Warpland - A World Cornered By Change And Oblivion.
Introduction - Gavriel Quiroga's Warpland is an RPG about the struggle for survival in a world begging to be let die, its baleful cries rising from its wounded crust in the form of mutations, fell magics, and walking abominations. There is no non-liminal space here, no place where a human could simply exist in the peace and security of late modernity or of those ancient and stable and medieval worlds so common to RPGs. Though this world's death is swiftly-onrushing on the geological scale, on the human one, its every labored breath plays out over days and weeks in kaliedoscopically roiling skies and the tides of its caustic seas. That death was brought about by a techno-arcane war so apocalyptic in character that in its aftermath humanity turned its back on accumulating knowledge as a very idea. If braving this world cornered by change and oblivion sounds like fun to you, Warpland is the game for you.
Systems - Warpland is an only-players-roll 2d6 system with a straightforward, equal-to-or-below-attribute binary resolution engine. It has elegant dice mechanics for determining differential success or failure--most obviously in the form of damage dealt or sustained--and for arriving at the occasional complication arising from bare success or miserable failure. All of the above work off of the base 2d6 die roll, with only the occasional need to reference a table or roll again, which is a breath of fresh air compared to systems packed with exploding dice, critical tables, and the like.
Its core rules are seven pages long. Those who value elaborated edge cases and dense mechanics may not find much to latch onto here, but they accomplish the game's core goal of simulating the fast-moving, up-close-and-personal action that is its meat and milk. They also provide plenty of space for customization and personalization, which almost every GM I know will find invaluable. I give Warpland's core systems an eight out of ten.
Character Creation - Warpland's character creation is short and to the point. It begins with some basic questions about who your character is. From there, there's a simple point distribution between the game's attribute system, and selection of zero or more skillsets (yes, you read that right: if your lore is low enough, you won't know how to do anything). Then it finishes out with background and starting equipment. The character creation chapter is nine pages and the process can be accomplished in ten minutes, though it's more likely to take closer to thirty the first time.
Speed is a critical feature of this system because starting characters are a dime a dozen here. In Warpland, a starting character is a regular person, not a hero, and every strength will be bought with a weakness elsewhere. Due to the game's fairly slow progression, those weaknesses are generally here to stay, so being able to get right back into the action quickly in the event of character loss is a plus. Despite its brevity, character creation does an admirable job of providing plenty of hooks to hang characterization on, placing such traits as concept and arc words at center stage. Dedicated to its core playstyle, Warpland's character creation earns a nine out of ten from me.
Gameplay - Warpland's gameplay is rooted firmly in the oldschool style of roleplaying that draws inspiration from wargaming first and foremost. The GM is a referee to adjucate the PCs' struggle for survival against their true foes: the warplands themselves, and, of course, the perfidious dice. Like all good oldschool RPGs, Warpland's core gameplay is a test of the players' ingenuity and skill at evading dice rolls in general, and combat specifically. Combat is high-lethality in Warpland. Even a character with perfectly average attributes can be laid out unconscious and 1d6 rounds from death by a garden variety morlock with a stone club if they throw box cars defending on even ground. And because the GM isn't the one rolling, opportunities for fudging dice rolls to keep characters alive are few and far between.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that this playstyle is not for everyone. GMs with ambitions for grand story arcs and players who love to write elaborate backstories and play quirky and dramatic characters will have a hard time with the relative fragility of the PC lineup. Those hoping to take on every challenge with a stoic jawline or a quip will have even a harder time with a system equipped with plenty of ways to punish pressing your luck. Survival itself is a reward worth fighting for in Warpland. While the game's subsystems execute on this core concept well, its fairly narrow focus means it will demand significant retooling for running games in the more modern Traditionalist, Open-World Rationalist, or Collective-Dramatic playstyles. It is a credit to Warpland that it is as a system robust enough to tolerate such retooling without too much loss of core fidelity. I give Warpland's gameplay a seven out of ten.
Style & Feel - Style and feel is always a difficult category to adjucate, and in Warpland this is doubly so because of its presentation. Make no mistake: all of the information you need to run a game of Warpland the way it deserves to be run is present in the book. Art directors Laura Gius and Mariana Juarez deserve special commendation for presenting a text thick with potent and information-rich visual communication, for it is here that the crucial information about how Warpland should be played resides.
The difficulty, though, is that almost all of this information is presented in the form of visual art. The book's relative reliance on visual media(1) for its style and feel demands a high degree of either experience with American fantasy artwork or generalized artistic literacy on the part of the GM. Speaking personally, while I absolutely adore the game's look and feel, I have to wonder if more literal-minded GMs might find themselves at sea trying to build their own material for this game.
I did say "almost all," and while this description is accurate based on the level of depth with which the game's core themes are conveyed in the art, there are sources of mostly implicit communication about playstyle present in the text. The handful of non-diagetic or diagetic but unsourced quotes scattered throughout the text do some work building its feel, and the sample adventures at the rear of the text, almost all of which conclude with some variation on the theme of "the PCs will probably not survive this," do an admirable job of providing some implicit guidance on the game's overall texture. The game's only sources of explicit verbiage on playstyle are the "Game Mastering Tips" on page 131, and its "Epilogue" on page 141. Altogether, the art, quotes, and a few explicit statements convey themes of desperation, survival, savagery, and a hostile world, struggling to slough off its current form, and utterly unfit for the humanity stubbornly persisting to eke out an existence from its warp-scarred crust. For my part, Warpland's style and feel earn it a ten out of ten.
Setting - Warpland's setting is a grimbright world of horrific mutants, psychedelic skies, fantastic landscapes, and roving nomads of unknown motives. Its few permanent cities are bastions of either mad curiosity and malign magic, or militant obscurantism and iron-fisted authority. It is a post-apocalyptic take on the "barbarian age" setting that will be familiar to any fan of the 80s fantasy adventure movies from which it draws inspiration. Its descriptions of its world's many and varied locations are somewhat sparse, but thick with hooks from which to hang the homebrew lore by which a campaign becomes the work of its GM.
The warplands themselves are an ever-present force in gameplay in this game. The color of the warp light that rains down from what passes for a sky in this shattered world has a small but omnipresent influence on gameplay, and the random encounter tables in each region form the base experience of traversing those areas, giving them each a unique texture and personality. All this benefits greatly from being custom-built for the warplands as a setting--like all great roleplaying games, it shines its brightest when its rules express the story of its living world. The warplands might be one of my favorite settings in any game. Tragically, I can't give it more than a ten out of ten.
Conclusion - Warpland is a game as elegant as it is clever, and as punishing as it is beautiful. A boon to the oldschool RPG audience and drawing inspiration from the 80s fantasy adventure media of the RPG world's early heyday, Warpland is an inspired work sure to bury itself deep in the creative pits of the experienced GM's brain. For savvy players and experienced GMs seeking an oldschool experience, Warpland has my unequivocal recommendation as core audience. For GMs seeking a setting to inspire them and anyone tired of photorealist art in gaming, it has my recommendation as a game you might just find yourself falling in love with. My overall score is an excellent eight point eight out of ten.
Character Creation: 9/10
Style & Feel: 10/10
(1) For the sake of brevity and to avoid decentralizing credit, I have chosen to exclude the game's official Spotify playlist from the scope of this review.