Soar with the Horses: Roan
High-flying adventure and hoofs storming the beaches in a pulp-inspired, 1940s ponyverse…
Kickstarter ending 9/8/15
Pulp-inspired gaming is, in that very specific sense of the word used by tabletop RPG publishing, pretty big right now, with Spirit of the Century making the rounds in indie gaming and Piazo’s Pathfinder game dipping a toe into the genre (yes, Pathfinder’s a Dungeons and Dragons type game, but the organized explorer’s society backstory? Total pulp!) The MLP community has had remarkable success in funding new pony-focused TRPGs through Kickstarter, with three books funding/funded in the Ponyfinder line. So there’s a certain weird synergy in Roan, now on Kickstarter: a new pony-inspired game from first-time game publisher Night Fox, set in a magical/tech version of the 1940s with a heck of a lot of equines.
Roan—more on their web page—is set around the beginning of the World War II era, arguably the most pulpable six years in history (possibly excepting the Victorian era if you fold in Steampunk, but that’s a stretch.) Not only are the Nazis threatening to take over Europe and opening up zany new roads of crackpot mad science and weird magic (Check Kenneth Hite’s “Nazi Occult” out sometime, a magical alternate universe isn’t that many parallel realities away), it’s a time when the world still had some mysteries to explore and Imperialism still was a thing (Britain still hadn’t quite let go of India). If there was ever a real historical period that cried out “Adventurers! Your time is now!” it’s the 1940s, and Roan has that kind of action on every page.
Mechanically, Roan uses a rules-light, action-cinema heavy system called the Ubiquity system, also used in the popular pulp TRPG Hollow Earth Expedition. It’s a game that encourages daring and flashy action with “style points” and doesn’t get too bogged down in rules. Night Fox tweaks the system a bit with expanded magical rules and aerial combat mechanics, but it’s already a strong system for cinematic pulp action.
Watching the video and reading over Night Fox’s project page, a couple things leap out at me. First, the game is covered in great art, with a strong sense of mood and some fun pics that mash up iconic historical moments and imagery with brightly colored ponies. The art has a lot of visual power and a good sense of fun, and with something like 20 artists on his team, it covers a wide range of style.
On the other hoof, I’m also struck by how the product moves away from the pony fandom’s homeland of Equestria. Some of this is the Brony fandom’s fan-canon drift, with kelpies, zebras, and bat-pegasi as viable races in the game. Frankly I’d expect nothing less. Equestria and fan-canon are not the same thing, and one is going to be a bigger playground. I’m actually a bit more surprised by how variable the level of anthropomorphism is in Roan, with some characters the kind of four-leggers we see in early episodes of MLP, and others about as animal-like as your average fursona, and maybe less considering all the period costuming. It’s a step away from Ponyville, and I’m not sure how it effects the mood of the world. Is there a difference between playing “Ponies” and playing anthro horses, in terms of mood and style? That’s really a call for the player, but it does increase the distance between the new game and its original source material.
I do have a concern about the project page itself, there’s a lot of grammar “dings” in the body copy of the page, particularly singular/plural agreement, apostrophes and plurals, that sort of thing—the usual bugaboos of a new writer, which makes me a little nervous about the final product, since this is ultimately a print piece. And there’s a rough edge to the language throughout. Language like “In combat, a wing pony can be a savior, fending off opponents whom mounted your plane…” makes me twitchy about the final product, and I personally would want to see a few pages of sample text before I invested. It’s a reasonable concern: “will the quality of the marketing material reflect the quality of the final product.”[EDIT: the Creator dropped me a few notes and a Reply talking about bringing an editor/layout person on board, so yay!]
So far as the nitty-gritty elements of the kickstarter go, everything seems pretty well-planned and reasonably priced. $40 is about on par with a mass-market hardcover book of a reasonable size (page count?), and DriveThruRPG is a solid option for game designers who don’t own their own printing press. While I think the numbers makes sense, and are in line with what I’d expect to see, the lack of a sketched-out business plan makes me wary, that sort of thing helps build credibility and trust. Business plan and a strong sense of who the project developer is both contribute to a sense of trust, and I don’t think we’re there.
More than usual, this is a “you’ll have to make up your own mind” project. The art is great and the world-building and theme are spot on, and there are editors in the fandom that work cheap. This project has some compelling elements that might carry it forward to success, and in tabletop gaming, concept is king. All the contenders for fur-friendly RP are rules-heavy right now, and a light, bubbly cinematic game would hold a strong niche. Roan is definitely a project I want to see succeed, but a successful campaign goes beyond fundraising.
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