt, thankfully BaS avoids that trap and works the feats so they eliminate the otherwise foreboding penalties on the attempt. The downside is that they become slightly boring and highly specialised feats. The advanced training feats manifest as bonuses to particular skills and situations and this is very much in the style of a D20 Modern feat. The Hard Sci-Fi and Space Opera tags mark some of the feats and skills.
Armour and weapons are included in the equipment chapter. Blood and Space doesn’t slide in campaign flavour by mentioning specific brands of equipment or even weapons unique to particular races; everything’s generic. For example, rather than listed different types of laser rifle the book presents the IR (infra red, I assume) laser rifle, the X-Ray laser rile and the Tesla Rifle. Okay. The Tesla Rifle isn’t remotely a laser; I suppose. The point is that it’s the technology that defines the weapon. Having said that, though, there’s a hiccup with the Tesla Rifle. The text suggests the weapon is entirely illegal and only used by special forces. A better way to present the weapon with an inflated black market price might have been to say in the text that the assumption is that the weapon would normally be illegal.
There are rules for trade. The competing factors of supply and demand will either increase or decrease the cost of items and the DC values for negotiating a good sale or finding the goods in the first place. They’re nice and simple rules but certainly enough to allow GMs to incorporate the space economy into their game. If you grew up trading goods and fending off pirates in the wire-frame computer world of Elite then you’ll appreciate any Sci-Fi RPG with an economy.
About half way through the book we encounter the rules for starships, they’re a significant chunk of the book and take up about a quarter of all the rule space. Blood and Space doesn’t leap into starship construction straight away, chapter five opens with a worthwhile look at how it might be possible to finance or otherwise get your hands on a craft. Indentured servitude is one way, working for a hauling company is another or you might look at leasing or risking a fixer-upper from the junk market. The toolkit breaks starship construction up into five areas; 1) the hull, 2) the star drive, 3) weapons and defences, 4) systems and computers and 5) facilities. Everything’s important. Decisions you make in one area will impact the options you have available in others. You can build a flying laser because you need a strong enough hull to support the biggest weapons. If you have poor facilities then your med lab will suck and so your poorly trained combat troops will die quickly once the aliens make their first attempt to board your ship. Size matters, but it is not just size, there’s style too. Take starship hulls as an example again; there are fighter hulls, civilian models, corporate (shipping/hauling) hulls and military – or you might even be looking at a space station or some fixed planetary structure.
The hard sci-fi and space opera divisions are given a thorough workout for starcraft drives, weapons and armour. Rather than flagging those engines or weapons which are most suited to one or the other of the two styles, Blood and Space produces entirely different sections for each. At times and with formulae for faster than light speeds and acceleration the chapter can seem a little math bookie but I quite enjoy the challenge of building an affordable ship which can support an engine large enough to power all the weapons, shields and star drives that I want.
Starship crews are important in the Blood and Space mechanics. There are different types of crews; engineers for fixing things and marines for fighting off the alien invasion, etc and there are different qualities of crew too. You’d much rather have teams of crack marines on board than teams of inexperienced marines if the aliens do turn out to be hostile and rather good at catching and boarding your craft. There are rules for crew vs crew combat, a host of orders you can issue to your staff “emergency power to the shields!” and, best of all, the effects of taking control of a unit yourself. Crew gain experience – if they’re shot at – and go up in quality as a result. I’d like to have seen other situations where the crew gains experience too, if the whole crew had to work together while the ship was trying to shake itself apart while trying to pull away from a black hole then surely that’s good for an experience point?
Crew vs Crew combat is all well and good but I think Starship vs Starship combat will be a higher priority for most people. Blood and Space doesn’t war game space combat but provides thorough roleplaying rules for spaceships flying around the space, ejecting chaff, firing missiles, performing stunts and ducking into hyperdrive. This system will work for you if you can appreciate the scope and the abstraction of the d20 system. The risk is that some war gamers won’t like the abstraction, favouring tighter rules, and that some roleplayers won’t want to bother with all the different possibilities (mines, ship seeking missiles or using mines to intercept the ship seeking missiles, say).
The book concludes with a set of pre-generated starships and a blank starship sheet. There’s no blank character sheet, there’s a blank starship design sheet. If anything sums up Blood and Space’s role as a toolkit rather than a complete game then it might be that.
As a space adventure toolkit Blood and Space does well. It has everything you need, whether you want realistic or fantastic sci-fi and whether you want to use D&D d20 or D20 Modern and that’s no small feat. I think some of the edges on the space combat rules are a little rough, some of the ship building rules are a little number-county and I’d rather have had less in the way of classes and more in the vein of trading rules – but these are personal preferences rather than serious errors in the book. The trick to getting value for money from Blood and Space is to know what you’re buying.