Since my last post back in July, I’ve been trying to work out what I have in my review pile or ideas to try and get back into the RPG’ing swing of things. My new job is going great, but its taking a bit of getting used to in respect to the change of routine and fitting in writing for the blog and maintaining a set of ‘creative’ ideas. So I thought I’d take a look at one of the books I purchased via Lulu a few months ago, now I have a couple of hours to myself.
Dirtside is published by Zozer Games and is available via Drivethru RPG in PDF for $5.99 or Lulu.com in printed softback book form for $11.00. It is 69 pages long and is aimed at the Cepheus Engine (CE) gaming system, though with little modification it could be used with Classic Traveller or most other 2D6 SFRPG gaming systems. To be honest I hadn’t come across Dirtside or even heard of it until I was searching for CE products on Lulu.com and happened upon it via a search. The book’s strap-line is a ‘comprehensive wilderness survival rules supplement for Cepheus Engine and Hostile’. In case you are not aware, Hostile is a complete CE-based RPG inspired by files such as ‘Alien/Aliens’, ‘Outland’ or ‘The Expanse’, also published by Zozer Games. It is set in near / real space and utilises star maps based on current knowledge of what star systems astronomers and scientists have discovered upto the present day. I picked up a copy of Dirtside a couple of months ago by purchasing the print version. If you buy a print version and get in touch with the author Paul Elliott, he will send you a copy of the PDF version for free, which I think is extremely generous of him. See the details on Lulu.com how to do this.
On skimming through the book, it instantly reminded me of one of my favourite Classic Traveller adventures ‘Marooned / Marooned Alone’ which I took a look at back in August 2017. It has quite a few similarities but with one exception, in that it doesn’t have an adventure combined with the book. Marooned I think was based a bit more the other way around, in that the adventure was the main aim of the product and the extra wilderness rules added with the book.
The printed book is provided in A4 format and features a glossy colour softback cover, inside the book uses bright white paper of good quality and is a mixture of colour and monochrome. It starts with a look at setting up your world environment and that staple of most RPG’s, the hex map. It describes the various scales going from planetary down to the sort of size that could be used to measure normal daily travel (regional), either by walking or using a vehicle. This is where you start to fill in the map, using the key for the terrain types. Rather usefully you get a colour version and a monochrome version showing alternative symbols. The next couple of pages look into the types of climate that you could find and how these influence each other.
Now you have your world, its time to look at the ‘Travel Checklist’. You are presented with a set of steps with which to work through so that you know exactly how far you can travel over a period of time. Helpfully, you have an example ‘Driving Distance Sheet’ which lists a way to structure each day in turn with the number of hours travelled, hex number and the type of event. Very useful in keeping tabs on what happens and where you are. Its important to note that players won’t always have a vehicle with which to travel across the world; walking and general physical activity is also mentioned.
If a player is hiking across the world to their destination, they will have to be self-sufficient in that they will have to carry what they need to survive. The author presents some easy-to-use rules with which to impose on the player and adjust their ability to walk to their destination. What is also interesting is that you also have a table adding a nice twist – the influence of gravity. When I mean the influence of gravity, its anything beyond the standard 1G that you find on Earth-like worlds. Denser gravity is going to slow you down, lower gravity is going to make the going *much* easier. If the environment allows it, you could construct a sled or make use of a beast of burden to help you transport your equipment. For this you are given some guidance on how they may make transporting your equipment easier. To round off this section, you are given some help on hunting, gathering, healing on the move and fatigue; the final point is especially important when you are being chased across a hostile environment and taking a rest could prove to be fatal.
The next eleven pages start with nine tables detailing events (on 3D6) that could be encountered depending on the type of environment the player finds themselves in eg. Jungle, mountain, forest etc. Each event is described in detail on the following pages – there are 52 of these in total and include any game stats necessary to influence the game.
Surprisingly, ‘Animal Encounters’ is only given two pages of coverage. However there is a reason behind this; in order to make the game more streamlined the author has taken the CE rules and made them simplified so that you don’t have to worry about the game mechanics too much and any detail you or the referee can fill in the blanks.
Page 41 delves into ‘Hazards’ – aka the various ways that the planet you are stood on can kill you. This section starts with looking at ‘Exposure’ and what will happen when you are exposed to the elements, such as frozen wasteland or an inferno world. There are some useful examples which show what happens to a characters stats when trying to travel in an unsuitable environment and how easily you can die from exposure, be it cold, atmosphere or heat. However there are ways to combat this and a number of types of protective gear are listed and how well they will protect you. Besides these environmental hazards, you also get rules for the effects of falling (according to gravity type), starvation and dehydration, operating vacc suits and radiation. The next four pages include some specific advice on ‘Desert Survival’ and ‘Arctic Survival’.
The final eleven pages describe quite a selection of survival equipment, including some pretty useful pre-packed survival kits. Besides these you have an amount of camping kit, navigation and observation, hunting, health and protection and tools. However in the absence of kit that you brought with you (or lost) its nice to see a section on improvised kit and how you can adapt raw materials into making rudimentary survival gear based around appropriate skills.
Dirtside feels like it is evenly balanced between the solo player and the referee. A player who also has a copy of Zozer Games’ ‘Solo’ could set up a survival game based around the content presented in the book with reasonable ease. This is an extremely useful supplement and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It makes me want to revisit ‘Marooned Alone’ with the Cepheus Engine rules and re-run that desperate dash across Pigliacci… Well worth purchasing and if you decide to go for the print version, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.