Game Review: Quantum Flux by Kieran Kowalski from 6d6 RPG

Though I don’t read much sci-fi these days, I’m still a big fan of films in the genre. Sprinkle in some horror and I’ll probably go see it if the trailer looks good enough. The golden standard is of course Ridley Scott‘s 1979 masterpiece Alien, and though many films have attempted to achieve the same level of success, it’s proven difficult to repeat.

You might be wondering why in the heck I’m talking about sci-fi movies on a game reviews blog. But I have a good reason, honest.

Quantum Flux, written by Kieran Kowalski and published by 6d6 RPG, offers a scenario that manages to evoke the dark spaceship hallways of Alien while mixing in a bit of the crazed artificial intelligence of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Disney’s The Black Hole. Start with a crew sent to investigate a ship that disappeared 20 years ago, then let them investigate the old ship while being attacked by aliens, dealing with a psychotic AI and its Maximillian-like suit for interacting with the physical world, and simply trying to survive and figure out what the heck is going on. It’s a perfect storm of limited time and resources while being harried and eventually dealing with the big baddies.

Ok, so it’s a bit derivative, but that’s part of its charm. It’s a closed loop, just like Mince Pies & Murder, with a set of pre-generated characters, a few key events, and a rather large playground to explore. And somehow I expect that it has resulted in the deaths of more than a few parties since it was published in September 2011.

The salvage team of the Ocalus is made up of six characters. Steven “Stones” McCay is the senior team member and team medic. Nick “The Brick” Boston is the team weapons expert. Blaize Starfall is the team pilot. Abbs Saxton is the team’s hacker and techie. Montgomery Harper is the team engineer. And Mr. L. Pliskin is the team scout. First, I have to mention the names, which seem to be inspired by TV and movie characters: McCay, Stargate Atlantis; and Pliskin, Escape from New York. Once they get aboard the Leopold (the missing ship), there are more: Captain James Shepard, Mass Effect; and Chief Heinlein, classic SF author Robert Heinlein. I’m sure there are more, but those are the obvious ones.

Like any good science fiction horror
survival adventure, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. Exploring the derelict ship becomes of primary importance very quickly and each door may offer a piece of the puzzle of what happened 20 years ago, a few supplies, or a new group of aliens intent on destroying them. Because of the open nature of the adventure once the party starts exploring the ship I think it manages to avoid some of the railroading aspects of typical modules, which should help the “team leader” or GM keep things fresh and interesting. The scenario also includes a collection of seven optional encounters that can be thrown in to spice things up.

The writing is pretty solid, though there were a few places I wished I had a bit more reference material scattered throughout the book. For example, early on the book refers to a NPC heading “straight towards the A.I.M” and I was left scratching my head until about 8 pages later when “A.I.M.” is defined as the “Artificial Intelligence Mainframe.” I’m old school and think that the first time you use an acronym, you should define it, though a list of terminology would work as well. Also I was left wanting a table of the NPCs in addition to the table early on with summaries of the PCs and all the equipment scattered throughout the adventure.

Like with Mince Pies & Murder and other 6d6 RPG products, if you’re looking for beautiful page layouts and interior art you’re going to be largely disappointed. Quantum Flux is more about the content of the adventure than the presentation and that’s fine. There are several maps of the different ship levels, but other than that and the front cover it’s single-column text with bold headings and descriptive sections to read to the players.

Quantum Flux

Image by tregenza via Flickr

Though I love the idea and the adventure, I didn’t have the “wow” factor with Quantum Flux that I had with Mince Pies. Each of those characters (PCs and NPCs alike) was amazingly well thought out, with plenty of extra details on how they would interact with each other. Though there’s a good story in Quantum Flux, I was left wanting a bit more about the AI and the old crew, the motivations of the aliens, and so on. That said, I still think this would be a fun one-shot for a group to try out a 6d6 RPG game.

Most of the 121 pages is dedicated to the adventure itself, which I appreciated. The section on “Running the Game” only takes up about 5 pages, so you do get a lot of bang for your buck. I have yet to actually play a game using the system, but I’d love to see someone run it at a con to see how it works.

If you like science-fiction horror movies, there’s a lot to like in Quantum Flux. It proves once again just how flexible the 6d6 system can be with standalone scenario-like games and I’m looking forward to see what they do with 6d6 Magic to see what they can do with a fantasy scenario! Be sure to check out Quantum Flux at the 6d6 RPG site for more details.

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