Here’s the first of my planned purchases for 2018 and the first that counts against my self-imposed limit of four items this year: The core rulebook for Genesys. I only picked this up because I know the WFRP3 group I play in is planning to use it for their next campaign, but it’s actually rather good.
The third iteration of Fantasy Flight Games’ house system, following on from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3rd Edition and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. 258 page PDF, but you also need at least one set of custom dice. Unlike the previous two iterations, this is not tied to a specific licensed property, and is deliberately setting-agnostic. It’s well thought out, well laid out, and the first FFG RPG that I would consider running.
Tell Me More…
I’m not going to go through this one chapter by chapter, because it makes more sense to look at it in Parts. (The artwork is in a peculiar semi-coloured style with some of the construction lines left in, and it looks strange, but I like it.)
What a roleplaying game is, what the GM does, what players do, what do you need besides the book.
Part 1: Core Mechanics (130 pages)
These are very similar to Star Wars: Edge of the Empire; point-buy character creation based on an archetype or species, along with the now-standard elements of an RPG character; characteristics, skills, and talents (edges, advantages, whatever you want to call them). The core mechanic uses a pool of custom dice, which are multicoloured 6, 8 or 12-siders marked with special symbols. Many of these symbols cancel each other out, but as long as you end up with at least one success symbol, you succeed.
Grudgingly, I have to admit that I see the value of the ‘narrative dice’, although I don’t like having to buy a new set each time the game gets updated. The ability to have a PC succeed but at a cost, or fail but in a lucky way, is good for storytelling at the table, introducing another dimension to the usual spectrum of critical failure – failure – success – critical success. To my mind, it lends itself to a more improvisational play style.
The main change I noticed from the previous edition (EotE) is that the complex talent trees of that game have been replaced with a simple rule: Whatever talent you take, you must have more lower-ranked talents, so that they form a pyramid; to buy (say) a tier 3 talent, you must first have two at tier 2 and three at tier 1.
Genesys is aimed at the GM who is creating or converting a setting, and this first shows in the equipment chapter; this offers only half-a-dozen items to help explain how gear is rated, with the bulk of the items being saved for Part 2, Settings. A similar approach shows up later for stock NPCs/enemies. Because of this aim, much of the text aimed at the GM explains the rationale and assumptions behind the mechanical effects – “We made it work like this because otherwise this undesirable effect would happen.” I found those asides both interesting and useful in understanding the game.
Part 2: Settings (53 pages)
This gives six worked examples of how to create a setting, each with its own gear, monsters, races, and notes for the GM on appropriate tropes and setting fluff. Most of the examples are other FFG games – I have often thought a Twilight Imperium RPG might be a good idea, and here’s how to do that in Genesys. The genres covered are fantasy, steampunk, weird war, modern day, hard-ish science fiction, and space opera.
Part 3: GM’s Toolkit (62 pages)
This section looks at alternative rules, customising the game, how to build an adventure, and various tones the game could adopt – e.g. horror, intrigue or pulp. There are also an index and some character sheets. Customisation includes guidelines for creating your own weapons and armour, and what they should cost. Of particular note, magic, vehicles and vehicle combat are treated as alternative rules, since some settings don’t have them; tagging magic as an option avoided the impression most generic systems give me of being designed for high fantasy, with everything else an afterthought.
My main criticism is that I find orange text on cream (level 3 headings) difficult to read.