The End of the Beginning – Part 2: Katharsys [Degenesis]

Degenesis: Rebirth Edition
Katharsys

Author: Christian Günther, Alexander Malik, Marko Djurdjevic, Vedran Pilipovic
Publisher: SIXMOREVODKA
Page Count: 360
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (degenesis.com) – Free
Print – €99.00

The world is unrecognizable 500 years into the future. A storm of meteors blanketed the Earth, causing a tremendous upheaval to all life. Landmasses altered, and a new breed of warped humans rose. The survivors of Europe and North Africa struggle for supremacy in Degenesis, the roleplaying game.

Degenesis is a Eurocentric apocalyptic game set in 2595, 500 years after a cataclysmic event reshaped society. Degenesis: Rebirth Edition is a two-book set housed in a slipcase. I’ve already covered the first book, “Primal Punk,” in Part 1, which covered the game’s setting. In book two, “Katharsys,” I will be covering the game’s mechanics.

Note: SIXMOREVODKA provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. If you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review, please visit our Product Review Request page.

Game Mechanics

Book two, a literal continuation of the first, launches right into game mechanics. Degenesis characters have six attributes: Body, Agility, Charisma, Intellect, Psyche, and Instinct. The first four are easy to comprehend, but the latter needs a little explanation. Psyche is a character’s mental strength, and Instinct is a character’s base reaction to situations. The book doesn’t elaborate past this vague description. Luckily, its definition isn’t that important since attributes link to specific skills and are never rolled alone.

Each attribute has six linked skills that coincide with the definition of the attribute. When used, attribute values are added to their corresponding skill values. Skills are used for action or reaction purposes, actively or passively. Examples of how the skill may be used (action or reaction) are provided at the bottom of each skill.

Degenesis uses a D6 dice pool as its resolution mechanic. Attribute values range from 1-6, and skills range from 0-6. Each value represents one die in a player’s dice pool called an Action Number with attributes and skills working in tandem, adding the values together to create the dice pool. Action Numbers are subject to plus or minus bonus dice where applicable. A player can never roll more than 12 dice. When the Action Number exceeds 12, the excess dice are counted as automatic successes and not rolled.

Dice pools results must meet or exceed a set amount of successes to pass a task. Results of 4, 5, and 6 on a D6 are successes. The amount needed to pass is based on the difficulty set by the Gamemaster. A task that requires one success is a routine task, whereas the most challenging task requires 10, a desperate measure. As long as the number of successes is met or exceeded, the task succeeds.

Most games allow just a single skill for a solitary task. In Degenesis, a combination of skills may be used to complete a task, resulting in the character gaining an advantage. For instance, a character wishing to sneak up to an opponent to get a surprise attack would constitute a combination. The first task, sneaking up, must succeed before the second task, an attack. If successful, any Triggers gained in the first roll are added to the next roll. If the first skill roll is unsuccessful, the second skill is forfeited. Combining skills holds a greater risk of failure but a larger payout if many Triggers are rolled.

Sometimes a task is too complicated to resolve with a single dice pool roll. These are Complex Tasks. Complex Tasks are resolved over several rolls, signifying a greater length of time and effort is required to complete the task. Each success builds upon the other until the number of successes is met.

When a six appears on the die, they are known as Triggers. Triggers add extra bonuses as long as the task is successful. These bonuses could mean additional damage or a special effect. Each situation is unique, and more Triggers generate more significant bonuses. Triggers are also used when two parties are rolling against each other, and the outcome is a tie. The players with more Triggers win. If the dice pool fails to meet the target amount of successes and the number of ones rolled out weights it, the roll is a Botch. Botched rolls are complete failures with a negative consequence at the Gamemaster’s discretion.

Character Creation

Creating a character in Degenesis is a simple process. But before the pencil hits paper, players must decide the campaign’s focus with their Gamemaster. The world of Degenesis is so vast and has so many options; narrowing down the campaign’s direction is essential. Once the focus is decided, players can begin to build their characters.

Degenesis offers two ways to build a character. The first option is to develop your character by following the steps outlined in the rulebook and recording each outcome on a printed character sheet. The second method uses Degenesis’s website character generator. The online character generator walks players through the process, allowing them to select what they want for their character with simple clicks. Scrolling over selections quickly pops up descriptions, making it quicker than flipping through several pages in the rulebook to find the same answer. When finished, players may download their characters in a readable PDF and archive them on the site as long as they’ve created a free account. The character generator offers an attractive visual alternative to the traditional pen and paper approach.

Players begin building their character by choosing their culture, concept, and cult. Each choice adds bonuses to attributes and skills, readily available to see in easy-to-read charts. As outlined in my previous article, there are seven cultures and thirteen cults to choose from. A character’s concept is based on 12 archetypes. Each archetype has a brief description and a unique Tarot Code. Tarot Codes are icons used in the game to represent archetypes. Cultures and cults also have representable icons that identify their allegiance.

The next step is to allocate points to attributes, skills, and backgrounds as per the rules. The six backgrounds represent a character’s ability to influence and tap resources from the cult. If a character needs something or wishes to sway favor to their cause within the cult, they would use one of the six backgrounds to aid them in achieving their goal.

Belonging to a cult offers a lot of benefits. Characters, as they progress, should always be looking ahead. Each of the cults has a career path that characters follow called Ranks. The number of ranks varies from cult to cult and its branch offshoots. Degenesis uses a rank tree to visually demonstrate the paths and provides brief descriptions of each rank. New cult members start at the bottom and move up the hierarchy. With each rank, they gain new equipment and prestige.

Cult members are taught special cult-only abilities called Potentials. They are not like attributes and skills that see general use. Instead, special abilities come into play when certain circumstances allow them. Each cult has six Potentials—some require a prerequisite to attain. Characters begin with one and gain more over time. If players wish, they may elect to take one of the eleven general Potentials that are not cult specific instead.

Character creation is almost complete. A series of calculated statistics still need to be added, like Ego. Ego is used to boost initiative, soak metal damage, or add dice to a character’s pool. It may be replenished by inhaling Burn spores, following a character’s concept, or using specific Potentials. Another derived stat is Spore Infestation. It tracks how much Sepsis a character may ingest before becoming a seed carrier. There is also Flesh Wound and Trauma that track the character’s health. The last details to add to characters are names, sex, money, equipment, and weapons.

Weapons, armor, and equipment in Degenesis fall within six levels of technology. Starting with primitive tools and weapons of Tech 1 to Tech 6: Wonderland, one level beyond the technology of Transhuman, the tech level before the Eshaton. In-game, you will find a mix of tech levels among the inhabitants. The higher the tech level, the more rare and valuable. Weapons feature vital statistics for their use like handling, damage, capacity, and so forth. Armor is similar in its stopping power, weight, and quality. Degenesis even features vehicles and ships, which are unusual sights. Special rules for combat and repairing them are provided. Degenesis also features beasts of burden, medical equipment, and services from cults like Chroniclers and Spitalian. There are plenty of items to choose from in Degenesis’s rulebook. As a matter of fact, there is a whole chapter dedicated to the equipment.

Combat

Combat begins with the initiative. Characters may gain the advantage in their initiative by spending up to three Ego Points openly or privately. Combat rounds are four seconds long, and each character has at least one action in which they may make mental or physical attacks, some of which can be countered. Characters also have Free Actions which take little effort to accomplish. They consist of simple actions like dropping a weapon or speaking out. Movement in combat does not take up action, but it does subtract from the character’s dice pool when they attack but adds to their defense. Other actions that take up action are reloading or changing weapons.

When attacked, characters may opt to repeal the attack if they have actions available to them. This is called Active Defense instead of Passive Defense which requires no actions but is less likely to evade the blow. If successful, the attacker blow does not hit. If the defender gets three triggers on their defense, they automatically counterattack and damage the attacker.

Sepsis & Foes

As mentioned in Part 1, Sepsis is the opposing force to all life on Earth. Springing out of massive spore fields that blanket large swaths of the Earth, its deadly spores spread into civilized lands. Chapter 9 of “Katharsys” covers its expansion, effect on the population, and rules into its effects. It also dives into its impact on the seven cultures before moving on to the next chapter covering beasts, victims of the Primer, Psychonauts, Primer Fauna, Aberrations, human enemies, and more—some of the meanest, scariest, and twisted foes on planet Earth. Each listing features an adult-themed illustration—adult-themed as in nudity and warped esthetics—and comprehensive descriptions about its character and use. Larger and meaner foes like those birthed from Sepsis have greater coverage and page count. It is everything a Gamemaster needs for their game.

Gamemaster Section

Before ending with an adventure, Degenesis has a Gamemastering section. It provides helpful ideas to get a game up and running and keep it going for years to come; helpful information on how to tell a story and make characters believable. There are tips on balancing out your story, adding just enough conflict to keep players on their toes, and breaking the story up into easily digestible sections. It is primarily the standard material you find in sections like these.

Embargo

Finishing out the “Katharsys” is an adventure for beginners called “Embargo.” The adventure is flexible enough that a Gamemaster may adjust the threat level for more experienced characters. The adventure focuses on two areas on the outer edges of the Protectorate but can easily be moved if necessary. It begins with the characters returning home after completing a task left up to the Gamemaster. On their way back, they enter a place called Tumbler. There isn’t much here, an inn, a Chroniclers’ Alcove, and a watchtower. A young townie has gotten himself mixed up with a bad group of people. He found something in the wasteland and sold it, but the currency he received from the Chronclier was a forgery. Word has reached the Cluster, a giant network of information, and Shutters have already tracked down the boy, and more will follow if this misunderstanding is not resolved. It’s up to the characters to find the forger and straighten out this mess.

Final Thought

Once again, I find it very odd that “Katharsys” is the second book and continuation of “Primal Punk.” “Katharsys” clearly should have come first, explaining the game and its system before diving into the world setting. Nevertheless, the book follows the same format and aesthetics as “Primal Punk.” It is filled with mature-themed images and an engaging layout. Its vital game information is formatted to locate rules quickly. Core rules are repeated in the simplest terms right after their lengthy explanation—centered and a few carriage returns after the paragraph so they can not be missed. It’s a beautiful solution when trying to locate a rule.

The rules are easy to understand and follow. Beginners to the system should pick up the mechanics quite quickly. Its character sheets are simple to read. Like Vampire: The Masquerade’s character sheet, attributes, skills, or other statistics use fill-in bubbles to track their values. It brings to question if a character is played long enough will it max out on skills and whatnot. If Gamemaster fears that might happen, there are plenty of nasties that prevent a character from existing that long.

Degenesis is a mechanically simple game with a unique setting. It is a little too raw for my taste. Its deep-seated roots in authentic world cultures and stereotypes are too close to home for me to enjoy. It could also be that being Eurocentric, I relate to it less.

Even though the game doesn’t appeal to me, I’m happy to have flipped through such wonderfully designed books. I often read through books with bad design choices that taint my opinion of the game. In this case, the book is really outstanding. It’s a shame that the publisher just recently posted on social media that reprints of this slipcase set and other print material will be out of print once their stock is sold. Its immaculate layouts will live on in PDFs, but digital copies are no substitute. Digital copies of Degenesis are free to download at Degenesis’s website—also incredibly and esthetically designed. I suggest anyone interested in Degenesis download the rules for free and purchase any printed material before it goes out of print. It might be a while before something this beautiful comes around again.

~Stephen Pennisi

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