Alexander Williams (zamiel) wrote in roleplayers,
Alexander Williams
zamiel
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Review: Red Dwarf RPG

Well, you knew it was coming. Don't pretend like I didn't warn you.

Deep 7 has done the world a great international service in making Red Dwarf into an RPG. I say this not only as a happy consumer of toast, and British comedy, but as a tremendous consumer of myriad RPG mechanical systems with a definite affinity for minimalistic designs. While RD isn't quite as minimalist as other systems I've lauded over the past few years, its certainly not in any way substandard.

But, let's be up-front here. You can get the hard stats off the actual web site. 176 pages. Hardbound. The art consists of the few crew shots released by the original creators and a whole lot of nicely B&W'd captures from the DVDs. The layout is amazingly clean and crisp, with a good use of negative space, the font is nice, and overall the production values are pretty much the rival of anything else on the mid-tier of RPG releases this year. Deep 7 should feel no shame in charging $35 for this book.

There, now all the basics are out of the way. Here's where my good bits kick in.

Basically, the real scoop is this: If you're an old school gamer, you remember the Paranoia games of old. The funny ones. The ones where you and your buds sat around the gaming table, maybe had a beer and some pretzels, ran around a crazy world, made truly horrid puns and pop-culture references, threw a few dice, and talked about the stuff that happened in-game to folks in the office the next day.

And they laughed.

This is that game again.

Oh, its not really set in Alpha or Beta Complex; the Red Dwarf (or whatever you decide to name your alternate) is more than funny enough in and of itself, and doesn't need a cast of thousands to make with the mockery. No, RD makes do with a handful, like the series, and just gets its jollies putting them through the grinder, three million miles from Earth where the Jupiter II just was never cool enough to go. What it does crank out is high-quality jollies on a regular basis, and that's just from reading the text (save for an odd lapse, to be mentioned later).

You can create your own alternate crew quickly with the skill-based point-allocation system. Personally, I've grown away from the Stat+Skill system in design, but they make it do journeyman work here, wedding it to a 2d6 roll-under die mechanic. Skills aren't grown out of all proportion; the Skill list is roughly twenty entries and distributed between Stats. Damage is more of a saving throw system to stay on your feet rather than a HP accounting system, a fact I rather appreciate. In fact, mechanically the system is about as stripped down as you can get and still maintain a middle-of-the-road sense of "crunch."

Character generation is based on an archetype system that generally gives a couple free points in Skill and usually an Advantage or Limitation. (That Smeghead is a listed Limitation speaks to the flexibility of the authors, possibly involving leather straps.) Humans, Cats, Holograms, Iguanas, Rabbits, Mechanoids and Simuloids are all valid character archetypes, but its the work of moments to add whatever perverse concept your devious mind can imagine.

Thematically, well, if you've watched Red Dwarf, you know what to expect. Its funny stuff, typically at the expense of the protagonists (as one hesitates to refer to them as heroes). While running comedy games is one of the hardest vocations a GM (or AI, in this case, playing the ship's 6000 IQ computer) can take up, RD is remarkably forthright and clever in helping out in every way possible, including both excellent discussion of the hows and whys, plus a rather funny-in-and-of-itself Random Scenario Generator that probably turns out material better than the bulk of D20 products released this year. Then again, so does Cat. I digress ...

The worst of the book's bad points is the chapter on historical Earth, circa the creation of the Red Dwarf. Its as if someone reached into the author's head and turned off the expression of their Funny Gene, resulting in a largely leaden, dry, even boring discussion of stuff that's pretty much all but useless anyway to nearly every AI's game. I'd much rather have had a very brief episode outline for the first few seasons in its stead.

Save that, the book is an absolute marvel to read and should fit neatly on everyone's bookshelves, lest they've been custom modified to only hold MET books, you poor bastard.

Final Rating: A+.

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