The Void RPG is the latest offering from Wildfire, the makers of Cthulhutech. It’s a hard sci-fi setting, billed as part of the “Cthulhu Saga”. What follows is a review of sorts, although I should warn the reader that I do love Cthulhutech, so it may be slightly biased in favour of The Void RPG. Previously billed as “Cthonian Stars“, the book has been released as “Pay what you want” to want on DriveThruRPG. There’s quite a lot to The Void RPG, but the Core PDF gives the impression that its not quite finished yet. All the rules are there, but there’s often the sensation of something missing.
The basic core test of The Void RPG is a familiar one; work out Attribute + Skill; roll that number of six-sided dice (a dice pool). A 5 or a 6 is necessary for a Success, and you need a number of successes to achieve one of four difficulties: Easy is 1 success, Hard requires 4. Epic fails occur in tests when you roll all ones. In all likelihood things will go very badly wrong – like botches of fumbles in other games.The GM can assign modifiers to the dice pool. In play, this worked very easily – it’s intuitive, easy to pick up, and works for everything, combat included. A welcome improvement onCthulhutech‘s poker system.
There are a vast number of skills, as there were with Cthulhutech, but this the dice pool system also allows for related skills. For example, if you don’t have the Guns: Handgun skill, but have Guns: Rifle skill of 4, you have a related skill (with one die less). This means you have one die less in the pool, but it gives a much better chance of success, and makes PCs a bit more well-rounded. The sheer number of skills is a little off-putting, but each Warden type has some skills recommended to them.
Character creation takes around 30 minutes. Starting PCs in The Void RPG have the option of being one of the three Warden types: An Enforcer (soldier), Investigator (detective), and Researcher (tech/library). Each of these give you a number of skills that you can add points to, and give each PC their own distinct skill set. Interestingly too, the planet you come from also gives some extra skills, e.g. being able to move in low G, or being able to use EVA. You can also create your own PC from scratch.
All Player Characters (PCs) in The Void RPG have a number of additional components as such:
- Fate Points, as they are called, allow characters to cheat death in the same way as they do in WFRP. For example If a PC is about to fall off a giant cliff on Mars, perhaps he falls fifteen feet and grabs a handhold or falls to a ledge below. The PC is still alive, but now only faces the difficult task of climbing back up.
- Quirks are something I’m ambivalent about. Each PC has two of these, such as Juggling or Recite Movie Quotes. While this may give a bit of depth to a PC, some groups or players may think that they are too jokey and not in keeping with a Survival Horror game.
- Talents are special abilities, just like in Cthulhutech. They’re special abilities like “Wicked Smart” or “Double Tap”, much like feats in d20 games.
- Qualities are various advantages and disadvantages, like Eidetic Memory or Persistent Injury. In the case of Disadvantages, extra points are available during character creation depending upon the scale of disadvantage. If Cthulhutech was anything to go by, Players often forget any Disadvantages during the game 🙂
The are also some extra rules for the group as well.
- Nixes allow a group a veto on a specific roll. They can cancel a die roll one of the the group has rolled, but not the GM’s roll.
- Tension Points are very similar to the Drama Points as used in Cthulhutech. They are assigned to the GM and to the group, not an individual. They can be spent by both GM and players. Players can use theirs to re-roll a single roll. A GM can use these to deny players finding a needed item or resource, force a player to re-roll, or give an NPC a Fate Point (see below). This probably works, but I didn’t use it in the game.
Combat in the Void RPG involves a contest; the successes compared to see if they hit or not. As things work, with individual initiatives (Awareness + Reaction), combat is relatively straightforward, even with firearms, and new player will pick it up quickly. Each weapon does a certain amount of damage in D6s, Armour reduces damage, then this is applied to your Health score. And it is here that I find a minor niggle that irritated me in Cthulhutech and has persisted in The Void RPG. Everything has a number of Wound Levels, five in total: Healthy, Bruised, Battered, Hurt, and Incapacitated. However you have to do some mental calculation when applying damage as a result e.g. most Humans have around Health 10. At up to 10 points they are Bruised, at 10 they are Battered, 20 they are Hurt, 30 Unconscious, and 40 Dead! One rule I really like is Armour becomes half as effective once the Hurt level is reached. It still protects you but is nowhere near as effective.
I ordered the book as a print On Demand (POD) from DriveThruRPG (who use Lightningsource). Unlike Cthulhutech, which was a hardback in a larger size, The Void RPG is a smaller paperback. It’s pretty robust and well presented, and the paper is good quality. If there are more pages being added to it I’d prefer a larger format hardback though, as the corners of the paperback are already a little worn – that’s not Wildfire’s fault though.
The internal content is well laid out in two columns with useful side bars that give you an “At a glance” summary. Like Cthulhutech the artwork is gorgeous, and is very high quality colour throughout. Both index and table of contents make things easy to find. However not all of the pages are numbered and it’s not always easy to find the information in one place. I still can’t find the section on Personality Traits anywhere. The obligatory character sheet is at the back and available for download – everything fits on one side. I’ll likely make my own fillable version of the PDF. While I don’t mind the fiction fluff in the book itself, there’s a lot of it, and sometimes seems like filler text.
The Void RPG setting
There’s a lot to the setting, and it’s here there are gaps. There’s hardly any monsters, aside from the ones in the initial adventure (although they are available separately as a PDF download). What language does everyone speak since there are only three real power blocs left on Earth? How are the Wardens organised? I would have liked to see a map of the solar system together with the moons of each planet clearly listed. A floorplan of a space station or colony would have been good for the adventure (see below). The setting feels unfinished as it were. I understand that Wildfire will add to the setting as their fans want, so that’s no bad thing.
Despite these gaps its a very rich setting, especially in regards to its Survival Horror aspect – the nearest help is days or even months away in many cases, and the setting is very evocative of films such as Event Horizon, Outland, Alien, and Pandorum. Everything is held together by spit and baling wire and everybody is slightly on edge. Good GMs will quickly find it easy to creep out players, even without the monsters.
As I’ve said elsewhere, the impression I get is that Wildfire would prefer to place more information in the book at a later date. There’s enough detail to get the game going but its not too heavy. Cthulhutech suffers that in spades, and it puts a lot of people off playing or running it.
The Introductory Adventure
I ran the introductory adventure with a group of new players. As well as the Void RPG rulebook, I downloaded the Void RPG Quick start rules, which are free and includes the adventure “To serve and survive”. Its very much a learning curve adventure for four players. I made it into six players as I wanted to create two new PCs for the purposes of this review.
If your players haven’t got the rulebook, it may be worth spending some time explaining some of their Qualities and Talents if they’re using the pre-generated characters. Players picked up the contest system easily and its pretty intuitive at that point. The biggest failing I made was not knowing where Chiron actually is (it isn’t stated) – it is a body orbiting Saturn. The adventure works well for introducing the players to the setting but there’s a few holes in the plot, and some GMs may lack the experience to deal with some of the complications resulting from the actions of the PCs. Many parts of the adventure will remind PCs of the movies, probably intentionally.
A map of the Mariner Valley Colony would have been great, along with floor-plans of both Chiron Station and Pandora’s Hope. All of these were missed, plus its never clearly stated how many infected are on board.
However, given the creatures the group face in the adventure it is quite possible that the PCs may end up dead, even with Fate Point use. The Pandora’s Hope incident isn’t clearly explained as to how the crew of the Pandora’s Hope became infected from a drug destined for use by the miners of Chiron. The infected crewman are also very tough – 0ne infected crewman lasted several rounds of flame-throwers and shotgun blasts. That’s before the Karrak’in are found. So there’s a good chance your PCs will be running low on ammo and fuel, after a couple of run-ins with infected crewmen.
As a GM, you’ll need to tailor the adventure to your players – conceptually, it works in introducing the players to The Void RPG universe, the tests, horror, etc. but there are flaws. I would run it again but with the following changes:
- More things happening in Mariner Valley, to give it a bit more colour (think Total Recall), possibly expanding Chloe or the Martian Outback.
- Make sure the crew complements for each adventure site are noted down.
- A bit more background on the Pandora’s Hope crew could be useful.
- Figure out who owns the Pandora’s Hope, the Company (like Alien)?
- Encourage the players to gear up their PCs before they go – ammo will be hard to come by.
- You only need a handful of infected crewmen – the PCs will get swarmed under otherwise.
- The radiation leak is getting stronger (nothing like a countdown to get your players moving!)
Overall, the The Void RPG system is really intuitive and easy to use, compared to others. The Tension Points and other rules may cause some issues for GMs, but such things are optional anyway. The design quality is clear and consistent, the content is of good quality and its a nice little game. It could do with less fiction and maybe more background info – as I’ve said elsewhere – and its a shame there are no maps of floorplans included. However, these are minor criticisms at best. The “Pay what you want to pay” for a book of this quality is pretty good value. If there’s more of The Void RPG still to come from Wildfire, I’ll be very happy.
Review © Bill Heron 2013