Nibiru RPG Corebook, Araukana Media, 2019, hb £39.99
Reviewed by Yannick René Ladewig
Nibiru is a science fiction storytelling roleplaying game with a focus on narrative character development and a thematic focus on memories.
The game is set in a huge, disc shaped space station, powered by a powerful core and working with spin gravity that gets stronger the farther away from the center you travel. The creator put effort into making this station as scientifically plausible as possible while maintaining its fantastical nature, even including a chapter in the back of the book to explain the science behind it.
The players take the role of Vagabonds, new arrivals on the station with no memory of their lives before. During the course of the game, they will write down uncovered memories that not only provide mechanical bonuses or penalties to rolls but also flesh out their PCs as they discover who these characters were before they arrived on Nibiru and lost their memory.
Nibiru’s core resolution mechanic uses pools of D4. In a standard roll, a result of at least one 4 in the pool is a success. In contested rolls, the results of all dice are added up and compared with the opposition.
Combat is very deadly and discouraged as anything but a last resort. In addition to a physical health track, there is also a system for mind damage that is a much larger focus than the bodily damage. It contains rules for becoming broken or detached by witnessing acts of violence, helplessness or fear of the unknown. Characters can also acquire mental conditions which can end up making them unplayable, similar to death for the physical health track.
The unique selling point of Nibiru is in how skills are handled. Instead of working with a predefined list that players can invest points in, they create memories during play. These function similarly but with a far higher degree of narrative potential.
When taking an action, players can spend experience points to create a positive memory in a so-called flashback, giving them an automatic success at whatever it is they are attempting and a permanent bonus to this action type in the future, the value of which depends on the number of experience points spent.
They can also do the opposite, creating a negative memory. In that case, the character automatically fails the action at hand and receives a permanent penalty to this action type. By doing so, the character earns experience points to spend later.
Gathering memories also gives access to “Revelations”, which are special abilities, either passive or activated. These aren’t just simple bonuses or penalties but instead give the players new things they can do that aren’t possible without them.
The setting is very interesting and it is easy to tell that a lot of work went into it. However, a lot of setting-specific terms are used in the rulebook, which can make it hard to read the rulebook without constantly referring to the glossary provided in it.
The description of the setting, while very in depth, doesn’t start at a broad enough basis, making it difficult to follow it until you have already familiarized yourself better with the setting, by which point, you might have to reread earlier parts again to understand them with context. The addition of more artworks showing the station’s corridors and locations could also have helped to better shape an understanding of the world.
The game rules are easy and straightforward, supporting the theme of the game without getting in the way. The way the resolution mechanic shifts between regular and contested rolls, where successes are counted in one and numbers added together in the other, is not very elegant but it is intuitive enough that it doesn’t get in the way.
Aside from setting information and rules, the book also contains stats for and information on creatures that the player characters might encounter on their adventures, a GM section giving basic advice to the game master and a short beginner adventure.
Overall, the game is solid with a simple resolution mechanic, a strong theme and a well-developed world. It is obvious that the game was a passion project of the creator and it accomplishes well what it sets out to do – exploring the theme of memories and their power in a fantastical, yet scientifically grounded, world.