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Threats from Beyond
Bill Slavicsek
TSR/Wizards of the Coast, 96 pages
Alternity Star*Drive accessory

Art: r.k. post
Threats from Beyond
Star*Drive Information
It's the dawn of the 26th century. Humankind stands on the threshold of greatness and the brink of destruction. Which way will the scales tip?

The STAR*DRIVE campaign setting, designed for use with the ALTERNITY science fiction role-playing game, brings to life the world of the future. Humanity has colonized thousands of planets -- but ambitious nations contend for prime sectors of real estate. At the edge of space is the Verge, where opportunities await those smart enough and ruthless enough to take advantage of them.

It's a game universe for heroes to conquer, investigate, and explore. Scheme with operatives of VoidCorp, fight against Thuldan Legions, and uncover the mysteries of the frontier. Visit a dozen fully described worlds, and learn of powerful interstellar empires. Pilot a starship into uncharted territory, make a smuggling run to an occupied star system, contact a new alien species, and bring galactic criminals to justice.

TSR Catalogue

A review by Don Bassingthwaite

So, heroes -- you're setting out to save the galaxy. You've got your ship, you've got your guns, you've got your mindwalker and your happy, friendly aliens. The Verge is your oyster, a goose waiting to be plucked, a sheep (for the less scrupulous among you) waiting to be fleeced. What are you going to do first?

Well? I'm waiting. Come on, you didn't think adventure was just going to throw itself at you, did you? Oh. Maybe you did.

I can't say that I blame you entirely. TSR's Star*Drive setting is a big place with a lot of potential stories and getting into them can sometimes be a challenge. The Star*Drive Campaign Setting book is an incredible resource, but it is after all a setting book and its scope can be overwhelming. The seeds of stories are there, but they're sprouting in the shadow of a massive amount of information. It can take a lot of work to get under the surface of the setting and loosen things up. Not every gamemaster has that kind of time. Sometimes they've got no time at all -- "Hey, it's raining -- let's play a quick game of Alternity!" -- before they have to come up with an adventure. And that's where Threats From Beyond comes in.

Threats from Beyond brings together a collection of story hooks and adventure ideas for Star*Drive. This kind of collection isn't a new concept, but it's still a strong entry into any RPG line. The overworked gamemaster can pull one of the adventures out for a fast evening or use several together as the basis for a campaign. The framing narrative for Threats From Beyond is a series of news stories posted to the Grid by an anonymous journalist going by the name of "Avatar." The basic structure of the various hooks and ideas shouldn't come as any surprise to experienced gamers: Avatar's reports are short, with brief set-up, a jab of intrigue, and a feint of controversy. Most don't go any deeper into detail, though a few are filled out with game stats, more background, and snippets of what's really going on. The reports themselves are organized into chapters that cover all of the Verge's best known systems, as well as the massive Lighthouse driveship and the halls of power among the Galactic Concord.

However, it's the level above the individual chapters that brings Threats From Beyond to eponymous life: Avatar files his reports as he circulates through the Verge on the trail of mysterious conspiracy, a threat to Humanity from aliens beyond known space. In fact, the sections in each chapter that detail Avatar's meetings with his various contacts are perhaps the strongest sections of the book -- or at least the most interesting, since they are what really draws everything together. The adventure hooks are great gossip and fine for an evening's gaming, but Avatar's own adventures unify the whole. If you're thinking of using Threats From Beyond as the springboard for a campaign, I'd encourage you to look at Avatar as more than just an observer and to think from his point of view (or even to use him in your campaign). It will give you the in you need to make the alien conspiracy work. Without that, your heroes might just find themselves moving from mission to mission with little continuity.

Beyond the overall "threat from beyond," there are a few particular adventure hooks that I found especially good. The chapter on Algemron expands on the insidious teln and on the war in that system -- both topics are covered in the basic campaign setting, but benefit from the additional information here -- while ancient "ships" orbiting an out of the way star provide an excellent chance to inject suspense and terror into a gaming session. Elsewhere in the book are details of the Concord's spy service (always good for skulduggery), suggestions for trading missions, tense situations that call for the talents of diplomats, and similar mysteries requiring a light touch rather than just quick reflexes and a big gun. There's plenty of the usual combat grunt work, but it's good to see a product that balances everything out.

I can't say that Threats From Beyond stands entirely on its own, however. To get its full potential, you will want to have the Alien Compendium and possibly also The Lighthouse, both accessories that contain important information only alluded to in Threats From Beyond. Without them, there are a number of hooks and ideas -- including those mysterious ships -- that just don't work the same. Naturally you'll want the Star*Drive Campaign Setting, too, but that goes without saying.

So no more excuses, heroes. Adventures are waiting. Get out there and grab them by the throat. Just don't forget to watch your own throat at the same time.

Copyright © 1999 by Don Bassingthwaite

Don Bassingthwaite is the author of Such Pain (HarperPrism), Breathe Deeply (White Wolf), and Pomegranates Full and Fine (White Wolf), tie-in novels to White Wolf's World of Darkness role-playing games. He can't remember when he started reading science fiction, but has been gaming since high school (and, boy, is his dice arm tired!).

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