This is the sixteenth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the
1704 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,175,279.81 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
The random numbers have spun up once again, selecting an entry from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality for us. This time it’s Steal This Game! Rebels & Renegades by theivorytowercrumbles. Its tagline in the bundle reads:
Become a thief, make a crew, change the world.
Yeah, all three of those things sound like things I’d be into.
Steal This Game! Rebels & Renegades is a tabletop role-playing game that requires at least two players. Therefore, much like the other tabletop role-playing games that have come up so far in Scratching That Itch, I can’t actually play it, I can only give my impressions of it after reading the book. But that “book” manages to be even more concise than the book for As The World Ends…, with all of its rules and explanations fitting on a single page.
Rebels & Renegades bills itself as “A Lasers & Feelings Hack”, and that’s exactly what it is. It borrows the ruleset from John Harper’s free tabletop role-playing game Lasers & Feelings and applies them to a new theme of highly skilled thieves performing daring heists or thrilling cons. Lasers & Feelings instead has a science fiction theme clearly inspired by Star Trek, but John Harper claims it’s inspired by the songs of The Doubleclicks, who have an album of the same name. I listened to this album — or at least, its eponymous first song — because that is the level of investigative journalism that I provide to you, my readers. The song is not about Star Trek, but Lasers & Feelings clearly is.
The core mechanic of Lasers & Feelings (the game, not the song or album) is based on the dichotomy of Lasers, representing technology, science, and cold logic, versus Feelings, representing intuition, diplomacy, and passion. This is a theme central to much of the Star Trek franchise, and apparently also for the very-similar-looking starship on which Lasers & Feelings is set. Each player must pick a number between 2 and 5 that defines their character, with lower numbers representing Feelings and higher numbers representing Lasers. When facing challenges during the game, characters must roll a six-sided die and get a result below their number in order to succeed at Lasers-based challenges, or above their number in order to scuceed at Feelings-based challenges. Characters are therefore defined along this spectrum, either specializing in one or the other, or being decent at both. There are some mechanics to allow for extra dice to give multiple chances to succeed at tests, and rolling one’s number exactly is a special result that lets players ask the GM any question they wish, to reveal information about what’s going on and how best to proceed. Lasers & Feelings is published under a Creative Commons license that gives others permission to adapt the material in their own works, as theivorytowercrumbles has done.
In Rebels & Renegades, the two opposing statistics are instead Aesthetics and Attitude. Initially I thought that these were not as cleanly diametric as Lasers and Feelings, and the descriptions provided with Rebels & Renegades didn’t help much (also, Rebels & Renegades makes an error in the rules by listing Attitude as the high number but also stating that Attitude tests must roll high; one of those needs to be reversed to come in line with how Lasers & Feelings works). Attitude is described as being about making an impact, by turning the tables or flaunting the unconventional, while Aesthetics is described as about attention, with examples like charming the masses, stunning one’s rivals, or drawing eyes when entering the room. But does being good at one of these necessarily mean being bad at the other? Upon thinking about it more, I suspect that Aesthetics could apply to a thief who is a smooth operator, manipulating people and calmly walking away with the prize, while Attitude could apply to a thief with a more daring, brazen approach, beating the supposedly-unbeatable security system in some ingenious way no one thought of, leaving calling cards to brag about their success. That interpretation works better as two ends of a spectrum, but it’s still fuzzier than it is in Lasers & Feelings.
Rebels & Renegades also borrows the simple world-building mechanics from Lasers & Feelings and re-themes them. Simple dice rolls can set up a premise for the scenario, and players pick from a list of goals for their characters and strengths and weaknesses for their team to help with the storytelling. These have a strong anti-establishment streak. The author cites Leverage, Ocean’s 8, Persona 5, and Person of Interest as inspirations. I’m not familiar with many of those, but I did quite enjoy Leverage as a fun romp. Rebels & Renegades seems to have a nearly identical premise to Leverage, starring a team of incredibly skilled thieves and con artists taking down evil corporations, corrupt politicians and the like. The random scenario prompts are all in this vein, and even the suggestions for team weaknesses recall this kind of stylish, tongue-in-cheek crime caper: things like getting recognized because you’re too famous, or having a hot ex show up at the worst possible moment to tell you they want to get back together.
But like Lasers & Feelings, there’s not much beyond these few prompts. It’s up to the players to construct the story and use the simple mechanics to help guide how things turn out. So enjoyment will depend on having a good group of people, and especially a good GM. Also, while Rebels & Renegades can be played with a minimum of two players, it seems it would be much better with a larger number, so players can take on various roles in the team. In fact, I would guess that a ruleset enabling more specialization of character skills, like hacking security systems or pickpocketing guards, would be a better fit. While preparedness and special skills can add extra dice during challenges, everything still falls on the Aesthetics vs. Attitude scale and is solved accordingly. Since so much is left open to players to interpret, I’m sure it would be easy to concoct an enjoyable caper in Rebels & Renegades, but as written I wasn’t convinced that the system particularly lends itself to the idea of each character playing a specific and critical role in a complicated heist.
But, I’m not able to play it right now, so I could very well be wrong. If you are intrigued by the idea of knocking some billionaires down a peg, Steal This Game! Rebels & Renegades is worth a look. If you missed it in the bundle, it actually sells for a minimum of $3 (unlike the free Lasers & Feelings upon which it’s based), but all profits are “donated to trans and nonbinary folx in need.” And of course, if you did get it in the bundle, then the proceeds went towards racial justice causes.
That’s 16 down and
1688 1725 to go!