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Nothing to Fear But You: Fear Agent Review

Rounding out its lineup of RPGs adapted from acclaimed comic series, Pinnacle Entertainment is bringing Fear Agent to the tabletop. Fear Agent, in its last days on Kickstarter as of time of writing, mixes pulp scifi, western, horror, and military action. It sounds like a lot to promise, but Savage Worlds has handled each of these individually before and done a stellar job. The question is how well they can adapt the system to this setting, and introduce it to new audiences. Fear Agent takes place in a universe ravaged by war, where powerful empires vie for control and leave the rest in a desperate struggle for survival. Earth is one of those desperate groups. After the war rolled over our planet, the human race was thrown into the deep end of intergalactic politics and power plays. Ravaged by the oncoming war, groups of resistance fighters sprang up, the most successful Texas’ own Fear Agents.

In a few pages that are an easy read, Fear Agent gets you up to speed with the history of this world, its essential conflicts, and the various parties who are fighting for dominance. The war was devastating, but the scrawny remains of humanity emerged a member of the United Systems,  with barely enough political clout to make its own way and a lot to prove. Getting into a new setting’s lore is always a daunting task, but Fear Agent fills you in while managing to be an entertaining read and quietly handing you plot hooks for future adventures. You will be surprised how quickly you get excited about this setting and the possibilities it offers.

The world has changed, and so have you

Humanity is a true underdog race on the galactic stage. We are rated at a Class C intelligence, but only on a probationary (and somewhat begrudging) basis, more accurately considered to be a Class D by many. We get told this in a short sidebar that some readers are likely to miss, but the inherent tension, humor, and political implications of even this short mention are encouraging. Before you get further you have a goal and a chip on your shoulder: you have to prove yourself to the rest of the galaxy, and your entire race hangs in the balance.

Speaking of races, Fear Agent has some encouragingly strange ones on display. Dressites are sentient amoebas that wear humanoid exosuits to get around and Tetaldians are cyborgs who have been driven to the fringes by the mighty conflict. There are many other such creatures that are as well-considered as they are interesting to play around with. While each of them are spelled out in their own sections and in the bestiary at the end of the book, none of them are given stats as playable races. If you want to play a Dressite or different sentient race in the game you will have to adapt it for yourself, though whether this is a weakness is a complicated question.

Science fiction is, in most cases, about the coming together of diverse groups to form a better, more moral whole. Star Trek and Mass Effect have a message about the strengths of inclusion. Fear Agent takes a different approach, and that approach is what makes it unique. Like the many third world countries caught up in the ongoing maneuvers of Russia, America, and the Eurozone, Earth is not privy to the resources or technology of any of its theoretical peers. Humanity is not on equal footing, and Fear Agent exists to let you explore that feeling of powerlessness and frustration. Will you fight for legitimacy within a political system that has little regard for you? Will you try to strike it out completely on your own and reject their offers of assistance? Will you actively resist using whatever acts of terrorism available? Fear Agent makes you face these quandaries, and step into the shoes of someone less well off. And those answers may surprise you.

Yeah, this time don’t expect happy messages about working together. Space hippies still present, though

While you will need the Savage Worlds core book to play, Fear Agent has everything you need to make your own characters, including setting-specific equipment and rules. Character Edges range from the typical but important (Dark Secret, Short Temper) to ones that set the tone much better for this setting, like Xeonophobe or Zero-G sickness. There aren’t many additions, but the ones present add important disadvantages to your characters that have genuine mechanical drawbacks and interesting dimensions to the roleplay. There is a similar number of Edges, which also do a great job of getting characters oriented to the universe and making them unique. Clone is probably the standout, which gives you extra experience but also starts you with disadvantages connected to the emotional and biological trauma it takes to be a clone of another person.

The gear available is a wide assortment of space-travel essentials ranging from the primitive to futuristic, as well as their pricing. It makes for perfect theming to know that there are personal force fields and matter cutters, but that they are out of your reach and in the hands (or pseudopaws, as the case may be) of the more established races. The layout is nonstandard and somewhat confusing because of it. Instead of having a central table to compare the weapons, most of them get separate writeups with stats underneath. It makes quick navigation more difficult, especially because you will only need to reference special qualities rarely as compared to basic statistics.

Fear Agent also has an extensive system on spaceships. It begins, oddly enough, in the equipment section with a listing of ship weaponry, and then goes into a separate chapter on ships themselves. I understand the desire to keep all weapons in a single chapter, but it is unintuitive not to put ship weapons in the ship chapter, especially because it immediately follows the equipment section. These ship rules are consistent with Savage Worlds vehicle rules except as necessary, working well to fit into your current understanding of the rules as they already exist. They have modifications based on ship size and technological levels, but primarily they make intuitive sense. Unfortunately there aren’t many ways for characters other than the pilot to contribute to the navigation or combat, so you will want to keep the use of these rules limited. It’s a constant issue with space combat rules, and one that Fear Agent has not solved.

Being an advanced age and time, there are also new setting rules to help you play in this new universe. These are detailed, letting you experience different atmosphere types and even gravitation levels.

The Game Master’s section contains setting secrets, but only those which are largely already known by readers of the comics, and this presents an unfortunate quandary. Unlike anything I have mentioned so far, these secrets tie directly into the actions of the main character of the Fear Agent comics. They have implications for the rest of the universe that could make for some world-shattering plot hooks, potentially literally, but you will have to decide whether to extricate them from that character, ignore them, or keep him as an element to your campaign.

We also receive an overview of the universe and its many locations. These writeups are short but incredibly varied. You find within this section plenty of space to explore the wide universe and create plot hooks for your characters. You get the main systems of the sentient races but also small outposts or important locations where their empires stretch.

It’s about this time that an issue starts to creep in that you may have suspected earlier in the book but gets outright confirmed at this stage. Fear Agent’s art is fantastic, but also very limited.  It too seems to be constrained to material already found in the comics, most of which centers on the main character himself. What you don’t see are the many locations, characters, weapons, or ship types except very rarely. You are left guessing what some of the main races look like most of the time, which poses a problem if you want to use concept art to spice up the experience. The pieces on display are well framed and sell the gritty underdog setting very well, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that they almost unilaterally have the same focus.

More of the aliens riding sky whales next to a mysterious city above a lake of lava and less of the gruff white guy would be appreciated in my space adventure

The Adventure Generator, essentially a few random tables, is a quick way to make short, on the fly stories for your characters to interact with. They have goals, twists, enemies, et cetera, all of which are incredibly varied. It’s encouraging to know that anyone could get a great adventure going on the fly and have it fit in well with this universe. The book even has complete examples of what random adventures might look like to help new GMs and serve as premade jobs if you so desire.

We then have two longer sections, one being an adventure set place right after the Anubis conflict which thrust Earth kicking and screaming into galactic politics and the other during, to explore what your characters went through as Earth was being redefined. The main campaign sets the stage for the new universe and puts you in the place of down and out underdogs in a hostile universe. The stakes are high and the challenges serious; by the end of it you will have some serious anger at the other races, and the start of a plan about what to do with it.

The second section is less straightforward, consisting of a series of flashbacks intended to be peppered in throughout the first campaign. This is less well considered, given the lack of linear narrative and consequences. The intention was to pay homage to the comics, which also explain characters through flashbacks, but in an RPG you can’t afford to jump around in time the same way. These interludes come out of nowhere, don’t grant experience, and can’t have lasting consequences for your characters that didn’t exist before you started the campaign. I truly admire the attempt to do something different, but the best option is to harvest these flashbacks for their ideas, try to run them as a standalone adventure, or ignore them entirely. To the author’s credit, this section pays a lot of attention to helping you use the flashbacks your own way. The writers want you to get the most out of them and put extra effort in to help you do it.

Of course, having bad memories about the Anubis Conflict is something that makes complete sense

Fear Agent also has a chapter devoted specifically to small pre-made adventures. Each of these is tailored to show you a unique side of the Fear Agent universe, and give opportunities for every character type to shine. Expect to explore the universe, battle its alien creatures, and negotiate with the foreign powers that are in control.

The book rounds out with a massive bestiary of alien creatures, separated into sentient and non-sentients to help you distinguish. This section is also frustratingly lacking in terms of art, but it does have an advantage in terms of abundance of creature types. There is enough here to keep your characters both challenged and constantly surprised however long you play, and it’s a great relief to see how much care was paid to filling this universe with living creatures.

Fear Agent
Designed by: John Goff
Published by: Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Players: 2+
Ages: 13 and up
Mechanics: Roleplaying, Metacurrency Management, Tactical Combat
Weight: Medium
MSRP: $25.00

85

Great

Fear Agent

Review Guidelines

Bucking the optimism of most scifi settings, Fear Agent is a universe fraught with humor, action, and intrigue that is extremely well adapted to the Savage Worlds system. You will have all the tools you could need to fight this war for humanity or die trying, under the heel of a higher order of species.

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