Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tommy's Take on Corporia

This is an interesting book that came across my virtual table: An adventure RPG centered around Arthurian myth in a near future, corporate-driven world. I thought that seemed like an interesting combination, so when I was approached about reviewing it, I agreed, as it definitely seems like it would hit a different niche than any other Arthurian game on the market.

ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: This review features affiliate links to RPGNow. Making purchases through those links may provide me and this blog with store credit which will almost certainly be used on RPG books. A digital copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Corporia is currently only available in PDF, though a print on demand version is said to be coming. It retails for about $10 at RPGNow (you can get the quick start for free). Much care was made to make sure the PDF is as usable as possible, including a lot of hyperlinks to go with the indexing.

The setting is a cyberpunk, heroes against darkness setting with Arthurian trappings...the author specifically calls it "Knights in Shining Armani" due to the corporate setting. The rulebook strives to drive home that corporate feel, aesthetically feeling like a corporate handbook. It doesn't even have game art, instead being filled with actual photographs (often of guys wearing suits and armored helmets).

The core mechanic is Attribute+Skill, and you roll 2d6, take the high number and add it to your total, and compare to a Target Number. Armor serves as damage resistance, with any damage over your resistance inflicting a wound, though an optional rule allows for each raise (every five points above the target number) to inflict an additional wound.

PCs in this game are all members of The Knightwatch, a corporate firm led by Lance Martin (the reincarnation of Lancelot), waging a secret war on evil. Their main attributes are Strength, Deftness, Mettle, Knowledge, Wits and Magick, which are ranked on a scale of 1-6 (with only exceptional beings reaching a 3), with the available points being determined by their Core Competency (Touched, Gifted and Fluxed, with more mystical power available to the latter two). You base your character around an archetype related to the Knightwatch and its corporate reach, like a Hacker, a Lister (a celebrity), a Suit, a Zero (one of the laborers) and/or a special archetype, like a Knight-Errant or Witcher. Each character gets four Traits (kinda like Fate Aspects), with one of them kept private. There's even a handy list based off of the astrological signs. Characters are also defined by skills (the list reminds me a lot of the Cinematic Unisystem list), Flux Points (Flux is the mystical interference in the world...Flux points let you manipulate that), and Assets.

Assets are pretty much the catch-all bonuses. This is where you learn magic, decide if your character is loaded, are blessed by Lady Luck...etc. Some, like Null, make you impossible to detect by magic, but you can't resist it, either. This is where all the cool powers lie, though, including that extra edge you need to be the best Hacker you can be, including hacking cyberspace to enter "God Mode", or bringing your friends along for the ride.

As any cyberpunk game should, Corporia has a gear section, but also assumes that each character has a standard loadout for missions. Everything from armor to guns to wands (with different types of wands having different effects, and sorcerers actually having to use plastic wands instead of wood. You can even get cybernetic enhancements as well, pushing the tech-magic boundaries.

The setting is very interesting. It is only called The City, and its history is given without tying it to any one city, and it is specifically meant to stand in for whatever city you and your group want to use: LA, New York, Chicago, London, whatever. The rise of The Flux screws with the advanced technology, which has led to people embracing a mix of lower tech to go with their extreme high tech. The City Guide lays out all the neighborhoods, which reads like a very gameable melting pot of the best archetypes from major cities for your perusal. It is meant to be a big, open sandbox for you to use to give you an excuse for most city adventures you may want to run.

The GM section encourages you to fall back on The Flux to explain whatever you want to run, specifically citing Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Hellmouth as inspiration. Want a zombie apocalypse, elven eco-terrorists, or a rampaging wolfman? The Flux can be used to explain most anything. They also provide a mission template that runs off of the GRAIL acronym (GOAL, RECON, ASSAULT, INFILTRATION, LIQUIDATION), which actually works in-game and out of game.

A series of plot point-like adventures are provided, which can escalate to an eventual End of the World scenario...and what the PCs do along the way can actually affect how the final battle goes. These adventures can also be discarded, if you so choose. A wide variety of enemies (Cryptids) are provided, with succubi, rage zombies, vampires, dopplegangers, shapeshifters and more, though many appear with names unique to the setting. Additionally, a list of Cryptid Assets are provided to allow you to tweak your own monsters. Most every major Arthurian relic is provided as well, in case you want to allow one of the PCs to take up Excalibur, find the Holy Grail or sit on the Siege Perilous.

SIX POINT SUMMARY

- The book and PDF are meant to be incredibly user friendly, with all the links and such, the form fillable character sheet and even a character creation summary after the full index.

- The Knightwatch is guide by the AI known as M.E.R.L.I.N. That's not just a cute nod at the legend, it is outright mentioned that if the legend of Merlin living backwards through time is true, that this may be his birth.

- The book uses little art, instead opting to use photographs (often with a lot of make-up and/or photoshop), which is very jarring for an RPG, and took some getting used to. Ultimately, it's not bad, and gives the book an incredibly distinct appearance, especially combined with the "corporate handbook" feel.

- The Bibliography is terribly important here, I think. This isn't King Arthur in the Future. The recommended reading and viewing includes Dracula, Cthulhu, Demolition Man, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Robocop, The X-Files, Deadlands, Office Space and MUCH more. Interesting set of recommendations.

- Several in-universe magazines and pamphlets are provided through the book, providing valuable information as well as a look at the world.

- Random charts for populating the city, as well as creating corporate encounters on the fly. They felt oddly incomplete, though, but that may just be my love for random tables talking.

Corporia stands out on its own, as I'm not sure there are many corporate supernatural Arthurian cyberpunk games out there, especially with all that photo art. The corporate angle is particularly unique, and I like how everything largely works, though I'm not sold on the adventures...just feels like they could have been built up as something a bit more epic than they are (though I approve of Mass Combat rules...pretty much always, as long as they are narrative).

Corporate monsters hunters are not new, but Corporia puts just enough twists on the genre that it stands out from the pack as something worth investigating.