Pax Draconis Role Playing Game Core Rulebook

Pax Draconis Role Playing Game Core Rulebook

From: Technicraft Design
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Pax Draconis Role Playing Game Core Rulebook is a new Role Playing Game Core rulebook from Technicraft Design.

My primary roleplaying game experience centers around space opera, dark space opera and the sub-genre of opera-punk.  From Star Frontiers and Star Wars to the not-so-well-known Shatterzone and Reich Star, I have explored many aspects of space opera.  I enjoy it for its vastness and epic-ness, its variety of plots and depth of character. I am also a techno-phile and love the gadgets and guns with which  sci-fi can supply our imagination. This kind of game, I would say, is “my bread and butter.”

Pax Draconis (PD) is a new roleplaying game by Technicraft Designs that claims to combine “features and technology from both ‘cyberpunk’ and space opera genres.”  One of my favorite games was Shatterzone  which was similar to this.  My first impression of PD was that it had a slight influence from Japanese animation – but only slight.  The cover art along with some of the interior art did attract me, so I read further.  It looked like a game I would like.

From the back cover: “ One Galaxy. One War. One million ways to profit.”

Background: The Pax Draconis universe is one like our own but separate from our own.  Humans exist and are the dominant species, but there is no Earth or an Earth-related history.  Humans have expanded into space using sub-light and fold-space/hyperspace drives, colonizing thousands of worlds.  Stellar nations sprang from this as humans spread out further and further.  Then the Swarm came.

The war with the Swarm gave birth to a need for a better warrior to fight the humans war for them and a better pilot  for the new advanced fold-space drives that humans could not survive in.  The humans genetically engineered the draconians – a winged lizard species not unlike the draconians from Dragonlance.   And this is where their troubles started.

The timeline seems to forget all about the Swarm and moves on to the societal evolution and revolution of the draconians and the rise of the Draconian Empire. All this happens in a time span of 50 years or so.  In 20 years following the rise of the Empire, the Empire itself begins to show signs of splitting with a revolution of its own and this is the universe the players are set in.

Humans are the dominant species in number. The draconians dominate with their military prowess but remain the minority.  The game’s background takes the unique and somewhat refreshing approach that many sci-fi books, shows and games have taken recently – that it’s going to take a while for humans to find other life in space.  The only other intelligent life are an alien race called the Treebers.  Treebers are actually a collection of species all with similar physiologies, but genetic variants throughout.  This could be a cheap way to avoid publishing many player character races or just a unique way to present a varied list of species types under one race – you be the judge.  I just know that when something claims to be associated to the space opera genre, I would expect numerous races to choose from.

Although somewhat imaginative, the background to PD is missing something for me.  It has many holes – the biggest of which is the Swarm.  I could not find where they closed off the Swarm plot line.  Also, the background simply is too personal on certain key characters and not as epic as a space opera background should be.  One of my favorite dark space opera games is Fading Suns  and that background is amazingly deep and epic.  PD doesn’t reach that level at all.

On top of that, the few epic events that occur in the background story seem to take place over unrealistic time periods.  Given stellar distances, I found some of the events occurring over too short a period of time (assuming a year in this universe is somewhere close to our standard year – I was left to assume that).  This gave me the impression of a lack of fore-thought or a misunderstanding of reality.  I would be more inclined to modify the timeline and make it more realistic and detailed with a few more nuggets for GMs to explore.

One interesting gem is the notion of Savants and hyperspace entities.  I like this aspect of this game and may use it elsewhere.  It is the idea that a hyperspace entity symbiotically bonds with a physical being in our space, giving that person mystical abilities while at the same time giving that hyperspace entity the ability to learn from and effect the physical world.    This is PD’s mage or psychic class.  However, like in all sci-fi games, the type of class runs the risk of unbalancing the game.  If not properly restricted, it can.  I always view it this way – anything mystical can be balanced by enough technology, as well as social and technical know-how.  Powerful abilities can be balanced by either powerful guns or powerful friends or contacts.  It takes a skilled GM to make sure the mages or Jedis do not over-power the game, PD included.  

System: The system is based on the d100 roll.  I’ve noticed in reaction to the d20 dominance recently an influx of alternate systems that utilize the bell-curve system of task determination.  D20 is not a bell curve system and ends up being more heroic – and to some, unrealistic and unsatisfactory.  Many of those who dislike d20 fall back to a more realistic system that uses a bell-curve determination system – like a d100 or 3d6 system.  I’ve never had a problem with these type of systems and in my opinion, the d100 is the best bell-curve one can use.

Character generation is pretty straight forward – choose a race, role your 10 ability scores, and choose your special abilities.  The special abilities allow for a wider variance in species, giving the players the ability to create variant humans and draconians.  Treebers come with their own set of special abilities or “adaptations.”

There is one thing I love in sci-fi games and that’s variety.  PD’s Career Area section supplies that in spades.  The system uses a nine general Career Area as the basis for the character class and then allows the player to specialize in certain specialty areas.  The system reminds me of a combination of the d20 class system (very simplified and less restrictive) and the old GDW house system of careers (used in Dark Conspiracy, Traveler: the New Era and Twilight: 2000).  Each specialty supplies the character with skills, contacts and equipment.  The system also allows for “multi-classing” within or outside a Career Area.  Of course, any kind of advancement requires Experience Points.  I found the career/specialty system unique.  I liked it very much.  It also has plenty of potential for expansion.

The skill system and task determination is another story.  There are no skills levels.  You simply have or do not have a skill.  They are more like d20 feats than skills.  And there are a lot of them, which is good (…variety, remember?…).  However, almost each and every skill can have a different effect in game.  This makes it difficult to resolve tasks in game without a quick reference to all the effects of the skills.  It either requires every player to have a copy of the rule book (which I do not discourage, mind you) and forces them to almost always flip through the book to find their skill effects, or the players must make good notes (and I never rely on players to make good notes).  I find that unattractive.  If they want to have this type system, then it would have been nice if they included a quick reference for the skills.

From the back cover: “In Pax Draconis, you’ll find adventurers scuttling through overcrowded cities, hugging the edge of the law and wielding weapons and computers alike.”

Combat is well-written and detailed – very detailed.  It uses a 15 second round where a player has the ability to do 2 normal actions and a interrupt action.  The notion of an interrupt action is unique and very cool.  The system uses a hit location system, which limits the combat to humanoid characters (i.e. if the GM is so inclined to add creatures of a non-humanoid shape, a new hit location chart would have to be made).  The damage system is also very detailed and realistic – using a penetration value and the hit location to determine damage.  This system is incredibly realistic and painful – painful for the player and the character.  It requires a reference table you either have to flip to or have on a GM screen every time someone is hit.  This makes combat a little more time consuming until you know the chart by heart.  For those that like realism and detail, this is a good combat system.  It’s not too clunky but it has its moments of ‘clunkiness.’  

Vehicle Combat is similarly detailed as man-to-man combat. There is enough detail that someone who wants to take the time outside of roleplaying to engage in ship to ship combat can, and those that like high detail would enjoy it. However, there is no simple way to engage in vehicle combat and remain in roleplay, which is why I rarely engage in it.

The remaining sections of the systems chapters provide a wide variety of optional and advanced rules giving the GM many ways to interest, engage and hurt the players in this universe.  The magic or savant system  is simple but allows for varied savant characters.  Powers are learned like skills, but living in the savant world is a little more restrictive career-wise.

Other Stuff:  The rest of the book is taken up with equipment, planets and vehicles.  This is where I like the art.  The technical drawings of this book in some cases are well done (although the weapons section is poorly drawn).  These sections supply a good variety of equipment, weapons, vehicles, and armor.  It includes powered armor suits called Mechanized Unit Suits, a long detailed computer section including hacking rules,  vehicle modification and construction rules, and a short cybernetics section that leaves a little to be desired. 

The Galaxy section holds a vast array of information about the universe in which PD takes place.  This section has a lot of general information about the galactic sectors, the frontier and the worlds contained within.  With fifty-four (54) pages of sector and system descriptions, each system is given a paragraph or two of treatment – except, of course, the Draconia Star System, which is fleshed out a little more than the rest.

Layout & Presentation: The overall book looks good.  It is a larger soft covered book with good and attractive cover art.  However, the art within the book does vary from pretty good to pretty bad.  I like some of the art, including some of the character art and equipment art, but some of the general art is pretty bad.  A big bonus is the index.  That’s always one of my pet peeves for large core rule books.  You almost always end up book-diving at some point during a game to look up rules, and an index makes it so much easier.

In conclusion, I can not say I hate Pax Draconis, but I can not say I completely like it either.  It needs work.  It needs depth.  It needs more fleshing out.  The system is well done, detailed and worth a try with a group that likes that type of thing.  The background needs a lot more work.  This game is perfect for those GMs that like to add in a lot of their own stuff to the background of a game. I’ve, in fact, done a lot of that in the past, but as I get older, it is hard to find that time to invest in a game for that purpose.  

As I look at the web site, I see that the publisher has put out a lot of supporting material for their game.  They obviously have a passion for it and I admire that.  I can only hope that the additional material adds a little more depth to the universe – the type of depth that will inspire GMs to run adventures in this universe.  At this point, I do not feel like I could run anything in this universe that would be any different than in other sci-fi games that I already have, so why would I buy this system.  I need more to inspire me to run something IN the Pax Draconis universe that is uniquely Pax Draconis.

It claims to be a space opera with elements of cyberpunk.  It does have a gritty feel of cyberpunk and it has some pretty detailed computer rules but it needs more on cybernetics.  It also is missing some of the epic feel of a space opera.  This would be solved by simply adding more unique depth and detail to the overall universe.  They have a good system and the beginnings of a unique universe, but fall slightly short, in my view.

For more details on Technicraft Design and their new Role Playing Game Core Rulebook “Pax Draconis” check them out at their website, and at all of your local game stores.

Pax Draconis Role Playing Game Core Rulebook
From: Technicraft Design
Type of Game: Role Playing Game Core Rulebook
Written by: Justin Dagna
Cover Art by: Raymond Swanland
Additional Art by: Randy Asplund, Drew Babkirk, Brice Broaddus, Sally Dagna, Beau Folsum, Robert Grosse, Larry Lewis, Neil Nowatzki, Raymond Swanland, and Katherine Wadey.
Number of Pages: 300 (including index and character sheets)
Game Components Included: Soft cover book
Retail Price: $ 29.99
Player Ages: 15+
Item Number: TCD1001
ISBN: 0-9703278-0-3

Reviewed by: Ron McClung