The official tabletop RPG adaptation of anime classic Cowboy Bebop is now available online as a digital download (in English and Italian, at least). Groups can roll their own bounty hunters or live out untold adventures of Spike, Faye, Jet and Edward using an action-focused system modelled after jazz music.
Cowboy Bebop is one of the most beloved and celebrated anime, created by Shinichirō Watanabe in 1998 and taking place in a far-future solar system devastated by late-stage capitalism and the catastrophic failure of privately-funded space travel, all told through the eyes of a chronically down-on-their-luck mercenary crew living on the fringes of society.
This new tabletop RPG takes great pains to recreate the curious blend of action, pathos and soulful brooding that exemplified its source material. Designed by Italian outfit Mana Project Studio, in cooperatrion with French publisher Don’t Panic Games, an early preview showed a lot of promise but just as many rough patches that needed to be ironed out between the conclusion of its October Kickstarter campaign last year and a planned physical release later this year.
Groups will essentially create an episode of the anime over the course of each session, gradually weaving drama and tension into the fabric of that week’s bounty hunt until it explodes in some flavour of final altercation. Along the way, players can lean on their expertise, their ship or other tools and even their tragic backgrounds to wriggle out of danger or uncomfortable conversations. Just like the anime, these characters are running from a past that will eventually catch up with them, and the game treats that moment with all the reverence of Spike’s fateful fall through that stained glass window set to Ballad of Fallen Angels.
The Cowboy Bebop RPG uses a system that’s equal parts Blades in the Dark and sequenced narrative progression through what the game calls Tabs - these are cheekily labelled “Smooth Talk”, “3, 2, 1” and “Let’s Jam”, and each adds successively more rules, consequences but also potential payoffs to tempt players willing to gamble their lives or critical resources on a, ahem, Big Score.
It’s not clear yet what all has changed between the end of the crowdfunding campaign and Friday’s release of the digital PDF. The English and Italian versions are sold together for about $20 on DriveThruRPG, and the book contains all the rules players and a facilitator needs to explore the world of Cowboy Bebop, including tables for creating their own bounty hunting ship and a map of all the functioning Astral Gates throughout the system.