Adrian Lumm understands blockbuster action movies. You can feel the love for the genre in every detail of his TTRPG: Deathless. In the game, players take the role of bulletproof action heroes. Each with its own set of evocative abilities. The rules are easy to pick up and emphasize fast-paced, cinematic action. The final product is a compelling blend of “rules-light” philosophy and crunchy combat mechanics. It is an engine for nonstop high-octane fun. If you are trying to find a great action RPG in the trans rights bundle where you and your friends can play as John Wick or Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you owe it to yourself to download Deathless.
Play the Movies
OK, so this game is heavily inspired by The Old Guard (2020). The name Deathless refers to players being immortal mercenaries from ages past fighting in a modern setting. However, I don’t want to review the game in the narrow subgenre of ancient immortal warriors confronting modern society. It turns out, that immortality can play into almost any type of action hero fantasy. John McLain from Diehard isn’t canonically immortal, but the movie treats him as if he was. He walks across broken glass, falls down an elevator shaft, and the bad guys repeatedly shoot him. It’s clear he is seriously hurt, but the movie never gives it any more thought than a close-up of him grimacing, then suddenly he is fine in the next scene. I’m excited to see a game embrace this philosophy and let the players be badasses that can take a beating and just come back angrier.
Often times when people discuss RPGs they focus on balancing encounters so that players feel like they are an equal match to their opponents. Deathless abandons the idea of a fair fight and makes players ridiculously overpowered compared to the bad guys. It emphasizes cinematic choices and rewards daring heroics instead of bogging players down with resource management and risk assessment. I’m a big fan of the “let your players have nice things” approach to game mastering and Deathless takes this idea to its logical extreme. If you want to make John McLain (or any other action hero) in a TTRPG, players need the freedom to charge into danger and know that no matter what happens the DM is there to back them up and make them look cool.
Adrian really nails the part about making players look cool. He includes 10 different classes. Each of them delivers a unique feel of a different action hero trope. The sword guy can close on enemies and deliver devastating close-range attacks. The sniper can easily get to good hiding spots without having to measure distances or tactically plan routes. There is always just enough crunch for players to feel powerful and engaged without ever becoming complicated enough to gate access to players’ cool abilities. I can only describe this design philosophy as “skip to the good part.”
Deathless includes things like combat abilities and hit points because that is the good part. Players want to see exactly how much damage they do when they Spray and Pray into the army of ninjas rushing down their position. They want to have structure going into an otherwise messy set-piece battle. They need a measuring stick for how cool they are. Deathless does this but never lets rules get in the way of narrative pacing. Replacing endless tables and bloated combat mechanics with simple, intuitive guidelines. The system fades into the background and prioritizes GM judgment over rigid structures. This makes for an interesting blend of design philosophies. Crunchy on the front end, but rules light on the back end. In this case, the two things mix like chocolate and peanut butter, giving for a hard-hitting and fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat style of play that many of its competitors lack.
Deathless is Part of the “Trans Rights For Texas” bundle
Deathless does cinematic action exceptionally well. If you want to sit down and instantly cut to kicking ass with your friends this is the game for you. Even if you are not a fan of traditional “rules lite” games this one is still worth a look. Adrian has a clear love of action movies, and he captures their spirit in this game. If you have the trans rights bundle you can download the whole thing right now; read and understand the rules in an afternoon and be playing your own epic action movie with your friends by this evening.