Guy Sclanders, of How to be A Great Game Master, has a new tabletop RPG out in the form of Bounty Hunter.
In fact, checking the updates on the Kickstarter project that made the game possible, I see this Friday the physical copies were loaded into a car this weekend, so backers should get them about now.
If you didn’t back, you can’t (yet) get the PDF from Sclanders’ DriveThruRPG store but you can get the PDF directly from the Great Game Master site.
The question is, should you be trying to buy the game?
As ever, the answer is “It depends”. Bounty Hunter is different in ways that might excite you but might also frustrate you.
There’s no dice. There’s, therefore, no chance; you can’t take brave risks and hope for the best with a gamble of a good throw.
That also means there’s a host of rewards for being a decisive and clear-minded strategist and tactical thinker. If you have the better plan, all else being equal, you’ll win. And in Bounty Hunter, you will often go up against targets who are trying to outthink you.
Sclanders failed, I think, to create the easiest-to-play TTRPG. That was the opening goal of the Kickstarter, and frankly, picking a sci-fi system that had separate stats and systems for spaceships to people meant that the project was never going to be the easiest.
I wanted to make the easiest-to-play TTRPG ever. It had to have some mechanics, it had to inspire awesome adventures, and… it had to have zero math, no dice, and just be a blast to play regardless of the player’s TTRPG experience. (No easy feat let me tell you).
I honestly don’t think it matters. Bounty Hunters is different. You might need to take a step back from some of your expectations and open your mind to a new way of doing things, but once you get there (and it took me a little while), then the game engine here is straightforward.
The next goal of the Kickstarter was to create something set in space and dramatic.
I also needed a setting that was both cinematic and action-packed… Bounty Hunters in space.
Success! A howling, resounding success. Bounty Hunters works on an Action Point system. Action is literally baked into the engine. If you don’t take action, and you might not because this is all about managing those Action Points, then the action happens to you.
I liked Bounty Hunter. I especially like it as a sci-fi system that comes with rules for spaceships and space combat. I’ll turn to Bounty Hunter if I want a game that nudges into the skirmish space.
Bounty Hunter game engine
Characters have a pool of Action Points (AP) which are used for everything. They represent health and are also used when characters use skills or try and something quickly.
Spaceships have Power Points (PP) and many separate pools, one for the hull and the others for components.
It costs 1 AP to one thing of significance, but you can chain skills together, spending more Action Points as necessary.
In dramatic scenes, outside the regular freeform of play, there are two phases; first and last. It costs 1 AP to act swiftly enough to be in the first phase.
All actions that happen in the first phase happen at once. However, actions are not declared at once. Therefore there is both meta and in-game tactics in the order in which things are decided.
As there’s no dice, actions succeed. But they can be opposed.
When damage is done, it reduces the target’s Action Points (or Power Points). Armour can reduce this.
Bounty Hunter does not use attributes, but it does use skills. Skills make the system a little more layered than just an Action Point trade. In combat, for example, basic punching and kicking is the only aggressive act a character can effectively make without having the required skill.
Character and ship creation
There is a setting that comes with Bounty Hunter, and it’s that the character generation uses. However, it would be trivial to use Bounty Hunter to power any sci-fi you knew well. One of my first instincts was that it’s an excellent choice if you wanted to mod your favourite computer game shooter to the tabletop.
You won’t be surprised to know that character generation is straightforward to follow. It uses skills and abilities.
By default, all characters speak one language and Galactic, carry up to 12 items, move at 12 meters per round, can see in the daylight, hold their breath for 1 minute, need to eat, drink and sleep. They also all start with 20 AP.
There are alien races, but in game terms, they’re broadly similar. For character generation, your species gives you one skill. Humans can pick any skill. Baharresk, which are large and feline-humanoids, begin with Strength. Goraan, who all seem scant on emotions, start with Medicine.
I don’t have a problem with the system. Sci-fi, like fantasy, is still looking to find a sweet spot between mono-cultures (why are absolutely all Goraan interested in Medicine?) and differentiation for flavour. In Bounty Hunter, aside from that one skill selection, your species neither opens nor closes any doors for your character.
After picking your species, there are eight more steps in the character generation process; Brightright, Education, Career, Reason to become a Bounty Hunter, Interests, Abilities, Equipment and a Name.
Birthright is a horrible word, isn’t it? Other than using it, Bounty Hunter does not harm with it. Your character might have come from a poor family (adding the skills Repair, Survival and the language Starsi) or even the slave pits (adding the skills Strength, Melee Combat and the language Slavesk), but they not determined by it. Your former slave can be kind, compassionate, intelligent and become rich.
Your spaceship can become anything too.
There’s no “spaceship creation” section in Bounty Hunter. Actually, the game calls them starships. It doesn’t need one. I think it’s all safely inferred, although a little more around the cost of components would have been helpful.
A table for each component a spaceship/starship brings in terms of Power Points and what it does. Life Support, for example, has 12, and a Railgun Weapon Array has 10. From this table, I think you can build any ship you fancy. There’s no such table, not even an indicator, of how much PP a hull could have, but there are sample vehicles to use as a basis.
While this system defeats the goal of creating the easiest to use RPG, I like it a lot.
In particular, I like how characters can use their engineering skills to move Power Points from one component to another. You would move the PP from your Railgun Weapon Array to keep your Life Support online, wouldn’t you? It gets better than that; there are boons for routing twice as much PP to a component than it needs to operate. Double the PP available to the Life Support, for example, and all crew regain 1 AP per round during dramatic scenes.
There’s much more than a game engine in the Bounty Hunter RPG. It’s an 84-page long document, and the system (including some enemies and sample starships) takes us up to page 43.
The remaining half of the download is divided between the sample and default Huntari Region for a setting and the sample bounty mission Halcord Midmo.
Wisely, the appropriate effort is made to remind readers that space is enormous, and the Huntari Region is just one spec in it. Here we have AIs, common bio-mechanics/cybernetics, RAN and PHASE as competing weapon technologies and the IGN (Ingerlatic Network of star systems).
We have space maps and scans of planets that give me Mass Effect chills (in a good way).
Bounty Hunter also proves how awesomely helpful it is to call out pronouns early. Stay with me.
- Humans are; He, him, she, her, they, them.
- Rakesh are; We, us our.
- Baharresk are; He, him, she, her, they, them.
- Trarfye are; They, them.
- Wedwed are: This one, those ones, these ones.
That’s just a sample but doesn’t it quickly suggest where species are similar and clearly some differences!
Rakesh are living colonies of millions of microbes. Trarfye are small, colourful and can change gender over 24 hours. Wedwed are a hive insect with both an individual self and a collective.
The rest of this section is divided into Sectors that largely avoid the redundancy of racial control zones. There’s no such thing here as “Human Space”.
However, Raak Space for the Rakesh (or Rakath) as those colonies of microbes are especially good at growing and expanding.
Humans do make their mark. The Greyplan Alliance started as a few human colonies banding together in a defence pact. The Noso Protectorate is primarily an unpopulated space roughly defined as being surrounded by The Rift and yet explored by the curious Trarfye. So, there are some species biases in the Sectors, which makes logical sense, but the default Bounty Hunter setting is not warring racial space empires.
The Rift is an area with a confluence of black holes, neutron stars and dark matter. Things aren’t quite normal here.
Look and Feel
I quite like Kickstarter campaigns where the creative team would do the project anyway and run the crowdfunding to make it better.
Bounty Hunter feels like one of those projects. I sense, but can’t confirm, the money was spent on art and layout. I think this benefits everyone.
While there are some necessarily densely populated tables in this sci-fi RPG, there’s no part of it that’s not scannable and clear. It’s a straightforward RPG to sit down and read. Is it the easiest? No. In part because it doesn’t use dice, and that may confuse your expectations as much as it did mine. But it is easy.
I don’t like all the art, I seem to have a hangup on the not uncommon style of CGI, and perhaps it makes it look like someone screen-capped a computer game and recycled the art for tabletop. I like most of the art.
I’m incredibly thankful that Geekstable, the publishing company Sclanders runs, illustrates all of the alien races and lots of the ships. As already noted, I do like planetary art.
Bounty Hunter was an ambitious project, and I like it. Guy and team should be applauded and pleased.
Clearly, you don’t need dice in an RPG.
Equally as clearly, that creates a whole different vibe for the game, and if you’re used to the scattering polyhedral, you may need some time to adapt.
I’ve run quite a few scenes with the Bounty Hunter system, and they’ve worked very well. It’s especially strong over Discord, as the lack of dice and barely any mathematics means all your attention can be on the players and the game.
I asked at the start of this review whether you should want to buy Bounty Hunter. If you’re on the fence after reading this, then let me give you one more nudge. Buy it.
Buy Bounty Hunter because, at the very least, you’ll have a robust diceless RPG system in your collection. Probably, you’ll get a lot more from the game than just the system.
Disclaimer: As it happens, I did not buy Bounty Hunter. A copy was provided for review, and I would likely have missed the RPG otherwise.
What are your thoughts? Strike up a discussion and leave a comment below.