I was on Twitter the other day and @Clownf1st got in touch asking my opinion about Zozer Games ‘Hostile’ and if it was worth purchasing, as there was a special offer on DTRPG. Though I’ve had the product for some time, I haven’t got round to reviewing it; this blog post seeks to address that shortfall.
So what is Hostile? It is a role playing game sourcebook authored by Paul Elliott, using the Cepheus Engine SRD as its basis. Containing a weighty 307 pages, it is available as a PDF from Drivethru RPG for $19.99 or as a soft back print book from Lulu.com for £19.99 / (roughly) $24.20 which oddly lists the page count as 338 pages – this is probably due to layout changes for printing.
It describes itself as ‘a gritty science-fiction roleplaying setting for the Cepheus Engine’; to put this in some context, all those films that you will have no doubt seen such as the ‘Alien’ series, ‘Bladerunner’, ‘The Abyss’, ‘Moon’, ‘Event Horizon’, ‘Outland’ (you get the idea – though one that wasn’t mentioned which I’d like to add to the list is ‘Space: Above and Beyond’) – this is the background that Hostile is set in. Hasn’t this setting been done before you ask? Yes, a good many times and is the basis for hundreds of other role-playing games and supplements in some form or another. This includes the official ‘Alien’ roleplaying game by Free League Publishing for example. If the setting has been done before, why bother with Hostile? The author addresses this question right from the start by looking at six main themes in Hostile, which I’d like to summarise below. The heroes are workers who make space ‘work’; they are employed in industrial, dirty and hazardous environments in trying to get something from the world they are on. Its human-centric, so there are no intelligent aliens, but there are alien animals lurking in the dark… Its also a cynical world; worker mistrust the corporations they are employed by, but they have to work for them to make a decent wage. The technological future isn’t a future extrapolated from our own, but from the 1970’s and is a future of could have happened. This is why flicking through the book, you still see chunky comms systems and CRT-based displays, because they simply work and do the job. Paul has even produced a short video on Youtube to help set the mood!
I should note before going any further that Hostile is not a complete role playing game, which would include your usual rules for combat, ship-to-ship combat, movement etc. You will need the Cepheus Engine rules to refer to; Hostile supplements the CE rules by making necessary adjustments in order to fit its background. If you don’t want to get (or have) the CE rules, the author included in my download package a free PDF ‘1970’s 2D6 Retro Rules’ which provide these bare game mechanics, so that you can play Hostile. The 1970’s 2D6 retro rules are also available from DTRPG for free. I would also recommend looking at the Cepheus Engine Light rules by Stellagama Publishing, also reviewed on this blog.
Hostile sets up its ‘universe’ with a look at the timeline in the years to the ‘present’ day in the 23rd century (2225). The nations of Earth have changed and formed into three distinct political blocs, centered around the Americas and Britain, Western Europe and Asia / Pacific. Whilst countries faced change and turmoil, the corporations became more united and combined and are extremely powerful entities in their own right, some of which have almost as much power and influence as many countries.
‘Off World Development’ focusses on the American-explored region of space and describes star mapping and the regions of space near Earth. These subsectors are presented in standard Cepheus Engine (CE) format world profile with name, hex, UWP and remarks. Page 38 gives you world data and though the UWP format will be instantly recognisable, its been fine-tuned to the Hostile universe. Notable off-world settlements and core worlds are listed, with at least a couple of chunky paragraphs (‘planetology and development’) dedicated to each core world. Following the core worlds, the frontier worlds are presented in a highlight format with a paragraph each.
‘Agencies and Corporations’ looks at the history of and how powerful the ‘big seven’ corporations are. Each corporation is described with a brief history, headquarters and related businesses and a short scenario seed; of course not all a corporations activities are entirely legitimate… The ‘big seven’ aren’t the be all of the companies in known space, a further ten significant corporations detailed in the following three pages.
A third of the way through the book, we hit the section on the ‘United States Marines Corps’. These are the ultimate bad assess, Americas premier quick reaction force. Evolved from their traditional land, sea and air deployments, they now have substantial capabilities in space as well. There is a detailed breakdown of the Marine command structure and in particular looks at the 24th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) based at the Epsilon Eridani system. A nice touch is an illustration of a drop ship which looks suspiciously like the one from the film ‘Aliens’…
Following this is a description of the United States Space Command (USSC), which has strikingly similar origin to the US ‘Space Force’ which was formed not that long ago. It is the premier fighting arm of the US military, commanding hyperspace-capable starships which can deploy arms and material nearly anywhere.
Moving on from the military, page 100 delves into the starlines and commercial transport companies which are operated in a similar fashion to the shipping companies of the 21st century. Each starline is given a chunky paragraph-sized description. They of course have appropriate names, such as ‘Colonial Endeavors’, ‘ConAm Starline’ or ‘Transtar’; I can imagine these in a scene leaving a cloud-covered planet in brightly coloured livery. In between, you have the non-profit organisations, such as the ‘Federal Colonial Marshall Service’, whose role is to provide law enforcement where there is no formal colonial government in place, such as mining installations, small outposts or frontier worlds. In addition, there are other organisations such as ‘Colonial Defense Forces’ (a sort of militia or territorial army), private military contractors (mercenaries), the unions who are looking out for their employees to ensure a safe working environment, the various traffic control and interstellar communications networks and administration organisations. However, at the other end of the scale, you have your criminal groups and three specific organisations are described.
Now you have a good grasp of the Hostile worlds and organisations, page 112 starts with looking at player characters. Typical roles include corporate investigators, freelance miners, exploration teams, an android, starship crews or someone in or with a military background. A total of 15 careers are described, along with the Cepheus Engine-based character generation process. Compared to other CE-based chargen processes, the Hostile system is quite short, not having much in the way of ‘Mishaps’ (one table) but nothing for ‘allies’ such as in the Clement Sector. As with a lot of skill descriptions in Cepheus Engine-based systems, Hostile includes its own section and description of the skills available.
Ok, now you’ve got your Roughneck or Military Spacer character, how are you going to equip them? If you like equipment lists and descriptions, then you are in for a real treat; pages 139 through to 189 describe everything from:- armour, clothing, comms devices, computers and software, medicine, explosives, personal devices, robots and drone, shelters, survival kit, tools, vehicles, and melee weapons and firearms. These latter sections are packed full of everything from lasers, knives, sharp sticks and sonic electronic ballbreakers! There are lots of nice side-on monochrome illustrations of the various rifles and hand weapons.
Game masters / referees are called ‘managers’ in Hostile and page 191 looks at the types of scenario that you can run. A number of ideas involve the aspects of work that the PCs may be signed up to do; shipping a precious cargo, attacks on workers by an unknown alien creature, rescuing someone who has gone missing, dealing with moving a starship in orbit around an alien planet or trying to keep law and order in a mining settlement where workers haven’t seen a relief ship for months. The author looks at these types of settings in some detail, by breaking down the types of themes into ‘Work’, ‘Fight’ or ‘Explore’. In the ‘Fight’ section, I did like the ‘Murphy’s Laws of Combat’ table which summarises some of the things that can happen (and usually do if you have seen any of the movies mentioned previously). For example: ‘No plan survives the first contact intact’ or ‘Things that must be together to work usually can’t be shipped together’.
To make these games work and not just make them into ‘just another bug hunt’, the heading ‘Describing the Setting’ discusses how to introduce atmosphere and lists a number of things to describe the environment that your players are in. This is something where Hostile starts to shine and the author has written quite a bit of how to help referees, sorry, managers create an enjoyable and atmospheric game. The section ‘Crew Expendable – the Horror’ looks at how to create a game with an element of fear. Though there aren’t any intelligent aliens in the Hostile setting, but there are eight different types presented with CE game statistics. The author has avoided trying to create a bestiary of creatures, but instead has included techniques how to create your own linked to various plotting techniques. For example; when to spring them on the players when they least expect it, setting up the environment and building the tension, some of the types of alien and what it can do to a human. To round off the section, ‘Hyperspace Anomalies’ looks at what might happen when something goes wrong with the transition through hyperspace. Again, a nice detailed chunky paragraph for each heading discussing different possibilities, ripe with scenario ideas.
Page 216 looks at zero-g in the workplace and how people can get around in space. Getting around isn’t without its hazards however, as the sections on ‘speed of decompression’ and ‘effects of vacuum on the human body’ testify. Nice. As mining is one of the major activities that a player can undertake, Hostile devotes quite a large section to the activity be it planetside or asteroid mining.
Page 232 details the starship types and how they are identified. Hostile starships are typically a lot larger than most CE-based games, typically being in excess of 5,000 tons. Compared to other sections, there is quite a bit of rules detail and steps are provided to build a starship for use in Hostile. All of the usual CE stages are listed, with Hostile-specific equipment and costs so if you want to build a 500,000 ton bulk carrier, you’re able to. Some thought is also given to the ships crew and other roles found on a starship along with the additional ship components that make a starship ‘useful’. For example, cargo handling equipment and vehicles (think the big yellow exoskeleton used by Ripley to defeat the alien queen in ‘Aliens’); the ‘Dump Box’, a single-use detachable cargo section capable of atmospheric re-entry typically used for the delivery of large construction items to a planets surface. Ships weaponry has a reasonable range of kit available, but there are no Meson Guns or black globe generators; this is very much TL12 stuff, such as missile racks, pulse or beam lasers, railguns or particle beam guns. Autonomous Kill Vehicles (AKV’s) are ‘smart’ missiles which can carry a variety of warheads which include lasers, fragmentation or nuclear warheads. I think its been useful to include details on the standard cargo module used to cart stuff between worlds; the ‘Intermodal Container System’. Basically this is the cargo box that you see perched precariously on top of those huge container ships transporting goods between countries. Notable in that much of Hostile’s background involves shipping something to somewhere. Finally for the starship section, small craft construction is also covered; this is roughly similar to the standard CE design rules. It describes how to create small craft, but none are listed in the same style as the larger ships.
Page 266 looks at current ship designs available in the Hostile universe. There is a reasonable range presented; everything from ejection pods through to unpowered platforms of 1Mtons in size; a total of 25 are listed. Each type has at least a couple of descriptive paragraphs and some CE game statistics, but there are no specification sheets with games stats listed or deck plans. Some of ships have additional historical information, plus some colourful illustrations.
The final chapter ‘Mission Reports’ presents thirty scenario outlines for use in Hostile. Each one varies in size but there is a reasonable amount of text devoted to each one – this section is twelve pages in length. There is lots of variety, everything from rescues on planets or in space, settlements where communications have been lost, races against time, discoveries of alien life or situations that challenge the players skills. The last four pages list a number of NPCs; ships crew, marines or miners.
What Else do you Get?
As part if the PDF download, you are also provided with some additional materials;
A set of deck plan schematics for an off-world colony (18 pages).
1970s 2D6 Retro Rules
As mentioned above, to provide a full set of game mechanics (14 pages).
Single page for printing.
Tharsis Aerospace Upstream Magazine
Featuring the Hercules towing vessel, a tour around the ship, background and statistics (13 pages).
Hex maps and UWPs of the worlds of Hostile (11 pages).
Hostile makes it clear from the outset that it is a complete setting for the Cepheus Engine rules and doesn’t try to be a complete RPG. In some ways it feels slightly ‘odd’ when compared to other CE-based games, notably the Clement Sector by Independence Games, or ‘These Stars Are Ours’ by Stellagama Publishing, in that they include a complete set of rules plus the setting. However, considering the page count at 300+ pages, I think including the rules would make the book unwieldy, so I agree with the author in that he has decided to concentrate to the background and supplement the rules where it is necessary. Based on this aim, I think Paul Elliott has achieved a milestone in compiling a huge amount of inspiration and source material, based on several years worth of films and reference material into something that can be used as a background setting for an RPG. There is absolutely *tons* of information and I think it will take several weeks to read through it all. This is very much a game of the players thinking and depending on themselves, there are no massive battlefleets; small rapid reaction forces dominate. If you are going to be rescued then you may have to wait for some time, so self-sufficiency is your key to survival. Paul has taken the mundane routine types of jobs that people would do in space and provided a setting to make what you do ‘extraordinary’.
The book is well-written and has had plenty of updates since its release to correct minor typos and introduce small improvements. There is plenty of colour artwork from a number of artists, including Ian Stead featuring some excellent illustrations of the USCS Hercules towship and the USS Colarado patrol ship. Much of the artwork features the types of the environment that the players will be operating in such as refining or manufacturing facilities, but also some of the equipment they have access to such as chunky laptops. The wristwatch illustration isn’t to dissimilar to my first digital wristwatch in 1983! Overall, I would highly recommend purchasing Hostile; even if you don’t utilise the Cepeus Engine rules, this is a valuable sourcebook that will resource your ‘gritty and dark’ near-future science-fiction SFRPGs for a good few years.
Hostile Print-on-Demand Book
If you’re looking for a print version of the Hostile book, you’ll need to visit Lulu.com to purchase a copy. It’s available as a softback cover book for £19.99 / approx $24.20 and its a weighty tome, running in at 338 pages in A4 format. Though the cover and back are in glossy colour, the inside of the book is in monochrome. The reproduction is pretty good considering the artwork is printed in monochrome, the paper quality feels slightly heavier than normal photocopy paper and there is no ink bleed between pages. If you’re looking to pick up a copy, it’s worth signing up for the Lulu.com emails as they regularly send out discount codes between 10-20% off purchases.
Supplements to Support Hostile
There are already quite a few books and materials developing the Hostile universe; I’m currently compiling a list of these for a future blog post.