The 3rd edition Earth Companion is (unsurprisingly) the third edition compilation and update of the game material related to Earth and especially the neofascist New Earth Commonwealth, the power behind of the invading CEF (Colonial Expeditionary Force). Like much of the 3rd edition material (what little of it there is), this is largely a cut+paste of previous stuff, with small updates here and there. I think there’s some brand-new material here, some of the chapters didn’t seem familiar… but I’m not totally sure.
It does a decent job in collecting the older information (from various sourcebooks) into one tome, and the number of typos – the bane of later Heavy Gear releases – seemed to be on the lowish side here. Some of the game decisions made here (the SLEDGEs, in particular), are things that the designers have later said they’d do differently; a xenophobic nation creating artificial beings which are indistinguishable from humans doesn’t make much sense, the whole point of the GREL program was that the GRELs are obviously non-human and can easily be treated as “tools” instead of “people”. SLEDGEs, while great as covert spies, blow that crucial cultural point out of the water.
If you have the older books there isn’t all that much reason to get this, honestly. On the other hand, it’s currently the most “modern” compilation of Earth/CEF data available, so it may be interesting just for that. The new Heavy Gear Blitz! (miniatures game) supplements do update things a bit more, but those are (understandably) focused on the miniatures (i.e. gear) side of things.
The second edition of the Duelist’s Handbook contains data on Terra Novan (and Caprican) gear dueling traditions and pilots. It’s presumably an update on the first edition book, but I haven’t read that one.
The whole thing began with old military dueling traditions, which covered the ground from friendly bouts to deadly ones. Naturally, once gears became standard equipment for armies, some bright soldiers got the idea of using them in dueling… and thus a tradition was both. Like unarmored duels with blades or weapons, these also cover a lot of ground with regards to intent. There is also a lot of variance between the North and the South, here. The South is big on the whole “personal honor” thing, so even relatively slight insults might lead to a duel (though rarely to a deadly one). The North is (slightly) more down-to-earth on this, though the tradition of having regimental duelists also exists there.
The book covers the history of the phenomenon and the variances. There is also a short section on Caprican dueling, which is similar but handled with slightly different hardware.
The second half of the book covers the “sport dueling” scene, including the underground semi-illegal “bloodsport” one. As with most things, “real” combat has resulted in combat-as-sport, with high-paid professional duelists fighting in “fight circuits” and gathering fame & fortune in the process. These fights are designed to be non-lethal and (ideally) not too dangerous, though accidents are always possible when playing around with mobile, multi-ton fighting vehicles.
Then there is the underground scene. Like other illegal bloodsports at various points in history, this is held in various (often literally) underground locales, with lots of cash exchanging hands based on the winners of each round. This scene is a lot more dangerous than the legal sport arena, though “to the death” is still very rare; it’s more a case of reduced safety measures and the (limited) use of live ammo.
The book also offers a short description of Khayr ad-Din, the rough and rowdy Badlands “underground gear dueling mecca”, along with a bunch of NPC descriptions (from gang bosses to famous gear pilots).
For a “normal” Heavy Gear game there isn’t anything you absolutely need here, but the info on the whole dueling phenomenon does make for nice background color. Also, Khayr ad-Din is a nice “hive of scum and villany” location for the game, and might be useful in pretty much any Heavy Gear game.
The 2nd edition Technical Manual is one of those near-must-have books if you’re running a Heavy Gear game. Far from being just an equipment list, it’s a compendium of the technological and scientific methods generally used on Terra Nova. The detail level here is incredible, the book goes into miniscule detail on many levels of arms, armor and general tech construction. Sure, you don’t absolutely need all this in a game – but it provides a great extra level of realism if you can actually describe some of the materials and technologies used.
The book starts with basic materials and construction info, and goes on to detail and list actual equipment, with side treks into various sub-areas as needed. This book doesn’t contain lists of gears; there are other books for that. This details pretty much everything else, from guns to communication equipment. The back of the book does contain a very detailed schematic of an example gear (a variant of the popular Hunter model), with cutaway views, pictures of the control joysticks, etc. I don’t remember seeing this stuff in the previous books; it’s really nice to have pictures to show to the players about how a gear is actually piloted and how a pilot fits into one.
The second half of the book contains the “Vehicle Construction System”, a mechanic for constructing pretty much any custom vehicle you want into your game. It looks medium-complex, but not too bad. Great stuff if you want to keep track of Threat Levels, and/or figure out how much something might cost and how difficult it might be to build.
A pretty awesome book, all in all, if you want to bring some extra level of technical detail into your Heavy Gear game or if you want to design some custom vehicles with full game stats. This is also a useful book for players of the miniatures game: all the various weapons and armor options are described here (with nice pictures), and that aforesaid cutaway view of a gear is nice extra detail.
The Second Edition Life On Terra Nova book is one of the “must get” books for the line. Not because it’s absolutely necessary, but because it’s just so damn useful. It’s not totally necessary because it’s “just” a compilation and a tweaked recap of both Terra Novan history and current politics; all or at least most of this info already exists in the previous books. However, there are lots of those books, and many small details (especially ones about the main metaplot) have been tweaked along the way. This book provides an excellent summary of the game world, and really… you could probably get started running a game with just this and the core rules book.
The book follows a fairly traditional format. The beginning condenses the game world history, from the early days of space flight to the current fractures interstellar war situation. Then it goes on to describe Terra Nova, one nation at a time. Naturally enough the info is a lot more condensed than that in the dedicated “region books”, but that’s the point: this is gazeteer and a summary. The end of the book contains some general notes on culture etc, some game master notes, some NPC, and usual stuff like that.
This is one of the core books of the game line. Sure, there’s a 3rd edition one which I haven’t read yet, but word has is that it’s mostly a (somewhat buggy) cut+paste of this book.
Life On Eden rounds off the last of the colony books for Heavy Gear. Unfortunately, it’s also easily the weakest of the bunch and a departure from the generally high quality of the game line.
The basic scenario is ok: we have a highly terraformed high-tech colony world which manages to trigger an eco-catastrophe by accidentally dropping some large asteroids on the planetary surface. The resulting cataclysm wipes out a large portion of life on the surface, and the survivors are kicked back into low-tech survival mode. So far so good. But then it starts to fall apart; the future posited by the book has Eden (the world in question) having a mix of feudal lifestyle and high-tech, with drone swarms and other advanced robotics. It’s an uneasy mix, and isn’t very believable.
I can see what they were going for: a semi-feudal “fantasy” world would be an interesting contrast for Heavy Gear, and lots of the native wildlife (including, I kid you not, actual dragons) can be explained by advanced biotech from an earlier age. But they should have kept it at that; pushing a high-tech culture (somehow maintained by some survivors of the Cataclysm) into the mix kills the suspension of disbelief for me. The whole thing is very confusing, and it’s hard to get a clear picture of what is actually going on; there are too many half-developed ideas crammed in here.
To add to the problems, there are severe editing problems (or more exactly, lack of editing). The author apparently didn’t have a complete grasp of English grammar, since there are commas stuck here and there in bizarre places. Many of the sentences just plain don’t make sense. Sometimes you can puzzle out what the writer was trying to say, but sometimes not. Add in some typos and other more usual problems, and the result is a bit of a mess. The whole thing feels like something that was very hastily written and then shoved out the door without enough editorial oversight. There are some nice ideas in here, but the book as a whole just isn’t all that good.
The second-to-last of the Heavy Gear colony books, Life on Atlantis describes the colony world of Atlantis. Like the name implies, it’s a water world; small islands here and there but mostly just ocean. Colonized and somewhat terraformed in the early years by a Terran corporate consortium, then abandoned by the CEF withdrawal, and now stuck in a stalemate war with the CEF forces bent on (re)conquest. Unlike most other worlds, where CEF has either conquered or been pushed back, here the result is a strange form of stalemate. The CEF holds the islands and has space superiority, but the Atlantean locals hold the rest of the world (i.e. the oceans). Based in vast underwater cities, they have underwater tech that the CEF cannot match and the ability to shoot down satellites from low orbit, using submarine-based beam weaponry and distributed sensor nets. The CEF Fifth Fleet, stuck in this situation for ages now, is growing more and more frustrated and crew morale is low. On the other hand, the Atlanteans have little hope of gaining any new ground back. Of course, into this situation enter the Terra Novan strike teams (and PCs, potentially).
It’s a decent book, providing detail on both the history of the world and the current situation. Atlantean tech and culture is described, along with the major underwater cities (only in rough detail, of course). The usual mix of NPC descriptions, plot seeds and vehicle data rounds of the mix.
The book is quite readable, but I was left with a feeling that more could have been done with the setting. Sure, the touches of Greek here and there (result of original colonist language/culture mix) were nice, as were the discussions on life under the waves. On the other hand, it was still mostly just “well, these guys live underwater and use subs a lot”. Also, I’m not sure I quite buy the setup… why doesn’t the CEF just drop some nukes near the cities, the shockwave from even a missed strike should be enough to rupture pressure seals at those pressures. To be fair, I have no idea of the physics involved here; would a nuke be effective at depths of 0.5 - 1km? I suspect yes, due to the uncompressability of water… but dunno. Of course, a valid explanation is that the CEF wants to capture the cities and installations, not destroy them. Still, I think that is something that would have merited some discussion.
Overall, quite ok. Not the best of the colony books, but not bad either.
Life on Utopia continues the Heavy Gear game line expansion into describing the colony worlds. This time round, we have a book describing the ironically named “Eden” – originally a paradise world to-be, it’s not a radioactive wasteland ravaged by centuries of war. The inhabitants (almost) all live in vast underground cities and continue to wage war using remote-controlled drones and semi-autonomous robots. “Survival” is still the main mindset of everyone, and while technology has helped keep mankind alive here, it hasn’t made life exactly pleasant.
Into this mess arrives the CEF fleet, set on conquest. Having learned from earlier failures, here they do the smart thing and get to work on “divide and conquer”. After backing one of the major powers against the others and slowly insinuating themselves into planetary governance, they are slowly gaining control. Not everyone on Eden likes this, but every faction has different views and there seem to be few options. Then the Terra Novan commando teams arrive, and things get interesting…
Eden is a fairly interesting world. I didn’t find it as fascinating as Caprice, but the old “radioactive wasteland” thing has its charms. Also, the development of advanced robotics by the Edenites makes sense, and gives them a nice niche speciality. Obviously, this book will mainly be useful if you’re running a Heavy Gear game situated in the colony worlds (either via Black Talon teams or as a completely non-Terra Novan game), but of course a lot of the info here is interesting just as background info. After all, the Heavy Gear metaplot (to date) ended at an apparent fortification of Caprice by drone fleets from Eden.
Now, as far as I know Dream Pod 9 is changing that metaplot a bit in the upcoming 4th edition, and some of those changes are already apparent in the miniature game (Heavy Gear Blitz) books. the SLEDGE program is scrapped and replaced by something more sinister, and (I think) many of the details on the colony worlds are getting an overhaul. Some of the older design decisions didn’t totally make sense, so the new writers want to “fix” things. I’m ok with this, it’s not like game metaplot is anything holy – it’s just a suggestion for background, for a GM to use or reject. We’ll see how 4th ed works out.
Anyway, back to this book. It’s a decent overview; while of course covering an entire planet in one fairly slim book means a lot of the detail is fairly light, this is still a typical Heavy Gear book: even though it’s slim, the pages are packed with info. Well worth reading for anyone wanting background info on Heavy Gear’s Eden, or for anyone needing a “radioactive waste world” for their scifi game.
With the expansion of the Heavy Gear universe into space and other solar systems, some extra detail on the setting antagonists is sorely needed. The CEF Sourcebook is the first of a few supplement books intended to remedy that.
While the CEF has always been a major background antagonist in the game, up to now we haven’t been given all that much detail on why Earth and the CEF became what they are. Here we get some history, and some things start to make more sense. In a sense, what crawled out of the wreckage of a global war and eco-disaster was a military coalition with a strong Russian and Asian background. For a war-torn planet, an entity which offered a hope of peace (even if under semi-totalitarian rule) may not have seemed as all that bad of a deal. And of course, when a new empire stabilizes, it needs to expand – both to get much-needed resources, and to give the populance something to focus on. Those greedy, ungrateful colonists out there, stealing our resources… yes, that’s the ticket.
So Earth begins a huge push towards building a military force capable of interstellar conquest (a daunting task), and the Colonial Expeditionary Force is born. It’s an army of conquest and built on blitzkrieg tactics. It conquers very well… but as always, it’s the peacekeeping afterwards which becomes the problem factor. At least on Caprice, which surrendered at once (leaving thousands of soldiers with nothing to do, which in turns has led to severe morale problems).
In addition to the history lesson, the book contains details on CEF structure, tactics and technology – including the clone soldier (GREL / SLEDGE) army and the doctrines used with them. As usual for a Heavy Gear book, we also get some vehicle data, NPC information, some campaign ideas, etc.
While this book would be most useful in a campaign where the PCs face off with the CEF in a space-based (or at least non-Terra Nova) environment, the background given here is interesting in almost any Heavy Gear context. It’s makes the important point that the CEF isn’t a group of one-dimensional villains; while they are very clearly in the antagonist role, the attitudes of individual soldiers vary greatly, and there are also important historical details involved in understanding their worldview. Most of them don’t view themselves as imperialist conquerors. They are just taking back resources which the colonies owe them, and bringing civilization and stability to the fractured reaches out there. Of course, the colonists tend to have a very different view on things…
The Liberati Sourcebook describes the “other half” of Caprice, the “Liberati” freedom fighters. The Liberati (as a resistance group) came into being (or were formed) when the CEF invaded the Caprice system. The Caprice govenment realized they had no chance of real immediate resistance, so they surrendered at once – much to the surprise of the invading force, which had come in expecting a fight. At the same time, long-term plans for reistance were set in motion, all quite deniable by the government. In the long run this has proved to be a wise course of action. Only a limited number of lives were lost during the invasion, and the Liberati guerillas have been a constant thorn in CEF’s side. While “officially” the Liberati were killed off in a staged “last stand battle”, they are very much alive and active – something that only some in the CEF suspect, most attributing the sabotage to random dissident elements. In addition to all this, the arrival of the Black Talon teams from Terra Nova has kicked things into gear. The Liberati give the Terra Novans some much-needed local support, and the Terra Novans bring with them both hope and firepower.
An additional factor adding to the confusion is that the word “Liberati” is also used to denote the freelancer miners who roam the surface, so even if the CEF gets word of “Liberati operations”, they have no hard and fast way of figuring out what that actually means. This sourcebook describes both the freedom fighter “Liberati” and the miner “Liberati” groups (which have some overlap).
The book is a typical Heavy Gear book (in a good way). We’re given the relevant pieces of history, and then a description of the current situation. The Liberati culture (both the freeroaming miners and the resistance folks) is described, along with a bunch of NPCs. There’s a list of equipment and vehicles, some campaign seeds, all the usual stuff.
Caprice is a quite an interesting setting and this book adds some welcome detail (begun with the two previous Caprice books). The whole “planet under military occupation” thing is rife with story possibilities, as I’ve noted before.
The Caprice Corporate Sourcebook is the first of two books providing extra detail on life on Caprice, building up from the original Life on Caprice sourcebook. Like I noted when I talked about that book, Caprice is a pretty fascinating environment for gaming – a deep vaguely-livable trench on an otherwise inhospitable planet, foreign military occupation, resistance movements, a Blade Runner vibe… cool stuff. The sourcebook, as the name says, provides info on the corporate side of life on Caprice.
Corporations built Caprice (well, Gomorrah anyway), and they are still the main basis of society, including governance. While the earlier days of colonization saw severe misuse of corporate power and near-slavery of workers, the modern-day situation is much improved, with a semi-comfortable balance between corporate and employee needs. Of course, the CEF military occupation of the world throws a spanner in the works. Some corporations quietly support the resistance movement(s), while others quite openly support CEF and hope to see them win for good as soon as possible – because stability means profits. Balancing between these is a huge populance with equally diverse loyalties.
The book goes into the history of the planet, from the first industrial days to the high-tech, big-money “current day”. Detail is given on the six largest corporations and their very different modes of operation & goals. There are articles on corporate life in general, and the whole thing is topped off with some campaign seeds, details on equipment, some sample NPCs, and such. Together with the original “base” Caprice book and book two (which inspects the “rebel” side), you should be able to run a fairly detailed game on Caprice without too much effort. Good stuff, as usual.