A few days ago I saw a new interesting Savage Worlds product at Drivethrurpg, and did something I rarely do - bought it right away. While Beasts & Barbarians scratched my Sword & Sorcery gaming itch, this High Space might well scratch well enough my Space gaming itch.
There was something promising in the product, and the first product review on the site was praising, so I decide to invest the huge sum of $5 to this. There's two things I want to mention first - this is a Beta version, and costs $5. I first thought it's a bad thing, but the product seems mainly very well done, giving you a good framework to run space games, and it also promises $10 off from the cost of the final version. This sounds quite good, from both buyer's and seller's perspective. Second, Setting is perhaps a bad word to use for the beta version, as the actual setting is included only in the final version - this version has a booklet for characters, another for space ships and space in general.
First, the book looks very stylized, clear and easy to read. Pages are quite small/font size large, which is good news for those of us who like printing booklets.
Space rules - both spaceship construction and space combat looks interesting. While the book speaks a lot about space opera, the combat has a realistic approach to it, speaking of BIG ranges; Anything as close to a ship as sun is to the earth is at close range. While this may be easy to change, that kind of ranges don't evoke much feel of popular space opera like Star Wars or Babylon 5. Characters give ship acquisition points that allow them to construct their ship of the chosen type, distributing acquisition points between ship attributes (a very logical system) and giving ship traits and edges; ships may also have hindrances like non-atmospheric or No Hyperdrive. Starship combat gives you options like running silent, aligning for impact and using planets to make slingshot maneuvers. The book even has a bit about playing a ship, and while it felt simple enough, I haven't tested how making a ship character or playing a ship character actually works.
Equilibrium feels like a great way to handle the unknown. Encounters with the strange (aliens, tech etc) result in Equilibrium -check. This may turn an encounter with a horrific -looking but otherwise not so badalien into a paniced scene where every character is sure they are about to die - and because of penalties caused by a failed check, this isn't something that's completely impossible scenario, especially if someone starts throwing grenades around with those penalties. Aliens are listed by types - apparently there's a lot of different aliens in the galaxy. You get template for water aliens, flying aliens and like, giving you the core mechanics for them and letting you shape them up yourself. The final setting book may have complete aliens though.
In general, High Space tries to keep everything fast and simple, true to the Fast, Furious, Fun principle of Savage Worlds. While I haven't tested this in practice, the rules tweaks feel quite good.
There's a few things that a bit dumb - not much but a bit. First, in the character -part, it's art focus on female characters. There's very few male character pictures - there's standard soldiers or some high action pictures, but it seems like all the pictures showing a single character are women, and there's also some 'sexy female soldiers' which feel a bit out of place. Sometimes it feels like a picture is there just to show skin/curves. I may be exagerrating a bit, but I usually don't pay attention to this kind of things and noticed it here. But there's a lot of other pictures too, many of them about space ships, planets, vehicles and other relevant things, and I they fit the book very well, it's just a few pics that seem a bit out of place.
Another thing I looked with my mouth collecting flies was some of the background edges. I hope the makers have tested well/good explanations for edges giving someone +2 fighting. After seeing the edge I started to rationalize that perhaps it isn't that bad in a setting with a lot of high-powered firearms, but then I sad another edge giving +2 shooting - this kind of bonuses are something that are warned in Savage Worlds custom edge creation rules. The only thing I could see balancing this is the fact that characters might be failing Equilibrim checks often, and these edges offset the penalties.
HS Background edges are also different from normal Savage Worlds background edges; you can get one for free during character creation but you can't get it any other way. This would be fine, but why does it have to be called background edge? Also, there's big differences in strength of the edges. If a background gives you +2 shooting and +2 to survival and another gives you +2 charisma - something you can obtain by several other edges - which one would you get?
Also, some new skills may seem a bit strange; If there's some for having Spacewise as you already have Survival where you can specialize in Space, I don't really see it. If there is need for such skill, I would made it a knowledge.
For $5 for almost complete rules for a scifi setting, I think this is a great bargain - especially as you get $10 off if you decide to buy the final pdf. The rules probably work best for traveller/fading suns -like games, but may well be used for a range of settings with little tweaking or trappings. Many of the mentioned negatives may be a matter of personal taste, or something that has really been tested even if it looks bad on the paper.
Compared to Scifi world building toolkit, this is more modern and looks more classy, but on the other hand is focused on a specific game world rather than being generic support book for space gaming, and is therefore lacking for example any psionic -stuff. What comes to Savage Space (which is a free Space extension from Chaotic / GM), I'll have to say I haven't read it completely - one thing that is sure that Savage Space can't compete with High Space with the style, which is almost clear as we're comparing a commercial product to a non-commercial product. How details are done in each book are a lot about matter of taste; I think I'll be using bits from them both for my space games. If I have to say something definite when comparing these two, I'll have to say that High Space feels a bit more fresh, dropping some scifi cliches and adding features of it's own. The images make it also quite inspirational.
Link: High Space @ drivethrurpg