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ORUN, Post-Apotheosis Space Opera RPG
Publisher: New Agenda Publishing
by Michael M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/09/2021 02:02:28

I missed the crowdfunding for this one a couple of years ago, so I was really happy when I saw the PDF surfacing here on DriveThru. I love SciFi in general, good SciFi RPGs, too, appreciate the weird and new angles for this genre especially. Orun looked like a good choice for me. And it mostly lives up to the expectation.

The Setting – 5/5 I start with the good. The very good. The setting is awesome. Period. Okay, if you’re looking for your next favourite hard-SciFi game, you might be disappointed, but it says “space opera” on the front cover – and it delivers. The universe of Orun is wild, magical, weird, and calling for larger-than-life stories. And the afro-centric narrative adds a welcoming fresh and unique spin to well-known elements. Think of Star Wars, where the Jedis took some deeper altruistic and humanistic lessons from Star Trek. Then cut the human-centric and, especially, American- / European-focused narrative. And add some weirdness from the magnificent Numenera. And you scratch the surface of a very intriguing setting.

Reading the history of the cosmos, the description of the many alien species that you can choose to play, and the optimistic approach of building a better society by your own example, makes me want to explore this setting deeper. Yes, I’m actually thinking of a mini-campaign just from reading it. It’s definitely the freshest SciFi setting that I’ve read since I laid my hands on Numenera.

There are some issues, though: I want more. The book is just 290 in a square format, and (for my taste) it uses too much space on rules and crunch. Describing the many example worlds with just a paragraph each is not enough. I also miss important NPCs. We learn about the major factions but – few examples aside – nothing about the persons running these political and cultural powerhouses. Especially with a setting such unique, it feels like a missed opportunity to me. Colourful NPCs are always are great hooks for own stories. They give a setting faces. Orun on the other hand feels very faceless. I hope they fix this with future supplements.

Note: I just checked the Kickstarter page. A lot of strech goals from additional writers that would fill this gap (partly) have been announced. I don't find these in the book. Are they still coming?

The Design – 3,5/5 I love the square format. And the original artwork is very inspiring and helpful to understand this strange and fantastic setting. It’s not always top-notch but true to the chosen style. But there is a “but”. The layout could be more spacious. That is especially true for the quasi non-existent margins. Sometimes the design tries to squeeze as much as possible onto a page. In other cases, pages remain half-empty. Depending on the amount of text, line spacing and spacing vary.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of stock art that anyone with an Adobe account may have seen before. What is really unfortunate is the low resolution of the graphics, especially of the stock art. I can only judge this for the PDF and hope it looks better in print.

Last but not least, the editing could be better. There are not an insane number of errors, but they are noticeable and could have been avoided with an additional proofreading loop. That also applies to layout mistakes.

The Rules – 3/5 This is the weakest part of Orun. I understand the appeal of giving your own roleplaying game its own mechanics as well. But it’s not always a smart choice. The game could’ve been so much better if they had chosen an existing system. The so-called Horizon System has one big issue: It does not know what it wants to be. Rules-heavy or rules-light? A game focused on the narrative or a crunchy SciFi game? The basic mechanic is simple: Roll 2d10 and add your stats in your aura (which is a kind of stand-in for attributes) and your skill. And now roll high to succeed. But it becomes messy beyond that. (Please note that this feedback is based on reading the system, not playtesting it.)

Normally, you compare your result to a ladder of success. This is in general a great concept. It makes dice rolling calculable and comparable. But this ladder is not always the same. For reasons unknown, extended task use a slightly different ladder with different outcomes. And during combat, you suddenly roll against a target number and create effects depending on the difference between your result and the TN. PC vs PC contests are a different thing, too.

Another example: The auras are stat and pool at the same time. They add their (flexible) value to your roll, but they can also be spent for bonuses and effects (like it is typical for the Cypher System). Like in Cypher, they also take damage, but your character has an equivalent to HP, too. Again, it feels like the designers couldn't decide which path they want to walk.

And then they are the meta-currencies. Good rolls create Edges for the players, bad rolls create Hidges for the GM, and both can be used like you know it from any others game of this kind. Think of Momentum and Thread from 2D20. And they can do a lot of things that are not really intuitive, more like a mix of everything someone in the team could think of.

Don't let me dive into combat in detail, that’s a much greater mess, that becomes even greater with the aversaries’ stats. Another issue is the lack of details on spacecrafts. Yes, there are one and a half page on details. I’m not complaining about the missing space combat rules which most likely would’ve been another subsystem. It’s just such an important thing in SciFi, that the lack of details here is a big black hole. (Maybe this is more a note on the missing setting details.)

Groups who like a lot of special abilities will find them in this book. The character creation chapter (with 130+ pages more than half of the book) lists lots of them. It must be over 150 of them, each coming with two or three different tiers. I’m not a fan of too many options of this kind, but I’m happy for each group that appreciates such abundance. I can't judge how well they are balanced. But just from reading over it, it seems as if individual talents add additional complexity to the game through exceptions and special effects.

The character advancement system is nice with a “but”. Skills improve through failure, which I really like. The game uses the term “trials”. That catches the philosophy of the intergalactic culture in Orun very nicely. Aura's improvement and talents are also bought with trials, but these trials are earned through a hand-wavey) change in the course of the story’s progression and totally up to the GM. This might open the door for unneccesary discussion at the table. Why having a clear mechanic for the one thing and handwave the other?

The Verdict Yes, I went hard on the rules. They are half-baked, sometimes unnecessarily fragmented, and could definitely have used more development. And they take too much space that could’ve been better used for more setting information. Does it make Orun mediocre or bad? No. Rules can be changed. Just take the book and explore the post-apotheosis with [enter your favourite rules here]. (I will most likely switch to the Cypher System.) Orun’s edge is the setting. The unique, fondly developed post-apotheosis, afro-centric space opera cosmos. You read it and you want more. You want to immerse yourself into a SciFi setting unlike others that challenges our imagination and understanding. Honestly, the setting is gold! And I really hope to see more from it in the future.

That cancels out the drawbacks in design and mechanics for me. 4 stars with some room for improvement. (If you want a complete, well-developed and balanced system, you might reduce it to 3–3.5 stars. If you don't care at all or like the approach of the rules, add a half star.)



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
ORUN, Post-Apotheosis Space Opera RPG
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Doctor Who: The Roleplaying Game Second Edition
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
by Michael M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/09/2021 01:53:45

The Second Edition of the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game is a mixed bag, making it not a bad product, but also not a brilliant one.

Before I dive deeper into the details, let me say that I'm not very experienced with the First Edition. I used to play it a few times, but the rules didn't convince me. It felt too much lost in mechanical details, at least as I remember it; it's been a couple of years. Reading that the new edition would be streamlined caught my interest. I'm down for rules-light, narrative games. But the new edition isn't really what I expected. It’s kind of the same problem that I have with 2D20: The result reads like it was meant to be something else, but someone experienced Fate during the development process and wanted this, too.

Unlike the other reviewer, I like the idea of concept and focus. They are simple, focused guidelines that can help especially new players to understand their character. Yes, they are not very detailed and open for interpretation, but that’s fine for me. It’s a broader framework that helps you finding and defining your character. Coming from Fate, I’m used to it. I also have no problem with the streamlined skill list. And honestly: If something is missing here, that’s the easiest to fix.

The basic rules for overcoming an obstacle are also in my favour. The ten-step ladder of difficulties reminds me of Cypher and makes it very easy to rate the difficulty. Simply determine it on a scale from 1 to 10 and multiply the number by 3. Done. I appreciate that they cut the extra step of math (compare the result to TN to get your margin of success). Just check if you rolled any 1s or 6s and see if you need to add a BUT or AND to your result. That is straightforward and the kind of simplification that I like.

My problems begin when it comes to Distinctions. I agree that they are too hand-wavey. I don't miss or need an elaborated list of Traits. But an important mechanic like this needs more guidelines. I think they took the wrong notes from Fate here. Distinctions feel a lot like Stunts; Stunts are also very versatile and can be everything that makes the characters special. But they also come with easy and strict guidelines on how they work mechanically and what they cost. Doctor Who Second Edtion does this not. It leaves this part of the game design to the GM. That feels lazy and opens the door for unnecessary discussions at the table. Just a few bold decisions and some bullet points (like: a Distinction does either a, b, or c for x Story Points) could’ve solved it. As vague as this central element is, other parts are just as crunchy, like temperature or chasing rules.

My other big problems are Story Points. They follow a trend for meta-resources that I don't always like. Only if they are very well executed. Here they are not. The bottom line is that they are more important than rolling the dice. Reading this, I got the impression that a conflict between PC and NPC is decided primarily by who is willing to spend more Story Points. That’s okay, but not my style. I like Story Points (or similar) as a tool to influence the luck and award players. But I don't like the stacking game after the roll. What makes it worse is the indecision of what to spend Story Points on. That is a problem with many games that use this kind of meta-resource. Somehow anything goes with them, and using them isn't particularly intuitive. That can quickly lead to discussions that take the focus away from the actual scene. Once again, Fate does it better here.

Back to the good stuff: The other reviewer already praised the experience system and I want to second that. The only thing I don't understand is why the costs have to be so different. Sometimes it's x times target level, then x plus target level, then x plus x times target level, or a fixed value. That already reads unnecessarily complicated.

A last thing about the layout and writing. Yes, it’s Doctor Who and the Doctor is chatty. The text captures this very well. However, it is mainly text for quick use at the gaming table. And for such purposes, being chatty is a bad thing. More highlights and reference tables would've been very useful. The layout is clear and pleasant to read. The colors are also very well chosen. In short, it looks good. One thing that is not quite mine: As in the first edition, all the images here are also photos or stills from the TV series. I understand why they do it (or maybe have to do it), but it doesn't appeal to me. I know what the series looks like. Here I would have liked to see more original artwork that inspires adventures. Adventures without the Doctor. Adventures with Companions we don't know but are like the player characters you create. Adventures on worlds we haven't seen yet.

Taking everything into account, I’m not very hyped by the Second Edition. My problems are others than with the First Edition, but the result is the same: I’m not eager to jump into the TARDIS and go on adventures in time and space. It’s a nice read and a beautiful book, though, but it makes me think (again) of a better system for a great Doctor Who RPG experience.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Doctor Who: The Roleplaying Game Second Edition
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Great Rift Adventure 3: Flatlined
Publisher: Mongoose
by Michael M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/11/2021 03:34:04

A fine little adventure, perfect for one-shots and easily adapted for other systems. (I run it with Cypher e.g.) If you’re looking for a good SciFi survival story/sandbox with a Pitch Black or Alien vibe, this should be your choice. It’s not groundbreaking or out of the box, but delivers what it promises. Solid designed, straightforward (with enough room for the players to make their choices), and easy to be prepared.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Great Rift Adventure 3: Flatlined
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Charm Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Strange Machine Games
by Michael M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/11/2020 06:59:43

Charm is an average game. Not a game-changer, not bad. But also nothing new or encouraging. It might have been 15 years ago. But nowadays, you might know most of the design from other allrounders, executed in a better way.

The biggest issue is the writing. The book fails to teach you the game. I had to re-read several paragraphs to understand essential parts. It’s too vague, where it needs to be practicable. It not because the system is complicated. It isn't. It’s just not well-written. You get the impression, that the writer/designer knows his game so well, that he cannot explain it to someone new to the game. The examples are not always helpful, too.

On top of that, Charm is not very intuitive for a game that wants to be quick and easy. The mix of the fluctuating target number (with seven levels) and seven success levels adds an unnecessary layer of complexity. I do not just compare my roll to the target number for success/failure, I must also look at how many times time three it is above or below the TN to get different results. No big math, but also not intuitive. (It would have been better to use a 0-10 scala in combination with a d10 + d3/d4.)

It’s a shame because I think that it could have some potential. The included scenarios/worlds are nice, mostly out-of-the-box (in an exciting way), and worth the look.

I’m always interested in generic game systems, but in this case, I will stick with Fate and Cypher as the tools of my choice.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Charm Roleplaying Game
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Creator Reply:
To elaborate for others who may have read this review, here's how the check works: - The GM sets a target based on multiple of 3: 3,6,9,12... 3 = easy, 6 = moderate, 9 = hard... - The player rolls and then sees where the result comes in at. - If the target is a 9 and the player rolls a 13 then they are at +1 level and gain an Edge to their result. A result of 16 would equate to +2 levels. The bonus or penalty levels are always in multiples of 3. Thanks for the review! We appreciate your support. I am interested to hear more about the d10 + d4 idea you have and it may be worth considering for a future update or optional rule to play. We are excited that you liked the scenarios and want everyone to know we have more on the way.
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