Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review: The Gaean Reach

Okay, so I haven't posted in a while.  I have been reading through quite a few RPG books I bought recently and am almost done with my cleric kits for the gods and goddesses for my Neo School Hack setting Anubia.  But that's not important right now.

What I really want to talk about today is The Gaean Reach, from Pelgrane Press, written by Robin D. Laws. The book itself is quite small, just 93 pages of text plus a lot of pages at the back with character sheets, etc.  But it is fully self-contained so you can jump in and play for under US$20.  The artwork is black-and-white only but I like that sort of thing and definitely enjoyed the pieces scattered throughout the book.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, Jack Vance is my absolute favorite author.  This book takes his main science fiction setting and uses it for a futuristic detective series based on the GUMSHOE rules.  I noticed the mention of GUMSHOE in the burb but I was really expecting something like Traveler, just with a different setting and Vancian tone. And it does mention that you can use the rules for different types of campaigns.

The main premise of The Gaean Reach, however, is that the characters have each suffered due to the evil doings of criminal mastermind Quandos Vorn and have banded together to track him down and exact revenge.  They may or may not be members of an official interstellar law-enforcement body.  The campaign is also structured like a television series or  mini-series, with episodes, various plot devices, and a final end.  The game uses the GUMSHOE rules but borrows a little from Pelgrane's Dying Earth rules (gaming in the setting of Vance's Dying Earth novels).  There is a short but very interesting gazetteer section on the Reach with summaries of several planets.  At the back is a nice adventure which could be used to kick-start a campaign. The rules mechanics are very simple, putting the focus on the detective work, exploration, and role-playing over number crunching and "character optimization".

One thing you won't find here is huge lists of equipment.  In fact there are no equipment lists at all.  In this game items of equipment are either taken for granted, rolled for based on circumstances, or appear as required for the plot.  It's another example of skipping crunchy stuff which is really a distraction in order to get on with the adventure.

One thing I wasn't comfortable with  at first was how the GUMSHOE rules make most clue discovery automatic.  If finding clues and information is so easy then where is the challenge?  But I now see that it's a lot better this way than having to scramble to put clues back in the players' path following a blown investigation roll.  You make finding the clues relatively easy, but make analyzing them and following up the challenging part.  And it is possible for players to work to get more information beyond the initial discoveries.

The book includes character generation using pre-set cards or from scratch.  Each player also draws three taglines to use during play which are discarded when used and fresh ones drawn.  The taglines encourage players to use Vancian style dialogue.  Clever and appropriate use of the taglines garners tokens which can be spent during play to avoid death,improve rolls, etc.

Overall I'm very pleased with The Gaean Reach.

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