This review is based on:
• Reading the core rules
• Reading the action cards
• Generating a character
• Trying out the combat system with the character I’d made and 5 characters from the book (my brother played 3 of these and I had the others).
Afterverse is a science fiction RPG which uses a d6 dice pool system. I kickstartered it because (a) you can never have too many science fiction RPGs and (b) the use of cards, tokens and ‘banks’ of points sounded intriguing and (c ) it said “…the use of hit banks minimises unnecessary dice rolls and keeps gameplay flowing smoothly”. I am definitely in favour of minimising unnecessary dice rolls!
You are looking for 5s and 6s on your pool of d6s to succeed. In combat you have to ‘pay’ for each action from a pile of tokens equal to your rolled Initiative. When you run out of tokens you can’t do any more actions.
The Action cards are lovely to look at. These and the cover are by miles the best art in the game. Most of the action cards have good explanations of what you do when you take that action AND they have the page number of the relevant rule on them. A gold star for that alone. (But see card mix – below). In addition, the action cards include six X Cards. Another gold star.
The setting is my favourite thing about this game. Afterverse has several centuries of future history, starting with Earth being invaded by aliens (the Bactarans) and going through several eras to end with humans being one of 5 playable species. The history is developed nicely, with political factions rising and falling in power, and rival factions within several of the species. For instance, the humans have two separate political powers – Redland and Earth – by the second era.
Each era has a summary of the history and politics of each faction, a variety of ‘cultures’ to choose from for your background in chargen (e.g. collaborator, resistance, average member of the public, slave or survivalist for a human in the Occupation Era). There are also several sample characters for each era and bios of a few important NPCs. These bios get updated from era to era, so Curt Redland is a teenager in the resistance in the Occupation Era, and is the leader of the Redland colonists on another planet in the Expansion Era, and dies at the start of the Orion War Era.
All the above had the right level of detail for me: lots of things to spark story seeds and get the plot bunnies breeding, without drowning you in infodump. Players could read the couple of paragraphs of Story of the Age for the Era the GM has picked, and then read the 2 or 3 paragraphs about their chosen culture and have enough info to roleplay.
The species you can play are limited by the Era you are playing in. The full list is:
• Bactarans (a single sex warrior race with a variety of competing ‘nationalities’)
• Vorans (insectoid species with a caste system which some are rebelling against)
• Guigu (cute looking aliens who have only just achieved space travel – the art makes them look like bushbabies)
• Symtraya (space whales, once hunted by the Guigu – look like a cross between a blue whale and a giant Japanese salamander, and range in size from a car to a small spaceship).
So Does It Minimise Unnecessary Dice Rolls and Keep Gameplay Flowing Smoothly?
I think the answer to this has to be: minimise in comparison to what? Admittedly we only tried out hand to hand combat, melee combat and shooting at each other, so I can’t tell if dice rolls are minimised in social interactions or ship-to-ship combat. But there didn’t seem to be much minimising of dice rolls in the combats we played out.
- Dice roll: you roll Initiative and add some points to your Initiative bank (pile of tokens).
- No dice roll: your opponent can spend some of their Initiative tokens to Dodge.
- Dice roll: you spend Initiative tokens to ‘pay’ for the attack and then roll to hit.
- No dice roll: your Damage = the number of surplus hits (margin of success) + damage value of the weapon – armour.
So that’s a lot less dice rolling than some systems (roll to hit, roll to dodge, roll damage, roll to soak). But it is not less than other systems. And we didn’t really save any time by not rolling for Dodge and Soak/Armour, because we were fiddling about with the tokens mentioned above, plus there are other things to keep track of. For instance, you have a bank of points called Martial Momentum in melee combat.
Layout and Formatting
Section headings are in pale blue or very pale blue (on white). This makes it easy to miss them when flicking through a chapter trying to find things.
Interior art varies from meh (some of the black & white line drawings and the CGI ‘pose dolls’) to quite nice (ship designs, character portraits).
Character Gen was annoying, because the information you needed was scattered all over the book: in the chargen, motivation and skills chapters (p15-44), the Era chapter (pages depend on which one your GM has picked), and the species chapter (p211 to 229). I get that the Era and Culture info is going to be in a separate bit from the chargen rules, but the info on stat bonuses for species should be in the bloody chargen chapter. As should a table or bullet-pointed list of the skills! Why tell me there are 14 skills and then not have a list of their names? At all. Ever. The only way to find out what the 14 skills are is to read the whole Skills chapter from start to finish.
The character sheet has lots of stuff on it which is a barely readable font size when printed out at A4 size. If you print it out in black and white some of it IS unreadable, because some text is small font against a green, blue and orangey background and some is mid green on pale green, mid blue font on pale blue, etc. And your stats are arranged in a circle, so you’d better be good at reading the names of several of them upside down (and the numbers if you use one of the characters from the era chapters).
I never did find out why there is a section on the character sheet for Primary, Secondary and Minor skills. I guess you put your highest skill in the Primary Skill and lowest in Minor, but it is perfectly possible to end up with a bunch of skills with the same value. Each skill has 6 ranks and each rank has a bunch of subdivisions which often have prerequisites – so you can buy Brawl at Melee level 1 but can’t Grapple until you have both Brawl and Melee 2. A bit too granular for me, but others’ mileage may vary.
The system is just way too crunchy for me. I do not like excessive crunch. If you are a crunch fan, a lot of what I say below can be ignored.
There is too much to keep track of. The action cards help, by having little circles to pile up your ‘banks’ of poker chips. But the card mix is weird, and there are some things – Martial Momentum for instance – which has no card but needs tracked from round to round in combat. For instance, there is a card to keep track of Initiative, Chutzpah (luck points), Stun Damage and Physical Damage. That’s great. And there are 12 of these cards, so the players can all have one, and the GM can have some too. Except when you are learning the game. Because those cards are double sided, and the explanation of what all the little symbols mean is on the back of them.
In fact, double sided cards were generally a pain in the backside. They do say on one side of the card what’s on the other side, and I guess the designers were trying to keep the number of cards to a minimum. But the double sided thing plus the card mix meant that we struggled to do our 3 characters vs 3 NPCs test of the combat. For instance:
• One card has Brawl on one side of it. Tokens on this card are used to keep track of the number of characters in melee range of you, as that affects your difficulty to attack and defend.
• The reverse of that card has the Strike action on it, which is another melee attack. Tokens on this card are used to keep track of your Martial Momentum (how many Initiative you have spent), which adds to your damage.
• There are only 2 of these Brawl/Strike cards in the deck.
• So I had one, my brother had the other, and we had to choose the side we liked best and have a pile of tokens for the other thing just sitting on the character sheet. We had to use different coloured tokens to keep a track of things. Which might have worked for each of us handling 1 character, but was a nightmare for 3 PCs each. At least the GM would only have 2 piles – major NPCs and minions.
• Meanwhile, the Crawl card (your character is prone) is NOT double sided. There are 2 of those. Nor is Stealth (4 cards) or Environmental Resistance (3 cards). I can’t help thinking that maybe Brawl or Strike would have been better on the back of one of those?
• Alternatively, have a ‘banks of points for doing stuff in melee’ card, which can take multiple piles of tokens, especially Martial Momentum and number of opponents. So designed like the Initiative/Chutzpah/etc card.
It looks as if the action cards will work better in ship combat, because each PC will have their own cards for that, based on their ‘job’: Captain, Pilot, Sensor Operator, Tactical, etc. The Captain’s cards are single sided. The Sensor Operators are double sided, but you can arrange them to have all 3 options visible at once.
The Interrupt Action and Initiative Droughts
Okay so I’ve mentioned above you roll for Initiative. Then – as in innumerable games – combat order goes from highest Initiative to lowest.
Except when it doesn’t.
Y’see there is this thing called the Interrupt Action. In between me saying “I hit him with my axe” and me rolling to hit, you can jump in and go first. Even if your turn is not for aeons in the Initiative order. This Interrupt doesn’t cost you any Initiative Points (apart from the ones you’d spend anyway for whatever action you are gazumping me with). The only rules which apply to Interrupts seem to be (a) it has to be your first action of the round, and (b) you can’t do multiple actions on an Interrupt, but you can on your normal turn, so long as you have the points to pay for the action.
It all got rather confusing and led to conversations like this:
Me: okay this PC has Initiative 6, which is the highest in the fight. He goes on round 6, and can spend 2 of the 6 to hit you and then Blitz to spend the other 4 on a follow up attack.
Brother: Unless my 2 initiative guy does an Interrupt. In which case he hits you first, then you do your 2 attacks.
Me: So despite my 6 guy having the best initiative, he’ll never get to go first, because, er, he gets to say he’s going first?
Brother: Yes. Unless he holds his action to round 2…?
Me: And interrupts your 2 initiative guy?
Brother: What if my guy holds until round 1?
Me: So anyone goes any time they like? Or waits until the other guy blinks? I’m confused. Have we missed some rules???
My brother also has a character who only got 1 Initiative point on his roll, which meant he couldn’t pay for any of the Melee actions capable of doing damage, apart from Throw Object. So all he could do was Dodge for the first round of combat which was a bit dull. Since that character was only rolling 5 dice, the laws of probability say that getting stuck with only 1 initiative point was going to happen quite often.
You can play one (a Symtraya). There are combat rules for taking account that space whales are large to huge beasties (up to 200 tonnes). But there is no guidance whatsoever on how to integrate a space whale into the party, how to play one, can the players use one as a space ship, are there space whale facilities anywhere other than their home solar system, what will the various species do if one lands on their planet, etc etc. Basically no useful info whatsoever on how to fit PC space whales into your game.
I like the Afterverse setting. I’m never going to use their system, but I might steal the setting and bolt another system onto it.