Radial Commune is unlike almost any other roleplaying game I can think of. There are conditions for one player winning the game, beating other players. In fact, it may be more about not being the losing player.
If that disqualifies it from being an RPG, perhaps “competitive storygame” is a new phrase.
Radial Commune is an entirely free to download RPG from II!M, on Itch and available thanks to the Solarpunk Jam.
Entirely free at Itch means you don’t even need an account to grab this gorgeously illustrated 22-page download. Just hit the download button and its yours.
In addition to the backstabbing PvP elements, I can see why you won’t consider Radial Commune because you need at least 4 players for the game, no GM, which makes it different, and that takes a couple of hours. If those are your reasons, so be it, but I think you should ponder the download at least.
Half the cities sunk. The other half burned. By shaping the world to suit our needs, we doomed ourselves to a world that could no longer suit our needs.
It’s been hundreds of years. There are plenty of humans remaining. The oceans and the fires could not kill us all. The others are trying to rebuild the world to how it used to be. They haven’t learned from the past. Smoke rises from their factories once more. They’ll kill us all.
Radial Commune is a post-climate apocalypse tabletop RPG; it’s written by William Rotor and includes some fantastic art by Tithi Luadthrong, iruii, Roman 3D art and Jaren Ondricek.
Radial Commune gameplay
You need at least two people playing Spiritual Leaders for the group and at two or more playing Stewards. Spiritual Leaders set the direction, support the Stewards when they want and battle for influence. Stewards get stuff done.
You’ll mainly be rolling d6, but some d10 is handy – as the game is played over 10 years, ending afterwards with winners. Safety tools are recommended, and I wouldn’t play the game if you find sly betrayal incredibly uncomfortable. The rules don’t say, but I will; mini-screens or mugs to hide dice under are also helpful.
During gameplay, you’ll explore issues like;
- Stewardship of the land and ecologically conscious living.
- The difference between community and tribalism.
- The divide between idealistic wishes and practical reality.
- The necessity of compromise and sacrifice for survival.
- The self-destructiveness of partisan ideals in competition.
As a disclaimer of sorts, all these topics are fascinating to me, and I’m sure this strongly flavoured my appreciation for the game.
What the game excludes is intersectionality. Characters can be anyone, anybody, nobodies or whatever you want and still be accepted by the community. Introduce the threat of prejudice into the story as a macro concept later, if you wish, but only if everyone agrees. The default is that people are accepted.
Each year the cycle goes;
- Replenishment phase – free roleplay, Spiritual Leaders gain some influence dice.
- Prediction phase – Spiritual Leaders predict the threats ahead and roll to see who was right (this is random, therefore).
- Planning phase – plan a response and persuade others to back the plan through roleplaying, disclose the tools (things Stewards have) that might be used.
- Action phase – describe the threat, Stewards roll to see if they defeat it, other settlements try and sabotage success, but this can be blocked by Spiritual Leaders, and roleplay through the scenes.
- Sacrifice phase – if the threat remains, then make a sacrifice, including one of Steward’s life, must be made (games with more than 6 players must make a sacrifice every 2 years/turns regardless).
The core mechanic is simply rolling d6s from combined personality quirks (which is as crunchy as chargen gets); influence and tools modify the dice total. You need a 6 for success but should only need one to defeat the threat.
However, sometimes Spiritual Leaders have reasons to get in the way and may secretly roll to turn successes into complications. They can even use and risk their influence dice to increase their chances of doing so.
This sabotage is in addition to the dice automatically rolled every year to represent outside meddling from other surviving settlements.
At the end of year 10, if you get that fair and the community is still going, the Stewards all win. The Spiritual Leader with the most influence (ties count) also win, but the rest lose.
Year 10, the final turn, is different in theme. It’s the year (although there will still be sabotage) in which people en mass see that your new way of living without turning the planet against humanity will work. It’s the all-to-play-for year. It means you can end the game with a ray of hope.
We come to you with our hearts worn on our sleeves. For the past decade, we’ve done everything we can to prove that your society couldn’t last. Everything we threw at you, you overcame. You’re still here. We come here today to beg for forgiveness. We come here today asking for a place in your home.”
Radial Commune look and feel
I would pay $10 without pause for Radial Commune. It’s free. The game looks incredible, and the art is gorgeous. It doesn’t matter that the art has come from Shutterstock. It is what it is and is used expertly.
The setting isn’t Earth (just one like it), and light touches of fantasy (angry spirits, etc.) and heavier touches of sci-fi (bionics, it is a post-apocalypse after all) are part of the setting this gives extra range to the illustrations.
A slight grumble is that a critical section, how the Action phase is resolved, with the rules for success, failure and sabotage, is unfortunately split in two over a page break.
I tried to guess why people might not rush to download the innovative RPG at the start of this review. I’ll add one more reason, and then I’m done; imagination.
If you’re looking for a tactical RPG to engage your brain, challenge your problem solving and insight with combat and other threats, then Radial Commune isn’t a great fit for that. This RPG needs to thrive with an imagination that currently wants to be channelled to collective storytelling on a more macro level.
Both zones within the vast expanse of imagination are valid. Both are gaming. I flip between the two but spend more time in the Radial Commune end. You need to be there to get the most from the game.
My main grumble was the lack of suggestions for what to do if a Steward character dies early. That’s avoidable because it’s optional, but a steer would have been nice.
So, perhaps, in the end, a few stars need to align before you can get into Radial Commune; player numbers, time (four hours seems about right) for a one-shot and the right mood. In those conditions, I think Radial Commune is a no-brainer.
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