Author – Kai Poh (@tunkaipoh)
Graphic Design/Layout – Elisha Rusli
Where to Buy – https://roleoverplaydead.itch.io/ech0
There’s something special about an RPG that sets out to tell a very specific type of story and achieves that design goal in only a handful of pages. In many games I’ve read (but not reviewed on the blog), authors try to evoke the exact mood/theme they are after by drowning you in prose and details. ECH0 is, blissfully, not like that. In only a handful of pages, the creators of ECH0 clearly and concisely explain the type of world you’re playing in, the nature of the story you’ll tell, and provide just enough setting information for players to inspire players without constraining them.
In ECH0, all but one of the player characters are children playing in the wreckage of giant war machines. The war is long over and now the shattered husks of mechs can be found throughout the countryside. They discover something called an ECH0 drive which is, essentially, a black box that contains a backup copy of a dead mech pilot’s mind (controlled by the remaining player). The pilot asks the children to return it to its final resting place – the mech it died in.
The game then takes place over a number of scenes equal to the number of children. In each scene, the children explore the remnants of a mech, asking the pilot questions about the war, and explaining how the world is now different. The authors provide a few tables that outline what sort of mech remnants the children find and what sort of fate befell it since the end of the war. The tables change depending on if the world is now a low-tech society or technologically advanced. These tables are wonderfully evocative but incredibly detail-sparse, which is exactly what I want out of a narrative-heavy game. For example, one of the mech table results is “Slumped, rusted, just offshore. Barnacles grow below the waterline. Fishermen might tie their boats to it at dusk.” There’s just enough information here to whet my appetite for storytelling and spark my imagination.
In the last scene, the players find the pilot’s mech and are able to lay them to rest just before the power of the ECH0 drive fails. The pilot gets one last chance to reflect on what the world has become and their thoughts on their life before they fade into oblivion. The children can simply say goodbye and begin their journey home.
ECH0 is a simple game built to tell one type of story and it achieves that goal wonderfully. It explores the themes of war and innocence, life and death, and how the world recovers (or doesn’t) after catastrophe. The fact that it achieves all of this in just four pages (excluding the cover and the provided blank hex map) is remarkable. In the hands of less talented creators, I can easily see this book becoming bloated with setting information, history, tables, etc. The creators of ECH0 avoided these pitfalls by trusting the players to fill in the missing pieces for themselves.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this game, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review.