Nightfall Games will this week release the Quick Start for SLA Industries 2nd edition. I’ve read it, taking part in the early release option made available via their website, and I like it. It takes me back to an earlier life roleplaying in Scotland, skiving University.
Update: The Quick Start is now out.
I was lucky. I met a good SLA GM who had had some ancillary involvement with helping with the first edition of SLA. That had been enough to earn his loyalty and from that, his determination to run a good game. So, after classes, or instead of them, we became Operatives sent on dangerous missions in Cannibal Sector 1. Brave men, women and monsters died in the rain trying to make Mort City a less horrific place. The population watched on as it made great TV and they had nothing else to do.
I think the Quick Start for SLA Industries 2e does a pretty good job at recreating those misty nights. It is, however, only a Quick Start. We have only a sample of the skills and only a fraction of Ebb Disciplines that the Ebonites could hope to master. They’re given only simplified drug rules and generated characters instead of character generation.
I suppose this is the dangerous mission of the Quick Start. It must reveal enough of the game so that the groups can get a feel for what the core rules will be like, but it must not render the core rules unnecessary.
A new player might download the Quick Start guide, get introduced to the system mechanics, get shown only a brief glimpse of the world and rightly think; “Hey, this is different,”. I know they’ve barely scratched the surface.
That first time you take your helmet off in Downtown and breathe in the smell of life there. Fuck me. It’s nasty.”
I don’t have many games that drop the f-bomb on the first page of text. SLA 2e describes itself as “Horror noir”. I hadn’t actually heard that description of it despite years playing the game previously, but it fits like a bloody strangler’s glove.
The game is set in Mort City, which is run by the company SLA Industries. Mort City is on planet Mort, also owned and run by SLA Industries. Mort is part of a universe that SLA Industries has absolute control of. One person owns SLA Industries, and he is called Mr Slayer. I’ve played the game for years and never even come close to meeting him. I imagine it would ruin the game.
Fortunately, there are other celebrities that players can read about, and characters can hope they never meet. There are those serial killers who, on live TV, murder and escape from all Operatives sent to execute them. There are the likes of Halloween Jack, The Figment and Digger. SLA Industries has a fear system, and I think almost every PC would be rolling the dice to see how well their characters were keeping their cool if an investigation suggested Halloween Jack was involved.
It always rains in Mort and civilians are cogs in the machine that keeps the World of Progress expanding.
When there’s not the banal humdrum of commuting from home to work there is mortal danger. There are more than just serial killers, gangs and terrorists out there, there are mutated monsters, hungry for flesh, that are barely contained in the cannibal sectors that brush up against Downtown. The Quick Start makes a brief mention of a new threat too, the Shi’an blood cult.
That’s one of the paradoxes of SLA Industries. It’s as if the whole population hasn’t quite got a firm grip on reality. It’s as if things that happen on TV couldn’t possibly happen in real life, most especially reality TV.
At least I think that’s right. The Quick Start is not able to find any room to explain. It may be the first thing I look up when the full RPG lands.
There are aliens. They’re fairly commonplace. Frothers are human-like, tartan-clad warriors from another planet that take an awful lot of drugs. As I said, SLA has some Scottish blood in it. There are Ebons and Wasters, who also look human, except for pale eyes and missing pupils. Ebons and Wasters can access the Ebb, which is SLA’s own psychic system. There are the bird-aliens called Neophron. They’re new to me. These aliens don’t have wings (which I think many GMs be thankful for) but, like birds, are quite fragile. They specialise in communications and diplomacy.
There are monsters which you can play as characters. In particular, there are the biogenetically engineered Stormers. These horrors are built for combat and violence. SLA Industries rarely takes prisoners.
The Quick Start makes no mention of Shaktars or Wraiths.
SLA 2nd edition system
SLA flits between keeping it simple and simulation.
Active skill checks are made by rolling as many d10s as your stat+skill bonus is plus one. One of those dice will be a different colour (Nightfall Games suggest making that one black).
That one, boldly individual die, is your success die. The success die total, with modifiers, has to equal or beat the target number.
The remaining dice are you skill dice, and your margin of success increases for each of those that (with modifiers) equal the target number. The scope of your failure also depends on the number of skill die that fell short. That means the more skilful you are, the higher the potential for devasting failure.
Combat is a little trickier, as SLA takes a spin towards the simulationist side. Defence is handled by taking some of the dice that could be rolled in an attack and turning them into negative modifiers for your rival’s attack roll. Skilful combatants can split their attention between offence and defence, but less adept fighters might find themselves stuck being entirely defensive until rescued or forced into being dangerously aggressive to land a hit.
There are rules for single shots, bursts and full-auto. Accompanying these are rules for recoil. Every weapon in SLA Industries gets its own set of stats. Simply put; the more bullets you fire at once, the more dice you can reroll to maximise your chances of hitting and the damage you do.
Gunfights are surprisingly rare in SLA Industries. Ammo is frighteningly expensive due to the bullet tax. TV ratings are better when Operatives are dragged into a gory knife fight.
That leads to another mechanic that I rather like in SLA. Players have access to ‘Rating Points’. The Quick Start as a cut down version how Rating works and we can see that players get access to feats by spending the Rating Points they’ve earned. Spend one point, for example, to activate ‘How did you hit that?’ to loose all negative modifiers from a ranged attack. Rating Points represent arrogance, or adrenaline, karma, belief in your own skills or just getting into the swing of things.
There are also some rules for the Ebb in the Quick Start. One of the pregenerated characters in an Ebon. The Ebb is a points-based psychic system in which, like Rating Points, points are spent to activate powers. Unlike Rating Points, Flux points regenerate over time.
SLA 2e layout
My copy of SLA is tattered through use but still contains some of my favourite RPG illustrations. It’s a spacious design, with lots of white space and impactful black and white illustrations.
SLA 2e, based on this teaser, will use colour and will be far more compact.
A two-column format uses multiple coloured backgrounds to highlight text (examples, callouts, world info, associated rules, etc.) The text looks to be smaller print but’s hard to compare my printed first edition to the on-screen Quick Start of the second edition.
In a way it’s the colour I worry about the most. It could challenge my perception of Mort. I’ve always seen as a dismal black and white place, like the worst of rundown Glasgow on a rainy Monday evening when you’re suffering from a nightmare of a hangover. Calling yourself ‘Noir’ means it is not easy to have bright orange stripes on your futuristic battle armour.
The SLA Industries 2e Quick Start is worth having. There have been times when I doubted there would be any more SLA and missing the chance to grab the Quick Start would be a mistake.
Roll on the main rule book. Let’s find out what this new threat from the Shi’an blood cult is like, how Neophron might work as a PC and whether Mort City is more like Kult than Cyberpunk.
Are you interested in checking out SLA Industries 2nd edition?