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The Jovian Chronicles is a hard-science based sci-fi campaign setting produced by Dreampod 9. It's been around since 1991, beginning its life as a serialized novel that appeared in Mecha Press. In 1993, the JC became a RPG setting, and since then has seen a 2nd edition which came out in 2003 and which I am reviewing here. Specifically, I'm reviewing the RPG Player's Handbook (2nd edition), although the book really is more of a campaign setting than what most people would call a "player's handbook." The book itself is a 8.5" x 11" 256-page hard cover with a color cover and black & white interior. A pdf version is also available through RPGNow.com.
Here's the publisher's blurb:
The Jovian Chronicles, 2nd edition is a complete science fiction universe for the Silhouette CORE roleplaying game system. Inspired by classic science-fiction stories and giant robot anime, this book will take the players beyond the confines of planet Earth to discover a solar system on the brink of war. Along the way, they will interact with a rich cast of characters, visit exotic locales and possibly alter the destiny of the Jovian Confederation, if not the human race!
* A detailed world background and a rich setting for anime-style adventures;
* Extensive guidelines and tips for living and adventuring in the solar system of the 23rd century;
* Dual-stats for the powerful Silhouette CORE rule system, a highly acclaimed game engine that uses classic six-sided dice, and the widely popular d20-based rules placed under the Open Gaming License;
* And tons of anime-style archetypes, weapons, equipment and vehicles!
Starting off with the book itself, it is very well laid out, easy to read, and filled with excellent, anime-style art which fits exactly the type of feel the game is going for. I really like the layout as well as the choice of font, which is easy on the eyes. The one criticism is that in places the art partially covers the chapter numbers which run along the upper left and right margins - while this doesn't really matter (since they appear on every page), it's a careless mistake. Overall, the book's editing is very good - there are few typos or grammatical errors. Apparently this is a big improvement from early DP9 products, based on older reviews I've read.
The Jovian Chronicles (JC) is a science fiction setting that mixes hard science principles (e.g., there is not faster-than-light travel) with inflences from Japanese mecha anime. The result is a very rich and lavishly described campaign setting that offers a lot of possibilities while staying firmly grounded in science.
The campaign is set in the early 23rd century (by default the starting year is 2210) - mankind has managed to colonize much of the solar system, terraforming both Mars and Venus, and setting up numerous space colonies orbiting most of the planets and moons of the solar system. Keeping faithful to its grounding in science, colonization has been neither quick nor easy. For example, Mars and Venus's atmospheres are still incompatible with human life, but can support large sealed colonies. Similarly, much of the colonization was motivated by either economic reasons or because of people fleeing the chaos in to which Earth was descending. When the dust settled, the Solar System was inhabited by various solar nations, each with its own culture, political system, and philosophy. As the campaign period opens, many of these nations now teeter on the brink of war as Earth (now known as the Central Earth Government & Administration, or CEGA for short) tries to reassert its authority and various shadow organizations and corporations manipulate the situation to their advantage.
The first chapter provides a brief overview of the setting and theme of the game. It also includes some rules info on specific "Genre Points" which are used with the SilCore rules. The chapter then moves right in to a fairly detailed synopsis of human history beginning in 1977 and covering up to 2210. The history is well-written and detailed enough for players and GMs alike without bogging down in to a lot of boring minutiae. I was instantly hooked on the setting by the material.
The second chapter, The Solar Nations, provides an overview of the Solar System and then detailed descriptions of each of the Solar Nations. Each nation gets about 3-9 pages dedicated to it, including descriptions of its culture, politics, military, and economy. These are pretty evocative and detailed enough to use in a game without trying to define every element, leaving a GM a lot of latitude in customizing the setting.
The nations of the Jovian Chronicles include:
* Mercury - the solar merchants.
* Venus - settled for economic reasons and now ruled by corporations.
* CEGA (Earth) - imperialistic former super-power, now looking to regain the influence it once had.
* Orbitals - the space societies of the Earth system which have largely been absorbed by CEGA.
* Luna - self-sufficient inhabitants of the moon who have joined CEGA.
* Mars - a divided planet with an ongoing, not-so-cold war between its two governments.
* The Belt - nomadic inhabitants who make their living mining the asteroids of the belt.
* Jovian Confederation - a technologically advanced, democratic society.
* Saturn & Titan - largely colonies of the Jovian Confederation, although Titan is considered a Solar reserve.
The third chapter details all of the various important organizations of the Solar System, many of which are the true powers behind the various nations. Each organization gets 1-2 pages of description. It is here that a lot of the ideas for the types of campaigns that are possible. For example, players could take on the roles of agents of SolaPol, the intelligence and law force of the United Space Nations.
Some of the key organizations include:
* Mercurian Merchant Guild - a space-faring mechantile guild.
* United Space Nations - the Solar System's equivalent of the U.N.
* Venusian Bank - a huge financial conglomerate that is the true power behind the Venusian government as well as CEGA.
* Solar Cross - the Solar System's version of the Red Cross.
* STRIKE - a terrorist organization whose central goal is to eliminate the Venusian bank's influence over CEGA.
Chapter four is dedicated to character creation. It provides rules for creating characters using either DreamPod 9's Silhouette Core RPG rules or the D20 rules published under the OGL. The chapter provides a step-by-step process for creating colorful characters including the use of "stereotypes" (appropriate to the anime style) each of which provides some sort of mechanical bonus. As this is a hard science-based setting and is restricted to our own solar system, humans are the only race available. However, the game does differentiate between those born in normal gravity and "Lightworlders" and "ZeeGees" (individuals raised in low to no gravity settings) and provides some flavorful differences between the three.
Of the two rule systems supported, SilCore gets most of the attention, as it should because it's far better, in my opinion, for modeling the style.
The next chapter (Living in Space) is where the real science of the setting shines. While it obviously takes some fictional liberties, for the most part the details of the chapter are based on real science. It covers information like the everyday technology of the setting (habitats, space travel, communications, & space hazards), the economy, and the law. Everything is covered in enough detail to give the reader a feel for what it's like to live in the 23rd century without overwhelming them with too many technical details.
The last two chapters cover the equipment and vehicles of the 23rd century. This is where tech-heads will find comfort - there are tons of space suits, tools, weapons, and defensive systems detailed in the sixth chapter. Chapter seven is dedicated to nothing but spaceships and futuristic vehicles including all of the anime-inspired mecha. These include exo-suits (powered battle suits) and exo-armor (giant robots). Despite their anime influences, even the equipment clings to scientific plausability with spaceships relying on rotating sections to provide artificial gravity and weapons based on scientifically feasible technology.
The book finishes up with an appendix that consists of a random adventure generator and a detailed glossary.
I really love this book. The art, the style, the setting itself, and even the layout make it a joy to read. The setting offers a lot of possibilities for campaigns: Almost immediately the possibility of running a Firefly-like campaign sprang to mind. Alternatively, the possibility of running an espionage-focused campaign built around SolaPol agents trying to foil the Venusian Bank's plots would be a lot of fun. Or maybe just go with the obvious and have the players take on the roles of a squadron aboard a Jovian Confederation carrier. Like I said, there are a lot of possibilities.
The anime-inspired style of the game also appeals to me. It's got all the cool look and toys of mecha anime, without the goofy aliens or overly far-fetched science many series involve. It's mecha but in a very plausible setting and that's cool to me. The art in the book is great and provides plenty of inspiration, although I do wish there were more detailed pictures of the various space colonies to make picturing their configurations easier.
Is JC for everyone? Certainly not. The lack of aliens is not going to appeal to people who like space opera type settings. Similarly, the setting's lack of FTL-travel or artificial gravity mean it's not suited for galaxy-jaunting adventures. It also means that living in space is hard. I'm not talking about "Space is cold and lonely" hard. No artificial gravity means ships don't look like your typical sci-fi images and that you can't run around the decks of the ship. It also means cramped quarters, the need to conserve water, and that a punctured space suit (which is surprisingly easy to do) is deadly. My guess is that the major sticking point of some people is the fact that it's all based in our own Solar System and that's an unfamiliar sci-fi setting compared to the stuff you typically see on TV or in a movie - this isn't Star Wars nor Farscape. That said, those types of stories could easily be carried out with the JC universe. For example, the idea of "escaped prisoners trying to escape imperial authorities" could easily be pulled off within the setting.
If, on the other hand, you're a fan of scientifically-based sci-fi and anime, the JC might just be the setting for you. It's easily one of the best published settings I've read and definitely worth a look.