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Death in Space (2021)

This is Death in Space (2021), an RPG about blue collar life (which is often miserable) in space (which is always hostile). In this, it is a cousin of Mothership, Alien, Those Dark Places and all the various other incarnations of industrial, deep space science fiction. Both the regular and the deluxe versions of the book make a good first impression, with a lovely design sense and very nice illustrations. I see a lot of folks shorthand the graphic design (and the play, honestly) as Mork Borg in space. I understand the impulse and there are definitely similarities, but that does the overall experience of the game a disservice.

The system is a minimal and D20-based. Character generation is highly random (there are lots of random tables in general; in this the relationship to Mork Borg is undeniable). The game focuses around the characters and their hub — a ship or station — that they work to maintain, which often requires taking jobs in order to fund or salvage the necessary material for maintenance. For the most part, the game universe — the Tenebrous System — is gritty and prosaic.

It isn’t entirely without mystery, though. Character progression accrues Void Points, which can turn into mutations (limited special abilities) or corruption (weird side-effects that hint at a stranger truth to existence). Likewise, when a character dies, they role on the Death in Space table to have a vision of how they were meant to die, implying something is fundamentally wrong with existence as the character experienced it. That…is extremely interesting!

Unlike the highly orchestrated Coriolis, Death in Space feels like a toy box and no clear indication of the right or wrong way to play with them. Want to play an Expanse-style game? Go for it. Want to do Dead Space? That’s maybe a little trickier, but doable. The implied universe is fascinating on its own merits but, after all, it remains just that: implied.

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