BTRC’s Aethos space-opera setting is earth-shatteringly “out of this world”… Literally!

Whizzing about in starships, aliens on alien worlds, and travelling among the stars is the very stuff of space-opera role-playing. Whether you like your science-fiction hard or soft, RPG players have a wide range of game systems and settings to explore strange new frontiers, drawn from decades of SciFi novels, movies, and television shows.

But, of course, the greatest asset of using the vast and unknown universe as the backdrop for a role-playing game is its numerous possibilities for settings and adventure – anything and everything is possible in nearly infinite universe.

In what might be called the ultimate “alien-abduction” story, BTRC has created a new twist on the typical space-opera setting for its EABA RPG system. Aethos is a strange world where humans as well as chunks of the Earth itself have been taken from our planet, and struggle to survive on a vast ship populated with other aliens and landscapes torn from worlds orbiting distant stars!

Aethos

  • Developer: Greg Porter
  • Illustrations: Quentin Joubert (cover); Tim Anderson, Vitaliy Smyk, Elias Khasho, David Munoz Velazquez, Christian Bravery, Till Nowak, Orillionbeta, Petri Johansson, Christopher Haigood, Riemen Schneider, Santtu Luopajärvi, Pimp My Gun, Dukeleto, Russ Bullman, Peter Saga, Dan Smith (interior)
  • Publisher: Blacksburg Tactical Research Center (BTRC)
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (218 pages) + Character Sheet (interactive PDF)
  • Price: $15.00 (Available from RPGNow)

Aethos is a science fiction role-playing game setting published by BTRC for use with the EABA Universal RPG system. The product comes with complete history of the setting, along with political, geographical, religious, and cultural information to portray human and alien player-characters. Technology, weapons, and alien devices are all detailed in Aethos, along with more than a dozen adventure seeds and campaign options for use by the GM when running the setting. A fillable PDF character sheet is also provided as part of the setting package.


Production Quality

The production quality of Aethos is good overall, featuring some excellent and imaginative writing from the author. On the other hand, the layout is decent but a little bit confusing at times, mainly where headings are concerned.

The PDF has been “augmented” with hyperlinked text in some places, and its table of contents is linked to specific locations in the sourcebook. It also has PDF bookmarks as well, so that navigation through the more than 200 pages of material is easily accomplished.

The fillable PDF character sheet in Aethos is well thought-out, and designed with drop down menus to assign values to stats, skills, and talents.

Aethos
has some very nicely rendered artwork and illustrations in it, starting right off with the fantastic cover art by Quentin Joubert. Many other interior illustrations have the sophistication of the cover, although there are a few cartoonish illustrations where the alien races are concerned. The artwork depicting vehicles and weapons is also very good, although I was a bit disappointed that there was only a tiny fraction of the gear described with an illustration. Overall, I would have loved to see some more artwork in Aethos in every section, if nothing else but to lessen the wall of text feeling when reading through a couple hundred pages.


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” ~ Clarke

The author self-describes Aethos as a “high-tech/espionage/thriller/alien culture/exploration setting” – and I think that hits the mark square on, but I’d have also added “conspiracy/horror/survival” to that list. The premise of the setting starts with an inscrutable alien race called the Aeth attacked the Earth, and took away nearly a score of land masses from around the world – as well as the humans on them - to become part of their “worldship”. While the fate of the Earth is unknown, the kidnapped people and lands have had to contend with several different alien species over nearly a millennium, building a unique society on the surface of a massive artificial planet hurling through the cosmos at nearly the speed of light.

And the campaign begins when the Aethos-worldship is decelerating as it enters another solar system -which, incidentally takes decades - presumably to harvest another alien species from another alien world. There are elements of fear and conspiracy, with the bizarre Aeth making more frequent appearances in the world and other neighboring alien races becoming more frightened and unpredictable.

Obviously, many of the technologies involved in Aethos are beyond human understanding, let alone capabilities, yet serve to convey a sense of awe and wonder to the setting – and a healthy dose of terror and confusion for the characters as well. The author takes great pains at several points in the various chapters in the Aethos setting to drive home the concept that the Aeth are so truly alien in mentality and evolutionary advancement that they simply defy description or understanding. Their methods and motivations are equally mysterious to humans and the other aliens on the worldship, that it’s universally considered a bad idea to be anywhere in the vicinity when an Aeth makes an appearance on the surface. This all lends the Aethos setting both hard-edged science-fiction and wondrous fantasy elements at the same time.

Aethos
is divided into seven sections, each pertaining to a particular facet of understanding and using the setting and creating a long-term campaign. Following the Introduction which gives a brief glimpse of the major topics to be covered, the first section, entitled Overview, covers the nature of the worldship and the geography, climate, and strange features it has. This section also covers the Aeth, the super-advanced beings who dwell inside the depths of the worldship, and tries to assist the GM in understanding how impossible it is for humans to understand them. For added emphasis of certain concepts and facts in the Overview and throughout the rest of the book, the author added pink and green shaded boxes where he discusses design decisions, and behind-the-scenes facts pertinent to the section.

In the Humanity section, the author provides details of how humans have evolved over the course of around 950 years, touching on nearly every facet of life and culture, from history, to the economy, and even religion. Humans have had to fight off a warlike alien neighbor several times, as well as adapt to many human cultures which used to be separate by thousands of miles. For instance, Canberra was lifted and placed on the worldship within a couple hundred miles of Roanoke, Pheonix, and Kathmandu! A specific sub-section discusses the geography and relationships between various “states”, and there is a very cool map made up of hexagons of the Earth’s surface (with terrain features) placed together as the territory of the humans.

The fourth section, Adventurers, gives specific details on how to generate player-characters using the EABA (End All Be All) RPG system. The system uses a number of six-sided dice (d) to depict ability scores, skill level, and talents. Various skill checks and combat activities combine attribute and skill to generate a number of d to throw to resolve a situation. The full rulebook for EABA v2.01 also available from RPGNow for $20.00 but a “lite” version of the rules is available from the BTRC website for free. An interactive and fillable PDF character sheet comes with the purchase of Aethos, and provides a very slick way to keep a character up to date.

The Aliens section discusses the various races and species which share the worldship, but they represent only a small fraction of the species in the setting – mainly for being in the proximity of the human territory. The worldship is vast, about 25 times the size of Earth, and the other side of the “planet” is tens of thousands of miles away. Four alien races are discussed in this section – Drinn, Cartoo, Tuaqq, and the Ancients – although the latter is design only to be an NPC race, whereas the others can be played as characters. The Aeth are also detailed again, if one can say that explaining how unexplainable a race can be is detailing them. But the author does a great job in making the aliens in Aethos truly ALIEN – their ideas, emotions, and though processes can be completely bizarre to humans, but not so strange that they cannot be role-played. There are also two multi-species groups, the Arkivists and Traders, which make their way around the worldship and provide services (and sometimes, adventure hooks).

The Campaign section is rather self-explanatory, providing the GM with ideas and structures for running a long-term game in the Aethos setting. In addition to suggestions for types of campaigns to run, the main plot arc of the game setting – the worldship decelerating toward an alien and unknown system – is discussed as well. The author also provides 17 adventure seeds, which are incredibly well developed, and GM need only add a few specifics to bring them to life for the players. These adventure seeds also bring up even more lore of the setting, and add some ideas on what ramifications the adventures might have in the long-run.

Finally, the section on Gear offers players and GMs a wide range of weapons, armor, gizmos, and vehicles – both Terran and alien – that can be used in the setting. The author discusses Aeth tech and devices, along with devices and technology levels of other alien species known to humans in the setting. Obviously, much of the Aeth tech is “black box” and completely impossible to reproduce, but it is available here and there in the setting and fetches a high price when recovered. There are plenty of different types of gear in Aethos that tug at all the fun scifi tropes, and there is plenty of room for GMs to add their own ideas for Aeth, alien, or new Terran devices.

Overall Score: 4.0 out of 5.0

Conclusions

Aethos
is one heck of a fascinating and unique campaign setting, and gives a new spin on the scifi/space-opera expectations. While the characters might lack access to starships and jump drives, the worldship and alien races of Aethos offer much of the wonder and awe that appears so often in an RPG of this genre.

While I have not reviewed the EBAB RPG system, it seems to be quite solid and robust, and the setting seems to take advantage of the strengths of EABA. However, if the EABA RPG is not your play-style, the setting is fully capable of being adapted to just about any other RPG system out there with a little work.

Overall, Aethos is well worth checking out, and offers a strange new world setting for science fiction role-playing fans.

Editorial Note
: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which this review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 3.75
  • - Design: 3.5 (Fantastic writing but quirky layout design)
  • - Illustrations: 4.0 (Amazing cover and great interior illustrations – needed more!)
  • Content: 4.25
  • - Crunch: 4.0 (Lots of great bits here; cool use of EABA system)
  • - Fluff: 4.5 (Massive amounts of setting lore; great use of scifi tropes and concepts)
  • Value: 4.0 (Great price for a whole world and alien-filled setting!)
 

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