I missed the Entromancy Kickstarter which raised nearly $8,500 from over 330 backers, but when DriveThruRPG told me a cyberpunk fantasy RPG that used 5e rules had been added to their catalogue, I was immediately interested.
In my excitement, I didn’t notice that the PDF version of Entromancy only cost $9.99. I didn’t even notice the download was only 126-pages long as I imported the PDF into my Kindle reader desktop app (give us sync between devices Amazon, please) and only looked up at the page count when I noticed how quickly we were racing through the content.
There are 10 chapters, an appendix (for the Open Game License), an introduction, Kickstarter backer shoutouts, credits and a title page in those 126 pages. You can see how Entromancy starts to cut the content dangerously thin.
What? We’re done with character generation and on to skills already?
It’s a gamble, but I think Entromancy pulls it off. In fact, I think this game could be two things.
Firstly, it could really be a gaming group’s introduction to non-D&D gaming, or even be suitable for newbies being led by an experienced GM. I think this because Entromancy is light and agile. There’s no padding. You have options for characters and factions, and they’re straight-forward.
Secondly, Entromancy could be a haven for old veterans of the game. Perhaps you’re cyberpunky or sci-fi by nature, are quite happy with the D&D 5e ruleset and like to layer on your own complexities. Entromancy will suit you too.
The bit in the middle, for groups with a little experience and now looking to master their skills, will probably feel short-changed by Entromancy. If your goal is to learn the complexity of the system and of the world, then look elsewhere. Entromancy is over too quickly.
Entromancy’s vision of the future
I like Entromancy because it’s a little bit different. Fantasy and cyberpunk without being Shadowrun? Achievement unlocked. This is a world that’s not quite dystopian and where the non-humans are actually evolved-humans.
The game is set in and around San Francisco in the late 21st century. It’s both a time of improvements and setbacks.
In terms of a brighter future, the planet has rediscovered a solution to the energy crisis. Ceridium is a naturally-occurring element that seems to be able to power everything from magic to blasters. For those rich enough to afford it. There’s the global network to which people connect via the digitab device. Antigravity is a thing, and that creates whole new opportunities for would-be heroes as it does for a booming sports market.
On the darker side, there’s the rage plague, and barefaced racism against the underraces and war has ripped up much of the countries that we know. Heck, there’s even an independent kingdom nestled near to San Francisco. Common criminals are sometimes dealt with in VPENs, or virtual penitentiaries, in which they suffer the emotions of distress, shame and judgement over and over again. They’re forced to live through the experience of being caught in a crime.
There’s politics to Entromancy too, quite a lot of it. The game is built around Factions, which I like. There are plenty of shades of grey there also, no clear baddies, no unquestionable goodies, so you can have mixed groups and see the arguments for all involved.
These Factions bring with them NPCs, which I’m less keen on, preferring to create my own rather than worry about names associated with a continuity I can’t control. However, it’s fair to say that M. S. Farzan, PhD, the lead game designer and creative director, doesn’t give too many of the RPGs precious pages away to these characters.
Visually, the rulebook for Entromancy is different from most other cyberpunks as well. It uses colourful oranges and cheery sky blues.
In only a few paragraphs, this RPG gets the core 5e rules across. They’re not all in one place, as is traditional, the basics up front and with the details reserved for the GM chapter later, but they’re there. That said, previous knowledge of the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons would be helpful.
There’s a dozen skills, 5 classes, 5 ‘destinies’ and the magic classes have two routes, each of 5 spells, available to them. It’s pretty lean. But it’s enough.
The classes are NIGHT Agent (that’s National Intelligence Guard of Human Technology) who are mostly an authoritarian police force to keep the underraces in check, the Revolutionary, sharpshooters who have little time for authoritarian police forces, Technomacers, mage-techs, Terramancers, neo-druids and Vanguards, who are mostly assassins.
Each of those classes come with a set of feats to selection from. The Vanguard, for example, have; Compromising Strike, Scoundrel’s Luck, Shadow Dealer, Sprint Attack and Unending Flow (which has Compromising Strike as a requirement).
Destinies are essentially prestige classes and represent some of the longer-term play options inherent in Entromancy. Unusually, though, the book suggests that after completing a mission, you decide whether you want to continue with your character or not. That indicates to me that Farzan saw the game fitting one-shorts and relatively brief campaigns more than anything else.
There are fantasy races, the underraces, which Ceridium has evolved from previously mundane humans. Entromancy begins with rules for dwarves, gnomes, high auric, humans and low aurics.
We’re also given rules for creating monsters and NPCs, running missions and being a better GM. Entromancy might be thin, but it packs a punch. It’s a little assassin.
The Presidio Heist
Speaking of GM tips; there’s a whole pre-written scenario in this cost-effective download. The Presidio Heist takes up about 10 of our precious pages, but it does reveal the sort of adventures the developers had in mind.
This is a pretty simple raid on an abandoned military complex which has become occupied by something dangerous. We’re given maps of rooms and descriptions for what’s in those rooms. Sensitive to spoilers, I won’t get into the details much.
What is worth getting into is the Faction interplay that kicks off immediately. It is likely that not all the characters in the group are of the same Faction. Each Faction has a reason for sending people into the complex, secrets and goals for it. Success or failure will influence each PC’s Factional reputational score.
I like this. These Faction reputations are a mechanical way to encourage plot twists and roleplaying.
The look and feel of Entromancy
I’m not sure what Aurics look like, and I think the PC race is supposed to be an iconic part of the setting.
My main regret in Entromancy is the lack of illustrations. They’re expensive, so for $9.99 I know not to expect much, but we don’t seem to have added terribly more visuals to the game after the Kickstarter than we saw in the campaign.
I feel the lack of art keenly in the monster section. What doe an Arcane Pitcher look like? Or a Dark Cuttle? I think the latter is a cuttlefish dangerous enough to hug you to death.
I don’t think Entromancy has done enough to cut through the noise in an increasingly crowded cyberpunk market. Not with a new edition of the Cyberpunk coming and Shadowrun 6e on the way too.
I do think Entromancy is pretty good, especially if you and your players want to stick to 5e. This is a world that makes thematic sense, boils with adventure and drama opportunities, and encourages political roleplaying (in the good way).
For the two groups of gamers described at the start of this review, Entromancy is a gem waiting to be found.
My copy of Entromancy: A Cyberpunk Fantasy RPG was provided for review.