Aliens Unlimited: Galaxy Guide
Aliens Unlimited: Galaxy Guide Capsule Review by FlashFire on 30/05/01
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
A useful Palladium book that wasn't written by Bill Coffin? Say it ain't so!
Product: Aliens Unlimited: Galaxy Guide
Author: Wayne Breaux, Jr.
Company/Publisher: Palladium Books
Line: Heroes Unlimited
Page count: 224
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by FlashFire on 30/05/01
Genre tags: Science Fiction Space Superhero
What were you thinking, buying this?
I'm not sure. Its written by Wayne Breaux, and I have yet to see one of his books that I like. Spirit West remains one of my biggest disappointments in Rifts and Aliens Unlimited proved to be of only limited use during my eight years of game mastering Heroes Unlimited Revised. Still, Galaxy Guide promised to have spaceship construction rules; something missing from Heroes Unlimited 2nd Edition, Aliens Unlimited, Mutants in Orbits, and Phase World; and more on piloting spacecraft; something that was needed after the mess in both versions of Heroes Unlimited. More skills and skill programs were also supposed to be on the slate, which is always a bonus if you enjoy, as I do, campaigns that don't focus on powers.
Still, it's a Wayne Breaux book. cringe...
So, what's up with the book?
First thing is a quick overview of the Galaxy in Aliens Unlimited terms. I can do without setting-specific information in a Heroes Unlimited book, as I prefer to make up my own settings, but others may get more mileage out of that sort of thing. The divisions of the galaxy were a bit simplistic, with no detail given to the third dimension. But the overview does give a good reference for what comes next, though.
Directly following the overview is the start of the new rules. This is an area that shines in this book. Skill penalties for making planet-fall, both normally and stealth approaches, and rules for adapting to new planetary conditions are only two of the improvements over the usual slipshod way that Palladium handles space environments. The rules are simple enough to support the general space opera (as opposed to proper science fiction) feel of the book but complex enough to add a bit of depth to the system. I'm still going to add my own bonuses to strength when a character goes to a low-grav world, but that's nitpicking.
Next up is additional world information on the various planets and operations of the major forces in the Aliens Unlimited setting. The focus here is on the worlds and the organizations, as opposed to descriptions of the alien races in alphabetic order found in Aliens Unlimited. This layout is a bit easier on the GM, as it keeps everything on, for example, the Thissera-Micean Cooperative (Space Cops) in one place so you don't have to hunt through half the book to get the info you need. Some new races are included, but they don't really overpower the location info. Organizations are reasonably detailed, with as much or only slightly less info than was given in the city-state descriptions of Rifts: Juicer Uprisings. One point on this section, though: Jerrick 7. This is Space Opera, folks. We don't need no stinkin' velociraptors.
Equipment. For once, a Palladium equipment section isn't just a big list of new weapons. Its a big list of new weapons and some other cool stuff. There's new bionics (and not just weapons), new robotic options (and not just new gun arms), genetic engineering (and not just claws and spit poisons), new weapons (and not just... well, yeah it is just weapons), computer info (with no system specifications like the hand computer in the Rifts Main Book), and a few miscellaneous toys. I'd have liked more types of melee weapons, since blasting away with a railgun on a small starship qualifies as a *bad* idea. Maybe we'll get those in a later book. At least the headjack gets a better description.
The Space Travel section is remarkably complete, even in the Faster than Light (FTL) section with its eleven types of drives, each based on real theories for interstellar travel. The only problem with it is that every FTL it ignores the fact (?) that mass increases as one approaches light speed. But, hey, this is Space Opera. We're talking Battlestar Galactica, not Contact. Disregard that one bit of scientific fact, and everything is smooth sailing. Besides, they actually mention the fact that they ignored the fact that none of these drives could actually get you past the light barrier in real life. There are six other more space opera-ish drives, mostly based on rifting and wormholes. I should note that as impressive as this section was, it was missing the FTL drive I was really hoping for: hyperdrive. Guess I'll just have to make it up as I go... Attached are the Spacecraft Speed and Acceleration rules, including some material on space combat. Nothing much to say here, other than there are no unexplained stats and Saving Throws mentioned, as there were in Heroes. Huzzah!
Spacecraft construction rules. I have to say that I'm pleased with this. It could have something to do with Bill Coffin's name being attached, but I'm just biased that way. The rules are on par with Palladium's usual Super Vehicle Construction sets, as found in the rest of the Heroes books, which is a good thing. Its not quite Rigger 3 for Shadowrun, but its pretty slick. I haven't tried to build my own ship from the rules, but several examples are given right after it (note the Cost on the Metropolis-class Space Station, that's worth a quick chuckle). About the only thing missing is a method for breaking down SDC by Location.
There are sixteen new Skill Programs and a host of new skills in the book. Aside from having new skill programs (whoo-hoo!), there's nothing stand out special about these, save one point. Each skill program comes with a Professional Occupation option. This represents Professional level training in the skill program and gives you extra skills that surround the program. It is effectively an cross between the Education Table and OCC systems, mainly intended to give additional skills to races that don't get superpowers. An educational table to go along with this would have been nice, but I suppose I could make one up myself. I also wish that the Energy Weapon Proficiencies had been broken down more, since shooting a particle beam rifle is likely much different from a laser rifle, and that there were more new Science skills (a Determine Planet Type skill would have been nice), but these are okay.
Cyberjacking, a wannabe cyberpunk-style hacking rule set, makes an appearance here. I can't see a whole lot of change between this and the version that appeared in Rifter #2. I suppose that the rules don't have to be too in-depth for a space opera setting (I don't recall West End Games' slicing rules for Star Wars being any better than these), but I still kind of wanted more.
Miscellaneous rules come in here, including Space Survival (you don't go "pop" in a vacuum, good for Palladium!) and Space Combat. These could have been put elsewhere in the book, but they aren't too bad. Same as the other rules, simple enough for space opera but complex enough to maintain suspension of disbelief.
The final section of the book is new Super Powers and magic spells. The Major Power version of Healing Factor, Super Regeneration, is finally in the books! More along the lines of Deadpool (including limb regeneration) than Wolverine, but its still in there. The Space Native minor power is a bit powerful, but otherwise the abilities look good at first glance. I'd have to playtest them to find out for sure, though.
Yeah, right, but what about the pretty pictures?
Layout is the standard two-column set Palladium uses. No special fonts for headers, like in Systems Failure. Some might be discouraged by the blandness here, but after trying to read D20 Star Wars, I enjoy the readability of it. The only downside to the setup is that the rules aren't kept in one location.
Most of the interior art is done by Breaux, with Kent Burles, Freddie Williams II, and Michael Wilson providing occasional images. Breaux's style is decent enough, though Wilson's work looks slicker. Kent Burles, though... Every image of a face has either strange skull designs or a hat, helmet, ceremonial headdress, non-specific metal bits, or some other head piece that provides what I like to call "Head Ridges." Every head has something spiky or with ridges all over its forehead, making actual facial features really hard to make out. Its not just in this book, either. His work in Palladium Fantasy features the same trait. Even in cases where there is no good reason for their to be Head Ridges, characters are furrowing their brows and forming them anyway. Quite a distracting trait, I must say.
In short, the layout, other than Mr. Burles Head Ridges and the apparent inability to keep the rules together in one section, isn't really worth mentioning, in one direction or the other.
Worth the dough?
You know, I'm going to have say that it was worth the buy. Its nearly indispensable for a Palladium space-based campaign, from Mutants in Orbit to Aliens Unlimited to Phase World. Had they spent more time and page count on the book, it would have easily made a Main Book for a new Space Opera setting that I would have been perfectly happy with. Count me as pleasantly surprised, Palladium. This one goes in with my Heroes Unlimited general-use stack, as opposed to ones like Villians Unlimited and Century Station that just gather dust on the shelves.