Archive for the ‘Degenesis’ Category

After giving it some thought over the weekend and talking it over with Silver Countess and Hikkikomori, I’ve been looking at the idea of running a post-apocalypse game as an option.

I’ve mentioned earlier that I’ve been on a Fallout binge, so the idea of Post-Apocalypse gaming is on top of mind as of late. However, this is a fairly new genre for me to actually run, and there’s a lot of thinking required in terms of running a game set in this genre.

I need to start hammering out the specifics of the setting if I want to come up with a campaign starting with the basics:

What was the Apocalypse?

Seems like a fairly simple question. There’s a whole lot of different Post-Apocalypse scenarios out there: Disease, Nuclear War, zombies, Economic Collapse, Climate Change, solar Flares. The big problem is picking one and extrapolating from there.

I’m a fan of Fallout, but I’m not sure I want to use that setting. For one thing, it’s easy enough to metagame for those familiar with the setting, and those who don’t are left in the dark.

That leaves us with having to put a setting together from scratch. Thankfully other movies and games have given their ideas for the apocalypse, and I’m honestly tempted to take a page from Tom Clancy’s: The Division and go for a Disease that leads to societal collapse without leaving too many ruins. The downside to that is that it’s technically a “soft” apocalypse, and given enough years after, mankind will right itself again.

The advantage of doomsday scenarios like Climate Change and Nuclear Wasteland on the other hand has long-lasting effects that could very well do a harsher reboot on society, leaving mankind to work his way up the Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs again.

Tech Levels

Some post-apocalypse settings assume that the apocalypse happened when humanity was a little more technologically advanced. This means that the technology that could be salvaged in the post-apocalypse was somewhat more futuristic than what we have right now. From power armor to lasers, these could be barely functioning to brand new and hidden away in caches around the world.

How has the world changed?

Aside from the human factor, which we’ll get to later, the other question is to work with what else has changed given the shift in the environment. Darwin’s theory of evolution would imply that only those best suited for, or able to adapt to the new harsh conditions would thrive, leaving strange new creatures, or evolved forms of wildlife that could do well in the wasteland. Mankind could be affected as well. Mild to moderate mutations could be a normal state for humanity.

Where does this take place?

This is the tough part for me. I’m not that keen on locations so I’m bound to make a lot of mistakes here. That said I could just cheat and run it set in a post-apocalypse Manila.

How far has society recovered?

This is the fun part. With the loss of modern society, the world is now goverened in smaller groups of humanity. Raiders, cities, towns and farming commmunities come out of nowhere. I’ll have to work on it, but I think there’s something there.

Where do the characters come in?

Unlike most settings the player characters in Post Apocalypse games tend to not be movers and shakers. With everyone focused on surviving from day to day, it’s good enough to live long enough to have a roof over your head and food to last you till tomorrow. I’m hoping to change that though as I’ve always been a little more optimistic than I give myself credit for.

So what now?

Now I have to start making decisions and lock down on the setting. I normally go for more social games, so having a post-apocalypse game will be challenging as we’re going back to basics. Hopefully it won’t devolve to a re-skinned D&D with guns and dirt.

Research Material

Right now I’m going through all the post apocalypse settings I’ve got in my library including:

  • Degenesis
  • Wreck Age
  • Atomic Highway
  • Other Dust
  • Hell on Earth Reloaded!

Any other recommendations?

Once in a while you run into a game that has teeth. Degenesis is one of those games.

Everything about Degenesis communicates a single vision. The artwork and layout work seamlessly with the bleak nature of the setting and the deadly nature of the combat system to create a consistent whole. Degenesis is not a game for kids, and while it is well suited to stories about hope in the midst of the apocalypse, many people who want to go around playing superheroes that kick ass and take names right off the bat might not enjoy this as much.

I feel that the CatharSys system that powers Degenesis is a fairly robust set of mechanics. While I still have issues of the moving target numbers slowing down the game somewhat, it isn’t a deal breaker by any stretch. The Vitality mechanic in particular is a great way to stress the desperation of combat, and how people can’t just give 110% all the time without needing to catch their breath. I’ve yet to see the whole thing come together for larger combats, but what I’ve seen so far is pretty good.

The setting has a lot of potential, and with strange villains like the Psychonauts and the struggles between the Thirteen Cults, there’s plenty to see and do. People who despise metaplot will be happy, I believe, as the game presents its setting as more of a sandbox, where GMs can start shaping their campaigns around what they feel they can work with best. There are some big names mentioned, but few have been given formal stats giving the GM leeway with regards to just how important (or insignificant) these NPCs are.

I can’t help but feel that we need more games like Degenesis. Ones who aren’t afraid to give a dark setting that doesn’t pull punches. Delving into the nature of human depravity (and the horrors of alien entities corrupting human minds and bodies) is something that most games shy away from. Perhaps a lot of other companies shy away from the idea of limiting their audience, but there’s certainly something to be said about games that take this risk. I’d also like to add, that nothing in the book feels like a cheap way to get a reaction. The violence and nudity is treated in a mature manner that speaks well for the designers and authors who took the risk without it being the central come-on of the book.

I would definitely recommend Degenesis to those who are looking for a different sort of post-apocalypse game. With a well rounded setting, and a host of opportunities for getting into conflict (whether against Nature, or mutants or their fellow man) Degenesis offers a unique take on the often cookie-cutter post-apocalypse genre.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy, Degenesis is available via DriveThruRPG in PDF format for  $15.00 or roughly Php 645.00, those interested in a hardcopy can also order one via DriveThruRPG’s Print On Demand option as well.

Now that we’ve had a bit of time to build a character of our own, let’s put Kristof (and the CatharSys system) to the test by having him get into his first bar brawl as a Marshal.

For the sake of this playtest, I’ll be pitting Kristof up against the sample character from the Degenesis corebook, a Hybrispanian Apocalyptik by the name of Salender.

Kristof has working as one of the deputies of a senior Marshal for a few months now. While occasionally too enthusiastic in his duties in roughing up rowdy townsfolk, Kristof has shown significant promise as a Marshal. When an angry (and naked) individual storms into the Marshal’s office asking for them to arrest an Hybrispanian woman in the local bar for cheating at cards, the Marshal sends Kristof to look into the matter.

Kristof shrugged, slipping on his claw gloves. This shouldn’t take a minute.

He crossed the busy streets towards the bar, a ramshackle structure built against the ruins of a pre-Eschaton building whose original purpose was lost to time. He pulled aside the ratty canvas cloth curtain that served as a door to the place and looked around.

It wasn’t difficult to find Salender. Her appearance and fashion was provocative even in this day and age. Still, it would be a mistake to underestimate her for a pushover as he recognized the markings of her Cult. An Apocalyptik, the traveling thieves and vagabonds, bane of any civilized society.

“You there.” Kristof placed a hand on her shoulder, “The Marshal wants to have words with you.”

“Sorry.” she replied, her Hybrispanian accent thick, “But I can’t let that happen.” Kristof didn’t know where the knife in her hand came from, but the message was clear, she wasn’t about to just come peacefully.

Just as well, Kristof felt like breaking a few bones today.

We’ll start off with Initiative. Salender has 8 AGI, and no points in Quickness. Kristof has 7 AGI, and likewise has no points in Quickness.

During this phase, both players may choose to wager Vitality in order to boost their Initiative for that round. Salender is not willing to lose her edge to Kristof and secretly wagers 2 of her 6 points of vitality to gain a +2 to her initiative score. Kristof decides to wager nothing, hoping that he can force her to run out of Vitality here, and rely on his toughness to carry the day.

Both reveal their  bids, and Salender’s Initiative is now 10, while Kristof stays at 7. Salender acts first.

Salender’s speed was that of a viper, swinging her knife at Kristof’s abdomen in hopes of ending the fight quickly and cleanly.

Salender’s AGI of 8 and Armed Combat skill of 2 giving her an AV of 10.

Her Battle Knife has a damage rating of 4. and an Inertia of 6.

The difficulty of the attack is 0 given that she’s aiming for Kristof’s torso.

Seeing that she has fairly decent chances, Salender also opts to attack twice, adding the Battle Knife’s Inertia to the difficulty roll of both attacks.

In summary, Salender makes two attack rolls, aiming to roll a 7, 8, 9 or 10.

Salender’s player rolls 2d10 twice: 2+3= 5, a miss and 6+7= 13, another miss.

At this point Salender can opt to spend another 2 points of vitality to increase her roll of 5 by 2 points to score a 7, but given that she only has 4 Vitality left, she decides to hold off on that for now.

Kristof lets go of her shoulder, jumping back just slightly out of reach as the blade swung past his abdomen. “I’m going to enjoy this.” he muttered as he decided to take a swing at Salender’s face.

Kristof is a Sadistic sort hence his choice of hit location. Looking at his stats from yesterday’s article, his AV for the Unarmed Attack is a 9.

The Difficulty of the attack is 4 (head hit location).

In summary, Kristof needs to roll his attack and score a 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 to hit.

Kristof’s player rolls a 3+1= 4, a Miss.

Kristof’s player on the other hand is still fresh, with all of his 8 Vitality still available. He spends one Vitality to bump his attack roll to a 5, and scores a hit.

Salender isn’t wearing any armor covering her face, and therefore the damage roll starts off with Difficulty 0. The AV of the attack is determined by Kristof’s Power rating (BOD+Strength)/2, rounded down. Kristof has a BOD of 7, and no points in Strength, resulting in a Power of 3.

Kristof rolls 4 dice, hoping to score a 1, 2 or 3 to do damage.

Mirculously, he rolls a 1, 2, 2 and 2! Crappy rolling on any other day, but in this case it means that Kristof’s fist does 4 points of damage to Salender’s face.

Salender realized that she’d overextended herself in her attack as Kristof’s clawed fist smashed into her face, slashing parallel cuts across her once flawless cheek, sending blood splattering onto his clothing.

Damage-wise, Kristof deals 4 points of damage, Tearing through Salender’s 2 Flesh Wounds for her head, and dealing 2 Trauma Wounds.

Salender must now make a Trauma Roll with an AV of 6 (Her BOD + Toughness) and a difficulty equal to the Trauma Wounds received.

Salender rolls an 11, failing her Trauma Roll. She falls unconscious and her Vitality drops to 0.

Salender’s vision blacks out and she crashes into a heap on the filthy floor of the tavern. Kristof picks up her knife, inspects it a moment and slips it into his own belongings.

He grabs her by the arm and drags her unconscious form out of the bar, whistling all the way.

Well, that was decidedly ugly.

I’m not sure why it happens during my combat system playtests, but I tend to get freaky rolling half the time. In this case Kristof’s damage roll carried the day. A claw glove to the face of a poor girl wasn’t pleasant, and having it do full damage in one hit was a sure way to knock her out.

So far combat feels gritty, with enough tactical options to give interesting variations. This was a melee example, so I imagine that ranged combat will be equally interesting (and perhaps equally brutal.)

The combat system takes a little bit of getting used to, but so far it doesn’t feel particularly broken in any way. Overall I think it’s pretty solid, but perhaps further play will show any particular quirks and failures in the system.

Tomorrow I’ll post a summary of this series of Let’s Study articles on Degenesis, and maybe a few thoughts towards how I’d run this game. See you then!

Degenesis’ character creation system is fairly straightforward, and has about the same level of complexity as Legend of the Five Rings 4e. There’s a little bit of flipping back and forth between pages, but nothing quite as migraine inducing as the old 3rd Edition L5R.

Degenesis includes a summary of character creation, something that I feel is a definite Best Practice for any RPG of almost any complexity nowadays. The steps are fairly easy to follow:

  1. Establish Attribute Values
  2. Choose a Culture
  3. Choose a Concept
  4. Choose a Cult
  5. Calculate Derived Statistics
  6. Determine Starting Rank and Equipment

There are five attributes in Degenesis: Agility, Body, Charism, Intelligence and Psyche. Starting characters have 5 points in each and can shift points between attributes to their satisfaction. Raising an attribute beyond 7 points is costlier however, requiring two attribute points for each step beyond 7. This sort of balances things off and encourages characters to have a more even spread of attribute values.

Cultures bestow a mini-template to the character, contributing attribute bonuses, as well as access to cultural skills and a handful of skill points. Cultures also require the player to pick a Principle, which is sort of a defining trait of the character which the players are encouraged to roleplay, as the GM can reward experience points for players who play up their Principles.

The Concept and Cult selection phases mirror the Culture phase, bestowing more attributes bonuses (in the Concept Phase), skills and skill points and a Principle for each step. By the end of these, the character should have three Principles that give an idea of what kind of person they are.

Derived statistics include Flesh Wounds, Trauma Wounds, Vitality and Maximum Spore Points.

Finally the character compares their stats to the requirements of their Cult to determine their status. Each cult has their own Rank table showing the Rank title, Requirements per rank, Equipment bestowed and funds given by their Cult. Some characters might start off as nothing but raw recruits, but other might be made of the right stuff to be higher up on the food chain.

Sample Character:

Kristof, Aspiring Marshal

Culture: Borca
Concept: Decay
Cult: Marshal


Culture Skills:
Perception 1 (PSY) AV: 8
Survival 1 (INT) AV: 5
Toughness 3 (BOD) AV: 10

Concept Skills:
Armed Combat 3 (AGI) AV: 9
Firearms 2 (AGI) AV: 8
Unarmed Combat 3 (AGI) AV: 9

Cult Skills:
Domination 1 (CHA) AV: 5
Leadership 2 (CHA) AV: 6
Self Mastery 2 (PSY) AV: 9
Stamina 1 (BOD) AV: 8
Law 2 (INT) AV: 6
Writing 1 (INT) AV: 5


Flesh Wounds:
Head: 3
Torso: 5
Legs: 4

Trauma Wounds: 10
Vitality: 8
Max Spore Points: 9
Rank: Vagabond

Claw Glove, DAM 4
30 Chronicreds

Overall Character creation took no longer than 15 minutes or so, with a little bit of flipping back and forth to check on the Principles more than anything else. An odd thing I noticed here is that a starting marshal has only 50 Chronicreds to his name, which is surprisingly little compared to the atrocious prices in the equipment list in the book. I decided to give him a Claw Glove to start off with and not much else. I suppose that’s to be expected given that Degenesis is a post-apocalyptic setting, so I’m assuming that Kristof will have to work on picking up his equipment from the bodies of his enemies.

Speaking of dead bodies, tomorrow we’ll take a look at a quick sample combat where we pit good old Kristof against an opponent and see how well he does in a fight

Now that we’ve had a look at the factions and history of Degenesis, let’s go ahead and pop open the hood of this thing and see what makes it tick.

Degenesis has its own proprietary system called CatharSys. It’s an interesting system and I’ll try to give a general overview of how things work. At its heart, the basic task resolution for Degenesis involves rolling 2d10 and aiming for a value that is both ABOVE the Difficulty value of the action, while still being BELOW or EQUAL to the task’s Action Value. The Action Value is determined by adding a character’s Attribute rating (which ranges from 1-10) to their Skill Rating (which ranges from 0-10.)

What this means is that you’re actually aiming to hit any one result among a range of values that counts as a success. So, for example, if you’re attempting an action, and your AV is 12 and the task difficulty is 6, then you roll 2d10 and hope for a result of 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 Or 12 in order to succeed.

The first question that popped into my head was, “What if the Difficulty exceeds the character’s AV? Then what?” Well, the answer apparently is that the character has no chance to actually succeed in that action. Plain and simple and reassuring in some way. Degenesis doesn’t believe in giving you a remote chance.

There are critical success and critical failure rules in CatharSys as well, with roling doubles as the indicator. If a player rolls doubles and the value is a success, it’s a critical success, likewise, if the resulting value is a failure, it’s a critical failure.

Standard variants for rolling are included, such as contested rolls and teamwork, giving CatharSys a fairly robust mechanic to work with.

To those worried about difficulties, there are some means to lower the difficulty of a task. The first is if the character has a Specialization in the task being tested. Specializations lower the Difficulty of a task by 1.

A Character may also decide to spend Vitality, a special character resource that represents sheer effort. Vitality has multiple uses, but one of them is to lower the difficulty of a task by 1 point per point of Vitality spent. Characters may also increase a Die roll’s result during Combat after a skill roll, also by spending 1 Vitality per point increase in the skill roll total.


Now that we’ve taken a general review of the mechanics, let’s take a look at combat. Initiative starts off according to a character’s Initiative score, which is a static value that can be modified by having the players spend Vitality to temporarily add to their Initiative score for the round.

Attack rolls are resolved as skill rolls, with the target character’s Hit Location (among Head, Torso or Legs) and other modifiers as the Difficulty, and the attacking character’s Attribute+Skill as the AV.

Determine damage by rolling the weapons damage potential, with an AV equal to the attack’s penetration stat. Damage is handled somewhat differently as each die is compared individually to the AV and Difficulty set by the target’s armor. All those that succeed do a single point of damage.

Hit points are handled differently here as each character has a number of Flesh Wounds per Hit Location, once these Flesh Wounds are eliminated by taking damage, then the player starts taking Trauma wounds. Trauma wounds are dangerous as each time a character takes a Trauma wound, they will have to make a roll to remain conscious, or else otherwise go down and out of the fight.

There’s more to it than this admittedly, but CatharSys seems to be a fairly decent, if not entirely super-innovative system. I like how the Vitality attribute works, and how it serves as a pool of points that can refresh itself in a fight, simulating how combat is actually a burst of activity punctuated by moments when one or both parties try to catch their breath.

The rules themselves are easy enough to pick up and learn, though I’m slightly worried that the two condition check in reading a roll might slow things down in play. That could just be me though, and I’ll not be certain until such time that I actually see it in play. The idea of a moving sweet spot for success is neat on paper though.

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at Character Creation in Degenesis, and well try to whip up a character on the fly.