The world of Coriolis is written as Arabian Nights crossing paths with science fiction. The game gives players the chance to hack data terminals and investigate dark, mysterious happenings. To travel through the endless black and ponder what other-worldly entities may exist out there. Coriolis: The Third Horizon explores the themes of old vs, new, of religion and faith, of the endlessness that exists on the outskirts of civilisation. It asks the players either to go alone or put their faith in the Icons.
But don’t let that scare you! At its heart, Coriolis is about exploring space and learning about the world. Although Coriolis: The Third Horizon is quite a tome, the ruleset is simple, using only six-sided dice. It encourages players to explore without getting stuck in the grittiness of dice modifiers and positioning. This system also allows players new to the hobby to jump in and get involved.
In Coriolis: The Third Horizon, before the players create characters, they must decide on a group concept. These range from traders, to mercenaries, to pilgrims. The players then also decide on their spaceship, which comes with a debt. This debt gives the players a purpose from session to session. They also decide on a patron, a nemesis, and a group talent, which helps place them into the world. By creating the group, Coriolis gives all players a chance to make a bit of the world and game their own.
From here, characters are created. Coriolis: The Third Horizon focuses on personality over numbers and, in most cases, your background will influence your abilities. When choosing your upbringing, you must choose between having better attributes or skills, but this scale also determines your wealth and your fame. Also, each character concept determines not only skill sets and talents, but also the clothes they wear and their personal problems.
Coriolis: The Third Horizon is played with a gamemaster. They will help navigate the world and scenarios the players encounter.
Coriolis: The Third Horizon – Mechanics
There are a few key mechanics at play in Coriolis: The Third Horizon. Don’t worry though, the game is simple to learn and teach.
The game is played as a story. The gamemaster will present a scenario that the players can interact with. If a player wants to perform an action that has consequences, they roll to see if they are successful. Each challenge will be related to one of the sixteen skills, with each skill being related to one of the four attributes. To face the challenge, the player rolls a die for each point they have in that skill and for each point in they have in the related attribute. If the player gets one 6, you succeed; if the player rolls multiple 6s, you get bonus actions; however, if the player fails to roll a 6, things have not quite gone to plan.
Praying to the Icons
If a challenge is failed, or the player wants a better result, they have the option of Praying to the Icons. Pray to the Icons allows the player to reroll all their dice that don’t show a 6. However, each time a player Prays to the Icons, the gamemaster gets one Darkness Point. The gamemaster can then use these mischievous and sly points to create complications further down the line. Maybe the players’ nemesis shows up. Why did the ship doors suddenly get locked down when the players were running away? The icons can help, but they will betray.
As Coriolis is a game about exploring, trying to decide how much experience a player gets is abstract. It encourages exploration of the world and also of the characters exploring it. At the end of each session, the gamemaster will ask each player a series of questions. Each time the player says yes, they get one experience point. These questions range from did you participate, to did you sacrifice or risk something for another player. Between sessions, a player can spend five experience points to increase a skill or gain a new talent.
The hardback version of Coriolis is superbly put together. The graphic design makes each page feel like an antique mixed with the dashboard of a spaceship. This is due to the patterned borders mixed with the light blue panels of text. As well as this, the artwork moves from dry courts, to gritty planets, all the way through to the vibrant colours of the East.
In terms of content, the book provides quite a few options for the players, though most character variation will come through the character concept and player’s imagination. For the gamemaster, the book provides a wealth of lore to soak in. Histories, spaceships, and entities to pull from. The core book also comes with a couple of scenarios and tips on creating sessions and campaigns
To sum Coriolis: The Third Horizon up briefly, it is a rules-light system designed to explore the grey areas between the great masses of darkened space. After a first read and when talking to my players, there was a great sense of dissonance, but I think the game does this wonderfully. On a first playthrough, you’re thrown in with the Icons and the overwhelming sense of the unknown. Throw in the eastern theme and elements of science-fiction/fantasy and you really do feel like you’re exploring something you’ve never seen before.
In terms of gameplay, I love the simplicity and how easy it is to teach. One issue I did find was that, given the complete freedom and the setting, my players did struggle to know what they could and should do. Another player I was talking to also decided not to play due to simplicity. They were after the micro-customisation and tactics that do not exist within this game. On the other hand, the character creation is something I want to push into the other RPGs I play. Having mechanics take a slight backseat to narrative during character creation really sets the tone and makes characters feel unique.
In terms of content, the game does offer a couple of scenarios and some advice on running them, but not a lot else. Random table generation would have been brilliant for sparking session ideas. On the other hand, the game does have a lot support. There is plenty of content out there ready to pick up and play, including a free quickplay guide. It’s also a brilliant excuse to pick up and dive into a copy of 1001 Arabian Nights. Or, if you’re feeling a little more modern, the book itself recommends Firefly, Revelation Space, and the Alien movies.
I’d highly recommend this to anyone looking for a narrative driven RPG that explores humans in the larger picture and the unique combination of eastern mythology and science fiction.