Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tephra the RPG

I'll say this upfront.  Tephra is everything that Shadowrun Fifth Edition should have been - a science-fantasy role playing game with technical marvels, demi-humans, and a simple game mechanic.

I avoided this game for a long time, despite it being available at my FLGS, despite my friends playing it, and despite even the fact that the game designers came from half a state away to run a demo game four blocks  from where I live.  Tephra is steampunk.  I did steampunk way back in SPACE: 1889, and didn't have much interest in diving back in.

Well, last weekend a game of All Flesh Must Be Eaten fell through due to involuntary DM double-shift, so us stragglers sat around debating what to play.  The local Tephra evangelist was there, so I said 'What the heck' and we played a game.

Character creation can be a bit overwhelming at first, as there are no classes, or templates, or nothing.  It's best just to have an idea for the character, and then have someone who knows what they are doing help build it.  But after I had made a character once, I think I could make just about anything now.

Kalisandra the Satyr
aka the Encylopedia
(due to a few well-rolled knowledge checks)
So, Tephra takes place in a fantasy world gone steampunk.  Races include humans, the aquatic ayodin, gnomes, fallen elves that are more like trolls, and 'fixed' elves called the farishtaa.  There are also satyrs.  I've never once thought about playing a satyr in any role playing game before, but I found their background intriguing - being a genetically modified slave race recently freed, so I chose one for my character.

There are five attributes; Brawl, Cunning, Science, Dexterity, and Spirit.  Each of the attributes have a variety of skills - and you put your points into the skills - not the attributes.  Then you select some specialties that are under the skills you bought.  Attribute scores are derived from the skills, and not the other way round.  This method of creation lets you pinpoint exactly what you do well, and everything else falls from that.  Specialties range anywhere from driving with your knees, building steam power robots, to paralyzing people with your touch.

The game mechanics center around a twelve-sided die.  One twelve-sided die.  That's all you roll.  It explodes out the top for larger numbers, and you add your attribute or skill.  Usually it is a contested roll with the biggest result winning.  Very simple and quick.  I like it.

Of course, there is a lot more to it.  There are many background options and the skills and specialties systems really help to make your character into an individual.  My satyr character is a spy and assassin who bullshits her way out of trouble, strikes with her octopus-hilted daggers around people's armor, and if all else fails, can craft her own poisons - delivered by little mechanical octopi -  to finish people off.

Throw all of this into the world of Tephra, a setting designed to support many shades of Steampunk - from Victorian England, Wild West, Colonian Africa, or the Far East - and you get a really nifty game.  It has resparked my interest in steampunk - a genre that I never really thought I'd be interested in again.

So yeah, I'd recommend it. :)

- Ark


  1. I'm not gonna lie. Nothing about this game interested me until you mentioned the core mechanic was based on d12. Now my curiosity-- and my dodecahedron fetish-- are quite piqued.

    1. How they ever made a usable system out of that one die is beyond me, but they decided to call it the Clockwork System, because - you know - twelve. :)

      - Ark

  2. I've actually been thinking of picking this up. After reading this post I will definitely get it.

    1. Cool beans. I hope you enjoy it.

      - Ark

    2. Heads up, I included a link to your post in my latest blog entry at If that's a problem, please let me know.


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  4. This is a great review. Thank you for it!

    ~ Daniel Burrow of Cracked Monocle