A few months back I took a look at The Sprawl supplement, Touched—A Darkening Alley, which introduced cosmic horror elements to The Sprawl’s cyberpunk baseline. This time, I’ll be looking at another Touched supplement for The Sprawl, Touched Prime.
If you are unfamiliar, The Sprawl is a Powered by the Apocalypse game that emulates cyberpunk stories, being very narrative forward and mission-based. Touched—A Darkening Alleyintroduced corporations obsessed with cosmic rifts and artifacts, and the runners that will help or hinder their obsessions with that which humans were not meant to know.
Touched Prime takes place in an extension of the universe introduced in A Darkening Alley—the rifts have opened even further, and a significant number of humans now resemble creatures from folklore, and magic has become even more prevalent. Does this sound familiar? Most likely, but there are some distinct and subtle differences in the implementation of this brand of near-future urban fantasy.
This review is based on the PDF of Touched Prime—from what I understand, a print version of the collected Touched supplements will eventually be available, but currently, each individual installment of the line is a separate PDF. This one is a 64-page supplement, which is available in the standard formats for The Sprawl, Midnight and Noon.
If you haven’t picked up any of The Sprawl books, the PDFs are formatted with both a black background and a white background, so readers can pick the format they are the most comfortable with. The contrast and formatting are very striking, and allows for some wide margins and chapter headings. The interior art is filled with the manipulated photography that the rest of the line has also enjoyed, but with a new painted cover, featuring some distinctly fantasy flavored runners getting into a firefight.
A World Born Anew, The Powers that Be
These chapters provide a succinct explanation of the setting, building on the lore introduced in Touched—A Darkening Alley. There are supernatural rifts opening around the world, and since the timeframe portrayed in A Darkening Alley, it’s only gotten worse, causing sweeping changes that have made magic even more common and making significant alterations to humanity.
Various nations and corporations are outlined, but as with many Powered by the Apocalypse games, including the base setting of The Sprawl, there is a great deal of room to customize the setting and to allow the players to add their own touches. You have about ten pages of setting information, and the various power groups have bullet pointed strengths and signature moves detailed for them.
A New Player Has Entered The Game, A Bigger Toolbox
The next section of the book introduces the new playbooks available in Touched Prime. These include the following:
- Adept (Characters that can channel the supernatural to be better physical combatants)
- Horror Bane (Monster hunters)
- Mage (Practiced wizards using more directed magical approaches)
- Thrall (Spellcasters that get their powers from the elder things in the rifts)
While I’m not going to spend too much time going into it here, the playbooks and what they say about magic in the setting are a definite indication of the departure this game and setting make from The Other Urban Fantasy Cyberpunk Setting. While it introduces spellcasters into the mix, instead of some questionable decisions about cultural religious practices, we get a split between more reliable magic and dangerous magic fueled by cosmic horrors.
I’m very interested in the Thrall’s magic, because I’m not sure exactly how it will feel at the table. I really like it when PBTA games push the envelope a little, and the Thrall’s magic seems to definitely do this. When making checks, the Thrall banks d6 rolls, and uses these rolls later, spending them to pick spell effects from a chart. They can eventually get the magical effects they want, but they may need to hold off on spending their banked die results, which adds a little bit of resource management and chaos into the play of the character.
Touched Prime uses elements introduced in A Darkening Alley, which are described in the A Bigger Toolbox section. Characters that manipulate the supernatural gain the Touch stat, for, well, touching the supernatural. Additionally, just as the core game of The Sprawl has [gear] and [intel] to represent resources that can be spent to simulate the effort that professionals go through to acquire in the Legwork phase, [artifact] is a resource that can be spent to power some magical effects.
While several playbooks give access to supernatural moves and spell-like abilities, there are rules for non-magical characters interacting with artifacts and rituals as well.
Keep Dreaming On, Phorever People, and Running the Rifts
The last section of the book details new species that players may use to modify their playbooks, as well as additional MC moves that are appropriate for the setting. The species are:
Depending on your personal outlook, you may be please, unphased, or upset at the lack of orks in the various species descriptions. I’ll admit, I’m on the side of favoring things that have a link to folklore over a species that was largely created for one fictional universe, but your mileage may vary. All of the species have a minor boost that changes them slightly, such as trolls regaining a level of health when they roll doubles.
In addition to the species traits, there is a sidebar discussing the pitfalls of introducing fantasy racism and emphasizing the importance of avoiding stereotypes, which I greatly appreciated.
The Running the Rifts section adds a few new twists that can go wrong on a mission, like attracting the attention of magical orders, setting loose a blast of rift energies, or even freeing one of the horrors into the world. There is a reference to the Eldritch Trauma section of A Darkening Alley, but it’s not assumed that you will have access to that material as well.
Side Note: A Darkening Alley introduced the idea of coping mechanisms, rather than inflicting mental illness on characters, and I love the concept. In fact, I enjoy that mechanic more and more, the longer I think about it. Not 100% relevant to this review, but its definitely something I appreciate from the previous supplement.
Surviving the Night
The rules introduced in this supplement add just enough detail to a cyberpunk urban fantasy game to be flavorful and flexible. The magic systems introduced are interesting and inform the tone of the game. This supplement does a great job building on the material presented in A Darkening Alley, while still standing as its own supplement.
But The Night Is Long
I think the setting details, regarding the history of the rifts, the corporations, and the nations that exist at this time hit the sweet spot of inspirational and open-ended, but I have to admit I wouldn’t mind a few named horrors, great and small, to help fire the imagination, and to steer away from using some of the more obvious go-to names and shapes of cosmic horror.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
The outline of the setting is imaginative and could be used for just about any sci-fi/urban fantasy mash-up game you wanted, there are lots of fun mechanics to play with on the periphery of the usual Powered by the Apocalypse mold, and the supplement plays well with A Darkening Alley
but also stands on its own.
I’ll even let you in a secret that’s been rattling around in my head—all of this is modular enough that you could just introduce mages, thralls, adepts, and horror banes into a world that doesn’t have elves or dwarves, and it would still work pretty well. Not that I would deny anyone the full range of their favorite fantasy reskins.