Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: Remnants RPG

Remnants is a mecha RPG with a broadly painted but intriguing post-apocalyptic setting and some clever rules tweaks that definitely make it worth investigating.

I stumbled onto this game by accident thanks to this thread on The review it links to intrigued me enough for me to try it out based on the setting, but it might actually be the rules that have me more fascinated—they are a great example of how rules and setting can affect and support each other.

Remnants is set in and around the ruins of a great civilization that destroyed itself many centuries ago.  Most people are too busy trying to survive to worry about much more than that. The book shows us nine cultures in broad strokes, from the "civilized" city-state of Amantin, built on the back of the slave trade, to the savage riders of the poisonous Vast.  The setting details are sparse but evocative: this isn't a hyperdetailed world where everything has been defined, so the GM has a lot of work to do to make it live, but he's got a good base to build on, with built-in conflict and dependencies and plenty of possibilities for the PCs to get involved.

The real focus of the setting is the idea of the Remnant Armors, or Ishin: mecha that have survived the centuries thanks to their abilities to self-repair and adapt.  The Ishin were not the ultimate weapons of war: they were designed as long-range scout and guerilla mecha that could operate without a supply line.  But that's plenty powerful when the guys you are facing have nothing more advanced than bows and spears. Unless they hired a mercenary Ishinari (mecha pilot), of course…or found some other kind of Remnant weapon.

At first glance, the Rapidfire system used in Remnants seems like a very standard traditional system—and really, it is—based on stat + skill + 1d6 vs a Target Number, with the margin of success (or Lead) often affecting the outcome.  There are three stats: Body, Mind, and Spirit, and a couple of dozen skills that seem to cover the bases fairly well.

One nice touch is the idea of Reserve - a small pool of points that you can add to die rolls.  A mechanic like this is more subtle than a reroll but gives you more control as well: while you can't turn an abject failure into a resounding success, you can nudge a "missed it by that much" situation into a hit, or turn a regular hit into a devastating blow by increasing your Lead.  Reserve can be recharged by doing impressive things or by accepting critical failures.

A second plus is the way the game handles mecha skills.  In most systems I've seen they are based off of a single stat, making that one by far the most important given the amount of time players spend in their mechs.  Remnants bases mecha skills off of a derived stat called Situational Awareness, which is based on the sum of all three of your base stats.  That opens up the array of possible character types tremendously instead of forcing players to make a Dex-monkey to survive.

Critical failures may actually be my favorite part of the base rules.  Normally as a player, I hate critical failures: they invariably seem to happen at the worst time and make your character look like a fool. Remnants does something different: rather than imposing them on you, it allows you to choose them.  If you fail a roll by more than 3, once per scene you can ask for a Critical Failure. Yes, you blow it big time, but you get something out of it: a point of Reserve (as you become determined to recover), a point of XP (as you learn from your mistake) and, if you're in a Remnant, a point of Duress, which is basically like XP for your mecha.

XP for your mecha? That's right.  It's a really elegant way of giving players a way to customize their mecha, but one that's tied in to the setting. As part of their self-repair abilities Remnants that are put under stress can modify themselves and adapt to their pilot and the environment they find themselves in.  This is represented by Duress, which you can spend to upgrade and customize your mecha: anything from stat tradeoffs (armor for speed, or melee power for ranged power) and increases to alternate attack & movement modes to remote-controlled drones.  For a small surcharge you can even do this in the middle of a battle.

Its things like this that show how a well-crafted setting and system depend on each other.  The post-apocalyptic setting poses a question: how come these advanced war machines still work? The answer to that implies certaint hings about the setting and the rules, which inform the rules for Remnant advancement, which then implies other things about the setting…

Highly recommended if you're a fan of mecha.  The setting is wide open and perfect for an old-school sandbox type of GM who is willing to fill in the details.  Even if you don't like the setting, you could get a fast-paced set of design and combat rules that you can adapt to other settings.

Remnants is $10 for the PDF at RPGnow and $20 for the physical book from Outrider Studios.


  1. sounds like it would be right up my alley.

  2. I just bough this a few days ago and it is a friking awesome read. Need to think hard about what kind of scenraios I'm going to run with it though.

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