Cascade Failure RPG, written by Greg Christopher is a new addition to the sci-fi RPG genre. Set after a galaxy-wide Great War, and the following Collapse, the players could thread upon this post-apocalypse universe and work toward their ambitions. It is a well made RPG, and it's completely free !
I just looked around in the Internet, when I founded a real gem : the Cascade Failure RPG. The first thing to note, it's a very deliberate post-apocalyptic sci-fi RPG, based on, but greatly expanding upon the very successful d20/OGL brand. But the real deal is : Its completely free !The book is stunningly well made and edited, especially for a free product. It's divided into 7 chapters, and consist every needed game information and a nicely detailed background. The background include a short history and some notes about the different factions present in the setting.
The character design chapter is outlined in a somewhat standard OGL, with several interesting twists. For example we get 8 different saving throws, instead of the standard 3, but I think these changes are both easy to understand and nicely fit into the setting. For character generation we get 7 different races from the standard humans to golems (humanoid robots) and 5 different aliens.
The classes are the first part of the book when we could see, how far the book gone from the base d20/OGL rules. There are no skill points or base attack bonus per level, but a rather simple but functional system to create characters in one of the 8 classes of the book. While some of them, like the medic or the soldier are not really surprising, but others like the empath and the kinetic are interesting character options. The skill system seems a bit too simplified, but it's the matter of personal taste, and it's not really the focus of the game. The last chapter of the book, Gifts is also closely connected to this part, because Gifts are basically the feats of Cascade Failure RPG, but we gain one in every two level.
In the second chapter, we get a barter system and a list of available equipment for the game. The game uses an imaginary Value Unit for trade, what is not really a type of currency, but a set value to follow wealth and costs. What was surprising to me, that the energy weapons and energy cells aren't really much more expensive as regular weapons. Based on the game setting, I tought that these weapons are a rarity, and energy cells should be hard to get. This, for a lesser extent are true for cybernetic enchantments too.
The "Life Among the Ruins" deals with the general rules for surviving in the wilderness, the combat and the most basic rules for running an encounter. They are many things left for the GM discretion in Cascade Failure, but that's fine by me. Since there is no base attack, the game uses standard attribute tests for combat, which is modified by the opponent's AC. Again, there is much detail I feel missing, like modifiers for range, cover and different conditions, but you could implement these from the basic OGL rues if you want to.
The next chapter about Technology is my favorite part of the Cascade Failure book. We have a very nice rule setting about how characters get to understand a new technological item they find, which is modified by the character class, it's age and by some other modifiers. For example a level 3 mature human engineer with Intelligence 14 has 8 chance to get knowledge about a generic item, while a level 3 adult golem soldier with intelligence 10 has only 1 chance. We could also read a great deal of background information about technologies available in the setting, including a breakdown about how they work, which is a great resource for a Game Master.
It was the Vehicles chapter the only part of the book, that I felt that something is lacking, and it's some statistics for example vehicles and mounted weapons. Since the game is still in beta, I guess this is ok, but for now I would skip this chapter for gameplay and use some close substitution instead as a temporary, or avoid combat encounters with vehicles entirely.
The last chapter I haven't mentioned yet, is about Factions. There are 9 different groups detailed, which could be readily included in a campaign, or could be a model for new factions. I felt that this part is well written, and good source for adventure hooks for a Game Master.
All in all, Cascade Failure RPG, while it has some problems, is a very good game and I'm sure it will be even better with future releases. It's definitely worth a try.
You may download the rulebook on the developer's site : Rulebook (approx. 27 Mb)
Or you may check Greg Christopher's homepage for even more interesting projects here.
Zoltán "Cain" Mészáros