The Mekong Dominion Leaguebook updates the 1st edition Heavy Gear gameworld with detail on the economic powerhouse of the South, the Mekong Dominion. Originally founded by colonists mainly consisting of employees of various Asian corporations, it has retained a strong “oriental” culture (though a large part of the population is by now of mixed heritage). The towering cities harbor vast wealth and high technology in the hands of a relatively small part of the total population, while the countryside teems with vicious jungle creatures and farmers trying to survive with low tech gear and lifestyle.
Like most Heavy Gear supplements, the quality here is very high. I thought there were maybe too many “oriental” stereotypes enforced here, but on the other hand most of those were given pretty sound “historical” reasons for existing. There were also some nice, non-stereotype touches here and there, and the concept of a society where citizenship is based on owning a certain minimum level of company stock was quite fascinating. Capitalism taken to one extreme, in a sense.
I also liked the fact that while it’s very far from an utopia and actually has quite a few dystopian features, Dominion society wasn’t portrayed as a relentlessly grim place. Most of the citizens are actually quite happy, social freedoms do exist (to a point), and life goes on. This is a common feature with most Heavy Gear world supplements; they show the game world as a “real” place instead of a black-and-white collection of stereotypes. The fact that many of the inhabitants see each other through the lenses of stereotype just adds to the “realism” factor.
This is a pretty cool book. It’s a tie-in / companion of sorts to Activision’s (first) Heavy Gear game, which was published at the same time this book came out. Instead of being some sort of game tactical manual or strategy guide, The New Breed is something much more interesting: an rpg campaign setting based on the scenario and events outlined in the game. I haven’t played the game (it was apparently pretty buggy), but it was set aboard one of two huge landships, one Northern and one South. I get the impression that in the game, you could play either side – and if not, at least here you can.
The book is split into two halves. One details the Northern Vigilance, with NPC details, maps and overview of the ship, and finally a campaign that has the players doing a lot of interesting things as crewmembers. The other half details the Southern Draco, and gives a counterpoint campaign – same events, but seen from the other side. If nothing else, this approach is interesting in that the book works as a starter for either a Northern or Southern campaign.
I was pretty sceptical about this book, computer game tie-ins have a spotty record. I was happy to be proved wrong and ended up liking this thing quite a bit. There aren’t all that many campaign settings for Heavy Gear, anyway.
In the Humanist Alliance book for Heavy Gear, we get an overview of one of subsidiary republics in the AST: the Humanist Alliance, once independent but then conquered by the Southern Republic… and not happy at all about it.
The HA is a society based on a “scientific” caste system and a sort of Panopticon society, where every move is observed and privacy does not really exist. In lesser games this would have been written as a stock Orwellian control society nightmare, but here it becomes quite interesting. While being oppressive in a way, it also works (in a way)… there is very little crime, and the citizens aren’t an especially unhappy or oppressed lot. One can’t help but draw parallels to moden-day Japan (where police have extensive powers, but where that also has resulted in a very safe society). As an additional factor, the HA is under siege by the Southern Republic, which is trying to mold it into a society more like itself. There is resistance, of course, but it is more in the careful disinformation direction than actual guerilla warfare (which also exists, of course).
Another very interesting sourcebook for HG and a pretty fun read. I appreciate how DP9 has avoided the temptation of going for the easy caricature here, and has instead created something a lot more complex and harder to categorize.
Continuing on with my project to read the entire Heavy Gear line, we now have the Southern Republic Leaguebook. In an entirely unsurprising turn of events, it covers “the Land of the Snakes”: the Southern Republic, the biggest member of the AST and the most powerful single nation on the planet.
The AST has a stereotype of being expansionist and militaristic, with citizens having very little political freedom. This is based firmly in truth. However, the other side of the coin is the fact that citizens enjoy vast amounts of non-political freedom; as long as they don’t try to attack the state or criticize how it’s run (too openly), they have almost total personal freedoms as compared to many of their Northern counterparts. Attitudes are generally liberal and art flourishes. It’s a study in contrasts, and part of what makes Heavy Gear so cool: the writers go out of their way to make their societies complex, living things instead of stereotypes.
The book covers all the general bases. We have chapters on history, social norms, general lifestyles, etc, followed by brief 2-3 page writeups of the major cities with some barebones maps. The land area involved is huge, so this book can’t help being a bit sketchy in some details. What it does detail is interesting. The cities are quite distinct from each other, with each one having a very specific “feel”. For a GM setting up a game in the South, there’s a lot here to help him/her get started even if the fine details would have to be generated separately.
Not much else to say here. The book does what it sets out to do, with the only complaint being the sketchy level of detail in many places; something that is mandated by page count.
Like the Southern book counterpart, the Northern Gear Compendium is a collection of gear and vehicle data collected from earlier books, this time focusing on the designs used by the North. Well, not much to say here. Like the South counterpart, it’s a big book packed absolutely full of info, and lots of the detail on the histories of the various gears is quite interesting – and hey, this one contains the Ferret. Ferrets rock.
As always, this book would be so much better in color… but color printing is something that is only slowly becoming a reasonable option and in older books like this it’s greyscale all the way. Maybe the new version of Heavy Gear than SJG and DP9 is working on will offer books in color ? I can always hope.
Reading this sourcebook about the premier state in the Northern Confederacy, it strikes me how much effort the DP9 writers have put into dispelling the easy stereotypes from their game world. When we’re introduced to it, we’re told about “the imperialist, expansionist South” and the “religiously fundamentalist North” – but then when we get to the actual details (and there are a lot of details), we begin to realize that those stereotypes aren’t worth much.
Sure, the South is expansionist and aggressive, and the North is heavily steered by religion. However, the truth about both power blocks is a lot more complex than that, and is far from being a black-and-white affair. In other words, DP9 has written the game world to world much like our real world, and this attention to detail and realism is one of the best things about the game. That, and giant combat robots of course.
This book is quite straightforward as such and does what it says on the tin: describes the NLC, the biggest power in the C.N.C.S. We get details on Norlight daily lives, social norms, styles, fashion, religion and general politics. This is followed by couple-page writeups on the main cities (with general-level maps of city layouts), and then some important NPCs, some adventure seeds, and lots of other stuff. As a whole, it manages to paint the NLC in a very interesting light… far from being small-minded religious fundamentaists, they are a complex society shaped by centuries of harsh life and trying to balance between secularism and religion – with religious extremists seen as a problem by some inside the NLC.
Another very solid Heavy Gear sourcebook, and a must-have for anyone wanting to run a game in the NLC (obviously).
This book is pretty much what it says: a compendium of South gear and strider designs for the Heavy Gear roleplaying game. It gathers together designs from a couple of earlier books into a one-book reference.
Not much to say here, really. The gear writeups are mostly quite interesting, since they contain lots of game flavor (“this gear was popular with pilots due to X but was hard to get because of part Y shortages due to factor Z”) and aren’t just lists of technical data. I would have liked to see more side and back profiles of the gears – in most cases we’re only given a front view – but that’s a fairly minor complaint. This is a solid reference book into South gear designs and you’ll probably want this (or one of the later vehicle compendiums) if you’re running a South-based HG game. It’s also probably a fun addition to the bookshelf for people only playing the Blitz miniatures game, it gives a lot of history and background on the gears that’s (understandably) missing from the miniatures rulebook.
In the “best news for a while” department, the kick-ass scifi military / power armor game Heavy Gear is coming back in rpg form. Dream Pod 9 and Steve Jackson Games just announced that they will be collaborating on a new 4th edition of the Heavy Gear roleplaying game, coming out in 2009. The line design will be headed by the esteemed HG-guru and line editor John Buckmaster, and will feature a new streamlined version of the Silhouette rule system with focus on making it flow smoothly and fixing some current warts in the design (Complexity, etc). There will probably be 1-2 core books in print format, and then a pile of setting material and support stuff in PDF form (and possibly POD, as well) via e23.
This is fantastic news. I’ve always had a fondness for Heavy Gear, it’s probably the most detailed scifi world in roleplaying today and it tries very hard to be realistic on many levels (well, as much as a game featuring giant power armor suits can be “realistic”). There is enough “realpolitik” in the game to make your head spin. A new edition which would compile it all into smooth form for newcomers is just what the game needs, and we can always hope that it’s reasonably easy to integrate with Heavy Gear Blitz, DP9’s excellent miniatures wargame set in the Heavy Gear world.
There’s also a thread about this on rpg.net.
In other but also game-related news, my signed copy of the Magic Burner limited first batch (#62/200) arrived today, along with a spiffy t-shirt. I’ve only had time for a quick browse so far, started to read the thing on the way to work today. So far, looking extremely good. The guys quote Ursula K LeGuin as one of their main inspirations on “how magic might work”, and that gets huge points from me – I’ve always preferred LeGuin’s (and Cherryh’s) subtle magic to the D&D “eat fireball, kobolds!” style… though that does have its charms, too :). Like the other Burning Wheel books, this is more of a toolkit for building magic for your game than a ready-made list of spells.
If the rest of the book ends up being as cool as the beginning, I may just have to actually run a test game of Burning Wheel at some point.
The Southern Republic Army List is a book for 1st edition Heavy Gear, detailing the composition of the Southern Republican army. Now, this may sound dry as hell, but once again Dream Pod 9 delivers. While this book does have a huge amount of nitpicking detail, it also manages to be extremely interesting and includes a ton of plot hooks and NPC personalities. It details the structure of the Southern army, but also goes on to give detail on general Southern attitudes, army recuitment, various regiments (with histories), some vehicles, etc. Also included are adventure seeds to get a game running fast, and to top it off you are given four tactical scenarios (for the old HG tactical game).
Far from being a dry list of military “crunch”, this book managed to convey a nice “feel” of how the Southern army moves and thinks, and what its role in society is. If you intend to run a game involving PCs in the Southern army, this book is a must-have – and it gives very useful background detail and plot seeds for pretty much any South-based game.
Heavy Gear is quite easily the most detailed scifi game world in existence at the moment, with multiple thousands of pages of game world information published. This would be quite impressive in itself, but what makes it even more impressive is that the writers usually manage to breathe life into the mountains of technical, political and societal detail. It feels like a living, real world (which was a design aim, as far as I understand). One with giant fighting power armor robot thingies, of course… but even those make sense, mostly.
Character Compendium 1 is an old supplement to 1st edition Heavy Gear – and it’s really, really good. It’s also the only “character compendium”, so the number “1” is a bit redundant.
In a nutshell, this is a list of NPC characters. Some are movers and shakers in the HG world, some are just normal everyday people. So far, so good… but what makes it so good? The same thing as with most HG books: amazing amount of interesting detail. All characters have a “chesspiece” symbol next to them, denoting their importance to world affairs and the metaplot should you choose to follow that. Each is given a long writeup and most are given full stats. Most NPCs here are gathered into groups, and include relationship maps inside the group. Characters are given a multitude of options on how to use them in a game (as “ally”, “enemy”, “resource”, etc). As noted, the amount and quality of detail is just amazing.
This book is quite integrated with the Heavy Gear game world, and while you could use this as a general NPC resource for a scifi game, you’ll get the most mileage if you use this as intended, as an NPC resource for Heavy Gear. Simply put, this is probably the best book of this kind I’ve ever read. Far from being dry and boring to read (as I feared), it turned out to be quite fascinating.
Books of this quality are the main reason I love Dream Pod 9 games.