Predation by Shanna Germain (2017)

PredationCover blurb

A little sci-fi. A little post-apocalypse. A whole lot of dinosaurs.

Welcome to the Cretaceous. Our ancestors won’t climb down from the trees for another 66 million years, but here we are now. Time travel seemed like a good idea. Exploring the ancient world. Building. Creating an entire society here in the jungles of our primordial Earth. Until those SATI guys messed it all up.

We’ve got gear. We’ve got guns. We’ve even bioengineered a few dinos to our liking. And that’s good, because we’ll need it all to survive. History says there’s an asteroid headed our way, and there’s no one left alive who knows how to get back to the future.

Predation includes:

  • A complete, ready-to-play science-fiction game world for the Cypher System, with a detailed history, scores of fascinating locations, new gear and technologies, and a variety of factions and conflicts to drive your story.
  • More than 20 new creatures and NPC types, from the snuggly nerezza to the unpredictable lab-grown supersauri. Encounter teslasaurs, cyberdrones, and genetically engineered spiders, plus dinosaurs of all descriptions.
  • New character types and abilities. Be a Volcanic Karn who Self-Evolves, an Empirical Tec who Plays God, or perhaps a Daring Pteryx Who Walks with Dinosaurs.
  • Rules for dinosaur companions. Choose a ceratopsian, pterosaur, early mammal, ornithomimid—even a raptor or tyrannosaur. You’ll want the help and companionship as you explore the dangerous wilds of Cretaceous Grevakc!

Predation is a complete campaign setting for the Cypher System. You need the Cypher System Rulebook to play Predation.

Note: Cover blurb from publisher’s website.

My thoughts

Dinosaurs are far from extinct in pen-and-paper roleplaying games. As I explained in my Dinosaurs & Dice essay, the terrible reptiles have been stock monsters in RPGs since the beginning of the hobby. Still, it is rare to find game settings where dinosaurs are the main focus. Usually they are simply beasts players encounter in some lost corner of a larger fantasy world, such as the peninsula of Chult in the Dungeons & Dragons’ setting Forgotten Realms. Predation, written by Shanna Germain and published by Monte Cook Games, puts the prehistoric animals front and center by stranding players in the Mesozoic era and allowing them to play as both humans and dinosaurs. It is a great setting that will definitely appeal to dinosaur lovers, and perhaps other gamers as well.

First, a note: I haven’t played an RPG in years, so this is not a playtest of this particular setting or game system. I’m simply sharing my thoughts on the world created in the pages of Predation. I will link to reviews below from people who did play the game so you can get a more comprehensive overview of the book.

Predation is set in North America some 66 million years in the past, at the very tail end of the Cretaceous Period. The backstory is that about 150 years before the game begins, a global corporation called Space and Time, Inc. (more commonly known as “SATI”) sent thousands of people to the Cretaceous as part of a mysterious research project. The population had just enough time to begin building the trappings of civilization when the technology that transported them to the past broke down, leaving them stranded. Players are the descendants of those original settlers, navigating a world that is still mostly wild but peppered with small cities, villages, and SATI vaults holding strange technology. The players also must contend with the realization that the asteroid or comet that ended the dinosaurs’ reign is on its way, although no one knows exactly when it will arrive, or if it can be survived or even prevented.

One thing working in the favor of the survivors is they retained much of their scientific knowledge, which is far more advanced than our own. (These people being from our future.) Unfortunately their descendants do not have access to the factories, power sources, and other infrastructure needed to put much of that knowledge to work. As a result, most future technology available in Predation is rare and quickly wearing down with age. People instead rely on whatever primitive tools and weapons they can build using resources scavenged from the surrounding environment. A major exception is genetic engineering, which continues to thrive as a science and is used to enhance both humans and dinosaurs. The population also has managed to tame several animal species–a fact that plays a significant role in the game. (More on that in a bit.)

As far as gameplay, the most important thing to know is Predation isn’t a standalone game. A separate Cypher System rulebook is needed to play, unless players are willing to undertake the more laborious task of converting the rules to an RPG system of their choice. I don’t know much about the Cypher System other than other reviewers describe it as a “rules-light” system more focused on storytelling than tactics. It is also the system used in Monte Cook’s better-known “Dying Earth” setting Numenera.

Players in Predation can choose from four archetypes to build characters: Karns (warriors), Tecs (scientists who are analogous to wizards in fantasy settings), Pteryx (rangers/scouts), and Osteons (basically the equivalent to fantasy bards, with an emphasis on being good at social interaction). Players can further enhance their characters with cyphers, which are genetic modifications that give them limited superpowers, like the ability to glow in the dark or mimic dinosaur sounds. In addition, each character is expected to adopt an animal companion that has special abilities of its own. The rulebook suggests these companions be controlled by other players in the group, meaning each person in the game portrays both a human and an animal belonging to another player.

As I said earlier, I didn’t playtest this game, so I won’t delve further into the rules. Still, rules explanations make up less than half of the book. A majority of the text is devoted to the setting, which is rich and detailed. Predation fully embraces modern theories about dinosaur appearance, so dinosaur fans will be happy to know that many animals sport feathers in the text and accompanying illustrations. The art also is strikingly beautiful, with the artists painting their dinosaurs and surrounding environments with a wide range of vibrant colors. Bad art can do a lot to hinder the ability of some players to immerse themselves in a setting, but in the case of Predation the illustrations really bring the world to life, especially for a public that is used to seeing depictions of drab-colored dinosaurs in popular culture.

Feathers aside, sticklers for scientific accuracy could nitpick. The North America of Predation is divided into two halves by an interior seaway, but by the late Cretaceous this body of water had started to recede. The setting is also populated by dinosaurs that were not native to the continent at that time–not to mention the genetically engineered dinosaurs. (The strangest being a modified ankylosaurus that generates electric current between its armor plates.) The author acknowledges the scientific inaccuracies in the book’s introduction but writes that many were made to maximize gameplay opportunities, which is a reasonable explanation. The scientific fudging is all the more forgivable given the imagination on display throughout the book’s pages. The setting is littered with mysteries and adventure seeds, from an alien inland sea of what appears to be living ash to cyborg dinosaurs that let gamers roleplay their Dino-Riders fantasies.

If it is not clear by now, I liked Predation–a lot. It is a rich setting brought to life through imaginative worldbuilding and fantastic art. Hopefully the book is a hit because I would love to see the setting used as the basis for novels and comics, as has happened for other RPGs. But for now, if you’re a gamer and getting tired of wizards and dragons, give Predation a try.

Trivia

  • A warning to people new to roleplaying: Don’t read the section of the book for game masters unless you plan to be one. That section contains spoilers for some of the mysteries the players are tasked to solve.
  • One of the political factions in Predation is known as the “Butterflies.” The name is a reference to Ray Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder,” which has been turned into a holy text by the group.
  • The author has written a short story set in the world of Predation, titled “The Age of Crest and Bone.”
  • You can preview some of the art from the book on the publisher’s website. Two words: “Sauropod sumo.”

Reviews

 

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