Sometimes, when you least expect it, something leaps up and punches you in the mouth that you completely did not expect. I have for a long time been saying on this blog and on Google+ that I needed a science fiction game that is the right fit for me. I liked the openness of campaign opportunities that Traveller (specifically Classic Traveller) offered me but the rule set is convoluted, and the contents that are considered sci-fi are very dated. No one said to me “Have you tried Era The Consortium?” I am hoping that this is the case because you did not know about it because if you did and you did not tell me I am going to find out where you live and send a Ximian around for you to smile at…
Seriously though – why did you not tell me about this game! As you are aware, I am in the process of opening an online store (bricks and mortar on hold at the moment) and I got a message from Ed Jowett, the creator and main writer for the game, asking if he could stock his games in my store and left an (obviously) no Australian phone number to contact him. I chatted online with him and found out that he has two games (this one being obviously one of them) and I talked him into sending the digital copy so I could look over it and I have been blown away. I was going to review it the week after getting it but I decided to extend that time so I could read it and appreciate it, rather than rush reading that I do for most reviews.
Era The Consortium is a sci fi game that I could easily play for the rest of my role playing career and be very happy with. The look of this book is absolutely phenomenal, full colour, great artwork and brilliant layout. The thing that catches me about this is it evokes the feeling of a sci-fi game much like FASA when they had control of Battletech and Mechwarrior. It has that realism to it and there is one amazing reason for this. The first portion of the book, before any rules or character creation is a 135 page 500 year history of what happened after humans left Earth. Now you may be yawning about that BUT this history is told from the perspective of the characters that created it. The dull bits of the history are contained in one or two lines with a date and then that history comes alive from the words of the people that took a part of it all. This personalisation makes the whole thing feel real. You get involved with some of the characters and their parts in the history.
On top of that is the fantastic weaving of history. I absolutely suck at doing historical background and political manipulation for the way that it affects the future etc. but in this it is just beautifully staged and laid out for the entire 500 year history. The history is not a passive entity either. As you move into the book and come to the GM section (at the end) it talks about starting your game anywhere along the history line and involving yourself in any part of this, changing whatever you want. They talk about running a campaign like a time travel episode and actually have a time travel series of modules where you play characters from across many time periods to make the history even more alive, or change it via your actions.
The real bonus here, is the history is intriguing. The people come out of stasis and realise that they have all forgotten about Earth, which should be as clear as day. Then the first mission to the planet they arrive at go missing, the ship later found but not one of the crew is ever found. Throughout the entire history there are little things like this that made me want to hi-jack some role-players and make them answer the questions I had for me – What happened damn it!
The Consortium is the way that things are run in the society that evolves, largely by the corporations of the time. There are the Big Seven (seven corporations that in the end of the history become the Big 8) that largely rule for most of the history and then there is the Senate – an organisation of the 200 top companies other than the Big Seven that deliberate on matters. The history hinges around the interplay of these organisations quite a bit which has a big effect on the history. I can’t shake the feeling that it is Shadowrun’s future with the big corporations at the helm, which I have to say I like.
The level of Sci-fi is just a tiny bit shy of where I like it to be so there is minimal need for me to modify this game. The only thing I would love to see here in here is the beginnings of trans-humanism. Certainly not the full on like Eclipse Phase, but perhaps the incorporation of human into machine or computer would be a nice direction to take. That said, there is a lot of gadgets and ships and vehicles to keep even the most finicky sci-fi fan drooling for a long time.
The rules are simple to pick up. Attributes and skills that get combined in the most logical manner to form a dice pool (the system is a d10 based game) with a target number called a threshold to achieve, number of successes improving the result. So, as an example, think of a computer hacker that has some time to prepare an intrusion program to break into the consortium would use his Intelligence plus his Computer skill to build a program for the purpose, but if they were under fire at a terminal trying to get the door open they may need Wits plus Computer. It is a system that has become reasonably popular with game systems like Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space exemplifying it.
The system is very well set out too. It really diverges from the main pack of RPG’s that like to have a section for everything. In this game they have a The Era d10 Rule Set and then pretty much, in alphabetical order, spell out the rules for different situations. The rules do get grouped into little sections but there is no need for fluff and I found this really refreshing. The other thing I found refreshing was if a rule was a little bit complex they provided a FLOW CHART(!) for it. Brilliant! I stand in awe of the simple things this book does to make running it so much easier.
Guess what, they have a Games Master section that talks about the framework of running a game with loads of examples too! This is just amazing. normally games get bogged down in all sorts of stuff in the GM section but this book just says hey, this is how you can do it and here is an example. There are plenty of pre-built frameworks to illustrate the point and I feel that this game could run just with those frameworks for a long time.
The game has four races involved in it by the end of the 500 year history. The game really examines the way we humans put out needs over all others and the ramifications for the other races. I love this theme, which is essentially “what does it mean to be human”? The humans are the main stay and the most numerous at most stages of history. The first race we meed are the Eulutians, a cephalopod (cuttlefish) like creature that is technologically advanced to us but take our form in mechanical suits and attempt to act like us to act as shepherds in a way. The next race are the Ximian’s, an insect-like race that on first meeting mistake a smile for a sign of aggression and kill the entire landing party starting a war that lasts 18 years. The humans commit horrible atrocities at the end of the war and the Ximians surrender. they are then largely enslaved by the Consortium. Later this is discovered and the race is freed to be “equals” which does not sit well with many. The final race are the Villithi, an awakened tree like creature that gained sentience in a horrible, horrible manner. They are the newest of the races and I imagine there is a lot to them that has not yet been seen.
There are no real classes in the game, you just come up with a concept and build it up with your choices during character generation. There are your attributes and skills as well as specialties that make up the character. Of course there is a swag of equipment to use too and you use all of this to build the character you want. All of the races are playable for character choices too, which offer a variety of options that make for an interesting character.
There are two versions of the rule book too! There is a primer version which contains every one of the rules but none of the history. So if you are keen just for a decent, workable version of a sci-fi game then that is the version you want to grab, or perhaps one your players might grab and as a GM you could get the full version with the history. That way the players do not surprise you by knowing what happens in the history and spoil what you wanted to run. mind you, I would be allowing any changes my players made to stand anyhow. You can get the Primer version here (PDF), and the full Digital ruleset with history from here in PDF. If you want them in hard copy then you can go to the Shades of Vengeance website store and get it from there, though I hope to be getting some physical stock in at some time. the Shades of Vengeance website also has a lot of supporting material so if you decide to have a game make sure you check it out!
Honestly, there is nothing that I can fault this game for. It is literally the best sci-fi Role Playing Game I have ever seen and hence Era The Consortium is the game that I have been looking for. You could have any type of campaign played out with it, much the same as was the beauty of Traveller. If you wan the whole history and setting it is a large part of this game and it feels real and brilliant. I like to make my sci-fi settings but I could totally use this, and in fact there are some things that I want to play out in this game so the likelihood is strong that I would use the background. The playable nature of the core set of rules make this game an absolute must have for any serious sci-fi role player that is in to cinematic style play. Get out there and grab this game, you will not be disappointed. Keep rolling!