Kuro is one of those RPGs with an interesting and unusual concept. In this case it’s smashing together Cyberpunk with Japanese Horror to create a bleak vision of a high-tech future that’s mingling with the occult.
Written by the Septieme Cercle team, otherwise known as the magnificent people behind the awesome Qin: the Warring States and Yggdrasil RPGs, I was looking forward to the kind of cultural attention and detail they’ve always put into their books. Thankfully I was glad to see that their dedication to preserving and emulating genres and cultures hasn’t wavered one bit.
Kuro opens with a quick description of what the line is supposed to look like. The english version of the game will come in three products. Kuro, the corebook, presents the initial setting, while several other products will be released to push the metaplot of Kuro forward towards a second corebook that changes the setting established by Kuro.
I know that some people get iffy with the word “Metaplot” but I think that in Kuro’s case it’s not quite the heavy handed kind that most people worry about. If anything the writing team made sure that Kuro can run on it’s own without advancing the Metaplot forward if thats how the players want to play the game. I think the closest equivalent to this would be White Wolf’s Orpheus limited line or books. The first book was a self-contained book and coul easily sustain a corporate campaign for it’s entire run. But for those who want more, or want to twist the nature of the game, each supplement introduced elements that shifted the way that the game could be played.
But anyway, back to the review. Kuro also starts off well with a rather large glossary of terms, a mix of both japanese terms and cyberpunk ones that make for interesting reading and will no doubt come in very, very helpful when reading the rest of the book.
The Japan of 2046 is one that is very changed. Due to a freak accident and political tensions, Japan has been isolated from the rest of the world, with a multi-national blockade of ships making sure that all traffic in and out of Japan would come to a halt. The result is an isolated, desperate shadow of Japan. While technology has made it possible to hold out, Japan is still very much in a state of flux.
The culture of the setting retains many of Japan’s traditional cultures, smashed up against the dystopian nature of cyberpunk genres. Implants and bio-modifications are present, with the occasional android or robot companion as well. However, life hasn’t gotten easier, with persistent power outages, and the desperate nature of the average citizen’s struggle to survive. Food is mostly cloned and and synthetically created, due to the pressures of the population on Japan’s insufficient land area and the international blockade around it.
In this sort of situation, it’s not unusal to think that society would begin to backslide. People become desparate, and to make things worse, other things start happening. Supernatural incidents involving ghosts and other, stranger spirits become more and more common. There are several theories on what may have happened but nobody is certain of the exact cause. Because of the frequency of these happenings, various cults and religions have found new life in trying to help (or take advantage) of those desperate for help against the supernatural.
Technology in the world of Kuro is advanced, and in Shin-Edo (New Edo, the new name of Tokyo in the setting) it’s not rare to see biotechnology, nanotechnology and various advanced robotics and gadgetry accessible to most of the citizenry. One of the most interestin aspects of the setting is the presence of “Occultech” a mishmash of old shinto beliefs combined with modern technology. Aura reading spectacles, holoprojected ofuda (paper charms usually filled with wards and prayers) and various nanotech serums that serve as ointments. It’s a strange and admittedly strong mental image of a cyberpunk setting still strongly rooted in ancient beliefs.
The book goes on to discuss the setting of Shin-Edo, with a remarkably in-depth explanation of the society, security, infrastructure, power and even games and leisure before launching into a generous description of all the districts and wards that make up the city of Shin-Edo. These include many of the more well known ones, such as Roppongi and Shinjuku, but also include the other less popular ones. I also like the little rumors in the call out boxes that can serve as plot hooks for some of the wards.
I’m always happy to see a chapter on the Daily Life of people in a setting, and Kuro doesn’t disappoint. This is where they go into detail on the drinking and eating habits of the common man, as well as the specifics of the culture’s etiquette.
The next chapter deals with the religions in the setting, and it’s role in the world. Shinto is given a focus, with some discussion on Exorcists, something that has seen a recent popularity due to the number of hauntings that have been happening lately.
The rules of Kuro are pretty simple. The game runs on a dice pool mechanic that uses a pool of d6’s equal to the appropriate Characteristic for the “Action Check.” The dice results are added together and compared to a Target Number. In a nice node to the culture, results of 4 are read as 0 and do not contribute to the total. Thankfully, the game also employs an exploding dice mechanic, so any dice that come up as a 6 are added to the pool and rolled again, adding their next result to the total. As long as 6’s keep coming up, keep rolling. If you roll a 4, it counts as a zero.
There’s an optional rule for Botches if the play group is into that, wherein if a roll results in more 4’s than other results, the check is considered to have Botched.
Skills are added to a characteristic roll, and is therefore a static bonus to the total of the roll rather than being added as more dice to the pool. I find this is nice since it helps avoid the bucket of dice syndrome.
Character creation is a straightforward one, and the game highly encourages that players choose concepts that are in line with the setting. The game works on a basic point-buy system among characteristics, and several derived attributes from the characteristic scores. One of the interesting characteristic in the game is Social Rank, or Kaiso. Kaiso determines the kind of job, standard of living and wealth that a character can have. Interestingly, the player can choose any level of Kaiso as appropriate to his concept, except for the highest (6) which is reserved for the mysterious Genocrats of the setting.
Kuro doesn’t introduce anything too earth-shattering at this point, and I don’t really mind. It’s a stable system, and the mechanics seem sound so far. There’s a large collection of skills in the game and many of those who like skills will find interesting specialties to go with them.
Combat is Kuro is interesting in the fact that it mixes from some different schools. On one hand it’s fast and cinematic, but also has several maneuvers to lend it a more tactical flavor. Having options for a Power Attack and a Fast Attack by default is a nice touch, for example, and having characters take multiple actions depending on their Reflexes score make them feel a little more competent than the average man on the street. Ranged combat can be particularly deadly as dodging bullets doesn’t seem to be the norm in thi system.
No Cyberpunk game is complete without a catalogue of arms, armor, biotech, nanotech and robotics, and Kuro doesn’t disappoint with this regard. The chapter on gear is huge, and each entry is interesting and occasionally has little anecdotes to spin off a plot hook or two in some of the more interesting items.
Kuro is a game with secrets, and those secrets belong in the GM section. I’m particularly happy about the GM section as it was full of things that are actually useful to a GM. Aside from secrets and plot hooks already present in the game as presented in the Player’s sections, the GM chapters also delve into helping a GM build the kind of mood that works best for Kuro.
Certainly there’s a host of monsters and creatures that can serve for opposition, but the advice is the one that is worth the most for me was the one on trying to emulate Horror, Japanese Style. They don’t scrimp on the word count for this section, going full bore on the methods of the madness and the ways by which a GM can instill the unique flavor of asian horror into the games that they run.
The last part of the book is a scenario that can be used to open a new Kuro campaign. It’s an interesting way to start the game, though I do feel that the scenario was a little too heavy on the cyberpunk action and perhaps just a tad too light on the horror elements. That said it’s still a good launchpad for new campaigns, and experienced GMs can still pick the scenario apart and season to taste.
Kuro is a solid RPG with a unique and well-thought out setting. The mix of technology with horror makes it stand out among other games in the market today, and it holds a lot of promise to fans of cyberpunk and horror games. The artwork is very good, and the layout is easy to read. As always the research and nuance of the writing team in terms of conveying the tone and mood of a setting are superb, and the fictional world of Shin-Edo feels very real.
That said, I can see that GMs may need to work a little harder to establish the tone of the game. With the advancement of tools, weapons and technology, it can be easy for players to lose the horror edge due to being able to face threats with superior firepower. But with a conscious effort to keep the horror angle, I can see a Kuro campaign to be very rewarding with it’s fair share of creepy moments.
Kuro is a solid game that goes out to do something unique and succeeds. I’m eager to check out the succeeding products of the line, and how they evolve the setting forward. Fans of sci-fi and horror would do well to have this book in their collection.