Review: Coriolis

Continuing with our efforts to branch out to systems that are new to us, today we’re taking a look at Coriolis, a science fiction game based on the Year Zero engine first used in Mutant: Year Zero.  Coriolis is released by Free League Publishing. We only have a Coriolis in PDF format so that’s what I’ll be discussing here. (As much as I would love to have everything I own in hardbound, there simply isn’t enough space in my house for it all). Now, one thing I will state first off that was semi-negative, at least for me (old person with old eyes): the coloration choices (white text on black background) on the text made it harder for me to read the PDF than some of the others that I’ve read.

Technical details: Outside of the aforementioned color choices, the PDF is laid out neatly and bookmarked. It is meant to be easily read with two columns and clear breaks in the text. The artwork is very nice and fits the theme and setting of space, not just outer space but the space station that sits most prevalent. Kosta Kostulas also posted a lovely forward just after the Table of Contents. Another negative, the table of contents isn’t hyper linked but with the bookmarks I don’t know that it matters as much to some. I also personally found the book hard to follow organization-wise. The designers used tables that clustered the numbers together, but they were almost never on the same page as the text that covered what was in the same table. Coriolis uses the mechanics, Year Zero Engine: Which was released under OGL.

What Coriolis is: Arabian nights – in space. Instead of being inspired by the western culture so many popular games are, it is inspired more by the Middle East. Food, music, fashion as well as myths, religion, philosophy and literature. The central theme to Coriolis is the conflict between the old, or Firstcome, and the new, the Zenithians – the descendents of the second wave of colonists.  They also helpfully included three TV shows to watch for inspiration for your game. Firefly, Revelation Space and its sequels, and Alien. I’d only watch the last if you like jumpscare horror however. My personal feeling however is that it feels a lot like Babylon Five in scope.

Creating your PCs is broken up into a similar format to Blades in the Dark as a comparison. First you create your group, are you Free Traders, willing to jump anywhere and bring back anything to make a buck? Mercenaries who get bought by the highest bidder both feared and scorned by the populace, yet imminently useful? Explorers seeking the truth refusing to settle for the Bulletin’s oversimplified version of reality? Agents who work for ‘the man’ and try to keep the station free from criminals, make trouble makers disappear, or detectives? Or are you Pilgrims, traveling to locate a holy site, ‘hands’ (traveling workers looking for jobs), or a traveling troupe of entertainers? You’re going to get to pick a talent connected to your group concept, so be mindful of what you want to do.

Second is picking your ship. You typically want to make your ship suited to the group concept, but you can always pick a different ship, or even build one. However, no matter how you slice it, when you launch into the game you start in debt to someone. Typically as a new outfit you want to ally yourself to an important benefactor, your patron, however the opposite side of this coin is your nemesis. One wants to see you succeed, the other will do what they can to cause you to fail. Examples of both for each group start on page 20. This is similar to Blades in the Dark, Star Wars or even Shadowrun to some extent. 

Finally, the part you’re waiting for, the Player Character. They broke it down into a simple list on how to do it, but then it gets complicated. Your background covers origin, upbringing, humanities. While upbringing is started on page 21 the table with the numbers for it isn’t until page 23. Next is your character concept, what you do for a living, followed by name, appearance, reputation and attributes. The Table for it all is on page 23. Next is skills with skill level, hit points and mind points. Tables for that are on page 25. More details for each are further in the book. 

The game is played with a set of six sided dice with an attribute + skill value pool of dice.  Rolling a six is a success and it usually requires three sixes to succeed with no consequences.  1 or two is a limited success.  You can use the power of the gods (Icons) to reroll some of the dice, but if you do that, there is karmic balance and the GM gets a darkness point to use later (kind of like Light Side v. Dark Side points in Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars system if you’re familiar with that).

The bulk of the rest of the book covers setting, non-player characters and the creatures of Coriolis, which is helpful when designing your own campaign. However, starting on page 339, Chapter 15 a Campaign is included. It includes not only a campaign you can run for your players, but also how and what your job as the GM of Coriolis is. They’ve also included pieces of the game that will help you set the right setting and mood for the game.

My thoughts on Coriolis: It looks like an interesting premise and would probably be a fun game to play in. However, because of restrictions on my time and the sheer amount of games I have in the air right now Coriolis will not be on my ‘must play soon’ list. It is also not on my ‘no, never, not even if you paid me list.’ Coriolis is on the ‘maybe someday’ list of games. I will state that for me to run it would require a lot more time than I am prepared to invest.  You can see other peoples’ thoughts here, with Chris Renshaw. Or Mr. Mean (aka John Pollack) here. I hope this helps. Happy gaming!

  • Joann Walles

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