Monday, February 17, 2014

Just Backed #4: Against the Dark Yogi

I recently backed this project, an Indian-themed roleplaying game about larger than life heroes struggling to defeat the Dark Yogi (as the tile suggests) over one or more reincarnations. If you want to go the KS page (and you probably should), you can click on the image below.



Something great about this KS is that you get a complete draft of the game as soon as you back it (regardless of the amount, even $1 is enough), so you know exactly what you are getting for your money right away. I think this is a clever move for a new publisher, since it helps to build trust with potential backers (I probably wouldn’t have backed this game if not for that little fact). When you ask people for their money you have the responsibility to let them know what they are getting in return, and I think giving a full draft as soon as possible is a great way to show them your commitment with your work.

The draft itself is 267 pages long (the final book is expected to be around 300 pages), of which approximately 50 pages are setting material while the rest is dedicated to the system and a bestiary (with mythical Indian creatures, Gods, heroes and villains, including the infamous Dark Yogi himself!). We can see several pieces of artwork on the KS page, so there is no doubt the book is going to be gorgeous to behold once it’s finished.

I haven’t read much about the setting yet (it’s not India, but a fantastic land based on ancient India called Bhurloka), but I've read most of the rules, so I’d like to talk a little bit about that. For starters, the game uses poker cards rather than dice. I wasn't very convinced about this aspect of the game until I saw the rules, then decided that there is no way the game could feel the same using dice.

On a nutshell, you have 8 attributes (4 physical, 4 mental) and several skills. To resolve an action, the GM tells you the relevant target number. If the total of your Attribute + Skill + Card (you draw the first card of the deck) is equal to or greater than the TN, you succeed, otherwise you fail. Success usually allows you to bring conditions into the scene, which acts as a bonus or penalty on further rolls. For example, if you want to disguise as a Prince and you succeed, you may gain the “Disguised as a Prince” condition, granting you a bonus every time you want to act as a Prince or where being a Prince could be helpful; on the other hand, you may use the same condition as a penalty on anyone trying to pierce your disguise.

On top of that, each player has both Good Karma and Bad Karma. Good Karma is represented by the cards you have in hand, while Bad Karma is represented by cards on the table facing down. Good Karma can be used by the player in several ways, the most common use being using a card from your hand rather than a random draw from the deck for a check. Bad Karma, on the other hand, may be used by the GM to complicate things for your character. You gain Good Karma by doing good deeds and following your dharma, while you gain Bad Karma by breaking the rules (like stealing or touching a dead body).

The combat system is very interesting, with the player spending points from his Chakra pools (5 different pools) to perform several actions each round. For example, you may spend crown chakra to read a book,  afterwards spend lower chakra to run, then spend another lower chakra to jump over a cliff and finally spend more lower chakra to land a spear attack upon an enemy. That way, you may take several actions per round based on how much chakra you have on your pools. You recover a little bit of chakra each round (similar to how chi breath works in Weapons of the Gods).

A very interesting feature for combat is that most of the time you are probably going to face hordes of lesser enemies, maybe under the orders of a more powerful enemy. As such, the game has a very interesting way to represent this. A unit is equal to a single individual, with a number of HP equal to the number of individuals in the unit. You may attack the unit just like any other regular character, but what’s interesting (I don’t remember having seen this in any other game) is that each time the unit attacks a character, that character automatically deals a number of points of damage to the unit, representing that even as the unit strikes you, you managed to take some extras out of the fight. That really makes you feel epic (it also helps that most attacks can’t kill your character, only leave him unconscious, only major villains and special attacks have any chance to kill a character).

As for character creation and advancement, that’s where things get interesting. To create a character you have to first think on his previous five incarnations, and each incarnation will grant your current self skills (or other benefits if he was non-human, like the capability to fly if he was a bird on a previous life). Then, you choose two Paths that apply to your current character. Paths are archetypes like Spearman, Archer, Charioteer or Yogi; they give you starting equipment and, more importantly, they tell you which traits you can purchase (a character may only purchase traits from his Paths and from the Universal Path).


Traits represent special equipment, combat maneuvers, tricks, allies or weird powers your character has. Some are very mundane, like the ability to make a counterattack in combat, while others are far more surreal and mythic, like the ability to build constructs by firing arrows (my favorite trait in the whole game) or a God blessing your chariot so it can fly. You start with 2-3 traits based on your Paths, but you may purchase more during the game.

As for character advancement, the most interesting part actually happens when you die. At any point, the GM may choose to move the timeline a generation, so that all characters die and are reincarnated again. When that happens, your Enlightenment score goes up one point (that is, you become more powerful and awesome). With time and reincarnations, you’ll be able to gain more Paths, recover more Chakra per round, have more Health and overall kick more ass. In addition, if you are not into multiple generations campaigns, the book has optional rules that allow characters to increase their Enlightenment without dying.

My only complaint with this game is the title. When I read Against the Dark Yogi, I picture a short one-evening story game like The Mountain Witch, not a 300 pages book planned for long campaigns. The tile is not bad into itself, but I think it follows a format that doesn't quite picture how big and wide this game is, but rather ties it to a single plot. Of course, it’s a minor marketing detail that doesn't have any impact on how awesome this game is, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

As you can see, I liked this game quite a lot (I don’t usually do “Just Backed” posts this long, but since the game came with a draft, seems like a good idea to make a short review as well). I like how your character feels epic at all times, while at the same time keeping a simple system that is easy to grasp.

I can’t wait to play this game with my group, and I think you should give it a try as well!

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