Tuesday 31 March 2009

Befriend, ride and obliterate bugs in Dragonfly by Jeffrey Schecter

Starship Troopers meets Pokemon in Dragonfly, a near-future Science Fiction RPG. Humans live alongside bugs. Some bugs you might want to eat. Some might want to eat you. Some might be your friends, pets, protector or transport. Some will be looking at you and wondering if you would look nice as a necklace.


Every character is connected to the bugs in some way. You begin by choosing a character role: Adept, Entomologist (someone who studies bugs), Hunter, Ranger or Rider (high ho, silver!). This role provides you will some points to spend on your familiar and novel attributes: Empathy, Entymology, Fitness, Survival, Technology and Willpower. On top of those, you also have a series of abilities, which are analogous to feats and skills. Some of them are profession based (I can do science, me) and some of them are physical or ethereal (stop thinking about me in those knickers, you filth!). You finish with picking your bug companions, pleasant ones, obviously. You don't want to be eaten by your own pet in the first session. Not unless you think that's funny. Which my players would.


Humanity has found itself on the system of Arthra, a delightfully balanced system with both variety and credibility. Humans are native of one planet (no mention of Earth) and live uneasily with a broad selection of bugs. From their homeworld, the humans have yawned and stretched with their 21st Century technology (spaceflight assumed to be vastly advanced) across the other worlds, taking full advantage of the diverse environments Jeffrey has carefully crafted. Technology is well explained, you have all the stuff you have today but you can travel between the planets with graceful ease.

The bugs are where the fun begins. Bugs are served in a broad array from intelligent, bovine, psychic, insectoid, gremlinoid and anything else you can turn your mind to. Some humans live in harmony with the bugs but that alone wouldn't be very interesting for a roleplaying game. In some places bugs and humans are at more loggerheads than teenage siblings. In these cases, the characters are brought in to investigate, understand or bring about the bugocalypse (bugapocalypse or bugalypse?).


Resolution is pleasantly familiar with a twist: players describe what they want to do. GM chooses the difficulty by giving a number of dice to roll. The player rolls them, sums them and compares them against the attribute or ability score. Equal or lower is a pass. The few dice the GM gives, the easier the task. There is a lean towards leaving the narration with the player but old-schoolers won't find it too obtrusive. Opposed rolls are performed by comparing the lowest-under-attribute score.

Conflicts are performed neatly thus: the person trying to do something rolls first. If they pass, the person trying to stop it, rolls against. If they pass, start again. Keep going until one person fails. Nice! There's a little more on combat, damage and modifiers but nothing too heavy. That's it.

The unfortunately named Currency is a player possessed pool of resources that can be spent to help tip the balance of rolls. Bugs are described in a cut-down version of the character and rules are included for training your bug to be your bestest friend to hug and squeeze and love for ever and ever (please leave a comment if you recognise that reference).


The bug description section is superb, accompanying images round it off perfectly. We all know what a fly looks like but having the graphics helps pull it together. There is a GM section too, which gives limited but solid advice. The character sheet is cool too.

Picky Picky Picky

The Starship Troopers connection is slightly misleading because in that film (I enjoyed the original immensely), the bugs were something to be butchered wholesale but Dragonfly is more subtle than that (fortunately). I'd also like to see an example adventure so that the GM knows what sort of game to run. If you're experienced, this is unlikely to be a problem - the setting has more than enough hooks to get your adventure juices flowing. The order of information could be rejigged to improve clarity - particularly to add some overviews to the start of sections. I'd quite like to see a 'This is what your characters will get up to' section too. As you can see by my commitment to my whinge-and-moan section, there's really little not to like with Dragonfly.

Summing Up

Dragonfly is a beautifully written 24 page PDF with an excellent layout and appropriate graphics. A novel, well considered setting that can be pulp or deepen to taste. If you're looking for insectoid monsters for your D&D campaign, there are some lovely ideas here that can be converted. Instead of psyonics, bugs that do magic, perhaps? Dragonfly will make an excellent addition to your RPG collection and an even more welcome at your gaming table. Many thanks, Jeffrey!


Dennis N. Santana said...

That is awesome. I love bugs.

Little Shepherd said...

Elmyra for the win!

This game sounds like a blast, though perhaps a little too weird for me to find players around here. *sigh*

Curt said...

Man! This blog is becoming one of my favorites. Here's a free game to check out: http://forums.yojoe.com/showthread.php?t=65423

Rob Lang said...

Thanks for the kind comments all.

@Little Shepherd. You can but try? I might be worth a couple of sessions for a bit of a break mid campaign perhaps?

@Curt. Thanks for the tip! I'll add it to the directory.