Review: “Last Stand” RPG

Kickstarter has quickly proved itself a major boost to the RPG community, allowing all kinds of publishing dreams to come true. Often I don’t have the money to pledge to these endeavors, but I try to highlight them as my way of contribution. However, I did pledge to this one, waiting with bated breath for the product, and am glad to say I’ve got it, and it is every bit what I thought it would be. Fünhaver Games’s Last Stand, now available to non-Kickstarter backersis an RPG that seemingly draws from an eclectic range of sources such as Earth Defense Force, Starship Troopers and Kaiju movies to make hectic and fun game with a unique dice mechanic.

Character Creation: Better Living Through Bio-Armor

Last Stand is an RPG with card-based character generation and an optional set of rules for playing without the cards (aside from the tactile feel and randomness of drawing the cards you’ll use, the game plays the same). You make your character with two kinds of cards: Bio-Armor cards that represent your baseline powers and abilities, and accessories and powers from the Armory Deck. Your character is an agent fighting against an alien or monstrous invasion of the Earth, and your bio-armor is made up of the enemy monsters and surgically grafted to you. Armory cards represent equipment, abilities and situations that you can invoke in order to get a leg up – such as “Throw A Car At It,” an excellent way to resolve giant grub problems.

To make your character, you just draw from the deck and pass the cards around until everyone has a randomly generated, perfectly usable character. Kickstarter backers received digital copies of the Last Stand cards or a physical deck depending on their backer level, and once the backers receive their own decks, more will become available for consumers. When you don’t have a deck of cards, you can choose powers from the back of the book and write them down.

Core Mechanics: Wager And Rip

The game’s core mechanics are initially very simple: you have four stats that represent the kinds of actions you can take, their values drawn from the sum of the values on your armor and the accessories and powers that you use. To resolve actions, you roll 2d10 and take the highest of the two die results and add the stat you’re using, comparing to 12 (or 15/18 depending on the difficulty). The game offers a lot of advice for representing your results in terms of the monster-slaying high action fiction that it draws from, and how to scale the mechanics to match the scenarios that you’ll be playing with the game.

From there, however, Last Stand introduces more unique mechanics, such as the Wager system. Last Stand uses Tokens as a currency that can be spent on playing certain cards and abilities. The GM bribes players with tokens to give them incentives to take certain actions, and they can wager them as well. When you use Wager powers, you can bet tokens on terms written on your card, such as rolling “on a 2 or 3” in die results. Similarly, Collateral powers are like a wager that will harm you if you meet its terms. These terms are thoroughly explained and the many armory cards offer unique twists on them, such as wagering in place of your allies with the Inspiration card, or modifying enemy stats temporarily with your Point Man card.

Combat is tactical, using an abstract battlefield called a Sector Map that is typically 4×3, but can be formed of other patterns of 12 squares. Your attacks can target enemies in your sector, other sectors, or multiple sectors depending on your cards. Enemies and allies can share sector positions. Your core stats double as your Health, but the game is balanced such that losing stats does not render you completely helpless – it manages to be inconveniencing but in a way that superior tactics and clever power use can offset. There are options for playing the game with more traditional square-by-square movements such as those in D&D.

A flavorful twist on these mechanics is the addition of monster powers that you can add to your repertoire. You can “rip” or “slot” unique powers from enemies, taking them for yourself. You can use “ripped” powers immediately, but at the end of each session you can only choose to “slot” a single ripped power out of any you might have ripped from monsters. So while you can sling monster parts around, only one can be kept, and it becomes attached to one of your stats from then on. Soon you’ll be wielding bee stinger cannons, tarantula guns, and BEEEEEEEES like a natural-born man-bug hybrid.

Running the Game: Directing Giant Monsters

The book contains a variety of enemies, from giant bees, to evil robots, to monster gators. All kinds of glorious kaiju cliches are available to pound to dust and rip stuff off from, and there’s concrete guidelines for making your own monsters, including giant invaders that have their own rules, such as allowing you to climb on them. There are also guidelines for making custom power armors, and the system is very accessible and welcoming of homebrewing and improvising. The section for the “Director” (GM) contains a lot of useful advice for handling your own campaigns, the kinds of play styles and campaign themes that the game is best suited for, and there’s a bit of fluff on the established setting, such as the enigmatic nature of the invaders and humanity’s resistance against them, easily modified for your own needs (or discarded entirely).

Technically speaking, the PDF has a very simple one-column layout with sidebar boxes here and there. It’s minimalistic but functional, with a gorgeous cover and quirky, serviceable interior art depicting the various suits and invaders. The PDF has useful bookmarks, a table of contents and an index. The book is fairly small, 78 pages in total, and written in a casual style that “cuts the bullshit” so to speak and gets to the point fairly quickly. The card powers in the back of the book are entirely in text, rather than arranged as cards, and the monsters are text boxes that are easily printed and cut out to use. While it lacks the glitz of the industry giants, it is a very usable and readable product that does not mince words and uses its space wisely.

Make A Stand

Last Stand is a great game for those looking for a totally new RPG, in almost every way. Combining a unique set of inspirations with fun and innovative mechanics that thoroughly evoke the setting and are fast while tactically deep, Last Stand stands out of the crowd. Fünhaver Games is promising a lot more on the horizon for the Fortune System powering Last Stand, including a slew of new settings with unique mechanics, and a virtual tabletop to play them on. Their first effort is a very creative and interesting product and I look forward to more Fortune Systems offerings in the future. For now, I’m quite content with climbing on a giant radioactive lizard’s back and pinching its aortic arteries with my giant enemy crab claws.