Tabletop RPGs 2021

On a spur of the moment decision, I joined a Salvage Union playtest that was running tonight 5 minutes before it started. It was run by Panayiotis Lines, one of the creators of the game. The game is on Kickstarter until the 5th of January 2023.

Salvage Union is set in a post apocalyptic (but not dour or grimdark, at least not the way it was run) world with scarce resources. Your party goes on missions to bring back salvage. This allows your clan to maintain and grow the crawler (your mobile home). And it lets you “level up” your own mech by using salvaged resource. A lot of the crunch lies in that downtime.

Without spoilers, it was an introductory adventure designed to mix various elements of the gameplay. It took us through from the wilderness to a large city in ruins, placing fun obstacles in our way throughout.

We had 4 pilots, each in their own medium sized mech (they would be a character with a few levels under their belt in D&D). I was playing Twitch the Engineer and piloting a Magpie (a not so heavily armed mech with repair capabilities). I like support characters.

We had a soldier in his brawler mech, a hauler for cargo duties and a salvager to get the most out of the wrecks we found.

The game itself is dead simple to jump into. All you need is a D20, your character and your mech info (final stats sheets still being designed. The ones above come with the current quickstart). The one die roll can go well or badly for you or for the opponents you meet. You can push a roll, but there is a risk and a cost to it. Fun mechanic: if you suffer a “hard choice”, the narrator will tell you what it is. But if an opponent does, you get to tell the narrator what you think should happen to it/them. So it goes both ways.

The game also happily lets you use your wits rather than brawls to get out of sticky situations. And die rolls do not need to occur all the time.

I played with 4 unknowns and we quickly fell into our roles. Had fun dealing with some dilemmas and escaping dangerous situations. Even though we were in a one shot, the game made us want to plan what we would do in a campaign, what friends to make, what resources to prioritise (some needed to repair the damage we suffered) very naturally. All 4 of us were pretty enthusiastic by the end.

They made the quick start rules available for download here: Salvage Union Beta Quickstart Digital Edition (PDF) V1.2 – Leyline Press

If you have time and are curious about the campaign, I recommend joining their Discord and signing up for one of the playtest sessions: Salvage Union Discord

Salvage Union looks good, which is quite a feat because it’s overcoming my personal distaste for the Quest RPG engine. There’s something undifferentiated odds of success that upsets me. PbtA, which I think has a surface similarity, still has roll modifiers that differ between characters and can change over play.

But, uh, this is coming from pure armchair-gamer territory. I’ve only read these systems not played them. It’s great to read your positive experience in the activity itself.

Fair point! I’ve heard from another roleplayer I know that they had bounced off Quest too. I don’t know Quest myself, so came without preconceptions. I also don’t know how this game differs.

That said, this seems like Quest with more meat on the engine, so to speak. There are the mech and player skills, the salvage and built in mechanics to improve your mechs. There is the push mechanic which increases heat on your mech. Similar to the Alien stress mechanic, it’s unlikely to be a problem at first. But, as it rises, you might find yourself with your mech shutting down for a bit or systems getting destroyed. Finally, resources (ability points for the pilot and energy points for the mech) are finite and require careful management.

However, I can’t say for sure how different it is. The undifferentiated odds system remains. And Quest might have some or all of those? So it might be as unsatisfying for some to play?

Not having read the system and having simply played Union Salvage, I think it was a blast. Literally. There were land mines involved. And one of our mechs’ railgun blew up due to bad overheating. We were a lot more cautious about entering combat once we lost that one.

This is something that’s apparently come up several times during the campaign. So you aren’t alone! :)

It led to an interesting discussion on the intent behind using that design that I thought I would copy here. It’s not meant to sway you or tell you I don’t agree. I just thought it interesting to see the thinking behind hacking Quest and having those undifferentiated rolls.

Quote 1:

One of our most common pieces of feedback is to add modifiers or equivalent. We understand this as it’s so common in other games but it doesn’t really work in the system as you’d have to redesign the core since the core mechanic is designed to be fixed. Even a +1 modifier means you can never crit fail and increases overall success odds to like 80% and you have potential results over 20 like 21/22 etc which don’t do anything. It also doesn’t really add much to the game when you think about it. We could do modifiers, with DC values…but then it’s no longer Quest it’s the DnD d20 system which we don’t want to design…

One thing we are considering is different tables based on ‘narrative positioning’ This is similar to Blades in the Dark/Scum and Villainy.

Basically there’d be 3 different core flat d20 tables but with different outcomes/probabilities based on whether the situation was ‘Controlled/Risky/Dangerous’

The main table we use now would be the ‘risky’ one and the assumed default but The Mediator could declare a roll Controlled or Dangerous given context which would have safer/more dangerous results respectively. This could be a change of the base probability, or just an adjustment in narrative consequence. A dangerous tough choice roll might become simply a harsh consequence.

This in a way is already included in the game. The Jackhammers ‘Reinforced Chassis’ is like a ‘Controlled/Safe’ version of the standard Critical Damage Roll. So this may be something we just integrate into the Systems/Modules/Abilities rather than the core but it is something we’re considering to provide more situational flexibility beyond the core roll.

Quote 2:

…the intent is also what’s narratively interesting and the game assumes you’re competent enough that you will pretty much succeed 75% of the time and a lot of the time the roll is to see the result of the success rather than to decide on a more binary level whether a thing passes or fails. For example we can assume your mech with a Mining Rig can just dig through earth but you might roll to see if you can dig through the earth fast enough to get your allies to safety before a radiation storm hits. Or we can assume your mech can shoot down a building with a missile pod but the roll might be to see if it’s significant enough to cause a distraction or block an enemy path or what not. Rolls are meant to be about luck/fate/fortune etc rather than directly tied to skill

Quote 3:

Yeah we purposefully want all rolls to have risk to them, even if it’s a 5% chance. If a roll isn’t risky or can’t result in some kind of consequence it’s probably not worth rolling in the system.

And yeah DC + mod can be a bit of an illusion too as ultimately the GM sets the DC, one difference is probably that such systems hide their odds as the GM won’t declare the DC value or potential consequences of a low/high roll whereas Salvage Union/Quest is a lot more open.

Before playing, I think I would have been more apprehensive about the system knowing it was a flat D20 table. But, in practice, it played really well. “Hard choices” (aka “Complications”) added fun twists to various situations. Like in Quote 2, we knew we would succeed at doing something, but things were not as simple or quick as we thought they would be (an issue when you are trying to dig a tunnel out of the way of something really big :) ).

And as mentioned in Quote 3, the GM was conservative in using dice rolls. But if it was worth rolling for, it was worth risking a critical fail for. And the mechanic to push rolls (generating heat and potential later issues) worked well with that too.

I like the responses, as they help show in what way and to what degree this issue matters to the authors. I’m not sure if I should be comforted or worried many others have a similar criticism. Is it merely uninformed Internet blobbery?

1: I expect narrative positioning at minimum to relate to the consequences. I played enough with the crazy-idea friend to want a table that give less than 75% success, and I would hack the system myself if they don’t include it. What I find missing, though, is a reflection of character difference foremost and role-playing cleverness second.

2: Differentiation ties into how a Mining Rig will be better at digging. And this probably comes down to familiarity with how to use a system well to express what’s happening in the world. I’m substituting my own unfamiliarity as a failure of the system. At this point, though, it looks like have a roulette board with a big stack of chips on red for the Mining Rig and a little stack of chips for the other rig. They’re each as likely to succeed, one with better consequences. That doesn’t internalize well to me.

3: I completely agree that rolls only make sense with consequences. Now, the consequence doesn’t have to be material. I think it’s also useful to reflect the reality of the world, showing someone’s mastery or ineptitude. A character may be terrible at something, and it can be immersive and grounding to let them see that through numbers, for a lot of the types of people I play with.

I think, though, that results of rolls in play almost don’t matter what the original odds were. Did I have a 10% better chance at something? The 10% doesn’t exactly show itself. I succeeded or I failed or I othered. That happened, and there was one roll or two or three at it. I won’t see a distribution, just a tiny sample of outcomes. In some systems, I can see a spot where I would have failed on a die without a bonus, and then think, here’s where that difference entered play. But I still didn’t notice a 10% discrepancy because it was merely a single event. This is my biggest argument as to why this internal preference would have little weight in actual play. I.e., If I didn’t know this was how it worked, I wouldn’t know from rolling dice.

I think it’s more that most players will come from systems (especially D&D) with DC’s and skill modifiers. It just feels like a natural expression of who your character is and how good they are to certain things once you are used to it. So the Quest system is likely to come up as something that doesn’t feel right when you read about it.

I think your points are well made and I agree. To a degree, they are considering having shifting consequences based either on the direness of the situation itself or how your equipment can mitigate them. So rolling a flat d20 does not have to mean that there is no support for variation beyond the cleverness of the roleplaying.

But yeah, I can understand the concerns. If you’d like, I can mention here when more playtests are organised. Give you a first hand experience of the system. You have to not mind discord and voice only roleplay (though there is also a text channel where maps and pictures get posted). Online roleplay is useful, but not quite as fun as trying the game face to face at a convention.

Vaesen just collected their monies. They got a lot of SEK. Now to sit back and wait for the books to arrive.

Indeed. And a lot of stretch goals unlocked, including a solo mode, soundtrack, more Vaesen. The alpha of the PDF is due very soon. I’m looking forward to having a peek.

I got Dune: Adventures in the Imperium from Mophidius as a Christmas present. Just diving in and so far it seems pretty cool. I’ve never played with the 2D20 system before, so it’s all new to me.

Barnes and Noble is doing a thing where all hardcovers in their stores are 50% off. That applies to RPG hardcovers too, and that usually refers to 5e stuff. Some B&Ns might carry Pathfinder and Starfinder and maybe some 2d20 or even more exotic offerings. The deal is only for yesterday and today and doesn’t apply to web orders, only in-store stuff. (I hope that doesn’t mean they’re trying to reduce inventory in advance of a massive company-wide store closure.) I picked up that 5e Penny Arcade tie-in I might not have bothered with otherwise.

With 36 hours to go on the Salvage Union KS Leyline Press has posted a blog post which, I think, does a good job of looking at differentiated skill checks and why they aren’t a good fit for their vision of their system.

I also found the description of when to roll and what to roll for something I was nodding along. I play DoD and CoC. I have nothing against DC, skills, advantage/disadvantage.

But having played Salvage Union, what I remember is how easy it was too run both a pilot and a mech and focus on the story and what happened in the wilderness.

Is there a 2022 thread? Couldn’t find one.

Anyway, wanted to post this itchio TTRPG bundle for a very good cause.

Search for “tabletop” and all the yearly threads come up:

Ah, I did, but failed to click on “More”…

But thanks – I’ll re-post there!

Weird, it comes up higher for me. Nobody knows the ways of the mysterious search algorithm.

Wow. I’m sorry, but I just have to necropost here. I’m looking for ways to obtain Nobilis 2E for months (if not years) now, and I just can’t find a way despite being willing to pay. Sadly, because of politics and stuff I just can’t transfer money through the border… And besides, the links I’ve found are either dead or told to be dead. It’s a bit embarrassing to bother you for this, but I’m simply out of options. Could you send me the PDF, please? I’m desperate, but I’ll understand, if you decline. Thank you for reading, I appreciate it.

Drivethrurpg has it. Can you not get it from there?

As Multus has a Discord handle in Cyrillic, he may be in a country that’s currently embargoed.

Ah. Still, we don’t really do that sort of thing here.

Well, thanx anyway! Have a good day.