It was November last year when RPG Knights ran an Australian focus and I had an entrant to that run for the game Fragged Empire. The name may be familiar to some of you as it was an RPG Kickstarter set in a far future sci-fi Universe where humanity is long dead, in fact the race that humanity engineered is even considered extinct! The four featured races being the offspring of the races that humanity left behind. Sound complex? It isn’t really that much to get your head around once you get the book – but is getting the book worth it? In a well overdue full review I will give you my opinion on that.
I love games with great setting and often times will overlook major flaws in system due to that fact. Sure, I could grab a FATE Core book and make the setting that suited me completely, but it is nice to start with a lot of detail already in place with a bunch of hooks. Fragged Empire delivers this in droves.
The book starts with a lovely bit of fiction that to me felt very Firefly-esque. It introduces the races that are focused on in a succinct manner and has the perfect level of light-heart ratio to seriousness. The use of short stories is used extensively through the book to help flesh out concepts, history and rules. That means that the setting that are of the genetically created forebears (as opposed to evolutionary) of humanity comes across really well. It makes sense when you read it and you are not struggling with a spinning head over the alieness of it all.
It is a post-apocalyptic setting. Humanity created the Archons, a race of scientists keen to create the perfect organism. They created countless races until they created Xion – the perfect race. There were only twelve and it seems almost as quickly as they proclaimed them perfect they renounced that title and sought to destroy the race. One escaped them and flew away to the deep reaches of space.
Xion of course returned with a race of its own creation to destroy its own creators, the Archons. Xion sent its race, the Nephilim to wipe the Archons, and all of the races they had created from the Universe. A war was waged, the time of darkness, that the Archons were bound to lose. They were a peaceful race and had never worked on military applications to any great degree. They altered human technology to create the Mechonids (a robotic terror that plagues the Universe now) and created the Legion hastily to battle the Nephilim.
Seemingly though the Nephilim destroyed the Archons but with that victory Xion retreated back into space leaving the Nephilim with no purpose or place. The Legion retreated to a system reserved for them, the Kaltorans (a race created and favoured by the Archons) had defended their worlds and eventually fled to the underground to escape the Nephilim. This turned into their own private hell in their years of seclusion. Finally, the Vargarti, a failed race in the eyes of the Archons, were largely unscathed by the war and they sought to find a place in the Universe, now their disapproving creators, and the race that once looked over them were dead.
Fast forward 100 or so years. The Vargarti are now known as the Corp, a race of capitalistic human like creatures. They have settled in the Haven system – the system of the Kaltorans. Some of the Kaltorans (humanoids with four ears) emerged and are now miners and mechanics extraordinaire with an overriding free spirit. The Legion, built for war, now roam the Haven system in the form of mercenaries and freelancers or exiles from their home system. They are large bi-pedal reptilian mammals with an ingrained desire for war and strategy. Finally, the Nephilim emerged from the wreckage of hundreds of bio-engineered ships to assist and ally with the Corp in the emergence of a new reality. The Nephilim are numerous in size and stature, they range from giant bio-engineered ships to purebloods created by Xion, hybrids germinated from test tubes and purebloods and finally the Emissaries, emerging from pods fully formed and the most “human-like” looking of the group.
That is pretty much the setup. These races have all been abandoned, or have lost their creators. They now must find their own way in the Universe and recover from the war that wiped out much of the technology and knowledge from before it. There are threats out there still, remnants of the war and technologies that can be reclaimed for use. Technology that can no longer be replicated. But can these races keep the peace and learn to live together where they were once locked in a deadly war? If not, can they live without one another?
The setting details the Haven system but has a broader expanse than just that with many systems marked and not named. This is intentional on the designers part and they mention that these are placeholders for your own games to make what you want with. Not to say they do not give some excellent hooks on some of the broader material. I am about to run a game of this in my store and every little hook they wrote about filled me with ideas and intrigue. There is a lot of gaming to be played in this system and the setting is a great jumping board for sci-fi adventure.
Fragged Empire works off a very basic system at its heart. It is a roll 3d6 and get above a target number system. 6 Statistics that are purchased and modified by race and a skill based (as opposed to class based) system that has traits to give your character the ability to customize. It is unique, but not overly original and I have to say that I have reservations about how this will work in game. I have to trial it in a game to really see if my reservations about the system are founded.
My reservations are that there seems to be very little between an unskilled character and a character at the top of the game. At the heart, if you are unskilled you get -2 to a roll in a skill (some exceptions to this) to a +2 if you are skilled (you can get bigger bonuses if using proper equipment etc.) and that does not feel like a massive leap to me. With 8 being the target number of a routine task that means someone unskilled in piloting a ship (for example) would succeed piloting the ship – that feels wrong to me.
That said, it is a reservation and playing it out may make a difference. There are a bunch of subsystems to make sense of obviously specific situations. Combat, space combat, researching, trading and the like all have their own systems of use. Some of them are very different to what one comes to expect from a system. For example, your equipment is limited by your resources. That means if you “loot” a corpse of your enemy that you can use it in the current adventure but longer term it needs to go to your Trade cargo or swap something else out to keep it if you do not have the resources. I struggled with that concept for a bit but in the end I like it. It is an ambiguous system that is used to replicate your characters wealth. Maybe they have loans and have to sell off extra gear until they can earn more.
The resources that govern that idea are used by the Games Master (GM) as rewards for a game. Instead of experience your character may gain some influence or some resources, maybe both. They may also research some new technology that allows them access to traits that were previously out of reach for them.
That does not mean there is not an advancement system though. It works a lot differently to other games in that after three games being played, your character goes up a level. Levels have effects on a bunch of things like resources, influence and the number of traits that you can use to specialize your character with. It is quite a nice concept with no level limit or even messy calculations to contend with experience points and the like.
Influence governs your ability to be linked into various things, and as a starting character it can be combined with the groups overall influence to be able to have access to a ship. I really like this concept which allows the players, if they want to be a star-faring bunch planet or system hopping to do that from the very start. It also allows the GM to work up a group in the background that are helping these miscreants fly about in space!
You only need the one book to play this game. I do love self contained books. There are expansions to this though, The Antagonist Archive, GM Screen, two adventures and now a new book shipping from another Kickstarter called the Protagonist’s Archive. These all flesh a lot out and the GM Screen which I recently got in store is a beautiful thing.
The core book is also a beautiful book. The art in it is top notch art, though they do use an unfocused blur in some images that annoyed my old eyes (makes me think I need an optometrist) and they obviously put a lot of work into layout in this book. The use of white space is liberal and spot on making it very readable. That said, I think the use of white space is there because, though the art is brilliant, there is not a lot of it. There are some brilliant graphics and the maps for space systems also brilliant, but art is premium content here. You do not get a lot of it but what you get is awesome.
Hardcover and 380+ pages is a solid book. The stories (and short flavour text) in it are well written and evocative. The rules themselves are not very engaging though. It took me a good deal of time to get through this book because reading the rules was a bit dry. Not to mention the fact that they only like putting something in the book once so you spend a fair bit of time flipping through pages to read something (for example a trait) which is in a table at the back but the detail of the rule it effects is earlier in the book.
There is also one major surprise here that I have never seen in a core rule-book before. There is no character sheet included. To get the official character sheet you need to go to the website and download it from the free downloads section. This is not a major problem but the core book does show a lot of filled out examples of parts of the character sheet, and it is just not in the book. I am old though – I come from the school that occasionally wondered if it was OK to photocopy character sheets from the main book and look for that little personal use clause!
This is an Australian game that compares to all the big boys of the genre. I am a bit nervous about the system, though I think that is all intellectual and in practice the system will pull through. I hope to do a bit of a write up about the first few games, or video log to report on what my feelings are at that point.
Do I think this is a game worthy of purchasing? Yes. Absolutely. I am very particular about my sci-fi and really feel that there are few games that have gotten it right since Classic Traveller days. This system is a lot less computationally difficult to Classic Traveller but it gets the feel right. It does not try to force you into a system and it gives you an interesting array of aliens to use. The human feeling Corp through to the totally alien Nephilim. New races are available in the new book, but this gives a great start to the system and is well furnished for great games.
The game is available in dead tree version or PDF from various places on the internet. It really is worth a look and I suggest that if you are after a good sci-fi game that is modern and still active that Fragged Empire may be exactly what you are looking for.