From the back cover of Terracide:
The Earth is No More
Humanity was struggling to catch up with its alien neighbors when Terra ceased to exist. The attack had been a long time coming; It crossed lightyears of space before impact. Thousands of relativistic weapons swept across the system in a matter of hours, moving too swiftly for anyone to see them coming, try to escape, or to warn anyone else what was happening.
When they struck the homeworld, the surface of Terra became a molten holocaust, and the oceans boiled away into the tortured skies. Every settlement on Luna, Mars, and the Galilean moons met the same fate. Colonies on smaller moons and asteroids simply shattered, vaporized instantly by the impact. In the final hours of the attack, on the fringe of Sol’s oort cloud, the last comet-herders were just beginning to figure out something was wrong as they went off the air, one by one. And then it was over.
There were no survivors.
Terracide by Grady Elliott is a gritty, space opera noir. The Earth has been annihilated, leaving only the few million humans who were working in deep space alive. Those who have survived must not only continue the human race, but to discover who – or what – destroyed their home world.
This review is based on comp copies of the Terracide softcover book, and the Terracide PDF, specifically given to me for review by Blackwyrm Games. This is not a playtest review, but is based on a thorough reading of the book, and this reviewer’s nearly 30 years of experience with the Hero System.
Terracide is a setting book for Star Hero, part of the Hero System 6th Edition.. The author, Grady Elliot, terms the setting “space opera noir”.
What this means, to quote directly from the book:
-- Earth-like worlds are extremely rare. There used to be exactly one – Earth. Now it’s gone. Having failed in its efforts to find another Earth, humanity decided to make one. There are several terraforming projects under way, but all are centuries from completion.
-- Aliens are not like us. They aren’t even remotely humanoid in appearance, didn’t evolve on Earth-like worlds, don’t breathe oxygen, and most don’t have spoken languages. Dealing with them successfully requires specialized knowledge.
-- Rubber science is not welcome. With the exception of the FTL drive, the technology presented in Terracide is at least loosely based on real-world science. There is no artificial gravity, no reactionless drive, and no ill-defined energy weapons known as “blasters.”
-- The laws of physics are in effect. Gunfire in a rotating space habitat will be thrown off by the rotation. “Ramming speed” is 100% fatal in space combat, for both spacecraft involved – no survivors. Psionics is a ploy used by con-men to scam true-believers out of their last credits.
Overall, the setting is a winner. It combines a very interesting background with the author’s thorough knowledge of the Hero System. The overall “feel” of the setting, to me at least, is a mashup of inspirations such as Babylon 5, nuBattlestar Galactica, Firefly/Serenity, and Alien/Aliens. Somewhat gritty, but not “grimdark”. Personal combat can be very deadly, and space combat even deadlier, but there is hope of rebuilding the human race on space stations and through terraforming planets.
The book includes Hero System templates for character genetic background (including nine different genetically engineered genotypes); background templates, which include Terrans, Colonists, Floaters (zero-g modified, such as Bujold’s “quaddies”), and Terraformers; and templates for things such as education, military training, government service, criminal backgrounds, and a number of others. The selection of templates is quite good, and seems to cover a majority of character-types likely to be wanted by players. And of course, being the Hero System, players can make any kind of character they want anyway.
There are also ten pre-generated characters to be used as examples, or to be used as Player Characters if desired. The writeups all seem reasonable, and are illustrated with a picture of each character. The character illustrations are drawn, but are created in Jeff Hebert’s HeroMachine. They are nicely done for what they are, and will do in a small-press book such as Terracide, but HeroMachine instills a kind of “sameness” to the characters. Original drawings would have been better, but I understand that original artwork would probably have been cost-prohibitive for a production such as this. Also included, in the GM’s section, are a number of writeups of NPC’s, such as security personnel, military crewmembers, special agents, and terrorists. Again, these are illustrated by HeroMachine drawings, but once more, perfectly serviceable.
There are also writeups of representative samples from each of the alien races- Ammonite, Cytherian, Fluorian, Titan and Jovian. The aliens are all very alien, with not a rubber-foreheaded humanoid among them (and are illustrated with original drawings, not HeroMachine). Aliens are not recommended as Player Characters.
A number of types of spacecraft and starships are included, fully written up as Hero System vehicles. There is also a fairly extensive list of equipment, weapons, and weapon accessories, which could also be used for other Star Hero games besides Terracide.
A sample background setting is included- Marathon Free Station, a rotating asteroid habitat in orbit around Groombridge 34B. This station is what reminds me a little of Babylon 5, a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” just waiting for Player Characters to come and adventure.
The final part of the book is a GM’s Vault, where the GM can find the answers to some of the big secrets of the setting, such as the background of the Terracide attack, as well as various adventure ideas and seeds.
There are a number of Appendices- a setting Glossary, a reading list including an interesting variety of science fiction and non-fiction, and an extensive listing of possible spacecraft names, for when the GM or Players are drawing a blank.
Production values on Terracide are pretty good. I have a few minor quibbles. The text in the printed book is black type on a gray graphic background, which makes it somewhat difficult to read. This is alleviated in the PDF, which includes the complete book in full color (with black type on a pale bluish background), plus a printer-friendly version that eliminates the background and page borders. Some of the art is pixelated, especially the starmaps (which, by the way, are actual near-Earth stars), and could probably have been improved by either using a higher DPI resolution, or by redrawing them (they obviously were taken from screencaps from a stellar mapping program.). Also, the starmaps have route lines that are coded red and blue in the full-color PDF, but in the printed book, which is black-and-white, there is no visible difference in the lines. There are also a few “see page XX” errors.
Overall, I think this is a good production of a very good setting, and could prove quite entertaining, especially for those players that enjoy “hard” science fiction, and nittty-gritty life on the edge of the deep black.
I would rate it (on a scale of 1-5):
STYLE: 3 (decent, but could use improving- see above)
SUBSTANCE: 4 (lots of interesting background, as well as things which could be adapted for other Star Hero games)