09 August 2021
It’s a wild world out there
One of the great strengths of Genesys lays in its ability to handle any concept you could want to throw at it, and this has never been more useful than in this stellar effort to sketch out a KeyForge RPG setting that blends Martian death-rays, enchanted battle axes and wandering sky pirates into a chunky genre-soup.
The pleasingly hefty book aims to let players and GMs alike roleplay their way across the Crucible, home to the KeyForge card game. It’s stuffed to the (radioactive, glowing) gills with the new rules, character options and gear needed to get exploring the world as ordinary-ish inhabitants of the sprawling star-planet as they head out on weird and wacky adventures.
Like the two Genesys sourcebooks that have preceded it, Realms of Terrinoth and Shadow of the Beanstalk Secrets of the Crucible portrays itself as both a guide to playing in a specific world and a broader genre. However, while you could quite easily have converted the game’s previous efforts into solid, generic material for fantasy and cyberpunk games, respectively, this one feels like it’d be difficult to use in any world other than the Crucible.
It’s hard to think of many other settings that needs rules for playing as both a goblin and a ghost, for example, or as a giant and a sentient plant. Nor can there be a long list of games that feel a need to set out rules for mounts as diverse as flying saucers and chariots.
If you aren’t familiar with the Keyforge card game, you’d be forgiven that this all sounds like an absolute mess. And, frankly, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
The entire point of the Crucible, both in-fiction and out, is that it’s a world formed of a mis-mash of cultures and tropes drawn from across the entire galaxy, summoned there by forces entirely beyond anybody’s comprehension, for reasons nobody can quite comprehend. This flimsy justification is all that’s needed to stick elven forests next to sci-fi megacities and demonic enclaves, each of which have access to both powerful technology and world-shattering magic.
All this madness comes together to create something a little hard to get a handle on at first, but the sheer diversity of the world also makes it incredibly fun to explore at the tabletop. It’s particularly appealing to those of us who struggle to settle their attention on a single genre for long but don’t want to restart their campaigns every three weeks, as you can scratch those barely-constrained creative urges by bouncing the game from fantasy dungeon crawl to sci-fi heist whenever you feel like it.
If there’s a downside to all this, it’s that the world feels a distinct lack of focus. It’s a whole heap of cool ideas held loosely in place by a bit of string and a smattering of duct tape, lacking much of an obvious flag for what kind of stories you’re supposed to tell there. In the card game, this driving motivation is provided by having groups of god-like Archons battle over stashes of Æmber – a quasi-magical wonder element – but this is difficult to translate to a game where you’re playing as just another soldier in the ranks.
Perhaps the best way to deal with this existential lack of purpose is to embrace the chaos; to intentionally leap from genre to genre and embrace the ludicrous range of options jammed into Secrets of the Crucible’s pagecount. The characters you can make with this book can be some of the weirdest, wackiest and most downright enjoyable little bundles of rules and ideas you’re going to encounter in a mainstream RPG.
Indeed, the entire book – perhaps the entire setting – drips charm and perhaps a little bit of self-knowing silliness from every page. This manifests in countless small ways, ranging from the entire Martian faction’s obsession with ray-guns and flying saucers, through to new skills that allow a hero to flex their muscles in lieu of a conventional social check or spend story points to make a dramatic entrance into a scene.
Is Secrets of the Crucible a bit of a mess? Perhaps, but only because that’s what makes the setting so much fun. If you can embrace that, it makes for a great world to play in.
PLAY IT? YES
It might be a hard sell if you aren’t already a fan of the card game, but Secrets of the Crucible offers a compelling – if weird – world to explore
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Keyforge
Like the cards? Try exploring the world. Just try not to blow it up, okay?
Publisher: Fantasy Flight
This article originally appeared in issue 46 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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