Cowboy Bebop–A refreshing new roleplaying game based on the hit anime

Review by C.J. Bunce

3-2-1, Let’s jam…

With the annual Gen Con gaming convention beginning today in Indianapolis, now’s a great time to check out one of the year’s best new games:  The all-new Cowboy Bebop Roleplaying Game may be the best tie-in RPG yet, complete with its own engine and layers of gameplay you won’t find anyplace else.  Unlike every franchise tie-in we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg, this is the first to fully incorporate copyrighted elements of the property on every page.  This gives Don’t Panic Games and Mana Project Studio’s Cowboy Bebop Roleplaying Game the best look and design of them all.  It’s also no joke: at a whopping 273 pages it probably has more adventures and play options than any game you’ve played before.   Images of the characters from the original anime amplify and support the worldbuilding and gameplay.  Even the jazz of the theme song and title is infused into every session.  For the 25th anniversary of one of the most famous anime series ever, gamers can now play the cool Spike Spiegel, uber-detective Jet Black, the savvy Faye Valentine, the odd Ed, and the super-smart Welsh Corgi named Ein as they try to make a buck in the year 2071, incorporating all 26 stories from the TV show.  Check out a preview now here at DriveThruRPG or pre-order one of several release options now here.

Centered on the adventures of a gang of bounty hunters in space, Cowboy Bebop is known for delving into the unresolved issues of the protagonists’ past, exploring concepts such as existentialismboredomloneliness, and the influence of the past.  That all comes through in this new RPG.  The player in charge is the Big Shot and everyone else a Bounty Hunter.

As in the series, characters don’t always decide to turn in a bounty.  Morality is a big element of the stories players work through.  Every Bounty Hunter has a special Memory, and each is unable to act on a bounty until he/she learns the bounty’s Secret.  Bounty Hunters have Rhythm and Big Shots have Risk, as players face Tests that net currency in the form of Bits, which take them closer to their goals, and Shocks, which push them toward danger.  That jazz from the theme song?  That’s translated as the Groove in the game–a special ability each Bounty Hunter has to break certain rules when it gives him/her and advantage.

Each two-hour session features three Tabs.  Each Tab covers a particular scene of your tale where the characters have a main objective to achieve, perhaps some secondary ones, as well as some dangers to avoid.  As the session progresses and the tension increases, each Tab gives the players more options.  Each character has five ways to get a job done: Rock (cool), Dance (dramatic), Blues (emotional), Tango (seductive), or Jazz (street-smart). The player starts narrating the action, setting the stage for the use of traits from the character’s chosen approach.  Each trait will increase the character’s involvement, increasing the number of dice rolled, the chances of success, and potential problems, all driven by standard d6 dice or a set you can pick up in the RPG’s Kickstarter campaign.

You can aid a Wound with a Riff, take a Gamble on your next roll, and virtual Clocks add a ticking-clock, or tension, to each Tab.  Each Tab follows an element of the intro credits: the first is “get everybody and the stuff together,” the second is “3, 2, 1…”–usual a search for the Bounty’s Secret, and the third is “Let’s Jam!”–the episode or story’s climax.  Each Session is played out like an episode of the TV series.

Best of all, you do not need an experienced gamer as your Big Shot and you don’t need to be one to play as a Bounty Hunter.  The rule book provides page after page of actual story examples for all the actions you’ll encounter.  No other guide has gone this far to make playing easier, especially for beginners.  Fleshed out scenarios include a Classic Session, a Personal Session, and Filler Sessions (just like those tangent episodes of a TV show).  Weights are features allowing players to reflect or push the game ahead to a conclusion.  Players are encouraged to make up their own Session Titles similar to the episode titles in the TV series.

As you’d expect, a big section of the rule book is devoted to creating your own character.  Features include appearance and cybernetics, like a cyborg eye or legs, or a plastic face.  Clothes maketh the Bounty Hunter, and gamers are provided with suggestions that influence play, including smokes, weapons, and instant noodles.  Traits are pulled from throughout the 26 TV episodes.  You can play a pet and even choose to not have a Memory, aka a lost Memory.

The stories chosen for this RPG very craftily avoid becoming just another Blade Runner, Alien, or Firefly–the Bounty Hunters aren’t cops, there’s no heavy reliance on corporations, and the journey isn’t simply about flying the ‘Verse to make a buck.  That said, you will get to create your own spacecraft, and several pages of charts are provided to help.  If you really want to get into it, have your Big Shot create their own TV spot to reveal parts of the game as done on the TV show.  You also get pointers on incorporating cyberpunk, retro, cool, misfits, futurism, and music themes into your narrative.  Another big section digs into the nature and use of Bounties, opposing Factions, and developing the gameplay Setting–including dozens of pages of stat blocks for Faction types.  Villains and high concept components are mainly added via the Memory tool.  Settings are pretty general–the Solar System is the least interesting component of the RPG.  The book includes blank character and session sheets along with a Glossary in case you get lost.

You’ll find character sheets for the key stars of the series and 26 complete Sessions provided.  It’s not mentioned in the rule book, but the RPG is prime fuel for cosplay opportunities while you play.  How could you not, along with the theme music playing in the background?

Several features have already been unlocked in the RPG’s Kickstarter, including a miniatures option.  Also several dice sets…

… and playing chips…

Check it out here.

The Cowboy Bepop Roleplaying Game is a refreshing, exciting update to RPGs.  It’s unique, and its gameplay is for anyone tired of the same-old, same-old.  If you’re a fan of the anime series or the Netflix live-action series (not mentioned in the rule book), you’re going to want to dive in head first to this great science fiction-meets-jazz universe.  And if you’ve not watched both the series, it’s a great excuse to do so before you play.

Find out more now here, where you can order any or all the components, including a variant second hardcover option shown in red above.  Shipping is targeted for this November.

See You, Space Cowboy…

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