Over the weekend I picked up and read Box Ninja’s 3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars roleplaying game. It’s a steal at $10/8€ for the 96-page, very well laid out PDF.
It is a traditional roleplaying game with a gamemaster and 1-5 (or more) players, probably works best with gamemaster and 3-4 others. You need some dice (d6, d10) and some experience with gung-ho military science fiction. It’s obviously Starship Troopers and Aliens territory, but with a rather large dose of the absurdly phobic world of Nemesis The Warlock and other 2000AD fare.
The game is played in a campaign format, with many shorter missions forming a whole. Players portray troopers who are sent out to kill every last living thing in the cosmos in the name of the paradise that is Terra. This is not comedic in the least. Satirical, well, if you want it to be, but funny? No. It is really splendidly written, somehow managing to both grin with glee in the kill-happy machismo of its source material and at the same time “out-Verhoeven Verhoeven”, as Robin Laws put it.
The game itself is a very straight, very well-designed bug hunt. The troopers kill aliens, the troopers die, the troopers move to a new planet. All well and good. The smart stuff is between the details – in the orders that are revealed to the troopers as they move up in the ranks (to make sure the expeditionary force never returns to Terra), in the gear they can requsition later on (Planet Killers, Star Killers and so forth), in the planet creation rules (with enemies like other troopers who have grown tired of killing) and in the flashback mechanics, which eventually flesh out your troopers beyond being just a name and a one-line “reputation” description. (“Trooper Dog? He smells.”) Flashbacks are used as a means of getting out of a sticky situation by revealing something about your past, either finding new strengths or failing on your own terms – typically, instead of dying.
The troopers have three statistics: their name (just a single name will do for now, thanks), their Fighting Ability and their Non-Fighting Ability. FA and NFA are scaled on 1-10. You need to roll under your score on a D10 to succeed. There are very few modifiers, usually it’s a straight roll. Combat is a matter of trying to get to your weapon’s optimum range and killing the bugs before they kill your buddies or you. Your guns only have one statistic: how many aliens they kill at a given range (ranging 1-d100 for the small guns). Even though the scale and pace seem outrageous, it’s geared towards requiring smart, tactical play and very tight roleplaying. Your players will be wrestling with each other over getting the most kills. Kills is the only stat you’re tracking aside from rank, much like an online fragfest.
The gamemaster does not need to do much preparatory work. There is a checklist for building planets for the troopers to kill. This is not a “choose one or make one up” kind of deal, it’s an actual checklist. You pick a feature (type of planet, alien) and cross it off, only using it again if the troopers keep on trucking after they’ve done twenty (!) planets’ worth of killing. Many of the options present you with tactically and atmospherically interesting setups, others are likely to cause discomfort with your troopers.
It’s smart, it’s entertaining, it’s focused. I especially admire its mechanics – there is nothing you don’t absolutely need to run the game, and all of it support what it’s trying to do. Stellar stuff, I can’t wait to play it.