Whispers From The Void – A ‘Death In Space’ TTRPG Review Part 2

by Anton Kromoff

Welcome to the table for part two of a multi-part review of Free League‘s science-fiction tabletop role-playing game Death in Space.

In the last review, we covered Character Creation, Cosmic Mutations, Void Corruptions, Group Storytelling, and more. As we continue on our isolating and oppressive journey through a solar system that feels as if the grip of entropy itself is crushing down on you from all sides I would like to start by touching on how the game addresses space exploration itself.

Baked into the system, there are Extravehicular Activity Suites or EVA Suites. These EVA Suites come in two flavors heavy and light and each kind have its own armor and item slots. They have their own life supports and oxygen supply, and feel in a lot of ways, to use another tabletop element as an analog, like a familiar. While they do not speak to you or follow you around, there is enough customization and need for upkeep and care that they do not feel like just another piece of gear that you can mindlessly toggle on and off.

Not only is there a built-out system for using your EVA suits in space, complete with oxygen depletion and zero gravity movement, but the game also has a robust Space Travel system that includes risky maneuvers, pilot checks, travel complications within and between systems, and galaxies, and a litany of things that could go wrong as you and your party navigate the vast space between spaces.

There is a fast and fun combat system, but what I would really like to highlight is something that as a Game Designer, Player, and Storyteller really stood out to me, which was the method of figuring out turn order. In Death In Space, the players dictate turn order between themselves. Another standout attempt to showcase and reward group tactics and play the way that you determine turn order is left to the players themselves.

This allows for the players to really strategize and address combat with incoming threats in a way that works best for them. It seems like such a small detour from the normal path of “Your DEX decides your Initiative.” As I sat pondering the implications at the table, both from the player’s side and the Referee’s side of things, it really changes the dynamic of combat in a fun way. So much so that I am going to play test this with other systems when the time feels right.

Beyond person to person, cultist, strange robot, thing from beyond the stars, and so forth combat there is also a Spacecraft Confrontation system built in. General actions can consist of piloting, setting up defenses, jumping between ships, or writing a goodbye note to those who may eventually discover your frozen husk floating in space. Even when dealing with the Spacecraft combat and maneuvers, the spotlight in Death In Space is focused on the players and their interactions with each other over just the actions of a single “pilot” or “gunner.”

If you manage to survive all of these ordeals (and if you work together you may very well do just that) you will find yourself leveling and gaining more abilities, hit points, benefits, and of course cosmic mutations.

Once Death in Space finishes exploring the systems and stats of the game, it dives into the setting itself, the lore, and set dressing that makes this strange science fiction TTRPG really stand out.

There is a deep dive into The Tenebris System and its locations, histories, and inhabitance. Unique planets, strange space stations, and forgotten moons each get a small but vivid description that plants enough seeds that a storyteller can grow whole gardens of adventure spanning a single evening or multiple months depending on how deep they and their players want to explore.

The Cults section gets a special call-out. The way they are presented is not only a brief description to give you the flavor or motivations of these secret cabals or space faring fanatics, but also comes with a really thought out glossary of keywords and goals that helps give direction without forcing too much constraint on a Storyteller building adventures in this environment.

The book rules out with an adventure and a slew of charts and tables to quick reference as you play.

If you are coming from only playing Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons and have not dipped your toe into other systems yet, this will be a departure from a system that you are familiar with. However, the system presented in Death In Space is very easy to grasp and can be learned in half an hour or less. Due to the focus on group play and cooperation, everything should fall into place as the Storyteller and the players help each other to quickly learn the system of play.

In closing, Death In Space is a well thought tabletop game that pushes group strategy and play while conjuring feelings of the isolation of space and the horrors of the unknown all wrapped in a brilliantly designed package that perfectly aligns with the themes and tones of the setting.

Until next time, may your synthetic implants regenerate without twisting the very core of your personality to serve the hidden robot masters.

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