Salvage Union: a short playtest review

This weekend, I got some the Dublin West Marches crew got together to play the beta test kit for Leyline Press’ Salvage Union. We had a lot of fun exploring the rad desert, fighting off outlaws, and salvaging lost tech from the wasteland

Salvage wut?

Salvage Union is a rules-somewhat-lite tabletop roleplaying game funded on Kickstarter at the end of last year. I was lucky enough to get a backer-only print copy of the Beta Quickstart book at Dragonmeet in December. You can get the PDF for free on Leyline Press’ website.

The cover of the Beta Quickstart Guide for SALVAGE UNION by Leyline Press.
I love the weathered look of this book!

In Salvage Union, players take on the roles of mech pilots in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Living in the relative safety of a Union Crawler (a mobile settlement) they venture out to salvage tech from ruins, downed spaceships, and forgotten science complexes. Of course, there are many dangers out in the wastes: radioactive storms, outlaw mechs, possibly alien beasts, and corpo forces — because not all survivors are eking out a living in the wastelands, some are privileged enough to inhabit one of the many competing arcologies dotting the map. Basically, it’s Mad Mechs.

The quickstart gives you six illustrated characters and their mechs, as well as complete rules for running adventures, including salvaging and building more modules and systems for your mechs. The system is based on Quest with a few additions, such as a push mechanic that lets you reroll if you’re willing to add to a pilot’s Stress or to their mech’s Heat.

Running the game

The game explains the dice aren’t used to test someone’s competence, it is about luck and serendipity when things get hot. Characters are competent, so when they need to do something they’re fully capable of doing, they just do it. Everyone enjoyed the resolution mechanic, based on this unique table — no modificators, no advantage or disadvantage.

The resolution table for Salvage Union, derived from the Quest RPG.

20 Nailed it - You have overcome the odds and managed an outstanding 
success. You may achieve an additional bonus of your choice to the action.  When dealing damage you double it.

11-19 Success - You’ve achieved your goal without any compromises. When attacking you hit the target and deal standard damage.

6-10 Tough Choice - You succeed in your action but at a cost. The Mediator will give you a tough choice with some kind of consequence. When attacking you hit but something has gone wrong.

2-5 Failure - You’ve failed at what you were attempting, and you’ll face a consequence of The Mediator’s choice. When attacking you miss the

1 Cascade Failure - You have not only failed, but something has gone 
terribly wrong. You will suffer a severe consequence of the Mediator’s choice. When attacking you miss the target and something has gone
Just roll a d20! The equivalent table for NPCs lets player decide of consequences.

I appreciate this simplicity. It is actually something I am playing with at the moment in one of my projects. You don’t alter the roll according to circumstances; you take them into account when describing the results and consequences. No maths, no headache.

I haven’t read or played Quest, so I can’t say if the more old school part of the system comes from it, but I definitely appreciate the use of random encounter tables, as well as tables for reaction and morale. They help make the world feel alive, and bring some surprises to the GM as well.

I added a list of Dungeon World style bonds for players to choose from so we could start the one-shot with relationships already established. I want to think this kickstarted the group’s roleplay over the radio as they were crossing a dangerous patch of rad desert but in retrospect, these folks are great at back and forth banter.

The Downing of the Atychos

We played about half of the provided adventure The Downing of the Atychos. It is a simple seek & salvage mission, complicated by the fact that the target, a corp transport that somehow went down and crashed in the ruins of a city, is valuable enough to attract a lot of attention.

Our salvagers were efficient, doing their best not to waste too much time and disregarding possible time wasters. They ran into some outlaws, which was an opportunity to try out the combat rules — well, to try combat cause combat doesn’t use any extra mechanics save distance — in a low risk environment. It was fast and cinematic: lasers overheated, pilots messed up, metal was torn to shreds. Exactly my style of combat.

Stat block for a Heavy Mech (NPC) with a silouhette. 
Structure Points 9
Systems: Large phase array laser (range long : damage 4SP), Heavy locomotion system, Escape hatch
Modules: Comms module
The stats for an NPC mech – petty straightforward

I don’t want to spoil the adventure, so I’ll just say we had some more exploration and salvage, some interaction with NPCs, and another fast-paced combat with tougher opponents. The mechs are now fully loaded with salvage, but they agreed to keep looking for more valuable tech. We hope to conclude the game this weekend (and in person if all goes well!).

Final Thoughts

Salvage Union is fun! It has an engaging, easy to get in premise that the players and I could definitely appropriate, rules we already master, and plenty of toys to play with. I recommend checking it out when it’s released.