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Space 1889: Red Sands (Savage Worlds, S2P10012) Hardcover – November 1, 2010
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Mars is also the ancient home to three distinct races of indigenous sentient life, who are still coming to terms (or not) with the arrival of the Earthmen (and women). The canals brim with water held in place by ingenious and still poorly understood (by terrestrial scientists anyway) mechanisms, and the fabulous substance known as "liftwood" has made real a fantasy: ships sail the skies, floating effortlessly.
Of course, like any new frontier already occupied by native life there are problems. Local troublemakers are organizing into more powerful groups and committing treasonous atrocities. Rapacious entrepreneurs subvert everything to their own ends and the openly criminal have a whole new world here on Mars to exploit.
The "Space 1889:Red Sands" book is a setting for the Savage Worlds system, and you will need a copy of Savage Worlds Explorers Edition (S2P10010) to use it. That will entail a ten dollar investment in Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition.
"Space 1889:Red Sands" is broken down into sections like all the other books of its type. There's an introduction to set the scene as it were, then a section on building characters including the specific game mechanics added for this particular setting and a list of those that have been "turned off".
There are no arcane character types in this setting with the exception of Weird Scientists, and Weird Science works differently in this setting than in Savage Worlds - there's a whole subsection dedicated to the invention of devices though, so take heart all you would-be Caractacus Pottses. The inventor type is well represented in this setting and there is much scope for an inventor PC.
One feature of this setting is the need to cater for a character's status in life, and there's a subsection dedicated to that which describes how a character's status impacts his/her life and what it can be used for in-game.
There's also a Gazetteer of the Solar System, which marks the end of the "player manual" and the start of "GM only" territory. There's a separate Player Manual in the works too that includes only the player material, but as I write it is only available in PDF form.
In the GM section you'll find a section on special setting rules and an episodic plot-point campaign in which short entries of maybe three paragraphs describe the essential details of a session that the GM can run. Any Gm with improvisational skills could probably simply do a read-through, make a couple of notes and kick off a game from there.
There is also a scenario generator for those who want to play in the universe but not necessarily in the campaign. The same device was put into Realms of Cthulhu and it is a great idea for the time-stressed GM. A few die rolls and you have the skeleton of a game session that can be improvised/sandboxed as it stands or fleshed out further before the game.
There's a write-up on the key villain of the Red Sands campaign that is required reading for the GM. Red Sands will be an epic story of triumph over an opponent of worth, so the GM must be able to present that foe convincingly.
The gazetteer is expanded with more details on the various places of interest, some keyed to specific campaign episodes, and a section full of useful NPCs. All in all, pretty much what you'd expect from a SW hardback setting book.
The book is a hardback, with color artwork on the covers depicting a scene from a desperate situation with the locals. Very evocative. Inside, the semi-gloss signatures are stitched and bound with a cloth binding. The book should withstand many hours of game-play and reasonable handling, but I'd avoid getting it wet given the china-clay content of the paper.
[EDIT: 12/20/2011] I've been using this book now for some months and have found in conjunction with others that there is a problem with the binding that results in the pages separating from the glue. The pages remain attached to each other and the end boards due to the stitching, but the glue does not hold, even with gentle handling. Though the book is a beautiful thing, in light of this manufacturing issue I recommend the PDF (available from Studio 2) over the hardcopy.[/EDIT]
Internally, the book features the graphic design that makes these Savage Worlds supplements such a feast for the eyes. Each page is printed in color on a red, canal-crazed "aerial view" of the Martian ground. The typeface is easy to read, and organized into the usual two columns (which is a bugger if you are a PDF addict in these matters but a universal standard for print media versions of game materials these days).
It's early days yet, and I'm obviously a big fan of the Savage Worlds system, the supplements that have been produced for it and this setting in particular. I'll come back and edit this review after I've played the setting for a few games should the experience be any less than I expect it to be.
The only immediate grumble I have, and I feel almost niggardly for bringing it up, is that I was looking forward to seeing what the publisher had done with the Savage Worlds Character Sheet. Both Deadlands:Reloaded and Realm of Cthulhu did some great things to make the character sheet an integral part of the game experience. But I was disappointed to find that there was no character sheet at all inside this book, nor a downloadable one themed for Space 1889:Red Sands at the website. I've no doubt this will be remedied within a short time, but even so.
[Edit] I checked the Pinnacle Entertainment web site in late February of 2011, and there is now a themed character sheet available for free download.[/EDIT]
[Edit]Having run the campaign for some time now, I'm adding some resources I found useful.
Space 1889: Science Fiction Role Playing in a More Civilized Time has much useful background not included in the Red Sands book. Look for inexpensive used copies, or PDFs as you will not be using a good 30% of the contents.
Transactions of the Royal Martian Geographical Society: The Journal of Historical Science Fiction Roleplaying This was a fan magazine put out in the 90s, now collected in three volumes. Each volume is a mixed bag, with content that may or may not appeal, but I have found useful stuff in all three collected volumes.
The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars Is a campaign that can very easily be converted to the Savage Worlds system. It features a voyage from Earth to Mars aboard a luxury liner.
A bit less emphasis on Mars would also be useful, but I really do like the plot point campaign format with a central plot line and plenty of side treks.
The game builds on the Victorian era rules established in Savage World's Rippers setting. Characters can track their status in British society and participate in adventures from the famed Explorer's Society. Professional Edges are included for being a member of the British Navy and Infantry, or characters can be intelligence agents, mercenaries, world travelers, archeologists or scholars. You can even be one of the native races of Mars and Venus.
This is an excellent setting for Victorian Era Sci-Fi, with the feel of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne. An interesting Plot Point campaign is included to get you right in the thick of the action. Whether fighting ether pirates or building fantastic machines, this book has you covered.