Fractured Kingdom is “… a game of conspiracy and mysticism in the dark future.” Part cyberpunk, part post-apocalyptic, part something else, Fractured Kingdom combines the best parts of several genres into an interesting new take on futuristic role-playing.
I was a backer of the game’s Kickstarter campaign, but until now hadn’t carved out the time to read and review the book which released several months ago. When Dave Silva sent out a call for reviewers, I took that as my cue to devote some time to reading the book, and I’m glad I did.
Fractured Kingdom is a brand new RPG by House Dok Productions. The game centers around Lucids–people with mystical powers who have had contact with one of the four Outer Realms. These four realms–the Dark, the Grave, the Verdant, and the Slumber–are connected to our world through gateways that few people are capable of accessing. People who have been to one of the realms become Lucids and receive special powers as part of their affinity for that realm.
Though it is set in the year 2202, technology isn’t as advanced as one might expect. During the century-long Great War, The Church of the Reclaimer destroyed much of the world’s infrastructure and historical records as part of an event that has come to be known as The Purge. Since then technology has rebounded and advanced, but estimates say that The Purge set the world back roughly 100 years. There is still plenty of cool tech to go around, but many old electronics and machines are uncovered in archaeological digs that confound modern scientists.
As one might expect in a cyberpunk-like setting, corporations rule megalopolitan areas and the governments of the world have largely consolidated into but a handful of alliances. The rich are powerful, the poor are indentured to The Man, and there is nothing left of a middle class. Meanwhile, Lucids aren’t looked upon favorably by most mundane people. Those who do acknowledge their existence either hunt them or wish to experiment on them, and many Lucids are forced into hiding.
Lucky for you, as a player character, you’ll get to play a Lucid. That means you’ll spend a lot of time dealing with people who don’t like you and monsters only you are capable of facing. Whether your motives are altruistic or you’re just in it for survival, playing as a Lucid comes with its perks and its drawbacks.
After the book lays out some basic information by way of a helpful glossary, it introduces character creation concepts. There’s a lot to this game, but if you stick it out you’ll be able to make a character with a wide range of interesting powers and abilities.
For starters, GMs will need to select which power level the game will start at . Players will be New, Expert, or Veteran Lucids. The difference between the three levels is essentially how many skill points your characters will start the game with.
After power level is selected, players will choose which of the four Outer Realms their character is bonded to. Each realm offers some unique powers and flavor for the character.
- The Dark is a realm of nightmares and fears. Dark Lucids gain powers of fear, mental dominance, and shadows.
- The Grave is the realm of death. Grave Lucids have died and, for whatever reason, not stayed that way. Not necessarily undead (they may just be people who’ve had near-death experiences), these characters gain powerful resilience against pain and power over the dead and dying.
- The Slumber represents the greater consciousness of all living things. Slumbering Lucids break the very bounds of reality and are capable of flight, super speed, super strength, and crafting brilliant illusions.
- The Verdant is the “world without man,” a place of nature and great beasts. Verdant Lucids often take on feral qualities. They have powers of healing, regeneration, and control over the primal elements of the universe.
The four Outer Realms encompass a lot of different abilities and backgrounds. Choosing one realm over another will have a big impact upon your character, both during creation and advancement throughout the game. Each player may only choose one realm to be bonded with, so it’s important to choose wisely.
After choosing an Outer Realm, characters will choose a Background and then assign each of his character creation points. There are three different types of build points available: Creation Points, Lucid Points, and Experience Points.
This is where things get a bit complicated, but the book does a pretty good job outlining what each type of build point is used for. Creation Points are for your basic character traits, Lucid Points are for your Lucid powers only, and Experience Points can be spent on anything. A trade-off system allows characters to spend unused points of one type to earn points of another type, but at a cost.
Next, players may choose to take Drawbacks to earn more creation points. Drawbacks come in three different levels and provide an increasing number of points.
Finally, players tally up their three different Life Pools: Health, Ego, and Energy. Each is a separate resource to manage and each is damaged or depleted in different ways. It adds granularity to the system, but personally I find it a bit much.
Chapter 2 is all about characteristics. These are the things your character will spend his creation points on, and there are loads and loads of them here. There are four main types of characteristics:
- Attributes (A)
- Skills (S) & Specialties (Sp)
- Abilities (Ab) & Foci (F)
- Boons (B)
There are 10 Attribute trees and each other characteristic in the game references them in some way. They provide the most broad overview of your character. Attributes include: History, Fortune, Constitution, Mental, Dexterity, Intelligence, Sense, Expression, Strength, and Wisdom.
I like how some of these attributes are non-standard for a game. Most games don’t consider History or Fortune to be attributes, and Expression is a mixture of charisma, personality, and appearance.
For Skills, there are a large number of general categories which encompass a wide range of abilities. For example, Acrobatics covers all manner of nimble movements. Each Skill is associated with an Attribute, and most Skills have an additional Specialty area which can add bonuses when used in certain circumstances. One thing I found confusing about this section was the constant reference to Specialties when I don’t believe they’re detailed until much later in the book. That’s one of those issues that seems to matter most upon a primary read-through of a book and becomes less important as you reference the material later though.
There are a huge number of listed Skills, Abilities, and Boons. Abilities and Boons are like feats and other special powers; they’re things your character can do that aren’t necessarily broken down into a skill group. Each is associated with an Ability and has a number of different Foci and Specialties. Basically, it’s a complex web of options.
Thankfully, there are a few helpful Boon Trees, which are lists of boons that may commonly be grouped together to form a given character concept. If you follow one of these trees you’ll be able to put together a concept in no time. If you don’t, well, good luck picking from the wealth of options available to you.
Like the other sections in this book, the chapter on Gear is extensive. Fractured Kingdom uses an abstract wealth system for purchasing goods, which is something I really like to see in games. It’s especially helpful in a game where there are already so many resources to manage.
The Gear section covers weapons, armor, vehicles, explosives, computers, survival gear, and more. Detailed statistics and variations are given for each item.
Mechanics and Combat
Chapter 4 brings us to the crunch of the game: Mechanics and Combat. This is where the book finally lays out all of the differences and intricacies of Attributes, Abilities, Skills, Specialties, Foci, and Boons. These Characteristic Trees make up the majority of what your character will do in the game.
When rolling dice, GMs let the players know what kind of Attribute the player will check against. The player may then add any number of Characteristics (Abilities, Skills, Specialties, Foci, and Boons) to add both a bonus and an extra d6 to the roll. For simple activities this may just mean rolling an ability and adding 1d6, but to really crank up the power so you can succeed at a difficult task you can add any number of characteristics you think might apply to the situation.
The system allows for a lot of flexibility but at the expense of complexity. I’ve played similar systems before and I really enjoy the options available, but adding up all of the different bonuses can slow down gameplay somewhat. Once you get the hang of it though, it’s a fun and dynamic method of rolling dice.
Back to resource management: each characteristic you use for a given roll costs 1 Energy. If you use 6 characteristics on a given roll to really make sure it succeeds, you’ll also spend 6 Energy. It’s good for game balance, but it means you’ll be recalculating energy pretty much every single round.
Several different helpful dice roll examples are given which really help illustrate how the system works.
The Mechanics chapter is only about 20 pages long, but it covers a wide range of options and rules situations. Damaging, healing, skill use, suffocation, burning, and most other situations are covered.
Running Fractured Kingdom
Chapter 5 is for Game Masters and players are encouraged not to read it. At about 70 pages or so in length, it’s one of the biggest sections in the book.
This chapter gives a much more detailed picture of the Fractured Kingdom world. All of the important history of the last 200 years is detailed, as are the 5 remaining governmental superpowers. The chapter also provides details of other major powers in the world, important NPCs, and a rather extensive list of monsters. Everything you need to know to run a game in the Fractured Kingdom setting is here in this one helpful chapter.
Song of Silence
Near the end of the book is a sample adventure to get you started. It’s a relatively short but intriguing adventure about a rock concert gone wrong, and it sees the players fighting through hordes of zombies. The adventure isn’t very long, but it does a good job illustrating what the world is like and how to interact with it.
Several example Expert-level characters are provided for the adventure, along with one-page character write-ups and a full character sheet. The characters are interesting and have been built up throughout the book in example text and short stories, so by the time you get to them here they feel very familiar.
At the end of each chapter is a bit of short fiction that tells the story of a coven (a group of Lucids) known as the Outsiders. These short stories add a lot of background and flavor to the world in a way that feels very organic. Be warned that there is some adult language in these stories, so they may not necessarily be for kids.
The book is filled with helpful examples to illustrate different game mechanics, and these examples always use one of the Outsiders. During the character creation chapter, for example, we get to watch as a player puts together the old matronly character named Margaret. Because these examples are all thematically tied together, the characters feel alive and interesting, and they really help give a feel for the setting as a whole.
Art, Layout, and Editing
Fracture Kingdoms’ art is black and white and has a sort of old-school vibe. Opinions may vary, but I wasn’t thrilled by most of it. Granted, I’m not the best person to critique art.
The book uses a standard two-column layout with tables and text boxes as needed. I felt that the thick black borders on all of the tables and sidebars was a bit too thick, but honestly that boils down to personal taste. Generally speaking, the text flows very well and there was only one occasion where I remember seeing a paragraph broken up with more than a page of sidebars in between.
I did notice a fair number of typos throughout the book, but nothing that was too distracting. The typos didn’t affect my ability to comprehend the text, which is the most important thing.
The book has a fairly extensive index, which I love. Who doesn’t love a good index?
Fractured Kingdom doesn’t score big points when it comes to accessibility, but it certainly doesn’t fail either.
The PDF is fully bookmarked and I had no problems reading it with my screen reader. These are two key features of any PDF, but they’re really important when we’re talking about accessibility specifically. Good job to Fractured Kingdom for this.
On the other hand, the character sheet is crowded. Everything fits onto one page, but it’s a very noisy one page. The text is small in many cases and difficult to read at a glance.
Choice of typefaces (fonts) could also have used improvement in some areas. There are a lot of different typefaces in the book and I found some of the headlines difficult to read because they appeared “fuzzy.” Thanks to my screen reader I didn’t have to worry about this too much, but when trying to reference something at a glance it was a bit difficult at times. Thankfully, the body copy used a clean and simple typeface that was easy to read, so it’s just the headers that gave me any issues.
The game mechanics are also a little tricky in places. There is quite a bit of decision-making and math involved. Part of the drawback of having a flexible system in which you get to choose when and how many characteristics you use is that it adds complexity to the game mechanics. There is also quite a bit of resource management, with 3 different types of characteristic points, three different types of energy levels, etc. Fractured Kingdom is great if you like and work well with that sort of mechanic, but it isn’t for people with severe cognitive or math impairments.
To end on a positive note, the game doesn’t use miniatures so there isn’t any real visual element during gameplay that could cause difficulties for the blind or visually impaired.
Fractured Kingdom is a great game. The world and setting are rich and flavorful, the game mechanics offer a good balance between crunch and fluff, and the system encourages role-playing and decision-making. If a little resource management (and to be sure, it’s little compared to many games on the market) doesn’t bother you and you like the idea of an open and flexible skill system, I would highly recommend this game.
Available at DriveThruRPG