Recently, we were granted a preview pdf of ARC [Created by Momatoes in partnership with Exalted Funeral Press], one of the most anticipated TTRPGs of 2021! At the time of this review it should be noted that our preview copy may not 100% reflect the final printing, so our opinions are solely based on what is in hand.
As stated in the book: ARC is a rules light, tension-heavy fantasy table top role playing game about an urgent, self-contained story ticking down to a seemingly inescapable apocalypse. First and foremost, ARC is a cooperative storytelling experience reminiscent of Fiasco. Unlike Fiasco, this is in fact a table top rpg with a GM (referred to as the GUIDE) and defined game mechanics.
ARC hits you with it’s visuals from the get go. The artwork throughout ARC is inspirational, unique and heavily reminiscent of Dixit. Since the actual setting is created by the players, the artwork does not conform to a particular genre convention or standard. Rather each piece of art is unique and varied.
The copy we received is 169 pages and covers the following sections/chapters:
- What is ARC? – An overview of the setting
- Chapter 1: Doom
- Chapter 2: Hero Creation
- Chapter 3: Core Rules
- Chapter 4: Spells and Techniques
- Chapter 5: Guide Toolkit
- Appendices: 1-6
Simply put, everything you need is in this book. There is even a nice section with playable examples, bestiary, etc.
ARC is the first game that I have seen set squarely in the Fantasy Apocalyptic genre. Interestingly, the remainder of all of the larger setting questions are resolved by the Guide and the Players alike. Together they will determine the setting, scope, doom, heroes, subplots, and set pieces of the game world. Creativity certainly comes into play, as the answers to any of those setting related questions could differ wildly. You could play anything you wanted from a bog-standard Tolkienesque fantasy to a single untested creation of your very own. The only limit is the imagination and desire of the players.
Each game of ARC centers around the Doom, or more specifically the large looming threat that the players will be facing. As outlined above the Doom is determined cooperatively at the table. It should also be noted that the scope of the Doom is not one single defined thing but instead should be grounded to the rest of the agreed upon setting. Again, this could be anything that the players can imagine. Here are some examples from the top of my head:
- Setting: Feudal Japan, Heroes: Samurai, Doom: A massive army of Oni
- Setting: A low fantasy setting ala Conan, Heroes: Commoners, Doom: A spell that will tear the very fabric of the world apart
- Setting: Ruins of a long forgotten civilization, Heroes: Gnome Adventurers, Doom: Some unknown cosmic/eldritch horror
It should also be noted that the tone of ARC does not have to be super serious. You can add as much levity as the group sees fit.
Doomsday Clock & Omens
One of the defining features of ARCs unique gameplay derives from both the Doomsday Clock and Omens.
The Doomsday clock is a representation of the continual pressure presented by the group defined Doom. Although it starts with nine segments, the overall length of the game (established by the Guide) will determine how quickly the clock ticks towards the inevitable end. For example a shorter game you may start with some segments already progressed towards the goal. Additionally, the playable game time itself adds additional pressure by moving the Doomsday clock at pre-established intervals. Again, a shorter game will have a shorter lag between progression while longer games will be the opposite.
On the other side we have Omens. Each game of ARC should have at least a few Omens representing mini story arcs that are organically weaved into the plot. It is the responsibility of the Guide to present these goals (although not overtly), and for the players to overcome them. Each resolved Omen will help to slow, but not stop, the ever creeping Doom. What happens if the players fail to resolve each Omen? Well, that is up to the Guide.
Infinity War or Endgame?
So what happens if the players fail to stop the Doom? Interestingly, this does not have mean the end of the session. There are possible alternatives:
- Epilogue – This ending reminds me most of Fiasco, as it allows for each player to have short narrative control, providing a fitting epilogue to their character. This is not meant to be a novella in length, but rather a short controlled narrative. Keep it short and sweet.
- New Beginnings – In a more interesting twist, New Beginnings allows for the group to create a new game set in the aftermath of the old game. However, unlike the game before it the stakes could be even higher.
- Rewind – In a fun twist the players could agree to fight destiny and rewind the Doomsday Clock by a few segments. This would provide the players a chance for the players to get one last shot at victory, but with a cost. If the decision is made the dice will determine what the penalty will be. Perhaps a comrade will fall, or perhaps a new Omen will emerge.
Mechanics & Character Creation
The core gameplay relies on a small pool of D6s. All skill tests are determined by a player’s Target Number (TN), which are established on the character sheet. Simply put, the TN is the Approach Score + Skill Score +/- Modifiers (Set by the Guide). Once a player knows that, they roll under the TN for a success.
Depending on the outcome of the roll, players could add Opportunities or Consequences with the success. Additionally, players can use Blood & Guts as a temporary currency to alter rolls. The rest of the book details all of the rules that one would expect. Combat, Recovery, XP, etc.
Character creation in ARC is both simple and detailed at the same time. Every character is made up of the following:
- Approach Scores – The following three descriptors represents how the character typically acts in regards to problem solving: Creative, Careful and Concerted. There are scores assigned to each to help determine the effectiveness of said approach. Players can add the value based on the approach they take to resolve certain skill checks. Each value also acts as a last ditch pool of “health” for the character. If every score drops to zero, the character dies.
- Blood & Guts – This is the measure of “hit points” in terms of physical and mental/social resolve.
- Skills – All skills are divided amongst five categories: Knowledge, Social, Physical, Pragmatic, & Prowess. This includes every traditional skill you could think of for a fantasy game.
- Inventory – Characters are made up not only of traditional equipment and armaments but also things like oddities and other valuables.
- Skill & Techniques – Some characters may have a handful of useful skills or techniques. Each one is a sort of X factor allowing for a useful ability. It’s not like D&D magic, but more like a potent & unique feature of a character. Perhaps they can create a magical door, grant a wish, or even hold back the Doom itself.
- Character Building Questions – This section helps to flesh out the remainder of your character. with three questions. It’s important that they players share this info with the rest of the group as it helps to ground the character to the established setting and to provide some insight and motivations.
- Bonds – This last section allows the players to create bonds with one another. Dice are used to determine the strength of the bond. Again, this aspect reminds me a bit of Fiasco, however, there this method is a bit more free form.
ARC is unique and creative. The very concept grants every player at the table an immediate investment into the setting. ARC boldly walks the line between TTRPG and Storytelling/Narrative game.
It is undeniable that ARC is a rules light game. True it covers all of the basics, however, there are players who desire the crunch of defined mechanics for every possible interaction. Additionally, not every player wants to be part of this collaborative storytelling process. Some people just want to pick up a rock and smash the beetles (kudos to you, if you get the reference!). With a diverse enough pool of players, ARC might prove a hard sell.
Personally, I tend to favor creative games. A great storytelling game sticks with you when it is done. As both a GM and player I follow the Rule of Fun, and ARC has it in spades! As soon as the game is released I will be picking up a copy.