Dawning Star is a new campaign setting for D20 Modern. Now, I don’t play D20, so I won’t be able to say all that much about system details. Instead, I’ll focus on appearance, setting, and especially whether the book is useful.
Oh yeah: I’m going to be both subjective and objective. You can tell when I’m subjective - that’s when I write “I like” or “I don’t like” or “to me, ...”.
“Dawning Star: Operation Quick Launch” claims to be:
- a science-fiction setting of high adventure
- carefully constructed to provide a myriad of possibilities for players and Gms alike
- designed to allow to launch your campaign on the planet of Eos and enjoy a rich role-playing experience
- created to support a number of campaign models
In addition, the designers state that they’ve adhered to two rules when creating the setting:
- it must be fun
- it must be believable
“Operation Quick Launch” is a nice-looking hardcover book. The cover design is a tasteful combination of simple elements: Title, logo, and a picture of the sun breaking through the clouds. It definitely says SF. However, it’s a bit dull - at least in a hobby where the standard cover elements are is shiny guns, over-the-top monsters and half-naked people.
The layout is very good; it balances readability with non-obtrusive use of fonts and symbols, and pictures, tables etc are used to spice up and illustrate the text, not dominate it. Professional-looking.
The illustrations, while of a high quality, have a comic-book feel to them that, to me, conveys neither believability nor high adventure. There’s a young urban hipster feel to them, not a futuristic frontier feel. They don’t always seem to fit with the text, either - the hairstyles of the Velin, for example, seem inconsistent.
Orderly and structured. Here’s what you get:
I. History. What everyone knows about events up to the present.
II. Characters. D20 info on species, occupations, feats etc.
III. Technology. The shopping list many people love - guns, cybernetics, mecha, even starships.
IV. World of Eos. Geographical, political and other info about life on the planet.
V. Galactic survey. Other nearby planets.
VI. Xenomorphs. Animals and alien species.
VII. Master Control. The GM section, with secret history, detailed info on aliens, campaign and adventure tips.
VIII. A Day in the Life. Introductory adventure.
There’s also a two-page index; adequate, but not comprehensive.
In 2196, Earth was destroyed by a dark object the size of our moon. Using ion propulsion, a fleet of evacuation ships left for Lalande 21185, an eighty-year trip. On the way, they found a spherical alien device, that suddenly activated. One ship, the Dawning Star, was teleported several thousand light years closer to the galactic core. There, they found an unhabited, earth-like planet. They named it Eos, and settled there.
The settlers found a large number of large, complex ruins and remnants of advanced technologies - called “relics”. Further investigation uncovered a set of newer ruins - wrecked spacecraft of differing design. Sightings of strange creatures, called “darklings”, began.
Slowly, the passengers were revived from stasis, and the settlers formed a democratic republic. There were, of course, dissidents; they formed faction-camps across the planet. Shortly, a small-scale war broke out between the republic and a faction-camp; the republic won, and started securing resources.
In 2248, a delegation of aliens, the tentaari, landed on Eos. They were the ones that had set up the alien teleportation device. They knew of Earth, and had taken earthlings and other races under their protection. From the tentaari, the settlers learned of other intelligent life in the Helios system.
And then, the velin, the hitherto hidden natives of Eos, made themselves known.
I pretty much like the setting. It has what you’d expect - future technology, mysterious aliens, aliens you can meet (and play), alien technology, big spaceships, in-fighting among settlers, etc. It’s detailed and consistent - though I would have liked a bit more on the economy. Who ended up owning what? Why?
There’s a rather obvious American bias; the natural system of government is a U.S-style democracy (with president and all), most names are American, place names are in English (or alien tongues). This is obviously to make the game easy to play for U. S. players. However, it isn’t all that believeable - and it isn’t all that fun for us foreign types of kniggets, either.
There are, of course, some Big Secrets for the GM to unveil (and for later source books to delve into). Can’t say much, except that they involve alienses (of course), and that not everything is as it seems (of course).
What I like - really like - about the setting is that the designers really want you to use the campaign. Right from the start (page 7), they explain how you can use different models: Frontier/Wild West style, pulp/exploration, grim & gritty and space opera. The setting supports all of these models, and different campaign concepts and plot lines are detailed in the GM’s chapter. There’s a set of adventure hooks explicitly described in the same chapter, and many more are spread through the text - what’s that alien signal from that unexplored planet, for example?
What I don’t like is the excess statting. This is a D20 sickness, and the book can hardly be blamed; however, I really, really don’t need to be told in two different places that a murcow (alien bovine) has a Wisdom of 12, a Charisma of 5 and a Climb +2 skill, nor do I have any use for 6 individual sets of hit points for the stupid animals.
There’s generally a bit more information than I, personally, like; but that’s definitely me - I know most Gms would rather have too much than too little. You won’t have to make much up on the fly with this book.
This is a model book. It can be used as a template for other supplements; the information is structured, it’s all there in the right place, there’s a good balance of different types of info (system, politics, adventure, etc etc).
It’s not the most inspiring book I’ve read. Then again, I like ground-breaking indie stuff , freeform and not much else. For a D20 Modern group, this looks like a perfect fit.
“Operation Quick Launch”, as far as I can see, fulfils all its design goals in an excellent fashion.