With two weeks still to go in the campaign the Expanse RPG Kickstarter by Green Ronin is on track to be a massive success. It’s blown through one stretch goal after another, having funded in under an hour and is currently nearing $300,000 in pledges. Yet despite being a big fan of both the novels and TV series I find myself struggling to build any enthusiasm for it. Spectacularly underwhelmed to be exact, enough that I felt the need to dig into why.
So lets start at the start: The pitch for funding. It’s professionally put together, contained achievable and realistic stretch goals and even had a short word from the creative force behind the novels, James S. A. Corey (yes I’m aware it’s a pen name for the two authors but I’m going to refer to them by that name as it’s the one they chose to use). It is, however, very light on the pitch. If I wasn’t already aware of the franchise then I don’t think I’d give it another glance, there is simply nothing that grabs me and screams PLAY THIS GAME! Or even that sells me on the setting beyond standard space opera.
One thing that I was very happy to see was that from the get-go they provided a free to download quickstart rules document. It has been professionally produced, looks great and provides both a breakdown of the core rules and a sample adventure. It’s the sort of release that I think all of the bigger RPG companies should include on their Kickstarters – it shows that they have put in the work beforehand. Rules are written, character sheets designed, artwork and layout styles selected. While it’s not achievable for most of the smaller indie companies it shows that they are serious about this game.
Despite this I was, once again, underwhelmed. There’s a similar lack of setting information, I could pick up what was included and drop it into a generic space opera game without really having to tweak anything.
Then there’s the system, which feels… generic. I can’t really put it any other way. Now don’t get me wrong, it looks like a solid and serviceable system but nothing about it stands out to me. I’m totally willing to accept that this may just come down to a matter of preference but overall the mechanics feel like they have barely iterated on design ideas from a decade ago. Stunts (one of the most exciting aspects of The Expanse RPG according to the quick start) are interesting and provide special bonuses but the non-combat variants seem limited with their value restricted to very specific situations. I was also disappointed to see that one of the stunts was ‘Knock prone’. Given much of the setting is in zero or low-G environments it felt like quite an oversight to not reword this. Simply renaming it Offbalance would suffice and it makes me wonder how much the system has been tweaked to fit both the setting and genre of the novels. The added Fortune and Churn mechanics also failed to impress (seriously, spending the equivalent of your HP to change dice results? Even if they recover quickly people will hoard them). They’re ok but they don’t set my world on fire.
So that’s my rambling thoughts on The Expanse RPG and its Kickstarter. I don’t know if I’ve really got across my point and I understand it comes across as excessively negative (which wasn’t my intention but I needed to write this to work through why I felt so uninterested in the game). It’ll probably be an ok game but only that, ok. Will I back it? I seriously don’t know, I’m leaning towards yes just to get the setting material but I don’t know if I’d ever run it which disappoints me immensely.
Demon Hunters: Slice of Life is an anthology web series from Dead Gentlemen Productions that funded on Kickstarter last year. It explores the everyday lives of characters within the wider setting, from the eternal duo of Gabriel and Silent Jim to new faces such as Wen, the first succubus to work for the Brotherhood. Alongside each episode comes the ‘Be Vigilant…’ and ‘Ask Sally’ shorts which respectively delve into potential threats to budding hunters and Anti-Tank Sally’s patience.
The series starts with Missionary Opposition with a rolling release of episodes over the coming weeks. As of publication 5 episodes have been released with more to come and as a Kickstarter Backer who has had advanced access, I can promise that the best of the series is still to come.
As an added bonus for fans of the associated RPG Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors I have pledged to release adventure starters inspired by each of the main episodes. You can find Missionary Opposition on drivethruRPG while Lockdown, inspired by an as yet unreleased episode is currently being edited before I start on the layout. And if that wasn’t enough for you the Demon Hunting Manual A771: An Impractical Guide to Mission Planning has also just launched, providing further advice on creating missions and adventures to challenge Chapters from the heights of the Alphas all the way down to the lowly Omegas.
If you’ve been following my Demon Hunters or Project Cassandra posts then one thing you might have noticed is a consistent art style for the characters. That’s because the vast majority of the artwork I’ve used to date has come from a single source, James Shields (JEShields). He primarily releases his work on Patreon and drivethruRPG but every so often runs a Kickstarter for larger projects.
His latest is focused on Sci-fi stock art, what makes it unique though is that the final images will be released as a series of mix and match components. Want an alien cantina but with a giant arachnid in place of the bounty hunter? Switch them out and create the new scene. The possible number of combinations is massive, especially if you go all in and pick up each of the five packs (weapons, ships, portraits, characters and scenes) on offer.
If the art itself wasn’t enough then how about bonus backer rewards of games and supplements donated by a range of indie publishers? I won’t go over the full list but suffice to say they really boost the value of the Kickstarter.
The Kickstarter can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jeshields/choose-your-own-sci-fi-stock-art and runs until the early morning of the 15th June (UK time).
Happy Anniversary, the second episode from Demon Hunters: Slice of Life was released to Kickstarter backers this weekend and as with the first episode I have pledged to release an adventure starter inspired by the episode (you can find the first one here). I don’t want to drop any spoilers for the episode but suffice to say that it has already provided the seed of an idea centred around something I haven’t tried before: a hostage situation. The format will be the same as for Missionary Opposition, 3-4 pages with a combination of background, locations and NPCs. In place of the magical tome for the first mission I’m going to introduce something shamelessly stolen from The Sprawl – a mission clock with a twist, as well as being affected by the actions of the PCs it will serve as a timer for the mission. I’m still only fleshing out the details but my aim is for it to work akin to the GMs Demon Dice pool but restricted to a single roll to set the difficulty of the final skill challenge. In addition to adding dice over the course of the mission as a countdown character actions at crucial points will increase or decrease the pool, even if the reasons why aren’t immediately obvious to the players.
Alongside this adventure starter I have a second adventure in the works. This one is at a much earlier stage but will be getting a partial playtest when I GM it at my own stag party in a few weeks. Set, at least partially, during the Victorian era it will focus on a non-Brotherhood team. A team of outsiders, of outcasts. Of undesirables battling steampunk Rocket Demons.
Because why not?
28th) What film or series is the most-frequent source of quotes in your group?
So I forgot to schedule a post for this question, partially down to finding it a little meh. Amongst the groups I’ve played in quotes have generally come from either the source material for the game (such as Firefly) or from the latest favourite show. There’s also a general tendency towards in jokes / references to previous games and they’ll often predominate over external sources of quotes.
29th) What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?
Fate Core. Seriously, Evil Hat ran that campaign pretty much perfectly. Great product, great time management, brilliant communication and a level of openness that was above and beyond what was needed. The Fate Core Kickstarter was also the first I’d backed where the draft material was made available almost immediately, followed by regular updates. The combination of how well that campaign was managed, combined with a few terrible campaigns (looking at you Metamorphosis Alpha) has resulted in me being far more hesitant in backing games. These days backing something on Kickstarter generally requires one of two things for me, that I know the company and trust them to be able to run a decent campaign or failing that there should be an early draft of the game that will be made available not long after the campaign ends. I understand that for smaller companies part of the aim of the Kickstarter might be to bring on writers but if you can’t or won’t at least show me a draft of the central mechanics then there’s a problem. Too many campaigns seem to be a list of what the game might be, if you’re at the Kickstarter point already then that sort of planning and initial playtesting should be done.
10th) Where do you go for RPG reviews?
Mostly I’ll search for them rather than have a single site that I go to. For the majority of games my interested tends have been stoked through twitter, podcasts or a forum and I’ll then go in search of actual reviews of it. The rise of kickstarter has made this harder though as a lot of the games I’ve bought recently weren’t out and therefore didn’t have reviews. In those cases I have to rely on the pitch for the game and what the company has released before. That in itself is a difficult combo and I’m actually finding myself shifting away from backing games at that stage; it doesn’t help that I have so many kickstarter games that I’ve read but never played.
Torg holds a special place in my heart, it was the first proper tabletop game I ever played and also the first system I even ran a campaign in. As much as I love the game the system underlying it has a tendency to get under my skin, especially the use of multiple sub-systems which were intended to give each Cosm a unique feel. The game is a product of it’s time (which was the early 90’s) so it’s with interest that I’ve been keeping track of any attempt to update and re-release it.
Torg Eternity is the long awaited new edition of the game and Ulisses Spiele who currently own the licence have recently put out the first preview for the new game. At the moment the details are limited, mostly focused on what the principles for design and what core elements they are maintaining. The design principles are:
- The rules must be easily identifiable as being Torg
- The resolution of actions must be fast and easy
- Reduce the number of sub-systems while keeping the Torg flavor.
- Changes must provide benefits. No changes for the sake of change.
All in all the preview is a solid start and it looks like a lot of the bits I really like about the system are staying put. Central to those are the core roll mechanic, the drama deck and possibilities, without which the game just wouldn’t be Torg.
The reduction in sub-systems is something that the game definitely needs. There were just far too many in the old game, especially given each of the many Cosms had it’s own unique aspects. Magic in particular was overwhelmed with systems, there were in the end close to 7-8 distinct magic systems each with it’s own quirks so anything that reduces the constant need to look up rules is a massive bonus as far as I’m concerned.
The other big change in this first preview is the removal of separate action and effect totals, which tended to complicate matters. The new system replaces this with a bonus die system – beat the target by 5 and you get +d6 to your result (such as to damage), beat it by 10 and get +2d6. Simple, quick and hopefully effective.
That’s all from this preview, it looks like the Kickstarter for the game will be sometime early next year so plenty of time for more updates.