This past weekend was the Dragonmeet annual RPG convention in London, which I had a pleasant time at catching up with friends and purchasing a fat stack of loot. One of the bits I picked up from there was the Nibiru Quickstart Guide – a taster of the rules and a brief adventure for Nibiru, a new RPG currently being Kickstarted. (If you want a PDF of the Quickstart it’s up on DriveThruRPG for free.)
I’m not going to go too deep into a critique of the rules here because the Quickstart admits that it’s an abbreviated version of the system that’s intended to get the general idea across. Nor am I going to delve too much into the sample adventure (it’s so linear the map for it is literally a corridor), since it’s largely meant to be a taster to let you sample the core game mechanic rather than anything more involved or deeper than that.
What I am going to say, though, is that I have been persuaded to back the Kickstarter for it, in part because when I chatted to the team behind it at their Dragonmeet stall they seemed to have a solid handle on the Kickstarter process (crucially, they’ve got a limit on how much they are going to add to the core book from stretch goals, after which they won’t add further, so they’ve set a clear upper budget in terms of page count and resultant production costs).
Another reason that I’m backing it is that in terms of both system and setting Nibiru seems quite fun. Like Alas Vegas, it has the player characters – known as Vagabonds in the setting – be amnesiacs. Unlike Alas Vegas, the reasons for this amnesia is pretty upfront and clear: the player characters come from insular, self-contained little Habitats within the darkness of the setting (of which more later), and if you leave a Habitat you lose your memories. This presumably to stop outsiders from finding the Habitats by interrogating defectors, as well as to prevent secrets of the Habitats from reaching the wider world, but also suggests a slightly more humane side to the Habitats than “anyone who tries to leave gets killed dead” would.
Like the Fugue system underpinning Alas Vegas, flashbacks play a significant role in the game, but unlike in Fugue flashbacks are meant to be super-brief snippets – and they have a clear system purpose which can radically change the present-day plotline. In the version of the system as presented here you have a pool of memory points you can spend to trigger memories. When faced with a task, you can spend memory points to automatically succeed at the task at hand, narrate a brief flashback of doing something similar before, and then noting down that you have a bonus to tasks of a similar type (how broad the bonus is ultimately comes down to the GM’s decision), the magnitude of that bonus depending on how many memory points you put into the flashback. You can gain memory points by, among other things, choosing to fail a task and having a flashback of having a particular weakness, lack of aptitude, or other cause of being bad at that sort of thing in the past, and henceforth you’ll have a penalty at tasks of a similar type.
Based on the material I saw at Dragonmeet and the discussion I had with lead designer Federico Sohns there, it may well be that there’s a lot more to the memory system than that – Federico told me that there’d be all sorts of encouragements to make linked memories, for instance, so rather than your character having a grab-bag of disconnected memories that don’t really have anything to do with each other you eventually, as play progresses, end up with full-blown story arcs unfolding in your memories. I’d be interested to see how that pans out.
As far as the setting itself goes, it sounds rather fun – it’s set in an ancient space station of mysterious origin, on which numerous people dwell. Proximity to the central power core gives the privilege of access to that power, and as you go further out you get into literally darker and heavier territory, as you experience more of the artificial gravity created by the space station spinning and electrical power is increasingly sparse, until at the edges you have realms of darkness and terror (though apparently the Habitats are also out there, so perhaps they have their own means of generating power and keeping themselves secure). The artwork is incredibly evocative and I’m keen to learn more about this interesting world.
On the whole, it seems like Nibiru might be one of those very high-concept RPGs which British publishers have a long history with – stuff like A|State, SLA Industries and Tales of Gargentihr spring to mind. That said, this does make the amnesia concept a good match – it means that the setting can be very, very unusual indeed without making that a barrier to play (though it can still be a barrier to refereeing), since players literally don’t need to know anything about the setting before they start play and can learn about it as their characters learn. So I’ve put my money in and hopefully, barring disaster, we’ll see how it pans out.