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In Coriolis: The Great Dark, only hope can save you

Old ruins, deadly plagues, and political tension – what keeps explorers going in Coriolis: The Great Dark? Hope, says the TTRPG’s designer.

Coriolis: The Great Dark is a return to Free League Publishing’s 2016 sci-fi tabletop RPG, Coriolis: The Third Horizon. With this new title, Free League leaves the Third Horizon far behind, venturing into the mysterious ruins of the Lost Horizon, Jumurah. While each of your group’s adventurers has ties to different guilds in your home settlement, you’ll have to work together if you want to survive the delving expeditions you’ve been sent on by Ship City’s Explorer’s Guild.

The Great Dark is a standalone title, with only a handful of Easter Eggs and core mechanics tying it to the star systems of old. Lead designer and Free League co-founder Kosta Kostulas tells Wargamer that The Great Dark has several new themes to focus on. Namely, exploration, expedition, and hope.

Coriolis: The Great Dark book

WG: Could you tell me a little bit more about the themes of the great dark?

KK: The themes will be explorations and expedition. But like the previous game, we also have a lot of intrigue. You have different factions in the home colony that we call Ship City who come on the expeditions, so this makes it possible for the intrigue to follow you on the journey to different star systems.

Are there any details you can tell me about this setting?

There’s only one star system to begin with. You have one big colony, this old asteroid where the previous armada that came used their ships to build a colony. And now they go into the system looking for resources, and they’re finding these ruins.

A group in the city, the Explorer’s Guild, are the first ones to go in, and they find out there is some sort of space plague in the ruins. We call it The Blight. Maybe it’s why the ones who built the ruins disappeared.

The settlers also find there’s no way out of the system except to use what we call slipstreams. They’re faster than light streams, but you still need months to travel between systems. So you’ll have to get an expedition together, including funding from different factions on Ship City.

Coriolis: The Great Dark art of a ruined ship on a moon

It sounds surprisingly small-scale for a space-traveling game.

Yes, but we want players to find new systems and expand the setting when they go on expeditions, so that will be part of the campaign.

In terms of design and mechanics, what are the main differences between the Third Horizon and the Great Dark?

It’s still played with a dice pool of sixes, but we’ve added two new attributes. And we also have three different tracks.

Coriolis: The Great Dark art of a delving crew

Instead of just health and stress, we have health, hope, and heart. We also changed the push mechanic. We want this to be a hopeful setting, so hope is really important. We’ve built the push mechanic into the hope track, so if you’re hopeful you can push more and be better. But if you lose hope and get desperate, you’re not as good.

In the Third Horizon, you were on your own ship with only your own crew, perhaps five people on the ship. Now we have a great ship, which would be like a big tankard nowadays, with a small society on it.

You can play small adventures during the travel for months or weeks to a new star system, and maybe mysteries you encounter during the trip will affect exploration when you arrive. That’s all new, and it’s not wholly finished yet.

We also have a very specific mechanic for the delving, which is inspired by deep-sea diving. When you go down into ruins, you take on different roles during the descent. These are roles that you have gotten from the Explorer’s Guild, rather than an occupation or archetype.

The Kickstarter says that 19th-century expeditions and old-school archaeology inspire the setting. Why did you choose those as inspirations for a game set in the far future?

I and the other lead designers have always been interested in working with old ruins, and we wanted to expand that part of the previous setting.

Coriolis: The Great Dark art of a delver

In the old game, we had portal builders who had built different star-faring machinery and then disappeared. But we never came to that mystery. In this game, we want to look into that mystery, and have players find out the background behind what happened. The story behind the ruins of the setting is a big part of the game.

Are there any other big media inspirations or things you would compare this game to?

We’re inspired by the frontier feeling from Deadwood, and the Terror, which is about a long journey on a ship with a crew, going into the unknown. But the cultural feel will still very much be like The Third Horizon.

Coriolis: The Great Dark art of a delver with a bird on their arm

Would you say the tone is more dark and horror? Or is it more hopeful and exciting?

It’s gritty, but it is hopeful. And it’s not a space horror, like Alien [RPG].

You’ve touched on how hopeful the setting will be. But I remember a lot of fans saying combat was quite deadly in the Third Horizon. Is this still the case?

The combat can be deadly – it is a Year Zero game – but we think this is more a game of attrition thanks to the different tracks. Combat is not the only way to get broken down. The Blight can take you, or you can lose hope.

Why do you think hope is so important to put into a game like this?

When you’re playing a crew of explorers facing scarcity in a new colony, you have to help each other. Hope is really important to survive. That’s why we went with hope instead of darkness – not that there isn’t any darkness out there in The Great Dark.

The Kickstarter campaign for Coriolis: The Great Dark ends on April 10, so this is the final call to board the delving ship. For more TTRPG updates, be sure to follow Wargamer on Google News. For example, here’s our recent Eat the Reich review.