Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Retrospective: Future Law

Though I write a great deal about topics related to fantasy and fantasy roleplaying games, science fiction is actually my preferred genre. Consequently, I've amassed a fairly large collection of SF RPGs over the years and I still take an interest in new ones as they appear (despite my desire to keep my gaming library reasonably small). Iron Crown Enterprise's Future Law is among those I own and, though I have never played it, I often find myself idly flipping through its pages, for reasons I'll discuss presently. 

Published in 1985, Future Law is the first of two volumes making up SpaceMaster, ICE's sci-fi counterpart to RoleMaster (on which I've touched previously). The 88-page volume focuses primarily on character generation, but also includes information on creating and running a campaign, as well as a sample adventure. As a derivative of RoleMaster, I doubt anyone would be surprised to learn that the rules in Future Law are complex and employ multiple charts and tables, just like its predecessor. That said, the rules are fairly well presented and, in re-reading them for this post, I didn't have too much difficulty following them. Based on past experience with RoleMaster, I've learned that the game plays reasonably well if each player has copies of the charts his character needs (e.g. weapon and spell charts) at hand. 

Even so, there can be denying that the character generation in Future Law requires more time and attention than, say, Traveller or Star Frontiers (though it's vastly simpler – and more coherent – than Space Opera). Characters possess a profession and a collection of skills, the ease with which they are learned determined by the former. Among the professions is that of telepath, which provides access to psychic powers called psions. There are a number of race options, ranging from Terran humans, mutants, eugenically enhanced Terrans, androids, and aliens. Of the latter, only a few examples are given. I say examples, because Future Law presents itself as a generic system the referee can use to establish his own setting. Even so, the book presents a sample setting, that of the Terran Empire some 10,000 years from now. The Empire is authoritarian and feudal, divided into territories governed by noble house. Little more detail is provided in this book; the Empire is fleshed out at greater length in the game's many adventures.

To aid the referee in creating his own setting, or simply fleshing out the sample one, Future Law provides a system of generating star systems and planets. It's not an especially complicated system in absolute terms, though more so than the system in Traveller. The sample adventure is set in the Terran Empire and centers on conflict between two of its noble houses. It's nothing memorable but it does include plenty of useful maps of starships, planets, and installations. More interesting in many ways is that the book is illustrated by James Holloway in "serious mode," which is to say, without any of the goofiness or sly humor for which he is more well known. 

Even though I've never played it, I have a strange fondness for Future Law because of its particular mix of elements. Every science fiction RPG picks and chooses which aspects of prior sci-fi it includes. Future Law leans heavily into the "far, far future" end of the genre, evoking Frank Herbert's Dune, Asimov's Foundation, and similar kinds of decadent Imperium settings. I have a great weakness for these sorts of settings, though I've never actually used one in all my years of refereeing SF roleplaying games. That likely explains why I own a nearly complete set of SpaceMaster adventures: they're inspiration fodder for the day when I finally get to run a campaign in a setting like this one.


  1. "Strange fondness" is a good term for my feelings about Spacemeaster as well. I bought basically everything that was made for it, even chasing magazine articles for the game, but didn't really play all that much. The default setting did fascinate me, and I got in a LOT of play time with Silent Death both pre-Night Brood-destroying-the-Empire and post, and still happily play it today. Even did a little Armored Assault (the ground combat game) and Star Strike (the precursor to Silent Death) but dropped bothw hen SD arrived shortly after in 1990.

    I still think the Time Riders supplement for Spacemaster may be the best "time travel campaign" idea mine ever printed, and Dark Space was the best early (1990 again) Cthulhu Mythos-Horror-Scifi mashup settings. Guess I have a taste for the oddball stuff from ICE.

    1. Have you seen the update called Space Masters Privateers, its an update to space law and well cleaned up rules. Never got a chance to run it but makes interesting reading as well

  2. Thanks to my ICE-and-Tolkien loving brother, Spacemaster is one of those games I've been a player in, and not the GM.
    We were actually quite fond of the setting, and played a few of the modules. I really liked the Empire's enemies, the Idorians.

  3. The Dark Space campaign setting- an early work by Monte Cook- was completely bonkers and great. A true cult RPG. Full of all sorts of exquisite "Dune vs. Cthulthu as directed by David Cronenberg" madness that you could swipe for any game.

  4. Owned and tried to run it one time. It was more complicated than I wanted and the setting was a bit of everything and some really bad cliches. It did have some good adventure modules. No regrets in selling it.

  5. SpaceMaster (and to a smaller degree SPIs Universe) is one of those games I keep in the hopes of someday running (or even playing), but which is unfortunately increasingly unlikely as time marches on. Sigh...