Vultures is a sci-fi tabletop RPG from John Battle.
The rules-light RPG is an exciting twist on what would otherwise be a familiar sci-fi setting. Vultures is post-mecha.
In the future, mecha have been banned. These are weapons that can destroy cities, even planets and they’re operated by rogue pilots who won’t turn their license in. There may also be sinister warminds, AIs making inhuman calculations.
Characters in the game work for the new Space Mom mega hegemony as bounty hunters sent after these renegade pilots. Characters are known as vultures.
Here’s the Vultures application for approval. It’s the text that the RPG opens with.
You want to be a Vulture! This is great news for you and a very smart decision if I may add. Space Mom welcomes you to the application process and hopes you understand the seriousness with which she takes each and every applicant.
This is why she makes sure that body-recovery of fallen Vultures is very low on her priority programming. You wouldn’t want the people you left behind to see your horribly mangled body, would you? That’s just selfish. Space Mom promises to pretend you’re just “Lost in Space” (or LIS for short) until you return. Even if you never do. (smile for the camera)
Speaking of Life, how’s yours? Is your mum okay? Have you been getting your fruits and veg? How many glasses of water do you drink between sleep cycles? I hope you’re writing your answers in the margins of your application because these are serious questions, and I will not repeat myself.
Before moving forward with the application, please be aware that Space Mom has sent this application along with a helpful “Buddy Bot (™)”, but do not be fooled. Buddy Bot (™) is unable to answer any questions you have because it was not programmed with any of the meat-languages you speak. This is for HR concerns. We accept your apology and hope to be seeing you at the next orientation seminar. Stay star-side. Stay safe.
So, out of the blue, there are touches of the Paranoia RPG to Vultures. One of the backgrounds is even ‘Code Heretic’.
However, whereas Paranoia’s style is slick and serious-looking, and the gameplay goofy, Vultures looks friendly and warm, but the gameplay leans towards the sinister. At least in my experience.
The players and their characters will quickly realise that they’re on the wrong side. The ex-pilots they are hunting are people who have been abandoned by their government. Yes, some of them may have destroyed cities, but those were the commands of Space Mom at the time, and so there are all sorts of ethical considerations.
A core of the game is to see when the players decide to become rebels as well.
The mechanics are straightforward; get higher than 10 on 1d20. If you’ve any skills, then add them in. Skills are three-word phrases of your own design. For example; “Reads ancient books”, “Fires blaster cannon” or “Has perfect aim”.
I’m especially fond of The Daring Die mechanic. When a character is trying to protect another team member, the GM hands them an extra d20 – the Daring Die. The Daring Die is rolled along with the usual dice and the best result taken. Protecting someone gives you a bonus. At the end of that roll, whether it was successful or not, the Daring Die is given to the team member that was being protected. It can only be passed along in this manner.
That’s it. Vultures is 21-pages long, and I think it packs quite a punch.
The game works for me because of the subtle but impactful twists and turns. I can easily imagine presenting this game to players, with a straight face, as a bounty-hunter sci-fi. It’ll be fun letting them work out that they’re the baddies although I’ll have to work out just how strange to make the interactions with “Mom” in that scenario.
I played Vultures without the misdirection, though. One player thought it was an anti-nanny State commentary. It might be. However, another thought it was a reminder of the importance of working together for society rather than just letting the future become a survival of the fittest challenge. The third just thought it was an updated version of Paranoia.
It’s been a while since a tabletop RPG sparked a discussion like that. I appreciated it.
You can buy this RPG from John Battle’s Itch.io
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!