Review: The Nearside Project 2nd Edition

Nearside games

Index: What is it about?: The system!: Character generation?: Problems and concerns: What did I like about the game?: Overall?: What about the future?:

Before reading this review you should be aware that I have more than a little inside knowledge about how this game was developed. I know for example that there is much more behind the actual product itself. I do have to confess that I was involved in a very small way in developing some of the background and helping Steve mull over his ideas as they took shape. So I do have certain biases when it comes to this game, I hope these become apparent as this review progresses so you can at least 'judge for yourself'.

The idea was spawned in the unusual sometimes enigmatic head of Stephen Herron. Enigmatic? Yes well Steve is not a straight forward person and you can be sure this is not a straight forward roleplaying game. Hidden behind the pages and stats is an ever developing literature of short stories and ideas. The game for me has always much much more than simply a roleplaying game and I was pleased to discover that the second edition of the game which had now gone digital (i.e. you can buy it in CD-ROM format) there were many new things to look over.

I was very impressed this CD was being sold for just $13 which to be honest is practically theft! The CD has the game on it, two fully worked out scenarios, a couple of character sheets, a section on character generation, a map of the Nearside, a section on personality traits, a referee's screen, and some Nearside short stories. If that is not enough they have also packed onto the CD some details of Nearside Games up coming products - Sunrise and Starside.

So what is it about?

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The Nearside Project has been developed by Nearside Games from as early as 1996. As I said above The Project is much more than a roleplaying game, it is a game which has a rich background of short stories. These help give the game a feel not evident in others I have seen recently.

As always the game itself on first glance does not appear unique - it is basically an alternate reality type flick. I know, I know, this smacks of series like Quantum Leap, Sliders, and movies like Sliding Doors, in some ways it also has elements of the Matrix to it though it is much less technology focussed. The ironic thing is that the game was in development about two years before Sliders emerged in the UK. Steve still 'froths' about the way in which his idea was 'stolen'. The game itself kicks off with an introductory short story called 'The Long Game.' by Colin R. Sinclair, this story is a great introduction and sets the scene for the sort of narrative the game wishes players to engender.

All artwork for The Nearside Project has been produced by John Mirland you can find more examples of his work at the following web addresses:

Yet The Nearside project is very different to Sliders and the like, the difference comes from the poignant feel the game has. There are thirteen different worlds each of which has a theme or feel. These are summarised as follows:

World Theme/Name Description
Earth 1 Homeworld This is our world mundane and normal. Others dream of such a boring life. You, on the other hand wish you had it so easy.
Earth2 The K'thari Invasion The K'thari invaded this earth in 1989, and have been fighting ever since. We are winning , but the insect aliens are entrenched across Europe and Asia.
Earth3 The Fall The world was struck by an asteroid in 1989, and is about to die. Civilisation is about to fall for the final time, and half the world is already dead.
Earth4 Past Tense This world is one year in the past of Earth1. It's normal apart from that. Imagine the possibilities of going back, and knowing exactly what will happen, and when....
Earth5 Inner Circle This world is like ours, except Magic is everyday and common. It's used like technology, but is in the hands of governments and corporations.
Earth6 Knowing Imagine the 'Butterfly Effect', where one tiny thing can influence the world- and you can see it all.
Earth7 Otherwhere On this Earth, everything is almost the same... except reality is held together by ritual and belief, and dreams become truth- as well as nightmares.
Earth8 The Vanishing The population of this world has disappeared. Where has everyone gone ? And why ?
Earth9 The Fading This world has forgotten those things that are intangible- reasons for doing one thing and not to do another- it's a state of Nature, but its just on this side of Hell.
Earth10 Pandemonium A scientist has found a method of teleportation- by 1997, thousands have used the system, but when they come out the other side, something has changed
Earth11 Hostile Takeover After a world-wide epidemic, the Zenith Corporation now have a veto in almost all of the worlds governments. But that's only fair- they did save the world.
Earth12 December Storm The insane vision of one man has resulted in the creation of Avatars, tremendously powerful humans
Earth13 Future Tense This world is one year in the future of Earth1. What do you do when you discover the date and time of your own death? Can you- should you try and avoid it?

On scanning this you can see a number of things - first thirteen worlds is a lot to write up and a lot to support. This is evidenced by the fact that the folks at Nearside games are in the middle of producing source books for each of the variations. There is still enough information in the game to give you enough to go on and of course the fiction certainly helps hint at ways in which the variations could be used in a narrative. Still with thirteen or sorry twelve (the vanishing doesn't look like much fun - although I suppose you could have a Tom Hanks style Castaway game with a difference in there)possible settings to commence and continue your narratives on there is plenty of conceptual mileage in this game.

With all of this variation loading there must perhaps be some way of pulling each of the thirteen worlds together, otherwise why limit yourself? These are the sorts of issues that really strike me as interesting but also problematic when I first read the game. The interesting thing once again about the Nearside is that not everyone can travel across variations. This is reserved for the few who have a condition called an HBA which is a bit like a lump at the back of the brain... There is some very nice guidance on how someone 'travels' between variations, this can happen through one of four methods:

The broken road, this method of travel is reserved for the nutty who can in some instances leave their body and project their image on the variation travelled to others say this way of traveling has occurred because of the effects it has on the minds of the traveller.
Dream walking, this is travelling that has occurred whilst the Nearsider has been dreaming and has similar characteristics to the broken road except that the character will consider the whole experience a dream.
Violent death, a method described as extremely rare and which most doubt even exists.
Broken Rooms, this method is the most common but also the most unstable method of travel. Basically it involves Nearsiders locations which seem to be connected between variation in some way, they might be a paving stone or a clock face. Whatever the case these will be the most common method used.

The System

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The Nearside project was originally based on a percentile system, this has now changed to a D10 based system to simulate combat and skill use. The skills are bought in the character generation phase and are added to the relevant stat whilst checking for success or failure. Skills range from unskilled, polished, practiced, professional, expert and polished each of these in turn giving bonuses of -2, 0, +1, +2, +3, +4, respectively. The skill pool is the final figure against which a D10 roll is made and is determined by adding the skill rating to the stat.

Once the skill pool has been determined and the difficulty of the task decided(tasks are assigned a difficulty of either easy, routine, difficult or almost impossible, these carrying modifiers of +2, 0 -2, -4) the roll is made using a 1D10. If the roll is less then the modified skill pool, it is a success otherwise it has failed. A roll of 1 is considered an automatic success and a roll of 10 an automatic failure. The GM is encouraged to optionally decide if she wants to assign degrees of success or failure. The following example is given:

"Colin's character, Kelsey, decides that he wants to try to drive his hummer through a set of hanger doors, to get at the supplies that lie within.
Colin must make a roll against Kelsey's Drive Car skill, rated at professional. This is added to his agility stat of 6, giving a total Skill Pool of 8. The referee determines that the action is difficult, and gives a modifier of -2 to the Skill Pool which ends up as 6on a D10. He rolls a 4, which is a success.
Kelsey drives his vehicle through the huge doors, which buckle and tear. The hummer screeches to a halt, surrounded by packing cases with red crosses. Kelsey smiles." (The Nearside Project, p. 24)

There is an extensive skill list along with descriptions as to what these involve. These are listed in alphabetic order and are grouped together under general categories. The categories are:
Artistic skills
Athletic skills
Bureaucratic skills
Armed combat skills
Ranged combat skills
Unarmed combat skills
Technical skills
Medical skills
Military skills
Outdoors skills
Perception skills
Scientific skills
Social skills
Vehicle skills

All artwork for the Nearside Project has been produced by John Mirland you can find more examples of his work at the following web addresses:

Character generation?

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Character generation is considered occurs around the D10 system outlined above. Characters are typically from a military or academic background and are able to draw on the wide range of skills. As usual the GM and player are advised to sit down and work out the character together. The characters are typically from Earth1 there are no rules as yet for developing a character from the other variations and this book only covers those from Earth 1.

The skill system is supposed to reflect the fact that if a person is trained in doing something then he or she should be able to accomplish the task. The combat system likewise reflects this it therefore depends on the player detecting the enemy first and players should be aware that combat can be pretty dangerous. The player is encouraged to fill out her character's career and examples of how to do this are given for four basic types of character profession these being military, academic, criminal and law enforcement.

Before getting into the messy stats type of stuff the player is encouraged to think very carefully about her character concept. This including motivations, fears, and hopes. The player is also advised to think very carefully about how the Nearside will affect her character. In particular the idea of travelling the Nearside is supposed to affect the character in some way this should be thought through especially if the character is going to be around for a while. The player may also want to explore their character generation through a prelude following White Wolf's (I am not providing the link cause I am sure you know through which broken room they exist!)idea.

Then there are Stats.
Stats in The Nearside Project are divided into primary and secondary. Primary stats are used in conjunction with skills and secondary stats are used to resist psychological attacks and other such things during the game. Primary stats are rated between 1 and 13, the average being 5. They all start at 5 and players are given an extra 3 points to distribute. They may also additionally raise one stat as long as they lower another.

The list of physical stats are strength, agility, stamina. Mental stats are perception, IQ and education(?). Social stats are cool, appearance and charisma. Secondary stats are bravery, reactions, hit and damage points. Then there is the big one distance. Distance is a stat which describes a characters state of mental well-being, travelling between variations creates stress on the Nearsider's personality and physiology. I liked the reason given for why it was called distance let me quote:

The stat is called Distance, because of the colloquial language that has built up around the condition. One Nearsider might ask another 'how far have you been?' and know that the question means both 'how many variations have you travelled to', and 'just how mad are you?'. p. 40

This stat is an important component of the game system and it is stressed that the GM should encourage players to keep a good check on it as they play. There are loads of things in these sections to view and a lot of effort has gone into presentation and style.

Problems and concerns:

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I have talked with Steve and the guys at Nearside games about this before and on the odd occasion I have listened to a few others having a frothing rant about the fact that the inclusion of past and future is a real big hairy bitch.... Steve has replied to me on a number of occasions and basically sees it as a matter of taste. I see it as a problem to be honest but I suppose it might be a matter of taste.

Lets face it time travel can be a bitch at the best of times - even more so with some stroppy and most likely very clever roleplayers to control. I think this aspect of the game is a problem but not that the past and future earth variations are the source of this problematic, no it is 'the present tense' which provides me with the most difficulties. By this I mean that how do you observe the present since it is always passing? So how can you have a whole world based on this non-observable 'present'? Especially if it is juxtaposed to the future and past?

Not convinced?

OK think about it like this if you have a roleplayer who decides to travel from Earth1 to the future surely when he/she is in the future he/she is in the future but still in the present because he/she is present in the future?? I don't get it. Put simply (I think - but correct me if I am wrong!) The Nearsider goes to the future but cannot escaping being present in the future. If this is the case then where the hell is the present?

Obviously this has something to do with the shape of the bigger picture - that is the whole Nearside itself and I expect this is where the answer lies. As I said earlier there is hidden depth to this game and I feel that if this eventually emerges then perhaps we will be able to understand the whole issue of why there are only 13 worlds and why we have past present and future and how these are related to each other? I await Steve's answer as I await the next release.

All artwork for The Nearside Project has been produced by John Mirland you can find more examples of his work at the following web addresses:

What did I like about the game?

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This game has depth and it has loads of background information so this is what I particularly like about it. I feel to be honest that it has been thought through very carefully and a lot of the production of the game has been obviously very painstaking. I like the art work and the CD version in particular has allowed Nearside games to release a load of additional information.


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This is a great game well produced and full of depth - I am forever surprised that more people don't buy games like this since they present a solid alternative to their often over priced and over rated big brothers. This product is really very well produced and with some great artwork from John Mirland it is definitely worth buying. Like Crucible Design I feel Nearside Games should be commended for their effort. Everyone knows this is a labour of love. If you are the sort of person who plays roleplaying games perhaps you should think carefully about how much these people like the hobby to go and spend time and effort and small personal savings on producing these games. Why? Well because they love the hobby! This is what frothing is all about. To enjoy it all so much to go off and contribute your own bit of madness - Steve and those at Nearside Games have certainly got enough of that!!! Keep frothing!

What about the future?

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The good news is that Nearside games are very close to producing a third edition of the Nearside project! This edition is going to be bigger and better than previous attempts. I have heard on the grape vine that there are plans to produce more scenarios, and more background to the game. In particular there are at last plans to produce those world books this should be very helpful to potential GM's and gamers alike.

John Mirland has also produced more artwork which I am sure you will agree looks really quite sharp. I like the new cover it hints at some of the hidden depths of the game and it seems that the product is about to mature. It is good to see that despite larger roleplaying companies entering the doldrums that there is still a thriving independent movement out there. Stephen Herron and the rest of the crew responsible for spawning and developing this entity should be congratulated for their hard work and effort. So please get out there and buy the bloody thing! Remember, 'we know where you live!' -frotherbAz

The front cover of The Nearside Project 3rd edition

Did I mention that all artwork for the Nearside Project has been produced by John Mirland you can find more examples of his work at the following web addresses:

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