Preview: The Retroverse
Today I have something I have been waiting to look at for quite a while. It is also something I was hoping to be able to direct you towards. Sadly, the Kickstarter has been delayed but the reasons are good. Despite all the work that has been accomplished and how far along this project has gone, there were some simple problems that Chris and Lluis ran into with general logistics of the release. This was manly promised rewards, tenability, and costs. That being said they recognized what was going on and have cancelled the Kickstarter until a point at which they can plan a more efficient and doable release. To me, this is all the more reason to back them. You can help support them by checking this stuff out on their website and keeping an eye out for the test document to become more widely available. All that being said, let’s talk about what we can expect from the Retroverse!
Okay, right off the bat we need to get into the story we are trying to tell here. This is not another fantasy setting for 5th Edition, though for 5th Edition it is certainly designed. Nor is this quite a science fiction reskin of what you would normally expect. This is something a little different. The Retroverse seeks to do its take on all kinds of things from the latter half of the 20th century, especially centered around the 80s. If you ever imagined doing some of the crazy things that you saw happening in movies, t.v. shows, and cartoons of that time than this game is probably for you. In the Retroverse you will find everything from rollerblades and keytars to holograms and angry animatronics. There are references and nods to dozens and dozens of classic entertainment. The thing about the Retroverse that I have seen a few people say is that it is a Shadowrun clone and, honestly, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. I might see why you would say that but this is not a dark dystopian future with magic and tech. This is a cyber-landscape of bright colors, neon lights, giant robots, and giant slime monsters made from pizza. This is D&D if you lived in a world that allowed you to have laser pistols and holographic armor. Honestly you might hate the concept, but I think most people who love nostalgia and retro will love the ideas brought out by this work. It is niche in a way that draws more people in than something niche should.
The Mechanics We See
I don’t have all the mechanics here in the Test Wave 1 document but there is plenty to go around. First off we have special races, classes, and background to choose from to fit this setting. Each of them would seem absurd outside of their respective genres and subgenres. Or outside of this amalgamation of awesome. The races include special dragonborn, werewolf like creatures with laser eyes, and a classic: triceratops people. The unique abilities that these races have seem well balanced and very intriguing so far. Diving into classes there is almost too much to talk about. There are four presented in the test document and some share similarities with base classes that already exist. The way in which they are built and designed, however, make them different enough to be their own thing. We have holographic weapons, synthwave wielding bards, and warriors capable of summoning Xords (yes, giant robot suits). Within these classes there is a lot to unpack, but the general design and concept are well founded. With some playtesting and work they are going to be amazing, and I cannot wait to see what other things they have in store. Finally there are backgrounds which have elements to fit the setting but my favorite is the player: someone who has found their way here as if they were transported into a video game. It is pretty rad.
Aside from all of this we get rules for other things. We have corruption which is a breakdown of the digital code that makes up this world. It might make things better for you or it might make things worse. In fact becoming infected with a handful of effects could end up being really beneficial. The problem is the corruption acts randomly and gaining too much will kill you as your code disintegrates into meaningless 1s and 0s. Then we have a rule set for shiny variants. These are a nod to the Pokémon series and are mini-templates that affect how a creature you might find behaves or is intrinsically different from most you have seen. It is a fun concept to spice things up every now and then. To round things off we get spells, an adventure, and monsters to complete the ability to play test this setting. Remember all of these things work within the confines of D&D 5th Edition, but so far the odd setting has been fitted to the fantasy game incredibly well.
Hopes & Expectations
Because this is a test document and I know there is a whole heap of stuff still to come, I want to talk about my hopes for the released books. First I really want to see at least 1 specialized path for each base class that fits the retroverse, perhaps with a couple of exceptions (synthweaver covers our bard!). Among them I want to see how a druid looks in this world, what the domain for clerics who worship the 151 Innumerable is, and what oath a cyber-paladin might take. I definitely want to see more spells added in and tons more magic items. What is here is pretty good already, but I can see this book being pretty robust and excellent. Let’s not forget the monsters. I can only imagine how many awesome new creatures and reference beasts we see.
That all being said I wouldn’t be me without some insight into what I think can be improved. Generally speaking, the wording is a little rough in spots. Not terrible and nothing you wouldn’t understand, but not all of the mechanical work is as good as it could be. Simple language like “this consumes the Hit Die in the process” is understandable but it might benefit from re-wording to something like “The character’s Hit Die is consumed by this ability without (presumably) regaining hit points.” In similar fashion “half your level” is a regularly used way of phrasing things but the book utilized instructions like “your level divided by two”. It might benefit to more closely match the way things are mechanically written in the core books for ease of use and interpretation. Certain features might be better cleaned up as well, removing some math. The rollerblade bonus, for example, might be less confusing if more standardized. A specific number could be an added column in the class table. On the other hand the wording might just need to be cleaned up as it’s current form implies that the +1.5x/2x is on top of the normal Dex due to the initial bonus being flat. Even in this case it might do to add an AC bonus column with: Dex+2, 1.5 Dex, 2 Dex for ease of reference.
The nice thing, though, is this whole book is well designed. It has good art, good over all feel and design, and a readable font. It reads like a 5E document or supplement but distinctly feels like its own thing. The table of contents is well broken down and there are already appendices in place for some things. All in all I hope to see the technical text tidied up and just a lot more awesome stuff. When this product finally releases it is going to be well worth the buy and it is incredible this team of two have done such an impressive job in the time they have been working.