When I flipped through the recently released full core rulebook for Esper Genesis, the same immediate feeling of hell yeah I want to play this emerges as it did when I first heard about 5th Edition science fiction roleplaying game by Dungeon Master’s Guild Adept Rich Lescouflair and the folks at Alligator Alley Entertainment. I’ve loved playing every edition of Dungeons & Dragons since the classic red box, and enjoyed stretching the boundaries of 5E D&D in particular. I was already running a pretty outrageous Spelljammer campaign at home when I heard about Esper Genesis and the free basic rules of this 5E sci-fi RPG went right into the mix, adding awesome new vehicles, classes and esper powers like fushion beam and gravity sphere.
You might be an Esper Genesis fan if…
For me, Mass Effect and Phantasy Star = sold. The art and character options in the Esper Genesis 5E sci-fi RPG totally nail the vibe those two terrific franchises evoke. A universe where mind-blowing technology blends with extraordinary abilities for characters who travel the stars on amazing journeys. Robots, AI, spaceships, supernatural powers, laser rifles, laser swords, mystics, monsters, dark entities and darker human nature are all part and parcel to the best sci-fi settings inspiring Esper Genesis, and the 5E sci-fi RPG stands right alongside them.
“Inspired by Star Wars, Mass Effect, Phastasy Star and Ghost in the Shell players take on the role of a galactic hero where they forge their destiny within a universe of advanced technologies and hidden mysteries.” – ENWorld preview by AngusA
And it is a complete RPG. Based on the hugely popular 5th Edition ruleset using the Open Game License and Standard Reference Document, Esper Genesis presents a full game in one 304-page book. Lead designer Rich Lescouflair, storywriters Will Doyle and Christopher Negelein, and the rest of the Alligator Alley Entertainment team who brought this project to life include all the basic rules information needed to play in the Core Manual.
This means players who might be wholly unfamiliar with Dungeons & Dragons, or even completely new the the RPG hobby, have easy entry into this game. But those of us with full bookshelves of official and third party content can appreciate the inclusion too.
The SRD for 5th Edition is free, but it’s a big document. Having all the nuts and bolts of 5E in one book with all the original new content is convenient and efficient. So what do you get new in Esper Genesis?
What this 5E sci-fi RPG can do for you
Character options are the bulk of many an RPG, and Esper Genesis is no exception. Nearly 140 pages of the Core Manual is the races, classes, background info and equipment for the characters players will explore the universe with. Following after is basic rules information for using skills and abilities, combat, movement and so on for about 30 pages. Of note are the sections devoted to vehicle, underwater and Zero-G combats.
With any 5E product focused on a significantly different genre than medieval fantasy, the first thing I look at are the new rules for setting-specific stuff not particularly relevant for D&D. The vehicle combat section is handled very well. Signs of playtesting are clear here; I can imagine all the scenarios addressed in the Core Manual coming up during play.
“How long does it take to get in and out of this vehicle? How much damage can it sustain? How do I control this starship? How does flying work?”
The Esper Genesis Core Manual touches on these and other topics that will almost certainly come up during play. But vehicle travel and combat get their own entire chapter too. Adventuring with vehicles like starships is a big departure from medieval fantasy and naturally a staple of sci-fi. Esper Genesis handles this great on both macro and micro levels. Ship roles like pilot, gunner, technician, and officers give individual party members practical options on board a ship. On a bigger scale things like travel times and resource management layer additional elements to make more immersive experiences.
In combat situations, Esper Genesis adds a twist to 5E action, giving the ship itself a turn in the initiative, and branches within that turn for the party or crew to act with a bit more tactical approach than a chaotic melee. There’s a lot of maneuvers available to pilots and crews on board ships to make vehicle combat really exciting and dramatic. Combats bring with them damage to ships too, and there’s fun, exciting ways to implement ship damage as well as how to repair it — including costs, which is a terrific way to drain some of that loot the characters accumulate in their questing. Can you imagine how much less meseta or credits you’d have at the end of a Phantasy Star or Mass Effect game if you had to repair your stuff? For a 5E sci-fi RPG, having an outlet for characters to spend money is great for the Game Master. You can be a generous GM because those parties will definitely need to sink some credits into that bucket of bolts if they want to get past that blockade.
A hefty portion of the Core Manual contains all the esper powers characters and creatures can manifest. While many of them are reskinned 5E spells, it is impressive that each one was given special attention to fit better with the 5E sci-fi RPG setting. But there are absolutely many new esper powers to play with too. More than that, Esper Genesis has a metamagic-like suite of options for esper power wielders to manipulate their powers in various ways through talents, techniques and Limit Breaches.
As a side note, one thing I would love to see in games like Esper Genesis and other 5E games and products are spell lists or the equivalent organized in different ways. It would be a concern for both cost — especially for physical book products — and practicality, but spell or power lists organized several different ways would be great. It would be nice to see all the psychogenic talents grouped together, and all the Rank 1 esper powers listed together for example. But that’s not a gripe about Esper Genesis, just an observation about the 5E presentation style in general.
What is Esper Genesis really?
The last chapter in the Core Manual is perhaps the most useful overall and one that D&D traditionally spreads out across the three core books of any edition (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual). Including a framework for a setting is a terrific value-add for Esper Genesis. For one, it explains one of the most important aspects of the game, the esper powers. Linked to mysterious ancient technology called Crucibles, esper powers are what set heroic adventurers apart from the average galactic citizen. Linking them to a vitally important aspect of the galactic setting is rife with storytelling potential.
The chapter on the galaxy is very well done from a big picture perspective. When you’re dealing with a setting so vast, encompassing the whole thing with great depth simply isn’t practical. With concise material about a healthy selection of planets and regions of space, GMs and players get only what the designers felt are the most important things to know about any particular topic. They give you enough to set your imagination loose, using the basic elements to move forward and construct your own unique version of the galaxy collaboratively with the whole gaming group.
“Note: The following esper research has been compiled from the temporal archives on Dendusar and transmitted via the
5C alpha node of the Silrayne Intergalactic Matrix…. or so you were made to think. The Shadow Technocracy watches. They
wait, and they plot. Read carefully through these records, for it may lead you to a new awakening… and a destiny which the
great Lord Technocrats have been long awaiting… yes…. Wait. What was I just saying? Error message. Virus detected.
Emergency Shutdown. Deleting all rec —” – Disclaimer in the Esper Genesis Core Manual
Despite the concise content, there’s still a significant amount of it across different regions of space from heavily populated inner colonies to the fringes in the outer sector. The chapter includes a full-color two page map of the galaxy too. Beyond these bits of content, the Core Manual is enhanced throughout with narrative sections giving depth and context for the setting and the kinds of adventures waiting to be discovered.
Finally, the Core Manual wraps up with appendices containing conditions and threats. I would have liked to see more variety in challenge ratings for the threats. Most of the creatures are low challenge, with a single each of CR 5, 6 and 7. Many more threats are on the way in the Threats Database coming in summer 2018, and while there’s plenty of creatures to keep characters busy for a while, it would be cool if more Tiers 2 and 3 threats were included.
But at the end of the day, you definitely have your hands on a complete 5E sci-fi RPG with Esper Genesis. There’s enough rich material throughout the Core Manual, from the kesh’s search for a missing homeworld to helping the Infinity Order to taking on a megacorporation like Selsia Corp. to inspire GMs and players to create awesome adventures together for years.
Esper Genesis expanding
With the Core Manual available now, be on the lookout for the Threats Database and Master Technician’s Guide coming later in 2018. Together these three books for the core of the 5E sci-fi RPG, analogs to D&D’s Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide.
You can find out more about Esper Genesis like upcoming product information, events and resources at their website. The Esper Genesis team will be at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio June 13-17 at booth #423, and also Gen Con, GameHole Con and PAX Unplugged. Coincidentally enough, Nerdarchy will be representing at all of those conventions too! Be sure to stop and say hi to Nerdarchists Dave and Ted, Nate the Nerdarch and Nerditor Doug if you spot us at any of those events.
In the more immediate future, Esper Genesis will be featured this Friday, May 25 at 8 p.m. eastern during ArvCon on Twitch at the Arvan Eleron channel. The channel streams Esper Genesis adventures like The Fall of Eos Keldor and Basilisk Rendezvous, sponsored by Alligator Alley Entertainment.
Esper Genesis also has an organized play program called Crucible Corps.
You can pick up your own copy of the Esper Genesis Core Manual at DriveThruRPG where it is currently $24.95. There’s also a free adventure there to get you started. While you’re there, use Nerdarchy’s exclusive coupon code DTRPG-Nerdarchy for a one-time 10 percent discount on digital orders $10 or more.
Nerdarchy talks with Esper Genesis creator Rich Lescouflair
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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, world building, or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy or his own blog The Long Shot, he’s a newspaper designer, copy editor and journalist. He loves advocating the RPG hobby and connecting with other nerds and gamers on social media and his site thelongshotist.com.