An Explanation: This review was written a long time ago, for a rather nice but now defunct British games magazine called The Last Province. I don't even recall whether the review actually got published or not; the magazine didn't last overly long. Anyway, I've tidied the following up a little, and brought it up to date somewhat -- but this is still, at heart, a rather old piece. For all I know, the game that is its subject may have changed in that time. Take it on those terms, or leave it.

Review: FTL: 2448

by Richard Tucholka, published by Tri Tac Systems, Two books, 190+pp each, price 13.50 each

WRITING

*

ART

****

USEFULNESS

***

PLAYABILITY

**

PRODUCTION

****

VALUE

**

Games companies vary in size, from TSR and GW down to, oh, Crunchy Frog Enterprises. Some start small and grow; some, of all sizes, fail and die; some - just putter along.

Tri Tac Systems have been going for many years now, as long as many of the industry dinosaurs. And yet, despite producing multiple editions of their various (linked) RPGs, they have never made it big. I must admit that this fourth edition of FTL: 2448 is the first of their products I've looked at; I was interested to see if it would be an undiscovered gem, or whether it deserved obscurity.

My first impressions were fair. The game comes in two books, perfect-bound, with glossy, matching covers. Evidently, Tri Tac aren't too small to attain the levels of physical quality that the market seems to demand these days. (People shouldn't judge by appearances, but they do.)

Then I started reading. The print and design work is okay, the spelling includes dozens of mistakes which a computer spell checker would have caught, and the quality of writing and grammar is barely average for a small-company game product - in other words, semi-literate. The layout is a little hard on the eyes, and the contents page of sorts is hidden away at the back with the index. As there is little "Introduction to Role-Playing" material, the impression is not user-friendly. Numbers, for some strange reason, are often given leading zeroes (as in "0010" for 10).

Book 1 starts with character generation. Tri Tac's system, shared between all their games, is moderately complex. Skill tests are rolled on percentile dice, with a badly explained modifier system. The book talks about "designing" characters, but a number of basic characteristics are rolled up - mostly on 4d6-4 - and starting skill levels are also diced for. The skills list is substantial, although the explanations are short. Extra rules cover military experience, medical skills (here the book diverts into a section on medicine in general), and so on. Experience points enable progress in levels, which in turn grant extra hit points and skill levels or new skills.

Psionics are discussed in their own section, and seem to be obtained from a mixture of game environment effects, dice rolls, and GM whim. The lists include a large number of fairly stock powers.

Combat may be fairly simple in principle, but that simplicity is buried under a mass of tables, special cases, variations, and poor explanations. In fact, the combat rules are just part of a vast, table-heavy section on ways to take damage, which include a page of dietary values of different foodstuffs (with portion sizes defined as "a reasonable amount"). The hit location/effect charts go on for pages, but at least they are optional. I thought I could handle complex systems, but this horror sent me gibbering.

(Incidentally, the substantial sidearms list calls a maser weapon a "particle rifle", which is gibberish. However, most of the listed items are contemporary-style slug-throwers.)

FTL: 2448 has a specific setting; a space-opera future, with star travel and aliens. The future timeline given struck me as fairly unlikely, but not grotesque. A remarkable number of aliens in the same area of space have attained space flight at much the same time, but there are some long-established races and a few primitives. There is one sneaky, cowardly, hostile race, which employs another bunch, orcs-in-space, as mercenary thugs.

There are actually 28 alien races in Book 1, plus assorted varieties of human, enhanced apes and cetaceans, semi-sentient pets, and androids. Some of the aliens are well drawn and interesting. Others are humanoid and around man-sized, which gives an idea as to their style; in a movie, they could be played by humans in rubber suits. (To be fair, few games do better - but look at ICE's Aliens & Artifacts for something superior.) Alien races are partly summarised by a list of their attitudes towards such topics as government, justice, and the family. This is a neat, powerful technique, although it might lead to stereotyping in play. Unfortunately, most races get just one page of description, which isn't enough. All but the "enemies" can be used as PCs, and seem to have been designed with game balance in mind. (I don't mean that as a compliment, but some people might like it.)

After a bit on NPC reactions and planetary law, there's a fairly straightforward scenario, a bunch of blank record sheets - and we're on to Book 2. This covers starports and trade, then space mapping (a detailed, hex-based, 3-D system) and planets - which means lots more tables, including a list of locations for hundreds of stars in the vicinity of Sol. Planets, of course, have life (tables for species skin texture and facial layout); if that life is intelligent, its technological level can be determined in great detail (more tables).

Getting to these places requires starships. Lots of standard designs are given, or you can build your own - and there are, I kid you not, tables for the chance of industrial unrest in the shipyard.

After all that, it is some relief to encounter a series of substantial chapters on possible campaign elements - such as futuristic police work (much like contemporary New York, but with aliens and rogue psionics), the Space Navy, piracy, interstellar medical work, and infiltration of the bad-guy alien empire. This means more details on the background, presented with various specialised slants. A few dodgy attitudes creep into the notes; "vigilantism good, gun control bad". Related scenarios are included - mostly quite basic, but playable with some work from the GM.

And that, a few more game record sheets aside, is that.

FTL: 2448 might have some usefulness for GMs. Book 1 has aliens, a future history, a game system that some people might be able to get the hang of, and lots of tables. Book 2 has ways to map a universe, starships, a string of campaign ideas, and tables, tables, tables. But... it just isn't as smooth, well-presented, or playable as the market leaders of today, or even such semi-polished dinosaurs as Traveller. SF/space opera games have always had trouble selling; it's hard to see how this one will beat that history. I think that Tri Tac are going to stay small.

Phil Masters