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Into The Black is a lightweight RPG love letter to Mass Effect without the military trappings

Space sans Shepard.

Explore deepest space in a vain attempt to escape crippling debt with Into The Black, a new tabletop RPG inspired by the Mass Effect video game series and embracing OSR sensibilities.

Created by N. Masyk, known online as publisher Monkey’s Paw Games, Into The Black situates a crew of characters as profoundly - perhaps inescapably - in debt to one or more of the all-powerful corporations that control civilised space. In order to wrench themselves out from under this burden, they travel through the dark corners of the galaxy in search of rare finds or wanted criminals.

According to Masyk, this is the first RPG to use the PINKHACK system derived from several other games - Jared Sinclair's The Vanilla Game, Christian Mehrstam's Whitehack, and Chris McDowall's Into the Odd are explicitly listed on its Itch.io page. The result is a stripped-down engine that embraces some of the best tools from Old School Revival titles for quickly creating characters and situations so a group can jump headlong into trouble as soon as possible.

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Into The Black offers three classes - Soldier, Specialist and Technician - that each boast only three stats: Body, Will and Mind. Actions and tasks are modified by these stats and use a d20 roll-under rule to define success and failure. Each class also brings special abilities to the table, most notably the Specialist’s kinesis powers. Flavour wise, this cleaves very close to the gravity-warping biomagic from Mass Effect.

Masyk’s game reads like someone alchemising all of their favourite bits from the Mass Effect series into a guided experience, while chucking everything else through the airlock. Crews will begin a campaign with a “Junker” class ship and enough debt to collapse a black hole. Where they go to begin chipping away at that mountain is an open question. The sourcebook lists plenty of random tables that can conjure encounters, old tech, weird drugs, and fellow space-farers. What kind of trouble a group wants to start - or solve - will determine how the game-leading Chronicler should interpret the material.

Space is endlessly big and full of mysteries. Into The Black understands the conundrum of choosing where in that inky forever a crew might want to explore and solves it by having everyone draw a collaborative map. The group drops dice on a blank sheet of paper, which become the sector’s planets. Depending on the result of the roll, a number of orbital sub-sectors will be drawn around each planet. If desired, the dark spaces can be filled or left alone.

The result is a homespun corner of space full of potential. An emergent story of local warlords or ancient tech can play out, or the group can soak in the emotional melange of finding a series of barren, if beautiful, landscapes while they watch the twin suns dance below several horizons.

An interesting wrinkle is a lack of any of the military pretense that girds Mass Effect’s three main games. That’s not to say a group can’t play as a recon ship or group of grunts sent to protect colonial interests, but Masyk’s interpretation expands beyond what might be a limitation in a tabletop RPG. Instead, their game delivers a chance to explore anomalies, get lost between dark sectors and fall in love with any number of aliens while surrounded by metal and recycled oxygen.

Into the Black is currently available as a 97-page ashcan version, meaning much of the material is subject to changes and revisions based on user feedback. The digital sourcebook features everything a group will need to roll characters and trundle beyond the immediate reach of the corporations that own their bodies, replete with artwork from Evlyn Moreau and Mike Winkelmann. Interested spacers can check out the official Itch.io page or its listing on DriveThruRPG.

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Into The Black

Tabletop Game

Mass Effect

PS3, Xbox 360, PC

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About the Author
Chase Carter avatar

Chase Carter


Chase is a freelance journalist and media critic. He enjoys the company of his two cats and always wants to hear more about that thing you love. Follow him on Twitter for photos of said cats and retweeted opinions from smarter folks.