Review – Corporia

Corporia_Cover            Corporia is set in a shiny, clean, corporation-controlled future that happens to have been beset in the last year or so with an Arthurian-flavored return of magic and the supernatural. Corporia puts the player characters as members of Knightwatch, a group masquerading as part of a private security force, but really dedicated to eliminating the negative parts of this return of the supernatural, under the guidance of a reincarnated Sir Lancelot. Corporia not only presents a world and a ruleset, but also several adventure skeletons that will take the players on a definite and conclusive storyline within that world.

Corporia is a small-scale RPG – it checks in at about 210 pages, but in a printed format those would be 2 pages per letter sized page, and the font is fairly generous, it probably works out to the equivalent of about 70 pages in a more traditional size/typeface. This review is based on the PDF version (available on drivethruRPG), where it technically retails for $40 but I am guessing usually sells for more like what the website says as of the time I’m writing this, which is $15 (there is also additional free or Pay What You Want content, but this review only covers the core book). There was a hardcover version for Kickstarter backers, but I am not aware of plans to bring it to physical form beyond that for now (if you want one now, don’t blame me; I included the game in one of our Now on Kickstarter posts last year).

Note that this is a review of a book, not a system, and it is not based on months of play experience (which you could probably tell, since the book came out last month). This review will still talk about mechanics, but I do not pretend that I can deliver a serious analysis of the nooks and crannies of the mechanics.

The Quick Take: Corporia delivers a unique setting and a series of meta-plot focused adventure seeds that should serve well for a short-term campaign. Corporia is fairly rules-lite, and will be right up the alley of gamers who like broad-stroke mechanics that are there to drive a story.

The Basics

Corporia might be described (actually, is being described, right this very second) as Shadowrun meets Le Morte d’Arthur meets MinorityReport/Gattaca. It’s the near future, with modern-day tech extended with a little bit of energy swords (raypiers) and energy guns (X-calibre) and virtual reality overlays (Google Glass, but directly into your brain) and artificial intelligence. Mega-corporations have replaced government (including law enforcement), and basically run everything, with privacy being a thing of the past unless you make a real effort (for example, instead of carrying a credit card and handing it to a clerk, the store can just scan you and use biometrics to identify who you are and what you’re walking out with, and deduct your account accordingly). But it’s a shiny sort of dystopia, where (except for the ‘slumburbs’) things are generally clean and bright, and folks are mostly safe, and if maybe they aren’t super-free and happy, they’re at least content.

Then there is a big flux (Flux, technically) of supernatural thrown in, with references and shout-outs to pretty much any sci-fi/horror show/film you can think of. There’s a disease that basically turns people into what are basically zombies. The Flux turns some folks into Sanguivores (vampires). A few Virtual Intelligence systems get unshackled into full-blown Artificial Intelligence systems (and probably not nearly as nice as EDI). Magic is now real. That sort of thing.

The most distinctive part of this setup is that part of the Flux is the return of Arthurian legend, which some people discovering that they are reincarnations of Arthurian knights. The head NPCs who serve as the bosses for the PCs are among some of those big names.

Corporia

Things That Aren’t About Playing The Game (Art, Writing, Editing, Etc.)

As noted above, Corporia is basically only available in PDF format, and this review is based on the PDF. Let me note first that I generally do not do a lot with RPG PDFs (one day perhaps I will break down and buy a tablet, but I do love shelves of physical books), so maybe this sort of PDF is standard and I don’t realize it. But the PDF was great. Detailed multi-level table of contents/bookmarks. Hyperlinks whenever a page references some other part of the book. An example character sheet with hyperlinks throughout, each leading to the part of the book that covers that part of the sheet. A fillable character sheet built into the book. All in all, they did a really, really helpful job with the PDF.

My second-favorite image from the book, after the Suit Up one above.
My second-favorite image from the book, after the Suit Up one above.

There is little “art,” per se. Rather, almost all of the imagery is photographic, and was taken from stock photo databases. The most common motif is a guy in a suit with some sort of weapon – sword, gun, bat. The photographs chosen generally fit with their section of the book. And if the majority are not awe-inspiring, they at least do not detract from the work, and a few are pretty cool. There’s a good amount of full or half-page art, including full-page splashes for each of the character archetypes.

Editing was good; and I only noticed one flub in the whole book (I have since been told that this typo will be fixed in the next PDF update – CS). Graphic design did its job – not fancy or enticing, but colorful and well-executed for what it was. Writing was pretty straightforward. The book isn’t working with a lot of page count, and so it was mostly delivering critical content, not flowery flavor sidebars or skill descriptions. At the task of being clear and concise I thought it succeeded pretty well.

As for the writing, you can except a solid number of shout-outs to other media, and also a fair number of groaners – which may be a bug, or a feature, depending on your sense of humor. For example, I really liked the Sorceror archetype’s quote (“Power. Power’s good. I like power.”), but the Witcher’s quote made me want to headdesk (“These are not the drones you’re looking for.”).

The Basic Mechanic

Each character has six Core Values (Strength, Deftness, Mettle, Knowledge, Wits, and Magick), which would be 1-2 in the non-Magick values for normal people, and will average around 2 for starting PCs. Characters also have a variety of skills. Roll to succeed a task is Core Value + Skill + highest value out of 2d6 (rolled 6s explode). I have to admit that I almost had a panic attack when I saw the “roll 2d6” part, because I immediately flashed to systems that have you roll 2d6 and add them together, which invariably have serious mechanical issues because of the massive hump in the probability curve for adding 2d6 together. So once I realized that wasn’t what Corporia was doing, I was curious enough to figure out how this “2k1” with d6 worked out.

–          Crash (critical failure): 3%
–          2: 8%
–          3: 14%
–          4: 19%
–          5: 25%
–          6+ : 31%

So you’re really quite likely to get high numbers – more than half the time you’ll get at least a 5. So you’ll end up enjoying your die rolls a lot more than something like a straight d20 system, but the curve doesn’t get too out of whack anywhere.

Character Creation

Although Corporia eschews the usual character creation first book formatting, I’ll hit that next anyway. Each player gets to choose a standard archetype and/or a special archetype. The standard archetypes are almost entirely flavor (they have no direct rules baggage, although being a particular archetype makes some assets cheaper), and each of the special archetypes essentially hands the player one special rules thing (although it’ll be a pretty important special rules thing). I think it’s pretty important flavor, however, since it helps the players see what kind of roles are available in what will probably be a pretty unfamiliar sort of setting for most of them.

The ten standard archetypes are Badge (probably private law enforcement), Hacker, Headhunter (assassin masquerading as a normal corporate employee), Journo (journalist), Lister (as in, My Life on the D-List), Radical (fight the power), Runner (courier/parkour/freerunning), Suit (I’m sure you can figure this one out), Thinker (any sort of scientific, medical, or pseudo-science expert), and Zero (everyday working stiff). The three special archetypes are Sorcerer, Witcher, and Knight-Errant. Sorcerers do more technology/modernist sorts of magic. Witchers are more old school. Each gets access to half of the available kinds of magic. Knight-Errants are Arthurian knights awakened in modern bodies. They get a really better at melee when they get wounded, but lose that benefit if they fail to follow the Knight’s Code.

Each character has several public and private personality traits. These are used to hand out or take away Flux Points – you are courageous, so maybe you get a Flux Point when your character makes that crazy/stupid leap from building to building, but you’re a kleptomaniac so you have to spend Flux Points in order to resist stealing that oh-so-valuable antiquity sitting right there without an alarm or anything.

Of course, you can’t have character creation without numbers, so let’s get to those. Each character has a “Core Competency,” which defines where they get points. Touched characters have more Core Value and Skill points, but no Supernatural Assets (everyone gets the same number of general Assets). Fluxed characters get the fewest Core Value and Skill points, but the most points to spend on Supernatural Assets. The Gifted are somewhere in between. A character must be Fluxed in order to be a Witcher or Sorcerer (because you have to spend all of the Supernatural Assets this gives in order to get the Spellcaster asset). A character needs to be at least Gifted in order to be a real Hacker (that is, be able to do full immersion VR hacking) or to have psionic powers. If the character isn’t any of those things, then the Supernatural Asset points aren’t helpful.

In addition to the Supernatural Assets that “turn on” various specialty character types, there are General Assets that, like in most RPGs, provide the characters with some sort of benefits beyond the usual stat + skill. General Assets include generic things like contacts, cash, and luck, as well as a specialty asset for each of the basic archetypes – Hackers can (and will) take Hack, Suits can take Master of Red Tape, Runners can take Wall Run, and so forth.

Corporia_assets

Starting equipment seems relatively generous, in that everyone automatically gets a couple of weapons, a piece of defensive equipment, an EyePhone (yeah, just like in the Futurama episode), and a personal or weapon augmentation.

The GM can optionally choose to make REPP available to the players, which is basically The City’s version of “checking in.” If characters “REPP” interesting locations or event on social media, they can increase their REPP score, which can result in their characters getting things like discounts or invitations. On the other hand, it means that your character with something of a secret mission is making him or herself even easier to track. Either way, it gives the GM ways to hook the characters into the world.

Other Mechanics

Of course, there has to be more to a ruleset than one die roll and character creation. Corporia does not have a particularly involved system, but does cover the basics like opposed rolls, unskilled rolls, cooperative rolls, and extra degrees of success for really good rolls.

In combat, initiative is determined with a new skill-based roll every round. Combat rounds use the common Move action + Attack (or Move) action formulation. There are very few built-in combat options beyond that (the basic combat section is 4.5 pages long). This may disappoint folks who want highly tactical combat but, really, that’s just not what a system like this is built for, and partial detail can sometimes cause more problems. For example, one of the two combat modifiers presented is aiming/hit locations – I’m not sure why in a system as light on combat detail as this one there are rules for getting hit in different locations, but those rules produce the kind of weird situation where you can take a penalty to aim for someone’s arm or leg and then if you hit it’s less damaging than if you just tagged them with a normal shot to the torso (but it isn’t any less lethal, so you can’t even use it to incapacitate rather than kill). The default target for a combat roll is the Deftness + Athletics of the target, but the target can substitute a few other rolls as appropriate, such as using their Getting Medieval skill to parry a melee attack.

therianthrope

The hacking rules cover two pages (in the Hack General Assest and NT3RF4C3 Supernatural Asset sections). Hacking is pretty straightforward, and when the Hacker goes into a virtual reality he or she can pretty easily bring the other PCs along. Once they’re in, they pretty much operate as normal, except that the Hacker and any AI running around will be nasty.

Spellcasting is very fluid in theory, although it may be a question of how much effort the GM is willing to put into it. Each kind of spellcasting (Sorcery and Witchcraft) is its own set of four skills – Sorcerers get Holography, Kinesis, Metamorph and Technomancy, while Witchers get Charm, Elemental, Perception, and Spiritism. The character’s Magick Core Value will be super-important for spellcasting, as it is used for spellcasting rolls, enhances the effects of many spells, and dictates the number of spells allowed per day (well, the number allowed for free, anyway – a PC can push themselves to go past that daily limit, but it gets harder and can cause feedback). Spellcasters can also use wands, which can enhance certain kinds of spells and let the character shoot energy bolts (again, daily limit dictated by Magick). Each magical skill has a list of eight spells with an even spread of target numbers from 3 to 17, and each of those eight lists takes up one page. So there are a healthy number of options, but you aren’t getting drowned in endlessly detailed spell lists. In theory, the PC can do pretty much anything with the appropriate sort of magic, so long as he or she can make whatever roll the GM is appropriate, but I could also see a GM just limiting the PC to those eight spells rather than wade into ad hoc determinations on target numbers and/or whether an particular effect is appropriate for a particular kind of magic.

The equipment list is not detailed, but covers what you might need – swords, an energy sword, several kinds of normal guns, an energy gun, body armor, medieval armo, armor that looks like a suit, medieval shields, energy shields, and a Backpack Full of Useful Stuff (ok, ok, it’s called a tactical kit, but whatever). So you can really get whatever you want for your preferred concept. Then there are augments, of which there are basically three kinds. First there’s the cool and unique stuff, like your EyePhone, hardened skin, enhanced legs, a HUD built into your brain, that sort of thing. Second, there are drugs – which, well, you probably shouldn’t do. Third, there are defensive gear and weapon augments, which are basically paying cash to make your armor or gun better.

corporia_quest-mag-cov-test

The standard rules on pretty much everything else take up only another page and a half (the use of individual skills is covered elsewhere), covering basic social interaction, breaking into buildings, chases, falling, fire, light, and poison.

The City (aka, The World)

Corporia is set in The City, which is megalopolis located nowhere in particular – although the map looks an awful lot like a rotated map of Tokyo, and there are certain elements one might associate with current-day Japan (for example, capsule hotels), the setting has a more Anglo feel to it (I mean, it does involve Arthurian legend, after all, and it’s not like King Arthur lived in east Asia). The City, like everywhere else, is controlled by the eighteen megacorps, which include some obvious references to real-world or fictional companies – BioCom (Umbrella Corp), Globex Power (GE), Lionhead (Apple), Wildfire (WalMart with churches). The PCs will be working for Valyant, specifically its Watchman private security division.

The City itself has eighteen districts, each of which gets its own one-page write-up (in addition to background information on the city as a whole). Each write-up gives some basic information (area, population, neighborhoods, which corporation runs the district) and a few specific locations.

As the PCs enter the campaign world, most people really don’t know what’s going on with the Flux. It’s clear to everyone that something weird is up, but most people believe the corporate line that it’s some sort of cosmic radiation. Interestingly, while the players and characters may in some ways opposed the control of the megacorps, their interests may also intersect, as the PCs want to cover up a lot of the supernatural events (likely including their own involvement in defeating the bad guys).

The Gamemastery section will tell you exactly what’s going on and in general how the endgame will play out, but I won’t because that would be spoiling all of your fun. A string of adventure seeds are presented (about two pages each), which taken together form a metaplot. In each adventure, decisions that the PCs make can affect the resolution of the endgame scenario in particular ways. Each of the adventures is presented in the “GRAIL” format – Goal (mission assignment), Recon (figuring out what’s going on), Assault/Infiltration (the two default ways of addressing the situation – brute force or something else), and Liquidation (the final confrontation).

The GM section also presents some ideas on the sorts of interaction that the players will have with the world of Corporia, NPCs from Knightwatch and elsewhere, sixteen or so Cryptids (monsters), and two pages of relics.

Opinions/Wrap-Up

Corporia’s strength is in its distinctive setting and the built-in campaign plot. The mechanics are basic and very much take a back seat to the presentation of the setting. Corporia is, I think, ideally suited to a short, discreet campaign where the PCs engage in a little bit of exploration of this world and in the process go through the metaplot adventures, which should play up the strength of the setting and the game. If you find the setting intriguing and find that sort of campaign interesting, then Corporia should be worth checking out.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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