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Esper Genesis was originally released in 2018 as a total conversion of D&D 5e, using the open gaming license to transform the familiar fantasy RPG into a sci-fi theme of laser rifles, alien beasts, and starship battles.
This review covers the following Esper Genesis content on Roll20:
- Esper Genesis Core Manual ($39.99)
- Esper Genesis Threats Database ($39.99)
- Over 200 NPC and monster character sheets and tokens.
- Esper Genesis Threat Tokens ($6.99)
- Over 70 monster and NPC tokens.
- Esper Genesis: Fall of the Eos Keldor Introductory Adventure ($4.99)
- 4 full color battle maps (5-ft scale), including a space map for starship battle.
- 12 NPCs with token art and character sheets (8 generic, 4 named)
- 4 pregenerated player characters
If you’re familiar with D&D 5e, you already know how to play Esper Genesis. All of the major rules are exactly the same. Roll a d20 for skill checks, saving throws, and attack rolls, and add your Proficiency Bonus (if proficient) and relevant modifiers.
Esper Genesis includes Advantage and Disadvantage and Inspiration, and focuses on the same three pillars of gameplay with Exploration, Role-Playing, and Combat. Even many of the eight classes have direct analogues to D&D; Warrior is a Fighter, Sentinel a Paladin, Cybermancer a Warlock, and Specialist a Rogue. Specialists have Deft Strike (Sneak Attack) while Cybermancers gain Complex Patterns (functionally equivalent to Invocations).
The new races are a chance to flex some interesting ideas, but Esper Genesis‘ nine races are a disappointing batch of Star Trek humanoids with slight variations (apologies to Star Trek fans). Only the Matokai (reptilian), Valna (cat-like), and Belare (energy beings incased in suits) stand out. None are as interesting as Starfinder‘s four-armed kasatha or insectoid shirren.
Spells are replaced by Talents and Techniques, which largely operate the same, using Talent Points (modeled after the Spell Point variant in the Dungeon Master’s Guide) and Tech Slots that deplete on use, and restore upon resting.
A new rule, Limit Breach, allows Talent users to make a skill check or saving throw to either access Talent Ranks of 6 or higher (Force Breach) or access expended Talent Points (Zero Breach), with both including penalties for failing. A neat little risk/reward system to push yourself in a desperate situation.
The Threats Database includes over 200 monster sheets with matching tokens, along with encounter tables, space hazards, and expanded lore on villainous factions and organizations, like the insect armies of the Xamaron Horde, or the powerful cosmic super villains (or raid bosses) known as the Grand Elders. As the Threats Database features more interesting and original content, I was a lot more impressed than with the Core Manual.
Statblocks include the Xamoran insect conquerors, the self-aware Mecharoid war machines, and the gargantuan Talvarius space shark (CR 23!), as well as generic NPCs like soldiers, smugglers, and cyber ghosts. I’m particularly enchanted by the adorable little Ceti Snapper, who dupe their prey with their cute demeanor (and charming pheromones) before their entire body opens up into a toothy maw – like Nibbler from Futurama!
Although Esper Genesis is easily compatible with D&D 5e (for example, dropping an Esper Genesis monster into a D&D campaign), the compendiums are kept separate on Roll20. If you purchase the Core Manual or Threats Database, they will not show up in your D&D 5e game without first going into your Game Settings, and then switching the Compendium System from D&D to Esper Genesis.
It’s technically a workable solution, but in the meantime you don’t have access to any D&D content in the compendium. It’s an unnecessary pain in the butt, and would have otherwise made the Threats Database a much more attractive purchase for existing D&D users.
Another solution is to purchase and use the Esper Genesis Threat Tokens pack ($6.99). The tokens appear under the art gallery and are accessible from every Roll20 game no matter what system you’re playing. The tradeoff is that these are just tokens; no character sheets included. The set does feature a huge amount of nice-looking tokens, though, over 80 unique tokens ripped right from the Threats Database. You’ll just have to make the sheets yourself.
Fall of the Eos Kelder
The introductory adventure, which is sadly not included with the Core Manual, is Fall of the Eos Kelder. It’s a short level 1 adventure along the same vein as those found in Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica and Eberron: Rising from the Last War.
The adventure features a fun and exciting premise: the PCs begin as captured prisoners aboard a ship that suddenly comes under attack via an uprising against a recent mutiny, with the former captain just a few cell blocks away.
Whether the PCs help the deposed captain or not, they’ll need to fight for their lives to escape the detention center and make it off the ship. After the initial escape, the party can choose one of two different levels to make their way to the hangar bay. The adventure mentions that one path includes more exploration and the other more combat, but I found the entire adventure to be very combat-heavy, which is surprising for a level 1 adventure.
To make all this fighting possible, the adventure adopts the Epic Heroism rules found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide: a Short Rest takes 5 minutes, and a long rest takes only an hour. The level 1 heroes will need to rest frequently to survive the room-to-room guard battles, though there are a few interesting side tasks, like rescuing a captured group at gunpoint, and using a hacker’s kit to gain control of a drone that can be used in the final boss fight against the mutinous commander.
The adventure ends with an exciting ship battle, as the PCs blast off in the shuttle with multiple ships in pursuit. It’s a fun little adventure that plays heavily into the sci-fi themes without overwhelming new players.
Overall I have mixed feelings toward Esper Genesis. A ready-to-play sci-fi tabletop RPG based entirely on 5e is an attractive offering for D&D fans. But the game falters in creating original player-focused content, with boring races and classes that are a bit too familiar.
- Extremely easy to teach and play, with rules that are identical to D&D 5e.
- Powers List and Threats Database are well-organized into fliterable drop-down menus.
- Concise and easy-to-run ship combat rules.
- Fall of the Eos Kelder intro adventure provides an exciting, action-packed level 1 adventure
- Intro adventure includes four pre-gen PCs, with token art and backstories.
- Esper Genesis Roll20 Compendium is separate from D&D 5e compendium (despite being fully compatible).
- Charactermancer not yet available.
- Introductory Adventure maps lack dynamic lighting; some token placement errors.
- Playable races are mostly mundane humanoids, and classes and powers are too closely analogous to D&D 5E.
The Verdict: Esper Genesis isn’t so much built upon D&D 5e as directly replaces it with a sci-fi theme, creating a spacey RPG that’s extremely familiar for 5e fans, for better and for worse.
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