There are, therefore, three things to state straightaway.
Firstly, my copy isn’t finished. I’ll show some screengrabs in this review, but they may not be the same in the final product, as we’ve a Kickstarter to navigate before an expected November launch date.
Secondly, in the interests of transparency, I didn’t pay for this copy of LokDown. You don’t have to either, as there’s the 180-page early edition download is available online.
Thirdly, despite all this time with LokDown, I still can’t make a decision on it. It keeps on throwing curveballs at me.
Want an example of a curveball? I was expecting the Kickstarter for LokDown to start on April 15th. Except, this week, when I finally begin to try and write up my thoughts on the game, I see the Kickstarter is live already.
Except, the Kickstarter isn’t live. Nor Cal Mythos has not made any reward tiers available for the game. The publisher is calling this a preview of the Kickstarter, and those reward tiers will appear on the 15th. Despite this, the campaign has still already picked up $1,647 in pledges!
Frankly, there is an argument to say “stuff what this reviewer thinks” as Nor Cal Mythos wouldn’t get 30 backers on a preview if they hadn’t earned the loyalty of some gamers with previous games like Carbyne Jungle. These backers also have access to the free preview, so they know what they’re funding.
Here’s another curveball. I also learned from reading the Kickstarter campaign page that LokDown is an anime-inspired RPG. Honestly, the penny hadn’t dropped.
What is LokDown?
LokDown is a tabletop RPG set on a barely hospitable planet set generations after the survivors of colony ships crashed there have had time to use bioengineering and other techniques to adapt.
As it happens, LokDown, in this game, relates to the name of the captain of the fleet. This is not an RPG about staying inside.
In fact, this is an RPG about the generations of survivors on planet LokDown who adapted to survive outside.
If I had to sell LokDown, I would start with the planet. It’s on the very edge of the inhabitable zone. Almost half of LokDown perpetually faces the sun, so nearly the other half is locked in frozen darkness. There is a narrow strip around the middle that balances the two extremes, and it is here everyday life can survive.
The local lifeforms are brutal and dangerous. The native people are known as Daemons, or so think the fleet’s translators.
There are four flavours of adapted survivors.
The future geologists on the crashed colony fleet found ways to strengthen bodies with elements native to the planet and created the Godai.
The biogeneticists used DNA from the formidable native creatures to create the Shastra hybrids.
Engineers traded technology with the Daemons to help people survive as new cyborgs known as Xenotons.
Lastly, tissue samples from the Daemons themselves were used in genetic experiments with colonists to create Bloodbourne hybrids that can survive the planet.
This LokDown RPG review’s title uses the phrase “everything with bioengineered chrome” because these four varied adaptations are the basis for great diversity. Once you add in the eight archetypes, you can create characters remarkably different to your typical high fantasy.
Those eight Archetypes are the Budo Warrior, Gunslinger, Shapeshift, Samurai, Healer, Shinobi, Summoner and Sorcerer.
And yes, fair call. How can I not see the anime connection with Archetypes like Budo Warrior, Samurai and Shinobi? I credit the art. While the Asian influence is evident, much of the game’s illustrations avoid the “big eyes” style synonymous with anime and manga.
Lastly, I think it’s important to talk about the tiers. LokDown formalises dramatic changes in character power with different rule modifications for levelling therein.
There are six tiers; Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Omega. The Alpha tier has characters at “just starting out” power levels. If they ever progress to (or start at) Delta, then characters are dealing with world-altering problems and decisions. Epsilon deals with galaxy level decisions, and Omega is even more challenging to run.
LokDown uses the Tri-Forge rules from Carbyne Jungle. In fact, LokDown introduces itself as a “Tri-Forge Expansion to Carbyne Jungle”.
I’m not sure that’s how I’d describe the game.
If you need to have the sci-fi RPG Carbyne Jungle, a silver best-seller on DriveThruRPG, then despite having read back and forth through LokDown, I don’t see where. I think LokDown could be your very first Nor Cal Mythos game.
The Tri-Forge system uses seven attributes; Endurance, Physicality, Finese, Resolve, Intellect, Awareness and Will. There are 33 skills, divided into 11 different skill blocks that certain characters have access to.
The Tri-Forge system is d20 based, with combat being a d20 plus attack bonus and skills being a d20 plus bonus against a target number.
However, in addition to a target number, many skill situations in Tri-Forge also have a threshold number, indicating how many times a player must hit that target number for their character to succeed in a task. A jump, for example, is a quick make or break action that depends on a single dice roll, but a long climb might need three.
Characters have Morale and that Resolve attribute, and some are more able to push through hardships and get all the successes they need to take a threshold down to zero; others are less likely to succeed.
LokDown merges fantasy with sci-fi, and the magic system is represented through Chi Abilities. There are four categories here; Forms, Chi Attacks, Soul Worlds and Spirit Songs. The characters will have a “Spellcasting Attribute” assigned to them at chargen, rather than “Chi Attribute”, and I assume this is to keep the terminology consistent with Carbyne Jungle.
Soul Words are quick bursts of energy suitable for combat, and Spirit Songs are rituals that can last hours. Forms and Chi Attacks tend to be related to your species rather than your training, and you’ll find these in the Species chapter.
I doubt the Tri-Forge system will win any prizes for innovations or be an eye-rolling joke around pints once pubs re-open. It’s built on old school principles with the benefit of hindsight and then shaped to suit Carbyne Jungle’s needs, showing its versatility for LokDown.
Look and feel
Where I think LokDown needs work is on the layout. It’s actually a pretty skinny book at 180-pages given the wealth of content, and perhaps it needs to be to keep printing costs down.
If the contents could be laid out further apart, then that would be lovely.
It’s not uncommon to find bold, italic, underlined, all-caps and box-text several times on any two-column page, sometimes the same exact bit of text getting multiple transformations. Sometimes, this formatting happens in a table, even if the text is the only table cell’s contents.
Sometimes paragraphs are intended, sometimes not, and there’s rarely a space between them.
I get the challenge; there’s value for money packed into LokDown. The RPG finds room for some equipment stats, vehicles, write-ups of regions on the planet and lists of Soul Words and Spirit Songs. Success with the game of Tetris played with all the content comes at the cost of clarity.
It looks to me that LokDown is basically finished. I hope some of the Kickstarter money can be used to get a second pair of eyes onto the layout, perhaps just a second experienced point of view, as my gut instinct is that some quick wins can be found.
The art is cosmopolitan and mixes many different styles. I found that grating to begin with, but after just a little while with my PDF copy, I got over that, and it wasn’t an issue. LokDown is intended to be a game that lets groups explore different styles of gameplay, after all.
That said, Kickstarter money allowing, I think LokDown would benefit from forging its own visual style. It’s a charismatic enough game to do that and unique enough.
I would seize the chance to play LokDown at a gaming convention, online or otherwise.
It’s a little harder to see where LokDown fits in as a book to buy on my lifeline as a gamer. If I was younger, with less experience, I think I’d be intimidated by LokDown. Now, with more experience and shelves full of sci-fi RPGs, I don’t have a LokDown-shaped hole in my collection.
Therefore, if you’re a somewhat experienced tabletop roleplayer and tend to buy fewer books, especially if you prefer general and adaptable systems, then LokDown will be most attractive to you. I’m especially thinking of my old GURPs group from University.
Do you have any thoughts on this article?