Game: Thrilling Mysteries In Space #2
Publisher: Pisces All Media
Review Dated: 7th, July 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 172
Average Score: 5.21
Exclamation mark. Exclamation point if you’re American. If you’re a computer programmer then it might be a shriek, pling or a not. What ever you call it, I feel that we need Thrilling Mysteries in Space! We’ve got Thrilling Mysteries in Space instead.
If Thrilling Mysteries in Space sounds pulpish to you then you’ve got a good eye for such things. That’s exactly what it is. The super-cheap PDF product takes two old pulp stories, fixes them up a little, presents the re-write and then throws in some d20 mechanics at the end. If you want exact figures then super-cheap is exactly US $2.00. This is a review of Thrilling Mysteries in Space #2. I think we’re up to Thrilling Mysteries in Space #4 by now. That’s one every month since Pisces All Media issued the first.
How do they manage to sell 117 pages for $2? The thing to note is that these two stories are old. Stories belong to their authors – for a while. If they’re not looked after and tended to then the story passes in the public domain. It’s 2003, stories written before 1923 are probably in the public domain and its possible that more recent stories are public too. Stories written today will enter the public domain 70 years after the death of their author. The detailed legalities of the situation are best left to lawyers. There are exceptions too, I think you can protect, trademark in effect, certain aspects of it. Cthulhu is a good example. You just can’t start writing about Cthulhu and selling your work for profit because you’ll summon cyclopean teams of lawyers. Pisces All Media has found some of these golden oldies, old sci-fi and fantasy novellas, edited them and re-published them. If that’s not clever enough then here’s some more; by editing these stories Pisces All Media has the copyright over the exact text of the new edition. It’s only the exact text though; someone else could produce a slightly different re-write and be within their rights to do so.
Both stories are great! They’re still available today for a reason, even if they’re not among the ranks of the classics. Here comes the caveat. I love old pulp stories. The TV’s playing an original series 1 Twilight Zone even as I type out this review. A well written story doesn’t stop being well written simply because it was published many years ago. Sci-fi has a unique flavour when it as written way before today’s level of technology and has guessed badly what the 21st century might be like. If you’re reading Jules Verne today then you’re probably with me too. It’s a taste, it’s probably a love it or leave it taste but at $2 a try I think it’s worth finding out.
The first story, “Islands in the Air” is by Lowell Howard Morrow. Straight away we get a dose of classic retro sci-fi. These Islands won’t defy the laws of gravity. They’ll defy the Laws of Gravitation. It’s just a subtle change but it speaks loudly in the genre’s unique accent. We share more than just the professor’s attempts to create his floating islands but the dangerous competition with his Dutch rival Van Beck. The second story is longer. Philip José Farmer’s “The Green Odyssey” is the tale of Alan Green’s attempts to escape a dangerous life as a sex slave to a Duchess on a primitive planet. That’s what you get for crashing your spaceship. I’m not going to spoil either story by offering more than just the introduction but its safe to say that they both hugely entertain. The assumption is that they were very good before Pisces All Media edited them but that the touch up wasn’t unwelcome. I do wish that they’d included the year the original was published in.
The new content in this budget supplement is in the form of d20 mechanics. Save yourself a lot of scrolling each time you open up the document and read the mechanics on the screen by typing in “114” into the page number box in Adobe Reader and hitting return. There’s a contents list at the start so we do get that page number without having to remember it, bookmarks in the document would have been better still.
Thrilling Mysteries in Space #2 offers us some negative feats. A negative feat is a handicap, a disadvantage, a penalty, and that should be pretty obvious. The idea is that by accepting a negative feat you’re entitled to an extra (positive) feat of the same caliber. We’re given an example of accepting a -2 to Dex via a negative feat in return for +2 to something else via a normal feat. That works. It’s a rather too clean example though; most feats aren’t that easy to pair up. At this level the game system become less like mechanics and more like suggestions. Negative feats do fit the pulp genre though; even the heroes are often flawed. In addition to the feats and a new skill there’s a stat block for the CR 6 Grass Cat.
There’s a problem with the PDF’s text and it persists in both Adobe Reader 5 and 6. On occasion the letters of a word run together. The result is an unreadable word and a dark blob on the page that draws the eye. This happens quite a lot but only ever to one word at a time and so it’s never too hard to work out what the mooshed up word is supposed to be. It shouldn’t happen though. There are illustrations in the PDF too. This came as a pleasant surprise to me. Most PDFs of this price level are entirely text.
I think Thrilling Mysteries in Space needs more than an exclamation mark; it needs a bit of spit and polish. The rough edges don’t distract from the good idea. I’d pay $2 for the pulp stories without the d20 mechanics and I’m happy to accept the roleplaying add-on as a welcome bonus.