|1||Albedo: Platinum Catalyst: Part 1|
|2||Albedo: Platinum Catalyst: Part 2|
|3||Albedo: Platinum Catalyst: Part 3|
|4||Albedo: Platinum Catalyst: Part 4|
|5||Albedo: Platinum Catalyst: Part 5|
|6||Albedo: Structural Integrity: Part 1|
|7||Albedo: Structural Integrity: Part 2|
I'd have more respect for that kind of thing if the authors just straight up said 'Fuck it, it works this way because I really want it to and I think it would make a cool story.'
Speaking of weird transhumanist furry stuff, I think it's finally time I begin my review of Albedo: Platinum Catalyst by Sanguine. Sanguine is an odd duck of a company. They make furry RPGs, but the furry RPGs they make are mechanically interesting (if complicated) and somehow less furry than something like HVD, if that makes sense, in that they don't really read like someone wrote them with one hand. The focus is much more on the classical sense of using anthropomorphic animals as shorthand for people groups than fetish work. Their debut game, Ironclaw, will always hold a place in my heart for being Redwall+Game of Thrones+The Renaissance with combat mechanics that were actually fun to play and a setting that got across the grit of a world changing over to a new era without being overly grimdark or making the PCs ineffectual shitfarmers, so when a friend said they'd made a sci-fi game as well, we picked up the rules for fun. I should also preface that I have never run a long campaign in this system, though I have played a few adventures and run a couple missions, myself.
Albedo: Platinum Catalyst is based on a comic called Erma Felna: EDF, written by a former Air Force technical illustrator named Steve Gallaci. Wikipedia tells me it was a foundational comic in the nascent furry fandom, which does not sound promising. Honestly, most of the stuff I've read about the comic in looking for background on the game doesn't sound especially interesting, but the basic setting is thus: One day a century or two before present, the random anthropomorphic animals of the setting achieved sentience. They simply awoke to already find they had histories, backgrounds, families, loved ones, jobs, all of it, but none of them could remember much beyond these pre-programmed backstories. They also discovered they had the Net, an omnipresent surveillance system that acts as both the internet and a general monitoring AI that will assist with inquiries and monitor the economy. Now, to their credit, they find the whole setup pretty fishy and pretty quickly come to the conclusion that they are an engineered people, and figuring out exactly who created them and why they were created, with theories ranging from the obvious (massive experiment in the development of cultures) to the insane (RABBITS UBER ALLES BITCHES!), and the Net quietly sabotaging any definitive attempts to discover why they exist. They're initially created with a cosmopolitan, atheistic, socialistic system of government, with a number assigned to a person called their Sociopolitical Intelligence (SPI) via automated personality testing, government performance evaluation and Net monitoring, and this number is used as someone's primary qualification in life. It values conformity and cosmopolitanism, preferring people who make no trouble and avoid questioning the general system, and the inputs from government performance assessment tend to ensure that this 'rational and objective' means of measuring someone's abilities promotes well-connected and relatively unimaginative people.
Then they have their waves of colonization, once they discover FTL. This is where shit starts to go wrong, because there's no Faster Than Light Communication, and so small FTL transmitters are used to beam Net data around the colonies, but otherwise it's easy to lose track of people. People who are dissatisfied with the gentle and vaguely sinister form of Net-enhanced surveillance-socialism strike out for the colonies, forming different sorts of government and independent planetary colonies. One such set of colonies is populated primarily by bunnies, and if you've read Watership Down, you know shit is about to go wrong, big-time. The Interstellar Lapine Republic starts out as crazy hypercapitalists, but the oligarchs quickly find their legitimacy is based solely on their ability to provide exorbitant amounts of goods and services to their people. They need something else to keep people happy and keep them from questioning the rule of their wealthy plutocratic masters. They discover that something when they start writing tracts about how incredibly awesome bunnies are and it gets people all jazzed up about the superiority of the rabbit race. Yes, the bunnies invent fascism from first principles and proceed to go on a tear of invasions, causing a massive war that forces independent colonies to band together with the inner worlds to form the Extraplanetary Defense Force, the EDF, which is essentially Furry Space NATO. The EDF fights the ILR back to its colonies, but the war is absolutely devastating to occupied colonies and comes down to the deployment of WMDs from orbit, with the EDF forced to choose between accepting an ILR surrender that leaves them in power in their core worlds, or risking causing billions of deaths to affect regime change. They decide to go with the former, and the war ends, about 40 years before the game starts.
Forty years of this has not gone well. The EDF's emergency powers never really went away, and the ILR hasn't really given up, either. They now resort to terror tactics and political warfare, trying to force brutal, limited EDF responses in minor proxy wars to gain the loyalty of 'Ethnic Lapine' populations, while corruption eats away at the EDF from within. Some of the EDF's highest commanders have figured out how to fuck with the Net, which allows them to alter the SPI system, the economic monitors, and alter historical records (society is mostly paperless with the huge ubiquity of handheld devices and tablets, which considering this was written before the 21st century is pretty prescient) to suit their own agendas. Now, the problem with an AI monitored system of hypersocialism is that it sort of relies on the AI having accurate data, so all of this tinkering and upheaval is risking making their semi-benevolent but mildly sinister AI god have a meltdown and wreck the entire inner system economy. Meanwhile, the EDF's corruption means it bullies outer planets, which is doing the ILR's work for them. Into all this, your PCs are meant to be newly minted squad leaders, assigned to various peacekeeping and counter-terror operations to try to fight these fires, and maybe discover the heavy dystopian elements of the setting for themselves and try to help correct them as best they can. Worlds are leaving the EDF for totally legitimate reasons, but the ILR are psychopaths who you absolutely must stop if you can. Innocent lives and the lives of your troops are in danger constantly, proxy and brushfire conflicts are all over the place, and in the middle of all of it, a created people are still wondering why they were created and what exists in the universe to give a damn about beyond their own existence.
It's honestly not that bad a setup for a semi-hard sci-fi dystopia/mil-sci-fi game. Its justification for the furries makes a hell of a lot more sense than HVD, and why they were created and by whom is left ambiguous (which is much better, considering answering that question is a potential major campaign hook) in the core book, though the one solitary expansion book spells it out (If you guessed they were created by humans to study cultural development in the case of a historical vacuum, you get a prize). Next we'll get into the mechanics of the game, like the insanely complicated character creation, but also the very interesting squad and combat mechanics.
Alright, I've got some time, so it's time for more
Albedo Platinum Catalyst
Now, the first thing the book gets out of the way is explaining the dice mechanics, which I appreciate. These are where the mechanics start to get interesting. You get 3 stat pools: Body, Drive, and Clout (Physical, mental, and social) which are each associated with a bunch of skills: Stuff that requires focus like shooting a gun is Drive, stuff that's all about physical strength like close combat or hefting a comrade and dragging them to safety takes Body, stuff that takes reputation and charisma like calming down a bunch of angry protestors before they start throwing rocks takes Clout. These stats, though, have no direct effect on your rolls; they instead form a pool of points you can spend to interact with some of the rolling options, as well as a pool of HP for those three aspects of your PC.
What happens is, you roll based on your Skill, which is measured from 1-8. If you have a 1, you can roll a d4, a 2, a d6, etc. You roll against a task's difficulty, which will be a die itself, and if you get a 1 you Botch. Now, this makes it sound like you're going to botch all the time, and you will, if you do the standard rolling. Also, dice stop at size d12, so what are higher skills for? In come the other rolling options. The default option for a task, as the book makes clear, is Going Rote. When you go Rote, your character is resorting entirely to their training, and you get an automatic result of Skill+1 vs. Difficulty. You can't Botch when you're going Rote and it costs you no resources, so this is the normal way you'll make attacks, try to fix shit, etc when you don't have a pressing need to do better. You can also Risk, where you roll one die higher than you normally could, at the cost of 1 point from the associated stat pool. This is a dangerous option you should only pull if you have a 4 or less in a skill and really, really need to have a chance of hitting a high number. Risking represents pushing the limits to try to go above what your limited training could normally accomplish. You can Breeze, where you halve your skill, rounding down, and roll two dice of the appropriate size; Breezing represents an overqualified character trying to complete a task quickly and well, and if both dice succeed you get an Overwhelming Success, where you'll do more damage in combat or take much less time or otherwise get a much better result. Finally, you can Push, where you spend 1 point of the associated stat pool and roll 2 dice of the appropriate size without halving it; this can only go up to 2d12, but considering 'heroic' difficulties or shit like making a blind rifle shot at 100m on a target in cover have difficulties like 2d12 or 3d12+d8, that still gives you pretty solid odds. Pushing represents a skilled character giving it their all and taking a chance to make a heroic success. These options, along with transparent difficulty numbers (you should always know the difficulty dice before choosing your rolling method) give a fair number of options in the base dice mechanics. Also note, if you're rolling 2 dice from Breezing or Pushing, you only Botch if you roll 2 1st, which greatly lowers the risk.
Now, your starting stats are determined by your Species and a simple personality test for your PC. Species gives you a couple skills that your race is good at, and a baseline of Body, Clout, and Drive. You also get to pick a Gift from your species table: Gifts are stuff like Healthy, or Cool Under Fire, unique talents that let you do cool shit like avoid psych damage or increase your stats, or that give you new ways to spend points from your stat pools for new abilities. For instance, a character with Semiauto Expert can spend extra ammunition to fire a three-round burst that lets them convert a Tie on an attack into a Hit, or a character with Sniper Expert can spend Drive to do extra damage with single shots, or a character with Counselor can help allies recover from psychological fatigue. Noticeable is there's no Flaws to match Gifts; what there is, instead, is Dubious Gifts. Dubious Gifts represent stuff that either isn't considered socially acceptable (A fair number lower your SPI, which lowers your starting rank, which lowers your ability to draw good assignments and work the system and hinders your career as an EDF officer) or that have some drawback in return for a powerful benefit. For instance, if you're a Young officer, fresh out of training, you get +1 to Body and Drive because you're full of energy, but -1 to Clout because you haven't had a career yet, lose some SPI for being a rookie, but also gain the ability to socialize with other younger characters and fresh recruits a bit better. A Cold Hearted character can take the rigors of combat better, being better able to resist mental damage (And when we get to combat, holy shit is mental damage a prevalent and terrible threat to your PC and your squad) but loses some Clout and SPI because someone who exhibits relatively little compunction against violence is considered majorly psychologically unhealthy. The Psych Test consists of some simple questions to see your PC's base Meyers Briggs personality type, which will give you +4 to a mixture of Clout and Drive (+4/+0, +3/+1, +2/+2, etc) based on your mix. Next, you add Clout and Drive total together, add or subtract SPI from Gifts, and calculate your base SPI and Rank. Most PCs will start off as junior Lts, sergeants or other similar squad-level officers.
Next you take a Homeworld, giving you some more skills and a gift associated with your Homeworld. After this, you take your Service Branch, which will determine what kind of Squad you lead as well as give you a much greater array of basic skills necessary to do your job and a couple gifts assigned by your military specialty. PCs can be from Admin, being quartermasters, internal affairs, press liaisons, and political officers, Aerospace, being pilots and paratroopers (though without real rules for air combat, playing a pilot seems a bit daft), Navy crew, Surface Ops, playing as infantrymen, medics, engineers, and drivers, or they can play as 'specialists'; Spies and Explorers. Most parties will probably mostly form an infantry platoon, with one PC leading a medic team, one a unit of infantry, etc. After this, you take 10 free skillpoints, with up to 3 going into any one skill, pick a Gift of your choice, and you're done with your PC.
After your PC is done, you build your Squad. Squaddies are much simpler than full PCs, being a team of NPCs who you control in combat, and who are significantly easier to kill, panic, and knock out of fights but who can definitely still contribute. Squaddies only get the stats for their Species and Service Branch, and all but 1 of a PC's 4 Supporting Characters have to be from the same Branch as you. So, for instance, if you're running a Light Infantry squad, you could have 3 Light Infantry and then a Heavy Infantry who carries the squad's LMG or rocket launcher, or 2 Light Infantry, a Medic, and an Engineer to provide support, or 3 Light Infantry and then an Aerospace pilot to act as your shuttle crewman for a rapid response unit. These NPCs are fully under your control in combat, since you play as the squad rather than a single character when you're in battle. Supporting Characters only have a Body stat, since Body determines how hard it is to hurt you, and can't spend Body to Push or Risk skills. They also lack Clout and Drive, instead replacing them with a single point of Morale. Morale can be used to absorb mental damage or to Push or Risk, and a PC can restore or grant Morale by using the Lead skill and spending points of Clout. The game makes it very clear a skilled Leader PC with average personal combat skills and a squad of light infantry is probably going to do better in combat than a lone wolf badass hero; his subordinates will resist panic and they can use his leadership to use the full range of dice abilities.
One definite problem with PC creation, as I learned with my would-be-social-climber Tank Driver in the first game I played, is that the baseline for 'good' is quite high. You want a 3 or 4 in a skill to have it be something your character can 'rely' on and it's very hard to grow into new skills later; standard infantry mooks are generally Longarm 4-5 and are actually pretty damn skilled shots, for instance. Some of the services spread skills around a lot, especially ones like Mechanized, and if you start with, say, only a 2 in Sidearms you're going to be pretty useless in combat if it comes up. They don't really make it clear from the start that, say, a character with a 1 in a skill basically has enough familiarity not to be a risk to themselves and others with that skill, but shouldn't expect to accomplish much with it. If you build for it, it's also very easy to build a very skilled character from the very start in certain areas. A commando could very well begin with an 8 Longarm skill and be one of the best Riflemen in the entire EDF from the getgo, but stuff like Leadership is harder to get very high from the very start. Similarly, some of the Services do not work well when mixed in with others. If you build a scientist with a team of researchers and the rest of the party builds heavy infantry squads and grunts, then one of you is going to be a bit bored some of the time and it gets harder to give everyone screentime. The Squad system exists for a very good reason that we'll get to when we get to combat, but it also makes large play groups difficult to use. Running combats with 25 PC controlled playing pieces for a 5 player group is very difficult. The game does do very well as a single-player RPG because of the squad system, though; a player can build their own little party of dudes and run them through their adventures together, controlling the whole team in combat. Finally, until the expansion book came out, there were no real vehicle rules, which really, really hurts mechanized infantry, pilots, etc. Still, overall, the options in creation give you a fair bit of room to add some interesting quirks to your officer, build a little squad of guys with their own hooks and foibles, and customize your PC.
I've always been a bit leery of "stat pools as hp" since I got burned on Numenera. I presume that since there's no single stat used as hp that it works out better? In Numenera the physical stuff stat was also HP, which meant warrior-types got screwed over pretty hard if they wanted to exert themselves.
It's time for more
Existentialist Furry Space NATO
Albedo: Platinum Catalyst
Alright, I've described the setting some, and PC and squad creation, and now it's time to see why you have an entire squad. The reason is infantry tactics and combat math. Combat in Albedo is the main point of mechanical complexity; your PCs are soldiers, your job is going to warzones and carrying out peacekeeping, counter terror, and military actions. There's plenty of non-combat stuff to do, but the bulk of mechanical rigor is in combat because the game wants to try to make combat tense and relatively grim.
First, we'll go over how injury works. If you get Injured in a stat, you reduce your pool of that stat by 1 and reduce your max pool of that stat by 1 per point of injury until you can recover (Psych counseling, time and distance and good service to rebuild a reputation, or medical care). This is important because one of the keys of combat is that being shot is terrible, and you never want to be shot. When it comes to taking actual damage, you have damage thresholds, determined by your starting Body stat (these do not reduce as you spend Body or take injuries) of Wounded, Crippled, Incapacitate, and Devastated. If you take a hit that does damage in excess of a Threshold, you take some points of Injury to your Body AND gain a condition based on the threshold passed, making it easier for subsequent hits to hurt you even worse. If you're Crippled, you have to spend Body (or Morale, for supporting characters) just to act in combat. If you take Injury equal to your Body or take a really heavy hit, you're Incapacitated, which means you're down and probably out of the fight, though an exceptionally heroic character might be able to spend Body to stay conscious and crawl for safety, or even fire back. Incap is generally the point where a character can be considered down and out; they also have a 5% chance of actually dying each round until a medic gets to them. Devastated takes a truly insane amount of damage (for an average 7 Body character, they'd need to take a solid hit from a .50 anti-tank rifle or a heavy, direct grenade hit), but if it happens you fucking die. Not only do you die, but seeing someone get their head blown clean off or turned into red mist causes combat fatigue. All onlookers take Awe, which reduces their Morale or Drive (It isn't actual Drive injury unless you've run out of Drive to spend, in which case it becomes Trauma and thus Drive Injury) by 2 if they were on the dead guy's side (instantly panicking rookie squaddies) or 1 if they were on the attacker's side. That's right, blowing a guy's head off or turning a guy into soup with a shotgun or grenade will cause combat trauma to your characters, too. The math on being wounded is harsh, though it's very hard to die instantly and much easier to get incapacitated and wounded. All weapon damage is measured in two numbers. Say a LAKW, your Space M16, does 10+10 damage. This means it will inflict 10+d20 to a target it hits. That d20 is rolled against their Deflection (usually 10-11 for combat armored troops) and if it beats Deflection, they add the second number to damage because it Penetrated the target's armor. If you're Wounded or Crippled, foes get extra Penetration dice against you (since you're already hurt and more fragile). Explosives and close-range shotgun fire also roll extra damage. Considering average Body is 7, and Wounded Threshold is Bodyx2 (Subsequent levels are +10, +20, and +40 to the initial) and an extra +5 to all of them if you're in combat armor, this means even a shot that doesn't penetrate could wound the average bunny or fox (a 9 or 10 on the d20 Pen dice will still result in 19 or 20 damage, which will Wound them) through their armor by blunt trauma alone. As you can see, being shot fucking sucks.
Which gets us to Awe, one of the key parts of combat. Awe comes from being hit (regardless of injury), being Injured, fighting in close combat, watching someone die horribly, taking suppressive fire, or being hit with explosives (regardless of if they do damage). Awe instantly reduces Morale or Drive, and if you run out of Morale or Drive and take excess Awe, not only will a PC take Trauma from the combat fatigue, but you Panic. Panicked characters can still act, but they have to move towards and hide behind cover, and if they attack, they can no longer claim Rote (and since they're out of Drive/Morale, can't Push or Risk either), which makes their performance extremely erratic because they're scared out of their mind. Close Combat always inflicts 1 point of Awe on the attacker and the attacked, as it's much harder to bring yourself to wrestle a guy to the ground and knife him in the throat than to shoot him at 100m. A set of Gifts (and one Dubious Gift) let you resist some Awe each round if you have them, making it much easier to keep your mind in the fight. You'll also need to be using Lead to keep your squadmates from panicking, since by default they can only handle 2 points of Awe before panicking and going wild. I feel like Awe is one of the better systems in the game; it's fiddly, but it does an excellent job of getting across that a firefight is insanely unpleasant and stressful, and that badass bravado doesn't really survive the realities of war unless you're so hardened you start to scare people. It also means doing morale damage to enemies and panicking them into retreating or cowering is a legitimate strategy and that firefights often end with some enemies wounded or dead and the rest retreating or surrendering, instead of fighting to the death.
So how do you avoid getting shot, which we've established is super bad, and why is it so important that you have 5 guys to control? You don't have any active Dodge skills, etc, though a character with extensive melee training will get to claim extra defense in melee due to their skills. Instead, you have Range, Cover, and Concealment. If you're shooting at a guy at medium range (50 or so meters) in solid cover at you're attacking vs. 2d8. You don't add the 2d8, you just take the highest showing die, but remember your average infantryman will rote to a 5 and he loses ties unless he has Semiauto Expert and spends extra bullets to convert a tie to a hit. So he's got roughly 25% odds of making that shot, and that's an average shot in an average situation in urban combat. Further, each character only gets 1 action every turn, which can be used to run, move through cover slowly to avoid detection, overwatch fire, and improve their cover/concealment protection, fire, treat an injured ally, reload, etc. You have 5 guys so that 'I suppress him' and 'I move up to start moving to flank' don't feel like 'wasted' turns. A couple of your squad can try to pin the enemy while others move through cover or dash to new cover or provide overwatch or get into an elevated position to aim or grenade the targets while a couple others suppress or try low-odds frontal shots to keep the enemy's attention. Thus, you have 5 guys to encourage using actual infantry tactics like suppressing and flanking and so that if you're taking multiple low-odds actions in one round, you have a better shot at one of them succeeding and keeping you from feeling like you wasted your turn. Also, let's take our theoretical 8 skill rifleman hero from character creation: You'll note he can Rote to a 9 and WILL NOT miss in the standard 2d8 situation. That's intentional; that's designed to simulate, say, an expert sniper or marksman that the enemy will need to hunker down or take their lumps from, letting you use that PC to keep their heads down while others maneuver. In the combats I've played, the game feels a lot like a grittier version of Jagged Alliance or X-COM, and while combat is challenging to run and basically requires a tactical map, it's actually a lot of fun and tense as hell. This is the other reason you have 5 guys; if you're knocked out or taken down, you're intended to be able to take over playing as your squaddies until your PC gets back on their feet. This does make running with large groups insane, though; I recommend a small group of up to 3 people for Albedo, in general, which is one of the flaws of a lot of Sanguine's games.
Let me know if people need more detail on stuff! I can go into more detail if you like.
With that, it's time to finish up my review of
Albedo: Platinum Catalyst
No, I don't know what the hell a platinum catalyst is either.
Alright, now that we're done with PC creation, background, and combat, it's time to get into optional rules. Now, I haven't gone into detail enough on the base rules to cover these in a lot of detail, but I really appreciate that they exist. They include rules for playing civilians (cops, contractors, refugees, etc), rules for calling for supporting and indirect fire, rules for space-suit equipped zero-G infantry combat, that kind of thing, alternate rules for shooting through cover, . Ways to expand out from the base concept of 'A couple fireteams of infantry go deal with some terrible shit'. It also includes some suggestions for altering the tone, if you prefer. If you want a more romantic space opera about square-jawed space GIs battling evil rabbit Cobra, have big, larger than life villains you have personal relationships with, and keep things focused on the personal scale. Even when it talks about going for 'realism' in that the PCs are just a small squad or two in a huge war, it still tells you to never forget the story is about your PCs and that they should either have a pivotal rule in some engagement at some point, or if you prefer to keep to the smaller scale, they should still make a noticeable difference they can see. Basically, you don't have to save the world, just get that refugee family to safety or successfully cover the medic while he rescues wounded EDF troops, etc. The general advice is always to know your players, figure out what people want out of the game, and go for that.
Next comes the part that isn't very good. Firstly, the armory chapter is adequate for being a light or heavy infantry unit, but without any vehicles until the add-on book, it kind of makes a couple of the specialties a bit left out without extensive houseruling. The guns are also functional but unexciting; there'll be more interesting ones in Structural Integrity, but the general theme is 'Assault Rifle, Carbine, Machine Pistol, Combat Shotgun, Grenade Launcher, LMG, HMG, A-10 cannon, Marksman Rifle, Sniper Rifle.' And then the ILR has some similar but sorta shittier guns with high mag cap because you being Existentialist Furry Space NATO, the rabbits are obviously a bit Space Watership Down Warsaw Pact in gear.
The worst part of the book comes when it gets to advancement. The Recovery rules are a little over-simulationist (it takes a hell of a long time to recover from real damage, and a doctor, social coordinator/spin doctor, or psychologist can only speed it up, not restore damage) but functional when you remember you've got a huge stock of spare characters to adventure around as if need be, but the real problem is advancement. You advance every 3 sessions, earning a Low, then a Medium, then a Low, then a Medium, then a Low, then a single High advance, and the game isn't clear on if you get to pick one thing listed from the advance tables or get the entirety of a Low, Medium, or High advance. Characters advance at a glacial pace if it's the former, if it's the latter you suddenly have big jumps in ability that are still very restrictive and very much reward minmaxing at character creation because only High advances can advance a skill that's way up there in rank, while Lows mostly just get you the basics of new skills. Also, only Medium and High gain new Gifts, so to gain an Advanced Gift (one that has prerequisites, and these are often very powerful, like the ability to give Squaddies 2 or more Morale for each point of Clout spent rallying them) would take, RAW, 18 sessions of play. It's an overly abstract system of advancement that could really use errata to clear it up, but Albedo has no official errata and I can't find an official ruling on the issue. Advancement is bad.
There's more detail I can go into about the game if people want, but at the end of the day it's an interesting game that has been quite fun to play in my limited experience. Fights are tense and get the tone across well, the setting has some interesting hooks to get into, and it feels like it avoids being an ideologue or descending into full on Grimdark Shitpit mode. It's a furry game that's much more focused on being a military sci-fi setting devoid of space wizards and soul lasers, which I really appreciate. It's an odd, obscure little game, but I'm glad someone took the time to make it, because I've enjoyed playing and running it.
Oh, also, on the subject of crazy furry shit, there's a side-note in the book on predator/prey relations that's just 'Jesus fucking christ, while there have been incidents of cannibalism, they happen solely in the extreme deprivation of starvation or crazy fucking serial killers you nutjobs, no-one eats people.'
Speaking of, it's time to get to
Albedo: Structural Integrity
Structural Integrity exists to fill in the holes in the original rulebook. Considering I can't find Albedo for PDF anywhere, I'm surprised an expansion was written, since I get the impression there wasn't much market for depressing hard mil-sci-fi existentialist furries. I've always gotten the impression Sanguine's games are too furry for normal gamers but not furry enough for furries, going by what The Deleter said, though Ironclaw seems to be working out well for them. Structural Integrity adds more background on what happened in the comics, including the idea that the Net sometimes contacts people and goes 'Hey, guy, I need help with this. Don't ask me why. But you need to quietly go do this thing or shit's gonna get ugly' since this is apparently what happened to Erma in the comics. I'm not really sure how I feel about that plot point; I kind of prefer the idea of the Net as a passive and omnipresent thing that occasionally ruins your career if you're doing bioweapons research (All research is conducted with the aid of the Net, and it's mentioned that it puts the kibosh on all weaponized viral devices, etc, quietly destroying research and ruining careers when people work on that stuff). The fluff also talks about a dead human being found in a 'Creator ship' on the edge of space, which happened in the comic, and which I saw fit to ignore when I ran the game because I don't like outright answering the question of 'Who the hell made these guys and why'. It also talks about the difference in EDF and ILR gear; EDF gear tends to be general purpose and very solid, while ILR equipment is more experimental and specialized. Their troops are similar; EDF grunts are well trained and broadly skilled, but the ILR prefers a mix of terrifyingly efficient commandos and special forces and more poorly trained and numerous conscripts. It also notes that the ILR has one huge advantage: The EDF has to design gear and armor for troops who can range from 4'6" to 7'6" and vary enormously in body type, since they have dozens of species in their armed forces. The ILR is entirely made up of The Bun, and thus they can standardize and manufacture equipment, transports, cockpits, control systems, etc much easier. It also goes into a lot of fluff detail on the EDF advantage in information technology; every soldier in your squad can set their eyepiece to see through an ally's eyepiece or gun camera, your squad leader probably has a medical and positional monitor on all of you, etc. The ILR doesn't have quite the same level of networking or communications between squads. It also goes into detail about your transport ships. Have you played Homeworld? Good. Your troop transport is the Mothership. On par with 40k ships in scale, the FTL capable VLCCs (Very Large Cargo Carriers) carry enough manufacturing and processing facilities to build their own vehicles and re-equip the squads on board from local resources, as transporting huge amounts of material is difficult. The key resource isn't tanks or guns, it's warm bodies and trained heads. This is one of the reasons the EDF puts so much premium on protecting their troops and getting them back alive. It's much easier to send in a new tank than to replace a highly trained Rapid Reaction orbital drop squad! This is why there's an awful lot of emphasis on medical tech, getting soldiers back alive, prosthetic limbs, and psych counseling.
Now, normally, the only advancement that Squaddies get is that after 3 missions, they become Loyal and start battles with 3 Morale. Also, replacement squaddies normally come in green, at 0 Morale, and only move up to 1 after 3 missions. Structural Integrity provides rules for Adjutants; as your PC gets promoted out of squad level work, your surviving squaddies become officers of their own, becoming more and more like actual main characters and gaining stats and things the same way you had them. The idea is that this happens so that you can play as a captain or major or colonel and make decisions and things about where you're sending the team and dealing with higher level officers, then scale down into a smaller squad and take over as your Adjutant character to play out normal squad based action and situations when it's time for adventure, and occasionally take to the field as your original, higher ranking main character. It's an interesting system if you want to go by military realism (Once someone makes company level officer, etc, it wouldn't make a lot of sense for them to still drop with 4 guys and get into gunfights constantly) but I feel it sort of sidelines your original main character. Now, that might be your thing, if you want to play your original hero getting detached from the field by success and experience and occasionally getting together his now-elite commando team for a critical mission, and this whole system is optional anyway, so on the whole, it's better that it exists, I think. Also, reading through again, this clears up (from an example of an Adjutant advancing) that Advancement was meant to be 'here's a list of stuff that you COULD take as a Medium improvement, pick one', which is annoying as it confirms the glacial rate of advancement I feared was the intention. They also include more solid rules for Supporting Characters advancing without becoming Adjutants, staying relatively abstracted but gaining a few Gifts and extra skills to reflect becoming veterans along with your PC. This is a very welcome improvement, as it gives you some more room to differentiate your squadmates and give them more personality, as well as even more reason to keep them alive. I can't recall if it's in this book or the last, but the other penalty for dead squaddies is every lost squaddie inflicts 1 point of Social damage on the PC; no-one trusts an officer who brings home too many bodybags.
They next go into a bunch of medals and decorations, my favorite of which is the Distinguished Service Ribbon; it's awarded primarily to Admin personnel, mainly by Admin personnel, and mainly to burnish a record and improve SPI a little as a favor for a favor or for a friend's cousin or something, earning it the nickname of the Desk Sitting Ribbon among most of the infantry. I like the little bits about what the medals mean and what their social consequences and general requirements are, like how someone without at least one DCB (Direct Combat Badge) will generally be considered the squad's whipping boy until he or she earns their first campaign ribbon, or how soldiers generally display markings intended to symbolize their medals on their armor as good luck charms.
Next comes vehicle combat, which is complicated and big, so I'll get to it next time.
Alright, I've been putting this off a couple days. Time for more
Albedo: Structural Integrity
Firstly, there's some mechanical stuff I need to cover before I get into vehicles, because the vehicle rules are all about the mechanics, to a degree I've got to say I don't like. They...work, but they're way too complicated and involve enough math that introducing a vehicle is going to slow stuff down and take a lot of getting used to, which is a problem when A: The game is relatively realistic and most infantry is mechanized and B: The game already gives every PC a squad of NPCs to resolve and play actions for.
Before we get to vehicles, I need to describe how Albedo does full auto weapons and explosives, because it comes up quite a bit with vehicles. Their solution to full auto is relatively abstract and based on the idea that hitting more than one person (or the same person with multiple rounds) is actually pretty hard to do. In Albedo, Full Auto comes across via Suppressive Fire (You get a chance to hit a bunch of enemies in a cone at short range, or medium range if you have a Gift, while forcing them all to take Awe and possibly Panic, but unless you have a belt-fed weapon you burn your entire clip) and Following Fire (Once you hit a target, you can follow up with additional shots at short range (medium if you have a Gift) or switch fire to nearby targets, but past a certain point to keep shooting you have to spend Drive and you use 3 bullets per attempt). These are pretty solid ways to do automatic fire, especially as the former gives you a very solid reason to have an LMG around despite its enormous bulk and having roughly the same ballistics as a LAKW rifle. Speaking of, all these weapon names, like LAKW, stand for 'Long Arm, Kinetic Weapon' etc. Explosives are modeled by having relatively low damage, but rolling bonus penetration dice and thus having a high chance to inflict a high d20 result, as well as extra iterations of their Pen damage rating, based on how directly they land on target and how little cover is in the way. They also inflict 1 Awe per Pen Die they roll no matter what; even if he survives it, a character who has a close call with a grenade or mortar is going to be reeling.
They didn't want to throw the math off entirely with vehicles, so vehicles have a Body and Deflect and Threshold just like PCs. The difference is, if the base damage of your weapon isn't higher than the vehicle's deflection (Say, a LAKW's 10 base+10 Pen vs. an APC's 12 Deflect) you lose 2 Penetration dice. If this would reduce your Pen Dice to 0, you cannot damage the vehicle on that facing with that weapon. A specific sidebar notes they did that threshold of penetration mitigation so someone with a critical hit and sniper gifts could potentially hit something vital with a rifle, and so hand grenades would have a chance to defeat light vehicles. This isn't really the bad part; all this makes sense, a vehicle is relatively impervious to small arms but a heavy anti-vehicle rifle could defeat it, as could a hilariously competent soldier or a grenade tossed in just the right spot and set with a shaped charge. They also introduce new anti-vehicle weapons like a rocket launcher that's designed with a HEAT charge, crew served autocannons, etc, so that's all fine. It's a pretty elegant solution to making vehicles difficult to hurt with small arms without introducing tons of weapons that completely throw off the damage math.
The problem comes when they start introducing hit locations and overpenetration rules. Hit location is determined by dividing the total damage from a wounding hit to a vehicle. Yep. It has to be a penetrating hit, but it introduces dice shifts, which lower the size of the vehicle driver/gunner/crew's dice due to the damage to the vehicle (vehicles can also cause dice shifts via their maneuverability rating, to simulate an armored car being easier to turn than a tank, etc). On a divisible by 16 pen hit your vehicle just stops outright, unless you're insanely skilled (5 or higher skill) in which case you can make an emergency landing or keep it rolling long enough to hit cover and bail. It's complicated. Much more complicated than the abstract infantry wounds. It's 'realistic', but I don't know if it's really necessary. I assume the reason for it is that it's insanely hard to Devastate a vehicle and they wanted ways to 'mission kill' them without having to do so or run through all their Body, but the mechanics are going to slow the game down. Then comes Overpenetration. There's a hard cap on the damage a vehicle can take from a single, heavy kinetic penetrator, and it's based on the vehicle's Body and Deflection. A vehicle uses the total rolled damage for special effects, but cannot take more wounds than Body+Deflection+Pen Dice Result from a single non-explosive shot. This is even more confusing because it counts the Pen damage (as well as the d20) as the Penetration result; so if your light aircraft is smacked by something with a massive 69+25 damage, and you only have 30 Body+Deflection, you'd essentially take 30+25+d20 on a penetrating hit and 30+d20 on a glance. This is, again, realistic; this is a real problem for heavy, penetrating rounds and light vehicles. It's also an attempt to ensure that the LH 60-1 Kinetic Penetrater cannon is not the best gun for every situation ever. But it's more math and more complexity in an already complicated system, considering you find the full total to check for hit location and THEN reduce for Blowthrough.
One interesting thing about the vehicles is The Bun and the EDF never had a WWI or a WWII. There are MBTs, but they're built almost entirely by colonial militias who aren't expecting orbital/air strike and don't need to move the damn things from planet to planet. Vehicles tend to be light because they need to be air-liftable, and there's much more focus on infantry fighting vehicles and lightweight armored recon tanks than big, heavy gun-carriages. The simple fact is, if the orbital/air situation isn't contested and you clump a bunch of vehicles up in one place, you're going to eat an unmanned hyper-accelerator drone that hits with the force of a tactical nuke. Vehicles in Albedo are designed for dispersion and covering ground quickly, not for huge tank fights, as air and space power has made the latter obsolete before it was even tried. Incidentally, have I mentioned the original author of the comics worked for the air force and the original protagonist was an Aerodyne pilot? I think I did. To be fair, though, this is actually pretty much the direction things are going, with a focus on lighter vehicles that carry infantry as opposed to big MBTs post WWII.
Overall, the vehicle rules are doable, and if you can handle the base system you can handle them, but I wish they were a bit faster to resolve and a little more elegant, and didn't introduce so many completely new concepts like Dice Shifts.
It's time for some more
Existentialist Furry Space NATO
After Vehicles comes a hell of a lot of rules that are honestly too complicated to use. Lots of extensive rules for determining if you can spot a target, with what sense, in what direction, how to work out how many NPCs get hit off-screen by an NPC artillery barrage, and some other stuff that is honestly starting to show one of the big weaknesses of Structural Integrity as an add-on. It gets *too* focused on trying to be realistic and model the scale of a large military engagement, which risks losing sight of what the main book stressed, which is that despite the enormous scale things need to stay focused on the PCs. Not only that, but again, this game is already pretty complex! Adding in an extra step of 'I need to spot my target before I can fire' makes hitting or even locating enemies much less likely, and vice-versa, which could bog down combats and slow things down further. There's also rules for homing weapons, which can trade in some of their Explosive Pen Dice for a flat bonus to their highest to-hit die.
Next we get the much more welcome Species Design rules. These confirm what a look at the species in the original book would lead one to suspect: There's an actual, specific formula for how many skillpoints, how many stat points, and what gifts Species get. This is why low Body species like Mice tend to have some awesome skill bonuses; it makes up for them being ridiculously easy to kill. Species are rated by size (giving base stats and skill mark numbers), diet (determining how good they are at melee vs. stealth), what sort of environment they prefer, and what other traits (like being pack animals, being ornery, etc). They also include a pretty helpful example of building a batshit crazy wolverine man as demonstration, showing it does, in fact, produce the same sort of results as the listed species from the main book. This is a pretty great thing to put in, both to assure readers the original species were balanced against something, and to allow people to make whatever the hell they want. You want to be a komodo dragon? Fuck it, go with it. You want to have a shell-shocked, tiny least-weasel scampering around breaking bunny necks and soliloquizing about the horrors of war? Go for it.
They also finally introduce the biggest limit on using heavy weaponry: Weight. Your gear weighs a lot. Your armor weighs kg equal to your Body stat, and your normal unencumbered weight is 2xBody. A soldier can carry a lot more than that, but it'll slow them down. Taking the Gift of Strong or Very Strong increases the weight cap to Bdx3 or Bdx4, which can lead to a Bear (or rhino, or other particularly big species) being able to lug a crew-served weapon in full body armor because he's a goddamn bear, which is awesome. Carrying more weight slows you down in combat, penalizing the Run skill checks (or Rotes) that you use to move quickly in battle. All the weight also wears you out faster; if you're over encumbered you reduce the number of rounds you can run without needing rest significantly. I normally hate encumbrance rules in RPGs, but one of the big axioms of military operations is that weight is a constant enemy. The weight limit is generous enough that the average soldier can wear their body armor and carry a carbine pretty much no matter what; it just makes it so you need multiple characters to lug a crew served weapon, which isn't as big a deal when you have 4 squaddies with you. Mostly, it serves to limit the use of heavy weapons and enormous anti-vehicle rifles, since it takes a hell of a lot of strength to carry one on your own.
Next we come to a ton of fiddly rules about building and repairing stuff. Again, the game's getting sort of overly simulationist here. It's understandable that you'd want some rough rules for 'Can I get the turret working before ILR reinforcements arrive', but it goes into a ton of charts and complex rules and a lot more fluff on the vehicles. They explain how vehicles really don't bother with anti-vehicle-weapon armor because there's no way to physically armor them enough to stop modern anti-tank weapons, and so the focus is on finding a target first and putting a big round in them first. Vehicle armor is designed mostly to protect against explosives and small arms, to provide support to infantry, but most vehicles are vulnerable to GPMGs or HMGs, let alone dedicated anti-tank weaponry. The rules also serve to let you design variant vehicles, but honestly, there are vehicles enough for almost every situation in the vehicle section, and once you have one MG armed APC, you've got them all. All of these are optional rules, mind, but again, this is verging on adding too much complexity to the game.
Next up: The guns in the main book were kind of boring. Let's bring in the hypervelocity dart APCR rounds and the flechette grenade MGs!
I've been lax because I was trying (unsuccessfully) to find pictures, but it's time for EVEN MORE
Existentialist Furry Space NATO
The new gear chapter starts off with a neat bit on examples of how to use different skills to try to get things you aren't explicitly assigned, ranging from tricking the quartermaster to citing mind-numbing rules and regulations to trading the least-terrible versions of the standard issue MREs or neat heated gloves for what you need. It also notes higher rank can be useful here, but that doing unofficial bartering and borking it up with a Botch roll will do Social damage. There's also rules for keeping captured or issued gear as standard issue stuff or requesting your gear be modified. Next comes the various utility or flavor gear, like a next generation of MRE designed to make troops stop complaining about their combat rations (it is, at best, partly successful), a cool little utility walker-bot to serve as a pack-mule for your squad's supplies, a 'glue gun' that is actually a 40kg wheeled portable patching and welding unit for vehicle and structural reinforcement or fortification construction, drop pods for Rapid Reaction orbital drop troops, that sort of thing. There's also finally heavier armor: The Assault Armor add-on is a set of trauma plates for your combat armor that give it +5 wound threshold and +2 Deflect vs. the first hit you take in a combat. This is about it for EDF combat armor upgrades. One thing I missed on my first readthroughs is that if you have extra Body from Gifts, that doesn't count towards your size for the weight of your armor, so someone who is young, healthy, etc can carry the weight of their armor (and the rest of their gear) a lot better.
A lot of this stuff is, mechanically, mostly fluff. It is, though, the good kind of fluff; a lot of it has some sort of use, but more importantly, in a game that's about getting across some of the daily feel of military life, there's room to care about what the doohickey you've got to haul out to help dig in does and what it's like.
Next comes the actual new guns; one of the biggest additions is a ton of vehicle weapons instead of simply the 30mm GAU-8 ripoff that's in the main book. There's also some really neat add-ons for your guns, like a modification for your rifle's targeting system that will let you try to Overwatch grenades and mortar rounds out of the air instead of just hiding behind cover, or a 'recon grenade' with a small parachute system that you can fire out of the underbarrel grenade launcher to get a clear view of everything below it on your squad's optics (being able to see how many of the enemy are behind cover and where helps a ton for spotting indirect fire and knowing if you should advance). There's also less-than-lethal weaponry like tasers, tear gas, etc for police actions.
Then there's the actual new guns, which quickly show you if there is one thing the Bun is good at, it's grenades. Homing grenades, flechette canister grenades, automatic crew-served grenade launchers, EMP grenades...rabbits apparently fucking love grenades and have learned to do terrible, terrible things with them. The bunnies also get the ability to leave behind spare machine pistols in a basic turret/motion tracker to provide covering fire while they retreat or maneuver, a tactic often used by their special forces squads to cover their escape via suppressive fire. There's also a bunch of bunny heavy weapons to give your squad fits; an LMG and HMG that, while not quite as good as their EDF equivalent (most bunny automatic weapons have more ammo but less range and damage) will still pulp an unlucky trooper and give you plenty of reason to get your head down. The bunny vehicle weapons tend towards very solid autocannons, which do a great deal of damage and have excellent range. Bunny autocannons are really nasty things, even if they're unremarkable. There's also an extreme range hypervelocity dart launcher used for AA and anti-armor operations, filling the role of a rabbit anti-tank rifle.
The EDF finally gets a couple decent anti-tank explosives (fitting, considering this is the book that introduces tanks), a light machine gun, and the greatest weapon in the game: The LRCKWC. I mentioned earlier, but bears are really big in Albedo. The average soldier is 7-8 Body. Bears are a base of 12 and with the right Gifts, can start with something like 16. A Bear with sufficient body and the right Gifts can require something like a 17+ to even wound with a standard LAKW assault rifle if he's wearing armor. So Bears are huge. A unit of heavy infantry Bears decided, at one point, to start modifying anti-tank rifles to use as semi-automatic battle rifles. They were originally not allowed to do this, until they reminded the supply officers that bears are huge, and were allowed to do as they wished. This lead to an official modification for particularly large species like Bears and Rhinos, used for shooting through cover and destroying light vehicles at close range. Also note, a properly specced Bear can deal 3 Awe Damage with a single melee attack and potentially rip a rabbit in half with his bear-hands.
I'm trying to get at the fact that Bears are basically supersoldiers.
The EDF's new guns are primarily vehicle weapons and primarily anti-vehicle. The EDF already had a more detailed weapons list in the prior book, being PCs. The new vehicle mounted autocannons and heavy machine guns are nasty, though, and very capable of Devastating normal infantry or ripping up heavy units like APCs. The game really wasn't kidding when it said the key to vehicle combat is to see the enemy first, fire first, and get hull down as fast as possible!
Looking through it again, I've got to say my review of Albedo is basically done. The last parts of the book are just stuff about what standard military formations for both sides consist of and it's pretty much what you'd expect. Both armies favor mounted, mechanized infantry and as much supporting fire from orbit, air, and artillery as the strategic situation will allow, with the EDF being somewhat better at air power and coordinating their combined arms due to their better information technology.
Albedo: Last Thoughts
I wish I'd realized the game was out of print when I began this review. I still recommend it, if you can get a cheap copy on Amazon or something of the sort. It's a strange game, but I feel like the mechanics do a very good job of selling the feel and in my (admittedly and unfortunately limited) experience playing and running it, they do a decent job of being crunchy while having reasons for being crunchy. I'm fond of crunchier systems, but only insofar as the crunch actually helps set the mood and tone of the game and enables actual, meaningful decisions. Sanguine's games consistently have complicated crunch that pulls that off, in interesting settings. Albedo was probably someone's labor of love, seeing as it was a niche game for a niche genre for a niche comic that came out 20 years before the Sanguine version of the RPG was printed, and I probably shouldn't be surprised it apparently didn't do well on sales or get much of a line devoted to it. Existentialist Furry Space NATO Tabletop X-COM is a pretty unusual genre. I originally started writing this review entirely in response to HSD's idiocy, but doing it has given me a greater appreciation for Albedo's setting, a setting I despised when I was first exposed to it like 8 years ago. For some reason (probably that I was a dumb early college kid going through the upper class white kid vaguely right wing phase) when I first saw the setting I never really picked up that the EDF was meant to have dystopian elements itself and thought it was another socialist utopia battling capitalist strawmen; reading the setting again years later and getting a real sense for it has made me quite fond of it. Doing this review and re-reading the books makes me want to run the game again some time, and I think that's some of the biggest praise you can give a game-book. After all, they're designed to enable ideas and inspire campaigns, and the surest sign a book is doing its job is when you read it and go 'Yeah, I want to play that.' or 'That would be a cool place to set an adventure'. I also feel like the system could be pretty easily adapted away from its setting, and used for almost any relatively-low-tech (as in, no transhumanism and particle cannons and energy shields) hard mil-sci-fi setting.
At the end of the day, maybe I'm just charitable towards it because I'm tired of space wizards being in every single science fiction setting, I admit.