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Mana Punk Game Guide: Medieval Shadowrun with a Steam Punk Twist?

Use of the word Punk, from its earliest use to describe a genre of gritty urban near future or a steam-powered Victorian-esque setting of strange inventions and daring-do, has lost none of its charm over the years. Those genres have the power not only to capture the imagination of their fans, but to inspire writers of all media to blend these settings into their own inspirations.

And this is even more so the case among the RPG Gaming Community, where the well-known and widespread genres of Cyberpunk and Steampunk have had to make room in recent years for Cthulhupunk and Rocketpunk –doubtless, there are many more punks just waiting for the right spark of imagination to bring them to life!

Mana Punk is one of those potential new-comer genres for role playing games. Mixing medieval fantasy, Steampunk, and magic together definitely has the possibility of generating a unique world setting with wide-ranging appeal. Such is the clearly the hope of Hot Goblin Press, when it published its own version of a punk genre setting. The Mana Punk Game Guide purports to offer a world of magical spells, customizable character design, and elements of Steampunk, all in one unique package!


Mana Punk Game Guide

  • Author: Jeremy Tully & Jennifer Tully
  • Publisher: Hot Goblin Press
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (198 pages)
  • Price: $9.99 (Available from RPGNow in PDF format)

Mana Punk Game Guide
is a medieval fantasy role-playing game, with some elements of steampunk, set in the land of Zethyria. The Mana Punk Game Guide comes with all the information needed to create characters, including about two dozen different fantasy races, skills, traits, spells and techniques, and equipment. The core rulebook also includes rules for handling combat, building steam punk/mana punk items, a brief summary of the game world, Gamemastering tips, and more.


Production Quality

The production quality of Mana Punk Game Guide is about average, with fairly decent writing presented in a rather utilitarian “no frills” layout. There is a marked lack of chapter/section divisions other than a single white text title on a black bar announcing the topic at hand. Tables in the book are in gray and black, and do not stand out particularly well. There are no special or side notes denoted in core rules.

The book used for review purposes was perfect-bound in 8 1/2" by 11” size, with a glossy full color cover. The pages had the feel of a heavier grade paper than standard, and were a slightly off-white color, with a slightly rough but pleasant texture. The binding of the book felt tight and secure.

For navigation purposes, the Mana Punk Game Guide has a very simple table of contents consisting of the main general topic headings, without listings for sub-sections within each major section. The book also had a fairly decent index, which is likely to be far more useful than the scant table of contents. It is unknown if the PDF of the Mana Punk Game Guide includes bookmarks, as a copy of that format was not presented for this review.

The illustrations and artwork in Mana Punk Game Guide are non-existent. The cover is devoid of major imagery, other than a logo and a title plate. The interior is a pure wall of text from cover to cover, with only the occasional table or a black header block to relieve the monotony. Reading a book without any art on the pages feels like a very dry textbook - and undoubtedly, there are few gamers the patience to read a textbook.


It’s kinda like Shadowrun…

The game designers of Mana Punk Game Guide wrote a blurb about the game on the back cover of the book:

“Create and customize your very own hero in this unique fantasy gaming system.”

Regretfully, that is not what is found in the Mana Punk Game Guide. Instead, one finds that the major mechanics of the game are not just based on the Shadowrun RPG – they are the Shadowrun RPG. The setting has been changed to a medieval fantasy world, but the stats, use of d6s, dice pools, Build Point system, and combat system (with wound levels and damage tracks) are all basically Shadowrun with a few tweaks in odd places. Some of the Traits and Skills have been reskinned for use in a high fantasy setting, but are still handled as one would if playing the Shadowrun RPG.

The core rules open with a description of the game setting, which is covered in four pages without any world map. The various eleven countries and empires covered in this section receive little more than a paragraph or two of description. Following this section is one on character creation, including the Build Point (BP) system, and a Trait system with positive and negative traits. Some of the races presented in the game are rather different from the standard FRPG fare, and include giants and minotaurs among the possible race selections of elves, dwarves, humans and orcs. It was disappointing to see that Earthdawn was also plundered for “inspiration” in the Mana Punk Game Guide, with a race of Windlings much like those in ED, as well as Geosians which are the spitting image of Obsidimen – even down to them being hunted and killed to make Geosian (Obsidiman) Skin Armor.

There are a few differences in character design found in Mana Punk which differ from Shadowrun, such as giving Warrior archetypes the ability to channel mana into powerful techniques and magical effects – which was already done in Earthdawn to better effect. And the Mystic archetypes do have a psionic styled class with mental powers, but that seems a bit out of place in a “fantasy role-playing game with a steam-punk twist”.

Other features of the Mana Punk that are strangely reminiscent of Shadowrun RPG include fetishes for casting spells, summoning nature spirits, conjuring elemental minions, astral combat, and spell drain mechanics. There are many spells which are barely reskinned versions of those found in Shadowrun, and some even have “cute” names like T.M.I. and Makeover which seem more in line with a modern day setting and abruptly out of place in a fantasy world. There is even a Contact system which allows characters to have personal NPCs available to assist them – a long-standing feature in Shadowrun from its first edition.

Mana Punk’s nod to Steampunk consists of magically enhanced black power guns and clockwork replacement limbs that can be outfitted with weapons. Please note that these are also elements found in Shadowrun RPG, and appears to be the designer’s attempt to bring cyberpunk into a medieval setting.

For GMs, there is a full eight pages of information on how to run the game, quickly glossing over an experience point system, NPC creation, “running” the game and handling skills, and loot distribution. There is no bestiary or list of creatures native to this fantasy world setting, and appears the only enemies to face are other NPCs of various races. There are also a couple pages with some sample magic items on it and a few more pages listing individual artifacts found in the setting.

Following the index are some appendices with useful information such as spell lists and combat tables. However, there is no character sheet available in the book, but some are available from the Official Mana Punk website for download.


Overall Score: 1.1 out of 5.0


Conclusions

The Mana Punk Game Guide has turned out to be a very disappointing role playing game system. It unabashedly borrowed a game system from one publisher, borrowed other game elements from yet another publisher, and never displayed any open source license agreements, essentially claiming this “unique” system was entirely their own invention. To couple that to a campaign setting that is nothing more than a few flimsy descriptions without a map, and the whole Mana Punk game system becomes an unmitigated failure.

Even the idea of Mana Punk appears to be the brainchild of an RPGNet board discussion from 2004, where the idea of recreating Shadowrun in a medieval fantasy setting was proposed long before this game hit the physical and virtual bookshelves.

Sadly, to recommend purchasing this game would be an endorsement of a product verging on plagiarism, even if that game were well-designed – which it is not. While the idea of Mana Punk might be a good one, the execution of the premise by Hot Goblin Press is fraught with imperfections, and the whole product comes off as having been rushed out to sales before it was entirely complete.

Editorial Note
: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in perfect-bind format from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 1.0
  • - Design: 2.0 (Decent writing filling a dull utilitarian layout)
  • - Illustrations: 0.0 (Boring cover followed by an unrelieved wall of text)
  • Content: 1.25
  • - Crunch: 1.0 (Unoriginal game system; it’s Shadowrun with Earthdawn bits and minor variations)
  • - Fluff: 1.5 (Setting is lacking; no campaign map; no real depth to this game world)
  • Value: 1 (A lot of material here, but overall the book presents an incomplete game system)
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I have to agree a great deal. The suffix "-punk" got its start with punk rock. As such, it is largely about dystopia. This was carried into the first literary genre I know of to bear the name - cyberpunk. If you look back at your William Gibson, the fact that the world is a trash heap is pretty apparent. Bleak, fairly film noir worldviews are pretty critical to being "punk".

Meanwhile, most things that can use "daring do" in part of their description are missing that fairly crucial point. A great deal of so called "steampunk" is actually better described as "gaslight romance/adventure".
 

SteamCraft

Explorer
How did you decide you wanted to review Mana Punk? Just curious. I run into them at cons occasionally. I have looked at their book and already knew it was done in MS Word and lacked art. From hearing him talk, he was open that it used the original Shadowrun system, although he called it d6. D6 to me was the WEG system. So what you wrote was no surprise to me. I just assume that anyone that know about MP had already encountered them and new of the issues you raised.
 

SteamCraft

Explorer
Meanwhile, most things that can use "daring do" in part of their description are missing that fairly crucial point. A great deal of so called "steampunk" is actually better described as "gaslight romance/adventure".

As I see it, steampunk is an aesthetic in search of a genre. The term is applied to either a certain look or a certain quasi-historical time period. The best way to to make things useful is to have steampunk as an overall category like sci-fi or fantasy. Under that would be genres such as Victorian, Weird West, Pulp, etc.

Now, for my own shameless plug. You can look at my RPG - SteamCraft. I actually try to capture the dystopian nature of society and convey the 'punk' that is missing from some many games. I take CP2020 and Shadowrun as models instead of what other games do.
 

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