Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Comae Engine

Clarence Redd debuted his Frostbyte Books a few years ago with M-Space, a stripped-down science fiction rules set based on Mythras. I suspect that M-Space is pretty good, though due to a certain necessary blandness, it never quite clicked with me - I was never sure why I should choose it over something more flavourful like Traveller or Frontier Space.

However, M-Space brought an interesting innovation to Mythras and d-100 gaming in general: Its own extended conflict mechanism, which basically consists of a series of opposed rolls, where the winner deals damage to the loser's conflict pool (the conflict pool being based on one or two of the core characteristics).

Comae Engine, Clarence Redd's new RPG, takes that as its core mechanism: Characters are defined through about a dozen broad skills on a scale of 1-100 and through four conflict pools (Body, Intelligence, Power, Charisma). At first glance, the conflict pools seem very much like other games' core characteristics, being on a scale of usually 8-18, but they have a very distinct function in CE: They don't really tell you how inherently good you are at something (that's for your skills to say), rather, they are a kind of endurance for different kinds of tasks. This is most straightforward with Body, while Intelligence should maybe rather be called Concentration (it's about how long you can try to figure something out before you just have to give up). Power and Charisma might be a little tricky, they're both mainly about self-confidence, though power can pull double-duty as all kinds of mystical energy. I guess Power is basically your "soul energy", while Charisma is more about your composure in difficult social situations.

Basically, Coma Engine is either simply "d100, if you roll under your skill, you succeed. Doubles are extra good/bad", or it's and extended conflict (for combat, shouting matches, picking an especially complex lock under time pressure or scaling a mountain), where one side will sooner or later run out of pool paints. Player characters can push through when they hit zero, continuing the conflict, but at serious consequence - pools under 0 are regenerated much more slowly (in combat, that would be where you go from bruises and exhaustion to pierced organs and broken bones). It's all pretty simple and abstract - I'm not sure whether it feels like an iteration of BRP any more, but I'm also not sure whether it needs to.

As it is right now (Dec 28th 2022), Comae Engine isn't quite finished - there's placeholder text instead of examples, and some elements of the rules feel half-baked. When it comes to weapons and armour, I think the system can't quite decide yet what it wants to be, sticking to the traditional BRP rules. It is made clear that CE, for the moment, is a BETA and will be updated regularly. The core, though, is pretty great and extremely flexible. It's interesting how it finds a clear distinction between the role that characteristics (conflict pools) and skills play mechanically and thereby avoids the "What do we need characteristics for, anyway?" question that often arises in BRP games.

Comae Engine reminds me a little of Chaosium's QuestWorlds; both are focused on opposed conflicts. QuestWorlds extended conflicts feel a little more regimented, while Comae Engine tends to say: "Do what makes sense", for example, when it comes to who takes damage in a conflict with multiple characters on one or both sides. CE has the advantage of being more immediately compatible with BRP games, and from reading it, it's also a little easier to figure out how things work. I have played neither yet, so take that assessment with a grain of salt. All in all, I'm really looking forward to the finished CE.

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