Despite my falling behind, Four-in-Hand Games’ other projects are going strong. Head honcho Eric Simon has published more expansions for Steamscapes, and now he’s expanding the company’s profile with its first non-Savage Worlds game: Rockalypse – The Fate Core RPG of Musical Conflict! With 19 days to go as of this writing, the game is fully backed and moving into stretch goals.
In Rockalypse, an apocalypse has happened (or is happening) and all conflict is resolved through battles of the bands. It’s part Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, part Jem and the Holograms, part Rock and Rule, and a big part obscure art-house action film Six String Samurai. In fact, it’s all of these things and more because – in keeping with FATE’s creed of shared world-building – it’s more a menu of options with which to build a setting than a detailed setting in its own right.
Rockalypse currently outlines five apocalyptic settings broken down into pick-and-choose aspects: The Wasteland (Mad Max/Tank Girl/Gorillaz-style post-apocalyptic mutants and hardship), The Streets of Cyber City (Rock and Rule/Max Headroom-style megacorporations), Aliens from Dimension X (FLCL/Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555), Pandemonium (Groovie Ghoulies/Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny), and Rock and Roll High School (FLCL again/Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad). A sixth setting – RagnaRock – will be included if the Kickstarter hits $3,500 (and it’s already over $3,100).
When the GM and players meet for Session Zero to create characters and build the campaign world, everyone can choose what aspects of the different campaign frameworks they want to include. As the inclusion of Rock and Roll High School intimates, sometimes the apocalypse is more a personal revelation than a world-shattering catastrophe. I’m not fond of Mad Max-style brutal futures, so I’d probably focus on this more personal apocalypse if I were to run a game. In any case, the à la carte nature of the apocalypses means you can easily build a Rockalypse campaign based on any musical inspiration you want.
Something inspired by “Cold Slither” – the episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero where Zartan and the Drednoks pose as a band to send subliminal, pro-COBRA messages – might concentrate on the imminent apocalypse and paranoia of the Cold War, rather than the aftermath of nuclear fallout. Combine it with the outrageous fashions and quest for fame of Jem and the Holograms and we have:
- They look just like us. The aliens resemble humans at least superficially. But there must be some way to tell the difference, whether through special sunglasses or by peeling off their artificial skin... (Aliens from Dimension X; the agents of the COBRA expy hide in plain sight amongst the patriots and upright citizens of the country, echoing Cold War fears of infiltration).
- This is our big break! Underlying all the trials of high school is the hope that one day you’ll be able to escape it. That chance may come even sooner if you can somehow become famous or successful right now... (Rock and Roll High School; the unfortunate heroes who get caught up in this war of secret propaganda are just a young band trying to make it big)
- Wolverines! There are small but surprisingly plucky pockets of resistance to the alien authority, and they could use your help. If you want to save the world, it starts right here! (Aliens from Dimension X; only a top-secret specialized combat force knows about the secret invasion – and it needs you to help!)
Rockalypse is utterly and thoroughly a FATE game and my personal ambivalence with the system is well-chronicled. Thankfully, Eric Simon has been playtesting Rockalypse for a while now, and this shows in the thorough GM advice and updates to the FATE Core rules to emulate the musical conflict central conceit. Melody and Rhyme are the attack skills, Harmony sets up advantages for your allies, and Rhythm is used for defense. New stunts like Counterpoint and Always in Tune not only play up the genre conventions, but also give some cues on how to think in musical terms for those of us who aren’t musically-inclined.
A public beta test document for Rockalypse is still available on DriveThruRPG for those who want a closer look at the project before backing it. Eric is also chronicling some of his influences with 30 Days of Rockalypse over at the Four-in-Hand Games site. If the project intrigues you at all but you need more convincing, head on over to either of those two links for more.