I’ve spent the past week or so reading Burning Empires, the new game from Luke Crane. You can see what he has to say about it or read the RPG.net review. I’m also fond of this example fight, showing off some of the neat things from the game’s main combat system.
The overall structure is an extended 25-move strategy game between the players and the GM, resolving the conquest of a society of spacefaring mecha-using humans by mind-controlling worms. The role-playing game is embedded in that, and there are the usual minigames for combat and social conflict. It’s a commentary on current events, but doesn’t provide an explicit answer as to the author’s views. You can use it to tell stories about how the soft liberal sympathizers let in the Worm, or how the fascists take advantage of paranoia to institute controls that do more harm than good. But let’s just say that the 8-foot tall lizard men, created as a slave race by the worms, have a martial art called Krav Magah.
The “Krav Magah Trained” trait provides another interesting feature to point at: human, Valyen (worm) and Mukhadish (more artificial aliens) may only take this if there are no Kerrn (lizardman) characters in the group. While looking there, let’s look at the entire traits list starting with J:
Jaded, Character Trait, 1 pt. Character traits grant a certain kind of XP when you act accordingly. You don’t have to play a Jaded character if you have this, but some lifepaths require you to take it. What they’re really doing is bribing you for playing this character as Jaded. Anyone else can pay one Trait Point to take it, or get it by acclamation of players after a session.
Jumpy, Die Trait, 1 pt. May not choose “Stand and Drool” as a Steel reaction. So he has to choose to flee or fight. Die Traits tend to have rules attached like this.
Just Following Orders, Die Trait, 5 pts. Anytime this character commits an atrocity and later defends himself successfully in a Duel of Wits (any compromise in his favor counts) by passing responsibility on to his superiors, he earns a Deeds point.
Deeds are another kind of XP, and the most valuable by far. Again, some lifepaths will require you to take this or give it to you for free. As it turns out, the only ones who get it are the Vaylen (worm, bad guy) Soldiers. Good guy soldiers instead get FUGAZI, which I had to look up.
There’s a lot more to keep talking about here, including the Firefight system—which requires you to have a goal other than killing the enemy, the Psychology system—a great balance between psychics and player control of their own characters, the Tech Burner for introducing new tech and setting bits in a controlled way, and the overarching strategy and resource-management game. I’ll probably be writing more about these in the near future, and trying to get a game together in October. This really hits a lot of the Conspiracy Theories nerves I was looking for.