The Alexandrian

Tagline: This is a beautiful book which some will find useful but which all should find wonderful.

Heavy Gear: The Making of a UniverseThe Making of a Universe: Heavy Gear Design Works is something which has never been done in the roleplaying industry: A peek behind the wizard’s curtain. Fans of speculative fiction have seen this type of thing before – the worlds of Middle Earth, Pern, and the Wheel of Time (among others) have all been subjected to visual tours, atlases, and looks at the “research materials” their creators produced before sitting down to write their stories.

What makes Heavy Gear unique, however, is that the universe was conceived as a whole. It was not produced so that a story could be set in it, but rather as a product which could stand on its own. Its creation was a collaboration, combining not only the written word but also the visual elements of the world in an organic whole (unlike Middle Earth, Pern, and the Wheel of Time wherein artists would come in after the author finished and conceive visually off of a finished concept). The result has been widely touted as one of the most original and creative settings ever designed – not just for roleplaying games, but period. And, in my opinion, the world of Heavy Gear deserves every one of those kudos.

And The Making of a Universe gives us a look at the design process which led to the creation of this wondrous place. That’s a pretty cool concept.

Indeed, this book lives up to it. It’s cool. Despite its half-size format (which has since been abandoned by Dream Pod 9 after the complaints associated with Crisis of Faith) The Making of a Universe is a visual tour-de-force showing in great detail the gradual development of the style, the Gears, the tech, the culture, the architecture, the creatures, the characters, and an entire living world. It’s breathtaking.

So that’s what this book is – a wonderful guided tour of how a universe was made (check out the title!); so what is it not?

The Making of a Universe is not a roleplaying supplement. It was not designed to be useful to a roleplaying session in the same way which a sourcebook or a campaign book would be. It treats the Heavy Gear universe as being separate from the roleplaying or tactical games – as something with a legitimate existence outside of “gaming”. It does so deservedly, but this has lead to some confusion over this product. Understand that if you are looking for something which would be useful for your gaming experience this book is probably not going to be your best buy. If you love the Heavy Gear universe as much or more than you love the actual game (and I know this statement applies to a lot of Heavy Gear players), then you’ll love The Making of a Universe. Buy this book.

Before closing, let me say that The Making of a Universe isn’t entirely worthless as a resource. In much the same way which the Illustrated Guide to Pern would be useful in running a Pern game, so The Making of a Universe is useful to a game set in the Heavy Gear universe. For example the Gear Showcase groups together a lot of information which I occasionally use as an uber-resource in referencing the broad spectrum of Gear technology (similar sections exist for ground and air vehicles). The section which shows detailed, isolated pictures of weapons, sensors, and other technical equipment has proven to be ocassionally useful in the extreme. So this book isn’t useless for such applications – that’s just not what it’s primary goal is and it shouldn’t be judged as a roleplaying resource.

Style: 5
Substance: 5

Author: Dream Pod 9
Company/Publisher: Dream Pod 9
Page Count: 112
ISBN: 1-896776-31-0

Originally Posted: 1999/04/13

In many ways, this is a book without a clear identity. (And, as my review tried to explain, that’s more than okay.) But that lack of a clear identity also posed a challenge for me in reviewing it. I remember struggling mightily with that challenge. And, in retrospect, it’s a challenge that I ultimately didn’t conquer.

Still a good book to check out if you’re a Heavy Gear fan, though.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

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