If there are two things I truly (madly, deeply) love it’s anime and roleplaying games. Particularly when either or both of them happen to have a dark, fantastic edge to them. When they view a world or a story through a grim, benighted patina. As far as anime goes, one of my all time favorites is Vampire Hunter D, so when I heard about a new TTRPG that directly stated it as one of its primary influences, I knew I had to check it out. And I’m damn glad I did. Red Giant, written by Cory Burns and released by Rookie Jet Studio is a grim, dark, fantastical game that takes for its inspiration anime classics like the aforementioned Vampire Hunter D, as well as others including Berserk and Claymore. But even more than that you can see shades of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror lurking around the edges, and Robert E. Howard’s brutal swords and sorcery flavoring the world, but it has a lot of other influences that become readily apparent as you read through the core.
Red Giant is a game that puts its players into a harsh, unforgiving world—a cursed world. One that, perhaps, isn’t just dying but dead. The characters inhabit the corpse of a world, crawl upon it like flies as they fight and scrape out a living beneath the glaring eye of a bloated red sun. You’re told right out that a game of Red Giant is meant to test you and your character, meant to be grueling. Every confrontation is a battle to the death, and you are at almost every turn outclassed and outmatched. Your wits and your party are the only thing keeping you from certain death, and insanity as well. For not only is it a world consumed by death, Red Giant presents a world overrun by unspeakable horrors from the depths of man’s darkest nightmares. Creatures that have no right existing, yet they stalk humanity and slaughter them like cattle. There’s an incredible breadth of terrible horrors awaiting the players brave enough to roll up a character and adventure through Red Giant, and while much of the game is highly reminiscent of the anime and stories mentioned above I also can’t shake the feeling that some inspiration was also pulled from popular video games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Not just in the aesthetics, but in the way the game itself is presented and how the characters traverse it.
Red Giant is very mission based, with the GM (game master) putting together a story that leads the characters around a desolate landscape undertaking one quest after another, fighting for their lives and their sanity every step of the way. The game focuses strongly on the storytelling over the mechanics, and that’s something I truly appreciate. Too many TTRPGs these days are simply combat simulators, where you slap together a character, hack’n’slash your way through encounters, collect experience and loot then rinse and repeat. Red Giant offers more than that, by stripping away all of the dross and presenting you with an incredibly streamlined character creation process and system of conflict resolution mechanics. It leaves you with a lot of breathing room, and options to reward the player for actually playing. Red Giant wants you to immerse yourself in its world, to tell a story, and ultimately to lose yourself in it and have fun—or a harrowing nightmare experience. But sometimes that can be fun, too.
As far as world building itself goes, the Red Giant core goes pretty light on any kind of specifics, leaving it up to the GM and the players to define things which can certainly be a double-edged sword. By providing and citing a list of influences for the game itself, you do get a pretty good idea of what kind of environment you’re playing in, and there is a decent amount of “set dressing” that’s front-loaded into it. We know Red Giant takes place on a cursed, blighted planet where humanity fights against the landscape itself as well as the nightmares that haunt it. We know magic is real, and that the setting is steeped in the dark fantastic. I cannot emphasize enough that you should do yourself a favor and check out the Vampire Hunter D animated features if you’re going to jump into a session or two of Red Giant. Most of the world building, though, the bulk of it, is given to us in the chapters dealing with monsters and magic. While character creation and conflict resolution are refreshingly light, there is a robust and highly adaptive magic system revolving around three types, or styles, of magic that give players tons of options. The kinds of monsters loaded into the book also give us a solid idea about the world of Red Giant, as many of them are hideous monsters pulled from folklore and mythology, or sanity-bending Lovecraftian abominations that warp the minds of those who encounter them.
Some of the best examples of world building, though, come at the tail end of the Red Giant core in the pre-made scenarios which are quite interesting and give players and GMs a great start as well as good ideas as to what kinds of games they can run and develop on their own. All in all, if you’re a roleplayer who’s interested in checking out something a little bit off the beaten path and have more interest in telling a story than just rolling some dice, and you’ve got an itch only bloody, dark fantasy can itch I cannot recommend Red Giant enough. As a new core for a new setting, I’m giving Red Giant from Rookie Jet Studio a solid four stars and can’t wait to craft my own game and start my own misadventure in the grim red light of its cursed world.
Red Giant is available now in both print and digital formats on DriveThruRPG.