Esper Genesis Review, Part 1

I’ve toyed around with science-fiction adaptations of D&D rules (in two separate posts) but today I’m taking a look at one in particular. Esper Genesis is a new product with big ambitions to bring the mechanics of D&D 5e to the heady realms of space opera. It’s got great production value and a good energy but what does it look like under the hood? Let’s take a look together.

Races

Esper Genesis has eight unique races to pick from, plus a new take on humans which can be easily borrowed for other settings. These races have complicated relationships but they are all well-mixed in the default setting called the Silrayne Arc. There are no “outsiders” or “enemey races,” though they do have abilities and personalities that inform how people think about them.

Let’s start with the familiar: humans. There isn’t the familiar conceit that humans are the most populous race in the setting or even that they have some prominent position, though they are seen as impulsive and “unenlightened.” They are also survivors since Earth has been ruined by war and is only held together by machines generating artificial environments. Mechanically, there are four sub-types of humans including the Earthborn (from the PHB) and galactic humans (using the feat variant in the PHB). There are also the Utopian humans who are more refined and combative Scorched humans who live in the hell that once was Earth.

As for aliens there are some interesting neighbors for the humans, some familiar themes and others interesting twists. The dendus have a distinctly Star Wars vibe with their pastel skin and rope-like hair. They are big on self-modification and each dendus belongs to a genetic line which is represented by the subraces of high-kin (strong willed and focused) and path-kin (resourceful and quick). Similarly human-like are the eldori who look a lot like Chiss (Star Wars again) they are ancient and have been exploring the Crucibles for a milennium so they have lots of insights. They are a spiritual people which extends to their mechanics as well: eldori have bonus talents and their sub-species are lunar (monastic spiritualists) and solar (spiritual guardians).

Esper Genesis - Valna and Dendus
Image © Alligator Alley Entertainment

Less human are the matokai, large dinosaur-like warriors with four sub-types, and valna, the obligatory cat-people. These give you a chance to try something pretty different but they’re open enough that you can develop your people’s customs in the game. The kesh are also not very human, being not only green-skinned and stern but also constant wanderers (you can pick which sub-type you are for planetary or space abilities). If you want to be truly alien, though, you can’t go weirder than the belare who are energy beings that have to remain in their protective suits to protect those around them.

Lastly are the setting’s artificial beings, the ashenforged. Made by the dendus by blending dead bodies and new technology in a Crucible, they adapt quickly and are ready to start exploring the galaxy. This is the race for those of you wanting to place a robot just learning how one eats and shakes hands, as well as those of you who want a lot of gloom in your backstory.

A future supplement will provide guidelines for making even more races for your campaign, but the authors are clear that this is just the most common races out there. Make up your own or borrow from other 5e sources as you see fit!

Classes and Esper Powers

Classes in Esper Genesis get are able to use talents which take the mechanical place of spells in this game. Some are using the Crucible energies while others are just mechanical whizzes or weapons specialists. While some of these classes borrow mechanics from the standard D&D classes, they are distinct classes written especially for the Esper Genesis setting.

Adepts are psionicists with an empowering point system like sorcerers whereas Melders are more in the warlock/wizard bent with specific talents that shape their pseudo-spellcasting. Cybermancers are more than expert hackers but with the Crucibles they can hack reality itself. They have digital forms and complicated programs at their disposal, but their digital focus sets them apart from Engineers who are more of the tinkering and building type. The latter adapt weapons, boost equipment, and all have built-in rigging ability. I wonder if you could make an engineer who isn’t a rigger but I’m not complaining exactly.

esper genesis - characters
Image © Alligator Alley Entertainment

On the more martial side of things, Hunters are sci-fi rangers and Warriors are sci-fi fighters. The Sentinel is actually a really awesome class that fills the mechanical niche of the paladin but is actually a cybernetic killing machine. Their party buffs are technology manipulations and their powered strike is boosted by cyber-muscles. Last of all is the Specialist which is a sci-fi rogue with a healthy dose of Solid Snake built in.

Backgrounds

The backgrounds available to characters in Esper Genesis are a lot like those seen in the Players Handbook. Backgrounds like the Patrician, Pilot, and Outlaw are sci-fi roles expected from a a conversion of D&D to a different setting. Other ones, though, like the Celebrity, Shipper, and Media Investigator are a different sort of occupation from those experienced by D&D adventurers.

In a modern or sci-fi setting these are more than just where you come from. A celebrity character’s background will affect their lives in general just like their class and race will. There’s definitely room to expand here but the backgrounds provided are all pretty great.

Next time…

The next post about Esper Genesis will delve into the equipment, spaceships, and setting of the game. Hopefully this gives you a good sense of how the 5e rules have been modified for science-fiction in this book. It’s a deft adaptation and worth purchasing just for this ruleset if you’re interested in 5e science-fiction. Still, as you’ll see next time, this is just the tip of a very awesome iceberg.

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