(Full Disclosure: I was provided a free pdf copy for review by PROJECT publisher Postmortem Studios. I have also donated in the past to a scholarship fund run by James Desborough completely unrelated to this or any other Postmortem Studios game or product.)
Last week, I was given a review copy of PROJECT, a new Open D6 sci-fi/magitek Role Playing Game from Postmortem Studios, to check out, and I’ve got to say that it’s made me want to give the old D6 system another go.
In the world of PROJECT, players assume the roles of cybernetically enhanced humans who are part of a crack team of mercenaries whose job is keeping the world safe from the encroachment of fey-like entities whose very existence causes psychic disturbances in the fabric of reality. On the surface, PROJECT looks something like a supers game, but what you get is more sort of a Ghost in the Shell meets Call of Cthulhu. There are a lot of places where one could take this, ranging from down the dark gritty cybercthulhu rabbit-hole to all-out wacky gonzo hijinks.
The book opens with a lengthy PROJECT “Employee Manual” which serves as an immersive in-universe guide to what PROJECT is, who the PCs are as members of PROJECT, and a little bit about the world and corporate culture that pervades PROJECT. I’ve gotten so used to DM-directed content that reading a book that starts out with a player intro to the game and its setting was strangely refreshing. That said, the player-aimed intro is probably going to be most helpful to a GM who is trying to get a feel for the setting and whatever aesthetic and aspect of the PROJECT world they might want to run with, including setting up a “home base” and a framework of the kinds of missions the group will undertake.
One thing I find particularly interesting is that it includes in-universe “don’t be stupid/don’t be a jackass guidelines”. While games shouldn’t need them in theory, it’s nice to have a place to point to and be able to address players in character in such a way as to say “quit being a dick”; “Your behavior is in violation of PROJECT ethical and behavioral regulations; as such, continued behavior may result in penalties, docked pay or termination” gives you a nice way to say “seriously, you need to quit being an asshole or I’m going to kill your character”.
The equal opportunities nods might seem a bit silly, but because the setting details on dress codes, gender identities and whatnot are written as an in-universe HR document, it works pretty well. The implications along with the cyber-tech setting really invites a lot of play into transhumanist themes (cuz seriously, what’s the point of cyborg sci-fi if you’re not going to delve into transhumanism and existentialist themes?)
A lot of the book is devoted to setting. Strangely, though, I didn’t really pick up on as much of the setting as I think I should’ve from the “Employee Manual” entry section. The further along one gets in the materials, the more the sci-fi façade slips and the magicality of the setting starts to emerge. What seems like a not-long-after-the-end setting turns out to be a so-long-after-the-end-it’s-a-new-beginning setting. A few hundred years after the end of the world, those who were able to still use the old technology managed to reconsolidate power, and PROJECT is the Knights Templar of this new order.
The specifics of the setting make for interesting reading, and could maybe be used as a plot hook or two, but for the most part, I think a lot can safely be tossed out in favor of “post-post-apocalyptic bad stuff with local flavor be here”. Fortunately, the game and most of its concepts aren’t inextricable from the specifics of the setting. As long as you kept the basics intact, you can probably give whatever history you want or need for your game of PROJECT.
The one major gripe I have with the setting details is that for all of the time spent on world-building, PROJECT itself is left fairly vague. I think a more concise explanation of how PROJECT came to be and how it managed to be the One True Global Power would’ve been nice. On the other hand, it does give GMs a bit of leeway to come up with their own explanations.
PROJECT has some pretty sweet classes; there’s really no vanilla or mundane class that would leave someone like they felt stuck playing something that wasn’t fun or interesting. As much as I love D&D, I’ve seen how being the fighter or the dwarf can be seen as a chore: you have to be the guy who doesn’t have as much cool stuff going on but you’re needed to balance out the party. That’s definitely not the case for PROJECT.
Borg – At first, you look at the Borg class and think fighter/tank, because these guys have been fully cyberized. While powerful and capable fighters, what you are really getting here is the stealth advantages of being completely dehumanized to the point where your identities are as interchangeable as your parts. Of course it’s kind of creepy only being able to express oneself using masks…
Empath – The Empath is your planner, coordinator, defensive/offensive psychic, your Jean Grey. While not quite the pyrotechnician as the Psyker or the Witch, you’ll have plenty of power to mind-fry baddies and make them dance like puppets.
Golem – Golems have been engineered into hulking giants with the strength to tear apart just about anything. When the psychics and empaths can’t use magic to solve a problem, the Golem is there to punch through. Part of the safeguards used by PROJECT on Golems is that they’ve been made ‘simple’.
Grunt – At first glance, the Grunt seems like he might be kind of boring compared to the other classes with their wild and over-the-top modifications, but with a plug-n-play interface for a wide range of psy-weapons, the Grunt is probably the most versatile of all the augments. Plus, being still mostly human, they don’t have quite the range of mental issues that the other augments do.
Medusa – The Medusa are the next step beyond the Borg; rather than having their humanity almost entirely stripped away, the Medusa were never human to begin with. The disadvantage is that this type is much more likely to become unhinged (“go ‘Frankenstein’” is how the book puts it). While being close to a straight-fighter type, there’s a lot of versatility in where you can run with the Medusa’s advantages and disadvantages.
Psyker – The Psyker is your Akira-style blow stuff up with your mind class. Less subtle than the Empaths, Psykers are masters of offensive and defensive telekinesis. These guys are the bread & butter of a psychic army.
Wytch – At the risk of sounding like Tim Brannan, I totally want to give this class a go. The Wytches have developed an understanding of the nature of the catastrophe that destroyed earth and the entities that it unleashed to such a degree that their skill in using technology to manipulate and control them is akin to magic. As a mage class, I’m somewhat reminded of (I think it was) Tales of Vesperia, where magic was actually accessing and rewriting the code of the supercomputer that controlled the world on the fly. They’re more defense-oriented than the Psyker or Empath and have healing abilities, but they’re also able to summon and bind the various monstrous entities that threaten the world.
One of the running themes across all classes and throughout PROJECT in general is that the psy-tech enhancements are not without their risks and drawbacks, particularly the psychological drawbacks. All of the classes have various issues with how their modifications affect their psyches, ranging from issues with depression to full blown violent psychosis as a side-effect from dehumanization. Depending on where you want to go with this, your game can be anywhere from simple over-the-top action to some really introspective stuff looking into what is it to be human.
It’s only a minor complaint, but each “class” gets a description in three different places. Part of this might just be from my unfamiliarity with the open d6 system and the content folks generally make for it, but think I would’ve preferred a one page matrix of each class’s starting stats in the character creation section to get a better at-a-glance comparative view of the classes. Also, Kinetic Kineses (Kinetic Telekinesis, for example) seem a bit redundant, but, again, it’s a small complaint.
There’s not a ton of art in the PROJECT book, but what is there is great. It’s enough to give you a feel of setting and the tone without being a distraction or – worse – trying to distract from a mediocre product. It’s all line-art, very clean, with limited shading to give it that digital comic feel. There are only a handful of ‘characters’ featured in the book, and most of them only get a few illustrations each, but even just within those, they all have a lot of personality.
The Wytch looks awesome.
As I said before, I’m willing to give the D6 system another go to check this out. It’s an easy to grasp setting and the book offers plenty of adventure hooks. Someone already familiar with the D6 system could probably pick this up and run it right away. Fortunately, D6 is simple enough anyone not particularly familiar with it could still probably pick it up and run it after double checking a few things now and again. It’s a solid product with a lot going for it. If your group is into weird science, Cthulhu-tech, cyberpunk or the such, there’s a lot to like. It certainly has more crunch than a micro like Pockets, but if you wanted to play a game with a similar feel that has a bit more teeth to it, PROJECT’s got you covered.
If this had been put out by anyone besides Postmortem Studios, it would not even bear mentioning, but PROJECT is very much a “general audiences” title with nothing salacious about it whatsoever (punk-fairy giving the middle finger aside). You’d be fine picking this up and running it for anybody.
Once the print edition becomes available, I’ll probably be putting it on my wishlist. In the meantime, you can download a pdf copy from RPGNow.