Here There Be Latinate Constructions: HC SVNT DRACONES
Tabletop RPG set in a posthuman future…
HC SVNT DRACONES: Post-Human Tabletop Roleplay
Kickstarter ending 10-3-14
The tabletop RPG industry has moved, so far as any real creativity and innovation goes, to Kickstarter. Is this a good thing? Hard to say–given that the vast majority of indie RPGs aren’t going to outlive their first print run, this may simply be selling directly to fans and cutting the retail arm off the hobbistry. One of the downsides is that most new TPRGs have this low-fi, “made for print-on-demand” look to them that’s becoming a part of the new TRPG world.
Not so with HC SVNT DRACONES, which is an amazingly slick-looking product, particularly for what, I assume, is a first effort. All the pages and preview material I’ve seen is of a great-looking, ready for print tome, and I’m excited to see this much professionalism in an anthro RPG (a genre that’s been hurting for a long time for quality product).
HSD is a sci-fi/mystery game with some philosophy and horror woven into the binding. In the distant future of…somewhen…humanity has gone and blown itself up, leaving its legacy to its gengineered children, the Vectors. The technology Earth developed let them not only terraform planets, but manufacture cities and societies, too, and the Vectors–animal/human melds–carry on where humanity is too weak or privileged to settle.
When the bombs finally drop and the sun sets on Terra one last time, the relatively new culture of the Vectors, only some 50 years old, is set free, without a past and without history, to create themselves as they will–like the creator, Pierce Fraser, says, the gift of a blank slate is a terrible burden.
Much of this is explored in the sample chapter, which will give you a sense of the HSD universe’s history and its writing and design aesthetic. I admire the writers’ effort to include a logical reason for furries to exist in an RPG beyond “yes, there are anthro characters.” In sci-fi there’s always some reason, but this is a little richer than “…um…supersoldiers!” and provides a rationale for ‘taurs and non-anthros as well. Overall there’s a bit of the “Race + Clan” approach to character creation, and it’s not a bad approach–family and species to get the broad outlines fleshed out, and a few genetic wildcards like “extra limbs” or “crazy color patterns” to add more definition and specialization. Here’s the racial profile page for cats and dogs, and since it has a shirtless wolf guy on it, I don’t see any pressing reason to go further.
Being a tabletop gaming nerd, i have a few things to say about the mechanics of the game, which are both innovative and oddly early 90s. In a period where indie games are trending rules-light, the character sheet for this one is busy, looking a bit like a cross between White Wolf and Hero. The good: HSD has an innovative approach to stats that adds a lot of nuance–instead of a character being just “strong” or “charismatic”, they have a general “Body” category of stats that can emphasize toughness, agility, strength, brute force intimidation…and the same range for mental, community, and economy. I’ve never seen those last two in a statblock (although “community” assumes a lot of the social skills, economy is new.)
So just looking at the Community stats, a character might be a charming socialite with a lot of shallow contacts, more adept at playing “social chameleon” than, say, running for office (high Community/Dexterity and Community/Acuity); a matron with a powerful web of contacts who’s unshakeable in her community (high Community/Strength and Resilience, low Dexterity); a mob boss with terrible clout and a lot of kneebreakers at his disposal (high Community Strength and Presence.)
After that, the system appears to be a “roll a number of dice based on the level of your sub-stat, and add your skill value to the roll.” Pretty simple and straightforward. It seems like it would be easy to min/max with this, but the design of the game is such that there’s usually multiple ways to reach a goal, some more effective perhaps, but still, options.
Where the game seems a little fuzzy and old-school is in the relationship between skills and stats–why is there a “coercion” skill and an “intimidate” skill, particularly when there’s a “force of presence” stat–or, technically, four of them? It seems a bit like having a “Perceptive” stat and then a “looking for something” skill. A touch redundant. The multiple dice sizes is right out of the 90s–not only can you have a range of stats from 0 to 5, but you can also roll on a d8, d10, or d12. I’m not sure this is really a meaningful thing to add, more a complication than anything else. That sort of weird mechanic is why the D20 revolution was such a big thing, and the legacy game systems have all evolved toward fewer dice and fewer variables that accomplish the same thing. Maybe this is unfair, since I’ve never played the system, but I’ve seen a lot of gaming history. There’s always a desire to make a dice mechanic that’s unique to your big new game, but I’m not sure this helps.
For deeper game wonkery you can check Youtube for the HSD combat mechanic videos #1 and #2, but for an allegedly short kickstarter review, to quote Mary Poppins, “‘That’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?’ ‘Indubitably.'”
What’s in the game’s future? Assuming it successfully launches, and it’s done fairly well week one, there’s at least 10 expansion books in HSD’s future, and a stretch goal for a web-based utility. There’s been some talk of a supplement for robots/constructed creatures, the “cogs”, over on Tumblr, there’s a lot more there to explore, and a few more sample pages on the creator’s FA account (but viewer discretion is advised there.)
To wrap up an increasingly long-winded review, I’ll just throw in and paraphrase some of Fraser’s own words about his universe: it may look like a game about animals and getting in touch with your beast side, but it’s not. HSD is a game about finding humanity, unalloyed by thousands of years of racism, sexism, sectarianism, and D&D edition wars. HSD’s big question is, “how do we define ourselves when we lose everything we were, and become only what we are?”
A good place to start building a universe.
Note: Images used above are included to promote the work of crowdfunding artists, and are owned by the original creator.