My side project for the last few weeks has been to read through the Quantum RPG beta rules and get an impression of them. For anyone that isn't in the know, the Quantum RPG is a "science fantasy" RPG that has been the project of Josh Frost, former Pathfinder Society chief, as well as a major contributor to other RPG products, such as Pathfinder campaign setting books and sourcebooks for the Song of Ice and Fire RPG.
The setting is in the far future on an artificial world that set off from Earth a long, long time ago. There was a Catastrophe Most Foul, and then the inhabitants forgot most of what they knew about their advanced science, and now you have several species of creatures living on an artificial world, using technological items they don't quite understand and drawing power from the central Prime power source to do "magic" seeming things.
The setting itself is a little hard to peg down. It's kind of a mash up of Gamma World style post apocalypse (but not as grim, and with better grasp of technology), Warhammer 40K (again, not as grim, but with that whole, "we can use technology, and repair it, but not recreate it" vibe), and Pathfinder/D&D (the character archetypes are very much geared towards having some niche things that only that archetype does well, and there are definitely classes that are essentially "science druid" sort of analogies). Add to all of that a kind of steam punk-ish coat.
The races and archetypes seem like they would be fun to play. On top of that, I like the idea that the martial classes don't so much have "powers," but they do have their own fatigue meter, not unlike the "magic meter" for the casting classes, to pull off more powerful stunts.
The vibe actually very reminiscent of some of the better, earlier "science fantasy" RPGs for video game platforms, and I mean that as a compliment. Some of the earlier examples of these games were great, imaginative games.
The book itself is beautifully laid out, and looks better than a lot of finished RPGs. On top of that, the artwork is gorgeous.
Right off the bat, the book takes an almost scholarly, scolding tone. Immediately we get what almost feels like a shot at any RPG that has ever had sexy artwork in it, and are told that we will have none of that here, thank you very much.
I get it, but it was heavy handed. It almost makes is sound like the Quantum RPG is the first RPG that will be concerned about not objectifying women. It also struck me as a little odd that we get hammered with just how equal men and women are in the Quantum setting, and then have an archetype that is drawn primarily from among the ranks of female orphans.
That scholarly scolding tone doesn't go away once you move on from gender issues either. There are a few races that have certain personality traits, but once those traits are introduced, we are immediately told not to play those traits as one dimensional, because that is the wrong way to have fun with this game.
The whole section on emergent complexity can come across as a bit preachy as well, as does the game's version of rule zero, which has the much more lecture hall friendly title "The Rules Incline Us, They Don't Bind Us."
Josh, however, is a talented writer, and I've enjoyed his Pathfinder and SOIAF material, so I didn't want to let the tone of some of the sections get in my way of reading the material and finding out if I would like to play Quantum.
Diving into the rules . . . well, how can I sum up the rules? If you take the concept of Pathfinder/D&D with it's classes and races and change that to archetypes and races, and then meld that concept onto a percentile resolution system like the old Warhammer Fantasy/Current Warhammer 40K RPGs, but then rework the percentages into columns and turn them backwards, so that good is a high roll instead of a low roll, then you add in multiple damage tracks, so that before your character hits "zero," they might have four or five conditions tacked onto them, and on top of that, your "magic meter" or "fatigue" to limit your stunts or "spells" isn't just a meter, it's also a damage track that also might give you four or five conditions before you hit zero . . . well, that about sums it up, I think.
On top of that, there is a whole section talking about how the combat system should be played like chess, and you choose a stance and hide it from the Guide, and he does the same with monsters, with the implication being that combat should be transparent, but have so many options that it can be mastered by savvy players.
So if you are a Guide that wants to tell a story, and it includes combat, and you are too busy with juggling story and campaign and the needs of four or five players to get something out of the session to learn the fiddly bits of the game and how X maneuver should be used with Y action to produce Z effect in order to challenge your players . . . you will probably end up throwing overpowered stuff at your players and hoping for the best.
So you basically have all of the complexity of d20 merged with the complexity of 40k RPGs. And you should be playing chess as well.
I still had the section of the rulebooks detailing "equations," the setting's equivalent to spells, to go by the time I wrote this, but nothing in the rest of the book would indicate to me that reading through the "spells" would make the rest of the game look less complicated.
There seemed to be some real personality to the setting itself, but some of that gets filed down with all of the scholarly "don't play it this way" commentary, so that it feels like it's almost interesting, except that everyone at the table must be willing to be combat chessmasters that create deeply nuanced characters, or else you're doing it wrong.
I don't want to be overly hard on Josh Frost. The game looks beautiful, and there seems like there is a lot to like between the covers, but the initial complexity of the offering makes it unlikely that I would spend the time to drill down to the good stuff and come up with any potential solutions to make the finished product any better.