Occasionally a tabletop role playing game will appear out of nowhere and immediately distance itself from its peers. Today’s review, Overlight, is perhaps the quintessential example of unconventional fantasy. It has been sitting on the back burner of my review schedule for some time, yet never out of mind. Today is the day to get a taste of something truly unique. No need to bring a torch, dear readers, because we are heading straight into the Overlight.
Overlight (2018) is a “Kaleidoscopic Fantasy” tabletop role playing game crated by Paul Alexander Butler and published by Renegade Game Studios. This 328-page book will cover everything you need to play the game. The chapters cover the setting, mechanics, powers, game master’s reference, a premade adventure and other resources. Aesthetically, the look and feel of this book is vibrant, colorful, and contains a multitude of artwork ranging anywhere from pastel paintings to hand sketches. On one hand the colorful artwork remind me of concept art while the sketches conveyed a sense of early D&D adventure modules.
So, what is a Kaleidoscopic Fantasy, you ask? Kaleidoscopic Fantasy does not have a peer to reference, so forget what you know of traditional Tolkien fantasy. Overlight instead takes its inspiration from works such as The Dark Crystal, Roger Dean, Julie Bell, Moebius, Olivia de Berardinis, and 60s & 70s era rock album covers. It is the polar opposite of a “grim dark” fantasy, so I am calling it a “joy bright” fantasy. Even while reading this book for the review, the tone and look reminded me of cartoons for the 1980’s, She-Ra (Netflix), The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword, James Cameron’s Avatar, and even certain elements of Arcane (Netflix). The setting is so truly unique that it is kind of fun to think about all the other inspirations that Overlight could have drawn from or relates to.
With the visual inspirations in mind, the setting is even more interesting. The world of Overlight centers on seven vast continents that are literally floating (maintaining a fixed vertical position away) around one another, moving in unpredictable patterns akin to snow in a snow globe. Above them is the titular “Overlight” which provides all sources of radiant light and below is an infinite sea of stars. Each continent is wildly diverse, and the day/night and seasonal cycle of each is chaotic and random as each continental shard continually moves around. This means that certain landmasses can block out the light from others.
The reason behind the creation of the world as it stands is due to a long forgotten magical cataclysm of sorts. To be honest, the reason is unimportant, and it is the only world the Skyborn (the races of this setting) have ever known. Additionally, the Skyborn are as diverse as the rest of the setting. You can choose from sentient centipedes, ape-like humanoids, feathered reptile people, a plant/animal hybrid, and a few varieties of humans.
Although there are airships in this setting, the technological level is closer to the early renaissance period. Instead of steam power, the people utilize Chroma to power their various technological marvels. Chroma itself is nearly akin to “the force,” and represented by different colored shards. In addition, Chroma can power devices or small feats of wonder by nearly any sentient creature or Skyborn. If that were not interesting enough, Skyborn can travel from continent to continent via giant winged beasts. I know what you are thinking and yes, there is a whole lot going on for this setting.
Overlight relies on a pool of dice ranging from D4 to D12. These die are associated with seven virtues that are integral to the character: Spirit, Wisdom, Logic, Compassion, Will, Vigor, and Might. Each virtue has skills associated with it and said skills will be the basis of most resolutions. In a typical session of Overlight you will only need to roll one of four types of tests:
- Skill tests – Do a thing by using a skill
- Combat Tests – A typical battle
- Open Tests – This is a contest of abilities against an opponent
- Chroma Tests – This is a test to channel your Chroma to utilize a power
Regardless of the type of roll, the idea is the same. Players roll a number of dice associated with the skill, ability and spirit. You roll the dice and look for anything over a six. Count the number of successes and consult a chart to see the level of success or failure.
Overlight utilizes a point buy system in a seven-step process. Players choose from the following aspects:
- Race/Folk – They choose from one of the seven available Skyborn races, and this will define both their homeland and available Chroma powers.
- Background – This determines not only their life before adventuring, but also their starting equipment, wealth, skills and virtue ratings.
- Core Virtue – Since each continent is associated with a single virtue, players must choose a core virtue not associated with their homeland.
- Spirit Pool – Spirit is a currency used to perform certain special abilities or Chroma powers.
- Health Track – AKA hit points. Players can take both wounds and dramatic wounds.
- Free Spend – Use points to fill in any gaps.
It should be noted that many of the skills cover mainstays such as Athletics, and Survival, but also include new additions such as Inspiration or Windlore (understanding weather patterns). Also, the creator did not skimp on Chroma related powers. There are so many to choose from and they cover a wide breath and width of ability and utility that I could not begin to list them all!
GM Section & Bestiary
Any GM should pay careful attention to this section, as it truly helps to encapsulate the essence of the setting. There are helpful sections to guide your players, establish a tone and understand what to do on a given continent. Each continent will also play host to a number of unique creatures, NPCs and the like. The Bestiary was truly fun to look through, as many of the creatures were striking, exotic and helped to bring life to these mysterious lands.
Overlight is such an interesting creature. It has everything you could want from a fantasy setting, yet makes it unique in an appealing way. It is akin to dining at a fusion restaurant where they specialize in unique takes on certain ingredients. In addition, the rules lite mechanics allow for easy entry for any player type.
On the other side of the coin, this game will not appeal to everyone. Despite a valiant attempt to keep the game understandable (and even somewhat grounded), there are those who do not like to stray far from the traditional “western fantasy” path. Additionally, those players wanting a robust gaming system will likely not enjoy this rules lite experience.
I wholeheartedly support the creation of unique settings, and this is no exception. If you want a gaming experience that isn’t afraid to take old ideas in a new direction, give Overlight a try.