Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell, Copyright 2000
Jovian Chronicles is a science-fiction role-playing game published by Dream Pod 9.
It is set in our solar system in 2210. In the twenty-first century, humanity expanded into space founding settlements on the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, Venus and in orbits around Jupiter. Terraforming began on both Mars and Venus. Meanwhile Earth began to collapse in a series of civil disorders and environmental disasters, becoming isolated from the colonies in 2100. The colonies became independent nations during the twenty-second century whilst Earth rebuilt itself under a new world government. After two decades of peace and prosperity, the political fallout arising from the defection of an Earth scientist to Jovian space has brought the worlds to the brink of war.
All in all, this is a plausible future history with a relatively hard science-fiction feel.
More details on the politics and peoples of the solar system can be located in the World Cyclopedia chapter. Each interplanetary nation receives a historical overview, specifics on its culture, politics, science and military initiatives, commerce and industry, and a synopsis of recent developments in current affairs.
Mercury is orbited by a score of space settlements and the headquarters of the Merchant's Guild, which are responsible for the bulk of interworld trade. The marginally terraformed Venus is a corporate state with the Machiavellian Venusian Bank now the leading financial power in the system. Earth is governed jointly by CEGA (Central Earth Government and Administration) and the Non-aligned States while the orbital habitats and lunar cities have submitted to an uneasy CEGA rule. Mars is divided into the totalitarian Martian Federation and the democratic Martian Free Republic. Border skirmishes are a frequent occurrence on the Red Planet and a real civil war seems imminent. The Asteroid Belt is home to hundreds of tiny colonies, fiercely independent and individualistic but easy prey for the imperial ambitions of the greater powers. The Jovian Confederation, consisting of huge space colonies orbiting Jupiter and its Lagrange points, is the most distant effective nation and the default focus for Jovian Chronicles. (The Confederation bears certain similarities to Canada - the fact that Dream Pod 9 are based in Montreal is surely a coincidence!) Beyond Jupiter, explorers, scientists and pirates travel the outer realms.
To further assist potential players, each of the "planetary" write-ups includes an account of typical motivations for the citizenry and associated campaign ideas. Additional depth to the background can be found in the Known Organizations chapter. PCs can choose to join neutral bodies such as the Intersettlement Geographic Society and the Solar Cross or seek to avoid the machinations of the Venusian Bank and the Merchant's Guild.
The core game mechanics of Jovian Chronicles are introduced and explained in the Silhouette Basics chapter. These are quite simple - roll one or more six-sided dice, take the maximum value, add one for every six rolled and add any modifiers. If all the dice come up with "ones", a fumble has occurred. To succeed at an action, the final result must equal or exceed a threshold ranging from 1 (moronic) to 10 (near impossible).
The nitty-gritty of character creation is explored in Character Design. This is a five-stage process of conceptualisation, attribute selection, skill selection, calculation of secondary traits, and equipment purchase. Conceptualisation involves answering a series of twenty questions on the appearance, relationships and motivations of the character. Once the concept is finalised, the more mechanical aspects can then be performed.
Jovian Chronicles uses ten attributes, which have a normal range of -3 to +3. "Joe Average" will have average attributes of zero across the board. Depending on the type of campaign (Gritty, Adventure or Cinematic), the number of Character Points varies from twenty to fifty. As an average score of zero costs 1 point, +1 costs 4 points and so forth, it will be necessary to recover character points by setting some attributes to negative values in order to achieve really high attributes. Thoughtfully, major NPCs get more character points than PCs.
Skills (of which seventy-two are described in the game) are purchased using distinct Skill Points. The cost of these skills varies according to whether the skill is simple or complex and what level of proficiency is required. Skills are governed by attributes, setting maxima on what level of expertise can be attained. Gamemasters are warned about the possibilities for munchkinism in the system at this point.
The secondary traits (such as Health and Unarmed Damage etc.) can then be calculated and equipment purchased. Further warnings on avoiding "Monty Haul" campaigns from excessive wealth in the game and hints on how to persuade the PCs to leave their weapons at home interleave the comprehensive equipment and weapons lists. As an unusual departure from other points-based systems, Jovian Chronicles does not have any talents and flaws system, and unlike most science-fiction role-playing games, psionics do not appear.
The Character Design chapter is rounded off with eighteen archetypes, which the gamemaster can use as stock NPCs.
The Character Action chapter covers skill checks and then explains combat and other hazards (such as irradiation and vacuum) in detail. An interesting aspect of the system is the initiative mechanic - fumble this and the character will "freeze" and be unable to act that round. This elegantly captures the poor reactions and hesitation of civilians in dangerous situations. Lastly, there are Abstract Vehicle Rules for those (like me) who really don't want to get involved in the intricacies of a tactical wargame of spaceships and giant exoskeletal armors.
The Mechanized Action chapter supplies the tactical rules for space warfare in the twenty-third century. The same rules can be used for ground, air and space conflict in two dimensions and (for the brave) a three dimensional reference frame. The rules seem to cover all the bases satisfactorily, but I'm not really competent to judge here.
The limits of technology in the setting are discussed in the next chapter. Research into nanotechnology and artificial intelligence has been prohibited and this serves to rein in a technological take-over of the game. A comprehensive list of special features and programs for spacecraft and computer supplements a catalogue of exo-armors and spaceships.
All the best role-playing games include a scenario to allow gaming groups to experiment with the background and rules. Jovian Chronicles is no exception. "Madman's Gambit" is a nice introductory adventure that will embroil the player-characters in interplanetary politics with a vengeance, and allow players to play-test the whole of the system.
Novice gamemasters will find the final chapter useful in setting up and running Jovian Chronicles campaigns. The differences in reality distortion levels (Gritty, Adventure and Cinematic) are explored, and there are a number of helpful hints to ensure that the opposition gives the PCs a run for their money. Ranges of possible campaigns are suggested and the essential preliminary work is outlined for each genre.
In summary, Jovian Chronicles is a good science-fiction role-playing game for interplanetary adventures. The setting is interesting with sufficient opportunities for covert and overt conflict to appeal to most gamemasters. The combination of role-playing and tactical rules will also provide a well-integrated system for those who like to mix role-playing and wargaming.
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