Rob Whitford playtested Unbound a month or so ago, and he very kindly wrote up the whole thing in exacting detail. If you’re after a more in-depth report of what it’s like from the players’ perspective, take a look.
UNBOUND PLAYTEST WRITEUP
I was kindly sent Unbound to give it a playtest by Grant, one of the writers. I asked if I could have a copy early to test for two reasons, firstly I have wanted to run an RPG for years but never found a system that as a noob I felt confident GMing. Secondly I thought it would be useful for others to see how it feels and plays for a group that has little or no experience of Tabletop roleplaying games.
To be clear, I am not getting paid for this review, I am backing the Kickstarter because I think it looks incredible. The only thing I am getting is to play the game a little early.
After receiving the play test copy of the rules I started to read, for the most part the rules are clear and easy to understand. There are a few concepts that I feel aren’t explained very well, like the limited powers, but nothing I couldn’t work out.
My only real issue with the rules is the order they are in, the character and world creation comes first with the, mechanics (battle and scene rules) after. This meant that while reading about the character options I wasn’t able to understand how each thing worked in relation to the mechanics. This will be easy to fix with a glossary page or even just putting the mechanics first.
I was very excited to get a game started and luckily I wouldn’t have to wait very long.
Our group consists of;
Rob (me) as the GM. My experience is mainly in the board games area, I ran a large board games club before I moved down to Brighton and own far to many games, I even have a Carcassonne tattoo. My experience of RPG’s is limited to playing in one D&D campaign that left quite a bitter taste in my mouth.
Abigail, my fiancé who’s experience is one LARP event and me trying to get her, mostly unsuccessfully into board games. However she is an avid reader of fantasy novels and has a vivid and fantastic imagination.
Alex. Alex is a writer who is big into science fiction and fantasy, he has no experience of tabletop Rpg’s but is part of a group that collectively writes and designs worlds and their lore.
Ellie. Ellie is an artist who creates wonderful drawings, toys and items based on her own imagination, popular fiction like games, anime, tv series and the like. She has also written and drawn her own comic.
This first thing I did was to quickly outline the mechanics, I explained how the decks of cards work and how they fit into the different scenes.
I then told everyone we were going to draw a card each and use the touchstones to come up with the world.
We drew, ALIENS GUNS EXOSKELETONS FIRE first of all, as a group we then decided to draw twice more to give us some options, the next two draws were,
WALLS WAR TRADE NANOTECH
VIRTUAL DISEASE OMENS VEHICLES
We decided to go round the table and talk about what we were thinking for each one, the ideas that came out were, fire beings that needed exoskeletons to function in space, a world that has walled off cities with desolation in-between and trade was difficult between the cities. And lastly a world where people had been infected with a disease that meant they had to live their lives in the virtual world.
We quickly came to the decision that we liked the second option and we started to go into more depth about the world.
The world we created through a tonne of fun, creative and interesting conversation is something we were all excited by, I’ll outline it below.
There was a war, quite a long time ago, several generations at least, in this war humans used machines and nanobots to fight for them, years of destruction abruptly ended when the nanobots decided to take over. The world now is very different, there are vast expanses of wasteland, fit only for the scavengers of the ancient battlefields. Massive walled cities dot the landscape, hundreds of miles between them, these cities are run by nanobots, the hive mind controlling all, and only concerned with humans living long and productive lives. The problem is, is that the nanobots definition of productive is material output.
There are many who have willingly let the nanobots take over their bodies, these are the police force, blissfully happy trapped in their own minds. Most of the workers are content but they have never known anything else, only the few, the top 5% could be called happy and even they have no luxuries, just freedom of time and movement in the city. Every citizen is tracked and augmented by the nano.
Then there are the slums, sprawling filthy shanty towns that surround every city, the starving, the dying, those jacked up on nanodrugs. Life here is hard and short lived. Only those who belong to the slum gangs have any hope of survival.
Trade between these cities is vital but it takes a large and heavily armed crew to move through the wastelands. There are legitimate traders of nano sanctioned goods but also those who deal in the banned luxury items, salt, coffee, cotton, anything that could make life a little better. And that’s not to mention the nanodrugs and nanomeds. These are made from the same source, nanovials of unprogrammed bots.
After this we moved onto the groups core, it was quickly decided that Outlaw would be the most fun and afford the group the most opportunities for mischief and glory.
I asked the questions in the book about the core but also asked several that I thought were important. From this we further built the world and started to mould the group.
We decided that the group was a new small gang formed of a few experienced outlaws. Their goal to break into the cities and steal unprogramed nanovials which they would then turn into nanomeds and sell to the highest bidders, usually the slum gangs.
We were based outside of the capital city- Metro Prime- and not only had to break into the nano production facilities but first into the city its self.
The biggest change came when I asked ‘what do you want and what happens if you don’t get it.’ I was expecting something along the lines of them wanting to get the means to manufacture their own nanovials, or just the biggest haul but Alex instantly said, ‘Overthrow the kingpin.’
This instantly changed the whole mood and set of the game, now it was going to get dirty and underworld. We established that the Kingpin was an all-round dick. Been in power a long time and gotten more brutal and violent as time went buy. The other thing we established was that he was the underground boss in the actual city. Again this provides interesting opportunities in game as the players try to work out how to get in and out of the city and also, if they’re going to become the new bosses in town, how they go unnoticed by the Nano.
We also established that there was another gang that our players trusted, the nanoslicers. These are a group of experts in nano and ancient tech, used by all the other gangs when things brake. Neutral and fair.
Up until this point we’d not really touched on the individual characters but we were having so much fun that we didn’t really mind. Though the Roles came next.
I read briefly through the roles and Alex chose the striker with mobile assault. With a little encouragement and a reminder that he can be whatever he wants and use any weapons he wants he came up with clawed gloves that inject nanobots into the victim to cause damage.
Ellie went for the Protector and after looking at usual enemy damage she chose the Guardian angel skill. When asked about her weapon she talked about having augmentations and guns in her arms that fire both nanos that damage and those that heal. I suggested she might like to have a look at the Mighty weapon trait and we spent some time coming up with the idea that when younger she had been taken and experimented on, she now had cyborg arms, legs, eyes and heart.
Abigail went for the Brawler and Bring it on.
Unfortunately we ran out of time at this point but everyone agreed that this was exciting and a hell of a lot of fun, we spent the car journey home talking about the possibilities for the world and the characters.
I loved the open world creation, the idea that we can do or be anything is so exciting. As the GM I loved building the world with my players but I also at certain times made decisions at points where I had ideas. The main one of these was when we started talking about the way through the walls into the city. I asked if I could work that out on my own to give them a surprise and everyone happily agreed.
All of our first impressions were overwhelmingly positive and we are planning the completion of the characters and the start of our adventure next week.
Throughout this write up I have said “we” a lot. I almost changed this but left it because it feel right. As the GM I don’t feel on the outside, I feel invested in the world and characters. As a team we made what we are going to play through and I think that is fantastic.
A week later we got together again and first had a quick recap of where we were, then we jumped straight back into the character and would creation
Alex had decided to go with the shadow skill with the In the dark ability. He learnt to fight like he does because he was kidnapped as a teenager and forced to become an assassin. Exploring this a bit more we came up with the idea that it was something to do with the nano and he had been taken, then placed back into the city as a production worker unaware of his abduction or training. As far as he knows the nano in his head malfunctioned and he managed to break free and escape to the underground. He is now excited by his abilities and has joined the group to experiment and use his powers. He also fears the light as during his captivity he was kept in the dark and when the lights came on it meant that his tormentors? trainers were coming.
Ellie had decided on and fleshed out her character during the previous session but we briefly touched on how the augmentations had come about. She decided she was also abducted but as a child of 9/10, her abductors were from the Kingpin’s gang and this is her motivation for being in the group.
Abi in the meantime was having a great time coming up with a vivid back story for her character. At a few points I had to rein her in as she went wildly off topic or into completely too much detail. Abi ended up just telling us about her character and as things fitted with needed aspects of the game I fit them in.
Her character, Brandol, had been a furniture maker turned trader who’s brother had joined the kingpin’s gang. During a gang fight between them and another gang, the Rippers, Brandol’s wife and child had been killed in the crossfire. Brandol had then killed his brother and set out on a rampage of revenge.
From this we managed to create Brandol’s trait and foundations, Rage with berserker skill, he took a shipment through spider’s pass (creating a new type of nano controlled robot) and he used to be an artist.
Alex’s foundations are,
he broke into the nanoslicers base and stole a hard drive, they don’t know it was him and he doesn’t know what’s on the drive.
He spent time in the city as a citizen
Ellie’s are, she fought the harshness of the wastes and survived. And before she was abducted her parents were illegal rice farmers in the wastes.
These foundation mostly came naturally and needed little time or thought to come into being. Because we has the world mostly figured out it was easy to draw on different aspects to flesh characters out. The only downside to this is that I found people were fitting things into already existing ideas rather than creating new ones.
During this I had been asking questions and fleshing out the factions. The book isn’t very clear on how many you should have but we had naturally come up with three so I just went with that.
We have the Brainwashers run by the kingpin, they use nano to wipe people’s memories and control them and some of the citizens are actually brainwashed instead of controlled by the nano. Their strengths are their numbers and power with overconfidence as their weakness. The face of the brainwashed are HYDRA, a set of identical androids that are used to send messages and make demands.
The Nano splicers were mentioned earlier and are a group of nano and old tech experts. Their strengths are knowledge and their weakness is money. They are loyal to the employer and will not ever go back on a job once paid. They are run by a consortium of researchers and they will find you if you need them.
The last faction are the Rippers. These are the guys who killed Brandol’s wife and child in a gang fight with the brainwashed. They are the only major rival of the brainwashed and are a bunch of twisted sadists. They kill by gutting their victims and splaying their corpses. They are led by Buckley and their face is Clapton (we were picking names and ideas from games and albums mounted on my walls). Their strengths are their viciousness and daring but the members are not very loyal to the leader.
Next we talked over our fates, the part of the game that will decide events and scenes. As the GM I picked that the brainwashers were going to take over Metro prime. This means that the players know at some point their goal is going to get a lot harder.
Alex picked for himself that he was going to lead some enemies into a perfect trap and as a group we decided that his other fate was going to be the unencrypt the hard drive he stole from the nanoslicers.
Ellie picked destroying a brainwasher stronghold where he kidnappers were based and we picked for her that her parents are going to turn up.
Abi is going to kill Buckley, the leader of the Rippers and then we chose that she’s going to have to choose between killing the Kingpin or letting hundreds of innocents die.
We were all quite excited by the fates, we had a lovely mix of battle scenes, dramatic scenes and plain old hard decisions.
Scars were next, Alex had migraines from his sensitivity to light, Abi had hatred for the brainwashers and the rippers and Ellie went for malfunctioning eye implants.
Lastly people named and described their characters:
Alex: Otto, a shadowy ninja who’d been abducted by the nano and trained against his will before being slotted back into citizenship. Recently escaped he is out to have fun with his skills and powers.
Abi: Brandol, a black market trader who’s life turned dark after the death of his wife and child due to his brother’s gang affiliations. Out for revenge unable to control the rage inside.
Ellie: Nola, 24 years old and 60% machine, abducted from her parents rice farm and experimented on until she escaped years later. Out for revenge wanting to hurt those who ruined her life.
Wanting to jump straight into the action we decided to fulfil Nola’s fate of destroying a brainwasher stronghold linked to her abduction. We described the areas and ended up with the areas, City, walls, courtyard, canteen, barracks, armoury and mainframe.
I chose the enemies and picked the marquis of hell as the elite (called The Manager) with one of his troops and three mooks. I chose these guys because as they’re wounded they bring more bad guys in which I tough would simulate a bas full of bad guys well. I also chose the hangover twist which simulated the players celebrating their first raid a bit too heavily the night before. This meant that every move action they made did one stamina damage.
We decided that if the players won then they would destroy the base and their identities would be unknown, also Nola would complete a fate. If they lost they they would be discovered by the kingpin and followed back to their base.
I’m not going to describe the whole battle as it would take forever but there were some amazing bits that are worth mentioning.
The players started out in the city area having to get past the snipers (troop) I’d put on the wall, Nola, the long range healer, went first and started to shoot at the sniper doing decent damage. This was followed up by Alex doing a run in and strike with a boost that let him move again after the turn, he moved off the wall and deeper into the stronghold. Brandol the berserker climbed the wall and started laying into the sniper. Early on people were taking small but constant damage from moving due to the twist and also because id made the connection from the city to the wall Challenging 2. However this was mitigated by the fact for the fist three rounds the highest card I drew was a 6. By this time the sniper was on its last legs, Otto had been battering the mooks while dodging shots from the elite and the worse-than-mooks the sniper summoned when wounded were doing nothing of consequence.
Nola took the last shot at the sniper, her nanovial hitting him in the neck she watched as the black bots spread in a ring under the skin, then suddenly black tendrils burst outward and the ring exploded sending the head soaring off the wall.
I decided that when the sniper died that the wall was no longer challenging and this allowed Nola to move inside the stronghold.
With all three players inside the base the Manager finally showed himself, Charging out of the mainframe he was massive, a true giant of a man, he had black metal legs with thick black metal bands around his arms and chest. His shoulders were lined with little cannons that shot intensely hot balls of metal at the players.
He charged at Brandol and finally I managed to do more than graze someone, brandol took a wound and spent the next turn recovering. Next was Nola and the first of three jokers, luckily for her it was used on a successful shoot action and in addition to the damage it destroyed the Manager’s ranged weapons. While Otto kept the mooks busy Brandol re-entered the fray and on his next attack drew his scar, opting to let me decide what happened I forced brandol to go berserk. This meant an already battered Brandol had bleed 2, was unable to recover but now did extra damage and counted strike cards of A-5 as tens. For a few more rounds the players battled away with the Manager taking more wounds and using his powers to move around the map and summon some more allies. The players were taking as many hits as they gave out but were refusing to use their heal actions, instead just relentlessly battering away. The next big blow came with the next joker, this time it was Otto on a successful strike, again I was asked to decide the outcome. This time the Manager fell back as he was wounded and impaled himself on a metal antenna sticking out of the side of a building. Now he couldn’t shoot or move but he was angry.
Otto and Brandol were taking hits and dealing out damage to the mooks and summoned minions almost blow for blow, my draws had picked up now that all of my low cards had been used and I was starting to do some serious damage. All three players had less than 15 cards in their decks. There was one mook left and two summoned hounds with only one wound each. Brandol was doing the worst with bleed 4 now active and still unable to recover or heal
Again the players decided to keep fighting rather than heal themselves. It was getting desperate with the fight needing to be won soon or the players were going to be getting more scars. Otto realising the need for Brandol to stop getting hit charged at The Manager and used In The Dark to remove themselves to a separate combat where they could only strike each other. Otto’s last attack left the manager on one wound and he decided to let the Manager act next. Opting to attack rather than try and escape the dark the manager used strike twice drawing a 7 and a joker. The next card was a 9.
I played the 9 with the joker and resolved the 7 first, it was a hit. Now the 9 on a joker, defending Otto drew a ten. It was all over, making his first swing the Manager hit Otto but the hit was so hard that Otto fell backwards, the second swing sailed over Otto and the momentum pulled the Manager off the antenna he was impaled upon, spinning round he tripped and fell face first onto the spike, his head exploding in gore.
Seeing their leader die in this way the remaining enemies fled the scene leaving Nola to explore the mainframe and realise these were the people who’d experimented on her years before, their methods and results improved and adapted but shed never forget those chairs with the clamps and injectors. Taking great pleasure in the act she planted the explosive charges. Otto wiped the security feed and they left before flicking the switch and walking away from the explosion.
As Nola had completed one of her fates she got to draw a card and make it a story card. She drew a King and wrote on it that shed destroyed her abductor’s base. Because a story card gives you a boost as if it was a face card and it is already a face card it means that if drawn in battle, Nola can choose any Boost and fit it to the situation.
As a whole the battle scenes work fantastically as long as you remember to describe and embellish the mechanics. At one point we forgot this and it just turned into cards being drawn against each other. As soon as I realised I started asking people to describe their actions and soon we were back into an exciting battle. Using the cards with he proficiencies works well and its well balanced. Choosing the outcomes also gives the players a lot more control over what happens in the story.
The players headed back to their base and after a bit of describing themselves recovering from the battle Otto decided to take a look at that hard drive he had stolen.
This started our first dramatic scene.
Considering the hard drive was taken from the Nanoslicers, experts I tech, I made this a medium difficultly needing 5 successes before 3 failures. The outcomes were, success and Otto would receive information on the main gang hideouts and their finances. If he failed then the Nanoslicers would be able to trace the hack back to their hideout.
Otto went first describing how he was using his experience of hacking and computers to inform what he was doing, this gave him a proficiency of two. He drew an Ace vs my 7 so was successful.
Next Nola offered to plug the hard drive into her mechanical operating system to see if she could find a way around the encryption. She drew a 5 vs my Q. 1:1
Brandol having no experience with this type of thing but wanting to help made the others some food to keep them going. He drew a 2 vs my 9, accidentally forgetting that starchy food makes people sleepy. 1:2
Otto went again, writing a programme to help decrypt the hard drive, no foundation for this and he drew a J vs my J. Players win draws so it was 2:2
Nola deciding she was best suited to helping Otto himself rather than trying her electronic skills tried to rewrite a nanovial to increase Otto’s concentration. She drew a 7 and I drew a joker with a 10. this made 2 successes to 3 fails.
Unfortunately Otto had forgotten to hide their address while connected to the network and the Nanoslicers had traced him back to the base. Because of the joker I also decided the hard drive blew up, sending shrapnel into Otto’s leg. This removed his move proficiency for the next battle.
So how were we all feeling after our first experiences of scenes and completing the world/character creation?
Me as the GM, I was thoroughly excited at what we had created. I love the freedom the game gives you. Where there are rules they can be interpreted and adapted to suit the group and situation. But there aren’t many rules in the first place, just enough to give you a framework.
As for the players the feedback was also great, all the players were looking forward to the next fates being uncovered and how their characters are going to react the how the gangs manoeuvre.
We are all new to roleplaying games and as such the answers to questions and the building of the world hasn’t been as spontaneous as in the live streams from the creators. But we’ve found that the players are happy for me to come up with what happens when the decision needs to be quick. As such I have taken on the role of a more traditional GM but with the players input and decisions too.
Pros: world building is amazing, the cards and the mechanics are unique and fun, there is no need for any preparation from anyone, it is infinitely moldable to what you want it to be.
Cons: the only con I can really find is in the rulebook, it isn’t ordered well and some of the information is vague. But please bear in mind that I only have an old playtest version and it is not the finished product. Also if you have a group that aren’t quick with ideas and the GM isn’t able to lead them then it could stagnate.