Friday, 29 April 2016
RPGPundit Reviews: Hardnova
This is a review of the RPG "Hardnova: Space Action Roleplaying", an RPG written by Brett Bernstein, published by Precis Intermedia. This is a review of "revised and expanded" 10th Anniversary edition. It comes in a softcover book, about 140 pages long. The cover features a full-color drawing of a space battle (between two fighter vessels). The interior art is black and white, and is semi-sparse, in a kind of 80s gritty SF-comic style, as well as a starmap.
I should note that I have a professional relationship of sorts with Precis Intermedia, as they are the publishers of my Lords of Olympus RPG, as well as Gnomemurdered. I don't think this will affect the grade I give this game, but for transparency's sake I'm mentioning it here.
Many years ago, I reviewed Hardnova previously, in an earlier edition. You can find this review here.
The system for Hardnova is the 2d6-based Genre Diversion I system, which is Precis' house system, and I won't go into more detail about it here since it's well covered in that previous review (you can read more about it there). Instead I would like to focus on the differences between that edition and this one.
This edition of Hardnova has considerably more material, obviously, than the much smaller edition I had previously reviewed. It's also structurally different, as that one was in a kind of box-set format, while this one is a standard RPG book. The rule system is the same, but there is a considerable amount of elaboration.
You have the same races as the previous edition (human, digronian, kt'sorii, migado, x-ans, and tarkosians) but then several other races are added to the mix. You have "kinosians", which are of the same race type as tarkosians but had been the serf-caste to them, and thus do not have their genetic engineering (or genetic flaws). There's also the Sligg, which are a kind of blob-people; lil-marians which are slothlike humanoids; and the sikatai which are humanoids but made of a kind of gelatinous structure.
The section on "the cosmos" is well-detailed, with starmaps of the 'sovereign space', and with mechanics for creating your own worlds. These are similar in some ways to Traveller's (and other sci-fi worlds these days), though much less technical or detailed. You also get a variety of new gimmicks for creating alien life forms. There's detailed information on a number of additional alien species that are not PC species, although some of them include options for creating as player characters. Like the PC races, the races in this section are both orthodox to the sci-fi style Hardnova manages (which could be called 'soft' hard sci-fi, if that's not an oxymoron), while simultaneously being fairly creative. So you get some wormlike aliens, short furry telepathic aliens, cold-weather humanoid aliens with shells, and others.
Certain alien races can also inter-breed, and guidelines are written up for what the various viable mixes would be like.
You also get ten pages of short stat-blocs and descriptions of non-intelligent alien creatures. These are organized by terrain type (desert, forest, frostland, etc.), and there's about 9 creatures per page. So brief descriptions indeed, but plentiful. At the end of this section, you get some more tables for generating other alien creatures.
After this, there's a couple of pages of stat-blocs for robots, along similar lines. After this there's several pages of equipment, regular and special, including drugs (of the pharmaceutical and street-drug variety, plus illegal psychic drugs). This chapter ends with some quick random encounter tables, set up by terrain type (each terrain gets two tables: "beast" and "other" encounters; the 'other' being things like NPCs or natural occurrences along the lines of sandstorms or rockslides).
The next chapter contains various things for the ongoing game; so there's experience rules for improving characters, stuff for improving robots, and stuff for improving starships. There's also optional rules for mooks (here called 'extras'), rules for making the gameplay more dramatic or more heroic, alternate ways to use skills, and rules on long-term injuries. There's also ways to incorporate materials from other Precis games into Hardnova, or to convert Hardnova to run on the Masterbook system (making it compatible with Precis' Shatterzone game).
All of this gets us to about page 80 of the book. The remaining less-than-half of the book is taken up mainly by a set of sixteen different scenarios, grouped into three different sets of 'stories': the 'original stories', 'vanguard stories', and 'beta stories'.
The original stories are not actually some kind of overlapping mega-plot, just a varied set of adventures. There's searching an uncharted area of space, finding out what happened with a colony that lost contact, a conspiracy around a potential space war, a high tech murder mystery, and hunting down drug smugglers.
The 'vanguard stories' scenarios are meant to be played together, in order. All the scenarios assume the PCs are involved with the United Sovereign Navy. The PCs are assigned to a small scout vessel. This series is filled with military-type scenarios, warfare, ship-to-ship combat, diplomacy, etc.
The 'beta stories' are varied again and not obligatorily run as a linear campaign, but they are set in a later period than the earlier stories, building on events in the setting.
The back contains a set of reference tables, character sheets, and a grouping of 27 'templates' of pre-made characters that one could pick for immediate play.
So on the whole, what to say about Hardnova?
Obviously any game that has been through multiple editions and is now celebrating its 10th anniversary edition is a game that has had some appeal to a certain audience. Within the realm of that kind of softer hard sci-fi (that is to say, not science-fantasy, but also not the uber-hardcore strictly 'hard' definition of Sci-fi that some traditionalists prefer), Hardnova is well built and has creative elements. It doesn't do anything radically innovative, though, either in setting or system. The setting is readable and easy to use, the scenarios provided give you ample material to run (just about) right out of the book without having to work very hard, and the system is quite easy to understand and will feel comfortable to people used to games like Traveller. The production value is good.
If you want something radical and really daring in terms of content or system, you likely wouldn't feel like you've found it in Hardnova. If you want a decent sci-fi game that's easy to play and has a well-written setting, on the other hand, you will want to check Hardnova out.
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