NOTICE: All art on this page is from Wizards of the Coast, and is thus copyright of its appropriate authors. It is shown here via the d20 Future Art Gallery as reference only.
And what would science fiction be without science? Chapter 5 focuses on scientific advancement from late PL 5 (the world we live in right now) into the future. A lot of this is fluff with a little crunch added in, starting with genetic manipulation from single cells to entire animals, including the costs of genetic therapy. This section also introduces a little friend we’ll see mostly (but not only) in this chapter: the Moral Sidebar. These essentially pander to those players and GMs who feel that genetic engineering or cloning is “wrong”, discussing “playing god” and all that that junk. But that’s not the purpose of this review, so moving on… There are a few genetic engineering-based templates in this chapter, applicable only to standard or monstrous humanoids: the amphibious Aquans, the quick-healing Healers, the hibernating Morpheans, and the nocturnal…erm…Nocturnals.
Afterwards, we get a similar section on cloning. It is worth noting that the Moral Sidebar here pushes the fallacy that “ZOMG stem cells kill babies!!1!!”, which is idiotic due to completely ignoring the fact that fetal stem cells are but one type of stem cell, and that there are other ways of harvesting them…but again, this is a review, so I’ll try not to diatribe on this matter. A rather amusing note in the cloning section of the chapter is, and I quote:
“One could imprint the mind of a clone with the brain pattern of another person (putting the brain of Albert Einstein in the body of Marilyn Monroe, for example).”
I want to see that as an actual plot hook. It’s almost as good as They Saved Hitler’s Brain for cheesy sci-fi ideas. Anyway… The final part of this section is on nanites and matter replication a la Star Trek, and yes, since this book covers most sci-fi cliches, there are rules for “Gray Goo” as a hazard. All in all, not the best chapter I’ve ever seen, but not a hugely bad one either.
“It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs!”
Chapter 6 is what I imagine many people who bought this book other than me were looking forward to the most…or I could be horribly wrong, but that’s just my thinking. Yes, this is the travel chapter (not to be confused with the Traveler chapter; the cover art is way too bright and colorful to be Traveler-related anyway). The first portion of the chapter splits itself between space travel on a “realistic” scale and on the “sci-fi” scale of FTL*-travel. This is fairly unimportant to the players, and even to the GM unless you really want to be strict about your players’ flight times (if they have flight times at all). It does, however, also contain more space hazards, including meteors and reentry damage, so I guess there’s always that. More of interest may be the other portions of the chapter. This includes different versions of teleporter technology, dimensional travel, and, yes, time travel. Of particular note are the referential devices, such as the time sphere vehicle (built after a certain H.G. Wells design) and the T-Drive Generator, which seems to be rather TARDIS-y. The only big downside is that the section on time travel is limited to only two pages, so those that want a really focused time travel guide will have to look to other books such as Blood and Time.
Voyage to the Stars
If chapter 6 wasn’t what people came for, I imagine that chapter 7 certainly is. This chapter provides the rules for starships, from combat and crew to armor and arsenal. Starships work somewhat similar to vehicles in d20 Modern, but at a more complex scale, and the rules reflect this by giving you data on evacuation time by rounds, system damage, and crew types, amongst other things. Unlike vehicles, starship proficiencies are classified by ship weight classes rather than function-based classification. These weight classes are Ultralight (for ships such as starfighters and speedy Millennium Falcon-style freighter craft), Light (ships such as destroyers and “tugboat in space” haulers), Mediumweight (craft such as bulk freighters), Heavy (ships such as fleet and major transport carriers and big capital ships), and Superheavy (the biggest of the big; things like colony ships, massive starship carriers, and really big capital ships). Sample “baseline” stats for each ship type are given for each weight class, including the examples I just named.
“But Rappy,” you say as you waggle your finger, “I want to make my own ship!” Well, never fear, persnickety individual, you have several options. Want a simple ship format change? Well, then you should use ship templates, which have preset upgrades (alas, there are only two – the Lightning-class and Katana-class – in this book). Want something more personal, pulling a Han Solo on your stock fast freighter? Well, there’s a rather large catalog of engines, weapons, gizmos, and doodads for your perusal. And what of those that want to go all the way, rather than using any baseline ships? Well, don’t worry, you can do that too. There are indeed guidelines on crafting your own ships, including how much your fancy-schmancy prototype will cost. Of course, this all leaves out one big question: sure, there are starship rules, but are the good? Well, yes, they are. Not great, but good. If anything, I can see certain people being upset that starship combat isn’t that different from standard d20 Modern vehicle combat, but to me this is more streamlined and efficient than having an entirely different system just because you’re fighting in space rather than sky.
Dude, Where’s my Hovercar?
Chapter 8 deals with vehicles. We already covered how d20 Modern vehicles work, so It’s really a matter of me covering what new toys are given for your players. To answer that, well…it’s rather odd, actually. While there are a few hovercraft (a hover-police cruiser, hoverbike, hoverboard, hovercar, hovertruck, hovertank, and hover-seaplane, specifically), they are outnumbered by cars, trucks, and motorcycles. And I don’t mean like “late PL 5” stuff, I mean motorcycles and cars listed well into the Gravity Age; hell, there’s even a car listed in the Energy Age, when teleporters have become operative methods of transport. I guess it’s like people still liking horse-drawn carriages…old habits dying hard and all. Anyway, the only other major draw of this chapter are the rules for AI-piloted vehicles and vehicle-based armor, which are good for characters that like custom jobs or if you are itching to make a vehicle like a Tachikoma but don’t like the mecha rules. Oh yes…
Next time: mecha, machines, mutants, and menaces as we finish off this book.