Truth be told, the Dropbear remembers lots of rumors about Equinox back in the day when RedBrick held the license to Fading Suns. But those rumors seemed to fade away, RedBrick fell apart, and the Dropbear fell out of touch with gaming news.
I caught wind of Equinox really finally being a thing on RPG.net, in a thread about Shadowrun in space. So I tracked down Vagrant Workshop’s site, more threads about the game and its development, and read. After I finished my research, I made my first purchase from DriveThruRPG, and then my second. Here’s how I’m feeling about them so far.
Let’s start with the setting background, which is covered in greater detail within the Setting Guide.
I will say I was hot for this game upon announcement. I knew it would be too good to be true that it was an 8th world game, tying in Earthdawn and Shadowrun history into a future setting. The properties were and still are owned and licensed by separate entities. And in my mind that sucks, but that’s beside the point. That thought that I could tie them in together spawned a lot of yearning for Equinox. And yes, if one wanted to, that very thing could be done. Upon reading the background and story of the Equinox universe, largely contained in the Setting Guide, I also find that Equinox’s setting stands on its own.
Mankind expanded its borders, reaching past Earth to forge new colonies, through combining the use of magic and technology to build ships that could pass into and explore astral space. In the mystic fields surrounding these colonies, mankind changed and evolved into new subspecies adapted to survival in their new homes.
But a threat reared its head as the mystic field surrounding Earth once again reached its equinox. The Veil was thinned permanently, and hordes of demons were unleashed. Humanity retreated from Earth to the stars, across the void of space, and the colonies lost contact with those who were left behind. Many of those left behind were the mystics who created the magical technology that allowed mankind to traverse astral space in the first place, as the void of space held no mystic fields of their own and these mystics were rendered mad when they attempted their retreat.
The colonies, separated from Earth, joined forces and fought back when the demons came for them. They formed The Consortium, pledged to humankind’s protection against the threat of the demonic hordes. Somehow, they beat the demons back and moved to reconnect with Earth, only to find the demons and their servants fortified there. The battle to recover Earth resulted in Humanity’s home world being destroyed.
The Protectorate was formed to patrol the new Earth Belt from future threats and attempt to establish control over the traffic and flow of goods through Earth’s astral space. In the years since the Great Netherwar (as the battle for Earth had come to be called), the Consortium and the Protectorate have assumed a great deal of control over the lives of their citizens. There are those who reject this control, and find shelter in the shattered realm of the Earth Belt. These people are widely known as Vagrants.
This background got my attention early on in my read. It is detailed enough to make a good campaign background, yet loose enough to make your own fine details shine. One thing in particular I liked a great deal about both books are the chapter People & Places in the Setting Guide and the corresponding section in the Match System Guide in Character Creation about creating relationships. Both build upon using the basic background as I’ve briefly described above to detail those fine points about the campaign you and your players would like to run. They cover developing a setting for the campaign, creating the sort of threats that will face the campaign, and creating NPC relationships with the PCs (who are the main characters). This is all a group effort, incorporating the input of the GM and the players.
THE PLAYER CHARACTERS
What do the players’ character do in this game? Who are they? What roles do they play? This is one aspect of every RPG that compels play and is especially important to define in every produced setting. In Equinox, players take on the roles of Vagrants, those who do not wish to be constrained by the increasingly draconic rulership of the Consortium and the Protectorate. The twist here is that the PCs aren’t ordinary people, they are mystics. All have a connection to the mystic fields of the colonies and the Earth Belt that power their special abilities. This often leaves them in direct conflict with the Protectorate, whose agents wish to contain and constrain the use of mystical powers.
This is presented from the Protectorate’s point of view as being in the best interest of Humanity, as mystical technology was subverted and twisted by the demons who attempted to destroy Humanity. Mystics may also gain taint, and become corrupted by mystical energies. But the mystics portrayed by the players seek freedom from such oppression.
The Consortium’s predilection towards using these unregistered mystics for their own gain in certain more shadowy endeavors reminds me a great deal of Shadowrun. Although these games are not connected in any way, it certainly gives the feeling that they are in many ways.
Character creation is detailed within the Match System Guide. That book contains game rules developed by Vagrant Workshop for Equinox, and cross-referencing with the Setting Guide is very necessary, as the Setting Guide contains more detailed descriptions of the concepts behind the mechanics of the Match System.
As a note, the Setting Guide was originally presented as a systemless setting, and contains suggestions on how to match up the Equinox setting with other game systems’ rules throughout the book. The suggestions presented are not system-specific, however, and a GM who wants to use the Setting Guide with their own pet system will have a small amount of work cut out for them with adaptation. I could very easily see adapting this game setting to, say, Shadowrun rules maybe. Personally, I find the rules of the Match System to be a bit less crunch-heavy than Shadowrun and more geared towards rules-lighter, Fate-style play that I find myself preferring of late–but I’ll get to rules in a bit.
THE MATCH SYSTEM
The mechanics of the Match System are d6, pool-based. Sound familiar, Shadowrun fans? Tests are made with a pool of Attribute + Skill dice. The dice pools are generally much lower, as Match System attributes are rated from 1-5 rather than 1-6, and skills can only be raised to a ceiling of 3. A character is considered a professional in their field at that rating 3, however. Growing beyond that, up to rating 5, requires a character to further specialize in their skill areas and drill down to more specific application of the basic skill. Also, any skill and attribute may be paired to form a dice pool if that pairing is reasonable. All dice in the pool are totaled, and that total must beat a target number.
Where the Match System takes its name are matches and mishaps. A match occurs when more than two dice land on the same facing, regardless of whether the roll indicates success or failure. When this happens, you must note the Size (how many dice are matched) and the Value (the actual number on the matched dice). A mishap occurs when multiple dice land on a 1. You need to note the Size of a mishap. These results all combine to determine the outcome of any task that is rolled. If the task fails, there are no retries–unless the player decides to spend Karma (one of every character’s variable attributes) to risk a second chance.
A part of the Match System I quite like are tags. Tags are keywords or keyphrases that a player or GM can assign a character, item, or situation to give it a mechanical boost in the game. As an example, a player can assign the character a tag “Beauty & Beast In One” that they can exploit to create an advantage or disadvantage. It’s all up the creativity of the player and GM on using these, however. They might easily be overlooked or downplayed in a group with less experience with more freeform playstyles. And they remind me of Fate, which is both good and bad.
There is also special form of task resolution called the face-off. A face-off is a bidding system reminiscent of poker. Before starting a face-off, the stakes must be agreed upon. Then the person who called for the face-off rolls, and anyone else involved in the situation either folds or calls (and makes their roll). Each of the participants then reveal the attribute roll portion of their roll. The GM or another player not involved in the face-off rolls the Belt Die, a community die that can be used by anyone in the face-off. Then the second bet, in which every participant must either fold, call, or raise, is made and those remaining reveal their skill dice roll. If any dice are still concealed, a final bet is called and any remaining dice are revealed; otherwise, it’s time to determine the outcome and apply the effects of the face-off.
The face-off could be a useful task resolution for situations where it isn’t as important to enter combat rounds and roll all tests for a series of attacks or attempts at a prolonged task with something at stake like a stealth roll against a building’s multiple guards. For me, it’s an interesting take on task resolution that might see frequent use.
There’s much more to the Match System, but I would urge the reader to pick it up rather than expect me to provide a point-by-point list of every single detail. Overall, I find the rules of the Match System to be quite acceptable, and I’d definitely like to see them used in play. They seem put together well in text, so application will be the next phase. I just have to convince some folks to try something a little bit different than what they are used to.
Here’s where I take a look at the presentation of the books themselves–the cover, art, and layout.
First, the covers… I like them a lot. They evoke the setting with mystic energy, big blasters, and laser swords. They mostly seem to depict humans, though. I would have enjoyed seeing more of the diverse subspecies that the setting enjoys. That sentiment relates to the interior art as well, it just seems like there are too few representations of what a Gor or Hokai look like. I’d like to be shown as well as told, and the books do more of the latter.
The quality of the interior art isn’t a problem for me, it’s good stuff that shows me what I want to see of the setting and tells a story. I realize art is probably the most expensive and difficult acquisition for an RPG, and Vagrant Workshop is a pretty small outfit. So I’m going to give them a pass on the “not enough art” thing. I feel it would have earned them a higher ranking in presentation, but they didn’t Kickstart Equinox to the tune of a million bucks or anything. I’d bet the books would have been bigger and contained more art if that were the case.
The interior layout’s pretty industry standard with two-column presentation. What I like best about it are how the fields the sidebars are presented within, and the chapter separator pages. I’m not overly fond of the choice of a yellow section header color. I do not like the fact that the Match System Guide is not bookmarked or hyperlinked; I’m a staunch believer in both as they save time in referencing a PDF work. I’m pretty glad the System Guide has both; it makes it that much easier to cross-reference things that are contained or described in both books.
I feel that the concepts behind the game are well-presented with both the word count and wordings of both books, and leaves plenty room for expansion (by both a GM and Vagrant Workshop). In fact, I’m rather hoping that they continue to expand Equinox.
I actually feel a little bad that I missed out on earlier support of Equinox. I’m glad I found it after all of this time, though. Overall, this game’s earned my approval, and I’m looking forward to running it at some point in the near future.
Annnnd, EDIT: The Match System Guide is now bookmarked!
Back to the books. More reviews coming, sometime.