One of the great things about reviewing so many games, especially ones outside of our normal cadre of games on standby to play is the exposure to different ideas. I remember the excitement of being exposed to Numenera (and the Cypher System) with its freeing look at Game Mastering and Monte Cook’s words on the subject. I remember my first look at Arium: Create and Invisible Sun and the effect it had on my propensity for collaborative worldbuilding. I remember reading Blades in the Dark and Scum and Villainy and how the Forged in the Dark concepts of position and effect and success with consequence changed how I looked at GM-Player conversations and dice rolls in roleplaying games.
Earlier this year, we backed (well, I did) a Kickstarter by someone I had occasionally followed because of his advice on How to be a Great GM. Guy Sclanders, based out of the United Kingdom has done a heck of a job over the past six years putting together helpful short videos on various aspects of becoming better at the craft of GMing. Many of these, especially the earlier ones, are focused on Dungeons & Dragons, but it is not a stretch to apply the principles to other games. In February, Guy put out a Kickstarter as part of Zine Quest 3 for a game he called Bounty Hunter, a science fiction roleplaying game that sounded very much like Edge of the Empire or Scum and Villainy in theme which was right up my alley. The kicker and what sold me on the idea?
“I wanted to make the easiest-to-play TTRPG ever. It had to have some mechanics, it had to inspire awesome adventures, and… it had to have zero math, no dice, and just be a blast to play regardless of the player’s TTRPG experience. (No easy feat let me tell you).”Guy Sclanders, Bounty Hunter TTRPG Kickstarter description, February 2, 2021
In the past, I had heard of one roleplaying game that did not use any dice (Amber Diceless RPG), but I had never played one. The idea flew in the face of everything I thought I knew about tabletop roleplaying games. I decided right then that I had to back it so I could figure out how the heck something like that would work. Since I was backing a bunch of similar items for Zine Quest, I only backed at the PDF level. I’ll say it right now, I was wrong. I should have gotten the printed copy too.
Manufacturing and Production
Bounty Hunter TTRPG was designed to be a saddle-stitched, A4, Zine-style product. An 87 page PDF, the product is crisp, with a clean, easy-to-read, two column layout with no margin notes. There is some impressive, thematic artwork and graphic design work that appears, from the credits, to be the work of one person, though it does not say if the artwork was commissioned or done by that individual. With such a simple bound design, I can’t imagine that, as long as the paper and ink quality is good, the paper version is anything less than impressive.
The Bounty Hunter book is broken up into three sections: The rules, the setting, and a sample adventure. The rules are 38 pages, and as he mentioned in his quote, Guy has kept them simple and streamlined. The core mechanic is an Action Point (AP) economy. Characters have a given amount of action points per day that double as both how they do things and their health/vitality. As you increase in level based on your reputation score from the number of bounties you collect, the number of Action Points you have goes up. A similar mechanic governs ships (and subsequently ship combat).
Non-narrative action scenes like combat or other things where the order matters are carried out in phases, with a round split into First Phase and Last Phase. Acting in the First Phase requires an AP expenditure in addition to the expenditure for any action performed (combat, skill use, etc…). There is no waiting in each phase to see what other characters will do or the results of other actions. Everything in each phase happens simultaneously, and those acting in the Last Phase cannot use their action to block something that happened in the First Phase. A character in the First Phase can defend against something they anticipate to happen in the Last Phase, however. Players are given a time limit to respond with a decision of which phase to act in and should not be allowed to consult as a group. Each round, you can perform one significant action (one that requires an AP expenditure) and any number of non-repeating free actions (within the reasonable limits of the fiction).
Skills can be an AP expenditure as well, though unless they are being actively opposed, they are assumed to always succeed as long as there is not a narrative reason for them not to. Opposed skill checks are essentially AP buys until one or the other party decides to stop. With the same pool being used for your health, however, such buys are not likely to happen often or on unimportant matters.
The second part of the book is a setting detail of the Huntari Region of space. The section includes a map, some nice artwork as well as some background on the alien races there. Then there are independent sections detailing the different sectors of space, with some detail on the planets there. Short, but with enough description that a GM can riff off of them, there are ample locations to work with. Finally, the product includes a sample adventure, the bounty for Halcord Midmo. This adventure is assumed to be set just after the group of PCs graduate from the Bounty Hunter training facility on Partha in the Greypan Alliance. The adventure does a decent job of adding in helpful commentary to assist new Bounty Hunter GMs and even new GMs in general to understand what is going on at each stage and how to run the adventure.
While I enjoy the idea of the diceless mechanic here, I’m not entirely sold on it for combat. Combat feels flat this way, and while adding narrative flavor is fairly easy for a GM with a flair for the dramatic, it still feels like attrition without options. I admit freely that I’ve never played this game, but it would seem like a character or group of characters would not likely want to do more than one combat a day from a simple AP spend standpoint until later levels and even then, as the challenges scaled in an interesting fashion, it would probably not become more than twice a day. That would tend to rule out many types of what I might call “base incursions” (or in fantasy parlance, “dungeon crawls”). Obviously, having not played it yet, I could be wrong, but that seems to be the way the math would work out. Other than that, at 30 pages, the setting section seems a bit short, but that could easily be fixed with another supplement and the author may even have one in the works if a post-Kickstarter survey is correct.
The Bounty Hunter TTRPG by Guy Sclanders is a diceless, narrative roleplaying game set in space where you are a bounty hunter making your way in the galaxy. With narrative options for other character classes, plenty of character build variety, and simplicity in the rules it appears fairly easy to pick up and play or teach quickly. Without playing it, at first glance, the lack of nuance in the back and forth of combat seems something that would be a turnoff, but I would need some firsthand experience with it to test that observation. At the price point for the Kickstarter, and even now at his web shop for the PDF (for those that just want to try it out), it is actually a decent value and one I would say is worth the spend if this kind of setting is in your interests. While you may not end up liking the system, the thought behind it is something to learn from at the very least. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles