Posted by: markfender | April 7, 2015

Corporia

Corporia bills itself as “Knights in shining Armani.” So I suppose that’s a thing.

corporiaMark Plemmons, the author of said game, sent me a review copy many moons ago. And, I did nothing with it. I didn’t even open the PDF for months. I tend to avoid reading other RPGs while I’m currently running a game (to avoid distractions and shiny game syndrome) and I was neck-deep in a Changeling: the Lost game at the time. But, as that game winds down, I figured it was time to take a look at this one. So, I sort of feel bad about neglecting this game for so long. After all, the author was nice enough to send me a copy. Plus, his first name is awesome and important.

So, the first thing to notice is that Plemmons knows what the fuck he’s doing when it comes to layout. The PDF is fully-linked and there are color-coded chapter bits. Even the character sheet is editable. There’s even a helpful page at the beginning telling you how to set up Adobe to show the game at its best. The book itself looks like a corporate shareholders report, complete with istockphotos. And, oh God, that’s a problem. While the photography is really good and incorporates the themes of the game really well (imagine your favorite generic LinkedIn graphic and then put guns in the hands of the corporate types), it’s still photography and that never ages well. Despite all the art being unique, it still looks and feels like generic corporate America. As someone who produces generic corporate America documents all the time, I found myself cringing at the art a lot. And I don’t think that’s what the author was after. It could only be more personally annoying to me if all the headers were written like Buzzfeed headlines (“Seven Ways You’re Using Your Attributes Wrong”). It’s not as much an art mistep as using dolls in your cyberpunk game, but it’s pretty close. It reminds me of the natural evolution of Shadowrun’s attempts to use photography back in the 90s, and that stuff looks terrible now. So, while Plemmons fully commits to his artistic style and pulls it off with flying colors, it’s also an aesthetic that I cannot get behind.

I also notice that RPGPundit is listed as an editor. Since I think he’s a pretty reprehensible human being, I would never actually buy this game. But since I got it for free, moving on…

The corporate look continues throughout the game itself, with characters having things like Core Competencies. The character sheet even looks like some sort of corporate form. I wanted this to extend farther. (Why have Traits when you can have Vision Statements?) There are some white papers/corporate documents snippets also, which extend the metaphor. These were effective, but did tend to go from rules text to flavor text and back to rules text indiscriminately, sometimes even within the same sentence.

The setting is cyberpunk. In the near, indeterminate future, corporations control the world, as you would expect corporations to do. But, the Knights of the Round Table have also returned, with Lancelot running one of the corporations, using the PCs as his troubleshooters to stop the encroaching generic urban fantasy darkness. One of the character options is a reborn Knight, but the rest of the archetypes tend towards your typical cyberpunk types. So, it’s Shadowrun, but with Arthurian legend instead of fantasy races. The game takes place in the generic City, except that there are very specific locations listed (I actually liked the art in this section as showed the more-modern, “shinier” vision of cyberpunk that tends to exist nowadays), so I’m not really sure why Plemmons didn’t just double-down and name the city. I can’t say I’m all intrigued by the Arthurian bits. For whatever reason, Arthurian legend has never really had an appeal for me. Making Merlin into M.E.R.L.I.N., the corporate AI, induces eye-rolls rather than seeming cool, for instance.

The system continues the Shadowrun comparisons. It felt like an amalgamation of Unisystem with Shadowrun. There’s generic templates to choose from, including those standard cyberpunk types like Radical, Suit, or Journo (that last one seems misplaced – journalism is dead now – why would it make it a comeback in the near future?). There’s even a bit of a Priority system in character creation. Magic also appears to be a thing now, divided into Sorceror and Witcher. If you were thinking that this corresponds pretty neatly to Mage/Shaman from Shadowrun, you would be right and should award yourself an extra Karma point…er…Flux Point. The magic system even breaks down into the same spell categories as Shadowrun has. The bright side to all of this is that its radically simpler than Shadowrun ever was. In fact, I’d say the game system is pretty much the highlight here as it does much of the heavy lifting with some fairly easy rules. However, there are some odd bits that get more detail than I think they deserved. For instance, wound penalties don’t affect you while in combat, because of adrenaline and whatnot. I thought this was a nice touch and, along with the proviso that melee weapons do extra damage against cryptids, does a lot towards enforcing the type of genre expectations Plemmons was after. Except, that there’s also hit locations. So, I need to track hit locations, but they’re not going to affect my character while in combat? I always felt that hit locations was for super-realistic combat games, except this game is ignoring wound penalties in combat, so not that realistic. I’m getting a disconnect there.

Rolling dice is fairly standard: 2d6 + Stat + Skill vs. Difficulty. There’s some provisos there, like you only choose the highest d6. Weapon damage uses all the other platonic solids, though, which also kind of annoys me (If you’re going to use all the platonic solids in your game, then your core mechanic should also use all the platonic solids). Flux Points are your hero point mechanic and they’re earned in a similar manner to Fate. There’s even a REPP system for your social media cachet, which I thought was a nice touch. There’s also some odd bits, like how armor makes it harder to cast spells, and that spellcasters have a wide variety of wands to choose from (I guess Plemmons wanted mages to play the gear game as much as the gunbunnies do). And, of course, there’s cybernetics, spells, virtual reality, and monsters. So, all your bases are covered.

Corporia also includes a campaign, which is nice. It’s written up in short adventure snippets and would need some expansion from a GM, but it’s nice to see a game include a complete story arc in the corebook. Granted, it didn’t seem all that interesting to me, but since it was all about Arthurian stuff, I probably wasn’t going to find it all that interesting in the first place.

So, yeah, sketchy art choices, a somewhat uninteresting setting, and a strong Shadowrun vibe – not exactly a ringing endorsement. However, I do think the system is pretty good. If I was looking for a game to run Shadowrun with, but didn’t want to use the Shadowrun system, this would probably be my go-to. It does everything Shadowrun wants to do in 1/10th the page count. There’s a few bits that don’t quite work for me system-wise, but I think it’d be pretty easy to adapt and “fix.” And the layout is seriously some master class shit. But, I sort of knew the game wasn’t going to be for me when I first looked at the Kickstarter. So I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed in the final product. I’m just kind of unenthused.

 

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the review! It’s really nice that you took the time to write it up, even though it wasn’t really your thing. Minor quibble – you note that “the magic system even breaks down into the same spell categories as Shadowrun has”, but I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. Maybe that SR has hermetic and shamanic, and Corporia has Sorcerers and Witchers? The magic system was actually intended to invoke feelings of Mage and Ars Magica, not SR. 🙂

  2. Thanks for sending me a copy of your game! Your schools are Charm, Elemental, Holography, Kinesis, Metamorph, Perception, Spiritism, and Technomancy, which map to SR’s Manipulation, Combat, Illusion, Health, Manipulation (again), Detection, Health (again), and Manipulation (again) categories. (The Manipulation school is the weird one, as it’s basically the catch-all category where random spell effects are categorized). That’s what I was referring to. Not that this is a bad thing, but it definitely reminded me of SR more than Mage or Ars Magica.

    • Gotcha. I wasn’t sure what you meant. The “schools” were actually inspired by D&D, with my own twist. Giving the player the ability to create new spells and easily modify them (including the sample spells) was inspired by Ars Magica. Thanks again for the review!


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