I have spent some of my down time over Christmas reading up on Coriolis from free league publishing.

I was super impressed with Mutant:Year Zero with its beautifully simple skill resolution mechanics, the D6, D66 and D666 scalability and even a neat little combat system that was both fast to play yet had the graphic critical damage effects that move combat into the narrative.

If you read my take on Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed and the 2d20 system you will know I was far from taken with the game mechanics of that system.

So what do I think of Coriolis?

My background is very much in Rolemaster, that is what started this little tour of alternative systems. Coriolis feels like Rolemaster in miniature. By that I mean in Rolemaster we are used to a characters defined through their skills the same as Coriolis; Characters can have Talents and Flaws in Rolemaster whereas Coriolis has Talents and Problems; I am used to  a whole rainbow of difficulty factors for skill tests from routine to near impossible; graduated levels of success, in Rolemaster that is typically failure, partial success, success, absolute success, in Coriolis it goes failure, limited success, critical success. The latest Rolemaster rules use a 4 action point system per round and Coriolis uses 3 action points. Throughout the rules I have read so far Coriolis looks and feels like a D6 version of Rolemaster. The clever use of the D66 where needed bridges the gap from the granular D100 to the broad strokes of the d6.

I mentioned Conan earlier for one reason. There was a mechanic in that game that I detested, momentum and consequences, and that rears its ugly head again in Coriolis but this time in the guise of Darkness points.

In Rolemaster circles there is a concept of ‘flurry of blows’. The logic goes like this, a combat round is 10 seconds long and you are more than capable of swinging your sword more than once in 10 seconds. So the attack roll you make is not your only attack that round, it is the attack that was most likely to succeed. In reality you actually made many feints, parries and attacks in that 10 seconds. Flurry of blows is almost universally reviled by the players, partly because melee attacks are flurry of blows but spells are not, one fireball is one fireball, missile attacks are not flurries, an arrow is an arrow or a spear is a spear. The rules are not consistent.

Corriolis is based around flurry of blows and it suffers with the same breakdown in coherency when it comes to throws spears, axes or arrows which are quite clearly discrete. I agree that you do not need to count every bullet, Spacemaster used a count of bullets for guns that had small magazines but just a generic ‘burst’ for semi and automatic weapons. You didn’t need to know how many bullets were in each burst but you could still track when the magazine or bullet belt was empty. Coriolis uses the flurry of blows or burst of bullets concept for all the attacks and for me it breaks the suspension of disbelief. I end up feeling like guns are filled with miniature Schrodinger’s cats and until you check what is in the magazine or pull the trigger your bullets may or may not exist.

I know the argument is that if you have to track bullets then it is just more bookkeeping but the flip of that is that there are opportunities for dramatic tension when a player is down to the last few rounds and the enemy are at the door.

So that is quite enough about the game mechanics…

Coriolis as a game

I firmly believe that the setting is all important in a game. Coriolis uses a wonderful fusion of Sci Fi and the Arabian Nights to create a rather mystical FireFly-like game backdrop. I am a really enthusiastic about this set up. I read the Arabian Nights again earlier this year (2017) so I was already on board from the very first paragraph.

Now, here is an interesting thing. I played in a Spacemaster game last year and having read the adventure The Dark Flowers I am convinced that the adventure I played through was the sample adventure from Coriolis. So technically I have never played Coriolis, and you know I don’t feel that happy reviewing games I have not played, I have played the sample adventure. Now I am looking at it with a GM’s eye I think it is an excellent introduction. It also points to the quality of the Coriolis materials.

Incidentally, I don’t know if this is a coincidence but the ‘feel’ of the page layout and design is very much like Eclipse Phase from Posthuman Studios. It could be that this is just a page layout ‘style’ and the fact that both games are Sci Fi and relatively rules lite in my experience.

So over all I cannot really fault the game design, the quality of the materials, the setting or anything. There is one game mechanic I don’t like, but I would house rule around that if I ran the game. That is personal preference.


If you have read my recent mini series on GM Emulators, I find it very interesting how the consequences mechanic from both Coriolis and Conan have so much in common with the plot twist mechanics in the GM Emulators. This may sound like a contradiction that I advocate GM emulators for collaborative play but when the same mechanics turn up in a game I object to it. The difference is that when using a GM Emulator there is no plot before you start play and the entire world is created and unfolds before you as you play. The consequences mechanic in these games on the other hand changes the reality for the characters explicitly based upon a bad roll. It just smacks too much of roll playing and not role playing.

And finally, finally,

Happy New Year!

I have been blogging about Rolemaster for the past few years. When I am not blogging I run the Rolemaster Fanzine and create adventure seeds and generic game supplements under the heading of PPM Games. You can check them out on RPGnow. My pet project is my d6 game 3Deep, now in its second edition.

4 thoughts on “Coriolis”

  1. a) great review … I really appreciate your reviews (even if we have a couple areas of ongoing disagreement — I just wanted to emphasize the positive so that it doesn’t sound like I’m always being negative about your reviews; my feelings about your reviews are actually quite positive)

    b) I wont belabor that we continue to disagree about which forms of resource management (meta resources like plot control (fate points) vs in-world resources like ammo). Just that it’s still there 🙂

    c) In your finally, you say:

    “The difference is that when using a GM Emulator there is no plot before you start play and the entire world is created and unfolds before you as you play. ”

    Except … that is not actually a fundamental difference. One thing that seems popular exactly among games like FATE (which might influence your dislike … or disconnect … of that group of games) is that there isn’t always a pre-existing plot. A basic world premise, yes. But a lot of GMs that like FATE are not doing pre-written plots. They’re improvising reactions against the PCs. They offer a genre and basic “world Aspects”, and then everyone does character creation that fits those things. But, then the GM looks at the characters that were created and crafts the vague main plot from their Aspects (in MANY cases, the aspects set by the players actually alter or further define the world in ways that didn’t already exist … such as maybe you start out with a world where Goblins and Orcs are the same species, and then one of the player’s Aspects is “Likes Goblins, hates Orcs” — that aspect changes the definition of the initial world, and the GM adapts to it, in contrast to the player having to adapt their aspects to the pre-conceived world). When adventuring starts, the GM is sort of doing a lot of “yes but” and “yes and” responses to what the players do. Like a meta-sandbox style of play. But there’s no pre-conceived “you’re here to play in my game that is about the War of the Ring, pick from this list of boxes that you have to fit into.” (whether a literal exhaustive list of options, or an implied one).

    That happens to be one of my disconnects as well. Not with the game systems, per se, but with the advocates of those game systems who prefer that GM style. They seem to answer questions about “how do I handle this plot driven idea in FATE” with “don’t do fixed/semi-fixed plot driven*, do character driven improv style campaigns”. Which I find to be non-responsive / not-helpful. (note: I’m using FATE here as a stand-in for a broader set of games, the FATE community is 90% helpful, this is just a rough edge for me)

    (* which they sometimes [incorrectly … or semi-correctly] characterize as “railroading”)

    I understand the improvisational-reaction style of GM’ing… I just prefer a hybrid between the two extremes. And while I may some day GM a FATE game that way (or a D&D game even) … that’s not my plan when I start to think about playing FATE.

  2. Happy New Year Johnkzin.

    I have said before that I do not think I am a very good reviewer, partly through lack of experience. I also look at games as I would want to play them, not necessarily how anyone else would want to play them. If that is a good thing or a bad thing I don’t know.

    I think you and I are sitting on either side of a very thin line. I am more comfortable counting bullets and you darkness points. I don’t think that makes much difference either way.

    My experiences colour my impressions of games. The highlights of my gaming life are my face to face game. A group of friends and I have been gaming since school and even now we still get together 3 times a year for a weekend of role playing. As a GM if I have one weekend every four months then I can devote a great amount of time and effort in preparing for that session. Campaigns can take decades to play out. For that game I am not interested in improvisational style gaming because it robs me of hours of GM style fun in prepping those sessions, creating NPCs, developing the world around the locations the characters are most likely to visit and so on.

    That is me and my gaming life.

    I also run other games. I run games online using rpol and that gives one far greater freedom to experiment. I can throw a game together either as a one shot or a short campaign at the drop of a hat. I once ran a game where all of the GMing was decided via a GM Emulator. I just did the typing and interpretation. I honestly don’t know if anyone noticed the difference. The game was successful and the players went on to play in other games of mine.

    That FATE style improv game is fine but taking all the games I have looked at following your original comment they all have ‘hard points’ for example Conan has an absorbing setting, a wealth of supporting fiction and a defined style. The character lead world shaping doesn’t really work with that laid down world as some one at some point will hit a know fact or one of the tracks in the railroad.

    M:YZ on the other hand has a dark subplot. That takes the guiding hand of the story telling GM to slowly weave it into the characters story, or not, as the GM builds the world. The improv style either cannot tell that story or everyone needs to know what the surprise is to enable it to come about, which sort of defeats the point of the surprise.

    Coriolis is the most improv friendly of this family of games as the setting is interesting but open to interpretation.

    The WEG games are really just a cute mechanic wrapped in any setting you like. The only difference between WEG and the Free League way is that WEG has a target number and Free League counts ‘6’s. In both systems stats = dice, skills = dice, gear = dice, gather them all up and roll. WEG has the exploding dice Free League has the D66 critical table. It is unsurprising that I like both game systems.

    I also love strong game settings. I get much more excited about settings than I do about game mechanics. That is where Free League trumps the available WEG based games.

    1. Happy New Year to you too!

      lack of experience as a reviewer: you’ll get there, but I think you’ve got your voice and experience with the subject matter. The rest will follow 🙂

      I’m a big fan of dice-pool games that are success-counting instead of total-dice type. Shadowrun is a good example of success counting (as is Storyteller): roll N dice, compare each die to a target number, you get 1 success for each die that meet/beat the target number. I’ve actually been working on one of my own, and in doing so have collected a long list of them (and ones that are effectively that, even though they don’t call themselves that). I think that’s one of my reasons for liking Free League’s “count 6’s” mechanic.

  3. I tend to agree. By counting successes it becomes extremely easy to implement critical successes regardless to the size of the dice pool. With a target number system a suitable margin of success is harder to determine when the size of the pool can vary so widely.

    Once you have critical successes you can add the flavour adding things like combat criticals or descriptive skill results. … or even fumbles and failures.

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