Corporia emerged from a successful Kickstarter, rather like Excalibur from the stone. It involved a bit of effort, a touch of struggle. It scraped through, if you care to compare it to some of the stonking successes of the last two years. On the plus side, writer Mark Plemmons delivered the product on time and it looks great.
The near future setting sees Arthurian legend clash with corporate values in a world under the thumb of social media, celebrity and a bunch of mega-corporations. Something called Flux permeates the world, unleashing extra-dimensional chaos – in the form of magic, demons, superhuman talents, ghosts… and, well, the return of the Knights of the Round Table.
As members of the Knightswatch, the player characters run special operations for Valyant, a corporation headed by CEO Lance Martin – awakened reincarnation of Sir Lancelot. The mash-up of fantastic legend, lowdown and dirty business dealings, and extra dimensional threat makes for an interesting setting – and probably a bit of a hard sell in the competitive Kickstarter arena.
Corporia comes in the form of a 211-page PDF, colour and picture packed. The book uses a single column format throughout, with photo imagery of the corporate suits, magic users and threats, interspersed with occasional vector-style clip art-like pictures – you know, those silhouette images of guys in suits.
The book has a good balance of text and images, with colour coding for each section of the rules. The sections not only have a colour bar along the right margin, but the same scheme extends to tables, headings and picture borders. Nice touch.
The images used throughout the book – to great affect – come from a multitude of sources, listed in the Credits close to the beginning of the book. I noticed at least one image I’d seen before in another game, though I couldn’t quite recall which game! Very strange feeling to see something in a book and then struggle to place it… It’s going to bug me.
Corporia‘s unique selling point is the juxtaposition of the corporate world with the taints of dystopia and the rising uncertainty of magic. Valyant, a diversified multi-national conglomerate, fields a team of special operatives tasked with resolving Flux-fuelled incidents, while at the same time owing much of their potential and expertise to the very same.
The game primarily focuses – should the GM choose – on events in The City, though the text offers the GM freedom to use whatever setting they choose. You might opt to use your home town or the nearest city as a viable alternative. Knowing your way around a place can make it easier to present an immersive environment.
Whether using the default setting or your own, the game layers in essential near future changes offering a dystopian edge. Mega-corporations have taken the lead, buying their way into every part of our lives, including securing power in government. Corporations control law enforcement, the provision of civic amenities, and the guidance of society through media and religion. They offer 100% employment through detailed analysis of global needs, even if that does mean many give up their freedom to become well-tended wage slaves.
Technology provides free, but heavily restricted, internet access to all, telework two or three days a week, 3D maker mass manufactured essentials, and medicine supported by super-science and nanotech. The rich might have access to better options amidst all this choice, but the majority have little more individual freedom and control than the near mindless wage slaves.
Despite best efforts, however, the corporations do not have control of everything. The Flux has changed the world, manifesting in subtle ways far outside corporate control. No amount of money or power can curtail the steady erosion of reality, the emergence of cryptids and mutations, and the increasingly common incidents of what one can only term magic. The pervading presence of the Flux causes freak electromagnetic variances, interrupting power, communications and the free flow of data.
Flux-induced visions of the future and the careful balanced calculations of Valyant’s Master Eye Registrar and Logistical Intelligence Network (or M.E.R.L.I.N, a corporate Artificial Intelligence) suggest the onset of a great disaster. Chaotic forces from outside our dimension threaten an apocalypse likely to leave our planet in ruins. Unless…
Corporia uses a pretty simple set of mechanics. Players add a Core Value – like Strength or Knowledge – to a relevant Skill – like Athletics or Influence – and add a random number with the aim of equalling or exceeding a Target Number, set by the GM. The uncertainty generated by the Flux means that that random number comes from a Flux Dice roll – two six-sided dice, of which you normally get to choose the higher value.
If you don’t have the Skill, you don’t add anything. Competing against another character or a minion, then the Target Number will get rolled also, rather than simply chosen based on the GMs assessment of difficulty. All characters have Flux Points that allow them to bring beneficial traits into play, steer the story, shrug off wounds, and buy personal improvements. Roll a 6, save the number and roll again. Roll two 6’s, add them both to your roll, roll again, and gain a Flux Point.
If you own particular items of equipment, weaponry or even cybernetic augmentations, you may glean additional bonuses to your rolls, or extend the range of your abilities. Should you dabble in magic – whether in the form of sorcery or the more naturalistic witchcraft – you might to manipulate Flux to improve your chances, lay low your opposition, or simply cover your escape.
Magick is a supernatural asset, known by most characters and used by a few. While the game includes several spell list tables, they exist as a point of reference rather than a straitjacket. Spellcasters can cast spells and counterspells based on their personal experience, or attempt to copy spells they’ve seen others cast. The Flux has weakened reality making magick possible, but that doesn’t mean you can tear the world asunder with swirling storms of fiery death. The more flashy and expansive the effect, the higher the Target Number to cast – and stretching out range, increasing damage or possessing technological augmentation makes it harder.
The City provides an overview of living in the fictional setting of Corporia, with a district by district breakdown keyed to a full page map. Each district highlights the general state and allegiance of the populace, along with the nature of the governing body, and a few key locations. If you choose to run the game in a real world city, you can still take some information from this section and layer it into your own – like clubs, apartment blocks, corporate HQs and other hubs of interest.
The back of the book includes a reasonably substantial Running the Game section for Gamemasters, which includes advice, plot hooks for the different corporations, several brief adventure ideas, and a bestiary of adversaries, ranging from the ordinary through to the supernatural.
The advice on running games themselves offers a lot of the standard thoughts on using mechanics when appropriate, avoiding cutting players dead with a ‘No’, when a ‘Yes’ or a ‘Yes, but’ will keep things flowing, and provides guidance on picking challenging adversaries. Tiny footnotes make reference to useful sources on gamemastery, like Robin Laws ‘ Laws of Good Gamemastering and Gnome Stew’s Eureka: 501 Plots to Inspire Game Masters.
Random tables provide a quick fix for generating encounters and designing basic city locations, allowing you to populate new locations and cover for those eventualities when players choose to go off the beaten track. Keep these pages bookmarked for emergencies.
The GM section covers the essentials of creating adventure, using the GRAIL model (good, huh?) – Goal, Recon, Assault, Infiltration and Liquidation. Essentially, get briefed or pitched a mission, find out what you can, choose the best approach – whether all guns blazing or perhaps more stealthy, and hit the enemy before they have a chance to retaliate. All the sample adventures use this breakdown – so you have a ready source of guidance on what to do when it comes to writing up your own missions.
What adventures do we have on offer, to whet the appetites and raypiers (energy swords, not at all like lightsabers) of our player characters?
- A dead woman in a lake leads the Knightwatch to investigate a possible serial killer who threatens the secrecy of the organisation
- A worried husband fears for the health and fidelity of his wife, but the bigger picture might be far more sinister
- A museum curator dies at the skeletal hands of an unseen attacker
- The Knightwatch members encounter a security firm with fewer ethical protocols and a taste for chaos
- CEO Lance Martin sends the Knightwatch team on a quest to recover the Holy Grail
- A storm approaches and a ritual threatens the end of all things
Aside from this brief adventure outlines, the book itself contains a lot of background and atmosphere to draw on. In addition, the GM has other potential hooks, like loyalty to other mega-corporations or the interest mechanic of Really Effective People Promotion points.
Essentially, a character can become a social media junkie to acquire a star reputation. High REPP might get you free upgrades in hotels, restaurants, flights, and so forth. To keep your REPP high, you need to post updates about what you’re up to, where you are, etc.
While REPP provides freebies and the adulation of a faceless following, it also means that certain parties know where you are and what you’re up to pretty much 24-7. Bring on the complications. Who might tap into this data stream or perhaps mine the data for interesting extrapolated titbits?
The final few sections provides the Gamemaster with background on key members of the Knightwatch, the Forces of Order and Chaos, and Cryptids set loose upon the unsuspecting world through the reality weakening force of the Flux.
While the GM section covers most of the bases needed to satisfy new and experienced Gamemasters alike, I think it might have benefited with a few notes on style of play. I think Corporia would have benefited from a few notes on how you might play it dark or light, horror-laden or humour-laced. Given the subject matter, some groups might find it hard to avoid Pythonesque moments, while if played the other way, the setting could be grim and soul-battering, like 1984.
First and foremost, Corporia looks great – and I really want to see what a hardback edition looks like with glossy pages and full colour art. Without the physicality of a book, however, the PDF version loses very little – it still looks great and the presentations makes the reading experience an enjoyable one.
Mark Plemmons has put together a solid idea here, backed with a simple mechanic and plenty of ideas. The setting has a strong focus and any group playing the game shouldn’t have any doubt about where they fit in. However, the GM has the flexibility to run the game in different ways – ranging from a violent struggle against forces of Chaos and the Unknown, through to CSI-style forensic investigation or Leverage-esque hustles with major and minor corporate forces.
On a campaign level, the game also benefits from a possible arc plot. At heart, Corporia embraces Arthurian legend, and the Once and Future King can return. Like the BBC series Merlin or other takes on the myth of Camelot, the GM has the option to mine the rich vein of stories and legends, extrapolating on the tales – or keep it quite tight and finite.
Corporia presents an interesting idea, well executed and lavishly presented.
Review based on a Kickstarter copy. Corporia, Mark Plemmons, Brabblemark Press, $14.99 in PDF.