This is the seventy-fifth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 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.

Once more, a selection has been made — randomly — from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. This time it’s VULTURES, by Batts. Its tagline in the bundle reads:

Simple sci-fi bounty hunter ttrpg!

That “ttrpg” stands for tabletop role-playing game, and as usual for such things, I can’t play it myself, lacking a group to play with. So I’ve just read through the book and offered my thoughts here.

The VULTURES book is 21 pages, offering a succinct description of rules and a hint of the setting, all with a pleasing layout mimicking a brochure for new bounty hunters (the titular Vultures) in the employ of the master AI known as Space Mom. The war is over, you see, and Space Mom is here to protect us all. Which means making sure such a war can never happen again. Which means hunting down ex-soldiers, mercenaries, code heretics, holomancers and the like, lest they start violence anew. You understand; you were just such a person, Before. Space Mom is very pleased you’ve decided to join the side of peace. Stay star-side. Stay safe.

VULTURES describes its setting as a “post-mecha world”, meaning that military technology has reached an absurd peak. Skyscraper-sized robots battled across the surfaces of planets, massive warships fought among the stars, and countless planets were ravaged and ruined. This scope is not limited to the physical realm either. The war was also fought with data. Code incited into rebellion, artificial warminds facing off in virtua-space, unleashing digital cataclysms that wiped out entire systems in an instant. Nowhere, physical or virtual, escaped the devastation, and now everyone is simply trying to make a living in the wreckage. By, for example, becoming a Vulture.

I love these hints at the setting, but they are just that: hints. Much is left open to interpretation in VULTURES, which is clearly aimed at experienced role-playing groups. Most of what I’ve described above is relayed through the options for character creation, which include professions held before becoming a Vulture, and duties aboard the group’s spaceship. There’s wonderful humor sprinkled into these. For example, one of the jobs is the Warp Drive Babysitter, necessary because warp drives are beings drenched in quantum uncertainty, with no distinct location. If not watched carefully, the warp drive might escape. There’s also a Data Wrangler, who is in charge of the Data Prison which keeps all the information and code from rebelling again. Another pleasant surprise is the inclusion of an entire playlist of ambient music to accompany players’ spaceborne adventures:

Systems-wise, VULTURES is simple as advertised, with any challenges solved via a single roll of a 20-sided die, with a result of 10 or higher indicating success. Bonuses from appropriate skills or relationships can be added to the roll. That’s it, really. But there are some other interesting rules. Player characters, for example, only have one point of health. That’s right: a single point of Damage is sufficient to kill a human. Did you get shot? You’re dead. There are rules for non-lethal fighting too, in which characters inflict Harm rather than Damage, with enough Harm indicating the fight is won and the victor may choose to inflict 1 Damage or just let it be. In fact, all characters’ starting equipment is nonlethal, since Space Mom abhors violence. So it seems that these types of fights may be more common, but the single point of damage thing starts to make more sense when the booklet describes things that have more than one point of health. You know, like armored vehicles, tanks, buildings, towering mechs, spaceborne battle cruisers, or orbital defense platforms. There’s room for the destruction to reach a massive scale.

As for how a session will play, there’s only a bare framework for guidance. Characters start on their ship and may act out scenes with each other if they wish, and may run into random events that will threaten the ship and its systems. Eventually they’ll arrive at their destination and hunt down the target. After that, there’s downtime, which plays out in real time whenever the group isn’t actively playing together. They can communicate via text chat (and text chat only) to conduct repairs on the ship or pursue any side objectives they may have. This is an interesting touch that could help players stay engaged between sessions. But the real guidance is reserved for whoever will take the role of the GM. The second half of the book contains information that the other players should not see, and which I will not spoil. I will simply say that it’s especially important to have an experienced GM when playing VULTURES, because the game is intended to go beyond what I’ve described above.

I am not an experienced player of tabletop role-playing games, and I’ve never tried serving as a GM for anything, so I really can’t say how well VULTURES would work in practice. I see the potential for a good time, and I think that the right group might enjoy it a lot. But if you haven’t done much tabletop role-playing outside of the big classics and you’re looking through the bundle for something new to try, there are probably better places to start. Do keep VULTURES in mind for later, however, because it could be really interesting. If you missed it in the bundle, VULTURES is sold for a minimum price of $10.

That’s 75 down, and only 1666 to go!