Unity is a roleplaying game by Zensara Studios distributed by Modiphius which was crowdfunded on Kickstarter back in 2016. I really haven’t had it on my radar until Panny from Modiphius asked me if I was interested in doing a review. At first I was hesitant, because I feared it might be another overly complex fantasy heartbreaker. Oh boy, was I wrong!
In a way it is a heartbreaker. From the setting to the mechanics Unity shows that the authors love fantasy roleplaying in all its forms. The setting is reminiscent of fantasy MMOs like World of Warcraft, and JRPGs like the Final Fantasy series. The rules have elements from fan favorites like D&D 5th Edition or Monte Cook’s Cypher System. But what really sets it apart is that everything works perfectly together. This could have easily turned out like a weird mishmash of ideas, but fortunately it’s a really impressive game with a lot of potential. Unity is a class-based fantasy roleplaying game where magic and technology coexist. It has also elements of a post-apocalyptic game with a world slowly recuperating from a huge cataclysm.
Artwork and Layout
The first thing you notice when you leaf through the 371-paged PDF (there’s also a hardcover version) is the gorgeous artwork. The book just looks awesome. The production values are definitely top notch comparable to what you’d expect from Free League Publishing or Paizo. The book is also laid out in a very clear and readable manner. It uses a standard two column layout with sidebars which often contain helpful information.
It’s no secret that I love everything Free League Publishing (aka Fria Ligan) has released so far. Mutant: Year Zero (see my review here) is definitely my favorite game at the monent (including its spin-offs GenLab Alpha, Mechatron, and Elysium). So it’s no surprise that I am very excited about their upcoming official Alien RPG. Yes, you read that correctly. We’re talking about a tabletop roleplaying game based on the Alien franchise first created by Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon back in the late ‘70s.
Roleplaying Where No One Can Hear You Scream Their official website already showcases some of the artwork from the upcoming book (which will come out this year!) and gives a few details on the setting and rules. The artwork is – as expected from a Free League game utterly gorgeous. I’ve included a few pieces into this article.
The Alien RPG will be using Free League’s proven Mutant engine. It’s a quite simple pool-based system, which tends to be quite deadly in most of its incarnations. I think it’s a perfect fit for the Alien RPG.
The setting of the Alien RPG will be the 2183, three years after the destruction of Hadley’s Hope on LV-426 and the closing of the prison on Fiorina 161. So it’s set after the events of Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3. I don’t know if the “prequels” Prometheus and Alien: Covenant will be considered canon, or if the events depicted in those movies will affect the game universe in any way.
In my opinion Free League is perfectly suited to pull this off. They have great production values, which is key especially with expensive licenses. Don’t get me started on some of the stuff Mongoose produced during the d20 craze. Their Mutant engine is easy to learn, has enough moving parts to keep you interested for quite a while, and supports the style of gameplay an Alien RPG needs. Life in space is cheap, and no one will hear you scream – especially when all dies come up as 1s. Last but not least they have experience with pseudo-historic setting (like Tales from the Loop). Sure, Alien is not set in the 1980s, but it has a certain late ‘70s/early ‘80s feel, you just have to get right. I am confident they’ll release the Alien RPG we always wanted.
I have to admit I haven’t really followed the discussions surrounding the Critical Role Kickstarter project. Heck, I haven’t even checked out the project itself until recently. So what is all the fuzz about? Matthew Mercer and his motley crew of voice-acting friends, famous for their D&D actual play series Critical Role, are raising funds for the production of a animated TV series called “The Legend of Vox Machina”. In no time, they reached the set goal of about 666.000€ and at the time of this writing they have raised over 6 million euros. This is HUGE! I don’t think any roleplaying-related fundraiser had ever raised that much money.
Quickly criticism was raised (Check out this article on Kotaku). At first people from the industry were obviously miffed that streamers like Critical Role make more money off of RPGs than the people actually designing those games. In a way I can understand the frustration. Making money in the RPG business is extremely hard. There are only a few designers out there who can live off RPGs alone.
But in that case it’s IMHO an apples versus oranges situation. Critical Role is raising money for an animated TV series. A lot of the people interested in this series might not even be roleplaying game fans themselves. I have watched a couple of episodes of both seasons of Critical Role and I can see the appeal of taking part in their adventures as a spectator. It is possible that some of the backers have never played a roleplaying game in their lives. Perhaps they heard from friends about the show, or they know Vox Machina from their cameos in the Pillars of Eternity 2 video game. Will some of the people backing Critical Role now eventually throw money towards roleplaying game creators? Possible. My point is that the show might have a larger appeal than just people playing D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder at the moment. In the long run the success of Critical Role will probably lead to more sales in the RPG industry.
The second criticism raised is about diversity. While this particularly group of friends is not entirely male, like way too many roleplaying game groups, the lack of persons of color is noticeable. We all know that representation is important. Critical Role has become a kind of ambassador for the roleplaying hobby, and so it would be great if their cast included persons of color.
But things are not that easy. Before Critical Role was a hit show on Twitch and YouTube, the members of the group were just friends enjoying the game. There have been several guest players on the show and perhaps they might actually add a non-white person to the cast. Since the show evolved from a fun past time to something greater, calling for more diversity and more representation of minorities on the show might not be unreasonable, but it’s not something we can force. Change is slow. But I think we are on the right track.
With their popular and financial success comes a certain responsibility. The future will show if they use their power to do good for the whole community or if they are more interested in increasing revenue for themselves. From what I’ve heard so far, Matt Mercer and crew are good people. They’ll hopefully do the right things. And if not, we – as fans and fellow roleplayers – can nudge them into the right direction again. It’s the same in live as it is in roleplaying games: It’s not only one person’s job to ensure everyone is having a good time. This responsibility falls to all of us.
What are your thoughts on the criticism regarding the Critical Role KS? Please share your thoughts below!
A Roleplaying Games blog
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