Quick Look: LokDown TTRPG
Lead Designer: Chance Holzwart
Publisher: Cal Mythos Entertainment
Year Published: Currently a Kickstart campaign, expected to deliver this year
Role Playing System: Tri-Forge Engine
Find more info on the LokDown Kickstarter page
LokDown is an upcoming Anime Inspired Tabletop Role-Playing Game from Nor Cal Mythos Entertainment. Taking inspiration from countless hours of Anime, LokDown will allow players to enjoy the bombastic conflicts, colorful atmosphere, magical heroes, and amazing worlds found in the best Anime, while also crafting your own deep and well-versed characters (or just go with a tormented edge lord or a nerdy/shy-yet-still-charming high schooler with a destiny) to inhabit them.
There are times when a single decision forever shapes what is to come.
When Admiral Keanu Lok, alone and without hope of rescue, turned the four ships under his command to their one hope desperate of survival, a place he himself would never reach, such a decision was made.
A second such decision was made by each of those four ships in the new world, an exceedingly hostile place. The fact that they would have to adapt or die was clear, but there was also the question of how to adapt, and each colony chose differently.
Nor Cal Mythos packs quite a bit into this origin story to explain the hostility of the environment as well as the reason for the different types of playable species in the game, but the story does more than just that. It sets a tone in a setting that is otherwise very eclectic in its tone – it sets the expectation that the possibilities here are endless, and your decisions matter quite a bit.
LokDown is a tabletop role-playing game that can be used either as an expansion of Carbyne Jungle or as a complete and stand-alone system. Its Kickstarter will run from April 15 through May 12. I was provided an early edition for the purposes of this review, so some details may be different in the final product. Of note, this early edition is available on the Kickstarter page for download.
The origin story for a setting or adventure is often more important than many think. It provides for us a myth that explains the way things are now. The lore in role-playing games tells us why there are goblins in the fields, why the locals haven’t done anything about it, and why we as players should care. Good backstory causes us to become invested in a place and a people. A bad one leaves us wondering why we’re in this dungeon in the first place.
The simple and relatable origin of the planet LokDown is that strong background that ends up driving most of what comes afterward.
The world itself is only habitable in a thin circle of the globe between the star-facing light side that is far too hot to support life and the icy dark side. Even in this narrow ribbon around the world, the planet is too hostile to support its new inhabitants without adaptation, and it would never be chosen as a planet for colonization except out of the most desperate of decisions.
The four separate ships met this challenge in different ways. Each chose different solutions in altering human DNA to adapt, whether it be to bond with cybernetic components or take genetic elements from the surroundings to gain advantages in their new environment. The resulting adaptations results in our primary four species in our setting as well as several sub species
But this origin story also provides us our source for adventure. This is a wholly untamed world. For that matter it is an untamed sky as well.
That being said, these elements are not merely aesthetic preferences. Your species in this game is not a simple skin for your character that doesn’t actually affect your character directly. Because each species is genetically distinct, they do have different strengths and weaknesses. Beyond that, each culture is distinct and have different focuses, so where you grow up affects your knowledge base and skills as well, including your approach to magic (or chi in the game). Finally your personality will change your rolls as well.
This is a part of the game that caught my attention before anything else. Because each culture’s home and land are different, the way you were raised feeds into your stats and skills. Same with chi – the cultures’ approach chi differently and produce different results. Your species, your archetype, and your personality all have strengths – all of these things feed into your character sheet on the front end. The decisions you make here have a lasting impact on your character and isn’t merely backstory for flavor.
Your character’s and your people’s history have meaning here – tangible meaning with numbers attached.
That doesn’t dictate where you go from there at all. Your character is not merely the sum of your genetic parts. But it also doesn’t ignore where you have been.
The end result is an incredible amount of customization available with backstories that actually matter. There are several degrees of simplicity or complexity offered when it comes to character creation for those who want to dig deep as well as those who aren’t sure about all of this yet and just want something quick to get to the action, but the opportunity for real depth is there.
If you are a Game Master who keeps having to remind your players what is in their character sheets, the full game complexity might not be the best choice. I see this for players who study their own character sheets and are well aware of what their characters can do and cannot do. There is so much variety here that I do think it would be difficult of me as a GM to keep track of everything for everyone.
The advantage here though is for those players who like to explore what their characters can do, because it’s a lot. Since all the background items of your character actually make a difference in that character’s progression, there are countless combinations that can happen and give an opportunity for truly unique characters.
As I dug further into what we could do with the characters themselves, I began to wonder how they would translate in gameplay itself. Having really deep characters is nice, but if fighting takes too long because of calculations and complex actions, that can quickly drain the fun out of having a really awesome anime character with a gripping backstory and cool abilities.
Thankfully, Nor Cal Mythos is able to do both complex characters and straightforward gameplay well. To oversimplify the matter, what we end up with when it comes to the actual roll is a familiar d20 plus modifications. There are definitely abilities that might throw a curve into that roll at times, but most of the time our work on the front end flowed into a character sheet that is useful and quick in skill checks and combat. In my own test play, my players were immediately quite comfortable with their rolls and what they meant.
That is not to say that the player can get away with phoning it in. The nearly endless possibilities I mentioned earlier end up on that sheet, and the player needs to know what is on that sheet in order to play most effectively. The real flavor of the game comes out not in the “I swing my sword” but in the chi-fueled counter attacks, the summoning of spirits, the investment into the tone and flavor of the game.
The tone is something we need to get back to, because it can very much be what you want it to be. They describe it as “Anime-Inspired Sci-Fantasy setting,” which is a phrase that means everything and nothing at all, but in exploring the setting it’s perhaps the best we can do. It’s very simply going to be useful to the player in all sorts of settings but with an anime flavor. It can be epic fantasy, with magic and monsters. It can be science fiction, with space exploration with a crew flying into the unknown. It can be horror as well exploring the darker parts of the unknown world. And even when we say anime, it can cover the broad scope of anime quite easily. It can be cartoonish and over the top. It can be dark and brooding. It can be quite serious as well.
And it really is here that I think we find the real potential for the game. As a system it can get quite complex, perhaps as complex as you could possibly like, but the return on your time investment is that we have a world here that can be all things for you in a single place. The unique nature of the situation and world opens us up to basically anything we could want from it.
LokDown is an expansion to Carbyne Jungle, but as they do point out, that doesn’t mean Carbyne Jungle is needed in order to play LokDown. It works perfectly well as a standalone product as well.
Perhaps even too well, because the world of LokDown is a setting that resists outside interference. To use it actually as an expansion means being creative as a game master if you want to keep the lore intact. It means figuring out how a species from Carbyne Jungle ended up on this planet, or how one of the species from this setting escaped LokDown. As a game master, of course, this is what we do – fiddle with things to make them work – so it’s not something that cannot be done by any stretch. But the things that draw me to this game are also a lot of the things that isolate this game from the outside – the adaptions of the species, the hostile nature of the planet and the space around it, the seclusion there.
So while this can be an expansion or stand alone game, it’s the stand alone version that most intrigues me.