I first heard of Era: The Consortium during MCM London Comic Con earlier this year, I had the pleasure to speak to the Shades of Vengeance guys about their new RPG system “Era”, of which The Consortium was the most fully realised product, serving as perhaps the flagship title at the event.
A few weeks later, I received a review copy for Era: The Consortium, but at the time it was impossible for me to get a game going, but thanks to my recently formed RPG group, I had the chance to play a demo game and put the system through its paces.
Developer: Shades of Vengeance
Creator: Ed Jowett
Release Date: 2016
Played: Demo game using pregens.
Purchase At: Official Site
Source: Review Copy provided by Developer
Learning Curve (1-10) – The higher the number the more difficult it is to learn the basics and play a game.
GM Learning Curve: 6
Player Learning Curve: 5
Era: The Consortium is set in the distant future, when humanity left Earth for the stars, eventually settling on the planet Taranis, with society eventually led by mega corporations. In fact, capitalism, industry and the power of government is at the heart of Era: The Consortium’s setting. Corporations flourish on Taranis even from the earliest days of colonisation and it’s no surprise that within the first century all government defaults to these organisations.
The Senate rules over Taranis and its surrounding planets and interests, but above them stand The Big Eight, the most powerful of corporations on the planet. These are the biggest and the baddest and over the course of the planet’s history, the balance of power shifts between the Senate and the Eight constantly.
But the setting of Era: The Consortium isn’t just a place for humans to do horrible things to each other for money or politics. There are other species that have formed bonds with The Consortium, some joining willingly as friends and others after their defeat at war.
The Era: The Consortium setting has a long, rich and complicated backstory you will find on the opening pages of the core rulebook. It makes for an enjoyable read, particularly because they’re not dry descriptions, but lore in the form of short stories, each speaking of an important event in the The Consortium’s history. And if those aren’t enough, each story has a timeline vignette with important historical facts that help connect one story to the next.
By the time you reach the end of Era: The Consortium’s first section, you will have a working knowledge of the universe and its bloody and very corrupt history. You’ll know about the different species and most importantly you’ll know of The Resistance, the military group opposing The Consortium and its Big Eight.
One of the main issues I have with Era: The Consortium’s rule book is on Structure. As expected for an RPG book, there is a chapter for every element of the game, from lore to mechanics but the explanations of major game elements are separate from the mechanics chapter. For example, the character creation chapter includes descriptions of Attributes and Skills, yet it doesn’t tell you how you roll for them.
It forces players to jump to the back of the book for the mechanics but then to earlier chapters for description, making it harder for both players and the GM to find specific information.
But perhaps the greatest flaw of all, and which makes learning the Era system a bit harder than it should be, is the lack of examples, particularly in character creation. These segments are where the developers can tell players about which things they should think about when creating a character, such as which attributes they suggest for certain archetypes, or guide them through some of typical character decisions.
Even during the mechanics chapter, you only see listings and formulae, you don’t have sample scenarios, and while the book does have a demo game segment in the last chapters, the combat situations in those are more advanced and harder to understand since there are no basic examples. I would have preferred a bunch of examples for different situations and not the flowcharts in these chapters. With a good enough example, you don’t need flowcharts.
I will say that the ERA system has some amazing flexibility. At its core, the Era system is one of Attribute + Skill dice rolling, which should be familiar to most role-players out there, but unlike other systems where by default the combinations are set in stone and you need to house rule—sometimes heavily so—to allow for variation, one of the principles behind Era is that you can use any combination as long as it makes (some) sense.
For example, the default firing skill is Gunnery, but the attribute you use for it depends on your interpretation. Firing in combat, with its fast reactions, usually means Wits, but Dexterity is a classic and of course allowed, but what about Intelligence? If you’re attempting a tricky ricochet shot, then calculating the angles is much more important in the equation, don’t you think?
While this level of modification is of course valid in every RPG out there, what makes Era: The Consortium special is that it encourages it! Still, it proved to be a hard thing for my players to wrap their heads around, particularly for a short demo game.
A curious element of the game and one I have mixed feelings about is eschewing experience points as rewards in favour of a levelling system, by which the GM tells players when they’ve levelled up. New levels grant attribute increases and skill points as you’d expect, but they also restrict the amount of implants your character can have, which is where my problem lies, as I consider implants part of the character’s equipment and as such separate from their progression. It’s something I would house rule in almost every game, finding the balance in other ways.
As we played our demo game, we found the base mechanics very simple to use but combat is where things turned muddy. The Damage & Kill threshold mechanic adds more confusion than it should, and weapons that don’t have low kill thresholds or high firing rate become instantly useless.
The reason for this is that Threshold represents the number you need to roll on the d10 for a success. Submachineguns, for example, have very high Thresholds, making them very unsatisfying and they can’t kill since their threshold is so high.
Worse still is that the number of projectiles fired determines the maximum damage you can inflict. So if your super powered sniper rifle fails to kill for some reason, even if it’s a higher calibre than the single-round pistol, it’ll deal the same damage of 1 point.
Speaking of damage, the character sheets for the sample characters are incomplete, lacking many of the features present in the one players will use, such as health bars, which created a certain level of confusion during our game, since we used these pre-generated characters to make things easier for ourselves.
With low Kill Threshold weapons, the combat is extremely fast, but if you have to fire single shots to deal damage, prepare for some of the longest fights in your life.
Era: The Consortium has its flaws but its cool post-Earth mega-corporation setting and flexible core mechanics make it a very good RPG to play. In fact, since playing the demo, we’ve been talking about returning to this world for longer games, to fully explore this intriguing sci-fi setting!
Hell, Era: The Consortium has a cannibalistic species of Tree people, that’s enough for me!
4/5 – Exceptional!