I missed the crowdfunding for this one a couple of years ago, so I was really happy when I saw the PDF surfacing here on DriveThru. I love SciFi in general, good SciFi RPGs, too, appreciate the weird and new angles for this genre especially. Orun looked like a good choice for me. And it mostly lives up to the expectation.
The Setting – 5/5
I start with the good. The very good. The setting is awesome. Period. Okay, if you’re looking for your next favourite hard-SciFi game, you might be disappointed, but it says “space opera” on the front cover – and it delivers. The universe of Orun is wild, magical, weird, and calling for larger-than-life stories. And the afro-centric narrative adds a welcoming fresh and unique spin to well-known elements. Think of Star Wars, where the Jedis took some deeper altruistic and humanistic lessons from Star Trek. Then cut the human-centric and, especially, American- / European-focused narrative. And add some weirdness from the magnificent Numenera. And you scratch the surface of a very intriguing setting.
Reading the history of the cosmos, the description of the many alien species that you can choose to play, and the optimistic approach of building a better society by your own example, makes me want to explore this setting deeper. Yes, I’m actually thinking of a mini-campaign just from reading it. It’s definitely the freshest SciFi setting that I’ve read since I laid my hands on Numenera.
There are some issues, though: I want more. The book is just 290 in a square format, and (for my taste) it uses too much space on rules and crunch. Describing the many example worlds with just a paragraph each is not enough. I also miss important NPCs. We learn about the major factions but – few examples aside – nothing about the persons running these political and cultural powerhouses. Especially with a setting such unique, it feels like a missed opportunity to me. Colourful NPCs are always are great hooks for own stories. They give a setting faces. Orun on the other hand feels very faceless. I hope they fix this with future supplements.
Note: I just checked the Kickstarter page. A lot of strech goals from additional writers that would fill this gap (partly) have been announced. I don't find these in the book. Are they still coming?
The Design – 3,5/5
I love the square format. And the original artwork is very inspiring and helpful to understand this strange and fantastic setting. It’s not always top-notch but true to the chosen style. But there is a “but”. The layout could be more spacious. That is especially true for the quasi non-existent margins. Sometimes the design tries to squeeze as much as possible onto a page. In other cases, pages remain half-empty. Depending on the amount of text, line spacing and spacing vary.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of stock art that anyone with an Adobe account may have seen before. What is really unfortunate is the low resolution of the graphics, especially of the stock art. I can only judge this for the PDF and hope it looks better in print.
Last but not least, the editing could be better. There are not an insane number of errors, but they are noticeable and could have been avoided with an additional proofreading loop. That also applies to layout mistakes.
The Rules – 3/5
This is the weakest part of Orun. I understand the appeal of giving your own roleplaying game its own mechanics as well. But it’s not always a smart choice. The game could’ve been so much better if they had chosen an existing system. The so-called Horizon System has one big issue: It does not know what it wants to be. Rules-heavy or rules-light? A game focused on the narrative or a crunchy SciFi game? The basic mechanic is simple: Roll 2d10 and add your stats in your aura (which is a kind of stand-in for attributes) and your skill. And now roll high to succeed. But it becomes messy beyond that. (Please note that this feedback is based on reading the system, not playtesting it.)
Normally, you compare your result to a ladder of success. This is in general a great concept. It makes dice rolling calculable and comparable. But this ladder is not always the same. For reasons unknown, extended task use a slightly different ladder with different outcomes. And during combat, you suddenly roll against a target number and create effects depending on the difference between your result and the TN. PC vs PC contests are a different thing, too.
Another example: The auras are stat and pool at the same time. They add their (flexible) value to your roll, but they can also be spent for bonuses and effects (like it is typical for the Cypher System). Like in Cypher, they also take damage, but your character has an equivalent to HP, too. Again, it feels like the designers couldn't decide which path they want to walk.
And then they are the meta-currencies. Good rolls create Edges for the players, bad rolls create Hidges for the GM, and both can be used like you know it from any others game of this kind. Think of Momentum and Thread from 2D20. And they can do a lot of things that are not really intuitive, more like a mix of everything someone in the team could think of.
Don't let me dive into combat in detail, that’s a much greater mess, that becomes even greater with the aversaries’ stats. Another issue is the lack of details on spacecrafts. Yes, there are one and a half page on details. I’m not complaining about the missing space combat rules which most likely would’ve been another subsystem. It’s just such an important thing in SciFi, that the lack of details here is a big black hole. (Maybe this is more a note on the missing setting details.)
Groups who like a lot of special abilities will find them in this book. The character creation chapter (with 130+ pages more than half of the book) lists lots of them. It must be over 150 of them, each coming with two or three different tiers. I’m not a fan of too many options of this kind, but I’m happy for each group that appreciates such abundance. I can't judge how well they are balanced. But just from reading over it, it seems as if individual talents add additional complexity to the game through exceptions and special effects.
The character advancement system is nice with a “but”. Skills improve through failure, which I really like. The game uses the term “trials”. That catches the philosophy of the intergalactic culture in Orun very nicely. Aura's improvement and talents are also bought with trials, but these trials are earned through a hand-wavey) change in the course of the story’s progression and totally up to the GM. This might open the door for unneccesary discussion at the table. Why having a clear mechanic for the one thing and handwave the other?
Yes, I went hard on the rules. They are half-baked, sometimes unnecessarily fragmented, and could definitely have used more development. And they take too much space that could’ve been better used for more setting information. Does it make Orun mediocre or bad? No. Rules can be changed. Just take the book and explore the post-apotheosis with [enter your favourite rules here]. (I will most likely switch to the Cypher System.) Orun’s edge is the setting. The unique, fondly developed post-apotheosis, afro-centric space opera cosmos. You read it and you want more. You want to immerse yourself into a SciFi setting unlike others that challenges our imagination and understanding. Honestly, the setting is gold! And I really hope to see more from it in the future.
That cancels out the drawbacks in design and mechanics for me. 4 stars with some room for improvement. (If you want a complete, well-developed and balanced system, you might reduce it to 3–3.5 stars. If you don't care at all or like the approach of the rules, add a half star.)