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Saturday 11 February 2023

Quick-Start Saturday: Fifth Season

Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.


What is it?
Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart is a quick-start for Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness, the roleplaying game based on N.K. Jemisin’s multiple Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy, which consists of The Fifth SeasonThe Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky. It is a post-apocalyptic survival horror roleplaying game with strong themes of co-operation, community, and ecology. The quick-start is designed to be played by six players.

It is a forty-six-page, full colour booklet.

It is published by Green Ronin Publishing.

How long will it take to play?
The Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart is playable in between three and five hours, so can be played through in a single session.

Who do you play?
Six Player Characters are included. These consist of a group of friends or colleagues who all live in the Comm or community of Nuveen and have been randomly selected to investigate issues and gather facts for the Headwoman. They include a scientist and inventor, a community organizer, an expert in plants, medicine, and comm sanitation, an expert forager and hunter, a secret Orogene, and a furniture-maker who works at a crèche.

Characters in the setting of the Broken Earth are members of a use-caste, which represents their primary role in a comm. These are Breeder, Innovator, Leadership, Resistant, and Strongback. Together they have one goal. This is to prepare for the next Fifth Season, those cataclysmic events when Father Earth himself rages against humankind.

How is a Player Character defined?
A Player Character has Abilities, Focuses, and Talents. There are nine Abilities—Accuracy, Communication, Constitution, Dexterity, Fighting, Intelligence, Perception, Strength, and Willpower. Each attribute is rated between -2 and 4, with 1 being the average, and each can have a Focus, an area of expertise such as Accuracy (Bows), Communication (Leadership), Intelligence (Medicine), or Willpower (self-Discipline). A Focus provides a bonus to associated skill rolls and, in some cases, access to a particular area of knowledge. A Talent represents an area of natural aptitude or special training. For example, Carousing grants the capacity to outlast anyone else when having fun and Orogeny enables a Player Character to ‘sess’ or sense geological activity. A Player Character also has one or more Relationships with other Player Characters or NPCs and Fortune Points to expend on adjusting die rolls. He is further defined by a Drive, Resources and Equipment, Health, Defence, Toughness, and Speed, and Goals, and Ties.

How do the mechanics work?
The Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart uses the AGE System or ‘Adventure Game Engine’. If a Player Character wants to undertake an action, his player rolls three six-sided dice and totals the result to beat the difficulty of the test, ranging from eleven or Average to twenty-one or Nigh Impossible. An appropriate Ability and Focus is added to this. If any doubles are rolled on the dice and the action succeeds, the value on the Drama die generates Stunt Points. The player can expend these to gain bonuses, do amazing things, and gain an advantage in a situation. Stunts are divided into Action, Exploration, and Social categories. For example, ‘Lightning Attack’ is an Action Stunt which gives an extra attack, ‘Assist’ is an Exploration Stunt which enables a Player Character to help another with a bonus, and ‘Spot Tell’ is a Social Stunt which gives the Player Character an advantage when an NPC is lying to him.

Fortune Points are spent to modify a single die when undertaking an action. It costs double to modify the result on the Drama Die. However, modifying the other dice means that the Player Character has a greater chance of succeeding and of rolling doubles to generate Stunt Points.

How does combat work?
The rules for combat are given under ‘Action Encounters’ and are kept to just half a page in length. They are short and straightforward. A Game Moderator or player who is familiar with the AGE System or even other roleplaying games will have no problem with this, but anyone coming to the Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart from the novels and new to the concepts of roleplaying, may find the lack of example unhelpful.

However, it is important to note that in Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness and in ‘Stress Fractures’, the scenario in the Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart that neither combat nor violence are the solutions to any one situation. In particular, under ‘DON’T START NO SHIT’, the quick-start stresses that there are deep social consequences if the scenario is resolved in such a manner.

How does Orogeny work?
Orogenes are people who have the ability to sense or ‘sess’, as well as control to extent, heat, cold, and the earth itself. This can give them an advantage when sessing seismic activity and other acts of Father Earth. Unfortunately, Orogenes are widely distrusted. Mechanically, Orogeny is treated as a Talent and has its own Stunts.

What do you play?
The Broken World, the setting for N.K. Jemisin’s trilogy of novels and Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness is one where each comm and society struggles to overcome each season and prepare for the dangers of the coming one. Caches of stored food, medicine, and other supplies are used up and hopefully replenished over the course of a season. In ‘Stress Fractures’, the scenario in the Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart, the Player Characters are asked to investigate a major problem with this activity—someone has been stealing food! However, the situation in the comm makes a turn for the worse when a death occurs in the Comm’s glass smithy. The Player Characters are hurriedly assigned to investigate what develops into a locked room situation with the body and suspects in the glass smithy and an increasingly outraged crowd outside. To restore any sense of order, Player Characters must determine what happened, identify the killer, and placate the crowd. The latter may involve some physical action, but this is primarily a social encounter, though on a larger scale. Overall, the scenario explores the tensions which arise from the setting and the threat of geological, meteorological, and climatic change.

Is there anything missing?
Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart could have done with a map of the various locations in the scenario. However, they are fairly generic and the Game Moderator should be able to find suitable floorplans or get by without them.

Is it easy to prepare?
The rules are easy to grasp and the various investigative leads and steps of the scenario are easy to follow. The Game Moderator will need to pay particular attention to these as they are the meat of the action.

Is it worth it?
The Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart is a solid introduction to the Broken World and N.K. Jemisin’s trilogy, as well as the roleplaying game itself. ‘Stress Fractures’, the 
scenario does a good job of presenting and exploring the tensions which arise from the setting and the threat of geological, meteorological, and climatic change, whilst also emphasising social and investigative methods of play over that of violence.

Where can you get it?
The Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart is available here.

Fifth Season: Roleplaying in the Stillness Quickstart is currently being funded via a Backerkit campaign.

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