I think there are few current space sci-fi games out there as different, vibrant, and coherent. The Transhumanist future of Spacejammer’s great, for example, but it feels more like a toolkit. You don’t get the visuals and premise of the setting like you do with Coriolis. Then there’s something like Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells which has a great feel but doesn’t come across as a deep setting with a rich specific history to interact with. There’s something about the way Coriolis offers a new take while keeping the world grounded.
Coriolis also provides a ton of great story hooks right out of the gate. The Factions offer a ton of color and possibility immediately. Getting the characters hooked into those at the start really helps fuel things. The idea of the Icons as important and present forces in the world helps to color everything. I love that there’s an emphasis on art, design, and appearance over strictly functional, Spartan design. Enough of the building frame aesthetic of Firefly, instead ships and places reflect a culture and belief way.
The supplemental materials are great—each planetary blurb sparks new ideas for adventures. I’m less found of the adventures and campaigns. They’re locked in fairly tightly. But if you’re willing to tear the best bits out to make you own stories, you’ll find a lot there.
Incidentally here’s my Coriolis Pinterest board
That being said, I’m not a fan of Coriolis’ rules. I’ve run quite a bit of the Mutant Engine (Coriolis, Tales/Things, ALIENS, Forbidden Lands, and Mutant: Year Zero). I think this dice system works best when it plays into the risk and scarcity of the setting. So I honestly think MYZ’s the best implementation of that, with FL and ALIENS coming in close behind. Tales/Things gets away with it because you’re rolling more rarely and it’s more of a meditative games—plus the way to clear conditions is story-driven rather than just a mechanical process.
There’s a great post Paul Beakley wrote about closing down his Coriolis game after only a few sessions. It’s sadly lost in the great G+ Vanishing. (WRONG! Paul's longer and more cogent analysis of Coriolis can be found here). But he broke down the system’s problems and it made me rethink my approach to the game. I’d backed the base Kickstarter and the first campaign module. But in Coriolis missed the mark in its implementation. At first it didn’t bother me, but I’ve come to realize why the system worked OK for me: because I wasn’t running it. Instead I was forcibly tweaking it as we played.
Beakley provided a cogent analysis of the absurdity of the risk/reward for making interstellar jumps in the game. Over any serious distances they became prohibitively expensive and dangerous. If you looked at the raw mechanics, that’s what would occur. But the fiction and the described play didn’t match that. So I was changing things on the fly to try to fit with that.
If I were going to play Coriolis from the book again, I would make these changed.
- Increase the skill ranks. The game as it stands now has significantly weak starting characters. It doubles down on that by making different classes have different staring attributes and skills.
- Allow for rerolls, but remove the idea of each one being a “prayer.” If you’re paying any attention to the fiction, that looks goofy. It weirdly mechanizes faith on a constant basis. I like the idea of pushing your roll and the fates. That works for me. To include the Icons, each player may choose to pray to one at the start of a session. From that point forward they get +1d when they roll a skill associated with that Icon. If you want to be more liberal, give them +2d if they had a ship shrine.
- One success is enough to do anything. Extra successes get spent for results. There’s no success with cost for a single 6. All of that should come from the Darkness Point economy. Follow the lead established in MYZ and TftL.
- Completely rework the economy. It’s trashy right now and stupidly restrictive. I understand there’s a line of sci-fi thinking which comes from old Traveller about the character’s finances driving everything. And that’s a little OK with me, but it’s so granular here. It’s effing nuts. Instead take the whole thing out and rebuild it ala Blades, with a simple Coin economy that allows for easy tracking and spends. Take out stupid parts—like having to pay to go through jump gates and such.
- Add more and more interesting psychic and other talents.
- Simplify combat. It means ditching some of the talents and a bunch of the details. Stick with MYZ’s basic approach. We don’t need an action point economy. Ditch some of the fancy. Stupid stuff like the automatic weapons rules. I’m not going for realism or even verisimilitude. I’m going for fun at the table.
- Reconceive Darkness Points. Yes, the GM gets them for players taking rerolls. But other sources get eliminated, like jumping through gates and shit. I might even extend that to Psychic powers and talents, replacing that with a usage die or stress cost (especially since some of these are rolled). What do GMs use Darkness Points for then? Activating special abilities works—with a higher cost for more potent ones. Calling on flaws or problems with characters and the ship. These cost more than one point since they’re significant. Ditch NPC rerolls or bonuses, breaking items, etc. as stand-alone shit. Instead use DPs to do GM Hard and Soft Moves. I’m going to leave that deliberately vague for the moment.
Or there’s another option as well. In 2019 I ran a long series of Coriolis, but using an adaptation of Impulse Drive. ID’s probably my favorite sci-fi PbtA iteration. You can see the character keeper for that here. If you want to run this you’ll need the Coriolis materials (helpfully in the Bundle of Holding right now) and the Impulse Drive rules.
Here's an online character keeper for that.
A few words about this hack. It works pretty well—I mean it holds up decently. However it has two colliding issues that would need another round of tweaks to fix. First, Impulse Drive is made for the long haul. The Calamities system adds really interesting choices for the players. These are playbook-unique storyhooks that you take when your stress builds up they’re a super interesting part of the game. If you’re not playing for a long time, these won’t come into play. The same thing with certain elements of the ship rules for maintenance and stress.
But on the other hand, if you do play a long game, you’ll hit up against one of the design issues in the game. A lot of the playbooks—both in the original and in my hacked form—have moves which let you do what you’re good at better or in another way. They have a fairly narrow focus in what they can do. Characters can take moves from other playbooks, but that feels a little like a cop out. If I ran this again, I'd spend some time tweaking this first.