Nova is a LUMEN powered game from Gila RPG.
I backed Spencer Campbell’s game on Kickstarter, as the designer is a breath of fresh air, the game looks excellent, and LUMEN is being adopted by game-makers at pace. Furthermore, Campbell is the talent behind LUMEN, and so this is RPG uses the system of his own design.
The fast-paced action of first-person shooters like the computer game Destiny is precisely what Nova (and LUMEN) try to recreate. They succeed. It’s also why there’s some notoriety to the project, when some overzealous Destiny fans went on the attack, derailing an earlier project for being too similar.
So, I’m using “Grenade” in the tagline “Grenade stuff” as a positive adjective in general but acknowledge some blast damage. Why is Nova explosively good? It’s not just the action but because Nova combines the rules-light approach typically found in narrative games with the power-level satisfaction of much older games that often lovingly pile on the dice. Some RPGs with combat focus and PC dominance are Rube Goldberg war machines. Nova is more like a microchip.
You can pick up LUMEN, the system, as a Name Your Price download from Itch.
Nova has three thematic attributes; Sun, Moon and Shade. It’s set in a world that survived the sun exploding, the darkness rising and what happens next.
Sun is rolled when the PC is attempting destructive and sweeping actions, Moon when it’s a reactive or dangerous action and Shade when it’s a planned, systematic action.
Rolls are made with D6s; you roll as many as you have in an attribute and keep the highest. If your highest dice only says 1 or 2, you’ve failed, and there will be a consequence, 3 or 4 means you’ve succeeded, but there’s still a consequence and 5 or 6 means you’ve fully succeeded without any sort of negative ripple.
In other words, you’re very likely to succeed in Nova.
It’s hard to die in Nova. If the dice go against you, your character simply powers down and awaits recharging. Although, if you want, you can agree to PC death.
If you’ve played Destiny, you’ll know the vibe; you expect to win all the fights except the most challenging bosses. In those final fights, if one of you is left standing, that warrior can recharge fallen teammates, and it’s only a wipe in dramatic moments if the whole fire team goes down.
Just as Destiny has character classes based around the build of your character, so does Nova. In fact, much of the 80-or-so page A5 book is spent detailing these builds. These builds, or Sparks as they’re called, matter because they influence which powers you get. In Nova, characters have a few powers, some always running, some elective, making it even easier to look cool.
The world of Nova
The sun exploded.
It’s not quite the first sentence in Nova, but it nearly is a powerfully dramatic way to begin a setting.
In this world, the exploding sun is not the end of the world but an event that plunged the plants into darkness.
Fragments of the sun (forget science) survived, planted into the Earth as cooling wells of warmth and light. It’s around these that what remains of civilization survived and later grew strong around.
Now, using this new light-tech that the power-armour suits, the Sparks, are sent out into the darkness to bring back resources and deal with the rising menace.
And there is menace in the darkness. There are monsters, cults, and other horrors brewing in the supernatural shade.
But there’s no forward-facing story, no plot, no direction offered by Nova and Gila RPG. The book contains the system and the framework of Sparks and enemy factions. The rest is up to you.
Look and feel
It’s the system that I talk about when I chat to gamer friends about Nova and Lumen, then it’s the world concept.
However, it’s the look and feel of the hardback that got my attention first. Perhaps it’s the white on black pages, a reversal of the usual black and white, or maybe it’s the Sparks’ bold layout and bright colours, but Nova is refreshingly different.
As it’s a slender book, the text is in one column, but the paragraphs are small and well-spaced out. You can scan this book. There’s a contents page but no index, and probably not enough content for an index. You will have to flick and back and forth on your first time through if you need a reference refresher because there’s no large, easy to spot chapter for any rule mechanic. However, once you know the rule mechanics, which you’ll learn quickly as they’re so light and easy, that’s no longer an issue.
Flicking through Nova isn’t like paging through a computer game manual (do they even make those anymore?) but it is like leafing the pages of a glossy brochure that might come with a boxed set. It’s a good experience.
Explosive action, as you’ll likely succeed in what you’re trying to do, and a game designed to have your heroic pilots be the centre of heroic missions on every outing into the darkness.
A system that’s easy to remember and master and yet flexible enough to throw in some challenges.
I fully expect to see more great RPGs using Lumen and more appreciation for Gila and Campbell due to Nova.
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