Review of Era: The Consortium

Overview

Era:The Consortium is a tabletop science fiction roleplaying game by Shades of Vengeance studios. It is created, designed and written primarily by Ed Jowett. The reviewer received a review copy at his request.  Era:The Consortium (Hereinafter referred to as E:TC) presents a moderately hard sci-fi universe, featuring humans, and three alien races, the Squid-like Eulutian, The bug-like Ximian, and the Tree-like Vilithii. The setting focuses on the society created by a generation ship, the Kamarja, that left behind Earth a long time ago and settled on the planet of Taranis. The game provides a lengthy 500 year history of the ensuing growth and expansion of that society and it’s leading corporations to nearby star systems, where it encountered the other alien species that make up the games over-arching society, the eponymous Consortium. Leading to the present day situation of the game putting players in the roles of working for one of the ‘Big eight’ corporations or the resistance and taking on various missions or tasks within the games star systems.  The game is built on a solid D10 dicepool based ‘success counting’ mechanic with a medium level of crunch. For those looking for a detailed sci-fi setting with a mix of Mass Effect/Halo look, a bit of Star Frontiers, and with a cyberpunk corporate/resistance skullduggery motif, this could be the game for you.

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The PDF

The PDF is 403 pg. with back and front covers and a 1 page table of contents. This is a beautiful book. It is in full color and is laid out as wide single column of text with elaborate abstract techno themed border and a subtle background. Some may find the layout a bit busy, but I liked it’s techno motifs, and found it easy to read. It is not print friendly, but it is very attractive, particularly the lavish artwork throughout the book. Each chapter features a two-page spread, with various quarter, half, and full page pieces throughout the chapters illustrating elements from the text. It is all consistent in style and tone. It features a bit of a smudgy impressionistic style with soft detail. I found it excellent, and you will likely find it a highlight of the book as well.

The book is divided into 5 sections, plus appendices. The first section is the setting information, the second section covers character creation. The third section covers implants, equipment and vehicles. The fourth section covers the Era D10 rule set, and the 5th chapter contains game master information.  I will briefly cover each section.

The Setting

As I mentioned in the overview, the setting provided is detailed and in-depth. The setting is comprised of 12 inhabited worlds among 3 star system. The more distant being connected by stable wormholes. The only means of FTL travel within the game, the rest is in-system burn. There are four species making up the Consortium, Human, Eulutian, Ximian, and Vilithii, with some historically strained relations and ‘racial’ tensions. The Ximians in particular suffer from prejudice due to a nasty war fought with them after a disastrous first contact incident. Finally, there are 10 major organizations and power groups, and a host of smaller ones, making up the political climate. Historically governing power has been shifted between the “Big Seven” (later eight) corporations and The Senate, a political body made up of smaller corporate interests. Corporations provide a large amount of governance in most places, a definite company town atmosphere. Finally,In the current year, 487CE, there is the Resistance, who fight against corporate rule.

The setting information is meaty, taking up 134 pages, or about a 1/3rd of the book. It includes a lengthy nearly 500 year history and timeline of the Consortium from it’s founding on Taranis, to the current year. It is told by a brief timeline blurb, with each major timeline block being illustrated by a fiction vignette. Though it can make for lengthy reading, the writing is solid and you will likely find it entertaining. There are shorter overview sections following the lengthy history section, providing players a quickstart on getting into the game setting. It is nice space operatic background with a focus on espionage, black ops, and insurrection, via the Resistance.

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Character Creation

The Character creation is fairly standard, but detailed. Character’s are first described by their race, then backgrounds, stats (attributes, derived stats, and skills), and specialties (Feat, Skill stunts, and general advantages). Race(Species) sets your physical characteristics, stat modifiers, lifecycle, racial prejudice you suffer, and other details. The background choice sets your faction affiliation, morals, and quirks and provides the major roleplaying hooks for the character. Stats and Skills are as you expect from other RPGs. The character creation chapter finished out with rules for gaining experience. Overall it is a solid, detailed character creation system.

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Implants, Equipment & Vehicles Chapter

This is a meaty section providing plenty of toys for gearhead players. Cybernetic implants play a role in the game, there a variety of implants and upgrades available which a player can have, and also upgrade later. This includes your computer links to your dermal armor to internal storage implants for couriers and such. The main weapon type of the Consortium is the STRIKE, which is essentially a type of Gauss weapon. Lasers pistols exist, but lasers are primarily used as anti-fighter weapons on starships. No clumsy or random blasters though. There are some species specific ‘genocidal’ weapons that exist, and are outlawed. Armor includes power armor and the Heavy ARM suits, a Halo/Mass Effect look here. Basic shielding systems are in existence as well, giving players some staying power in combat. Next you get mounted weapons, the big guns. Then an assortment of vehicles including starships. A very nice thing about this game is that most of the equipment includes excellent illustrations helping set the mood and feel of the game. Again, the artwork really elevates the game.

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The System

Era uses a traditional D10 dicepool success counting mechanic, tried and true. One interesting thing is that die TN for successes is variable, unlike the set TN more common these days. The typical TN is 7. You form a dicepool from your Attribute + Skill, again a tried and true setup. Notably, 10s explode and let you reroll, so it is possible to achieve high success totals. Additionally, each one is counted a a failure, and if you have more failures than successes, you fumble. The severity of the fumble depends on the number of failures versus the number of successes, the more excess failures, the worse the fumble.

You have your basic success tests as well extended checks. Again it all appears very serviceable. There is a luck mechanic available to characters with no dice in their pool.

One thing I liked is the inclusion of numerous N.B.’s (Note Bene), providing information on the designers intent and tips on how best to make use of the rules. This helps players get up to speed on the system, rather than having to learn this in use. Something I approve of.

There is a section on general rules, and then detailed combat specific mechanics.

Combat

The combat system is a fairly traditional initiative turn based affair, with detailed rules for the various sub-types of combat, ranged, melee. All of it looks serviceable and crunchy. There are flowcharts explaining how things work to make things easier to pick up, or for quick reference. You make an attack by combining your relevant stat and weapon skill,  subtracting the opponents Defence stat from your dicepool, like WoD.You then roll, generating hits from your successes on the combat, with a base difficulty of 7.  The hits from this roll, if any is the number of damage dice you roll. Damage is of two types, Pain (Stun/Vitality) and Kill. You definitely want armor, and shielding, in this game, as, if you roll the Kill TN on an attack, the character is killed. With unmodified Kill TNs of 7 or 8 average, it is pretty easy to bite it So it is fairly deadly. .

There are also detailed vehicle and space combat rules. Which are PC based with players taking ‘station’s within the vehicle to perform combat related actions. It all looks pretty solid.

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Game Master

The last major section of the rules include rules for the game master. The first section is some general advice on the running the game. The largest part of this are outlines defining campaigns ideas plus a few ‘’historical’ scenarios for taking part in consortium history. Making use of the detailed history you can read. Some players may frown on this ‘metaplot’ But it makes for some interesting scenarios and campaign ‘adventure paths’. Then there a some variant ‘hardcore’ rules for making the setting more gritty. The last section includes numerous examples of various actions including combat. Very handy for getting up to speed on the system. There is no bestiary included, as animals don’t play that much of a role in the game, though on the wildernesses of Arawn you can expect to encounter some of them.

Appendices

Finally, there a set of appendices with various useful info. A set of fumble outcomes for the GM to crib from. Example character’s to use, Suggested character statistics. All handy. Finally there are indexes, both a story index and a gameplay index. Again the fiction vignettes are a major element of the games structure and find use in doing historical campaigns. Finally a character sheet is provided.

Summary

So there you have it, Era: The Consortium provides a detailed hardish space science fiction background with an emphasis on cyberpunkish skulldugery among the major power groups in the setting. It is powered by a solid rule set, and is elevated by entertaining setting vignettes and great artwork that really conveys the game. All provided in a great looking PDF. So If that sounds interesting to you, I recommend you check it out as a solid alternative for some scifi action. There is a kickstarter for an expansion book, Era: The Consortium – The Secret War you can get in on to support a rather good game.

Note: Images © Shades of Vengeance, used with permission.

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