Dark Space Review

I was recently approached to review a product called Dark Space.  It is a Lovecraftian Role Playing Game (RPG) book written offering a variety of scenarios in a system-agnostic manner.  I was provided a copy of this book in PDF form on agreeing to the review.  The book itself is ambitious and in a style that I had not encountered previously.  It has made me wonder if this style of book will be something that is adapted in the future for RPGs.

Cover of Dark Space
The cover of Dark Space is a beautiful piece of work, and complimented by several others in the book

The Writing

This book provides you with X adventures to run.  They are written from the perspective that the players take on the role of set characters on the Wulian-9 spacecraft.  This kind of idea is not new, and it is an easy one to pull out those details and run with your own crew and starship that you have been running in your game.  That said, there is a style and interaction in the presented details that is appealing, and I would suggest running it with these characters and this ship.

It is the style of writing that makes it a little more unique.  The adventures are written like a detached short story.  It is the style of the text that tells you if it is normal information, information gained from making a test, or information that can be gained while failing at a cost.  If the scene is going to cause some sanity issues it has its own style of text.  It is clever writing and reads as a story, kind of.  Then there are a few jarring points where they just could not get around this style of writing and a mechanic breaks the immersion and is just laid out, like a rulebook.

Not Attached to a Particular System…

Kind of.  This game hits Lovecraft hard.  As such, the system touts itself as being able to be run in any system, but they do kind of stress that the system should be one that has a mechanic for sanity.  They then suggest a couple of Cthulhu systems and also provide a super rules-lite system at the back of the book that can be used.  On the DriveThru RPG page, there is an annotation that says they will provide a Traveller adaptation once licensing issues are sorted out as well.  Not sure if this has happened, but it is an interesting idea.

I don’t think you need to worry about the system so much.  I do not think that there needs to be a sanity mechanic in your system to run these games.  Especially the way they are written.  You could work with this and get the response you need from the player in a narrative form if you prepare the group up front.

In Play

As we had “taken a break” over the festive period, I tried to get this to the virtual table at least three times over Christmas.  I figured I would be down a couple of players and I had wanted to try the M-Space RPG alongside this.  Problem is, when we did get a game we had all the players and so we ran with our normal campaign.  That said, there are some takeaways from this, because I prepped for the first story in the product, Orpheus Station, three times to get it to the table.

These are so quick to prepare for.  The tales are compact and concise.  The rules are streamlined beyond belief.  I wrote down 4 notes on a piece of paper explaining the different types of text and was ready to play.  I spent a lot more time each week getting my head around the M-Space mechanics.  Though it never got to the table, I know it will this year when life gets in the way of our normal game for some of the players.  this will be solid fodder for those who want to game where we can’t do our main campaign.

Short Story Styled

Do not get me wrong.  I like most of these adventures.  There is one there that relates to first contact with an alien race that ends in disaster that I ran almost 15 years ago in an eerily similar way.  I get what these people are putting down and I like it.  The problem is that they are written in the form of a story and an expectation that this is the way things will go.  If I ran at least 4 of these missions as written I know my player group would never end where the author expects them to.

That is OK if you are prepared for it to happen.  The game offers you no advice in this regard though and I feel some people may latch onto it because it is rules lite.  It is also super quick to get to the table.  But you must always realize that a well-planned story very rarely lives past first contact with players.  Also, there are a few areas where player death is just scripted.  Be aware of this.  No excuses and no way around it. I get this is Lovecraftian, and that works with that theme, but I do not like an arbitrary death with no chance of escape.

The Editing

There is another issue that I came across a few times in the book.  There are patches of text that were just missed in editing.  Some sentences use words that don’t mean what the intent of the sentence was.  There is also an instance where the start of a sentence is repeated twice in a row.  I do find editing errors to rip me from the zone where I am invested.  It is like sitting in a movie you are engrossed in and then someone stands in the center of the theatre and starts singing Pavarotti.  There are around half a dozen editing mistakes in the book and I had to mention them.  In a book this size, that many is forgivable, and normally I would gloss over them if the book were not this engaging.  I love the stories and presentation of this so they did throw me out of the zone when I hit them.

The Presentation

This is one of my great regrets.  I am going to have to buy a physical copy of this book eventually because the artwork, of which there is very little, is stunning.  The depiction of Lovecraftian horrors against a black background in a mosaic of beautiful colour is amazing.  There are one or two images included that you can tell did not come from the artist who did the majority, but on the whole, the artwork is amazing and would make a beautiful book.  

Indeed, there are some nice glyphs added to headings and the like that make this text-heavy book easier, and interesting to read.  The text is not dense and the presentation is largely consistent.  It is a labour of love that I very much would like to see on my shelf.  The next time I get books from DriveThru will include this.

Overall?

I found this to be a very interesting book with some great concepts in it.  There are things here that I just would steer away from, but I can and that is great.  I love the style of the adventures presented.  A couple were not my cup of tea for a game but there are a bunch to use here.  They all contain interesting concepts, and the style in which it is communicated is really cool.  Just reading the “short story” tells you where the tests and difficulties are is brilliant.  Apply the system you want and you are away.  Plus, that art is so amazing.  I recommend getting this for that alone, and then playing the hell out of it as the cherry on top! 

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