Game Review, Planets of Peril, The Sword and Planet Role Playing Game

Copyright Aaron Smalley © 2012

Edited by Rebecca Smalley for The Guild Companion

"The timing of this games release is fitting with the recent release of the John Carter movie which was developed for the big screen from the Princess of Mars book written by Edgar Rice Burroughs"

Guild Companion review of "Planets of Peril: The Sword and Planet Role Playing Game" by Keith Bruce Vaughn.

As explained in the early pages of this electronic book (pdf) available through DriveThruRPG.com, it is intended to provide a setting and simple rule system for "Planetary Romance" games. The term Planetary Romance refers to a sub-genre of the Sci-fi Pulp Fiction Genre of stories that were popular in the first half of the 20th century and are still somewhat popular today and was the forerunner to the Sci-fi genre, while at the same time also usually including a "save the damsel in distress" motif. The timing of this games release is fitting with the recent release of the "John Carter" movie which was developed for the big screen from the "Princess of Mars" book written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator and grandfather of the planetary romance genre. Along with other such authors like Lin Carter, Michael Moorcock, and many others.

Planets of Peril is over 180 pages in length and is sub-divided into 5 "Books" within the document, each covering some aspect of the rules and system mechanics as well as the setting. Also included are pages at the end containing character sheets, NPC "cards" and other stuff that may be of use to the game master or "Warlord" who runs the games that the players participate in.

The first section or Book is titled "Prologue- The Call to Adventure", which provides a description of what a role playing game is as well as basic information about the "Planetary Romance Genre" that most current day Sci-fi stories originated from. One prime example of this (while not included in Planets of Peril) was the use of the word Sith by George Lucas in the second set of 3 Star Wars movies, which George openly admitted in an interview many years ago to having stolen from Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian books (can't recall off the top of my head which book it was from, but a Sith was a huge and deadly wasp-like creature, if memory serves me correctly). It also covers such common info as the author's sources of inspiration for his work as well as the use of dice to determine outcomes (Action Resolution) of actions and activities for which the outcome is not guaranteed.

The second section, titled "Characters- The Forging of a Hero" covers character creation, including the playable races that were developed for this games setting and how to develop a character concept and then flesh it out. Also included are the basics of the system mechanics behind the game. This includes how skills and combat work, as well as character actions, equipment and an example of a short gaming session.

Third is "Warlord's Guide: A Thousand Paths to Adventure" covering how to run a game as well as covering some aspects that may not be obvious. Among other things included in this section are travel, wilderness encounters, NPC's and other aspects that may create questions for someone new to running games in this setting or with this rules system.

The fourth section is titled "Zardoon: Moon of Mysteries", which covers setting information, including the geography and day/night cycles upon the moon, history, language conventions, cities, ruins, alien races and creatures as well as information about other nearby inhabitable moons of note within the settings solar system.

The next section is "Superscience & Artifacts" which covers the technology of the now extinct "Archons" (the aliens who while extinct still influence and threaten humanity within the setting and who are responsible for the creation of the moons that make up the setting). They were an advanced alien civilization that captured and transported to these moons a wide range of creatures and plants from other inhabited worlds for their own zoological and biological testing purposes, but where later wiped out by another powerful alien race, resulting in the remote multi-moon laboratory that is the setting of this game being plunged back into barbarism. Thus a portion of this games setting is the struggle to survive and advance on these worlds where amazing technology had existed in the past but is now mostly destroyed as well as battling against the "Living Metal" guardians and repair systems that the Archons left behind when they perished.

A sample adventure has also been provided, that utilizes a flow chart to lay out stages or steps in the adventure plot line with basic details provided for each stage or step of this plotline, based on the actions that the characters choose. The adventure is designed to give a good feel for a typical planetary romance adventure, as there is rescue of damsels in distress, plot twists and that are slowly uncovered and cinematic combat situations where the players characters can perform heroic feats to overcome their adversaries and save the day.

Overall, I have mixed feelings over Planets of Peril, as there are things that I like and enjoyed reading, while there were other things that I think could use some work. There are a modest number of spelling and grammatical errors present throughout the document, and as such I think it could use a thorough re-editing pass. There are also some things that really need better explanations as to how they work and in some cases references to other parts of the book so that you know where to look for something that may not be obvious the first time it is mentioned.

The system mechanics are a bit too simplified in my opinion; however they appear that they would work well for this type of a cinematic planetary romance RPG. It utilizes a point-buy dice-pool type of mechanism where the "pool" is the size of the die used to determine the results rather than a number of dice as with some other RPG's out there. In essence what this amounts to is a player has a number of skill points with which to purchase skills, with the level of the skill purchased (and the die that is rolled to determine the degree of success or failure of that skill) indicated by a die type/size. As an example, someone with a "Pathetic" skill would roll a d4, while someone who is "Excellent" would roll a d10 and someone who is a true "Master" with a skill would roll a d12. There are no attributes used in this system (and with the way the system mechanics are laid out it does appear to work). The player races are one form or another of humans, most of which have been genetically modified by the Archons over many generations, but each with some advantages and disadvantages so that there is some potential for variety.

The setting has some very intriguing concepts and ideas behind it and has a lot of storyline potential for such a planetary romance setting. Admittedly there are some minor faults with it, but then such planetary romance stories have always been a little "out there" when it comes to the science behind explanations and as such these flaws do fit well with this genre. As while the planetary romance genera was the forerunner of sci-fi, the hard-sci-fi that some people like is a very distant relative. But overall I have to say that I quite enjoyed the setting (even though my personal background lies strongly within the science fields) even though I tend to prefer more of the hard-sci-fi, I still enjoy these types of imaginative settings where hard-science is but a shadow on the horizon.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to give the system mechanics a 6 for playability (but personally I'd likely not use such a system myself), while I'd give the setting an 8 out of 10 rating as while it is a bit far-fetched, that is the norm for such planetary romance settings and it has a lot of potential for creating some very interesting and potentially thrilling stories and games. With a price of only $9.95, it is a good buy for anyone who likes the planetary romance genre of books or RPG's.