Broken Rooms is a Multi-genre Universal RPG by Greymalkin Designs . From the introduction chapter, “you could call Broken Rooms a modern-day post-apocalyptic science fiction conspiracy horror roleplaying game of parallel worlds. “ Taken further, Broken Rooms is a thematically meaty game of characters thrust into the struggles of the 12 dying variants of Earth prime. Starting with the character’s First Fall, characters tumble-down a rabbit-hole and learn the meaning of “You can never go home again.” Built upon a competent set of core rules and guided by excellent campaign advice, and set against a imaginative cosmology, called the Nearside, Broken Rooms provides a compelling, darker twist on the concept of parallel world adventures.
Lets explore the details.
I received the PDF version of Broken Rooms, it is now available in B&W hardback format as well. Broken Rooms comes as 465 page PDF, laid out in a spacious 2 column format. The document contains some detailed backgrounds, while the artwork is mostly photoshopped stock photos, done as B&W line art. It is decent and adds to the mood. The rules also contain 5 pieces of short fiction that bring across feel of world(s), which provide decent writing with atmospheric detail.
The core system in Broken Rooms is called ‘The Momentum’ system, which refers to the concept of Momentum as supernatural potential that characters can build up. It is a D12 based dice pool system. Stats are give number of dice to roll, 4-6 for most characters, while skills give the target # to count as a success. For instance, Familiar with a skill gives a target rating of 9+, while Professional Skill gives a target # of 7+. Players can generate momentum on their rolls if any pair of the dice add up to 13. So a player might roll 4d@9+ to resolve an action. The Counting of momentum and the optional momentum rolls adds some handling time to resolution, but as it gives greater player oomph, player’s shouldn’t mind. Especially if the advice to only roll when important is used. It is a competent system feeling a bit like a Storytelling/WoD variant.
Character creation is fairly traditional, with the exception of there being only 3 core stats, body, mind, soul, rated primary, secondary, tertiary. Skills are broad. Characters choose 3 skills which they are familiar with 9+, based on their background/profession, The rest are bought with skills points. The character also gains his Nearsider abilities in which the details of how his travel through the nearside has affected him, and what abilities he has unlocked. There are 13 Meridians, which are particular powers that Nearsiders can exhibit, on account of the Hind Brain Anomaly that lets them walk between worlds, as well alter reality around them. In addition characters have qualities, advantages/disadvantages based on their personalities and proclivities. Each character also has 3 important milestones defined, the major persona loss he suffered that activated his Nearsider abilities, First Fall, the occasions when he first traveled between worlds, and his recruitment into the greater struggles of the Nearsiders. Characters are finished up with Damage tracks/thresholds, and money and equipment. Equipment is handled fairly abstractly, possibly providing a bonus to skill use, or allowing it all.
As I mentioned there are 13 Meridians, key Nearsider powers that let them alter reality around them in limited ways, beyond their supernatural luck and the ability to travel between worlds. Each character has a Prime Meridian, which is a major facet of their personality, and operates a bit like a character class. The Meridians are Blocking, Breaking, Chancing, Changing, Closing, Finding, Juicing, Keeping, Mending, Moving, Opening, Reading, and Writing. All of them are coveted by the various organizations at work across the Nearside, especially those Meridians related to travel, combat, healing and communication. Character can gain access to two additional meridians, which will be limited in power compared to their prime meridian.
DISTANCE AND TRAVEL
One of the major themes of Broken Rooms is how traveling the nearside affects a character, expressed as “travel broadens the mind”, and “you can’t go home again”. This is represented by the concept of Distance, a palpable ‘background radiation’ accumulated by a character travelling through parallel realities and using their powers. This causes emotional distance, as they slowly lose touch with the flat, limited perspectives of ‘Negs’, normal beings who don’t have the Hind Brain Anomaly. Think of Doctor Manhattan in the Watchmen. Reality also begins to break down slightly around them via the effect of Frame Dragging, causing anomalies related to their Prime Meridians. There are a lot of neat ideas associated with this, including what happens when you meet alternate versions of yourself.
Travel between worlds occurs at fixed points, on fixed schedules, at ‘soft spots’ between the worlds, areas of great emotion and history. These Broken Room, for which the game is named after, are mostly rooms, but can be a spot in a parking lot, a back alley, etc. The discovery and control of these broken rooms drives most of the conspiracy and warfare between the Nearsides major power groups. The are all kinds of neat little details to this that will inspire your groups imagination and lead to awesome scenes around Broken Rooms.
COMBAT AND DAMAGE
Broken Rooms has a fairly standard blow by blow combat system. Feels a bit like nWoD/Storytelling System. You have 3 damage thresholds, with dice penalties to actions associated with each threshold. One Interesting option is that when a character has filled all damage thresholds, he can avoid death through the use of a bargaining mechanic. Opting to take a flaw instead of dying. Interestingly, characters can suffer body, mind and soul damage, so major emotional & spiritual power, as well as supernatural abilities, can affect characters as well.
Broken Rooms has some excellent campaign advice, especially in regards to exploring the unique themes of Broken Rooms’ cosmology. The 12 variations of earth are all dying, and thematically relate to the Kubler-Ross 5 stages of grief model. All the other worlds save Earth1 are facing, in the midst of, or after an Apocalypse. Problems and dooms that the characters can literally walk away from, or from which they can use their powers to help or save people This gives players a very strong built-in theme which can drive their campaigns-- a solid framework to stage their own stories, and tell the darker, sadder tales that make up the meta-narrative of the Nearside.
ALLIES & ADVERSARIES
The major groups and organizations at work in the Nearside are described in this chapter. The two main groups are Regency and Monarch, Regency the nominal good-guys, and Monarch the ruthless group with obscure motives. Both operate in semi-secret on the various worlds, securing Broken Rooms, recruiting nearsiders and advancing their agendas. There is plenty of room for shades of "Fringe” type skullduggery and plans within plans. There is an even a ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Doctor rivals in charge of Nearsider programs, ala Walter/Walternate from Fringe. There are many other smaller organizations, many based on the variant worlds, striving to save themselves and their world. Plenty of interesting groups for characters to interact with, and plenty of room for groups to add their own.
Finally, we get to the description of the nearside, the 13 worlds across which the players will play out their story. Each of the worlds, besides Earth1 has suffered some sort of catastrophe or apocalypse or is facing one. All of them are pretty interesting. Also, it is easy for the players to swap out a world they don’t like for one of their own choosing. That is actually part of the greater cosmology of the game, the multi-verse is moving towards a great convergence, during which the 13 variations will be destroyed and born anew and continue the cycle. There are people in the cosmology, called Exiles, who claim to have survived the last Convergence.
This chapter is done as various found documents and agent reports, so makes for engaging reading, despite being all an info dump. My favorites worlds are Earth2: Vanished, in which 97% of the population, those who didn’t have the Hind Brain Anomaly, disappeared, much like the Left Behind idea of the biblical Rapture. Earth9: Dead Water, in which a nano-tech system for cleaning plastics and trash in the open sea exceeded its design and resulted in the creation of technological nanite-infected zombies and other creatures which the system is trying to clean away human life. Earth12: Unvisible is really intriguing, it was invaded by invisible monsters from a deleterious reality, which adult humans can’t see, and the strange radiation from which causes them to become incapacitated and die. Children and the HBA+ can resist it. So the last remaining underground fortresses are protected by armies of children.
I really like Broken Rooms, the game manual is hefty, but it is dripping with thematic material and ‘that’s cool’ imaginative ideas. The rules provide a well-realized background for the players to tell a wide variety of stories as the struggle across the dying worlds of the Nearside. It provides a broad sandbox with broad stroke themes for players to tell stories driven by those characters cursed, or blessed to be able to walk the nearside, and decide whether they care to save or help the many many people whom they feel less and less connected too. I’d say it is the best realized multi-genre game on the market right now.
[5 of 5 Stars!]