A Quick Review: Into the Black

Out of curiousity, I picked up a small, independent RPG book by a small Canadian publisher named Monkey’s Paw Games. The game is called Into the Black and I first heard about it from the website Dicebreaker in a recent post they made. They described Into the Black as:

“Into The Black is a lightweight RPG love letter to Mass Effect without the military trappings”

So I was intrigued. Being only $10 CDN for the PDF on DriveThruRPG, I figured why the hell not? Now, it is an “ashcan copy”, meaning that the book is likely going to change further with playthroughs, editing, etc. Still, I was curious enough to drop the cash and take a look.

The Game

When DB said the game was a love letter to Mass Effect, they were not kidding. There are many elements from the Mass Effect games that are very clearly incorporated into the setting. The lack of political/military trappings is where the game distances itself from Mass Effect. There is no Commander Shepherd, no Reapers, no Cerberus… at least, not unless you want there to be.

The basic premise of the game is: at some point, your life, body and/or skills became the property of one large interplanetary corporation and they tend to collect rather violently. Your best bet is to head into deep space to try and avoid the collectors. Between you and your crew, you owe one million credits and you need to work off your debts in order to gain your freedom.

That’s about all that’s written in stone. The rest of the setting and story is up to the group.

Mechanics

The game is extremely simplistic, needing only a D20 and a few D6s. The game is rules light and improv heavy, so if you’re a fan of mechanical games, then this may not be the system for you. The system uses a mechanical system called PinkHack, which is a roll-under system (roll a D20 and try to be lower than your attribute/skill level). In terms of building a campaign, you can plan out every detail of your star cluster, or let fate decide using random tables.

The entire rulebook, including rules, character creation, setting and random tables is less than 100 pages, so getting started is likely to be pretty quick.

The Book

Being a slap-dash sort of PDF, the book is exactly what you might expect. The rules are not overly coherent in the book and may take some “reading between the lines” to get what they’re aiming at. With the exception of the chapter intro pages, the art in the book is not professional and likely placeholders for final artwork, should the full product come to light.

Characters

Character creation is really simple in the book. There are only three classes and six races. The choices you make are few and if you are really up for a challenge, you can let fate decide, as there are random generation tables for all parts of creation after race. The gear you choose and the powers you select will vary depending on your class, race and Vocation (what you did before you fled the company).

Once the team has been made, then you pick a ship that you might have stolen in order to escape. Naturally, different ships have different strengths and becomes an extension of the crew.

Finally, after the crew and ship have been chosen, there is a random creation process for developing a star cluster that you will try to survive in. As part of a prospective Session 0, you get a blank piece of paper for each sector and drop a small number of d6 on it. Where they land determines the position relative to the star and the number showing determines whether it’s a planet, space station or empty space. So every time you play a campaign, the space you explore will be different and random.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think Into the Black has a lot of promise. Playing it as it exists today, it will take a GM that is very comfortable flying by the seat of their pants, as there is virtually no setting to build from. It is a long series of random tables to generate the universe around the players and govern that universe’s responses to their actions.

I’m not a huge fan of the use of D20s (as I have stated in the past), but this one has a different approach, where improving your attributes and skills make a marked difference in the odds of success (every rank in a skill is a 5% better likelihood of success). I do like the random universe creation and the light mechanics of the game. As much as I love Shadowrun, not every system needs weighty mechanics to enforce their game’s laws.

The game has a flexible enough mechanic to allow for epic battles against impossible foes (like Reapers), for cat-and-mouse games of avoiding your debtors, while paying the bills (like Firefly), deep space exploration or any combination in between. If you’re looking for a mechanic-light sci-fi space game, for only $10 you could definitely do far worse than Into the Black.

~ by 1nsomniac on April 28, 2021.

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