Monday, September 15, 2014

Review of The Void: Role Playing in a Lovecraftian Hard SF Future

A while back I mentioned acquiring The Void, a system from Wildfire available on PDF and print at rpgnow. The Void is a new game system that adopts the Cthonian Stars setting from Wildfire into its own entity (the original was Traveller-based), and is based on a "not to distant future" hard SF setting in which something out in the void is approaching the solar system, and with it comes the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos to once again descend upon man.

Characters in The Void take on the role of Wardens, solar "rangers" and peace-keepers who have the resources and the need to travel through the habitable worlds solving crimes and espionage, and also dealing with futuristic mythos-tainted X-Files situations in the process. The Player's Guide expands character creation to include all sorts of other background options, as well.

So far I have all of The Void in print, not least of which is because the standard-color print editions are pretty cheap, and this is a fun game with an easy system to learn. My goal is to run a campaign very soon, possibly starting in a couple weeks if I can convince one of my groups to go back to a bi-weekly rotation away from D&D 5E.

Anyway, here's what's out for The Void so far:

The Void Core - the main rules, which give you all the basics. Free version is available, and it's also written as a "open source" set of rules so you can produce content for the game as long as you attribute your sources correctly. I'd like to see someone take advantage of this feature, maybe even myself....

Secrets of the Void - a mess of useful ideas for GMs on the presence of the Old Ones and their influence in the solar system.

Player's Guide - hardly needed if you're just planning on running a couple games from the core about the wardens, but invaluable if you'd like to make the system and setting something you'll revist frequently. Lots and lots of new options for characters.

Horrors of the Void 0: Expanded Horrors - there are only a few monsters in the core book so this is pretty essential, containing a mix of classic and new Lovecraftian horrors and details on their role in the future of The Void. About 30 monsters in all.

Horrors of the Void 1: Body Horror - if Dead Space is going to be a major thematic influence on your campaign then these body horrors will be very useful. Lots of detail on four specific monsters and how they change their hosts...

Pandora's Paths I: Adventures - three scenarios to get you rolling. There is also a four-part scenario series in PDF only on rpgnow called the Stygian Cycle, which I am hoping is eventually grouped into its own print collection.

Some notes about these books and system:

First, they are all 5X7 digest format, and the format looks good in PDF, so if you want a PDF version these will read well on any normal sized 7 inch and up tablet. The books are all full-color and the full color editions read well in print since the text area is kept clean of any background clutter, and in a decent font size, so kudos to Wildfire for making these books nice and acessible to older eyes.

The art is great in all of the books. The full color art is evocative and the artists know their Lovecraft well enough to convey it quite nicely. I suppose this should come as no surprise since this is the same crew which devised the slavishly illustrated Cthulhupunk line. Note that Cthulhutech and The Void are not otherwise related to the best of my knowledge; the anime-mythos crossbreed of weirdness that is Cthulhutech is its own separate universe.

Mechanically the game system uses a very simple "test" mechanic where you roll a pool of six sided dice based on relevant skill and attribute. Your goal is to roll 5's and 6's, and get as many more than the target number which is usually from 1-4. Thus, you may have Demeanour 3 and Intimidation 2, and would roll 5 dice to try and intimidate a guard. The GM might declare a target of 2 to beat....get two or more 5's and 6's and you succeed.

The core rules include plenty of information on equipment, including some starships and lots of details such as planetary travel times and costs. The entire system, sans mythos, could readily serve an ordinary hard SF campaign with no problem at could easily run this as an Outland-style campaign without once exposing your players to a mi-go or seethari. Heck, with a modest bit of work on adding in some FTL concepts you could use the system and most content as written to produce a near-future FTL interstellar exploration campaign, too.

The game does lots of work providing some simple rules and direction on providing for "hard SF" concepts, enough so for me to be happy with it...happier than I was when I first started reading it, in fact. Every now and then I may disagree with one or two points.....colonizing Venus, for example, is highly unlikely to happen in the form of subterranean habitats....the sheer engineering prospect alone of digging sustainable underground habitats on the Venusian surface strikes me as beyond the scope of even the future civilization presented in The Void, for example. Another one that I scratched my head at was the macguffin introduced to keep Mars safely "red" and free of terraforming...a mysterious substance that is basically useless and makes mining prohibitively costly. Whaaaaaaa???? They can dig deep int Venus and make habitats humans can live in but the outer crust of Mars is all but impossible to dig into just beneath the surface??? The purpose of this appears to be an effort to keep Mars mysterious and red, just the way we like it, but at the expense of setting up a postulate that is missing some important details that any hard SF afficionado is going to want answers to (such as what is the hard substance beneath the crust that made mining ventures ultimately futile...what is it called, and why is it useless and/or more prohibitive in cost to drill through than, say, making cavern habitats on the hideously volatile surface of Venus?) This sort of item may not bother your group, but a hard SF fan or even an armchair geologist in your group could leave you using a bit of handwavium on the donotwantium of the Martian subsurface shale....

Aside from those examples above, none of which are game-breaking by any stretch (I'm just being nitpicky) the future solar system of The Void is a very cool place just begging for exploration. The idea of making every single scenario about the mythos seems counter-intuitive to be honest....there's loads on regular SF concepts just begging to be explored here, and dropping the mythos on top of it is like adding a tasty cherry to a large banana split.

About the only other negative comment I could make is that you really will need at least "Horrors of the Void 0" to fill out the roster of potential mythos encounters in The Void. The four-odd threats in the Core are not enough for the long term. If you focused on lots of non-mythos exploration and mystery you could probably get away with limited mythos resources, but the game really could have benefitted from packing the Horrors 0 book in with core to begin with.

Anyway....the core book is Pay What You Want so check it out first! Each of the supplements are in color for standard print (I found standard had no problems in terms of quality) for $10-$19 apiece and you can get the core rules in print for $29.99 with standard color. I personally strongly recommend The Void as your go-to resource for hard SF Lovecaftian future horror.


  1. Thanks for the review. I will check it out.

  2. cthonian starts was a very good product
    i didnt like the core book of this as much but will look at supplements
    plenty of hard science cthulhu out there to mash together your own settng
    cthulhu + 2300 works well too

    1. I haven't seen Cthonian Stars in depth so it was hard for me to comment....the core book for The Void does work best in tandem with the supplements, though.

      Probably the best Cthulhu/Hard SF mashup I've worked with previously was GURPS Space + GURPS Cthulhupunk.