Designers: Riccardo Sirignano and Simone Formicola
Publisher: Two Little Mice
Year Published: Currently a Kickstart campaign, expected to deliver this year
The characters of Broken Compass are men and women of action who travel the world facing the dangers of big cities and the wildest and most inhospitable areas. Adventurers risk their lives every day, driven by the desire to find, obtain or discover something that is priceless to them.
In a world rife with multiple editions of Dungeons and Dragons and Shadowrun (and numerous clones thereof) one might ask if gamers truly need yet another RPG system. After all, local game store shelves seem to have no shortage of material and supply…
And one might be surprised with my answer that, yes we do need more variety! Given the predominance of some of the larger RPG systems out there, I have always been mindful that due to the mass marketing power of behemoths like WoTC , we have probably all been the victim of being conditioned to believing that there is only “one” “ultimate” RPG system out there—which for all its merits, also has its flaws as well.
Consequently, for the past few years, I have been looking into many alternatives to the iconic DnD system, mainly due to the fact that I have started to recognize that I have other needs that 5E has not met yet. For example, I am always talking with various friends about new Creative Role Playing products that are hitting the market, and am even conversing with another who wants to take things to the next level by creating their own RPG system to deliver an experience that he feels is missing from the gaming experience. So clearly, something must be amiss if such a large collective is experiencing the same sense of something missing from a system like DnD.
Because we must face the reality, as seemingly “all-encompassing” as DnD is, it is often enough a victim of its own grandiosity and self-bloating, and ultimately plays to the beat of the all-mighty dollar more than it does to that which gamer’s hearts desire…
And sometimes that desire is that of simplicity. While it can be fulfilling having hundreds of pages chock full of items and spells galore, this is not always what I am looking for.
Sometimes, we want simpler adventures for simple times. Or modern, non-fantasy settings? Is that too much to ask for?
Now I realize that the official DM guide has a supposed set of “modern” modifications one can make to add guns and such, but by virtue of sounding snooty, this is not enough to undo the fact that the system and all its numerous spells, monsters, and items were designed with fantasy in mind, so while in theory yes, WoTC gave us the “tools” to employ things differently, the reality is that doing such requires too much custom modification.
So, back to the drawing board. And enter a new system.
Now before I talk about Broken Compass, I want to first mention that I have tried or looked at a number of the newer RPG’s that have started to hit the market, and I am not always impressed.
Perhaps my biggest contention thus far is in oversimplification in rules and ideas, such that I feel that things are not quite as flushed out as they could or should be.
The second is that I feel that the systems are designed to make things so easy that they are not challenging. Which is starting to seem like a flaw that is too common or inherent in many d6 systems.
Now to elaborate.
My first issue has to do with the fact that often times there is no pre-built depth of character or customization. Part of this has to with the fact that we are addressing the major setting change from fantasy land to something like modern-day America, so of course we’re not going to have highly detailed spells like Tenser’s Transformation to utilize. But there should be some way of manifesting good character, growth , and development for each Player Character.
The second issue I come across in a lot of the d6 system is that gameplay can seem too inconsequential, relying on a method that often entails you succeed even if you fail (to a degree). By this, the games have a built-in result system where a 5-6 means you succeed without consequence , a 2-4 means you succeed with a minor consequence, and a 1 may mean you fail completely or succeed and suffer a “major” consequence for your “failed” action. To me this trivializes danger elements and makes narrative seem like no matter what you do or roll, your success is eventually guaranteed, so you might as well skip to the end of the story to see what happened and gloss over all the “minor “ details.
Not to mention that I often find myself missing the d3, d8, d20, and so on…player like variety, after all!
Now does Broken Compass, being a d6 system possess any of these red flags for me?
Possibly. But then again, it possibly rectifies things and sets d6 role playing back on to a more engaging and interesting path.
I do need to mention that as of yet I have not physically played Broken Compass and its new Fortune System, given I was just recently made aware of this product during its Kickstarter funding. But, I am an experienced DM, and am usually pretty keen on what sorts of ideas will work for my groups.
The team responsible for making Broken Compass were kind enough to send me both the Adventure Journal and Golden Age expansion PDFs to evaluate for their currently running Kickstarter, and after reading through both of the books several times now, I have to say my initial impressions are quite favorable.
In total, each book is well over 200 pages each, which is quite sizable indeed. This easily puts the material on level with DnD source books in terms of sheer volume, so that is not too shabby of a start.
The Adventure Journal serves as the Players Handbook, but also the Fortune Master’s (Dungeon Master’s) guide to playing games using the Fortune System. I was amazed at the level of detail, with many pages inspired by classic action/adventure movies such as Indiana Jones.
Because action/adventure is the ultimate aim of this system. While you won’t be using gridded encounters and minis like you do in DnD, you will be most likely using your imagination to fuel your joyrides through times of your choosing. But don’t expect anything approaching the complexity of Dungeons and Dragons in terms of spells or items—you simply won’t find that type of machination here.
Rather, what you are capable of doing will be narrated, and dictated by your sense of heroism—if you have seen it in a movie, you are given the chance to pull off the greatest stunts you’ve ever seen on the silver screen as you navigate a jungle temple in search of a relic, or bungee off a peak in the Himalayas as an explosions causes an avalanche that threatens to envelop you.
Or maybe you just want to pull off some sophisticated social recognizance in a dukes’ grand ball in hopes of uncovering their scheme to blow up the moon.
The sky is the limit, in terms of what your imagination can supply.
Now all this theoretical narrative would be meaningless without fulfilling gameplay in my experience.
As stated earlier, if you are pretty much guaranteed success, that is the first way to ensure my boredom. And I am grateful to see that within the confines of the Adventure Book they gladly highlight that even though fun is the general point of the game, there is a section dedicated to the possibility you and your heroes may ultimately perish and fail to save the day. So right there is a selling point for me.
Now as for the game system itself, I was prepared to be bored with yet another d6 system. But as I devoured the rule system, I discovered that it is rather surprisingly not shallow at all, contrary to what I expected.
Because rather than rolling a single die to determine an outcome, you roll many (based on your character skills, more on this later). But not only this, you aren’t simply adding the sums of the dice together hoping to overcome a fiends’ armor class, hoping you get a modified roll over 23 or some such thing. Nor are you just confined to a predefined system of success or failure based on the simple 1-6 roll.
When you create your characters, you also create their strengths and weaknesses. You do not choose a Class , like you do in other famous RPGs, but rather, genre specific Tags that represent the tropes that are common to the action genre. Want to be a bodacious body-builder type that can heave a boulder out of the way? Choose the Hunk tag. But you also want to be a like a famed college teacher with a whip and hat? Choose the Professor tag. This makes you a Hunk Professor.
Or maybe you want to work for the Newspaper. Choose Reporter. But say you also have a secret night life that involves museum heists. Choose Thief to become a Reporter Thief.
Your tags will essentially determine your proficiencies and fields of expertise, though most amazingly your characters’ age can determine some of your capabilities. A “Young” 12 year old won’t start with as much expertise being inexperienced, and a 60 year old will actually get more proficiencies. Conversely, the old timer might be more prone to depression and other end-of-life maladies that can impair their character from time to time, while the young un’ will be permanently immune to such effects. Very thematically cool.
So what do these affinities and fields of expertise do exactly?
These are your bread and butter. They give you more (or potentially less) dice to use in various in-game encounters and challenges. And more is generally better.
But as mentioned earlier, it is not about your cumulative total at all—it is about how many pairs of identical numbers you roll, and your affinities give you a better chance to do this through having more dice.
So if out of a total of six dice, you roll 1, 2 ,2, 3, 6 ,6 you would have two of what are called a “Basic Success”—you have a matching set of 2’s and 6’s. If you happened to have three of the same number rolled, it would be an “Extreme Success”, or four would be a “Critical Success”. Simple challenges may require you to get a certain number of basic successes, while more extreme stunts and obstacles may require a number of “Critical” successes!
This may seem like a lot of luck involved, but if you have an expertise in a certain field, you can potentially re-roll failed dice!
But wait, there’s more.
Another key standout for me in gameplay is the way “Feelings” are incorporated into the mechanics. These are a set of dichotomous paired descriptive words on your character sheet that can situationally give you Advantage (extra dice) or Disadvantage (Less Dice) depending on how your character feels. As an example, if you are an extremely proud professor who just had a rival academic impugn your character at a major fundraiser, you may feel EMBARRASSED as opposed to CONFIDENT. As a result, if you were to then to go and try to persuade a major donor to make a charitable contribution to your museum, you would for this instance find you have one less die to roll the check with until a game event can bolster your sense of self worth.
A number of other Feelings can affect things, a small number of which are “Untouchable”, “Strong”, Weak”, etc. You get the idea!
The result is a system that feels fresh in my mind, and is flexible enough to be used in any time period.
You have no Hit Points in Broken Compass. Rather, each player has 10 Luck Points, represented by blank dots on your character sheet.—if you fail in any potentially lethal challenges you may be required to fill in a certain number of blank spots. Fill in all 10 and you may perish. But if you happen to have a Luck Coin, this can act as a sort of “Extra Life”, as it would in a video game, giving you the ability to mitigate the last form of damage you took, performing a near-miraculous stunt as you have seen in the movies. These Luck Coins are rare finds, though!
There are a number of other things that stand out in a positive way that I do not have time to divulge in full about the Adventure Book but in short, I also love the way that “down time” is encouraged for healing after a brutal encounter (think Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark recovering on the German warship with Marian). I also like how a realistic sense of carrying capacity emphasizes that you will will not have pages of player inventory cluttering your sight due to your magical Bag of Holding. Things are thankfully kept down to earth in this regard.
I will say right now that you will not be gaining levels. And as strange and foreign as this sounds to me, given what I have seen of the way Broken Compass works, I am surprisingly okay with this—rather than micromanaging player development, it changes to focus to fun and narrative. I don’t have to spend hours researching and making a character build, it seems easy to jump into and actually have fun.
Now as for the other PDF I received from the folks with Broken Compass, the Golden Age is what is called an “Expansion” for the system. If I were using DnD, I would be more apt to call it a “Campaign”, but regardless, what this is, essentially, is a Themed multi-episode adventure set in a unique time period. The Golden Age is set in the iconic 1930’s and provides a great sense of background for the time period for the uninitiated, going into topics such as the mob, prohibition, etc. Then the background for the story is provided. Weighing in at more than 200 pages, there is a lot of material for you to use as a Fortune Master for your players, but rather shockingly, the formatting and structuring of the campaign is massively different than what I have come to expect from DnD source books—this is actually streamlined and organized extremely well, and rather than supplying your with an unnecessarily micromanaged set of encounters, it ends up providing you you a very open-ended template for you to guide your adventurers with—because face it, those of you have experience in DM-ing know that players will almost never do what you expect them to do, and this book takes this into full consideration, which is a big boon for conserving your precious time as a GM, leaving much to improvisation, as is best in my honest opinion.
I do not want to spoil the story at all, but I will say that I find it both engaging and flexible, especially in the way that it allows the players themselves to structure the people and items of importance to the story. I also love that the game has funny, pre generated characters for celebrities like The Rock, or Laura Croft. Humor is not lacking in the least!
If Indiana Jones inspired settings aren’t your theme, I am happy to tell you that there a healthy number of other Expansions available on Kickstarter. If you want a Pirates of the Caribbean type of adventure, you’ve got it! Got a hankering to relive Duck Tales adventures from the 80’s? Try the Luck Tales expansion!
I do not have a lot of negatives to say at this time, given that I have yet to throw players into the World of Broken Compass. But I do like what I have read this far! If any of what I described sounds interesting, do yourself a favor and check out the Kickstarter that is currently running, because this looks to be the best d6 system I have seen thus far!
pre generated sidekicks and main characters that pay homage to those
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer