What is it?
Posthuman Pathways is a GM-full roleplaying/storytelling game about the impact of technology on society, as seen through the lens of three characters. It comes as five folded pamphlets in a cardboard envelope. One of the pamphlets unfolds to become a play mat, one describes setup and character creation, and the other three give details about the game roles players take. The game is for three people, needs 14+ index cards, and claims it will take 3-4 hours. There’s a PWYW PDF version at DriveThruRPG.
How did it get my attention / Why did I buy it?
I received Posthuman Pathways for free as a reward for participating in the Genesis of Legend Emerging Voices Challenge. I’m embarrassed it’s taken me so long to get around to reviewing it!
What are my first impressions?
My very first impression was surprise at the unusual format of the game. The envelope of pamphlets makes for a compact form factor, and I think the breakdown actually works for the game. One pamphlet becomes the play mat, one has the game setup instructions, and the last three pamphlets detail the three game roles. All pamphlets except the play mat also include the overall game structure and rules. They’re small enough to be easy to hand around as you rotate roles.
During game setup, you prepare the Context (locations) and Pressures. Each player creates a character, deciding on a name and their four drives: Status, Identity, Vision, and Ritual. For each drive, name what they value most in that category. e.g. for Status, name a social standing or political position they are desperate to attain.
The game consists of three eras with three scenes each, plus brief transitions in the middle and epilogues. The eras are the Human Era, the Transhuman Era, and the Posthuman Era. Each scene, each player takes on one of the three rotating roles: Trailblazer, Voyager, or Guide. The Trailblazer sets the scene, the Voyager plays their character, and the Guide provides antagonism. For the next scene, pass the booklets around so the Trailblazer becomes the new Voyager, the Voyager becomes the new Guide, and the Guide becomes the new Trailblazer.
The first Trailblazer kicks off the game by answering the question “What augmentation technology changed everything?” At the end of the scene, they write a new question for the next Trailblazer. If they’re stumped, the game includes suggested questions, which all push the game towards exploring the societal and cultural ramifications of new technologies. The Trailblazer also sets the broad context of the dilemma facing the current character, and then hands narration off to the Voyager and the Guide.
The Guide’s main responsibility is to provide pressure and antagonism to the Voyager, ultimately forcing them to choose whether to sacrifice one of their drives to get what they want. At the end of the three eras, a character may be down to a single drive. The Trailblazer/Guide split makes the game easier to play by distributing the usual GM responsibilities across two people, and allowing them to focus on specific aspects of the fiction.
After every three scenes, the current era ends. After the first two, time jumps forward to the next era, and each player gets to narrate a short interlude about it. After the end of the Posthuman Era, each player narrates an epilgoue for their character.
The game structure lends itself to big idea social science fiction, grounded by focusing on the lives of three specific characters. The Trailblazer questions and pressure to sacrifice drives encourage exploring the social impact of technology. A possible drawback is that in order to keep things moving and focus on the big changes, there’s not a lot of time spent on each character. People who like to really spend time with and inhabit characters may find it unsatisfying. In that way, Posthuman Pathways is similar to Microscope. I think the focus on specific characters and the role breakdown make it easier than Microscope’s “hot seat.” I’m really curious about playing it, but it’s rare for me to wind up with exactly three people up for playing an RPG. I may see about finding a group online, or using it to outline a novel!