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Friday 10 January 2020

Post-Zombie Quick-Start

Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart is a quick-start for a Dystopia Rising: Evolution, a Post Apocalypse roleplaying game from Onyx Path Publishing. It provides everything necessary for a gaming group to give the roleplaying game a try and perhaps even use it as the starter scenario to a campaign set in the dark future of Dystopia Rising: Evolution, including a basic explanation of the rules, a six-scene scenario, and five pre-generated player characters. The setting of Dystopia Rising: Evolution is an America some generations after the outbreak of a zombie virus brought about an apocalypse. In the decades since, the survivors have not only learned to adapt and get by, but mutated into several distinct Lineages. In more recent times, the cities, long fallen and crumbled, have formed the bones upon which new and vibrant settlements have been built, trade and travel have been established once again, and societies have begun to be formed. The setting for the scenario, ‘Trouble on Steel Pier’, is the Big A.C., a place of glitz, glamour, and danger within the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Here are opportunities for trade, for work, for entertainment, but also criminality, murder, and more…

Unlike other Jumpstarts and roleplaying games from Onyx Path Publishing which use the Storyteller system, Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart employs the Storypath system. The latter can be best described as a distillation of the former and certainly anyone familiar with the Storyteller system will find that it has a lot in common with the Storypath system, except that the Storypath system is simpler and streamlined, designed for slightly cinematic, effect driven play. The core mechanic uses dice pools of ten-sided dice, typically formed from the combination of a skill and an attribute, for example Pilot and Dexterity to sail a boat, Survival and Stamina to cross a wilderness, and Persuasion and Manipulation to unobtrusively get someone to do what a character wants. These skill and attribute combinations are designed to be flexible, with a character’s preferred method being described as a character’s Favoured Approach. So a character whose Favoured Approach is Force, would use Close Combat and Might in a melee fight; if Finesse, Close Combat and Dexterity; and if Resilience, then Close Combat and Stamina. 

The aim when rolling, is to score Successes, a Success being a result of eight or more. Rolls of ten are added to the total and a player can roll them again. A player only needs to roll one Success for a character to complete task, but will want to roll more. Not only because Successes can be used to buy off Complications—ranging between one and five—but also because they can be used to buy Stunts which will impose Complications for others, create an Enhancement for another action, or one that it makes it difficult to act against a character. Some Stunts cost nothing, so ‘Inflict Damage’ costs nothing, though may cost more if the enemy is wearing soft armour, a ‘Critical Hit’ costs four Stunts, and so on. Instead of adding to the number of dice rolled, equipment used adds Enhancements or further Successes for a player to expend, but the player needs to roll at least one Success for equipment to be effective.

Under the Storypath system, and thus in Dystopia Rising, failure is never complete. Rather, if a player does not roll any Successes, then he receives a Consolation. This can be a ‘Twist of Fate’, which reveals an alternative approach or new information; a ‘Chance Meeting’ introduces a new helpful NPC; or an ‘’Unlooked-for Advantage’, an Enhancement which can be used in a future challenge. Alternatively, a character gains Momentum which can be expended to gain an Enhancement or to activate a Skill Trick or an Edge.

The rules in Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart cover narrative and dramatic scale, combat—players roll an appropriate Resilience Attribute to generate Successes to be expended on Defensive Stunts, and procedurals such as information gathering, intrigue, influence, and so on. These are all clearly explained and all easy to use in play. In general, the Storypath system, as presented in this Jumpstart is clearly presented and quick to pick up. They feel simpler and faster than the Storyteller system and have a cinematic quality to them, especially with the availability of Stunts and Consolations in the face of failure.

Characters in the Storypath system share much in common with the Storyteller system. They have nine Attributes—Intellect, Cunning, Resolving, Might, Dexterity, Stamina, Presence, Manipulation, and Composure; a range a skills, some with associated Skill Tricks and Specialities; and Edges, Paths, and Aspirations. A Skill Speciality, such as ‘I Can Eat That’ for the Survival skill, adds an Enhancement, whilst a Skill Trick, like ‘Wayfinder’ or ‘Charisma’, require a point of Momentum. Of all of the aspects in Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart, what each Skill Trick actually is the least explained, so a playing group will just have to improvise. Edges are the equivalent of advantages, and for certain characters can be Faith or Psi Edges, whilst a character has three Paths. His Strain Path represents his history and strain of humanity, as well as his Strain condition; his Role Path is his occupation or what he is good at; and his Society Path represents his connection to a group or society. For example, one of the pre-generated characters is has the Strain Path of Retrograde, which means he has rotting skin due to excess radiation and consequently, the Strain Condition of ‘It’s Zed!’, meaning his appearance makes it difficult for others to communicate with him; the Role Path of Gunslinger, good with firearms; and the Society Path of Settlement (Philly del Phia). Aspirations are a character’s goals, and in the scenario are either short or long term.

The five characters included in Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart are a firebrand leader and sniper, a bruiser and paragon of faith, a cannibal tunnel rat and knife fighter, a charismatic scoundrel, and a physically disabled tech wizard and driver. Each is presented in full colour over two pages with the character sheet on one and an illustration and background on the other. The character sheets are easy to read and the background easy to pick up.

The scenario, ‘Trouble on the Steel Pier’, is a Macguffin hunt. The characters in the Big A.C., a glitzy harbour settlement , when they are asked by a contact from a Pure Blood family in Philly del Phia to collect a parcel of medical supplies from an incoming boat, the Harbinger. Unfortunately, as the boat sails into view, it comes under attack by zombies. The characters will have to get out to the Harbinger and save both her and the crew and find the medical supplies. Of course, not all is as it seems, but discovering that will require co-operation and investigation upon the part of the player characters. Each of the five scenes is very clearly organised with explanations of how the characters got there, what they need to accomplish, the opposition they face, and the goal of the scene all laid out for the Storyguide—as the Game Master is known in Dystopia Rising: Evolution. Everything that the Storyguide needs is laid out within each scene, making them easy to run. The scenes are a mix of action, investigation, roleplaying, and subterfuge. The story is linear, but that is not really an issue in a Jumpstart which is intended to introduce both setting and mechanics of Dystopia Rising: Evolution. If there is an issue with ‘Trouble on the Steel Pier’, it is perhaps that the scenario is a bit short and does not end on an exciting note. Nevertheless, there is plenty for the players and their characters to do, the characters themselves being nicely done to encourage roleplaying and show off what they can do.

Physically, Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart is a slim softback, done in full colour with plenty of illustrations depicting the grungy, worn world of a post-apocalyptic future. It could have done with an edit in places and perhaps a better explanation of some of the elements of the characters.

The good thing is that as much as Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart is a standalone, there is nothing to stop the Storyguide running its scenario with the full rules and characters of the players’ own creation. Its setting has a grim and grimy atmosphere, but does not over do either, nor does it overdo its zombies, so this is more than just a zombie roleplaying game. Overall, Trouble on the Steel Pier: A Dystopia Rising: Evolution Jumpstart is a good introduction to the Dystopia Rising: Evolution setting, a Post Apocalypse future still beset by zombies, its stripped down, slimmer mechanics of the Storypath system support its cinematic feel with its Stunts which give the players and their characters more options in play.

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