An official tabletop RPG for the now-shut down Knockout City keeps the spirit of the cult hit “dodgebrawl” video game alive beyond its public servers. Knockout City Rivals translates competitive action into a story of one fateful match between the protagonists and their rivals.
First released in 2021 by developer Velan Studios, Knockout City announced last year of this year that it would transition into a free-to-play model, and then broke the news in February of this year that it would gradually sunset the public servers on June 6th. According to Eurogamer, Velan was caught in the unfortunate no-man’s land between successful enough to attract a dedicated audience but not successful enough to sustain live support and development.
One week later, on June 12th, the video game’s official Twitter account published a link to the full text for Knockout City Rivals, a free and fully developed tabletop RPG created by Adira Slattery and Eric Feurstein, along with layout design from Tom Glass, Jr.
Each session of Knockout City Rivals is split into two distincts phases: setting the stakes of an upcoming match, and the Brawl, itself. Players embody a crew of Brawlers in the eponymous city, using the first phase to draw emotional connections and relationships between each other and their rival crew, all while earning Bond that can be spent in the second half of the game. This will also be where the reason for the upcoming match is decided - squashing beef, last round of a regional tournament, or perhaps bragging rights.
Next comes the actual brawl and the dice rolling section of Knockout City Rivals. The game uses note cards and dice values to first construct a map out of the urban environment, complete with obstacles, covers and the starting position of the balls. Once the match starts, player-characters will rely on their unique athleticism and skill set to collect and pass balls, outpace opponents and find the perfect position to unleash a brutal knockout.
Resolving actions and conflicts means building a dice pool that benefits from a character’s stats, the current Charge on the ball and whether the player chugs one of their three energy drinks. Bond points can be spent to increase any die roll by one after they hit the table, and players use the highest result to determine if they are successful. Each character, crew and even the rivals have their own sheet to track stats, and creation relies on an archetype system to define both individual style but also the type of bonds between everyone - is your rivalry built on the legacy of friendly competition or a grudge felt deep, deep in the bones?
One of the biggest draws of this adaptation - beyond being free to play - is the dramatic buildup between individual rivals and their crews. It evokes the emotional structure of classic sports movies and anime, where confiding in your teammate or moment of earnest bravado can mean the difference between defeat and victory. It’s big feelings and bigger plays while also leaning hard into the melodramatic relationships that make this genre so beloved.
Speaking to Dicebreaker via Twitter, Slattery said that she and Feurstein, who is a Velan staffer, began designing Knockout City Rivals in December 2022 - before the decision to sunset the public servers was announced. Once that decision was made, everyone reportedly considered the tabletop RPG a fitting spiritual successor to the world and high-impact action of the video game.
“While I love doing adaptations that speak specifically about my own experience as a player of a game, Eric was really able to bring a deep knowledge of the game that can only come from somebody who's in the thick of it. I couldn't have asked for a better internal collaborator,” Slattery said. “Velan gave us a lot of freedom, so it was really our little team's vision that drove the project. Our game should hopefully appeal to a broad playerbase, including experienced tabletop folks looking for a unique team based experience and newcomers arriving from the video game side.”
Knockout City Rivals will remain available to download for free from Velan’s website for the foreseeable future (note: Knockout City’s website says the download links are “coming soon” but you can find it on their official Twitter account, too). Other end-of-life celebration projects include private server support, a “pirate radio” Spotify playlist and a massive art asset download for community creation. Check out Slatttery’s other tabletop projects on her Itch.io page.