RPG Reviews – Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook

Trinity Continuum Core

Once upon a time there was a world of darkness, ruled by lords of gloom and doom, populated by tragic beings tragically lamenting their tragicness throughout their existences.

But this darkness was not to last forever, and into it stole pinpricks of light, bright as the stars and borne aloft by powerful beings of great psychic power.

Aeon, or Trinity, as it came to be known, was White Wolf Game Studios’ foray into science fiction roleplaying. It wasn’t a game I payed much attention to initially, being too focused on the tragedy of my tragic characters. The QuickStart did intrigue me, with its setting of psychics and humanity’s future, but it wasn’t until the rebranding of Aeon as Trinity and the release of a less-expensive softcover rulebook that I took the plunge. It led to one of the greatest Chronicles I’ve ever played and two of my favorite characters.

The announcement of a new edition of Trinity filled me with delight and I love what Onyx Path Publishing has produced. The previous edition (and its companion games Aberrant and Adventure!) were all standalone rulebooks telling the story of humanity from a pulp adventure era, to modern gritty superheroes, to humanity uniting to face its future.

Disclaimer: This title has been provided for purpose of review.

The new structure of the line is Trinity Continuum as a core rulebook with a version of Onyx Path’s excellent Storypath rules and a contemporary action-adventure setting, and the former titles Aeon, Aberrant, and Adventure! receiving setting books with new rules and character types for their time period.

Because of this format Trinity Continuum is primarily rules, but does include a loose modern day setting. The general concept of the game is that the world contains an element known as Flux, which affects probability and the inherent nature of reality/other realities. Flux means there are other timelines, dimensions, and worlds, giving allowance for all sorts of oddities to appear in the game. Flux also accounts for the “powered” characters of the core rules, known as Talents. Talents are exceptional people who can subtly manipulate Flux, allowing them to perform great feats through twisting probability. In a way it’s almost a Meta-power that acknowledges the narrative nature of the Talents’ world. Any fans of the comic series Planetary will be perfectly at home with this idea and could draw on it for inspiration.

Being the core rules, the book includes character creation, the Storypath system, and Storyguide advice for running highly narrative, action-adventure focused games.

Dramatic Persons

Character creation focuses on building skilled humans through a series of “Paths” – Origin, Role (function), and others including “Allegiances” – organizations that flesh out the setting of this era and include some groups recognizable to fans of the old games.

While examples of Paths are given, players and Storyguides are encouraged to create their own and are given guidelines to that effect. These Paths will allow the distribution of dots (points) into character abilities, social and professional contacts, and other relevant advantages. It feels like a loose but firm structure, where all points contribute to reinforcing the primary character concept. If you’re familiar with Fate, Paths appear as more structured Aspects, due to the variety of character elements they cover. If you don’t know Fate, think of them as archetypes that define the statistical layout of your character. I really like them as a game mechanic. They aren’t remotely restrictive and ensure that a character should never be in a situation where they are lacking knowledge, ability, or contacts related to their concept.

While basic Character Creation focuses on “skilled humans”, each setting book in the line includes/will include templates for a powered character type which will be applied in later stages of creation. As I’ve mentioned, TC features “Talents”, who are exceptional humans, powered by a feature called “Inspiration”, which allows them to push their capabilities beyond normal limits. Most of their powers (Gifts) adhere to this idea – none have extremely overt supernormal effects but may be eyebrow raising. All are themed to the concept of Luck and chance or to character Skills and Attributes. Examples include the gift to know someone wherever you go, huge lung capacity, or knowing how to find a loophole in any set of rules.

Forging the Path to Story

My first encounter with Onyx Path’s “Storypath” system was in Scion: Origin. I found it to be a pleasant dice pool system featuring many clever narrative elements. I’ve noticed more of those elements being used outside narrative games like Fate and when used properly they really enhance the system. For example, I really liked how Mutant Chronicles and the other high-action, crunchier 2d20 games abstracted movement and range measures into “Zones” rather than precise distances. It helps keep the flow of the action moving and removes the potential for disagreement when trying to reconcile yards/meters/feet with a “theatre of the mind” style of play.

Trinity: Continuum synthesizes those elements with a die pool system that should be familiar to veteran players and easy to absorb for new ones.

The basic mechanic involves rolling a number of d10 dice equal to a characters Skill (learned trait), plus a relevant Attribute (inherent characteristic). All dice in the pool that roll over a certain number are counted as Successes and those are compared against a difficulty level. If those Successes are equal to or above the difficulty the task is successful.

Skills can be paired with any Attribute, all you need to do is reason through how they combine. While you might think that would result in players “spamming” their best pairings, remember how the narrative works and dictate the result accordingly. Bashing down a locked door with Athletics + Might will have a very different outcome than hitting its weak point with Athletics + Cunning – the approach matters to the result, and is then reflected in the narrative.

As superpowered characters are a part of the overall Continuum setting, considerations are made in the system to prevent the need for buckets of d10s. Target numbers are lower for certain superpowered characters (via a system of Character Tiers) and characters gain extra Successes (rather than dice) from Enhancements (gear or other advantages), and the overall difficulty and outcome of tasks gain more depth with Complications (situational modifiers that are bought off with surplus Successes) and Stunts (effects purchased with surplus Successes). A wealth of factors are covered with such a simple base mechanic.

With more focus on RPGs providing specific styles of gameplay it’s helpful that more games are being upfront about play expectations. Trinity Continuum is clear that it is a game primarily about Action-Adventure, Procedurals, and Intrigue – essentially play in the physical, mental, and social arenas.

“Action-adventure” is the most conventional. The rules are well-explained and focus on more narrative game structures than simulationist. Precisely replicating the real world is not the name of the game here, as you’ll read below when we cover Combat.

Ever since the Gumshoe games were released I feel Procedural systems have been more mindful of how play can be derailed through bad rolls, and Trinity Continuum is as mindful as any. Finding crucial clues just requires being in the right place at the right time and dice are only rolled to learn more information, or alternative clues that might open other plotlines. Understanding the clue still requires Successes from the characters, but they won’t miss the important note fallen behind the fridge.

The Intrigue system presents mechanics for making friends and influencing people. To make full use of them the Storyguide should keep good notes on how regular NPCs feel towards the player characters. The rules are expansive and straightforward and have enough considerations about mechanically “forcing” character behavior that should make everyone happy (you don’t have to do what the NPC wants, and they don’t have to do what you want, but if you do there are consolations to make up for that). Being a fan of social mechanics I think they look very reasonable and are there to enhance roleplay, not just reduce it to a series of tests.

Since Trinity Continuum is a science-fiction game, I appreciate that the designers put a fair bit of time and thought into the Super-Science rules that cover creating new technologies, items and artifacts, reverse engineering, and reforging (which I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them). I haven’t had a lot of time to play with them yet but the rules read well and the effects use powers and rules that are available to PCs normally, so I don’t imagine result in any creations being unpleasantly overpowering. The Combat section of the book also includes equipment creation, giving sample weapons and gear and showing how they can be built to your group’s taste.

The Science of Destruction

Combat was not what I expected. I like it a lot, as I do the rest of the Storypath system, but like the rest of the system, it’s familiar but different.

Die pools are calculated and rolled to achieve Successes, like any other task. The Difficulty to hit is the target’s Defense, so Successes are initially used to buy that off. Once that’s completed the remaining Successes are used to perform Stunts in addition to inflicting damage. I’m a huge fan of how Stunts work in the AGE system and how Special Effects work in Mythras, where they replace combat maneuvers like Disarm or Grapple. Essentially, how this works in those games is that fancy effects are only possible if an attack is successful, so nobody wastes time calculating the modified difficulty. In Storypath it functions in the same way: Disarm, Grapple, etc are all “Stunts” that are purchased with surplus Successes. It’s a great way to make combat dynamic without choice paralysis at the start of an action. Damage is inflicted as Conditions, which occupy a damage track. Once all slots on that track are filled a character is Taken Out (though not necessarily killed). Those Conditions will modify the injured party’s actions going forward and while there isn’t a fully comprehensive list, there are enough examples that the Storyguide and players can fashion their own. Combat feels appropriately cinematic and flows well. The only place I initially tripped up on was Initiative, though the example combat walkthrough clarified where I was confused.

Guiding the Story

I think the most notable element of the Storyguide section is the emphasis on shared responsibilities. In fact, TC regularly encourages everyone at the table to collectively create – it’s suggested that players run newly built options (Paths, Gifts, Equipment) by the Storyguide and group before they’re used in game.

A lot of consideration is given to story structure and Chronicle creation, whether it’s guidance on building the setting or analyzing the various genres supported by the game. While this section does acknowledge the amount of responsibility the Storyguide carries, it really seems like TC is meant to be a collaborative game – frequently referring to “Storyguides and players” rather than just “Storyguides”. “Storyguide” is also a very apt title as the role really does focus on guidance and facilitating the flow of gameplay.

End Credits

Trinity Continuum is a neat and tidy set of core rules for the universe. It emphasizes fast-moving action and adventure stories without getting bogged down in overly detailed minutiae – not that there’s anything wrong with it, but you won’t find it here. You’ll get a familiar-seeming rule structure that presents a tight set of easily-expandable narrative rules.

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