Beyonder by Flying Nightbear Games Review

"Beyonder had me interested from the moment I saw it.  It is immediately recognizable as a fantasy world, but is unlike any fantasy setting you have seen.  The unique nature of the setting drew me in for a deeper look."

Theme and What is it?

The continent of Tamarra, a vast land of of luscious forests, grassy plains, barren desert, mountain ranges, rivers, and lakes, is home to a number of Guilds.  The Guilds have dedicated themselves to develop the Six Energies as a science. Their members, Channels, train themselves to channel the Energies, yielding effects of significant power.  The Six Energies permeate the world and shape the world and all its inhabitants. Take on the role of a Channel and explore the world, overcoming barriers and increasing your connection to the Six.  Where will your adventure take you?

Gameplay Mechanics

Beyonder is a pen and paper roleplaying game from Flying Nightbear Games.  It takes place in a unique fantasy setting crafted by the designer over the last 30 years.  You play as a Channel, a member of a Guild with specific training in connecting with the Six Energies.  Players will create characters and work with the Moderator to explore the game world through their adventures.  Players will describe to the Moderator what they wish to do, and the Moderator will set the scene in which the actions take place and determine the effects of the player’s actions.  

First, a brief overview of character development.  In character creation, players will first select a race, gender, and size for their character.  There are 10 different races to choose from in Beyonder ranging from your typical Human and Dwarf, to the atypical serpent-like Crawn, the diminutive Dwaheely, the tall wood-nymph-esque Kamari, the cat-like Wellyn, or the massive bull/humanoid Ushen.  Each race feels completely different and carries their own benefits and adjustments to your character stats.

Next, players will set their affinities to the Six Energies.  They have a number of points to spend on raising their stats and can earn more points by decreasing affinities.  In gameplay terms, the Six Energies are split into three sets of opposing energies: Emotion/Mental, Body/Physic, and Spirit/Shadow.  Each Guild is tied to one of the Six Energies, so keep in mind your strengths as you select a Guild. From your Guild choice, you will then select a specified amount of Powers.  You will also have a chance to assign bonuses to some Talents. Talents are functionally like minor Powers, but unlike Powers are not tied to manipulating the Six Energies. Lastly you will choose your Defense Ratings and acquire some Equipment (Beyonder uses a Wealth system that abstracts your purchasing power, instead of tracking every coin earned) before finally selecting your Homeland.  Your choice of Homeland can also grant a Talent bonus.

If all of that seems a touch daunting, Flying Nightbear has included a “choose your own adventure” type of scenario that players can play through that will make their character as they make choice in the story.  They also have a very helpful tool on their website for managing and creating characters that features both the character creation adventure and a tool for building the character from scratch.

In play, Beyonder relies on a 2D10 system for skill checks wherein a player rolls two 10-sided dice and adds applicable modifiers to determine the outcome of their efforts.  The difficulty of a given check will be set by the Moderator, and the rulebook gives plenty of advice for how to set an appropriate difficulty.  Rather than a simple pass/fail system, Beyonder relies heavily on a margin of success wherein how much you succeed determines the full effect of your actions and how much damage and fatigue you inflict.  The designers have done a good job laying out basic rules for the game, with numerous options to provide a deeper experience once you have the core concepts under your belt. Some advanced rules include margin of failure in addition to margin of success, exploding dice, and probably the one that adds the most depth: Stunts.  Stunts allow complex actions when a player has multiple proficiencies influencing the same action.

These checks and actions will play out most often in combat, but can also occur during social conflicts and countering powers.  When a combat or other conflict occurs, gameplay shifts into The Rhythm. Like many roleplaying games, this is a time when the players declare specific actions and play progresses in a more ordered format.  Unlike other games, Beyonder doesn’t use just a simple initiative order. It combines initiative, reflecting the speed at which various players enter combat, with the Rhythm, illustrated by the timing sheet.  Specific actions take a number of moments or beats to resolve. For example, a player declares an attack which is a 3-moment action. If the player initiates the attack on moment zero, it will resolve on moment three.  This system allows for an intricate flow of combat which, while at first daunting, creates interesting moments as things play out. Because different actions take different lengths, the wheel helps to visualize the quick-acting fighter, with someone taking longer, more deliberate actions.

Other than simple actions, players will often use Powers.  Powers have an activation time and an activation cost and when using a Power the margin of success determines the amount of fatigue inflicted.  There is significant page count dedicated to explaining all of the Powers in the game and their various levels of ability as the gaining Powers and overcoming Barriers to the Energies is the primary drive for adventurers.

As in many roleplaying games, adventuring brings experience and allows players to develop and advance their characters.  Here again, Beyonder takes a unique approach. Rather than earning experience points and leveling at preset thresholds, the Moderator awards Essence at the end of each play session, which players must immediately use to  better themselves. They can spend Essence on Masteries of a Power, Learning a Power (either through tutelage or self-invention), Modifying a Power, new Talents or Proficiencies, New Barriers, Increasing Barriers, Barrier Abilities, or Defense Ratings.  The rulebook has informative tables for the costs of any given increase or improvement.

Initial Impressions

Beyonder had me interested from the moment I saw it.  It is immediately recognizable as a fantasy world, but is unlike any fantasy setting you have seen.  The unique nature of the setting drew me in for a deeper look.

Artistic Direction and Book Quality

The art in Beyonder is amazing.  Again, the races are nothing like the standard fantasy fare and it is in this section, as well as some maps in the general setting information, that the bulk of the art in the rulebook is found.  Each piece is beautiful. The book itself has thick, heavy paper and has a really solid feel.

Age Range & Weight

I couldn’t find a specific age recommendation in the book.  From a content perspective, as with many roleplaying games, how appropriate the content is for younger players can be directly influenced by the Moderator.  The setting itself is not particularly dark so the themes are as mature as you make them. Mechanically, I think younger players will need a lot of help to succeed.  Between the timing wheel of the Rhythm, and the myriad formulas that are used to determine outcomes, there is a lot of crunch to this system.

Conclusions

Beyonder is a beautiful product from Flying Nightbear Games.  The lore and setting are a highpoint for me. The lore is very rich, but feels organically grounded within the setting.  I consider this quite the feat given how unique the setting is and unlike anything else I have read. From the nature of the Six Energies, to the Guilds, the Races, the Powers…everything just oozes with setting and I think even if you had no intention of playing Beyonder as a ruleset, the world they created would be a fascinating one to adapt to your system of choice.  That being said, the Beyonder system is obviously the best place to experience the full depth of the world that Flying Nightbear Games has created and therein lies both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

Beyonder is going to require significant buy-in at the table.  There are a lot of formulas for determining outcomes, be it for character advancement or Powers or Stamina, and the timing wheel of the Rhythm, while a fascinating approach to initiative and combat order, will take some getting used to.  With time, everything become easier, but it can feel a little obtuse at first and I fear not every group will have the patience to see the game shine. The tools at the company’s website help a lot. If I had one recommendation it would be to aggregate all of the tables into a succinct player aid.  The book has a solid layout, but it would helpful to have all the tables in one place. I also think the book would benefit from some stronger examples of game flow. The rulebook explains how the game works, but is light on direction for aspiring Moderators and the separate Bestiary (a wonderful book that we will also be reviewing) is required for Moderators as there are no statblocks for enemies in the core rulebook.  There is some guidance on NPCs but it is minimal. The website does note that they are working on creating some adventures and this should help. I have experience with D&D, Pathfinder, Apocalypse World Engine, Green Ronin’s AGE system and others, and yet I found myself a little lost trying to create adventures just from the core rulebook. Admittedly, with such a unique setting, I may have just felt that my typical fantasy tropes didn’t do it justice.  

Ultimately, I think Beyonder is an intriguing system.  The setting and world lore are top notch and the game offers some very interesting mechanisms that create a game that plays quite a bit differently at the table than your standard roleplaying fare.  There is a very strong foundation in the core rulebook and there is a lot of potential to the system and any fans of world-building would find it fascinating. I would like to see a minimal bestiary, even if it’s only a handful of creatures for one region of the world, with some advice on how to build an adventure and what kinds of adventures one might undertake in the is setting in the form of a few campaign hooks.  There is certainly enough lore and world setting information to understand how the world of Beyonder works and it is a fabulous tome to page through. You can check out their Kickstarter now.