I could not wait to start writing this! I’m a huge fan of Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and when this little beauty rolled up on Kickstarter I couldn’t back it fast enough.
Apex: Astounding Thrills produced by Outland Entertainment and designed by Alan Bahr combines my love of RPGs with my first love - dinosaurs. Oh, a match made in heaven!
The Astounding Thrills RPG is set in a Diesel Pulp universe, where the Wild West meets Tarzan and Indiana Jones, seriously, what’s not to love?
The World in Apex has been loosely based around the 1930s in terms of the type of technology you have available to you, so there are trains, but they’re typically steam-driven, and planes are small and light, like the Bristol F2 Fighter seen in The Mummy (the 1999 movie of course). Adventurers can get around by modern means, but they’re slower than they would be now, and not everywhere has roads or the transport links that you’d associate with today’s vast networks. Plus, and this is my favourite part, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World is in fact a reality, meaning dinosaurs and ancient reptiles still roam the Earth! So being the Masters of the animal kingdom we think we are, we have of course roped the dinosaurs into our daily lives, using them for riding, heavy lifting, and other works.
It’s like if the Flintstones decided to visit the 1930s . . .
Well, hopefully the above gives you some idea of the type of world you’ve landed in, let's get down to character creation!
Like most RPGs you’re splitting your character attributes into fairly standard types, Strength, Charisma, Intelligence, and so on. Each player rolls 4D6 (or 4 x 6 sided die, for those new to the terminology) removing your lowest scoring die to get your final count for that particular attribute. On my first rolling, my character had some pretty weird scores . . .
Strength (physical power) = 14
Intelligence (IQ and problem solving) = 12
Wisdom (insight and good judgement) = 13
Constitution (health and endurance) = 7
Dexterity (coordination and quickness) = 6
Charisma (leadership ability) = 10
Basically, my character was fairly strong but had such a low dexterity that they would likely trip over their own feet, and with such a poor constitution roll I wouldn’t be able to take much damage. Imagine Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being taken out by a 5-year-old. . .
Your overall score in these areas can lead to some bonuses, and there are some handy hints in the book to help with balancing out some of your character stats.
Once you have your stats, then you can look at picking a class. Now usually you would align your stats to the closest class. Got a high intelligence? Then the Academic would be right up your street! But this is the realm of RPG, and we’re not above allowing the clutz of the party to become a Martial Artist, or the scrawny kid from becoming the Mercenary; so feel free to pick the class that speaks to you. I’m obviously going to pick the Dino Rider!
Traits come next. They allow you to pick specialist skills to help you out in sticky situations, such as: Animal Affinity, very helpful when your ride is likely to see you as its next snack; Quick Reload so you’re always the one to shoot first; or Intense Smoulder . . . And we’re back to The Rock, which if you haven’t seen the new Jumanji films with The Rock then I cannot recommend them enough, they’re funny, and very fitting to the Diesel Punk universe. There are also rules for playing Mages in the game, though for the purposes of this review I’m leaving that part out as I’ve not play-tested them myself yet.
Then it’s time to buy your gear! What you buy can very well mean the difference between life and death, but gear weighs a lot, no one ever tells you that adventuring means carrying a buck load of food, ammo, weapons, and let’s not forget the treasure you might find! If you don’t think you can carry it all then you might need to hire someone to do it for you.
So you’re all set to play, character creation for me took about 20 minutes after my first read-through, but got steadily quicker the more characters I created. For those of you new to RPG, 20 minutes is pretty quick. I’ve lost hours of my life creating characters for other well-known RPGs such as D&D and Shadowrun.
Your game can be set anywhere in the world, and for any reason, though the game actually comes with a pre-built setting called Apex Island for those who are just starting out.
Some great starting ideas can be pulled from the film industry such as Spy Missions to gather intel for a war that’s brewing. Treasure Hunting is always a firm favourite, as well as Smuggling (there’s nothing to say you can’t technically play the bad guys).
My first campaign was pretty simple, rounding up a breakout of dinosaur mounts who had broken loose from their enclosure. Which sounded simple, but with hunting parties and Dino Rustlers out to sweep up the loose stock to sell it was a race against time to herd the dinos back into the safety of their enclosure.
Combat in the game was very simple and quick, rolling initiative was for one side vs the other, good vs bad, rather than per player, so there were no awkward situations where you needed to keep track of who went next. Some pre-built critters exist in the book too which helps you determine the kind of hit points you might need.
BTW stumbling on a T-Rex when the only weapon you decided to buy was a basic short sword turned out to be a very bad day...
Kickstarter as usual is a great place to pick up new and exciting games, a lot of the time the games need beta testers or reviewers whilst it is still in production - I personally had a bit of a hand in developing this one, providing feedback to the creators, a little word-nerding of my own, so this is very close to my heart.
I love this RPG, it’s small, compact, and packs a lot of great adventure telling for such a small volume. You can buy it now via the Outland Entertainment website.
I loved it so much that I actually went out to get additional copies when it was released. One copy I have donated to the Lincoln Geek Retreat for players to try out, the second extra copy is going out to our lovely readers in a giveaway which will be released on our Facebook and Twitter pages soon!
Obviously, I’m giving this a very well-deserved 6 on the DOALG die!
Artwork from the RPG used with permission from Outland Entertainment