Amidst the sea of D&D hacks washing about the RPG bookshelves, Entromancy stands out for a couple of reasons. The first is it’s setting, which is obviously inspired by Shadowrun’s mashed-up take on fantasy and cyberpunk, but it isn’t until you crack the book open that you find its most interesting quality – brevity.
The entire book, appendices and all, barely pushes 120 pages. If you cut out the monster stats and adventure at the back you don’t even hit triple-digits. That’s the kind of length you expect from a rules-lite storytelling game or an old-school dungeon-crawler hack, not something that promises to be a functional, modern RPG based on the mechanical bones of D&D 5E.
Entromancy achieves this by making very deliberate choices about how many options and how much complexity is available to the players. For example, every single class in the game is treated almost as a pre-generated character, complete with a character sheet that already has the stats filled in for you. There are a few blank spaces to add in the handful of extra details, powers and gear you pick, but I’d be real surprised if it ever took anyone more than five minutes to create their cyber-wizard or techno-cowboy.
Everything to do with EXP or levelling has also been stripped down to the ground. Every mission a character completes nets them one new ability or piece of kit, and after the run through enough of them they get access to a high-powered ‘destiny’ that offers extra perks. Naturally, this all means that the amount of choices players make about their characters are – mechanically, anyway – pretty slim, but there’s just enough options out there that you can piece together something that feels special to you.
In a strange way higher-level characters can become really rather complex, thanks to Entromancy’s stalwart resistance to fiddling with any of the numbers of the character sheet. Rather than just sticking a +1 here or a stack of HP there, characters grow by gaining extra rules and powers.
The end result of all this is a system that just seems to work. At least, it does if you’re already familiar with the general mechanics of D&D 5E, as the sections dealing with the rules of combat and actually rolling dice are just as to-the-point as those on character creation.
I honestly couldn’t tell you how someone fresh to RPGs would feel about Entromancy’s stripped-down explanations, but if their choice of first-ever game to pick up is one where gnomes in wraparound shades fight people with magically-conjured baseballs, I’m sure they’ll figure things out soon enough.
This brings us to the second half of what makes Entomancy stand out – the setting. The basic premise will be pretty familiar to anyone who’s dabbled with Shadowrun and follows so many of the same beats that you’d be forgiven for mixing the two up in a police line-out.
The year is 20-something-something and magic has burst unexpectedly into the world after laying dormant for several hundred years. Gnomes and dwarves now roam the street alongside orcs – or, rather, ‘aurics’ – and everything is charged with an undercurrent of X-Men-esque racial tension that can make these kinds of settings either thought-provoking or a total drag depending on your perspective.
Alongside these fantasy elements, tech has grown to the traditional cyberpunk spaces of commonplace cybernetics and universal networking. There’s plenty of room for hacking out there, but if you’re after a full-blown deep-dive hacking system you’re going to be looking in vain.
The core of the game is set in and around San Francisco and it’s clearly be written up by someone with a genuine love for the area. There are a handful of quirks that help it stand out – baseball fever has apparently gripped the world, to the extent that a class is entirely built around it – but I’d be lying if I said I had any strong attachment to the setting. Still, it’s cool enough to play around with, and it really wouldn’t take much effort to port things over to other settings (including one that shall remain unnamed from here on out but is well-known for cool fiction and complicated rules) if you wanted to.
Ultimately, Entromancy is an interesting little game. I don’t know if I’d want to pick it up for a long-term campaign but if you’re planning the occasional one-shot where you want to leap into the game as fast as humanly possible you could do a hell of a lot worse, and at less than $10 for the PDF it’s an absolute steal.
A stripped-back cyberpunk/fantasy take on the 5E rules that might be one of the fastest pick-up-and-play games out there.