The Genesys Role Playing Game makes significant changes to the narrative dice system, particularly with movement, ranges, and vehicles. The most significant change is that characters and vehicles now occupy the same space, with vehicle ranges no longer their own category.
This change of naming convention, and the inclusion of the new Strategic range band, paved the way for GMs to craft encounters where characters and vehicles mix seamlessly whether they be boarding actions or leaping between vehicles during a high-speed chase. Additionally, Forced Movement for vehicles based on the vehicle’s speed allows them to move when they accelerate without the driver or pilot needing to take an additional maneuver to move unless they feel it necessary.
The system assumes a theatre of the mind at play at the table, but with multiple elements including PCs, NPCs, and objects like weapon mounts, computer cores, and vehicles, it becomes near impossible to track where things are without a guide or map. This may seem a backwards step towards more tactical games systems, but maps, or map-like plotting, in the Genesys Role Playing Game can often ease the burden of both players and GMs when visualizing the location of people, places, and objects in a scene.
‘Mud-maps’ drawn on paper, a marker on a whiteboard, or elaborate pre-printed maps like those from Maps of Mastery can benefit your game without turning it into some complicated miniature battles. In these situations, the use of Zones can be the ideal solution to enhance your gaming experience.
What are Zones?
A single Zone represents a narrative ‘bubble’ of space or an abstract area with no firmly defined dimensions. Characters then operate within that Zone during a scene. The GM provides the description of the Zone to the players, painting an image of its contents. These may include the nature of the environment, any creatures or beings, and any notable objects PCs may interact with.
When presenting a Zone Layout to the players, they describe the nature of the terrain and what Zones leads where. They should describe what terrain features exist in those Zones, and any obstacles that could prevent or hinder movement. A GM may also describe the creatures, people, or vehicles that populate each Zone and what options are available narratively.
There is no hard limit to what a Zone is or what it contains. It can be a sparse piece of woodland, a complex section of an industrial factory, or a winding trench at the heart of a battlefield. The exact details of what populates a Zone and how it appears is up to the GM. However, it’s description should set the tone of the scene yet provide enough scope for the players’ imaginations to fill in the blanks.
An encounter consists of several linked Zones that flow together in a logical sense through an unfolding narrative. A good example of this is a mansion where a ballroom is one Zone, another the adjoining dining room, and a third the kitchen. The same mansion could also contain other Zones not immediately apparent to the PCs such as a security station that prevents guests from moving beyond a certain point, a wine cellar lined with rows of shelves filled with expensive wine, and a private lounge on the third floor where the owner conducts business in private.
Obviously, a mansion would have more Zones than those mentioned above, but unless the Zone is important to the narrative, it is not mentioned until they become relevant. Examples may include a hidden indoor pool area discovered when the PCs find a secret door, or the kitchen which is off limits to guests.
Adding “unscripted” Zones on the fly is a simple process. However, a GM shouldn’t feel obligated to create a long list of preordained Zones for every encounter. Instead, the GM should encourage players to spend Story Points to generate their own Zone including a description, and any of its contents. This process adds to the collaborative storytelling experience, allowing players to feel more invested in the scene.
In the Genesys Role Playing Game the GM describes the scene including the distances between objects and people in a very abstract way using range band terminology. Without some level of tracking, players can become confused with where things are relative to each other. When elements in the scene begin moving around, this complicates matters further. An easy way to manage this is a Zone Layout.
As mentioned earlier, a Zone Layout is a series of Zones which interconnect to form a larger scene. Separating each Zone within a Layout is an aperture, door, or some other causal pathway called a Transition Point. Such a connection between Zones should be apparent to all game participants. This can be the notation of a locked door, a staircase, a wall, an elevator, or an open field that indicates how to transition from one Zone to another.
It’s important to note that even though a Zone Layout may appear to be a map, where a Zone sits on the layout may not be an actual indication of where it would exist in the real world. Just because the Zone with the private lounge sits to the right of the Zone with the ballroom, doesn’t necessarily mean that those two Zones are directly adjacent. In fact, the private lounge may very well be a floor above the ballroom.
Zones and Structured Game Play
A Zone Layout is an extended flow chart of where the scene, or series of scenes, takes place. However, to work with GeneSys Role Playing Game, the Zone System needs to add, modify, and remove several rules within the game. Don’t worry though, they are not dramatic game altering adjustments, and make your combat scenes better.
The first modification is to ignore the sidebar on page 107 which explain Relative Positioning. Since the Zone rules use specific placement of where things are, those rules are redundant. The second is that you are going to need tokens to represent your PCs and NPCs. You may already be doing this using coins or miniatures. You will also need a whiteboard, or large piece of paper. This will be to draw your Zones.
You may even choose to use hexagonal templates, or even a filing card. Anything is fine, providing you can write on it. Several companies offer solutions such as printable templates or chase cards. These rules also require a slight modification to the rules for Movement and Ranges.
Interactions within a single Zone are always assumed to be at short range. If a specific Zone within a Zone Layout feels like it should be significantly larger, then the GM can divide that Zone into two or more parts. However, due to the abstract nature of Zones, it's advisable not to complicate the exact dimension of a Zone.
Determining how far other Zones are away from each other is another simple process of counting them out from the Zone a character is currently in. As can be seen in the diagram above, Zones which are 1-2 connected Zones away are within medium range, 3-4 connected Zones away are at long range, 5-6 connected Zones away are at extreme range, and anything at 7 or more Zones away is at strategic range. It should be noted that characters can move within a Zone for a single maneuver unless affected by a terrain effect, and a character can move “adjacent” to another character using a maneuver to become engaged. However, you need to spend another maneuver to disengage with an enemy. You can always leave a friendly character as though moving within the Zone.
EXAMPLE: PC 1 is at short range to PC 2, while NPC 1 is at medium range from both PCs and long range to the vehicle. The PCs are in short range since they occupy the same Zone, while at 3 zones away, NPC1 is at the furthermost limit of medium. The vehicle is 4 Zones away which is the inner-limit of that range.
Line of Sight
Because the nature of Zones is entirely abstract, a character may not be able to draw a clear line of sight into a connected Zone due to narrative reasons. Because of this, a GM should determine the field of vision from one Zone to the next.
This becomes apparent when the PCs are within a Zone external to a building that connects to a Zone within a building’s interior. In such a case, the GM declares that there is no line of sight between the Zones, unless of course something occurs in the narrative that changes this such as blasting a hole through the door with a plasma torch, or a successful Skullduggery check to break the lock.
It's also important to note drawing line of sight between Zones doesn’t always mean that there is a connection between them. Examples might include an interrogation room with a one-way mirror, a rooftop where the street below is clearly visible, or an observation platform over a scientist’s laboratory. Furthermore, a character can always see everything within the Zone they occupy, unless there is a narrative reason that prevents it from occurring such as environmental factors like complete darkness, fog, smoke, or even water.
Another element that often blocks line of sight is cover. Cover occurs as normal, represented with a single Setback die. Where no intervening features within a Zone are present, the assumption is that a character shuffles positions within their Zone to always bring things within sight.
Instances may arise which forces a player to spend a maneuver to move within the Zone they occupy to see a target. When such incidents occur, the GM should clearly define the reason why and how the PC can overcome it. An example of this would be a PC spending a Triumph to duck out of sight from an attacker. The GM offers and explanation that the attacker must make a maneuver within the Zone to bring their target back into sight.
Movement in Zones is a very simple process. If a character wishes to move into a new Zone, they can do so at the cost of a single maneuver, so long as there is a connection between the Zone they occupy and the Zone they intend travelling to is free of obstacles and difficult terrain. Of course, this is unless there is a reason a transition between one Zone to another is impossible.
Tracking movement within a Zone is only important when a character needs to engage another character or to overcome some condition that has arisen from the narrative. An example includes a character taking a maneuver to move so they may see a target who has leapt out of sight. A character can spend a maneuver to move to any new location within the Zone they occupy. Furthermore, if a character wishes to engage/disengage with a target or object, then they spend a maneuver to do so as normal.
A GM may use blank Zones as a way of padding out the distance between Zones or represent a long distance between two areas that require the expenditure of some time. Blank Zones are like any other for movement purposes, although their details aren’t important to the narrative. They could be a long elevator ride for example, or a walk down a hallway, or perhaps a descent down a set of crisscrossing stairs. However, Blank Zones may become relevant if a suitable moment in the narrative occurs. Only then should the exact details of what that Zone contains should be determined. Players could also potentially use a Story Point to establish what a Blank Zone is, and how it may affect the narrative.
Using the Zone rules provides additional opportunities to speed up play such as introducing new talents that interact with the system. Existing talents like Parkour! from Android: Shadow of the Beanstalk, and Bullrush from Realms of Terrinoth connect with the system flawlessly. However a talent like To the Limit (see below) can use the Zone rules presented in an interesting way to add to the flavour of a scene. The GM should explore new ways to allow the character to increase the distance travelled but at a higher difficulty, or a method of skipping a Zone completely.
To the Limit
Activation: Active (Action)
When not piloting a vehicle, you may take the To the Limit action. Immediately suffer 2 strain and make an Average (<D><D>) Athletics or Coordination check. If successful you transition to a Zone connected to the Zone you currently occupy. For every <SU><SU> after the initial <SU> you may move 1 additional Zone. The GM may limit the use of this action if the terrain prevents such movement occurring.
Approaches and Impasses
Zones have several ways to enter or leave called Approaches. Sometimes moving out of a Zone, or into a new one, isn’t a simple task. A character may have to overcome an obstacle to do so, such as climbing an overhanging cliff face, sneaking past a security robot, forcing open a door being held by orcs, or hacking the control panel of the door that bars their escape. Methods of moving between a Zones is known as an Impasse.
There is no limit to what an Impasse can be, nor how many Impasses a Zone may contain. The GM devises the nature of an Impasse when the Zone is created. Impasses often require a check to overcome, usually at the cost of an action or where no obstacle exists, a maneuver. A character triggers an Impasse when they want to enter, exit, or move through a Zone. These are normally doors, energy fields, NPCs, a hazardous environment, or some other object which prevents movement into, out of, or through an adjacent Zone.
In some cases, the character may need to take several rounds to deal with an Impasse such as when a door is barricaded or where they are required to fight off an NPC. Dealing with an Impasse often removes it from play, which allows other characters to freely move between those two Zones. Through Despair or Threat, however, Impasses may be reactivated as part of the narrative, such as when a hacked door is reactivated, or reinforcements arrive. Impasses can also generate throughout play such as a Zone catching fire or filling with some other hazardous or impassable substance such as poisonous gas, smoke, or water.
Entry, Exit, and Bilateral Impasses
Zones can have three types of Impasses: entry, exit and bilateral. The reason why these are defined is that sometimes an entry or exit to a Zone is one way. An Entry Impasse is triggered when a character attempts to enter the Zone, an Exit Impasse is triggered when a character attempts to exit the Zone, and a Bilateral Impasse is triggered when a character attempts to leave or enter that Zone.
Examples may include a sliding tunnel, a cell door which automatically locks upon entry, or a security checkpoint at a nightclub with a lock-down in effect. The most common of these, however, is the Bilateral Impasse where entry and exit into or out of the Zone is possible.
When creating an Impasse, the GM should establish what type it is, although it is possible for an Impasse to change type during play such as when a door is locked behind the PCs as they enter the basement lair or boulders blocking an entrance that need to be blasted apart to allow an escape.
Many different skills can be used to remedy an Impasse. Athletics to push open a blocked door, Arcana to lift a rock blocking passage, or even Charm to convince the guard to let a character through. Impasses can be as widely varied as any skill check. GMs may even consider opposed checks.
The existence of an Impasse may or may not be known to characters. Some Impasses are obvious like a door, while other more subtle such as hidden passages or illusions. An overhanging cliff face that the PCs must navigate, for examples, is an obvious Impasse, but the trip wire across the doorway is not. If an Impasse is subtle, a GM may ask a PC to make a suitable Perception, Vigilance, or other check, to discover it. If, however, the obstacle in not detected, the GM may leave it as an unknown effect until it is triggered.
As a rule, most Impasses should be obvious and highlighted when the Zone is described. Overwhelming PCs with subtle Impasses can result in them making constant checks each time they enter a new Zone and slowing down play. An example where this type of Impasse is used often is when designing a dungeon for the PCs to explore. Traps, hidden passages, and staircases are all tropes of the dungeon crawl. These are all Impasses, requiring the PCs to discovered and deactivate them before moving into the next section of the dungeon, or Zone.
The GM determines how characters can overcome an Impasse. As a rule of thumb, it should cost an action and require a successful skill check to move through. A failed skill check to overcome an Impasse doesn’t always mean a character fails to move between Zones. They could trigger an alarm, injure themselves, or activate some other outcome that’s relevant to the scene. However, some Impasses simply stop a character from transitioning between Zones if they fail the check.
A good example of where an Impasse prevents entry or exit to an adjacent Zone is failing to pick the lock on a prison cell door or raising enough courage to make the leap between moving train carriages. As usual, Advantages, Threats, Triumphs, and Despairs can greatly affect the outcome of a passed or failed skill check to overcome an Impasse. It is encouraged that a strong narrative description is given to moments of success of failure when it comes to Impasses, as these moments are often the types of epic scenes we see on film!
Active, Inactive, and Conditional Impasses
Once the PCs overcome an Impasse, the GM should determine if the Impasse remains “active” or “inactive”. Where an Active Impasse is present, to move through it the character must encounter it again. This could include the gap between two buildings or a patrolling sentry.
An Inactive Impasse is where an Impasse no longer creates a hindrance to characters moving through it. Examples of this include a door that is jammed open, or where a character climbs the cliff and drops a rope for their allies to use. However, if the door-jam was to break allowing the door to close, or in the case of the rope, it was cut, then those same Impasses would once more become Active Impasses.
Characters may also have the means to bypass an Impasse, such as an access key to a security door, or a rocket pack that allows a quick leap to the top of the cliff with no effort. These are called Conditional Impasses and should be noted when the GM creates the Zone.
Lastly, Impasses may also apply to certain Approaches, especially if a Zone has several. For example, the fastest way into a ship’s engine bay may have an Impasse in the shape of a secure airlock, although it may have another Approach that doesn’t have an Impasse such as service passage. The GM should therefore define if an Impasse in or out of a Zone applies to a specific Approach. Of course, creative players can also generate Approaches through the use of Story Points or by spending a Triumph.
Zones afford a more abstract alternative to the use of traditional maps in RPGs. They are an ideal tool to assist in keep track of multiple elements during game play. They offer the convenience and organization of a traditional map, while providing more flexibly in supporting the narrative aspect of game play. This makes them an excellent tool for use at your gaming table using the GeneSys Roleplaying Game, where storytelling is the focus.
If you have any questions about the use of Zones, let us know by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.