RPG Review: Tribe 8
RPG Review - Tribe 8 1st Ed., 1998, 208pp
Published by Dream Pod 9
TLDR: 3 out of 5 ('Interesting game, I kind of like it')
Tribe 8 is a far out post-apocalyptic game set in and around the island of Vimary, a sort of future Montreal. The apocalypse, whatever it was, happened a long time ago and its causes are lost. Memories of the old world are also largely lost, though its crumbing remains as still quite evident in the form of semi-intact buildings, metro tunnels, landmarks, and elevated expressways.
The apocalypse (or was it the Rapture?) was caused when an alien or demonic race called the Z'bri showed up and, like mad, drunken lords, broke the world and enslaved the human race. A number of 'nomads' appeared in the camps at that time and taught the people how to summon The Fatimas, avatars of the 'goddess', to fight back. They pushed the Z'bri north and seem to have bought some peace. The humans are now divided into 7 principle tribes, each of which follows one of the Fatimas in a sort of dystopian society. The eighth tribe is a new one, being formed by the outcasts of the tribal society, and it's this tribe that the PCs ostensibly belong to, forming a small pack.
The setting is a real winner, as far as I'm concerned, and is what originally drew me to the game. The portrayal of this future, overgrown and half-drowned world, at once familiar to me (I'm from Montreal) and also very different, fantastical, is quite well done.
The Fatimas are weird, numinous creations almost like cyber-constructs, that reflect certain human aspects - love, pleasure, old age, motherhood, justice, battle, capriciousness.They are neither good nor evil - or perhaps they are both. The Z'bri aliens are enigmatic.
Although a lot of text is devoted to describing the world, its mostly done from the point of view of voices within the setting. There really is very little direct setting exposition from the author - no section that just tells you how it is. Rather, you get a bunch of viewpoints from within the setting, many contradictory, and the reader is left to interpret and figure the rest out on their own. This may infuriate some readers, but other will find it inspiring and, perhaps, liberating. for not having to follow canon.
The rules are fairly traditional, described as a simulation. The core dice mechanic calls for multiple D6s to be rolled, with the highest single die roll to act as the total. Rolling multiple sixes adds 1 to the initial six for each extra one rolled. Rolling all ones is a fumble. To this are added a host of modifiers. The idea is to beat a target number (4 or 5 being 'moderate' or 'challenging'). The more you beat it by, the higher the level of success.
This is a skill-based system and skill levels increase the number of rice rolled. The core mechanic is simple enough and looks effective enough to me on paper. Some of the subsystems, though, like combat, have a lot of modifiers to be applied to rolls, which is something I find really bogs down a game in counting, I have my doubts about how fluid the system really is.
The magic subsystem is interesting because, like Ars Magica, it allows freeform effects, giving guidelines as to how the gauge the power use for various spell-like effects. Each Fatima and each faction of the 8th tribe offers unique ways tap into the River of Dream to shape magic. I thought this was the most interesting subsystem and the shamanistic feel makes a nice break from the usual spell lists.
The game feels very 90s. It presents a basically simulationist system with a lot of the advice to new players and GMs couched in that misleading old 'It's the GM's job to tell a story' kind of nonsense. If you're able to read between the lines to discover that what they really mean is that this is a game about sharing experiences and not telling stories, you'll find there's some decent advice toward that end. Other aspects of this game that make it seem very '90s' to me are the presence of a metric ton of splat-book type supplements. (most of which I likely won't be bothered to try and collect). And it has a published metaplot that reveals what the creators had in mid for the characters of the Fatimas. But I think you can play the game largely from the core book, and both the splats and the metplot supplements can be ignored.
Overall, I'm giving this three stars, which amounts to a 'yeah, I kinda like it' but doesn't go so far as 'great game' or 'Wow!'. The setting and some of the setting trappings (magic/synthesis) are cool. The expression is the setting is interesting, but could be improved upon. The setting is only lightly described (but there are supplements if you want to get into it more). Some of the mechanisms are overly heavy (i.e. too many combat modifiers) but the core is light. The writing is midling, but the art is fairly evocative. If you run this from the book, invest in some reading glasses - the text is very small!
This is not a high priority game for me to play, but I'll read a few more of the supplements that expand on the setting. And I think there are enough interesting things in the mechanics to inspire some of my own projects, and those things alone made the book a worthwhile read.