An Endzeitgeist.com review
This little game clocks in at 29 pages if you disregard the influences page and the editorial, etc.
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to receiving a softcover version with the task to review it. My review is thus based on the saddle-stitched softcover (6’’ by 9’’/A5).
So, what is “Stay Frosty”? Essentially, it’s a focused, rules-lite OSR-game based loosely on The Black Hack, which deals thematically with a Starship Troopers-like scenario. You do not need to know The Black Hack to play this game or understand this review. The tone is informal, which you may or may not like, but I found it to be less grating than in many other publications. It should also be noted that the book literally once calls for “Rulings, not rules” – usually the excuse fielded to explain sloppy design, but this time around, that’s not the case.
The central resolution to resolve conflicts is to roll 1d20 equal to or above the Attribute; if you have advantage, you roll twice and take the better result, if you have disadvantage, you roll twice and take the worse result. Both cancel each other out.
The game features 4 Attributes, namely Brains, Brawn, Dexterity and Willpower – you determine those by rolling 3d6 – as per the global rules, lower Attributes are actually BETTER – easier to roll over. The game indicates this by adding a plus-sign to the Attributes – because, you know, rolling above them is a success.
Next up, you choose one of 8 MOS: Armor gets a light tank or APC and a repair toolkit, and has advantage to operate and repair vehicles. I think that the “repair toolkit” is a remnant from a previous version of the game, for the item isn’t per se specified, and the game otherwise only features the general toolkit. Infantry rerolls 1s on damage rolls for personal weapons, and gets either grenades, SAW, sniper rifle, LAW or flamer. 4 of the MOS have minimum Brains Attribute requirements: If you have 11 Brains or lower, you can be a Cyber – this means you have advantage on hacking tech and get a wrist-comp. Alternatively, you can be an Engineer, who gets advantage on damage rolls for explosives and a satchel charge plus toolkit. With Brains of 10 or lower, you can be Intelligence, who receives advantage when gathering information and on initiative when executing planned attacks; they also get a wrist-comp. At 9 Brains and lower, you can be a Medical, who has advantage on healing rolls and gets a medpack. If your Will is below 8, you can be a Psi-Ops, and start with 3 powers; you’re also outside of the chain of command and are ranked as a Lieutenant. Finally, if ALL your Attributes are 10 or lower, you can be Spec. Ops – this one nets you advantage on one damage roll per fight, and lets you ignore one Tension Explodes result per day – more on this mechanic later. You also start play with SAW, grenades, LAW or sniper rifle, and you get a beret.
After choosing MOS, you roll for rank: On a 1-3, you’re a Private, and get a combat knife and +1 HP per level. On a 4-5, your rank is Sergeant, and you have advantage on Battles of Will and get a swagger stick. On a 6, you are a Lieutenant, and can give advantage to a Private or Sergeant once per encounter. You also get an auto pistol.
…I per se like the ranks, but “per-encounter”-abilities never made sense, as it’s an arbitrary timeframe. Let’s say two rooms are adjacent: Ion one, we have 1 bug; 2 are waiting in the next. RAW, this mechanic would mean that the player gets advantage once if they manage to take down the one bug before the other two enter. Combat ends. Then combat restarts when the two bugs enter, and we have another use of the ability. These issues can easily be avoided if a fixed timeframe (say , a minute?) is implemented, but RAW, that’s not the case here.
You don’t get maximum HP at first level, but you do get to roll 1d6+4, at least. Each character gets a standard equipment list and rolls twice on the miscellaneous equipment table – from motion trackers to rations and scopes, there are a couple of cool items here, and yes, that includes combat drugs.
Armor and helmets net 1 point of armor each. The damage output of PC weapons ranges from 5d6 (Single-use weapons like LAWs, etc.) to 1d4 (Fist), and have properties that make them more interesting – blast, agile, stun, etc. AP means “Armor piercing “ and ignores the numerical value worth of armor. Ranges are codified in 6 abstract distance categories: Hand-to-Hand, Close, Short, Medium, Long, Extreme. During a PC’s turn, you can move somewhere Close and take an action, or you can move somewhere Short. More on actions later, because the weapon-engine has a pretty cool feature for beer-and-pretzels style games: The Ammo/Supply Die. After a fight, you roll this die on any weapon used. On a result of 1 or 2, the ammo die’s size is reduced by one step; if the Ammo Die reaches d4 and you roll a 1 or 2, you’ll only hear the “telltale “click” that tells you that this unit of ammunition’s run out. I generally like this – the only downside being that you can’t really run out of ammo in combat.
Aforementioned medpacks btw. do have a Supply Die, which is rolled after each use – these behave pretty much like the Ammo Die. A PC can carry a number of items equal to 21 minus their Brawn; more, and you suffer disadvantage on Brawn and Dexterity – this limit explicitly counts for everything, including armor, etc.
Now, I mentioned vehicles before – 4 sample ones are provided (APC, Jeep, Light and Heavy Tank), and range in HP from 40 to 75, with armor running the gamut from 3 to 10. Vehicles have 3 abstract speed categories (slow, average, fast): Faster vehicles have advantage on rolls to escape or give chase, and difficult terrain lowers speed by one category. Humans on foot are Slow with disadvantage. Vehicles also have special qualities – these can include being an all-terrain vehicle, carrying passengers, and two qualities that influence combat: HA stands for Heavy Armor, and means that only Heavy Weapons can damage it – for personal weapons, this means that only LAWs or satchel charges will be able to damage the vehicle. Heavy Tanks also have anti-personnel weapons – merely approaching these risks taking damage. The vehicles come with 4 sample vehicle weapons (Flamer, HMG and light/heavy cannon), and use the same abstract range categories as personal weapons, but can have unique qualities, like the ability to lay down suppression fire. Vehicles have a Fuel Die and Ammo Die – and yep, you guessed it, these work as you’d expect.
As for combat: Initiative is rolled by checking Dexterity: If the PC succeeds, they go before enemies, if they fail, they go after enemies. Attack is resolved similarly: Dexterity is used for ranged attacks, Brawn for hand-to-hand/melee combat. If you succeed, you roll damage. Another action you could take, is to engage in a Battle of Wills. You roll Willpower, and on a success, the target has disadvantage on their next attack roll. You can Focus and roll Brains, If you succeed, you get advantage on your next attack. Alternatively, you can use a psi-power, make a swift skill roll with equipment, etc. Enemies hit the PCs if they roll under the PC’s Dexterity or Brawn, respectively. The game also has a sort of equalizer built in: Both PCs AND Hostiles subtract 1 from their attack rolls for every HD the hostile has over the PCs. If using a vehicle, you use the PC’s or the vehicle’s HD. Wait. What? Vehicles have no HD, they have fixed HP-values! :(
Armor is subtracted from damage, and heavy cover imposes disadvantage on attack and damage rolls, while light cover only imposes disadvantage on damage rolls. If a PC’s HP reach 0, any excess damage is ADDED (high = worse) to an attribute randomly determined; if ANY Attribute reaches 21, the PC dies. HP heal fully after 8 hours of rest (this period also resets Tension), Attribute damage at the rate of 1 per day. Skill rolls and saves are primarily using the same core mechanics, with minor differences: Skills are used by the PCs, saves happen to them – you roll equal or above the value of the corresponding Attribute. Skill rolls are made at disadvantage without the proper tools. Examples for saves are given, and as often, a roll of 1 or 20 means you get to roll on one of the FUBAR-tables – the one for failures and critical hits, respectively. Both have 6 entries, with tactically-interesting results. Skill use also has a critical failure table, in case you were wondering – that’d be the SNAFU-table.
Now, the game also has a Psionic power engine, which is just as efficient and simple, based on Willpower: You roll above your Willpower to execute one of the 9 psionic powers featured herein. Interesting, though: If you fail a Willpower roll, you can choose to accept brain drain. If you do, you take as much damage as the amount by which you failed the roll, but the power works. Handling this tactically is important, for when you fail the Willpower roll of a psionic power, it fails AND you can’t use it again until you had an 8-hour-rest. The powers include the ability to impose disadvantage, dominate the minds of others (harder the more HD the target has), heal allies (but not self), take control of a machine, cause damage to intelligent, living things that bypasses armor, pyrokinesis, telekinesis, telepathy and remote viewing. Most psionic powers have a range of close or touch (should probably be hand-to-hand), and there are ways to empower some psionic powers: This imposes a penalty on the roll, but adds effects: The mental assault increases damage, the pyrokinesis can be adjusted by adding the blast or heavy property, you can read the thoughts of targets – you get the idea. The engine is easy to grasp and simple – I like it.
In the beginning, I mentioned the “rulings, not rules” sentiment– well, to quote the pdf: “Jesus Christ, I guess we have to spell everything out. We’ll see how long I can stand this.” This acts as an introduction to falling, hunger, drowning, etc. – hint: The answer was “Not very long;” the section is a grand total of half a page long. I really dislike it when a RPG-supplement gives me flack for wanting precise rules, so yeah, as a person, this rubbed me the wrong way – but not for long, for the book doesn’t actually need this attitude here; it is surprisingly precise and at this point, you can run a game. The book then proceeds to provide a character sheet, including an example of a filled-out one.
Leveling up happens automatically after a mission. You get +1d10 HP, and roll 1d20 for each Attribute; if you roll LESS than your Attribute, you subtract one from its score. Privates may roll twice and take the better result for Brawn or Dexterity; Sergeants for Brains or Dexterity; Psi-Ops for Willpower. At level 3 and 5, you get an additional action per round, usable solely for attack, battle of wills or focus. Psi-ops learn a new power at level 3 and 5.
That’s the player-facing section. The GM side of things champions point-crawling as a suggested mode, and introduces the Danger Die. That’d be a d6 which you roll when the PCs dawdle, move from node to node, enter a key-area, etc. This can include the end of effects, clues, encounters, but also Tension Increases and Tension Explodes.
Tension is easily the mechanically-coolest thing about this game. The more Tension you accumulate, the frostier the PC become, and Tension is measured in 6 levels: At Tension 1, you have no benefits; at Tension 2, you get +1 to damage rolls; at Tension 3, you have advantage on saves; at Tension 4, you have advantage on Initiative; at Tension 5, ranged attacks gain the agile property, and at tension 6, you get an extra action per round! Tension is a really cool mechanic! Moreover, when Tension Explodes, the PC must make a Willpower save, or take Tension times their level in damage (armor does not count!); if this reduces HP to 0, the excess is NOT applied to Attributes. Instead, the PC regains ½ their HP and rolls on the Going Apeshit table, which is perhaps my favorite table herein: Going overkill (not good for your ammo supply…), fight or flight responses, having a big mouth (bad for Tension), becoming twitchy, etc. – all possible.
Tension, in short, creates Tension: You want to have a high Tension for its benefits, but it’s also rather risky. Really cool, and plays just as well as it reads.
The book also features a basic mission-generator (d6 mission types, d8 planets/environments, d10 antagonists, d12 NPCs, 1d20 complications) and random generators to determine how the PCs got in, settlements and buildings, intelligent aliens, and a 2d20 name-generator. The section also includes a d12-table titled “super gross” that delivers pretty much what you’d expect. This section could have used a bit more meat on its bones, imho.
The book closes with a mini-bestiary: Antagonists are presented with Name and quote, HD noted, armor, attack + damage, morale and special abilities. Nice here: No filler! Amoeboids, cephalopods, bugs, demons, essentially predators, terminators, zombies, etc. – the monsters herein feature their unique tricks, and provide a neat basis for the GM to design new foes.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – the game is precise and rules-lite and maintains a high degree of precision throughout. Layout adheres to a no-frills one-column b/w-standard for the most part, and the supplement uses italics and bolding to make the rules easier to parse and grasp – and does so consistently. Again, nice. Artwork-wise, the book uses pixilated artwork in the style of old-school games, which I found surprisingly charming, supplemented by some decent b/w-drawings.
Casey Garske delivers a surprisingly well-crafted little game here; “Stay Frosty” features a couple of genuinely interesting rules that retain the low-complexity rules-lite style of a beer and pretzels game, while still managing to do interesting things. Tension as a mechanic is pretty great, and could be used for stress-like circumstances beyond the confines of this book.
Stay Frosty manages to do exactly what it sets out to do – deliver a Starship Trooper-style space marine game that’s easy to pick up and run. The game does have potential for expansion – finer differentiation between tools instead of a global toolkit, and dangerous terrain being two of the big things that I’d have liked to see. Stay Frosty is also really easy to explain to new players, and if the book had indeed spent the time covering all its bases without complaining about it/assuming RPG-experience, it’d have been a recommendation for new players. That being said, I do consider this in its present state to be a worthwhile booklet to pick up for a quick and uncomplicated game. Just remember to “Stay Frosty.” My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.